Lasting Tango in Paris

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Lasting Tango in Paris
  On pleasant weekend evenings she meets him at dusk at the Quai Saint-Bernard. Tonight, wearing a silky white blouse and hip-hugging white skirt that extends to her knees in soft, full folds, she descends the pebbly path to the Seine, jauntier in sling-back pumps than most women half her age. Her ash-blonde hair, funneled in back by a big white bow, bobs up and down, keeping pace. Stone-faced, bent forward, hands folded between his knees, he waits for her on a wooden bench. On his head rests a black-banded white panama drawn rakishly over a wavy white thatch. His pale eyes flicker when he spots her and at once he trades his running shoes for the contents of his satchel: white leather slip-ons with Cuban heels. Rising for les bis (the customary kiss on both cheeks), he checks first to make sure his long-sleeved black shirt is tucked in. My husband Bill and I follow them along the esplanade at the river’s edge, to a semi-circle of glossy white paving stones laid together almost seamlessly. On this unlikely dance floor, tanguistes of varying ages and ability are responding to tinny music from a boom box. A gallery of onlookers lolls on a wide stone staircase—their amphitheater—and when the old couple approaches, there are fist-over-mouth murmurs of recognition—and delight. j Moments later, a lofty arc lamp suddenly casts amber beams on the dance floor and the streetlights along both banks spangle the murky Seine. Honking gray barges shuffle by imperiously. Passengers on sleek white pleasure boats wave wildly to be noticed. But nothing can upstage the new arrivals on the quay, both of them poised to catch the salient first beat of “La Cumparsita.” By the third chorus his role as signaler of the steps to come and hers as interpreter, have inspired me to scribble my own lyrics. First, he pulls her Close to his torso Then, right knee bent, His left arm forceful, Leads her ‘round him To form a fan and Make clear who has The upper hand. Dipping, lunging He gratifies her. Her knee plunging Between his thighs, though, Makes the statement: “I’m equal to this man.” The couple’s interpretation of a dance once deemed obscene by the clergy is mesmerizing. Bill and I saw them perform a year ago on a final night in Paris when we meandered beyond Notre Dame, beyond the Ile-St.-Louis, and came upon this unfamiliar quay. There they were: a street version of Rudolph Valentino and Cyd Charisse, executing the Argentine tango with supple sensuality. There we were: bowled-over American visitors, cursing ourselves for not bringing a camera; for not being able to record for our grandchildren one stunning example of why we’re lured back year after year to this city of paradoxical conjunctions of discovery and tradition. Tonight, Bill is a stalker, moving stiff-legged from stair to stair. Capturing the couple’s moves in black-and-white, he shows the fervor of a Cartier-Bresson. I sit lazily on the top step, notepad in hand. After an hour of dancing, the pair climbs up to meet us. Still stone-faced, Raymond Legrez hands Bill his card. Myriam Calecki, a winsome mix of self-possession and humility, smiles and asks what major publication we represent. When I tell her none—that we merely want a blown-up photo of them to hang in our living room—she blinks, bewildered. “A picture of us pour votre maison?” When she echoes me in heavily accented English, the idea does sound bizarre. In halting French, I assure her we are sincere. I tell her I’m a retired editor-turned-freelance-writer, and now that we’ve met I have many questions. Could we meet again, at their convenience? Myriam suggests (in French/English) the following Samedi (Saturday) at 8? “If it rains, Dimanche (Sunday), same time?” I nod. “I will bring my daughter,” says Myriam. “She speaks your language very good.” With that, she and Raymond excuse themselves and sashay down to a floor now jammed with young couples. During the week we visit the American Library, our reading room away from home. There, I try desperately not to doze while skimming through three encyclopedic narratives on the tango. Bill has the film developed, but is not pleased with the results. The man at the camera shop shrugs and explains that the high-speed black-and-white film my husband chose, hoping to capture the motion of dancers, produces blurry enlargements if used at night. On Saturday we arrive at the quay early. Lovers stroll by, stealing kisses, fondling each other’s derriere, not caring who notices. People led by dogs on leashes zigzag listlessly from the pedestrian esplanade to the quay’s hillside garden, where the contemporary artworks of the Sculpture en Plein Air museum—some new, others restored after acts of vandalism—stand in steely defiance beside soft green shrubs. The riverside dance floor lies empty—that is, until an old white Ford sedan pulls up and four people get out: a gentleman wearing a dark Savile Row suit and a silver tie that matches his hair, a pretty young brunette in a low-cut black dress, and two muscular young men in striped Tees and tight black pants. One of the young men pulls a boom box from the trunk. The other hauls out two speakers, each the size of a small wine refrigerator. Together, they begin setting up the equipment near the squat stonewall that separates…
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  • Jacky Bidon
    2020-03-02 06:34:39
    Jacky Bidon
    Bonjour, Je découvre votre page sur Myriam et Raymond. J'ai fait la connaissance de ce couple et du tango en 2006 sur le Port Saint-Bernard. Je garde un merveilleux souvenir de ce couple si atypique, je les ai suivi jusque vers 2010-2011 (?), puis ils ont disparu des quais et certainement de ce monde… Dans votre texte Raymond dit avoir 72 ans et Myriam 69. En quelle année avez-vous recueilli ces propos ? En hiver, sur la période 2006-2010, je les rencontrais de temps à autre le dimanche à la milonga de la Sourdière, salle de bal bien connue de la rue de le Sourdière, dans le Ier arrondissement de Paris (M° Pyramides). Ils avaient fondé une association artistique et théâtrale, «Parisi» et donnaient de temps à autre des lectures dans les bibliothèques parisiennes. Sur les quais, Raymond, la danse terminée, sortait son Livre d'or et laissait les tangueros apposer une phrase, un compliment. Ce livre comportait des dédicaces dans de nombreuses langues et alphabet de touristes de passage à Paris. Raymond affirmait dans les années 1960 avoir été danseur pour les revues au Théâtre Mogador à Paris, c'est là qu'il aurait rencontré des argentins de passage en Europe, aurait appris cette danse et créé un style, à sa façon (à la fois mi argentin pour l'allure, avec son éternel panamá, et mi-cabaret pour la chorégraphie), j'ignore si cela relève de la réalité ou de la légende ? Si vous avez une adresse mail je peux vous joindre quelques photos du couple et la copie d'un tableau, une gouache, les représentant. J'ai quitté Paris et vis maintenant à Pau, dans le sud-ouest de la France. Cordialement