The Buenos Aires Philharmonic booked their native son for a series of three concerts at the Teatro Colón. Artie accepted the offer with mixed emotions; this was his first trip back to Argentina since he left at age 19.
After a long flight, Tina and Artie arrived at Ezeiza International Airport. A blast of hot humid air hit Tina in the face when she stepped outside; it was now the end of summer and the heat reminded her of Florida. They took a taxi to their hotel, an elegant former historical palatial mansion. A large crystal chandelier crowned the ceiling in their elegant air-conditioned room.
In the following days, they met and spoke with many people and heard repeatedly how it was a national shame that Argentina lost the Falkland Islands in 1982. Carlos Gardel, considered the father of the tango, was often a conversational topic. Eva Perón was described as a sinner or a saint, which reminded Tina how much her mother-in-law disliked her. Tina also noticed wistful melancholy around many of the people they met and wondered if that was due to Argentina’s bloody history.
New smells, sounds, and sights bombarded Tina’s senses. The city’s beautiful architecture and boulevards had a distinctive Parisian flair. The smell of fresh coffee wafted from sidewalk cafés. Grilled roast meat from open grills scented the air.
The couple visited the San Telmo district where tango bars lined the cobbled streets. Couples embracing in sensuous dance moved like shadows in the open doorways or in the street. They also visited Artie’s old family home in the Palermo Viejo district. One afternoon, they ended up at the city’s oldest café, the Café Tortoni. Artie remembered visits with his mother and grandmother. The café’s lofty ornate interior had both fascinated and swallowed him up as a little boy.
As he and Tina now stepped inside, an elegant hostess showed them to a table. They looked around. Tango music played in the background, while male guests in suits and exquisitely dressed and coiffed stick-thin women sat at the other tables as impeccably groomed waiters served them coffee and delicate cakes. Several patrons shot looks of disdain at Artie with his bushy black hair and beard, casual jeans, and LA City Symphony T-shirt. A few women also glared at Tina’s casual clothes. Two women chortled something about low-class Americans, but Artie turned and stared at them, and they realized he understood every word they said. Embarrassed, they turned away.
The waiter took their order of coffee and cake, as Artie eavesdropped on other table conversations. With his index finger to his mouth, he chuckled as he relayed how the women around them spoke about their stingy lovers or their plastic surgeries. He almost roared out loud with laughter, as he translated one woman’s dramatic conversation about her husband’s mistress, and she told her friend the mistress wore fancier clothing but she as the wife gave better blow jobs. The woman made a theatrical gesture as she flicked her long red nails and said theatrically, “Soy devastada.” Artie whispered in his wife’s ear, “She is devastated. It’s the end of the world.” They both broke into laughter.
One morning before rehearsal, they walked past the theaters and nightclubs on the Avenida Corrientes. They visited the artistic Boca district. From the steps of the Teatro Colon, they saw the Plaza de Mayo, home of demonstrations surrounded by despair in Argentina’s chaotic political past. Nearby stood the Casa Rosada, the dark pink official building where Evita Perón gave her famous speeches.
Artie stayed busy with rehearsals, which Tina toured the city, whose elegance tinged with decay both dazzled and shocked her. Crumbled facades overshadowed once elegant buildings. Broken or chipped monuments and statues stood throughout the city. The train stations lay in disrepair. She saw many poor people who squatted in doorways or tried to sell cheap items, and families crammed into formerly opulent buildings, now with boarded broken windows and clotheslines on the balconies, which marked the presence of poverty. Souvenir shops everywhere displayed pictures of Evita on merchandise.
The sensuality, steamy heat and smells permeated one’s senses. Tango dancers clung erotically to each other as they performed in the streets. Artie’s musical passion radiated throughout his performances to rave reviews.
On their last day, Tina, alone since Artie had gone out, folded and neatly packed their clothes.in the open suitcase on the bed.
Suddenly, he ran into the room, slammed and locked the door behind him. He gasped with loud audible breaths without taking his eye off the door. Copious sweat stained the back of his shirt, his armpits and ran down his forehead. “Don’t open the door. Leave it locked.”
He didn’t answer but moved from the door to the window where he anxiously watched the street through the curtain.
A white packet dropped on the floor. Horrified, Tina bent down to pick it up.
“Artie, what the hell is wrong with you?”
He tried to snatch the packet away from her. “Please, bombónita. Please give it back to me. I need it.”
Tina stepped back, the packet clutched in her hand. “You told me no more drugs.”
“You promised me to stop.”
He did not reply but turned back toward the window.
“Do you have any more?” Tina banged her fist on the table. “Empty your pockets out now.”
He ignored her.
Tina walked over to him, threw her hand down his pants pockets and grabbed several packets and his billfold. He mildly resisted but remained too focused on his vigilance to stop her. Tina riffled through his wallet. It had been filled with pesos the previous evening; now it was empty.
Tina held up the packets. “We’re going home tomorrow. If Customs finds these, what do you think will happen? Do you want both of us to go to jail?”
He did not answer and continued to watch the street through the window. Suddenly he spoke in a low-throated whisper. “He’s here.”
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