"Of Fiore Alpino and Street Boys" by Larry Bucher

Many ex-Asmarans will recall Fiore Alpino (Alpine Flower). For those who never encountered it: it was a thick, syrupy liqueur, pale yellow with a slight greenish tinge. It tasted like pine needles smell. You could touch a match to it and it would burn with a weak, pale-blue flame. It had little to recommend it beverage-wise, but it did make tolerable cough syrup. One 1960 evening, suffering from a cough, I made my way from Tract A down to the Navy Bar to treat same.

I overtreated it. Awakening back in the barracks, I remembered nothing of my exit from the bar. An inventory revealed missing wallet, sweater, belt, shoes, glasses, wrist watch. I had been street-boyed.

I was furious. A few days later, cough gone, hangover dissipated, new ID card issued, I made the rounds of the bars generally patronized by Americans. I announced that I was offering $50 Ethiopian ($20 U.S.) to anyone who would point out my larcenous escort(s).

Somewhat to my surprise, I never got a single response, not even a phony one to try to scam me out of the reward money. It was probably a good thing that I did not - identification of the culprit(s) would most likely have led me to brief satisfaction followed by much subsequent grief.

But what I did get was a reputation - and respect. Never, for the balance of that tour, did a street boy bother me again, not even when I sought to invite their company by walking dark streets late at night. In fact I once saw from the corner of my eye a younger, smaller street boy head in my direction - only to be called back and (I presume) warned off by an older one.

Before I achieved my evil reputation (and again during my second tour), my street-boy policy was to ignore them, to take no note of their presence and make no response to their conversation (with an obvious exception, I would repel any physical harassment, arm-grabbing etc.). This treatment did not discourage their attentions in the slightest, but it did afford at least the minimal satisfaction of exasperating them to the same degree that they exasperated me. I did, however, once get the best of a street boy, in a small way . . . sort of . . .

He was probably not one of the regulars who haunted the Kagnew-Tract A stretch and the American bars. He was standing outside a bar in the middle of a short block on one of the side streets south of and parallel to the main street. He may have been drunk. As I drove by, he directed a few belligerent remarks at me, asking if I wanted to fight, etc. In keeping with my street-boy policy I made no eye contact and took no notice whatever. As I turned left at the end of the block, he had lost interest in me and was looking elsewhere. I could not resist. I cupped hand to mouth and made a loud, impolite noise in his direction. As I vanished around the corner I was rewarded by the sight of the spin, the upthrust arm, the dangled finger, and the outraged sound of “Adeehatiwa!”

Fiore Alpino is a casualty of the years; it’s no longer made. I once saw, but never tried, a beverage perhaps even stranger. Among the arrays of bottles behind one forgotten bar was one labeled Absinthe. At that time, if asked to define absinthe, I could only have answered, “some kind of alcoholic beverage,” and that would have exhausted my total knowledge thereof. Only years later did I learn that absinthe contains a toxic ingredient (wormwood), that it is slow poison if drunk regularly, and that it was outlawed in most of the world back around 1900-1910. Had I known what I was observing I’d surely have ordered a shot, just to be able to say I’d once sampled the stuff. But the chance is forever gone. And of course it might not even have been genuine absinthe, label notwithstanding . . . who knows?

Larry Bucher


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©Copyright Rick Fortney 1998 All Rights Reserved