An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

La Chacarera Continued and Other Argentine Folk Dances



Recently housebound after falling in Pilates class and breaking two ribs, I've been watching a lot of television. Last week I came across this fabulous show from Salta, Argentina. I was enthralled.

I have been studying La Chacarera and La Zamba (which is the national dance of Argentina, not tango), and plan on learning lots more: Escondido, Gato, well I don't even know how much more there are. But they are FUN!

After the Salta Ballet performance was over, I checked the credits for contact info: balletsalta@hotmail.com



To make a short story shorter, I bought two instructional DVDs of "Bailemos Folklore con Marina y Hugo Jimenez." They are fabulous! Entertaining to watch with performance clips and also with excellent instruction. Both volumes include lots of zapateos (rhythmic footwork) how-tos for both men and women.

The Chacarera is really fun, and easy to learn, but my real passion is La Zamba. Believe it or not, it's more sensual than tango!

You can email them for more info, or if you are in Buenos Aires, you can call 011-4952-8495.

Monday, January 29, 2007

La Catédral





Se abrio el cielo y bajaron los angeles?
"Heavens opened and the angels came down?"
— Piropo (compliment) heard on the street in Buenos Aires


It was known as La Catédral. Not easy to find in Buenos Aires' dark side streets at three in the morning--no signs, no cars, no people hanging around in front smoking. But once I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the old wooden warehouse, I could hear the siren call of tango music. It was eerie and scary, mounting those stairs alone, but I was helpless to do otherwise, a pilgrim drawn to the altar of Tango.

The room was huge, like the inside of a barn, all wood. It was barely lit by large candelabra with most of the candles melted into pools of silky wax, some votive flames, and a few strings of fairy lights. It smelled of cat piss and dusky marijuana. A bar ran the width of the room in back, with enormous, bright modern paintings hanging over it all the way to the rafters. Shadowy figures were sitting around the room on the lumpy funky old couches and broken chairs, their conversations punctuated by the smoldering ends of their cigarettes moving in the dark. At first I could only see the silhouettes of dancers through the smoke. Three or four couples on the warped, uneven wooden dance floor, moved, not to traditional Pugliese or Tanturi, but to Louis Armstrong's "Kiss of Fire."



A large presence approached out of the gloom. Quieres bailar? He was young, muscular, handsome, with black-rimmed glasses framing eyes that sparkled with chemical excitement. He was so tall I had to reach up very high to wrap my left arm around his neck. He held me tight and led me with brute machismo, so unlike the subtle leads of the old milongeuros I had danced with at Club Almagro earlier that night. When I leaned against him in the traditional tango pose of female trust, he dragged me across the floor, lifted me back on my feet, turned and twisted me, giving me no opportunity to embellish or decorate his steps. I simply obeyed the movements his body ordered. It was different, exhilarating, exhausting.

"You don't really need to work out at the gym, do you?" I panted during a break in the music.

"No, I eat red Argentine beef full of blood! Blood! To make me strong!" His eyes glittered, muscles rippled under his tight tee shirt, testosterone energy creating an almost visible aura around him.

Breathless, I had to sit out the next set and recover on an old velvet sofa next to a dozing cat. I watched people arriving and leaving in the candlelight, with their high-heeled tango shoes, jeans, and backpacks. The informality of the setting and the dancers' attire and attitude clashed with the ceremonial tango they danced so seriously.

--from THE CHURCH OF TANGO; A MEMOIR

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Midnight Service at the Church of Tango





I had never been to La Confiteria Ideal at night, but when La Orquesta de los Reyes de Tango performed, I showed up at midnight in January for the one a.m. concert. It was summer, and the old salon had no air conditioning, the hall was hot and humid with the crowds dancing and perspiring under the Art Nouveau skylight, the big wall fans swirling the ladies’ skirts as they turned about the marble floor.

The mirrors on the wood-paneled walls reflected crowds of young hip dancers of Tango Neuvo, old milongueros, portenos, and tourists of all ages in the dim light of old globe chandeliers and sconces. We all were there with a single purpose, to hear these old men, the Kings of Tango, play just as they had in their heyday of the forties and fifties.




The couples on the floor moved to the music as one, slowing together, speeding up together with the orchestra. It felt choreographed, that we all were enclosed in one embrace. The watchers and the dancers were soaked with sweat--hair and clothes--but it felt clean and nobody minded.



I wish my children had been there, my late husband Jack, my mother, I wish everyone I had ever loved had been there. It was a delightful orgy, a celebration, of heat, sweat and passion, of connection of all kinds of people to each other, the music, and the cosmos. It was Heaven.

--from THE CHURCH OF TANGO; A MEMOIR

Monday, January 22, 2007

La Chacarera

Ever since the horrible tragedy of Cromagnon in December 2004, and the resulting several months closure of all dance clubs in Buenos Aires, including milongas, some reopened tango halls no longer play tandas of other rhythms. Traditionally the DJs break up all that tango with one tanda of "tropical" (mostly cumbia and merengue), one of "rock" (mostly Dixieland jazz and Bill Haley), and a tanda of folklore, or Chacarera.

Here is a video of Ruben and Victoria dancing La Chacarera at the Milonga de los Consegrados:



And some photos of me:






Friday, January 19, 2007

Tango Epiphany in Buenos Aires

-- passage to a secret world where senses collide


From RunCarolineRun on the Tango-L, 11,11,06:

I've realized that what I thought I knew about tango, I actually didn't know
at all. Have only been here five days but have already gone to several milongas (Gricel, Nino Bien, Salon Canning, Confiteria Ideal). The first two days, I was absolutely terrified to jump in and dance because I felt so incompetent in comparison to the locals. Then one afternoon, I forced myself to go to Confiteria Ideal, on my own.

I danced non-stop with one porteno after another. One lovely man, who noticed that I was a bit stiff (jetlag, oncoming cold, blisters) said to me in broken English, "close your eyes and sleep". And so I did, I closed my eyes and in this dreamlike state, felt as though my partner was telling me a poetic story through his body, his dancing, his tight embrace. I've never experienced anything like that in my life. My entire body felt as though I had just imbibed a glass of wine and thus was relaxed from its liquid in my veins.

It was as though I'd been given passage to a secret world where senses collide in the form of tango.

It seems so silly now, how obsessive I was about getting the steps right, back home in my hometown. Tango is about the music. Each nuance of each movement is a response to a note in the song. The portenos hold you in close till you are forehead to forehead, cheek to cheek, chest to chest, and with all those connection points, it's almost impossible to make a mistake, for when you follow their leads, you do so not with thought but with instinct, like breathing.

And now Iºm already feeling sad because I know that this experience may never be again replicated when I go home unless I get lucky enough to dance with men who are either Argentine or who had learned the tango here in
Argentina.



Last night, at Salon Canning, there was a busload of tourists pouring into the milonga. I almost winced to see how out of place they seemed with their awkward open embrace, or overly fanciful steps. All I could think to myself was they just don't get it,

When you look at the locals, they are calm, beatific, confident. They do not need to step on every single note. They know how to put as much into a pause as they do into a step. The tourists seemed almost trying too hard to impress upon others that they know what they are doing while completely missing the point.

The dance floor was very crowded and yet all the portenos danced together in a perfect flow. It was the tourists dancing with each other that were disrupting the flow, or hurting others by kicking up their heels. Kudos to the Argentines for their gracious and benign tolerance.

I had heard that in BsAs, it's not about knowing all this advanced tango stuff, it's about the music, about your partner, it's about translating how the music affects you through your body to your partner. Here, my dancing improved so naturally fast because my mindset shifted from doing the steps properly to closing my eyes and "sleep".

There aren't any words to describe the bliss I'm feeling right now.



Thanks, Caroline from Montreal, you describe it perfectly!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Home is Where the Cat Is








Phoebe in Hollywood















Phoebe in Mexico

My cat was on Prozac. When I decided to move to Mexico from Los Angeles in 2001, I gave away or sold all my things. But what about my cat? Phoebe and I had gone through a lot in the five years we had been together. She is very high strung and was under a vet’s care for nerves. Of course I had to bring her with me. So we flew down together to Mexico on Christmas Eve and lived for 2 ½ years in San Miguel de Allende.



When the time came to move to Buenos Aires three years ago, there was no question that Phoebe would come too. But it was much more difficult and complicated to fly to Argentina than going to Mexico from Los Angeles.






The day before the early morning flight, a friend drove us in his van to Mexico City, 4 hours away. We sneaked Phoebe and her sandbox into the hotel and I put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door to keep the maid out. Then we went to see the Swan Lake ballet they do in the park--with a real lake with swimming swans, and horses, and boats with torches, and good dancing, too. And afterwards we went to Garabaldi Square where all the mariachis hang out looking for work. A great going-away party.




But as we walked back to the hotel, two young men ran up behind us and took Jaime’s money, his watch, cell phone, and, worst of all, his car keys. Me they frisked, putting their hands in all my pockets, but not finding the purse I carried under my coat. No weapons, no violence. Jaime had to spend all night in the hotel garage with a locksmith making new keys to the van that contained everything I owned and was taking on the flight to Buenos Aires.

In the airport ticket line the next morning, a small inexperienced woman had to open every single thing for inspection, and then couldn’t pack it back together right as it was like a jigsaw puzzle, so tightly crammed. The regular man whose job it was didn’t do it because of fear of touching my underwear!!!
So my 3 suitcases, 2 boxes and a painting (see below) got checked, but they had no record of Phoebe’s ticket. So I bought another one.

Jaime helped us up to the security line, we said our goodbyes, and he left. I hoped the gate wasn’t too far away because of all that I carried. But when I got to the x-ray machine and took Phoebe out of her carrier, the attendant demanded some kind of special paper I had to get at the other end of the airport. The travel agent in San Miguel had called twice to Mexicana for their pet regulations, I did too, as well as look up their policy on the web. This was news.

I could hardly carry the cat, my 2 coats, computer, and bag, and the plane was due to leave in 30 minutes. I found a skycap, and he found the Sanitation office, where they fiddled around with all the papers from the vet, etc., making copies, and complaining that one was printed from a computer, and on and on with minutiae, and they had to actually look at Phoebe--mind you, she had just been examined by a vet a couple of days previously and given papers of good health.

Anyway, the skycap got me back to the x-ray point, where I took her out of the carrier again for the process, and off we went to the gate. I could hardly carry everything. I thought I would pass out. When we got there the gate had been changed to the other end of the terminal. I almost gave up, but then one of those electric carts came along, and I flagged it down, and the nice man took us to the gate.

Then they wouldn’t let me take Phoebe on the plane without the Captain’s OK, which he finally gave while we waited at the gate. Once on board, in the back of a full flight, I started to relax, when the attendant said the cat couldn’t fly in the cabin but had to go with the luggage in the hold. I demanded to talk to the captain, I talked with every attendant, I raced back and forth and up and down the aisle. Everyone told me something different: people complained, people were allergic, there was no space. Finally they ripped her out of my hands and we took off, 20 minutes late, with me crying. I had been assured when I bought my ticket she could ride in the cabin as it was too hot in BsAs for her to survive the landing at that time of year. I paid a lot more to fly Mexicana instead of a cheaper flight on another airline just because of Phoebe.

But she was there waiting for me as I stepped off the plane. And the only luggage of my 6 pieces that arrived with me was my painting!! The rest went on vacation for 5 days to Rio.

The following is the Epilogue to my memoir THE CHURCH OF TANGO, describing my transition to Argentina:

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be. --Douglas Adams


It was finally obvious to me how to follow my bliss. And so I packed up Phoebe the Cat and moved to Buenos Aires, leaving Mexico above the Equator and in my heart.


But in my search for Heaven, I learned that, as Joe Louis so rightly put it, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

There’s a price for everything, and wherever you go, there you are.

So I learned that cliches are always true and I don’t need to keep on testing them. Even though it does take two to tango, I’m continuing with my solo tango every night in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Nights of three minute relationships are enough for me now. And then I go home, alone, and satisfied.

The Rapture Tour is over. But the dance remains.

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive but you'll never know.

-- Jackson Browne

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Perfect Day in Buenos Aires






The Buenos Aires Travel Guide blog has called out for fellow-bloggers to write about their ideal day here. Yes, I would do, and have done with gusto, all that Alan describes in my own "perfect day"—as a tourist. But let's face it, I live here,and I have other priorities than seeing tourist sites like Cafe Tortoni and Puerto Madero. I don’t mind at all, unlike BATG's Alan, being labeled “expat,” although I can see it can be taken negatively. But calling a chorizo a chorizo, an expatriate is what I am after not living in my native country of the U.S. of A for 5 years.

And so my “perfect day” is more of a normal one: wake up without the alarm, stuff myself on fresh fruit and coffee, enjoy the gorgeous view from my terrace in Boedo while doing some herb gardening, teach a tango class or two, rest, pet my cat, clean up, go to a milonga with my partner and dance and greet my friends, come home and enjoy a good steak with a bottle of vino tinto. For variety, after the milonga I sometimes relish a seafood dinner in a Spanish restaurant.

Not bad! And I've experienced my Perfect Day many times. Lucky me! Each to his own poison.
So I encourage other bloggers and interested would-be portenos to post a comment here or on The Buenos Aires Travel Guide: http://www.buenostours.com/my-perfect-day-in-buenos-aires

And may all your days in Buenos Aires be perfect!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Christmas in Buenos Aires



It's hot and people are wearing shorts in the street, summer fruit is for sale, girls show even more of their toned stomachs above low-cut jeans, and the clothes in the shop windows are pastel. I’ll never get used to the mannequins in bathing suits with Christmas tinsel around their necks.

The many “homemade” ice cream parlors have long lines under the blooming purple jacaranda trees. An Argentine type of mockingbird has begun his mating mantra in the tree outside my window, but it's a lot more musical and less annoying than his cousin's song in Southern California. The cheesy “pic 'n saves” of Chinese imports that are on every block are full of plastic trees and ornaments. Last night I went to Las Violettas, a restored Belle Epoque confiteria, and they were putting up their huge artificial tree covered with plastic snow while running the air conditioner at full blast to keep out the heat that filled the street at midnight on the other side of the stained glass windows. Two years ago I had to search very hard to find a real tree—they don’t sell cut trees here. At a nursery I bought a blue cedar that has grown a lot on my balcony. The only problem is that is grows from the top and the scraggly bottom and middle make it look rather Charlie Brownie.


(At right, Esquina Homero Manzi, San Juan y Boedo)

Everything feels topsy-turvy here in this down-under land where Christmas is in summer, Easter is in the fall, and the water runs down the drain backwards. I’m still not used to the different stars in the sky and that the north wind is hot.

But in the milongas, nothing changes. Tourists come and go, and the regulars sit at the same tables where they've sat for years. The same music is played that was played in the thirties, forties, and fifties, and no one is ever tired of it. For a change of pace from tango, sometimes the disk jockey plays American
Dixieland (everyone calls it jazz) and dancers let loose on the floor. Me, I prefer to sit out the Charlestons, but the Argentines love it.

Out on the streets, buckets of fragrant jazmines are for sale (what we in the north call gardenias.) The professional dog walkers seem to be working overtime, and yesterday I saw one with 14 large breed dogs. Buenos Aires has its recycling system of cartoneros-street kids who are trucked in every night around midnight to go through everyone's trash looking for bottles and cardboard. (No one knows how many there are in Buenos Aires, but estimates are in the five figures.) There are no such things as the large plastic garbage bins that are so familiar in the States, and people simple arrange their trash in market plastic bags around the nearest tree to wait for the kids, who sift gloveless through the trash.

My “new” old apartment is in Boedo, the old blue-collar tango barrio, where the only tango nowadays is in two tango shows a block away at San Juan y Boedo. Before my move here last August, I loved living in Caballito, a very nice family neighborhood with trees and cobblestone streets. Before that I lived in Congreso, until my New York Argentine landlord kicked me out of his one-bedroom furnished in order to rent to tourists for more money. (Déjà vu again—is that an oxymoron?; I'm getting tired of this.)


Christmas in Buenos Aires is almost the same as New Year’s Eve; everyone is with their families at midnight for the toast, then they all get on the phone to call their friends. There is even less religious feeling than in the States, although the police department sets up a nativity scene in front of their headquarters. Fireworks explode at midnight on both holidays, and the week between is punctuated by firecrackers that make the streets feel like a war zone.



Happy New Year! May 2007 be filled with peace and love for us all, wherever we are.