Thursday, April 27, 2006


So Cherie Blair spent nearly £8000 [or the Labour Party did] on getting her hair done for the last election campaign. Now, I am no fan of the Blairs - not any more! - but on this one I'm with you, Cherie!

I discussed it with my good friend Irma here on Saturday and, like most women, we agree that if your hair isn't right, it doesn't matter how expensive your clothes, make-up or jewellery are; you just don't feel confident.

Good hairdressers are also good listeners and, in my opinion, should be paid at least as much as good psychologists!

This all brings me, somewhat circuitously, to be able to tell you about my lovely Sicilian hairdresser, Raffaele. He has been cheering me up and making the best of a bad job re. my appearance for well over 10 years now, as I think I first went to him on a visit here in 1995. He looks like the young Gene Kelly and, in fact, one Xmas when I was here, even had a grand piano and pianist playing Xmas tunes in the salon! So no one could say that he does not do things with panache.

His salon is on my favourite shopping street, the Via Sacro Cuore [where my favourite bar is too - more on that another time] and, by British standards, it is quite a luxurious and spacious place.

You don't make appointments, not even at busy times like Xmas; you just go in there and you wait. [I take a book along these days!] Well, you can make an appointment, but I have found that it doesn't make any difference! - You could still be in for a 2-hour wait on a Saturday, for instance. "Pazienza", as they say here.

You also do not, as in the UK, ask for a certain stylist: the only stylist is the man himself! His assistants will wash you, colour you, even start the blow-dry; but cut they will not and you always have to wait for Raffaele to "finish" you, at which point he will give you his charming smile and declare you to be "servita".

He has his off-days, of course: one day in February I wanted red lowlights and came out with pink ones, but he did correct them later and in the meantime I told everyone it was for my birthday - until I felt so bloody stupid that I could stand it no longer! And I have a suspicion that, like many Mediterrranean men, he really likes women to have their hair coloured a deeper, brownish shade. [There are, surprisingly, quite a few Italian hairdressers in my hometown of Cardiff and I have noticed that they tend to go for this kind of colour, too.]

It is when I am at Raffaele's that I am often aware of another element of the old culture shock, this time regarding "personal space": if I am in my hairdresser's in the UK, I would never dream of going up to talk to Peter while he is with another client, but here everyone just barges in and walks straight up to Raffaele, whatever he is doing. And I find that quite an invasion of my "space" and of my moments with my hairdresser -who is also my psychologist, remember! [Yet lately I have caught myself doing it, too!] And, of course, it is well known that continental Europeans and Americans stand closer to each other than Brits do, so maybe that is part of it, too.

The other thing I have to tell you about Raffaele and his staff is that they are all so very kind: in the summer, when I was still in temporary accommodation down in Modica Bassa, Raffaele several times made me wait until a member of staff was free to drive me back there, as he was worried about my hanging around for buses in the heat. That was such a thoughtful act at such a difficult time for me and I will never forget it. Then, later, when I moved into the flat and was "ripped off " by a certain tradesman, they all said to me, "Please, if you are in need of help, tell us; we know people and they will not cheat you". It made up for the other incident! - and I will tell you about that another time, too. And then Raff has let a member of staff off at slack times to come over here and do "odd jobs" for me, too - for which I have, of course, happily paid him - but the point is that he allowed the young man to come and help and he was someone I knew I could trust; that is so important when you move to a new country and know few people.

I discussed the Blair woman with Raffaele yesterday, by the way - he had read all about it - and we were sure in agreement on it!

And then, as I came out of the salon, I got "caught" by one of those local TV crews that goes round thrusting a microphone at you and telling you you have "35 seconds to say whatever you want": so I found myself saying how wonderful Modica is, how the sun shines in Sicily, how beautiful are the fruit and vegetables and how wonderful life can be here - even though I had woken up feeling quite depressed! Well, that's hairdressers for you!

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