Quiberon My Baracoa in France
"The Barber from Port Vila"
I have to thank FeiWen, the hair stylist at A Cut Above at Bangsar in KL, for this chance meeting with the Barber of Port Vila.
My best friend in Asia had been journeying to the La La Land, thus my trips in April and July to KL had been cancelled, as predicted by my Kikapu Sister. The fast growing hair of mine, began growing at an even greater pace and I found myself in a predicament of unable to transact symbols of the French Society.
It is a Sunday, a town in Normandie, a man comes into the pharmacy, hair flowing to the shoulders, the wild winds of the coast had made it look like an unkempt haystack and declares: I am a Doctor and I would like some medications for an Irritant Eye!
I am an expert on transaction of symbols and I realized that to do well in French Society, better be well coiffed and well coutoured!
The first enquiry at this Presqui'le de Quiberon, a peninsula of Bretagne jutting into the sea, was to find a Coiffeur.. Sure enough, they said, you would enjoy meeting Mr Pitou, who has a shop near the Church and his wife exhibits her paintings in an atelier attached to the Hair Dresser's Salon.
At the appointed time, I appeared at the door, a tall slender man with fashionable trousers and an interesting design of glasses welcomed me warmly. What language shall we speak, I humbly demanded.. I speak a Little English, I had learned it in the South Pacific, said the Barber Pitou..
His father had been a pilot for UTA French Airlines as it was called then, and based in Papeetee, where the young Pitou grew up amidst the wahines and palm trees and steep mountains which was to leave an impression on him for the rest of his life. He spent a year in New Caledonia and opened a Barber Shop in Port Vila..
Port Vila? I asked him, incredulous of this coincidence of a town in the back yard of Australia!
I remembered my two visits to Port Vila, once on Air Nauru from Nauru and another time on a circle Pacific tour with Air Pacific..
Do you remember the nice hotel, Le Lagon, and he did, I used to live just one km away and my daughter had a pirogue and she used to ply the waters of the lagoon which was my front yard.
Rarely does one encounter an European, a romantic at heart such as portrayed by Somerset Maugham, longingly thinking of distant frangipanies and mosquito laden forgotten colonial outpost
this one was peculiar if any thing.. I remember distinctly, the doctors from the French Sector packing their bags and leaving and the British ones arriving. It was the worlds only condominium, administed for six months by Britain and the other six months by French. So every six months the flags would change, preferred langauge is gone, and all the while the Chinese immigrants were counting their Pacific Francs while the John Frum movement dressed up in discarded american clothes waited for the white messiah from USA to air drop the latest goods from WalMart!
What does it matter? the country does not change, I had such a fantastic time there, I consider Port Vila to be my home. I had a small barber shop near the chinese restaurant and for six years, with my wife and daughter (conceived in the Blue Hills of NSW and saw her first light at the French Colonial Hospital in Noumea, Nouvelle Caledonie), I loved every minute of it. I like living in Quiberon, but if something dramatic changes in France, it is to Port Vila that i would return, declared the Barber from Port Vila, Nouvelle Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu.
"The Man from Port vila"
He talked some more about the south pacific, his eternal longings for the beach, the trees, the fish and most of all the people, whom he genuinely liked. he was one of the last links of a colonial era vanishing into the setting sun of the french empire of the east..
in broken English and broken French, the latter being mine, we communicated and reminisced about our times in the South Pacific, I had wandered through the islands, magical names.. tokelau, nauru, funafuti.. from whence I sent a telegram to the hospital explaining my absence at the wards of a University of Melbourne teaching service: Marooned in Funafuti, Unable to report for Duty!
This was a genuine experience for me in France. He is Breton, and sees France for what it is, appreciates it for what it is, and is grateful to be living in Quiberon which is a tourist trade oriented small place, much like his beloved Port Vila.
He said: I will try and give you a good hair cut, but does it really matter? it would grow back in a few days time, but enjoy your time in France and especially in Quiberon..
We all have little towns that we carry in our hearts, in my case it is Baracoa, Cuba and I am looking forever for other Baracoa, knowing the original one can never be topped.
It was strange, just this morning, I was thinking.. Quiberon looks like my Baracoa of France... and the words of the Barber of Port Vila sounded so true..
Like Port Vila, Quiberon is small, has beach, sun is shining, there is even a small bird. Colibri, that you can see in summer which reminds you of the tropics..
Quiberon is my Port Vila in France, said the Barber of Port Vila