PHOTOGRAPHER / FILMMAKER
Cuba's oldest barber
Ricardo a.k.a. Pepo as he is known by the locals, is perhaps at 91 years Cuba's oldest barber. Walking past his modest parlour , the verdant courtyard denotes attention to detail and a nurturing spirit. Gentle in nature and exuding a serene energy , Pepo conveys wisdom even while making small-talk. His agility matches that of a 60-year-old as he gives me a tour of his shopfront and house in between servicing loyal clients. Pepo explains to me in his measured account that he enjoyed school until the sixth grade and then received a different education in the salon that has been lifelong refining . By age 6, Pepo recalls that he was able to cut his father's clients hair completely by himself . Powerful early memories of looking up from the barbers floor watching his father working like an artisan , as hair fell like snowflakes , are acknowledged as sealing Pepo's destiny to honour his father's tradition.
Pepo explains that the profession of barbering was well respected when he chose to commit to the discipline and was held in as much regard as being a lawyer or accountant by today's standards. The trade would often be generationally handed down from father to son and in Pepo's circumstance , he has outlived three barbers within his family. Once embarking in the career , it was essential for barbers to take great pride in their appearance and to wear crisp clothes and highly polished shoes . Each application of comb and considered scissor snip were akin to artist brushstrokes . Pepo confirms the complementary dynamics of confidant and confessional that are often at play and that the customer experience is not purely about hair .
Intrigued about Pepo's professional highlights, he humbly recounts about a day in 1998 when Pope John Paul II came into his barbershop , equipped with numerous minders, and asked for a haircut. My interest now peaked, Pepo reveals that the unassuming nature of the then Pope was apparent and that it seemed incomprehensible that he should ask Pepo about his life story and appear genuinely interested.
Pepo has lived alone since his wife passed away 30 years ago . I discovered this as he stood solitary in his dining room area looking distantly across the table where his loving wife used to sit . When asked about what the secret is to longevity in life and work is , he simply replied without hesitation " If you open your heart and love others while being good to everyone you meet, that love will be returned to you tenfold . That's my secret."