Long gone are the times when receiving a single red rose felt romantic to me. The single red rose always makes me think of my dad. He had a classic romanticism about him, very old-fashioned in that respect. He never gave us bunches of flowers or even a dozen. Just one red rose. Always red. Always beautiful. I would hang each rose upside down over the years to dry and save them, my own addiction to the romance of it all I guess. I would not be surprised if I actually have them in storage with all my scrapbook albums in San Diego.
Unfortunately, now when I think of single red roses I feel far from romantic. They seem generic and cheap. I blame the fact that I work, reside and party in the center of Barcelona, which has become this dirty circus of pickpocketers, street vendors and hookers. It’s not so far off from the Tijuana border when you are stuck in traffic and have people at your window every other second trying to sell you packs of chicle or huge ceramic statues of Bart Simpson. Those border experiences taught me well: roll up the window, put on the air conditioning and turn up the radio full blast. Do NOT make eye contact.
In Barcelona there is a huge market of selling obnoxious trinkets to tourists. Can’t blame them really, since the reality is that drunk tourists tend to get a kick out of the Mexican sombreros (ummm…should someone tell them they are not in Mexico?) and blinding shiny things that go round and round and round. It’s not just on the street that you are harassed, however. Mainly men, and the odd end woman here and there, follow you into bars and restaurants to sell you cheap fluorescent glow in the dark paraphernalia and naked women dancing on cigarette lighters. And roses. Single red roses wrapped in plastic. Single red roses have become more colorful cheap paraphernalia.
The roses in and of themselves are not what tick me off. I like roses. It is the persistent vendors that never give you peace who drive me mad. There is a game you learn here. It goes something like this. No, gracias. No, gracias. They leave one on your table and walk away. Un regalo para la mujer guapa. And then they come back. Of course they come back. Of course they are not out to gift roses to strangers. Again, you said, no, gracias followed by a firm No! And then you just stop making eye contact and ignore them until they walk away. Five minutes later a different one will approach you and the game happens all over again. It’s gets old real quick.
I’ve grown to despise the rose sellers. And as a result, the roses. Until…last night.
My friend and I were in Sugar, this dodgy red bar just behind Plaza Real, having the last drink of the night. We befriended an American guy who was sitting by himself at the bar, sort of staring on longingly at the groups of people laughing around him. He looked lonely. And more importantly, my friend fancied him. So being the good wing woman that I am, I called him over for a brief introduction. Turns out his friends were at the bar next door but the drinks were cheaper at Sugar, so he had come over to down a couple cheap drinks. Been there, done that. Totally not going to judge. After just a few minute conversation, his friends came looking for him and they took off.
But before he left, he did something that left a lasting impression. A rose vendor came into the bar and approached us. Following protocol, he shoved the bunch of single roses into our faces. Before he could utter a persuasive word, and much before I started the No, gracias game, this American boy grabbed the bunch of roses and shoved them into his nose. He closed his eyes, took a long inhale and then returned the roses to the man and said thank you. The vendor, totally confused, turned around and walked away.
Upon seeing my shocked response, the American boy explained himself. He said he too used to get angry with these guys, and he realized that pleading did not make them go away. So he decided to make their presence worthwhile. Roses smell very nice. As long as they stood there and shoved roses into his face, he would enjoy their beautiful aroma and therefore make the experience a pleasant one. And the extra bonus was that it scares away the vendor. With that, he smiled and walk away.
As the New Year approaches, I am keeping his advice in mind. Not only for the rose vendors, but for all the uncomfortable or annoying situations that life could throw me in the upcoming year. It is refreshing to remind myself that there is something beautiful in everything. I just need to find it, embrace (or inhale) it, and what then remains after the annoyance of the situation passes is just the beautiful bit.
Thanks random stranger for the great life lesson!