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Marita Prandoni

Marita Prandoni photo courtesy of Marita PrandoniMarita Prandoni has a passion for exploring different cultures and worldviews. She draws inspiration from her family, tutoring extraordinary youth, meeting unexpected heroes and from the stunning natural beauty of her home turf in and around Santa Fe, NM.

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A Trip to the Hair Salon as Low-Carbon Geotourism
Thursday, 11 November 2010 00:00  |  Written by Marita Prandoni | Blog Entry

Hairdryer photo by Brandi SimsNational Geographic defines geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Think of it as holistic tourism—more than the sum of its parts. In contrast to ecotourism, it is not a utopian eco-sensitive escape where language and cultural differences may have been altered for the comfort of the traveler. Geotourism is an immersion into the churning authenticity and distinctive character of a place. But you don’t have to leave the country to be a geotourist; culturally diverse hot spots are ensconced in every city.

I recently had to go across town to replace my auto windshield, after a crack completely dissected the panel at eye level. The glass technician told me that it would take about three hours, and pointed me to the huge mall across the way—a defining cultural experience for many. But I was reluctant to spend three hours browsing unnecessary stuff that traveled absurd distances to satisfy anesthetized consumers, so I struck out for the nearby little strip mall with a carnicería (butcher), taquería (taco joint) and panadería (bakery), catering to the tastes of our immigrant community. I chanced upon a hair salon and stepped in for a haircut.

Two lovely hairdressers were busy coiffing customers as a woman in stiletto heels and a stylish business suit motioned for me to take a seat. Above the mirrored wall, a telenovela (serial melodrama) played on a TV screen, competing with upbeat Spanish-language music blasting from the radio. One customer and her two little ones folded freshly laundered towels while they waited.

When it was my turn, the lady in stilettos gave me a quick trim and commented that I’d look good with highlights. With time on my hands, I obliged. She disappeared in the back room to mix a solution and returned with a plastic cap spotted with little uniform circles. She affixed it to my head, and with a crochet-type device, pulled strands of hair through the punctured circles and applied bleach. Long story short, she assaulted my hair with harsh chemicals, all the while telling me how beautiful I would be.

For three hours, I was fussed over and made to feel like I was at a spa. I listened to animated conversations in Spanish and learned new words, watched other people being made beautiful, and soaked up the friendly atmosphere of the place, trying not to think about the frog-altering substances I was contributing to the wastewater stream.

Afterward, I researched environmentally safe hair dyes and reflected: If I brought my own hair product, I could still indulge in the lively ambiance of my new favorite salon and not feel bad about the toxins. Maybe, eventually, the beauticians would begin offering alternative products.

It may be a stretch to call a hair salon a geotourism destination. But this simple act of surrendering to the gift of beauty wound up enhancing my intercultural understanding—no passport, no airplanes, no stereotypes required.

Updated 11/11/10; originally posted 6/14/09.

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