Money or paper?

Paper flower Carlos sat in a Milonga with us on Friday night making a flower for my English friend. It is a beautiful process to watch. First he selects the perfect paper from the multi-coloured Milonga ‘flyers’ strewn on the table: the right size; the right weight; a pretty colour. Then he starts to flex the paper in his fingers, to fold it, to tear it and eventually to mould it and join it again into what turns out to be a delicately-petalled bloom on a slim but strong stem. As he worked I noticed a famous and much loved milonguera watching from the next table. She was fascinated and smiling. Her warm hearted partner was as usual greeting and laughing with everyone who passed by, but her eyes were fixed on the emerging flower. I couldn’t help myself and I said to her in Spanish, ‘He is making it for you.’ Her smile widened, and as he completed the tiny masterpiece and handed it to her, she beamed with delight. She came over to us and hugged him, hugged me, hugged my friends. She placed the flower in her dress, and then spent the evening proudly showing it off, even taking troubles to protect it from her partner’s tango embrace as they danced. Her partner joked and laughed with us, over the flower. We all smiled at their obvious delight in it, and were filled with joy ourselves. I joked that when they got home, he would be dissecting it to work out how it was made: it was clearly a tiny creation that could win hearts and spread delight. And it cost nothing.

I have found that as my friends have visited from England, I have been confronted by the differential between my old lifestyle and my new one: the money side of life that is. It’s been an interesting experience for me. These days because I am calm, because my life is simple, I find that I notice everything that has an impact on my thinking. There is no background noise to cover up changes to my peace of mind. When something affects me I notice it straight away, I can usually work out what it is pretty fast and I can therefore try to change my thinking to adjust, or learn something about myself. So my latest little mental struggle has been over the subject of money.

Now, I am going to say right away that my friends have been incredibly sensitive to my financial situation and also are wonderfully generous people. They have made sure that I have not had to spend more money because of their presence. They have treated me more times than I care to mention: they have taken care that I have not had to feel uncomfortable. But what I have noticed is, that unexpectedly for both Carlos and me, ‘money thinking’ has popped up. For me, just seeing the lovely clothes and accessories that my friends have bought, has reminded me that such things exist. For example, my ‘dream dancer of Hampshire’ bought a gorgeous leather satchel in a Galeria in Florida street. It was a perfect choice for him and I was delighted that he had found exactly what he was looking for. But afterwards I found myself thinking how lovely it would be to buy one for Carlos. Later I found myself telling him how much I would love to buy such a thing for him ‘one day’. The next day I didn’t go with my friends on their shopping trip, because I didn’t like what seeing things that I had forgotten about, was doing to my head. Carlos noticed that I didn’t go. Last night he was telling me how he wished he could buy me beautiful things, that he felt low because he couldn’t. For months we had not thought like this: we have been content to make and receive paper flowers.

When I think back over my life, I have had substantial periods of time when I have not had to worry about money. I have never been rich, but I have had enough not to have had to think too hard about high street shopping: new shoes, a new bag, a new coat. When I have been on holiday I too have taken advantage of the cheap prices, gone home with a few bargains… it’s totally normal behaviour for an English person in employment who is on vacation. But now I am not employed and not on vacation, and I live differently. And it is ok. In the past months I have learned that when my life was not happy, no amount of money, no quantity of new items made it so.  The money I spent, and the things I collected perhaps made my head feel temporarily better, but they never could scratch the surface of healing my sad heart. I do know of course that I would not be here if I hadn’t had the money to travel to Argentina. A certain amount of money has been essential in getting me to this place at this point in time, and I am so grateful that I had enough for that. But now that I am here, I have to live a simpler life if I want to stay long term.

Last night Carlos and me lay side by side, holding hands, having our conversation about money. On our wrists were the bracelets we bought for each other at Feria de Mataderos on Sunday for $2 pesos each: thin leather bands with our names stamped on them: CARLOS on mine, SALLY on his… We reminded ourselves of how no amount of money can buy the things that we love the most: dancing the Chacarera together in the street, the tangos packed with emotion, the kisses on the bus, having each other at all. A few days ago Carlos could have died. Alone in a cafe, eating a lomo sandwich for his lunch, a piece of beef stuck in his throat and he could not dislodge it, nor could he breathe. He told me later that he actually thought it was the end. Fortunately a fellow diner observed his distress and came and hit him on the back. The meat was freed, he breathed once more, and he came home safely.

As we lay in the dark yesterday we talked through our thoughts. I told him that money had never managed to heal my heart. We reminded ourselves of what matters and of what does not.  We remembered that to hold each other at night, to see each other when we wake in the morning, to welcome each other at the end of the day are priceless gifts of love and life and we have them. Today when I woke, my eyes landed on my own paper flowers, each one holding a perfect memory in its petals, and I knew that I have what I have journeyed for all my life. My sad heart is healed, and the things that have helped to mend it, I could never have bought, even with all the money in the world.


13 Responses

  1. Sally, I hear you. I am in the same situation.
    You have a really positive attitude, good for you.
    I have to say that it doesn’t get easier–and it can
    get old.

    I’ve lived here 4 years, and the fear never leaves me
    that my rent will go up so much I’ll have to move.

    And I lust after the imported products at Jumbo that
    I can’t afford to buy.

    Dance theater tickets have gone up so high that I can’t
    go very often and have to sit in the back.

    But like you, I’ve found love here (Ruben and I have
    been together 3 years now).

    I really can’t say that my friends have treated me, but my level of expectation is now lower.

    For me the hardest part is that in all this time I haven’t
    been able to travel in Argentina (except 5 days in Cordoba,
    and 4 in Mar del Plata). I so want to see Iguazu, Calafate,
    Mendoza, Salta, etc. etc. And I would so love to be able to
    home to L.A. more often than once a year for a visit.

    But otherwise life is good. And now we are SO busy with
    teaching, tango tours, performing, that there is hope of
    more in the future–at least to keep up with inflation!!

    Keep the faith, girl! I hope to meet you one of these days!

    Besos y Saludos!

  2. Paper flower+$2 peso bracelets+love of two people= simple life. Simple is beautiful.

  3. Sally…one of your best posts.

  4. That made me cry. Thanks for reminding me of what truly matters:)

  5. Dear Sallycat,

    Every time I read one of your posts, I think “wow, this post is the best one she’s written yet.” And then you go off and write something even more touching and amazing. Not that you are in competition with yourself, but this post in particular is so beautifully written and moving.

    What you say here is such a wake-up call to those of us sleeping through life in wealthier countries. Many of us may be able to buy whatever we want but many times, it’s just a way of compensating for the areas in our lives that are unfulfilled (they don’t call it retail therapy for nothing).

    I am thankful every day for tango and what gifts it has bestowed on me in my life. For many years now, I have been in careers where I work exclusively with/for extremely wealthy people, people whose incomes are incomprehensively large. And almost without exception, these people (men and women) are some of the most neurotic and unhappy individuals imaginable. Their money has served as a type of imprisonment, and from the outside looking in, it’s a life you wouldn’t want.

    I think about these people and wonder would they would give to experience the love and passion that you and Carlos share? I wish you more and more of what you have already and thank you for continuing to brighten the days of many others in the process.

  6. Cherie, your response means alot to me. I know that you understand because you are here, and you have been here for a while. All the things you mention, well I think about them too. And with time perhaps I will find some of them more difficult than others: the cost of travel I know is going to be a toughie.

    Still, then there’s always the possibilty of buying an ancient moped and letting Carlos drive me off on it into the distant regions of Argentina with nothing but the clothes we are wearing, all the money we have left and a mate, yerba and flask of hot water… I am such a hopeless adventurer it’s the sort of thing I can see myself doing one day. And the lovely thing is that I think he would do it too!

    I am so happy for you that you have found Ruben and that life is good. Yes we will meet one day soon I know, and I will have a big hug for you. SC

  7. TP, this indeed is the truth.

    Tangospeak, thank you.

    Christine, it is lovely that you tell me how the post touched you. Your comment in return, touched me.


  8. Tangobaby,

    Sometimes after I write a post that people have liked, or commented on, or shown interest in, I can wonder whatever I will write next. I try to let that feeling go and wait for the next little struggle, joy, or indeed any kind of raw emotion to pop up. Eventually I have something that I need to say. Often after I have posted I get a mild panic that maybe it was a mistake to tackle a particular subject, or that maybe I have revealed too much of one of my less loving sides…

    In the end though I just try to keep it real. It is a dream of mine that through my experiences, others may be inspired to follow their dreams, or that some who are trying and who face the same struggles as I do, know that they are not alone. And truly it has been a surprise beyond my imagining that people all over the world find something useful, or beautiful in my words. To be able to connect with others, like you, who I have never even met is in itself making my dream come true. I know that somedays what I have to say may not be that stunning, or that insightful, but I can promise you that I will always keep it real.

    With regard to what you say, for years I lived in what I think of as my ‘golden cage’. On the face of it I had everything, but I was dying inside. Now in material terms I have far less, yet I feel alive. The journey from A to B has been complex, but there is no doubt that tango has been central to my story: it re-awakened my passion for life, brought me to Argentina, put me in Carlos’ arms before we had spoken more than a few words…

    And so it is Tangobaby, you and I too, are joined in tango.
    Keep reading my friend, and I will keep writing.


  9. I agree whole heartedly with eveyones comments – there is no need for me to repeat them all here.

    Your last two posts made me cry all over my laptop, Sally.

  10. Dear Sallycat,

    I put this quote on my Thanksgiving post but I just realized it sounded like exactly like you (because you live it every day):

    We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

    Someday I will come back to BA and I will see you and Carlos dance together, and hope that Carlos will make me a little flower as a remembrance.

    your devoted reader,


  11. Dear Sally,
    What a great writing, right in time for the holiday season.
    You are absolutely right. There are things that money can’t buy. And those are the most important, and sought after.
    You made me realize once more how rich and privileged I really am in my life. And I feel even more so after reading your essay. Thank you for being so generous.

  12. Charlotte, Shaun has just left for the airport and so is bringing the spirit of Buenos Aires back to Southampton. I have put hugs in his suitcase for all of you!

    Tangobaby, yes you will, and yes he will… x

    Frances, Thank you.


  13. Those abrazos will be lovingly recieved! And here are some besos to say thank you! xxxxxx

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