Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: My Greek Barber, Jimmy

It is a strange thing to be in Greece and there to get your hair cut.  I might have simply stopped with Greece. Of course, it is strange even simply to be in Greece.  My dear childhood friend, John, recently texted me, “You sure do a lot of interesting travel.” Which explains the opening statement: it is a strange thing to be in Greece.  Not that it’s a bad thing, just a strange thing; I mean it is a bit strange for most Americans, or should I say Texans, among whom I, a Philly boy, dwell, and whom I now consider my tribe.

But let me get back to the strangeness of not Greece but, from my point of view, the haircut. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. The barber, “Jimmy,” (probably Yakoumis, in transliterated Greek) was fine, even more than fine. He paid a great deal of attention to every stroke of his comb, every snip of his scissors and did not doubt me when I told him (the truth) that I am allergic to most perfumed products.  He even went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that my hair was combed in the direction that it naturally falls.  The elder Jimmy of Jimmy’s Barber Shop should be proud.  I liked (the younger) Jimmy very much.  While we chatted a bit, he told me that he planned to get a sense of America by visiting his cousin in San Francisco.  I told him that San Francisco is a great town, with exquisite cuisine and marvelous views, but it might not be the city most typical of American culture.  We left it at that.

Unlike being at the dentist where the conversation is necessarily one-sided—I hate it when a dentist asks more than an “yes-or-no” question, and indeed rhetorical “n’est-ce pas?” questions are the best in the dentist’s office—a conversation with the barber can, of course, involve more give-and-take.  So, when it came to politics, which word I am here using in a rather loose sense, give-and-take was certainly in order.  Of course, with a president as active on Twitter as the current one, one expects some kind of political dimension to a conversation about the United States to come up. But what shocked me, in a good way, was Jimmy’s patriotism.  Greek patriotism, and that from a rather young man: Jimmy is probably all of 28 years old, give or take a year.

“Do you love your country?” he asked me.  I was a bit shocked by the question. Now before you can ask, “How can one be ‘a bit’ shocked?” let me explain.  The stove of my Airbnb had a short that produced a mild shock if your hands should be wet when you used it. That’s “a bit” shocking. So were my thoughts about Jimmy’s question.

“Yes,” I said. “And I especially love Texas.”

“You know, if someone here says they love their country, they’re called a fascist,” he replied.

“How odd,” I said, trying not to move, lest he should nip a piece of my ear by accident with his clipper.

“No, seriously,” he added. “No one here loves Greece like you say you love America, or at least Texas.” 

“You do, I think.”

“Yes, I do,” Jimmy said.

“You guys taught us everything,” I said, wittingly leaving the Romans out of it for a moment, albeit we owe the Romans a great debt, too.

He finished his clippings, and I gave him a sizeable tip. The haircut was nice. I mean, I don’t look any younger, but at least I don’t look any older.  But what was great about it was Jimmy himself.  We admired each other’s cultures, and we correctly, I think, traced them both back to the Greek idea of eleutheria, “freedom.”  For the Athenians, the inhabitants of the city where I am as I write this, eleutheria was everything.  It was what made them different from the other Greek city states.  So was parrhesia, or freedom of speech.  Again, freedom was the central idea.

I suppose the point of this blog is that.  A young Greek barber knows it.  An aging Texan philologist from Philadelphia does, too. I pray our countries—Jimmy’s and mine—never forget it, for once it’s lost, it’s damn hard to recover.  That’s where the Texan comes out: “damn.” Someone from Philly might have preferred a stronger expletive starting with the same fricative sound as Philadelphia. 

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