Razor Ramblings: Baku Blades Edition
Location: Somewhere near Yuri Gagarin bridge
# of Nicks: Too many to count
What do you do when you have to go to a wedding at night but have no water to clean yourself up with? Venture out onto the streets of Baku looking for a guy that will not only cut the mop on your head, but will oblige you with a spin of the ol' straight blade.
Even after three years I had yet to test the quality of the local blade wielders. Every once and a while you catch a glimpse of some guy, leaning back in a chair, face lathered up with foam, his life in the hands of a moustached man named Arif. But it's not a particularly common sight. India and Egypt in comparison had much more vibrant shaving industries. Perhaps this explains my initial hesitancy.
The "men's salon" I found seemed reasonable enough--a real estate agent rented out the back office (definitely not uncommon) so there was a steady stream of people in and out. My barber was of the rotund variety, but his age spoke of experience and an understanding of the way things used to be done. I felt like I would be in good hands.
After the hair got lopped off, I motioned to my face. It was go time. Would my skin withstand the increased punishment of a straight blade? Probably not. Months upon months of shaving once a week at the hamam surely meant facial destruction.
The barber went to work with the preparations: a small bowl to mix the lather, a piece of paper to wipe the shavings onto (this was new), multiple sprays and creams, and a little pot of hot water fetched by the tea lady. He started by squeezing some lather into the bowl, covering it with hot water, and then mashing the brush into it. Hot foam started rising up out of the bowl. He gathered it up and applied the brush to my face. It took no time at all to cover my face and neck with lather. This was in stark contrast to the Indian masters who would repeatedly grind the brush into your face until the lather was thick.
First time through was a breeze. The barber worked the blade with pride and skill. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, this guy is good. If he keeps this up, he could get the elusive 5 out of 5 rating." Famous last words. Why I continue to think such thoughts knowing the the second run through is always where the trouble happens...
He lathered my face up with hot foam again and then went to work. Up, down, side to side. The guy had it all working. As he approached my oh-so-sensitive chin, I could sense the impending doom. Scrape. Ouch. Scrape. Ouch. That hamam skin really wasn't holding up well. Maybe I need to start using sandpaper.
When he was done with the blade work, he gestured a "Would you like a facial massage?". I gestured back, "No that's probably not a good idea. Do you have anything to stop the bleeding?" First he started with cream, which soothed but did little to shore up the oozing red stuff. Then came a cologne-type spray. It burned a little, but was ineffective. Finally we went where most barbers go: the strange rock thing that I can only identify as "the thing that stops the bleeding". He rubbed that on my face and all was well. I got up, paid, and walked out feeling ready to face an Azerbaijani wedding.