Back in 1963, my father-in-law, Nikos Makrigiorgos, built a block of flats at Pipinou 78 in Athens. Artemis, a pediatrician and my mother-in-law, had her office on the 6th floor, along with the family home. At street level, they installed a hairdressing salon – a “Komotirio”.
Yiannis and Rania rented and ran the komotirio for almost 50 years. It was very pink. A modesty wall protected women from street eyes during the private business of having their hair washed. Yianni’s two teenage daughters maintained a statuesque, unfathomable presence, one on each side of the door. Nikos called them the Karyatides.
Sadly, the business closed, as did many in Athens, a few years ago.
In 2018, as a volunteer at Orange House – a shelter and community center for refugees and migrants run by the Za’atar NGO – I talked to Marina, Za’atar’s intrepid leader, about her dreams of a community-based enterprise.
“Starting with something like a hair-dressing salon, to help refugees who plan to live in Greece find work, train, and prosper,” she said.
As I strolled, literally, down Memory Lane – Pipinou Street – where my husband and I lived when first married over 30 years ago, my brain and my camera clicked. With my new-found techno-skills on WhatsApp, I fizzed a photo to Marina… ‘Hey…we own this closed-down komotirio….’
WhatsApp moments are dangerous. A few days later, I was relaxing on a family vacation, when the WhatsApp warning bell chimed. In flew a similar photo.
‘Hey Anne. Guess where I am?’ Love Marina.
“So,” I said to my hapless-husband-in-holiday mode. “Remember how fond your mother was of that salon…?”
A hundred and one (give or take) signatures, rubber stamps, transatlantic texts, lost keys, sawn off padlocks, found-too-late keys, electrical certificates, old bills, new contracts, tax forms, cousin-helpers and happy-funders later, a volunteer army moved in, along with a designer, boxes of floor tiles, and paint charts. The ashtrays and modesty wall moved out. Project Layali launched, the Salon has been redefined, and it’s no longer very pink.
We’re waiting for the power and the permit. Watch this space, the light will come.