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the argentine art of flirting
A young American learns to stop resisting and love the piropo.

Editor's note: Each Friday Salon Travel's Wanderlust presents a reader's tale of romance on the road. Be it a romance requited or un-, with an old love or a new lust, send your tales of amorous adventure to Wanderlust. We'll share a selection of them here.

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By Kaitlin Quistgaard

May 7, 1999 |Amid the pale purple jacaranda of Plaza San Martín, I fell into one of those impossibly long stares that strangers engage in here. I had been in Buenos Aires a week and my inner Argentine, developed during a previous four-year love-hate battle with the place -- a battle that had ended with my return to the States two years before -- was on an unprecedented high. Pheromones were no doubt wafting up from the crowd of park-bench lovers and the full-bodied Italianate Spanish was infusing my thoughts as the night jasmine perfumed the city streets.

So I playfully clung to his silvery gray eyes. We didn't trade smiles or winks, but my chest tingled with a soundless giggle. It was good to be back on the teasingly sensual Argentine streets.

Discover more about Argentina at bn.com

But that night, as the wooden plates were being cleared from a gluttonous asado in which we'd sampled every cut of beef that could be barbecued, my friend Peter challenged the longevity of such public sensuality. I didn't hear what prompted the thought, but his words rang out across the raucous dinner party: "They don't say as many piropos these days."

A piropo is the most simpatico of flirtations -- a kind of street poetry that a man whispers just when he's close enough to look a woman in the eye. Traditionalists might memorize a rhyme popularized decades ago, like "Adiós florecita de arroz, mañana voy a casarme con vos." (Goodbye little rice flower, tomorrow I will marry you.) But even a mundane "¡Qué piernas!" (What legs!), when delivered by a bewitching flatterer, is pure excitement -- a moment of unexpected intimacy with a stranger -- and then, before your cheeks have fully flushed, he's gone.

I had come to think of the piropo as the Latin-lover cousin of the white trash catcall. In the American version, a construction worker, towering above the world on a scaffold, whistles at a bouncy giglet on the sidewalk below, drawing upon her the cruelest attention. But the piropo is subtle -- with refined machismo, it replaces public humiliation with a private fantasy of romance. At most, a person walking beside you might hear, but often no one, not even the mystery man, looks to see your response. The compliment arrives quietly, like an anonymous gift.

I was horrified to think the tradition might be dying.

 Next page | "If I had known you were so beautiful, I would have agreed to the interview ages ago"


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