He has the look of an ageing and slightly punch-drunk heavyweight boxer. A beast of a man. I am dwarfed as he circles around me. In his giant hands he wields a cut throat razor inches from my face.
I glimpse two, maybe three, front teeth. A drop of sweat hangs precariously to the end of his nose. The heat is no friend to his size.
The bruiser pauses, stands back a little, then takes a drink from an ice cold beer. His thirst quenched he picks up his razor and returns to the task in hand. My haircut is back on track.
Hrvoje Cikato has been cutting hair, he’d never say styling, for 52 years. His shop is a monument to the bizarre. It houses an eccentric collection of clocks, caged birds, old hairdressing paraphernalia, religious artefacts, girlie calendars and all manner of pictures.
It is a small room in the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik. The Croatian city is UNESCO world heritage listed. The UN would be well advised to consider a separate listing for Hrvoje and his shop.
Hairdressing is in the blood, his father Angelo was a barber for 50 years. They’ve used the shop since the 1940s save for the time the Serbs and Montanegrins laid siege to the city in the early 1990s. Around 100 people were killed and two thirds of the Old Town buildings were damaged.
Among them was the Cikatos’ salon. It took a direct hit. Father and son had completed an expensive refit of the shop a few weeks before the siege. They moved to temporary premises just down the alleyway and couldn’t return for a decade.
The shop is rarely empty. Most callers are friends who come to chat, they also bring the 66 year old some bottles of beer. I hope I’ve timed my cut so that the beer is a help rather than an intoxicating hindrance. His friends assure me he never has more than two or three bottles a day. There are a few empties around the salon including a bottle of cognac. But who’s counting.
The shop is a draw for tourists who venture down the alleyways off the Stradum, the Old Town’s 13th century limestone cobbled thoroughfare. In summertime the city heaves with visitors. Four cruise ships disgorge 11,000 in a single day while I’m there. A walk along Dubrovnik’s walls can take hours.
Many tourists stumble upon Hrvoje’s shop, peer inside and when they spot the exotica their cameras begin to whir. He never complains, knowing some will venture in for a cut. Thank you letters from around the world adorn his walls.
Pride of place is a photo of film star Richard Gere who dropped in one day for a trim. The gentle and personable giant even has a photograph of a member of the Obama clan getting a cut. My enquiries can’t quite work out the exact relationship with Barack but the beer will probably aid his memory later in the day.
One star whose hair he won’t be cutting is Severina, Croatia’s version of Kylie Minogue. While I’m in town she gives a free concert in the Stradum to mark the country’s entry to the EU. The Old Town is packed tight that night. I knew nothing of the diva but a quick search of the net reveals her star status.
Like any pop princess she has a history of controversy. Primarily an affair with a married businessman despite earlier public statements that she was a good Catholic girl who opposed premarital sex. The leaking of a sex tape from the tryst added to the outrage. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
This was back in 2004. Sex tapes are a little old fashioned for current en vogue pop stars so the Dubrovnik performance features her kissing women on stage. Much more 2013.
The next night is a more gentle affair, the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra, opera singers, classical guitarists, dancers and choristers do their bit for the EU. I’m not aware of any of the performers having a leaked sex tape……in some cases this is definitely a good thing.
The setting is the Rector’s Palace, an inspiring mix of ancient architecture. It’s a great night except I miss my last bus home. I’m left with a three kilometre walk and two staircases with a total of 400 plus steps.
Which reminds me, if you’re planning on coming here do yourself a favour, visit outside peak summertime and enrol yourself at your local gym’s step class a few months in advance. Dubrovnik has a world monopoly on steps and they will take their toll. They are everywhere and they don’t just come in ones or two.
The good news is that Hrvoje’s shop is in the flat part of the Old Town. Call in and he might share a beer with you while he cuts your hair. It will steady his hands and your nerves.
(Main Picture courtesy of Suellen and Roger Petrie)