Friday, February 4, 2011

Questions of Divinity

This morning I´m filled with that slightly bleary tranquility that at times greets you after an extensive night of imbibing. Wednesday isn´t usually the day I would choose for a night on the town, but when someone suggests an excursion to La Mesa, it´s unwise to defer. Yes, this steamy little cave of a bar is a Cuencan institution--the perfect battleground for the classic struggle of man vs. inhibition. ¨The Table¨is where locals and extranjeros alike come to sweat profusely, ideally in unison, to the rhythm of salsa.

What this joint lacks in ventilation, it easily makes up in aguardiente-augmented enthusiam. Ever the frugal traveler, I stopped by an aguardiente fueling station prior to heading out, so as to arrive at La Mesa with a head start on my social lubrication. I was blessed with the company of a highly diverse, rambunctious bunch of revelers, a motley crew comprised of locals, yanks, Europeans, and an Australian or two. Included in the bunch was a little Ecuadorian firecracker named Isabel, who got me out on the floor almost immediately--a much appreciated push in the right direction--because while these hips aren´t prone to lying, they can be a little hesitant at times. And so the intoxication began, with everyone partaking in the same potent cocktail, a delightful mixture of adrenaline, endorphins, booze, and that indefinable joy that comes from partner dancing.

Each partner is another gift. Isabel´s combination of backleading, following, and freestyle pushed me to innovate and allowed me to settle more comfortably into the salsa rhythm that has so often confounded me. Dana and I discovered a form of swing-style salsa (I wonder if I can market this?) that suited us just fine. Cassie gave me the chance to practice straight-ahead salsa, and practice my beginner level moves.

La Mesa is not a place where people come to huddle around tables and bottles, biding their time. Quite the opposite--people come to dance, it´s that simple. After a few dances, the floor had become increasingly packed, the air thickened with smoke and heat. In the cool outer hallway, I contemplated making my escape, but as luck would have it, I was trapped, attached to the bill of a friend. I wandered back and forth for a bit, shaking off the mild claustrophobic discouragement, and eventually mustered the will to make another incursion. Passing through the small seating area, I hear ¨Disculpe, eres el hijo de dios?¨ (Excuse me, are you the son of God?). It turns out that years of intense catholic imagery has emblazoned the visage of a white, long-haired, bearded savior onto the collective consciousness of Ecuador. Setting aside the bizarre, complex issues this brings up, it seems to be a pretty good gimmick for me. My knee jerk response to this question was to let my hair down with a bit of a flourish, effectively giving the people what they wanted: a caricature to gawk at. We all had a good laugh, and my response proved to be an excellent one, as suddenly I found myself back on the dance floor with a friend of the curious fellow, a beautiful girl from Cali, Colombia who really knew how to move. I had certainly noticed her before, but wouldn´t have had the guts to ask her to dance if her friend hadn´t asked me if I was Jesus. How bout that. She is a special kind of dancer, with a receptive follow, who had no expectations of flamboyant turns and tricks, but simply enjoyed the way I moved and joyfully, gracefully responded in turn. Soon the bar was clearing out, and I , left with a phone number and the promise of another dance, was riding high.

And what have we learned from this night? For one, don´t leave early--a fascinating concept that is applicable to many aspects of life. And of course, what is always clear in hindsight: Fear is the ultimate paralyzer, and if we´re afraid of failure or rejection, nothing will ever happen. So gentlemen, ask her to dance. (And ladies, say yes!)