There is no place more fitting than a vintage watch shop, if you want to savor a sepia moment of beauty in the luxury of paused time. There is no dance like the Argentine tango that distills the essence of a close embrace, that tugs so unrelentingly at the heart whenever you hear it, wherever you dance it. The two paths crossed one quiet Sunday afternoon in New Orleans’s French Quarter when I, lured back by a 1950s white gold and diamond Hamilton lady’s watch, stepped into a store to pay my second visit for the day. The music of Buenos Aires, faint and familiar, was playing as I stepped in this time; the extraordinary sound floated above the display counter, permeating the room with the crackling warmth of old vinyl and dusty turntables. I listened, and felt the minute hand of inner time quivering to a graceful halt.
I believe in Argentine tango. I believe that the sense of confiding closeness it fosters between two people requires no spoken words, and is capable of lasting on or off the dance floor. Do you also dance, back at the watch shop I inquired hopefully across the counter, and it was as if right then a change of lighting had taken place. The reserved shop owner melted away into an animated stream of unhurried conversation about times and dance halls bygone. I learned that his name is Julio, that he left Argentina in 1969, and that he likes watches the way he likes his tango – the way they used to make it.
I believe that beneath its showroom glamour, Argentine tango is at the core an earnest dance of little pretensions. When danced, no iota of time is wasted; when savored, best with closed eyes. I believe that its every step, no matter how understated, can be a poised statement of elegance that somehow leaves others dances hollow in comparison. Though the carpet at Julio’s shop made an unlikely floor underneath my rubber-soled Pumas that day, I knew after the first dance that the white gold Hamilton had already been sold. It was the watch that originally brought me to the shop, and I could not depart without it when no one else in the world felt for it the way I did on that particular Sunday afternoon.
So the Argentine tradition of sharing three dances was honored, and the time came to go. I believe that no blue-sky day with tango in it can be bad, for it is the dance of memorable hellos and goodbyes that bonds strangers in strange lands. Outside, time caught up with me again and it was the day before Christmas Eve. Standing very still in the crisp air, I felt my heart open, with a rush of buoyant joy.