The name matched the experience, a smooshing together of “pelo” and “loco.” It all began one day when I was researching hair salons in Córdoba. I found a few listings on Google, but none of the sites detailed prices in their descriptions of offering. “Nosotros cortamos pelos para mujeres y hombres!” “Cambiarse su color!” By virtue of being listed as a peluqueria I thought this was implied, but apparently these are specific treatments that warrant the construction of a vague website.
Pelocos was the third salon I investigated. It was located in central Córdoba, just a five minute stroll from the orange-laden Plaza de las Tendillas. I began my query by attempting to find price listings on a website, but Pelocos’ only web presence was a Facebook page and a phone number. At this point, interaction seemed a necessary step to obtain my desired information. Sighing, I turned on my phone, punched in the number, and waited.
“Holaaaaa!” an enthusiastic female voice greeted me on the line.
“Si, esta es la peluqueria?”
“Emm…cuanto cuesta para cortar el pelo?”
“Para hombre o mujer?”
“Gracias. Okay. Uh…puedo hacer un…appointment?” Shit. I should have googled that word before dialing.
She suggested Monday at 11:00, which seemed as good a time as any to me. Before she could hang up, I had to interject – espera! – and ask to add a second appointment for my friend, Cris. To this, she suggested 10:00. But then, things got jumbly. I thought I heard the phrase media. Did she mean 10:30, or was this a reference to halves, or the fact that two people – my friend and I – would be splitting some aspect of this haircutting experience? Was the salon in the middle of something? My knowledge of Spanish is far too limited to cover all potential implications of the word media.
I decided to ask for clarification. “A que horas? Diez y once?”
A sigh came on the other end, paired with far too many words, eliminating the likelihood of me catching any snippets of known vocabulary. This is a pattern I have noticed in instances of language barriers. I ask a question for clarification, and the other party’s combined frustration and desire to be understood results in a barrage of excessive yet intuitively descriptive words in their native tongue. Instantly, I recalled checking out of our apartment in Avignon. I expected to meet the landlady, wait for her reading of the water and gas meters, and receive the balance between my security deposit and the cost of utilities. This was an interaction that could have been adequately undertaken in silence, but the wiry woman made a bombastic drama of reading the meters and questioning me in French. The more I expressed confusion, the more foreign tongue-lashings I received. Eventually, she pulled out her wallet and forcefully counted two piles of Euros, smacking the bills in staccato thumps on top of a wooden dresser. Because she was not directly handing me my balance (or simply thanking me with a goddamn merci), I assumed I had severely underestimated the cost of utilities. Eventually, thanks to my phone and a re-connected WiFi router, I was able to translate the message that I had assumed before any extraneous verbal exchanges – “You paid X, you used Y in water, electricity, and gas, so here is Z.”
I paused before answering the woman on the phone. I decided it was best to feign comprehension.
“Si, yo entiendo.”
Click. Well, hopefully I would arrive at the correct time.
Monday came, and Cris and I entered the salon at 10:00. It was a small place, tucked in a pocket off the main commercial drag (Calle Conde de Gondomar), with purple walls and thumping music. A man with thick, springy locks strenuously bound into a ponytail was at work cutting the hair of an elderly woman, while a short brunette – the voice from the phone – washed another customer’s hair. After seating ourselves we were quickly corrected – the questionable media I heard on the phone was indeed a reference to 10:30. Cris and I loitered around Plaza de las Tendillas for a half hour before returning to Pelocos.
This is where the adventure really began. We walked through the door, re-entering the fog of pop music. I was first at bat. The brunette – Fatima – took my coat, then led me to wash my hair. There were brief attempts on her end to initiate a conversation, but frankly, I revealed the extent of my español during our introductory phone call. At one point, another elderly woman entered the salon. Impeded by my limited vantage point (sitting with neck bent backward into sink) and the wub-wub-wub of the speakers, I could not tell if Fatima’s words were directed at me or the new addition to the salon. She must have seen my agape mouth and confused expression, because she leaned over my chair and spoke, “Raquel, no hablo contigo. No te preocupas!”
I nodded back at her upside-down face. I figured it would be best if I just closed my eyes and ceased attempting to follow the surrounding salon narrative. Boy, was this the best decision. After washing and rinsing my hair, Fatima began rubbing my scalp in gentle, rolling patterns. Paired with my shut eyes, this almost pulled me to sleep. Relaxation is an understatement. Are head-massages a typical component of a Spanish haircutting experience? Why hasn’t this caught on everywhere?
All good things come to an end, and so Fatima wrapped my hair into a towel before escorting me to a spinny chair. Soon, the man – Pako – introduced himself to me, and asked how I wanted my hair. I scrambled to my backpack and presented a photo – a chin-length layered bob. Pako nodded, smiled, and got to work combing. He then communicated that he needed to spin my chair backwards so he could take advantage of the mirrors for cutting my hair. He leaped across the room, grabbed a Toni & Guy catalogue from a nearby shelf, and plopped it into my lap. “Es muy guapo – mira!”
This proved a useful tool. Fatima was working on an elderly lady in the chair to my right. Pako was working on me. Cris sat on the waiting bench, listening to her headphones. Pako, Fatima, and the elderly woman took turns raising their voices over the music. I, again, could not tell if I was meant to be included within these exchanges. If I’m looking at a book, no one will try to communicate. Rachel, keep your head buried in the book. Thank you, Pako, for this handy distraction.
Occasionally, Pako took a break from cutting my hair to change the music and increase the volume. The majority of my haircut was performed while Pako leaped, dance, and sang in circles around my hair. I was so nervous that he’d accidentally chop his finger (or my ear) while absorbed in one of his wiggling grooves, but he proved to be incredibly coordinated. Every grabbing and snipping gesture he made towards my scalp was precisely choreographed, both with the rhythm of the music and the texture of my cut.
Fatima finished her customer’s hair, and they strolled together in front of my station to reach the cash register. There were exchanges of guapa! guapa! between Pako, the elderly woman, and Fatima. I had the Toni & Guy catalogue open to a grid of model portraits, and the elderly woman looked into the catalogue with me, smiling and pointing between the various made-up faces and me. I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say and I had completely forgotten the words no entiendo. I babbled bits of si and gracias, dumbly trying to reciprocate the goodwill I felt from her. She waved and blew kisses and left the salon. My god this place is just a giant party.
Pako finished my hair – guapa! guapa! – and Lissa and I traded places on the waiting bench. I looked over to see that she, too, was amazed by Fatima’s post-shampoo massage. We exchanged amused and impressed glances as she walked to the Pako’s swivel chair. She presented a photo of how she wanted her hair, and as Pako began combing she said, “Quiero trabajar aqui.”
“Oh, tu quieres trabajar en una peluqueria?” To him, this salon was simply a salon.
Cris’ eyes widened. “No, aqui. Muy divertida.”
“Aaaah, si, si!” He and Fatima were pleased by the compliment.
Cris then gestured to the window behind my head. I looked back at her and smiled: the window was covered in graphics of Pako and Fatima posing and dancing.
“Me gusta sus ventanas,” she told Pako and Fatima.
“Gracias – son nosotros,” said Pako, as if his massive head of hair wasn’t instantly recognizable.
Cris’ haircut then proceeded, as if in perfect mimicry of the window photos. Pako sang and danced throughout, and Fatima danced as she swept and cleaned around the salon. Suddenly, Pako and Fatima began stressing “Raquel, Raquel!”
What, what did I do?
Pako left his post by my friend to show me his Spotify playlist. He pointed to a song I didn’t recognize, and pressed play. It was a slow, full-sounding duet, a bit Adele-ish. As the song finished Cris and I nodded to Pako to express our enjoyment, and he hurried to his iPad to hit the “replay” button. He walked close to me on the waiting bench and stressed, “Diecisiete años.”
“La mujer?” I asked.
“Si, solo diecisiete años.”
Okay, so the lead female singer in this duet was only 17. But what was the significance? Again, he and Fatima proclaimed “para Raquel!”
Cris mouthed to me, “Do you know this song?”
I shook my head.
“Why are they playing it again?”
I shrugged. This remains a mystery. Maybe the singer’s name was Raquel? Maybe they really thought I’d like the song? I will never know.
After the second full playing of the diecisiete song, Pako again changed the music. “La rosaría!”
“Que?” Cris questioned.
“Es un baile nuevo. Como el flamenco.”
Aaaah. So this was a new type of Spanish dance music. My friend and I both bobbed our heads….it was quite good. I’ve since tried to Google rosaría with little success. I must have heard the word wrong, and now I have no clue what Pako said.
After a few more minutes, Cris’ haircut was complete – guapa! guapa!
There were exchanges of ambrazos y besitos, and we were soon on our way.