Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tango Bea

The Tanz of Tante Bashkee* IV

Bashkee was my grandmother’s youngest sister. She was born in 1920, the year England established a Jewish state in Palestine and the year America stopped drinking. In 1937 she went off to Paris (much to the astonishment and horror of her parents who wanted nothing to do with Europe ever again.) She studied dance and fell in love with Späss Ingersol, a young German musician. She met him at a musical tribute to the late Carlos Gardel. After Gardel died in ‘35, his music became legendary. Späss played the bandoneón and introduced Bashkee to the music and dance of the Tango. In the spring of 1939, Späss’s father called him home to Berlin. Späss’s father sent him to a Hitler youth meeting. When Späss returned home he found an SS uniform sitting on the bench where his bandoneón had been. Späss’s father actually secured a very high rank for his son. In 1940, when Germany occupied France, Späss insisted that Bashkee return home to Miami. She returned home and waited.

In 1945 she heard rumors that Späss had been killed when the Allies bombed Koln. This was when she learned the pain of the Tango. Refusing to be led by any other man, she forced her Macho suitors to teach her the lead. She began to teach the tango as well as other Latin dances to women and young boys in the dance halls of the growing Spanish communities in downtown Miami.

In the 1950’s my family took constant trips to Havana for pleasure. It was on one of those trips that Bashkee was reunited with Späss. It was in the spring of 1959. The year I was conceived. Bashkee dragged my parents, who were newly wed, to an evening of tango celebrating the music of Osvaldo Pugliese. My father spent all day at the blackjack table. My mother finally dragged him away and they drank Cuba Libres and had sex in their hotel room. Afterwards my mother lay in bed smoking a cigarette and my father sat in a chair smoking a Cuban cigar before dressing for dinner and the show.

I was beginning to germinate in my mother’s belly when Bashkee looked up and noticed the bandoneón player. It was Spâss. He had been living in Buenos Aires since 1946. He had falsified papers and was living under the assumed name of Paulo Ferrer. In those years, the Porteños, still solely possessed the tango. No one thought to thoroughly question the origins of a traveling bandoneón player. It was assumed he was born and bred in Buenos Aires. My parents checked out of their hotel room a week later leaving Bashkee behind. She returned to the bosom of her family with Paulo in tow before the year was out. Castro was about to overthrow Batista, and Bashkee and Paulo were in the mood to make love not war.

They lived in my great grandmother’s house. I remember their small room in the back. There was an ersatz marble mantle above their bed and on it rested Paulo’s bandoneón and the little gold cage where Bashkee’s jeweled beetle lived when it wasn’t blessed enough to abide next to her heart. Under the bed was an old crate from Europe. Bashkee told me it was where she and Paulo kept their treasures. I used to love to crawl under the bed and run my fingers along the old wood grooves and try to imagine what lay between the slats. There were stamps all along the panels of the wood. Names of different cities or countries embossed onto the wood. Der Schweiz, Paris, Buenos Aires, Bolivia, Caracas, Venezuela, and Havana, Cuba - those are the names I remember.

My great grandmother, Rose; also known as the Jewish Viennese Princess, was told that Paulo was from Austria, and of course that made everything all right. Everything, but two SMALL facts: Number one they weren’t married. Number two he wasn’t Jewish. The fights ensued for two years, with Bube Rose insisting that no daughter of hers would live out of wedlock in her house especially with a Shagitz.* Viennese or not! In May of 63, Bube Rose committed the ultimate act of instilling guilt in one’s children. She had a heart attack. In June of that same year, Paulo had a kosher conversion and he and Bashkee were married. She was 43. I was three years old. I was the flower girl at their wedding.

The wedding reception took place in a Cuban nightclub on Calle Ocho. Paulo played the bandoneón there on the weekends and Bashkee taught the tango. All of their friends danced the tango. I remember sitting on the floor and watching all the feet move. A sound, like the hissing of snakes rose from the dance floor. Looking up, chests leading and following, magnetic chests and one chest with a shimmering beetle, its jewels catching the light. Just then Bashkee and Paulo danced by and I was swept up into their arms. She held me against her breast between the circle of energy vibrating between she and Paulo. I looked up at Bashkee, and saw that her eyes were closed. I felt Paulo’s breath on the back of my neck. I felt his chest press tight against my back. I inhaled the smell of his spiced cologne mingling with the scent of her floral perfume. I smiled and rubbed my finger against the jeweled back of the beetle. I pressed my face into Bashkee’s cleavage and the beetle crawled right up against my ear.
Cierra los ojos. Close your eyes. Bailar. Dance.” The beetle whispered. Smiling, I closed my eyes. No one in my family got this religion of Bashkee’s. I did. On June 13th, 1963, I got it. I was lifted into a movement of the body making love to the soul. I was held in a movement of the soul in rapture over the body. I was witness to a movement of two souls and two bodies uniting with grace and eloquence; mingling a passion both tender and turbulent; entwining sorrow and jubilation - all in a magnificent effort to greet the Divine...

to be continued...

*male version of a shiksa

excerpt 4 The Dance of Aunt Baskee
from Spinoza's Daughter by Lexa Roséan © 2007

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1 comment:

Jai said...

Lexa, this story is absolutely fascinating. If I didn't know you personally and believe that it's true, I would easily have taken it for a treatment of a movie script.