Tango. (Buenos Aires)

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Tango. (Buenos Aires)

I’m sitting at the bar of the NH Tower Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The low thud of protest mortars in the Plaza de Mayo around the corner tinkles the metal spoon that reclines on the edge of the saucer of my cafe con leché.
I can feel the cool of the marble bar on my elbows.
A sky the color of a second hand wedding dress smudged with smoke glares into the broad windows along Calle de la General Bolivar.
The throngs in the plaza around the corner are singing. A patriotic song. Something something Revolutión.
But it sounds like an old Victrola from here.

Here in the cool of the lobby strangers sit, each on their separate island. At a table, on a couch, on an over-upholstered chair, hunched over their phones, or their regrets, or both.
I’m at the bar, staring at the blank page of a notebook.

The strangers sit or sometimes stand, look at their watches or not, pace aimlessly, check their reflections. Play musical chairs to unheard music. I’m wondering how it’s possible to have Deja vu in a place you’ve never been.

The revolving door at the entrance, all glass and brass, winks light across the lobby floor as another stranger enters, strides in that distinctly Argentinian way to a man who’s slouched languid by the elevators. They kiss the air over one anothers shoulders, depart together, strangers no more.
Except perhaps to themselves.
Buenos Aires is a city of strangers. Strangers in constant conversation. It is a dance and everybody is doing it.

The sound of the protesters fades as they round the square and head back up Avenida Presidente Roque Saenz Péna, and back towards The Obelisco. The chanting mob is steered by cops who bask against their motorcycles, their uniforms only a pair of jeans and a bullet proof vest, their guns slung low on their hips like a gaucho. Eva Peron’s armpit hair still wafts in the listless breeze above the graffiti grizzled square. The hand painted banners sag, the dented trumpets blare. Just another afternoon. It is a dance and everyone is doing it.

People don’t talk in Buenos Aires, they have congenial arguments. Old men with sharply trimmed beards have heated debates in the cool eucalyptus shadows along Calle Riobamba, their angry gestures belied by the sparkle of a quarter- smile playing in the corners of their mouths, the slight crinkle in their crow’s feet. It’s the secret joy of differences that’s leaking out under indignant eyebrows. Their fingers dance in front of them like puppeteers guiding the invisible marionette of their opinion. It is a dance and everyone is doing it.

Out on the street the owner of a gramophone shop idles with a kiosk lady, her hair dyed the color of rust. She has crossed the river of cobbles to share a cigarette or two with another woman’s husband, she another man’s wife. They stand close, smoking. Small words. Quick glances. She laughs. They are both rotund, Botero-like. Their arms entwine briefly as they each take a drag. Their bellies touch, like two round factories, twin plumes of smoke rising as they exhale in unison. He steals her gesture, folds a tendril of her hair behind her earlobe. A quiet move, yet deeply intimate. From above, his comb over looks like empty staves of music. Her lips are red, pursed around the cigarette. The skin around her mouth forms a ring of exclamation points when she takes a drag. His chest hair, slightly frosted white at the ends, starts abruptly at the base of his shaven neck. A tiny vanity. She blows smoke into his hairy unattended ears. Their stomachs rub. It is a dance and everyone is doing it.

In a parking lot where the smoke from a bandiola stand wafts above those ubiquitous plastic chairs a wooden table top has been laid down on the mosaic of broken pave stones. To the accompaniment of guitar and bandoneon two dancers perform for spare pesos. His hair is pulled back in a bun, brillantined to perfection- again the vanity- his shoes as pointed as his aquiline nose. She is also a kind of perfection, hair pulled taught, eyes gimletted, her simple dress unadorned, open at the back, a canvas for his hand to play on. She awaits his invitation. Like a stranger- though it’s clear that they are lovers- he offers his hand like a cup. She places hers in it, steps upon the plank, their island. A conversation starts. An articulate silence. Her eyes coquettish, then feisty. His adamant, imploring. Their intimacy made public. They begin.
His body says “Yes?”
Her body says “Perhaps.”
His body says “Now.”
Her body says “Wait.”
His body says “For you, I will.”
Her body says “But not too long.”
His body says “Now?”
Her body says “Perhaps.”
His body says “Now.”
Her body says “Take me.”
His body says “Wait.”
Her body says “For you, I will.”
His body says “Yes?”
Her body says “Yes.” And the music ends.
It is a dance and everyone is doing it.

I look down at my notebook.
The blank page looks up at me, says “Yes?”

 

 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fall.
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