For a moment, I feel myself returning to my younger self, the one who, too embarrassed to say no, hiked down cliffs and up steep paths, heart pounding with fear, always the last one in a group. But then I snap out of it. Part of middle age for me is not giving in to such pressures. I don’t want to ski black diamonds, rappel down rocks or climb mountains. “It’s not for me,” I say firmly. I raise my glass of wine in a toast. “But here’s to those who love it.”
LEAVING wine-drenched, laid-back Mendoza is difficult, but the lure of tango and Buenos Aires eases our farewell. After a two-hour flight, we are standing in the neighborhood called Palermo Soho, in our tiny, aptly named Costa Petit Hotel. With only four guest rooms, each decorated with whimsical art and antiques, the hotel is charming and cozy. Hand in hand, we explore the streets around it. One afternoon is spent browsing books and eating empanadas at Boutique del Libro. The next day, after a breakfast in bed of café con leche and croissants, we ride the A line on the subte, the Buenos Aires subway, with the original wooden cars from 1913.
The city is large and sprawling with tree-lined streets, rolling parks dotted with impressive statues and fountains, ice cream shops and cafés everywhere. But my fantasy is to tango with Lorne. I think I fell in love with him all those years ago when he visited me in my New York City apartment and “Build Me Up Buttercup” came on the radio. Without pausing, Lorne took me in his arms and began to dance. After all this time, all those mountains—the literal and figurative ones that, between us, we’ve scaled—is a spontaneous dance still enough to send my heart into overdrive?
The tango, however, proves elusive. From what I’d read before coming here, it sounded as if people tangoed on every street corner. But the famous Sunday milonga in the San Telmo neighborhood is rained out. The lessons at Confitería Ideal are canceled all week because a television commercial is being filmed there. While I keep listening for the sounds of an accordion playing tango, Lorne and I go to one of the professional shows at the Astor Piazzolla Theater. The ornate dinner theater reminds me of Rhode Island’s Chateau de Ville, the magenta and purple wedding cake of a dinner theater from my childhood. But once the dancers appear, the comparisons stop. This is no bad revival of Camelot; this is passionate, heart-wrenching, beautiful tango.
Tango is a mix of several musical rhythms (African, Cuban and Spanish), originally danced only by men. By 1912, Buenos Aires throbbed with the beat of the tango, and couples danced it with legs intertwined, in a hug-like embrace. The professional dancers we watch are ruffled and sequined and skin baring. As a vocalist sings in Spanish, couples smile at each other, kiss, even climb onto each other’s laps. It is true that there’s something both lusty and lovely about the tango. Lorne leans over and kisses me. “Beautiful,” he murmurs.
AT LAST, on the day before we are set to leave, I arrange a tango lesson for myself at Torquato Tasso in San Telmo. (You have to sign up with a master teacher of the opposite sex, and no female master is available for Lorne during my time slot.) My instructor, Quique, is short and lithe and dressed entirely in black. He does not speak in English except to say, “We practice. That’s all.” Four other people and another instructor are in the class, but Quique is mine, all mine. We start with a simple eight-step tango, which I keep messing up on the sixth beat. “We practice. That’s all,” Quique says.