My partner and I were in Milan visiting his family and his sister asked if I wanted to get a haircut together. “Sure,” I said. It seemed like a great way to bond. “The salon is a little expensive,” she warned, “but they do a great job.” That’s okay I thought. After traveling and living out of a bus for eight months my hair had this hang dog look, so I didn’t mind paying a little extra for a trip to the groomers. She booked the appointment.
The next day we ascended the metro steps near the Duomo. The salon was right on the main square.
“So, how much do you think it will cost?” I ventured.
She gave me an estimate, a number that I can’t bring myself to make public. Let’s just say it was bigger than a breadbox. Waaaay bigger.
I didn’t know it at the time, but we were headed to Aldo Coppola’s salon. Cappola and his team are some of the most famous stylists in the world. That I hadn’t heard of him was no surprise. The L’Oreal models and celebrities that make up his client list don’t loiter in the grotty beach lots where my partner and I park our bus at night, or do they dine at the street stalls where we eat dinner.
I swallowed hard. For a drifters like us, money is time. Every new Balinese sundress is a step closer to the cubicle, a minty mojito on a Tarifa beach can liquidate an entire day on the road. For this reason, we eat couscous and rice, avoid toll roads, and think thrice before buying new clothes. If my calculations were correct, the price of a haircut from Aldo Coppola’s salon would shave off a week of travel.
We proceeded across the square and a flock of pigeons parted in front of us. There was still time to back out. I could tour the cathedral while she had her cut and we could bond over coffee lattes afterwards. Later, I could ferret out the Italian version of SuperCuts and get a cheap trim.
But I kept walking toward the salon. Part of me was too enthralled to turn back. I flashed on being 12 years old and living the humdrum state of Nebraska. At that age, I plastered the walls of my shag-carpet bedroom in pictures of fashion models and dreamed of things like getting a haircut in Milan. There is no doubt that training my young mind on those bone thin images was toxic to my self-image, but it wasn’t without benefit. Those exotic pages of Vogue ignited my very first dreams of travel. For the first time, I could imagine a world outside that midwestern eternity of cornfields. Of course the reality now is that I was wearing a pilled-up flannel jacket rather than Prada and suffering a decidedly different form of anorexia than those waif-y magazine models: the financial kind. Nonetheless, here I was: on the brink of getting a haircut in Milan.
We entered the large glass doors of the building and I contemplated the estimate as we rode seven sets of escalators to the top floor. As we ascended, I let the seven stages of grief fell behind me like so many split ends: denial, guilt, anger, reflection, and on the seventh floor finally, acceptance. It’s not just a haircut, I reasoned. It’s a cultural experience.
The salon was housed in a bright round sunroom. There was a small buffet bar, and in reflected in every mirror were the sharp spikes of the Duomo and the surrounding cityscape. I tied on the white cape the stylist handed me and then, like a dieter sliding at last into a cream cake, I sank into a chair and for the next hour-and-a-half, had my matted head massaged, scrubbed, conditioned, and combed. The stylist flipped my hair around like an origami master, combing it from one side to the other, sectioning it with clips, and snipping off breath-taking lengths. She sensed my anxiety. “Don’t worry,” she consoled in a thick Italian accent. “It will still be long.” When she was finished, she took the clips out and set it loose. She blew it dry. Indeed, it was the best haircuts I’d ever had.
I handed a stack of Euros over.
Afterwards, my partner walked toward me across the square, a large grin of approval across his face. For the moment I could ignore the fact that his jeans were worn thin and his shoes in a late state of decay. Here I am walking toward my lover in Milan, I mused, my Great Hair bouncing behind me. Soon enough we’d go back to our monastic routines, soaking lentils and sleeping in the bus. I would no doubt suffer a financial hangover. But the 12-year old girl didn’t care. The moment was worth every penny.