VANISHING? Not yet.
"I been a barber since seven," Ercole Riccardelli tells me in his thick Neapolitan accent as he holds a buzzing set of clippers over my head, "I was short. My grandfather gave me a step. I stood on it and put on the soap with the brush. When I was fourteen, I shaved the customers."
He's 84 now and plans to live as long as his grandfather, a man who made it to 99 (and 7 months) by never once seeing a doctor and by drinking a glass of Brioschi with lemon every morning then smoking a pipe while he watched the Naples fishermen fish before he opened his barber shop for the day.
photo by axlotl
If you go to the Clover Barbershop in Park Slope, be prepared to spend some time. Mr. Riccardelli moves very, very slowly. But his lines are straight and his hand is steady on the razor blade. When he finishes the hot-foam shave, he slaps your face with Osage oil and fans you coolingly with his towel. There aren't many places left where you can get treatment like this for little money.
Italian barbers might be the best. I used to see Sal on Mott Street, but a few years ago he closed up. First he stopped giving shaves because his hands got shaky. The next time I went back, he was gone. An upscale salon took his place. Then there's an amazing shop run by Harry Fini, but you have to go all the way to Philly for his hot towels, talk of Frank Sinatra, and the sign outside that says, "Enjoy barbering as did your dad."
Sal on Mott from Mr. Beller's
Harry's Shop from my flickr stream
Back in Brooklyn, Mr. Riccardelli's daughter has been urging him to close up shop and move to Florida, where he can enjoy the beach and swim in water as warm as the Mediterranean he longs for. But he's not ready to go just yet. "As long as my hands are good," he says, "I'll be right here."
Let's hope he lasts as long as his grandfather did.