When Tango Breaks Your Heart

Jlo & Marc Antony

This could happen to YOU!  It happened to me!
blk:wt half sunk on rocks

Man Overboard!  Metaphorically, that is.

IMG_6956

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Get it?  I thought so.

What happens if you LIVE for TANGO, but your dance partner’s secret desire is for YOU to want to dance with him ALONE?

Bieber

“Baby, I want you to love me like no one has ever loved me.”

pensive woman

I guess that means I never loved you enough?  Has anyone?  Is it humanly possible?

imaheart torn apart

“If I was the LOVE OF YOUR LIFE, you wouldn’t WANT to dance with anyone else.”

words+

How many times have you been dancing… let’s say, in a class in Miami, New York, Buenos Aires… and your boyfriend suddenly walks over and rips you away from the guy you just rotated to?

++

Yes, he’s an animal!  Sorry!  Talk about embarassing!

man beast

How about when two of your favorite teachers comment that you are a saint to put up with him?

images-5

Yeah, the relationship was disintegrating over the last year or so.  The vibe was toxic.  I had to get out.

know the feeling?

know the feeling?

He’s a extraordinary guy in so many ways: smart, sexy, generous…  a real heartbreaker.  “Qué pinta de malevo!” they said in Buenos Aires.  Definitely old school.

el malevo

el malevo

He played the possessive, jealous Latin Lover to a T.  He expects a woman to devote herself to him 100%… you know, like our parents’ generation.  He was raised that way.  All the women’s lib and progressive politics never really made a dent in his consciousness.  He couldn’t hear what I had to say or understand what I was feeling.  Blah blah blah!!  You get the drift.

Fabian Pérez

Tango gigolo

Yeah, he should’ve been a King.  Maybe he was in a past life.  Carlos V? Shakespeare’s Othello?

Othello

Ah, yes, my Caliban, the “passionate child-curious part of us all…” (from The Tempest).

xCaliban

He would have been happy burning and pillaging, plundering women by the score.  Taking “art groupie” to a new level! [1]  ¡Cómo no, Comandante de mi vida, por supuesto que te quiero!  Be Merciful, O Love of my Life!

tough guy

I just had to get lost in Jane Austen for a while.  Like, take a time out from the 21st century?

Jane in blue

I reread Persuasion.  Dashing sea-captain wins girl’s heart.  Girl’s family doesn’t approve: he’s not sufficiently rich or well-connected.  She breaks the engagement.  He goes off to sea, endures raging tempests and howling gales, pillages French merchant ships aplenty, survives enough courageous exploits for a whole season of telenovelas.  He returns 7 years later, fabulously rich.  Everyone adores him now.  Quite the huffy Salty Dog about town.  What happens next?  Read it yourself, you lousy knave!  Or at least see the movie version.

Persuasion

Have you noticed “the versatility of shipwreck imagery in conveying various forms of misfortune?” [2]  Speaking of his ship, the Asp, our hero was rashly confident:  “I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me.” (Persuasion, 71)

classic clipper

The guy’s got attitude.  My guy had plenty of attitude, too.  Definitely a tough customer.

Captain Frederick Wentworth

Austen’s Captain Wentworth

But whom would you prefer to live with?  A feudal warlord or a happy village idiot?  As those really our only choices?  Of course not, silly.  But my point remains: we have indeed strayed far off course in this 21st century.  Are there no crossover models available?  Like, a compact SUV?  A mini-Hummer? What ever happened to the ideal Renaissance Man?  You mean the DNA still hasn’t evolved?

da vinci

Wherefore art thou, Leonardo?  Veni, Vedi, Vinci:  I came, I saw, I conquered.  Not sure who said that; a Roman Emperor perhaps?  Maybe THE Holy Roman Emperor… Carlos V?  Alexander the Great?

Alfonso X El Sabio

Alfonso X El Sabio

Recognize this guy?  Old Alfonso the Wise is the tío that kick-started the Renaissance.  I’m not kidding!  Check him out.  He wrote the first book about the game of chess around 1283.  The original lives at the Escorial, in Madrid. Yeah, he was a heartbreaker too, you can be sure.  Renaissance Man cultivated “…a harmonious mind, whose splendid passions and imaginations are controlled and directed by [his] enlightened reason…” [Wiki]  Where can I find one of HIM?  Does HE exist?

Elizabeth and Mr. Collins

Elizabeth Bennet disdains Mr. Collins

No, I don’t think he’s got it.  His motto is Vini, Vedi, Vegi.  ja ja!  I came, I saw, I ate salad, I bored my cousins to death reading from Fordyce’s Sermons, then I got drunk and made a complete fool of myself.  Too bad, so sad.  Not my knight in shining armor.  Not even California Chrome.

Calif Chrome

I’m tired of being the subjugated woman!  Internalized oppression, get thee hence!  Somebody please let me OUTTA HERE!  Hmmm… no answer.

girl crying

Am I dreaming?  Do I have unreasonable expectations?  Am I thinking too reductively?  Is it too tempting to boil it all down to the struggle between dark and light?  Am I done playing out my postcolonial subjugation fantasies?

Cristóbal Colón just back from the East Indies with a few captive Indians

Cristóbal Colón just back from the East Indies with a few captive Indians para Los Reyes Católicos

Guess I gotta be my own Rescuer.

pirate wench

Free at Last!!  Lord have mercy!!

beauti ship & whale

The Captain’s delightful sister, Mrs. Croft, comments on the voyages she has enjoyed with her husband, Admiral Croft.  She advocates that women should go to sea with their husbands, and not be left behind to wait and wonder, despite the discomforts of life on board… not to mention being the only female amongst the crew… yikes!

woman ship 2

Must have been tough to be a drama queen with no other women to bitch to.  Oops, I meant to say, to pour upon each other the sisterly balm of wise and considered counsel?

wise women

“We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days,”  Mrs. Croft advises Anne, Austen’s heroine in Persuasion. (75)  A critic notes, “Mrs. Croft is arguing, obviously, for the place of adventure and geographical mobility in women’s lives.”  You go, girl! [3]

girl stcse dock

Maybe I’ll go live on a boat…  a little morning yoga on deck, anyone?  Plenty of sushi and piña coladas?  Warm, tropical waters?

boat tropics 1

Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Mela? in Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away

Did I mention subjugation fantasies?Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato in Swept Away (1974)

It’s my turn to forge ahead with a little borrowed relentless self-confidence!  I know you’re all anxious to see if I’m brave indeed or just foolishly reckless. Back on land, summertime is just around the corner… throwing out those delicious green tendrils, the tiny budding sweet peas, the gorgeous bursting hollyhocks… yeah, could be salad, could be scenery…  is there still time to plant my garden?

hollyhocks2

Jane Austen describes a farmer in Persuasion, the scene at Winthrop.  I feel like him.  He “does not simply think that the season will change; it is as if his exertions will somehow help to bring the change about.  His labor is a sign of his hope.” [4]

mex farmer

The farmer’s hard work can be seen not as an attempt to control the natural world, or to force a particular outcome in the narrative of our lives, but as a collaboration or stewardship with nature which guides our efforts, and which may grant us a deeper understanding of nature, including human nature, and give us hope for bounteous harvests to come.

peasant women“When characters in this novel exert themselves in such a spirit, they gain, by degrees and despite inescapable human limitations, the liberty of soul that makes possible authentic happiness.” [5]

2 beauti ships in calm waters

Yeah, I have been reading and rereading the last issue of Persuasions, the journal of the Jane Austen Society (JASNA).  Does random literary analysis float your boat?  I find it particularly convenient when trying to escape reality.  Yet another rereading of Persuasion is next, as soon as I unpack my books.  Yes, moving again.  How many times now in the last three years?  I’ve lost count.  For now, it’s the ranch for the summer.  Just me and that ornery palomino mare, let’s hope she doesn’t slam me into any more phone poles!  Full speed ahead!  Let loose the topsail!  Damn the torpedoes!

Yes, Virginia, even married couples danced with others a century ago: a quadrille.

Yes, Virginia, even married couples danced with others a century ago: a quadrille.

See you soon on the dance floor!

See you soon on the dance floor!

sleep eat dance

and goodbye to a great friend.

Norm

[1] Stole that line from Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris.  A must-see for all Francophiles.

[2] Toby R. Benis, “Shipwrecked on land in Persuasion,Persuasions, No. 35, 2013, 203.

[3] Ibid, 202. Persuasions is the annual compilation of critical essays on Jane Austen’s life and works, published by JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America.

[4] Kathryn Davis, “Austen’s Providence in Persuasion”; Persuasions, No. 35, 216.

[5] Ibid, 223.

P&P poster

Tango Dancers Open Café

Carlton Café & Bakery

Carlton Café & Bakery

We’ve opened a café of our own right here in the backcountry of California’s Central Coast. This little backwater halfway between Frisco and LA is its own kind of gorgeous, straight out of Steinbeck: rolling hills covered with vineyards and statuesque oaks; cottonwoods and sycamores along the creeks flowing into the Pacific Ocean and the mighty Salinas.

Salinas River

Salinas River

Atascadero, once so sleepy it rolled over and played dead every night at 6, now practically teems with amorphous protomorphium swimming blindly upstream through the marine layer into they know not what or wherefore (picture 3 pm when junior get-highers get out of jail free). But no worries, we are all about helping our fellow pleistozoic critteralium evolve and merge into the more convoluted streams of higher consciousness, otherwise known as twenty-first century artsy wine-guzzling nouveau-cui$ine Culture with a Capital C.

6005 El Camino Real carltonbakery@gmail.com

6005 El Camino Real
carltonbakery@gmail.com

There was at last count one really good restaurant in our three-block downtown: Fig; another one in nearby Santa Margarita: The Range (as in, “Home, home on the Range”)(*if you don’t love classic western writer Will James I’m not talking to you anymore!); one great burger joint: Sylvester’s Big, Hot n’ Juicy; an awesome homestyle Mexican place (El Compadre) next to a fine bakery (Hush Harbor); and a classic dive: the newly reborn Whisky n’ June. (Never trust a man who doesn’t like whisky and women!)

yeah baby

yeah baby!

Hmmm… where was I going with all this? Floating facedown in those muddy waters of swirling upwardly mobile sometimes divinely-inspired (as in a chocolate croissant) sense and sensibility, was I? Oh, yeah, downtown Atascadero also has…

The ARTery

The ARTery

a hangout frequented by cool artistic types that boasts a scandalous history of NIMBY activist-inflaming murals painted by folks from that evil southern city of the Fallen Angels. And the shining star of A-Town, the Rotunda…

City Hall

City Hall

… a wannabe colonial domed and pillared squarish brick city hall structure (reminiscent of an abandoned feminine implant from 20,000 feet up) casting its authoritative gaze on the strangely-named “Sunken Gardens”: our courthouse square minus the courthouse. “Sunken” perhaps refers to the meaning of atascadero in Spanish: a place where one gets stuck in the mud, a kind of hell hole. A close friend’s husband, born and raised in Puerto Rico, told me that when he was a kid, his mom would yell at him to clean his room ‘cause it was an “ATASCADERO!”

Heck, even Oprah's been here!

Heck, even Oprah’s been here!

Atascadero has too strip malls, too many Starbucks, too many stoplights, and nine too many exits off the 101. Just another California town basking in the warm fall sunshine. Lord, please bring us some rain sometime soon! Which is why we couldn’t come back to God’s Country without bearing special gifts gleaned from our 2-1/2 year tango-crawl through the wilderness of the civilized world.

the current incarnation

the newly reborn Carlton Café

A room at the Carlton... just upstairs!

a room at the Carlton… up above the bakery!

How much time could YOU fritter away lounging in a great café in a great city like New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Barcelona?

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

So how ‘bout we don’t call it frittering. Call it a waste of time if you will, but a QUALITY waste of time (oink oink KPIG). How many hours could YOU spend sitting around drinking a velvety latte or a structurally perfect macchiato? I sure can… and I don’t know where the time goes but it does keep going…have you noticed time passes on the left? ‘Cause it’s always going faster than we are. And left is the evil side: “a sinistra” (to the left). When Dante descends into hell, his path winds down to the left. Counterclockwise. Got it?

hmmm... lost his head?

hmmm… did we take the wrong turn?

Picture yourself sitting in a nice comfy chair in a cool, beautiful wabisabi space… quality time, chill time. Time to think, to dream, to get inspired; to power thru your daily in-box, google this’n’that, check your FAQs, consult your horrorscope… fire off a few nasty grams to the big cheese… wait a sec… don’t toss your luck to the winds and ruin your forecast! Breathe, do some yogalates, take time to visit with a good friend, take your mom out to lunch, celebrate your cumpleaños in a great café… dancing tango, of course.

Confiteria Ideal

Confiteria Ideal

So, you may be wondering, where IS she running off to now with this late night verbal soirée? Just explaining to y’all why we HAD to bring a little taste of café-culture home with us, in the form of delicious artisan breads and pastries, high-octane coffee, and a beautiful wabisabi space for dancing tango!

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

The tall relentless guy in my world just HAD to open his own bakery, so he could bake the bread and bring home the bacon. A place to wine and dine friends ‘cause he loves to feed hungry hordes. 

Courtney's Chocolate Bread

Courtney’s Chocolate Bread

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

And a place where he and his buddies could stand around and spin lies, surrounded by lots of dough, solving the world’s problems over and over again, day after day. Luckily those problems never get solved (you’ve noticed that, too?)… so they rework possible outcomes, endlessly reposition themselves… when people consume caffeine they can talk all day long!

Ben and Eduardo

boy can they talk!

Besides, we were drinking so much coffee out, one day he did the math and decided it would be cheaper to open our own café! Now he’s wondering about that math… duh!

kjgsd

2+2=22?

Must be the faulty DNA we all share. Didn’t those wiser-than-us extraterrestrials toss all the rejects on our planet? Where did YOU think politicians came from?

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

If you think too much and too frequently, like yours truly, you really NEED to dance, and you particularly NEED to dance tango. Tango dancers DANCE through our ups and downs, our romances, our breakups, our broken hearts, broke-down cars, our fallen soufflés, disinflated egos…

sadkhasd

when in doubt keep dancing

Just in case you’re already thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions, let’s review the guiding principles of Tango:

1)  you keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care!

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Stop by the café, get comfy, relax, have a lovely mocha or macchiato, bite into a flaky crunchy croissant, a berry twist, toasted 5-grain bread with butter and jam.

pastries

Watch yourself go from pathetically morose and incommunicative to chatty and sociable! Instantly reenergized and ready to take on the world! What are you waiting for?

¡Felíz Navidad!

¡Felíz Navidad!

Portland Tango Scene plus… Milonga Tips, Codes, and Advice for Newbie Dancers in BAires

NorseHallneon

If you dance tango in the U.S., sooner or later you’re going to gravitate to Portland, like a small planet unexplicably attracted to Saturn or Jupiter… a pull that can cause a small planet like Earth to… flip its axis! A Tango mecca like Portland exerts an influence on everything in its gravitational field. Where else besides Buenos Aires or Paris can you hear a musician playing Piazzolla on the street corner?

images

So what’s there to do in Portland? Like, Tango every night!

birthday dance at Norse Hall

birthday dance at Norse Hall

The Portland Tango scene is really awesome. Partly because the music is traditional (but I miss those Buenos Aires salsa breaks) and also because it’s accessible: no more than 15 minutes to any of the milongas.

milonga at Berretín

Saturday night milonga at Berretín

Did I mention the outstanding DJs spinning classic tango every night of the week? …like tango DJ Joe Leonardo. He also creates retro black and white tango films. (tangosilentfilms.com).

DJ Joe Leonardo & girlfriend Hannah

DJ Joe Leonardo & girlfriend Hannah

Monday night you can dance in the dough… next to the vault!

Fort Knox North

Fort Knox North

the Treasury Milonga

in the old U.S. Treasury building downtown

The Treasury Milonga replaces the PPPA milonga, which was at a really cool location on the east side of the river. Kinda wabi-sabi, ¿qué no?

PPAAneon

Tuesday nights there’s a brand new, fabulosíssima milonga at the Bossanova Ballroom.

Bossanova Ballroom

Bossanova Ballroom

Wednesday nights are for all you Alternative fans…

milonga blah blah

they just call it Wednesday Tango!

What I just don’t get about alternative tango is, how can you call it Tango if it’s not TANGO music? Is Tango a dance, or is it a genre of music? Can you separate the two? We went to check out the Wednesday milonga, and when I asked if the music was alternative, aka Nuevo, the doorman told me  “it’s so far alternative it’s not even tango.” Wow! For an interesting discussion on traditional vs. nuevo, see The Rise and Fall of Tango Milonguero Style at tangovoice.wordpress.com. But we are so far from Buenos Aires, and so close to……. the Dark Kingdom.

Portland evening

beautiful Portland evening

Thursday nights at Norse Hall are unforgettable… what a great milonga!

cortina at Norse Hall... who is that guy?

Norse Hall

cortina at Norse Hall... who is that guy?

cortina at Norse Hall… who is that guy?

Let’s see, where was I… Friday nights is La Milonga Felíz Alternative.

Oops!  that's not it!

Oops! that’s not it!

I wish we were in BAires at Café Vinilo!

I wish we were in BAires at La Milonga de Vinilo!

Saturday nights is Milonga “aime comme moi” at Tango Berretín. Alex Krebs’ place, ¡buena música, buenos bailarines, buena onda! (Spanish lessons on the house.)

Unknown

De vez en cuando toca el quinteto de Alex: (sometimes Alex’s quintet plays):

with guest artists in this case

with guest artists in this case

Sunday evenings you can tango at Lenora’s Ballroom: beautiful space, friendly atmosphere, and all the traditional tango you need to get your endorphin fix for the night and all your mental faculties gratuitously upgraded and ready to face the work week.

another industrial chic tango venue

urban chic tango venue

“Tango invites you to become the protagonist of an ongoing story, which is danced with another through a mutual improvisation that depends on a deep, body-to-body communication, an entwinement of the spirit and the limbs. When you dance it, if you want to dance it well, you immediately understand that it is perhaps the only dance that requires the equal participation of both dancers in order to be fluid. Thus its difficulty, complexity and sensuality…. Tango anyone?” [Velleda C. Ceccioli, Psychology Tomorrow, May 2013].

lkhsd

a good connection is essential…

A foto-cortina from a visit to the Peninsula (SF Bay Area). I know most of my readers will recognize Ben, el Rey de la Milonga, and tango teacher Igor Polk:

having' fun!

having’ fun!

girls making' friends while the guys dance! go figure!

Cecilia & Willow making’ friends while the guys dance!

OK, and finally, coming straight to you from my spies in Buenos Aires:

Advice for newbie dancers heading to BAires: milonga tips, codes, and what you need to know to get dances!

milonga at Aires Tangueros, Rivadavia 1392

milonga at Aires Tangueros, Rivadavia 1392

An Anonymous Tanguera speaks:

The reason guidebooks and friends contradict each other is that there is no way to answer your questions. Where would men be more likely to ask a stranger to dance? What kind of stranger? There are so many factors that affect whether you will get asked: your appearance, your height, your level of dance, the confidence you project, the warmth you project, your style of dress… and so on. I go to two or three milongas a week, and at any one of them I might dance nonstop or I might never leave my seat. I’m the same person each time, but there may be fewer men I know one week… or maybe I’m projecting a different energy.

milongueras

milongueras de BAires

Where do men who dance well go to dance? Maybe the men you consider good dancers are not the ones I would consider good. My friends don’t necessarily like the same leaders I do… we all have a different connection. In any case, it is not true that the afternoon milongas attract better dancers. I can’t think of an afternoon milonga that has a level of dance that matches some of the better night milongas. That said, I dance with some great leaders at afternoon milongas. It is sooo variable.

matinee milonga at La Ideal

matinee milonga at La Ideal

Anyway, as a 35-year-old woman, especially if you are attractive and look younger than your age, you will get asked to dance often. Unless the day you go there happens to be dozens of other young, beautiful women… many of whom are already known by the men. That happens. The best thing to do if things look hopeless is to go to another milonga.

Milonga Viejo Correo

Milonga Viejo Correo

My best advice would be to not stress about it. You will get to dance. You will have a good time. You will be here for long enough to find your own favorites. Some little milongas del barrio are much more fun than the famous ones that all the tourists go to. I mean, I wouldn’t go to Niño Bien with a gun to my head!

blog_tango_450

I need to understand what style of dance you’re looking for. You mention “milonguero salon style,” which is really confusing. Milongas here are increasingly breaking down by age/style — unfortunate, but a reality. The young milongas are almost exclusively salon style… a more open embrace with more elaborate movements and adornments. Milonguero style is quite the opposite… very close embrace, with teeny movements (back crosses instead of ochos with pivot, for example) and almost no decorations. Since you said you liked Canning, I suspect you are looking for close embrace, but not true milonguero style.

IMG_1021

A friend of mine likes a couple of young, salon style places… Villa Malcolm and Milonga 10. If you don’t usually dance salon, you may find them a bit intimidating (not knowing anyone and facing a lot of stunning 20-year-olds). As he says, La Viruta is good only very late… and yes, the good dancers all dance with each other.

good friends at Sunderland

good friends at Sunderland

An Anonymous Tanguero speaks:

I think that the key is to understand and respect the codes. If I see a woman who stands up after a cabeceo and looks for the man, I just don’t invite her: beginner and super banned.

Unknown

If, when the tanda finishes, she stays talking with somebody on the dance floor, banned, too easy and I don’t want milongueras to think that I am fishing.

los Reyes del Tango en la Viruta

los Reyes del Tango en la Viruta

I also suggest you study the dance floor. It’s easy to see who is who. If nobody knows you, nobody wants to take the risk. If the milongueros see you dancing with somebody they respect, they are going to invite you.

milongueras de la Viruta

milongueras de la Viruta

If you don’t want a coffee invitation, go home early. At El Beso, after 1:30 nobody dances if there is nothing after, because then is when they invite, they expect to be invited.

El Beso

El Beso – I love the walls!

Basic but important, don’t dance more than 2 tandas in one night with anybody. Since I have a family I prefer to dance only one tanda per night so there are no misunderstandings.

kjhasdf

no misunderstandings here!

You sit with women, and if a man invites himself to sit down next to you, look at him as if he’s raping his own mother. In other words, give him a dirty look and DON’T DANCE WITH THE PENDEJO!

who, me?

who, me?

We have two reasons for inviting a new girl to dance: she is an outstanding dancer or she is super cute.

super cute!

super cute!

La Viruta is more a place to hang out with friends, to continue dancing with people you know after other milongas close, or to look for a hook-up.  If you are only interested in tango, it is best to enter when the entrance is waived between 2h30 and 3h30, since before you also have tandas of rock and salsa. At La Viruta, men typically do not cabeceo, but walk around and ask women to dance. The guys that ask women to dance are typically not the ones hanging out with friends, so you have to judge if they are the kind that looks for a hook-up, and if you want to dance with them. It is normal to say “no, gracias” if you are not interested. Don’t go to La Viruta on Thursdays, there are no tandas. And never dance after 5:30. The lights are off for a couple of seconds just before la Cumparsita.

Orquesta El Afronte en la Maldita Milonga, Perú 571

Orquesta El Afronte en la Maldita Milonga, Perú 571

Tango is the same all over the world but dancing in Buenos Aires is different from anywhere else you have ever been.

Teatro Colón

Teatro Colón

house band at Café Vinilo

house band at Café Vinilo, Gorriti 3780

Be friendly, smile, try not to dance with the vultures, be open to new experiences, have fun and leave plenty of room in your suitcase for shoes! You are going to have a great time!

el Obelisco en la Av. 9 de Julio

el Obelisco en la Av. 9 de Julio

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!

And for my political commentary of the week, please take note:

hombres

Here’s Looking at Portland

Portlandevening2*

PORTLAND IS ALL ABOUT THE RIVER… broad and busy by day, stunningly elegant by night.

view of the the South Waterfront from further south

view of the the South Waterfront, taken from the Sellwood Bridge

Portland is a sprawling city of 600,000 bisected by the Willamette River, divided into quadrants, spanned by a dozen bridges, and bounded on its northern shore by the Columbia River and the state of Washington.

yacht harbor on a gorgeous day, taken from the waterfront bike trail

downtown yacht harbor, at the end of Montgomery St.

The Port of Portland, located about 80 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean, is the largest freshwater port in the U.S.A. Portland ships out more wheat than any other U.S. port, and is the second largest port for wheat in the world.

The northernmost bridge of Portland is so Gotham City:

St. John's Bridge, photo by Ben

St. John’s Bridge, photo by Ben

Each bridge has its own flavor and story… all impressively heavy metal, functional, and even inspiring.

Hawthorne Bridge and boats

Hawthorne Bridge and yacht harbor on a gorgeous May day

the cute version

the cute version

Under construction is yet another bridge which will facilitate multiple forms of public transport across the Willamette: Max Light Rail, Tri-Met buses, the Portland streetcar, pedestrians and bicycles: NO CARS ALLOWED! Popular Science magazine awarded Portland the title Greenest City in America in 2008.

TriMet bridge

TriMet bridge: completion expected in 2015

Portland is famous for its outdoorsy, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, homemade beer brewing and coffee slurping liberals. There are more than 60 breweries here. In 2010, CNBC named Portland the Best City for Happy Hour in the U.S.

for those of you who go for the brew

for those of you who go for the brew

Ever seen the TV show Portlandia? It satirizes the city as “a hub of liberal politics, organic food, alternative lifestyles and anti-establishment attitudes.” [Wikipedia] What other city can happily negotiate such a dysfunctional but workable dynamic between guns, gays and greens? Perhaps that explains the weltanschauung behind the Keep Portland Weird movement.

images

Ben sums up Portland in 2 words: pedestrians vs. cyclists. He thinks walkers and hikers don’t like bicyclists ’cause they damage the environment… I mean, seeing a bike tire track in the mud of your favorite hiking trail would make anybody flip and run for their gun… wouldn’t you? …ja ja… and naturally bicyclists wish pedestrians would just get the hell outta the way!! But the real issue has, perhaps, more to do with primal fear: fear, that is, of being turned to toast under 2000 lbs. of steel and rubber. I found an intriguing apropos discussion on the City of Portland website, just for a reality check:

4 types of cyclists orange2

The intrepid few “Strong & Fearless” identify primarily as bicyclists, and ride everywhere without fear (or almost everywhere), under any and all road and weather conditions. Truly courageous or merely suicidal?

he's multi-tasking

a multi-tasking cyclist

The “Enthused & Confident” — like Ben — ride daily to work or school, for the pure joyful adrenalin rush of riding. (Also to save bucks and shrink their carbon pawprint). Who wouldn’t want to ride Portland’s beautiful bike lanes and bike boulevards?  There’s even bike lane stoplights and, lucky for me, no bike path traffic cameras! Not yet, anyway. Is it a crime to cross on the red when there’s no traffic in any direction?

OK, but... what if I can't find  the speedometer on my bike?

OK, but… what if my bike doesn’t have a speedometer?

As Portland has been particularly supportive of urban bicycling, it now ranks amongst the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Approximately 8% of commuters bike to work, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average. [Wikipedia]

Main Map-v3

“The Interested but Concerned” group covers the vast majority of Portland cyclists. “They like riding a bicycle… they would like to ride more. But, they are AFRAID to ride. They don’t like cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous when a driver runs a red light, or guns their car around them, passing by too closely and too fast.” (City of Portland Bicycle Plan 2030) Sounds like me. I KNOW I’m taking my life into my hands every time I get on my bike. Duh!

weird cyclist

“No Way No How!” is the anthem of group four. Besides primal fear and equally primordial  laziness (aversion to exertion), not to mention the over-abundance of Pacific Northwest Stormy Mondays, they may be unknowing victims of an acute case of nostalgia for the gas-guzzling, chrome-dazzling Twentieth Century; back in the day when petroleum was plentiful, and joy riding in a true-blue Made in the U.S.A. cruiser was a sign of status and All-American Attitude. On a lucky day you may still catch sight of one around town:

'63 Lincoln

’63 Lincoln… yea, baby!

Pontiac Bonneville - 1965?

’64 Pontiac Bonneville

el Jefe chillin' in the back seat

el Jefe chillin’ in the back seat

You don’t have to be a cute mutt in a cool car to be in my blog, either:

Charlie & me

Charlie & me

But wait… we’re not done with the bridges yet! A block from our apartment in the Pearl District is the Broadway Bridge:

Broadway Bridge

riverfront walk near the Broadway Bridge

Portland’s urban growth boundary, adopted in 1979, separates urban areas (where high-density development is encouraged and focused) from traditional farm land (where restrictions on non-agricultural development are very strict). This was quite atypical in an era when automobile use led many areas to neglect their core cities in favor of development along interstates, in suburbs, and bedroom communities. Former industrial areas reeking of urban decay were “redeveloped” into prosperous new neighborhoods… like the Pearl District. The city has grown inward and upward, as opposed to sprawling outward. Impresionante, Portland! California, are you listening? 

Burlington RR Bridge

the Burlington Bridge: a railroad bridge with a vertical lift

the Steel Bridge

the Steel Bridge: bike & pedestrian path AND train tracks on the bottom, cars on top

Almost 200 years of industry (shipping, logging, manufacturing) went into making Portland the city it is today. This heritage is breathtakingly visible in the older parts of the city and all along the riverfront, especially around the industrial waterfront and deepwater port. Heat-forged iron and steel trusses and beams hold up bridges and docks. Old brick buildings and warehouses were reborn as shops, bistros, cafés, apartments and lofts, galleries and urban “outfitters.”

below the bridge

the poetry of steel, under the bridge

Portland is so modern and yet its history continues to underwrite its modernity. I really like this contrast, in which each flip side of the coin does not disavow its alter-ego. Past and present are connected in a wabi-sabi “…beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes.” [Diane Durston: Wabi Sabi, The Art of Everyday Life, 2006]

Morrison Bridge on a grey afternoon

Morrison Bridge on a still, grey afternoon

big train comin' thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

big train comin’ thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

lkjhasdf

random tango dancer in Biker Babe jacket checking out the income-producing side of the river

Portland has an impressive and beautiful downtown, lined by scores of trees, parks and greenspace, and the ultra-beautiful Japanese gardens:

Japanese Gardens

Portland Japanese Gardens

The International Rose Garden has a stunning amphitheater. We walked up there yesterday, in a light rain:

amphiteatro2*

We haven’t seen the Chinese gardens yet, but I’ve heard they’re stunning!

Portland Chinese Gardens

Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Portland is a fabulous and colorful city, well known for being cool, hip, fashionably eco-sustainable-everything, and ultra walkable (a walkscore of 98 in the Pearl District), with a kid-friendly, tech-friendly urban vibe.

Streetcars rock Portland!

Streetcars rock Portland!

Portlanders are friendly, multicultural, awake and aware of what’s goin’ on in their world and their town. Artists, hipsters, locavores, LGBTs, tree-huggers, tango dancers, Power-to-the-People progressives, retired hippies, fanatics of every stripe, wealthy young entrepreneurs and tekkie types…. and cool habitats for humanity from A – Z. The growth of high-tech startups and related businesses have earned Portland the nickname Silicon Forest. Powell’s Books, whose three stories above ground take up an entire city block, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Portland is also the karaoke capital of the U.S.!

Hoyt Street townhouses

Hoyt Street townhouses

What do I like most about Portland? My liveable downtown neighborhood, the Pearl.

pedestrian path

pedestrian path in the Pearl

Jamison Square reminds me of ___ Gardens in Paris

Jamison Square reminds me of the Luxembourg Gardens

kid-friendly waterfall/pond at Jamison Square

kid-friendly Jamison Square fountain

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

I also love the ubiquitious cafés with outdoor seating, reminding me of Buenos Aires and European cities. Here’s our favorite, authentic (all the staff imported from Italy), delicious trattoria, Piazza Italia, right around the corner from Jamison Square.

Piazza Italia

Piazza Italia

Downtown Portland’s numerous cafés remind me of Buenos Aires, Rome, Barcelona, Paris… they make you feel like the streets in your hood are an extension of your living room! Sustainable living abounds, complete with rooftop gardens, terraces, wind turbines, solar power, etc. What do I mean by sustainable etc? I know, I had to look it up too. See my notes at end.*

another lovely pedestrian path in the Pearl

another pretty pedestrian path in the Pearl

Portland has many different faces: cool steel under grey skies…

;jhasdf

reflecting pool

convention center

convention center

parks, pedestrian and bicycle trails all along the river…

waterfrontpark**

springtime waterfront

waterfront in spring

juxtaposition of old and new in the Pearl District

juxtaposition of old and new

colorful streetcars

green & yellow streetcar

blue streetcar

blue streetcar

old and new cottages on the south waterfront

old and new cottages on the south waterfront, a stone’s throw from the river

A perfect example of wabi-sabi: isn’t the one on the left so timelessly beautiful? (Maybe needs a little work on the interior…)

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

Ben says he likes the culture of Portland. Portlanders are quite courteous, both on and off the dance floor. They respect walkers and cyclists… they stop for you even when they don’t have to. Portlanders find value in music, dance, food, the arts… and in people connecting with each other. The pace of life is slower. Huge ships in port are constantly loading and unloading, while at the same time fishermen troll the river in small boats. Portlanders work to continually improve their quality of life; they don’t just care about the environment; they make it HAPPEN.

Sauvie Island - my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island – my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island rules & regs: but no one's watching

Sauvie Island rules & regs: overzealous verbiage to be sure

Portlanders also care about what goes into their food, i.e., Portland is NOT a fast-food paradise. Human beings are essentially the same everywhere (our DNA is identical, right?) but the culture here has developed favorably for a healthy, sustainable environment, and people-friendly transportation systems.

The climate is, well… I’ve written pages making fun of the climate. Seriously, I like it hot, humid and tropical! Sadly, today is yet another drizzly grey day here in Portlandia. Seems like there’s only one season here. The trees change but not the weather. But if it keeps the unwashed hordes from discovering and moving to this idyllic Pacific Northwest homeland… it’s okay.

wabi-sabi doorknobs

wabi-sabi doorknobs in a recycled building materials shop

That’s all for now, friends… stay tuned for my next post: the Portland Tango scene. You’re gonna like it!

*What do I mean by environmentally sustainable design? It’s the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. McLennan, J. F. (2004), The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. More references: (1) Anastas, P. L. and Zimmerman, J. B. (2003). Through the 12 principles of green engineering. Environmental Science and Technology. March 1. 95-101A. (2) Fan Shu-Yang, Bill Freedman, and Raymond Cote (2004). Principles and practice of ecological design. Environmental Reviews. 12: 97–112. (3) Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. You gotta appreciate research and researchers! They help dummies like you and me make sense of the world we live in!

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!

Costa Brava to East Coast

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Opening this post with no dazzling first line was not really what I had in mind. Somebody please just toss a poetic blast of bombast at my beleaguered brain! Say what? Can you repeat that? No matter, let’s just get down to the biz of catching up on our whereabouts since we left Barcelona last August. People keep asking me, where are you guys? Well, right now we’re in Portland, Oregon. And, sad to say, many long miles from the beautiful Costa Brava, España. Here’s where we were in August 2012: along the coast north of Barcelona, known as the Costa Brava. We rented a car and went exploring.
Big Sur's got nothin' on the Costa Brava!

Big Sur’s got nothin’ on the Costa Brava!

Many years ago I asked one of my uncles, in Italy, how they manage to keep Italy so clean, green and well-tended. “We toss all our trash into the Mediterranean!” he replied with head-tossing laughter!
a noisy little cove... check out the boats!

no trash in sight… just lots of gorgeous scenery!

Not trashy here on the Costa Brava, and only 116 km south of the South of France. Check it out! This beach borders the historic town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. I have no idea who that happy saint was, it’s Catalan to me.
ljhasd

Sunday afternoon at the beach – Renoir could have painted this

Sant Feliu has an awesome museum, the Espai Carmen Thyssen, founded by the late Baron Hans Henrik von Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002), a wealthy Swiss-German industrialist art collector with an ancestral Hungarian title and a villa in Montecarlo. The museum is named for von Thyssen’s fifth wife, Carmen “Tita” Cervera, a former Miss Spain, whose art-loving instincts played a key role in bringing her husband’s valuable collection of nineteenth century Andalusian and Catalan art to Spain.

images

The museum entrance is on the right. Behind the arch is the 10th century Roman monastery, built over the ruins of an old castle which saw plenty of action back in the day. Apparently the monks were occasionally  called upon to drop their rosaries and defend their turf from marauding turks, moors and other riffraff, with arrows shot from narrow openings in the high walls.

Carmen Thyssen Museum

Carmen Thyssen Museum on right

former monastery

Benedictine monastery, rebuilt in 1723

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Quite the jetsetting playboy, Baron Thyssen once famously explained his surname: «Bornemisza significa que no bebe vino, y yo más bien debería decir que no bebo agua». (“Bornemisza means “doesn’t drink wine,” but in my case “doesn’t drink water” would be more apt.”) The Baron also has  museums in Málaga and Madrid. In the 1980s he created a foundation to prevent his fabulous collection being dismantled and sold off to private collectors. My mom, a retired art critic, reminded me that she interviewed Baron von Thyssen when  he visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, accompanying an exhibition of his personal collection.

CarmenThyssenMuseum

PR for the fabulous inaugural exhibit at the Espai Carmen Thyssen. What a gorgeous day, and filled with spectacular art. The above painting made me nostalgic for our time in Paris: it rained so much last spring.

The Baroness Carmen Thyssen said of Sant Feliu: “…her dazzling beauty and  joyful people I found captivating from the first.”

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Adios, España! In late August we flew from Barcelona back to Paris and on to San Francisco. After visiting family and friends in California we took a month-long break in beautiful South Carolina.

Charleston SC

Charleston SC

From Charleston — where I could stay forever — we drove south to Murrell’s Inlet for a vacation from the vacation! A restorative, off-schedule downtime of surf, sun, sleep & fresh seafood prepared by Chef Ben.
cloudy day at Murrell's Inlet

late afternoon on the inter-coastal waterway

Avendaw Creek

Avendaw Creek

Ben caught a big fish.

Ben caught a big fish.

we kayaked

we kayaked

we found a dockside watering hole.

we spotted a dockside watering hole.

a working fishing boat

a working fishing boat

Art on the docks

Art on the docks

tidal marsh

tidal marsh

even a pirate ship!

even a pirate ship!

ciao! from South Carolina

ciao! from South Carolina

Atlantic sunset

we head off into the sunset

South Carolina was wonderful last september, with its sizzling beachfront and dripping wet hot humid weather… I loved it! But eventually it was time to move on…
spent a few days in the Smoky Mountains

we spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tango near the Capitol Dome

we tango’d near the Capitol Dome

We milonga’d in DC one night before heading to New York state. It was a warm and beautiful night in DC, and really cool to be dancing in Freedom Plaza, with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. engraved on the stones beneath our feet. The next day we drove through northeastern Pennsylvania over into New York, and then more or less followed the Hudson River Valley north, bypassing New York City, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Freedom Plaza - Capital Tangueros

Freedom Plaza – Capital Tangueros

the old homestead in PA

the old homestead in PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

upstate New York

upstate New York

Albany

Albany

Albany

Albany

Appaloosa in the Green Mountains

grazing appaloosa in the Green Mountains, Vermont

falls near Rochester VT

falls near Rochester VT

Red Barn

Red Barn

Sandy's Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester VT– where old hippies munch good munchies

The frenetic grease-dripping fast food twilight zone of a cross-country road trip finally came to a standstill when we took up lodgings in Montpelier, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Time slowed to a crawl. We woke up to shorter days, longer nights, cafés and restaurants shutting down so early — and this is the state capital! (pop. 8,000) People actually watch TV and play board games in the evenings. Not to be left out of all the fun, we picked a free tv (the formerly glorious, heavyweight color tv, so impressive back in 1965!) and signed up for cable… like hooking up a one-way IV sucking down your bank account. That lasted a couple of months till we went back to watching news and soccer matches online.

Vermont was picture-postcard pretty! Ben started artisan bread-making classes at the New England Culinary Institute. We found a 3rd floor apartment in a 100+ year old house downtown. Pretty comfy, though we only had a bed, a kitchen table, 2 chairs and some cardboard boxes. When we arrived in October the leaves were turning and the days were still pretty nice, not really too cold yet, the nights just barely dipping into the 40s.
view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

Ben enjoyed his breadmaking classes at NECI, though the expectation level was decidedly a few rungs below his experience at the French Culinary in Manhattan a few years back, where highly paid world class egomaniacs belittled & berated their students’ efforts…  turning out some highly trained professionals nonetheless. A little constructive criticism can be a useful part of the learning process… ouch! Every day was a blast for Ben; he even enjoyed trudging through the snow to be at the bakery at 6:00 am. He was lightyears beyond most of the students… mostly mouth-breathers, you know, adolescents with perpetually hanging lower lips. When he had extra time (he’s fast) the chefs let him do his own thing, and he made the most of it: croissants, pan au chocolat, marzipan pastries, escargot, stollen, panettone… you name it. Lots of yummy stuff… not to mention a million varieties of artisan breads, made the traditional way. Like, the way they make it in Paris. Voilá!
La Brioche, the NECI bakery

La Brioche, the NECI bakery

Ben cooking at home

Ben cooking at home

Yeah, he loves to cook and the kitchen always looks like a tornado’s touched down, but it’s worth it. Delicious! Notice the way cool 1950s electric stove? The oven window looks like a porthole on a spaceship. My spaceship!

what a classic!

a vintage classic

The door on the left is a warming oven, and the rear left burner is a deep well with a built-in soup pot. Crazy! Some nut will pay big bucks for it on eBay someday!

Speaking of tornados, we were in Vermont when Hurricane Sandy tore up New York and New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy NYC

Hurricane Sandy NYC

She was just a breath of whispering wind by the time she reached northern Vermont — lucky us.

St. Anne's was RIGHT next door!

beautiful St. Anne’s was right next door

Fall colors in Montpelier… flaming red, orange and gold. There were still a few warm days but not for long… the days got shorter and colder, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do after dark. Burlington had a small tango community, but their milongas were not what we were used to — sorry, friends! Although we did have a fabulous evening at the Palais de Glace Holiday Milonga, in Stowe, and a New Year’s Eve Milonga with live music (and a hysterically funny skit!) in Hartford, Connecticut.

too many women in his life!

he’s gotta quit flirting with the waitress… or there’ll be hell to pay!

Happy New Years' Eve!

Happy New Years’ Eve!

Three months in a deep freeze was a little much for me… I’m a California girl! Snow is exquisitely lovely, of course. Making cut-paper snowflakes is my idea of a good time in the snow. Furnishing our apartment was kind of fun, though. We found this really awesome blue ultrasuede chair at an estate sale:

with lime green piping... and a matching couch!

with lime green piping… and a matching couch

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

nothing like a few bored neighbors to lend a hand!

nothing like friendly neighbors to lend a hand

Needless to say, the winding steep and narrow stairs up to our spacious atelier in Montpelier would not admit the couch, nor the bed. Lucky for us when we moved out three months later the new tenant took it all. I kept picturing how much fun it would be, rappeling all that furniture back down in the snow.

fast forward to snowy night on our street

fast forward to snowy night on our street

Montpelier West Branch

Montpelier West Branch

Beautiful Montpelier Round House

Beautiful Montpelier Round Porch and Tower

Before long our world became an exercise in whiteout conditions, arctic blasts, ice showers and icicles, frozen cars, frozen streets, sidewalks and noses; woolen mittens and lost kittens, gloves, scarves, wool caps, snow boots, layers upon layers of the warmest stuff you got… fleecy jammies and bathrobes (or my version: just drag the blanket around the house with you), down jackets… and don’t forget sheepskin booties for indoors. Snowy winter holidays prevailed. But before all that white stuff covered everything, we took a weekend trip in Maine, including a stop at L.L.Beanville.

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

Maine coast

Maine coast

New England Saltbox

New England Saltbox

boats in dry dock

boats in dry dock: Wicked Good is no secret; La Galatea, Cervantes’ first novel (1585)

having dinner in Bath, Maine

having dinner in Bath, Maine

Home of the Lobster Roll

Home of the Lobster Roll

Maine Weekend Harbor

Maine harbor

Colf Mountain

cold mountain, New Hampshire

MaineWknd13

Brrr! Those were cold days.

icicles in Montpelier

icicles in Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

my son and grandson hiking!

my son and grandson hiking

the old stone tower

the old stone tower

the sled run

the sled run

view from the tower

view from the tower

tall snowy trees

tall snowy trees

our building on a snowy evening in Montpelier

a snowy evening in Montpelier: our apartment top floor

pretty Montpelier at Christmas

Christmas in Montpelier

We left Vermont in mid-January, driving across the frigid Midwest. Mile upon mile of frozen highway: bleak, cold, heartless. Miraculously, we only met one snow storm, near Buffalo, NY. It lasted less than two hours. I parked us in the draft of a big semi and hung onto his coattails till the storm eased up. We kept to the northern route: Buffalo, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Boise… all the way to Portland. One evening we found a great little milonga in Lincoln, Nebraska… what a pleasant surprise! The Milonguero Spirit appearing in a place previously disguised as Nowheresville! No wonder… the home of the Univ. of Nebraska Press. Publishers of books and journals specializing in American history, the American West, and Native American studies. (Lewis & Clark fans, take note!) Our next destination: Portland, Oregon. Stay tuned!

Next stop: Portland

Next stop: Portland

Stormy’s Skirmish

my little angel, pre-battle

my little angel, post-bath, pre-battle

Yup, my sweet little Stormy got beat up by another horse — her best horsey pal, of course — no doubt because she is hell on wheels in the pasture, thinks she’s top dog, boss mare, etc. They must have been having cheerleading practice bcz the vet says she sprained ligaments under where foreleg meets chest, and the same in her groin area. Kinda like she tried to do the splits, front and back, and wrenched the heck out of those joints. Amazing what trouble horses can get into just foolin’ around in the pasture. She can barely walk, both left front and left rear. Can’t put any weight on front left. Could be a hairline fracture left shoulder blade. Plus multiple contusions, bites and kicks… Lots of swollen areas, especially left shoulder, left loin and rump. She’s a mess! She’s on pain meds morning & night, and it will probably be 3 to 4 months before she’s rideable. !Pobrecita, verdad? !La muy hija de la chingada!
Are you gonna be a good girl now?

Are you gonna be a good girl now?

Ben says the whole question is, who’s gonna be head bitch when she’s well enuf to go back out to pasture? Vengeance shall be Mine? or …I don’t get mad, I just get even…  The only thing we know for sure is, there will be no mediator for the next match, and no referee to say, ok, girls, back to your corners!
Just thought y’all would get a chuckle out of this… you know horses are remarkably like kindergarteners! Stay tuned!

Milongas and Milongueros: True FAQs! An Interview with a Buenos Aires Milonguera

Carlos Di Sarli with Troilo

Carlos Di Sarli with Aníbal Troilo

A Guest Blog by Diana Howell, in her own words 

(edited and illustrated by Willow Running Hawk, including an Interview on 12.16.12)

Milonguero Defined

el Indio

el Indio

The strict definition of milonguero (females are milongueras), here in Buenos Aires, is someone who frequents milongas more than four times a week, and usually means someone who is at milongas every night, or just about every night.  I fall into this category, pretty much.

Julio Duplá, organizer of Sin Rumbo

Julio Duplá of Sin Rumbo

Milongueros are usually good dancers, sometimes fabulous dancers — which makes sense, if they’re dancing every night — sophisticated in the ways of the milonga, and streetwise, i.e., savvy about all aspects of the milonga. They often have a set table that is reserved for this “frequent flyer” dancer. Milongueros come in all ages, but the really weatherbeaten ones have put in a lot of years on the milonga road, dancing till 6:00 am every day. They have the sleeping habits of a vampire, and live on a poor diet of champagne-based fluids and salty snacks.

guapoSome still smoke, though nowadays they have to go outside the dance halls to light up. Heavens, what a drag that must have been in the “good old days” when everyone lit up inside! They say you couldn’t see across the dance floor for all the smoke! Many milongueros are divorced and live alone; some are married, but have cut back on their frequency of milonga attendance — making it possible to stay married? Younger milongueros who are in a steady relationship are usually with another tanguera (a woman who dances tango).

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

La Conquista: Beware the Tango Gigolo!

Some milongueros live off of foreign tango dancers, temporarily or semi-permanently; the sleazier variety keeps a sharp eye out for new victims. They are invariably good-looking, charming, well-dressed and capable dancers who can speak a few key words in a variety of languages.

Gato & Andrea

Gato & Andrea

These tango gigolos are quick to complement your dancing, your charms, your sex appeal. Their strategy is: spot, slay, suck! In other words, he spots a victim (let’s just say this could be you!), slays you with charm until he gets access to, and eventually moves into, your apartment; then starts draining your bank account until you either get wise and cut him off, or run out of funds!

mil mirando-1

This has happened to a lot of foreign tangueras here, so beware the silver-tongued devils! It’s been interesting watching the one or two month couplings of milongueros with foreign girls; every month or two, another new foreign face.

tango gigolo-3

The slightly less sleazy variety just wants a sexual conquest, and he will push, push, and keep pushing you, until either he doesn’t get anywhere, in which case you, once his “queen of the hop,” no longer gets so much as a glance from him; or until he beds you. His game is ALL about conquest. Then he moves on, looking for fresh blood, no doubt sharing all the details of the conquest with his compadres.

a regular at La Baldosa

regulars at La Baldosa

His attention level (unless there is good money involved) is very short, and I think it has to do with the training pattern of the dance: one or two tandas with more than a dozen different females on a nightly basis trains them to think of relationships as equally loose and temporary. Keeping a milonguero interested enough to dance a few tandas with you, without falling into his sex trap, requires skillful and delicate balancing of interests.

Buenos Aires boys

Buenos Aires boys

NEVER accept an invitation to go out for a “coffee” after the milonga, because the translation of that code is: coffee & sex. Accepting a ride home is pretty iffy too, unless you REALLY know him, and even then… ¡con cuidado!

mil joven 1

Of course, if you do not have any money, but are 20 years old, drop dead gorgeous, and a great dancer, he will hang around forever, because you are a feather in his cap. “Look at me guys, she LIKES me! She’s MINE.” Some of the nicer milongueros are so dog-gone honest, they’ll admit they’re married, but still invite you to be their girlfriend.

just kidding, Javier!

just kidding, Javier!

Most of the other dilly-dalliers use the old “we live in the same house for economic reasons, but are not a couple anymore” routine. Some of the married milongueros (especially the older ones), are simply there to dance tango (their wives do not prevent them from attending, and have learned to preserve the marriage by letting them dance). These guys are the most fun, because they don’t have a “conquest agenda,” and are happy and eager to dance with you.

images-5

For married milongueros, dancing tango is a form of safe sex, because when you complete a fabulous tanda, it is almost as good as great sex! It allows married tangueros (and tangueras) to get a feeling of closeness with a member of the opposite sex (who is not their mate) without stepping outside the relationship. Of course, some do step outside those bounds. Like, we ARE discussing men, right?

Confitería Ideal

Confitería Ideal

Milongueros are, by and large, muy ensimismados: very self-centered. 

Call it machismo if you like. It’s ALL about them: you are just there to make it happen. Just think “EGO-MAXIMO” and you get a fair picture of the typical milonguero.

Tango Gigolo

Tango Gigolo

So, why are we so fascinated? What makes us long to dance with them? Isn’t the idea of dancing Tango a romantic fantasy held by many women? Also, good leaders dance wonderfully well, making us dance our best; and of course, there is the magic of their embrace — strong, resolute, and close enough to melt any woman’s heart!

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The strength of a typical Argentine lead can be felt in the confidence of his embrace. Women come from all over the world for this embrace! It’s close, strong and decisive, and it makes you feel absolutely WONDERFUL.

Raúl Bravo, the quintessential milonguero, el maestro de maestros!

Raúl Bravo, the quintessential Milonguero, el maestro de maestros!

A less confident embrace makes it very difficult for a women to know what her partner wants her to do. Even a mediocre Argentine leader usually has a good embrace. My favorite leaders (besides Porteños!) are from England, Italy, Holland, and Germany; they have excellent basic technique, smooth, with a solid embrace and a refreshing lack of the complicated figures that no one has room to execute on the dance floor anyway.

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All that aside, it is a great time here, and I love meeting up with people from diverse cultures, not only to share the dance, but to chat about our various cultures. What a GREAT way to go international! I have met dancers from Sweden, Scotland, even Cameroon…  yes, there is tango in many African cities! HOW GREAT IS OUR WORLD OF TANGO!  Speaking Tango is like having another language, another passport, a passport of a universal cultural identity, that of devotion to and love of Tango.

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FAQs about Milongas:

The earliest and latest hours of the most popular milongas are always the best time to dance; the floor is less crowded and it’s easier to see someone else to cabeceo. All milongas follow the same pattern: less crowded at the beginning and, as people begin to arrive, more crowded, more energy, more noise, and lots of conversation during the cortinas.

Salon Canning

Salon Canning

There seems to be a “peak time” every evening, when the energy is at its height, the floor packed. Then, as people begin to leave (perhaps because of work the next day, or to go to another milonga), the late night portion of the milonga begins. During these late hours many of the milongueros — people who attend milongas nearly every day, usually for years, even lifetimes — who did not dance much (but watched, and conversed with other milongueros at their table) will begin to dance, with very select choices.

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Having waited for the crowd to leave, the people who remain are usually more serious dancers, to whom having more floor space to dance is more important than dancing in a high-energy crowd. Interestingly, the music gets juicier at this point.  Many times I have heard Argentine women complain: “As usual, now the music gets good!”  (…nothing quite like those conversations in the ladies’ room!) They complain because they must leave early, for work or family obligations.

Colection UPTango designed by Ute Prause. Photos: Joan S‡nchez

Milongueros usually stay almost to closing time, and others will show up late as well, knowing that the crowd will have thinned out. At the early milongas (“matinee milongas”) you don’t need a watch to tell what time it’s getting to be, because many men disappear around 8:00 or 8:30, as precise as clockwork, going home to la señora, so as not to miss dinner or cause a riff at home.  Some women do likewise, and they will often change back to street clothes in the bathroom. (Note: this is a good idea if you use public transit, to avoid attracting attention from thieves.)

Buenos Aires Street Style

Buenos Aires Street Style

A Milonga is all about the Music!

For me, the most important element of a milonga (besides the dancing) in Buenos Aires is the music; the volume is turned up! This explains why dancers from BAires complain about the low volume of music at milongas in California, and I also find it really difficult to deal with. The music must enter you, body and soul, so you can dance to it! If you are not enveloped in sound, this is just not going to happen.

La Gricel

Just about every milonga in California plays the music way too low. This would never be acceptable in Buenos Aires, and the milonga would not survive. Also noteworthy is that mostly songs with lyrics are played here. Can you imagine why?

el Catedral

el Catedral

Because the lyrics are divine! The spectacular poetry of tango gets everyone into the mood of the dance. Granted, not understanding the words makes it difficult to appreciate the lyrics, but you are missing out on a much more profound experience of the music.

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A third distinguishing factor is that you are simply not going to hear non-tango music played at a BAires milonga. There are alternative milongas where nuevo music is played (sometimes called neotango), but it’s still tango. You will, however, hear rock, swing, and latin or tropical (a mix of salsa, cumbia & other latin rhythms) during the break, usually played mid-evening, depending on the DJ.

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The floor fills up exponentially more for the salsa or tropical than for swing. And some milongas, like Niño Bien, Sueño Porteño and La Nacional, always play a Chacarera followed by a Zamba. These Argentine folk dances are increasingly popular in Buenos Aires. There are also dance halls called boliches that play mostly rock and latin rhythms. Taxi drivers know where to find them.

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a boliche

The Pulse of a Milonga

A milonga is a living thing; it has a beginning, an end, a pulse, a mood, an energy. People choose milongas because they like the music, the dancers — people they want to dance with, good level of dancers — and the opportunity to socialize — they meet up with their friends.

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Milongas come and go in popularity. Perhaps this is due to the fickleness of human nature. Sometimes we crave a change, or something about the milonga changes: the DJ, the promoter, the clientele. The energy of milongas is determined by the music and the dancers.

el Catedral

el Catedral… cool atmosphere, funky floor

Of course, sometimes at well-known and popular milongas the energy will just not be there, and if that happens many times, the milonga will no longer be popular or well-attended. The dance floor is also very important.  Most people prefer wood, it’s perfect to pivot on, and easier on the feet. Tile is also nice for pivots and suave moves, but it’s harder on your feet. One of the largest milonga spaces in the capital is El Pial (venue of milonga La Baldosa) which has a tile floor (a baldosa is a tile).

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And ladies, please note, if there is liquid spilled on the floor, KEEP AWAY, because once the bottoms of your leather shoes get wet, you will not be able to pivot easily, and your evening may be over! It takes at least an hour of dancing to dry them out. Word to the Wise: Always carry a second pair of shoes!

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Milongas Come and Go

Milongas can disappear forever, sometimes from lack of popularity, or perhaps the venue is sold or torn down (like Maipu 444), or the promoters did not have the proper licensing or fire exits. Sometimes milongas are suspended for a while until the proper licenses are procured. New milongas are always appearing, and their promoters will make the rounds of all the larger, more established milongas, handing out flyers and talking to dancers to promote their incipient venues.

Sueño Porteño

Sueño Porteño

Sometimes the newbie milongas survive; sometimes they don’t. The largest and most established milongas have been around the longest, and these include: Sin Rumbo (“El Catedral del Tango”… the oldest continuously running milonga in BAires: 80+ years), La Gricel, Salon Canning, Niño Bien, La Nacional, Sunderland Club, El Beso, El Trovador, El Pial. This is not a complete list, not even close: there are hundreds! Some of the best times can be had at small neighborhood milongas; very few are listed; many are known by word of mouth alone.  Keep in mind that milongas are not on every street corner, and less than 2% of porteños (BAires residents) dance tango.

Porteño y Bailarín

Porteño y Bailarín

has living in BAs changed you?

In regards to the dance, yes. One thing I’ve assimilated is the style of dancing at milongas. In the US you are taught all these complex moves which you’re never going to use. In Argentina they only do about 5 moves on the floor, but they do them so beautifully it makes you cry. Argentines are so into the music. They value finesse. It’s not how MANY moves you can do, but how well do you do them? Are you connected to your partner? Transitions here are seamless, the music envelops you completely. That is the standard here, and it has become MY standard!

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Many people in the US just don’t get this. Are you dreaming of dancing a corrida, a molinete, a boleo in Buenos Aires…? Forget it! There’s no room! Also, two big differences between leaders here and in the states, are: (1) everybody dances really close in Argentina, and (2) people here actually dance to the music. Of course they grew up with the music, they know the songs. We’re missing out on so much!

La Viruta

La Viruta

why is Tango so addicting?

My personal theory is that both males and females get a hormonal charge (endorphins) from the dance itself and the physicality of the dance; and another hormonal charge (oxytocin—the same one that gets released during sex) from the physical closeness and intimacy. All humans like being in close contact with other humans; it makes us feel good. It’s not just in your mind, it’s in your DNA! All tribal peoples do this, it just feels good. And, though we may be unaware of our cultural roots, WE ARE ALL TRIBAL PEOPLES! Tango also has the poetry of its lyrics, the romance of the culture, the beauty of the music and the dance, and the tremendous social aspect of the milongas. All milongueros admit that tango is addicting. We joke about it!

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Compared to other addictions, Tango isn’t so bad. I mean, I have been compelled to dance tango seven nights a week! And talk about temptation! In Buenos Aires you can start dancing at 3 in the afternoon, and continue to 6 the next morning.  Do you think my time in rehab (i.e., the states) will be good for this problem?

Tango Addiction

at what point did you realize you were addicted?

I’ve talked to many people about tango addiction, including my porteño friends. Everyone knows it’s addictive… and obsessive! During my last three months in Buenos Aires I told myself I was going to stop dancing on Fridays. I was concerned that I’d become addicted. That only lasted 2 weeks… two Fridays!

THE RULES OF TANGO ADDICTION  

1:  you keep doing it
2:  every time you do it you feel happy
3:  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care.

when did you start dancing tango?

I’ve been a dancer all my life. My parents met on the dance floor. I was a belly dance instructor and performer for over 25 years. I lived in Morocco for 2 years. I listened to Middle Eastern music for so many years, I thought I could never live without it! But then I found Tango about 6 years ago. I was dabbling in a little ballroom, and a friend suggested I go to a milonga. Tango captured my body, my mind, my heart… it pierced my soul! The rest is history!

Diana belly dancing

Diana belly dancing

does tango take you somewhere?

Absolutely, yes. You’re focused on your partner and the music, both of you totally connected, grounded to the floor, to the earth. My eyes are closed. You don’t want external stimuli interfering with your dance; it’s an out-of-body experience. In the entire universe nothing else is happening!

baldosas sin rumbo

For those few minutes you fall in love with that partner, deeply enjoying the music and the dance together. When you’re in that perfect state, like the perfect storm, your partner doesn’t have a name, you don’t have a name… your egos are absent, it’s just exquisite. After one of those tandas, you can almost go home…

What is your favorite Tango music? 

I love the Golden Age of Tango… Canaro of course, I love PoemaPaciencia is one of my favorite songs. I love Donato, depending on my mood…. D’Arienzo, Malerba, and, oh my, Pugliese! I only want to dance Pugliese with certain people.

San Pugliese

When they put on a Pugliese tanda, it changes everything! You need more space and more athletic ability, more focus, and a leader who is really with you. Why do they play Pugliese so late? Because you need a lot of energy to dance to Pugliese. I love di Sarli too, and the Golden Age vocalists you don’t find any more, like Fiorentino… he was a tenor of Italian heritage, from the operatic tradition.

Francisco Fiorentino

Francisco Fiorentino

The voice training that they had back then… wow! Modern singers aren’t nearly as dramatic, and most are not as well-trained. And Troilo, of course… I was really fortunate this last year, Buenos Aires has so many free concerts, both tango and classical. In terms of culture BAires really has it over California.

who have you studied with…

My “Número Uno” teacher in the states is Marcelo Solis [California: Bay Area]. I was fortunate to have started with him. If you train with Marcelo, you can dance with anyone.

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In a private, Marcelo dances with me for a whole hour. Lisette Perelle is also a fabulous teacher, especially for technique…

Lisette

and Glenn Corteza for musicality and ease of movement.

Glenn Corteza

Eduardo Saucedo teaches at La Ideal in BAires, and in the States: fabulous!

eduardo saucedo

And ALL the milongueros of Buenos Aires that I dance with are my teachers! When you are starting out, “sample the market” (of teachers), then stick with one, or maybe two, at the most. Don’t confuse yourself with too many “takes” on the subject, it will show in your dance. Same goes for visits to Buenos Aires.

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Is the Tango scene in Buenos Aires changing?

A big change in milongas since I’ve lived in BAires is the door prizes. During half-time at the milongas (usually about 1:00 or 2:00 am) there are door prizes, based on your ticket number. A few years ago, a pair or two of shoes was given away each evening, plus lesser prizes, like a bottle of champagne, wine, tickets to the next milonga, a tango CD, or tango apparel. These days, it may be partial credit towards a pair of shoes, or a drawing for shoes only once or twice monthly, partial credit for Tango clothing, fewer bottles of champagne (always shared with others at your table… Porteños LOVE champagne!) and even pizza vouchers — reflections of a much weaker economy. Another indication of the economic downturn is that some milongueros will only attend one milonga per evening, whereas in the past, they may have attended two or three. An entrada now averages 35 pesos (about US$7.00) and a non-alcoholic beverage 15 pesos (US$3.00). The price of a drink depends on the venue, and can be very expensive, especially if you want American whiskey.

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But a glass of local wine is still only about $3. Then there are the taxi fares, which jumped considerably in mid-2012, after having already doubled on New Year’s Day 2012. Any food you get at a milonga in BAires is paid for just like in a restaurant, unlike in the states, where a table (or several tables) of nibbles like fruits and veggies, chips and dips, cheese and crackers, sodas, water and wine are usually free, and are often provided potluck style. If you eat and drink well at a California milonga, the $10-$12 door price is a bargain!

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The Argentine economic downturn is a reflection of the world economic crisis. Many Argentines believe that another big “restructuring” is on its way. Now, in December, [2012] it’s high season for Tango tourism, with lots of visitors from the States, Asia, Australia, and Europe. It’s the warmest time of year in the Southern Cone. December 1st is International Tango Day, where thousands dance to live Tango orchestras in the streets of Buenos Aires. It’s a great place to meet people from all over the world.

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Can you describe a perfect lead?

First and foremost somebody who KNOWS what he’s trying to do. There’s nothing worse than a weak lead… and you cannot change a lead-idea in midstream. A good leader has confidence, he just LEADS!… Even if YOU think a step is difficult, it won’t be, if he leads it properly! A good leader makes it almost impossible for you to take a wrong step.

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Argentine men, even if they’re not great dancers, have a confident embrace, a decisive lead. They say women come from all over the world to feel this embrace… it’s true!  One thing that has surprised me is that not all men can dance milonga well, even Argentine men! So, it isn’t genetic after all? To dance milonga well you must listen to the music… if you don’t catch the beat, you won’t get the flavor of the dance.

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

What about followers… what are our worst sins…?

Even if my leader is not the greatest, or not at my level, I try to give him my total attention. I give him the best dance I can. I don’t look around the room. If you focus on that moment, that leader, that bubble of time you have with him, your dance with him will be so much better… you can make him look better than he ever has! I must say that in BAires, lots of Porteñas cultivate the Little Orphan Annie look, occasionally frowning, or raising an eyebrow while dancing with a bad lead.

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But you can better your dance by always maintaining your structure, executing your movements elegantly, maintaining your dance integrity no matter what. I’ve only ever had to walk off the floor if I thought someone was dangerous to me or to others…. or if someone was man-handling me in a sexual way.

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do you dance differently on a crowded floor?

Well, obviously, on a crowded floor, where you may advance only 20 feet per song, your steps should be well underneath your body, no overextended leg; shrink your bubble! Try to not get upset if you are grazed by someone else’s heel. You can dance the same steps, but as baby steps… or steps in place… covering very little ground. You can make it look good!

Diana with Juliet, a BAires expat from Canada

Diana with Juliette, a BAires expat from Canada

what advice would you give to beginners?

The most important thing in tango is your basics. Glenn Corteza puts it very well: “your dance is only as good as your basic.” Skip the advanced classes, take the basics classes over and over. Everybody’s in such a hurry to learn fancy moves. What becomes most enjoyable is executing a step seamlessly, effortlessly, with the music… that’s the beauty of Tango. Be totally in the moment.

pareja joven

I think beginners should stay beginners for a long time. Even if you never advance beyond the basics, if you move exquisitely, gracefully, you don’t need anything else. Don’t tell yourself, “oh, that was bad.” There is no such thing as bad tango. There is no such thing as good tango. Tango just IS.

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Milonga Resources and Cabeceos:

The milonga listings are a great resource in BAires, and can be picked up for free at most milongas, tango shoe stores, and other tango venues. They list milongas day-by-day, with milonga names, the venue name and location, starting and ending times, and names and telephone numbers of milonga organizers. You will also find listings of Tango schools, teachers, and prácticas.

Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

maestros Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

There are quite a few really good milonga websites as well, some with videos, so you can get a sense of the atmosphere of each particular milonga. I still favor the little milonga listings booklet, which fits right into your shoe bag. It’s always a good idea to call and reserve a table for the milonga, to avoid being seated in the back or behind a pillar, where it will be more difficult to catch a cabeceo. Check out <hoy-milonga.com>.

Can you explain cabeceos?

Ah yes, cabeceos! The system here to ask, or be asked to dance, is called cabeceo. It’s based on eye contact. Men are usually seated on one side of the dance floor, women on the other, and couples at the ends; sometimes a slight variation on this theme. To get asked to dance, you scan the room, trying to catch the eye of someone you would like to dance with, or looking across to see if someone is trying to catch your eye.

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Eye contact is followed by a nod of acknowledgement, or raising of the eyebrows. The better you are at this, the more you will dance.

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Be aware that in touristy milongas such as Confiteria Ideal or Salon Canning, you may be approached at your table, instead of cabeceo’d. In traditional tango culture this is considered extremely rude! So you can Just Say NO. The guys do this because so many foreign women do not understand the cabeceo code. If I am approached this way, I usually smile my best smile and say “porque no cabeceo?”  No reason to be bitchy about it.

What is a typical day for you?

I sleep late! In the afternoons I take classes, get groceries, meet friends for coffee, do ART….. I’m a Plein Air painter, an Impressionist. I do landscapes in oil, and watercolors when I’m traveling. I like to eat a big meal about 3 pm, then take a nap and think about the milongas I’m going to that evening. These days, with all the matinee milongas, you don’t have to be a vampire anymore. Of course it’s a different crowd at the early milongas.

La Nacional

La Nacional

and the food?

Beef is king here, and it is wonderful! However, vegetarian restaurants are sprouting up here and there, excellent Italian pastas and pizza are everywhere, and chicken is on most restaurant menus. The food is bland, spices are not prevalent, everything is too salty, and high fat abounds. I prefer the Peruvian food, it is very tasty, with complex flavors: more of a “cuisine” than Argentine food.  There are lots of McDonald’s and Burger Kings here, and why anyone would want one of their offerings instead of a nice Argentine steak is beyond me! The medialunas (small croissants) are to die for, as well as dulce de leche anything!

café & medialunas

what about Argentine fashion?

Argentine women like to dress!! As Amy Lincoln says, they’re “well put together.”They wear lots of creative (but not expensive) jewelry, big earrings, scarves, lots of bling! In the US, black is practically the uniform at milongas, but not here. Argentine women do wear a lot of black, but they also wear pretty, lighter colors.

Diana and Amy

Diana and Amy

In California, people tend to dress down. Here in Buenos Aires mostly younger women dress down, but you can always spot someone in a sequined dress. “Dress-up” was my favorite game when I was little, so you know where I’m going with this theme! In my opinion, Argentine women dress and look sexier than American women. Not all men wear suits anymore, but usually nice trousers and shirts; only foreigners wear cargo pants or  jeans — and a few stray Porteños!

milongueras en negro

did you fall in love with the dance, or the music…?

Because I’m a dancer I can’t separate the two. It’s like a combo plate, you can’t buy one without the other!

beauti dancers

how long have you been in Buenos Aires?

I moved here in the fall of 2011… I’m not sure when I’ll leave… if ever?

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Ciao from Diana Howell in Buenos Aires!

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