Quiet please, I'm thinking.
In the heat of the Istanbul summer it is important to do all one can to remain cool, so yesterday I had my hair cut short again. This may sound like a normal, run-of-the-mill task: pop down the local Barnett-chopper; snip, snip and Bob’s your auntie, then off home with you. But this is Turkey, baby. When you get your hair cut here, like so many things, it’s quite the experience.
Last time I was stitched up like a kipper (fifty notes for a thirty minute job) so I figured I’d try something a little different this time. Someone I know, who’s lived here a while, recommended a guy (Ahmet, I think was the chap’s name). Twenty notes, not including tip, and he’ll sort you out good and proper. At least this was the understanding I had going in. In his defense, the fact that it cost quite a bit more (fifty notes again) is mostly my own fault, but this is not a tale of woe or high-priced shenanigans. No, this is a tale of fear and stupidity, and perhaps a study of how easy it is to lose the run of one’s own mind from time to time.
Ahmet, for that is what we shall call the fellow, had nary a a word of English. I believe I have touched on this in a previous post, the fact that English is not the lingua franca, as it were, which is good news for any aspiring English teacher. Nor do I possess the required Turkish language skills, that will no doubt be necessary as time unfolds. But my buddy who recommended this fellow brought me there and, one can only assume, explained the situation. Into a battered old barber’s chair I jumped, grinning like an idiot, as I used my three Turkish phrases to appease the Master; ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘I am good’. Happy days!
The haircut passed off without a hitch, there’s really only so much that can happen to the top of one’s head. Ahmet offered me tea, I politely declined, unintelligibly I’m sure. He went on to offer water, milk, coffee and some other things that I also insisted I could live without. Then it happened, he asked me if I wanted a shave. Of course, still grinning like an idiot, I said ‘lutfen’.
There are few things in this world scarier than a well-built fellow standing over you with an open straight razor, even if he seems the cordial sort. From the moment I agreed to have my face relieved of its grubby stubble and accumulated detritus I regretted my choice. But one can’t simply up and run like a bat out of hell, one must see it through. So there I sat, Ahmet lathering me up with the greatest of care. He set up the straight razor, must have seen the crazed fear in my eyes, then got cracking.
Every time I swallowed I imagined that blade slicing through my Adam’s apple. I recalled that scene from Dumb and Dumber, the one where Jim Carrey uses the open ketchup pack to freak out the barber, and I stifled a laugh. ‘Don’t laugh’, I thought. ‘You’ll anger him and he has the blade, and the upper hand.’ I’m not sure if it was the heat but I sure was perspiring.
The feel of a really, razor-sharp blade is something special. It is unique. Some blades are sharp, others are pretty sharp; I don’t know what Ahmet’s deal is but that blade felt about as sharp and fine as any edge I’ve had against my skin. Hardly a rasp as it moved over my face, chopping all those little hairs it met with and felling them like tiny trees. When he finally finished, after delicately shaving my upper lip and contorting my visage into all kinds of shapes, he was done. With the shave at least. In Turkey your barber thinks nothing of manhandling your head, as though for the time he’s in charge of it he can do what he likes. In truth, were one to contest his right to do so, frictions would likely ensue.
Without so much as a by your leave Ahmet placed me head first in the sink, face down of course. Running water over my freshly shaved jowls he washed me like a baby. I hardly had time to take a breath before he enthusiastically freed me from any stray hairs. I won’t go into all the details but my head has never been cleaner. In fact, he was so thorough, I was half expecting him to brush my teeth.