Sometimes life is static. You wake up, eat, sleep. That’s it. It can be kind of like taking a bus across the Argentine country side. For hours you see nothing but lightly rolling fields, the source of the country’s enormous beef and soy crops.
But when it rains, life pours.
The last few days were that kind of adventure. A whirlwind of activity, an unbroken string of unforgettable experiences. An impossible merging of exhaustion and exhilaration.
I will try and distill the weekend into drinkable portions. First, I turned 24. Now birthdays can have a mundane air to them. When they are just like the day before and the day after them, they can remind one of the interminable and banal marching on of life. But on Thursday morning, I arose to a world bathed in the most surreal sea of light and the weekend that followed had such a feeling of singularity to it that it didn’t feel like my birthday ended for four days.
Do we decide not to accept reality when it strikes us as surreal or is refusing to accept facts we don’t want to be true the source of the sensation of the surreal? Whatever the case, I spent the good part of the day in a relative stupor trying to accept facts that every part of me seemed determined to reject. What’s behind me. What’s before me.
Whatever my issues were, they didn’t resolve themselves until well into the night. By the early hours of Friday morning, I found myself in my first Buenos Aires milongo, one of the city’s many tango halls. In true porteno style, a show meant to begin at 11 didn’t get started until about 2:30 in the morning. But when the dancers took the floor it blew us away.
Its hard to explain what makes tango so absorbing. The first thing that struck me was the paradoxical mix of motion and stillness. The dancers captured the grace of skating but managed to do so by exaggerating the most subtle movements of their feet and body. Feet slide slowly but inexorably across the floor boards. Cheek stays relentlessly pressed against cheek. Eyes are caught in unbroken, lustful gazes and contribute wholly to the elegance.
I didn’t want to make a joke of such a special event, but I didn’t have a couple of tries out on the dance floor. Once was purely make believe – my sister and I just tried to emulated the other dances and threw in a few exaggerated lunges across the dance floor to hide our ignorance behind farce. And I bumped into a girl from Winnepeg (of all places) who is here to perfect her tango. She was kind enough to introduce me to the basic steps. A painful but positive learning experience.
I don’t know what future tango holds for me, or what future it holds for itself for that matter. A slow process of relegation seems to be pushing it into darker corners of Buenos Aires and the old guard that has been maintaining it seems to be slowly fading away. The Argentine youth is being lost to the Dionysian thumping of Reggaeton music.
But I still cling to the hope that I will one day be able to dance. Not just be able to emulate a couple of steps, but to actually move with that kind of grace. To lead from the chest, from the heart. To replace the awkward shuffles and apologetic glances that constitute my current skill set with the effortless slides and strides of tango and the passionate stare of a Shakespearian lover. Maybe even forget for the briefest moment that I am Canadian.