Some Like It Hot

Originally posted December 30, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Buenos Aires, Argentina – In Argentina, they say tango isn’t dance, it’s attitude. I left Ushuaia with the lobby’s sky-high TANGO poster in my mind, thinking of the ticket in my pocket for the evening tango show, with dinner. Buenos Aires, I chuckled to myself. The Paris of the South. Hot and steamy, Buenos Aires. Argentine scene. Hmmm, what scene would be mine?

The plane was not jam-packed, and even though it was open seating up for grabs, I wound up with a window seat. Good luck. They served us food, right away, some chicken chunks, hot, and a dab of stuff best named Rice With Three Peas. But lunch it was, with cream-cheese cake, and I even caught a nap.

Three hours to fly, and then below there was a city, stretched far beyond my range to see. Buildings. Tall. Stacked and stacked and stacked. Like some can’t-quit kid let loose with jumbo Legos, Christmas morn. I pressed my face against the window, excited now. Swimming pools! Freeways! 14 million people, living, working, driving, sleeping, down below. We’re on the ground.

“Luggage transfers included.” That’s what the tour description said. I’d put fancy-schmancy outside my cabin door the night before, purple-ribboned, hadn’t seen them since. I looked forward to ambling through the airport now, fancy-schmancy mysteriously appearing in my hotel room. There was a bus when we deplaned, doors opened, hop on in. Quick ride, and suddenly we’re stopped. The BAGGAGE carousel! Ee-yikes, my tour-buddies, standing, fussing, watching over circling bags. We’re sweaty, cranky, pushy, mean. Free carts, at least.

Grab our luggage, wheel it through a door. THERE the help; there a sign: NORDNORGE ENGLISH; and then a split. SHERATON. INTERCONTINENTAL. Two piles of bags and strong-armed men. I pushed my way to INTERCONTINENTAL and dumped fancy-schmancy onto the pile. It was hot and steamy in the room, hard to breathe. I needed air. I needed water in and water out.

A woman held a sign above her head, began to move. NORDNORGE. INTERCONTINENTAL. Tall and lanky, her walk was not in steps, but rolling waves, the sign waved up, the sign waved down, her stride a tango, hot and fluid, dancing through the crowd, Pied Piper to a gang of addled rats. I ran to catch her, tapped her shoulder, “Restroom, please?” I begged. “Toilette,” she replied. “Soon.” Her dance continued, finally to the door. “Toilette,” she pointed left, with a smile. But right she turned, started out the door. “Please wait for me!” I shouted, running left. “Closed for cleaning,” said the toilette sign. Quick! Outside! A bus, NORDNORGE. INTERCONTINENTAL. I jumped on board.

She read her list, she counted heads. And then the bus moved out, towards Rio de la Plata, brown water at the city’s edge, not ocean, river, flowing south, unless the tide prevents. Her voice was like her walk, flowing, sexy, attention called to everything around. Neighborhoods named, each section of each word pulled into taffy, sweettreats for the ear. Pa-ler-mo. Re-co-le-ta. I was charmed, lured, slowed my thinking to the cadence of her voice, forgot my needs. Buenos Aires! A city lesson on the way, my camera snapped through pleated tour-bus curtain-drape. Wide tree-lined streets, the theme. An overview of sights to see.

Hotel, at last. Confusion, once again. “Go to floor Minus One,” she said, “for checking in. Tour operators there will help you.” Elevator down. Elevator stopped. No sign. An employee, helpful, pushed the lobby button, up. “Check een!” he said smiling, nodding at my wheelie bag. “No! Tour!” I said, “MINUS ONE.” We played the game, push the button, smile, I’m-helping-you (No-you’re not), up and down. I gave up at lobby level, sat in a chair, eyed the too-long counter-line. A tour-mate saw me sitting there. “Our tour check-in is Room 214,” he said. “There was a mix-up.” “Thanks,” I sighed.

Two rooms for the tour-gang. Set with cookies, water, juice, and tea! My friends, again, smiling now, another hurdle passed. I downed a glass of cooling water, sat. The other room, a table, lists. My name! My room key! An information pack! “Anything you need, we’re here to help.” A smile. “My luggage?” Downstairs, call the concierge. I headed for my room, slipped the plastic through the slot, I’m in! My bed, my chair, my bathroom. Time, and space, ahhhhhhhhhhh, relief is sweet.

Later. Ready for the tango show. My dressing plan revised. The sparkly long-sleeved sweater bought in northern clime? Tossed on the bed. Too hot! Short sleeves here, cotton, my drapy stole that’s edged in fringe. Long skirt, split halfway up the front. A tango girl am I, version Granmama. The flaw. No pockets, where to put my cameras? My pack’s too big to take. Aha! Cosmetics bag! I dumped the contents, stuck the hand-sized cameras in, added lipstick too. In this town, lips are RED. Ticket? Check. Let’s go.

Downstairs, to wander before the time to leave. Christmas everywhere, fake firs decked in red, with lights, so weird to me, in the summer heat. But pretty, yes. Classic music in the center lobby, a trio dressed in black and white; canned rock and roll thumping on the terrace at the back. Friends here and there, to stop and chat.

We’re on our way. Another bus. Speeding through the city streets, we’re laughing now, alert and primed for play. Esquina Carlos Gardel, the tourist tango show, we’re there. We crowd the door, surge in, it’s noisey, hurried, come sit down, it’s time to eat! Wait staff descend, the wine is poured, the menus read, the orders placed. The food arrives, we eat, we laugh, we talk. Dessert is sherbet, lemon, dunked in vodka, oo-la-la. The lights go down, the curtain up, the show begins.

Tango. From the program, each act, each dance. El Choclo. Corazon de Oro (La Compania). Celos (Victoria y Sebastian). Arraballero (Carla y Carlos). Mi Buenos Aires Querido (Rafael). Volver. Milonga Vieja Milonga (Ines y Mauricio). Boedo (Magdalena y Facundo). Garua. Mala Junta (Silvia y Guillermo). Milongueando En El 40′(Sabrina y Ruben). Nocturna. Gallo Ciego. La Maffia. Rubias de New York. Mi Amigo El Cholo. En Esta Noche Gris (Claudia). A Los Amigos. A Don Evaristo Carriego. Verano Porteno. Yira Yira (Rafael, Nestor y Jorge). El Dia Que Me Quieras. Chique. Libertango. La Cumparsita. Adios Nonino (Erica). La Evasion. La Cumparsita (La Compania).

Elegance and passion, fire and ice, color and show. The tango is nose-to-nose, never-back-away, hear me now, see me now, DEAL-WITH-ME-NOW. An attitude! Ah yes, I understand. I’m back now, in my room, reflecting on the day.

Meryl Streep. The strangest happening in my day was Meryl Streep. The poem, the one I wrote at Hannah Point on Christmas Day, let me explain. I read it for the contest, Manuel’s, remember? Birds and penguins, all for fun. This morning as I left the ship, I saw Manuel; he questioned “Did you leave a copy of your poem for me?” “Well no,” I answered, “but I could.” “I’ll write address for you,” he went to get a pen, came back, handed me a note. “Please send,” he said, “I want to have it, keep it,” he smiled, “I like it very much.” I asked if he had written books, “I like your style,” I said, “you taught me Penguin 505!” “Oh no,” he answered, “technical, that’s what I write.” “I’d read it if you would,” I said, a hug goodbye. A kiss! A kiss!

Throughout the day, it happened, time and time again. “I liked your poem very much, it was clever,” a smile, a hug, a compliment. On the plane. On all the bus-rides of the day. In the hotel. “It should be published,” Barry from Australia said. “It made me smile,” said someone I did not even know. Then at Gardel’s, sitting at the table round, Betty from Chicago leaned forward over Steak Tartare and said “I want a copy of your poem, but I want it in your voice. It was the reading that was good.” “What do you mean?” I asked, in my southern twang. Daughter Mary jumped in now, “Oh yes! You sound like Meryl Streep! Your voice so fluid and so warm.” “Meryl Streep! I’d think I sound more like Bailey White on NPR!” Mary spoke again, “No, Meryl Streep, ‘I had a farm in Af-ri-ca,’ that lilting, story-telling mood.” She looked at me. “It’s true. You make me think of Meryl Streep.”

So that’s the scene that wound up being mine, today. This Granny may not be a Tango Babe, but Meryl Streep? That’s pretty hot, I say.