Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 1001 Tangueras I love

The telling of 1001 Stories

The milonga allows me to live 1001 lives, better than just telling 1001 stories as the Persian queen, Scheherazade, did to save her life from execution.

Let me explain.

A single dance took me back through the centuries, and lives I have never lived.  Last night at the milonga.  A single dance brought me there.  I remembered things I had forgotten, some of my many lives.

Just last century, when I first arrived in Germany I lived in Stuttgart.  It was 1991 to be exact, late September.  I was alone in my apartment after going for a walk at night.  It was Sankt Martins Tag (St. Martin's Day).  Next to the small lake and pristine park, the Max-Eyth-See, children were with their parents at night, walking and singing with lanterns made from paper bags with candles in them.  Later that night in my apartment, I sat down to listen to Südwestrundfunk, German public radio.

The radio program's diversity boggled my mind.  One song was a Miles Davis jazz walz, the next Janis Joplin's Bobby McGee.  Then came a driving but simple rhythm to an Italian hit.  "Robert," a German song I have never heard again, was next on the program.  I remember that song because I learned to hear and roll the German rolled 'R' from it.  Rrrrrobert, was a bad boy, evidently.

The radio program continued with a a story, read from a book, something one rarely hears in the US.  I imagined myself a small child with my siblings listening to a story told by our grandfather. I couldn't understand much at the time, but I listened and loved his deep voice and imagined watching my older siblings' enthralled faces.  This was not the German I was expecting.  It was beautiful, sonorous, expressive.  I was committed to being fluent in this beautiful language, now the language of my children.

After the story, the music continued.  A song from "Turkei" (Turkey) came on.  At first I did not like it, but then I imagined that I had heard this song many times.  I was in love when I first heard it, in fact.  How the memories poured in from this life-I-have-never-lived.   The song brought back sorrow and joy, being young and in love.  How I fell in love with this "Musik" when I put it in a "beginners mind" frame like that.  I got up and danced around my apartment to the Middle-Eastern rhythms.

Six years later, I realized that my private dance alone in my German apartment on Burgholzhof, was not so far from how it truly is danced by male dancers.  By then it was late in the last century, and I was in Egypt watching a live band play with dancers.  I was enthralled.  Hypnotized.

All these experiences came up last night when I danced with a Turkish woman at a milonga.  The music that started to play after the official conclusion of the milonga was "alternative" music.  Suddenly my body was taken over by a song from Turkey.  I immediately  sensed it was Turkish.  I saw my partner's face light up.  Then I knew it was Turkish.  The Middle Eastern rhythm put me in a trance and I dance with a hybrid of Argentine tango movements, but she and I were there, in her country, among her people, dancing as if we were the only people who had been transported through time and space.

Our dance was not a slow-slow-quick-quick dance but a complex rhythm that the ancients developed because of no television or ready-made entertainment that dulls our ability to let our bodies be possessed by the poly-rhythms of music.  I did not have to think or analyze being possessed by the ancient spirits!  Surely, it helps to have studied music, but only afterwards could I think of what the rhythms were and how they transformed my mind and body.

As my Mesopotamian Tangera and I danced, I could imagine the tribal peoples of her ancestors telling each other stories, improvising their own stories as musicians improvised music to fit the ambiance of the story.  I was dancing with her in the desert around a fire after coming home under the stars.  Last night we could see the stars that were so clear they appeared like clouds and embodied  permanent cloud-like features that looked like scorpions and rams and lions*.   You may find it hard to believe, but last night at the milonga, she and I were there in the Desert.  She was my first and only love.

When the music stopped, she told me what the words meant in Turkish.  The woman singer had sung her heartache from the many whom she had loved, how they had gone, how it hurt.  And so it was with us.  The tanda was over and we parted.  But not in my mind, my heart, my soul.  The Musik still plays.

Tango allows me to live one thousand and one loves, a thousand and one lives, one thousand and one Arabian Nights** -- all at the milonga.

*Clouds of Stars:  Under the desert sky in 1997, with an 101st Airborne Infantry Division on a peace-keeping mission, I saw clouds of stars for the first time in my life.  On the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Nevada, I had seen stars so clearly that even the satellites whizzed clearly across the sky.  But in the Sinai, I could see clouds of stars and constellations I had never seen before in North America.  Added to this momentous experience, one night I was issued some "NVG's" -- military-grade Night Vision Goggles.  THEN I could see 10 times the amount of starts.  It was startling.  That is what the ancients could see without layers of world-wide pollution.  I am still in awe of these moments in the dessert, in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

**1001 Arabian Nights' frame story is of a woman storyteller from Persia.  The stories have been traced back to stories far from Persia and Arabia, including Mesopotamia, which in part includes modern Turkey.  I danced with the archetypal Mesopotamian Woman last night.

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