la ideal

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We spill out of La Confitería Ideal into Suipacha with the mini-dramas of our tango afternoon on our lips and with our feet aching from the combination of stiletto heels and a stone floor. I have shared tandas with a few of the milongueros I love the most. I know that by the time we’ve eaten pizza on Corrientes my wings will have folded back into their everyday shape, but that I will probably leave a few fresh, rainbow-coloured feathers in my wake for at least twenty-four hours. Osvaldo Fresedo is the music that has sent me flying today, and I know that I’ll still be hearing Después del Carnaval when I lie in bed later trying to sleep.

To get to pizzería Guerrín we have to cross Avenida 9 de Julio. Last week we dodged buses decked out in royal-blue-and-yellow flags and dangerous toppings of Boca Juniors fans presumably coming into town for their Superclásico clash with River — then, the combination of traffic lights, potential sudden stops and male bodies balanced on colectivo roofs of slippery metal sent our voices to a horrified pitch. Tonight though, the widest avenue in Buenos Aires is filled with Carmina-Burana-style music and folding chairs. A stage as huge as an office block replaces the usual traffic, and contemporary dancers give their all to an audience of thousands. We stand behind the safety barriers for a few minutes and stare. My friend has her eyes on the dancers. Mine rest on the watchers who soak in the free concert. I am sure I see a few pairs of wings unfurl in the crowd. My own wings twitch and a forgotten memory returns to me of how I saw the Ballet Rambert perform Ghost Dances set to haunting South American music when I was at University in London, and how the moving performance left me with a longing to be a dancer. It can take time to learn to fly, I think to myself and I tell my friend about the surfacing of the memory. Being with her tonight has allowed it to survive drowning in the foggy pool of years lived long ago. I thank her.

We go for the pizza. She gets two individual slices and I get the fugazza con muzzarella – chica, half for me and half to wrap and take back for Carlos. We’re midway through our meal when the man on the next table has a seizure, or is it a heart attack? For a moment I wonder if he might be dying. A woman starts shouting for a médico. He begins to vomit. Lumps leave his mouth in arcs and I am certain that he must have already consumed more than one pizza. There’s a buzz of manic action as people flock to help. Then as suddenly as it started, it all stops. He stands up, wipes himself down, sits back at his table with his friends. Only the smell of what happened remains, and soon that is masked by mops dipped in buckets of disinfectant. Let’s get the bill, I say. I turn to signal to the waiter and as I do I see that the dark energy has left the sick man and leapt elsewhere. A fight has broken out just inside the front door, where queues of people jostle to buy take-away porciones of some of the most popular pizza in town. Two women. Screaming. Fists out, I assume, though the details are hidden from me by a chaos of bodies. The violence lasts for a few minutes. La cuenta, por favor! calls my friend, and our waiter finally drags himself from oggling the aftermath of the fray.We pay up, exit and leave the uneasy spirit of the night to feast on the diners we leave behind. Or that’s the plan anyway.

On the few blocks between the restaurant and the number 60 bus stop on Callao, we trip over too many split bags and spilt rubbish, I jump as a disturbed soul yells out behind me, and we are accosted by three strangers who break the usual codes of personal space by touching the Guerrín bag in my hand and who ask us for money and Carlos’ dinner. We choose to step into the path of traffic, rather than stay on the dark stretch of pavement behind a boarded-up magazine kiosk where we can be too easily surrounded. A kind-passer-by-man-in-a-suit moves between them and us as we stand stranded on tarmac. Taxis swerve to avoid us. The possibly drugged-up threesome move on towards Congreso. The red lights of a brand new number 60 rounding the corner are a relief. With a Muchas gracias Señor we thank our guardian angel of a guy and climb on the bus.

There are ghosts on Callao and Corrientes tonight, I say to my friend.

Welcome back dear Sal, she laughs.

My heart beat begins to slow as we turn into the quieter side streets. I check my folded-away wings are undamaged. Text Carlos I’m safely on the bus. Hear an echo of Fresedo. Hug my friend goodnight. Head home.

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ISBN: 9780956530608
Author: Sally Blake
Published by: Pirotta Press Ltd
Publication date: 30 June 2010

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