Midnight. A darkened café bar. A man crouched over a piano plays an offbeat tune. Bass and accordion add a thumping unforgettable beat. A violin slices through the music with an aching riff. It’s 1920. The height of tango in Buenos Aires. The people of Argentina have swarmed to the city, but without jobs, the young men formed gangs, and the young women became prostitutes. They met in bars like these to dance out their passion.
And so the music begins, a pulsing, hypnotic beat, replayed again and again. Tango. The men swirl and pose, pesos tucked in pockets, natty hats pulled low, their frustrations barely concealed. The women, elegant, yet barely dressed, entice, yet seem unapproachable. They fall in love, they gamble, they dance, and they fight. The tango reflects it all.
So we sit in the basement theater of Tortoni Café, famous since 1858. Now a small troup of young people perform for us -- the tango and a dance from the country, two young men twirl bolos in complicated patterns, their feet matching a rhythm only desperate men would create, for the bolo is a weapon that can maim and kill. I have admired these small balls attached to each other by cords in the windows of San Telmo antique shops. I later learned this dance is called the malambo, is danced only by males, and what I'm calling "bolos" are actually boleadores.
We walk through the café upstairs where Borges once sipped coffee at one of the small marble tables, perhaps beside one of the large columns. Now paintings, drawings, and sculptures everywhere celebrate the past, yet the waiters pass us with small cups of coffee on silver trays. We stand on the sidewalk outside this famous café, the night of Buenos Aires around us, the music of the tango reverberating still in our hearts, and we are reluctant to go home.