Cuba's digital destination
By Victoria Alcalá
Visitors to Havana in the 19th century had already observed that we Cubans love grooming ourselves and this taste has persisted, defying shortages and hardships. My teenage years happened to coincide with the setback of the sugar cane harvest of 1970 and we had to “invent” all sorts of things: detergent replaced shampoo, watered-down vinegar substituted hair conditioner, shoe polish was used as mascara for our lashes, black ball-point pens served as eyeliner…we were ahead of our time in terms of organic beauty products when we mashed avocados with honey to add shine to our hair that we would straighten out with mom’s good old iron. The dress I wore at my quinceañera party had been sewn with the organza and satin coming from one of my mother’s old negligée and the sandals had wooden heels and thin straps fashioned out of the plastic bags used by coffee-growers.
Maybe that’s why these days I love the professional smells emanating from beauty salons so much. And I love talking to hairdressers; it doesn’t matter whether they belong to the group that pampers their clients or those that maintain a haughty distance. Whatever their modus operandi, all of them are well-aware of how much we need their hands to feel enchanting, whether it’s to keep alive the spark of enthusiasm in a years-long relationship or to set out on a new romantic conquest. When one of my co-workers, who used to be happy with a haircut once in a blue moon and who would dye her hair in her own bathroom, suddenly appears with a sophisticated do in a sexy tone of burgundy with shiny highlights, the possibility that she has just been divorced zooms up to 99%. Straightening, curling, cutting, dying, highlighting…these are all operations that, when they are skillfully applied, result in a radiant appearance that gives our self-esteem a huge shot in the arm.
With the proliferation of beauty salons, many of them unisex since men are increasingly dying, bleaching, adding extensions or getting keratin treatments, that geographically-conditioned state of affairs when the best stylists were only found in the jet-set locations of El Vedado or Miramar seems to have disappeared. Gilberto Valladares (yes, that’s Papito, the entrepreneur Obama talked about) has turned a formerly rundown alleyway in Old havana (Aguiar between Peña Pobre and Avenida de las Misiones) into Hairdressers’ Boulevard; Danilo Arocha, the official technician in Cuba for Salerm and Schwarzkopf beauty products, has opened his shop Darocha on San Indalecio Street in the popular neighborhood of Santos Suárez (municipality of 10 de Octubre) where he also teaches courses for stylists and whose slogan is an irresistible proposition: “Inspire yourself with our fashionable haircuts and give yourself a new image.” I have a young journalist friend who goes on what is practically an interprovincial journey to Santiago de las Vegas to get her “California streaks” done because her hairdresser is “the best.”