The Barber of Civil Istanbul

I asked the young lady at the desk which of the two barbers on our street I should visit. She told me the second, just past the big white building, around to the right.

“Is he good?”

“I’ll tell you when you get back.”

Armed with that challenge to virility, I visited Number Two. I’m afraid I can’t remember all the steps—they came so fast and were so numberless—but I’ll try:

First major operation: the scissors and comb around and over the entire head. Hardly a revolutionary technique except that the clipping fingers never stopped moving, the scissors never stopped singing, and, as the pace accelerated, the metal on metal pitch rose and, I think I saw smoke rise as well. Despite the speed, the clip job took quite some time (though the quantity of my hair is down markedly from years past). Most of the rapid opening and closing of the forfex (as Pope calls it in Rape of the Lock) was to establish rhythm and concentration and to ensure that no breakaway strand evaded the blue comb’s scrutiny.

Followed by scalp massage.

Then the straight razor around the ears and casually down the nape. A small flick at the already short sideburns.

Followed by a scalp massage, this time with a dab of witch hazel for refreshment.

Then a small black utensil whose battery-powered blades spun at a pitch even higher than the singing scissors. Ears and nostrils, with a pleasing purr.

Followed by a neck and shoulder massage.

Then a quick combing and a subtle dragging of the straight razor over all the shorn hair. To what effect? Who knows?

Followed by a utensil I saw a street urchin selling along the Hippodrome right next to the boy selling helicopter toys that glowed an unearthly blue when shot into the full moon sky and viewed through the water drops cast by the fountain between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. The machine has a handle of twisted wires held together by a large wooden bead at the end. At the working end, the wires, somewhat thinner than a cheap clothes hanger, spread open around an imaginary globe. If you held it upside down, the handle toward the ground, you could carry a cantaloupe in it. If you’re sitting in the barber’s chair, the dresser makes a cantaloupe of your skull, pushes the machine down over your scalp and raises and lowers the contraption at speed, as if he were operating a toilet plunger. And oh, such a head massage that gives—twenty, thirty fingers whose pressure increases as the machine closes in our your skull and then gently subsides as its tentacles rise toward the narrower part of your fat head. Divine.

Followed by a soupcon of laughter on all sides and a bit of shoulder massage to demonstrate good will.

Then a rough hand pushes your head down into the sink you hadn’t noticed, and the hair washing begins. A most aromatic shampoo massaged in so thoroughly you feel as if you’re laid out on the marble slab in the hamam.

Rinse. Repeat, this time retreating somewhat from the vigor of the first massage.

Followed by a scalp and neck massage disguised as drying your hair with a thick, hot towel.

Then a repeat of the razoring of the finished product. A sprinkling of a milder witch hazel so you don’t hit the streets smelling as if you just came from the barber.

Trimming the beard: no extra charge.


Moral: You may be looking for the local Hair Cuttery when you’re abroad.


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