Going back to my roots: Pandemic haircut politics

Months into lockdown, people are getting desperate to cut loose.

Going back to my roots: Pandemic haircut politics

Euny Hong is a journalist and the author, most recently of “The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success” (Penguin, 2019). She has lived and worked in the U.S., France, Korea and Germany. She tweets @euny.

NEW YORK — First, they came for the hand sanitizing gel, but I already had a liter, so I said nothing. Then they came for the loo rolls, but I had plenty of those, so I said nothing. Then my roots started to show, and I panicked along with so many other women — while the men, still, said nothing.

But as the weeks wear on, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that men are just as vain as women.

In April, when their hair started to get shaggy, the men finally broke their silence. At the highest levels of government, they started making nervous jokes that betrayed their agitation.

In a speech at the National Assembly, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned France would start to look like “La Gaule chevelue,” or “hairy Gaul” — that pejorative term used by Julius Caesar’s minions to connote the areas roughly comprising modern-day France and Belgium — unless the country reopened its hair salons.

Hair salon reopening policies are not governed by unifying EU laws; there is no “Bologna Process.”

Meanwhile, far-left MP Jean-Luc Mélenchon tweeted a picture of himself with a sad little stiff paintbrush of a ponytail and the caption: “I don’t get it. Are we opening hair salons on May 11 or not?” The picture quickly became a meme, with some comparing Mélenchon’s new look to that of rabble-rousing 18th-century French statesman Maximilien de Robespierre.

The French weren’t the only ones worried about their grooming options. In an unedited, not-meant-to-be-seen version of Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s late March national address, presidential spokesman Giovanni Grasso is heard off-camera telling Mattarella he has a “tuft out of place.” The latter replies with mild annoyance, “Eh Giovanni, I can’t go to the barber either.”

Meanwhile, chapeau to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who recently revealed that he has been cutting his own hair since university, a level of resourcefulness that may well explain why he never seems to get into any kind of permanent trouble amid innumerable no-confidence votes.

In a crisis that has put a spotlight on the huge survival advantages of the haves over the have nots — as the wealthy, for example, flee epicenters of infection to sequester themselves in their country homes — hair seemed, for a while, to be the great social equalizer. No one, neither man nor woman nor prince nor pauper, could get a haircut.

Just how desperate people are feeling about this became obvious when a lifting of lockdown measures in some countries — including Germany, France and Belgium — had Europeans throwing themselves at their hairdressers.

In the last week of April, the German version of the haircut-booking web portal Treatwell showed an increase of 1,064 percent over their normal level for hair appointments. On May 11 — the date of France’s official déconfinement — French hair salons not only bucked their sacred tradition of remaining closed on Monday, but went so far as to open at one minute past midnight. In Belgium, some hairdressers pulled an all-nighter, working until 4 a.m. to fit in their most impatient clients.

Hair salon reopening policies are not governed by unifying EU laws; there is no “Bologna Process.” So far, the basic rules for Germany, France and Belgium are similar: sterilized equipment, masks, no more coffee or magazines (which begs the question where we’re supposed to go if we want to read sticky 14-month old issues of Paris Match).

But if you’re living in Germany, you won’t have access to all the same services of pulchritude as before. If you’re desperate to dye your eyebrows, your only option is to hitch an illegal ride across the border. You’ll also have to shampoo your own hair at the salon before getting it cut, whether you already washed it at home or not.

But for all their impatience, Europeans have viewed temporary hirsutism as a necessary a necessary evil for which regimes and governments cannot reasonably be blamed. Broadly speaking, the mentality is one of people versus the virus.

Not so in the United States, where the people’s right to a haircut has become a three-way proxy war between state governments struggling to enforce lockdowns, right-wing extremists who feel that access to barbers is an inalienable right (next time you see a photo of anti-lockdown protesters, look for the signs among the guns saying “WE WANT HAIRCUTS”), and people on the left opposed to making low-paid workers like barbers to expose themselves to danger.

So absurd has this haircut war become that in Lansing, Michigan, a group calling itself the Michigan Conservative Coalition held a demonstration called “Operation Haircut,” in which they defied lockdown by … giving free haircuts on the lawn of the state capital building. (I wasn’t there, but I have a feeling it wasn’t as rousing as the organizers imagined. An outdoor trim isn’t exactly Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech.)

What is it about the lack of haircuts that pushes people over the edge? We’ve been denied the right to go to the cinema, to see our parents, to get drunk in public. We’re working with babies on our laps and using Kleenex to turn doorknobs. Regardless of whether we find a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s not reassuring to find evidence that, really, we’re only two centimeters of hair away from a full-on Lord of the Flies situation.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Italy’s beaches face coronavirus chill

In a country where a summer holiday is almost a constitutional right, seaside businesses struggle to reopen after lockdown.

Italy’s beaches face coronavirus chill

SABAUDIA, Italy — This beach town a little more than an hour’s drive south of Rome is synonymous with sun, sand and Benito Mussolini.

Founded by the fascist dictator on reclaimed marshland in 1933, Sabaudia has long been a second-home destination for well-to-do Romans, its population swelling from 20,000 to 90,000 every summer.

In a town that lives off tourism, Italy’s lifting of lockdown restrictions this week should have brought some relief. But many in Sabaudia complain that the government’s green light to reopen has come too late — and with too many caveats.

“The season usually starts at Easter,” said Rocco Gambacurta, who presides over four generations of his family at the Lido Azzurro beach club. “We won’t be able to make up for two months of lost revenues. What’s lost is lost.”

After 10 weeks of coronavirus restrictions, Italian shops, restaurants, bars and beach clubs were allowed to throw open their doors Monday. But in coastal towns like Sabaudia, the grand reopening has been characteristically chaotic, with individual regions still to define how they will safely manage access to public beaches.

“It won’t be like other years. People are afraid to return to normality” — Caffetteria del Corso owner Stefania Beoni

In a country where a seaside holiday in August is almost a constitutional right and a deep suntan is still a must-have, Sabaudia’s 15 kilometers of free public beaches normally provide towel space for as many as 80,000 people.

But this year, to respect social distancing, only 32,000 will be allowed to enter using a smartphone booking app. That app is not yet functional, and tourists are currently banned from swimming or even planting an umbrella, although exercising on the beach is allowed.

With Sabaudia’s beach backed by dunes, rather than cliffs, it will be difficult to prevent people simply walking onto the sand, when inevitably they fail to get one of the reserved spots. Police have acknowledged that there could be a public order problem. According to local media, only the rich who can afford beach club membership will be truly free to enjoy their summer holiday.

Bureaucracy and delays

For the seasonal businesses in Italy’s beach towns, the ongoing social-distancing regulations and uncertainty are threatening to bankrupt them just as they reopen.

According to the new rules, bars and restaurants can only serve customers seated at least 1 meter apart. At Caffetteria del Corso, a cocktail and coffee bar in central Sabaudia, this means they can serve only 12 people at a time, instead of 150 people in high season.

The café has had to furlough eight bar staff, said its owner, Stefania Beoni. After starting her business four years ago, she was just starting to make decent returns. “This should have been our breakthrough year,” she said.

Like others, she fears that their customers will be too afraid — or otherwise unable — to come on holiday. “It won’t be like other years. People are afraid to return to normality.”

As the health emergency recedes, the government — mindful of a looming economic crisis — has offered up to €500 to lower-income families who holiday in Italy this summer.

But given Italy’s history of bureaucracy and delays, many in Sabaudia are skeptical the holiday aid will materialize. Much of the financial assistance promised in March to help Italians get by during the crisis has so far failed to appear.

“By the time this money arrives, it will be 2030,” said Sergio Chiusuri, a day-tripper from Rome walking on the beach with his wife and daughter.

Business owners say they need realistic social-distancing rules, a moratorium on taxes, and compensation for lost earnings rather than loans.

League party leader Matteo Salvini held a rally in Sabaudia last August | Filippo Montegorte/AFP via Getty Images

Sabaudia’s Mayor Giada Gervasi said some taxes are being cut or delayed. The town hall is also planning to pedestrianize the center at night to provide more space for bars and restaurants.

But local business leaders accused Gervasi of lacking a plan. Manuele Avagliano, president of the town’s chamber of commerce, accused the mayor of leaving the owners of tourism companies “on the high seas.”

Delays in coming up with a plan for managing access to the beaches will create “dramatic consequences” for the commercial economy, he said in a statement.

Right-wing swing

Similar complaints by businesses across Italy are fueling pushback against the government from parties on the far right, for whom small coastal towns like Sabaudia have always been fertile ground.

Sabaudia’s right-wing politics is built into the town’s foundations, literally. Mussolini laid the town’s founding stones, after draining the area’s malaria-infested swamps. The town was built, in the Italian rationalist style, on a Roman grid, in less than a year, boosting the myth of fascist efficiency.

In the 1960s, the town pulled in the liberal cultural elite such as the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and the writer Alberto Moravia, retaining its prestige until the 1990s, since when its fortunes have gradually declined.

“So many sacrifices, a life given up for this place, and for what?” — Il Dollaro owner Antonietta De Blasi

In last year’s European elections, two-thirds of Sabaudia’s voters cast their ballots for the three main parties on the right, up from 51 percent for the center-right alliance in the parliamentary elections the year before.

Last August, Sabaudia was the site of a large rally held by Matteo Salvini, as the leader of the far-right League party and then interior minister forced a government crisis he hoped would make him prime minister.

That power play backfired badly, and Salvini has since been out of power — if not out of the limelight.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has enjoyed a surge in popularity.

But as Italy looks to a return to normal, national political unity is fragmenting once again, as the right seeks to capitalize on worries the government is reopening too slowly.

For the residents of Sabaudia, their concerns are purely local: how to survive the immediate future.

Many Italian beach-front businesses that rely on tourism to stay afloat will struggle to survive the coronavirus crisis | Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Mayor Gervasi, an independent, admitted it will be hard to make up for the lost time, but said she is “optimistic.”

“We can limit the damage,” she told POLITICO.

At Il Dollaro — a family owned pizzeria with pictures of former Roma football star Francesco Totti and Il Duce’s politician granddaughter Alessandra Mussolini on the wall — the mood is less upbeat.

“So many sacrifices, a life given up for this place, and for what?” said the restaurant’s owner Antonietta De Blasi. Many businesses will close, she predicted.

For now, they will try to keep going. “What else can we do?” she said. “But in September we will have to do the sums.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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