At the hairdressers I’m assigned to the Turkish woman. In her mid-forties, she wears bright red lipstick, lets her hair hang loose, wears tight-fitting clothes – a light-maroon half-sleeved blouse over a black pant – that make her look more plump than is necessary. There’s a shine in her eyes as she goes snip-snip-snip all over. In about ten minutes she is done.
The owner – der chef, as the women (and girls) in the saloon call him – looks at me astonished as I get up from the chair next to him. He had started earlier, but isn’t halfway through his client.
“You aren’t supposed to overtake from the right!” he says, pointing to the empty chair to his right.
“What to do,” I reply, “All the others here are much faster than you are.” I smile at him, as he shrugs in resignation. His client, a round-faced man with little hair, look at us and laughs. “But,” I add “you take your time and do it well. And it’s interesting to talk to you.”
“Yes, yes, of course!” der chef smiles and bows.
This isn’t new. On an earlier occasion, when I was under his scissors, the girls cried out from their rest-area in the corner: “It’s already 40 minutes, chef – you’ve failed the exam!!” The exam – a hairdresser certification, he explained to me – has an upper limit for a haircut: 20 minutes.
At the counter the Turkish woman has a puzzled look; she’s missed the details of our little chat. I tell her that she was much faster than der chef.
“Oh, he’s always like that.” she replies, with raised eyebrows. “He hardly takes on more than five customers each day. But we can’t do that, we need to cover at least fifteen.”
I pay for the haircut – 15 Euros – and she continues as she gets the change out of the register. “Just last week on a day when I had worked on about 20 customers and put as much as five hundred Euros into the cash-box, he had hardly completed four!” She has the disapproving look of a mother commenting on the indiscipline of the neighbour’s kid.
I smile, pickup the change, and wish her a nice weekend.
* * *
At home Wife is making Idiappam for breakfast. There’s MLV playing on the tape-recorder – I still find it remarkable that we continue to use, in addition to iPods and iPhones, a tape-recorder, you know the gadget which plays those cassettes with two funny holes and a brown tape wound around – and sunlight is streaming into the apartment through the skylight.
It’s almost brunch-time when we start. Over steaming plates of thin rice noodles and spicy peas curry we discuss the day’s plans. Wife has to drive to the airport in the evening to pick up a friend returning from India with her children. Before that we have to go shopping for a gift – there is a birthday invitation for tomorrow. But first, the weekend routine of catching up with the world: the latest Economist is lying unopened, waiting to be picked up.
* * *
The town center is less busy than expected. The only large bookstore on the hauptstrasse is closed “for inventory”, the sign in German explains. We walk about, taking the occasional picture. This winter has been particularly severe and we haven’t been out walking like this since weeks, so this experience seems special, liberating.
There are the customary post-Christmas sale signs everywhere. We cross one board with an amusing literal translation – “Ice-cold reduction” – as we enter a small bookstore with lemon-coloured walls that give it the appearance of a children’s store. The gift we settle on is a coffee-table book on the UN world-heritage sites, a glossy hardbound with beautiful pictures and descriptions of faraway places. It makes me wish for a holiday.
The Behr konditorei, warm and bustling with life, has the elegance of a cafe where modern interiors are blended with artifacts – paintings, wall-hangings, photographs, ornaments – that have an antique quality. Most of the tables are occupied by old women, talking with vigour and purpose; a few have elderly men with them, listening. I order a black forest cake and a Latte Macchiato, Wife chooses the Hawaii Toast – with a meat-slice, pineapple pieces, and cheese – and camomile tea. The dishes are excellent and we agree that this cafe is a wonderful discovery, we must come more often.
* * *
Back home, from our second floor view of the horizon, we see an astonishing sunset. The last few weeks our eyes have been dulled by the shades of winter – cloudy, snowy, rainy hues – so this sky, this dazzling vision of colour, makes us gasp. In the distance, against the fiery orange background, I can even spot the arcs of wires between the pylons.
I turn on an instrumental piece – from Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Kinsmen, a fusion between jazz and carnatic classical – and join Wife on the sofa. The soft and elongated phrases of the saxophone seem ideal for this moment, I think, watching the sky slowly grow dark.