It is long overdue—I must do something about my hair. The blond highlights from twelve weeks ago in Dallas sit like strange, unintentional accidents atop my dark base. The brittle, blonde streaks have grown out two inches. With my older kids watching my younger ones at home, I bravely strap my purse over my shoulder and like an explorer setting out to conquer the Mississippi River, I launch out into the Italian unknown.
I walk into a salon and ask the receptionist for il colore. She says, “Certo,” certainly. Have a seat.
Soon I am draped in a black smock and three Italian women hover over my head like starlings. “Chiaro?” says one. “Scuro,” replies another. In art history class in college, I learned that Caravaggio and Rembrandt were masters of chiaroscuro, the technique of using high contrast of dark and light to add drama to their scenes. Bold shafts of light thickly streaming from windows into otherwise almost-black rooms: such was the perfect setting for Christ calling Matthew, according to Caravaggio. Now I realize I was not so erudite after all. Chiaro—light streaks, scuro—dark natural color. It’s very basic, really.
My Italian is not so bad. I have been complimented by deans of high schools and landlords. But these gals must be speaking a dialect—I cannot understand a single word. Realizing I cannot understand, they repeat themselves, only talking louder and faster. I nod yes, shake my head no, wishing that there was more about hair highlights that you could act out or signal with hand jestures.
A decision has been made. “Use the number 7,” I hear one say. “Then the #21. Then blablablabla.” Yikes. I can only imagine what colors these are.
She mixes the coloring and starts in on my hair. My stomach sinks. My chest burns. This could really go badly.
All my life, I have hated haircuts and styling. Crying afterwards is a regular occurrence. In Dallas, I had finally settled in on one particular stylist, mainly because she does not usually overly lighten my hair (which is no small feat in Texas). But she rarely listens to any specifics I say, and she seems to resent working on my hair. But isn’t this your job? I sit there wondering. Going to the salon is for me like having dinner with an ex-husband. You do it because you just have to every once in a while, and you just hope you can get through it alright.
Now, I am going through the same labor, but at a severe disadvantage. I have no idea what is about to happen. I remind myself that there are worse things. Immigrants are dying in the oceans, trying to escape their war-torn countries. We are over-heating our planet and will soon all be dead. In the meantime, Donald Trump is making a mockery out of the office of president and ruining the greatest democracy the world has ever known with his spin, lies, and tyrannical stupidity. If our country withers and dies under his reign and sinks into the sea, will the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic come together and form one whole? Will we call it the Pacific or the Atlantic? These thoughts comfort me as she washes my hair and my neck strains on the sink rim.
Finally, the moment comes. The lady takes the towel off my head and I catch a glimpse–it is not bright blonde, my one real nightmare. In fact, even though it is a little dark and has a hint of auburn, I now just look a little more like them.They have made me look a touch Italian. The lady says, “Cosa dici?” Whadda you say? I smile and tell her it looks good, in textbook-classroom Italian with an American accent.
As the other lady dries it and I have a slight freak-out for how reddish it is, I think, “Julia Roberts was blonde and then the next time you see her, she is suddenly auburn. When people see me, maybe they will think Julia Roberts.” Then I hear my thoughts and tell myself to ferma la boca—shut up.
As I check out, the lady asks me if I am on vacation or if I live here. With slight trepedition I tell her I live here. This is a big moment for me. She asks me if I would please fill out a form and she can enter me into the system. Into the system? I am going to be recorded in an Italian hair salon? This is like meeting a guy’s parents—a very big step. I have to look up my Italian phone number since I don’t yet know it and pronounce my name two times for her so she can understand.
I say goodbye to five smiling women all standing at the door waving good bye to the American lady. I put on my sunglasses and walk down the cobblestone streets, feeling one shade more Italian.