Tacked to the wall next to the mirror is a photo-postcard of a stunning belly dancer in dramatic costume and even more dramatic pose, the camera and a glowing golden light catching the red cloth as it swirls behind her and above. A scene from One Thousand and One Nights.
I squint at the small print along the lower edge: Turkish Belly Dance Lessons Rutland Vermont.
S, who is cutting my hair, nods. I love that picture, she says.
I nod back. Wonders never cease.
Turkish Belly Dancing in Vermont, I say. Have you checked it out?
S shakes her head. Hands are pretty darn full. She looks around the salon and sighs. I’ll stick to my Bollywood. She makes a beautiful, sharply angled flourish with her hands—comb in one, scissors in the other.
I have seen her dance troupe perform at the local community theater during talent night. Not quite India, but not bad.
We both smile, thinking our own thoughts; she snips away then says, Don’t want you looking all Vermont for your month in Europe now do we?
I think about how incongruous this all is--I don't do beautifying, but I seek beauty. Of an almost sort. In unexpected in-between spaces. Certainly not beauty salon spaces. And yet here I am. Again. Sitting under a leopard-spotted drape with S frowning at my hair which is heading into mostly gray. She probably thinks I should dye it. Go figure.
I think about how S has cut my hair forever, for over twenty years forever. I think about how we swap haircuts for photographs or writing books or quarts of my lemongrass broth; how we discuss our children, our careers, our husbands, my travels, and all the world, and have done ever since I met her in my daughter’s ballet class, a class S took to get back in shape after having her first baby. She gently suggested I could sure use a cut. And look at me now, on the clear slide to over-the-hill.
I think about how I love that she dolls up the place according to her own mood and taste: cheetah spots and zebra stripes, and how she wears bright zany colors and digs my electric blue shoes (I wore them just for her). And how she cuts the hair of all-organic skeptics like me and dye-it-up beautifiers like the woman just ahead of me, grand dames and silent old men, squirming kids and squirming brides, the rich and the not-so-rich.
I think of how her Irish-French Canadian rooted family has lived in these parts and up over the border in Quebec for generations. How she is one of the few who still carry full traces of the accent of the mountain towns. How she has one heck of a big heart and she studies full-out Bollywood and Classical Indian Dance. Go figure.
Two seats over, her young colleague cuts the hair of a local doctor and pumps her for information on all the germs she could catch from touching people’s heads. The doctor has much to say on the subject. I want to lean over and tell them that perhaps they should worry more about the poisons oozing into her from the chemicals she applies and sprays—including the dye she is smearing on the doctor’s hair. I want to tell her about the tea bags my grandmother applied every night to her auburn hair to keep it that color until she was well into her seventies. I want to tell her that gray is the new black.
S is giving me that look. She knows what I’m thinking. She’s telling me to leave it alone. There’s room for us all.
Hey B, she says, Do you know something else about the belly dance teacher?
She has my attention. No, what? She's not Turkish?
Naw. She’s a farmer. Organic. Guess that's how she came by those abs. She winks.
And once again I am reminded of why I really come back. It's not for the haircut though it's always great, I have to admit. It's not even for the magazines as I wait. It's for a glimpse into something deeply foreign to me: a ritual that mystifies someone who grew up in a boys' dormitory in the 1960s. Most of all, it's for a little dose of my teacher S, and her sweet, open, wise heart.
And who knows? I may just check out that Turkish Belly Dancing class.
S's mirror and eyes tell me I could use a little work on my abs, a little work.