Back in South Carolina, chatting with Ignatio at the Hotel Fakir, Max passed the time by dissecting the psychic and physical attributes of Tango. His sketchy qualifications for such analysis included his birth under the sign of Libra, training as a physiologist, and occasional classes at the local Tango Society. His fieldwork was limited to frequenting the bar at the Hotel Fakir, where he nursed a glass of Malbec and listened to classical tangos while musing on parallels between Rumi, chess, literary fletches and Tango. On one side, the bar faced a parqueted inner room with a mirrored wall on the left, and bistro tables and a gallery of framed prints, including a heroic image of the Cunard Liner Aquitania, on the right. On the other side, the bar opened onto an outdoor patio paved in black and white flagstones. Wicker garden seats surrounded a shallow ornamental pool with a monumental blue-glazed amphora. Further back was an inviting Tiki-shaded dining room with candlelit tables and linen-wrapped silverware. Tall wrought-iron railings draped in wisteria and bougainvillea and overhung by fig trees separated the Hotel Fakir from its immediate neighbor, an imposing single-porch mansion looking out over Charleston harbor.
When sitting at the bar, Max preferred to face the patio, so that his view of wisteria was enhanced by desirable women gazing reflectively past him into the tango salon. He was usually subdued when he arrived, but warmed quickly to debate as time went by. Max liked to argue that Tango stimulated a physiological response that found expression in physical attraction, languid contentment, and an urge to dance some more. In contrast, Ignatio contended that the music and movements of Tango encoded an existential message that transcended simple sentiment. A fine distinction, Max said, on a par with doctrinal separation of Catholics from Episcopelians. Their debates were interrupted whenever Max ventured onto the dance floor. Such excursions induced minute but significant re-calibration of his argument. Thus an hour or two would pass quite pleasantly.
One night, Max noticed a dancer of understated but obvious expertise whose shaven head, red shirt, black pants and bare feet spoke of Argentine Tango authority. At one point the man ordered a Manhattan at the bar, and Max asked him how long he had studied Tango.
“Would you like to dance?” the man replied, looking him in the eye.
Max thought for a moment.
“Sure. Will you lead or shall I?” he said, knowledgeable in the ways of Tango.
They progressed around the dance floor, not in an everyday tango embrace, but simply facing one another, resting their hands on each others’ arms, or walking side-by-side with intermittent quick-step syncopations in time with the music. Max told Ignatio that in those few moments he learned essentials of Tango that had eluded him for months. The insight nibbled steadily into his confidence as he realized that so far he’d only scratched the surface. As Max reached meditatively for his glass, Dolores appeared from nowhere, an orchid in her hair, and the fulcrum of their little world shifted toward perfect balance.