All the information online agreed that at the Café Continental the Argentine Tango club of Granada held dances on Thursdays and Fridays. How perfectly convenient, I thought. The Continental was only seven or eight blocks from my language school. Shortly after getting into town, I headed off in search of it.
When I’m in foreign cities, I walk a lot. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig gets on a stump about how touring by motorcycle is so much more intimate than the more hermetic experience you get in a car. I used to remember that assertion with a smile in the time of my great bicycle tours, but if you really want to get up close and personal with the world, walk. Or crawl, like certain religious pilgrims, but walking’s close enough for me.
The sidewalks in Granada were different from the sidewalks back home, and every shop window was a reminder that I was in a different place. A block from my apartment was a motorcycle shop, with its familiar smells of tire rubber and lubricants and its unfamiliar selection of scooters and Euro-bikes, and next door was a bookshop. There are motorcycle shops and bookshops all over Granada. What a wonderful town!
Which way to the Calle Seminario? I began to ask as I got closer to my destination. It was a small street, and didn’t actually show up on my free Turismo de Granada map. Everybody was pleased to stop and help me. Fellow pedestrians, café waiters, and newsstand owners happily sent me all over the neighborhood. When I found it at last, the guy behind the bar informed me, politely and with a note of apology and regret in his voice and manner, that nothing was going on Thursdays, and that I had the wrong time for Fridays. The earliest I could expect to find anyone to dance with would be eleven o’clock.
I never learned his name, but I got to know him over the next few weeks. As far as I could tell, he was the owner of the café. He was awfully pleased when I commented on the truly wonderful collection of paintings hung throughout the four rooms of the establishment. I’ll call him Alonso. He was so perfectly correct in the old formal Spanish manner that he made you feel as though you were in a movie. When I showed up Friday night with my English apartment mate and her German friend, he sadly told me that nobody else had shown up. We ordered wine and went to wait in the room where the dancing was held. A few old guys sat around playing cards and watching World Cup Soccer on the big screen TV. The minute the game was over, Alonso sent a waiter in to set up the music for the three of us. It was the least he could do, he told me later when I thanked him as we were leaving. He seemed to feel personally responsible that the tango club hadn’t shown up. Maybe next week.
The next week at 11:00 there was only one couple practicing in a back room, but by one in the morning there was a decent little crowd. I had some good conversation and tango, and most of the ladies were very nice about my peculiar Colorado tango style.
By the third week, Alonso knew that my drink was tinto, red wine. He thought I might be tired of the usual first round tapa, so offered me cheese instead. (I’ll explain about tapa customs in Granada in a future entry.) Nobody was there to dance. I admired the paintings and drank my wine, ate the fine dry salty Spanish cheese. After an hour or so I gave up, and went up to the bar to pay. Alonso was terribly sorry that once again I’d been disappointed. I shrugged, and replied it was not a problem; life was like that sometimes. After three weeks speaking almost nothing but Spanish, I could toss off a pretty good phrase once in a while. It must be, he said, because of the festival. The water festival was that weekend, and many people had gone out to celebrate in the villages, where it was a big thing. You stood around and everybody threw buckets of water on everybody else. It was not a problem, he assured me; your clothes would dry in the sun. He seemed to be apologizing for the quaintness of the custom. It sounded, I told him, considering the heat wave we’d been under, like a very sensible sort of a festival. Then I pulled out some change, to pay for the wine, but he swept up my ticket from the bar and tore it in half with a flourish. As I had come for the dancing, and there had been no dancing, he could not possibly let me pay for the wine.