Planting a tree, cutting a flower, or having your hair cut is always best done when the moon is full. Don’t ask me why, but it has something to do with the effect the moon has on water. Because I have no talent for gardening and my hair hardly covers my head, the notion surrounding the full moon is an old wives’ tale that has become part of my life along with other inexplicables like spitting three times to ward off the evil eye. With that in mind, I had my hair cut only on the day of the full moon, and I always went with my friend Spiros, who introduced me both to the concept and to his barber “Eight Euros for a haircut and a straight razor shave. I give him ten. Why not?”
The barber’s shop was in the Acropolis. Along a narrow cobble stone street, down a series of old stone steps, there was no sign, no outward evidence that any business was being conducted within a whitewashed two story house. There was a missing window pane in the front door which allowed the arm to reach in and lift the latch. Behind the first door on the right was a small whitewashed room with nothing adorning the walls, two old taverna chairs along one wall, against another two single mattresses, one on top of the other, with a colorful spread. Along the fourth wall was the center of operations: a counter top, a few drawers, a roll of paper towels, a Bunsen burner, a small sauce pan, a large plastic bottle of water, a shaving mug, three scissors, clippers with two separate heads, and a mirror along the wall which showed you in the worst possible neon light. A small frameless photo of the barber with his son leaned against the furthest part of the shelf. A single barber chair, which is almost indescribable, except to note that it was black, antique, and very primitive, completed the scene.
Waiting to greet you was the barber, a tall thin man in his mid eighties with a respectable head of grey hair, sunken cheeks, twinkling eyes, and a mouth of actual teeth when he smiled to greet you. Retired, cutting a few heads to augment his ever decreasing pension for himself and his housebound wife, he was part of the infamous Greek black economy. He had been cutting hair for over sixty-five years and his hand was as steady today as it was when he was fifteen. Gentle and soft spoken, he spoke no English, but Spiros interpreted for me and we were very cordial with each other.
He probably hadn’t changed his craft since he first learned it sixty-five years ago, a dry cut, since there was no water source in the room, then he combed, cut and clipped, chatting all the while about how things used to be in Skiathos when he owned the barber shop down by the church. Things had certainly changed since he was a boy “…no high school, no tourists, no roads.” The cut took five minutes. He then took a cigarette break and continued chatting. “…no soccer stadium, no health center, no street by the port, no port there, only houses.” He fired up the Bunsen burner, shook some powder in a small sauce pan, poured some water from the bottle into it, swirled the mixture and set it over the burner to warm it, poured the contents into the shaving mug, stirred vigorously, then lathered your face for much longer than you thought necessary, and then carefully scraped, smoothing the skin. Around the ears and down the sides with his razor, then he was done. A splash of after shave, a quick wipe with a paper towel, three dabs of some kind of salve which he then spread around the beard, another quick comb and “There, you look like a teenager” or “There. I can’t make you more beautiful”. Spiros interpreted for him. It was an excellent hair cut. After another cigarette he would start on Spiros following the exact same routine.
The only time his razor had ever slipped was when he had only recently returned to work a month after his son had suddenly and unexpectedly died and, as he was shaving Spiros who tends to philosophize, and Spiros was trying to explain to him that a life was like a ship at sea and some ports were closer than others, I saw the barber quickly tear a tiny piece of paper towel and apply it to Spiros’ cheek, and then again on his chin, and another on his upper lip until Spiros looked like he had been in a knife fight. For a few times after that we both were on razor alert but, though our barber never slipped again, Spiros still never spoke while being shaved. Not altogether a bad idea.
Untouched by the modern world my barber didn’t own a computer or drive a car. He didn’t have cable television, only public. His was a simpler time. Born amidst the world wide Great Depression, he was a boy during the Italian and German occupation in World War II. He remembered when you listened to the news on the radio and were called upon to use your imagination. Then came television and there was no longer any need for imagination; it was right there and required less of you. And now with computers, everything was instant and required even less of you which somehow caused stress. He couldn’t explain it. He had lived through the civil war, the junta, his son’s death and his wife’s incapacity, together with the enormous changes on the island and with the society in general. His life had been simple yet heroic. His work had been the one constant in his life. In that little room, hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, he found solace. It was his temple. His clients were his friends and he could visit and chat and smoke and complain about the political situation but, and this was essential, he had to be cheerful for them, exchange stories, engage in a little light gossip, so he must have had to be cheerful in turn, which emboldened his spirit and gave him the strength to soldier on. Our barber left us this year, to our great loss. Though he will remain forever in our hearts and in our thoughts.