Ah, the local barber. A ritual, a comfort of home.
Not so for me. Every haircut is a new adventure: a different country, a new language and yet another man with scissors (or God forbid, clippers) who has his own ideas about style.
During a recent ear-lowering interlude in Leon, Nicaragua, it struck me that barber shops are less about haircuts and more about history and culture.
An Ode to Barber Shops
I'm rather drawn to barber shops. Not because of vanity (rarely do my results echo “excessive pride in one’s appearance”), but because of their social relevance.
From Nepal to Nicaragua, barber shops offer a clip and a chat. Fathers take their sons, whose first visits invariably feature the fearful, tearful haze of a universal rite of passage.
Weather, life, family and politics. These topics are barber shop currency, forming a link in the chain of traditional social networks. Barber shops are the modern day remains of the oral tradition; their pace rings of a bygone era.
The barber shop feels like a dying breed. Fifty and sixty year-old men will continue to ply their trade until their hands can no longer clippity-clip with the scissors. But who will replace them when they are gone?
The Barber of Leon
No place better typifies the old-style barber shop than the one I visited in Leon, Nicaragua. It exuded a cluttered, timeless aesthetic that, if not examined closely, could be mistaken for a barber out of any number of old towns, from Havana to Siracusa.
Framed original newspaper clippings from a John F. Kennedy visit (Kennedy Ganar Simpatica – “Kennedy Wins Sympathy”), a grade-school drawing of a large knobby-kneed bird downing a frog, prominently placed NO FUME signs, and a string of permanently dust-encrusted plastic tarantulas and angels dangling from the ceiling.
The rule it seems: once something goes up, it never comes down. A living time capsule.
I’m thankful for places like this. Maybe that makes me stuck in the past. Maybe that makes me nostalgic. Maybe that makes me old school.
Or maybe I just like to get my hair cut.