Dancing my Descent into Degradation
Little did i know at the outset that what was designed to be a quiet Thursday evening in Medellin of detached social observation would descend by imperceptible degrees into the arms of the police. No one had told me that Thursday was the busiest party night, way busier than Monday but not right up there with Friday or Saturday. I had left it late to go out, having eaten earlier. My first port of call was a highly respectable salsa bar, where a smoothly competent group created the bongo beat while elegant couples sashayed from their tables to demonstrate faultless foot work in the small spaces available between the tables. Too soon the band stepped down for a much needed towel down, leaving me to join the paseo around the square.
I was torn from my reverie by the touch of a charming young woman in a tasteful shiny blue cheerleaders outfit, who pointed at a nearby elevator saying ‘You must go disco Blue. Look! Thursday is Ladies night, muchos mujer .’ Taking my ruminative chin stroking as assent, her rather larger doorman friend escorted me to the lift shaft, where I was transported into an overwhelming world of sound and light. After some minutes of adjustment to this sensory overload i began to discern human shapes amid the laser strobes, most of them male in form. On closer inspection I began to suspect that the prefix ‘Ladies’ to describe the night was stretching the use of the plural form beyond the point of elasticity. There were ladies, but only about four of them, each seeming to be surgically attached to guys weighed down with gold and a sense of their own irresistible attractiveness.
One lady in particular fulfilled the fantasy description often made of a Colombian beauty. Perfect cinnamon skin colour, Straight black hair impeccably coiffed and reaching down to behind her knees, her surgically enhanced embonpoint matching a rear that is was hard to believe was not equally augmented, not least to counterbalance her personal engineering. The only fly in her prefect ointment seemed to be the guy that was attached to her. Could he not read that she he was beaming distaste in her direction, from a height considerably above his? This I doubted as she was his extension of self, and his ego would not allow that this prize could demonstrate independent emotion towards him of any kind, let alone disdain.
At one point he took a break from drinking shots of Aguardiente to give her a swirl on the dance floor. (This local spirit is aniseed imbued, tasting rather like Ouzo but far less refined.) His dancing was manic, all latin heels kicking back to the calf between each hip swivel, his arms a windmill of movement. On the termination of each spin cycle she would take pause to pull down his shirt which was inescapably rising to reveal a conspicuously hairy Aguardiente gut. As the Reggathon beat stepped up he decided it would be cool by way of choreographed variation to kiss her between each heel click, not noticing how much this was alarming her, as between each kiss her strapless top shifted further down, needing to be hiked up for modesty’s sake.
However it looked as though he took this rhythmic hiking of boob tube as her innovative variation on his original routine, causing him to assist gravity by pulling down her top between the kisses while grinning ever more lustily until the sweat began to soak the floor.
At last she forced him to sit down, though he dwelled only for a short sweaty moment, before suddenly jumping up all the better to kiss her somewhere near the lips. Mercifully for her sake he staggered towards the banos, when she reached for her bag to find blusher sufficient to repair the major damage inflicted by the none to accurate rich man’s kisses. This den of conspicuous consumption, while full of sociological fascination, was leaving me feeling poor, ill dressed and ancient. To avoid further laser blindness and low frequency deafness I headed for the release from this Blue condition that the lift shaft might bring. I could not help but notice as I was leaving that all the cheerleader bar staff were dancing, were moving, all of the hostesses were moving, even the huge bouncers were throwing surprisingly lithe shapes.
In Colombia everyone dances. If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.
Outside i congratulated myself on my disengagement from the scene, and serenely headed home. Yards from my hotel, a crowd were congregating around a doorway. I made the insane error of stopping myself, when four young women who had been sat on the pavement for a smoke stood up, took me by the arm and said ‘You must come in, you must come in amigo, this is Thursday night and this is the famous club Berlin!’
Compared to the Blue club security seemed really low at Berlin. In fact safety seemed very low. For $10 entrance there was a free bar until one thirty in the morning, when you then had to pay. I arrived at about 12.30 when the drinking was intensifying to ensure saturation point before the pay tills opened. Berlin was everything Blue was not, and in a good way too. It was in an old warehouse, with precarious mezzanines hung about the main floor, and was full of the young massed to dance and drink together in glorious discord. The DJ was not hidden behind pretentious glass booth. Instead he was astride the bar, running it long length with microphone in hand. One of his additional responsibilities to swagger around with a large children’s’ water gun filled with Aguardiente, which he squirted directly into eager uplifted lips, his fledgling fans clearly adoring his animism.
It was clear i was the only gringo in town and i was feeling my difference. Happy at first to have a table to sit at with my four charming chaperones , not least as there were very few tables, I noticed that a group of young guys with razor cuts, tattoos shown off under singlet vests over mean low slung jeans, were discussing whether this ancient gringo was in fact allowed to monopolise quite so many girls. Uneasy i signalled then over. I am told that if in doubt always talk to the guy first, never the girl. Dismissing me completely, they took a woman each, turning each round to begin their arrogant bump and grind routine.
The girls looked somewhat bored but compliant as the guys hips searched for closer contact, while still clutching their drinks (it is never a good idea to leave drinks alone in these parts.) The boys were in some reverie, while not failing to glance around all the better to notice other available ladies. Having staked out their turf with me in indelible fashion, they then at the end of the number simply disengaged from the girls without a word and went into sullen chat with each other before descending on their next conquests.
Puzzled a little by this brazen promiscuity, my minor outrage and sense of protectiveness towards the girls subsided as they themselves took off in various directions to offer the same anonymous twerking to men unknown. I surmised that the lack of any eye-contact allowed the anonymity of this dance to breed emotional disconnectedness. None too soon 1.30 came along, when we all sang the Colombian anthem. It was a raucous affair, backed by a soundtrack of a thousand trumpets.
Now we were in pay time, at which point the girls showed a new interest in me, and how i was doing, pulling me back to ‘our’ table in a nicely possessive way. It was just the five of us again. They then asked that i buy them a bottle or two of Aguardiente. I said ‘No.’ I thought this reasonable enough, not least as there were still a bottle to two of the free stuff on the table. I also felt that this would not be ‘just the one time’ that their innocent pleadings suggested. This was the thin edge of the lemon wedge in the Tequila.
Suddenly I was the bad guy, having badly failed their economic means test. They said i had to leave. Eyes were flashing, they spat, a coalition of hate and contempt beginning to form. Unmoved, i stayed in my seat, happy this time that the sullen foursome of lads returned to make their claim on the girls, alarmed as they were that i might have the insolence to be back in active service, when after all they had the monopoly on insolence. The girls took the remaining bottles with them, abandoning me to bottles of water alone to wash down my bitter tasting ostracism.
I was aware for a while amid all of this that in a group in the so-called VIP area – in reality a concrete platform fenced off by steel tubed railings – there was a man dancing with a lady who kept looking at me, trying to catch my attention. Avoiding his eyes at first, thinking he was giving me that ‘ are you looking at my bird’ stare, I then decided to move towards them, not least to avoid the growing hostility that was brewing in my corner. It transpired that far from him harbouring any evil intent towards me, he had seen me as a lone gent of a certain age of whom he had a favour to ask.
Intrigued by this, it transpired that the favour was that his dancing partner was his sister-in-law – that he was tired of dancing with her, that his wife was getting jealous – so he had co-opted me to dance with her instead. Suddenly partnered with this formidable lady who seemed to have stepped out of a Botera sketch, in that larger than life way, I discovered that it was not all easy going, and I could see why he wanted to move her on. She seemed none too pleased with this arranged marriage, though we danced away none the less in a distant fashion while the brother-in-law fed us Aguardiente and Red Bull to keep the rhythm going. By this time down on the floor everyone was now dancing with everyone else in a swirl of erotic motion, each doing the tour of the dance floor, moving from partner to partner until their dance card was full or they fell exhausted amid the ruins of the bottles.
The most contemptuous of the sullen boys, clearly realising that he had danced with everyone but one, and obviously a completist, jumped up into the VIP area to force my partner to dance. This was done full in my face, just to prove perhaps that it was not just the younger women who were off limits to me. MY partner was not amused by this peremptory advance . He roughly swivelled her around and began the groin grind, his arm somewhere near her throat. She pushed back with great force. Lucky for him the railings broke his fall. He shrugged and left, while giving me the death stare. “Look mate,’i rehearsed, ‘you could dance with her all night long if it were up to me.’
No need for this disclaimer however, as the kid slouched off to grab the only remaining girl of my former harem, as it was getting late and machismo demanded that he could not leave alone. I kissed the grateful brother in law goodbye about sixteen times then left with his retinue before i found myself walking on broken glass.Barely able to take breath, I almost made it to the nearby refuge of my hotel entrance, only to be forcibly befriended by Carlos and Pedro, who disallowed my wishing to go to bed at three in the morning as an absurd waste of an evening. They both spoke great English which was relief in itself after all the messes that my rudimentary Spanish had gotten me into. As i relayed the story of my evening, they demanded my answers in a friendly way to the usual foundation questions.
Did i love `Colombia?
Did i love Medellin better than Bogota ( The answer is always yes of course)
Do I love Colombians?
Do i promise not to mention `Estobar?
All of this epistemological common ground successfully established, they insisted that i spent the remainder of the night with them. What passed was somewhat of a blur. Carlos is an international professional poker player and that was interesting to say the least, though it made me a little wary of him, which was ungenerous as he was a lovely man with no axe beyond seeking my company to grind. Pablo was a translator who was unhappy in his marriage and was looking to fall in love. Everywhere. In the last cafe to close for the night we sat out facing the street while we sang along to ‘Sweet Dreams are Made of This.’ playing on YouTube. Exactly how big is Annie Lennox in Medellin?
As we sang, a group of older cigarette / chewing gum salesmen congregated outside the bar, along of the inevitable shoeshine man. (Earlier in the day i came across a hombre who placed on the floor an ancient bathroom scale, charging you to take your weight. I guess it beats fortune telling.) As the music played the old guys unconsciously moved and swayed to a memory perhaps of a tango youthfully, fervently danced. In Colombia everyone dances. Carlos is so proud of these guys. He so likes their quiet dignity, as do I. These are the real people, he explains, this is what Colombian authenticity is, not the emergent McDonalds way. Who am i to disagree?
Carlos fiddled with his phone and found a whole album of Annie Lennox, cranking up the really tinny volume, then forcing it into to my ear as we walked down the road, insisting that I sing for them both. All the bars now shut, we stumbled downhill towards the Parque Polado, one of the open Medellin amphitheatre squares where folks congregate and where beer sellers move among us all night long. There are bottle stores surrounding the squares that are open 24 hours. They have grills to separate customers from product, but the range and cheapness of what they have to offer is astonishing, with a bottle of Aguardiente selling for $10. At this point though the boys have decided that what they need is some dope.
In calamitous pursuit of the same we meet up with a bunch of lads who are clearly just getting warmed up, after copious pre-lash. The futile search for drugs causes the related conversation to turn to Breaking Bad, by way of a cinematic surrogate high. Carlos enthuses that his favorite song is ‘A Horse with No Name’ for the same BB series, and wants me to lead the singing in the square, once more sticking the phone deep into my ear. This transports all us back on the range, sat alongside Walter White in his broken down cruiser while we sang along with him beating the steering while in emphatic rhythm.. Deep into the second verse, we had not noticed the police moving in. Clearly any Breaking Bad song is taken as code for drug related activity. We are broken up and threatened with vagrancy charges. The others are nonchalant but I am left bursting with pride. Busted by the police at this age and stage. I shall savour this for the rest of my remaining. In fact if I were ever to be invited to a dinner party then this would be my staple.everybody dances