The first time I entered Salon Canning in Buenos Aires, I experienced the uncanny sensation of feeling like I had been instantly transported to an elitist vampire milonga (a tango dance) in the early twentieth-century, where coven members gathered to lure unsuspecting tourists into a den of chilling fantasy. Turning and staring as one unit when any homo sapiens entered the club, they danced with such eerie, preternatural grace it was almost unsettling to watch. Violins and bandoneons screeched stale music over hushed voices, sliding shoes, and sharp taps of stilettos. The mood was haughty, the air thick, and I just wanted to run the other direction – a legitimate self-preservation response to entering a vampire lair.
At Sorrento Hotel’s Silent Reading Night, I experienced a similar sensation of being transported – only this time I teleported to an elegant Old World gathering where society’s most distinguished elite convened to pore over Tennyson or Wordsworth. Well-tempered Baroque music glided through the fire-lit room, easing all manner of stress built up during the hectic day, as the pretty serving-girl brought tea, or scotch for the stronger palettes. A genteel affair reeking with haughtiness. What would happen, I wondered, if I set my cup down too loudly, or started vigorously chewing gum, or sounded a barbaric yawp? I was half-tempted to do it, just to see their reactions!
Like I felt in that pompous milonga in Buenos Aires, it was all a bit too sterile, too staged and elitist for me to really feel comfortable. I’m with Walt Whitman, who said, “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable”. Give me the salty throng of La Viruta (another milonga); give me entranced spectators waving their bodies as musicians let their souls bodysurf over upstretched arms; give me the epic roar of live electronic musicians summoning absolute wizardry before my eyes. Those are the experiences I truly love.
I do, however, also enjoy the occasional vampire milonga or silent reading night – after all, there are worse ways to spend an evening.