That bastion of the male world, the Barber Shop, with its candy-striped pole, leather strop and copies of the Police Gazette lying around for your perusal as you wait for your favorite barber to call you next, may have for the most part disappeared; but the art of conversation between a man and his barber (for want of a gender-neutral term) has not. For the past 30 or more years I have had my hair cut by Luigi, who with his brother Enzo, runs “The Isaia Hairstyling Salon” in the Riverdale section of The Bronx.
Luigi (Louie) and Enzo emigrated with their parents from a town near Salerno in the Campania region of Italy when they were children. They started life in America in the Belmont section of the Bronx, also known as Arthur Avenue. When Louie was a stylist working at Vidal Sassoon in Manhattan, he was known as Bernard. That name stayed with him for a time after he left, but eventually he became Louie once again, as the brothers’ own business began to flourish, back in Da Bronx.
When my hair used to grow more quickly, I’d schedule a visit to Louie about once every 4 or 5 weeks. These days visits are usually 8 to 10 weeks apart, and it’s not because I’m letting my hair grow longer, there’s just less of it to cut. So I figure that Louie and I have had at least 250 conversations over the years. We’ve discussed politics, sports, the economy, crime, religion, family and the changes in the neighborhood. But every visit has included a conversation on our two favorite topics, movies (principally Italian Cinema) and food.
Louie enjoys cooking and sometimes, when he knows I am coming in for a haircut, he surprises me, as he recently did, with something he whipped-up the previous night. On our most recent visit to our hometown New York, which included a haircut from Louie, the surprise was Mussels Marinara, not with linguine, nor tagliatelle nor penne or some of the more fashionable cuts of macaroni, but with good, old-fashioned, comforting, spaghetti. It was delicious and Grammy and I devoured it that night when we returned to Falmouth.
The other day, I made a visit to The Clam Man, our local fishmonger, and as luck would have it, they had a batch of big, black, shiny mussels. With an eye to preparing Louie’s mussels and spaghetti, I bought 2 dozen of the bivalves. Remembering what Louie had told me about his three special additives: brandy (I used Martell Cognac, which I use for my Steak au Poivre), jalapeño pepper and Knorr’s Caldo con Sabor de Camarón and guessed at the proportions. I don’t think it was exactly the same as Louie’s version, but it was delicious.
So here it is folks, the real deal, Mussels Marinara with Spaghetti alla Luigi.