The barbershop in Gran Canaria is a refuge where old men go to read the papers, gossip about the neighbourhood and judge the young. They manage to spin out a trim and a shave into a whole morning. Women may call in to fetch a granddad or drag a husband home but they never cross the threshold.
Old school Gran Canaria barbers seem to exist in a time bubble. Their chairs are ancient, wrought iron contraptions, they still use steel scissors and cut throat razors, and the photos on the walls were faded when Franco popped his clogs. Their only nod to modernity is the buzz razor.
A Canarian barber regards a haircut as a sacred ritual rather than a form of self-expression. This means that for eight euros, nine with the obligatory tip, you get a quick neat haircut with a minimum of fuss. He, and it is always a he, is no more likely to offer to highlight your fringe than he is to explode in a puff of glitter.
My local barbershop is two minutes walk from our flat in Guanarteme. It’s a one-room affair with two chairs, one rusty from under use. Both are both over 80 years old and have never been moved. Juan has been cutting hair in the same chairs, using the same scissors, since he took over from father 45 years ago. He is the barrio sage, its mediator. He knows everybody, everything, and yet is the epitome of discretion.
Juan doesn’t believe in Turkish-style flamboyance. There are no flaming ear torches and cheek massages on offer. His haircuts are no nonsense, with just enough ritual to give them solemnity. They cost eight euros, nine with the obligatory tip.
The hour I spend in Juan’s barbershop every couple of months is special to me. It’s when I found out who in the barrio was caught fiddling their taxes, which families has fallen out over the always fraught issue of Canarian inheritances, which streets the traffic police are focusing on. When my hair finally gives up (sooner rather than later) I will still go in for a side trim and a shave.
If you live in Gran Canaria I can’t recommend frequenting the local barbershop enough. If there are several nearby, then pick the one with the best atmosphere as all the haircuts are the same regardless. One day you will find that you are following the endless chatter of the old men gossiping away effortlessly. Welcome to Gran Canaria!