Posted by: 4initalia | February 22, 2010

Let’s Get This Straight

I just had an American haircut, my first in a year.  As usual, I was uncomfortable the whole time I was in the chair.  I never know what to say to a hairdresser. Do I chat about the weather, ask about her kids? Or relieve her from the agony of having the same conversation with every person held captive in her scissors?

In Italy, I had a fabulous hairdresser named Patricia. She sold me the only bottle of shampoo that ever made my hair shiny. That shampoo was confiscated in an ugly incident involving carry-on luggage and airport security. I accept the apologies of the flying public, whose safety was secured with my sixteen ounces of Schwartzkoff’s Hair Restorer.  Although Suspect Schwartzkoff was shipped to Guantanamo for questioning, that bottle was totally cleared of any involvement in terrorist activity. So I ask that it be released into my custody.

Like a bout with airport security, I always had to brace myself for a haircut with Patricia. Stepping into her mango-colored salon, I was enveloped in a creamy mousse of captivating conversation and rich laughter.  We laughed about everything women talk about: men, kids, politics, religion. We spoke in rapid Italian, and I was always a few syllables short of full understanding, so with every new topic, my brain veered like an exhilarated kid on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. When my appointment was over, and I stepped back onto the sidewalk, my heart had been rattled like a maraca, and my crankiness gently fluttered to the pavement, like hair clippings.

Patricia was only hairdresser I ever understood, and I didn’t understand a sizeable chunk of what she was saying.

We were friends, so every time she cut my hair, Patricia became more invested in passing me off as a real Italian. Although many Italians are born with ebony curls, Italians do not accept the limitations of nature, they subdue and triumph over it. Italian women defy gravity with fabulous bosoms and stiletto heels.  Men scoff at summer heat in close-cut gabardine suits.  Michelangelo didn’t make his David life-sized, Michelangelo made him big enough to live forever.

Italians don’t covet natural beauty. Nature envies the art and allure of every Italian.

So Italians manage their natural resources. They dye their hair, in colors on the russet spectrum between copper and Lambrusco. Although Modena had many elderly residents, gray hair was sparse; male and female brunettes over forty tinged their locks to a brickish hue. Younger women opted for a high-gloss pomegranate finish. Their hair sparkled audibly, like wind chimes. But to make it sing, you have to take out the kinks.

Patricia hoped that I would go burgundy, but her first priority was curl removal. Every visit, as I sank into her swivel chair and faced the mirror, she would plunge her fingers deep into my unruly mop, and pull. Then she’d flip open a pamphlet of hair straightening products.  She’d point out their various merits, hoping to begin with one that lasted only three weeks: surely, I’d come to my senses.

I demurred but never wavered. Patricia was so intent on performing a humanitarian service this didn’t dissuade her. Not until she was sure  the pamphlet had convinced me to go straight at my next appointment would she pull out her scissors. She did a wonderful job. When she finished cutting, my hair was wild and tousled and I looked twenty years younger and impossibly chic.  I have never been able to accomplish that at home. So I would say: “Mi piace molto, come questo.” I like this a lot, just like this. But these words merely unleashed a tsunami of wave removal.

In this phase, Patricia would grab a metal roller brush used to pave highways, trap a ringlet in its bristles, and turn on the blow dryer. The heat was so intense it melted the fillings in my lower molars.  She dug the bristles into my scalp and pulled so hard my head would have qualified as Pilates equipment.

When she was done, and all of the waves had been wrenched from my scalp, I didn’t look ravishingly Italian, I resembled the Beatles in their Love Me Do period. Sometimes I looked like Paul, with impermeable bangs and a mahogany fringe that plummeted to my collar. Carrying  a sitar, I would have been mistaken for George. On a stormy day, I approximated Ringo in a wind tunnel.

I am philosophical about my hair, because I once experienced Hairmageddon. In my senior year of high school, I kept my hair short, and blew it dry, so for some inexplicable reason, I didn’t know that it was curly. In search of a little wave, I got a permanent.

The hairdresser wound my hair into the smallest curling rods, plastered on permanent solution, and left it in for an hour. When she took out the rods, all of the fine strands that had formed my bangs broke away, and the remaining frizz seized into a dense mushroom cloud on top of my head. I was short and pudgy, and my physique was arranged in a graduated series of ballish chunks, so with my new do, I looked like a gristly snowman. The compassionate souls at my high school called me Poodle, but they were so doubled over with laughter, I couldn’t make out what else they called me.

This is not the kind of character building experience that lends itself to greatness, but I certainly kept my perspective on the importance of a Bad Hair Day.

So when in Boston, a salon made me look so much like Hillary that Bill Clinton cheated on me, I reacted diplomatically.  In Denver, a stylist made my head into a helmet. She’d cut my hair into a ball, fluff it into a sphere, and coat it with so much hairspray I’d draw blood breaking through the crust. No worries, it wasn’t permanent. And no matter what style I tried, my curls would revert to the same lunatic fringe.  After every shampoo, my freak flag flew.

I didn’t need a magenta mane to feel Italian all the way to my roots; I love my hair just the way it is. And I loved Patricia, who made every moment in her chair a dizzying ride into her world.

She loves you ya ya ya yaaaaah…..


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