Tango Diary 2014 and past years
Tango Diaries 2014:
I haven’t even left Portland yet, but the anticipation begins. My Mother’s most recent email. I can’t wait to head out to meet up with them!
We are in the middle of nowhere having flown to Posadas and the driven for 6hours on sodden unmade roads to reach this lodge. At one point we had to be towed through the mud by a passing tractor! We hope that our return will be easier, but it bill be no less bumpy as the mud will have dried into ruts!
The Provincial Park, Ibera is amazing. We must have seen 50 – 60 alligators, many capybara, 6 howler monkeys, and deer as well as many birds.
The WiFi is intermittent and the water even less reliable. There is no plug in the wash basin or bath and the water in the bidet flows in through the overflow! However, the food is good and the beds are clean.
This is only increasing the consternation in terms of the number and variety of shoes I will have to bring. (tango, sneakers, hiking boots?) And I was requested to bring sleeping bag. I said no. I’ll buy a blanket while I am down there. I am not dragging a sleeping bag to South America unless its on the top of a ragamuffin backpack.
4/26 – 4/27 Palm fruits are falling on my head…
The arrival to Yacutinga Lodge has made every second of this exhausting 36 hours of travel completely worthwhile. I have just had a delicious supper of AmautaIII (Salta merlot/cab wine), beef and vegetables a la yerba mate. Every once in a while there is a thunk, plonk or crash of a palm fruits dropping either on a wooden roof above us or onto the jungle floor.
If you look up, the sky is awash with pin points of light between the tree fronds. Among the plentiful stars, you can see the Southern Cross, a smaller than I expected kite-shaped gathering of 4, and a tiny twinkling red eye of a phone satellite in geosynchronous orbit nestled cockily amid the ancient constellations.
You can’t get here from here, or at least its wicked long and tortuous.
Portland bus to -> Boston plane to -> Houston (5 hr wait) plane to -> BsAs EZE crazy car ride -> BsAs Jorge Newberry (2.5 hr wait) plane to -> Iguacu ridiculous taxi ride to -> Yacutinga.
Holy Itineraries Batman. I don’t want to do that again for a bit.
The break down and some highlights:
1) in the air from Boston enroute to Houston.
SkyMall magazine highlights (I love these – I spend the first 15 minutes of every flight wondering who the heck would buy these things):
- A 9 foot gorilla for your backyard. Will apparently attract cheerleaders. Failing that, you could also purchase a plastic panther, gnome skeletons, dancing ducks, a zombie digging its way out of the ground, or a velociraptor to terrify wandering guests and keep them out of the tomatoes.
- underwear that lifts, sculpts and carves your rear end and abdominals into something that they are not (and should not be).
- various attractive ways to collect pet poo, indoors and out.
- plastic topiary (screw you, Edward Scissorhands)
- A T-shirt with “Squirrel Whisperer” on it ( I thought of my Dad who has a life long blood feud with a particular breed of Canmore squirrel, who have been stealing birdseed from the feeders.)
- wildly patterned/colored flowery compression socks. (NOT sexy. Sorry.)
- I could go on.
People I have met so far –>
- a large lady who likes Seattle Pacific Rim Cuisine
- a young man with a guitar who enjoys picking fights with those illegally using handicapped seating
- A lady who had just buried her deceased husband in NH and was now returning to LA.
Houston airport is Enormo. I definitely walked at least 3 miles doing laps around it trying to kill the 5 hr layover. This was OK though, because the flight to Houston was delayed a bit because they had to pull some dude off it in a stretcher.
The flight to BsAs was cramped but OK thanks to the magic of Ambien. At first I sat in the wrong seat which led to a lovely conversation with a gentleman called Billy who offered to buy me wine. I didn’t need it, but t’was a nice gesture. The guy who sat next to me was big, had his arm in a sling and SNORED to shake the windows. I had two little but loud Texan grannies behind me who yammered along for about 2 hrs until falling asleep after dinner thank goodness. I’m grateful for ear plugs and Ambien, and actually managed to get about 6 hrs sleep after watching the Great Gatsby on the mini screen in front of me.
We arrived on time in Buenos Aires, and somehow the transit Gods were smiling because I whizzed through customs and found my luggage within 20 minutes. Alberto was there to greet me and whisk me off into the BA streets to find my folks and drop me off at the domestic airport (quixotically names Jorge Newberry) for flight # 3 to Iguacu. Aigh. At this point I was getting quite tired of planes.
The flight to Iguacu was delayed 2.5 hrs, but I was grateful to have that time for a cup of tea and catch up time with my folks. I didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. WOW – since when has this been the case in my life?! Might get to like that.
The last leg of the interminable journey was a car ride to the Jungle eco lodge of Yacutinga that no one knows about. No really, the locals didn’t either. It took 2.5 more hours, but we spent the time gabbing in Spanish and sharing yerba mate with the driver, Sergio.
Sergio was forthcoming and voluble regarding the history of the area, yerba mate lore, and the preponderance of Canadian Pines every where that apparently have a 50% shorter growing season than in their home and native land. When flying in, I was astonished with the strips of land carved into visibly discrete parcels of homogeneity. Apparently the pines supply wood for building materials and paper pulp, upon which most of the local economy is based.
The dirt here is blood red due to a high concentration of Iron, and also there are Jerba Mate plantations everywhere, YM is a native plant here. A medium sized bush, it is planted in rows like grape vines and harvested twice yearly in winter and summer. It too is part of the local economy. After 6 years the bushes are pulled up and new ones replanted.
The last part of the drive was the most interesting, on increasingly small roads finishing with crawling along rutted red solidified mud in the pitch blackness. The driver stopping every 5 minutes to ask someone along the way if they knew the way to the Lodge, and saying to us: “confiame”.
Mum and Dad made more frequent squeaking noises about “are you sure you know where you are going?” “ why would they send a driver who doesn’t have the address?” “shouldn’t we call someone?” Until I finally said, Welcome to Latin America – you have to stop being all North American about this. It doesn’t work like that here. just relax and go with the flow.
Sergio finally got someone in the know to call him back, contacted the lodge and a few minutes later a truck manifested itself out of the blackness with a smiling lodge employee. He jumped out, calmed Mum and Dad, we jumped into the truck and ended up at Yacutina lodge. They offered us lemon water and pan de queso, showed us around, and we relaxed into one of the most beautifully unexpected places I have ever seen.
Post script of the day:
One of the biggest leeches I have ever seen was oilily crawling along the path as we wen to our cabins. woo hoo. adventure. I am falling asleep to a deafening chorus of jungly night noises – chirps and whirrs, all somehow soothingly organized into an auditory loop of hypnotic green noise.
Tomorrow wake up call at 7 am. hiking, kayaking and a night walk.
4/29 La Garganta del Diablo
Leaving Yacutinga was much easier than getting there. Of course we were traveling in the daytime and could see the bumps and ruts coming up to avoid them. Our driver Martin thought he was Mario Andretti and kept a lead foot on the pedal all the way back to Iguacu, doing 110 km/h even in 40 km/h zones.
We arrived in Iguacu and checked in. The view of the falls from the lobby windows was “incréible”! After some negotiating, we got into our room early and settled down. I get a rollaway squeezed between a bed and the window which is fine with me.
There is a notice on the patio doors that says: “Lock the door to keep out the monkeys out”
La Garganta de Diablo
Sitting in a Zodiac with one’s 70-yr old happily shrieking soaking wet parents and 54 other people while the driver of said boat is trying to immerse the entire situation under Iguacu Falls is a most excellent experience.
Let me back up a bit. We walked to the Gran Adventure site and got on a big truck along with a diverse group of Brazilians, Argentines, Brits, EstadoUnidenses and Canadians and trundled off into the rain forest. A young naturalist explained in Spanish and English some of the fauna of the place. I think it was a time-killer because we drove for about 30 minutes. My thought is that they had to drive out of Iguacu National Park to conduct for-profit business. Anyway, the truck dropped us off and we headed down the steps. My attention was caught by an older paunchy mafia-esque Argentine gentleman wearing tinted glasses and aggressively pomaded thinning hair. He was accompanied by a young beautiful anglophone chica. Definitely NOT his daughter, but that was the age difference (30-40 years). What a sugar daddy.
A large vocal lady greeted everyone loudly from the bow of the boat, told us all how wonderful her day had been so far, hobbled down the steps and wedged herself into a seat. Everyone grasped their dry bags and cameras, and we proceeded to motor off towards the base of the falls, temporary comrades in adventure together.
One we arrived at the Argentine side of the Falls, the driver did a first pass for everyone to take pictures, then warned folks to put their cameras in the dry bags and hang on. Revving hard, he hurled the Zodiac (and us) into the spume and spray. A massive cold shower ensued with lots of screaming, then we emerged as above, shrieking and happy. I yelled “Otra!!!” and others joined in and we clapped hard. The driver turned around, and obligingly aimed the boat at the foaming churn again. More screaming and soaking and adrenaline, and we then floated free of the falls.
The driver didn’t think we looked wet enough because he approached a smaller falls sideways and drenched one side of the boat’s occupants, then turned around and gave the same treatment to the other side. Then they finally ejected us on the river side and we walked up the hill dripping and happy. We had to find our way back to the hotel and got a little lost, but met others in the same boat (or at least, were) – among them a young couple honeymooning from Birmingham. Crazily, from my Dad’s home neighborhood.
The world is a small place.
Tonight has started with a cracking great thunderstorm, and I plan to continue my Caipirinha research. Being this close to Brazil has resulted in some great Cachaça!
4/30 – 5/2 rain rain rain, planes, Salta, the Gorge of the Shells, el Estuco etc.
I awoke to a torrential downpour thunderstorm and continued while we went back to Iguazu airport. It grounded us for an extra few hours, but we squeaked through a lightning -free gap and flew out bumpily towards Salta. 45 minutes of stomach clenching drops and bounces that I don’t think planes should do, especially with me in them, but then things steadied out.
We landed in Salta 3 hrs late, and met our driver Luciano. Nice young man who was also a rather fast driver. My Dad actually asked him to slow down so he could do some bird identification. Rather quietly L did so, but the reason for his speed became apparent as we approached the gorge between two sets of mountains. The only thing close that I can describe is Zion, Brice and Gardens of the God in Utah. We hit this area as the sun was going down, and it emphasized the colors in the rocks. Blood reds, chocolate browns greens and oranges in the rocks along with crazy water and wind sculptures, hoodoos, crags and crevasses. Another Garganta del Diablo, this time portrayed in orange and red , hewn from the sandstone landscape by water, wind and time. Unfortunately dotted here and there with graffiti, but undoubtedly a sacred space for the local native people.
We arrived at the winery/Hotel el Esteca, in Cafayate. I have somehow landed in a palace. Holy Castles Batman.
An amazing dinner and some wine education from the sommelier, and I have discovered Torrentes (a Salta/Cafayate white wine: fruity and yummy.)
May 1st – Workers Day
I slept well and awoke royally in an enormous beautifully appointed room, then we breakfasted (always bread, jam, cheese, meat, coffee/tea) and were whisked out of the place at 10 am to go and visit wineries. Little problem. May 1st is el Dia del Trabjador, celebrated almost globally except in North America. Both of the wineries we were supposed to visit were closed due to the holiday. The 3rd didn’t have an english wine tour that would fit our schedule, so we putzed around the main square and Dad found an 8% beer that would make Quebecers proud. La Burra. Artisanal and pretty good – very reminiscent of a stout. They also make a red. Both strong enough to knock your socks off.
Then we got into a bus with 4 Italians, 2 Belgians, a New Yorker and some Porteños and headed back into the gorge (Quebrada de Conchas, or gorge of the shells). We made more stops this time, which gave us more time to goggle at the incredible rock formations. The had creative names like “the Castles, “the Toad, ”The Friar”, The Amphitheater, Devil’s Throat”. My Dad was just sputtering with joy as he looked at the rocks, and perused the geology book lent to him by our first driver Luciano. The book was written in Spanish, but understandable enough to help my father delve into the mysteries of the contorted colorful massifs and grottos. Apparently it’s all mostly Cretacious period with a little bit of Tertiary thrown in.
Once out of the gorge, we drove back into Salta, a town of about 600 000 people. The majority live in the valley with some very swanky places up on the hills. We dropped the Italians off at one such place. Our hotel is right next to the Police station in town, and close to the cathedral. We had supper at a local parrilla (grill) along with pretty much everyone in town, and ambled back making note off all the colonial buildings we will have a look at tomorrow on a walkabout.
This morning we wandered around Salta, visited the Cathedral – enormous, muy Catholico (!), lots of statues of the Virgin and Jesus, urns containing the remains of famous northern Argentina military figures (namely Guemes), and discovered a gondola up the Cerro San Bernardo (hill). I elected to hoof it, and Mum and Dad took the gondola. I met them at the top (about 1.4 km of STAIRS). I’m going to feel that tomorrow. The stairs themselves had the 12 stations of the cross, with paintings of a very white Jesus looking more and more fatigued as I ascended. Other climbers included families with small children, ladies carrying lap dogs and folks clutching thermoses and Mate gourds. These were really steep stairs! I was amazed.
As I passed the woman with the jerba mate, she said (in Spanish), wait, are you from Maine? I stopped, and found out she was from Ohio and was studying for a year in Chaco on a Fulbright Scholarship. Her companion caught an edge and feel flat on her face which ended the conversation. We picked her up and dusted her off and made sure she was OK, and I continued on my way up the hill.
From the top, there was a great view of Salta and clean bathrooms (hooray!) and then Mum and Dad and I all went back down the stairs.
At the bottom of the hill we were approached by some folks from Entre Rios who were there to visit the Basilica. The guy stayed with us (uninvited) and described the “train in the clouds” (Tren del nubes) that one could take, woul;dnt shut up about it, actually, and seemed inclined to tag along. He described his religious trip to the Basilica and a few other places of spiritual interest. I exclaimed how gorgeous the church was, and he immediately asked me if I was Catholic.
I said “No, but I appreciate the beauty of buildings used by other religions: churches, temples, mosques…” He left rather quickly after that, I thought.
Mum grinned at me. She said “Another great way to get rid of folks is apparently to tell them you are working for the Department of Defense.” She described an interaction where someone was bothering Vero (my sister in law) and he finally stopped talking about himself and asked shat she did. Her response regarding the Defense Department of the Canadian Government shut him up and he left abruptly.
Hey, whatever works.
After this morning full of exercise, we went back the the square and had what is rapidly becoming a favorite part of my Father’s day: Cervesa y empanadas. 50 cent empanadas are hard to beat, and we all had a few. Salta beer is light, like Corona.
We are working our way up to the Northeastern-most corner of the country. The next leg was a car trip that afternoon to Pumamarca (poo-ma-mar-ka) through the Humahuaca (oo-ma-hoo-a-ka) Gorge. It is a UNESCO site, full of huge mountains with erosional slashes through their green overcoat of trees and scrub to reveal red, green, purple and brown rock underneath in crazy formations. The valley has been inhabited for 10000 years by Native South Americans and their descendants still live there. Amid the geological marvels runs a noisy incongruous highway filled with trucks carrying fruit and vegetables and beans, used cars (and occasionally drugs, hence random policia stops) to and from the borders with Chile and Bolivia.
The colors of the rocks are unbelievable, and yet another superb hotel and restaurant awaited us. The food and wine (a Mendoza Merlot) were amazing. Incredible dinner for 3 for 57$US. Kinda nuts. I’m not complaining, just grateful.
Tomorrow: Siete Colores.
May 3, 2014 – A very long eventful day.
We awoke to drum beats which turned out to be a small parade of bundled people with a big bass drum, a flute and a house on a stick. The house has a statue of a saint in it. We learned later this was San Francisco de Paolo, an Italian saint revered by the local residents of Purmamarca and surrounding towns. We saw more evidence of the Saint’s Day later in the day.
Today Ariel is our ‘chofer’. He is a history teacher in the area who lives about 15 miles up the valley in a small town called Tilcara. Our day starts innocuously enough with a Siete Colores drive-by. The geology here knocks everyone’s socks off. We follow a 1.5 mile loop into a gorge with rocks of truly 7 different startling colors caused by mineral deposition on the bottom of an ancient anoxidized lake. Tectonic action later caused subduction (one plate diving below another), upheaval, standing on end, breaking and crinkling of the massive sheets of Pre-Cambrian rock, creating a very complex geological situation. My Father was beside himself with joy, zooming gazelle-like up crags and examining the features, nose-to-rock. Mum was also very interested (having studied chemistry and geology), but not as demonstratively as Dad. We vow to return tomorrow morning for a walk through. Meanwhile, other things beckon.
It’s about 11:00 am. Full hot sun. I wonder why I brought pants and a long sleeved top and jacket. Now I have to haul them around. Bother.
We drive up the Quebrada/Gorge towards Humahuaca with amazingly colorful geology all around us. We drive towards the Bolivian border with Chile on the left, chewing Coca leaves. I must not have put enough in my mouth, because I felt no effect whatsoever. I asked Mum and Dad if I seemed any more… dynamic.
“Not so’s you’d notice” says Dad.
We stopped a few times for pix of ridiculously purple, red and green colored rocks, and passed a town’s celebration of San Francisco de Paulo. It was a big village festival, with gauchos on horses in full regalia with flags, and 100s of townspeople coming from all around. Dad wanted to go and check it out, but I demurred – I didn’t want to intrude on their special day.
We continued another 45-60 min up the gorge to Humahuaca – a little northern Argentinian town with a cabildo (government seat) and church that burned and were rebuilt in the 1950s. Upon entering, a lady was giving some info about all the paintings and artifacts that had been saved from the fire.
Some crazy pictures (1700s style of Colonial American(?) of personages from the Old Testament: Samuel, Jacob, etc and Moses who interestingly had 2 narrow rays of light sticking out of his head like horns. This seemed odd to me, so I asked about it. The lady said it was the artist’s rendition of Moses’s great intellect. (This did not reduce the oddness.)
Even weirder was learning that at that time (1700s) religious iconography was being pumped out of Cuzco Peru, factory-style to meet the needs of all the church walls in Peru, Chile, Northern Argentina and Paraguay because the Spanish went in and converted so many of the locals. Imagine lots of Native Americans standing in a line along a huge piece of fabric, one doing the background, another doing the heads, (someone thinking its a good idea to have two little light beams emanating from Moses’s brow), another doing the clothes… then chopping them all along the dotted lines (painted flowers, actually), framing them and shipping them off via llama to various Middle South American churches. Woah.
Catch of the day – we walked along another tiny little street and I found a wooden mate and bombilla, and Dad found a T-shirt he wanted. Both have Humahuaca on them. The lovely shopkeeper Ines, gave me a big hug of thanks for buying a mate and bombilla in her shop and told me how to prepare it for drinking – basically putting spent jerba in it and letting it sit overnight a couple of times (in case you need to know). Off we went for lunch and then continued along the journey.
Did I mention the mountains around here are really high? Both sides of the valley (Quebrada de Humahuaca) are over 3000m/3km/2miles high!!! It gets rather cold at those altitudes, plus I live at sea level, and the thinness of the air is palpable, especially upon exertion.
We reverse and head back down the gorge to visit Tilcara, another little town where Ariel lives. Ariel moved to the area in ’83, and has seen amazing change in the past 20 years in terms of temperature, climate and influx of people in this ancient place. His town has experienced a population jump from 2000 to 7000 in 2 years (!) causing a serious strain on services. He indicates the mountain towering above, and said 1999 was the last time that mountain had snow on it. It hasn’t since. That was sobering to hear. Can anyone else put a finger exactly on the date that their town turned the corner regarding climate change? He spoke of talking to an old man in the town who remembers skating on the ice on the river! (1940’s) Not only was there enough water to fill the river (now a trickle), it was cold enough to freeze it! Neither experiences are possible now, nor have been for decades.
We drive past some pre-Inca dated ruins, turn right and keep going now past our hotel and up one side of the valley “Cuesta de Lipan” on route 52. Remember I said 2 miles high? Well, the pass is higher. The rocks get weirder, more fragmented, more colorful, then transition to smooth green. The road switches back and forth many times, like 20. Large trucks carrying up to 15 used cars, or mysterious tarp-covered loads barrel scarily towards us on the 2 lane road. I don’t know how they get around the hairpin 180 degree turns every few 100 yards. We finally stop and look down and it’s like we are on top of the world. Birds fly below us.
Ariel (now 63 years old) tells of when he was 29 and drove over (Mondays) and back (Fridays) this pass “Abra del Morado” on a motor bike on the old road. We see a narrow overgrown track in the grass and scrub randomly off the side of the pavement up the hillside a bit. He is a teacher and at the time taught on the other side of the mountains. The trip took him 7 hours, and in all weather, sometimes at night. At a little over the half way point he would visit an old woman who lived on llama meat who asked him to bring her various little items like aspirin.
Fantastical, ridiculous, crazy!!! My head spins to even contemplate this.
This terrain is inhospitable to say the least, yet some families carve a living out of it, raising llamas and growing their own vegetables – more possible now due to the climate being warmer.
We go over the pass Abra del Morado : 4170 m high (Salta has it beat at 5002m: Acai Pass is the highest public road in AR) and start down the other side into a strange flat dry tundra land called the Puna. We can see Las Salinas Grandes (Big Salt Lake) glistening in the far distance. There is a road that divides the Flat, and red and white lights crawl along, indicating cars and huge trucks coming and going between Argentina and Chile.
(NB: It is 5 pm at this point. The sun goes down at 7 pm. Getting a bit cooler since we are at 3000m high).
It takes about 45 minutes to get to las Salinas/the Salt Flat, and onto the causeway. Halfway along, there is the Encampamento – a camp made entirely out of salt blocks where the workers live while harvesting the salt. There are enormous bulldozers and back hoes, a parabolic solar oven, dorms, even hewn salt block pews in front of a statue of the Virgin made out of salt.
A large structure made of salt blocks dominates the scene – it apparently used to be a restaurant – abandoned blocky tables and stools, all seemingly made of ice, but it’s salt. It seems like we are walking on a frozen lake – quite the mind-boggle. The striated blocks are made of salt bricks carved out of the Flat, the stripes are white and brown and about 1 cm thick. The white is from summer salt deposition, and the brown from winter where the never-ending wind blows dust from the surrounding Puna landscape onto the surface of the salt. Bulldozers scrape the superficial salt (over 2.5 yards deep at the center of the flat, shallower at the edges) into piles, huge backhoes transfer the salt into waiting trucks, and the salt heads off to Salta for refining, and iodizing (to create edible able salt). La Industria Argentina hard at work.
The salt comes from the surrounding landscape where ancient volcanic ash is dissolved by rains, and the salty run-off drains into the shallow basin at the bottom of the valley. Since there is no outlet, the water leaches and evaporates, leaving the salt to crystallize whitely in 5 or 6-sided polygons on the surface of the Salt Flat.
Stepping onto it is a trip. It’s 15F cooler on the Salt Flat due to reflection of heat and light by the white surface. It’s visually icy, but the temperature (about 60F) belies the eyes. It makes me shiver.
By now it’s 6pm (remember the sun goes down at 7, there is no moon this week, and its a bit cloudy.) Its also late fall, and quite cool in the shade. Luckily no wind.
There are troughs (3 feet by 6 feet long) carved into the salt flat which contain water. This is a method of harvesting very pure salt. Saline leaches into the troughs from below, then the water evaporates and a clean salt remains. It’s harvested by hand.
I’m getting cold at this point and ask if we can head back. It’s about 6:15pm
Ariel and I christen my new wooden maté by foregoing the curing process and just rinse it out with water, and add jerba and warm water. Not hot, but good enough. We begin the fairly long journey home chatting about the salt. Ariel asks if I would like to add something to the Jerba mate, and I say sure, so he stops the car and goes to pick some small spiky herb twigs from a plant at the road side. Its called ”pica pica” and you pull the small flowers off the spines and sprinkle it into the jerba in the mate. It is faintly reminiscent of citrus and rosemary and something else and then
- BLAM! pockety pockety pockety…
A tire has given way and we are rolling along on a flat rear tire. It is now 6:20 pm and cooling off rapidly.
We all get out and examine the situation, Ariel looks stressed and starts to pull everything out of the back of the car – we learn it is not his car – and hunts for the spare tire. It is finally located almost underneath the rear seats. In fairly short order Ariel has car jacked up and the flat is off. Meanwhile Dad has given the spare a push and bounced on it a bit and pronounced it mostly flat as well. Great.
The occasional car whizzes by at high speed. Its 6:45 pm.
We decide to put the spare on anyway and see how it goes. As the jack cranks down surrendering the full weight of the car, the spare gets more and more flat and it becomes obvious that it will not support 4 people. It will barely take the car plus one. No cell phone reception in the Puna, so there will be no telephoning for help. I suggest that the tire could be pumped up back at the closest large vehicle area, which is the Salt Encampamento on the causeway over the Salt Flat about 5-7 miles back. Dad suggests Ariel drives slowly back there and try to find a compressor and pump. Meanwhile we will walk in that direction.
Its is 7:00pm and the light is starting to leak from the sky. A beautiful sunset is happening. I am suddenly very glad I brought pants and my jacket. Ariel, though very upset about abandoning us, agrees that it is the only viable option. He lends Mum his fleece, turns the car around and drives away, slow motion (into the sunset).
So we all look at each other, take a deep breath and start walking. It is getting darker and cooler and though we try to flag a few cars down, no one stops. Eventually we dont try any more and I get my cell phone out and turn on the flashlight app so cars/trucks will see us when coming from either direction.
The stars are coming out and there is a sliver of moon and the sunset slowly fades on our valiant trio walking quickly along the side of the road. Mum and Dad are holding hands. I am waving my iPhone at any approaching headlights of which there are increasingly few and when they occur they go by very fast. The drivers must think we are nuts walking about in the dark Northern Argentine boonies. We walk for about 30 minutes talking and turning all the possibilities over and over, but eventually lapse into silence, hoping Ariel has been successful and will be able to find us in the dark before my iPhone battery gives out.
Its 7:45 pm, pitch black, and quite cool. Luckily no rain or wind, or it would have been much more unpleasant.
We start hiking up an incline, and headlights appear over the top and zoom past, so we squeeze as far right as we can, still wiggling the iphone flashlight.
Another pair of headlights crest the hill… and then they flash, and I wave the iPhone and the headlights slow down as they approach on the other side of the road, and It’s Ariel with 4 functional tires (for now). We whoop and holler, stick our thumbs out invisibly in the dark and ask for a lift, which he laughingly provides, and we load up thankfully into the jalopy.
We start again, towards Purmamarca on a pumped up spare and three old and now very suspicious tires in my mind, but I don’t mention my fears. I just sit in the front seat and surround the car and all the tires in white light. Hey, it can’t hurt. I learn from Ariel that in this circumstance one asks the help of Pachamama – Pacha means Earth.
“Cusillo Pachamama” Cusillo Pachamama”
It’s our chant as we approach the Pass again and the descent through the many switchbacks and hairpin bends along with about 5 gravelly unpaved sections that seems so inconsequential earlier. From our second start in the Puna, we had about 45 km to go. I love kilometers, they are much friendlier and pass faster than miles. We count them down, cheering gently as each km marker passes: 45 – 44 – 43 – 40 – 37 – 36…
3 – 2 – and we pull into the hotel parking lot a little before before 9 pm.
Just in time for dinner.
May 7th – Wine geekery a la Mendocino. You’ve been warned.
I learned a lot today. I also drank a lot.
A bit of overview: Medoza gets very little rain, maybe 6 inches a year. Water for the city and all food/wine production comes from the snowfall and subsequent melt in the Andes which tower above the town. The irrigation canals are based on old Incan gravity-based technology which still holds firm. The water from the rivers are diverted in various directions – toward filtration for city consumption and along irrigation canals to the various farms and vinyards, Everything is based on dams and sluice gates, powered by the force of gravity. Whoever controls the water controls the city and also the wine production in the area. Each farm, whether they grow grapes, olives, plums, peaches, pears, apples, almonds, or walnuts, needs to build a canal to a holding pond. Previously the irrigation was done by flooding the area, but now the ponds allow water flow to the plants to be more controllable. Each property buys a portion of precious water which is allowed to flow toward them only twice a month for a few hours.
OK, onto the wine. I learned a lot about wine in 2 days of visiting 5 different bodegas.
We started the wine tour at 9 am on May 5th with a gregarious beautiful older lady called Sandra; bilingual with a lovely accent. She welcomed us effusively and off we went with the rather taciturn Alej (a-lay) driving like Juan Faggio (an Argentine race car driver). I actually called him that at one point and he grunted in recognition. This was after we had shared jerba mate – a great way to get the locals to trust/like you.
We set off south of Mendoza toward the first of 3 bodegas in the “Southern Oasis” of the region. Oasis because Mendoza is basically in a desert with a snowmelt river running through it. It’s on an old trade road created by the Spanish in the 1500s to bring gold across the mountains from Chile to BsAs. where it was shipped to Spain.
It seems to be the newest hobby of the affluent, to retire and buy a vinyard somewhere; Mendoza, California, France. Here, the original old Argentine wine families are being bought out by rich foreigners – the guy who owns Frito-Lays, for example. No joke, there’s actually a big picture of Mr. Lays on the wall of the last bodega we visited. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Bodega # 1; 09:50 am (!! a bit early for me to drink wine)
Pulenta Estate, small – medium, boutique winery, 600 000L /year production. The owner’s brother has a neighboring winery and imports Porsches to BsAs. This gives you an idea of the income of these vinyard owners.
The vines all have hair nets on. Apparently this is to protect them from hail, which occasionally occurs and beats the berries off the vines, thus destroying the harvest. But it’s expensive, so using it is a toss-up for some vinyards (not Pulenta, obvio).
I learned wine flavor has:
top notes: green grass, apple, floral, can be obtained by mixing in some earlier harvested grapes, also not aging too long, if at all in oak barrels
middle notes: citrusy
bottom notes: tropical, sweeter, perhaps from a later mature harvest of the grapes. Also, deeper flavors like plum, chocolate, leather, coffee,
These come from various sources:
primary: from the grape itself
secondary: from the fermentation process
tertiary: from the barrel or yeast
- other things that affect the flavor of the wine: what are you eating with it? is it a blend or a single grape? if a blend, then what ratios? what age are the barrels? was there a lot of sunshine that year? or rain? how old were the grapes when harvested? and on and on and on… This is why one needs to buy a wine maestro along with one’s winery. Take note, if you plan to purchase a vinyard.
- wine barrels are toasted on the inside, and so impart a flavor to the wine. Either US oak or French oak are used. Wines aged in US oak barrels will mature faster due to larger pores and therefore oxygen passage through the material. Wines in French barrels have a more delicate flavor. (or so they say…) Barrels are used only 3 times, and then sold for furniture or other uses for the wood. Thassalotta wood to be used only 3 x.
- Not all wines are for storage. Some need to be drunk within months of bottling.
- bottles with corks (which have some porosity and allows microfermentation to continue) are for wines that can be stored. They will continue to develop their flavor.
- bottles with screw caps indicate a younger wine, less time aged in barrels and they need to be drunk fairly quickly.
The grapes are fermented in huge vats.
- concrete, (lined or not with epoxy), but those with epoxy are easier to clean. They have heaters embedded in the walls to maintain constant temperature of 25C.
- Stainless steel chambers that look like sputniks. least expensive, but still, about
- enormous wooden kegs. Most expensive, for reds only.
Some vinyards use all 3 methods for different wines. Each type has a different porosity and heating requirements to stabilize the temperature to 25C. Then there’s how to mix the liquid expressed by the red grapes and the mash? Pump or don’t pump the final fermentation product? (oxidation is the enemy), how to clean the vats? Arguments, arguments. Latinos are good at those, and there are pros and cons to each. Each vinyard is utterly convinced that theirs is the best method and everyone else is garbage.
We start the tour with a taste of the white Sauvignon Blanc, it doesn’t go so well with my toothpaste. After the tour we taste 3 reds. Three glasses are arranged on a white paper placemat, and 3 wines are poured in.
- Color. We were instructed to tip the glass and compare the color of the wines against a white background. Ruby red? purple? Light or deep?
- Smell. (swirl first) There are chemical elements in the red grape skin that are shared with other vegetables and fruits, so the smell will have familiar notes (see above). Have you ever drank (drinken? gedrank? drunk? I dunno, s’all mixshed up, and s’only 09:50…) a Cabernet Franc? It’s almost vegetal. We sniff and wonder and sniff and then someone says “green pepper” and there it is! It is absolutely capsicum verde jumping out of the glass. A very strange smell to associate with wine, but it’s there.
- Taste. The Sauvignon Blanc at the beginning of the tour was a bit strident and harsh, but it might have just been the time of day, and the proximity of toothpaste. The reds were more complex and interesting, especially with someone walking me through it. Kind of like reading a poem cold, and then rereading it with the guidance of an English professor well versed in the context of the artist’s life and times.
The reds are not sweet or oaky, but are reminiscent of berries and fruits. The Sauv. Franc is like a wine version of vegetable juice, and I’m not sure if I like it, but it sure is interesting. We also taste #2, a merlot (single grape) and #3 a blend of merlot 35%, malbec 35%, Bonnarda 10% and Sauv. Franc.20%.
Mum says, There is no such thing as “a Merlot”. The is so much variety for each grape within the growing season, harvest, fermentation, and timing in the barrel, that each merlot is different. I agree, and though I am a complete amateur, I am excited to discover more about this art. It could become quite expensive.
Bodega #2 Atamisque 11:00 am
founded in 2006, 700 hectares in the Uco Valley, quite small and boutiquey.
same story: owner is retired and bought a vinyard.
There is a colder environment in the Uco valley, so the grapes mature later in the year (March for the whites, and Apr/May for the reds). The grapes have thicker skins, imparting more flavor, color and tannins to the wines (or so they say…)
The grapes are piled into a hopper and passed along a conveyer towards the press (white) or despaleadora (literally “de-sticker” for the reds.) Apparently only women do the sorting and quality control on the grapes. When I ask why, the guide responds that women have smaller more delicate hands for grape selection and are more detail oriented. Sandra opines that women can also work and talk at the same time.
The green grapes are pressed without crushing the bitter seeds and only the juice is fermented. The reds are de-stemmed which damages the fruit enough to express the juice, centrifuged to remove the fibrous bits and the whole red sticky mess poured into a fermentor. The liquid separates from the skins which float to the top. Occasionally the mass has to be mixed so the color and flavor of the skins can be imparted to the juice. Different methods have evolved here, from opening the top of the fermentor and punching holes through the cap (sombrero – literally “hat”) with a stick, to turning an internal paddle inside the vat, to “pumping over” the entire mass into another chamber. After about 2-3 weeks in the fermentors, the wine can stay inside the vats for storage, or can be immediately transferred to the oak casks for aging between 6-24 months.
When one tips a glass of wine here, what trickles back down the glass is called “lagrimas” or tears. Sandra says because tears can be associated with both happiness and sadness, states appropriate for wine drinking. I prefer this appellation to the unromantic North American word for this phenomenon: ”legs”. Boooooring.
We are allowed to take up to 6 bottles of wine in our hand luggage on the plane.
Hah – Take that, TSA!
Tidbits from Mendoza:
- The streets change their name 2-3 times along their length. A street will go from being Agustin Alvarez to Espejo to Catamarca in different sections of the city. when I asked why, Sandra said “ because we have so many heroes to remember!” Hmm, I think some of those heroes were actually war criminals, but I didn’t quibble.
-There are bloody great ditches everywhere.
Actually, these are irrigation canals for Mendoza’s many trees and drainage for when the city actually gets rain (usually in the form of brief torrential storms). I didn’t see too many people walking nose-down into their smart phone, texting, and the ditches are probably why.
- Along with wine, they also make great olive oil here. Arauco is the local varietal of olive, and it is intense! It’s oil is mixed 50% with other olive oils to create a local blend that is aromatic and tasty.
- Mendoza is logically arranged. This appeals to my inner nerd. The old city was destroyed in 1861 by an earthquake. Before building a new city, an architect was consulted and a new quadrilateral plan was developed that made use of the topography of the area and the river. Ditches run alongside all the roads everywhere for irrigation of the trees and create some really imaginative parking situations. Carlos de Thuys (the visionary horticulturalist of Bs As) was hired to design the parks and city vegetation. As usual, he thought 100 years ahead, so all the streets have arching canopies of beautiful leaves. Very necessary for a place that gets up to 40C/104F frequently in the summer.
- You can take up to 6 bottles of wine on the plane in your hand luggage. ‘Nuff said.
- Speaking of planes, before your luggage is allowed OUT of the airport, it must undergo a search to make sure there are no biologicals – foods or fruits. This is to protect the wine region from any infestations or contaminations. Very intelligent, I thought.
May 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th: Back in Buenos Aires.
I am happily writing from Iona’s little flat in Once. I took a little walk around the neighborhood, and it is practically next door to the digs Laura and I shared 3 years ago on Alberti/Alsina. It felt very familiar and cosy.
Last night I went to a little practica/milonga called De Querusa on Carlos Calvo. A lovely walk and some excellent dances. I stepped in and immediately saw Leo Altura, a dancer I met a few years ago. He always brings jerba mate with a dash of liquor in it – a nice addition to the milonga. It was so nice to be recognized and welcomed back. I also danced with Jose Menno, another dancer from last time.
The best dance of the night was with a muscular young man called Pablo. His dance reminded me a little of Ney Melo’s style and body type. Pablo and I matched each other perfectly in terms of height, power and heft. I felt perfectly safe in his embrace, yet like I was a paintbrush wielded by Picasso. We made some amazing tango, and I could feel him respond to my style of dance. I am not crushable, quite athletic and can pretty much match any man’s speed and power on the floor. A lot of tangueras here seem very thin, fragile and ultrafeminine. I understand that men like their women to be feminine, but I also know that stronger leaders appreciate followers who can meet them, hold their own, and don’t have to be taken care of all the time. I like when men are considerate to me and make me feel treasured, but I don’t want to be coddled in my dance, or in my life.
Walking around today was fun. Once (on-say) is the area you go to buy in bulk. Large amounts of fabric, tools, plastic tchotchkes of any variety, poorly made shoes, clothes, socks, feather dusters, pretty much anything… there will be a garage-shaped-and-sized room off the street filled with STUFF. I was looking for a thermos. Specifically a stainless steel one with a push button top that clicks open and closed. Though I found pretty much everything else anyone could ever (not) want, I didn’t find the thermos store.
Still, a very interesting walk, and later on in the evening, all the Hassidim (males) were walking around, it being the night before their sabbath (Friday night). Once will pretty much be closed tomorrow, since all those bulk stores are owned and operated by the second largest Jewish population outside Israel, the first being New York City. They were walking around in an animated fashion speaking rapid-fire spanish. This kind of astounded me, since I was used the Hassidim speaking Yiddish from when I lived in Montreal.
As I walked to the evening’s practica, I spied what I wanted on a table full of like items on the street (Rivadavia). About 20 thermoses lines up like large steel bullets. Only $120 (pesos – so $12US). I pounced happily and bought myself the thermos I wanted. Off I went to practica already feeling successful. At the practica we were given raffle tickets upon entry which I shoved into my bag barely thinking about it. Some great dancers were there, and it was almost as fun to sit and watch as it was to dance. I had some lovely dances, however with locals. I also met one American – Matthew, a Taiwanese (Augustin – very likely not his given name), and a completely curmudgeonly negative weird Englishman – Jeff. I hope he never asks me to dance with him again. I will say no. As I was perhaps the only English speaking female there, he latched on to me and started telling me what was wrong with all the different tango communities around the world. To add to his discomfort with the BA tango scene, he was being bullied on various dance floors by Jose, who was occasionally throwing elbows and heels at him. (I kinda don’t blame him though – Jeff was such a wet blanket and a whiner to boot. I was having a hard time scraping him off). Anyway, at the halftime, I won the raffle which was: another thermos.
Hooray! This one was a blue plastic FIFA-merorabilia covered glass vacuum flask. So now I have two.
I am such a Norteña. There are somethings I cannot tolerate. If I were to move here for a bit (don’t think I haven’t contemplated it), I would have to relax about certain things. But I know I just couldn’t.
For example, I couldn’t handle teachers wandering in 30 minutes late for classes, or not showing up at all because they didn’t feel like it. Massage therapists or Pilates instructors answering their phones while with clients. People making vast sweeping generalized statements about things they are later proven to know absolutely nothing about. “Oh, Buenos Aires water is completely contaminated” (Of course it’s not, or 8 million people would be dead). “The Chileans are all liars!” (What?! Just because you had a bad experience once?) Or my recent (un)favorite – Oh, you’re staying in Once – that’s so dangerous!!! (NO, it’s actually fine.) (Kinda hit my Parkside nerve).
It would drive me crazy. Nope, the more I visit BsAs, the happier I am about where I have chosen to live and work. BsAs is a lovely place to visit, but it’s always great to come home to a place where you don’t wade through trash and dog shit in the streets, the wifi and hot water predictably works, you don’t have to bribe anyone to get things done, inflation is not 40% a year, and if someone says they’ll be there, 99% of the time, they will. We are lucky to live where we do. Everyone stop whining about North American 1st world problems, and so will I.
OK, getting off my ranty soapbox. whew.
Cachirulo Milonga seemed to be European night, best dances with Giovanni (Italian) and two Frenchmen. When I chatted with Gio, I mentioned that I hadnt had any good dances with Porteños that night. He said, “Really? with the teachers and dancers who are here tonight? I said: They may be here, but they aren’t inviting me.
He said “fuck them!” Italians are awesome.
All we did to day was go to brunch, nap and dance. A most excellent way to spend a Sunday. The brunch was at Casa del Sol – a tango house in Recoleta – such nice people. We were a global lot: A Kurd, A Dane, a Frenchwoman, Peninsula Cho’s partner (Porteña), A Korean, A Scot, a Canadian, a Bolivian, a Dutchwoman
El Beso milonga that night was predictably lovely, and I reunited with my friend Gabriel – a tango singer I had met years before. I have one of his CDs, but he informed me that unfortunately, he isn’t singing while I am here. Que lastima! We will have to go for coffee and catch up.
May 12th and onward falling into a rhythm.
Buenos Aires is feeling pretty familiar by now. I am turning the right way, and my brain doesn’t feel fried and inside out every time I look at the map. Rivadavia goes out of town, Corrientes goes into it, and numbers increase away from Rivadavia, and away from the river. I am feeling the rhythm of the bigger streets such as Puerreydon, Cordoba, and the pulses of the day with 4 rush hours, 2 school releases, and the city never truly sleeping, just dozing a little with one eye open between 2-5am. You can always get food, a bus, or recharge your phone.
One thing you cannot get after 10:30 pm is the subte (subway). WHYWHYWHY in a city that is functional at all hours of the day is the subway system closed when many would wish to use it?! Duh. Luckily the bus system (collectivo) is amazing, goes 24/7 and there is an app that helps one use it.
At Cachirulo last night, an elderly gentleman sat silently for the whole milonga in a place of distinction with a glass of wine. At half time he was introduced as a milonguero of the venerable age of 90. I didn’t catch all the information. At the end of the milonga, I thanked the DJ, and then Hector, the host and asked the identity of the gentleman, since my poor spanish did not allow me to understand the full import of the speech. Hector asked if I would like to dance with the nonagenarian. My eyebrows raised, and I said it would be an honor, but I didnt want to disturb anyone (the verb ‘to disturb’ in castellano is ‘molestar’). Hector went over to the old man and asked if he would dance with me, meanwhile pulling a limpet-like lady off his target. The gentleman acquiesced, and I found myself dancing very gingerly with him, not really being able to relax, messing up my footwork a little as I learned his lead, but also wondering at the firmness of his embrace. We danced the rest of the tanda – 3 songs and though a young upstart bumped into him once (goodness, why – there were only 4 couples on the floor?!) he was quite steady and though his lead was small, it was very clear.
Imagine what he has seen and survived in this country since 1924. The Golden Age of Tango, The Peron Era, multiple military coups, the Junta and the desaparecidos of the 70’s. And now, he sits and surveys his domain quietly and iconically.
Big demonstration downtown today. Imagine a main city artery with 8 lanes going in one direction and 8 lanes in the other all gridlocked and honking. this was Nueve de Julio today. Massive protest march by various truck driver unions, and boy, did they ever stop traffic. I was glad I was walking as I wove between various automobiles, buses and their irate owners.
I had lunch with my friend Anthea who works at a guest house in San Telmo. There was a pet tortoise who eats only cucumber, (a boy tortoise called Julia – no, I don’t know why) immobile facing a plant pot. She said, oh yes, he’s about to go into hibernation for 3 months. I suggested just putting him in his own plant pot and making him part of the decor. We had a leisurely lunch – best English chips this side of the pond! and went off to peruse some shoes. No luck this time at Flabella shoe store, but it was lots of fun to hang with Anthea.
I have caught the usual BA cold.
BAH HUMBUG. Happens every time. I should be used to it by now, but it feels like my time is being stolen from me. Especially unfair that it’s my birthday. OK, I’ll get over it, sleep as much as possible and go for a little walk in the sun. In Maine it’s blustery, rainy and chilly, so I’m glad I’m not dealing with that too.
Ignoring the virus. I’m going dancing – I tried the Buenos Aires Swing class! So many ladies, so I led and learned a couple new charleston moves – hooray! I’m looking forward to trying them out when I get back.
Tonight to celebrate my birthday, some of us are going to La Marshall milonga at the El Beso location on Riobamba. Walkable and a nice floor. I’m going to break in my new shoes. The interesting thing about La Marshall, as that it is advertised as a ‘gay” milonga. For me this means I can lead and follow, whereas in the usual traditional milongas, as a woman I can only follow. Otherwise, I’d be avoided as strange. It’s great to walk into a milonga and see men expertly dancing with men. Their feet fly as fast as dagger and they spin around and around. Admittedly, the floorcraft was a bit dodgy, especially for short leaders (me), but all in all, a fun time!
The only problem with this is I was not sure who to mirada/cabaceo. The guys are not there to dance with women – they want to dance with each other in this accepting and friendly environment. I wanted to follow, but was nervous about looking at a guy because they might also be follower mode, and I wasn’t sure which of the women were leading – most of them had heels on. I cannot lead in heels so dancing both roles means lots of shoe changing – GretaFlora makes a great pull-on tango shoe (which of course, I had bought last time, but forgotten to bring). I thought we ought to all wear pink or blue hats when we sat down to indicate which role we wished to dance for the next tanda. I didn’t have the temerity to suggest it to the organizer, however.
Danced at El Arranque today – I was easily the youngest person in there by a couple of decades. This is different tango – not the edgy razor fast skill of the young hipster set, the guys dancing in grunge jeans, sipping jerba mate between tandas, crazy unwashed hair, the young women have too lithe bodies in silk tops open at the back, slit capris and spiked heels. These folks regard strangers suspiciously and ignore us arrogantly when we wander in onto their turf.
No, El Arranque is slice from the previous century, when tango was a community jumble of bodies, with oldsters wearing suites and ties, the ladies in actual fishnets (a young dancer wouldn’t be caught dead in fishnets), and glammed up wardrobes.
The floor is a pitching and yawing sea of male grey, white and bald heads paired with female aggressively dyed hair, garish lipstick, a haze of hairspray in the ladies room, sagging skin, and lots of fake bling. The ladies totter around on 1.5 -2 inch heels making me anxious that they will fall when they are not supported apilado against a tango partner. The skill level is medium to not-so-good, but everyone is kind and friendly.
And yet, for all the visual ridiculousness, there’s a sense of fun, camaraderie and community that the young tangueros seem to have lost. What is dance anyway, but a conversation? What’s the big deal? There is no arrogance here. I happily insert myself into the abuelo/a matrix for a couple of hours and enjoy the community for what it is – a hug from someone’s grandpa, and the company of a lovely older lady at my table called Olga who had been there for 4 hours already.
May 18th Sunday Brunch and Beso
It’s Sunday, and it’s my second time at Sunday Brunch at Casa del Sol, a beautiful little tango house in Palermo. In attendance: A Russian who lives in NY, 2 Germans, a Scot, a Canadian, a Bolivian, a Hungarian, 3 Aussies and a Dane.
The Russian, Anna was one of my roommates-de-los-muertos at a long ago Tango de los Muertos in Boston. Small world.
The Australians: Coralie, Peter and Chris – we recognize them from last Friday night at La Marshall milonga. Chris is the woman I danced with and gave a great milonga. She is thrilled to see me again and tells me she told everyone about the small chica who danced so well with her. (*blush*.)
It’s a potluck, and the Hungarian lady of the house Eva organizes with precision so there will be enough of each kind of food. I bring brown rice with mushrooms. Iona brings medialunas and chocolate covered churros and surprisingly, both items are of equal popularity. It’s great food and company and there then ensues wine, coffee, blankets (because we are on the terrace and it’s getting chilly,) and a huge debate about how to say a particular phrase in Castellano: “He ate my pizza” = ‘Comio mi pizza’ vs ‘me Comio el pizza’
One of the Germans absolutely insists that it had to follow a certain grammatical rule (surprise surprise) while others were saying that whatever the gente says is correct for common usage. The whole loud conversation took at least 30 minutes to determine how to say 3 words. Next week: May birthday brunch with cake! I am already looking forward to it, even though it will be my last. (sheesh, aready?!)
Walking back from brunch: River (“ree-bear”, one of the local soccer teams) won a match today. I was wondering what all the honking, beeping, singing, fire crackers, and loud yells emanating from the streets was all about. The FIFA world Cup is going to be insane here. Glad I’ll miss the madness. But, we plan to have FIFA match viewings in my neighborhood of Parkside due to the large numbers of African immigrants that are hungry for the games. THAT will be fun. I’ll have to wear my Messi 10 shirt.
El Beso Sunday night. Easily the best milonga in town (for me anyway).
1st tanda: tango with Jorge, El Flaco Dany’s 80+ yr old brother. Very firm hold, and he also invited me for a milonga tanda. For the most part it’s great, rippingly fast, a bit garbled, and he pats me reassuringly when there was a disconnect between lead and follow – obviously he thought it was my fault. Whatev.
Other great dances throughout the night. Only one mediocre one, and that was not disastrous, just a bit dull. I finished the night with a beautiful Italian young man called Lino. Lithe and sinewy with amazing eyes and a strong, uh…a strong…
where was I? Oh right, …strong lead. WOW. Italians make their men right.
Always take your shoes off after you know you’ve had the best dance of the night. Leave floating.
I am changing out of my shoes at 3:15 am next to Diego, and as I leave, I thank him for the lovely vals tanda we shared. I tell him; “I travel to Argentina so I can dance with YOU!” He laughs and gives me a big hug, and I chuckle to myself, I can now deliver piropos (flattery) with the flair of an Argentinian. But in a way, it’s true. There are many great dancers in North America. Why do I travel to the other side of the planet – endure airports and illness, knee-deep trash in the streets, grime, smog, erratic internet, a language barrier (admittedly improving) and very little sleep to dance with these men?
There’s something in the way they possessively and unabashedly hold me that is incredibly compelling. This embrace is a combination of macho and melancholy. Macho from Latino roots, and melancholy born of cultural tragedy; war, crime, poverty and corruption. These milongueros hold their women tight and dance with almost desperation as if not to let anything more beauty escape, that this might very well be the last dance, the last time they see each other, that the world might end tomorrow.
And then they come back the next evening and do it all again.
May 20th: A trip to the clinica in Buenos Aires.
My initial thought: “I’m going to treat this as another Baires adventure, instead of a massive inconvenience.”
In the end it turned out not to be such, in any way.
Having had enough of the 2 week lung and nasal congestion, Iona and I decide it’s high time I consult a doctor. I’m glad Iona comes with me to translate. I could have done it on my own, but it would have entailed a lot of “Que? Otra Ves? A donde?” and running up and down the stairs of the clinica since the caja (where you pay) and the Guardia (where you register) are on different floors.
We walk the three blocks to Sanatorio de la Trinidad ( Larrea 2553, incase any traveller wants to know) and down the stairs to the Guardia. We tell the very relaxed lady behind the desk what’s going on and she sends me upstairs to the caja to pay the $320peso ($32US) fee for a consultation. She also says that there are 20 people in front of me and that the wait may be 2 hrs. I nod, suspecting that this might be the case. I am ready for this. Clutching my receipt I head back downstairs, suspicious because this has all been far too easy so far. Something will go all wrong in a minute.
Iona and I are prepared to wait. She has her Kindle and I, my laptop. Iona goes to get tea, and I open my laptop and…
“ ‘Older, Eeema!”
I jump with surprise and yell “Yo! Acá!” and confusedly toss my things back into my bag and race after the rapidly moving woman in a lab coat down the hall.
Doctora Roxana Gentelsca ushers me into a little room with a friendly smile. She understands my broken spanish perfectly, palpates my neck, pushes on my sinuses and listens to me breathe (ok, wheeze a little) with her stethoscope.
She then rummages in a plastic shopping bag next to her for a minute, pulling out little packets, examining them and then tossing them back in the bag. Eventually she pulls out 6 double packets of antibiotics and shoves them in a box and gives them to me (these are free). She also writes me a prescription for a mucus reducer, which despite the weird name tastes pleasantly and strongly like strawberry KoolAid. I am to fill it at the farmacia across the street ($66pesos/$6US).
the Dra gives me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and sends me, flabbergasted and full of papers and little packages back out into the waiting room. The whole interaction has taken 12 minutes.
Iona has still not reappeared with the tea. Apparently the lines move slower in the confiteria than in the clinic.
A few other observations while I’m jotting things down:
1)Argentine social propensity for preposterously late timing.
Being Norteña, I am on time for things. If someone says “meet you at 8:30”, that’s when I’m there. On the other hand, if an Argentine says “I’ll meet you at 8:30”, they mean 9:30. Or maybe not at all.
I don’t get this. Not by a long shot.
Say what you friggin’ mean.
2) At Cachirulo Milonga last night before I arrived, an older milonguero approached a table and told one of our friends (from NY) that she does not dance elegantly enough.
WTF!!! Why would anyone do this?!?!
My take: She is gringa, obvio. And she was alone. So for some reason, this asshat took it upon himself to insult her.
No way would he have done that if we were sitting with her, and if he had, I’d have ripped him a new one. I’d have loudly exclaimed to the entire room what UN-CABALLERO-LIKE behaviour he had demonstrated. ….unbelievable…. mutter mutter what is this world coming to….
3) We take a cab to a stretching class in Palermo because Iona cannot haul herself out of bed on time to walk. Pictures of the Virgin Mary and the chofer’s favorite football team vie for prominence on the dash. He is a twitchy sort, honking loudly at any dereliction of road rules. Incongruously, his music selection is the strangest I have ever heard; Electro-Gregorian soothing chant versions of “Losing my Religion” and various Beatles tunes. Quite ridiculous.
Zamba, Chacarera, Malambo, Bomba y Boleadores!
Fruto Dulce was the place to be last night.
Not only was the level of dancing through the roof, but I ran into Caroline Neal, and a surprise Folklore demo was stunning, powerful, fiery, thundery and a complete dust up.
First of all, I arrived at 11, and there were only a few people there. I settled into a corner and resolved to just enjoy the music for a while, which was great – a very good DJ, young, female and embedded in either her computer or her phone, sometimes both.
(an aside – I am going to ban iPhones, smartphones and all other electronic devices from my milongas. There is nothing more disruptive to community than someone sitting in a corner with a ghastly white glare on their face absorbed into anywhere else but where they actually are. Drives me nuts.) OK, rant over. Iona: “It disrespects the tango gods.”
I was seated next to a lovely young woman, Ilen, an oboe player who had just returned from a 6-month oboe course in Israel. She wanted to practice her English, so I didn’t get to practice my Spanish, but the conversation was very interesting. A few more folks arrived, including a group with a child in a hoodie. He looked incredibly bored, and part of me wondered why they had brought him. But children are all over the place at all times here. Waiting at bus stops with adults at 1 am, running across the dance floors at practicas, dangling limply in somnolent forms like Dali clocks from their parents shoulders while shopping in Once. There seems to be no practical bed times for kids here.
Back to the Milonga…To my great surprise, Caroline Neal (Creator and director of Tango documentary ‘Si Sos Brujo”) walked in. I could tell by the beautiful tawny mane of hair who it was immediately, even though I had not seen her for a few years. We sat together and caught up.There was lots of time for this because all the men in the room were completely terrified for some reason. I couldn’t figure out why no one was dancing, and even ducking and avoiding miradas. We muttered disconsolately within our threesome that we wished someone would just grow a pair and invite someone to dance, when a couple actually did get up.
When they started to dance it became immediately apparent why no one else wanted to get on the floor. It seemed like this was the night all the Buenos Aires Tango Champions had decided to go dancing at Fruto Dulce. It was a free tango show! The level of dancing was very high and wonderful to watch, though there was some banging and shouting in the room next door which was a little distracting. By midnight enough critical mass had accumulated that the other leaders begin to invite us to the floor. Earlier, there was no way any of the leaders would risk his ego/manhood dancing in front of teachers and champions with an extrañera of unknown skill. Might make them look bad. I met a Canadian from Vancouver, Victor (though he must have been of Middle Eastern parents) who was very good, a Turk, and a couple of locals.
Caroline didn’t have a lot of time, and after a couple of tandas she made her goodbyes and headed out the door. Within seconds she was back and plopped herself back down on the chair next to me. I gave her an inquiring look, as the lights dimmed she said “There is going to be a show!! Folklore – nothing sexier than men stamping around!” This explained the banging and shouting from the room next door previously – warm ups! What great luck on my part to have chosen this night to go to Fruto Dulce. The folklore troupe that then ran onto the floor gave 110% and raised the roof off of Villa Malcolm that night. 5 men in sombreros, dark vests, wide pants. knee-high boots and wide flashy belts were accompanied by 5 sloe-eyed young women in brightly colored dresses. The first piece was a Zamba, an incredibly dramatic (sometimes overly so) couples dance that involves constant eye contact, whirling of hankies and swooping in and away from a partner, with the men assuming manly positions and the women coquettishly approaching and then moving away. The second piece was a Chacarera (a folk dance from Santiago del Estero) which I love, and after the first round, the performers all grabbed audience members. Caroline shoved me forward – and I happily partook of the dance with one of the lead bailarines.
My partner returned me to my seat and dashed off for a guitar while all the other men lined up and assumed wide legged stances, chests projecting, fists clenched, as if about to challenge some supernatural foe. (A bit melodramatic, I almost saw teeth-gnashing, but we are talking Latin American performance here). One dancer extracted himself from the group, stalked around the room glaring at everyone, and then reassumed the manly I-have-really-big-cojones stance at the center. Cue spotlight. He then commenced one of the most vigorous zapateos I have ever seen. Called Malambo, a dance created on the pampas or in the south only for men, it calls to mind the rhythms of galloping horses.
The dancer creates strong and hard rhythms with his feet, stomping and smashing, heeling, toeing and occasionally twisting his foot over to hit the outside of the ankle on the floor (this one made me wince). This foot percussion was fast and furious and went up to 11. It was repeated by two other male dancers, both equally determined to outdo the previous performer. The energy was so high that once the guys were finished and sweating, the audience rose up in fantastic applause and appreciation.
The lights went up, tango resumed and off we danced again. After an hour, I thought ‘well that was great’, and commenced packing up. I headed out the door but saw the performers gearing up for round two, and did a Caroline – walked right back in and plopped down.
The lights dimmed again, this time the 5 male dancers were onstage each with a drum hanging from their shoulders. This part is called Bomba. The rhythms started slow and mesmerizing, but again rose to a fever pitch with drumsticks flying and clashing off drum heads, boot heels and other drummer’s sticks in an amazingly complex and bombastic choreography. Two of the drummers then put their drums down and remerged with Boleadoras. Two lengths of rawhide line with a hard hide-wrapped round stone (a bit bigger than a golf ball) at the end of each one. This was like hard-core poi. The folklore artist swings the balls on strings at high speed on either side of themselves, hitting the floor and accompanying with boot heel zapateos. This creates yet another rhythmic structure, and a dangerous one at that. Missing and hitting yourself with one of these whirling missiles could break a bone at the very least.
Then the kid shows up (remember the bored little kid in the hoodie?) He has long dark hair, and is now dressed similarly to the men on stage – dark clothes, big wide flashy WWF belt. He is also carrying boleadoras. He stalks around glaring at the audience and then assumes the manly position at the front of the stage. (I must say, this posturing does make me giggle, especially in the case of an 8 year old). He then turns into the Tazmanian devil Jr., boleadoras, hair and little boots flying everywhere. Quite impressive, although he did manage to wrap a string around his leg partway through. Then the whole company of males dancers finish with a final Malambo that raises the dust onstage to their knees and with a final breathtaking slam-bam-crash! it is over.
Tango Diaries 2012
April 15th and 16th.
Here we go – year 7 for me, year one for Chris.
Having winnowed down the number of paris of shoes I felt I ought to take down to BA to 8 (not including runners and sandals) I ended up with only 4 pounds leeway in my baggage weight allowance (50#) this year (Wha?!) I didnt feel like I overpacked, yet there was very little wiggle room for extras in my luggage. Now I realize, we are taking equipment and Apple computers (a laptop, microphone covers and 2 tera-byte hard drives) down to Ignacio and Caroline and the Tango digital archive (http://tangovia.org). Portland Maine is a big part of saving tango music, one heart-breaking song at a time. Flying with 3 laptops total and 2 carry-ons each creates havoc, or at least lots of dispersion of belongings at the security checks. Three tubs for computers, then shoes, then the carry on bags, uh oh, where did the passport and ticket go?… Oh, step where? Hands up? You’re x-raying my insides? Wait, you want to pat down my KNEES? really?!
OK, now collect everything, put it all back together, decrease the entropy of the whole situation and off we go.
We flew from Portland to NY, took the skytrain (LOVE the skytrain! You can get from Kennedy to Brooklyn in under an hour if you want) to terminal 8, rechecked the HUGE bags and headed to the Admirals lounge.
I have never flown first class in my life, and will probably not do it again any time soon and its a trip! I am squeezing every drop out of the luscious experience.
There is a lovely buffet set out in the lounge with cheeses and meats and seeded crackers and fruit and soup and a *full* bar (!)Then the little desserts came out, chocolate chip cookies, and macaroons and brownies and whoa… We did take a few Earl Grey tea bags for the road, since we both like it and weren’t sure we’d be able to find some.
Flying economy in the future is going to be rather harsh.
Too many macaroons and 3 cups of tea later, we have reviewed BsAs photos from 2 years ago and last year’s tango diary and Chris is feeling a bit more prepared for the Tango in BA experience.
Just saw on FB that a friend – Shawn Vaniman who Laura and I encountered a couple of years ago will be in BA while we are there. I am looking forward to dancing with him again. Well, at least with his right hip. Shawn is about 6’7” tall and I am 5’2”.
Just before boarding the flight to MIami we had chocolate anxiety. I brought 10 bars and Chris brought 8, but didnt think we’d have enough for 3 weeks, so we bought 4 more 85% Godiva bars at the airport. We are now fully dark-chocolate over-enabled and diversified with 3 different varieties. That was a little extreme. We now realize we may have over-reacted and plan to use some of it for barter.
On the first class flight to Miami, my feet do not touch the floor in this seat. I feel like a tourist in first class,and I’m taking pictures! I had to recharge my laptop, but the power supply in this plane is a car cigarette lighter DC outlet. WHAT? Chris is sitting next to me reading a book – an autobiography of a San Francisco tango dancer’s experience in BA.. After reading a few lines, I realized that the the author is describing the apartment *We Will Be Staying In* No joke. On calle Juncal, in Palermo, owner: Adrian. This is a small planet.
We were greeted at the airport by Marcelo and transported to the apartment where we will be staying. On autopista we witnessed some of the huge damage inflicted by a minor tornado that ripped through the city 10 days ago. Huge trees with limbs torn off and strewed about. it was amazing to see all the raw ragged scars and shorn tree tops. Marcelo said they had never had such a case of extreme weather here, and they realize it is a symptom of climate change.
Sunday night: After getting ensconced, we set off for a concert given by La Escuela de Tango – Ignacio’s tango school. We were waylaid by yummy empanadas,and then realized we needed more pesos than we had, so returned to get a bank card, then jumped into a taxi and headed to the other side of the city. We arrived late, but were able to enjoy the full sound of at least a 20 piece tango orchestra and dancing on a concrete floor (ouch- hard to pivot). Some wax from a candle nub I keep in my bag minimized that. We both danced and were quite happy. The concert ended quite early – 10 ish and so we set off for El Beso, only to arrive and find out that the venue had been temporarily CLOSED by the City due to some sort of inspection/licensing issue. Big blow! The organizers (who I recognized from last year, and who recognized me!) took my email address and promised to email as soon as it reopened. Bummer. El Beso is my favorite milonga and there are other milongas held in the space on other nights. I hope they fix that soon. We just decided to walk home at that point and get some sleep.
Monday: After realizing we were dealing with an obsolete tango map, we decided to find a new one. Oh, also, for those who think we are slow, the wifi here can only handle one hook up at a time, so Chris and I are tag-teaming on the computers so we can look at email, check in, put up the tango diary etc. Ah, we are discovering that the conveniences we are used to are slightly amended here.
We ate some oatmeal and headed firstly to the bank. The lines at the bank makes the DMV look like the Four seasons lounge. You have to take a number and a subset letter and have seat in what looks like an auditorium. We wondered if it was a Monday morning thing or an Argentine economic collapse thing. Either way, Chris decided not wait in line and we made for a bank machine and ate the fee to be able to walk out of there in under an hour. Time is money.
We found a fabulous cheese shop and bought amazing Sardo and Gruyere, some olives and sausage (one would think we hadn’t had breakfast) for lunch. An amazing lunch on the patio ensued, and well fortified, we set off for the afternoon jaunt.
We walked to the Abasto (about 45 minutes) and found a tango clothing store with an irritated clerk (“go away, you are bothering me with your capitalistic shopping requirements” although Chris did find a nice -black- top) to Artesanal, a tango shoe store, full of kitties. The kitties (4) bounced and rustled in and out of the shoe boxes while Chris tried on many pairs. A very nice clerk there took Chris’s foot measurements and she chose a front of one shoe, a strap of another and a heel height (8.5cm) and we are going back next week to see the frankenstein creation that happens. Chris also found another very sexy pair of black and silver shoes that works just fine. She is ecstatic and danced in them in the for a few hours later at the El Arranque afternoon milonga. Abasto to El Arranque (in the Congreso area) was another 45 minutes or so of walking, so we did get lots of exercise today, and then walked backwards for 2-3 hours at el Arranque. On the way to the milonga, Chris bought a little backpack and that made all the difference in carrying capacity and comfort.
A taxi ride home, some vegetables and empanadas and rice and beans in a buddha bowl (YUM, so bringing that recipe home with me!), then a midnight run for some DDL (get used to this acronym: Dulce de Leche) completed the evening and we fell into bed exhausted at 12:30 or 1 am.
Pictures to follow, the internet connection here is so slow that its making downloading very difficult.
Tango diary # 2 April 17,18,19th
Mostly good and some bad today. We woke, puttered, then breakfasted and headed quickly out the door trying to get to the water museum (palazzo de agua) before 1 pm. We made it just before at 12:45pm. I am glad, because I have been trying to get there for years. The building covers a full city block and is encased in British Royal Doulton ceramic. It is gorgeous, orange and blue and ornate. Located at the highest point in the city, It houses 8 tanks for a full 78million litres and was instigated by the government at the turn of the 19th century to centralize and clean the municipal water system. Before that, most houses had in-home tanks and yellow fever ran rampant. We took lots of pictures inside and outside, many beautiful old toilets and bathroom fixtures, a mobile bidet, translucent glass water tanks with rubber floating bulbs, foot-thick ceramic tiles from the exterior of the building, spigots, pipes, faucets, all in late-1800’s decorative style. The museum closed at exactly 1 pm, and we were firmly ushered out by a state worker who was obviously not going to stay any longer than necessary.
We headed to NeoTango. unfortunately nothing there was interesting or in my size, but Chris was won over by some beautiful tango dresses (sparkle!) We continued on. Some clothes shopping ensued, and there was some great fake-bling procurement, surely to be followed by more in Once.
It was a wonderful day, but on the way home, Chris was mugged. Very abruptly, a guy who had been following us (in retrospect, we had both periferally noticed him, but not paid any attention) reached for Chris’s throat, grabbed her necklace, yanked and then bounded into traffic. All I heard was Chris scream, and then we both stood staring at each other in disbelief. It happened in less than a second.
Two older ladies approached us and asked what had happened. When we blurted out that Chris had been robbed, they both looked very sad and disappointed, and patted my arm and said they were so sorry. It is obvious that the Porteños love their city and are horrified when something bad happens to someone there. So we are now more vigilant, more skeptical and some of the innocence of discovering the city has been lost.
BUT, Chris rebounded within seconds, and we received so much support from our friends that there was palpable love coming from the northern hemisphere. Thank you everyone!
We had a little snack, took a nap and decided to finish the day well, so we headed to Milonga 10. This is a milonga more favored among the hip fashionable in-crowd – definitely not a Blue-hair milonga. We didn’t sit down much and had a very global evening with Russel (London) Cathol (Ireland), Simon (Poland) and Maximus (a local). Cathol and I had an interesting discussion about how the local women don’t actually like to dance with foreign men. I hadn’t actually thought about it from the leader’s side. I danced with Cathol 3 times that evening, and Chris danced with him also. Something about Irishmen and dancing – very compelling. Also, I ran into and danced with Martin, the Patagonian that Laura and I encountered 2-3 years ago when city smelled like it was on fire. Read that tango diary to see why this is a big deal Chris left at 2:30, me at 3, and we both felt like the evening compensated somewhat of the unsettling events of the day.
woke up at 11am after 8 hours of sleep (yay), puttered, then had lunch, another buddha bowl, and walked to Comme il Faut down Arenales into Ritzy Recoleta. Via Starbucks (yay globalization) where some delicious Early Grey and yummy hibiscus tea were finally purveyed.
It was a beautiful day for a walk. However, Comme il Faut was a Faut-Pas. In the past, the CiF experience is a fun shoe filled frenzy with mountains of boxes of beautiful shoes, a huge mirror and cheerful employees hauling out ever more foot-confections. This time, the two ladies were pissy and annoyed, and seemed put-upon, as if selling shoes was really the last thing they wanted to do, even though we were the only ones in the store. So, after a couple of try-ons, we bailed and walked downtown.
We walked into the Teatro Colon (now open, sandblasted and absolutely gorgeous) and vowed to return for a guided tour ($110 Ar Pesos – wooo, steep!) later in the vacation. Onwards we walked to the Obelisko. A massive phallic marble-faced monstrosity at Corrientes and 9 de Julio. It is as tall as, and shaped like the Washington Monument.
On a little side street, we followed our spidey-shoe sense tingling, and found Flabella Tango shoes. AMAZING SHOE COUP FOR EMMA, and a sparkly skirt for Chris. They gave me a special price for 2 pairs, paying cash, and I couldn’t refuse. Laura Cecilia! Green shoes from Flabella!
We were pretty tired at that point, so we took the Subte home ($ArPeso2.50, about 0.58 $US). The collectivos (buses) and Subtes are subsidized. Murals are cleaned up and gorgeous due to a federal grant and has now been taken back over by the municipal government. At one point the train stopped in a tunnel with many bodies pressed together in a very warm cabin. Chris and I glanced at each other and hugged our backpacks tightly. However the shoe-phoria pulled us through the discomfort and we were soon on our way.
Another nap and dinner with Juan-Ignacio at a local parilla (our skirts were not blown up by this meal, but it was nice to talk with J-I) and he volunteered to take us on a weekend day out of the city for a day trip. We hope this works out, but are not holding our breaths. people here are more focused on the present and future promises are tenuous at best. Milonga tonight at La Viruta. La Viruta on Wednesday nights anyway, does not have cortinas. One has to listen carefully to the set of music being played and know when the style is changing to be able to get your “Thank you!” in, and escape if its not something you want to continue. But, overall great dances! We met Zev (Israel) excellent though small dancer, and a great pleasure to dance with. I danced with Aytak (Turkey) who was pleasant, though frail. And, Lucas (the greaseball) showed up again. Remember him from previous diaries? The one who thinks he is God’s gift to women, especially me? Actually, I had a very nice couple of tandas with him, even though my hair tickled his nose: “esa me molesta”. I do understand, his perspective, being a short leader myself, my face right at hair height. Chris had an excellent night with only one so-so experience with a beginner. She accepted a milonga with me )glad I brought the ballet flats). (she says: “Emma remains the best milonga partner I’m likely to have in South America”. Awwwww, I bet you say that to all your roomates). Some guy, Okkar, form Portland OR came over to introduce himself, ask us about Matt and Anna, and had recently stayed in New Haven with Brian D, and then turned around and walked away. Seemed silly to us not to ask one of us to dance after making that effort, but anyway. Maybe we’ll see him another time.
Left La Viruta at 3 am (Chris was so proud) because our feet hurt from dancing so much. It was starting to get busy and I recognized many folks from other milongas (Martin showed up, some guys from practica Ekkis (X). La Viruta is where everyone goes after the other milongas shut down.
It was nice to walk home forwards after walking backwards for so long.
Woke at noon. breakfast, I seem to be having some massive allergies and am completely congested Ack.
Ignacio Varchausky (co-originator of the Tango digital Archive Http://tangovia.org and contra-bass player, director of the tango orchestra El Arranque, and subject of Si Sos Brujo, directed by his wife Caroline Neal) picke dus up for transport to a rehearsal of the Escuela de Tango 2nd year students. A lively dissussion in the car ensued with IV waxing poetic on what makes Argentina in general and Porteños specifically, tick, or why they don’t really tick. Upon receiving the computer and microphone parts we had muled from the US, he told us that since the tango music preservation is not really valued in this country (where the music started?!) he has been targeting 95% of his efforts abroad. This, he thinks is due to a lack of national identity for many Argentines and denial of the pain that this country has endured, much of which gave birth to tango. This was the subject of a lengthy dinner discussion later.
Ignacio took us to Cafe Vinilo, a little cafe where The Escuela Tango Orchestra 2 yr students use the performance space for rehearsal. They are also preparing for a recording session in 2 months time. Glorious tidbits of live tango ensued with occasional luxurious full songs. They are rehearsing a piece “Tierra Querida” (“Beloved Country”) arranged by Raul Kaplan who played with Miguel Calo. It is the first time in 50 years this particular arrangement will be played live. The swell of the violins hit us, surrounded and bowled us over, as we sipped tea and massaged each others feet and wondered if there was really anything better than this.
We also met Met Ante (the Tanda of the week on FB guy). heis staying in BA for the next 6 weeks helping Ignacio and the TDA develop a FB presence with photos and video. He asked us for an interview later on, and that will be a lot fun!
An interesting point learned today: Argentina has legalized gay marriage for the entire country.
Chris may have O-D’d on Alfajores.
After some more down time, Ignacio and Caroline picked us up for dinner and took us to one of their favorite restaurants. A tapas restaurant in Almagro (our old barrio form last year). The food was spectacular, and the conversation fabulous, with Ignacio
Ignacio and Caroline are still fully in love and a=it was very lovely to hear of how they met
IV’s father was a Russian Jew, his mother catholic, and he has married an American and he uses himself to demonstrate the cultural confusion experienced by many of his fellow Argentines. His opinion is that Argentines are failed Europeans, and don’t know it. They don’t have an organized national identity. He thinks that the preservation of tango is away of healing and remembering who they are. He is also of the opinion that the government ought to be a strong leader in this endeavor, but he has been stonewalled in every way, and has had his budget cut by 30% this year after fighting the same fiscal and recognition fight every year for 12 years.
they have the equipment, the tools and the media to be preserved, what they lack is the $ to attract skilled sound engineers to do the digitizing work. He likens the problem to the disappearing family members in the photo from “back to the Future”. Every day, something breaks, or burns or tears, or gets eaten by the family dog, or sold to a collector who will not part with it even for copying to an archive that would preserve the material for future generations to appreciate.
He and Caroline were very appreciative of the Portland Tango community. He recognizes the lifeline of support, both financial and emotional, especially from Charles Duncan and Laura Blutstein, without whom, many tangos would be moldering in some attic, and Ante would never have been connected, and we wouldn’t be here. So thanks Charles and Laura!
No dancing tonight. But tomorrow, live music at Cafe Vinilo with El Arranque, Ignacio’s orchesta, and 2 singers: one their usual fabulous singer that Caroline is all squishy about, and an accompanying singer from the realm of local Pop: Kevin Johansen. (never heard of him…) Apparently born in Alaska. OOOoooh. Just checked him out online. Look up “guacamole de nada” on youtube. Gonna be a fun night tomorrow!
Tango diary # 3 April 20,21
April 20th and beyond
Woke up after 9 hrs, had excellent oatmeal with toasted walnuts, pear and yogurt. We dont eat out a lot- why would we, plus we like to eat the same things and on our block we have fruit and veggies, cheese, sausage, empanadas, a littler supermercado, a confiteria, all we could ever want. Finding plain yogurt is a chore, but we pick it up whenever we see it. We did a Pilates mat workout (Hope! you’d be proud of us), and headed for the subte.
We rode the Subte al centro to change $, said hi to Juan Ignacio, and did a quickie drop in to La Confiteria Ideal for coffee and dancing for an hour. We were seated in a tiny corner of the room, behind a row of leaders. Poor location notwithstanding, we were sought out by many leaders in the room and surprisingly had a couple of good dances. The quality of dancing here is not high. One is lucky to find a good dance. It is such a tourist destination for single followers, and older local followers who don’t have great technique, that leaders who would normally not be able to get a dance, would be be able to pick up dances with unsuspecting gringas here. Chris had a partner who stole a few kisses and murmured spanish sweet nothings in her ear, which were ineffective because she doesn’t speak spanish. YET. I did have one good dance, and the we left while we were ahead.
Though the quality of dance is not superlative, Chris says the afternoon milongas are great for the ego, because we are in huge demand by the older leaders. The local 60+ followers are not very good. There seems to be no core strength – they are floppy, frumpy and lumpy. Also they wear what may have been in vogue in the 60s/70s/80s, but its not such a great fashion choice now. All power to them though, it doesn’t stop them: lace cut-outs along the side of the skin-tight short dress, bizarre animal print leggings, flab-constricting upper arm fishnet gauntlets.. etc. And the make up is always a bit over done. yikes.
One man bustled up to me as I finished a set and requested a tango tanda with me (Hey buddy what happened to the cabaceo?) and started to explain at great length why he wanted to dance with me particularly. I had just been invited by Ruben (see previous tango diary) and so was able to slip out of it. Stymied, he then invited Chris. BIG ERROR in my book. Chris graciously accepted his invitation, but NEVER DO THIS GUYS. And here’s why: no woman wants to feel like she’s the second choice. If your first choice gets away from you, wander away and try the other side of the room. If one woman says no, do not ask the woman next to her. This is why the cabaceo is so great. It makes sure both parties want to dance. No uncomfortable rejections or mercy dances ensue.
We did some empnanda shopping on the way back home and encountered Marco-Antonio a shy Porteño who is studying English, and had an illuminated smile. He siad he only worked in the store on Friday, so he wasn’t sure if he’d see us again (boo hiss).
We took an effective power nap and then walked to Cafe Vinilo to hear El Arranque (Ignacio Varchauvsky’s band) play.
Reflecting on last nights’ concert. Ignacio is a ROCK STAR on that double bass. OMG! He’s lit from within and so fun. I particularly like how he uses his instrument as a drum! El Arranque, Ignacio’s tango band, is so sublime it’s like a religious experience! And his singer. There are no words! He has a Grecian profile and the voice of an angel. Sexy and smooth and rich. Kevin Johansen sang a tango he wrote about the snow that fell on Buenos Aires this past July 9. Was fun to watch him gesture into the air at the magic of that moment. He also sang Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”– both in English and Spanish. (The guy was born in Alaska for heavens sakes!). We pinched ourselves with the privilege of hearing this level of artistry in a small venue in BA. Thank you Charles and Laura for making these connections for ALL of us!
El Arranque is indeed awesome. And interestingly, Ignacio is the most animated of the group, with eyebrow gestures, and body movements, introducing the pieces, educating and charming the audience. The rest of the group did warm up and and break a smile or two later on. El Arranque consists of: Ignacio Varchausky, band leader, double bass, host. Ariel Rodríguez, Amazing piano player, hides in the corner next to his piano and makes it dance in our ears. Martín Vázquez (Guitarra Eléctrica) he had no affect whatsoever, but the sound he made filled the spaces in the music perfectly. Camilo Ferrero (Primer Bandoneón), he had a handsome hirsute and intense look, and reminded us of Mike Arciero in his ruggedness of features. The sound of the bandoneon just melts the audience. He is one of the main teachers at the Escuela de Tango. Marco Antonio Fernández (Segundo Bandoneón) The young man was hard to read, excellent sound and technique, but not much personality until they gave him a solo. The whole band sat silent while the deadpan Marco Antonio pulled out this incredible combination of calliope/music box playfulness to a breathless audience. Actually the audience was so appreciative, they started applauding during one of his last pauses – we don’t think he was done, but he graciously ceded the finale to audience. He was more animated following his solo. Guillermo Rubino (Primer Violín) is also a teacher at the Escuela, and a more talented violinist would be hard to find. He and Ignacio had eyebrow duels during some of the more dramatic parts of the music. (It spoiled me for anything other than perfect violin, and there was some less than perfect violin later on from Los Reyes del Tango at la Viruta. More on that in a sec.) The second violin was a sub, a woman from Australia whose name I didnt get. Her technique was excellent, but had zero personality in the band. I’m sure she was just trying to stay on for the ride. Kudos to her for choosing such a wonderful playing experience. Which brings us to the singer: Juan Villarreal (Cantor) who reminded me somehow with his body language of Barack Obama, though with a very aquiline nose, His voice was strong, sentimental, smoky, clear and perfect for the genre. He could have been singing with a scarf (bufando) around his neck, a hat and a cigarette dangling from his fingers in a maltese falcon sort of way. I guess it was very hot on stage because he kept wiping his brow with a paper tissue and Ignacio teased him about it (panuelitos en papel) and started donating tissues.
An adorable biligual pop musician, Kevin Johansen sat in for 2-3 pieces – he had a wicked low voice! and was fun (see Chris’s description), but not as memorable as the rest of the band.
The whole performance lasted about 90 minutes with one encore, but we could have sat there all night long. Note to self – go home at the high point of the evening, or risk disappointment. Chris intelligently did this. Plus she wanted more sleep. I was hoping to continue the live music vibe, so I went to La Viruta as Los Reyes del Tango were playing. It was a disappointment from minute 1. There were beginner lessons going on when I got there, a hundred people staggering around the floor, being taught figures (wha?). I waited until that was over, then I was kicked off the table I was sitting at by returning students. A very nice gentleman named Javier offered me a seat at his neighboring table. He introduced his friend (another Javier, that was helpful) who had rather wild hair. In Castellano (porteño spanish, which I am getting pretty good at now) he said not to be scared of Javier2, though he seemed seemed bad, he was in fact very nice. I asked Javier2 if he might be just a little bad, because all good was quite boring. Javier2 in response asked if I was married. Nice comeback.
I did dance with Javier1, who is a gentleman, but not a great dancer. In fact, there were no great dancers last night, and the music was awful compared to what I had just experienced with El Arranque. I bailed in disgust at 3:30, having sat through a couple of salsa sets and a rock n roll set – gah, not in tango heels, thanks, but Porteños sure love their rock n roll – and I was getting stiff. At 3:30, entry is free, and folks come in from other milongas, so the dancing quality would have gotten better, but I had had it at that point.
This town has a thin shiny veneer of everything running smoothly, which when broken through shows the crumbling system underneath, the government denying the rampant and crippling inflation, the subte workers striking frequently, the infrastructure in disrepair, the slums and paco addicts (paco is a cheap and lethal drug). No wonder there is no concern for preservation of tango history, and music. They are all just trying to stay alive another day.
Yet somehow, the Porteños keep on keeping on, they live for the present. they have no savings, no future plans, and they cannot escape. It is too expensive to leave. This is why so many tango teachers reach out to foreign more stable markets and travel outside Argentina to teach.
We got talking to the store clerk at GretaFlora Tango shoes, and she had a few things to say about the government, the current president Cristina Kirchner “worse than a man, she has PMS, or maybe menopause…” (Chris found this statement disconcerting) and the plight of regular working Porteños. To buy an apartment, you had to pre-pay (2500$pesos a month) for an unbuilt site, and then hope that the builder follows through. The monthly payment wavers with inflation. She also, upon hearing of Chris’s mugging pointed out that no Argentine woman on the street wears any metallic jewelry, in fact, wears anything that might be misconstrued as valuable, so as not to have earlobes ripped or necks bruised. She then said “I’m sorry that happened, that’s not who we are”.
Today we walked through Once, the neighborhood I stayed in twice before. We walked through at 4:30 pm, and everything was shut down. Either everyone closes early in preparation for Sunday, or most of the stores are owned by Jews, BsAs houses the second largest Jewish population after the US outside of Israel. And a few Nazis from WW2. We walked past a few Hassidim out for an evening stroll on our way back. And then the subte shut down while we were waiting for a train. Good news: we were not ON the stuck train.
Chris put her foot down and we taxi’d back.
Saturday evening was wonderful. We did a Pilates mat series, made the best buddha bowl yet and watched some Eddie Izzard laughing until we cried. Then Chris hit the sack, and I found out where the Cachirulo milonga was. Off I went and had some great dances with some of my previous dance regulars. I didn’t sit down all night. The owner greeted me like a long lost daughter, and seated me in a bevy of women in the corner. I met Gabriela (absolutely beautiful Argentinean woman who had lived in LA, and a woman from Tokyo, and a couple of other English speakers. We chatted happily and sporadically, keeping the mirada open, flitting off at the end of each cortina. I think it was the women who chose the dances, really, selecting where to aim the mirada (visual net) towards certain groups of men. It was so well populated (over 100 people easily) and we were all squished together so tightly that the mirada and cabaceos had to be laser-sharp, and then double checked. I didn’t move out of my seat until the man who had asked me to dance was in front of me extending his hand. It must have been even harder for the men, trying to pick out a certain woman in a tightly packed group. I danced with Diego (a pilot from previous El Beso connections, and we agreed what a shame it was that El Beso was closed, though it seems to be due to fire safety regulations – uh, yes I’d like some please…An aside: Chris would like to know why we need a key to get out of the apartment building. This means instant fry-o-lator if the building is on fire. The regulations are obviously way different here.) I also danced a couple of Frenchmen, a nervous Greek (Leftari, you are much more confident than this guy), many Porteños (I had a fabulous deeply anchored and wonderful vals tanda) and a dance with a German – Andres – ended the night. My feet hurt so much at that point that I walked happily home (forwards is a great direction after 3 hours of backwards), dropping into bed at 4:45 am.
Tango Diary # 4 April 22,23,24,25
April 22 and onwards.
Happy Earth Day.
Well, today started at 2 pm. It’s now 6:45pm, and we haven’t gone outside yet. I do plan to go out later, but Chris will take another day relaxing and kicking her cough. We went to dinner with a new friend in Recoleta – Jessica O – and unexpectedly ended up at Barbacoa the same parilla Juan-Ignacio took me and Laura to a couple of years ago. It must be a neighborhood favorite.
Jessica is charming and has recently bought an apartment in Recoleta. She is here for 2 weeks to set it up, and will then be renting it to foreigners, like we are renting from Adrian. She brought 4 large suitcases with the help of her mother with things like towels, sheets, bed comforters etc. Apparently those things are over 4 times more expensive down here. Especially electronics – she even smuggled in a TV. Well, smuggled, she put it in her hand luggage, but nobody stopped her. I have definitely noticed things being much more expensive this time ‘round, from taxis to vegetables to shoes to Milonga entries (20-35 pesos). I don’t know how the locals do it.
Conversation with Jessica was fascinating, she left Argentina at 9 months and currently lives in Conneticut. She truly feels she has found her roots here, which is interesting to us, since Ignacio says that Argentines have trouble with their identity. We have since connected them, since we think everyone ought to know about the tango digital archive, and she was vey happy to know more. Watch out Ney, we are sending her to your tango classes in NYC!
One of the subject of discussion raised was the rampant anorexia in women in this city. Certainly the average woman here is not encouraged to be strong or exercise in any way. There seems to be a lack of vitality, many smoke (smoking has been prohibited indoors for years), and the diet does not include many vegetables. And no one seems to sleep here. People are running around at all hours of the night, at cafes, or walking, and they have to work in the morning (unlike us).
Anyway, many women at the milongas are stick-thin, with some crazeeeeeee plastic surgery – many boob jobs, and a really fantastic butt-job (gluteal implants) that was witnessed last night. (I thought she was wearing a foam skirt – Chris tried to get a picture, but her camera was never at the ready when the woman stood up).
The night of 4/22 I went to Porteño y Bailarin and Chris went to sleep. It was a fun night of dancing with the El Beso folks doubling the crowd at PyB because El Beso is still closed (inspection issues). I ran into Cathol, the Irishman, and we had a great time on the back floor, and lots of other dances as well. Greaseball was there with his date and tried very hard to steamily gaze me down on the dance floor. (ick, give it up dude), but otherwise I had great night and walked merrily to the bus stop and rocked public transportation home at 4 am. yeehah! BTW, the 12 and 152 run right up and down Santa Fe if you ever need them.
Another mid-afternoon start (the day seems to now regularly commence at 1 pm) and we walked towards Once. We walked down Lavalle and found one could meet all of one’s mannequin needs. If you wanted a full body, a torso, an arm or a leg of any color, you’d be able to find it here. Thank goodness. On into Once, through the teeming multitudes and unbelievable amount of plastic crap sold in bulk stores. We found Confiteria Los Angelitos on Rivadavia, had a coffee and some medialunas and then continued two blocks down to Congreso and had a few moments of appreciation of monolithic architecture. The Congreso itself is HUGE, and lit, and jaw dropping, but next to it across the street is my favorite building: El Molino. It is huge, hulking, dark, boarded up, unused and gothic with windmill blades 3/4 up the spire. Hollywood could do a lot with that building, and it needs millions poured into it to restore it.
I went to practica at El Motivo (10 pm – 2 am) – excelente! A great level of dancing, but it ended too early at 2 am with a chacarera. That reminded me of how much I miss it, and now I’m going to bring it back, darn it, but I like the idea of doing it at the end of the milonga, leaving on a high note.
There was a great demo by same couple we saw previously. They turned off the lights and danced with flashlights illuminating their feet occasionally, their faces, he had a microphone and lay down on the floor and recited high speed poetry (incomprehensible to me) it was tango performance art and it was wonderful.
Walking back, I saw two she-males. Woo- too much plastic surgery – was hard to tell what was real and what had been inserted. One had their chest exposed with a shiny stretched look between the nipples, with facial features that were far too broad to be a woman, and the 5 o’clock shadow gave it away. The other teetered around on 5 inch heels with serious gluteal implants and lips blown up to almost the same size. Fascinating.
Today we visited the Evita museum for a couple of hours. It was amazing and very informative, we had an excellent tour guide: Anna. The museum was created and endowed by Evita’s family, and is a little biased, but completely fascinating. Eva was the youngest of 5 children and had a theatrical bent. The father, Juan Duarte was a wealthy landowner who had another (legitimate) family and wife. He left Eva’s mother to support 5 children alone, then died leaving her nothing but permission to use his name. Eva’s mother took in sewing to support the family. Anna did a Great job telling the story of Evita’s younger years, witnessing the single parenting and poverty of her mother and the family, thus setting the stage (so
To speak) for her later initiatives for the support of single mothers and the poor. Eva moved to BA age 15 to become an actress and was a successful actor and radio personality by age 25 when she met Col. Juan Peron at an earthquake fundraiser, and form then on was his partner in the rise of Peronism. The museum demonstrated how much modern Argentina has been shaped by her and Peron and their long view of how to shape a country. School textbooks for children about Peronist ways and how to call Evita “Madre”, Little theme parks (The Children’s city) to show them how to behave in Peronist society, Homes for single mothers where they and their children are cared for, it’s an insidious way to create a nation of support. On the other hand, people were raised out of crippling poverty, given jobs and a future, and the state took care of the people’s health and welfare. Its a fine line.
A quote by Eva Peron: “I know I have succeeded because two groups hate me: the church and the wealthy “ Though she was Catholic, there was a big schism between her and the church, also since she was such a proponent of the poor and state-run industry, she pissed off many wealthy entrepreneurs who would rather have had the contracts for themselves.
The museum had lots of her beautiful clothes from the 20‘s and 30‘s, and followed her childhood, her career as an actress, her political career,and her very strange death. Following her death from cervical cancer at age 33, her corpse was preserved, hidden, and transported for 2 years around BA in a truck, then shipped to Milan, buried for 15 years under a false name, dug back up again, sent to Spain, then finally 22 years later brought back to Argentina and buried 8 feet under a slab of marble so she will rise again. or something. These Latinos are crazy (toc toc toc). They obviously do not understand composting as a means to make something go away.
Chris is back to tango. we went to Porteño y Bailarin last night (where I performed bellydance last year). Chris’s words: “I had wonderful dances, seeing the giant game that it is, slowly getting the cabaceo, practicing mindfully sitting back and watching the show, whatever happens.”
She likens the cabaceo to foraging for wild mushrooms – if you dont know what a morel looks like without a mycophile accompanying you, it will take a while to get used to what to look for. It is a deconditioning of northern/western cultural mores: not staring or looking for longer than 3 seconds because that would be misconstrued as rude. Casting the visual net (mirada) to catch an invitation (the cabaceo) is part of the dance, and it tends to be a selective process controlled by the women.
We arose early for us (11:30 am) and then walked into Almagro to visit the Tango Digital Archive with Ignacio. We asked Jessica to accompany us and all of us headed to a great little neighborhood parrilla for lunch, thence joined briefly by Caroline who is heading to Virginia tonight to visit her mother, to be back next Monday (phew?!). It is and excellent little local parrilla; chorizo, provoleta (grilled cheese), salad with a postre of flan with a dollop of ducle de leche on top (Chris is now all about DDL again). Then we headed to the archive, the offices of which are in a newly built layer on top of Ignacio and Caroline’s house in Almagro. Apparently if you want to do any sort of improvement, you just have to do them without applying for city/state permits because the application process is too cumbersome. Then you just pay the little fine for not filing later on.
Annti walked in while we were in the offices, and we learned that he will be DJing at Canning on 5/15 – damn, missing it – and that in real life he is also fire dancer in a circus, as well as a much sought out European DJ – wow. check it out: http://anttisuniala.com/
I had a lovely time with Anna and Vivi – the office staff ooh-ing and ah-ing about tango shoes. Chris and Jessica had an introduction to the archive, and experienced the magic of listening to a piece before and after it has been cleaned up. Ignacio has a great digitizer and would like to hire another, since the amount of information (sheet music, old records, photos) is so great and it all needs to be transferred asap before it breaks, burns or is otherwise trashed.
I just did an experiment with the HelpArgentina site
http://www.helpargentina.org/en/digitalarchiveto make a donation to TangoVia. Very easy, like registering to pay something by credit card on Amazon, or your bank, or paypal, it takes about the time of one tango to make a donation. So play your favorite tango and try it out! The way one feels after is great – not only have you just listened to your favorite tango, you have just saved a few in the process! It takes about $6US to digitize a piece of tango music.
OK, back home, a power hour nap, and then off downtown on the subte to Tango Porteño, Broadway, tango style, thanks to one of the musicians in the orchestra – one of the Escuela’s first graduates. The music and dancing was superb, though almost laughable with legs flying predictably all over the place. It was tango larger than life with all of the stereotypes blown to full proportions. Tough guys in suites, scarves and hats, women’s costumes with slits up to there, the prostitute scene… But there were also some very interesting elements such as a woman who danced with a torso marionette as a partner, a balletic partnership where the woman was blindfolded for the entire dance performing fabulous acrobatics and aerials zooming around her partner like a comet. The excellent orchestra was featured as much as the dancers, and there were two main signers who though obviously very well trained, were a bit too brassy/gritty/loud for me. The $5 bottle of water was a little daunting, and it was a shame, and rather shocking to us that the theater was only 10% full.
Chris’s words: The place is a gorgeous huge theater. Young women with breast implants and rhinestone encrusted little hats greet you as you check in for tickets. After you are seated and given your menu, a couple dressed as tango dancers come up
and pose with you then snap your picture hoping you’ll buy it later!! No thanks.
Such huge contrast between this huge theater and a local Milonga! But that’s
show biz! Emma has gone to the ladies room to get blinged! I blanged myself at the table not caring about social comportment. We shall de-bling upon leaving. And will re-bling once again when we arrive at a Milonga
We will now conjugate the verb to bling:
I bling, you bling, she blinged, we blang, past tense: she blung, subjunctive:
she should have blung ….how ridiculous.
A bit of a denouement to the day was searching out “La Bruja” milonga previously held at the now closed El Beso room. This night was its first foray into a new location: Club Fulgor. It was rather scanty and desolate. Some regulars had searched them out, and few newbies, but everyone seems to be hiding in corners of the room, not making eye contact. No one danced with anyone they didnt know. I danced with the dancers there who knew me, but only one older confident milongero ventured out of his comfort zone to dance with Chris, the unknown element in the room. After sitting and stiffening for too long following that dance, she announced she’d rather do email and headed home. I left not long after. Its too bad, I think we witnessed the death throes of what was one of the most happening milongas in BsAs. We certainly won’t go back there this trip.
An interesting linguistic aside: We saw an advertisement for “Al Horno Limpio.” What do you think this means?
Well, if you are an ObGyn with limited Spanish it makes you wonder and giggle, or it could be a Viagra ad. Actually, it means “a clean oven”.
Tango diary #5 April 26 – 29th
This set of the tango diaries is a series of memory snapshots because we have ceased to operate in normal linear time. I no longer have any idea of what time it really is. We had brunch today at 4:45 pm, and it felt like 11 am. gah!
Today there was a video interview by Chris with Antti on the topic of the Tango Digital Archive, and why she thinks this is so important. Chris has got the short interview format down pat and Antti was left with great footage and his head spinning as she gave him exactly what he needed in 15 minutes. He and Ignacio plan to have about 20 two-minute mini-videos about the archive edited and postable by the time Antti heads back to Finland.
We have been trying for 2 days to get heat on in the apartment. It went from summer temperatures and walking around in tanks and shorts to chillier Autumnal weather requiring scarves. Finally, Gustavo (the porter) came in, dismantled 2 out of 3 heaters and somehow got them working before we left for Chantecler – a musical that Igancio wangled tickets for.
Chantecler was incredible. It was a tango musical with over 25 dancer/actors headlined by a diva-dancer Mora Godoy (head producer, choreographer and had the biggest boob job on the stage)
The storylines were many and convoluted, 7 or so vignettes happening at high speed on stage concurrently, and the whole production was without words, so you one just had to be really focused which thread was being teased out at the time. Basically, an old cabaret is being bought and renovated, and there are scenes with an old man and a broom, a policeman and a prostitute (the perennial BA character) street soccer players, a real estate agent and buyer, all in high heels and within 5 minutes, or at the same time. Anyway, you get the pictures of the high speed action of it all. The cabaret is bought and then somehow the scene travels back in time to return to its former glory of 1920s dance madness, a madame, Two love triangles, a bed scene with 5 people in the bed, pregnancy, betrayal and pay off, cat fights, exodus, murder, decay and ruin!… and a return to the present day with a nice reiteration and full circle ending. All in about 90 minutes, including an intermission, where presumably the dancers fell flat on their backs backstage and panted heavily.
We were breathless throughout the entire show. Broadway has nothing on Buenos Aires. Both productions we saw were top notch.
We then walked 15 blocks or so from the Corrientes theater to tonight’s milonga at Niño Bien, and it was VERY Bien. Neither of us sat down all night, and Chris’s feet didn’t hurt at all. She doesn’t understand why not but is thankful.
we arrived at about 11:30 pm and got a very good table. There were many folks there, a good variety, but not an overly-full dance floor where the leaders couldnt move. There were quite a few beginners there (aka: visitors, tango tour groups), as reported by the leaders I danced with, but overall, the floor flowed well. of course, I usually have my eyes closed and am blissfully unaware of the eye daggers, traffic control and maneuvering that the leaders are doing. I got bumped by a careless leader, and the very large and older gentleman I was dancing with rewarded the onslaught with an elbow to retaliate. We followers really don’t know the machinations of what is happening on the floor while we are dancing along. It’s like 2 different worlds colliding and strangely coinciding. The leader simultaneously creating a beautiful dance for the follower while dodging and parrying along the line of dance. And the follower dances blithely on in his arms.
The last 3 dances were the best. I had a tanda earlier in the middle of the night with an elderly man in a canary yellow vest (really? yellow?) who called himself “Tigre” (Everyone has a tango-handle here. I love it – we need to generate these – Black Swan, Woody…you know who you are.)
And once I stepped into his embrace, I truly felt that I was in the arms of a maestro. He had a table of young male admirers, perhaps his students, that he showed off a bit for. I could feel it when we went past a certain point in the room, the moves got a bit more flamboyant, and cheers and adulation erupted from that particular table. It caused me to open my eyes and see smiles and approval from the group. I smiled back and winked at the group to let them know I was complicit in the show, not an accessory.
On our street corner there is a hotel with a red neon line wrapped around the overhang. Large sculptures of voluptuous nuzzling fish goddesses rub huge breasts against each other and stalagmites sport mars and venus symbols. This is a “Hotel Transitorio” and we have counted at least 5-6 different “working people”, transvestites, she-males and one or two females of the night. They are garishly garbed, make up caked on (not really hiding the bad shaving job), and usually skinny with one pudgy one in knee boot and spike heels. One was wearing roll up stocking over the knees last night with a pink umbrella (it was slightly raining). They have long black hair in various curly forms (wigs, I’m guessing and how do they stay on during?) and when they speak their voices are loooooooow, and startling. I received one “Holá, como anden?” from one of them as I power-walked past.
After an afternoon walk down to Recoleta, we appreciated the grandeur of the embassies along Del Libertador, which has bike path along it, well used by cyclists, rollerbladers and joggers.
During all of our walks, we enjoy the beauty of the enormous trees, uncut by thoughts of power lines. They create a canopy over the streets. Some are in bloom now, but they must be beautiful in the spring when everything is exploding with flowers.
Speaking of flowers, we saw the huge metal flower sculpture by dusk. About 4 stories high and the same size wide, sitting on its metal stalk and replete with stamens and pistils, it is a gift to the city of BsAs from its creator and has photovoltaics that allow it to close at 8:30pm and open again in the morning.
Food times on the Buenos Aires schedule have evolved into something completely different than usual. It adds to the sense of the surreal.
“Break Fast” the meal one eats after waking up at about 1 -2 pm, puttering, checking email and drinking maté. Could be just about anything ranging from oatmeal to full-on parilla.
“Late Tea”: post-nap meal eaten before heading off to dance, usually quite healthy and well thought out. We have been making “Buddha Bowls” of rice/quinoa, garlic and onions, other vegetables (carrots, broccoli), olives, beans, tamari and avocado (for Chris).
“Post-Milonga Food Frenzy”: at about 4-5 am when one is at one lowest food-intellect level and eats whatever is closest, fastest and highest in glucose before falling unconscious due to a sugar crash, to awaken groggily later at 1-2pm.
lather, rinse, repeat.
Chris’s shoe coup at Artesanal: Chris is in shoe heaven after finding not 1 but 3 pairs of shoes that work well for her. She celebrated by buying 2 skirts and a cute little scarf – watch out Maine Tangueros, she is all about the clothes.
I went to Cachirulo that night, then La Viruta and had some dances with some of my favorite leaders. I got back around 6 am. whoa. There is a weird dichotomy of walking back in the early morning from La Viruta, crossing paths with those going to work, a few unconscious people on the sidewalks, and even more still in pizza joints and at bus stops continuing the party, stubbornly still pretending its still the night before. Its 6 am people. Time to sleep it off.
We met for a late brunch with Iona (OK, it was at 4:45 pm, so I guess it’s officially lupper). Iona and I left La Viruta the night before at approximately the same time, not night, early morning, well, I don’t know, you get the idea of how time is flexible here…one has to rename and reframe regular time. We went to Olsen (slash through the O, but I cannot find it on this keyboard) a Danish-inspired place and had smoked salmon and eggs and toast and potatoes etc. We talked until 6:30 pm, then walked a few blocks to another venue and saw a free concert given by a quintet of students from the Escuela de Tango. The first song was a little rough given what we know about the quality of students from the school, but they warmed up and did some beautiful Piazolla and Salgán. We were met there by Shaun Vaniman (our friend from Portland OR). The cafe supplied big pieces of paper to draw on, so Shaun and I did music-inspired doodling. I did mine with my eyes closed and the results were loops and swirls and rises and falls, and I realized that it was basically a visual representation of how a follower feels and dances the music. Interestingly, Shaun did his with his eyes open and came up with jagged and square patterns. We then filled in the blanks. I found Godzilla munching a spiral (and added fiery breath) in his patterns, and he found a poodle in mine. He added spectacles and bloodshot eyes in true boy fashion.
From there we took the subte to La Glorieta – the bigger version of our gazebo milonga. Over 200 people can fit on that beautiful marble floor, and milongas are held there every weekend day year ‘round when it’s not raining. We saw Pablo (a small guy I danced with 2 years ago) and in fact my last dance there was leading him in a milonga – he was a great follower and very much enjoyed my leading, which was heartening to know I can hold my own in a local milonga here as a leader.
!!!!!And this is because everyone follows the rules!!!!
I have cutnpasted Charles’s FB post here. They hold true in BsAs, ALL of them. I have added my own comments after the ***.
1… ANTES DE IR A LA MILONGA NOS BAÑAMOS….
(before going to the milonga we bathe)
****Can I saw how important this is? Plus I always bring a toothbrush, and altoids.
2… LA PILCHA Y LA ELEGANCIA ES CONDICION NUMERO UNO!!!
(the fine clothes and elegance are the number one condition)
****The older set really dress it up. Its an occasion to be seen. Only the younger set grunge around in jeans. Actually, I like both possibilities.
3… DESPUES DE PERFUMARTE, A LA MILONGA….
(after you put some perfume, to the milonga)
****Some of the guys really smell nice down here. Some smell of old cologne, but NONE smell of BO. The BO-iest person I smelled was a woman sitting next to me. peeee-yoooo.
4… A NO BAILAR TODAS LAS TANDAS Y HASTA LAS CORTINAS MUSICALES, ASI VAS A PARECER UN CABALLO LOCO, BAILA SOLO LO QUE TE GUSTA!!!!
(do not dance all tandas and cortinas as you will appear like a crazy horse, dance only what you like)
**** I guess that makes me a crazy horse.
5… ABRAZALA SIN LASTIMARLA, PERO QUE EL ABRAZO ELLA LO NOTE!!!!
(embrace her without hurting her, she will still notice your embrace)
****no brainer here.
6… MARCALE TODO LO QUE QUIERAS HACER, PERO NO LA LASTIMES, ES UNA DAMA!!!!
(lead all that you want, but do not hurt her, she is a lady)
7… USA LOS CODIGOS DE CONVIVENCIA MILONGUEROS, CABECEALA, Y SI NO SABES, APRENDE!!!!!
(use the codes in the milonga, the cabeceo, and if you don’t know them, learn)
****This is why I can lead in BA as a small leader, and no one crashed into me, Everyone is dancing with each other, and the whole room moves together, like the mothership.
8… AL TERMINAR CADA TANDA, ACOMPAÑALA HASTA SU MESA…
(at the end of each tanda, accompany her to her table)
****This is the height of chivalry, and really important, because we have been dancing backwards with our eyes closed, are perhaps dizzy if it was a vals, and likely don’t know where in the room we end up.
9… RESPETA LA RONDA , Y LA MUSICA, PERO EN ESE ORDEN, EL TANGO ES UN BAILE SOCIAL….
(respect the traffic, and the music, but in this order; tango is a social dance)
10..NO HAGAS FIGURAS PELIGROSAS PARA LAS DEMAS PERSONAS!!!! ANTES DE HACERLE LEVANTAR UNA PIERNA, PENSALO MIL VECES!!!!!
(don’t do figures that are dangerous for the others; before leading her to lift a leg, think a thousand times)
****And followers, your legs are your responsibility, No high sticking if you dont think/sense its safe. Even if your leader leads something big, you as the follower also have to think a thousand times.
11..APRENDE A RESIGNAR FIGURAS PARA GANAR EN AMISTAD!!!!
(learn to give up on figures in order to earn in friendship)
****perhaps the biggest thing new leaders need to learn.
12..CUANDO ENTRAS A UNA MILONGA, SALUDA A LA GENTE QUE CONOCES….
(when you enter a milonga greet those you know)
****it boosts the community in the room
13..CUANDO TE VAS DE UNA MILONGA, SALUDA A LA GENTE QUE CONOCES…
(when you leave the milonga, greet those you know)
****it boosts the community in the room, and takes forever to leave
Tango diary #6, April 30 – May 5th. Last one. It’s long- make a cup of tea and sit down.
April 30th, Juan Ignacio takes us out of the city to Little town called San Antonio de Areco. It is filled with folks out for the holiday weekend, and it is a beautiful day to be outside in the sunshine. A break from the nocturnal lifestyle: getting vitamin D in natural form instead of the pills we take daily. We have salami and cheese sandwiches in a little “Pulperia”, the name of which we guess is derived from Galician immigrants to the pampas who mostly eat octopus (pulpo) in their native land. Apparently Pulperias were general stores/bars where one could exchange the latest news, get a drink, and buy supplies on the pampas or in the little towns in Argentina. The shelves in this place are appropriately dusty and groaning under the weight of glass bottles and cans of various stuff. We have a walk through a museum-like place of an estancia (ranch, or farm) where gauchos would have been employed as ranch hands wrangling huge herds of cattle in the early 1900s. Argentina supplied meat to various war efforts, feeding soldiers on any side, not really caring who they sold it to. They were a huge economic power at the turn of the 20th century, the peso practically on par with the US$ at the time. Now it is 4.4:1 and spiraling downward, with huge inflation for the citizens. One gets the feeling that the bottom might drop out of this country at any time.
May 1st – May day, Beltane, Dia del Trabajador
Its the international day of the worker, respected almost everywhere except the United States and Canada. hmm. Too socialist of a concept to become a comfortable festivity in the US?
We head down the street to the park and fall into the Rosedal – an enormous rose garden with many different varietals, one which smells so bewitching I can still conjure it up in my mind’s nose – an enchanting and powerful combination of rose, citrus and lemongrass. It is the sensual high point of my day! I can barely get my nose out of it to continue our walk.
After wandering through other green spaces (reminds me of NYC’s central park) we also check out the (less-than-spectacular) Jardin Japones, $16 pesos, and totally overrun with people, toddlers, pushchairs. Ick, but the slow-mo Koi were fun to watch.
Most shops are closed, but there are a few supermercados run by Oriental proprietors, and a few others things. So much for the absolute statement of Juan-Ignacio that “everything will be closed you will find nothing open!” I learned a few trips ago to take everything a Porteño says with more than a few grains of salt. Times to meet etc., are all quite variable. It seems to be unmanly to state anything without absolute conviction, even if it’s malarky. And now I know most of it’s malarky.
We decide to dance early at Cachirulo, across town at Boedo Tango,and head off in a taxi. Whoo- it’s far and was not worth the effort. Its a darkened rabbit warren of connected rooms and dance floors, and the one we end up in is strange. The piste is pitted and scarred, and there is a concrete speed bump cutting the dance floor in half. No joke, its about 1.5 feet wide, painted yellow, and looks like it belongs in the middle of a street. I cannot relax for thinking that I will tumble over it at any time. This milonga has been displaced and is another casualty of El Beso’s closing. The discomfiture of the attendees is palpable and no leader is taking chances by dancing with anyone new. This leaves Chris sitting for practically the whole time we are there (which we intelligently cut very short). I have a few dances with familiar leaders, but the level is surprisingly poor. A nut ball called Roland invites me, and I find out he is completely awful. He approaches our table later another time WITHOUT the cabaceo and I can see his intention. (He thinks I will dance with him again just because I danced with him once? Not a chance.) I duck, cover and successfully mirada another leader quickly and get up to dance with him. Roland passes me and my new partner, making a hand gesture, and then attaches himself leech-like to Chris before I can warn her. I see them out of the corner of my eye while dancing, as she politely bends towards his conversation. Later, they are on the dance floor, and I can tell its not going well for Chris by her body language.
her words: Apparently he stopped after the first piece, derided her, told her how to change her arms, that she was off her axis, and that there was this thing called dissociation, Oh, and that he happened to be a tango teacher.
From my experience with dancing with him, the fool couldn’t even hold his own axis. It was only 10+ years of dancing and considerable core strength that kept me on my feet with him. We bailed soon after, and the organizer immediately became our best friends “oh, leaving so soon?!….”kisskisskiss. I said yes, because my friend is not dancing at your milonga. I am never going to the Boedo Tango location again. Bad juju all ‘round.
We took a taxi to Salon Canning where there was live music by Color Tango. This was the best decision of the night. A table right on the dance floor, friendly and frequent (and failing quality, at least entertaining) dancing, a great orchestra and again, neither of us sat for long. We met a large Polish man with great gravity and musicality. We ran into Cathal again, our surrogate Irishman – always need one to have a party! He was very happy with his spiffy new shoes. We admired them appropriately. The British faction was seated across the floor and though they are friendly, I am not sure who has worse teeth – Brits or Porteños. Another British couple was seated next to us, those two were strange – her voice very loud, harsh and braying, and he was a terrible dancer though nattily dressed. I am appreciating the cabaceo down here more and more – helps filter out the strange ones. We both danced with Jorge, who must be an octagenarian, but his embrace was strong clear, firm and virile. All leaders should hope to reach 80 and have such energy in the dance as this man. Both Chris and I were blown away, and told him so. He was clearly enchanted, but not overly surprised. At the end I took off my shoes, my feet were tired and sore and we were about to head home, when a milonga tanda came along. Ooohh!! I put my shoes back on and twirled my feet at a hopeful-seeming man at the bar. Success! A young man called Diego cabaceo’d me and once we were on the floor said it was so hard to get a dance with me, since I never sat down to be available (yes caballo-loco syndrome, I guess.) We had a lovely milonga tanda and then I was truly done. I put on my boots with 4 disappointed guys looking on, (OK, can I just say I kinda reveled in that?) and headed for the door where Chris was waiting. On the way out I spotted Jose, and went over to greet him and “say where were you earlier?!” He said: you are leaving? So I blissfully finished the tanda with him, in my boots and I don’t think I could have wrung another drop of dance out of myself that night. Chris and I agreed on the walk home that the day had been wonderful with the one hiccup starting the night in the wrong place, but that we had redeemed everything by heading toward live music and the night at Canning.
Wednesday May 2nd – Dinner in San Telmo and the Gay Milonga
We have resumed our regular schedule of daytime of awakening at 1 pm, do a Pilates mat series, then go walking a bit. In the evening, we take the subte downtown to meet Iona for dinner in San Telmo. We are entertained by the usual centro-bound concert in the train by buskers – this time it’s a quartet of trumpet, accordion, drum and amplified bass guitar. They play “All of Me”, another snappy jazz rhythm and then the theme from “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”. Their ability to play accurately and still keep their balance as the train accelerates, decelerates and sways between stops is impressive. We and many other travelers on the train applaud and drop money in the hat before they thank everyone and move on to the next car.
An aside – one can use cell phones in the subte! There is reception – how do they get this underground?
We walk through the Plaza de Mayo – the seat of government – on our way to dinner. The Casa Rosada (literally the “Pink House”, as opposed to the White House) is the seat of Government in Argentina. This is where Eva and General Peron (and many other leading figures) made all the speeches. The plaza is where the mothers and the grandmothers of the “desaparecidos” – those who disappeared during military regimes – still keep a vigil and a protest. A recent chat with Ignacio V reveals that those militia guilty of the horrible crimes are now finally being hunted down and incarcerated one by one. Progress! It only took 40+ years.
The Casa Rosada is built of pink granite and at night, brightly lit by pink floodlights. I guess this is a result of having a female president. Perhaps if the next election produces a male president those lights will turn blue. It is a very beautiful and rather whimsical light display.
We take a street perpendicular to the plaza – Defensa, and along to Cafe Seddon in San Telmo to meet Iona for dinner. They have a hilariously translated menu. Highlights include:
Day fishing in a sauce of leek and bacon with broken small potatoes
T-bone with warn potatoes
Gran Seddon king size plate with piglet tenderloin slices and gourmet surprises
For dessert, they have
Chocolate wet caken with ice cream passion fruit
Submarino: (basically hot chocolate that you create yourself at the table) their description: “our Submarine diving into our Atlantic ocean, a Large Glass of hot milk, where you submerge a Solid Bar of Chocolate and then enjoy”
Iona shared a great story of breaking a tanda with El Pulpo. Apparently the man she was dancing with was being an idiot, so she said thank you and left him on the dance floor in the middle of the tanda. He stood there with his mouth open, hands on hips, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened (The arrogance down here is astounding sometimes). Honestly, why would one continue to stand there? Scuttle off the floor and pretend it didnt happen, don’t bring all sorts of attention to it. Anyway, he was apparently this big-shot dancer with the tango-handle: “El Pulpo” (The octopus) due to his style of dancing with lots of leg wraps. However, Iona says that down here he has a reputation for other things, and has abused many followers. She was secretly congratulated by more than a few women for dropping him during a tanda.
I have heard of him – he has taught in Houston TX, and I think Hsueh Tse hosted him last year. I hope he behaved himself better in North America.
After a delicious meal, we walked to Indepedencia, with an unintended detour (Iona and I were mistakenly following each other) through Plaza Dorrego, a very touristy tango spot. A little trio was playing in the plaza. Its about midnight. We finally found the gay Milonga (La Marshall). It’s held in a lovely dilapidated crumbling old building I have been to before for a despedida (going away party) of someone Laura and I met a few years ago. You go up a flight of stairs, past a giant moldering mirror, through a room full of towering windows and into another room which has a second floor now screwed into what was very difficult rutted dance surface. More progress. It’s a quarter-full of grungy gay male couples trying out flying-sneaker activities. I dance with Chris and Iona, and it’s nice to lead for a bit. The atmosphere is very laid back, so much so, that there seems to be no line of dance, or at least lots of jumping line. Gay guy couples go whizzing past me left and right, to my consternation.
I also dance with a man from France – I lead first, then since he is taller, we switch and he leads which makes him more comfortable. He is an excellent leader, but the energy is quite flat. He is approached by a flamboyant boy as we leave the floor which makes him happier.
We spend about an hour there, but it gets boring since there are so few people there and they don’t mix. We head out, dropping off Iona at her house, then me at La Viruta, and the taxi with Chris remaining in it heads home. I spend the last vestiges of the night happily dancing my feet off. Firstly a magical tanda with Diego, (I make him laugh long and hard after our tanda by telling him “neccesito uno cigarillo ahora”) and a milonga, then I convince him to let me lead him for the second two. He is doubtful but I remind him that I lead him two years ago, and since the floor is so open we try it. I keep it very simple and musical and he is very pleased with the experience. Two for two with leading tonight. Other nice dances with Leo, David (big hulk of an older guy who speaks Spanish, English, French and a smattering of Arabic) and Shaun. I leave around 4:30 am and walk home through the quickening city streets.
Thursday May 3rd
Our afternoon walk today takes us up Luis-Borges to Plaza Serrano and then through Palermo SoHo – we discover a very swanky-swank area of town with shops that could be found on the streets of Milan or Paris. The swank extends on calle Honduras from Serrano to Scalabrini Ortiz, then the atmosphere abruptly changes back to regular BsAs grittiness. I look for a BnB/Hotel called The Magnolia that my parents want me to investigate. They met the proprietors in Viet Nam this past February. The enormous skinny heavy wooden door just another drab and normal entryway from the outside. On the inside it is opulent, marble everywhere, cowhide covered ottomans, a fountain, an indoor patio, 8 beautiful rooms. All this beauty hiding behind the camouflage.
We head home to get ready for a 9 pm concert, but on the way, Chris in intrigued by a sign advertising “ictyoterapia” and pictures of people sitting with their feet in tanks of water full of little fish. She convinces me we have to do this. Look this up on wikipedia. Its pretty interesting (an understatement). After the initial squeaky “OMG I’m going to jump through the window” feeling, it was rather effervescent, and our feet were certainly clean afterward. Yes, the fish were nibbling dead skin off our feet. wow.
We met Ignacio and Shaun at CAFF (764 Sanchez de Bustamante) an independent event space owned by an Orchesta Tipica (little tango orchestra) and heard an unreal set of music played by Puente Celeste. I’ll try and detail what was onstage. 5 guys.
guy # 1) Guitar, vocals, whistling, he also took a turn on the drum set.
guy # 2) piano, accordion, melodica, cahon with paintbrush
guy # 3) percussion, on everything. He was sitting in huge pile of found of found objects bashing them, a bird cage,
a big broom-like thing made of reeds, tablas, cahon, bongos, gongs, tubes, a garden hose (sounds like an elephant)
Tibetan prayer bowl, Berimbao, African stringed gourd, a cow bell, and various other tinkly things.
guy # 4) double bass – he had a crazy wonderful solo in the middle of everything
guy # 5) clarinet, oboe, tin whistle, recorder (sometimes both tin whistle and recorder at the same time) pursed lips, harmonica, Jew’s harp (boing boing boing).
They played astonishing music (Chris bought a cd, so we’ll be playing some on the radio show 5/10) and also created soundscapes that were reminiscent of the jungle.
From there, Ignacio drove us wildly through town to arrive at his favorite pizza place right when it closed at midnight. (What? things dont close here?!) So we went next door to sample a city favorite – its a pizza dough base, covered with about an inch (no joke) of cheese (mozzarella and another type mixed, very tasty and melty) embedded with garlic and covered with onions. Chris and I have vowed to re-create it for a Tango party soon. It was a HUGE midnight cheese bomb, and thank goodness we walked about 15 blocks home, because… damn. We were still full when we woke up the next day.
Friday May 4th – La ultima tanda
We started at Vinilo. Tocan quinteto Carlos Schizzo with violinist Guillermo of El Arranque and teacher at the tango school along with a pianist, bandoneon player, guitar player and double bass. Strange very convoluted music ensued, kinda like tango jazz. Very technically proficient musicians, but it was a bit music-nerdy for us as dancers. Neither Chris nor I could really get into it. However, they did have some cool singers. There was an amazing woman – Moya – who had a beautiful voice and sang a conglomerate of crazy Brazilian intervals. She was followed by a trio of two ruffians in jeans and hoodies and another angelic-appearing guy. They presented a completely surprising piece rather like Gregorian chant. Chris got footage, and also shot another clip of great piece with palmas (flamenco clapping). Apart from that, the rest of the music left us a bit cold with all the other songs seeming herky-jerkily the same.
From there, we went to Salon Canning and met up with Shaun V, his friends Anastasia (Denmark) and Nicolas (a Belgian molecular biologist who sat in complete silence and immobility). Steven Cook was also there, a dancer from NYC who is just melty to dance with, and both Chris and I are very happy that he is usually in the Northern hemisphere. A trip to NYC will need to happen soon.
It became progressively more crowded at Canning until the performances. The first one was an anorexic stick figure of a woman wearing what would have worked well as a bellydance performance outfit and her stolid partner, doing a squirmy kicky unpleasant demonstration. Instantly forgettable.
The second was the legendary Aurora Lubiz and her partner Luciano. Aurora is a great favorite in the BsAs Argentine Tango scene, a local teacher, and an exceptional performer (youtube her – she is amazing, as is her partner). They did a tango, a milonga, another tango and then finished with a waltz to great acclaim. Normally I get grumpy sitting at a milonga for so long, but this was like a Broadway tango show – they were so good. We caught them last year too; May 4th is her birthday, and it seems like they perform at Canning to celebrate. The place was packed, but luckily thinned out a bit after the show.
At about 3:30 am Shaun, Chris and I walked over to La Viruta, (free entry after 3:30). It was my last night and I was determined to finish with a bang (I did). Chris then taxied home, and Shaun and I set up shop at La Viruta. A couple of medialunas revived my blood sugar, and Shaun had a submarino (DYO hot chocolate: hot milk comes with a bar of chocolate and you then submerge the chocolate into the milk so it melts) and I danced until 5:30 am. The last two tandas were the best. At this point I was in ballet flats, my feet and balance had finally timed out of heels. The penultimate with a Brazilian man, Alejandro, fast and nuevo style, zooming all over the floor making great swirls, changing levels and speeds. He and I were very happy when we were finished.
My final tanda in Buenos Aires was a beautiful Pugliese set, and I was invited by Shaun, who is 6’4”. I am 5’2”. I nestled into his right oblique and we had possibly one of my nicest tandas ever. After Pugliese was over, La Viruta concluded the night by turning the regular lights off, the flashing colored lights on and playing a nuevo piece. This was followed by total blackout and then a CRAZY cumparsita in blue light. I think it was blue – my eyes were closed as Shaun took me on a rollercoaster dance, flying around the floor marvelously and perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better tribute to the wild and crazy ride this trip has been.
We walked out pooped, and Shaun showed me the hidden bakery door where you can ring the bell after 5 am and get fresh medialunas and other pastries before it officially opens. mmmmmm.
Clutching my bag of pastries in one hand, and my tango bag full of shoes, I hurried home as the sky lightened. I passed other party goers stumbling home, transvestite prostitutes still working at 6:15 am, yet others readying the supermarkets to open.
This city truly never sleeps, it just has shift changes.
Saturday May 5th – homeward bound.
Ice cream and pastries for breakfast! Breakfast of champions at 3 pm!
Iona brought over 6 different flavors packed artfully into 2 different containers. Dulce de Leche with chocolate chip, Malbec, Extra-bitter chocolate, White chocolate with lime, Chocolate with hazelnut, and Gianduja (embedded with hazel nut paste). It is HANDS-DOWN the best ice cream in the world so far. Sorry Italy, France and the US, it just is.
Apparently the heladeros (ice cream employees) have to learn how to put 3 flavors beautifully triangulated into a quart foam container, without squishing them all together. Not necessarily rocket science, but still a skill. I applaud them. Ice cream is a great send off.
And then the first class flight home. They gave me pajamas! OMG, just got a menu. Now I understand why my Dad doesn’t mind flying to Africa and Viet Nam. They fly him first class. Ahh, ignorance is bliss. I will be forever petulant about coach now.
I am looking forward to being in my own place where everything works, with my own routine, dancing with my own community. Traveling is great, and there is no place like home.
My thanks to Chris N for sharing this years journey and making it fantastic.
We also send love to Ignacio, Caroline, Juan-Ignacio, Shaun, Iona, Diego, Marcelo, Adrian, Alejandro x 2, Jorge (brother of El Flaco Dany), Pablo, Cathal, Alfredo, Dennis, Tony, Nickolas, Dante, Leo, Steven, Ganoush, Farhat, The afternoon dancers at El Arranque, Bernardo, Gustavo, Jose-Luis, Jose, and many other milongueros whose names we have already forgotten, but whose dance we have not. Besos.
Tango Diaries April 17th and 18th 2011. Solo Sistah…
OK, here we go, Buenos Aires (BsAs) 2011, Las Hermanas de Tango: part 6 for me, part 4 for Laura.
I left Portland for Toronto, then on to BsAs on Saturday April 16th at about 5 pm.
1st leg PWM international jetport to Toronto Pearson (which maybe the only reason Portland gets to call it’s jetport “international”). The plane had 2 props and about 18 seats. 19 if you count the toilet. After a rather bouncy flight we arrived without incident in TO. A good thing to be going north today actually, since tornadoes in N Carolina/Raleigh was messing with all flights south. Actually, upon looking at a map, we didn’t fly north, so much as east. TO is pretty much above Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
Gah # 1: four hr layover in Toronto.
Gah #2: unmentioned stopover in Santiago. Sneaky Air Canada.
Gah # 3: Perhaps too many Scooby rice cracker snacks. Salt salt salt.
Gah reversal #1 : Yoga in airport. Yay for travel mats.
Gah reversal # 2: My Dad playfully requested vegetarian meals with my airmile ticket. It was actually not too bad! We got fed first, and lentil curry with rice is hard to screw up. Gah reversal # 3: Thanks to Ambien, slept about 7 hrs.
Net Gah score: 0. Not bad for almost 24 hours of travel.
There were amazing vistas flying in to Santiago. Chile is dry and mountainous. I don’t think it ever rains here. But, we just dropped down, and after exiting the plane, and walking to a different gate, we got right back on the same plane and off we went to BsAs.
The difference between Argentina and the US: I mistakenly walked right past customs and out the door to the luggage carousel. No one stopped me. I was reminded by a friendly Canadian couple that I probably ought to go back and get my passport stamped, or there would be hell to pay on the way out. So I walked right back through and got back in line. No fuss no muss.
If I had been in the States, bells and whistles and dogs and AK47s would have ensued. Here they just looked a little bored and gave me a 90 day turista stamp.
All North Americans and Australians Must buy a one time ($US75) or 5 yr ($US150) entry pass. I got the 5 yr one. Guess I’m coming back. This is because Canada, the US and Australia charge Argentinians for their visas. This is Argentina recouping some of that $. Can’t say I blame them really… And since the exchange is 4:1 in our favor, no one ought to bitch about it.
Upon chatting with Luis (the taxi driver who ferries us to and from Ezeiza airport) BsAs is now 30% more expensive compared to 2010. Milongas last year were 15 pesos to enter, and they are now 20 – 25. A steak is about $US10 now, versus $6-7 last year. Still fine for tourists, but citizens here are having mucho dolores.
We are in a New Barrio this year: Almagro. We’ll be able to walk to Canning and Viruta and Palermo. Woo! So after unpacking a bit, and getting the feel of the apartment and the keys, I went for a little –what my father would call – reccie (recconoiter). We are on the corner of Parco Almagro, a block of green space. Along the 4 streets that border the park there are verdulerias; fruit and veggie stores, panaderias; bakeries, although they seem to mostly have dulces-sweets! Argentinians love sugar, and confiterias; corner cafés where one can have café con leche, media lunas and small meals. Along with other little shops, open and recently closed – victims of the rapid inflation that keeps striking the city over and over again. I bought some provisions (toothpaste, jam, a cabbage, 2 tomatoes, a cuke, brown rice, lentils, an onion and a head of garlic – cost $40pesos AR, or $10US). After a brief dinner, I deliberated over whether to go to El Beso or Canning.
In the end I chose El Beso, and there were good and bad sides to that.
On the plus side:
+ I ran into Iona Italia, a woman I hung out with on my last night last year. Meeting Iona was helpful, since she is hooked into all the right places to be and when. GOLD!
+The first dance was the best dance of the night with a guy recommended by Iona: Sergio. The dance was dreamy and started the night off well.
+ I had called and made a “reserva” , which turned out to be essential, since El Beso was packed, and there would have been no place to sit. A while ago, calling and speaking to someone on the phone in Spanish would have been very scary, but I seem to have the hang of the language now. As long as folks speak slowly.
+ I also saw Daniel, a Porteño I danced with last year who is a tango singer and composer. He is very sweet, and although not the most amazing dancer, is very musical and gentle to dance with.
On the minus side:
- The first dance was the best dance of the night with a guy recommended by Iona: Sergio. ‘Nuff said.
- Another minus: I ran into some serious attitude, after being invited to dance by a New Yorker – Kevin. We had a rather nice dance, I thought. And he said as he escorted me back to my seat that it was a very pleasant dance, slipped me his business card and told me to check out his website – Advertising milongas in BsAs, NYC, Rome, and other worldly areas. A rather aggressive marketing move, I thought. As the night wore on, it was observed that he preferred to dance Nuevo in a Salon that is mostly traditional and had a very crowded dance floor. Not a good choice for El Beso on his part. He also invited Iona, and we were sitting together at that point comparing notes on various partners (duh – do guys think we don’t talk!? If you mess it up with one woman, all the rest of us know about it.) Iona asked him if he linked to blogs on his site – apparently he said disdainfully “only if they are world-class blogs…”. Hmm, what makes a blog “World Class” fer goodness sakes?
At the end of the night, he came over to us and addressed Iona as if I were not there and thanked her and told her that she was an amazing dancer and that it had been one of the best of his night. Wooo. Can you say RUDE?! Where did he get the idea that it’s OK, to come up to two women you have danced with, and compliment one and ignore the other? I was astounded at the discourtesy. So now we both think he’s an ass. Oops, his business card just ended up in the toilet. Must’ve slipped out of my bag.
Anyway, we shared a taxi home. Actually, we hailed 3 taxis, and the 3rd agreed to take us in the direction we wanted to go. The first 2 were apparently going home, and were not interested in heading toward Almagro. Wha?
So, into bed at 3 am with earplugs and eye mask, and slept until…
I guess I didn’t get as much rest as I thought had on the plane. Now I’m right back into the nocturnal rhythm on needs to develop for dancing in BsAs.
Monday, after 3 pm: zoomed over to La Maria Practica for a couple of hours.
Originally this practica was only for women, but there were a couple of men there. Natalia from Uruguay has been dancing for 5 months and leads and follows like a champion. She recommended Tango Queer on Tuesday nights, which I may go to so I can lead a bit, otherwise, no chance. Also, I danced with Iona who helped me decode a leg wrap I have been having trouble with. I met Franco, from Belgium who prefers Nuevo style and we whipped around the floor for 7 or 8 tangos. That was very nice. He recommends practica X (pronounced “ekkis” ) a tango Nuevo practica in town. The Nuevo people are not fond of El Beso – very traditional milonguero or salon style. He was relieved I spoke French, since he speaks only English and Spanish and Italian.
Note to everyone: LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE. Or Two. It boosts global connectivity! Usually I can communicate with everyone here, in Spanish, French or English.
OK, enough for now. Villa Malcolm tonight (11pm-2am) and then sleep. It’ll be an early night. Laura arrives tomorrow late morning. Looking forward to her arrival!
More in a couple of days.
Tango Diaries April 19th and 20th. Into the Night…
El Arranque – the home of Blue Hair tango
Very old milongeros. Average age: 60+. Spent first tanda examining floor and seeing who to avoid and who to dance with. For the most part, the women have terrible footwork, and the men are right on the music. (most of them, the bad ones are easy to pick out) However one or two of them had very pushy left arms, and my right shoulder started taking a beating after dancing a tanda with one of them. I was massaging it when Ruben asked me to dance. I explained the problem, and he sighed and said it happens when the man is not relaxed, and the woman tenses, it turns into arm wrestling. I agreed. Not fun – I had to take a tanda off to recover. Anyway, Ruben suggested barely engaging the open side of the embrace for a song. This worked fine for my arm, but then another issue cropped up:
Ruben: cuddle cuddle, nuzzles my neck,
Ruben, but you are so soft
Me: yes, my man thinks so too.
Ruben, and where is he? Far away.
Me: but he is close to my heart. Basta. Bailamos
We have a new roommate for a few days: a Turk called Semih. He is planning to buy a motorcycle and do Che Guevara’s route (think the movie: Motorcycle Diaries). Anyway, he is in the room next door. The door is closed, but cigarette smoke is drifting in to the common area. I asked Vivi is he was smoking in there, she said yes, is it bothering you? I said it is.
Vivi opened his door and said, “ the cigarette smoke is bothering…us… please smoke outside. Ees better for you! Smoke less!”
I love Vivi.
Practica X: The last bastion of tango Nuevo in BsAs according to Iona. She has noticed that it is less in style these days, with Milonguero and Salon style predominating. I had a nice dance with a Frenchman, Alem and another with Franco and sat and watched for the rest of the night. It was nice – like going to a tango show.
The NYC Nuevo duo was there (from El Beso encounter described previously). She is 90 # soaking wet, a spiky bundle of flying heels with no core strength. He (the rude one displaying as much arrogance as I have ever encountered) was throwing and toppling his partners left and right around the dance floor. Iona (who met us there) commented that she had wondered who the disaster on the floor was, and then recognized him from the previous night at El Beso.
Anyway, as soon as we walked in the door to Practica X, I noticed them and recounted to Laura the adventures of the night before. Arrogant Guy did at one point cabaceo her, but before she could register, Iona reached across the table and caught her elbow = ”No no no! I meant to warn you about him!” As Laura listened wide-eyed to Iona, A.G. backed off. I wonder if he twigged that you can’t dance badly and disrespectfully without word getting around like wild fire. Perhaps others can learn from his mistake.
Walking back from Pr. X, it was lightly raining, but not badly enough to warrant a taxi. About halfway home, we are were bowled over by an olfactory assault: a toasty chocolate smell that stopped us in our tracks. Must have been some local panaderia creating something yummy for Pascua, or just in general. A rather strange but beautiful experience at 3 am.
Fashion this year: Extremely short skirts. And fancy underpants are de rigeur, because in Nuevo, there’s a lot of leg flying, and there are certainly a lot of crotch shots. I noticed a fair amount of high hemlines at El Beso too – great of one has nice legs. Otherwise, not such a good idea. Luckily the MC hammer drop-crotch pants seem to be less prevalent this year. Still around, but less so.
April 20th: Slept until 3 pm. Which prompted Laura’s FB post: “4:15 pm, time for breakfast”. We trundled off for some groceries and managed to get ourselves lost within 2 blocks of the house. Note to self- don’t leave home without map. We made lunch and had a lovely conversation with Semih about his experiences in Cuba and Habana. He mentioned the black market prevalent there, and the fact that most of the work is done by women, and the beauty of the old buildings. He said it is one of his top 3 favorite cities, and he has been in over 60 countries.
After a quick nap, café con leche and empandas, we set off for El Beso , this milonga called La Bruja.
The night started off with changing in the crowded bathroom and interacting with an iron-haired older English lady. (Spanish with spoken with an English accent is uniquely weird). Another lady with long (ironed and chemically-) blonde hair exited from a stall and the craziest conversation ensued while Laura and I tried to keep straight faces.
Have you seen the movie Brazil – the character portrayed by Katherine Helmond – the one who keeps getting her facial skin pulled back and back and back? The older woman reminded me of that character. Her face had a shiny bald look, and the corners of her eyes were pulled backward toward her ears. It gave her a predatory and surprised appearance.
Chemical Blonde to Brazil Lady: Oh! I em a dermatologeest and I must tell you, your skeen is beyooteefool. (obviously recognizing a possible future client)
Brazil lady: Oh thank you! I have had two face lifts, one quite long ago and one recently…
CB: Ah, thees ees what you must do next… (lines BL in front of mirror and starts almost drawing with eyeliner on her face)
…Chatter in weird English-inflected Spanish and Castellano about Cirugia Plastica and the next steps for BL.
I guess plastic surgery is a slippery slope.
This time we seated across the room in a difficult area to mirada and accept cabaceos. Lots of squinting. Nevertheless, neither of us sat down all night.
We now have a stack of emails and phone numbers on napkin scraps and business cards from various partners we danced with. Every tanda seemed to result in one or the other of us being invited somewhere. I have an invitation to Mendoza (Jose), another one for dinner Saturday night somewhere out of the city (Carlos) (uh, eek, no thanks…), Another invitation to a tango singing performance from Gabriel. No one else seemed to be getting the invitations that Laura and I accumulated. Perhaps because we don’t sit surly and cross-armed waiting for someone to “dance” us. We are smiling and amicable and enjoy talking to our partners between each song, trying out our ever-improving Castellano.
Whatever the reason, this trip is certainly going to be a great adventure, whatever happens. Also Daniel and Ruben – two favorites from last year were there, and Ruben kindly gave us a ride to La Viruta. We are going to go and have Parilla (Argentinian BarBQ) with him and Daniel some point next week.
Oh, and the annoying greasy little guy (Lucas) from the last night in 2010 (see previous diary) showed up and asked me to dance. He’s still just as annoyingly greasy. Bleah.
At La Viruta: Walked away from one disastrous dance on the floor – kinda luck of the draw at La Viru, but ended the night with a great dance with Pablo. The fluorescent lights went ON and La Cumparsita played and that was that. I would have liked more time with Pablo, but anyway. We got home and into bed at about 5:45 am. All in all, a good night.
April 21 – 24th Tango over the Easter weekend
We tried a night at Gardel de Medellin on Parque Patricios – there were less women than usual which was remarked on as strange by our friend Alberto. We didn’t mind, since it is always the other way around. (an aside: Guys- learn to dance! It doesn’t matter what you look like, if you can make a woman look good on the dance floor, they’ll be lining up to dance with you! You’ll have your pick! This is true for salsa, tango, you name it.)
After a few hours in high heels, I got down into ballet flats for the last 3 tandas, and it felt great!
Saturday during the day was a sunny day and I went for a walk. It was nice to walk forward for a change.
That night was a David Lynch sorta night at Canning and other places. It was packed- night before Easter, so everyone was out. It was a very old crowd – and unfortunately, lots of drunkards. They drink a lot here. Older dancers seem to drink more than younger ones. Here’s a tip: don’t invite the woman next to the one who just rejected you, it’s bad form. Laura just had her feet danced off on a rock and roll set -It’s really funny to watch the older Porteños boogie on down to Elvis – and did not want to dance. So he looked at me. No woman wants to be second choice, so I was not friendly to the idea. Laura said “Oh come on…” so I relented, but should have gone with my gut on that one. He was drunk and danced poorly and kept me off my balance the whole time.
I think all leaders ought to try dancing a tanda – hell, even a song! in women’s stiletto tango shoes and see how tenuous the balance point is. It’s very easy to knock someone dancing on their toes off their axis. I did have a lovely dance with David from Sydney Australia. He was smaller than me, but knew exactly where my axis was. I think smaller leaders are generally very good, since they cannot rely on bulk to provide stability. They need to know exactly where the partner’s free leg is at all times, and where to be around her while dancing so as not to crowd her balance space.
We walked over to La Viruta at 3:30, but there was an event going on and so we tried another in the neighborhood: Milonga 10. It was youngish and cliquey and nuevo but we had a dance or two. Franco was there (the Belgian guy I met before) and he said he had crossed a number of traditional milongas off his list: Canning, Niño Bien, El Beso.
This conversation was had in French, but I am getting so confused as to which language I am speaking that it is all coming out in a mix of Spenchlish.
Its funny how the Traditional and the Nuevo crowd are so impatient with each other. (case in point: Alberto on Sunderland: “las momias”). I enjoy any tango interaction as long as it’s musical and connected and respectful. No need for arrogance or intolerance, in my opinion. But, unfortunately, like any human endeavor, the need to be better than the other sometimes predominates. Stratification happens. Problem is, the ones who think they are the best, usually aren’t. Too busy comparing and looking down on others to examine their own situation and pay attention to the dance they are inflicting on their partner.
Tango is such a microcosm of life.
So we returned to the chaos of la Viruta at about 4:30am, (with the unfortunate incident on the way of some idiot exposing himself to us. As we speed-walked past, I indicated with about a half inch of space between my thumb and index finger what I thought of the situation) and this time the event was over and the doors were open. I spied the greasy little guy at a table and we sped around the outside of the dance floor in the other direction. The trouble was that all the tables were taken, so as we circled the floor, Greaseball spotted us and came straight for us. I sighed and gave up as he found us chairs – surprise- at his table.
I don’t dislike him – he just has the unfortunate misapprehension that he is obviously God’s gift to women, especially me, and I am going to fall in love with him any second, and tries to put his hands all over the place as if I already have. I find it invasive and annoying. The fact that I could squash him like a bug since I outweigh him by about 30# is the only thing that keeps the situation risible.
He asked me to dance a chacarera, which I love and doesn’t involve touching, so I accepted. Chacarera is a lovely dance form with elements of Argentine Folk music. This one I have linked to is a demo with only 2 people for clarity, but it’s usually is done in a big group, like during a milonga or a party. It’s a line dance with women on one side and men on the other. The partners circle each other, the men do a virile stomping thing, and the partners end up coming together at the end. Its beautiful and I’d love to include it at my milongas in Portland.
Anyway, after the chacarera with Greaseball, I scooted to the other side of the floor and found someone else to dance with quickly. The rest of the night passed similarly.
Sunday night: Porteño y Bailarin. Another packed venue and a good dance night. PyB has 2 dance floors, most people dancing on the front one. We ran into Tono, a friend of Robin Tara’s and someone Laura met last year. He and a friend were drinking champagne like there was no tomorrow. Laura danced with him at the beginning of the night. I danced with him at the end, and the alcohol definitely had its effects. I used to assume here that all the mistakes that happen during the tanda were my fault, but I am realizing that that is not true.
Tono was still an amazing leader for being so inebriated, and he made some sort of signal to the DJ who played an extra tanda for him while we are dancing. Good to have friends in high places.
We ended up talking for about 30 minutes about the Buenos Aires heath care system vs The US. Turns out that anyone can go to the emergency room here for free. Locals, foreigners, whoever, its free. While that is very reassuring to me as a traveler, it has repercussions in that, as Tono says: todos- los Peruanos, los Urugayos, los Paguayos, they all come to BA and use the free emergency room.
Hmm. Socialism has its drawbacks. In my opinion, it ought to be free for the local taxpayers, since they have already paid for it, but have a (reasonable) cost for the visitors.
I think I am coming down with a cold again, could be allergies – boo hiss, so I am taking the night down to rest (of course, we did sleep 5 am to 4 pm today, but whatever…) and write.
April 26 – 29th
April 26th, Well, the shoes have been procured, on both our parts. Prices this year are predictably higher than last year by about 30% at Comme il Faut – the Cadillac of tango shoes sores. Elsewhere, we saw an increase of about 15%, for example, $400 last year to $450 this year. This is indicative of the entire economy. Dinner with the Migones revealed a deep sadness and depression about the Porteño economy. Alberto (Papa Migone) is of the opinion that what the rest of Argetina votes for (the Peronistas) is not the best for Buenos Aires and his business which was OK in 2010 took a huge dive this year. He also opined that Porteños don’t look more than a day ahead, which prevents adequate planning and foresight into voting for candidates who will protect the future. (echos of both Maine and the US national situation here). Gah – seems to be a global malaise happening.
We have noticed the upcropping of bike lanes in the city- plus helmets and lights (on a few riders). The lanes have to be marked off with cement barriers, ort eh cars will just drive right down them, but the protected lanes seem to be quite successful and used in our area. Also, Laura noticed a bike lane map in the Plaza Miserere area (big connction of bus and trains near where we are). Laura wants to bring helmets next year and rent bikes. It gives me a little bit of heebie jeebies to think about putting my life on the line like that, but it would save a boatload on taxi fare on late night returns after milongas. I used to do this in Montreal. Actually, much safer to ride at 4 am, as there is practically no traffic.
A note to anyone traveling down here and wanting to change US$ bills. Bring clean unmarked bills- they will not change notes with any sort of writing or marks on them. Very annoying.
The dancing last night was phenomenal. El Beso Wednesday nights is absolutely solid. I’m glad that that will be my last tango experience next week. We got great seats for mirada and cabaceos, and didn’t sit down all night. A few bullet point descriptions of some of the dancers:
Diego: totally takes his time
Marcelo: OK, he’s a gorgeous ripped TV actor who’s my height, what can I say?
Sebastian: as suave as dulce de leche
Francisco: a big musical hulk
Enrique: rhythmic bliss
Arturo: end of night nuevo creativity
And I’m still avoiding Greaseball who just won’t get the hint.
April 29th/30th: Well, Its 5 am Saturday, and I just had one of the best nights ever. Started off at 7 pm with a coffee and chat with Gabriel Menendez, a tango singer here. He is 48 and has 2 kids and had just recorded a cd. We spoke at length about the economy and living in BsAs, and his travels abroad. He then invited me along to an evening at Café Vinilo to the Feria de Discos Indepediente (FEIDI) a montage of over 30 artists with new cds- his being one of them. We saw 2 different acts. A fabulous Cubana: “Yusa” who played guitar and electric bass and whose eclectic style and amazing voice was for me a mixture of Cuban, Jazz, Rock, and Brazilian – she is marvelous. I bought her cd. A steal at 30$Pesos. The there was an amazing Balkan quintet – accordion, upright bass, Electric guitar, doumbek/riq player and singer who just blew the socks off everyone off the place. I couldn’t possibly stand still and danced in place. I bought their cd as well, And I bought Gabriels. I’ll be playing exerpts form all those cds on my radio show when I get back. Gabriels friends met us there- an American woman – Gillian, who I recognized from Wednesday at El Beso. She’s quite tall, and is here for a while studying Spanish and dancing. And Gabriel’s friend Alberto – a local medical book seller and tango dancer.
Right about this time, it started to pour hard outside, and hasn’t stopped yet – about 5 hours now.
After the incredible music, we all went for pizza at a local place on (Cordoba and Godoy Cruz) I would never have ventured into by myself. Such are the perks for hanging round with locals. Dashing from Alberto’s car in the rain, we entered into what looked like a little storefront takeaway, and went down a side hallway and into a larger dining area, where we ordered a large 1/2 muzarella and 1/2 napolitano pizza. We fell upon it like ravenous wolves and devoured it within minutes. The cheese here is so delicious – it has a great flavor, not like the bland white grated muck spread on American pizzas. From there on to Salon Canning which was so packed we couldn’t find a place to sit. Apparently a famous dancer was going to perform and many had come to watch her. The floor was so crammed, one could only take tiny little steps and there was lots of jostling and bumping. Luckily about 30 minutes after we arrived, the performance occurred. The dancer Aurora Somebody, had very high and precise leg kicks, and from the back of her partner, it seemed like legs were flying everywhere.
After the performance, folks started to leave (this was at about 2 am) loosening the floor. I ran into Enrique (butterboy from 2 years ago). We’ll be able to catch up tomorrow and have a bite to eat, and go to Villa Malcolm to dance. The rest of the night was great – lots of good dances and a wonderful musical tanda with Gabriel singing heartily in my ear. Alberto kindly drove me home, and though he didn’t get the payment he hoped to get, it was definitely the best night I’ve had so far.
4/30 – 5/5 – the rest of it…
April 30th; Cachirulo. His is a very traditional Milonga which has been displaced to a nuevo venue. It’s a bit weird to see all the older folks in this environment – which during the day is used as an athletic facility. The lights were high, since it’s a large room, and the older folks don’t see as well. We had some very good dances, in fact, had no bad ones. This is great, as it means that we are getting better, and the level of dance at this particular milonga is high. Closer to the end of the night, I was asked to dance a waltz tanda by a rotund little man with amazing technique. It was a bit difficult to connect to him as it was like dancing with a beach ball, but the first dance was amazing. He then said, “oh, if I had known you were such a good dancer I would have invited you a long time ago, for tango, for milonga…” Well, geez buddy, take a chance! This is the problem with only coming for 3 weeks. People take a while to recognize you – one must go to the milongas over and over again, and then folks start to realize what you can do. At that point it was the end of the night, and we leave in a couple of days. So in my opinion “you snooze:you lose”, and I guess he’ll have to wait for next year.
May 1st – A very Lazy Sunday. We slept until 3 and then I went for a walk around Parque Centenario – a circular park above Almagro.
Porteño y Bailarin: well, finally got up the nerve to ask Carlos if I could dance at his milonga. He invited me last year, and I brought a costume specifically for it this year. He said of course..! But he won’t pay me. This surprised me, but when I brought it up to Vivi, she said that even the tango dancers who demonstrate during the half-times at the milongas aren’t paid. They do it so folks can see them and perhaps they will get students. I’ll do it for empanadas and a bottle of champagne. What the hell…plus I leave on Thursday, so may as well go out with a bang! I had to go off and buy an RCA cable because I didn’t bring the one that always travels with me – duh. Luckily it was only $15ArgPesos (About $3.50US). So now I have 3.
May 2nd – dinner with Ruben at a local parrilla. We ordered a mixed grill with 2 ensaladas, a chiquito bottle of wine and talked for about 3 hours about tango, family, languages, and more.
Ruben was fascinated with the amount we both could eat, especially the speed and ease with which Laura downed 2 massive panqueques con dulce de leche. We are excited about reproducing this fabulous treat at home. Crepes, and large amounts of dulce de leche. Not hard.
He talked about the more traditional Milongas here in Buenos Aires being very hard to break into – going to some for over 2 years before the regulars would even acknowledge his presence. But once in, it’s a very proud achievement, having survived what he described as the “chicken coop” stratification of the milongueros. When you start going, you are at the bottom of the coop, as you can imagine, not a very desirable place to be, the older milongueros not even saluting you as you enter the room. You earn your place by repetition – going again and again, by being a good and considerate and gentlemanly dancer, not passing, maintaining a discreet distance between you and the couple in front and ahead of you, by, as he put it “taking care” of the couple dancing in front of you. In this way after more than 2 years, he earned the respect of the older milongueros in the place.
May 3rd: Power walk around Buenos Aires. We must have walked about 7 miles getting first one pair of shoes for Laura then picking up a second pair. By the time we got home, we were both pooped and had a quick snack before taking a nap. Just as we were about to hit the pillows for an hour, Semih showed up and asked if we had eaten. He was disappointed that we had, as he said he was going to cook for us. I reassured him that after our nap, we would be hungry. I was right, and he made a vegetable tomato chicken pasta concoction and gave us both huge bowlfuls. YUM. This was a very good thing, since I am performing tonight at Porteño y Bailarin and will need some lasting energy.
I was invited last year by Jorge, but made the mistake of shipping my costume off with Laura the night before because of weight considerations. Anyway, I became immediately proficient at on-the-go playlists (thanks youtube) and set up a short set. We arrived at the milonga at 10:15 (WAY early) so I could talk to the DJ and do a sound check. Managed one, but not the other, so I just hoped the Ipod would do what it needed to do when. The classes were still going on, and Anthea – an Englishwoman we have recently met – was in attendance. She’s a scream – totally bubbly, almost 6 feet tall, and black. She scares the pants off most Porteños, so is a little frustrated by the dance situation right now. She’s a good dancer, so she just needs to be danced by a good dancer at the beginning of the night and then there will be less trepidation on the guy’s part. Anyway, she was totally psyched for me to dance and told me she would be doing the Arsenio Hall fist pump in the corner. Jorge took care of the table and sent over water and champagne and I eventually got some empanadas. Anthea was all over me to order “picadas” little cubes of meat and cheese with toothpicks. I ended up giving her a LaraBar.
Eventually at 1:30, I performed my set, first doing an audience participation number with clapping and zils, then a beledi and a drum solo. Short and sweet, and then got outta there. I had another set prepared, but it wasn’t necessary. Porteños, it seems, have shorter attention spans than Americans. Probably for the best – always leave them wanting more.
So the BsAs debut went well. I was pleased, and I have some video. I thought I had photos too, but the photographer unexpectedly stood me up the next day. Oh well, let it go.
May 4th El Beso – el ultimo noche.
Last 2 dances were the best of the night, In fact, the best of the entire trip. I was happy to take my shoes off after a tango tanda with Hernan and a waltz tanda with Diego. Interestingly, I ran into Jenny and John – (friends visiting their son in BA) from the Portland YMCA. Small world. Jenny had previously contacted me by email asking if I was still in BA and I said – yes, come see a milonga at El Beso. I think they had fun sitting at the bar watching the weirdness that is tango from the outside. Fish faces and stilettos, massive concentration, bliss and occasional startling pain when the heels land in the wrong place
May 5th – travel day: I brought food – nuts and red pepper for the first plane trip to Sao Paolo. We’ll see how healthy things stay. No guarantees.
Ok, TAM is a very nice airline. Warm towels to wipe hands, large and comfortable seats, all sorts of in flight entertainment. Gorgeous Brazilian in next seat. Plus Plus Plus. Food still not good. Someone with a sense of humor ordered me a vegetarian meal. Oh well, it’s an airline. Only one negative ain’t bad.
The Sao Paolo airport is full of high heels; passengers, not just flight attendants. I just can’t see why one would want to totter, click and clop around an airport in heels. What if you have to dash for a flight? And pulling baggage? Gah! Fashion goes out the window for me when I fly. The heck with that. I’m wearing my runners and am very happy and comfortable.
I’m on the last leg in Newark, waiting for the plane to Portland. I can’t believe people fly for business for a living. I can only do this once a year. Bleah.
But, apart from the flights, a darn good dance experience was had. It was great to hang with Laura for a few weeks, and buy shoes and eat empanadas and meet up with our Porteño friends again. Same time next year, most likely. We’d like to include a trip out of the city to Córdoba or another location. Thanks for reading, and it’s nice to be home.
Tango Diaries 2010: 1st entry 4/21/10
Well, Las Hermanas de Tango have safely made it to Buenos Aires (BA) with uneventful flights. I guess the Icelandic ash cloud has made the international flight scene rather quiet. Good for those of us traveling N/S, not so good for those on E/W trajectories.
Laura had an interesting experience in the Portland jetport. She saw a beautiful large German shepherd in service dog uniform. Since the owner was in no way handicapped, Laura inquired about the nature of the dog’s service. Turns out he’s a cadaver-sniffing dog logging in training hours in Maine. Apparently there are many cadavers in Maine? He and his owner travel first class and internationally. Laura is now trying to figure out how her cats can join the service and take her first class to Europe.
Once at Ezeiza airpoirt, we were met by Luis (a taxi driver we met last year) and after a brief but victorious fight with a cash machine, we left Ezeiza with luggage and money and a sense of adventure. I, for one, am very thankful for Ambien, which allowed me to get some sleep on the 11 hour flight from Washington. Laura apparently slept like a baby.
We are back at the lovely apartment we stayed at last year in Once/Balvanera. Some get wriggly about Once, but we have never felt threatened there, even when walking back from a milonga at 4 am. My theory is that any shady Porteños take one look at my shoulders and decide not to bother us.
We are sharing space with two local tango teachers Alejandra (who was there last year- quiet and nice and unassuming) and a new one, Viviana. When she left last night to teach her class in badass sparkly black leggings and boots and a leather jacket, I knew we had a character on our hands. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to while we are here. I’ll keep you posted.
We unpacked, did some groceries, and took a 2 hr NAP. That was great! The milonga of the night was El Beso (416 Riobamba) which started at 10:30 pm so we headed off for a walk and empanada before dancing.
We have been analyzing and rating empanadas in BA, and tonights first empanada was at a café across from Zivals on Corrientes and Callao (pronounce it “ka–jow” like a sneeze). We both had café con leche (I only drink coffee in BA) and 2 empanadas de carne each. Not bad, we rated them 6/10 and a bit salty.
We ended up at El Beso at 10:30pm – quite early, but at least we got a good t able.
****(ooh! Our roommate just showed up with breakfast medialunas (BA sweet croissants)! YUMMY!)*****
Right, back to business…where were we? Oh, El Beso. The classes were just ending so we got to watch two older ladies putting the students through their paces- musicality musicality musicality. This is one of the strengths of BA dancers. They are so IN the music. No volcadas, ganchos, or fancy shmancy stuff on the social dance floor, just a smooth connection and attention to the music (for the most part, there are always exceptions). We ran into a Portland OR dancer who we met last year. He is considering picking up stakes and moving down for the conceivable future. Tango does this to people.
El Beso had the usual panoply of interesting characters. Laura and I did not get onto the dance floor right away. Instead we watched the games of Mirada (watchful gaze of the woman towards those she would like to dance with) and Cabaceo (a gentleman’s wordless invitation to dance, usually an inclination of the head and raised eyebrows, with possibly the mouthed word “bailas?”) begin.
We recognized Daniel Flores (a photographer) who in past wheezed like Darth Vader in our ears as we danced. He seems to have come back from the dark side and is no longer quite so loud. Yay. We did not see Big Gazonga Lady (champion of plastic surgery) but she will probably pop up soon. har har.
In years past, I have jumped right in dancing with anyone who would ask me. This always lead to valuable learning experiences, although perhaps not the best dance experiences. This year, (my 5th) I watched the floor before accepting my first dance. One must be careful with whom one dances first, as this sets the tone as to who will ask you next. If you have a bad dance and come off looking awkward, the better dancers will not have a good opinion of you and you’re stuck dancing with mediocrity for the rest of the night. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Luckily in BA, the dances run from good to superlative.
Laura spent a lot of the night trying hard to avoid the cabaceo of a rather geriatric man she danced with once and didn’t want to again. Tango may be the only dance I know of where an 82+ year old man can get a dance with a young beautiful woman without having to pay a lot of money.
For the most part, the dancing was fun, and Laura and I both danced about 4 hrs. We closed the place out at 3 am. I had forgotten what 4 hrs on 10 cm stiletto heels felt like (painful) and walked home. This was a trip. Police cars drive around on the streets whirling their lights, and in one case, thumping down the street to deep hard bass beats.I had also forgotten about the garbage that piles up in the streets overnight, and the homeless and destitute that rifle through the piles looking for cardboard and metal leaving a trash disaster behind. We encountered a garbage truck with garbage men (basureños?) sprinting around the streets gathering garbage bags and tossing them into the truck. They were very appreciative and hollered “Hola Chicas!!” as they zoomed past.We stepped over a man passed out on the sidewalk near Congreso with one leg and crutches. Its 3 am and folks are out and about, you can buy flowers at sidewalk kiosks or have an empanada if you choose. This city never sleeps.
BUT, we do.
Into bed at 3:44 am and fast asleep. There was a brief disturbance at about 8 am by the screams of a very loud child from the kindergarten that has moved in below us (damn- that was NOT there last year). It must have exceeded 40 decibels because his screams penetrated both of our earplugs. Yow. If that happens again I may accidentally pour a lot of water over the balcony.
Today, plans include a bit of shoe shopping (what a surprise) undoubtably more empanadas, and a few errands. We are going to try and contact Caroline Neal (director of the film Si Sos Brujo) and Ignacio Varchauwsky of Tango Via and creator of the tango digital archive, an effort to preserve tango music and tango maestro styles before the old masters die, taking their orchestral secrets and hidden music with them.
Tango Diary 2010 #2 Thursday 4/22/10, Friday 4/23/10 and Saturday 4/24/10
A few moments in BA- we visited a few shoe stores on Thursday (big huge surprise) and I found a pair I like (bigger huger surprise) at Comme il Faut. Shoes here now run about 400-500+ pesos. The ones I like are $480 (subtract $40 for cash because they prefer effectivo to credit cards then divide by 3.8 = $115. Compare to up to $200 State-side .) NeoTango doesn’t have any styles I like this year (although there was a very sexy strap on an otherwise boring shoe – Gah – frustration!), nor does Tangoleike.
Empanada report: The confiteria “El Esquina de Anibal Troilo” on Parana and Paraguay has a fabulous wallful of pictures of the late Maestro and yummy empanadas. We gave them an 8/10 with a 4/10 for cohesion, as they tended to fall apart. FYI, an Argentine empanada de carne is filled with beef, some chopped egg and usually a green olive. 4 empanadas and 2 café con leches = $36 (pesos) about $US10.
The Cafe de los Angelitos (Corrientes x Junin) we rated as 5/10, since their empanada was filled with chopped meat that was a bit stringy, but 8/10 for ambiance, as halfway through our snack a bandeonista arrived and proceeded to serenade the whole cafe from the balcony.
A word of wisdom from Viviana as she catapulted up and down the stairs a few times: Lo quien no tienen cabeza, tienen piernas. (Those who do not have brains, have legs – meaning those who forget things a lot have to go back and collect them). In our case here, its “tienen gluteales,” since there are 3 flights of stairs to reach our aerie from the street.
We have a new mattress. It was hauled up by rope from the 2nd floor balcony, since the last flight of stairs to get to the 3rd floor is a tiny spiral staircase. No way a mattress would fit. It makes me wonder how many of the furnishings in this upper space arrived that way.
The Ateneo bookstore is just as beautiful live as it is online. Google El Ateneo, Buenos Aires.
Street people and social health here. The Argentinian government gives folks 300 pesos a month per child to those with children, so it is worth it to the homeless to procreate. Theoretically the child should be in a school (public school is free) and have vaccinations (also a part of the social health system), but the verification process is flawed or non-existant. Also it seems that this population shares the children around so one person will use a baby for begging purposes, then pass it along to another homeless person. Sigh. Social programs, are in my opinion, necessary, but it seems like in large systems, they will always be abused due to the inability to efficiently manage them.
Friday nights milongas: Gardel and Gricel, the young and the geriatric. We started at a milonga called Gardel de Medellin, and ran into the problem we have encountered for the past few years – namely that the younger generation of tango dancers in BA (clad in jeans and sneakers and preferring more open and fluid embraces) do not dance easily with foreigners. It seems to be either cliquish, snobbish, or just plain beyond their comfort zone. Gardel is a nice space, reminiscent of North Star Café (Portland) with a bar and tables and a stage. A band was setting up, so I wasn’t quite as peeved of being snubbed, since there was the possibility of live music. We had a couple of catastrophic dances with some older attendees. This taught us that older gentlemen obviously over 60 in a young persons club should NOT be considered as partners. Anyway, the music seemed like it was about to start… and then the lights went out. Total darkness. Cellphones turned on for light and there was some fumbling at the fuse box until it was learned that the whole block was dark. I thought – well, candles, live band, this could be a fabulous acoustic moment, but the band decided not to play as the electric piano wouldn’t function. Boo. We bailed and headed to Gricel.
Gricel is an entirely different environment, with the average age over 60 and everyone dressed to the nines. We definitely stuck out, with a few other youngsters. One of them has been at the same milongas we have the past 3 times. He is definitely American, black, great short dreads that stick right up. I have nicknamed him Teddy in my head, because he reminds me of a teddy bear. He is one the best dancers on all floors and was accompanied tonight by a gorgeous Porteña with whom he danced exclusively. And he definitely has his pick down here. There was one other younger dancer – Ruben, who sat close to us by the wall. He ended up dancing with both of us twice, He preferred a more open Nuevo style, which I found a welcome change after hours of close embrace. I think he did drive the rest of the elderly crowd a little crazy. He was definitely my dancer of the night because at the end, when Laura was changing shoes for boots I pulled out my footsie roller to roll out my feet (one of the essentials of my tango bag). Ruben indicated that he would like to help, so I had up with a lovely footrub at the end of the night. YAY! Definitely a good way to end things.
Saturday: a 3 hr class of tecnica para mujeres y adornos with Graciela Gonzales at El Beso. This was fun- Graciela encouraged us to find our inner “Leonesa” and we spent about 30 minutes just doing front and back ochos. She used lots of fun visualizations for posture and attitude, including certain things to do with Antonio Banderas. Amazing how visualizations will work…
One more snapshot: At Salon Canning last night, the DJ added in a cumbia tanda. Originally, cumbia is from Colombia, but apparently there is an Argentinian Cumbia also called Quarteto, generated in Córdoba. According to Viviana, cumbia used to be considered low-class (described by sniffy locals as “grassa”- greasy) a few years ago but now its the party music of choice. Seems that Argentinians are now considering themselves Latinos, as opposed to European, and now Latin music is more listened to and danced.
Viviana has noticed Latin music infiltrating Argentina only in this past decade. Salsa, merengue and bachata has been making inroads, mostly due to the interaction with the US: business and radio has been instrumental in bringing the general Argentinian mindset toward belonging to the Latin world and less so the European. Lucky them I say, since Latin music is so incredible.
Tango Diary 2010 #3: Thursday 4/29/10 – 5/1.
Well, the past 3 days (Monday – Wednesday) have been uneventful for me, as I have been flat on my back with a vicious headcold. Blargh. I’m feeling much better now and am sitting on the terrasse with a cup of lemon/honey/ginger infusion in addition to my jerba mate.
Which, apparently I have been drinking ALL WRONG. According to the package, in order to enjoy the perfect jerba mate, you have to go through a number of meticulous steps involving inverting the gourd, tapping the jerba to one side, placing the bombilla appropriately, pouring in cold water, then slowly adding 70- 80F warm water to the correct side, and THEN, and only then… you guessed it, chuparle y disfurtarle.
I of course, do the ole’ jerba in gourd, add hot water, go for it.
I’ll try it the OCD way and see if its any better than shotgunning. My guess is, only an Argentine will care, but we’ll see.
Last night we went to see a concert at a place called café Vinilo (like record vinyl). Interesting dinner theater set up, and it has great hummus! Also, huge bottles of a reddish Argentine beer called Otro Mundo. Laura had one and it certainly sent her reeling.
The music was interesting, Porteña singer Alicia did a singer/songwriter sort of thing, and it was apparently her debut. She had a fairly strong voice, and the musicians were talented. The melodies and harmonies reminded me of Spanish music, and it was all fairly plaintive, although I couldn’t understand 99% of the lyrics. There was an accordion, which made us happy. Apparently A is a local voice teacher and had been supporting her husband’s music practice for years and this was her first performance foray on her own. We ended up there because Caroline Neal (Producer of Si Sos Brujo) invited us and was filming the concert. The concert ended with Alicia thanking everyone in the band, everyone on Staff at Café Vinilo including the ticket taker, her sister, her absent brother, her absent husband, her present children and her housekeeper. At the 10 minute point Laura and I felt like we were at the Academy awards without a hook.
Afterwards we went directly to El Beso, and had a lovely night until 2:30am when it cleared out. El Beso seems to be our milonga of choice this year, because it is so consistent with both music and quality of dancers, and only a 15 minute walk from our apartment. However, there are many milongas in BsAs and we have 2 more weeks to explore them. I want to go to a queer milonga and see how the cabaceo works. I can see how it would work for women, because who leads will be determined by what shoes you are wearing. Not sure how that will go for the men.
Finally feeling myself again, I celebrated by walking to Comme il Faut and buying a new pair of shoes. Yay – retail therapy. They are stunning, can’t wait to wear them, but I have to find the right venue. They are sitting happily in their bag until the right time . We had dinner with Juan-Ignacio, a friend you may have encountered in previous tango diaries. He is a travel agent and the son of a friend of my fathers. Juan-Ignacio’s family was very kind to me the first time I arrived in BsAs and I consider them my family away from home. We went by his suggestion to a Parilla called Barbacoa and had a meat event. It was rather silly in terms of proportion. We ordered 2 salads to share, a half bottle of wine, a salchice parillada (I think) which is a tightly coiled grilled sausage (yummy), some fried string potatoes, an order of ojo de bife (came out as two – basically – steaks, but the cuts are different here) and an order of asado (ribs – purportedly serves 2, but the 3 of us couldn’t eat half of them). We stared in joyful dismay at the pile of food getting bigger on our table. We ate and chatted and Laura took some pictures and ate more and then declared carnivorous defeat . We asked for a doggy bag and the Carte de Postres. Two chocolate mousses, an order of panqueques con dulce de leche (crepes in caramel sauce), and 2 coffees later and we rolled out of there 227 pesos plus tip lighter. OK- are you ready? 227/3.8 = approx $USD60 divided by 3 people = $20 each. Plus we have leftovers.
We then headed to Cochebamba 444 and then Niño Bien. This was very interesting as I had one dance at C444. It was the only one I wanted to have. It was with a man who I had danced with 5 years before (my first time in BsAs, 2006) and our dance had been the best in my life so far at that time. I danced with him again and it was like a circuit closed in my head. I recognized him immediately from his dance style. I don’t think he remembered me, but I told him the story and probably made his night. Then I left happily, not needing to dance with anyone else.
We started our evening in Palermo at the house of Caroline (US citizen and film producer) and Ignacio Varchauvsky ( musician and director of TangoVia) and their daughter Princesa Celina. Their house was part of an old hotel and absolutely looks the part. A huge wall of glass panels greet you as you walk down the hall opening to an internal patio. Along side are rooms containing Ignacio’s studio, Celina’s room, the master bedroom and a bathroom. Then from the patio (I love having to walk outside to get other parts of your house: unimaginable in Northern Climes) one walks into the living room dominated by a huge wooden couch. Its gorgeous. Laura never stopped taking pictures, so you’ll be able to see it if you look at her album. Empanadas, wine and Jerba Mate ensued along with lively conversation punctuated by Celina in her princess costume pattering on alternately in Spanish and English.
Ignacio is deeply dedicated to the preservation and digitization of tango music in a form called the Tango Digital Archive. According to Igancio and Caroline, the amount of pre-50s tango music heard in the world represents about 20% of what is out there. Apparently, in the 50s, according to music deals made in radio stations, all the old masters (records) for tango music were broken and thrown in the trash by record companies and radio stations. This destruction was due to the influx of rock and roll and ensuing deals made with the companies not to play tango anymore, but may have also been due to a military agenda in the 50s when tango and the collection of people at milongas was viewed as politically dangerous. Destroy the music, and dancers no longer have places to congregate to dance. I guess rock and roll dances were not considered dangerous.
The other 80% of tango music from before the 1950s is hidden, in the minds and collections of scores within the homes of aging and dying composers and musicians, and collectors who view the scores/photos/recordings as valuable objects, not as the national treasures of art and music that ought to be shared. These collections are dispersing as their owners and creators pass on, without being recorded, and so are being lost. Caroline told a few hair raising tales. 1) of visiting a collector after his house caught on fire (he was frying chicken for his mangy old cat) and the conflagration stopped just short of the archive room: A storeroom filled from top to bottom with old tango music scores and photographs from the past century. None of it recorded. Then the cat came and sat on top of the piles of fragile old ash-and-soot-covered sheet music as if to say “you want this?”
The dilemma with collectors is that once a copy is made of an item, the original loses its value as being the only one on the world. But once its gone, its really gone.
Case in point: 2) Apparently a local collector had an old shellac record of a particular tango. He and his friends would meet once a month to listen to it, take it reverently out of its sleeve etc. etc. Well, you guessed it, the record fell and broke into pieces, and now the only recording of that piece of music is gone. I think that’s selfish beyond belief.
3) Styles of tango are particular to various musicians, and the old Maestros are now in their 80s and 90s and dying off, and so there is a feverish rush to not only document their playing styles abut also teach a new generation of musicians how to play in those old styles.
These are a few of the goals of the tango digital archive, so Laura and I and Caroline sat around brainstorming ways to move the project along and raise awareness.
Apparently it takes 6 minutes of work to digitize one minute of music, so there’s time and money involved, and digging and convincing collectors here to let copies be made of the music before items of sold. All very delicate work. If you re interested (which means, if you like tango at all), you can visit
Its so important that they created a film – (Caroline’s the producer) called Si Sos Brujo, and there will be a screening of it in Portland at One Longfellow Square on Tuesday 6/8/10 at 8 pm. Come one come all, even if you are not a tango dancer, it is a very interesting story, and there will be a skype interview with Ignacio and Caroline following the film.
Phew, OK, enough soapboxing…Then we went to hear Ignacio’s tango band El Arranque (incredible musicians and a singer that just blew the roof off the place) at a venue called No Avestruz (No Ostrich). Great name.Dancing later on at Salon Canning.
Saturday 5/1 El Dia de el Trabajador – A national, actually, international holiday for the Worker except for somehow, in North America, where workers are not celebrated. Anyway, most everything is closed, so its the perfect day for a walk. I took a walk down to Lavalle to Cordoba. About 30 min out and 30 min back. I certainly do NOT fit in. Everyone else is sort of sauntering about, and Im striding off purposefully with a water bottle. Today also seems to be municipal “wash your engine” day. Folks have their car hoods open and are actually washing the inner workings of their car. Hunh? Doesn’t this make important things rust? Im not a mechanic, but this just seems weird. I don’t even wash the outside of my car – that what rain is for.
Anyway, after nap and yummy leftovers, (we’re still eating from the remains of the meat-fest from Thursday night at Barbacoa) we headed to Maipu 444. NEW FAVORITE MILONGA for me. Very high quality of dancers, less tourists. We had a great time. Laura headed off to La Viruta with a dancer called Daniel and another dancer, Ruben, kindly dropped me off on his way home at 4 am. Im still taking it easy.Tango diary 2010 # 4: 5/2-5/8
Walking along the streets of BsAs is always interesting. If one is not jumping over the alarming piles of trash, or avoiding the various blanket-ridden bumps of sleeping homeless people, the faces and fashion of Porteños and distinctions of different barrios are fascinating. Facial piercing seems to be the mode among the jovenes this year. Last year we saw horrendous purple hair dye jobs. Drop-crotch and ankle-collared pants were visible on the streets and in milongas last April and unfortunately have not fallen out of fashion. Yuk.
We have been observing the prevalence of fake “lolas” at milongas and in various trendier barrios, like Recoleta. Too many women here have fallen prey to the requirement of “hacer las lolas (boob jobs). They (the fake lolas) are always immediately apparent as they don’t move the way normal lolas do. Our friend Shaun describes dancing with a woman who has fake lolas to be like dancing with two basketballs between them. bleah. IMHO, there’s only one reason to hacer las lolas and that’s reconstruction after surgery. Otherwise, yikes.
Speaking about tango interactions, it can be a whole different experience between leaders and followers on the dance floor. Many followers close their eyes, fall into their leaders arms and trustingly dance. For leaders, it’s a whole different ball game, and in some milongas, it can be an all-out war. I have heard tell of Milongueros throwing elbows into the back of other leaders if they are doing something considered inappropriate. There seems to be trash talking and vicious looks and eye rolling, not to mention floor traffic negotiation, and follower comfort and safety. Oh yeah, and dancing to the music and having a nice interaction with their partner.
I don’t envy the guys sometimes.
Most of the time followers remain oblivious to all this drama and danger, but sometimes one wakes up to a bit of a “bumper car” experience in a densely packed milonga.
At El Beso the other night I was dancing with a partner named Hugo. Before we even started the dance there seemed to be posturing and face making between Hugo and the man in front of us. When we started to dance, my heel came down on the foot of my partners antagonist. I certainly avoided putting all my weight on the stiletto heel, but when I turned around to apologize, he was doing his best soccer-pro-injured-diva-hopping-up-and-down-on-one-foot dance complete with eyes shooting hatred my way. I apologized profusely, but it seemed to no avail. Over all this frenzied illustration of pain, I heard the bored voice of Hugo: “Never mind, He ees my friend.”
Another recent event that I heard about was that a woman stepped on a seated milonguero’s foot (remember, we women are all dancing backwards with our eyes closed mostly, and its really the partner who aims our foot). The Milonguero got up, pushed the woman and punched her in the nose. Apparently a scuffle that needed to be broken up ensued. I hope she got a few good shots in before the fracas died down. In my opinion, this was her partner’s fault for bad driving. I hope he received what-for as well.
Another thing I am learning, is that when I have my best dance of the night, and I always know when it happens, I’m now fine with taking off my shoes and just letting that be the high note on which to end the night. Usually one only dances one tanda with each partner. If it was really special, he might invite you one more time. Dancing more than 2 tandas at a traditional milonga with someone usually means you are going home with them, or at least they’re going to try hard. As Vivi said after Laura described dancing 3 dreamy tandas in a row with one of her favorite partners here, “that means sex with protection”. But this possibility seems to be less observed in the younger tango crowd where the older codes are bent and broken, along with traditional embraces and music choices.
Here’s an example of how a tango tanda usually goes at a milonga – well, at least for dancing with us gringas:
1) Mirada-Cabaceo wordless invitation to dance
2) Guy walks over: “Hola, que tal?” (Hi, hows it going?)
3) Dance first song. Songs ends, Porteño says “Muy Bien!”
4) Stand facing each other while waiting for a few bars of the 2nd song to pass. Porteño: “De donde vos?” (where are you from?) me: de Canada. Porteño: aaaaah! Frio!!!!! (no joke, this happens EVERY time.)
5) Dance second song. Song ends, Porteño says something complimentary about how I dance. I say gracias, while getting the feeling he says that to all the girls after the second song.
6) Stand facing each other while waiting for few bars of next song to pass. Porteño: que haces en Canada? (and what do you do in Canada?) me: (difficult explanation of how I now live in the US and am a massage therapist while Porteño’s brow furrows in concentration trying to understand my broken Castellano – which is getting better, by the way) Porteño: “ooooooh, masaje!” indicates shoulders hopefully. Me: “en vacation”
7) Dance third song, etc etc.
8 ) Stand facing each other etc. etc. Porteño: “como se llama?” (not: how is your llama? but what are you called/what is your name?” me: “ Emma, y vos? Porteño: Ruben (More often than not. We have danced with about 7 Rubens so far and have had to come up with a Ruben classification system. Foot-rub Ruben, Little Ruben, Friend-of-Daniel Ruben,…)
9) Dance fourth song, end, kiss on cheek, mutual “muchas gracias”, escort back to table.
This is usually how it goes with a few variations. The dancing in between the strange little conversations is where its really at.
Tango diary # 5 5/9 – 5/13/10
Well, Im writing this in Ezeiza airport having gotten here 4 hours early. Dang. Big kafuffle about picketers and protesters on the Avenida de Mayo burning tires and causing chaos… but there was NOTHING. So I’m here early with 4 hours to kill. It will take about 24 hours to get home, so I have to resign my self to a lot of sitting and waiting. Something I’m really bad at. So I’ll write.
A few more snapshots of observing Bs As life. There seem to be titanic opposing forces of cleanliness occurring in the city. The huge mountains of trash bags in the streets are torn apart nightly by low income and homeless “cartoñeros” looking for cardboard, paper plastic and metal leaving huge messes in their wake. Following them are city workers rapidly sweeping up and annoyed merchants doing the same to clear the sidewalks for pedestrians and customers.
The city has finally organized the nocturnal cartoñeros, providing reflective safety gear and big rolling bins. The collections in the bins are then taken to trucks in local parks where the recyclables are delivered to handling facilities. It works in a strange loosely organized but complicated way, though it seems like the whole situation could be made much easier by providing recycling bins for city dwellers to use. This way the garbage bags wouldn’t be ripped apart every night creating such a mess that then has to cleaned up.
On one of my walks, I found a street called Reconquista. It seems to be the Argentine version of Wall st. It is pedestrian, and filled with slick-haired suited bankers with briefcases, Banks, Kevlar-suited police officers and armored vehicles, 5 pm seems to be put-the-money-in-the-armored-car time.
Argentinian national colors are blue and white, and its also World Cup soccer year. All the little stores are filled with blue and white clothes: joker hats with bells on, soccer shirts and T-shirts, baseball caps, and every form of apparel you could think of. All in blue and white. I even saw lingerie. Go team!
Argentinian pedestrians have a charming habit of walking arm in arm. Especially tottery little old ladies. This coupled with numerous sidewalk vendors… well, YOU imagine the sidewalk mayhem on the busy streets. ARG! Another habit (among the jovenes only) is PDAs. I’m not talking palm pilots here, I’m talking full-on, entire-face-involved, limb-entwining snogging. Yow! get a room! And there are such things. Hotels dedicated to rentals by the hour, since young (and not so young) folks here live with their parents until they are married. The prospect of bringing a lover home when your folks are watching TV in the next room is a little unsatisfactory. Hence the need for such hotels. They definitely serve a respected purpose in BsAs social scene.
Empanada report: We have found our favorite empanada joint. Its a little pizzeria 1 block up from our apartment on Saavedra and Alsina. Delicious empanadas “al horno” (oven) baked right in the pizza oven that dominates the room. The place is painted blue with an emapanada “footprint” directory on the wall. Depending on the filling, each empanada is folded differently, so one can identify what’s in it. We also had a version called a “fatay” which is an Arabic recipe: beef marinated in lemon juice and red pepper overnight, then folded in a triangular fashion in pizza dough and baked. The filling is not pre-cooked unlike the other empanadas. The marination over night in the acid takes the place of the cooking process. It was delicious in a different tangy way, and you have to get around the fact of raw meat in this delicacy, but its like ceviche. Plus we both seem to be fine gastro-intestinally and had no negative effects. When in Rome…
A few moments in the dance scene:
Well, I had my brush with celebrity a few nights ago. While I was sick, I watched a lot of Argentinian TV, especially a channel called “Encuentras”. It is fabulous. Very informative shows; some dubbed BBC programs, and others about health, the natural world etc. Anyway, I was lying on the couch and Vivi and I were watching a program about food and exercise and one of the little skits was shot in a gym. The narrator of the show was interviewing an actor portraying someone working out. Vivi indicated him and said- Oh, I know that actor, That’s Marcelo – he’s a good tango dancer! Well, you guessed it, a few days later, after I had recovered and was back on the dance scene, I recognized him sitting quietly in the back at a milonga (Maipu 444). He invited me to dance about halfway through, and it was a great tanda! We both left the floor with big smiles, and he was at another milonga the next day. The organizer of the first milonga was very proud to have Marcelo present and outed him at the demo/announcement part of the milonga. Marcelo dutifully stood up and smiled and waved, but I could tell he would have preferred to be stealth. We both found each other very entertaining and had great dances both times. I think because I have no idea who he is as a celebrity, nor do I care, and treat him with the same candor and friendliness as everyone else, he was able to relax and just be a tango dancer, instead of a celebrity actor everyone was fawning over.
In another story, Vivi and I were watching a dubbed version of the Razors Edge and she said that while she lived in NYC, Bill Murray was her student (apparently so was Richard Gere). Bill Murray was drunk, but generous and gave her $100 under her protest. She didn’t want to charge him anything because she had been pressed into service by her partner and she was sweaty and grimy from running in central park. Great story: She dropped by the café where her partner was teaching after a run in central park. No one had showed up for the lesson, so her partner was depressed. Then Bill walked in and said “Is this the tango lesson?!” Vivis partner said Yes Señor, right here!. Bill looked at him and said, “do you have anything curvier?” Vivi’s partner said, absolutely! and shoved Vivi forward in sweats and runners. She was horrified, and said, I can’t! Im all sweaty! Bill said “its ok, I’m drunk, so we’re even”. Apparently she gave him the lesson in the middle of the NYC café between the tables, with patrons looking on in amusement. According to Vivi, Richard Gere was a better dancer.
Back In BA, La Viruta is the milonga where everyone goes after the other milongas have closed down. Imagine a disco hall in the basement of a cultural center complete with bar and disco ball. Then replace the throbbing bass beats with tango music. Quite surreal. Even more so, when one sees a family dancing by. The 5 year old brother leading his 11 year old sister, and Dad teaching his 7 year old daughter how to dance. Start ‘em early, I guess, but –wow?! 3:30 am? Put these kids to bed!!
Anyway, this milonga is where I had my final dance before leaving the next day. My last night started at El Beso. I had some great dances, especially with a tango singer called Gabriel who plans to do a North American tour this year – I hope he comes to Boston -and Sebastian who has a very smooth lovely style. And others!! I didnt sit down for more than 3 minutes for and entire 3 hours. Then, a Scottish woman, Iona (who now lives in BA), Diego (a local), and I headed over to La Viruta to finish the night. I was tired, but not going to admit defeat so early- it was only 2:30am! I did a little bit of leading – Iona volunteered to follow, so that was great to dance a little more on the other side of the partnership. I had not lead in about 4 weeks. In the middle of our dance a man stuck his head into our partnership and yelled “Falta un hombre!” (you need a man!). Well, not you, dude. Obviously. Then, after observing that I lead, Diego suggested an exercise that Elmira Cancelada and I do a lot – smoothly changing leads within a dance. For an example, click here. It’s a great sensitivity exercise. You have to feel when the other person want to take over, switch embrace and directions all within the dance itself. The switch becomes part of the dance. Its very cool. Diego suggested an added twist where the embrace does not change, just the lead, so suddenly, one is leading from the follower position and embrace. Then its just a matter of energy- who is receiving and who is directing, and the fact that it can switch at anytime, as can the embrace is really interesting. I had never done that before. It was 3 am, my legs were starting to give out, and Diego is a big guy, and I am short and wearing flats at that point, so it was quite challenging. But I held my own, and I’d like to try it again at a practica. I had my last brush of sleaze when I danced with little guy I had danced with at another milonga. He wanted me to put my high heels back on because it makes one’s legs look nicer. At that point I was in my dance sneakers and there was no way in hell I was getting back onto 4 inches of pain. I told him I would dance with him, but he had to deal with my sneakers. So he said “dale” (dah-lay) which means OK. After 2 dances he started to paw, so I said “uno mas?” Which is the nice way of saying: I’ll only dance one more with you, creep. He started to repeat “toda la noche, toda la noche” (all night long), so I said “bueno” threw my hands up, and walked away. I was way past tolerating stupidity like that by that point. It was pretty funny though and I laughed to myself all the way back to my chair. I didn’t want that to be my last dance, so I found Alejandro, a big Parisian dancer and he basically carried me blissfully around the floor for the last tanda. I was done. I can say with certainty that I couldn’t have danced another step on my last night. I took a taxi home, and fell into bed. Thank goodness I packed earlier in the day.
I’m in one way sad to go, but in another way excited to go home and see my friends. Besos and Abrazos to you all for coming along on the journey with me!!
I am writing this last excerpt at the Houston George Bush International airport. There is a big metal statue of George Bush, briefcase in hand, tie flying in the breeze. Where is there a felt marker when you need one? I found it very ironic: I flew from the George Bush airport to the Ronald Reagan airport. Sheesh. Get me back to neutrality!
Portland HERE I COME!
(On Friday, 5/21, Laura and I will be playing tango music and talking about our adventures in Buenos Aires. You can stream us live at http://wmpg.org, or tune in locally at 90.9/104.1FM from 10:30 am – noon. )
1st Entry: Sunday 4-19-09 Traveling to Buenos Aires
Apart from a rather strange altercation in the Atlanta airport, travel to Buenos Aires went very smoothly. As I was walking along concourse C in Atlanta, I came across a loud interaction between an airport Policeman and a youngish black guy. The cop had the black guy by the shirt and was brandishing a baton. Conversation as follows: cop: ‘Get on the floor!’ black guy: ‘Sir, what did I do?’ cop: ‘get on the floor! I dont want to hit you!’ black guy: Sir,what did I do? cop: Get on the floor (whack with baton) black guy: Sir what did I do? cop: Sir what did I do? cop: Get on the floor! (whack) This went on for about 3 minutes until another cop, this one black, rushed in and got the guy to the floor, handcuffed him and the two cops dragged him off. Quite unusual for me to witness this type of thing, and I was a bit discomfited. Anyway, the rest of MY trip went well…
I arrived without incident in BsAs – all flights on time and luggage included. Amazing! The English and Spanish translations of public address on the plane was amusing. Ladies and Gentlemen…. Spanish: Damas y Cavalleros… Cavallo is horse, Cavallero is horseman, so currently, all men in Argentina seemed to be called cowboys…
My seatmates on both flights were amusing. Portland to Atlanta, I was seated next to a young philosophy student from Bates heading back to New Mexico for the vacation week.We had a great time Bush-bashing and hoping for the best with the next administration. From Atlanto to BsAs, I was seated next to a young middle-school teacher from Boston who was going to Argentina to get married (again). He and his wife had already done the city hall thing so she could be with him with a fiancee visa, but they were going to do it again in S. America so her family could celebrate. The only thing odd about this whole thing for me was that they had been physically together for a total of 8 days before deciding to get married. One day – when they met - about a year of email correspondence, then a week together to decide if they really wanted to be together – which obviously went well – and now they have been married a year and will be celebrating a second time. My seat mate told me that it really took all the worry out of the relationship… should we move in together…. yada yada… and they just did it. Carpe Diem, I guess. Yow.
Alberto (a good friend of my father) picked me up from the airport and by 9 am Saunday I was at their lovely home in Recoleta. Their son Juan-Ignacio spent the day with me and we took a bus and a train to the river and then a ferry and went for a walk on one of the islands. The bus (colectivo) is what transports the majority of the public around. The train seems to be a wilder card. The train we took is the only one J-I trusts and runs on time. The other lines apparently are in grave disrepair and unfortunately seem to be a large source of suicides (people throwing themselves under the wheels) in response to the terrible ecomony (much worse than in US). Needless to say, this puts a dent in the train schedules, so folks dont use them as much. Also, J-I has seen a huge decrease in tourism and traffic (the traffic part I was not so unhappy about, because it is usally LOCO to try and cross the road here) all of which has created a big decrease in the overall well-being of the average Porteño. J-I is also of the opinion that is due to the Peronist-style government (very Communist-based) which provides low incentives for people to actually work. A lack of interest in work decreases any sense of civid pride or the ability to get anything official done. 20 governmental employees are hired to do the job of 2, its very hard for employers to fire anyone (massive documentation required) so its hard to hold folks to standards, and its very easy to get unemployment $ from the goverment, so folks are not that interested in finding work. (opines J-I). There seems to be a second layer where things actually get done which excludes the official (and very bogged down) channels. J-I and I went to his bank (Banco Nacional de Argentina) for him to cash a check, but for some reason they couldn´t change my $US. Then we went to the office of his friend Stanislau (Ti-ti for short)- 2 young guys in nice suits and ties in a 4th floor cramped office (financial consultants J-I told me ) and changed my $ there. No fuss no muss, and I didnt have to walk around with my passport (a big relief). Thats the way BsAs is.
That being said, Porteños are very happy to tell you exactly what to do and where to go and how to do things even though they really haven`t the foggiest notion. After 2 wild goose chases this morning, I gave up asking and just muddled along with my map, remembering how turned around I get in this city. A very helpful cavallero named Boris tried to help me find his apartment, but gave up when he realized I preferred to be alone. No es borrido? (isnt that boring?) Not if you’re me, I replied, and walked purposefully off in entirely the wrong direction.
Anyway, I`m going dancing now at Confiteria Ideal. Look for more noticias soon!
Besos y Abrazos
Emma /DJ Adira
2nd entry: Tango Diary Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday 4/20 – 22/09
I am sitting on the terrace with my jerba mate in the sun. Utter contentment. I’m glad folks are reading the tango diaries. My Spanish teacher has weighed in on the erroneous spelling of the word caballo (con b largo) not cavallo (con v corto). Say the two words out loud: like this: ca-vi-yo… ca—bi-yo. The small difference between the pronunciation of the v and the b messes me up greatly when writing Spanish. Latinos (depending on where they are from) pronounce that sound closer to a b or closer to a v and its very hard for northerners to distinguish.. well, me anyway, so apologies to Gustavo if I goof on spelling things, as right now with minimal Spanish classes, I spell things phonetically,..
Last year, Laura and I discovered the national shortage of change/coins – moneras. I asked a taxi driver why when I couldn’t give him coins and he couldn’t make change back, so he lost out in the exchange. He told me that metal is very valuable and coins are actually removed from circulation, melted down and used to make other things. The government does not replace the coins (at least not in J-I’s memory and he is now 27), so there is a national shortage. This might explain the nightly garbage rendering activities experienced throughout the city when the sun goes down. Garbage bags appear on the sidewalks and a whole sub-culture of people (mostly indigenous) appear and pull the garbage bags apart. They are searching for something, but I don’t know what. Metal to sell for recycling perhaps? Anyway, it makes a huge mess all over the sidewalk and walking around is hairy until later at night the clean up crews show up and sweep it all away. Crazy, but it’s a haphazard system that has arisen to provide resources for these no-income folks, and work for the clean up crews. Instead of fixing the problem, (addressing this under-culture of jobless indigenous people) a bandaid is applied (ignoring them by sweeping it away. I wonder if anyone can identify the original wound, or if it so engrained in the cultural fabric of Argentina that they don’t see a problem with it.
I went out for a “drink” Monday night with J-I and two of his buddies: Federico and “Nacho”, who I met last year). Monday night and most everything was dark. After trying 5 bar locations unsuccessfully, we ended up at a Confiteria (ubiquitous and always open til the wee hours). Nothing on the menu tempted me and I complained about not being able to find good dark chocolate in BsAs. (FYI: I like 85%) Nacho threw on his jacket and told me to follow him (jacket shmacket, it is NOT cold here…) and we ended up a few store fronts down at a Volta. If you have read any of the tango diaries before, then you know about the national Argentine preoccupation with artisanal ice cream (helado). It is serious. They make Serious helado here. Buono como orgasmo dice Juan-Ignacio). I’m not sure what kind of relationships he is having, but I agree with him that its definitely up there in the realm of excellent physical pleasures.
So I got my dark chocolate fix (along with some dulce de leche) and my low-dairy consumption resolution during my trip went out the window. I bade it farewell quite happily behind my copa de helado.
(a little later…) Yay, Laura is here, and we are ensconced in our new apartment. We are sharing a gorgeous and homey top floor with another tanguera from England (haven’t met her quite yet) we are going out to explore the barrio “Once” to the great dismay of my Porteño family. Apparently Once is not the nicest of barrios, but it seems tranquil and close to the Subte line A (with the beautiful wooden interiors). Plus we need to do some food shopping. Pictures to follow, as Laura has brought the camera cable for uploads.
3rd entry Tango Diary Thursday 4/23/09 Wednesday night and Thursday
We woke up at 8:30 this morning disappointed we were not able to sleep until our usual waking time of noon. Remedy: stay out later, coming home at 2:45am is too early! Especially after consuming empanadas and café con leche at midnight. oops. Buzz buzz buzz, although considering it was Laura’s first night on the town, we actually did rather well.
The night before started with a plan to go to a practica, followed by a gay milonga, followed by el Beso. but as usual, a few curve balls were thrown our way. Guided by the “milongas buenos aires” internet site, we set out valiantly on foot towards our destination. However, 30 minutes later we arrived at a rather posh milonga at Niño Bien (where we both had been last year on opening night). Luckily we had packed both casual and dressy clothes. A brief transformation later, we were ready to hit the piste de baile in style. Last year, Niño Bien was so packed that one could barely move 5 feet on the dance floor in one dance. This night the milonga was more sparsely attended, with an older crowd (more on this in a sec). We were seated close to the front, but on a corner, and not in direct line of site of the milongueros. Even so, this did not too adversely affect our invitations, although Laura had to get her Mirada/Cabaceco back on. Took her all of 3 minutes. Neither of us sat down for more than 5 minutes all night.
Interestingly, the average age of the Porteño Milonguero is about 70, and they all dance wonderfully. One gets a range of good, great and superlative dances here. No bad ones, as older Porteño milongueros are musically driven and not given to fancy shmancy stuff, although they do leave plenty of room for adornment on the followers part. Laura and I decided that they all kind of look the same. Grey/whitish hair, ample pot belly, Dark pants and button down collar short (short or long sleeved), or in a suit, same hair do. Good sense of humor. First question is always “de donde ‘sos?) Where are you from. I am getting this less, either because I am starting to dance more like a Porteña, or my Spanish is getting better.
Afterwards we went to El Beso and finished the night there. The room was jam packed and very international. We danced with Italians, Polish and Australian dancers as well as Porteños. I had a fabulous dance (Bueno como orgasmo) close to the end with Scott (an Australian) and then was quite happy to sit and watch. My feet were done at that point anyway after 3 hours in 4 inchers and 1.5 hours in 3 inchers. Tevas felt really good after that. Once you’ve had the best dance of the night, one may as well go home. (I like to end on a high note).
After breakfast, Went to GretaTango for shoe research, but found them closed. Even after waiting around for 45 minutes at a confiteria (and talking about Proust – felt very intellectual) there was still no answer at the GretaTango buzzer. To assuage our disappointment, we went to NeoTango and had good luck there with shoes. One pair down, how many to go? On our way back we became aware of loud banging noises and chanting. We had come across a protest of the Panadera’s (Bakers) blocking one of the major roads and causing a lot of ruckus. A Porteño came towards us shaking his head indicating that it was too loud. We asked him what was going on pointing to a pamphlet I had picked up off the ground..” Sergio” as he introduced himself, grabbed me by the hand and we plunged into the drumming chanting fray, Laura followed close behind with her camera, although he indicated that she might not want to take pictures. (She has been a shutter bug all day, so we’ll upload some pictures on facebook soon!) Sergio asked a drummer what exactly what was going on and what the 7 letter acronym at the bottom of the pamphlet was. Some sort of United and Quite Pissed Off Bakery Workers of Argentina type of thing – I didn’t get all of it. “No to rich owners and Yes to the workers revolutionspeak. He grabbed my by the hand again and we fought our way out of the fray. At this point it was becoming apparent that holding my hand was more for his benefit than mine, and so I extricated myself and thanked him for his help. The demonstration was being held in front of the National Syndicate Building, and was causing serious traffic snarls, massive honking and all around Latino Americano angst. Big surprise.
Speaking of Latino Anerican angst we became aware recently of the unfortunate death of all 21Venezualan polo team horses in Miami. Apparently there is no ban on doping or administrating hormones or supplements to the horses of any kind in this industry. At $100000 per horse, this must represent a massive loss both financially and emotionally to the Venezuelan owner, team and country. Not to mention just a very sad thing all round.
Later on, after some food and a power nap we started the evening of dance at El Arranque, albeit a bit late. A good warm up though, amusingly ended at about 10 pm with a group of Italians with 2 days of lessons in them (except the one who danced with Laura). Beware of well-lubricated Italians who think they can dance tango and believe that it involves lots of long holds and squeezes and thrusting their thigh between the followers legs. I almost ruptured something trying to hold my laughter in for the tanda. Then to El Beso for another fairly international night. There is always a tando of west coast swing – Argentinos love to dance this form – as well plus a Chacarera (a beautiful swooping folkloric dance). We ran into Ofer – a tanguero from NYC who owns a wine business and I had met him previously at Tango de los Muertos. He is taking a work sabbatical and is spending time (2 months now) down here. Sounds good to me. He is pretty linked in, so we are joining him tonight at a celebration at Confiteria Ideal and then a private opening party/milonga on the 21st floor of a building on Corrientes. Yeehah. Will report later.
After El Beso, we ended up at Niño Bien again, but on the way in the taxi on calle San Jose we drove past the most spectacular prostitute I have ever seen (well, I haven’t seen many, but woah.) Anyway she was wearing bright red boy shorts and NOTHING else. Definitely surgically improved breasts, and fantastic legs (could have been a transsexual, but did not note package) The taxi slowed down as we approached and we all took an astounded appreciative look. The taxi driver whistled and we continued on our way to El Beso. We had another interesting night at El Beso, where the dancing was good, but there was a predator on the floor. A man in white pants and a maroon shirt was inviting women to dance and then making them very uncomfortable. Most women were leaving either at the end of one song, or in the middle of the first song. He would then invite another to dance. Many women compolained to the management, but they couldn’t quite catch him in the act of abusing someone. One American lady there said he actually bit her neck and then put his hands on her rear and and tried to put her hand on his genitals. Laura left him after one dance and then warned me about him. He did try to invite me, but I avoided his eye. I think I probably would have kneed him in the balls if had tried anything with me (at least I hope I would have, I might have been too shocked). It saddens me that no one did anything directly about this person, and that the word of 5-6 women at the milonga was not enough to have him expelled from the venue. On this strange note, we left the milonga and headed home. In bed by 3 am.
4th entry: Tango Diary Friday/Saturday 4/25,26
Hey folks, two glorious dancing days later, and the tango adventure continues. We are finally on BsAs Tango Time, as the nights are extending into the hours of 5 and 6 am. Our feet seem to have acclimatized to 5-6 hours of dance in 3-4 inch heels every day. I’m so glad I brought my tennis balls and foot roller!
So on Friday we walked down Rivadavia searching for a hair place so Laura could get her bangs fixed. This required a lot of information. Firstly, the Spanish word for bangs (flequillas). Also what is the right amount to tip a hairdresser in BsAS? Laura asked this question of our hostess Magdalena, or at least tried. What came out was an amusing Spanish version that sounded like: “If I go to a cinema to get my bangs cut, how much should I tip?” After watching Magdalena’s perplexed reaction we discovered the difference between the words pelicula (film) and peluqueria (hair salon). We have had some very amusing moments with language. Anyway, we did drop in to a little hole-in-the-wall peluqueria on the way downtown (Laura is very courageous, I must say) and had her bangs done to her satisfaction. Downtown we visited 2 shoe shops, and Laura bought the Mod-est pair of shoes ever (wait ‘til you see!). The other store had the foot-fetish salesman from last year, and I have a picture to upload of him almost licking her leg. He probably sells a lot of shoes this way.
The next tango destination was an afternoon milonga (got there about 4:30 after an empnada break) at Confiteria Ideal. Mucha gente! It was an homage to Orchesta Tanturi and in the middle of the dancing some sort of presentation was made to a group of people. We all just wanted to get back on the dance floor. But it dragged on a bit. Pomp and ceremony and such. At CI, Laura and I developed the tango-cock-block to avoid being asked to dance by sleazy men. It involved yelping the code word “taxi!” and then feigning some sort of shoe emergency that requires both of our undivided attention until sleazy guy moves on. Works really well, although we are both suppressing so much laughter that it hurts. We left CI at 730 ish and went home to take a power nap, then went back downtown to a new milonga at 327 Corrientes on the 21st floor of a very high building. The view of the city was spectacular even if the live music was not, and we met Leo( very interested in Laura, and probably wishes I would go away). Leo has a Camioneta (van that seats about 10) with 3 levels of security. Apparently car theft is a huge problem in BSAs, so the only way to avoid it is to make your car more awkward than the next to steal. Leo achieves this with 1) a steering wheel lock, 2) a foot pedal lock which holds the emergency brake down, as well as the door locks – and vast numbers of keys. It takes about 5 minutes for him to enter and exit his vehicle, even more so while we our laughing our heads off while he is going through his machinations. Anyway, we all headed out of to Salon Canning and walked in right at their half-time show (2:30 am) of a belly dance performance! 2 excellent dancers, one male and one female were performing in the middle of the Canning dance floor. I was more impressed with the male bellydancer than the female on. His movements were much more interesting and isolations crisp and perfect. She was a Barbie doll with obviously fake breasts (no one that tiny has boobage that big, I’m sorry) but a great show by both. Later as they left, I thanked them for the show and told them how wonderful they were. I couldn’t quite get out that I also dance, they looked a little confused, but my appreciation was not lost on them.
Canning has not repaired their floor – it is still as rutted and picked as last last year. This does ot bother the leaders with flat heels, but its really annoying with stilettos, (the shoes) as they seem to find every crack and crevice in the floor. Once one’s heel catches, its an effort not to stumble, and puts me off my flow. Arg. Some nice dances, although I had an annoying experience with a dancer who I had danced with at least 3 times this vacation. For some reason he thought it was ok to mention that my dance was “linda’ but that I needed to lift up in my torso more. This really bothered me. It’s a milonga. One should NEVER teach at a milonga. 1) I didnt ask for his opinion 2) It stops the flow of the dance. 3) Is unsolicited criticism ever a good idea? Anyway, I mentioned this later to one of our roommates later who is a tango teacher and told her how I felt, and she said next time: tell him exactly that. Men (and this happens in N America too) who offer instruction or advice during a milonga need to be informed that this is a social dance, not a lesson. If I want lessons, I’ll take them, and if he doesn’t like my dance style, then dont invite me. Woe betide the next guy who tries this. I have the Spanish phrasing memorized, and feel totally empowered to leaving him gawking and embarrassed on the dance floor. If women would stand up to critical partners perhaps the men would feel too embarrassed to do it again. That being said, I will work on being more lifted in my torso, but I’ll never dance with that guy again. Men, take note. If you offer feedback to a partner during a milonga, you risk offense, even if you mean it in the best possible way. DON’T DO IT. Make your partner feel as if she is the most amazing partner in the world. Bring your lead to your partners level so she is comfortable. Her dance development is her business not yours. Then if it was really bad for you, at least you were kind, and you don’t have to invite her again. Soap box over.
Anyway, total tango hours (TH) logged Friday night: 7.
On Saturday, we woke at 1:30 pm (oh bliss) and walked around the Once district doing some chores. Another power nap and off to the races again at 11:00 pm. This time Maipu 444 at the suggestion of Scott a while ago. This is a very traditional milonga controlled by a stern man who posts rules (no Nuevo, keep heels down Etc etc.). The seating was very segregated with the women on one side, single men along a wall, and couples in another area. Unlucky younger single men were seated behind the women, so it made it hard for them to make eye contact. There were many good local dancers, but the older milongueros at this dance did not invite younger women wearing un-traditional clothing (us). Oh well. They were fun to watch. I could see all the leaders watching the footwork of the older gentlemen with great alacrity. We stayed there for 4 hours, and I had some of the best dances so far. Quite a blissful evening for me. Laura got off to a lsower start. But in the end was not unhappy. Some characters: Desperately Seeking Something woman (in her 60s) – permanently stuck in the eighties with weird tattered lace and extremely bad hair (looked like she was wearing a hair-dye cap with tufts pulled out of it. ACK! Although not a bad dancer, just made us cringe to look at her. (FYI weird hair color of choice this year in BSAS: red-pink. Blah. And lots of eyebrow piercing among the younger set.) Another character: Butter Boy (real name Henrique) but so called by Laura due to his very smooth leading. I danced with him a lot, as it was very fun, and I could tell he was holding his Nuevo side down. I also danced with Scott (more bliss) and a French leader Jean who I remember from last year.
After a Café con leche and Empanada break at 4 am (at our favorite Café de la Ciudad – the air smelled smoky, as if the fires from the Pampas were infiltrating the city again, if you remember the tango diaries from last year, for 3 days the city smelled like it was on fire. For those tango diaries, go to http://www.wmpg.org/?programming and click on Shaken and Stirred and then click on the link to the tango diaries), we hopped into a taxi and headed to la Viruta at 4:30. (ridiculous) and met up with many of those who had been at Maipu. La Viruta is the catch–all milonga that is open until 6 am. Folks head there after leaving the other milongas. It is a strange mix of young and old, disco and tango, usually crowded with flashing colored lights. Its in the basement of the Armenian Culture center in Palermo. Ordering more coffee and medialunas for some blood sugar, we danced until 6 am. I found Butter boy again, (yay- experimental tango for the last 20 minutes in ballet flats) and Laura found Leo. We closed the place down. Leo was nice enough to drive us home in the high-level-security autobus. I checked the time just before hopping into bed. 7 am Sunday. TH=6 or more.
Just woke up, wrote this, and will now head down to the Malva museum of Art in Palermo. Then on to La Glorieta (a beautiful open- air gazebo milonga in the late afternoon).
5th entry: Tango diary Sunday/Monday/Tuesday 4/27,28,29
Awoke rather late (1 pm-ish again), and had breakfast. This is becoming the norm. We decided to vist the Museo de las Bellas Arts on Avenida Libertador. I walked down and met Laura at the museum. On the way, I walked through Recoleta where there was a big artisanal fair with stalls as far as the eye could see. Selling handmade everything: art, mate gourds, necklaces. Hand puppets, more mate gourds, leather sandals, threads of glass drops (for what?) rastas giving folks dreadlocks, jugglers, poi artists, musicians, yet more mate gourds, paintings (good, bad and really ugly) sculptures, toasted sugar-covered peanuts, surprise- more mate gourds, woolen hats, scarves, socks, leather wallets, everything else made of leather, hand printed t shirts, photographs, and finally – you guessed it- mate gourds. Quite a seething mass of humanity all located on top of and around the Recoleta Arts building and its very torn up grounds. It looks completely bulldozed on one side. This deconstruction seems to happen all over BsAs. The sidewalks are a mess everywhere. Some sort of work is required, workers tear huge holes in the sidewalks, and then pile bits of debris back in the hole, cover it with a few boards, and consider the repair done. It is like this in all neighborhoods- ritzy Recoleta and grittier Once. Although not so much in Palermo. We saw workers attacking a poor defenseless and perfectly fine piece of sidewalk in the Centro for no apparent reason except for the fact that was not broken. Makes for hellish situations with strollers. I helped a mother extricate herself from a huge sidewalk pothole, and I have only seen one wheelchair so far in the city. I’m not sure what wheelchair-bound folks do here. It’s well-nigh impossible to get around the rushing crush of people and the rutted sidewalks. Laura met a French sociologist at one of the milongas who is examining the handicapped population in Latin and North America and Europe. In North America disabled folks have a strong voice and empowerment – think of current building codes and event access requirements. Here, folks may be disabled from malnutrition or genetics and seem to accept their lot more philosophically and do not necessarily seek more representation or power. Good? Bad? I’m apt to say bad, but I live in a more entitled society.
Anyway, Laura and I met at the museum and enjoyed the contemporary art exhibit there. We hopped onto a colectivo and headed to La Glorieta (with a yummy little empanada break in between). La Glorieta is held in a beautiful gazebo. Its an outdoor milonga with about 200+ people milling about on a gorgeous marble floor. Looking up you will see a pretty wooden canopy. Had some lovely dances, and had to do a bit of avoidance of big-bad-bald-Salon Canning-guy (see last years Tango-Diaries) along with a few ancient and rather wobbly characters. Met up with Butter Boy (aka Enrique) and had some lovely dances there. He invited us to an Asado (grill) at his house later on in the week, and we will actually be going tonight (Tuesday). We took a taxi back home, power napped until 12:30 am and had some food to wake ourselves up. We got to Porteño y Bailarin (PyB) at about 1:00 am where we bumped into Scott and his partner Niky, Shaun V (from Portland Oregon – I call him shorty. He’s about 6’6”) as well as a crowd of locals we are getting to know quite well. Shaun danced with one of the local women Laura and I call big-gazonga lady. When ha came back and sat down, I said “Shaun, I have to ask- what’s it like dancing with someone with such obviously fake breasts?” He replied “Its like dancing with two beach balls between us. But she’s a fantastic dancer- very smooth” After the milonga ended, Laura and I were invited for a coffee by Pablo and Carlos. Slipping out of the little midget door in the metal sheet that comes down over the store-front area, we headed to a local confiteria. Carlos is the organizer of Sunday/Thursdays at PyB. Pablo is a dancer who seems to be rather enamoured of my shoulders. I guess Argentine women don’t work out much. Pablo gave us a cd of beautiful old tangos which is now on both our computers with the understanding that we would meet him the following night at Niño Bien to return it. Sneaky Pablo. The conversation turned to bellydance, Carlos when he learned that I also dance Arabic style dance immediately asked if I would perform at PyB when I returned. I said I would be happy to and told him what I charged. He kinda turned purple and blew coffee out his nose. I guess most performers get paid less in BsAs. The couple (absolutely beautiful) that had performed that night at PyB had been paid 200 pesos. I told him I’d be happy to do it for that amount. (whoo hoo! Can you imagine?! Me being the featured artist at Porteño y Bailarin?!) Hilarious! Definitely going to follow up on that next year.
Monday, we awoke at 1:30 pm (again) and went shoe shopping. We had the greatest intentions of going to the Malva, but pooped out after walking to Neo Tango and Comme il Faut ( I think I’m going back to get some awesome red stilettos). I name all my bellydance costumes, and all my pairs of tango shoes. These will definitely be called the “Red-Hots”. So instead of visiting the museum, we headed home to sleep a bit more so we could dance later.
Later…the first stop was Niño Bien – I had ok dances, although the last one was a bit paradoxical. This guy (Jorges old guy, single earring in ear, buzz cut white hair) was seemingly innocuous, although rather rigid and stiff in his embrace. When I missed a particular cue for an unfamiliar move, he started barking orders in abrupt Spanish in my ear. I let it go once, and when he led the move again, I was able to follow it, so I felt like I had gained experience. When it happened again, I stopped the dance mid-flow and told him “this is a milonga, not a lesson” and walked off the dance floor. He immediately made a courtly gesture and followed me off the floor, saying something like “you need to learn, or its how you learn”. I didn’t get it and I didn’t care. If I want a lesson, I’ll take a lesson. When relating this later to both Laura and Scott, they applauded the action. Even though it was a weird ending to the dancing at Niño Bien that night, it was strangely empowering.
Also, the young barman called me over, told me I was beautiful and asked if I would meet him at el Beso Thursday night. (I am having a really good ego-stroking vacation!!) I told him maybe, no promises. At this point, I don’t even know when my next meal will be (though it will probably involve empanadas), much less where I’ll be dancing two days from now.
From there we went to an alternative milonga space at 572 Independencia. See Laura’s photos for visuals. It is held in a beautiful hidden space. A door next to a skanky garage in San Telmo: a rickety staircase, a huge mirror and spooky doors opening to big room with local crazy art on walls. Que WOW. (my newest expression). This venue is a great metaphor for taking risks and trying out strange places, because of the hidden beauty one can possibly find. Both in people and places. We were at a Despedido for Scott and Niky, our Australian friends. This is the lovely Latino term for going-away party. Niky and Scott have been in BsAs for 11 months – I cannot imagine the re-entry. I’m going to have a hard enough time after 2 weeks. I am already planning my return for next year (for 5 weeks next time if I can swing it!) We drank red wine, talked and danced a little. At the end of the night, I ended up speaking with a young and playful dancer called Maximiliano. He apparently dances at shows in the area. While Laura got to know the DJ (she has started doing research into old-style milongas), I had a great conversation with Maximiliano. the topic was how tango is a conversation – question and answer (pregunta y respuesta) as opposed to the man telling the woman what to do (older traditional style). I liken it to talking with someone. When one has a conversation, it is two sided with ideas flowing in both directions, if not, then it’s a lecture and can get quite boring (remember how lectures in university could put one to sleep. Even if the material is fascinating, a unidirectional flow of information will tire the attention of the listener if no participation is required) Needless to say, I had great dance with him, as this is exactly how I feel about the dance, it being a co-creation, with input and sensitivity from both sides. In fact we danced the place closed at end of the night until Laura was falling asleep in her chair. He was quite disappointed that we were leaving at the end of the week (ACK, tell me about it…) as he was interested in dancing creatively with dancers from other countries, since he feels they are less limited that many Porteñas. Oh well, next year Max…
I feel that for the first time in all my trips to BA, I am finally penetrating the real city. Last night we were invited by a dancer called Enrique (butter boy) to an Asado at his house. Interestingly, he lives only 3 blocks away from our beautiful space. An Asado would be insufficiently translated as a cook-out, or a grill, but for Argentinos, it is a serious thing. A traditional way of preparing and sharing meat more like a ceremony, or an event. A mere weenie-toast on a quickie gas grill it is not. Almost every place with an outdoor space has a grill or Parilla: a sturdy structure made of brick or stone with space for wood and a large grill surface. Terrasses, roofs and balconies are pressed into service. The asador takes his job very seriously, and it’s quite a level of distinction to host an asado. And a mark of manliness too. Meat in Argentina is cooked slowly and because all the animals are mostly grass grazed and not given hormones or antibiotics, the flavor is intense. I don’t eat a lot of meat in the US, as I find the quality poor, and the flavor inadequate. The price for quality local meat of known origin prohibits frequent consumption. Therefore, when I come to Argentina, I eat meat and truly enjoy it. Argentinos eat every part of the cow, and last night I found myself faced with blood sausage (this was a first for me), chorizo (awesome!) then there was another cut (don’t remember name) and ribs. Laura and I had brought a bottle of wine and a salad, so the sausage got wrapped in a lot of lettuce. But it would have been impolite to refuse my host (or question his manliness in meat preparation, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Men are SO sensitive…right, guys?)
This experience was another foray into the real BsAs, one that most tourists who come, dance at milongas, buy shoes, and visit touriosites don’t get to see. Enrique’s space included a dance studio with beautifully dilapidated balconies, hallways open to the outside connecting the cramped little rooms, a diminutive kitchen, (el que cocina, no lava!) 2 tiny European style bathrooms with shower on the walls, and tangled steep metal stairs to the roof top where the Asado was held. Laura struck up a conversation with Marco, a Serbian Gardel-worshipping cantador who speaks 4 languages, and reads Rabelais for fun just like Laura. We ate more meat in one sitting than I eat probably in a year. Then Enrique followed this up with a beautiful dessert (postre) of grilled bananas in their skins, slit open with fresh lemon juice and sugar applied. YUM x 1000. gotta try this at home. Perfectly simple elegant and delicious end to a very filling meal. Laura headed off to PyB and I then spent another 3 hours dancing with Enrique in his studio dancing and talking Nuevo tango theory, organic food in Argentina and the US, the farm I am so proud to be part of, his experience an a farm with horses. He walked me home at about 4 am, and Laura had just got back herself. Fabulous crazy day. I am falling deeper under the spell of Buenos Aires and its people.
Ultimo Tango diary Thursday 4/30 and Friday May 1st
Wednesday night started at Milonga Maldita on the advice of Scott and Laura’s friend Eric. The Orchesta Tipica de L’Afronte was great – very dramatic, 4 bandoneons, cello, upright bass, 3 violins and an amazing cantador. (To listen to some of their music, google El Afronte) There was a lovely demonstration by a gentleman and a portly woman who’s skirt caught on on her heel. ACK! She very calmly and coolly during a pause reached back and unhitched the problem, then continued dancing. Note to self, too long stretchy skirts might costume issues. Cuidado!
I connected with director Gabriel Atúm of El Afronte. Became fan on facebook and sent a personal email. I hope he responds, as he wants to bring the group to the US, and I might be able to facilitate part of a US tour, hopefully we can bring them to Maine if they include Boston and environs in their plans.
Unfortunately, the level of dancing at La Maldita was quite low. Got caught by a couple of trawlers and then decided not to trust anyone I hadn’t seen dance already. Trawlers are my name for solo men circling the dance seating looking for partners. Not usually of very good quality. Men who circle the milongas seeking partners like this are usually to be avoided. Not always, but 85% of time. I have learned now after 4 years that I have enough experience to say no and wait for a more quality partner .The higher quality dancers were not inviting extrañeras and the floor was quite empty, so Laura and I decided to have a dance together. We did a waltz tanda – dancing with Laura is such a dream no wonder she is so sought after at the milongas. We evidently had a lot of fun, and A German gentleman then asked me to dance a milonga – yay - while Laura danced with Eric. I have noticed that German tango dancers are very friendly and happy people. We blew out of Maldita in favor of El Beso and had some great dances. Laura and I have noticed that some dancers are interested in dancing with only one of us, and will not invite the other chica to dance. We complain about it to each other. For example, at El Beso (translated as The Kiss, by the way) a guy by the name of Daniel asked me to dance, and we ended up dancing four times during the night, but he never asked Laura, although she mirada’d him a lot. Similarly, a great dancer from Texas (Russel) was not interested in me at all, but was all over Laura. Annoying, but we both got lots and lots of dances the whole time we were down, so neither of us have anything to complain about, really. Ended the night at about 3:30 (rather early, we thought).
Thursday 4/30 was the day before Labor Day (May 1st). In most Latin American countries and also many European ones, workers are celebrated. Not in the US/Canada, although the Latino Community is bringing this holiday quite deservedly to North American attention. Avenida Nueve de Julio (the 16 lane monstrosity in the middle of the MicroCentro) was closed Thursday night and our taxi had to take a detour around the huge installations of banks of seating. Already, the trees and structures in the area were festooned with banners and protest signs for the president to see as she spoke. We made mental notes not to go anywhere near the Centro on Friday. We met Laura’s colleagues Eduardo and Hiroya (sp?) for dinner at Chiquilines, a rather sniffy restaurant in the Congreso area. Laura and I now prefer the grittier and smaller venues, and we are learning where they are from friends and contacts who live in BsAs. Anyway, we had a lovely time with Eduardo (who teaches at the University) and Hiroya (a composer doing a stay in BsAs) at Chiquilines. Strangely, it had TV screens in it and periodically every Porteño’s eyes were riveted as a soccer game between La Boca and River was on. Geez. The table next to us was a family group of guys and I was astounded by how much meat was loaded on to their table. Platters of steaks and ribs with nothing else except a basket of rolls. They also ordered large plates of fries, and finished it off by each ordering huge desserts. How Argentinos are not scurvy-ridden and obese I’ll never understand. Laura and I shared panqueques con dulce de leche, and Eduardo had a bread pudding which came with about 1/2 cup of ddl on the side. Yow. We all gave him a hand with that. Later we ended up at Niño Bien for my last night of dancing. It was jammed. Enrique had said earlier that he would join us, but was feeling a lot of pain due to a dental incident and could not dance. Que lastima! I certainly wouldn’t be able to concentrate on dancing if my tooth hurt either. This brings up a point on the overall dental health of South America vs North America. The fluoridation of water (for good or ill, depending on your view) certainly creates a disparity in dental strength between the hemispheres. I asked Enrique about this, and he mentioned that compared to other countries in S America, Argentina was quite good. A combination of discoloration due to lots of jerba mate and tooth damage due to either no fluoridation or different dental hygiene habits however, makes the average Argentinian smile less white and flashy that what we are used to in North America. ‘Nuff said.
Anyway, we got to Niño Bien (translates to “spoiled boy-child, or son of an affluent family) at about 1 am and were seated “al fin del mundo” near the stage, quite out of sight. Luckily a few decent dancers were seated near us, so it wasn’t terrible and we inched our way forward as tables were vacated. Laura’s friend Jeff found us and invited us to join his table next to the dance floor, and things improved dramatically. No longer at the mercy of the trawlers, we had some lovely dances, though we had to do some more avoidance of various characters. Thanks goodness for the convention of the cabaceo, If one just steadfastly avoids looking at certain people, they cannot ask you to dance. We ended the night at about 4 am and headed home.
Friday, May 2st- el dia del Trabador or Labor day, so everything was closed – take note for next year! Supermarkets, banks – nothing is open on May 1st, except for a few fruit and veg places, and some bakeries. A bummer, as I wanted to get some hand-sanitizer for the plane. No such luck. I packed, went and had a goodbye dance with Enrique and hung out on his fabulous sunny rooftop terrasse. We had a farewell empanada and ddl helado,and Luis picked me up to go to the airport at 5:30. The weather has been incredible these past 2 weeks. Sunny and in the 70s the whole time we have been in Buenos Aires – unseasonably warm. It has spoiled me for warm weather, so I hope to come back to some nice sunshine in Maine too.
Laura is leaving BsAs tomorrow. When I spoke with her last, she was pondering the problem of too many men asking to hang out with her on her last night. I told her to fly solo. I can’t wait to hear about how she resolved it all.
I am already planning my return trip for next year. I can’t wait to revisit my new friends, dance 5-7 hours a day and find more treasures buried in this beautiful melancholy dilapidated yet modern and completely loco city. Maybe next time I’ll even make it outside Buenos Aires.
Make sure you listen to DJ Adira and DJ Laura on the post- BsAs trip on Shaken and Stirred, Friday 10:30 – noon US Atlantic coast time 90.9 or 104.1 FM in Portland ME) http://wmpg.org and click on the shoutcast button on the right. I hope my new friends in S America will join the listenership.
Besitos y Abrazos, y hasta pronto!