Moneypenny’s milonga - part 1


Sabrina:  ‘We’re going to a milonga tonight, you can’t wait until you think you’re ready, you have to push yourself to go or else why are you here?.’

Me:  ‘I’m not ready and what if he’s there?  I can’t handle seeing him right now.’

Sabrina: ‘Cry on someone else’s shoulder, you knew what you were getting yourself into last year, I told you, tango is about dancing, you dance and then you leave. Never shit where you eat, it turns everything into shit.’

Me: ‘Is that what happened to you?’

Sabrina: ‘Did I miss the part when this became about me? Get your pretty shoes, I want to take you to a Milonga tonight, a real Milonga, no Maldita or Dorrego nonsense, it’s time you started dancing for real. Come here at 11, we’ll take a taxi together.’

10:30, I’m just waking up from my pre-milonga nap, it’s the only way I can keep up with these Porteños, it’s hot and humid and it looks like it’s going to rain, if it were anyone else, I would cancel, but  Sabrina won’t have it, I’ll never hear the end of it.  I met her when I was here last year, the notorious Sabrina Arellano, the tangera no one could keep up with 30 years ago, like Gardel her entire person was tango, the aura in the room changed when she walked in.  I met her at my tango school, she was giving a seminary on turning in close embrace, I never danced close embrace before coming here and now it seems like my center of balance won’t allow me to dance any other way.  She and I started talking during one of the breaks and somehow kept talking for the three months I was there.

Ok I have to get ready, red shoes, black backless dress, hand sanitizer and flip-flops and I off I go.

11:05 in front of Sabrina’s door.

Sabrina: ‘You’re late.’

Me: ‘Oh come on, 5 minutes and this coming from a Porteña!’

Sabrina:  ‘You’re not a Porteña, if one day you decide to be one then you can show up late.’

Me: ‘But you’re not even ready.’

Sabrina: ‘That’s because I’m a Porteña, we’ll leave in 15, have a drink.’

We arrive at the Milonga on Aldofo Alsina, it’s at the Italian cultural center, everything here is slightly Italian, the places you dance, the food you eat and the men you fall in love with.  As we walk upstairs, it was obvious that everyone knew who Sabrina was, she greets everyone with a smile and nothing more, we walk passed the entrance like we own the place, obviously no one would ever dream of charging her to get into a Milonga.  Sabrina has ‘her’ table in almost every place anyone has ever put on tango shoes and this place was no exception.  We walk across the dance floor, usually a big no, no, but there was nothing usual about Sabrina.  Our table is ready, there’s a vase with a red rose and a bottle of champagne there waiting for us, it has the perfect view of the dance floor and is the focal point of every cabeceo going on in the place. Sabrina, of course does not dance, not anymore, not for a long time but she likes to keep an eye on everyone else who does.

Sabrina: ‘Don’t look for him, he doesn’t matter unless you let him matter.’

I put on my shoes and I struggle with the right strap, I have to get it fixed at some point, ok so here we are at my first Milonga of the year, I take a sip of champagne and look around the room, every face here looks familiar, I remember last year when I thought that there existed an entire population milongeros,  thousands of dancers obsessively going to their favourite Milongas while purposely circumventing  others, every Milonga was a new opportunity, a new discovery and now it seems like it’s the same old faces everywhere, everyone knowing everyone’s business.

Sabrina: ‘There’s a man looking this way, I don’t want you dancing with him.’

Me: ‘Um ok, I have to pee, do  you want me going to pee or is that off limits also?’

Sabrina gave me a smug smile as I got up and started making my way towards the back of the room where I see a familiar face sitting at his usual table, in the back with a full view of everything and at the same time discreetly unseen except to those  seeking him out:

Him: ‘Miss MoneyPenny, how lovely you look tonight, I see you’ve gathered the courage to take your dancing shoes for a night out on the town, are you here alone?’

Me: ‘Mr Bond!  How nice to see you!  It seems destiny has brought us together yet again.  I’m here with Sabrina, she has me in close watch, in fact I have to hurry back or she might send out a search party, we’re at our usual table, come say hi.’

James: ‘I shall.’

I continue walking around the room, Troilo is playing, I love this tango, couples are twirling around the dance floor, he’s nowhere in sight, not that I was looking for him, I’m just saying he’s not here.

Me: ‘ I saw an old friend of yours on my way to the bathroom.’

Sabrina: ‘I know he’s walking this way now.’

I could see it in her eyes, neither of them had ever told me what really happened, but there was a palpable tension between them.  I heard great stories, they were once lovers, went from Milonga to Milonga every night, drank, danced everywhere the floor allowed them to, back in the day when Sabrina danced,  everyone wanted to know them, everyone wanted to be with them, and then one day it just ended, no one quite knows why although there is no lack of rumours or speculation.  ‘Don’t give tango anything’ Sabrina, once told me, ‘Just take from it, but don’t let it take anything back, because the second you do it’ll take everything from you’, Argentines can be very melodramatic at times.

James: ‘Good evening ladies, you look ravishing’ he said referring to both of us  but clearly looking directly at Sabrina.

Sabrina: ‘Hi, it’s nice to see you, you seem well, you should take her to dance, I can’t get her to accept anyone’s cabeceo and I’m sick of seeing that pout on her face.’

James: ‘It would be my pleasure.’

We start, dancing and like every tanda, especially the first of the night I feel stiff, I have trouble relaxing, but as always James is patient and purposely slows his breathing and tries to get me to follow it which I slowly do, and through the synchronicity of our breath our dancing becomes harmonious as well.  When our tanda was over, we hugged as we always did and James walked me back to my table as he always did and nodded at Sabrina. 

Before I could get properly seated again, the next tanda started, it was a Pugliese.  ‘One tanda for me?’ he asked, it was Alvero,  a professional dancer I had met at my second milonga last year when I barely knew my right from my left but he told me I had great potential, which is what most professionals looking for students will say to you, but it didn’t matter, whether it was true or not wasn’t important, only that I wanted to believe him had mattered at that point. 

As he took me in his arms, I instantly recognised his embrace, there’s something about dancing close embrace with someone, it’s almost like kissing or even making love, you recognise it even if you don’t remember the person, like you couldn’t mistake one kiss for another you couldn’t mistake one embrace for another.  I recognised Alvero’s smell and the feeling of his breath on my shoulder, I closed my eyes and tried to make everything else disappear, like a Buddhist monk in deep meditation.

After my second tanda, the floodgates had been opened and I danced the night away, tango, waltz, pugliese and even the dreaded milonga, I was hooked, like a druggie who had gotten her first hit after a long period of being clean, all I could think of was getting more.

Sabrina:  ‘You know I don’t like you dancing with just anyone, come it’s late, we should go, and you need to manage those little feet of yours, we have a class tomorrow.’

Me: ‘No you go, I’m only getting started, I’ve tasted it again and now I want more.’

Sabrina: ‘It’s what got you in trouble last time, I’m going, be careful.’

Me: ‘Has anyone done anything truly great by being careful?’

Mr Bond

The Associazione Nazionale Italiana sits prominent on the northside of Adolfo Alsina, just to the west of San Jose. Cartoneros have requisitioned the derelict overhang at the corner, and tonight the pavement is strewn with paper and debris. An old lorry stands just beyond with rafts of cardboard sheets toppling through its slatted sides. 

Darkness has descended over the bario of Montserrat, giving it an eerie glow in recently arrived rain. I pull up my collar and pull down on my homberg just as a gust of wind attempts to whip it away.

Jorge, whose usual position is at the foot of the steps, has retreated into the doorway to escape the weather. He is one of Sabrina’s street-rescues whose job is to provide a semblance of security outside the milonga, although I am yet to see him turn anyone away. He looks up from his mobile phone and smiles through a broken tooth. “Buenas noches, señor”, he says as I slip three notes into a rough hand.

The entrance hall is grand in an Italianesque way - marble and cherubs with a plaster embossed medallion celebrating the Italian immigrants who on 25 march 1861 conceived of the idea to found ‘Società Nazionale Italiana’. Behind, delicious aromas rise from restaurant Marie Fedele. 

I take the marble stairs that lead up to the salon. On the landing I change out of my wet street shoes and hang my coat. Beyond the curtain, the milonga has started with a tanda of D’Arienzo, ‘No Mientas’ - to get the blood circulating in the older milongueros.

I take my usual seat against the wall. The young, the zealous and the pretentious choose pista-side seats, but I prefer to be safely at the back, slightly cloaked, where I can see the whole room. Tangueras that want to dance with me will seek me out with their insistent mirada, or glance in my direction as they pass to the powder room.

The evening develops from ‘easy-subdued’, into ‘night milonga’. A new wave of arrivals displace the older milongueros who leave for home. Just after 11:20 pm, the curtain is swished aside to reveal Sabrina.

Her entry everywhere must be dramatic by force of habit. As a young tanguera, Sabrina seduced both men and women, young and old. Her hold over the milonga was legendary, and dancing with her was the achievement of a dream. Whilst her beauty and technique was unsurpassed, it was her balance, poise and seamless follow that made her the prize. These days, age had caught up with her, and they say she dances` only with her former lovers - not that this appears to restrict her tandas.

To my surprise, behind her is Moneypenny.’How on earth did she fall into Sabrina’s clutches’, I thought to myself. ‘She should take more care - perhaps I should warn her’. 

Sabrina’s table is set like an altar, slightly vulgar with a rose and champagne. It dates to her 1970’s  hayday from which she has never since escaped. She settles like a yacht docking at a pier and looks around her to acknowledge the smiles of both the envious and the critical. Moneypenny in contrast, looks like an early foal as she squeezes her delicate feet into shoes that are clearly still too tight. She glances around nervously. There is a short exchange of words between her and Sabrina, and she rises to walk my way. 

The codigos of the milonga determine the invitation to dance. Whilst in some places they are permitted lapse, here at the traditional milongas, they’re strictly observed. Direct invitations result in refusals, and on occasions conflict as the traditionalists step in to protect tangueras from unwanted attention. 

Moneypenny appears to be walking towards the ladies’ powder room. This will bring her directly by my table. I glance up, she smiles and greets. Teasingly, I ask how she has come to be at my milonga, and she points across the room, giving little away as to whether she is Sabrina’s latest conquest. Leaving, however, she asks me to drop by to rescue her. ‘From what?’, I ask myself. As she passes I resist the temptation for my eyes to follow her shapely legs.

A crowd of elderly and unruly men between my table and the pista has prevented a clear view of Sabrina’s table, so I stroll around the room towards where she sits with Moneypenny and the rose. Greeting them both, it is clear that Sabrina is either out of sorts, or out of breath and offers up Moneypenny for the next tanda. Moneypenny giggles girlishly, and rises in a rush. “Yes please, Mr Bond”, she gushes, and almost falls into my arms.

Within moments we calm. Her tense body softens and sinks. Her breathing switches from a race to a pace. Nerves reduced, the music takes over. It is an easy lyrical Fresedo tanda which finishes with ‘Vuelves’.

I offer an arm and walk her back to Sabrina and the rose. Almost immediately I see Alvero walk straight up to the table. His invitation is direct and coarse. Without dissent or warning from Sabrina, like a lamb to the slaughter Moneypenny rises and is led onto the pista.

Before the Storm

Hi, my name is Moneypenny

I couldn’t decide whether to go to class tonight or not, I’ve been here 2 weeks and I can’t seem to find my dancing feet (forgive the cliché).  The last time I was here, it was instantaneous, the second my dance teacher took me in his arms and ‘made me dance’ I was hooked and because of him, I turned my 7-day stop-over into a three month life-changing stay.  It didn’t matter that he was gay, it didn’t matter that I had to pay for his attention, I was in love, the way he just understood my body and what it needed.

“The dancer in you wants to come out, you’ve repressed her behind a computer for so long, she wants to come out now, it’s her turn”, he told me, and he was right. Because of him my entire life changed after our first tanda.

It’s Thursday, today’s class is a double class, I use to run to class, get there 15 mins before, insist that the class should be more than 2h30 and yet tonight I can barely make up my mind to go.  It’s going to rain and I don’t feel like putting on a happy face or answering anyone’s questions, “Why are you back? For how long?  Wow you don’t need to work?”… but still I should go.

I arrive just as class is about to start, everyone is too busy getting ready to notice me so I quietly go to my ‘usual’ seat to get my shoes on, I struggle with the strap, it was as if even my shoes didn’t want to dance that night.  Finally I get my shoes on and get up, I look around the room and give a friendly smile, I’m just happy I don’t have to talk to anyone and then I see a familiar smile.

‘Good evening Miss Moneypenny.’

“Mr Bond!! You’re here! You’re about the only person I can tolerate to see tonight”.  Bond and I met last year when I was here, he was generous enough to ask me to dance at my first milonga, Maldita Milonga - one of my all time favourites, He explained the embrace, the 4 tango tanda, the cabazeo… We hugged, it felt nice.

“Shall we dance?’”

We start to dance, my body feels stiff and out of balance. Tonight I can’t decipher his lead, but he’s patient with me, and as D’Arienzo takes us back in time and walks us through the struggles of lost loves in Buenos Aires, our bodies begin to dance in unison once again, our connection is slowly re-established, like softness in the air.

Then suddenly the music stops and everything starts to shake. We see a flash of light and thunder so loud I thought the entire place would collapse; and then rain… .The storm was just beginning.

Mr Bond 

Last time we met Moneypenny seemed a little distant. There was something on her mind that she was not sharing. A part of her youthful exuberance had momentarily faded. 

When I arrive at Thursday class she is already there, in her usual position on the bench, changing into her tango shoes. Her eyes look strained, she seems to struggle with a strap, and I can tell something is amiss.

“Hello Moneypenny”, I greet, jovially. She struggles a smile but rises for a hug. Hugs are something that just happen in Buenos Aires. Man, woman, known, or just met - the hug replaces the hand-shake, banishing formality with a tenderer cultural innocence. 

A first tanda of Orquestra D’Arienzo blares from the speakers sufficient to wake hot and tired students of tango. D’Arienzo, with his quick, sharp, rhythmical beat is a sure way to start a class. I nod towards Moneypenny and she tilts her head. It is the code for tango - the offer and the acceptance of a contract to dance, avoiding embarrassment of refusal. With the cabeceo - the look, you either receive a mirada in reply or you look elsewhere.

Initially, there is a slight stiffness in her movement, but as we dance a warm-up tanda Moneypenny’s mood seems to soften. Tango does this. It creates a ‘bubble of consciousness’ into which dancers recede from the troubles of the world. It has always been so, since early immigrants left European ships and migrated to find or share a room in the arrivals-barios of La Boca, Barracas and Constitucion. Their tough lives needed an escape, and tango provided precisely that freedom.

There is no rule to ‘the bubble’. It can be shared - or private. The tango embrace is inclusive, but your personal bubble of feeling can remain private. You dance together, feeling the music, leading, following, coordinating movement and sharing a silence in separate bubbles. On other, special occasions, following the embrace, you both enter the same bubble and share the immediacy and intimacy of the moment. 

Today Moneypenny is in her own bubble, the focus of her consciousness removed. In the mirrors I see my avuncular concern furrow my brow. I am just about to speak when there is a huge explosion above us. Lights flicker and dim. Suddenly the patio beyond the studio doors is awash with a torrent of rain. The moment for inquiry has gone, replaced by a downpour and the prospect of a journey home through the storm.

Bond meets Moneypenny

Mr Bond

Hello. My name is Bond. Just call me ‘Bond’, for these days this is my only name. Since we last met - you at the movies, me on the set - I have matured and aged into a 60’s something gentleman. Occasionally, women may still glance in my direction in a half-remembered way and struggle to place me; and I still crave the female attention of yesteryear. But life moves on, and with it, we move or wither. 

I am in Buenos Aires. I came here to dance Argentine tango, or at least that is what I tell my friends. Presently, I sit to write to you, my dear reader. But I do dance tango as well, at least occasionally.

And that is how I met Moneypenny.

Arriving at Mariposita de San Telmo tango school, I notice a young, beautiful woman in the arms of a handsome young tangero. They are dancing in close embrace. Their movement is synchronised and effortless as lovers who understand the meaning of connection. As I enter the room, she glances up, just as Moneypenny used to glance up from her desk when I visited M. She smiles, a half smile of acknowledgement, one that carries the reassurance of a welcome.

The principal teacher at Mariposita calls the class to order. We stand around the room, dancers from across the world, of different ages and differing abilities. 

I look across to the floor-to-ceiling mirrors and see a tall, grey haired elderly man dressed in black looking back at me. I avoid his gaze, but each time I glance, he is there. Like me, he struggles with the steps, but eventually masters the best part of them. “All change”, shouts the teacher. This is the point at which we are expected to select a new dance partner to practice our new skill. 

The grey man stands rooted to the spot, but the young, slim, elfin woman I noticed earlier, looks across the room towards him. He hesitates. She is so young and vibrant, radiating an energy that affects the room. For a second time she smiles and walks purposely towards him. “Hello, who are you?....Are you Mr Bond?”, she says with a teasing girlish laugh. “You must be Moneypenny?”, I reply, feeling vaguely stupid, but flattered. She lifts her arms for an embrace. “Well, let’s get on with it”, she adds. And we dance. A first dance. A moment that spans a generation, two continents, two different reasons to be in Buenos Aires. But it shares a communality of tango.

This was the moment that Bond meets Moneypenny in Buenos Aires. It is the start of a tale that will take them, and you the reader if you choose to stay, on a journey through time, place, different experience, fun - and perhaps a sadness of that we do not yet know.

But settle in, stay with the narrative, and enjoy the ride. For you never know where it may lead.

Introducing the writers of Bond and Moneypenny

This blog is about ‘Bond and Moneypenny’. They meet in Buenos Aires.

Like Bond, the writer of his character is now an ageing Englishman. He is somewhere in his 60’s (some might say, later than earlier). He is nearly retired, but clings onto his profession as a lawyer/government agent, as a child would hold a security blanket. He writes, just for fun.

The writer of Moneypenny is a young and vibrant single 30-something professional. She too is taking time-out from a demanding profession to live life and write about it. She loves ideas, feelings, experience, and is an aspiring writer.

The writers have in common - tango - Argentine tango. They both dance: Moneypenny with that youthful flair, Bond with a settled maturing experience. The stories you will read will be about tango. And Buenos Aires. And life to be lived, demonstrating the different perspectives of two very different people from very different places.

This is an experimental collaboration between the writers, setting challenges for each other and their characters. Each piece is written independently and without consultation, to which the other has to respond. Now there’s a recipe for sparks to fly!

We hope you enjoy the result.

Moneypenny from Berlin to Buenos Aires Part I

Bond and Sabrina freeze and gaze at me in terror.  What happened? I feel lightheaded, everything is hazy; I feel as if I were floati...