Boulevards and boulevardiers —Mahmud Sipra

In the old days if you were visiting Rome and were somewhat familiar with the geography of the city, you positioned yourself a short ambling walk from chic stores, to catch a glimpse of what the well heeled would be wearing that season

They all have them. Los Angeles has its Rodeo Drive, Paris its Avenue Montaigne, Rome its Via Venetto and London its Bond Street. Wherever there are boulevards there will be boulevardiers — young men who consider the boulevards their legitimate turf, swaggering up and down, looking for action.

These are the avenues and the boulevards that play host to designer names, chic restaurants and up market “Joalliers”. The only difference being that on the Via Condotti or the Via Venetto, you are most likely to get your bottom pinched and if you are on, say, Bond Street or King’s Road, you can have your bottom and your pocketbook pinched, gender notwithstanding!

Things seem to have changed over the years though. Add beaches and shopping malls to the extended geography of these playgrounds.

In the old days if you were visiting Rome and were somewhat familiar with the geography of the city, you positioned yourself a short ambling walk from chic stores, to catch a glimpse of what the well heeled would be wearing that season.

You stayed at the Hassler, just a few yards from the Spanish Steps.

You threw a few coins in the Trevi Fountain for luck and then sat savouring your freshly brewed Espresso watching citizens of Rome animatedly and passionately talking with their hands as they went by.

Every now and then you would be accosted by a seasoned ten-year-old who would say:

“Uno cigaretto, signor?”

You gave him a paternal glare and said:

“Hey! How old are you?”

“Is not for me signor…is for my sister!”

You peeled off a few lira instead saying:

“Here…Go buy yourself an ice cream.”

He’d grab the money but not before sarcastically shouting back from a safe distance:

“Multi Millionario!”

Today, you can still stay at the same hotel. The Spanish Steps and the Trevi are still there, but a new generation ten-year-old pitched my friend and me a charming line that is probably as old as the eternal city itself:

“My mother is very sick, Signor, Signorina, you give me money to take her to hospital, few hundred lira, eh?”

My friend gave him a disapproving look and then turning to me with a wink; she explained what the young urchin was saying. I dutifully took out a few hundred lira (about five dollars in real money) and handed it to him. His face lit up and said to my friend:

“He is a nice man, Signorina. Where is he from?”

“He is from Pakistan…You know Pakistan?”

He froze, gave a low whistle and exclaimed: “Mama Mia, Pakistan? Taliban country, no?”

Then handing me back the money I’d just given him he turned to the lady with genuine concern and said:

“Signorina, I think your friend here needs this money more than my mother! Ciao!” Then shaking his head he scampered off. Sign of the times.

The old boulevardier is now a rare sight. Maybe he is a vanishing breed. He has been replaced by the “yob” with a tattoo, with cash to flash, and a beer can in his hand. You don’t mess with this guy.

Gone is the smooth and suave operator with a tailored look and an Alfa Romeo parked on the kerb gifted in all probability by some Mrs Stone or a Mrs Robinson who was old enough to be his mother.

Beaches…ah yes beaches. Now unless you work out, and have a body that bristles with bends and abs that are as flat as surfboards, don’t even think of going near them. You’ll never get the Pamela Andersons to even give you a glance! Stick to watching reruns of Baywatch.

Then there is this gent and his partner who have been in the news lately…for committing a cardinal error. They mistook a public beach for their bedroom. It’s bad enough when you drink and drive but throwing your clothes and caution to the wind is not only taking liberties with the law but also tempting fate. Besides it gives something called testosterone a bad name.

Where in the world did this misguided couple think they were? Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro? Even there they don’t make such public displays of their “mistakes”. Newspapers and channels around the world have had a field day reporting this “lewd incident”.

Sometimes I wonder what things are like on MM Alam Road in Lahore?

The last time I was in Lahore, I tried crossing it to go into a restaurant. Between the Land Cruisers with two-digit number plates and a young man practicing look-no-hands, with a young thing sitting next to him, I barely made it across in one piece.

It reminded me of a line from Kamal Ahmed Rizvi’s famous sitcom featuring the inimitable late Nannha: “Is mulk ka kya baneyga — Allan?”

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at sipraindubai@yahoo.com

Source: Daily times, 17/7/2008

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