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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Guest Post: Hirsute Pursuit

Contributed by my truckbuddy Tim from England, now resident in Spain:

Tim's Take on Spain:
Hirsute Pursuit, or Are Spanish Men Really Hairy?

First of all some bad news. I’m afraid our promised guide for this post, Iker Casillas pictured above, the much-loved Captain of the Spanish Football Team, has had an accident! Whilst assisting me in exhausting research the poor lad has suffered a painful RSI. (Don’t you mean exhaustive? – Ed. No, I know what I mean! – Tim). Here he is, flat on his back again, but thankfully as cheerful as ever. And yes, he’s left-handed!

However, looking at poor Iker, I noticed that even when in hospital, he has an almost careless way of keeping his designer stubble and lustrous hair looking great. It’s all those grooming ads he does and also very typically Spanish.

There is an image abroad of the swarthy Latin lover, chest hair spilling out from his open shirt against which a large gold medallion nestles. The macho mullet, think Burt Reynolds in his early days, no, wait, he still looks like that! The pistol packing swarthy bandit, his white silk shirt carelessly unfastened to the navel exposing the thick, dark, rug below. Arms and legs so hairy they would make a gorilla blush. But is any of it true? Just how hairy are Spanish men? So I thought, let’s forget the countryside for a change and take a tour around the hairier parts of the Spanish male anatomy. A light-hearted and purely subjective look at some of my favourite destinations, based on many, many years of keen observation and personal fact finding.

In particular I shall concentrate on the 18-40 age group, think Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black . . .ooh, hold that thought! And whilst we’re travelling, we might find time for some general observations on Spanish culture and the male psyche in particular. Iker has arranged for young Carlos Villar to be our guide in his place. It’s difficult to find a single model to capture the look I want to show you. Iker, for example, is relatively hairless for a Spaniard. For the most part I think Carlos embodies the Hispanic look very well. See what you think when we finish our ride.

Now since its Christmas time and I’m feeling festive, I’ve written a special ode for the occasion, and before you start, I apologise beforehand to any and all poets!

Hairy Christmas

Oh, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
Come, enjoy my follicle folly.

Just like snow, the hair gel glistens,
and for a change the barber listens.

Sleigh bells ring and candles glimmer,
just be careful with that trimmer!

Log fires burn, and so does stubble,
waxing give you far less trouble.

And if your party is falling flat,
come warm your hands on my welcome mat!

Find your presents, come rain or hail.
Just remember to follow that treasure trail.

And as the Yuletide draws ever near,
How ‘bout singeing the hair in your ear?

So dye it or style it, just have a ball.
A Hairy Christmas to one and all!
© Timbo Productions 2013
We’ll start at the top and work our way down. No, I’m sorry, we can’t start in the middle, this is meant to be a travelogue you know, getting from A to Z. However, M’s pretty interesting and a good place to stop for a break! Seat belt fastened? Let’s go! Oh and by the way, I’ve put in some Spanish words for Nikolaos who’s learning the language - Hola, qué tal Nikolaos?

Continued after the jump:

Hair - el pelo. The crowning glory of most Spanish men is the hair on their head. Thick, dark, lustrous, it allows for a huge variety of cuts and styles, enough for a separate post on their own. And it’s so quick growing! David, my young barber, can be shaven headed one week and sport flowing locks just 2 weeks later. Part of this is due to genetics I’m sure, but some of it is down to the wonderful effect of the Spanish sun on your follicles.

Back in the UK, I would visit a barber every couple of months or so, but soon after moving to Spain I noticed that I needed a hair cut every month. And not just because David is so cute! Not only your hair, but your nails grow quicker too, all this seems to be due to the sun’s stimulation of the bodies production of vitamins C and D. Young Spanish men take advantage of this phenomenon to sport continually changing hairstyles. It can make recognition a difficult process sometimes, so quickly do they change, but variety is the spice of life!

By night David is a very popular DJ in some of the best (i.e. noisiest) nightclubs in nearby Marbella and Puerto Banus. Frank and Davis, I know you appreciate good music, best turn the sound down for this one!

This means that by day he sleeps a lot, so it’s best to book, as with all barbers in Spain, because they don’t rush things. Your hair, and hence your appearance, are important matters. Even a straightforward No. 2 cut can take 30 minutes or more! This is not mere maintenance, this is art! No barber worth his salt will rely solely on trimmers. All work is finished with scissors! A haircut in Spain typically costs about €10-12, that’s around $14-16 and a little more than I would pay in the UK. But you will normally get your eyebrows trimmed, and a quick shampoo and head massage included for that.

I have to admit that whilst getting a head massage from David I’ve had to conceal my enjoyment on more than one occasion! Here he is ready for another day in his barber shop . . . aahh!

And what happens beyond 40? Well, the hair still grows well, but if it begins to lose its colour you simply dye it. You will often see older men with unnaturally ‘black’ black hair, or sporting a somewhat strange purple sheen! However, unlike the UK for instance, here there is absolutely no social stigma for men using hair colour, for the Spanish male is proud of his mane, and vanity is the name of the game in keeping your looks for as long as you can. In extremis, wigs and toupee are used, but strangely enough, given their obsession with hair and grooming; the Spanish make very poor artificial hairpieces and never seem to get a natural look or colour. In England such enhancements are considered beyond the pale, but that relaxed Spanish attitude to life means that no one worries if someone’s crown is a different colour to the rest of their hair, and you certainly wouldn’t mention even if it was!

Moving down slightly we first come to the eyebrows - las cejas. These are magnificent, naturally thick and bushy, often mono-browed; they provide an excellent basis for artistry and shaping, sometimes refined to a thin line of hair, at others individually shaped to enhance the shape of the eyes or face. Always an important aspect of the visit to the barbers I was shocked the first time David used a small trimmer to thin and shape my cejas. No barber in the UK had ever touched them, it just wasn’t done, it was too gay, primping and preening yourself like that! Now, just like any local lad, I trim my own in-between visits, matching their length to that of my beard, not letting them stray too far. And remember guys, the colour of a man’s eyebrows matches the colour of his pubic hair, look out for that one!

All this is but a short step to the eyelashes - las pestañas. And what can I say, they are quite simply beautiful. Long, dark and delicate, they were made to flutter and flirt with. Most women would die for these: they certainly fall for them and so do I! And as if this were not enough, many men make use of eyeliner along the base of the lashes to emphasis them even more. This is possibly a legacy from the days of Arabic rule. Emphasising the size of the eye by using make-up can still get you beaten up in more northern climes. Initially in Spain I associated the use of eyeliner with being gay. However, after some very embarrassing conversations I quickly realised that here, looks and grooming can be deceiving when determining sexual orientation. It says a lot for Spanish society that male grooming is deemed perfectly normal and culturally acceptable – if you’ve got it, why not flaunt it? It also does a lot for their large and successful cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries!

Further south we met the moustache – el bigote. Traditionally thought of as Sancho Panza territory, a large, drooping object, possibly flecked with foam from the beer, or food from the plate, or a pointy waxed monstrosity a la Salvador Dali that could take your eye out, the reality is much more modest, if indeed apparent at all. Moustaches on their own are more common in northern Spain, less so here in the south, and generally the reserve of the older man. When sported by younger men they either form part of the set with a beard, or if going solo, will be trimmed and fashioned within a whisker to reflect the overall ‘look’ and the style of those wonderful eyebrows in particular.

If we take a side road now we can briefly visit the sideburns or las patillas, like the hair from which they descend, dark and lustrous, they too allow for a range of styling options to match that desired look. Generally long rather than short, and usually not too thick, they are often quite narrow, and razored into a specific shape to mirror the eyebrows and moustache, another way of making a statement about yourself through your appearance. Thick, bushy ‘mutton-chops’ or chuletas, the Spanish for ‘chops’, are the preserve of some military units and matadors and flamenco singers, whose gypsy heritage seems to have got them stuck along with Burt Reynolds in the 60’s with regard to hairstyles!

When I first came to southern Spain, more than 30 years ago, if you had a beard you were from Barcelona, capital of the Catalan region, and that, quite simply, was that. You couldn’t argue the fact with any Andaluce, since they shared a mutual love/hate relationship with all Catalonians, and beards were on the hate list. Nowadays however, the beard – la barba - is back in fashion. Very short usually, always neatly trimmed, it offers a further way of putting your image across: goatees for serious young students, full beards for politicians, a permanent five-o’clock shadow for pop stars and all policemen. Designer stubble and the necessary trimmers, are de rigueur in any young man’s bathroom, even if it is shared with the rest of the family! Most young men will have experimented with a wispy moustache and a soul patch come the end of puberty. And with that marvellous quick growing hair, if you don’t like it, you can soon change it. Even my go-faster hair can’t match the speed of the locals, so any alterations I make still need careful planning, but for Spanish guys the phrase ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’ simply has no meaning!

Sometimes when you’re travelling you look forward to a visiting a particular place, somewhere that you think is going to be rather special, like the Spanish male’s chest – el pecho – but when you get there you discover it’s not special at all. So I’m sorry to disappoint all you Bears out there, but the great hairy-chested Spaniard, with sweat matted ringlets glistening in the noonday sun, is a macho myth. What we find are some generally sparse, straight, short to medium length hairs barely visible as they nestle in the valley between the pectorals. Not until they pass their late 40’s do Spanish men develop anything remotely resembling a hairy chest. I’m just as disappointed as you are, so let’s take another side road and see if we can’t find somewhere more interesting.

Whoa! Stop right here – the arm pit, el subaco, and OMG, subacos peludos – hairy ones! Forget your earlier disappointment, we have found a little bit of paradise here. Generally medium to long hair, ranging from thick to lush, not too curly but rather straight and delightful when damp. The sort of hair that peeks out even when the arms are held close to the body. I think we could stand a short coffee-break here whilst we take in the view!

Now I know it’s fashionable for men to shave this area and others, in some circles, why I don’t know, I’m all for letting nature do it’s own thing here, but body shaving is something Spanish men do practice, and again without any social stigma, but this is usually done for specific sporting reasons: body builders and weightlifters for example, the better to define all that hard work and muscle tone.

Quite often, when I take Lulu for her evening walk, we meet a young runner, always dressed in black shorts, orange Nikes, and when it’s cold in the winter, a black vest. But in summer he runs without the vest, and a sheen of sweat glistens and runs from his completely shaved body, for as far as I can see, only his eyebrows and eyelashes remain. He knows Lulu is not aggressive, and he always smiles and says hello as he flashes by. Whilst his body is not overly muscular, his routine of running, interspersed with aerobics, is clearly designed for stamina, and the regularity our meetings suggest he works a shift pattern, 3 days on, 3 days off. He can’t be military for there are no bases nearby, and he seems too happy to be a policeman – a fireman perhaps? Fantasising aside, his complete body shaving, although atypical in itself, still manages to make a statement, which is typically Spanish. But I digress, let’s hit the road again.

Leaving those lovely pits in the rear-view mirror we travel down south to the arms - los brazos. Another bit of a disappointment, rather like the chest, a moderate covering of short to medium hair, generally straight and lying flat, so that, especially against an olive or tanned skin, it is barely visible. Like the chest, it gets better with age, but there’s really not much to see here, so let’s try our luck further inland.

Well, well, we find ourselves on the treasure trail, loosely el sendero del tesoro, another favourite of mine, but a little hard to follow in some places. Not a lot happening north of the navel, nor on either side, but things pick up south side, with some moderate to thick medium and longer length hair, frequently straight but sometimes curly, not too much spreading to the sides, and often trimmed to keep it that way. A very agreeable route this, but what lies ahead? Should we take a half-way break now or push on? OK, let’s push on, it seems to be getting darker and this pleasant drive has suddenly turned rather hairy!

I well remember the first time I saw a naked Spanish groin - la ingle. It was many years ago whilst on holiday in Marbella. In those days I used to keep fit in the gym and swim for exercise, so I joined the hotel’s sports centre for the fortnight, just to keep in shape. I was relaxing in the sauna post-workout one day when in walked a man who looked familiar. I recognised him as a waiter I had seen previously in the old part of town, outside one of the restaurants in the lovely Orange Square, a favourite spot for tourists and wealthy locals to wine, dine and be seen underneath the orange trees. The waiters who stand outside are there to try and entice you to visit their particular establishment. No problem there then! Mid to late thirties, older than me and very handsome. Through his tight white shirt and even tighter black trousers I could see he was still in good shape.

He sat down opposite me and removed his towel. Yikes, I thought he’d brought his pet cat in with him! I had, until then, never seen such a huge flourishing bush, wondrously thick, coil upon coil of jet-black pubic hair; it fair took my breath away! Now I know him to be no exception, but rather the rule. If the legend of the swarthy Latin has any secrets, this is where it lies, awaiting your own personal discovery. I told you the letter ‘M’ was a good place to stop! But it’s getting a bit hot and steamy in this sauna, so let’s take that underpass and come up on the other side.

Well, what a contrast! The Spanish butt – el culo in the vernacular, may be a beautiful mover, but not a particularly hairy one. Some fine straight hairs may poke their heads above the parapets so to speak, but they don’t travel very far. Think peach rather than gooseberry. This does not bode well for the welcome mat – el fulpudo. Again those fine hairs, very short and somewhat lighter in colour compared to the rest of the body hair. Lovely for those who like a bit of fuzz, but not so good for those who prefer their grass a little longer. The good news is that when those low-slung Bermudas or cargo pants, worn provocatively below the hip, ride down, you get a lovely view of the contrast between a tanned body and a white butt.

Daniel and Ramon, our community gardeners are very good at this display. I never realised before how much stretching and bending is involved when gardening! The bad news is the butt stops here! No sooner have we left those bare rolling hills when all of a sudden the road gets hairy again, we are talking seriously hairy legs – las piernas.

Get ready to blush, Mr Gorilla. Spanish men usually have good, strong legs in relation to their arms and torso – when you can see them, that is, for they are typically covered with masses of beautiful dark, curly hair. So thick that it cries out to be combed, but you can barely run your fingers through it, so dense is this luxuriant foliage. I sometimes think that the ancient Greeks must have modelled the Satyr on the Spanish, half man, half goat. Think Mr Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! Here he is in a seasonal setting.

Sadly, and it should be a criminal offence, many Spaniards now shave their legs. This is OK for some, cyclists, so they can get into those clingy lycra leggings more easily, and matadors for much the same reason, the pants of their tight suits are, ahem, individually ‘shaped’ so that all that masculinity doesn’t get crushed whichever way it hangs, but excess hair just rumples everything up! But Caballeros, it’s one of your best assets; if you don’t have to, leave things alone, please!

Sadly, our journey is reaching its end, a final footnote as we say farewell to the feet, las pies. The midfoot area and each toe are adorned with clusters of dark curly little hairs, not quite hobbit territory, but cute enough for me any day.

I think this marvellous image of Carlos illustrates our drive perfectly. He’s pretty much got the right combination and distribution of body hair that I’ve described. Map reading never was so much fun!

Aren’t there any bears in Spain? I hear Russ wail. Well, like the real thing they are somewhat rare and more abundant in the north. As they get older, Spanish men, like most of us, do become hairier; the body hair spreads and thickens. But unlike the hair on their heads, the rest eventually goes grey and curly. That said, there are some magnificent silver backs to be found in the two friendly bear bars of nearby Torremolinos. There are also some in Alicante, if you like large bears of middle-eastern origin, but they are a little creepy. They tolerated me because I had ‘lucky’ fair hair, and Partner would have been very popular if he’d stayed! But that tale will have to be a ‘Tim’s Take’ for another day.

By way of consolation, here’s the talented, and much underrated Mark Weigle singing all about Bears, he’s quite a bear himself.

We have to be kind to Bears you know. The reason they’re so grumpy is they always sleep through Christmas. Talking of which, for those of you who still don’t believe in Father Christmas, here’s the proof, taken more years ago than I care to remember. Ah me, where’s all that lovely flaxen hair gone? Nowadays I look more like Santa than a little angel!

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo, as they say around here.


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