If there’s one Spanish word that truly fits me, it’s Torpe. It translates to awkward, clumsy, or dull.
For example, a couple of years back, I was in London on business. I arrived on a Tuesday and stayed in Mayfair, a posh, but quiet neighborhood near Hyde Park. That night, I wanted the hustle and bustle of an international capital, so I hopped in a cab,
“Where’s the excitement?” I innocently asked.
The driver nodded, turned off his meter, and pressed the gas. “That seems strange,” I thought.
The next thing I knew, we were in a back alley (which, let’s face it, is most of London). The driver turned his car off, hopped out, and motioned for me to follow him through an unmarked door and up some stairs. Up we went . . . into a very sketchy gentleman’s club.?
“This isn’t a safe choice,” I said to myself. Aloud.
I turned right back around and found another cab.
I’m also a bit dense. Because I asked the next driver for the same question.
“Where’s the excitement?”
I’d inadvertently discovered a secret British code phrase. If you ever want to find yourself in a seedy section of London, simply ask a cabbie for “the excitement.” I ended up in another darkened alley looking at another staircase. This time, the driver didn’t turn off his meter, though. So I paid him and walked the other way.
As President Bush once famously said,
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice you can’t get fooled again.”
By the time I got into a third cab, I’d learned the trick so I just asked to go back to my hotel. This would be a tame night, after all.
It’s no wonder that a night out in Buenos Aires reminded me of that night in London. At Argentina’s height, about 100 years ago, they sent their city planners to Europe to copy the best design that the continent could offer. One can’t help but think of Paris when walking along the wide streets of Berlin when looking at the Legislative Building, or of London when making a phone call.
That flashback to London began when a man picked me up in a van outside my hotel in Recoleta and drove me to Complejo Tango – the slightly cheesy, but wonderfully rich tango show in Belgrano that a friend recommended. It’s one of those touristy things that entrepreneurs in destinations like Buenos Aires have capitalized on: Everybody who comes to BA has to visit one of these shows.
Sure enough, it was on a side street, through a door, and up some stairs.
Now, let me tell you what! This experience is 100%, doubtless designed for a date. I bet that no man has ever darkened “those” doors by himself. Until I did.
At 8:04, I was the only person in the dinner theater built for 100. So, when a waitress finally appeared, she offered me a table at the front. Stage right, just where everybody in the place could get a good look at me.
Forty minutes later, the ten other guests walked in (it’s the slow season here). They’d all paid for the extra hour-long Tango Lesson to start the evening. I opted against that extra dose of torpe. When they walked in, laughing about their fun time learning to tango, I could tell they were thinking:
“¿Pero, quiÃ©n es este hombre torpe de los Estados Unidos en Buenos Aires?”
“But who is this awkward man from the United States in Buenos Aires?”
Finally, at 8:56 my first course arrived. This was turning into a long evening. The “Cambalache” was a meat pie reminiscent of a sloppy joe but wrapped up in carbohydrates. This was, for me, a good thing because I rather loved sloppy joe”s as a child, but rarely got to eat them. This first course was therefore a special treat. I decided to buy some time by taking pictures of my food.
The second course, a steak, arrived at 9:02 p.m. It tasted like the Fourth of July. I finished it by 9:14. I wondered where the man who drove me here was. Could he just slip me out of here without anyone noticing? I mean, it was getting late. It would have been fine if the thing started at, say, three o”clock. I’m usually in bed by 8:30 (9:00 if there’s a particularly riveting story on Sixty Minutes).
At one point, all five couples were taking selfies. So I joined in. When in Rome!
Again, it would have been a lovely evening for a date, but with no one to talk to, it just dragged on. And on. And on. And then some more. Some activities, like skydiving, are fine by oneself. Others, like a romantic tango show in the heart of Buenos Aires’s Belgrano neighborhood are best enjoyed in the company of close compatriots. The night dragged on.
At 9:27, As I stifled yet another yawn, a cellist began to warm up. Now we’re getting started. A cellist! Bedtime is just around the corner!
By 9:38, nothing had happened, so I turned around. In the scheme of the evening so far, turning around was a highlight worth sharing with you. I caught a glimpse of a lady seated behind me. I spoke enough Spanish to understand that she said to her date, “Why is that torpe hombre there on the front row while we’re back here?” Envy, my dear, is an unattractive trait.
The couples, finally succumbing to the boredom that I began feeling hours ago started taking selfies in earnest. I used this as an opportunity to dash off to the bathroom. Again, on a night like this, a visit to the bathroom is worth writing about.
The clock struck 9:42. Nothing new to report. Like nothing. At all.
When I was a kid and finished a standardized test early, I’d try to list all of the states or their capitals or something. Guess how I planned to pass the next 20 minutes?
Oh, wait! The dancers are here and they’ll pose for a picture with you. Who has two thumbs and needs something to do? This guy!
The waitress reappeared. This time she handed me a note in Spanish that I could not begin to decipher. I thought maybe she was asking for a tip so I pulled some cash out and handed it to her. She laughed and said, “No!” (But she took the cash, anyway). Then she walked to a nearby table with three ladies sitting at it. I’d missed them in my survey of the room. The waitress returned with another note, this one in very broken English:
“When you will come with us.
Lunch. Dinner. Gracias.”
Turns out it was from a group of drunk Brazilians who wanted me to sit with them. I did. They spoke very little English, a lot of Portuguese, and some Sign Language. We simply smiled and laughed at each other. One woman grabbed my phone and appointed herself my newest Facebook friend. It was truly torpe.
At 10:07, the dancing began. There was far too much audience participation for my taste. Especially since I was the torpe hombre they kept dragging up on stage.
“But, I didn’t take the lesson!!” I’d say. That just egged them on…
By 11:00, the show was over, I bid adieu to my new Brazilian friends, and was on a bus headed to my hotel with a couple from Germany on their honeymoon. All in, the show was entertaining. And certainly not in the way a seedy London “gentleman’s club” would have been.
It had been a long, torpe night.