The following story was published in The Australian in July, 2009.
When it comes to the art of coiffure, there’s no place like Paris!
I’ve always had a fear of the unknown hairdresser. It dates back to my teenage years, when a certain Monsieur Moliere (alias Gary Gallagher) of a long-forgotten, and probably long gone, Auckland Salon, high-handedly and before my dismayed eyes, turned the almost shoulder length locks I’d been nurturing for bouffant into a bowl-cut bob just hours before the school ball. Ever since, I’ve avoided the high-handed, the flamboyant and, yes, even those with French names, for the coiffeur who knows that trim means trim. While I haven’t often been surprised beyond my wildest dreams when I’ve faced the mirror at the finish, neither have I been shocked beyond belief.
It was combination of desperation (vanishing colour, barbed-wire halo) and a touch of recklessness (a Parisian coiffure – pourquoi pas?) which took me to Chez Gerard on Rue de Richelieu, that Friday. Then, too there was that name – the name of the patron saint of mothers. Surely I was in good hands?
Seated in one of Monsieur Gerard’s chairs was a giant strawberry bouffant (the kind I’d coveted for that school ball.) It swivelled to face me.
“Oui, Madame?” The voice was deep and slow with a breathy lift at the end.
“Euuuhhh, Monsieur Gerard?” I said with a shrug that I hoped would convey both “Are you Monsieur Gerard and/or where is Monsieur Gerard?”
Monsieur Gerard, explained Madame, had been trapped chez lui by the Metro strike. But Madame was Monsieur Gerard’s colleague, her clients, too, were housebound, so she was free. She unpeeled from the chair and swished towards me on high black boots. Quelle chance! Quel bonheur! Madame would do my coiffure! After all she had time! As I could see, there was nobody there, she had nothing else to do!
“Colour” she plucked at the barbed wire halo “Treatment? Trim? Blow wave?”
Before I could open my mouth, she had wrestled me into a plastic cape, whisked me to the basin, upended me and was plastering my head with a terrifyingly unknown dye. No time to argue, no room for protests, or instructions, Madame was deep into the story of her life and times.
…She had begun work in this salon, at the age of fourteen and had been coiffeuse to all the ladies of the quartier and the Ministries around Palais Royal for forty years…
Back In front of the mirror with the French equivalent of Who in my lap and a clock ticking in the distance, I stole a look at my hair. I looked like Krusty the clown’s. But before I could shriek Madame settled beside me and continued her story
…La Greve – the strike – nobody wants to work these days – imagine – these Rail workers want to retire on full pay at fifty-five – they’ll ruin the country …
The alarm rang and it was back to the basin
…It’s just the same with young hairdressers these days – they don’t work like they used to, they want more pay, more holidays …
I was heaved from the basin and propelled back to the mirror where my reflection was obscured by Madame’s black torso. I was distracted from the snip of scissors by her next chapter
… Madame would like to retire after all she has a daughter – grand daughters, a husband, she’s no longer young, but what can she do – nobody wants to work …
The story was lost in a whirlwind of hot air. Then suddenly there was silence.
Madame stepped aside “Voila!”
I looked. I gasped but I wasn’t shocked beyond belief. It wasn’t a bowl cut, nor was it a bouffant It was chic and très très français. I was surprised and delighted beyond my wildest dreams.