01 August 2009

Shave & a Haircut, a Few Rupee

got another shave today (in Udaipur, a beautiful city of lakes in Rajasthan), it’s one of the true indulgent pleasures of traveling in India, something for the most part lost to the modern western world, which brings you back to an earlier time. It’s something you can do for yourself, of course, but it’s such a treat to have it done, something i suppose like women going to get a manicure or pedicure. Here’s what happens.
you find a barbershop, identifiable by chairs facing a mirrored wall, with shaving products on display on shelves all around. you tell them what you want, mostly by just saying “shaving”. you tell them you want a new blade, and you point out any facial hair that you want to keep. then you lean back.
he starts by gently massaging your face, to wake up the skin, and to get the lay of the land. then he takes a dab or two of shaving cream from a tube and puts in on your face. he uses an old fashioned bristle brush (probably camel hair) to spread it around vigorously, which also wakes up the skin.
the shaving-wallah (wallah just means anyone who does something; shaving wallah, laundry wallah, etc.) then pulls out his straight edge razor, takes out the old blade, washes the razor with a bit of alcohol, pulls out a new razor blade from a small box of them, and puts it into the razor. he begins the shave, pulling your skin when necessary to make a tight, flat surface. they are so good at what they do, it’s the best shaves i’ve ever had, and it can’t compare to a safety razor like we have back home. he carefully shaves everything, around the chin, the neck, the wispy hairs at the back of the neck, the sideburns, and around any mustache or beard. sometimes he will lather you up and do it all again.
after the shave comes a variety of soothing applications. first he uses a spray bottle of water to remove the rest of the shaving cream, and wipes your face expertly with a towel. he wipes the water from your eyes perfectly, just as you would yourself, with enough pressure but not too much. then he applies some kind of alcohol based after-shave liquid, slapping it on your face, giving a bit of a tingle that you can feel is so good for you, followed by an anti-septic astringent, to close any small cuts (there usually are none) and prevent infection. after that comes liquid aloe vera, which he massages into your skin, even into places not shaved, like your forehead.
after that, if you don’t stop him (and why would you?), you get a face massage. he slathers on an absurd amount of oil, but it doesn’t drip, and he rubs rubs rubs. the oil sounds gross but it’s really wonderful, and he rubs your cheeks, forehead, neck, chin, sides of your nose, ears, and temples. sometimes he will use one of those electric massagers that go on the back of your hand with a strap, and makes your fingers vibrate. sometimes he will apply the electric massager directly and before to long it turns into a full on head massage, including these kind of punctuated slaps or thrusts with the palm onto the head, which are harder to do than they seem (i tried).
finally, there comes another spritz of water from the spray bottle, and a solid but not too hard wiping of the face with a towel. all the oil is gone and your face feels healthy, glowing and alive. it’s both fantastically relaxing and invigorating, an experienced not to be missed.

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