Football, Butter and War

Every six weeks or so I visit the neighbourhood saloon for my customary haircut. The owner, a cheerful middle-aged man, runs the show with half a dozen ladies, and like most barbers he has the knack of clicking his tongue faster than his scissors. He was at it again last Saturday, speaking on topics ranging from a Costa Rican invasion of our town, his grandmother’s attachment to butter, and the U.S. plan to invade Iran.

“Three thousand Costa Ricans will be in our town in June, you know?” he said, with a mixture of incredulity and excitement.

Ours is a small town – a village if you like, but that may not amuse my German neighbours – with a population of a few thousand. I could hardly imagine how three thousand Central American football fans could fit in, unless each family hosted one. When I expressed this, he replied that the team would stay at the local hotels, while the fans spread out in the neighbouring towns. He seemed to hope for better business during those weeks. My mind instantly focussed on what they meant most: fodder for my camera.

A little later he bid goodbye to an elderly woman – “Einen schönen Tag, Frau Willinger!” – and turning to me he said: “That lady, she sells Asparagus – do you like Asparagus?”

“I don’t.”

“I like them very much. In olden days, this vegetable was mainly for Kings and you know – people higher up in society. So people who wish to feel they are higher up eat it now-a-days!” He laughed out loud, and continued: “My grandparents had little chance of getting it, especially during and after the war….” He paused, as if trying to bring back a forgotten memory. “…They had little to eat those days, after the war. Even butter was not available – people had to eat plain bread. So when things became better they tried to make up for what they had lost – my grandmother would put a huge slice of butter ” – he indicated an inch between his fingers – ” over my bread when I was a boy, and I would hate it….. but she only wanted to give us more of what she had too little.”

There was a bit of silence, and I noticed him peering into a newspaper the lady nearby was reading. The headline facing us read (in German) “This man speaks the way Hitler did” : it was about the Iranian president Ahmadinejad and his proclamations to wipe Israel off the map.

“The U.S will do it again – they will attack Iran next” he said, shaking his head.

“It seems likely, ” I replied. By coincidence, I had just been reading an article in The New Yorker on this subject; I pointed to the magazine lying in front. “An article in that magazine gives a lot of evidence in that direction.”

“Oil prices are already high. What will happen if there is another war? We need oil for our heating, you know. ”

I was struck by his pragmatism on this occasion. Usually, he would start off on a philosophical note and bring in a good deal of history into his arguments; this time, he seemed focussed on the bottom line.

“Perhaps you could increase the price of a haircut.”

He laughed. “If that becomes necessary, I will do it! I hope you will still keep coming.”

“Surely.” I replied. “Your shop is the closest to home.”

After I paid, he waved a goodbye: “Until next time!”

Yes, more stories will have to wait until next time.

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