But I long for the gritty. The streets that in daylight were filled with immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, India and No. Africa, women in colorful garb selling incense, the hallal butchers, services offering legal advice, health insurance, money orders, merchants selling eggs, beads, incense, people smoking, merchants whose signs are only written in Arabic, very clean butcher shops, American rock music.
I cut away from Garibaldi and down these narrow side streets. Streets that seem oddly more narrow by night. I find myself in a tiny alley, the vico della Magdelena, and it is lined with young women - lovely with their long dark hair, or shiny blond - and were it not for the extraordinary heels they walk on and the torn stockings and hiked up skirts, the tightly cinched belts with silver studs, I'd think these were just girls. But they linger in doorways where men also linger, men who look more like their pimps than their johns, and now I am no longer at ease. I clutch my bag tightly against my chest.
I take a turn, hoping to get back to the more well-traveled streets, but now I am in a labyrinth of alleyways and it is as if a different city has descended upon the one I walked on by day. As if a whole other nocturnal world exists, subterranean, that springs to life and out of the ground as darkness descends. It is not for nothing that vampires and werewolves, the monsters of our dreams, only emerge at night.
It is as if I am somehow trapped here in these streets that turn upon themselves until up ahead I can see the via Garibaldi that I left behind. There are only one or two more brothels and I scurry past, but then I come to a corner. A long, stockinged leg appears. A dark-haired girl who would be pretty if you removed some of the lipstick, the choke collar, the four inch heels, the black corset.
She is on the phone, making a connection, I assume, with one of her johns. I scurry past, the promise of bright lights and pedestrians just ahead, as I hear this girl say, "I'll call you tomorrow. I love you. Ciao, Mama." Then her phone clicks shut and she goes to work. And I go back to my hotel and in the morning I fly home.