“Try the other side,” said the beautiful doe-eyed attendant. Max was seated alone in business class, eagle-eyed at a starboard window, eager for a first glimpse of Beirut as the jet descended. He slid over to a port window, and gazed transfixed at the ancient city, sprawled like a cat before a fire, glowing gold in the setting sun. He lost valuable seconds snapping pictures on his phone. Moments later on final approach the jet came down over acres of squalid shanties and landfills, landed with a bump, and pulled up at Gate 7. The flight attendant chided Max for unbuckling during descent, but smiled briefly when he said he was honored to visit her city for the International Tango Festival.
Emerging from passport control and baggage claim, Max ran a gauntlet of eager families and hired drivers waving hand-lettered names. After some hopeful but futile minutes scanning the reception line looking for his name, Max was approached by a swarthy young man in a T-shirt and greasy jeans.
“The Hotel Gefinor Rotana? Fifty dollars, but for you, my friend, forty-five.” Someone else pushed him aside and said, “Forty, but I’ll take thirty-five.”
A tall dignified fellow in a sharkskin suit intervened. He shot his cuffs, revealing a gold Rolex.
“These men, my friend, are charlatans. I’ll get you to the Gefinor within half-an-hour for $30.”
Max was tempted, but in an instant swarthy T-shirt and his confederates were remonstrating in rapid angry Arabic. A cold-eyed policeman appeared, and then two camo-clad soldiers toting AK-47s. Max melted innocently into the crowd of onlookers and found a peaceable driver waiting patiently outside in the simmering twilit heat. As they drove past the tattered Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and crossed the old Green Line into West Beirut, the driver said, “Oh yes, Tango is very big in Beirut. We are the cross-roads of East and West, and Tango speaks naturally to this meeting of minds.” His radio was playing a wistful Arabic song, and Max asked him to turn it up.
“This is Fairouz,” the driver said. “She sings like a nightingale. Back in the day, her Tangos were to die for…”
The Gefinor Rotana was distinguished by a rooftop swimming pool with an edge that vanished into the Mediterranean. Freighters floated serenely offshore, and coastal mountain ranges climbed into the sky. Max sipped a mimosa poolside and conversed with a U.N. cultural anthropologist attending her first global food security conference. The sun finally sank into the wine-dark sea and the crystalline stars of the Levant emerged. The spring equinox was upon them, Haft-Sin observances were underway, and Venus and Mars approached conjunction. As time passed, Roxanne’s enquiries about the International Tango Festival, informed by a modest black one-piece swimsuit, became more consequential. Miguel Calo’s “Al Compas del Corazon” drifted up from a milonga in the third floor ballroom. Max invited her to dance.
Story posted by: Adam Smolka
About the author: Writer from Charleston
Published: 20 Jun 2019 @ 01:30
Last modified: 20 Jun 2019 @ 13:08