Argentina, November 2005
Day 8 Tuesday (continued)
I decided to check out the milonga El Beso, which Ingeborg and Peter had recommended. Locating it on the tango map showed that it was practically across the street from Zivals music store.
I don't think I have mentioned the tango map earlier. On our first full day here, as Nicole, Roy, and I were making our way to Plaza Dorrego, we stopped in a shop where Roy bought a shawl for a friend from home. As we were leaving the proprietor handed each of us a small booklet and map. We thanked him but didn't think much about it until we started going though it. It included all of the milongas organized by the day of the week and listed map coordinates as well as an identifying number, the street address, and times. The accompanying map had these identifying numbers at the proper locations. It made finding the milongas a breeze. Not only that, but the map also showed the subway routes and all of the stops and interchanges, places of interest, tango clothing and show stores, the locations of various instructor's studios, and, of course, all the street names. This was a gem that has hardly left my side since I've been here.
Where was I…? Oh yeah, the milonga. I took the subway to the appropriate stop and looked for a restaurant. I finally settled on a confeteria, an informal restaurant similar to what we would think of a diner in the US. I had a couple of empanadas, small turnovers that can be filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or combinations. I had beef and chicken. They weren't very good but it was food and it was close to where I planned to spend the evening dancing.
From the restaurant, as I was walking to El Beso, I felt a bit queasy but didn't want to miss this milonga so I continued on. It was on the second floor and almost as soon as I entered, I ran into Peter Esser who greeted me warmly. Ingeborg was there and was dancing at the time. Clay Nelson was there too, and I went and said Hi. The place was very crowded and hot, much hotter than seemed reasonable. I danced a waltz set (tanda) and I finally experienced a truly crowded dance floor where no one was crashing into each other. I've been on crowded floors in the US, where it is punctuated by frequent collisions from beginners and from self-absorbed hotshots. There were, of course, small bumps, but they were minor. In the course of one song, I don't think my partner and I made it halfway around the floor which couldn't have been much larger than twenty-five feet square. What really put a smile on my face, in addition to having a delightful and responsive dance partner, was the compliment she gave me. After the first song, she asked where I was from since I danced too well to be from here. Unfortunately, after that the evening went downhill fast.
When the set concluded, I sat at the bar (lucky, as there were more people than stools) and got a bottle of carbonated water. I was extremely hot and uncomfortable, sweating much more than either the heat or my exercising could account for. Then I was hit by, as Denis so nicely put it, an intestinal event. This brought an unpleasant end to my evening. As both Peter and Ingeborg were dancing, I left without saying goodbye.
Day 9 Wedneday
Whether the malady had run its natural course or through the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, I felt much better in the morning. Still, I relaxed and read for the morning and early afternoon. Confident that my body would not betray me, I went to afternoon milonga at Confeteria Ideal for a group lesson with Romina and Carlos followed by the milonga. They were late so I got a couple of sets in before they arrived. When they finally did show, either their style of teaching or the mix of abilities made the "lesson" very disorganized. It was like a practica more than a lesson. Romina asked me to dance with two beginners, a cute young girl from Finland who had a little experience and a more mature woman from Sweden who was starting from zero. I ended up teaching the Swedish lady a private lesson in the basics and by the end, she could do a passable tango if she concentrated. I did pick up one nice new move from Carlos and got to try it a few times with Romina so the lesson wasn't wasted.
It was still early when I left so I took the subway back to the hotel and who should I run into but my charming partner from El Beso. We exchanged pleasantries and she introduced me to her husband.
Later in the evening, after going out for dinner, I walked past a milonga only two blocks from the hotel. It was before the actual milonga and they were having a lesson but I watched for a moment before returning to the hotel. I had intended to change clothes and return for the milonga but I was still not feeling a hundred percent and had already been to one milonga that day so I decided to bag it and do a little more reading before bed.
It was late when our host Augustin and his girlfriend returned home and he told me that his brother Fernando, who also lives here, had just had an appendectomy. He was ok and doing well but would spend the night in the hospital then stay with their mother for a while.
Day 10 Thursday
Before marching on from day into night, allow me to digress. We have been graced with good weather on this trip. It was a little chilly the first evening and I was glad I had a jacket. Since then, it has been warm enough not to need it, though I wish I had worn it the one night it rained. Today it is again clear and sunny though warmer than I prefer. We've been pretty lucky and I hope our luck, and the weather, continues.
I had another lesson with Romina today but without Carlos. It was great, nothing highly technical but all useful information; just what I wanted. I have two more lessons scheduled and a possibility of one on Monday, the day I leave for home. When I took my first lesson with them, I was asked what I wanted to learn. I said I wanted to learn to dance like an Argentine and not learn a lot of new steps and tricks. What I got from their classes has been both humbling and complimenting.
After my lesson, I went shopping along Florida street, a long street that has been made into a pedestrian-only shopping area. What struck me was that I didn't see any department stores. There was a Harrods but it was closed and empty. The street was filled with people trying to get customers into the stores. I allowed myself to be persuaded into a couple and had a lot of fun talking to the people I met inside. In a large art gallery and store, I met two attractive young ladies and we must have chatted for over half an hour. I ended up giving them business card and invited them to call or visit if they came to the United States. One of them might do it next spring.
I found a store where I bought some gifts and another where I purchased another travel bag to hold them all on the airplane home.
I got back to the hotel around 9:30 hoping to connect with my friends for dinner. When they hadn't returned by about 10:15, I figured that they were unlikely to want to eat that late so I went to dinner and had a fantastic meal. Many of the restaurants serve Suprema, a chicken breast flattened to about a 9 inch circle then breaded and fried. I had gotten it before and this time it was the house's own special style with artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, and sweet potatoes fried like French fries and all covered in a rich brown sauce. (Total price with tip, about $6US)
When I returned after dinner, the others had returned and retired for the evening. I managed to talk to Roy for a few minutes and I would have to wait until breakfast to hear more about their visit to Uruguay.
Day 11 Friday
This morning I heard all about the side trip to Uruguay and it sounded like they had a good, though exhausting, time. Uruguay, they said, was quite obviously very impoverished. On a two-hour bus ride, they saw almost no other vehicles on the road. If you want more, talk to the others. If you don't know the others, too bad for you.
After breakfast we went to the fine arts museum. It was quite a collection with paintings from such well known artists as Rembrandt, Picasso, Toulouse Latrec, Goya, El Greco, Gaughan, Monet, Manet, Rubens and others. There were a few stunning pieces but most were the minor works of major artists. There were also some major works of minor artists and many of these were quite compelling.
After the art museum, we took two taxis back to the hotel and I learned a hard lesson. As we went to pay the driver, he kept giving us crap about the wrong bills and he quickly reached into my wallet and pulled out a bunch of bills, palming a 100 peso note (about $33US) and substituting a 2 peso note. I didn't notice until we were out of the cab and he had driven off when I was checking my money. In the unlikely event I see him again, he's dead meat. A similar thing happened to the others but Denis was quicker than I and didn't get taken.
For lunch, we returned to the vegetarian place we went to the first day and I assert that I didn't get to the top of the food chain just to eat vegetables! Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables but this lunch left me unsatisfied. Ah well…
Dinner, however, was wonderful. We went to a nearby restaurant that we had not yet visited, though Lynn and Denis had eaten there on their previous stay. They couldn't remember the exact location but Augustin came to the rescue and said that he eats thee almost every day. I can see why, I had the Lomo (steak tenderloin) and it was one of the best tasting pieces of meat I have ever had, and tender, oh so tender. With drink and tip, the whole meal cost about $8US.
After dinner we walked to the subway station and caught the line C train to the interchange with line A, quite obviously the oldest subway, with manually opened doors and a San Francisco cable-car like feel to the train cars. A couple of stops later we exited only a block from our chosen milonga. Denis' ken eye pointed us in the right direction when I was heading off in the other direction.
The venue was pleasant and we got a great table near the front, next to the dance floor. Also, right in the most welcome breeze from a pair of large fans. The crowd was light when we got thee but after dancing amongst ourselves for a couple of sets, the place filled up considerably, with a mostly older contingent of porteños. The dance floor was not really crowded but it felt like it because so many of the dancers were bouncing around like pinballs. The outside track, however, had many fine dancers who it was fun to watch. Some of these guys had obviously been dancing a long time and were smooth and economical with their movements. Their partners were right with them, and these couples didn't bump into anyone. Actually, when we danced, even when standing still, some of the wilder couples would crash into us, though no major collisions occurred.
What was surprising was that after the cortina (a song to signal a break), they played a couple of long sets of salsa and other similar music. When that music cam on, the floor really did fill up. Nicole and I danced several and it was lots of fun. We were just about to leave for lack of tangos when they switched back to our dance of passion and we got in several more dances each. I was about to ask a lady to dance with the eye contact thing whose name I cannot remember, when she lit up a cigarette and all interest on my part evaporated. I don't like dancing with an ash tray or anyone who smells like one.
When we finally left, Roy and I decided to check out another milonga just a few blocks away. Unfortunately, the tango guide listed them on a Friday night rather than on Sunday when they really do have a milonga. We took a taxi back and I was prepared with small bills in my hand in case this cabby tried the same tricks as the earlier one had done. This time there was no problem and I gave him an appropriate tip.
Day 12 Saturday
Only two days to go, three if you count Monday since my flight is in the late evening. Roy, Nicole, and Lynn seemed bright and chipper at breakfast. Denis and I were not completely awake but we muddled through and gradually approached wakefulness after being sufficiently infused with caffeine. The breakfasts here are fine but I cannot wait to return to my morning ritual of a bagel and cream cheese. When finally we were all showered and primped, we walked to Plaza Dorrego and then to the Mercado, an indoor market of shops I mentioned in my first installment. As the women were poring over some clothes, Roy and I faced terminal boredom and he suggested we repair to the plaza to sit in the shade with drinks and wait for the others. They arrived not long after and we moved to a nearby café for lunch.
I finished quickly and left just in time for my lesson with Carlos and Romina. We had another terrific lesson focusing on the finer points of back ochos, sacadas, ganchos, and combinations thereof. Their studio is only a block away, you can actually see it from in front of our building. On the way back, I stopped at the corner market for a couple of cans of the local beer (Isenbeck), one of which I just polished off. Hey, I needed fluids. Maybe I need some more of these fine fluids now...