Photo by the author
Several crafts enjoy a privileged place in the history and development of the Cuban nationality. Few like the barber. Dr. Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring informs on the authorization granted by the town council of Havana to Juan Gómez to exercise his practice of barber-surgeon in the already distant year of 1522.
Nearer in time is the figure of Juan Evangelista Valdés Veitía (1863-1918), barber, poet and revolutionary, in whose honor every 27th of December we celebrate the Day of the Cuban Barber and Hairdresser. His barber shop was a center of conspiracy where the revolutionaries gathered before departing to wage the war.
In an interview granted to Astrid Barnet, published in Cubarte in January 2012, writer Enrique Cirules recalls: “In the barber shop of the famous Felo Centellas I learned how Chano Pozo (…) had been shot down in New York (…) There, in that barber shop, I also listened to the first stories of the Spanish Civil War by the exiles (…) who had taken refuge in the wooded zone of Cayo Sabinal”.
Barber shops have been a place for catharsis in times of crises; a space for calmed conversation in times of plenty; a meeting point for diverse opinions in moments of political convulsion; a natural venue for all disagreements on the occasion of great sports events. Up to this day, at the barber shop Fantasía – located in San José corner to San Francisco and Espada, municipality of Centro Habana – you may discuss about almost anything while awaiting your turn. Yankov Machado, owner of one of the three seats in the barber shop, is a fan of Juventus, the Italian football team. There is evidence of it on the walls.
The place has been newly painted; lamps and ceiling fans were repaired; a wooden bank replaced the old broken down chairs. The clients of Fantasía may also watch television while the clock moves: an Atec Panda has been placed in one of the corners with the programs of the national television network. To a certain extent there is also evidence of the reappearance of toilet products such as lotions and talcum, which had disappeared from the state barber shops for numberless years.
The change occurred in June 2010. The three barbers, who were employees of the State Enterprise for Technical, Personal and Home Services, became private workers from one day to the other, with a lease contract of the premises where they had been working up to that moment.
Different measures followed. The most important of them was the extinction of an employment category that had been in force for decades: that of the administrator, a public officer – generally inefficient – with intermediate responsibility between the directives of a branch and its workers. The personnel working at Fantasía during the last two years has been solely made up by its barbers, who pay the bills and the minor repair expenses in a building that continues to belong to the State.
Another one of the first achievements was to stabilize the energy consumption after carefully checking the networks. In a few months the electricity bill was considerably reduced and the probable causes of the excessive consumption – including illegal connections – were drastically eliminated.
What was initially conceived as an experiment, in the long run became a norm with the enactment of Resolution No. 1 of 2011 by the ministries of Finances and Prices, Internal Trade and Labor and Social Security, All barber shops and hairdressers’ salons with one to three seats were to operate from then on as part of the Economic System, and the fixing of prices would be made according to the offer-demand relationship.
At Fantasía and other establishments of its kind in the Cuban capital, the cost of a haircut is now higher in general than the 10 pesos that were usually paid to the barber – although the official haircut tariff was always 80 cents – and reaches 20 or 25 pesos (let’s say 1CUC), and something similar happened with services like shaving and facial cleaning. Additional expenses for our already reduced pockets.
“We’re better off now”, says Yankov, while finishing my traditional haircut, exempt from stylist complications: machine-made and as short as possible, since there is no better remedy against the unbeatable heat in Havana.
However, it is not always as easy. With certain clients the haircut is not as simple. Yankov and the rest of his colleagues at Fantasía make true wonders with people’s hair, authentic works of art that well justify the sum that the owners of the privileged heads will have to pay.