Tuesday 25 June 2019

He flashed the fire against my skin – flaming hell, that was a close shave!

David Robbins

'You want shave?" asked the man, pointing to the two-day growth on my jaw.

"How much?" I said.

"Fifteen Turkish lira," he said.

He gestured gracefully to the interior of his shop, which stood near the edge of the covered market in Fethiye.

He had been sitting with a group of men at a little table outside. They watched the exchange in silence, flicking their worry-beads back and forth over their hands.

Inside the shop, which had no door but was open to the street, a woman sat watching a Turkish soap opera on a TV mounted high on the wall at the back.

On a hook between two mirrors hung several sets of beads, charms and religious-looking scapulars, including a Nazar, a talisman to ward off the "evil eye".

Fifteen Turkish lira is about €5.50. They are not that fussy about currency in Turkey. The barber would probably accept euro or US dollars too.

"Okay," I said. The barber smiled and directed me to the seat nearest the street. The men outside returned to their cigarettes and their conversation.

I like barber shops. Even though I haven't much reason to visit them these days (see photo above), I still go regularly. Funnily enough, the less hair you have, the more often what's left needs to be cut.

And then there's the other hairy fact about middle age that no one mentions: when it stops growing on your head, it starts growing everywhere else.

Eyebrows, ears and nose all need attention. Men have their depilatory requirements too.

A shave by a good barber is one of the luxuries of civilisation. The accoutrements – the cut-throat razor, the leather sharpening strap, the badger-hair brush – all seem to recall a more leisurely age.

Women joke that their hairdressers always ask them the same questions. "Any plans for tonight?" they say, or "Going anywhere special?"

Barbers too have their stock patter. Sport, politics and the ideal length for side-locks are frequent topics.

But I have hardly a word of Turkish. The barber's English was rudimentary, so the usual barber-shop banalities were dispensed with. Instead, we listened to the TV and, a little later, the noon call to prayer, broadcast by loudspeakers on the minaret of the mosque down by the port.

It was a familiar sound by now. I had heard it all over southern Turkey. It was called the ezan in this part of the world, and its length seemed to vary with the loquaciousness of the muezzin who was declaiming it.

Neither the barber, nor his friends, nor his wife, took any notice of it, so my shave continued uninterrupted. By this stage, the lathering and first shave had taken place, and the second shave – with the razor cutting against the grain of the beard – was under way.

Being shaved by someone else is an intimate business. Skin is stretched, nostrils are moved to one side and the head is turned this way and that. I could smell tobacco from the barber's hands.

Once I was shaved, he reached for something on the counter, a wire-handed instrument with a wad of cotton at the end. He dipped the cotton into a jar of purple liquid which, from the smell of it, was methylated spirits.

Then he lit the cotton wad and it burst into a lively flame. He applied the flame to my ear, flashing the fire against my skin and then dousing it with his hand. The smell of burnt hair filled the shop.

I had heard of hair singeing, but had never experienced it. As a means of getting rid of the fine, downy hairs on the ear, it is quite painful but very effective.

On the TV, the Turkish army had intervened in affairs in the soap opera. Outside, the fish and fruit market was falling quiet after the morning rush. Further away, the sun was beating down on the marina, and on the hundreds of yachts owned by retired English people or up-and-coming Russians.

Fethiye, which stands on a bay opposite Rhodes, is a mass tourist destination. But in the barber shop, you can still get a whiff of the real Turkey.

drobbins@independent.ie @dpmrobbins

Irish Independent

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