Sunday, May 29, 2011

On the manly art of the shave

A Straight Razor

The Young Fogey has a post up showing a recent acquisition... a 1950's vintage safety razor which he now employs, apparently with much satisfaction.  As someone who dislikes shaving and regards it as a chore, I am rather impressed.  I think most modern razors are a bit of a rip off.  Electric razors do not shave as close as a blade, and the disposable ones I doubt are much better than the safety razors our grandfathers used.

It is a fact that the closest shave I ever got in my life was in the late 1980's while I was stationed in La Madelena Italy in the Navy.  I was out in town and in bad need of a haircut so I stopped in at a local barbershop.  Now this was a real barbershop.  The elderly proprietor was wearing the traditional white jacket and the whole place just looked like something out of a period film from say the 1940's.

He spoke to me in Italian which I did not know.  In time I would acquire a limited command of the language, sufficient to get around.  But I was new then and completely monolingual.  We briefly spoke at one another in our respective languages and I gathered he had grasped my desires for he motioned me into the chair.

Swiftly he went to work and after a few minutes I had the small mirror in my hand and managed a quick "bueno."  He indicated his pleasure and I prepared to pay my bill and go on to meet some friends.  Just as I started to tighten my grip on the arms of the chair to raise myself up however, the chair went sharply back and in just seconds the old barber stood in front of me with a bundle of white towels that he began to pack on my face.  I should note here that these towels were HOT.  I mean REALLY HOT.  All I could think of was what a crazy and extreme way to get rid of loose hairs from a trim.

But he left them there.  As in for several minutes.  When he returned and took them off he he had some sort of old fashioned brush and mug in his hand and the next thing I knew he was lathering up my face with shaving cream or more accurately shaving soap.  I had by now figured out that I was about to get the full service barbershop experience.

That's when it happened.  He set down the mug and in a flash there appeared mere inches before my eyes, which must have been the size of a 50 cent piece, one of the most wicked looking instruments of death and torture I had seen that close... a straight razor.  I am NOT talking about the semi sheathed blades some barbers use today to edge around the ears.  I am talking the real deal here, an honest to goodness cutthroat razor. 

I vaguely recall opening my mouth in a minor panic.  I am not sure if I was trying to find the Italian word for "STOP!" or if I just wanted to scream.  In any event he moved way too fast.  In a blink he had my head in a vise like grip with his left hand and very firmly moved it to the left.  I just closed my eyes and mouth... and cringed as I felt the blade on my face.  He began to draw it across my right cheek.  After several strokes of the blade, with no evident damage, I opened my eyes just as his hand moved my head to the right and he shifted sides.  I could now watch him as he held the blade like a master sculptor and he began to sweep the left side of my face.  So far so good.  Then he lifted my chin and again I couldn't watch as he drew the blade along my neck and throat.  I was afraid to breath or so much as twitch.  Forget the urgent desire to swallow that suddenly was upon me.

I don't know what I will eventually die from.  But I am fairly certain it won't be a heart attack.  If that were my fate, I would have been fertilizing a lawn somewhere for decades now.

When I ceased to feel the blade on my throat or neck for a few moments I opened my eyes.  He looked at my face carefully and then took the blade and gently ran the short end right under my nose.  At last he nodded with apparent satisfaction and I began to think that this rather remarkable experience was at an end.


He set the blade down, picked up the mug and brush and before I could say anything he was soaping up my face again.  And for a  second time (!) he began to shave me.  Yet again I could not keep my eyes open when the blade was on my throat and neck.  And then it was over.

He grabbed a fresh (very hot) towel and wiped my face clean.  I think I gave the man close to twice the charge for the haircut and shave and waved off the change.  It was probably a couple of minutes before I bothered to feel my face.  Despite being bathed in sweat I could tell that my face had probably not been that smooth since before I reached a certain age.  Point in fact I had no real need to shave for the next two days.

Over the years I have toyed with the idea of learning how to shave with a straight razor.  But on that score my courage is really no greater now than it was 20+ years ago.  Every time I look at a straight razor they just seem sooo... wicked.  I doubt I could keep my hand steady enough to avoid inflicting some terrible injury on myself.

For those more adventurous than myself however I found this rather interesting article posted by an avid straight razor man.  If you have ever thought about trying your hand at the most manly (and frightening) of shaving instruments, this strikes me as a good primer.


Steve Hayes said...

The picture, however, illustrates a decidedly NON-safety razor.

Fr. Benedict Crawford said...

Wonderful post.