I got my hair cut recently. I had not done so since early-December and, not only was Jessica making frequent suggestions that I have some trimming done, but as the summer temperatures settled in the mid-80s, I began to feel uncomfortable with my shoulder-length locks.
“Are you going for Dumbledore or Gandalf?” she asked.
Not that I objected to cutting my hair. It was just that I still lacked the confidence in my command of Italian to have allowed me to walk into a men’s hair styling shop and try to explain the style I was hoping for. It took an alignment of planets and circumstances to get me into a barber’s chair and that alignment occurred on our recent trip to Croatia.
The trip started with a drive to the ferry port in Bari, followed by a 9-hour, overnight trip across the Adriatic Sea to the Croatian port city of Dubrovnik. A half-hour after disembarking from the ferry, we were on a bus for the 4-hour ride along the coast to the city of Split where we were to meet Jessica’s father, Jeff, and his wife, Cindy, who were in Croatia with a bicycling tour group. We spent 3 days in Split and of all the things we saw and experiences we had there, what struck me most deeply was the music.
I awoke on our second morning there to the soft, melodic tones of a piano well-played. I couldn’t triangulate on the source of the music, but it was there, in the air and made awakening a better experience. We were staying in a small apartment in the heart of old town Split and, as arranged, met Jeff and Cindy, along with four other of their cycling group, at Peristil Square for a leisurely stroll through the area and then to lunch. Just off the square is the vestibule of what remains of Diocletian’s Palace dating back to the 16th century. The vestibule is a circular structure with a cupola with a large round opening, the perfect acoustical environment for the klapa bands to entertain the tourists that flock to the palace each day. The a cappella singers that were in residence that day provided our second dose of atmospheric music and their concert began with a moving Croatian folk piece in multi-part harmony. Here they are, in this YouTube video, performing that song in the vestibule of Diocletian’s Palace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIuwyoo75dg. As you watch, imagine the dulcet tones wafting from the oculus at the top of the chamber and floating across the square. Heaven could not be far away.
We found a restaurant that could provide some shade from the rays of a hot sun and enjoyed hearty food and local beers and wines. Then we set off to find a proper place to have dinner. The one we chose had a large amount of outdoor seating on a large square with restaurants on three sides and the sea on the fourth. We retired to our respective rooms for a siesta and, when we reconvened some hours later at the restaurant, we saw that a large collection of musicians was setting up on the part of the plaza not taken up by restaurant tables. Soon the entire square was being treated to a concert by the Stanford University Wind Ensemble under the direction of Giancarlo Aquilanti (reputed to be an Italian). For ninety minutes we were regaled with music played by students of one of the finest of the American institutions of higher learning and they made us truly proud. When the last piece had been played, the applause was thunderous and, when the musicians left their seats and wandered through the crowds, the applause began again and extended to each player individually. It did our hearts good to witness both the performance and the reaction to it.
Jessica and I, guided by Jeff, ventured the next day, by ferry, to the island of Hvar and roamed the interesting parts of it, inhaling the lavender fumes that filled the air, watching the small boats coming in and going out, and admiring the courage of the “beach” goers as they tried to find secure footing for their loungers on the rocky shore.
The next morning, Jeff, Cindy and their crew headed back to the States and Jessica and I hopped onto a bus for the 4-hour ride back to Dubrovnik where we would spend three days then catch the ferry back to Bari. It was a €10 ($13) cab ride from the bus terminal to Old Town Dubrovnik. Unlike many European cities with historical centers, Dubrovnik’s is actually located within its city wall. Since cars are not permitted within the old part of the city, the cab dropped us off at one of the three city gates. We quickly (because it started to rain) found our way to the hotel we had booked into, the Prijeko Palace, and were warmly greeted by a young woman who spoke very good English and escorted to our 3rd floor room. On the way to the room, she informed us that the hotel had only been open for a few months. The room was small — the smallest of the 9 rooms in the hotel, we were told and also the cheapest, we were told — but beautifully decorated and nicely appointed. The artwork in each room was all original and hand-selected by the woman who owned the hotel, and the furnishings for each room were unique to that room. We quickly concluded that we had found a gem.
We had planned to spend the rest of the day wandering about the old section of Dubrovnik with a goal of ending our tour at a little wine bar we had read about but the incessant rain made the prospect of hiking around unappealing. We decided to go straight for the wine. D’Vino is located just around the corner from Prijeko Palace and just up the street from the Stradun, the main street of Old Town Dubrovnik. It is owned by a guy named Sasha who is of Croatian and Australian heritage and who really knows his wines, particularly those made in Croatia. Tell him what color, character and profile you prefer and, voila!, a wine meeting that description appears for your drinking pleasure.
We noshed on some small plates of cheeses and olives and little bread and, of course, tested Sasha on his wine knowledge. (“Can you name this wine in three sips?”) After a couple of hours and several glasses of wine, the rain finally stopped, so we slid off of our chairs and began to walk the streets of Dubrovnik. Up one small street and down another, we randomly chose a course through the confined historical center. At one point, we came upon a barber shop on a small side street. The proprietor was a large fellow who took up just a bit more of the large chair he was sitting in than the chair really offered. There were three other men, older than he, occupying the other available seats in the place, except that the seat of honor, the place where a customer might sit to actually get a haircut, was empty. Perhaps it was the hair hanging down the inside of my shirt collar, sticking to my skin from the sweat that was pouring out of me. Or, maybe it was the effort involved in constantly pushing the hair out of my face and away from my eyes. It could have been the wine, too. Whatever it was, I stopped in front of the shop.
“Honey, wait,” I said to Jessica as she proceeded down the street. “I’m going in.” I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was about to charge into a burning building but I guess it did. I should say, at this point, that I speak no Croatian. It should also be said that the barber spoke hardly a word of English. Nor, apparently, does he speak my version of Italian even though the caged bird in the shop was named “Pavarotti,” since he confirmed my request for a haircut by grabbing a hank of my hair and making scissor-like gestures with his fingers. The deal made, he ushered me to the chair, draped a white sheet over me and tied it around my neck, took a gigantic swig of beer from a bottle on the counter and proceeded to wield a pair of scissors in my direction.
Large swaths of my locks fell to the floor as the “snip snip” of the instrument did its work. He worked quickly with the experience of decades at his back and I, just thankful that he was not the only one of us who had been drinking, sat back and let him ply his trade telling myself, over and again, “It will grow back.”
Meanwhile, Jessica was looking around the place and noticed a multitude of photos of the barber in the company of Japanese visitors. It turns out that my barber, whose name is Hrvoje Cikato (Don’t ask me to pronounce it.), once cut the hair of someone famous in Japan and was photographed doing so. Henceforth, he was a celebrity in Japan and, when in Dubrovnik, Japanese tourists pay homage to Hrvoje by interfering with his beer-drinking and asking to take his photo. He apparently indulges them frequently as evidenced by the number of pictures on his walls. He is also the guy to whom Haircut Harry went in Dubrovnik and who is now memorialized in this YouTube video (Note the bottle of beer on the counter.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbKBAaJcf2I.
It was later that afternoon, when we were once again taking up seats at D’Vino, that I asked Jessica, “Did I pay the guy for the haircut?” I honestly could not remember handing over money before I left the shop. Nor could she remember me paying. “I have to go back,” I said and left to find the place, something I was unable to do after wandering the backstreets of Old Town Dubrovnik for 45 minutes. I returned to D’Vino.
For the next two days, Jessica and I toured Dubrovnik, walking the perimeter of the old town along the top of the city wall, taking the cable car to the war museum where we saw, first hand, the places where rockets and mortars were fired into the old city, destroying nearly 20% of its structures a mere 20 years ago, all the while keeping our eyes out for the barber shop. Eventually, we found it, but no one was there. Having made a note of its location, we returned several times, but, on each occasion, it was closed. Finally, we found it open for business. Hrvoje and one other old fellow sitting in their chairs, drinking their beers and chatting amiably. I tried to explain that I had been there a few days earlier and ask if I had paid. Fortunately, Hrvoje’s buddy had some knowledge of English and passed the message along. Hrvoje began to laugh heartily and confirmed that I had indeed paid for the haircut. We shook hands, said good-bye and I walked, much relieved back out onto the streets of Old Town Dubrovnik.
I felt no weaker after having all my hair cut off, but I did feel lighter and cooler so, in that respect, it worked. Once the guilt of possibly not having paid for duly rendered service was disposed of, I suggested to Jessica that a celebratory glass of wine was in order so off we headed, back to D’Vino. Cin cin.
And, check out the rest of Jessica’s photographs of our Croatia trip and many others at her new website, www.jessicacoup.com.