17 June 2011 by Chris Marais

Red Roses from a Naughty Boy

Every couple of years I like to go traipsing around early morning Cape Town. There’s nothing like it: the aroma of fresh coffee from the breakfast shops of Long Street; the first edition newspaper vendors yelling out at the traffic; hoboes and artists and accountants and bankers and beautiful models all sharing the pavements at this time of day.

And, like forever fixtures, there are the wonderful flower sellers of Adderley Street. Some years ago I met Joan Solomons, who had been selling roses bound up with fennel greens for more than 40 years. She had a thing or two to say about her customers - all of it with a twinkle in the eye.

While we chatted, a man wearing a smart suit and a sheepish grin was picking out an enormous array of yellow, white, pink and red roses.

“On Mondays it’s usually women who buy flowers for the office,” confided Joan. “On Fridays it’s usually the men. And the naughty ones, the badly-behaved ones (raising her voice mischievously for effect) buy the roses.”

Joan lived in Retreat, on the way out to Muizenberg, and caught the train in to the City Bowl every morning. The last time the authorities tried to move them from their spot in Adderley Street - where they’ve been for generations - there was a near-riot of flower ladies. So the city backed off.

Recently, I met Ilhaam Williams (in picture), who has been working at the flower market for as long as she can remember. Her whole family - including granny, who lived to 105 - has worked here.

“But money’s tight now,” she said. “Before, a guy would buy a whole bunch of flowers to say sorry. Now he just buys a single rose…”

Category: Culture & History

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