I've always loved the old folks around me. One of the things I miss most being here in France is the contact between different generations. Of course families have it, but you can't just walk up to someone here and start even a conversation, much less a relationship, the way you can in the US. Folks in the Paris region are suspicious of anyone who is overly friendly.
Most of my contact with the elderly here is at the salon where I get my hair cut. Dominique's place is always full of little old ladies (LOLs) having their hair permed or curled, or getting the occasional cut. Dominique is a man who's about my age. He lost his beloved wife and business partner to cancer two years ago, and now that his adult sons have fallen in love, his work seems to be his life. The LOLs come in, and they commiserate with him, tease him, and just generally have a great time being pampered and solving the problems of the world. But in return, they step over to the market on Thursday or Sunday morning to pick up his fruits and veggies, or go to the bakery and bring him his baguettes for the day, or to the tabac for his cigarettes . . . When a customer's hair has finished drying, she's bound to have another customer to take the curlers out for her. After Dominique finishes a cut and moves on to the next client, invariably someone else grabs a broom and sweeps up the hair. And the bottom of his mirrored wall is lined with postcards from his clients/friends, showing that they were thinking of him while they were gone.
When I first visited Dominique's place in need of a haircut, I had only been here about a month. I could express myself a little in French, but the really difficult thing was understanding when other people spoke French to me. Gabbing with the clientele at his shop has helped my comprehension a lot (though I still don't understand everything); of course some of that comes with having been in France for three years now. But Dominique is almost as proud of my progress as if he himself had been my sole teacher. When I was in there last weekend, he was once again bragging on my progress.
It's a special service he performs, even though he doesn't realize it. He's making his own stand against the giant corporations of the world, running his own little business and doing so on his own terms. In addition to that, he's created his own little community there of people who might otherwise never even say hello to each other. He promotes goodwill among all people, and for the time that a client is visiting Dominique's, she (or he) can forget about the mad rush of the world outside. He accepts walk-in customers and they accept his version of musical chairs as he directs his LOLs to and from the chairs at the dryers, those at the sinks or the mirror, or even on very busy days the stool behind his desk. They also accept that if they go in at 10:00, it may well be 12:00 before they come out . . . because he does things at his own pace and in his own way. You might think people would get fed up and stay away - but that's not how it is at Dominique's. We keep coming back for more, because it's a great place to be, and there's always good company.
NB: This was written in 2006 . . . fast forward to April 2017. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that time. Dominique has been a true friend through my loss of the Love of My Life. Also, Hélène, one of the sweetest LOLs you'd ever hope to know, passed away during the last year. The economy of the world has gone south, and things are much quieter at Salon Dominique now. But since my first visit, the only person besides Dominique to cut my hair has been the surgeon who removed two basal cell carcinomas from my forehead in 2011, and that was just a little to make the surgery more sterile. I have another, just near my widow's peak, which will be coming off in June, and it will also necessitate a bit of clipping.