Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Yesterday I reached a milestone - the very first time that I colored my hair because I had to, instead of because I wanted to.  It felt grim, but not as grim as eyeing up the steadily increasing number of white hairs in my hairbrush every morning.  When the proportions flipped and went critical, I surrendered - and made an appointment with a salon.
            My hair is generously described as brownish.  In places it's blondeish, in others it's almost reddish.  All of it is curl-ish.  You can do just about anything from platinum to chestnut and it will suit me down to the ground.  
            Toward the end of my year at fashion school in Italy, I developed a hankering for blonde, and went to a salon that was being recommended around the school.  The stylist and I settled on a warm honey tone - Kate Moss rather than Marilyn Monroe.  She was all smiles and I was all smiles as she pasted on the color and left me with a copy of Italian Vogue while the color set in, then she towed me off to a wash basin and rinsed me off, lathered me up and gave me a truly HEAVENLY head massage, and when she had me blissed out and crooning and no longer even noticing that my neck was developing an S-bend against the curve of the wash-basin rim, she propped me up vertical and handed me a mirror.
            And the buzz pretty much dropped off right there.  My hair was ORANGE - the exact same shade as the inside of a cantaloupe.  An irradiated cantaloupe.  It GLOWED.
The stylist smiled at me, waiting.
            "This isn't blonde." I croaked.
            "This is orange."
She gave me that specifically vague smile that Telecom Italia receptionists reserve for when they're about to tell you that they never received your application to have your telephone line connected.
            "You're unhappy with your blonde hair?  Is there a problem?"
            "PROBLEM?  Dio Mio - this is ORANGE!"
            "It looks blonde to me, Signora.  You asked for blonde, you got blonde.  If you're going to make a fuss -"
She shrugged eloquently, and I was late for class, so muttering a curse under my breath, I jammed a hat over my radioactive mop and ran for the bus.

When I walked into draping class that afternoon, conversations stopped dead.  Mouths opened.  Chins dropped.  Thessy, our draping teacher, slowly put down her scissors and walked carefully over to me as I stood shamefaced by the door.  As one treats a person who has suffered a terrible shock or injury, she took me gingerly by the arm.
           "Cara…"  She said gently.   "You have to go BACK there."
So I did. 
"This is NEVER blonde!"
            "Looks blonde to me.  Hey, Claudio - does this look blonde to you?"
            "Looks blonde to me, Sofia.
            "Would you kindly hand me the color swatch book?"
            "I can't see any need.  I wouldn't even know where to find it -"
            "It's on that ledge over there!  Give me that - Ha!  Is this or is this not the color we agreed on?"
            "I'm not arguing."
            "And is this even vaguely related to the color on my head?"
            "One hundred PERECENT,  Signora."  The manager looked at me sourly. "And we are very BUSY this afternoon and I do NOT have the time to sit around and argue with you -"
And that was that.
Right, I thought.  There's nothing else for it.  I'm going to have to throw a tantrum.
I'm no good at tantrums.  Australians are never any good at 'em.   We're raised to be polite in public situations - tears and raised voices get you uncomfortable disapproval, a total absence of cooperation, and eventually, they get you thrown out.  It's all very British.
But Italy works differently.
I breathed deeply in and out through my nose to work up a decent head of steam, and then -
            "THIS is INSANE!"  I shouted.   And brought my hand down hard on the counter.
            "THIS IS ALL WRONG!"  I closed my eyes and began to cry.  "I'm going to be seeing my BOYFRIEND in TWO DAYS and I look like a CARROT and you have all been so, so  -"
            "Che Cosa?"  The manager cried in horror.  "BOYFRIEND?  A BOYFRIEND is going to see you like this?  Looking like THIS?!  Madonna Mia!  Madonna MIA.  Dio MIO, no, NO, NO -"
Tutting and soothing, she led me to a chair.
            "Sit down, sit down.  We will fix, I will fix - Dio mio, dio MIO..." And she ran for the dye cupboard.
So they fixed.  To the best of their debatable skills, which mostly consisted of bleaching the hell out of it and dying it yellow, so that instead of a nuclear furnace on my head, my hair was the color and consistency of dried straw, with a weird verdigris tinge along the edges.  It balled and ratted and frizzed and stuck out sideways from my head - and when my dark roots started to come in... Madonna MIA.
            Mum came to spend the last couple of weeks of term with me in Florence.  Our reunion at the train station wasn't QUITE joyful.  
            "Tabubilgirl" she said tentatively  "I love you very much and I've missed you awfully, but would you be willing to wear a hat on the plane home?  Just in case we run into anyone I know in the airport in Santiago?"
We compromised on a hairdresser PDQ after landing, and within one hour of being home, I was in a barbers chair in the Parque Arauco mall, with a plastic cape tied around my throat.  The senior stylist pushed my head forward and flipped my hair up over my head to bare my neck.  And for a moment, stood very very still.
            "Attention!"  He bellowed.  "I want ALL of the apprentices over here right NOW!"
Laying down their clippers and their scissors, they rushed to form a circle around my chair, and with eight interested people breathing down my neck, the stylist began:
            "Do you see this?"  He said, and tugged at a lock of hair.
There was an impressed "Oooooh" sort of sound from behind me.
            "And this? And this?  And THIS?  Can anybody tell me what went wrong HERE?"
 I was Exhibit A of an impromptu demonstration of everything (and I understood it to be EVERYTHING)  a colorist should never ever do, while a circle of increasingly impressed apprentices tutted and moaned and gasped "No, no, ABSOLUTELY!"  whenever appropriate - which was about every other minute.
It was quite the catalogue of Don'ts.
At the end of it I was told there was nothing that could be done.  My head was a write-off.  They could match the roots for me, but touch the rest and I'd lose the lot.  
So  I chopped off as much as possible and went around parti-colored until the ends fell off, and resolutely didn't touch it again - for years.  For me, color came in extensions, not dye tubes - until yesterday.
             Yesterday, my hairdresser and I settled on a full head of foils - a warm honey-ish blonde and a sort of strawberry blonde-ish auburn.  Just like me before the grays came in, only more so. 
             And when the towel came off - the blonde was a livid, liverish white, as if my own white hairs had multiplied,  lined up in military ranks , and gone on a joyous forage march across the top of my head.  And the auburn -
I winced. 
Over my entire head, there's a nimbus - a My Little Pony shade of pink.
It'd be cute if I were Cindy Lauper, but even she would have had the decency to go neon.  

We're rescheduling for Friday.

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