The diary format of Marina Palmer’s book, Kiss & Tango: Diary of a Dancehall Seductress, was a great vessel to capture Buenos Aires: informal, personal and usually unexpected. I thought this narrative structure worked with the story she was trying to tell and captured the essence of Buenos Aires with these daily penning down of thoughts and events. However, there were moments where I wished she had gone deeper into what living in the city was like, pre-economic crisis, rather than just going on about how all Argentine men are liars with girlfriends or wives.
Palmer successfully captured the raw passion of the city and how it has the uncanny ability to make someone feel alive and happy like never before through her love of Tango. As she describes after her first tango lesson, “Something was happening to me. Something I can’t really explain. I felt myself lifted up into a cloud. I was at one with myself and everything around me. It was a moment of pure happiness. Happiness as I’ve never felt before” (19). Her observations and descriptions of the the dance and charting her progression from novice to relatively skilful mirrors the her process of adapting to Buenos Aires and learning to live in this new city. However, as a reader and someone who has also lived in Buenos Aires, I felt let down by her treatment of the economic crisis in the last few pages of the book. Her treatment of this part of crucial Buenos Aires events is my biggest problem with the book. Living on Calle Florida, she was at the center of the social turmoil when the economy started crashing and she described those events with the skill she has proven to have previously.
The euphoria had turned into anger. On my way back up Avenue de Mayo, I noticed young men wearing black masks… They had bits of street in their hands, stones and other missiles, and they were looking for targets. It I was lucky, I wouldn’t get between them and their targets. I saw some people trying to contain the situation, shouting, “Don’t run!,” while others were looking to start fights. I saw a girl physically restrain her boyfriend from getting into one. He ended up hitting her instead. Tempers were flaring. It was getting ugly. (294)
However, one of her first thoughts after witnessing this is, “Did I have the words “My Dad Is a Banker” painted on my forehead, or was I imagining it?” (297). Of course, in a crisis like the one she lived through, everyone is concerned for their own safety and wellbeing. However, I suppose after 290 pages or so of her proclaiming her love for the city, I thought she would show more compassion when it began to fall apart. Even when she escapes to the campo (countryside) with her and her rich friends, she’s preoccupied with some guy named Santiago (whose biggest flaw is that he doesn’t dance the Tango) instead of the ruin the city is falling into. Yes, she acknowledges that “it’s the middle class who is worst hit” but then follows up by saying “luckily, I don’t know too many of those” (311). Despite living in Buenos Aires for a solid 5 years, I got the sense that she was still very much the tourist stopping by, looking for a hook up and maybe a few good parties. Unfortunately, I know too many of those; and reading a whole book from the perspective of one was not very fun. She came, she danced, she dated (kind of), and when the going got tough, she left. I don’t think she fell in love with the city, I think she fell in love with her own Latin American dream.