Cultural anthropology in the black hourglass shape of Roxanne swam through his thoughts as he consulted once more his map of Beirut. The mid-afternoon heat induced soporific quiet in the streets and alleyways around him. He set off for the Pigeon Rocks on the western edge of the city. The sun was riding high and cast few shadows. Squinting into the glare, he tugged down his cap visor and strode on. He was hot and weary when he reached the seafront and leaned into the temperate onshore breeze. At that moment, his phone, poised on high alert since morning but hitherto mute, pinged as a text came in: “Tabouli Café. Roxanne.” All was well with the world, after all. He looked around. A woman cloaked in an all-encompassing black burka, her gold ankle bracelets intermittently flashing as the breeze lifted her hem, gripped the cliff-top railings and gazed at white-spumed waves crashing and roiling explosively against the Pigeon Rocks.
A few yards away, two soldiers in battle fatigues, rifles slung casually over their shoulders, killed time under a palm tree. One, a little younger, smiled shyly at a passing girl; the other, more menacing, scanned the street through mirror shades. Max set the camera zoom and shot them both, silhouetted against the Rocks, the forested coastal ranges and the distant horizon. The older one stiffened, turned, and gestured peremptorily at Max. He took hold of the camera and asked for identification. He scrutinized the U.S. driver’s license and shook his head. Max explained in broken French that his passport was back at the Gefinor Rotana. The officer deftly erased the latest photo and then glanced in surprise at Roxanne spinning in a molinete. Taking off his shades, he studied Max’s shots of the previous night’s milonga. At last he grinned, returned the camera and waved his hand dismissively.
“Tango!” he said. “Enjoy Beirut.”
At the intersection of Rue Iskander and Paris Avenue, Max found the Tabouli Café, a stylish chrome-and-glass patisserie with sidewalk tables well-shaded under a cypress green awning. Roxanne, whose beauty and reserve reminded Max of Thutmose’s limestone bust of Nefertiti, greeted him politely. They ordered iced water and coffee, and asked to see the pastries arrayed on a filigreed silver tray by the door. Roxanne pointed to a glistening wedge of Persian baklava. They conversed inconsequentially while Max considered the perfect symmetry of her eyes and repressed an urge to caress her face. The baklava, chopped almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom and rose water-scented syrup, went well with black Lebanese coffee. Roxanne raised an eyebrow as Max brought Carlos di Sarli’s “Ojoz Negros” to life on his phone and took her hand. They danced, weaving between the tables, their minds and their physical immediacy following every musical nuance. Max remembered Ignatio Quiroga once saying: “Slow down; listen carefully; let Tango tell your story.”
Writer from Charleston in USA