By sir Taki Theodoracopulos
Once upon a time the word tropical evoked images of slinky-dressed maidens with hips that had more centrifugal force than a Louisiana twister during hurricane season. Un pais tropical, says the Brazilian song, and everyone starts to conga. You know what I mean, dark sweaty bodies, bare feet, sexy movements, come hither smiles, dark skins, sexy music, lots of drums, lots of bananas on top of women’s heads, and sex, and then more sex, and finally more sex, that’s what tropical used to mean. At least to this old timer.
Now I’m told we live in more serious times, and tropical climate has reached up north because of climate change, so get rid of your Mercedeses, stop flying private and buy only sailing boats. So the song has to be changed from Un pais tropical, to Un mundo tropical, but it’s not the same, is it? I like to see half naked Brazilian women gyrating at dawn on the Copacabana beach, but I am not so sure that Eskimo women in bikinis doing a tribal dance near Anchorage would turn me on as much.
Never mind. Tropical still makes the blood boil, especially when drinking drinks that go with the tropics, like Cuba Libre and frozen daiquiris and rum collins a-la-Papa Hemingway. When I was a very young boy I watched a film starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. To this day I have never seen anything so graceful. She plays a South American heiress, he plays an American producer- dancer. Rita, who was a Mexican-American, lifts her skirts up to show the most beautiful pair of gams since Betty Grable’s, and she moves like a dream. Next to her, Astaire is the most elegant man who has ever moved to a syncopated beat. Fred’s trick, of course, was that all movement took place from the waist down. Watch anyone who is great on the dance floor and you will not see upper body moves. Fred was, of course, the greatest of all time and I shall never forget the first time I saw him and the divine Rita ethereally moving to a rhumba beat. The only woman who came close to Rita was of Greek descent, Syd Charisse, and she, of course was a worthy dance partner of Astaire’s much later on.
Yep, tropical, Rita, Astaire, Rhumba, Samba, youth, it’s all up here on my mind and it will never go away. And then, when older, I went down to tropical, and saw for myself. It was worth it. By day the place was full of deep rich colors, and despite the long hot summers the grass was surprisingly dark and lush and green. Orange, purple and red flowers grew everywhere and provided a sweet smell in contrast to the petrol-induced smoggy haze that hung all over. Trolley-trams rattled over the rails, ringing their high-pitched bells. Speeding taxis screeched as they crossed and recrossed the tram rails that had warped in the heat. And everywhere there was music, music that reached from the heart to the you- know-what. River mists and fogs often rolled in at night giving a distinctly film noir atmosphere. I was hooked. And then there was the wife of a most famous jazz pianist, an American Indian who asked me to teach her tennis. This was 63 years ago and I learned a hell of a lot, and it was all due to tropical.