At night, there are the nightspots and free concerts. My group of friends tends to meet up around midnight – when my friends in the tourism and hotel industry get off from work; when the nightspots start getting packed – and those of us who don’t live at home* and might not have eaten dinner or those of us who do live at home** but are still hungry might hit a pub for something to snack on.*myself, Katarina – the resident foreigners in the bunch **the Italians
An Italian pub is not a pub, but it is called a pub nonetheless. Inspired by pubs of England and Ireland, an Italian pub will often have a name in English – butchered by the locals – and a full menu of beer, American cocktails, Italian apertifs, German and Italian dishes, as well as hamburgers that are not hamburgers, but are instead shriveled hockey pucks. Apart from a hamburger, you might order a plate of tortellini alla boscaiola, a plate of french fries, an insalata caprese, a sausage plate, tiramisu, a pizza, or a panino. We know which pubs in town make decent cocktails, which pubs can’t make desserts for crap, and which pubs have terrific craft beer. My friend Piercarlo once ordered millefoglie for dessert and made the tragic mistake of telling me that eating millefoglie makes him nervous; so many layers, so much opportunity to make a mess. I’ve tortured him about this ever since.
There will be a TV in the corner playing the music television. Barely legal waitresses with giant boobs bouncing around. A few families who’ve decided to bring their toddlers out at one in the morning. And then – regular as the sunrise, persistent as the heat – come the rose vendors.
They’re the immigrants from India and Bangladesh. They make their way from pub to pub, club to club, gripping bouquets of roses and sunflowers priced at a euro each. They look for a mixed group of friends and stop expectantly next to the men. No thank you, say Piercarlo and Riccardo. These are our sisters. The vendors say One euro. Buy a flower for the pretty lady. It usually takes at least three no thank yous, or sometimes one of the men will be embarrassed and buy each of us a rose. The roses are wrapped in cellophane, and usually curled and spotted at the edges. The men are sheepish – shamed into being chivalrous, and sometimes, if none of them budges, Mona complains later: What a sad state of affairs when no man will buy us a rose! But Flora still has the rose Riccardo bought her months ago on the dashboard of her car. It’s dried and black but hasn’t budged. When my little cousin is in town, I buy her a white rose and a cup of fior di latte gelato; she prefers the rose:
Sometimes the vendors come when we’re in all-girl groups. I’m not in love with these women, says Katarina. No thank you. No thank you. No thank you. They stand at the table silently. No thank you, we say again. Thank you, but no thank you. They stare until it grows uncomfortable, and then they leave. Katarina is not fond of the rose vendors; an immigrant like me but not like them, she mutters: Balls! Again, this guy! Sometimes, after a lap around the pub, the same vendor comes back. Still no thank you, we say. But thank you, anyway.
We know their faces by now; greet them like friends. Good evening. No thank you, nothing for me tonight. Sometimes I forget to buy flowers at my usual stand during the day and take advantage: A sunflower, please. It dies the next day, dropping sad petals all over my dining room table. So later, after another snack at the pub and a Sprizz at a club, it’s our guy, and he’s got red roses and blue roses tonight. Buy, signorina, he says.
Hey, I say. That sunflower you sold me last night? It was dead this morning.
Without a word, he hands me a blue rose and says Prego – as in, take it. I’m pleased and touched. Riccardo tries to tell me that it’s not blue because it’s manipulated – it’s blue because of something something something, I’ve had three Sprizz and I’m not even sure it’s Riccardo talking to me to tell you the truth.
But I take the blue rose home. I put it in water in my bedroom. It dies the next day, too.