After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

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.

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