Saturday, July 10, 2010

Notes from DC, take 3.

Rumba Café

I fell in love with this city because of D-, because it was he who showed me how to navigate it, who showed me his favourite places and people. Him and his bag filled with books and his papers filled with poetry, him and his quiet slow rising cigar smoke. He was the one who introduced me to the Café. The Argentinians who worked the bar when I visited that year weren't here anymore and I missed Gabriela. I missed how on just my second visit she knew what beer I wanted to follow the mojito. How angry she had been with that misplaced group of FOB Indians, the four guys all in horizontal stripes who walked into her Café and ordered Johnny Walker on one of the hottest days in May, in the Afternoon. Who grumbled amongst themselves when the bill came, who left small change as her tip. I remember how she jumped over the counter, yelling Hey! You forgot your change! and the look on their faces. How I wanted to apologize without knowing what to say, how she was still flushed mad as she laughed at my despairing face and said it's okay, jerks come by all the time.

I remember dancing all night here, along walls filled with fetishes, madonnas, orishas, votive candles and effigies, all stuffed with folded dollar bills as offerings. The autographed instruments gifted to the Café by respected musicians. That smell of fresh-muddled lime and lemon and mint. I pledged allegiance to the death a long time ago, which is why we came here next.

There’s a live band playing tonight. The big round bouncer smiles us through the door. He can tell that I know the code. I buy the first round, noticing all at once that we’re the only people in that night not of South American or Hispanic origin. Maybe we would see our server from the last place here too, maybe later in the night. Our guys are stuck behind a big group of people outside the Café, with everyone inside yelling at them while laughing, no space, man, no space! I go out and get them through the door because the bouncer remembers me. And at that exact instant I remember why I love this place, this street. I am remembered here, God only knows why, or maybe they fake it and pull this with everyone, but I don’t care. The band playing is the same one playing from the last time I was here, the mojito is muddled perfectly.

A big crowd of Argentinean kids move by our table, crowding right around where the men are playing. A few of us follow and dance. The one guy who never dances has the biggest grin in the world on his face, everything in his body saying Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s GO! He asks us if it’s okay to stand this close to the band and we laugh and drink from his glass and give him ours, and then we dance with all the children. They know the words to every song, screaming along with the singer and we mouth with them, we don't know the words but we can’t help it, we aren’t faking knowledge but we must participate, as if we don’t have a choice. The guy who doesn’t dance goes, fuck man it’s like a reaction is expected, even necessary from us, like they want us to participate! And the guy I’m dancing with raises his arms in a benediction , I think. It couldn't have been ironic. Nothing was ironic that night.

And the children don’t mind us, they sing sad songs while hugging everyone and air-guitaring, one guy kneels down in front of the singer in a faux duet. We don’t understand a word they are singing but it sounds like regret and anger and pain and the sweetness of lost expectations, like that fucking nightingale with a thorn in its heart bleeding a white rose into red, like Icarus was a shadow against the sun, throwing everything they had left that night into singing the song. We stayed with them. We stayed out far later than any of us had in recent times. And all the time we were there, we sang, we danced, we spilled our drinks, we took photos with strangers, we stood guard over each other at the loo. We stayed till they turned on the lights, then rode in a single taxi, all six of us, back through empty streets, tucked into each others arms, over each others’ knees, some of us already asleep with the deep dreamless silence of children.