“Sono al posto giusto?” I asked apprehensively, raising my voice over the breathy howl of a trio of hairdryers. “Cerco Karina – I’m looking for Karina.” I was standing in an achingly trendy hair salon one street back from the sea front in the centre of Civitanova Marche and felt a long way outside my comfort zone. I was unsure whether this was actually the place Rachel had recommended to me, and so to check that I was in the right salon, I had asked if they used to have an English client by that name who had just moved away. It was from Rachel that we had bought the house and she had kindly left us a long list of useful names and numbers for the plumber, the electrician, the builder, the water company, the gas man, the council – and, very perceptively, I thought – her hairdresser. But rather than leaving the name of the salon, she had just given a first name – Karina – and a phone number. I had googled the number, which had come up as that for the salon I was now standing in, which made sense as Rachel and her partner had lived in Civitanova for several years before moving out to Montelupone, so I was fairly confident I was on the right track. “Si! Si! Rachele! Sta bene? – How is she?” asked the petite woman with long, artfully tousled locks and almost comically huge horn-rimmed glasses. “Io sono Karina. Come posso aiutarLa? – I’m Karina. How can I help you?”
I felt a tingle of relief: I’d overcome the first hurdle. “Si, sta bene. Senti… Yes, she’s fine. Anyway…” I took a deep breath and launched into my little pre-prepared explanation of my presence and my wishes. On reflection, I suppose it was really quite ridiculous to feel this nervous about going to the hairdresser after all the much more important and complex administrative labyrinths we had been attempting to negotiate over the preceding weeks. But this was going to be quite a leap for me. Not only was it my first trip to an Italian hairdresser, which would involve another raft of ‘newness’ to get used to as well as a whole new chapter in my expanding Italian vocabulary, it was the first time I had changed salon at all in getting on for fifteen years.
The salon in the UK that I had gone to for all those years was tucked down a side street on the edge of the small and sleepy market town about three miles from our forge in deepest Lincolnshire, and as such was the very antithesis of trendy. Run by two very blokey Yorkshiremen, the décor was as plain and functional as the service, which ran to a stack of dog-eared gardening and motoring magazines to read over a giant mug of builder’s tea, or instant coffee if they were feeling adventurous. And there was none of the usual sing-songy “going anywhere nice on your holidays?” chat either – I’m pleased to say. The one who did my hair for the first few years would talk to me at length about his son’s autism, and his difficulties in getting proper support for him. With the one I went to for the next few years, it was cars: we would chat at similar length about the aged soft-top MG sports cars that we each owned, comparing notes on their respective rattles, squeaks and judders, and exchanging recommendations for paintshops and mechanics. And they were both extremely efficient ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ hairdressers too: colour, wash, trim and blow-dry all done and dusted in just over an hour. From standing in Karina’s salon for just a few minutes, it was clear that it was going to be a rather different experience here.
First there was the décor: bang on-trend shades of beige, grey and off-white, with distressed, shabby-chic furniture, glitzy show-girl lights around the generous mirrors in front of which stood a row of smart chrome-trimmed chairs, and a chi-chi little table in the middle that was covered in a selection of pretty glass jars and dishes filled with dainty pastries, biscuits and chocolates. Then there were the staff: a couple improbably slim young women both dressed in matching black T-shirts and super-skinny jeans bustled around the place, folding fluffy black towels and scooping up glossy magazines while three more identically dressed and equally slim young women dried, brushed, teased and snipped the hair of the three black-gowned customers sitting in front of them. Karina kept breaking off from our conversation to issue instructions to her crew: “Irene, could you rinse Emanuela’s colour off, please. Veronica, can you start off Chiara’s blow-dry, please. Keti, Maria is ready to pay….” It was another world, and one which I found faintly intimidating.
So it really did take some getting used to. For a start, there was the language issue to deal with, then there were the differences in hairdressing techniques and products – the combined effect of which resulted in one or two minor disasters early on. And then there was also what Mr Blue-Shirt and I, in our all too Anglo-Saxon way, refer to as ‘faffing’. This is when any job appears to be accompanied by quite a bit of (to us) unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing, a fair amount of apparently idle chit-chat, and a general absence of any sense of urgency which together seem to make so many things take so much longer than they need to, and which saw the time required for my very standard colour, wash, trim and blow-dry nearly double to just shy of two hours.
At first, all this would make trips to the hairdresser really quite nerve-wracking, but once I had got to grips with the vocabulary and could accurately explain exactly what I wanted, I relaxed, learnt to stop being so Anglo-Saxon, and to go with the flow. Indeed, I now positively embrace this slower pace – which is not ‘faffing’, as it turns out, but just better customer service. And as well as enjoying a couple of hours of what now feels like proper pampering, chatting with Irene, Veronica, Keti and Karina also allows me a solid couple of hours of Italian practice. Oh, and best of all, it’s cheaper than going to my two blokey Yorkshiremen.
Photo credit: Karina Love Hair, Viale Vittoria Veneto, 25, Civitanova Marche.