<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 115 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 25 2003

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Neeman A. Sobhan

I was in town the other day, lunching at an elegant restaurant on Piazza Spagna with three women friends. We did all the expected rituals: we complimented each other on our crisp linen suits and our freshly groomed hair; we exchanged gossip, caught up on each other's good news, talked volumes on the latest books, voluminously on recent movies, and venomously on the death of fashion for the non-anorexic; we spent fifteen minutes studying the menu to order something impressively blasé or extra sophisticated so the others might groan inwards and think 'Drat! How cool she is, why didn't I order that'; we amiably forked each other's platters---'Mmm… your Linguine with Squid ink isn't bad, try my Tonnarelli with Gorgonzolla and Pear…go on, have some more, you're so slim, you can afford it' (this last bit being universally interpreted as recondite sabotage manoeuvre from wolves-in-friend's clothing, as in the prayer: Dear Lord! If you cant make me slim, at least make my friends fat!).
Came the time to get the waiter's attention and to mouth the word 'Conto' while doing the writing-in-air motion. The jovial old waiter, who has flirted most democratically with all three of us 'bellissime signore' arrives with the bill held high like the Miss Universe crown, which he judiciously places at the centre. All of us swoop down to claim it as if on the platter glimmered some miracle cure for vanishing youth. In the madness that ensues, the pulling and tugging at the piece of paper, the protestations and threats, the 'no, its my treat,' and 'out of the question, I was the one who suggested lunch,' people at the other table turn and smile fondly at the sight of friends fighting to pay, and the waiter adds 'I'll go get three sharp knives.' The blood bath for the bill ends bloodlessly but noisily, and the payer unclasps her Gucci bag, flashes her plastic, and the lunch is concluded amongst many a 'thank you' and 'we must do this again, soon.'
We hug each other gingerly, surreptitiously trying to identify the other's expensive perfume, land precision 'ooomm-mmah' pecks on each other's cheeks, careful not to etch our affections with lipstick, and then walk away from each other on Bruno Magli heels with a wave of jingling bracelets till our next lunch. (Did I mention at the beginning that this was a lunch with 'friends' of a certain category? And that-- Thank Goodness! --- I won't be seeing them till September when they get back from their summer retreat?)
The scenario at another lunch in town goes like this. It's a different group, a foursome, who are meeting at a cosy restaurant in a piazza whose name we never learnt, because it's always: 'the usual place? The one with the green shades near the mercato, you know….' Yes, we know. We have been coming here for years and we usually arrive after finishing our individual errands, wearing our everyday clothes, with hair in ponytails or grips, our lipstick mostly left behind on the rim of the late morning picker-upper cup of cappuccino grabbed between the grocery and some other onerous commitment, like a visit to the bank, or the auto workshop, or the travel agent; or even dropping a visitor to some tourist site; however, I must quickly add that for me, today, it entailed picking up show tickets at the Teatro del Opera (ahem….so glad I got to say that, and not have to admit to some pedestrian errand like buying fresh dhaniya or pet food----which I better jot down in my to-do list for tomorrow while I remember.).
Anyway, we arrive breathless and distracted, barely say 'Hi' as we dump our bags and packages on the floor, full of complaints and brimming with self-pity ('It took me twenty bloody minutes to find a place to park!' 'Do you know what happened to me today…. I am so mad…') and we speak all at once, with no one really listening. Then things fall into place, we notice each other, note the weight loss ('the diet I gave you is working it seems.') and the odd grey hair ('Hey, time for your colour, girl.') give long hugs where remaining lipstick gets on cheeks, and then with a unanimous 'I am starving, don't know about you' order comfort food, and lunch officially begins.
Between forkfuls we show each other our buys ('…only ten euros? Where did you get it? Did they have it in red?), commiserate with one another on minor and major nuisances of domestic life, and then its time for the bill. It arrives at the center of the table. No one fights to claim it. One of us quietly picks it up, heads gather into a huddle, murmurs issue forth, all variations on the theme of 'so how much is my share?' ending with a flurry of battered bags and wallets being reached for and dug into as the bill gets neatly divided by four. The issue of tips is always gone into in much detail and in the end too much is left since none of the ladies, even the one who runs a business, claims to be proficient in math.
And we are also not proficient in ending the lunch quickly, taking an inordinate amount of time saying goodbye, crowding at the door, spilling untidily all over the sidewalk, hugging and chattering and lingering till we finally accept that lunch is over. (Did I mention that this second lunch is with some of my closest friends? And thatThank Goodness! -- I'm meeting them again next week?)


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