Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tango For All Lovers

Dancing alone.

I remember being at a milonga waiting for someone to ask me to dance the next tango. Couples swirled about me. And until I got to dance, I felt the absence of a partner deeply, intensely, no matter how discreetly poised I might sit at the end of my chair, enchanted by the dances unfolding before me.

Traveling alone in Madrid one August, I would see lovers sitting at benches, lovers holding hands, kissing, as if their pleasure was public, a story told only outdoors, as if their pain, arguments, separations, bereavements, were reserved for private occasions, behind closed doors.

They say Paris is the city of lovers … but I’m not convinced. Paris cannot claim possession of something so universal.

Paris only adopted, but didn’t invent, the tango.

Someone once told me that in Buenos Aires couples always displayed their affection publicly, but not because of some cultural tendency toward exhibitionism. No. The explanation is quite simple really. They don’t have the luxury of privacy. Young adults live with their parents and aging parents live with their children.

El dia que me quieras … the day that you might love me. That day of possibility was born in Buenos Aires, in the throat of Carlos Gardel, but that day has never come. It can’t.

You see, tango takes place in this space of waiting, this space of possibility.

Love is no different.

Writing is no different.

Writing takes place in the space of loneliness, where I see more keenly, my vision clear, not muddied by passion. I walk, write, eat, drink alone, a witness to life that seems much more real than the blank page.

And when you finally ask me to dance, the plenitude of your embrace is blinding. I forget my words.

These lovers unwittingly tell me their stories. They are dancers embracing on the theater of the street, repeating that ageless ritual, a tango that takes place in public parks, sidewalks, restaurants, alleys, taxicabs. Lovers strolling, lovers saying goodbye at the train station, coming and going, lovers defying unto death the loneliness of the individual in the big city.

I still dance the tango, it carries me into the night, accidentally, unconsciously, and before I know it, I am shoved by the city’s pulse into the arms of the night, dancing this tango, the dance of drinks, of furtive kisses in a smoke-filled bar, of groping, of syncopated push and pull, of escorted walks to the hotel, of steps resonating in the alley, slowing down around the dark corner, the tango of begging, refusal, the tango of her cruelty and his banality, of his urgency and nothing more, that late-night dance of the American writer and the Spanish man who thinks she’s easy because she’s a tourist.

I think of that painting in the Thyssen B Museum, Hopper’s Hotel Room (1931). I imagine my body as a hotel room for transient happiness, an impermanent residence for would-be lovers. But I am so in love, deeply, irrevocably in love with this place, this freedom, this freedom to write, this freedom to dance, so in love with so much more than the image of that woman sitting at the edge of a bed in a hotel room, and for this reason alone, I refuse them. I refuse them all.

And so I claim that Madrid is a city of lovers. And that the day for all of us to love has finally arrived.

And I dedicate this tango to all lovers, to all lovers everywhere, to lovers of bodies, souls and cities, lovers of past, present and future, lovers who hold hands and lovers who dance alone.

-- Republished from Meridian, originally titled Madrid: City of Lovers, 2004.

Listen to Astor Piazzola's Libertango with Yo-Yo Ma on Youtube.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Heart Never Sleeps

heart drawing inspired by English Patient

"Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again."

-- Almasy to Katharine Clifton from the English Patient screenplay, by Anthony Minghella.  Drawing by yours truly.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Love Is Not Engagements, Weddings, Marriages or Babies

kissing on the beach sunset

This is an interesting time for me.  I’m in my 40s, right smack in the middle of life. I’m blessed with multi-generational family and friends – some are younger, some are older. And what I see is a vast kaleidoscope of life’s richness, perched up here on the cliff of mid-40’s.

Why am I thinking about this? Because I’m a caregiver now.  I didn’t have children; I had parents.

My parent’s building got tented this week and I literally had to watch over them for 72 hours while they stayed in my apartment. I don’t know how mothers do it, running after toddlers and catering to all their needs.

My toddlers are in their 80s, forgetful, slow-moving (another source of frustration) and weigh 150 pounds.

But there was a lesson for me this week amid the challenges. It made me think of the true meaning of love. You see, I have family and friends who are caught up the blossoming of life – getting married, having babies, wrangling careers, buying homes and so on. And then I have my folks, who remind me of mortality, of nothing to look forward to but ultimate death.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but actually dealing with the elderly who have dementia or Alzheimer’s issues makes me realize how precious our connections are. What is love, anyway? Is it all the fuss about engagements, weddings, marriages and babies?


Love is being married for over 50 years. Love is wiping the smelly ass of someone you care for. Love is sagging skin, frail bones, grey hair, wrinkles and dentures.  Love is age spots. Love is doctor’s appointments. Love is a weak bladder. Love is pull-up adult diapers, on sale at CVS for $10. Love is brushing your mama’s hair, like the way she used to brush yours when you were a little girl. Love is aging and its bastardly toll on our bodies and brains. Love is an unfathomable amount of patience. Love is the brain eroding while the heart connection sticks stubbornly. Love is remembering that you are connected to someone deeply even when you can’t remember a damn thing or where you left your keys one minute ago. Love is all this, wrapped up in unconditional devotion.

Of course, most of the time, you don't get this kind of love without the engagements, weddings, marriages and babies.

None of which, by the way, I’ve had. But you know what? I have something that’s perhaps better: the commitment to dive into caregiving completely, because that is love too. It’s not pretty. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. But it’s love.

And I have been blessed with a man – seven months now, a world record for me in recent years! – who has stuck by me as my caregiving role evolves.

When I least expected to find love myself, at the time that I would have otherwise thought it was inconvenient, there he was, beaming a smile at me. I never turned away.

This morning I was thinking about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.  The two protagonists, lovebirds in youth, live separate lives until they reunite in old age.  When I first read the novel, I thought the senior romance was incredibly awkward.

But I get it now.

Love itself never gets old.