Barberia el Figaro
Barberia el Figaro was arguably one of the hairdressing salons less frequented by people genuinely looking for a haircut. When we moved to our casa in Old Havana, we
befriended Hector “Figaro” Buides the barber next door, after it
became impossible to leave without walking past his shopfront. He
would excitably greet us everyday, and it wasn’t long before he had
our business and Andrew was filming him shaving my head for a Yon Yonson music video. Having only been in the country a bit over a week, we
were truly rolling the dice agreeing to accompany Hector and his band of mischievously styled amigos in Barberia el Figaro for a rum-filled night, which was our initial unembellished,
first-hand experience of Cuban nightlife beyond the tourist hot spots
and hangouts. For this particular piece a long story cannot be cut short, so
here is the entire, uncut, honest anecdote, written a couple of dehydrated days after for
the purpose of a book that never was...
There was no point trying to explain. Justifying the previous night
would have been difficult in English, let alone Spanish. Thankfully
our casa owner Pepe had decided to act like nothing had happened,
however as he sat down at the breakfast table it was obvious that he
was still pissed.
We’d been living with Pepe and his family for five days and in that time
had struck up a friendship with the barber next door, Hector or "Figaro" as his amigos would call him. He was a
stocky man of African descent, who loved the sounds of Alpha Blondy and Bob
Marley. He gave the impression that it would be better to stay on his good side, due to his slick, shaved head
bar a thick, triangular tuft on the back, gold, circular earrings and a tendency to
never smile. This well cultivated image was misleading, as within a
couple of days we were dining with his charming, welcoming family.
One night he called us in for a drink with a few of his amigos. By the end of the first bottle of rum we were all having a great time.
“No Woman No Cry” was blaring, the Spang-lish conversations were
entertaining and our perception of Cuban people was at an all-time
The second bottle went down just as smoothly, although the eldest of
the group, who adopted the alias “Old Mate”, was starting to
get a little over exuberant.
“Cuban girls very beautiful! The best in the world!”, he repeated
numerous times. While we couldn’t disagree with him, we told him explicitly that both of us had girlfriends back in Australia. This
prompted his second catchphrase of the night,
“You only live once boy, she don’t see she don’t know.”
Three bottles of rum in and things had taken a momentous turn for
the worse. At some point Old Mate had disappeared. We wrongly
assumed that he had finally gone home for some sleep but forty-five
minutes later he returned with three expectant looking prostitutes. Despite us telling him
repeatedly that we weren’t interested, he misinterpreted our pleas as,
“No we’re not interested in this prostitute but please go out and find us some more.”
At one point we were awkwardly conversing with the sixth or seventh
prostitute when one of the more exuberant of Figaro's mates ushered us into a back room. Figaro’s ten-year-old son was asleep on a foldout bed, while Old-Mate
and his friends were all crouched in the dark around an antiquated
television. We weren’t really interested in what they were watching as our intentions were solely to escape the deluge of prostitutes, but
when we realised it was hard-core porn we began to wonder whether this place was even a barberia at all.
By this time it was four a.m. and we decided to end the madness and
return to our room. One committed prostitute had stuck it out, and she had been sitting patiently beside us for hours. We apologized for wasting her time,
and told her that we still weren’t interested. She and Old Mate formed a defiant chorus of immorality, but when she eventually realised it
wasn’t getting through, her seductive act turned to monetary whinging. She wouldn’t take 'no' for an answer. We were happy to give her
five dollars for a taxi just to see the end of her, but our frequent trips
to the liquor store had devilishly emptied our wallets.
We had no option but to go back to our casa where we had our
remaining funds, and it was no surprise that she insisted on tagging along. We reached the front door, regaining focus from the
depths of our intoxication. The key turned slowly and precisely. Our
shoes were silent as we snuck through the living room. Suddenly the
light switch clicked, and the dodgy appearance of our predicament
flooded our minds as quickly as illumination flooded the room. Pepe,
barely containing his rage, stood statue-esque with one finger aimed
at the door.