The Heart of the Matter

A RoseFebruary 14th, 2006–10, I was living in Buenos Aires, dancing tango every day. I knew that on Valentine’s Day none of my beloved tango partners would make any gesture of recognition of our love—even if it was platonic. But, don’t cry for me, I told my North American friends. Come July, in the tango dance halls that I frequented all over that Paris of the south, I was guaranteed fresh roses. OK, so they came from men who were wise enough to hand out roses to the six or so other women with whom I shared their dance skills. Hey, if I wanted better male odds, I’d’ve moved to Alaska. I suggest we North Americans take a page out of our South American friends’ book and recognize the semi-official Friends Day, or Dia del Amigo, celebrated on July 20 (their winter) in Argentina. There was nothing like that moment in the dance hall when the men rose en masse, crossed the dance floor, and delivered their flowers to us women, all of us glancing sideways to see who was in whose “harem.” In Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, the most sensual dance on earth, you would expect Valentine’s Day to offer a major opportunity for commercial exploitation of eros. But the holiday, which comes during the heat of summer in the southern hemisphere, is barely given a nod. Argentine friends explained to me, this is to spare those without a spouse or lover the pain of feeling left out. Such sensitivity toward their fellow citizens came as no surprise to me. Argentines have collectively suffered under brutal military dictatorships, through a Dirty War whose culprits are still being brought to justice, and from a financial crisis that bankrupted and punished the best of citizens. Maybe what doesn’t kill you, makes you more compassionate.

The country has enjoyed democracy only since 1983 and I love that the people unanimously instituted a more democratic substitute for Valentine’s Day. Argentines, who routinely hug where we handshake, save their cuddly and heartfelt recognition of love in all its forms—not just romantic but familial, platonic, and friendly—for Dia del Amigo. Then, the commercial pressure to celebrate reaches critical mass with flurries of cards, gifts, phone calls, emails, text messages, candies, and flowers. In 2005, the numerous electronic remembrances sent to old and new friends and lovers crashed mobile phone networks in Buenos Aires.

I don’t know what you are doing this Valentine’s Day—maybe enjoying your bouquets of red roses and boxes of dark chocolates. I’m going tango dancing. Even if the men in this country don’t hand out flowers, I can still enjoy the sweet memory of the Argentines, the roses they bestowed upon me, and best of all the way our hearts beat as one when we danced torso to torso. Isn’t that the heart of the matter?