Given the dearth of social contact in this pandemic, I find myself at a loss when it comes to posting stories that capture the essence of Argentine Tango. After all, it’s been months since I cradled a like-minded woman in my arms and experienced the communion that swells as note after note brings us closer together. And so, I was surprised, if not delighted, when I encountered, in a Zoom meeting of all places, a kindred spirit who seemed to remember me from a milonga way back when, and said, by way of the private chat room, “Are you still dancing?”
“Have you been living under a rock?,” I replied, “Milongas are all gone, the only Tango around is on YouTube. “Really?” she said, “When’s the last time you checked out the Hotel Fakir?” I was immediately alert, the Hotel being my first and best connection to real-time Tango. “I go there now and again”, I said noncommittally, curious to see what came next. Minutes passed, the chat room shut down, and I was about to do likewise when a melodious ping announced the arrival of a text. “They’re playing “Desde el Alma” right now,” she said, “Isn’t that your favorite?”
A summons from a woman enraptured by Tango cannot be ignored, and so in short order I found myself, yet once more, in the deserted cobbled courtyard of the Hotel Fakir. All seemed copacetic; “Desde el Alma” had given way to “El Amanecer”, and the usual shadowed silhouettes of dancers drifted across the transom. I approached the black-laquered door and tried the polished brass door-knob. Locked solid. I pressed the bell-push, listening for a welcoming two-tone chime, but heard only the faint syncopated clucking of “El Amanecer”. A battery of insistent raps on the door went unanswered. I texted my apparent kindred spirit and followed up with a couple of annoyed question marks. No reply.
I wondered, gullible dupe that I am, if I was a victim of some kind of scam. Undecided, ready to flee at a moment’s notice, I noticed that my phone was warm, in fact, positively hot; perhaps an incipient battery failure requiring expensive replacement. And then I saw, in the dim half-light of the patio, wisps of smoke drifting from my phone, much like the contemplative and preoccupied dancers inside the Hotel Fakir, but unlike them, ominous. I stepped back from the door, and the wisps of smoke became more dense and in an instant coalesced into a voluptuous siren. Her knowing glance, clinging silk dress and stiletto heels made me catch my breath. “Your wish is my command; to hear is to obey,” she said. I wanted to laugh, of course, thinking how cheesy this sounded, but at the same time, I was intrigued by the sleight of hand that had brought her before me.
“So how many wishes do I get?,” I asked, milking the occasion. She smiled, I think, but it was hard to tell, given the drifting tendrils of smoke that still enveloped her and my skepticism that any of this was real. “You’re a greedy little fellow, aren’t you,” she said, batting her eyelashes. “I said, ‘Your wish’, didn’t I?” She pouted, and executed a solo back ocho with a hip swivel that invited me to move intently, on the beat, into her space. “Forgive me,” I said, glancing around the cobbled patio and seeing no-one, “I wish for a dance that fuses the music, our steps, our embrace, our closeness, into an ecstatic union.” I knew that sounded a little fatuous, but how often do you have a wish come true?
My siren frowned, looked at me quizzically, and said, “That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can deliver. Better try inside.” She dissolved into a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, and when I tried the polished brass door-knob again, it yielded at once. Accompanied by a two-tone chime, I stepped onto the familiar parquet dance floor and headed for the bar. Ignatio Quiroga, immaculate in starched white shirt, his military medal gleaming on the lapel of his tuxedo, adjusted two or three stems in his vase of tropical flowers, gave the zinc surface of the bar one more polish, and said, “Quiet tonight, Max. What’ll it be?”