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The Fandango

by Ron Simmonds

 Last summer we went for a week’s holiday in Tenerife, first time for twenty years. Second honeymoon, we said. This is where it all happened.

The place hadn’t changed too much. We poked about the shops, admired the new promenade with all the swimming pools, looked at the old haunts. On our last evening we visited the Banana Beach, just for the sake of old times. It was still in the same place, way out of town and difficult to reach. We went by taxi, the long way around, with the taxi having to stop and back right to the edge of the precipice every time we met another car. It was late and the beach was deserted. The restaurant was still open and we ate fish and watched the sunset. Reminded me a bit of Shirley Valentine. Not quite as romantic as last time, but there’s something about visiting old places that always gets me deep down inside. After the meal we walked back to the town, but now we trudged where we had skipped gaily all those years before, and the long climb at sundown, through the barranca, up and along the banana plantations and over the cliffs to civilisation took longer than we’d expected.

I’d forgotten about sundown. In those latitudes it happens without warning, and we’d only gone about halfway when WOOMP! Down it went. There was no moon. This is it, I thought. Somewhere along here they’ve built a dirty great wall right across the canyon and we’re stuck for the night. We stumbled on, clutched hands and blamed one another, but there was no wall, and we emerged gratefully in a lighted street right beside our honeymoon hotel.

The small, once bustling place overlooking the sea was now dirty, dark, and abandoned. What looked like a large tree grew out of the bottom of the empty pool. Right underneath, where no one had ever dreamed it possible, they had built a motorway over the rocks. The big hotel next door was still there, and we collapsed on to bar stools and ordered Marie Brizard.

Neither of us had tasted the stuff since the last time we were there, but it’s an ideal drink on a hot night in Puerta de la Cruz, if, indeed, nowhere else. You get a big glass filled to the brim with crushed ice over which your friendly bartender will pour generous measures of the sweet sticky stuff. You then fill your mouth with the ice and let it all melt slowly down your throat. Moaning, rolling the eyes, and gasping for breath are mandatory and the stuff makes you feel very strong and brave and romantic.

Altogether we drank eight each over a period of an hour and a half, during which time we watched a really professional bit of Flamenco, after which I danced.

I don’t say that lightly because I have never danced before in my life. People say ‘What? Can’t dance? Rubbish! Why, you’re a musician! You must be able to feel the rhythm!’

Yes, Madam, but you–all can’t. Shuffle, shuffle, step and shuffle you all go, regardless of what the band is playing.

Out on the tiny floor, scene of such violent energy only a few moments before, two old couples proceeded decorously, propping one another up like marathon dancers. Tango, rumba, waltz, it was all the same to them.

‘Come on,’ said my partner, eyes sparkling from her own enormous intake of the potently loaded crushed ice, ‘Let’s do it. Just once.’ It was a waltz. I reckoned I’d be OK on a waltz as long as I didn’t lift my feet and crush anyone’s tootsies.

We began to shuffle. The music emanated from a pile of junk over on the side presided over by what I imagined was supposed to be a musician. He didn’t have an awful lot of time for the keyboards because he seemed to be wrestling most of the time with a drum synthesizer, and losing badly. He didn’t have enough arms and legs to start them all off at the same time, so each number began with lots of mumbling and stuttering as the drum machine raced or slowed to the next tempo, rather like a ghastly set of electronic bagpipes warming up. At the end of each tune the song ended but the malady lingered on until he could shut the damn thing off again.

I seemed to be the only one noticing this. It was vastly different from the performance of a guy I used to know in the Galicia Bar near Benidorm who was a raving lunatic, but who could manage eight synthesizers all at the same time without missing a beat, while simultaneously shouting insults at the customers. Everybody loved that man.

Meanwhile, out on the dance floor, I had lost all my inhibitions. We began to branch out a little. Moving with careless abandon we casually cleared the floor with our very own versions of the Turdion, the Piť-de-gibao, and the Gibidana, flowing easily into the Fandango, with my partner twirling her fan most prettily while I waved my dango around all over the place. The Spanish locals sat all around the dance floor watching with their mouths open. They had never seen the like before, and weren’t likely to see it again, either.

Out there on centre stage I was completely in control, standing, apart from the odd imperative stamp of foot, absolutely motionless; around me the rustle of silks, the rapid tic-tac of the heels of my partner, her red lips gleaming over white teeth, dark eyes sparkling. I gave her directions a la Sevillana with small arrogant movements of a crooked index finger, a look of utter disdain on my dark handsome features as she swirled around me. It is easy for me to look arrogant. I have been told that I even look arrogant from the back.

Fired by this dazzling display another couple joined us, Germans I believe, and we went into a mad version of the Jaleo de Jerez, which was actually very difficult for the other guy because he had only one arm, and each time it came to the leap and swirl he missed my outstretched hand and fell over.

It was around this time that the organist, whom we had kept well supplied with all kinds of weird schnapps, began to intrude upon my subconscious. Unable to keep up with the drum machine in fast numbers he began to flounder, most noticeably in Tico–Tico where he did his own thing on the middle sixteen, which he managed in nineteen and a half bars of, what was for me, sheer terror, then went straight back into Managua, Nicaragua as if nothing had happened.

I shook my finger at him playfully. He gave me a cheerful grin and launched at once into a tango, with the drums following him several minutes later.

We were off, right across the floor, arms stiffly outstretched, then, with a spine-ripping jerk, we reversed, like Jack Lemmon and Joe E. Brown in Some Like it Hot. On the way back we swept the shuffling old couple right off the floor. They were still finishing the waltz they’d started half an hour ago. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the German being carried out. We danced on.

Two buckets of crushed ice later I realised, through the fumes, that apart from the first few bars, the organist didn’t really know any of the tunes he was playing at all. He mixed verse, chorus, and release with gay abandon. If he had been doing it on purpose he could have done no better. Never mind the chords, he went ad lib on every melody almost at once, an astounding performance. No one noticed.

Suddenly, as if a master switch had been thrown, he stopped dead. When I looked there was no trace of him or his infernal machine anywhere in the place. He had been tossed out into the street. The bartender said that there was no more crushed ice, showed us the empty Marie Brizard bottles and threw us out into the street, too. It was time to go.

Our taxi driver turned out to be a clone of the late, great Juan Manuel Fangio. He drove us back to the hotel muy rapidamente, dicing along the cliff roads, roaring over stop signs, and cornering with a vengeance, while carelessly lighting cigarettes with one hand and showing us pictures of his wife and children with the other. It had been a marvellous evening.

Our neighbour picked us up at the airport. ‘So? How was it?’

‘Oh, very quiet. Very quiet indeed,’ we said.

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved