Club Gricel - a fresh start, or the road to ruin?

Mr Bond

As soon as I uttered the words ‘Club Gricel’ to Moneypenny I regretted them. Sometime in the distant past presumably I had enjoyed an evening at Gricel, but now I struggle to recall when.

Club Gricel is at La Rioja 1180, way out through Constitucion along Humberto 1st over Av Jujuy. From the outside it is unauspicious, announced only by a couple of tangueras smoking by the pavement door. After paying the entry fee at the tiny desk, a curtain pulls to reveal the salon, beyond which is the bar that sports Gricel’s famous neon sign.

The problem with Gricel is the people. I hasten to add that I have nothing against the aged, but there are times when Gricel makes the former El Arranque look like a kindergarten. And then there are the tourists, dancing wildly with the old milongueros as they flirt with death. This is Gricel’s lethal cocktail.

A plump waitress escorts me to my table hidden away in the corner from which I may observe the pista. A couple of ancient milongueros nod in my direction but tonight I have not the will for the big showy embrace, so pass at speed.

It is after midnight and true to form, Moneypenny has not yet arrived. As the champagne appears, one of the grand dames of the milonga catches my eye with her skilled mirada. The orchestra is Fresedo, perfectly complimenting her invitation. We navigate the floor, avoiding the stumbling steps of the infirm and the lane-changing of the tourists. The freshness of arrival at Gricel has evaporated in a single tanda. Returning to my table I sip from my wine glass, feeling the consoling energy of bubbles against my nostrils.

Moneypenny’s arrival, when it comes, has the air of a car crash to the ¾ rhythm of a vals. Tonight she seems breathless, as if she has run from Av San Juan.

“Calm down old girl and put your shoes on”, I venture, noting her sharp reproaching stare as I speak. For what seems an age, Moneypenny fiddles with her shoe strap, giving up as the lights lift to announce a performance.

Professional tango dancers in Buenos Aires make their living from exhibitions. Within the entrance charge most milongas boast a midnight performance from aspiring dancers. Sometimes, by luck or judgment, you will catch famous dancers and may witness a seminal moment. But generally aspiring hopefuls struggle to create something new, or a new definition of something old. Perfection eludes them, and their performances end with polite applause. Tonight, I stifle a yawn and resist the temptation to check my Bremont.

With the performance complete Moneypenny still struggles with her shoes, so I rise to accept a Russian tanguera’s mirada. She combines Kseniya Sobchak’s beauty with Putin’s assassination skills - the perfect match for Gricel’s pista chaos.

Only later do I notice that Moneypenny is no longer at our table. I glance across the salon to see her in his embrace. Moneypenny is like a moth to a flame. ‘So much for her escape’, I whisper to myself, ‘It seems that Moneypenny is not through with espionage!’

Gricel continued


“So you do exist!  I’ve been looking for you at every milonga in town, I was beginning to think I had imagined that night at La Viruta!” He says in a tone of reproach.

“Wow, your English has improved!” I exclaim back, to which he responds smiling: “My English has always been good, only last time you weren’t so interested in my linguistic skills, not my English ones that is”.  I could feel the blood rushing to my head; I was blushing; he was right, I had only wanted one thing from him that night and it had little to do with whether he spoke English or not.

“You shouldn’t have left like that”, he adds.  “What did you want, a thank you note?” I fire back. “No but at least the chance to let me make you coffee and establish some possibility of seeing you again” , he responds. “It just wasn’t the right moment for that. Let’s dance”, I ask him, to which he responds with a cabeceo.

He takes my hand and we walk onto the dance floor; the first tango of the tanda is ending, it’s a D’Arienzo tanda.  We stand in front of each other in silence; he’s not looking at me but rather at my body as he slowly wraps his hands around my waist and gently pulls me towards him; I can feel his longing for me and feeling it so surely, only intensifies mine for him. He then grips my back with one hand and slowly slides his other hand down my right arm all way down to my impatient hand.  We move together into a close embrace, it's perfect, like two pieces of a puzzle coming together.

The second tango starts, another D’Arienzo: ‘Hasta siempre amor’, I love this tango.  We don’t move quite yet; he shifts his weight from left to right, pressing his body against mine, and  then, with one long first step we start dancing. I’m nervous, I’m shaking but I try to control it.  I close my eyes and try to focus on his lead and on my breathing which is getting heavier with every step.  I feel as if everyone is watching us, as if they all know, know what we're both thinking, both wanting; I relish a little in the attention we're getting. 

The tango ends, a slight shiver goes through my body and I pull away from him so that he won’t notice the effect he’s had on me.  “Never pull away so quickly, always hold the last position”, he says to me.  “I’m sorry, I thought the exhibition part of the night was over”, I manage to say, trying to sound indifferent to him.  “It’s not about exhibiting, it’s about etiquette, tango etiquette.” he smirks back. 

As we wait for the next tango to start, he lightly caresses the back of my arms, running the tip of fingers in circles around my elbows and shoulders; all I can think of is kissing him and running my hands through his thick hair.  We had kissed in the middle of a tanda at La Viruta, right there in front of everyone, a clear break of all tango etiquette; but it was La Viruta, very late on a Sunday night and everyone there had their own secrets to worry about. 

The following tango starts, D’Arienzo, El nene del abasto this time.  We dance and the more we dance, the more I feel like myself turning into putty in his arms.  I open my eyes to try to regain some control over myself, I look for Bond; he is dancing with a slim blond; he’s enjoying it, but it doesn’t prevent him from keeping a close watch on me; he knows exactly what's happening, I hate how transparent everything about me seems to be to him.

The tango ends, I hold the final position, just like he told me to do. “Thank you, that was lovely, I almost didn’t want it to end”, I manage to say to him.  “So don’t let it end, let’s go and dance the night away somewhere, anywhere you like”, he replies. “I’d love to but I can’t tonight”, I respond and look towards Bond, who is already sitting at our table.  “I see, you’re not alone tonight”, he responds staring directly into my eyes. “It’s complicated, it’s just not the right moment now” I manage to say.  “It’s complicated, yes, you seem to have perfected that concept.  Go then and hopefully the next time, it will not be so complicated” he says while I lean in to kiss his cheek and take one last opportunity tp press my body against his.

“That looked very ‘intense’ old girl, you seem flushed.  Will you be alright?” He says smiling his little smile.  “I’m fine”, I respond and add “You also seemed like you were in good hands”. “Indeed I was”, he responds looking in the direction of his tantalizing blonde.

Bond and I dance a few tandas and order another bottle of champagne to finish off the night.  “Right old girl, I think perhaps eachother the best either of us can do tonight”, he says to me while pointing towards the door where I notice my Viruta man going home with the newly famous Ginger, the one who had seduced us all during the exhibition.  I can't blame him; given the chance I might have gone home with her myself. 

Her equally enticing partner, the Fred Astaire to her Ginger Rogers, seems to be himself captivated with a young blonde he has been dancing with the entire night and Bond’s own blonde is nowhere in sight.

“I think you might be right Mr Bond, we have been left of our own devices it would seem.  Shall we make our way back to the lonely streets of  our San Telmo?” I ask him. “Right, I’ll send for a car”, he replies, for a second I'm reminded of how I got here and picture my handsome driver wrapped in Sabrina's arms. “No, don’t, let’s take the bus, like the ‘normal’ people of this city.  You do know what a bus is Mr Bond, don't you?” I tease him.  “Not only do I know, Miss Moneypenny,  I'll have you know that I have a bus card!” He exclaims back. “It’s just one amazement after another isn’t it!” I retort with a hint of irony.  

And so, like two regular porteños, we took the bus back to the empty, almost nostalgic, streets of San Telmo we both so identified with.

Bond and Moneypenny dancing again.... in Gricel


Part I

“You’re sure you don’t want to join me tonight?” I shout as I step out the front door.  “Bond will be there and I’m telling you he’s a new man!”

“I don’t go out on Sundays, and if I did it certainly would not be to Gricel!  And I have enough new men in my life, I don’t need an old-new man”,she replies with a chuckle. “Suit yourself!” I respond and hop into the limo she ordered for me; Sabrina has been insisting that this is how I have to move around now, or for now at least.

We drive off, down Carlos Calvo, passed 9 de Julio and down to Umberto Primo; “You can just leave me at the corner of La Rioja, no need to go around, por favor” I say to the driver, Damian.  “Perdon, pero no puedo, I have instructions”, he responds, as he gives me a little wink in the rear view mirror and detours around the corner. “Como quieras!” I respond.

As soon as the car stops, Damian gets out to open my door, extends his arm, and as I reach out for it, I can’t help but notice how incredibly fit and handsome he is (and incredibly yet another of Sabrina’s lovers, but she has a little weakness for this one I sense).  He has that typical Italian-Spanish-and something touch-look, dark hair, dark eyes, killer smile and just the right amount of English to seduce you; just the type of porteño you want to stay away from. 

“Message me when you want to leave, and I’ll come running back to you, any time…..any place….”, he says before rushing off to what I can only imagine is a night with Sabrina, no wonder she didn’t want to come to Gricel!

I stand on the sidewalk staring at the people walking into Gricel, the doors are wide open, I can hear the hum of the Milonga from across the street; it feels so nice to be back.  I walk in, take out my neatly prepared pesos to pay the entrance, when a man walks right up to me and says: “Bienvenida hermosa, I am Javier, the host of this milonga and you do not have to pay to join us.  It would be my pleasure to have you here". 

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I ask intriguingly.

“You do not, but I hope to correct that as soon as possible”, he responds with a smile and adds “He is sitting at the far right corner; he’s been waiting for you”.  Of course, Bond, I should have known. “Gracias, please do join us for a drink when you have a minute”, I say and turn around to pay the entrance fee. 

“Very independent I see”, the host says “You’ll have to give me the opportunity to invite you some other night, a night of your choice”, he says and escorts me to Bond’s table.

With  it's velvet curtains ornating the entrance, a large wooden dance floor, dim lighting complemented with the red hue given off by the neon sign at the back of the dance floor; Gricel has a  rustic, almost brothel-like milonga feel to it.

Everyone is dressed up in formal tango wear: women in shockingly revealing-form fitted dresses, the men in suits with their hair gelled back, everything seems to be in place, except  for Bond who somehow always stands out despite all his efforts to the opposite; or maybe it's just that I can't help but notice him.

The tanda has just started, it’s a vals,  couples are twirling around the dance floor with skirts of every colour flying around, it almost looks like a proper Viennese waltz, only not so proper since this is tango.

Bond spots me immediately and starts to pour me a glass of bubbly.  “Right, I had almost given up on you old girl, you’re late!” he utters.  “Late?  How long have you been out of Buenos Aires, it’s barely midnight Mr Bond, things are just starting to get interesting.  But have no fear you will not have to finish that bottle all by your lonesome”, I retort.

“Be quiet and put your shoes on, so we can get one tanda before the exhibition starts”, he adds, just as the dance floor empties and the show is announced.  Bond gives me a look of reproach and hands me my glass.

It’s exhibition time!  The dancers walk onto the dance floor,. I’ve never heard of them before; V and J are their initials and are performing for the first time tonight, we are informed. They're both beautiful; her with her large brown eyes, dark hair and snow-white like complection has all the men gawking and the women red with envy; him with his assertive walk and penetrating eyes has all of us bewitched (and maybe a little in lust); together they are mesmerizing.

They dance to Pugliese, their dance is classic, no frills, no acrobatics, no excessive drama, just simple, genuine, divine dancing. His musicality is irreprochable; her feet complete his lead to perfection; it’s as if the music followed their dance and not the other way around.  The entire room is in silent awe, which, given the amount and level of tango in Buenos Aires is no easy feat. 

I stare over at Bond who seems transfixed by the dancing.  “She’s too young for you Bond”, I say teasingly.  “And he’s too young for you” he responds with a smirk.  “I am simply enjoying the tango’ I answer back to which he adds “As am I my dear, as am I”.

As they go into their final pose, everyone rises to their feet to give praise to this very promising couple, two stars are born tonight!  “And they’re not even sleeping together”, says the woman sitting at the table adjacent to ours.  I had forgotten what a small world tango is.  

As the night’s Fred and Ginger take their last bow, the young tangero and I cross glimpses, he gently smiles and gives me a little wink; I can’t help but smile back, he is afterall the celebrity of the night (and not to mention cute as hell).

I finally bend over to put on my shoes, the strap won’t quite hook on; Bond has lost patience and is already dancing with someone else.  When I at last get my shoes on, and reach out to take another sip of champagne, I notice him…. I had forgotten all about my last night in Buenos Aires at La Viruta and what I had done…..

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...