El Tema Es.. As in tango, so in life

Milongas in Argentina go smoothly because the experienced tangueros know how to behave. However lacking in milonga etiquette are the dancers around them, however clumsy one’s partner, they stay smooth and unfazed. The best take obstructions (always people), working them into dances of humour and grace. I’ve even seen them work together in unspoken collaboration work together to herd dodgy dancers off the floor. As in tango, so in life. And life runs on words.

4 pairs of dancers, men behind women are posing as if dancing a particularly flashy type of tango. Women are looking down towards left outstretched leg (with right legs bent) and the men are probably holding them up, because there's no way they women have much purchas with just one very high heel touching the stage.
La Cumparsita performed at Hotel Faena (c) Martin Bonetto

The word “tema” means theme or motif. It’s used in music, academia and art. People with a ‘tema para un rato’ have a lot to discuss and “temas verdes” are environmental issues (don’t confuse green issues for green men of any stripe, I have a whole separate rant about them). At the start of my cycle tour through Argentina’s wineries, when ‘el tema es’ caught my attention, it conjoured artistic and cinematic themes, grand plans and beautiful images, a world of boundless possibilities.

I was so wrong…

Turns out that Argentine people are as likely to use ‘el tema es’ as a precursor to logical disputation as Putin is to call off the war with Ukraine and then say sorry.

el tema es… I don’t know know where the milonga is” – from the taxi man at midnight when I asked why we were going in circles

“el tema es… it’s not in our precinct’s jurisdiction” was from the police sergeant when; after a four hour interview, he wouldn’t give a crime number for my insurance claim.

“el tema es.. that the hotel that confirmed my room by fax last night hasn’t been built yet” from the local tourism representative after I had cycled to where the hotel should have been in driving horizontal rain.

“el tema es.. that yes, the men here are incredibly sexist, but that’s OK because we know how to be high maintenance/how to manipulate them/how to handle them” from so many milonguera acquaintances that I lost count.

“el tema es.. that I am using those words to give myself time to make something up” seemed to be the case when “I don’t know” would have been sufficient.

“el tema es…people use it when they’re trying to say something they know you’ll not like” from a Porteño friend when I asked if anyone used it in a positive way.

My cultural translator Ceci suggested it’s often the phrase people  who can’t argue properly use, when presenting their opinions as fact.

I learned to my cost, that if someone uses ‘el tema es’ the cock-up fairy was about to visit, that or a lot of wet brown stuff had already hit the devastatingly massive rotating blades or I was going to be told something I really didn’t like. My advice; to make life the smoothest dance you can, treat the phrase like a vampire would sunlight. Avoid it where possible and be graceful if you discover you can’t.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *