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, February 28, 2011

Charlas Con Coquito

I talk a lot with my bird; in fact, we often have great conversations in which I'm able to express my negative opinions, my feelings, to confess all in English or in bad Castellano, and he always listens carefully. He stops chattering his chirpy chirpy sounds, cocks his head, and fixes me with one beady eye and gives me his full attention (unlike most males when I talk). I can go on about anything with Coquito, no subject is taboo, no theory is too outrageous.

And then he always cheers me up when he says, Dame un beso! 
Beso, Coquito!! Beso, papa!

I love Mirasol, my Argentine cat. While she's no Phoebe the Expat Cat, then again she hasn't traveled with me to three countries. She's loving...what more does one want from a cat?

When I talk to Mirasol, she answers, Meow. Sometimes she initiates the conversation, with Meow?

Now Coquito not only asks questions--How are you? Okey dokey? 

But he answers them too--Te quiero, mama! Birdie Boy! Cookie!

I feel a little more sane to charlar con mi pajarito. Do you think? It beats conversations with myself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dinner With Podestå

So lucky to have good friends like Marcela and Ruben, organizers of the milonga Nuevo Chiqué on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We were delighted to be invited to an asado one hot Saturday night at Marcela's house in Belgrano.

And so much like the Night of the Milongueros I wrote about four years ago, I opened my ears and listened to what this small group of folks who were there so long ago had to say about the tango.

Yes, they talked about the orchestras, and favorite moments long past, and lyrics of tangos, and then the great and famous singer Alberto Podestå, sitting across the table from me, sang Percal. Can you believe it?

The Maestro himself

Illuminated by a bright circle of light

Yes, la juventud se fue, but what memories!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Carnaval en Gualeguaychu

Note: for MUCH better photos, please check out NW Nomad.

Gualeguaychu, in Entre Rios, is sort of a back-water, one-horse pretty little town on the shore of the Gualeguaychu River, about three hours by car from Buenos Aires and close to Uruguay. No high rises, no gourmet restaurants, very few buses, lots of bicycles, people sit out on their curbs at night during the summer to cool off. But what it does have, since 1997, is a Carnaval to rival that of anywhere in the world!

During the military dictatorship, Carnaval and Murgas, as well as tango, were suppressed. But all three have come back with a vengeance! Well ok, Gualeguaychu doesn't have tango, but Guau! What a carnaval--every Saturday night in February and through the middle of March.

Five years ago, we made a turn-around trip in one day with a tour company, Eternautas. It was hot and cramped in the small van, we were all exhausted from the Corsodromo parade which didn't end until after 3:00 a.m., but worst of all, that was the night of Ruben's first gall bladder attack--and it was bad.

Typical Gauchito Gil altar along the road
So we wanted to revisit the Comparsas under more pleasant circumstances. We drove up in Ruben's old batata, passing many Gauchito Gil altars on the three hours through the pampas.

We stayed in a lovely posada for four nights. Ruben went fishing and to the Casino, I read and relaxed, and we swam in the dark pool at night to cool off. Saturday night we walked over to the Corsodromo (which used to be the train station) and had cocktails on the grass while we watched the people buying feather headdresses and posing for photos.

Every weekend there are three comparsas competing in the Corsodromo, each one with their floats, amazing costumes which are mostly feathers and glitter, dancing boys and girls, snazzy orchestra and singers, and batucada band. We saw Kamarr, Mari-Mari, and Ara Yevi.

She was the leader of the Nazis.
My favorite was Mari-Mari, just as five years ago. Their 2011 theme is Pesadillas, or Nightmares. Think Cirque du Soleil. Beginning with a boy reading scary stories in bed, with every kind of feather-bedecked nightmare dancing after him in the parade: spiders, bats, dragons, vampires, monsters, werewolves, German Secret Police, royals followed by a guillotine, and all bouncing along the way to the infectious Mari-Mari music like colorful chickens. A gigantic float was a writhing haunted house with claws moving beds in and out--with a person screaming on each bed! Most of the floats are hand pushed or pulled but a very few are pushed by tractors.

I'm so sorry my photos can't do the Pesadillas de Plumas justice. And oh yes, there were gorgeous barely dressed young beauties as well.

 I can't praise the concepts high enough, with the clever, intelligent, inventive, witty flow of fun. Just when you think you can't be awed or surprised anymore, here comes a comic character, a rollicking grim reaper, or a dancing Dracula.

The final Comparsa ended their parade of "Education," (at least that's what I think the theme was) with the best batucada group of the night--and they were all wearing motarboard caps and gowns! But you have to see the video. Ruben took video, but it's very hard if you're not in the first row. We were in the fourth row and even so had to stand up on chairs and it still seems like we got nothing but the big heads of the folks in front of us.

We stayed at La Posada del Puerto with a view of the river and a giant swimming pool, a treat at any season. They also have a gym and spa.

 We ate at Campo Alto twice, and enjoyed great meals and live folk music.

However the other 2 restaurants we tried (La Cascada and El Argentino) were awful.

More info on Carnaval en Gualeguaychu. And here in WelcomeArgentina.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Day in the Delta

It wasn't until I moved here in 2003 that I visited the Delta de Tigre, although I had heard of it often, especially from my vacation landlady Maria Teresa. But I was always too busy dancing tango and recovering from late nights to take a day off to visit nature.

A few months after my permanent arrival (and long before I met Ruben), I was invited to spend a day there on a "date." The man in question was a non-English speaking porteño who happened to be blind, but who managed very well on his own. He explained to me over the phone what train to take, where to meet, and I was glad to finally visit a place out of town I had heard so much about.

It was a day in May, and especially cold. I wore my winter parka. I went to Retiro and caught the train to Maipu, where he and I met as planned, and then we took the lovely Tren de la Costa to the end of the line, Tigre.

Once there, he asked me a lot of questions as to where to go to buy tickets for an island excursion. My Castellano wasn't very good and I was a bit overwhelmed, but eventually we made it to a lancha (motorboat bus) and disembarqued at one of the islands to find a restaurant for lunch.
Tren de la Costa

The truth is that I was totally freaked out with fear that he might fall as we walked near the shore, or getting on and off the boat, and I couldn't really remember when he asked me if we had come "right" or "left," or where the passerby had said to find a good restaurant. And it was all in Castellano.

But somehow we found a restaurant and had a lovely lunch outside near the water and made it back to the train for the return trip to Buenos Aires, leaving me just a little worse for wear.

After that, I visited Tigre with Ruben a few times also on day trips to take friends and visitors. One time we took a catamaran and had lunch on board as we toured the canals and rivers. Another time we went with friends to Bora Bora on a prepaid excursion which included lunch on a secluded island about 30 minutes from the Estacion Fluvial. Although the voyage was short, we seemed a million miles away from the concrete jungle of Buenos Aires.

This month we had planned to camp overnight with Ruben's nine-year-old grandson Franco, but he had a broken arm and a cast, and we were in full swing of the tango tourist season with teaching, and so it was for only a day that we took Franco to Tigre, his first time. Our very favorite place, La Puerto la Pista, was too far (90 minutes by motor launch) to go for only a day, so we were like all of the other tourists at the Estacion Fluvial choosing a day trip to an island that appealed to us for a package price.

We wanted a place with a beach, about 30 minutes away by motor launch, a restaurant, kayaks, and a play area for kids. Visiting the booths at the station, we were promised everything, but we chose not to buy a package that included a prix fixe lunch. Lucky for us.

There was no one else at El Ciervo Rojo when we arrived, no beach, and no one had cleaned up the facility since the weekend. Of course we arrived hungry, and to give credit where it's due, the picada we ordered was delicious, if small and expensive. There were no kayaks, and the one canoe was grounded because the water level was very low. So Ruben and Franco fished and swam; I read my book. When it was lunch time, Ruben went to check on the menu and the parrilla, neither passing muster. So we went next door and had a great asado, despite the frowns of the guy at Ciervo Rojo.

Ruben y Franco--happy fishermen!

All of this is by way of saying that there are many options for a nice day or weekend in Tigre; and it behooves one to check them all out. The booths at the station are there to sell, so buyer beware.

I completely understand the appeal of this natural green Garden of Eden with its canals, rivers, islands and lagoons. And why the wealthy porteños built mansions there last century for an escape from the hot city, even if they were only occupied for a couple of months during the summer.

Now there is renewed interest in Tigre as a weekend/summer vacation destination. It is truly a place away--no roads, no internet, no cable TV (or at least very little). It's best to stay overnight and take your own provisions to make your own asado, to truly appreciate the beauty and far-from-it-all escape that is Tigre.

Or ask us and we'll take you. Ruben the Survivor Man makes it happen for you!  :)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Celebrating Eight Years in Argentina--And Five Years of tangocherie!

The following is a chapter from my unpublished memoir, The Church of Tango, written in 2003 when I moved from Mexico to Buenos Aires. I am posting it now in celebration of my 8 years anniversary living in Argentina, and my 5 years of blogging here on tangocherie; this is my 661 blog post. With more than 6,000 page views per month, I thank you, gentle reader.

            If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else.
                                                                                          --Yogi Berra


In the evening flocks of grackles wrote V’s against the mango sky. The setting sun shone through the dusty dome windows of Las Monjas one block west, and I could see the towers of five more colonial churches from my rooftop. Almost every day beneath my windows passed processions of pilgrims, celebrants, or mourners. The Virgin sat on the back of a pickup truck. Thirty schoolchildren carried an enormous Mexican flag. Peppy tuba bands and old men, hats in hand, walked behind a hearse. 
View from my balcony on Mesones

Even so, after two years in Mexico I had overdosed on the traditional fiestas that used to enchant me. As someone who enjoys the Latin passion in the cultures of France and Cuba, I couldn’t find the same joie de vivre in Mexico.      

Mexican allegre was not a moving, pulsing force, but comfort and relaxation—abundant good food, bright and happy music, flowing beer and tequila, family togetherness and church. The sole ecstasy I witnessed was in the many fervent religious activities. I missed the zest and energy on the street and in the music that I found so compelling elsewhere.

I enjoyed greeting folks whenever I stepped out my door, yet the population was transitory, and new friends were hard to keep, often leaving after a short stay to return home to Canada or the United States. Real relationships had little time to develop. Sometimes it was painful to live alone in one of the most romantically beautiful places on earth, looking out my windows at the indigo sky and the lights of the Churrigueresque skyline twinkling below.

After more than two years, my social circle had changed. My favorite bar had closed, and even before that I stopped going out in the evening. Long ago I had given up on dating anyone. Pablo—my personal trainer—was the only man I saw for the past year, and that of course was a secret. Sure I knew it’s a cliché. I really thought at the time that God had sent him to me, I was just so lonely.
The front door to the art gallery and my apartment upstairs
Over the past couple of years, I found that without realizing it, I was drinking too much, too often, as a way to be with people. Lately I might go to Harry Bissett’s on Martini Night, and after two Cosmos, the smoke and the cackling Texas laughter would drive me around the corner and home. I read, worked on the computer, wrote articles and emails to the world “out there,” and watched Mexican TV. 

The folks I counted on were the women in my cancer support group, the people at church, the group of writers who met at my house weekly, my fellow flamenco students, as well as the two or three friends I made at the bars when I first arrived. I had some Mexican acquaintances by now, too, yet somehow there was always a gap between us which wasn’t a problem of language. I guess it was cultural differences, although I hated to think that was possible between people who cared about one another.
          There were several different social groups in San Miguel, and I didn’t fit into any of them: the cocktail party circuit; the landed house builders, remodelers and decorators who had inexhaustible discussions on whether to paint the sala saffron or aubergine; the old hippies in beads; the Texas Junior League women with perfectly streaked blond hair and chunky silver jewelry active in charity fundraisers; the gringa owners of boutiques and businesses; the newly reinvented artists; and of course the Mexicans who had little time to spare away from their work and families.

Where I felt empowered, at my best, and at home was with dancers. In San Miguel I had searched out dance in studios, schools, clubs, theaters, parties, and discos. I tried Sweat Your Prayers on Sunday mornings, folk dance at the Bellas Artes, contact improvisation, Mexican folklorico, salsa in classes and clubs, and took the bus to Mexico City in search of tango, the immigrant’s dance. More than a hundred years ago in Buenos Aires, the lonely porteño, far from his loved ones in Europe, was drawn to the connection and nostalgia of tango. In Mexico one’s family is large and ubiquitous, and people live for the moment. Unlike me, the Mexican has no need to search for a family in a milonga, and Mexican tango is almost an oxymoron.

Finally it was flamenco that saved my body and spirit. And after a student flamenco recital in which I did a solo belly dance, opportunities presented themselves to teach La Danse Orientale, to perform, to collaborate creatively with the flamenco teacher and musicians. But then what? I couldn’t afford to keep going in a financial hole every month and manufacturing my own artistic outlets. I knew I couldn’t live forever in the expensive Brigadoon Gringolandia that was San Miguel de Allende. If I did, I'd soon be one of the crones sitting in doorways with gnarled hands outstretched to passing tourists.
          Much of the Happy Hour conversations now centered on how the town had changed and how expensive it had become. I had done my best to live within my budget, moving three times to cheaper and smaller San Miguel apartments. Nevertheless from the beginning it had been an impossible dream in the most costly place to live in Mexico. I had increasingly gone into my savings, and soon they would be gone if I didn’t do something drastic. 
     San Miguel de Allende had been my home throughout three icy winters when I wore dance tights 24/7 and my electric throw over my shoulders on a long extension cord, heating my apartment with pots of water boiling on the stove. And during two hot and breathless springs, when dusty winds covered the town filling my lungs with desert sand, bus exhaust, and dried dog and burro dung. 
          The weather-perfect months in between I reveled in the afternoon rains, the ideal temperature, and the dazzling colors of the bougainvillea-bejeweled colonial architecture. Now the pleasure I found in San Miguel was no longer enough, and I knew, not for the rest of my life.

I learned a lot in Mexico; I had met people I cared about, I loved my apartment and the beauty of the town, where, like at Chateau Rodney in Los Angeles, I heard church bells and train whistles calling me to places far away. But it was time to move on—to someplace where the cost of living was less, where there was symphony and ballet and art museums, to someplace where I could dance more than solos. I yearned for the embrace of tango.
     After more than a decade of searching, it looked like my future would be in other places, other hemispheres. I missed Los Angeles and the United States, and if wishes could make it so, I would still be living with my family in our house in Los Feliz under the Hollywood Sign. I had twice paddled in the River Styx, and now I’ve been blessed with the chance of forging another life. I would have designed a different path for myself, but my life unfolded without consulting me. 

             Once again I had to bid a painful farewell to a mixed group of people who had welcomed this stranger into their lives. I was going to miss the man selling cigarettes and sodas on the corner, the flower seller who made the rounds of all the bars and restaurants every night, the girl who practiced her cello while working in the art gallery below my apartment. I was worn-out from the partings and leave-takings of the last twelve years. 

          But in Mexico, where nothing was as it seemed, “manana” didn’t mean tomorrow, and “Adios!” was not goodbye.

If you'd like to read the "end" of the saga, please check out Home is Where The Cat Is