The Malta Independent 5 August 2020, Wednesday

My Beard

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 08:33 Last update: about 7 months ago

In these last years, facial hair has become another commodity our private economy has to vie with. 

A beard has countless meanings. It signified wealth and status in the ancient Egyptian times or a sign of mourning if you happened to be a Roman.  In today’s day and age, it is turning into a fashion statement. 

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And yes, I have been ensnared into this new style.

Well to cut the chase, I needed a trim (mind you when it comes to a haircut, nothing beats Steffi – and that is the way it is and will remain).  Nervously I walked into Patrizio Barber Shop, the village hair salon, for the first time in my life. It had taken me weeks to contemplate this move. 

I’ve had barely four people handle my mane in all my life, which is now quickly drawing to the 50’s mark. 

You see I’m very discerning when it comes to my hairdresser!

I could easily list out the salons that struggled with making me look decent, whether through having il-ferq fil-genb or il- ferq fin-nofs.  The first is; Il-Lafoy at Hamrun.  Getting a haircut at this bloke had an eerie feeling as he wore his white overcoat. It looked and felt more like I was going to the dentist than a hairstylist (keeping to the ‘barber-surgeon’ role of the middle ages - who apart from clipping the hair would occasionally pull out a tooth or saw off a limb if need be!)

In fact, this is reminiscent of the symbolism that lies with the barber pole, no? 

The spiraling stripes of the barber pole are a mainstay of this craft.  It is evocative of the time when barbers used to perform medical procedures, when and if required.  That is why there is the red stripe that symbolizes blood, the white streak that denotes the bandages and the blue hoop that epitomizes the veins.

Then there was Charles’ Salon in Hamrun where I could have made family history had I given-in to the temptation of getting a perm (you know, like the one of my boy-time hero, Kevin Keegan); then there was Mark’s hair Salon and finally, my all-time favourite, Steffi. 

Back to the village salon. 

As I said I needed a quick beard trim. 

I walked in and I was immediately captivated by the bearded images painted on the showroom, the reddish rexine that packaged the seating, the promise of a hot shave, the mirrors that amplified the little pimple under my chin making it look like a knoll and the typical head wash basin.

The broom standing to attention on the side of the room, all set for the zija to come into action.

The sheared hair strewn on the floor.  The mumbling of men speaking politics, football, boxing training, sex and parish feast all in a guzzle.

It was finally my turn.

The barber began getting organized with the neck tape. 

He slumped me on the barber chair.  I saw him coming towards me with that menacing shave-razor and he started going at it – rough yet temperate and jagged and gentle.

It was like a scene out of the popular English television crime drama located in 20s Birmingham, the Peaky Blinders.  The feeling hollered between the uncanny and the hilarious.  The guy tackling the customers was dishing out stories and anecdotes making everyone bend double with hilarity.  The spirit he had was prodigious.   As he was zipping around his customers with his beard trimmer, razor and hair clippers he felt more like an entertainer than a coiffeur.

But the electrifying thing is that we are all used to the fact that whilst getting a haircut we are unperturbed and relaxed and there is a feeling that a safe space has been created.  Apart from the grooming and styling the barbershop becomes an interplay of social interaction; highbrow intermezzos mashed with plain and simple ‘dak dejjaqi z**** - ha nifqalu wiccu la narah’ avowals and all in the spirit of the masculine culture!  All of this brings ‘you’ in tune to the way our communities are constructed.

In fact, these shops almost become a public forum where the debate at times is transmuted into a public concern, engaging citizens on the ongoing issues from their lens; whether it is the debatable Carnival float, a Robert-ian move, the crises of the PN, the traffic police scandal or the new bradella that will seat the patron saint.

A masculinized abode where men seem to find the lost comradery between their peers.

As I torpor on the reddish rexine it hits me how diverse our population is.  The moment you think you know them all, bang another one.

It indeed seems like the barber shop is becoming a unique pause where people throw their ‘philosophies’ in the fracas without fear or dread.  Possibly, these little corner shops are churning one of the few contexts in our society where people bother to find some time to speak and not only that, what you see is what you get – now, how rare has that become ?

Dean’s Forum (Faculty for Social Wellbeing)

Apropos, I would like to invite you to attend to the 3rd edition of the Dean's Forum which is going to be held tomorrow the 20th February at 5pm at the ALT (Art's Lecture Theatre) at the UM. 

This event will be compered by Martina Zammit of Vibe FM and the band The Busker will be playing live covers and original songs.  This debating society will pit 4 groups of students who will be debating the following topics, namely: ‘AI: The unpredictable future’; ‘Partisanship in politics: Doom or Bloom?’; ‘Big brother is watching: Protection or infringement of privacy?’ and ‘Masculinity without toxicity: Does it exist?’  If interested contact me on [email protected]

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