It's not often you find yourself packed into a small bar with two national hockey teams.
But a loud, cramped pub full of celebrating men is not where the evening starts. We walk from Vič to Hala tivoli, the stadium in the park. There is a big screen set up to watch the final match between Slovenia and Lithuania, and we want to catch some of the game. The evening is mild and Prešernova cesta smells of lilac blossoms. Jay has a beer and I've got a bottle of sweet white wine, but we're trying not to take too long in getting there, since M. will be waiting for us and the game is due to end any moment. As we get closer to the park, we start seeing police vans parked everywhere. The ones here are blue and have wire mesh on the windows. Feeling unsure of the open alcohol rules, we revert to our Canadian tradition of concealing our bottles in our pockets. Of course, it is legal to drink on the street but we still expect a "hey, you!" to ring out. Habit dies hard. Jay sees two huge equine figures looming in the shadows. Armored police on horseback ride silently through the dark. Now we can hear the sound of cheering. Did Slovenia just score? The national anthem, Zdravljica by poet Prešeren, starts playing. It looks like we won't catch the moment of Slovenia's victory after all.
We somehow find M. in the dark and hang around in Tivoli, drinking wine, discussing the police on horseback and talking about going back to Canada. None of us is excited by the prospect (Slovenian readers: stop rolling your eyes!). M. and I sweet-talk security into letting us use the WC past the gate of the outdoor rink, but Jay gets patted down when he tries to do the same. "What is this in your pocket, sir?" the security guard asks, pulling a small pink container out of Jay's pocket. "Oh, lipstick," the guard grunts with a weird look on his face. On the bench nearby, M. and I howl with laughter. Jay goodhumouredly grouses about having to hold my makeup in his pocket.
I. finishes up her press duties and joins us for the walk to the bar. We get to the Cutty Sark, but find, as previously rumoured, that it is closed for a private party. Strictly reserved. As in, if you are not on a national hockey team or an official groupie thereof, you are not getting in. We have a card up our sleeve though, and are ushered in a side door (thanks! :). We are early, the teams haven't arrived, so we snag a table in the corner and order round one, of many. Drinks keep arriving, but no money is exchanging hands. Soon we will learn that we are drinking on the tab of the winning team. The night just keeps getting better.
A bunch of hockey players come in. You can tell by the muscles straining their tight t-shirts, and some of them have the requisite slashed faces, broken noses and mullets of professional players. There are no girls with them, so this clearly isn't the Slovenian team. We get offered cigarettes and one guy takes it upon himself to impress with some classic dance moves in front of our table. Think "white tornado" add pale blue belted denims, a tucked in shirt and some loafers, and you're starting to get an idea. This is the Hungarian national team. They are nice guys, but a bit on the quiet side. They know that this isn't really their night, but they're making the best of it.
In walk a crowd of tall, good-looking lads in suits and medallions. A cloud of girls dressed to the nines follows in the team's wake. This is the Slovenian team, newly admitted to the A levels. They will be playing in the same grouping as Canada. We are told that Canada is destined to lose. We may not be hockey patriots, but we still smile at the thought.
We start drinking vodka redbulls. The next hours will see dancing to
This is my first exposure to puckbunnies, and I have never in my life seen such committed pursuit of men. In clubs, it's usually the other way round. In the women's washroom, the competition is at its fiercest. Women throw each other murderous looks, evaluating their opponents. There is no sense of solidarity, no laughing about the guys on the dancefloor, no smiles even. Even in this backstage area, where women are assembling the props and readying themselves for their performance, there is no moment where they drop their guard. Later on, some of these girls will be sitting at tables, staring bitterly into their drinks. They won't have been picked by members of the team. They will be talking to the mascot, evaluating whether he qualifies as a team member or whether they should just cut their losses and go home. The glamazon facade will droop and they will look human again.
The bar will empty out, the lights will come on and we will down our last round and make our way home. Jay and I will get off the first bus of the morning to find a terrible accident on the corner of our street. Cops will be directing traffic through the scene and we will hop over the patches of glittering glass and twisted metal, unsure of how to negotiate our way past the wreck. The caffeine of four redbulls will keep my blood fizzing long past dawn, and I will sit on the balcony, listening as my neighbourhood wakes up and the street sweepers make their way slowly down Tržaška.