The 1880s to the 1960s were the golden age for barbershops. During this time, men socialized in all-male hangouts. Visiting the barbershop was a weekly, and sometimes daily habit. Men would stop in, not only for a haircut and a shave, but also to fraternize with friends. Things have shifted over the years and somehow our barbershops are being less and less frequented specially by the younger generation.
Antoine and Elie Obeid own Salon Elie. Their shop is not much to look at, a small crammed place that can seat 2 customers, placed against the side of a building on the road going up on Chhade street in Tabaris. On my visits to the salon with my boys, there is always a conversation about politics, the good old days, advice, family, neighbourhood gossip, conspiracy theories, and current events. In between the chit-chats, jokes are told and laughs are had, and everyone’s involved; the barbers, the customers getting their haircut, and the customers waiting to get their haircut. Young, old, and middle-aged men join in the mix, even my 6 year old joins in!
I believe those shops carry an essence of what it was like to be Lebanese at one point in time, like this heart warming smell of your mom’s cooking once you’ve enter her kitchen, or this old poster of old Beirut that you keep staring at. Those barbershops are places of continuity. They don’t change with the shifts in culture. They stay. They stay small in size, aged, a bit run down, occupying little space in that over crowded city and yet humbly existing. Many men have been going to the Obeid brothers all their life and have introduced their sons to the same 2 chairs.
Whenever I arrive, Elie welcomes my boys like the prodigal sons. It feels like they are going to a visit to their grandparents and they get treats at the end of it too. The experience that my kids get out of it is priceless. It’s a ritual, a right of passage for my boys into manhood. Visiting your neighbourhood barber is a little pleasure I heartily recommend. It’s also a great way of investing and showing pride in a generation of men who’ve just carried on in life, the last of their kind.
For all the hardworking barbers like Elie and Antoine Obeid who went everyday to work with a smile on their faces for the last 60 years regardless of the circumstances and kept their heads high doing an honest job and taking pride in it I #livelovelebanon and I will #fighton