Johannesburg, she is a city of bling

2012-07-13 05:58

“Daaahling,” my Jo’burg hairdresser will say when I arrive for my first appointment after spending six months in France. “WTF happened to your hair?”

What happened is that it has been cut and coloured by a French hairdresser for the past half year.

“OMG it’s … mouse.”

Yelling for assistance, he will race off to mix up evil smelling pots of purple hair dye while the emergency team snaps into action.

Someone will strap me to a chair and put a black plastic cape around my shoulders.

Someone will rip up strips of tin foil.

Someone will offer me an infusion, a cappucino, a flat white or water. Sparkling or still.

Someone will ask if I’d like a head massage and a manicure.

Someone will pass me the latest Grazia.

I will feel like a dangerously ill person who’s crawled into admissions at the Donny Gordon just in time.

I am now ready for theatre.

Four hours later, still a little woozy from the chemicals plus 13 espressos, I will be discharged with home care instructions, a bag of post-op potions and big blonde hair. Very blonde.

Six months later, I will pitch up at the salon in Gaillac for my first appointment after returning to France from South Africa.

We don’t call each other darling, but otherwise my French hairdresser’s first words will be eerily similar. “WTF happened to your hair?

“OMG. It’s so … blonde.”

It will be beyond my powers to describe Johannesburg’s fragile fabulousness and how it inspires such over-the-top expressions of style: the swishy locks, the topiary shaves, the weaves, the wigs and just the towering, sculptural scale of this city of killer heels and haute hair.

And so I will shrug and say, “Johannesburg, she is a city of … bling.

There is no such things as too much blonde in she, my town.”

Ingrid, the hairdresser, will race off to mix the dye. She doesn’t have an emergency team.

She washes my hair.

The chair is set to ‘massage’ mode.

There is no tea or coffee, though I was once given a glass of water during a coughing fit.

She does pass me the latest Grazia, which, I am mildly surprised to learn, she has not actually had to write herself.

Afterwards, Ingrid will make my next appointment – there is no receptionist – and sweep up my hair.

The first time I went, she refused my proffered tip. Now I know better.

In South African NGO speak, these trips to the hair salon have become part and parcel of my double life.

Like going to the doctor, where there is no receptionist either. You ring a bell on entry and go into a waiting room, which is furnished with old garden chairs and the usual spread of ancient celebrity mags about life before Brangelina.

It’s a first come, first served honour system, and the onus is on the patients to remember who’s where in the queue. When the doctor’s ready, he simply bursts into the waiting room and says “who’s next?”

The first time I visited the genial Dr Esquival, he asked for my address before he asked about my health.

A series of clicks on his clunky old PC later, he swiveled the screen my way and said: “Is this your house?”

It was a satellite image of my house on Google Maps.

“Er, yes, I said, wondering if I’d come to Town Planning by mistake.

“But why you are looking on my house in Google Maps, please?”

“In case I need to make a house call,” he said.

A house call! WTF and OMG.

“Dr Esquival, are you a burglar in your spare time?”

After our consultation I get up to leave. As one does.

“In France it is customary to pay the doctor,” says Dr Esquival. Clearly, I’m not the first foreigner to cross his surgery.

I hand him €25 in cash. He rummages around in an old purse – the sort of thing that makes my son say “the French are so gay, mom” – and gives me €2 change.

Doctors here do everything themselves. I expect they even sweep up the hair afterwards.

To avoid swimming-pool-hair during these summer months, I am tempted to get a Brazilian. You know, the kind that de-frizzes the hair on your head, not that other kind.

The thing is, I’m not sure whether to book it with Ingrid the hairdresser or Dr Esquival.

If asking for a Brazilian in rural France in my terrible textbook French is going to be a risky business, I think I’d better have a house call.

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