Thomas Barnard, writer
Contact c2003-2009 Thomas Barnard
I went to El Beso on Sunday nights. A doorman was present to greet us, which was a feature that distinguished it from the other milongas. Up two flights of stairs, and you can feel the air-conditioning hit you. It cuts the humidity which the air is heavy with. I paid my five pesos, and walked to the end of the bar and surveyed the room. I saw my instructor’s assistant, Annabella, across the room, so I ordered a J & B. I was still rattled that she had turned me down last week. I wondered what was the reason for such discordant behavior. When I first came into town she dashed over to offer her cheek for a kiss. I thought we were on good terms.
Maybe being the teacher’s assistant made her think she was something extra. That would be an Argentinian thing. They were desperate to be superior in some way. One of my favorite songs was Gallo Ciego, the blind rooster. That was Argentina, in a nutshell. It had an exaggerated sense of itself which was only possible because it was blind, separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles. As a teacher’s assistant, by definition, she was better than a student. And I was the student, by definition. That is, I was paying. But she had only been dancing for a year, and I had been dancing for seven years and taken lessons with the best dancers in the world. I only took the lessons with Marcelo because of her. She was adorable.
I figured it would be another night of nothingness. I ambled over to my friend, Gino, the Italian with the Swiss father, with a bald head that came out of one of da Vinci’s notebooks.
“Are you invisible again tonight?”
“My invisibility is nearly perfect,” which meant the women were not returning the invitations he was extending with his eyes.
“My invisibility is like a sheet of non-reflective glass. I am completely invisible. I am like the character in that movie with… Rens. What is his name?”
“Yes, that’s it. I heard someone say that was why tattoos are so popular now.”
“Because some people feel invisible, and think that people will see them with their tattoos.”
“I think there is more going on there than that.”
“Sure, the pain. And how does a tattoo on your thigh make you visible when no one can see it?”
“Yes, right. Oh well, another theory for the junk pile.”
He tuned me out. He was listening to the music and scanning the room. The dance floor was not particularly big, so shortly after the beginning of the first song of a tanda the floor was packed. So it was of necessity that they danced the milonguero style of dancing, also called apilado, which Argentines translated into English as “close-embrace” for the norteamericanos. There was no room for fancy steps, no room for hooked kicks, ganchos. In fact, when it got was terribly crowded, there was no room for anything other than the cunita, which was nothing more than rocking back and forth, the kind of close dancing step that might not even be a tango step.
I tried to draw him back in. I said to him, “Listen, if you’re so invisible, why come at all?”
“This is my cup of poison. This is the cup of poison I must drink.”
With that his invisibility was interrupted. He had made eye contact with a tall rubía, and he put his glasses in his pocket and met her at the edge of the floor.
Then I spied a tall rubía. Late twenties was my guess. Her raised eyebrows met my raised eyebrows, and we had just cut a deal. She was sitting at the edge of the floor and stood up. I walked over to her.
I am tall and Argentinian women are short, so it was a pleasure to dance with someone so tall. The top she was wearing emphasized her ample bosom, which shoved into my chest. Poor me.
She was an excellent dancer, truly wonderful. She did not crowd me, but she was with me on every step. Whatever missteps occurred were seamlessly transformed into something else. If she makes a misstep, I can cover. She has the perfect follower’s antennae. She has the cat whiskers that feel where I will move next. That’s dancing. Only a really, really good dancer could see the difference.
We had a definite, unmistakable connection.
Every time a tanda came on with music I wanted to dance to like Pugliese or Calo (who was so romantico) or DiSarli, I found her eyes. This is kind of a high.
Her name was Mariela. Sometimes people take a full minute of a song before they begin to dance. I spoke in my elementary Spanish. She had been dancing for four years. A few lessons here and there, but mostly it was simply a matter of going to the milongas, night after night. Well, I had danced with some of those other night-after-night-women, and somehow they never learned from the experience. They continued to be stiff, jagged, awkward dancers, night after night. She had learned from the experience. She felt right. It was a good feeling.
Where you might sit next to someone and engage them in conversation after a dance in any other country, in Argentina you walked them back to their seat and allowed them the opportunity to dance with others.
But I was on a roll. Before she left I resolved to get her phone number, and try to meet her for dinner.
Email from Amanda
Looks like your puffed-up Argentines may have something to be puffed up about after all. The largest ever herbivore and carnivore were found there – Titantosaurus and Megaloraptor.
Dinner. We met on a Tuesday, and I thought we could have dinner together on Friday. But when I got Mariela on the phone, she hemmed and hawed. She went to Estrella with her friend on Fridays, so it was Lunes (Monday). I tried Saturday; she came back again to Lunes. I tried Sunday, and again it was Lunes. I said, sure, Lunes. Claro, Monday.
Then where to go was the next issue. I suggested either Puerto Madero or the outdoor restaurants in Recoleta. Puerto Madero was near the center, Microcentro, along the river, what must have been warehouses transformed into a chic and new dining area. Recoleta was a fashionable, wealthy, old part of town named for the famous cemetery. She thought both were good choices. She preferred Recoleta, which was fine with me. I liked the outdoor restaurants. Restaurantes afueras. It is well below freezing back home in Chicago. My breath would turn to frost on my mustache back home. Of course, I want to eat outside. Air-conditioning would be nonsense. I want to sweat. But at night it will be pleasant, it will be perfect.
Then we have to decide where to meet. I say, just a minute and I grab my backpack and pull out the map of Buenos Aires. I’m scanning, scanning. Okay, I decide Junín and Vicente Lopez. She knows where it is, thank God.