I wasn’t sure if I should enter the faded blue building off the main street or not. Something about the blue put me at ease, called to me, while stirring an emotion to turn and walk away at the same time. I entered, responding to the calling, which outweighed the desire to leave. It took only moments from when I entered the small doorway on this side street ‘til the time a man with a steady hand held a knife to my throat.
I told myself to remain calm as the knife scraped against the soft flesh of my neck. Revoking the urge to squirm I reminded myself, “You’re paying for this – he’s a professional – its okay.”
I was getting a straight razor shave.
The steady hand against my neck was that of my 74-year old barber, who’s been giving shaves to travelers and locals alike for over 22 years. He’s shaved more this year than I have in my life. Quite impressive since I started shaving in 5th grade and it is only the end of March.
I’ve realized in my travels that everyone has a “vice”. Some travelers can’t help but drink their favorite type of alcohol, go for massages, manicures, pedicures, steak dinners or one of any other countless things that travelers will go well out of their way to find. I have a vice, its straight-razor shaves.
There is a strange thrill when receiving a shave like this. It’s a culmination of emotions. The thrill is in sitting in a chair in a strange country and letting someone you don’t know put a knife to your throat. Laying back, being unable to see what they are doing. Then, there’s the sting of the alcohol as they bathe your face in a manner bordering on a massage – it stings at first. A pungent aroma fills your nostrils in a way that nearly burns as the facial rub dances lightly along the border of pleasure and pain.
In the chair of a well practiced barber the world slips away and your entire existence is taken up in the sensory overload of the shave. Only the sense of taste is not engaged (but if you bring a mint you can engage all your senses).
The essence of the shave is captured in the scent of the pre-shave wash, the sound of the hair follicles being sliced through by a sturdy blade and the wipe of the blade after each stroke. It’s the feeling of the blade as it glides across your face, maneuvered deftly between fingers that simultaneously swipe the blade and ply your skin into better position. It’s the sound of the solitary fan above, the creak of the chair, and the slight slapping sound as the barber lathers your soon-to-disappear facial hair. It’s the focus you see in the eyes of your barber, the blade in the hand that is too close to your face to focus. It’s magic. Well, it’s magic for me anyways.
My latest barber, Juan, the aforementioned 74-year-old, gave me a great experience. His hands belied his age while his boney arms told tale of muscle that made him a once formidable man. There was the distinct glint of joy in his eye as he ran the blade across my face and his blue eyes flecked with gold gleamed as pristinely as the white stone rosary hanging from his aged neck. He smiled as he focused intently on my shave and his work was as good, if not better, than any straight-razor shave I’ve had before.
It was quite a wonderful way to end a morning.