Hair SCARE

September 18, 2005
Fortaleza, Brazil

I did my traditional foreign country beauty shop visit today. It’s the best way to get the pulse of a place and a cheap hair cut.

I’d asked Francesca to take me to the best salon in Fortaleza, but here we were pulling up to a small shop called Claudio’s in an alley. When we walked into the salon, she pointed out the owner and chief stylist. I recoiled. Claudio was buzzing a guy’s head with an electric razor and he himself sported a comb-over, wore cloudy glasses, and had the body of a middle aged barber. He was not at all a pretty boy like I am used to. The brushes were full of hair, scissors were scattered willy nilly about the shop. I noticed that Claudio was doing all the hair washing, conditioning, coloring, cutting, and styling, chair to chair, client to client. Where I’m from, the shi-shi quotient of a salon is measured by how many specialists it takes to do one woman’s hair. There is one to wash it, one to color, one to blow dry, and then the main one to cut and style. I’ve never really understood why, but that’s how it is.

“This is a barbershop not a salon!” I thought panicked. I began to think up all the ways I could make a graceful exit. But short of being a complete snob, I could not think my way out of this. And so I consoled myself with “It will grow back in” and settled in to wait for my turn.

I stretched my neck over the plastic lip of the sink, surrendering my head for what felt like a guillotine. But it was icy water that hit instead. I waited for it to warm up, and then remembered that it wasn’t going to. In Brazil, there is hot water in showers, but rarely in sinks. Could cold water dissolve oil from dirty hair? I wondered.

For the next two hours, Claudio sudsed, rinsed, colored, snipped, dried, and ironed my hair Around me the neighborhood ladies were transformed into Cinderella’s for Friday night. Claudio’s helpers painted their eyes, reddened their cheeks, lined their lips, smoothed and sprayed their hair. Women that barely looked in the mirror when they first arrived, begin to sneak longer and longer looks at their reflections, to tilt their heads this way and that, smiling at their new selves. The other women circulated around them commenting on their transformations. Then the women began to look at me and to nod approvingly at Claudio, looking at my hair front and back, and then standing back to admire me in the mirror.

Claudio untied my apron and motioned for me to get up. I paid him an inflated price for Brazil, but a third of what I would have paid in the States. Then I walked tall to the waiting taxi with the cutest, bounciest, shiniest, best looking hairstyle I’d had in years.

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