Pipeline to Africa

The next morning we woke up fairly burnt out, but basically feeling okay (aside from Brian's back). Jason had danced until quite late and ended up making out with some girl on the couch.

I was really into this renewal idea that morning. It was a new year, a new decade. I cut my toenails and fingernails and had a strong desire to get a haircut. Jason knew there was a barber down the street, but none of us new if barbershops were open on New Year's Day. We decided to go down and check it out.

Out on the high street on Alma, everything seemed very closed. We passed the barber shop and the sign was not in the street. But we looked in the window and the man who must've been the barber was in there, puttering around with his equipment. I had a flash of hope. If he wasn't open for business, what was he doing on New Year's day morning adjusting his scissors and barbasol? When he saw us looking in his window, he enthusiastically motioned for us to come in. That was an even better sign

He was wearing an old blue terrycloth bath robe and looked kind of like Colonel Mustard without the moustache and the patrician airs. He had white wavy hair that was combed back and a little long. "Come in, come in," he seemed very excited to see us.

Introductions were made. We said Happy New Year. There was an air of friendliness and joviality all around. After the exchange of some pleasantries, when it didn't seem like he was obviously motioning one of us to sit in the chair, we asked if we could get our hair cut. "Oh no. No, no, no. I am not open for business," he replied. "Please sit down. Have some wine."

I noticed that the "equipment" he had been messing with on his counter was one of those boxes of white wine. He had been filling himself a new glass, rather than cleaning his comb or sharpening his blades. I was dissapointed, but realized the futility of my quest. But if I couldn't get my haircut, what better than to have a glass of wine with a barber in his shop. My chances of anything better elsewhere were not high.

The barber's name was Remi. He was French-Canadian and had been partying all night. His girlfriend was sleeping in the back room. There was a sense that she was mad at him, but he wouldn't explain exactly why or what she might do. We just had to keep our voices from getting too loud. We drank cheap white wine on empty stomachs (one of our other missions had been to go get some breakfast).

I don't remember how the conversation got started. Probably Remi just started telling us. But he was an amateur artist and had examples of his work around the store. The couple of paintings that were on display were kind of like Goya meets those sad clown pictures. There was a painting of a couple of romanticized prehistoric cave dwellers outside their cave, with a baby cradled in fur. In the side, hiding behind some tall grass, was a tiger. He also had a painting of a topless prehistoric lady.

His current, and most ambitious project, at this point was a narrative retelling of the history of Africa. Here he began to talk about how Africa began as the most verdant and fertile region in the world. "This was where Adam and Eve came from," he said.

"But!" he suddenly became much more animated. "All the water slowly began to drain from Africa. Today, it is a barren desert, where the people are poor. They have no water to grow crops to make food, you understand!"

"All the rivers in the world, what do they have in common?" he scanned our faces. "They all flow from east to west!" he said triumphantly. "All the rivers in the world flow from east to west."

I was trying to digest this information, when Jason, who was majoring in ecology at the time, said, "What about the Nile!"

There was a slight pause.

"FUCK THE NILE!" boomed Remi.

"All the nations of the world must come together and build a giant pipeline," Remi went on, unfazed by Jason's retort. "A giant pipeline to Africa. Each of the rivers will give some of their water to the pipeline, where it will all collect and flow into Africa, turning it back into a fertile paradise."

Here Remi brought out a another painting, a watercolor on a gesselted board. It was a comic entitled "Pipeline to Africa". It depicted the story of a family similar to the one in the first painting. "See here they are living in their cave and they are eating grass," Remi explained. "But in the forest there is this fucking tiger. You see the tiger is watching them. And then the tiger comes into the cave and tries to get the baby. But the man has the spear and he kills the fucking tiger." And here I believe was the main theme in the first installment of Remi's Pipeline to Africa saga. The next image was the family sitting around the fire, roasting the carcass of the 'fucking tiger'. The baby is swaddled in the tiger fur. "Now the family is cooking the meat of the tiger. They are eating meat for the first time."

The narrative ended at this point, with four more squares waiting to be filled up. Remi explained to us that he wanted to continue this painting and create a whole series, but he didn't have time and he didn't have formal art training. We told him that Brian was an artist (which he was, having recently graduated from Emily Carr). Remi proposed a trade. Leaning into Brian, with both hands on the arms of the barber chair in which Brian was sitting, Remi suggested that Brian stay and apprentice with him as a barber and in turn teach Remi how to paint.

At this time, some wine had been drunk and Jason and I were all for the idea. Brian seemed quite uncomfortable, swallowing and making excuses with his chin tucked into his neck. "Come on, Brian," I said. "This is your opportunity." It seemed obvious to me that if you are a newly graduated art student with nothing but years of struggle in front of you and you are offered a barber apprenticeship by the future creator of the Pipeline to Africa saga on the first day of a new year of a new decade, then you take it.

We stayed and talked for a while. Remi had to get back to his girlfriend and we had to get on with our day. The next time I was in Vancouver, I got a haircut with Remi. He was much more sober and less exciting, complaining about city hall forcing him to take his clapboard sign off the sidewalk. But he was still very much a gentleman, with an elegance and style that came from true character. Jason still gets his hair cut from him from time to time. Brian never went back and is now a succesful graphic designer. I can't help but think what experiences he might have had as a barber's apprentice to Remi.