© Michaël Amzalag photographed by Rafael Usubillaga in front of “Lion vis-a-vis Tiger at Deyrolle” by William Rolf, 2020

Message to a Former Addict


Your Proustian madeleine appears in the form of a minimalist-style white plastic vial. 500 ml and a coloured stopper that makes it stand out from others.

Natural formula Moisturizing and styling hair cream.

The rest is in Hebrew and promises you cheery mornings.

When did you start making this voyage into Big Pharma a not-to-be-missed part of your tourist trips? You have forgotten everything. Odourless, half-laundry-softener, half-cheap-flower-bouquet. The scent that embalms your nightly teenager outings.

Natural Formula is the number of pairs of jeans and sandals sacrificed to fill your suitcase with it when you come back from your vacation. As many as possible. For your friends. Like in an Ikea sketch.

Natural formula is a little like a cover-up cream, a concealer.  You don’t speak the language of Israel, but you have a long mane and you play it without saying a word in the streets, just so people will speak Hebrew to you.

Natural formula is the silicone of your youth, the cream that clings to your memories of carefree days. You are 40 years old and your hair is no less unruly. But you let the hairdresser bathe it in Botox. Who cares about promises, as long as people believe them?

What’s That ?


No, come on. Wait. What the heck is that? Yeah, over there. That.


Not now. Not me.

Not on a beautiful spring morning,

just like that, out of nowhere,

out of the blue, with Bill Withers

singing A Lovely Day in the background.

I’m too young.

I don’t want to turn that page yet.

No one asked my opinion.

I want to continue being free, having fun, moving up in the world at my own pace.

I want to fall in love with a girl I am not in a relationship with. I don’t want to wonder whether she’s the one who will be the mother of my children.

I still want to order another round of shots at 4 in the morning and think that’s a brilliant idea. I want to get up at noon the next day without thinking I’m messing around.  

I want to be able to quit a job without worrying about finding another one right away.

I don’t want to wear a tie, I don’t want to dress in suits, I don’t want to be careful, I don’t want to be tired, I don’t want to watch what I’m doing, I don’t want any responsibility.

I still have tons of things to do with my life and I don’t want to slow down or stop.

But when I look in the mirror, I have to face facts.

There it is: a damned white hair in my beard.

I Feel Bad About My Hair


Not too long ago, I read a very funny little book by Nora Ephron. I was drawn to it by its title: I Feel Bad About My Neck. I feel bad about my neck, too, but I feel worse about my hair. My hair is curly and foreign-looking, but it has no recognizable identity or origin. It does not really look African, or as if it is from any other place in particular. Since I was a teenager, I have made superhuman efforts to try to westernize it, to give my hair a civilized lustre. Hairdressers work on my hair as if trying to solve a problem, sometimes with a lot of compassion and sometimes with less, and always with a look that is helpless and sympathetic as they witness the dramatic spectacle of my hair.

“Frizzy hair is unhealthy hair.”
“It needs better conditioner.”
“What do you do with your hair?”
“Have you tried high-quality products on it?”

Obviously, they try to sell me every product they have in the store, from miracle oils to ultra-conditioning shampoo. I have tried them all: African products sold by Chinese shopkeepers in Château Rouge, sophisticated elixirs at exorbitant prices advertised in chic women’s magazines… And nothing has helped. My hair resists. It refuses to be naturalized. It insists on remaining as it is: frizzy and fuzzy, a bird’s nest or a mop, depending on my mood.

Some of my friends with straight, silky hair, who can simply toss their hair in an attractive gesture and have every strand fall into place, cannot understand my determination to tame my hair. They say they think this bushy cluster is beautiful, that they try to get the same style by using curlers or curling irons. We have heated discussions about hair, and every time I present the same set of arguments: that it is impossible to do my hair properly, that now that I have reached my age I no longer want to look like an aging, disheveled student. But I feel as though they resent the fact I would rather disappear into the crowd, to whitewash my origins, smooth out my rough sports. I still remember a classmate from our local school, coiffed in ringlets, her perfect, bouncy hair adorned by a side bow in a successful mix of smooth and contoured style. And to top it off, she was an excellent student, especially in arithmetic! I have forgotten many other people I went to school with but I can still picture this one, named Monique, clearly; she must have stayed in my memory as an ideal, both in the beauty of her hairstyle and her high marks. Not to mention that her parents owned a bakery on avenue de Clichy, meaning she must have gobbled up mountains of creamy cakes and all the pastries she wanted. I was envious of her hair and of her oh-so-French pastry shop. I dealt with the cake issue well enough, but I was never able to solve the problem of my hair. If I want to feel better about my hair, I may have to consult someone other than a hairdresser.