Friday, April 18, 2008
Have you read "Kiss & Tango"?
I'm in the process of reading it. Here is a book review from the Washington Post from 2005.
Reviewed by Jabari Asim
Sunday, July 3, 2005
KISS & TANGO
Looking for Love in Buenos Aires
By Marina Palmer
Morrow. 323 pp. $24.95
Marina Palmer's chatty memoir of her adventures in the Argentine capital
arrives at what seems to be a propitious time. HBO has shelved "Sex and the
City," "Desperate Housewives" is in reruns, and the American appetite for
vicarious sensuality is being only partly sated by a new series that
features ballroom dancing. "Dancing With the Stars," in which professional
ballroom champions pair with vaguely familiar "celebrities" to trip -- make
that stumble -- the light fantastic, has been a hit since it began airing
last month. So Kiss & Tango , a frank, explicit diary of an attractive
young woman's many amorous and terpsichorean couplings, seems ideally poised
to fill a gap in the zeitgeist.
Palmer, "Greek and American by birth, English and French by education,"
discovered tango dancing in January 1997, during a two-week visit with a
cousin in Buenos Aires. She had little idea what to expect on her initial
visit to a milonga (a party where folks gather by night to mingle, flirt and
dance). At 2 a.m., her cousin escorted her to what looked like a sports club
or gym. Once inside, she took in "a brightly lit dance floor filled with a
swirling mass of rotating bodies that were pressed together so tightly, they
looked like a can of sardines come alive." Still, Palmer was instantly
smitten, a process she describes in language that sounds more painful than
enchanting. The beautiful music, she breathlessly recalls, "wrenched my soul
from its socket." Her first tango lesson a few days later proved equally
transformative: "I felt myself lifted up into a cloud. I was at one with
myself and everything around me. It was a moment of pure happiness.
Happiness as I've never felt before."
Such ecstatic moments were rare back in the States, where she lived a
"nightmarish existence as an account executive at a large New York agency."
Determined to retain a bit of that bliss, Palmer returned home and signed up
for tango lessons at three different studios. Soon she became a milonguera ,
a tango addict who goes out dancing every night of the week. But all the
whirling and twirling only reminded her of what she lacked. "I don't know
when it started," she noted in March 1998. "But it has hit me hard. This
craving for a tango partner. One my own age. One I might conceivably fall in
love with. . . . I can't imagine my life without the tango. . . . It's true
what they say: You do not choose the tango. It chooses you."
Her epiphany led to a radical departure. "It was all so clear, so simple,"
she realized. "I was going to quit my job, move to Buenos Aires, and find
myself a partner." Her parents, who lived in London, were not enthusiastic
about her new plans. "I didn't put you through Cambridge for you to throw it
all away like this," sighed her dad, a well-off banker. Eventually he agreed
to subsidize her to the tune of $2,000 a month. Palmer arrived in Buenos
Aires in March 1999, envisioning a career as a professional tango dancer.
This is a little like showing up at La Scala and demanding a role in "La
Bohhme." But Palmer was 31, about 10 years older than the partners favored
by male tango pros, and mature enough to know that she would have to work
hard. As in extremely hard. She took ballet lessons three times a week to
improve her flexibility, studied tango with various local masters and hit
the milongas every night.
A veteran traveler who had already lived in five countries, Palmer had
little difficulty picking up the local Spanish. "I've noticed that you don't
even need to understand that much to get the gist of what somebody is
saying," she observed. "Which proves that most of the words we use are
superfluous." Alas, this sage perception had no detectable influence on her
method of diary-keeping. She can't resist telling everything, even in
instances where a mere hint would be sufficient. Her wordiness is often
leavened by a dry kind of wit, though. For example, she recalls her visit to
a decaying tearoom where "retro globe lights hang like bunches of grapes
from the ceiling, except they are not retro because they have not been
replaced since 1966." But then she goes on to add, "Neither have the
dancers, by the looks of them."
That last little zinger shows the dangers of her warts-and-all approach. One
of Palmer's most persistent and disturbing blemishes is her lack of
appreciation for anyone who's been on Earth long enough to reach retirement
age. "You know how old people go stale?" she lamented in a passage dated
Jan. 27, 1998. "No matter how much cologne Armando [an aspiring suitor in
his sixties] doused himself with . . . it couldn't cover up that sickly
sweet smell of putrefying flesh." All Argentines frequent cafes, she noted
in September 1999, "even the old, who in other countries have the decency to
stay out of sight." Elsewhere, she describes an elderly female dancer as an
"old bag." Of retired men, "It goes without saying that the very idea of
them having sex in the first place is yucky."
If it is true, as Palmer notes, that "political correctness has not made it
this far south yet," it's also true that she didn't bring any with her. But
she did tote plenty of baggage, most of it involving her failure to land Mr.
Right. Although she soon learned to glide across the dance floor with
confidence and considerable grace, her attempts at romance met with many a
misstep and pratfall. She bedded several promising studs -- their romps are
recorded in unsparing detail -- but they seldom pleased her. The few who
left her satisfied usually wound up leaving her altogether. The problem, she
concludes, is that "in the eyes of . . . men, I'm not wife material. I'm not
even girlfriend material. They take one look at me and think: SEX!" It's no
wonder, really, since her mates' myopia was oddly congruent with her own
philosophy: "If you can't beat 'em, you might as well go for a roll in the
And so it goes, through an exhausting and intermittently interesting
succession of ballroom and bedroom partners. Palmer notes near the end of
her three-year sojourn, "I remember every face and every name of every man I
have ever danced with." I doubt that most readers will be able to say the
same. Her crowded dance card left me scrambling to remember the differences
between Julio, Javier, Diego, Frank, Pablo and all the other beaus fortunate
enough to behold Palmer's flashing fishnet stockings and stiletto heels at
While the author's private melodramas unreeled, events in the outside world
loomed in far larger dimensions -- with far starker consequences. Only when
such developments threatened to inconvenience her did she catalogue them in
her diary, briefly mentioning the destabilizing Argentine currency, the
turmoil in the executive branches of the government, the violent unrest in
the streets. Mostly she focused on more intimate subjects, such as wondering
"if people realize how difficult it is to dance tango while on the brink of
orgasm." Readers with enough stamina to stick with Palmer to the end can
rest assured that she will tell them just how challenging that is.
Jabari Asim is deputy editor of Book World.