Translated from the Italain by Pina Piccolo
I know a couple who two or three nights a week go to dance the tango in a suburban theater used as a dance hall. The man has a handlebar mustache, polka dot bowties, and polished pointy shoes; the woman has high heels, a miniskirt, and fishnet stockings. They live in my apartment building and I always watch them as they leave the house to go dance the tango. I think they’re just starting out, which makes it even more exciting. Sometimes, during the night, I seem to hear the chafing sounds of the girl’s fishnet stockings when she improvises a cruce with her legs, or I picture the guy chasing that neurotic dance geometry that goes round and round. And then I feel a certain envy for mustache-man mimicking the grimaces made by those Buenos Aires, porteños guys who are, yes, in love, but a little misogynistic too. As for myself, I confess that I too would like to go to one of those ballrooms, slick my hair back, put on a nice jacket and use my steps to chase a sad thought that dances, as Enrique Santos Discépolo says in those famous lines of his—which by the way is not poetry, but just a definition. Anyway, that’s the way I like to picture them. I would give anything to have a woman like my neighbor nagging me to take her out for a walk here or there, or to show her with a hint of a gesture the correct way to cross her legs. In short, her movements would be nothing more than the continuation of my thoughts, but unfortunately, I am from Paraguay, and for a Paraguayan, despite Paraguay being a country bordering Argentina, tango is even more alien than it would be for someone from Kazakhstan.
In addition to this, which in itself would be enough to exclude me from the refined circle of porteños, I have a quite visible nervous tic that forces me to shut my right eye and to contract the upper half of my cheek to one side, with a sharp movement of the muscle, intermittently at a rate oscillating between four and eight seconds. Not a pretty sight to see, I have to admit. On the other hand, however, I speak four languages quite well: Spanish, French, Italian, and Guaranì. Moreover, like most Paraguayans around the world, I try to do as little as possible to make a living. In the next life I would like to be an Argentine, have no nervous tics and dance the tango. The first time I saw a tango performance I was in my early twenties. I lived near Macerata, in central Italy, and a friend forced me to go dancing because, according to her, I, being South American, would learn immediately this tango thing.
“As it happens”, I told her, “in my part of the world no one dances the tango at all. Do you happen to know any Calabrese who dances the zarzuela? “
She didn’t answer. However, since certain whims must certainly be indulged, I went along anyway, regardless of the fact that though I love the tango, I had no desire at all to go. The tango teacher was a very attractive bean-pole of a guy, he too, like my friend, from Macerata, and sporting a Humphrey Bogart hairstyle. His partner, also a much renowned instructor in the Macerata area, was an Argentine woman all boobs and upturned ass. The first time she saw me she shut her eye and winked at me too, then she realized it was a nervous tic and she never did it again. In the introductory lesson the tanghero master taught us the salida move: legs together, chin raised, back straight. In practice, it consisted of moving one leg to one side, then tucking in the other in front and so on. My friend was very happy, she liked salida so much. When the teacher asked me where I was from, I immediately told him, without hesitation, that I was Paraguayan. He did not say something like:
“Then you should know how to dance the tango.”
Rather, he just said, “What city are you from?”
“From General Romero,” I replied.
“Ah,” said the teacher and immediately went to look for his Argentine partner.
“Sorry, what city are you from?” she asked me, approaching with that slightly existential air that female tango dancers have.
“From General Romero,” I replied.
“Ah,” she too said.
I am proud to have been born in General Romero: a town of about eight hundred souls, including those of the dead, bordering on Bolivia. There is nothing in this town, just vegetation, mosquitoes, and creeks crisscrossing everywhere. The people of General Romero never dance and as a child they called me “Winky,” because of the tic, which made me mad as hell. Once, when I returned to Paraguay, someone from my town said:
“Winky is back!”
That very night I broke his finger, so he learns to call me by my real name. That day in Macerata, both the tango master and his instructor partner seemed to wonder what I was doing in that place, with that nervous tic of mine and that half Guaranì accent. In fact, nothing justified my presence. Was the tango perhaps rejecting me? Perhaps it wanted to safeguard its European purity from an Amazonian intrusion? If that night, on my way back home, I had run into an Argentine on the street I swear I would have forced him to gulp down all the disgusting meat that they make over there and of which they are so proud. I stopped going to tango lessons after that night, and I’m sure nobody regretted the fact that I wasn’t there. My friend from Macerata, on the other hand, continued to go there for some time, but then she stopped too. It was the right thing to do, she was a disaster when it came to dancing. On the other hand, my neighbors who go dancing the tango twice or thrice a week in a small theater in the suburbs, the guy with his tie wrapped all the way to his chin and the girl with her miniskirt well above the knees, dance very well, even for beginners, as far as I am concerned. Those who are beginners have a disproportionate love for tango and think that all Argentines have a rose hanging from their mouth and are constantly doing the casque, without knowing that actually they are all megalomaniacal assholes. I hate Argentines, yet, in my next life I would like to be born in Buenos Aires and not have any nervous tics. If you have no nervous tics and you are born in Buenos Aires, the tango comes by itself, even if you are really bad at it, like my friend from Macerata. And what to say about these Italians, partisans of free time, who come together to dance the tango? They get on my nerves a little. I understand them, yet at the same time I don’t. If I didn’t have this vile nervous tic maybe I’d learn to dance too, after all it’s no big deal.
“It’s not as simple as you think,” an Argentine who went around selling specialty products in herbal shops once told me. Right then and there I thought that we Paraguayans don’t have all these specialty products to offer to herbalists.
“How is that so?” I asked him.
“It’s like a sad thought put into dance.”
Well, I already knew that.