The last ‘cowboy’ in Mexico City’s trendy Roma neighborhood

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Don Manuel wears two belts. The first is for the usual: fastening the pants. The second, tied at the level of the navel, has been used as a girdle since he suffered a hernia from going up and down the metal fence of his hairdresser. The belt-girdle not only protects his lower back, but it makes him look like he is carrying a gun. Although the truth is that the hairdresser holds no weapons, except for razors and an ax from his time as a mountaineer. There is also a bible, a miniature Buddha, and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe to whom he prays every morning to thank her for the blessing of work.

Don Manuel turned 80 years old last week, but his Ibarra hairdresser is almost one century old. It is a small place that he inherited from his father and that resists the plans of change in the Roma neighborhood, one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in Mexico City nowadays. Manuel Ibarra is the last cowboy planted between the rails of the hipster locomotive.

The entrance of the hairdresser in Mexico City.
The entrance of the hairdresser in Mexico City. HÉCTOR GUERRERO

The hairdresser says the new owner of the building thought he was going to draw a gun from his belt. “Sometimes he comes here to insult me. I tell him to get out, but he runs away screaming that I want to shoot him”, he says, hiding his little blue eyes between bushy eyebrows, matching his beard and white mane in the Creole Valley-Inclán style. Three years ago, the owner of the property sold it to an agency, and suddenly, the rent went up double, to 17,000 pesos a month. Don Manuel cannot pay and the case is pending a judge’s decision.

When he started, at the age of 15, to help his father in the hairdresser, there were still spittoons on the corners so that customers could feel at ease while smoking their cigars. Today there is still some old blacksmith or shoe store in Colonia Roma, but the new neighbors are an artisan bakery, a European cult comic shop, and a Japanese breakfast bar and natural wines at 200 pesos a glass, twice as much as a haircut in Ibarra.

Don Manuel at the door of the hairdresser.  The sign reads: "Modern Cuts to Your Choice."
Don Manuel at the door of the hairdresser. The sign reads: “Modern Cuts to Your Taste.” HÉCTOR GUERRERO

The hairdresser has had to sell part of the furniture to pay the rent. The steamers where the towels or two of the three original armchairs were heated, from 1936. Since his uncle died – from whom he learned the trick of putting hydrogen peroxide after shaving so that he does not bleed – and then his father, more than 20 years, he has been left alone. So little money comes in that he has not been able to hire an assistant for a long time. The gentrification, the powerful earthquake of 2017, and now the pandemic have been dwindling the clientele: “Some stopped coming. Others died or moved to another neighborhood ”, he explains.

Manuel Ibarra’s crusade has awakened the solidarity of some young neighbors. For his birthday, a neighborhood ice cream parlor gave him 100 popsicles to sell at their store. “When you see that young people care about this, it feels nice”, Don Manuel said.

Source: El Pais

 The Mexico City Post

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