Argentina, November 2005
Day 0-1 Monday - Tuesday
The flights from Eugene to Buenos Aires were mostly uneventful. The only exception was the two unsuccessful attempts to land in Medford. Apparently, it was too foggy for a landing so we went on directly to Los Angeles, arriving a bit early.
I arrived in Buenos Aires about 9:30am and, due to long lines and only two clerks, it took over an hour to make it through immigration. I waited a couple hours for the others to arrive but they never showed so I got a taxi to the hotel only to find that they had arrived earlier, not later than I. The final leg of their flight, it turned out, had been cancelled and after considerable effort, were moved to a completely different set of flights through different intermediate destinations.
The Hotel Republica San Telmo, where we are all staying, is an older B&B style place on the third floor (second floor to those from outside the US). It is at the top of a somewhat steep spiral staircase, forty nine steps of white marble. With the high ceilings, which I estimate to be about four meters, the third floor isw about as high as a forth floor would be in the US, The place is pleasant and comfortable and most definitely has character. There is one bathroom on our floor and another, almost a separate structure, up the stairs on the roof.
Not long after I arrived, we all went to lunch. As soon as we left the building, we ran into Rebecca Smith, formerly of Eugene, who joined us and took us to one of her favorite places, a delightful sidewalk café where we had quite a nice lunch for very little money. They might have had inside seating as well as the sidewalk tables but from where I sat, I couldn't tell. I had a chicken breast in a mustard sauce over some sautéed veggies. On the side were what I had initially thought were sliced potatoes but if they were, they were very different than any I have had before. It might also have been another starchy vegetable with which I am unfamiliar.
After lunch, we stopped by a nearby tango studio were we all arranged some private lessons for the next day. Back at the hotel, the others rested and I cranked up my computer so I could do a little work. I am trying not to do any real work while I'm on vacation but I had some great ideas while on my four-hour layover at LAX and I wanted to get them down in electronic format. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your view), I really like what I do for a living so bringing a little of it with me is not a burden. I am reminded of a friend who had a heart attack several years ago who was forbidden by his doctor to have his laptop computer with him in the hospital in order to minimize his stress. What the doctor didn't know was that taking away his computer caused him more stress than having it would have.
Later that evening, we sat around in and had a glass of wine before taking to the street to have dinner. Denis and Lynn took us to a favorite restaurant of theirs where we all ordered a kind-of meat smorgasbord all cooked on this wood fired grill. The food consisted of a variety of cuts of meat and sausages. With the exception of the blood sausage, which had an unpleasant texture, I loved it all. We concluded a wonderful first evening with coffee/cocoa/cognac at yet another establishment.
Day 2 Wednesday
Denis and Lynn had their tango lesson this morning while Nicole, Roy, and I walked around the neighborhood eventually meeting at an interesting indoor market with lots of antique, meet, and produce shops, an odd mix but it works. As I write this, Roy and Nicole are having their lesson and mine follows immediately after.
Ok, I got back from the lesson then met the others at the Plaza Dorrego where we compared notes about our recent lessons with Romina and Carlos. The short version is that everyone had good lessons and picked up valuable information. You'll have to ask each of us for the long versions when we return. After a brief stop at the hotel to change clothes, we went to Café Ideal for an afternoon Milonga, our first in Buenos Aires. In addition to the two ladies in our party, I danced with a lady from Capetown South Africa and a local porteño (porteña?) who was a delightful dance partner. Judging from the styles of dancing and the largely ignoed line of dance, I suspect that most of the dancers, at least the leaders, were foreigners.
For the two dances I had with ladies I didn't know, I tried out the "eye contact" method of asking someone to dance. The first was a surprising experience as the lady who rose to dance with me was not the one I thought I was making eye contact with but one just behind her. It's pretty hard to be that specific from across the room. Lynn wondered what someone with poor eyesight would do. We stayed a couple of hours and Nicole bought some new dance shoes as we were leaving. Wait 'til you see them…
Let me take a moment and raise the subject of taxis. There are five of us and the taxis here seat four. Rather than take two, we've been managing with four in the back seat. Think of it as close embrace in a taxi at 50 miles an hour on narrow, crowded streets. Some drivers won't take five people but we tip nicely the ones who do. Here's another interesting thing about not only the taxis but the busses (of which there are legions) and private cars as well. At night, most go about with their headlights off or in a very dim mode, much lower in brightness than our low beams in the US. When they come to an intersection, sometimes they flash the lights up to a normal brightness in order to be noticed, at least I think that's why they do it.
Crossing the street, especially one with no signal, is a game of dodge ball with multi-ton vehicles as the balls. Pedestrians DO NOT have the right-of-way here and cars and busses don't even slow down when a pedestrian is crossing. In grade school, the slow fat kids always got hit first which might goa long way to explaining why you don't see a lot of slow fat people walking around. Darwin lives!
We walked back to the Plaza Dorrego to find a restaurant for dinner. As we were walking around the plaza, we were accosted by a very friendly waiter from one of the restaurants who swore that they had the best steaks in Argentina. Well, the steaks were good but did not rise to the level of great. As a waiter, however, he was terrific.
After dinner we repaired to the same establishment we had visited the night before for drinks and conversation. We tried another place but they were closing, a rather odd occurrence in a city where restaurants hardly get started until before 10 every night.
Day 3 Thursday
After the usual breakfast of rolls and tea, we walked to a bank to use the ATM as we were all starting to run low on cash. I converted a small amount at the airport, as I am sure the others did as well. We then took the subway, changing lines in a confusing station and ended up at a large store where we could purchase lots of Tango CDs. It was cool, there were numerous kiosks where you could scan the CD bar code and then you could listen to about 40 seconds of each track on the CD. Unfortunately, on some Tangos, the introduction is longer than 40 seconds so it was impossible to hear the danceable part. Anyway, I think I purchased eight or nine CDs while Denis and Lynn picked up even more. I also found some sheet music there.
From there we went in the direction of the Pink House (Argentina's version of our White House) where we had lunch. Denis and Lynn had to leave for their next Tango lesson but the three of us (Nicole, Roy, and I) went on to the Pink House. They have a small museum with pictures of past leaders and a large portrait of Evita and Juan Peron. We walked back to the hotel from there on the recommendation of a taxi driver. It was not as far as some of us thought it would be (Roy was right!).
Tonight Lynn and Nicole will be escorted and introduced to Buenos Aires night life by a lady who acts as a tour guide to the Tango scene. I guess the rest of us will have a guys night, at least for dinner. I finally got in tough with Luiza (of Pulpo and Luiza) and have arranged a private lesson with them tomorrow. I'm excited to see them again since they are friends and I missed seeing them at TangoFest (don't ask). I should get back in plenty of time for my lesson with Romina and Carlos. Luiza told me that they would be at a Milonga tonight at Niño Bien. It's not on my Milonga map so I hope I can find it.
Well Roy and I found the Milonga Niño Bien. It was about eight blocks from the hotel so we walked. I took their group lesson which was about Milonga Traspie. I am determined to start liking Milonga so this was great and the teachers were good. Roy wanted to leave by midnight and it was only really getting started by then so we didn't get to experience much of it.
Day 4 Friday
After breakfast we all walked again to Plaza to browse the antique, art, and of course women's clothing stores. On the way Denis spotted a place that had real racing cars so we went inside to look. They had two old Bugatti racers that Roy told us were quite rare. They were ready to race in an upcoming competition and one of them had recently been running and the engine was still warm.
After looking in a bunch of stores we stopped into a small restaurant to get something to eat and drink. I only had some bubbly water (agua con gas) because I had to leave for my lesson with Pulpo and Luiza. Pulpo, it turned out was busy getting ready for the tango week they are putting on about the time we leave so I had about an hour and a half with Luiza, a wonderful teacher in her own right. It was wonderful. I hadn't known exactly what I was expecting but Luiza took me through several ganchos and sacadas. These are not the kind we normally see and do on the dance floors in Oregon. Instead they were slow and inwardly directed with a delicious fluidity. If you have ever seen them dance, you will know what I mean.
After he lesson, the three of us went to lunch to a restaurant near where Pulpo had an appointment. He remarked that we were both tourists in Buenos Aires because he has been in the US more than in BA lately. They had only arrived in Argentina the same day we did. Over lunch we chatted about the possibility of getting them to Eugene some time, perhaps next spring. Their style is different than anything I've seen elsewhere but even the most outrageous looking moves are completely leadable and quite intimate.
I hurried back to my lesson with Carlos and Romina and was a bit late but Roy and Nicole were just beginning their lesson that was supposed to be done. They offered to leave but we turned it into a small group lesson instead. Afterward, we returned to the hotel to relax and get ready to go to a Tango show and dinner at Bar Sur at 8:00. Well the show was good, three different tango singers, ranging in age from mid fifties to mid seventies. A piano player old enough to have known Gardel's father. A great bandoneon and guitar duo who also accompanied two of the singers, and two couples dancing tango. One couple was quite good and had a very sensual connection. The other dancers were obviously much less experienced and covered it with lots of flourishes. Both Denis and I got to dance one dance with the lady performers. Actually, Denis was asked twice, and gentleman that he is, indicated that the second lady should dance with me instead.
Unfortunately, as engaging as the show was, "dinner" was a series of small appetizers and no main course. After three hours the show was beginning to repeat itself and we still had not gotten anything that looked like dinner and it didn't like we were going to so we decided that enough was enough. Denis and Nicole complained to the management and the bill was reduced to "only" about $40 per person, extremely high for down here.
Day 5 Saturday
Today was spent looking at a huge cemetery consisting of what must have been thousands of mausoleums of the wealthy. They were crammed together with roads and walkways between them. We first went to the see where Carlos Gardel was interred. As we had heard, his mausoleum was focused around a larger than life sized bronze status of the famous singer and was covered with plaques from people expressing their love and thanks for what he gave to tango music.
Then we searched for and eventually found the mausoleum for the Perons, Juan and Evita. It was like all the others except for all the political anti-Peronista fliers pasted to it. I guess it is like political figures everywhere, they are either loved or hated.
We had a pleasant lunch then returned to the hotel, Denis and Lynn going to their lesson, Roy and Nicole to siesta, and me to my keyboard. While planning this trip, Denis suggested that I not bring my computer but I am glad I did. It's kind of a security blanket for me and since the first day, I haven't done any real work on it.
When I was in Thailand, I wrote extensively about the food. I was overwhelmed by its novelty, taste, and low price. Here, it is not so novel though it is good and not expensive.
By the way, we are meeting Peter Esser and Ingeborg Mussche tomorrow for lunch near (you guessed it) the Plaza Dorrego. After that, who knows…?
Well, that brings me up to the present so I'll stop and send it all to you.