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December 06, 2008

Tango, at last...

December 6. Day 159.

When I was growing up, December 6 was a very important day: St. Nicholas Day. My sister and I used to put our shoes by the fireplace and so many magical things used to appear in them. Chocolate oranges, jump ropes, scissors, pencils, a magnifying glass, a tape measure. (Those are the cool treats you get your dad is an architect!) First there was blind and absolute belief in a supernatural power (i.e. St. Nick himself) and eventually came the knowledge that my parents were responsible. But I don't think it went from one to the other abruptly; rather, it shifted over a year or two. And in those years, when I no longer took the magic for granted, nor had a real and rational answer, that's when the whole affair was suspended in the most delicious air of mystery, and that's the feeling I most associate with that holiday.

St. Nick's day this year was just as mysterious and every bit as magical!

Not only did we dance, but we did so in an amazing location: Tablao Flamenco. I've posted pictures, but they're really bad. So sorry! I will invest in a small camera one of these days, but for now it's just my cell phone.

This intricately adorned building used to be a restaurant and flamenco performance venue. Then, suddenly, about 15 years ago, it shut down. Its beguiling facade -- of several gigantic dancers in bas-relief, stretching their arms up to the highway overpass -- was preserved, a stucco chrysalis, a mystery that resurfaced every time I drove past the building on the highway.

For years I'd wondered what happened. No one dared buy it, or sell it, or tear it down. I wondered if it wasn't a success; maybe the prices had to be too high to cover the construction costs, or its location (visible but not obviously accessible) meant the loss of valuable foot traffic, or people simply didn't appreciate Spanish culture? All tragic options.

This tango society somehow had the keys to this place, even though there was still a For Sale sign outside. And inside, 'twas truly gorgeous! Seemed unchanged, actually. So strange.

I told Mr. A about the building's history, and he also got curious about the owner.

"Do you think he ever comes in the building when no one is around?" he asked.

"I do."

"And how do you think he feels?"

"He cries," I speculated. "I think wonders why he couldn't make it work. It was his dream. He poured every waking minute, every penny, into these decorations, hoping to make this the heart of Iberian culture in Southern California, and still, people didn't come. Maybe he's here now, dancing, and no one even knows him."

Before we left, one of the tango dudes approached us to say hi. He works for the society, so I had a chance to get some answers.

"How did you get a hold of this place? Isn't it for sale?"

"We bought it. We're about to redo everything -- get a liquor license, fix the bar, add food. In a few months."

"That's amazing! And what about the old owner? Do you know why he had to sell?"

"He's crazy. Old guy. He just closed the doors one day. The place was doing great, and he just shut it down."


He told us about upcoming events and I gave him my email.

Gained: Tango con mi tanguero. And, satisfied an old curiosity!
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