What I call the Cinderella Complex sometimes overcomes my better judgment. When the Complex strikes, I am certain the miraculous will triumph over the inevitable.
Such was the case when I decided to have the full Italian experience and get my hair cut. My lank, blonde hair that held a curl in Tucson, Arizona, where the humidity is 10% didn't stand a chance in Florence, Italy, where it threatens to rain at any moment. I set off last Friday with limp hair on my head and hope in my heart.
It is at times like these that I forget about other Cinderella moments. Like that day in my twenties I was sure black, not blonde, hair would do a better job of setting off my hazel eyes (I still don't know the answer to that one, but I can tell you that green hair did nothing to improve my appearance); or the time in my thirties I decided to emulate my students and get a "fade," where initials or patterns are etched into the back of your hair (no one warned me this look wouldn't work with fine, blonde hair--the result appeared as though I had peculiarly patterned bald patches).
Somehow I mercifully forget these other Cinderella moments when certain urges overtake me. As I left my apartment last Friday for the swanky street fronting the Pitti Palace, I was bouyed by the thought of a new, glamorous me for the upcoming Florence Fashion Week.
Friends think I'm overly picky about beauticians, but I think it's important to learn everything possible about the person wielding the scissors. I don't think it's asking too much to know about his educational background, his career goals, and where he has lived or might live in the future. If I can learn anything about his childhood, his parents or siblings, so much the better.
Arthur, in an historic building with vaulted celings and a posh black and white decor with nary a hairdryer in sight, assured me, in very limited English, he'd trained in Milan (Ah, the fashion capital of Italy!), had worked in the modeling industry for 32 years, and is the owner of this eponymous shop. When he told me the cost of a haircut was a reasonable €24, I settled into a well-padded chair, hidden tastefully behind a bank of ferns, for a wash.
As he massaged my scalp, administered two lathers, applied a special highlighting shampoo, and then a "treatment" after which my hair rested under a warm towel, I gazed at the arched ceiling and congratulated myself for having found this man. I marveled again at the delight Italians seem to find in living life slowly, taking joy in each moment and treating even the simple act of wrapping a towel as an artistic endeavor. To walk the ten steps from the wash basin to the chair, Arthur fashioned a towel-turban with a "flower" on one side.
Arthur settled me into what appeared to be an armchair, wrapped what looked like a scarf around me and placed a plastic collar around my neck. None of this heavy plastic, all-enveloping, sweat-producing cape for the man who trained in Milan. He discreetly pulled a book of hairstyle photographs from a drawer, and that's when Cinderella took over.
He showed me an asymmetrical cut and suggested, I think, a few modifications. I tried, honestly I did, to keep my wits about me. The model had blonde hair--surely fine, not coarse hair with natural body or curl--so perhaps the result would indeed be similar.
In the end, who could resist the sultry side sweep from which I could confidently peer at the world, knowing my tresses had been designed by Arthur, the expert from Milan?
What I hadn't counted on were the "modifications."
Forty minutes later, after every hair on my head had been cut, twisted, tweaked, and tousled at least three times, Arthur whipped out a hair dryer and worked on his creation. Believe me, at this point it was indeed all his creation. I had ceased to recognize myself and had given up identifying the stuff on my head as my hair at least ten minutes ago.
I looked nothing like the photograph of the model and certainly nothing like my Cinderella fantasy.
In a daze, I stumbled to the counter where I was told the basic haircut of €24 had, without my knowledge or permission, increased to €55 because of the highlighting shampoo, the "treatment," and the blow drying. He probably even charged for the turban towel wrap with the flower.
I pushed my way out of that cloying back and white decor, leaving a man who, I believed, had lied to me from the beginning. Not only was I not informed that all those wonderful treatments would cost me a pretty penny, but I now knew Arthur hadn't trained in Milan.
I knew where he'd actually gone. He surely had received his education in North Korea.
The proof? All I had to do was look in a mirror. If Arthur hadn't graduated from the North Korean Academy of Beauty, how could my hair look so much like Kim Jong Il's?
If the Cinderella Complex overtakes you while visiting in Italy, go to a museum, spend your money on a new handbag, or walk the cobbled streets until your aching feet refuse to carry you to a beautician.
If you succumb, you can always comfort yourself, as I am, with the thought that you will not need another haircut for at least six months. A year? Two years?
Don't ask. There will be no other photos accompanying this article.