I tried to prepare myself as best I could. Just before leaving the States, I scheduled an appointment with my hairdresser. I figured this way, the only salon service I would need for the first month or two while studying abroad would be washes and roller sets; the relaxer wouldn’t be necessary until I approached that third month, which would be exactly halfway through my stay. I was hoping that it wouldn’t take me that long to find a hairdresser who knew how to care for relaxed hair and how to apply a relaxer; I couldn’t dare imagine walking out of the salon with patches of my hair completely gone.
I even had a backup plan – I purchased a home relaxer kit – something I had no experience with since I was used to going to the salon. I thought the kit would come in handy – if I found a hairdresser then at least they would use the products that I was familiar with; and if I didn’t find one, then at least I was prepared…actually, I don’t recall what my exact plans were. I think relaxing my hair on my own would have been more than I cared to take on at the time, so I was probably just hoping (and praying) that I would find a local hairdresser.
While scoping out my neighborhood in Florence, I happened to pass by a salon that was conveniently located one street over from my apartment. Unfortunately, they were closed for the day, and I had no other choice but to return during business hours.
I admittedly had some reservations when I returned to the salon a few days later. This was the first time I can recall entrusting my hair into the hands of a complete stranger. I was going to my hairdresser back in the States for almost 9 years – she’d seen me move on from middle school, to high school, and onto college. When I sat in her chair, I felt comfortable and at ease.
Sitting there in that unfamiliar chair that day, I felt completely vulnerable and at their mercy, but I thought to myself, how hard could it be to wash and blow dry my hair – after all, it was already relaxed!
We got through the wash easy enough, and then came the moment of truth – the blow-dry. I watched as the shop filled up with smoke while they ran the blow dryer through my hair. The front door seemed like a tiny peephole, incapable of anything other than magnifying what was on the other side. But that tiny peephole was the only way for the smoke to escape, and trust me, the smoke couldn’t escape fast enough. I wasn’t shocked by the smoke – but it was more so the amount of smoke that had my nerves on edge. Needless to say, I think their reaction sealed the deal for me – they had never seen anything like this before and that’s when I knew I wouldn’t be coming back here again even for a simple service like this. Now let’s just be very clear here, I never once entertained the idea of getting my relaxer done in that particular salon, even before I came in for an appointment); this was merely a test and they had failed it miserably.
After that experience, my mission to find a hairdresser became even more dire! It was essential that my hair looked decent while I was studying abroad and that I also returned to the States with a full head of hair.
At the time, social media was still fairly new, as was the concept of online customer reviews and online photo galleries. Exploring my options was limited to a basic Google search or word of mouth, and even those had their limitations. A chance encounter (actually I feel it was more like divine intervention) had me cross paths with a Nigerian woman living in Florence. She told me EXACTLY where I could go for the hair services that I was so desperately seeking – Black Queen on Via Panicale!
Black Queen is located on the side of Via Panicale that’s closer to Via Taddea, and is steps away from the San Lorenzo Market – the huge indoor/outdoor market that sells prepared foods, fruit and vegetable produce, meat, and dairy indoors; clothing, shoes, accessories, leather goods, and souvenirs outdoors.
When I walked into the shop and saw familiar hair care brands like Dark and Lovely, ORS, Motions, Luster’s Pink Moisturizer Lotion, skincare products like Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, AND that they had a standing hooded dryer, I was sold. Although Black Queen actually specializes in hair braiding, they are no stranger to relaxing hair (and that was more than good enough for me). I knew my prayers had been answered and I breathed a sigh of relief. The rest was history – I made my trips every two weeks religiously for a wash and set and eventually for my relaxer (courtesy of the home kit I brought with me of course – no sense in letting that go to waste 😉).
I’m sure if Florence didn’t have what I needed, I would have looked in another location like Rome, where there are a plethora of options for me to choose from, given it is geographically larger and more of a sprawling metropolis than Florence.
Would I have taken a 2-hour train ride to Rome whenever I needed to get my hair done? ABSOLUTELY, I would have traveled the distance for the TLC and pampering that my hair so desperately craved. Thankfully I didn’t need to.
Nowadays if I were traveling (internationally especially) for an extended period of time, I usually get some sort of protective hairstyle, given I haven’t relaxed my hair for several years. There have been times when I just can’t fit in a visit to the salon before a trip and I find myself in a situation much like when I was studying abroad – seeking out a hairdresser at my final destination. Fortunately, this task proves to be a lot easier now than it was back then.