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.

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.



George J said...

Wow! A tango Cathedral!! What an experience!

Cherie said...

Hi George,

It was an incredible experience. But since the boliche fire in Cromagnon (see post comments below on the Chacarera), it's been closed. Certainly it was a firetrap.

But then, nothing is the same after The Day the Milonga Died.

Un beso,