Buona sera.

I write tonight from a decidedly colder Rome. Yes, winter temperatures have descended, albeit probably only ever so briefly. The Romans are delighted. Cold weather means fur coats from Prada. Not only does this make the city resemble an ancient catwalk; it also makes it 10 times easier to play that European game: Spot the American. We are the only race on earth willingly sporting down parkas in primary colors. Worse, we don these balloon-like casings over pastel-hued shell suits. To which we must ask that age-old question: Perche? Why?

Anyway, let's leave aside the fashion commentary and get right to the matter at hand.

I want to talk about hair. Specifically, getting one's hair colored and cut here in Italy. I will tell you from the outset it is a sexual experience. And, depending on your partner, it may actually be better than sex. You be the judge.

Imagine the following scene.

Looking in the mirror one fine day, I notice a rather obvious tuft of capelli grigi. Yup. Grey hair. Dismayed, I take a long, hard, critical look at myself. And I decide, Amy, it’s time. You need (drum roll) A Nuova Look. So, I get on the phone and, in my best Italian I make myself a hair appointment at the famous Femme Sistina. According to Time Out, this shop has catered to the likes of Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and everything in between. I obviously fall into that latter category.

I arrive in what I hope is a Dressed To Kill outfit. Leather jacket, long black skirt, black lace-up boots, the works. Except, of course, it's raining out so my wool outfit smells like a herd of sheep and my hair is sitting atop my head in something my grandmother --- last seen clutching a pot roast and fleeing the Czar --- would call "mebbeh a blintz." Flat as a pancake,in other words.

In Italian, I explain to Rosa, the colorist, that I'd like reddish brown. I double check the dictionary to ensure that marrone is brown and not claret. Two hours later (they color hair here on a strand by strand basis), I am having my newly reddened locks washed when, MADONNA! I hear the sound of a motorcycle engine and look up to see a
vision in black leather heading straight toward the plate glass windows of the trendy Femme Sistina. SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH,the motorbike's brakes slam to a halt. And then HE enters. Trust me, I am using a tone of voice usually reserved for Yom Kippur and/or funerals.

"Buon giorno, bellisima. Mi chiamo Luigi," HE says. (Hello, gorgeous. My name is Luigi.)

Incapable of making sound, I smile like the village idiot and hope my wet wool outfit disguises the extra 30 pounds I’ve managed to pile on this year.

“Bellissima,” says Luigi, once again. This time he treats me to a view of his perfect, straight, wonderfully white teeth. “Che vuole?” (What would you like?)

The obvious answer cannot be given, of course. So I think about what I want done to my hair. In truth, this is the first time I think I’ve ever been asked this question. I mean, it’s not like this in hair salons of the world’s major capitals. For example, in New York the hair pros get paid more just to make you feel diminished and horrible. It’s not unusual to hear something like this:

"Oh, hon, that hair just isn't working for you. Now, OBVIOUSLY, we're not going to be able to repair it all today, but we can start the long process by

Translation: Sweetheart, you deserve a Congressional Medal of Honor simply for leaving the house when you look the way you do.

In London, it's a subtler put down, of course:

"Oh, right. So the last time you had your hair cut you actually asked for this unevenness in the back? And what about the colour? You did it yourself, I see."


In Italy, it's a completely different situation. First of all, you're a woman. You could be someone's mother. Or sister. Ergo, you are a GODDESS. And as a GODDESS, you are BEAUTIFUL.

Luigi to shell-shocked, tongue-tied Amy (in Italian, of course, since Luigi only speaks the Language of Love): "Bella, you are so beautiful. I think we cut a little here and there, and give you more beauty, no?"

I nod.

"And then we give you new make-up, si?"

I nod again.

"And for the haircut," adds Luigi, "it is necessary to adjust the robe, no?"

I nod a third time. This is either adult-onset autism or this is gonna be some haircut.

Did you know that it is necessary to be topless while having one's hair cut in Italy? Or that Italian hairdressers actually cut with their hips? I kid you not. I hardly dared open my eyes during this 90-minute love fest because, when I did, Luigi's slim, gorgeous hips were no more than about two-eighths of an inch from my face. Or, occasionally, my practically exposed chest. Mamma mia!

Suffice it to say, I walked outta there feeling like a million bucks (which is slightly less than the cost of the cut, so that's lucky). I could barely restrain myself from booking another appointment. Immediately. I may well become one of those women who submit to the weekly appointment. I mean, by this point I do hope it's clear why Italian women are so incredibly well-coiffed....


I've banged on so long about this that I think I'll close for this week. Quickly, the other highlights include an amazing walk with an art historian from the
Met and the Courtauld now living in Rome and specializing in the Art of the Vatican, a follow-up visit to the Villa Farnesina in the early morning
light and experiencing Raphael's magnificent Galatea in morning sun and with no other visitors (let's hear it for off-peak travel) and the world's finest artichoke,
lathered in olive oil and garlic and pressed between two bricks for baking. Under ordinary circumstances, I would've probably dedicated a paragraph or two to that 'choke. However, the topless haircut seemed like the real enterprise journalism to me.

Ciao, ragazzi.

Un bacio,



© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004