Some tango lyrics, including the song made famous by Carlos Gardel, ‘Mi Buenos Aires Querido’, express deep love for the city and address it with the passion normally associated with long songs written to a person.
The songs evoke complex feelings of separation and togetherness, exile and the return (another song is called ‘Volver’). Spending a week in this beautiful, shabby, alive city I am once again flooded with a similar mix of feelings.
At a milonga called ‘Nino Bien’ that we visited on our last night, three couples performed at 2am (normal timing for such things in Buenos Aires, the most night-oriented city I know). The first couple performed with all the rapid fire athletic skill we have come to expect from ‘Nuevo tango’ or in most of the virtuoso tango shows. It was impressive but kept one at a distance, the distance of admiration. Then a tall, thin, older man affectionately known as ‘Flacco’ (the thin one) performed his speciality, an agile milonga, fast rhythmic and old school. It was touching and impressive in a different way.
Finally an elderly couple slowly walked out onto the floor. The stooped man began by bending down and gently kissing his short plump wife on the lips. Then they began a delicate, subtle, un-showy tango together, saturated with tenderness, with pauses and silences full of ‘waiting’ (a compliment by older dancers in the tango world where frantic activity is frowned on as an inability to truly listen to the phrasing in the music.) Tears streamed down my face as I watched their tiny, delicate steps, the gentle flow of their movement, the embodiment of the sad beauty of age and experience, a life shared, bodies that have suffered in nameless ways and now transcend their difficulties with beauty.
When they finished the crowded hall erupted in applause, a collective roar of approval. As the couple left the floor I could see that the man was struggling for breath, a longstanding condition of some kind.
Nights like these induce the love for Buenos Aires that tango lyrics express. The city somehow feels like a long-lost companion, an ageing lover…yes, my darling Buenos Aires, you feel like singing, I may leave you but I will surely return.