Today the kids were all at school for the first time, which meant it was possible to begin working again; my project involves examining the Vesuvian letters of Pliny the Younger. First days are clean starts, so after a few hours in the new Biblioteca Umanistica at the University of Perugia (wonderfully converted from medieval stables), I ducked off to get a haircut. This was to be a pendant to the tonsorial experience at Vince’s Barber Shop on the Jersey Shore before we left for Italy. (‘Acconciature’ [hairstyles] apparently derives from ‘conciare’ meaning to ‘tan’ [leather] or ‘cure’ [tobacco], and ultimately from Latin concinnare and concinnator [arranger / hairdresser].)
I had stopped by the shop yesterday, when Jakob got his haircut (which he showed off in his vlog post). The entrance is unassuming, but I am suspicious of hairstylists who attempt to draw in customers with stylish decor. While one can be pleased with the result, there’s nothing glamorous about the process of having a haircut.
It is a one-man operation; Franco has three barber chairs to one side, with a child’s chair on the other, notable for the worn silver shoulders and head of a cavallo upon which a bambino can sit for his trim. Tall mirrors sit above his shelves of razors, scissors, brushes, gels, and cleaners, and off to the side is his slightly tilted framed diploma from barber school. A worn couch accommodates a few customers, and a low table set in front is topped with the past week’s newspapers, and magazines such as Miracoli, Credere, and Fede; a gold crucifix hangs above his workspace near the door.
Franco took his time with Jakob (he had a lot of hair to cut off), and after introductions we chatted about the virtues of living in Perugia: fresh air, no traffic, nice people, fine food, and good weather (all true). Today, when I moved to the chair we moved quickly to the soccer game the previous night, when Italy beat the Czech Republic 2-1 to ensure qualification to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. As we discussed the game, and particularly the talents and oddities of Mario Balotelli (we agreed that Italy hadn’t played all that well, though Giorgio Chiellini was excellent), his razor hummed and scissors flashed. Shuffling along or turning the chair, he spun his course, letting the hair find its place after each pass, so that when he came back around, he could tell where it was still out of place.
The sharp tang of machine oil and a slight scent of brimstone slashed through the air as Franco traded blower and clipper and shears, without a nick or a scratch. How many times over how many years had he repeated the motions — the lift of the comb, the pass of the blades? A radio in the corner ebbed and flowed as he passed through its signal — the crisis in Syria, more calcio, the problems in politics that never recede. Franco then brought out a straight-razor and slashed across the hair to fade it, using the oldest of tools to get a look that many modern salons love. One haircut. Another haircut. Every haircut.
A trio of eighth-notes in F-sharp and A on the bass sputtered off the tiny radio speaker, a bubbling synthesizer sparkled overhead, and the voice of David Byrne entered the shop. It was 1981. It was 2003. It was 1956. It was 2013, Byrne was blogging on haircuts and hate, and I was in another part of the world.
And suddenly, the three tones of noon-time news cut in, promptly overlapped and overcome by twelve shivering peals from the chiesa across the street. The haircut was over.
Same as it ever was.