Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Rabat of Seville*

(Or a Long-winded Tale of Three Hair Cuts)

When it comes to their coiffures, long-haired women have laboured under the assumption that their short-tressed sisters have an easier time of it. I've heard it all: "the humidity is making my hair frizzy! You can just get up and go. I can't do anything with it. You don't know how lucky you are! " Not so - it does take effort to keep a short hair style looking decent and it starts with a good cut. If I have a bad hair day or I'm too lazy to wash my hair, I can't pull my hair back in a ponytail. I have no recourse to barrettes, scrunchies, clips and other such implementa. My hair is short & straight and a bad cut shows; in fact, I need to get it cut every 5 weeks so, on top of everything else, it aint' cheap. By week 6, my hair is anything but attractive.

So when I moved to Rabat 4 months ago, I was immediately obsessed with finding a good hairdresser. I had time - at least 5 weeks before I would start looking like David Spade, so I kept my eyes open. But I soon grew panicky: a quick persual down Fal Ould Omer (the main drag in Agdal which Chris calls Follow the Leader) and it becomes readily apparent that 99.9% of Moroccan women have long hair. I was racked with anxiety: in a land of Rapunzels, would hairdressers here have much experience cutting short hair? While I fretted, my hair began to grow. I walked by salons (there are approximately 726 salons in Agdal alone) and peered in, but I saw no one with short hair. Nor did their names inspire me with confidence; there was the Pretty Woman, the Aqua Belle, the Boom! Boom! and the Fitness Beauté. The latter sounded far too strenuous. Alas, my work was cut out for me. I began to ask around, albeit to the perfectly-coiffed long-haired ones about me. My hair began to grow longer. I became intimidated by the process. Even if I found a hairdresser, my high school French from 18 decades ago surprisingly would not equip me for "just a trim but could you thin it out on top, I want it above the ears, tapered at the back and could you use the #3 blade on the electric clippers?" I stalled. My hair continued to grow. Week 6 arrived and I began to bear an uncanny resemblance to Macaulay Culkin. David Spade was just days away.

Cut the First

Finally - joy of joys - Salon Abdou is recommended to me. I run to the salon which is situated conveniently near my house. I am greeted at the door by 3 women in white coats. As I ask for a rendez-vous, the boldest of the three, whom I will call the Appointment Bee, looks quizzically at my hair while maintaining a smile on her face that I can only describe as a rictus of forced politeness. I know that my hair looks bad but still. A couper? she asks. Yes, just a cut. Monsieur Abdou will take me in 10 minutes. M. Abdou is the only male in this hive of women - I count 7 worker bees, although he is the only one cutting hair. Soon I am called for the shampoo - a process in a Canadian salon which I equate with public sex. A good shampooer digs her nails hard (but not too hard - no need to draw blood) into your scalp and massages your head in the frothiness of a thick fruity shampoo. I will groan and writhe because it feels so damn good.

I am seated in the chair and the Shampoo Bee flips a switch and the chair converts into a Barka Lounger - an auspicious sign. I close my eyes in anticipation. Alas - it's a let down - no post-shampoo cigarette for me. There is no pummeling, no kneading - only a half-hearted attempt to work up a lather in tepid water. I am bored. I moan once to make the Shampoo Bee feel good, a pity groan to let her know that I'm in the moment. I write grocery lists in my head. She flips the switch and I am projected vertically. She wraps my head in a towel and walks away. Did I not groan enough? - have I offended her? But no, her job is done: a different worker bee escorts me to the cutting chair and removes the towel - this is the Towel Bee. Yet another worker bee, the Magazine Bee, brings me a magazine which I abandon in favour of the television monitor suspended in the corner - Shrek is playing in French. Then another worker bee, the Final Preparation Bee, comes over and combs my hair with a huge wide-toothed comb, succeeding in giving me that MacLauley Culkin-look after all. Now I am ready for monsieur.

M. Abdou - a scruffy & overweight version of French actor Jean Reno - finally appears. He asks me what style I want and, with great apprehension, I try, "Le même mais plus court" - which was about the best I could come up with. He nods. I sigh in relief although I wish he had seen my hair when it was dry, not slicked back like a freshly furrowed field. I close my eyes and let him cut. Halfway through the cut, yet another worker bee (perhaps I have underestimated them at 7 - clearly there are more), discreetly approaches him and, with a gentle *ahem*, finally manages to attract his attention. Servile Bee whispers in his ear some matter of great urgency. Her demeanour is one of perfect deference. I am awed. He disappears for a moment to attend to this matter (ah! - it is a telephone call) but returns to snip away at my head. He is a meticulous snipper and it takes over 30 minutes to cut my hair. But le voila! - he is done. To be fair he has done a very good job. I am pleased - no, relieved. He motions to the Big Brush bee who comes and brushes my neck and face. Then she swishes my hands, the webbing between the fingers, and then begins to clean minute hairs from my feet. Please don't clean my toes, I pray. She cleans my toes. The King Bee goops my hair in a rather startling but not totally unattractive manner which I will nonetheless wash out and restyle when I get home.

I step out into the bright sunlight awfully pleased with myself - this has been an achievement, I have made an important connection. I now have a good hairdresser. True, the experience was weird but such is the currency in Rabat for all things mundane at home.

Cut the Second

Five weeks fly by. I drop by the salon and make another appointment. This time I am greeted warmly by the Appointment Bee with the typical Moroccan limp handshake. Tomorrow? Yes, in sh'allah. I leave uneasy; I would prefer that she write the appointment in a book rather than leave it up to the will of a capricious god. No matter. Tomorrow comes & I return. I wait for over 20 minutes to be shampooed. Finally I am called and the same Bee routine is repeated, but with one exception: my head is shampooed for 25 minutes accompanied by another halfhearted limp massage. I time it. Frankly, I am concerned. Why won't the Shampoo Bee rinse my hair? Is there something covertly sexual about this? - is she making advances? Now I am cold -having lukewarm shampoo on your head for half an hour is a chilling business. Finally, she rinses me off & wraps me up, and the Towel Bee brings me to the cutting chair. The Magazine and Big Comb Bees all perform their various ministrations. No M. Abdou. I have now been in the salon for over 45 minutes without a glimpse of a pair of scissors. I have a Seinfeld flashback - the episode (the Alternate Side) with the rental car:

Jerry: I don't understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the reservation.

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation and that's really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

*Sigh* I want to go but I my plowed wet hair again makes me look like Macaulay Culkin. I am a hostage. Eventually the King Bee enters the salon through a back door. The attendant bees all buzz in a swarm of activity. He cuts my hair and I am satisfied - it is not as short as I would like but I am anxious to leave. Then he grabs the hair goop and begins to plaster my hair and play with it. I look like Don King. I am horrified but, I remind myself, this is nothing that I can't remedy at home.

Five weeks go by. I drop by to make another appointment, but the Appointment Bee & I cannot find a mutually convenient time. When I am free, M. Abdou isn't. Can I come at 6 p.m.? - no, I work then. She pouts; she cannot make an appointment more than 3 days ahead (perhaps because that's as much as she can commit to memory). I tell the Appointment Bee that I will return next week. This dance is repeated three times. M. Abdou apparently comes into the salon when he feels like it - which might explain my 25 minute shampoo. I am becoming less patient and more frantic. M. Abdou is not available between 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. I resolve to look elsewhere. I have passed Week 7.

Cut the Third

I hear of Creation Lahlou Jamal and, not surprisingly, it is close to my home. I drop by to make an appointment - there is a Stylist Bee (Monsieur Jamal?), many worker bees one of whom is male (!). The Appointment Bee suggests 10:00 but I ask for 1 p.m.. M. Jamal, offers up a gallic shrug which the Appointment Bee takes as acquiesence. I am encouraged because they write my name (albeit mispelled with 2 extra syllables including an additional y and 2 a's) and time in a book rather than leaving it up to the will of Allah. I return the next day. My appointment is confirmed and I take a seat. But what;s this? - there is no M. Abdou, there is only a Colourist Bee (his electric blue tunic is emblazoned with the moniker coloriste). He is applying paste to a 50-some year old woman, taking months off of her age. I wait and thumb through magazines and find a picture of what my hair would look like if I had access to a hairdresser every 5 weeks. There is an upper gallery at Creation Lahlou Jamal from which I am watched by a number of worker bees. Whenever I look up they smile and titter; one waves.

Ten minutes go by. Christ almighty, I think. There is no television monitor playing Shrek; rather the Colourist Bee is now regaling another worker bee with every fucking ringtone on his cell phone. I am about to ask the whereabouts of the elusive Stylist Bee when the Colourist Bee barks something at one of the worker bees in the gallery. She comes downstairs and asks if Name-Not-Understood Bee can cut my hair instead. Frustrated, but because looking like David Spade would now be an improvement, I agree. Worker Bee disappears and Name-Not-Understood Bee comes downstairs to greet me. She is a deadringer for one of the cleaning ladies at work. I look hard at her. I am sure that it is our cleaning lady. Nonetheless, I surrender my head to this woman, who I now realise is a Colourist Bee (she too is wearing a Coloriste electro-blue tunic). I am shampooed by Shampoo Bee in the same lacklustre fashion as my previous shampoos. But there is an economy of labour at Creation Lahlou Jamal: the Shampoo Bee actually puts a towel on my head and escorts me to the cutting chair, fulfilling the jobs of two bees at Salon Abdou.

Name-Not-Understood Bee is waiting for me; I show her the photograph. She nods and opens her personal case of scissors and paraphenalia that all cutters have, only to reveal one pair of scissors. I have a bad feeling about this. Then she removes the towel (herself!) and places what I can only describe as a heavy rubber car mat on my shoulders (to keep my cape from flying away?). I am confused. Am I getting x-rays? No matter, she begins to cut. In no time at all, she is finished. I am stunned - Name-Not-Understood Bee has given me the best haircut since my arrival in Rabat. I am delighted. I vow to return.

What I have learned:
1) At least 1 hairdresser & I colourist in Rabat can cut short hair.
2) It is wise to trust your appointment to an appointment book rather than to Allah.
3) Trusting your appointment to an appointment book is no guarantee that you have an appointment; ergo, Allah always has the last word - capricious gods always do.
4) The number of workers bees in a salon is inversely proportionate to the quality of your haircut.
5) A 15-year old kid back home could reorganize the salons here with a Hilroy notebook, a couple of Girl Guides and a wad of pink slips, and make them efficient, smooth-running & profitable (a variation on a theme).
6) Although there appears to be a King Bee Stylist in salons, the worker bees provide a better alternative to their masters.
7) Shampoo Bees must be re-trained. If I am not emotionally & physically drained after a shampoo, they are not doing their job properly.
7) Shrek loses a lot in translation.

I will return to Creations Lahlou Jamal in 5 weeks' time but I am not so naive as to actually believe that I will have a repeat experience - after all, my second visit to Salon Abdou was not successful; however, I have made a few mistakes myself. I should have asked Name-Not-Understood Bee what her name was, I should have torn the photo from the magazine to keep for possible future forays into other beehives, and I should have paid more attention in my high school French classes. Nonetheless, I have bought myself 5 weeks after which I'll hopefully be ushered into Creations Lahlou Jamal to Name-Not-Understood Bee crooning:

How doooo!
Welcome to my shop!
Let me cut your mop.
Let me shave your crop!
Daintily! Daint-i-ly!

* with apologies to Gioacchino Rossini & Chuck Jones


Anonymous Cath said...

I recently abandoned my hairdresser of 15 years because, between the shampoo bee and the conditioner bee and coffee bee and eventually, Herself, it would take up to two hours to get a simple cut. As Daffy Duck might say, "What a revoltin' development."
I've moved on to a one-woman multi-tasker who has me out of there in 45 minutes -- and cuts hair better.
That's all, folks.

9:13 p.m.  
Anonymous Lady M said...

Abdou has been my hairdresser for years. He is really good but it's been more than 3 years now that he completely drifted from hairdressing to business.
The bees description is really perfect : The way-too-long shampoo, the very approximate apointment, etc.
Anyway, I was looking for a new hairdresser so I will probably try yours now. Just a question : how much does it cost ?

PS : The post could have done without the "a 15 years guy from back home could have done the job..."

9:18 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

My cut at Creations Jamal was 150 dh & are at the corner of Baht & Sebou

10:37 a.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

You got a problem with David Spade's hair?

Seriously, one thing us guys are lucky about is barber shops (if one's lucky enough to find a good one - remember Ernie's in Toronto? Now it's owned by Mike, a Vietnamese guy). I now go to Sam's #1, owned by an Italian guy named (you guessed it!) Sam, and right around the corner from me (did you know there's a smallish Italian enclave near on Danforth between Coxwell and Woodbine?). It's called Sam's #1 to distinguish it from Sam's, about two blocks away. In any event, Sam (my Sam) is great, cheap, and it's quite fun to listen to the Italian banter between him and his other clients (in my observation, I'm the only non-Italian client he has). Sadly, I'm in the process of moving out of the neighbourhood, so depending on where I move, I may have to look for yet another barber. I don't think I'll have the problems you've experienced, however. Besides, there's only so much one can do to screw up a guy's hair, and over the years I've had a near-shaved pate often enough that if confronted with a truly horrible cut, I could do the Michael Jordan thing...

3:46 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Are you sure it's not called Sam's # 1 to distinguish it from the record store? - and besides, shouldn't it be Sam's #2??

6:09 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...


He was there first, but I don't think it was officially called Sam's, even though everyone called it Sam's. Then, when Sam #2 came along, he called his simply Sam's, and everyone said (in an Italian accent, no doubt, or perhaps even in Italian itself, "Hey, he can't call himself Sam's, because the ~real~ Sam's is the one our buddy Sam owns!"

In all probability, told his friends, "Don't-a worry, I'm a gonna fixa he's a-wagon," and then called his shop Sam's #1, in recognition of the fact that he was-a there-a first - I mean - he was there first.

7:29 p.m.  
Blogger Najlae said...

hahahaha Abdou does really look like Jean Reno! never tried lahlou tho..

5:59 a.m.  
Blogger woman wandering said...

I giggled my way through this then thought ... 'what am I laughing about?' I just had my hair reshaped by 'the girls' at a monday night birthday get together ... alcohol was involved however I was lucky, it worked out okay.

Good luck ...

11:45 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Everything is bearable when liquor is involved!!

1:27 p.m.  
Blogger woman wandering said...

Too true, Ms Cat in Rabat, too true!

8:24 p.m.  

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