In Frascati, just like other market towns, there is a plethora of fresh food outlets such as butchers, mozzarella producers, patisseries, ‘enoteche’ (wine shops) serving local wines and more than one rose seller.
Alongside these are the service shops, the hairdressers, chocolatiers, tobacconists, and bars. Even at nearly nine on a winter’s night, the local fashion stores, bookshops and jewellers are open and the populace comes in wave after wave seeking presents or just being Italian, wandering from shop to shop to meet their friends and be seen.
Within half an hour the restaurants have filled and the night hawkers appear, seemingly from nowhere or from cracks in the wall. When the Carabinieri and Local Police are elsewhere, the blankets of the Senegalese and Nigerian bag sellers fill the walkways near the Cathedral Square. Flower and novel toy sellers roam the streets looking for bars and restaurants where they may be allowed to peddle their wares.
We follow the habit and wander the streets, now covered for Christmas with throw-away red carpet that hides not well enough the rough cobblestones and half steps designed to trip the unwary or any seventeen year young beauty in Neapolitan heels. We tour until we find ourselves back in the street of restaurants overlooking Rome and decide to check Zarazà first.
It is surprisingly not yet full, so we have our choice of tables, all placed just encroaching on the private space of the next table – a great way to meet your neighbour, if her husband is not the jealous type. After a difficult selection process interpreting the sources and taste types, we select a regional red, matched by water, and settle into a quiet evening, awaiting polenta and soup, as lamb head was no longer on the menu (maybe why there were tables vacant).
Behind me as I am facing away from the door, I sensed the presence of someone and looked around slightly to espy three red roses being waved in my face by a gentleman of southern Asian appearance, the rose-seller. I felt like a woman who is rubbed against when she is not seeking companionship.
The roses are beautiful, the seller attentive, yet my wife is perpetually neutral in these situations. All of this happens in a few seconds, and my rebuttal of the seller is a bit aggressive, particularly when he dawdles around our table trying to make me suffer a guilt trip and reverse my decision. This is a poor marketing ploy as he reinforces my rejection, and I feel a slight dislike for this man, doing his job, trying to make a buck, the rose-seller, selling beautiful flowers to make people happy.
As we dine, we hear music of a violin, played also by a southern Asian, quite near, just a few metres away. I do not turn around to watch, but listen with some embarrassment to a musician who obviously needs to earn money for more lessons. He comes near the table and I pull out a couple of coins and put them in his decrepit paper cup, not as a reward for enjoyment, as I had not enjoyed the recital at all, but simply as an encouragement to move on.
It was then that I realized the mistake of the rose seller. He needs to learn to sing, but not too well!