- How much have you got?
- mmm... 2 euro
- What? That's great, the four of us and we can't even put together enough money for a pizza.
The concert of The Wailers had just finished and we were waiting the slowly spill out of people from the Giardino Scotto. Stands of ethnic clothes and smoking equipments fenced the way out. The now-lonely bar was closing with a huge profit. The beers had been outrageously expensive and had dissolved all our money. The hot night and the dancing called for more beers but the maximum we could have hoped for was a couple of 'Moretti'. 66cc. A classic. The cheapest.
Pisa, summer 2004. An expedition from Florence to attend the concert of the band that had played with Bob Marley. The next day we were to go back to our studies, preparing for the developmental economics exam of late July.
- Well guys - said Spazio with his strong Sicilian accent - I know a place about 10 minutes from here. If it's open we should be able to get a drink and may be some nice music.
He knew the city better than us as he had began a course here before moving to Florence University. The suggested place was called 'Agorá' and was linked with ARCI, a cultural association that included a vast network of theatres, music halls and other generic social venues. ARCI had long represented the creative soul of the once-called Communist Party, and Tuscany was particularly rich of ARCI places, as the region had been governed by the left ever since the end of World War II. However, most of the newly-opened ARCI bars held nothing of the communist iconography, and were just alcohol-spilling venues that took advantage of the State' support to culture. Nevertheless, we were to discover that the Agorá maintained and old touch, hosting a number of courses and art workshops that made it stand firmly in the city's creative vein.
We walked through the little streets that characterize the centre, in which tarmac had yet to substitute the hundreds years-old paving stones. Cars and litter often obstructed the footpath. Many buildings carried signs explaining that between 200 and 400 years ago a certain painter or architect or poet was born in that house, though most of the signs were barely readable. The view opened up when we crossed the Arno river, which also allowed a little breeze to run though the city. It was a quite night and the almost-full moon could be seen just above the mountains that surrounded the north of Pisa.
We arrived at the club at little past-midnight, which was quite late for a Thursday. A simple sign, with the word 'Agorá' printed in red over black background, was on the left of the open door. It gave access to a little hallway whose walls were covered with posters advertising live music and other cultural activities. We stopped a couple of minutes checking out what was on offer and evaluating the possibility to pay another visit to Pisa in the next days. Most of the advertised events were to be hosted in three venues that were well known outside city-limits, but where only one of us had previously been.
At the end of the hallway, a little door guarded a large room, about 10x15 meters in size, that hosted the bar and few tables, which had been moved to the side to allow dancing to take place. The illumination was very low, with only 5 small spotlights pointing at the shelves holding the liquors. About 10 couples were dancing holding each other tight, and another 6 or 7 persons in their 40s were sitting at the bar desk.
Initially, I felt like invading someone else's privacy by entering in the room. It was like attending a wedding, or a funeral, of people I did not know. There was a sort of energy in the air, something that connected the audience in a unique emotional state. The reggae music that still beat in our ears made me feel out of place, and it took more than a few seconds to adapt to the new environment. The music was full of passion, played slowly but energetically, clearly lacking the 2 instruments that give the tempo to most modern musics: drum and bass. The sound that came from the speakers was sad and joyful at the same time, bringing back emotions related to past lovers and looks full of hidden meanings. It was warm and carried a somehow universal note. It could have been conceived for a secret encounter behind the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or played in the Gypsy barrios of Seville, most likely filling the smoky rooms of Latin American bars.
The dancers seemed to be carried by a magical force. Their movements were coordinated but yet free of a clearly defined structure. Men and women floated around the dance floor, celebrating the impossibility of rejoicing while embracing each other. A paradox that maintained a constant tension between the dancers and kept them moving into new emotional territories. Mixed feeling were springing from my stomach: desires of crying, hugging, making love, celebrating loneliness, dancing to life and tossing to death.
We stayed like this, standing at the entrance, enchanted, with our mouths open, for at least 5 minutes. The spell broke when my eyes met the grin of the barman. I made my way to the desk and asked - what is this?
- This is tango - he replied while serving a whiskey to an elegantly dressed man sitting in front of him.
Tristano from Italy