Category Archives: friends

Salon Therapy? A Tale of Travel in Peru


This one’s for those wondering what foreign salons are like.


For me, spending more than three hours at a salon ruins all the good the experience is supposed to leave behind. To ensure this, my visits include one– at most two– treatments. A massage and eyebrows perhaps, or hair cut and style. And to preempt the salon gossip or idle chat sure to ensue, I bring along reading material. One experience surely defied the rulebook.
In April I stumbled onto F&M Salon. Ironically, it happened on the way to one a massage appointment was awaiting me. I went inside and discovered excellent prices and a young woman who spoke fluent English. However, not one to hold a lot of stamps on my Little Diva salon card, three months passed before I entered F&M again.


Finally, it was July and a haircut was in order. Lucille Ball’s wine-stomping toes had more pulchritude than mine, so it was time for a pedicure too. But simply scheduling a spa appointment when living abroad reminds expats of how easy life is in our own countries, where we know how these simple things work. Here, despite posted hours of business posted at F&M and other salons, my repeated calls and visits yielded nothing.


At last, I stumbled across F&M again. Practicing carpe diem, I scheduled a mani/pedi and hair cut/style. The next day English-speaking Gabriella conducted the manicure. Her cousin performed the pedicure. Surely with both of them doing these tasks simultaneously, three hours would be more than plenty of time.


“We’re working on songs from La Traviata.” Gabriella was telling me about her upcoming choir performance, words pouring out so fast I could hardly keep up. “La Traviata is easier. Well, not easy, but not as hard as the others. Do you know songs three, six, and eight?”


I shook my head, snatching my foot from Gabriella’s cousin who’d dug a little too deeply into my toe.


“I think those are the right ones.” I’d just started to relax from the cousin’s brief foot massage when Gabriella switched the topic. She had trepidations about her upcoming move to England, where she’ll study business at University of Manchester.


“You can’t leave. I only just found you!” I teased her.


“Well…Do you think my accent is OK?”


She sounded like she’d just stepped out of an American news caster’s seat, I told her. She’d have it easier there than I do in Peru because her English is better than my Spanish.


“But I can’t do the British accent.” She truly worries about this, she said, demonstrating with a few words.


I laughed. Then I laughed again. To speak and laugh in English, with someone unrelated to my residential or professional lives lifted my day with levity. I told her not to worry about accent because it will come to her easily as osmosis. That’s something to be expected when living abroad. Plus, her years of studying English instilled her speech with an American accent. The English will tease you for that, yet they’ll also accept you faster than if you’d arrived with a northern Peruvian Spanish accent.

“You’re already halfway assimilated.”


Our conversation ping ponged like a Wimbledon match until she lobbed the conversation ball out of bounds, saying she had to leave for choir practice now, leaving me with two non-English speaking women. My rule against salon talk came back into play and I lay back to enjoy the remainder of the pedicure foot massage.


The minutes suddenly slowed, reminding me: you’re in Latin America. Three hours in and no one had even glimpsed my hair yet. I’d just finished reading an issue of New Ohio Review and was kicking myself for not bringing more. But that was unfair. How could I have known I’d spend half a day at the spa?


On the other side of the white, faux- leather couch, Gabriella’s mother was cutting a Columbian woman’s hair. This was no chop chop, snip snip, fluff fluff of a veteran stylist. She was as timid as a woman on her first day beauty school. Only Pinky Tuscadero was slower and less confident. Then, I heard a snippet of their salon talk: the mother had been an abogada, or attorney, in Lima. I reclined on the love seat at the pedicurist’s suggestion, drifting off picturing scenarios that might have brought the family from Lima to live on the second story of a house above their ground-level salon.


Four hours in, the mother seated me on a black leather styling chair that tipped to the right. Images of Pinky Tuscadero again flashed through my mind. The Columbian had opted to leave her hair wet and unstyled after the mother was unfinished, so there was no telling…. Meanwhile she engrossed herself in my hair, fingering it until it stopped halfway down my back.


Gabriella had instructed her of what to do: keep the length, make sure the layers are pronounced. As she piddled and plotzed, a cadence rang through my mind: I wish I had a book, wish I had a book, wish I had a book. The dunk dunk dunk of the wall clock before me took over. Four and a half hours. I shifted mental gears again, silently trying to learn new Spanish words from the dubbed Finding Nemo playing on the television. 


Five hours in, Gabriella returned.

“I was just at choir practice an the…what do you call him… the main guy, the one who leads the choir?” She was hyper when she raced up to my chair, where her mother was combing out my washed hair.

“The director?”

“Yes! Well, the director from the ch– choir…” she stumbled across the ch as most Latinos do: like church, rather than kite.”He was listening to us sing, you know, because he’s going to do a song with us later this month when we have a perf. What’s that word?”


“Yes! Well, he’s doing a song with us and he wants me to do a solo! For Peru’s National Choir at Piura’s Teatro Municipál!”

I congratulated her. Conversation ensued as she began helping her cousin on the Columbiana‘s mani/pedi, and the fat minutes gained speed as they continued their passage through time.

Half hour and 41 soles (US $15) later, some salon therapy had restored my femininity. Shiny, trimmed hair radiated down my back. Fresh nail polish brightened my hands.

I’ll go again to F&M. Next time I’ll bring a thicker book. And schedule one salon treatment.



Let’s have a salon conversation of our own. What was your longest or weirdest day at the spa? What countries have you experienced salons in?

Q&A: Blind Author Belo Cipriani Discusses the Business of Writing


This is the second of a two-part post about Blind author Belo Cipriani, a San Francisco-based memoirist whose first work of fiction comes out later this year. Read the first part here.



You’re coming out with your first book of fiction soon. Any release date yet? Can you give us a hint about the tale? Where should I direct readers to buy it?

My novella, Nightlife, will be published by ASD Publishing in September 2012. It’s a story about a pill that allows people to choose their dreams. The main characters find themselves socializing and getting to know each other in their sleep. Dates, romances, and heart breaks occur while on the pink pill. Readers will be able to purchase Nightlife via my publisher or via major online retailers.

Meanwhile, my publisher is currently translating a few chapter excerpts from Blind into Spanish. They want to test the waters first before translating the entire book.


You do writing residencies annually. Which one is coming up next? How do they work, and what advice would you give other writers interested in going beyond their writing groups?

I will be in residency at Yaddo summer 2012 in New York. During the fall 2012 and spring 2013 I will be Writer in Residency at Holy Names University in Oakland California. Residencies have proven to be extremely valuable for me because they have offered a place and time to write. In many cases, I am in residency with other writers and artists from other disciplines that have positively affected my creativity. There are websites that list residencies, yet I learn about them mostly from my writer friends.


Many of my writers are curious about fellowships, too. What are they and how does one go about getting one?

There are all sorts of fellowships with a wide range of criteria. Some seek out emerging writers while others look for accomplished authors. Some award big bucks and housing, yet those are rare and highly competitive. In 2011, I was a Lambda Literary Fellow and spent a week taking writing workshops with top notch writers and attended publishing panels in Los Angeles. This week long event is one of the best experiences of my writing career.

(ATW note: For more information on finding a place or some cash as a writer visit Erika Dreifus and/or Hope Clark.)


Find out more about Cipriani on his info-packed web site


You have a publicist who gets you bookings on programs such as What kind of efforts has she achieved for you so far? Did you get an agent before or after Blind’s release? What advice would you give other writers on finding a good publicist?

I am represented by a celebrity publicist. I signed an NDA limiting my ability to relinquish her identity to the public. She basically does not want people to find her. Like many successful agents, they do not want to be queried. She actually scouted me at a literary party in Los Angeles.


We all need community. Writers and blind people are two groups who especially discuss this. Do you have any other blind writer friends?

Yes, Susan Krieger has been a major supporter of my writing. I met her at one of her readings at Stanford University and we have stayed in touch ever since. I am a big fan of her work and highly recommend all of her books.


My thanks to Belo Cipriani for granting me some precious time and allowing me to write about his courageous journey.



How Do You Bandage Your Travel Ailments?


Travel wears us out after a while. It happens to Peace Corps volunteers and international business people, backpackers and expatriates. But when travel is your chosen path, how do we tend to abrasions, reduce the bruises, set the broken bones? We have a few tricks, a few items in our first-aid kit to expedite the healing process and get us back on our journeys. Here are some I’ve gleaned over four years of serial expatriation.

Band-Aid bandages: Daily yoga. Even if just for five minutes, do some basic yoga a few times weekly. This helps stretch out your back from those non-Western beds comfortable as sleeping on a sheet of plywood. A simple down dog soothes stress and pressure built up from breaking through language and cultural barriers.

Eye patch: Get out of town. Seem counter-intuitive? A day-trip or weekend away rejuvenates. Not doing this while living in Shenzhen, China, literally caused my deportation. I’ve learned my lesson and now plan at least a day away each month from Piura, Peru. Go see something else the pandemonium of your surroundings.

Tensor bandage: Cook. Make yourself some comfort food from home or try a recipe from the local cuisine. Yes, ingredients for your favorites from home may be more expensive, but it’s less than psychotherapy. From buying the ingredients, to preparing the meal, and then enjoying it are moments of calm, comfort, and sensory sensation. Plus, it’s a terrific excuse to call over some friends, share a meal and get drunk.

Gauze bandage: Go to a tourist trap. This is a good place for you to both laugh at and relate to the locals and other foreigners. But in the end you’ll be reminded of why you’re there. Plus if you’re one of those travelers who eschews touristy places, you’ll at least be able to answer questions about it for loved ones back home.

Tape: Assimilation is exhausting. In some circumstances of life abroad, you’re relegated to clothing you’d never glance twice at in your own country. Forgo it. Wear a revealing shirt, holey Gap jeans, and stilettos (or whatever makes you comfortable). Emphasizing your foreignness relieves as much as biting on heavy plastic for a toothache.

Toilet paper: In a pinch? For a momentary escape, my favorite is to simply slip on my headphones, crank on some American rock n’ roll, and sing aloud. It usually freaks people out just enough to steer clear of you.

How do you heal your traveler’s ailments?