Aquitania Tango

One of the Cunard Line posters that adorned the Hotel Fakir tango salon showed the RMS Aquitania, a luxury ocean liner launched just before World War I. Aquitania’s towering hull and funnels loomed over gliding tango aficionados, evoking an age of culture and civility that’s lost in today’s informality. The Aquitania was built by Scots in the Clydebank shipyards and was christened by Alice, Countess of Derby, who was Queen Alexandra’s Lady of the Bedchamber. Ignatio Quiroga, bartender at the Hotel Fakir, a highly-decorated but somehow disgraced Argentine general exiled in Charleston, a skilled tanguero himself, once said that Alice and Alexandra had been avid tangueras. Max, whose bacterial physiology lectures were popular with the few medical students who still came to class, and a frequent visitor to the Hotel Fakir where he sipped Malbec next to tropical flowers that Ignatio refreshed every day, was intrigued but skeptical.

Months after the fire at the Hotel Fakir, Max improbably came across the framed Aquitania poster in a run-down rural thrift-shop on South Carolina’s Johns Island. The glass bore sooty mementos of the gas-fueled inferno. A label on the back showed  a poised cobra and the words “Ex Libris Ferreyra, Buenos Aires” More improbably, while buying the poster, Max noticed behind the counter an old bandoneon in a faux-leather purple-felted case. Inexpertly fingering its ivory buttons, he coaxed out a few bars of an Astor Piazzolla song. The shop’s pubescent daughter, bored and eager for diversion, flipped switches on a timeworn electric piano keyboard, finally eliciting a synthesized tango rhythm. Max thought back to the days before DJs when a bandoneon, violin, and piano played the Hotel Fakir. The air would be permeated with the heady fragrance of ladies’ perfume, fine wine, cigarillos and tropical flowers. Added to this potent mix were emanations of intense personal dramas driven by desire, jealousy, unrequited love and Tango.

All that was a far cry from the Gullah everyday on Johns Island. Max bought the bandoneon but passed on the synthesizer, earning a reproachful look from the incipiently beautiful daughter. Hanging in his study, visible from the hall, the Aquitania forever set out for high seas, a tango orchestra in the first-class ballroom faintly audible as he passed by. Under the poster, the well-worn bandoneon, a guitar and a clarinet languished on a baby grand. These instruments had once defined his musical ambitions, and now testified mutely to their abandonment. But all was not lost. Ignatio Quiroga, a man of unchallenged wisdom, ever ready with Max’s favorite Malbec, had told him the key to Tango.

“Embrace your partner with care, confidence and love, and let the music pick the lock.”

Story posted by: Adam Smolka

About the author: Writer from Charleston

Published: 24 Feb 2019 @ 02:59

Last modified: 25 Mar 2019 @ 12:01

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