Córdoba: Hotel Nazi, la Salamanca, and Other Tall Tales and Adventures

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The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was founded on July 6, 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, a Spanish conquistador.  Cabrera named the city after Córdoba, Spain.  Córdoba was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553).   The U of Córdoba is the oldest university in the country and the second oldest in Latin America.  It was founded by the Jesuits in 1613.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The most recognizable is perhaps the Jesuit Quarter (la Manzana Jesuíta), declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. 

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This beautiful barrio consists of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus.

recova Plaza San Martín

recova Plaza San Martín

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In January we flew up north to the province of Córdoba. The original Córdoba, in Andalusia, Spain, was built by the Romans and conquered by Muslim armies in 711.  Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included a great swath of the Iberian Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Andalusian cities: Granada, Málaga, Sevilla.  According to archeologists, Córdoba had upwards of a million inhabitants in the 10th century, in a time when only one other European city had more than 30,000: Constantinople.

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Córdoba was famously cultured, enlightened and stunningly beautiful, and is credited, as I will illustrate, with jumpstarting the Renaissance.  The city was known for its gardens, fountains, artificial lakes and public baths fed by an aqueduct.  Muslims bathed daily, unlike their fragrant European neighbors who were averse to cleanliness, and instead resorted to the invention of perfume.

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General San Martín

During these centuries, Córdoba became a society ruled by Muslims, in which all other groups had second-class status but lived together in relative peace and poverty except for the noble classes, who were exempt from paying taxes.  Spain returned to Christian rule in 1236, during the Reconquista.  In 1492 Fernando and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos, forced all the Muslims, Jews, gypsies and other “deplorables” out of the country in the name of Catholicism.  (Many converted to Christianity to avoid being deported: los conversos)  The ebb and flow of tolerance seems to be a recurring pattern worldwide.  We humans just can’t seem to rise above the avarice, ego, and drive to dominate others, which is apparently encoded in our DNA.  History repeats itself. 

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Because of its enlightened rulers, Córdoba was home to a university, medical schools, a library of 400,000 volumes, and 27 free primary schools for children of the poor.  The literacy rate was high for both males and females …. encouraged by a famous king, Alfonso X, el Sabio.  Alfonso the “wise” was crowned in 1252. He is known for his interest in science and literature.  Under his rule, early Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) were translated into Castilian Spanish.  Alfonso X sponsored, supervised and often participated with his own writing and in collaboration with a group of Latin, Hebrew and Muslim intellectuals known as the Toledo School of Translators, in the composition of an enormous body of literature that kick-started the production of literature in Spanish as we know it today.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus, as I have mentioned, all date from the 17th century. The campus belongs today to the historical museum of the National University of Córdoba, which has been the second-largest university in the country since the early 20th century (after the University of Buenos Aires), in terms of the number of students, faculty, and academic programs.

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January and February is school-free summer vacation time here in the far southern latitudes.  Trees are in blossom all over the place.  The Córdoba countryside reminds me so much of California; the Santa Lucias, the Gabilanes, Los Padres, Ojai…  Seeing Córdoba adds life and depth to an understanding of our California missions.

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Isn’t she lovely?

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a Dominican convent in the Jesuit quarter

Segue to the 20th century: a beautiful bronze bas-relief in the historic quarter of Córdoba, dedicated to the women of Córdoba.  Just in time for International Women’s Day!

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monument to the women of Cordoba, 1956

In case you might not know about or have forgotten about a very difficult period in Argentina, there is the Museo de la Memoria in Córdoba.  The coup d’etat of March 1976 was a civic-military rebellion that led to the establishment of a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla.  The junta called their state-sponsored terrorism the Process of National Reorganization.  People called it “la Dictadura” and “el Proceso.”  It was not the first, but by far the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. [Wikipedia]

Museo de la Memoria

More than 30,000 people were “disappeared,” tortured and killed.  The junta remained in power until December 10, 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín was elected president by free and fair elections.  In Buenos Aires you will see many bronze plaques set into the sidewalks, in every neighborhood, where the names of the disappeared are listed, along with with the date they were kidnapped from their homes at that location.  On the facade of the Museo de la Memoria are hand-lettered the names of those who were “disappeared” in Córdoba.  I saw quite a lot of politically-inspired street art in Córdoba.  People having a voice is what democracy is all about.

we want to live   …    we exist because we resist

 

El Cordobazo: a student – worker uprising against a previous dictatorship in 1969.

When reality gets too depressing, you have to just forget about it all, for a while.  C’mon, let’s go dancing.

Saturday night Milonga in Plaza San Martín, Córdoba.

If you’ve got a bad case of the blues, and the Cathedral at Plaza San Martín is just too damn lovely, take a walk on the Goth side, near the Plaza España.  It’s absolutely wild!

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Gótica extremensus!

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You would think this cathedal, la Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, was built in the 1700s… that’s what I thought!  I mean, it’s positively crawling with grotesque and beastly gargoyles.  But I was soooo wrong, just like the Beatles’ song.  Also known as the Iglesia de los Capuchinos (let’s just call it the Cappuchino church, even if it doesn’t have an espresso bar), it was built by the Franciscan order between 1926 – 1934.

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Gothic my ass!  The brickwork gives it away.  It’s pretty amazing, just the same.

Hmmm… prehistoric Legos?  Holy Friars!  What were they smoking?

Córdoba Day 1.

Our first destination in Córdoba was La Cumbre, a pretty little town 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.  We loved La Cumbre… we stayed there for a whole week.  You can keep your yurts… La Cumbre is the best base camp anywhere.  It’s friendly and picturesque, and the dozen or so sidewalk cafés and bistros serve up some really delicious food.  How about a plate of crusted stuffed Patagonian trout?  Rúcula and radicheta salad with caramelized pears and melted brie?  We’re talking’ some really good eats in this town, not to mention the BBQ, the empanadas, and the quintessential malbec: in vino veritas!  In La Cumbre the Tourism office doesn’t close till midnight.  Argentines are all about their night life!

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La Cumbre has a lovely willow-lined creek on the edge of town.  

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We discovered the creek while wandering about town the next morning, trying to find the 10K trail we were told about.  It starts behind the statue of El Cristo Redentor and ends at the San Gerónimo reservoir.

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It’s a 10 minute climb up a series of steps to get to the lookout.

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Nice view of La Cumbre.  The best part was getting to pet the adorable cuddly vicuña for 10 pesos.

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The trailhead starts right behind the statue and we nearly missed it, but our new friends, las Gaby, pointed out what looked like a rabbit trail going straight up, a few feet from the backside of Christ.  The four of us spent most of the day climbing with hands and feet up a narrow, rocky trail to the top of the ridge. Lush, grassy green hillsides with horses and burros grazing.  My kind of paradise!

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There was a cute burro hanging with the herd but he kept moving away and I couldn’t get a good shot.  As we climbed up the views of La Cumbre just got better and better.  Santos added the “the bear went over the mountain” to his repertoire of Latin American hiking music.  After living in Buenos Aires for most of the last 6 years  – that big beautiful cognitively-dissonant city that I love –  it was delightful to be up in the hills with the sweet air, the fresh breeze.  The  warmth of the sun was absoutely glorious.  A wonderfully healing and energizing day.

We had to ditch our sneakers and socks to ford a creek that was only a few inches deep.  Our happy feet dried in the sun as we kicked back in the tall grass munching trail mix.  We scrambled up faint paths on all fours, rock to rock, like, seriously climbing!  On the downhills we scampered and skittered like clumsy goats, concentrating on each split-second landing, not afraid, but keenly aware of the possible unfortunate consequences of one poorly placed foot.  Luckily I had brought along a good pair of hiking shoes, and with zen-like concentration I donned the spirit cloak of a mountain sprite.

We finally made it over the ridgetops and scrambled down, down, down to the San Gerónimo reservoir.   The water was still a little muddy from recent rains.

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Dique San Gerónimo after the rains

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web photo: cobalt blue water!

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a spillway: built to last!

It was about 4 pm when we made it to the reservoir.  After a short break our 4-person team set off down the dirt road towards La Cumbre. Riders on horseback passed us ponying a mare with a colt skittering alongside.  It was about a 4K walk into La Cumbre.  After a while we turned onto the main road (also dirt) and to our right was a sight for sore eyes: la Estancia Rosario!  It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the gate was OPEN!

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La estancia welcomed us with beautiful sweeping lawns, benches all over the place, a café, a restaurant, huge nice restrooms, and a shop that sells an enormous variety of alfajores (saddlebags in english).  Alfajores are cookies sandwiched with jam or dulce de leche.  Sometimes the cookie dough is made from almond paste and nuts, or breadcrumbs mixed with honey and spices.  Speaking of breadcrumbs, I spent so much time in the ladies’ room washing off the sweat and trail dirt, and rebraiding my hair, that the team sent one of the Gabys to drag me out.  Then I had to stock up on alfajores… dulce de leche is my favorite, dusted with coconut instead of dipped in chocolate.  Estancia el Rosario makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had.  Ah, alfajor heaven!

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So, rested up, full tummy = happy heart.  We set off to hike the last couple of miles into La Cumbre.  Piece ‘a cake!  Flat, no stones in my passway….

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

Robert Johnson, 1911-1938, King of the Delta Blues

A stray dog decided to join our wolf-pac.com.  Maybe he liked the scent of dirt, dust and alfajores?  After awhile he changed his mind and headed back to his comfort zone.… the familiar.  He didn’t want anything weird to happen at the next crossroads.  Happens to all of us at some point, right?  If not, there may still be time…

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After a day of climbing nearly vertical rabbit trails, walking on the flat was sooo easy.  We were NOT complaining.  But then, as if the universe wanted to applaud our efforts, we heard a vehicle approaching, bouncing and jolting its merry way along the washboard.  We all turned to look.  It was a white ’64 Ford pickup.  Its driver spotted us and slowed down to have a look.  Three women and one guy.  The odds are good but the goods are odd!  Just kidding, he was a good guy.  There were 4 or 5 tires in the back of the truck which looked liked couch cushions to us.  Santos spoke to him, he gave a nod, and we jumped in.

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Gabriela la Morocha and Gabriela de Córdoba: las Gabys

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Back in town, we celebrated under the umbrella of a sidewalk cafe downtown with Quilmes, empanadas and a spiked mango licuado for yours truly. Good times and best friends forever!!

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Later on Santos and I drove to Cosquín to go to a peña.  What’s a peña?  It’s a club where you can sit and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine and listen to live folk music, and sometimes other local musical offerings.  Santos was really jazzed to go to Cosquín, because it’s THE center of Argentine folk music and dance, and he’s way into all that.  They have music festivals there all year round, and the biggest ones are broadcast live on Argentine public tv, night after night. 

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During the day they have rodeos where you can watch gauchos in Argentine style caps and sombreros ride outlaw bulls and broncs. It’s kinda funny for me cause, being a cowgirl myself, I’m used to American rodeos with clowns and dumb-ass announcers and lots of flag waving and team roping and steer wrestling, barrel racing and all the rest.  In Argentina, especially in the provinces, they’ve got guys riding broncs and bulls with folk singers singing at the same time!  Crazy!  But that’s how it’s done here.  Their rodeos are called domos.  Later on, for the folks at home, the tv broadcasts hours of folk dancing, all in very elaborate and beautiful costumes, very much like our baile folklórico in California and Mexico.

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dancing la Zamba at Peña La Salamanca

So that evening we went to la Peña Salamanca.  The food was great (we had locro, a traditional corn and beef stew) and there was a stream of different groups performing… a dozen at least.  It was the week leading up to the big festival weekend, so lots of performers were in town doing the rounds of the peñas.  We got up and danced to the chacareras, and when a group played some Piazzolla, we were the only dancers brave enough to get out there and show our stuff.  The audience went wild for us!!  Blame it on that bottle of tinto we were drinking.  

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The fact that we were visiting “la Salamanca” made Santos spill the stories his mom told him when he was little, about the Devil and la Salamanca.  

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According to the Santiagueño version, la Salamanca is a place where people go to make a deal with the devil (Zupay) in exchange for knowledge and powerful gifts.  La Salamanca is usually a cave in the mountains.  Zupay may teach the initiate the musical arts, such as playing the guitar or other instruments, dancing, horse breaking and training, or the evil arts of brujería (witchcraft).  Tradition tells that if you hear the music of la Salamanca, you will fall into an evil life, full of fear and horror.  People of good faith can avoid falling into the temptation of the Zupay by carrying a rosary.  It is said that those who have made a pact with the devil can be spotted because they cast no shadow.

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“As always, there are many versions of this legend, but most of them agree on the main points.  This story was well known in Spain during the 14th and the 16th centuries and was so famous that it went with the first Spanish sailors who took part in the colonization of Central and South America. This is why … people still refer to … caves and dark places as “Salamancas.” [spanishinspain.blogspot.com.ar]

While I was writing about la Salamanca an old Robert Johnson song came into my head.  I remember stuff like that instead of people’s names and what I had for breakfast.  Weird, right?  Are you seeing a connection here between the singer and la Salamanca?

          I got stones in my passway
And all my roads seem dark at night

          – Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”

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[The following story is from Henry Goodman, excerpted from Vagabonding, Rolf Potts, June 26, 2015]

Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads  

Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, “Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin’ people nuts.”

Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson’s spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there.

Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, “You’re late, Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, “Maybe not.”

The man stands up, tall and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson’s stillborn baby, and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, “Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?”

“That’s a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man.”

“I know you, Robert Johnson,” says the man.

Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down, and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his feet and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, “That dog gone mad.”

The man laughs. “That hound belong to me. He ain’t mad, he’s got the Blues. I got his soul in my hand.”

A few more notes about the legend of Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist who supposedly made a pact with the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time.  Robert was the 11th (and illegitimate) child of a poor Mississippi family.  He was 17 or 18 when he found out the name of his biological father, and he then took on his real father’s last name.  Robert married at 19.  Perhaps due to bad luck, as some say, his wife Virginia died in childbirth, losing the baby, too.  She was only 16.

A few years later,  Johnson made the mistake of fooling around with the wife of the owner of a club where he was playing.  The outraged husband sent a bottle of poisoned whiskey to Robert’s table.  Apparently Robert drank a fair amount of that whiskey, ’cause later that evening he stopped playing, walked outside, and passed out.  He died three days or two weeks later, as the tale spins, from the strychnine-laced whiskey.

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Everyone knows a deal’s a deal, especially if it’s a deal with el diablo.  When your time runs out, you’re done.  Robert didn’t collect a lot of time in this world, but the devil sure got his due.  That’s the story of Robert Johnson, part history and part fiction.  For me, the truest part is the mesmerizing sound of his soulful voice, the genius of his music and his technical skill on the guitar, for all of which he earned the title “King of the Delta Blues.”

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          Asked the lord above “Have mercy now

          save poor Bob if you please”

          – Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

[Check out this YouTube history in Spanish: Historias y Relatos – El Pacto de Robert Johnson]

Did we earn our Adventuresome Tourist badges on day 1?  Yikes!  Segue to another sketchy location about 30 miles away:  La Falda.  Home to the  decrepit, deteriorating, notorious Hotel Eden, the world-famous Nazi vacation retreat and watering hole.  Córdoba Day 2.

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Hotel Eden is an enormous building… about the same size as the Hotel Palace.  But you can’t book a room; it’s actually not habitable.  The second floor has big holes in the floors and walls, so the guided tour only took us up the decaying stairs (that was scary!) to the 2nd floor landing.  The hotel hasn’t been open for business – except guided tours – for many years. 

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view from the back

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section of the ground floor

The main event was a long boring documentary about all the rich Germans who stayed there before the war.  Albert Einstein did visit the hotel in 1925.  It was widely rumored that Hitler was also a visitor but there is no supporting evidence.

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Santos and his brother Einstein, 2017

During Einstein’s visit to Argentina he met with an Argentine physicist, Enrique Loedel Palumbo, who had written his doctoral thesis on the optical and electrical constants of sugar cane.  Is that, like, what color is it and can it bite you back?  According to Wikipedia, the two had a conversation about the differential equation of a point-source gravitational field, which resulted in a paper published by Loedel in Physikalische Zeitschrift.  I’m guessing that was a German scientific journal.  It’s claimed that this is the first research paper on relativity published by a Latin American scientist.  You go, Enrico!

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Enrique Loedel Palumbo, 1925

Another influential character, George Strausser Messersmith, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.  Messersmith also served as head of the U.S. Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934, during the rise of the Nazi party.  He was best known in his day for his controversial decision to issue a visa to Albert Einstein to travel to the United States.  Good move for the USA!  ICE, get a clue!

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George Strausser Messersmith

As America’s consul general in Berlin in 1933, Messersmith wrote a dispatch to the State Department that dramatically contravened the popular view that Hitler had no consensus among the German people and would not remain in power, saying,

“I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this government remains in power for another year, and it carries on in the measure in this direction, it will go far toward making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come. With few exceptions, the men who are running the government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” [Wikipedia]

We enjoyed walking about the ruins of the pool and adjacent servants’ quarters.  Guys on one side of the pool, girls on the other.  How convenient is that?  How about I swim over to your place later, baby?  Our tour guide, noting the sparse accomodations of the maids who took care of the children of rich Germans, and their proximity to the equally spare quarters of the male wait staff, gave rise to amusing speculation about how much hanky panky was going on after hours under the noses of the fat cats.

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The scariest part of the Nazi hotel tour, besides the mala onda (bad vibes – which apparently have at least an 80 year half-life), was the crowded squeeze of our tour group into a basement wine cellar full of empty wine bottles arranged into low walls on every side, kinda like the bones in the Paris Catacombs.  Spooky. 

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The last and worst part of our 60 peso tour included a wine and cheese tasting in the bodega.  A little taste was all there was.  A 3 oz. plastic cup half full of an unidentifiable anemic red wine, and a piece of cheese literally no bigger than my pinky fingertip.  No little toothpicks, no cute little umbrellas; 50 tiny cheese bits piled on a wooden board so you had to grab a morsel with your fingers, touching many other cheese bits in the process.  Yikes!  Where’s the city health inspector?  Where’s the building code inspector?  AWOL and for good reason.

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After waiting 20 minutes in line for the formidable aperitif, we had to do a U-turn and leave the way we entered.  There was only one staircase, and it was barely wide enough for 2.  If there had been a fire or an earthquake, we would all have been buried under that low-ceilinged hell hole, like so many cans of bait.  No wonder the municipality of La Falda washed its hands of the hotel, and left its care and upkeep in the hands of a park concession business: imagine Curry Village in Yosemite turned into a FEMA shelter. 

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We couldn’t wait to get the hell out of La Falda.  Others seem to like it just fine… dozens of cafés and food joints lined the road up to Hotel Eden, and they were all jumping.  We grabbed a parking spot, walked into a place across the street, found a quiet booth in the back, and zoned out.  We took our sweet time consuming a plate of fries and cool drinks, basking in the A/C.  (It was a hot day in La Falda.)  When we finally made our way back to the rental car, we found a small dent in the front fender.  Did some lurking evil spirit follow us back from the Nazi Hotel?  

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One of the young guys who works at the hotel spotted us trying to pop out the dent in the parking lot when we returned that evening.  The next morning he brought over a dent restoration specialist friend.  They restored the fender to near perfection in about 5 minutes… and didn’t charge us anything.  Another star for the Palace Hotel!

On Córdoba Day 3 our first stop was El Cajón Reservoir, just a few kms north of La Cumbre.  We spotted a dirt road leading towards the river that spills out of the reservoir to the south.  We rattled along that first dirt road and finally got to the creek, but there was no place to park except sand dunes, and only one sketchy turnaround.  Later we realized we could have just parked in the road and waded across the river.  No problem blocking traffic at a dead end.

But I was a little shook up from all the big potholes and treacherous sandy spots.  So we headed back to the highway and took our best shot at the next dirt road.  Bingo!  It seemed like a long ways and practically all washboard, but finally we found the river crossing.  I parked on the other side, pointed in the return direction.  I always like to be ready to get the hell outta Dodge; must be all those 007 movies I grew up watching.

Río Dolores diquecito El Cajón

We were delighted to find ourselves in a nearly empty riverside retreat with a few acres of natural lawn sloping gently down to the water.  Families and kids were up and at it, splashing around in the water, and a couple of barbecues were already in high gear, making us hungry.   As we walked upstream I was blown away by the number and size of my namesake trees along the river.  Do you remember Kenneth Grahame’s famous children’s book, The Wind the the Willows?  Almost all the characters are animals.: Ratty, Mr. Badger, Mole, Otter, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, and a “mixed lot” of rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stouts.  Nice to catch a glimpse into the willowy land of make-believe.

“Please, Ratty, I want to row!”

 

grandma willow

There was a little snack shack where we bought sodas and choripan.  If you’ve never had a choripan I feel really sorry for you.  Think Ray’s Own Brand Pork Sausage from San Luis Obispo, hot and juicy in a french roll with a little salsa criolla on top.  Extreme yumminess.  Actually they weren’t the best choripanes ever.   That honor goes to the first one I ever tried, at an authentic gaucho asado in the middle of a day-long ride in Bariloche, in 2012.

Santos and I sat in the shade of a willow to eat our choripanes.  Then we strolled upriver aways to get our bearings.  We didn’t go in the water, cause we hadn’t brought towels or swim clothes, but we lounged contentedly in the sun, like a couple of cats.

Rio Dolores choripan shack

We eventually hit the road, cause we had a number of places we wanted to check out.  We stopped in Los Cocos.  It was perhaps once a quaint town but shows every sign of death by tourist trinket shop overdose.  They have a pretty park that you have to pay to go in.  It looked nice from the sidewalk, but we didn’t take the bait.  You can also pay for a ski lift ride (el teleférico) that hauls you up and down the mountain.  Instead we stopped for coffee in a quiet café that had a shady deck and a resident feline.  That was the best of Los Cocos. 

We continued north to Uritorco, a peak known for its healing energies, complete with a creek for swimming.  It’s all private land so you have to pay for the privilege of river access.  We paid the man, parked, and walked along the river a ways.  There were lots of people camped there.  We wanted to hike to the top, only about a half hour hike, but turns out it cost extra!  We hit the road again.  

I guess I’m used to the immense free, or nearly free, state, county and national parks we have in the U.S.  The concept of private land on mountain tops seems odd.  But we had ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and Aldo Leopold.  They set the standard for all time. 

Rio Quilpo, San Marcos Sierra

Santos and I headed north again, this time to that quintessential hipster paradise and land of enchantment, San Marcos Sierra.  A little ways off the beaten track, but not too hard to find.  The roads of San Marcos Sierra are unpaved, but there is wifi, and I hear they’re putting in their first stoplight.

Like most colonial towns San Marcos Sierra is built around a big square.  There’s lots of tall trees and a few patches of grass… some of it cannabis, judging from the lingering scent about town.  San Marcos Sierra really is a hippie magnet.  The local economy depends on apiculture (bees and honey), olives, goat cheese, and tourism.  You can rent a room, a tent, a sleeping bag.  The beach along Rio Quilpo is a big draw.  We saw hippie grandmas herding their grandkids to the beach and back.  Reminds me of California beaches in the sixties and seventies, minus the sand.  

Río Quilpo swimming hole

We had coffee and medialunas at a cute place in the shade across from the church.  I read that the local environment is pure and unspoiled.  They probably have a town ordinance prohibiting pesticides.  That explains the clouds of flies buzzing around everywhere.  Nice idea but things can get out of hand in that tropical heat.  We were under constant attack from the buzzing little black nano-drones.   I always used fly spray on my horses – maybe that’s why my brain has more than a few crossed wires.  

The Río Quilpo is crystal clear.

I guess the town looked a lot different 400 years ago.  Amazing that this beautiful colonial church survived. 

San Marcos Sierra church

 

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We walked to the river and found a few rocks to sit on.  Santos sat in the shade with his back against the riverbank, and I found a quiet spot below where I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, reading.   There were whole families camping in tents above the riverbank, kids playing in the water.

reading Middlemarch by George Eliot

I had a lovely time reading by the river for a couple of hours, with my toes in the water.  That alone was worth the journey.  I’m not sure what Santos was up to, but it turns out he took a few surrepticious photos.  Friends wanted to know what huge book I was reading.  Middlemarch, by George Eliot (an English woman writer), published in the 1870s.  I was reading it cause I heard it’s considered the greatest novel in the English language.  But no, not my cup of tea.  I found it monotonous and depressing, like a Downton Abbey episode that keeps repeating.  Nowhere near as good as the novels of Jane Austen.  If you’re into 18th century British women’s literature, I did enjoy this good critical comparison of both novelists: “Without Austen, No Eliot,”  Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker,  Jan. 28, 2013. 

Later we walked into a few shops looking for algarrobo flour for Santos’ homemade bread.  They grind the algarrobo pods into a delicious dark brown flour.  In San Marcos Sierra we parked the car, walked around town, splashed in the river and no one charged us anything.  Way to go!  Santos wanted to try the locally brewed beer, but the pub was closed for mid-day siesta.  Wow.  This town is nothing if not laid-back.  We had to be satisfied with a photo of the Quilpo microbus, and a glimpse into the Hippie Museum.  

Museo Hippie  …  Peace and Love!

We got a bit lost heading back to La Cumbre that evening.  Blame it on all that lovely sunshine making algarrobo guacamole of our brains.

On Day 4 we spent a couple of hours swimming and lounging around by the pool.  Later on we went for a 10K ride.  Late afternoon drifted into sundown as we climbed up the high ridges.  For the first hour or so we followed twisting dirt roads wide enough for vehicles.  We forded a lot of creeks.  Our horses were amazing.  They had one speed, and it was non-stop.  They never slowed down unless asked.  Higher up we forded stony streambeds and clambered up rocky, slippery trails; those criollo horses never missed a beat.  Best trail horses I’ve ever rode, and I’ve been riding since I was a wee one!  Santos, who grew up playing hooky in the dirt streets of the barrio, had no riding experience whatsoever.  But after the first half hour he was sitting his horse really well.  A natural, that guy.  Santos is the Man. 

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our horses Zamba & Gurí

We rode past ranches, a polo field, and 3 or 4 drop-dead gorgeous homes straight out of the magazines.  We were met with plenty of attention by 3- and 4-packs of dogs.  The horses were unfazed. 

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

Our trusty guide, Pedro, had the keys to multiple gates crossing private ranches, enabling us to continue ever onward and upward.  Climbing the last few switchbacks up to a trail along the ridge, I spotted a faint crescent of moon topping a far ridge.  The rising full moon gleamed incandescently.  The moon’s powerful presence hijacked me to another realm of consciousness, where I remembered just how small and insignificant we humans are in the grand scheme of things.   I felt as if I was light years away from civilization.  A magical moment, indeed.

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The moon lit our way as we rode along the hills and ridges above La Cumbre.  By the time our horses began to pick their way back down the rocky paths it was getting late.  The meandering trails turned into broad, well-travelled dirt roads leading to town.  We walked back to our hotel, dog-tired.  We celebrated the great ride and moon viewing with shots of Tequila.  We rested and showered and went out for midnight pizza at Rhapsody, a hoppin’ joint just across the street from the Hotel Palace.  The sidewalk tables were all full but for one… the one that was waiting for us.  We shared a Rhapsody specialty, pizza al fuego… with their special spicy jalapeño sauce.  Así nos gusta!

Córdoba Day 5:   Cuesta Blanca

The four of us renewed our mountain climbing skills the very next day.  It was a long drive… almost 2 hours.   A typical LA commute, right?  We had to pass through the city of Carlos Paz, which we didn’t like much.  We had already driven about an hour south towards Córdoba, and we needed a coffee break.  We found a place to park, close to where I took this photo.  Then we hoofed it 4 or 5 blocks to the main drag where we claimed a couple of tables at a sidewalk café.  The good thing was we had a spot in the shade, and the waiter didn’t waste any time bringing our café con leche, jarrito, lágrima, café solo, cortado, etc.  Argentine coffeespeak: it’s another language.  But Carlos Paz was hypercrowded, noisy, full of traffic fumes and annoying trucks blasting promotions from loudspeakers.  El infierno. 

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

We drove out of that hell hole all the way to Cuesta Blanca, the Hippie Beach or La Isla Hippie, as some call it.  There are only two ways in. 

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First you have to drive up a steep, twisty, dusty dirt road for a few miles, till the road drops back down to a spot near the river.  You hike to the dam, then uphill to the top of the dam – 5 minutes –  where a guy paddles you upriver in his canoe to the beach landing.  

Some folks don’t bother hiking in; they just splash around below the dam.

The second way in (or out) is a 40 minute hike up and over a steep hill; a snaky, rocky trail full of brush and boulders.  We took the canoe.  I love the slow, steady drifting along, riding the water.  Easier than swimming and you can bring all your gear. 

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a glimpse of Cuesta Blanca from the top of the dam

 Check out these horses!  How beautiful is that?

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Cuesta Blanca is an idyllic, laid back, no rules but respect others and pack out your trash kinda place. If you need to use the restroom you have to take a hike, ’cause this site is privately owned and wonderfully unspoiled.  We swam, sunned, kicked back in the shade, lunched on salame and bread and cheese and drank vino tinto.  A really cool place, and not in the guidebooks.  It was las Gabys who knew how to get there.

Santos took this awesome shot

Playa Hippie from the other side, upstream

When you get to the top you’re rewarded with a view of the whole scene.  Quite a few people bring tents and kids and stay for days.

We paid 50 pesos apiece for the canoe ride, and returned via free climb, as you can tell in the above photo because the sun was setting when we left.  None of us had thought to bring a flashlight… hey!  We’re on vacation!  We don’t need no stinkin’ flashlights!! 

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca; 4-legged guardian on watch duty

The light was fading as we hiked out, and we had to backtrack several times to find the trail.  But we made it back to La Cumbre just fine, later that evening.  The four of us went out for beer and empanadas, and I had my fruit smoothie.  We had to put up with a karaoke bar on the sidewalk at the café next to our café, where we listened with amusement to the assorted bunch of nut cases who thought they could sing.  That put us in an entertaining mood, and las Gabys wanted to take us to their new favorite bar around the corner from the Palace, la Biblioteca.  They had been in there a few days before and the bartender had refused to make them Daquiris.  “No es para vosotras, señoritas,” he told them, “Es un trago muy macho.”  (“It’s not for you, ladies,” he told them, “It’s a very macho drink.”)  We decided to head over to la Biblioteca and show them how girls can throw down tequila shots.  Mission accomplished.  Delicious with a good kick in the ass!

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Our last two nights in Córdoba we stayed in the capital, right in the historic district.  We ate out at nice cafés and restaurants and walked all over town.  I used to dread getting lost in strange cities, but I’m beginning to realize it can be a fine and passionate experience of the here and now.  And if I have someone to keep me company I don’t end up in a panic with tears running down my cheeks.

dancing la Zamba in Plaza San Martín

 

Over and out from Córdoba, Argentina

Two Uruguays

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Lately I’ve been reading too much news, and none of it is encouraging.  The loud little voice inside my head wants to scramble off the map and hide out somewhere for a couple of milennia.  A few Portuguese on the other side of the Río de la Plata found their patch of paradise back in 1680, on a beautiful little spit of sand surrounded by water.  Manuel Lobo, founder of the colony, should be recognized as the inventor of modern soccer because he and the Spanish kept kicking ownership of la Colonia del Sacramento back and forth until 1828, with Brazil and Spain coaching.

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Full steam ahead to the 21st century.  Colonia became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thus attained tourist trap status, but managed to maintain its sweet and idyllic vibe, keeping the plastic and trashy side of commercialism at bay.

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The polka dot place serves free art with every meal, and plenty of locally crafted cerveza.  A chopp [pronounced like the o in slope] is a draft beer; a choperia is a pub.

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In Colonia you can fish or picnic under a ceibo,

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or grab a cold one at the Casa Grande.

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There’s an ancient stone lighthouse (el faro) that you can climb up for the panoramic view,

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and cool vistas to the south, looking across the river towards Buenos Aires.

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The Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento was built by the Portuguese in 1808.

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I think it’s pretty cool.  Like the fountain, too.

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Colonia’s massive portals and high stone walls hide secrets and forgotten stories; maybe even pirate treasure!

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Felix Luna, Argentine historian and writer, lived here.  Santos really likes his books.

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We stayed at the Posada Don Antonio, which has a lovely breakfast room and a beautiful patio and pool.

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From there it’s a two minute walk to a quiet abandoned cala (cove),

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and just past it, a block or two from the water’s edge, you pass the old map of Colonia, embedded in a wall.

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The dock, on the sheltered side of the peninsula, was warm and sunny the day we visited.

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We had a snack at the polka dot place, in the shade of an ancient sycamore.

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Fast track to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Montevideo has an historic district, la ciudad vieja, and parts of it are worth seeing.

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We took a tour of the neoclassical Teatro Solis, built in 1856.  Beautiful inside and out!  It belongs to the city now, and they have done much to repair and restore it. The list of world renowned singers, dancers and musicians who lit up the stage there is absolutely mind-blowing:  Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Arturo Toscanini, Ana Pavlova, Margarita Xirgu (actress and friend of Federico Gárcia Lorca), Rudolf Nureyev, Josephine Baker, actresses Lola Membrives and Eleonora Duse, dancers Isadora Duncan and Tórtola Valencia, Astor Piazzolla, and Italian actor and director Vittorio Gassman.

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There’s a couple of French style Baccarat crystal chandeliers inside which even I, lover of funky ranch and mission style, was drooling over.

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While the Big Baccarat might feel quite at home in the new winter white house (if it could stand the company) it would be be seriously slumming in my dream fixer-upper:

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Oops! Did I unconsciously lapse into an alternative reality?  I didn’t see that comin’… did you?

The tall white building in the background, across the plaza from the old customs house, is home to the mercado del puerto … where you can buy fruits and veggies, beef and freshly caught fish, and all the other stuff you’d rather not buy at the supermarket.  We did go to the supermarket a couple of times, and it was a nightmare. It was small, super jammed (the aisles were narrower than the legroom in economy class) and an altogether unpleasant experience.

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The old customs house is still beautiful:

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Back of the old customs house is the river, where a couple of pitiful boats were tied up. We went for a sunset happy hour cruise, live tropical music on deck.  I was hoping for a cocktail to go with the tropical beat, like a Mojito or a Daiquiri, but to my dismay they only serve beer and soft drinks.  I guess they don’t want customers drinking, dancing and falling overboard.  So who’s gonna feed the fish?

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The bronze horseman in Plaza Zabala is Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, founder of the city, who no doubt wrested the land single-handed from a bunch of native fishermen who were tragically underinformed vis-a-vis the use of explosive powders in modern colonial warfare.

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We heard rumors of a milonga at a place called La Pérez, and we found it, but there hadn’t been a milonga there for a really long time. However, checking the local milonga listings, La Perez is still happening, but at a place called Lo de Maria, on a different night.

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Undaunted, though it was Sunday, we did find a milonga: Joventango, at Mercado de la Abundancia.  Calle Aquiles Lanza 1290 esq San Jose.  9:30 pm – 2 am.

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The developed part of Montevideo, aka the banking district, rumored to be the Latin American version of a money laundering automat, like the Caymans, contrasts starkly with years of mismanaged and stalemated development.  Oops!  I forgot that’s called progress.

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Reminds me of Texas: saving unborn lives is a top priority, or so they say; but once those babies are born, hells’ bells kid, you’re on your own!  No guarantee of education, housing or healthcare or jobs… but you can carry a gun.  Here in Montevideo the ubiquitous A/C units look like a blight of tin boxes on the facades of almost every building.  When was the last time you bought a new car that didn’t come with air conditioning?

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Thankfully the local stevedores still have a labor union. The average daily pay is better than the minimum wage in Mexico.  Impressed?

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If you think President Ban/Trump is going to support the higher minimum wages the AFL-CIO or AFW will be asking for when they build all those new auto factories they’ve promised in Michigan, guess again. Maybe they’ll be relocated to Uruguay, now that Mexico won’t have us. ¡Pobre México, tan lejos de Díos, tan cerquita a los Estados Unidos! (Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.)

The “historic district” of Montevideo is block after block of hopelessly rundown and deteriorating buildings. Such a shame.

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Rumor has it that when the government expropriated most of the properties in la ciudad vieja, it was given to the military generals, who kept it but didn’t keep it up. Here you see the results. This story was told to us by someone who’s family has been living in the same house continuously for over 100 years.  And now I’ve probably said too much.

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Note the sign: no free parking on this street.  Gracias, mi general.

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This building’s classical beauty begs for restoration.  Somebody fix me up, please!

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Despite all the issues facing the people of Montevideo, they still have a collective sense of place:  I Love my Neighborhood!

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The upshot: of the two Uruguays, Colonia gets my vote.  The worst day in Colonia beats the best day in Montevideo.  Sorry, Montevideo!

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Happy to be back home in Buenos Aires

Stay tuned:  your travel guide to the beautiful province of Córdoba coming soon!

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Buenos Aires Between the Lines

At a gathering of Polacos and Porteños I was informed by a Polish writer that if I’m not sufficiently self-disciplined to crank out a daily blog post, like a serious writer, perhaps I should write novels.  I could follow my own rhythms without having to consider the reader’s expectations… hmmm… I guess I always had it backwards.  Aren’t novelists the serious writers?  Bloggers are another breed, a different species, a lower life form… qué no?

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maybe I could upgrade to graffiti artist?

I seem to spend most of my waking hours as if dancing tango was my profession.  Maybe addiction is the better word.  Everything else revolves around prepping for or recovering from my addiction.  Luckily, unlike other addictions, my “job” doesn’t involve robbery, hacking or hijacking to support my habit.  Add a boyfriend into the mix and there goes the hours that I, a “serious” writer with a “serious” Ph.D. (in literature, what else?) should be dedicating to my craft.

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Honk if you’re a Hippie!

Hanging out in cafés is another one of my addictions.  I like to walk around the city, tune into the vibe, see who’s been scribbling on the walls.  On a good day I can get some writing in, when I’m not busy radiocarbon dating adorable street artifacts:

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“AUTO BEING REPAIRED”

jaja very funny! Being repaired by little elves who work after midnight? And unfortunately all the fixes are magically erased when the sun comes up? Doesn’t sound like the works of elves to me… I think they’re Trolls!

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’63 Fiat?

A friend and I saw a guy at a café in my old neighborhood, across from el Palacio de los Patos, which I still frequent like a well-trained pet.  We were all sitting together, us girls on the inside and the guy with a dog at a table outside, only a wall of glass between us.  We watched him let his pint-sized dog sit on his lap and put its paws on the table. The dog had a little sweater on. The guy let the miniscule and misbegotten opportunist have the first bite of his medialuna. I think my jaw dropped, and not from hunger!  After that I had to quit looking.

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Wow… I draw the line at spoiling pets.  I don’t get how people can care more about their pets than the little kids going hungry or worse every day in less privileged parts of the world… or their own neighborhood.  Sorry to be so brutally frank, but… whatever happened to humanity?  What about the Golden Rule?  Treat others as you would be treated.  Love Thy Neighbor.  Corollary No. 1: Treat animals like animals; with love, respect, kindness, and well-maintained boundaries.  Eg: Trust in God and tie your camel.  Corollary No. 2: Back when we still lived in the caves, you didn’t let animals dominate you, or pretty soon they’d be having your liver for lunch.  Corollary No. 2 also applies to apocalyptic combovers.

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Back in the day great leaders UNITED people, not divided them

Segue to today’s geography Fact.  Please note: this is not a slippery political Fact. Nor is it a Wikipedia Fact, or even a Donald Trump Factette. (Or is that a Factoon?) This is a true Factazo… and you heard it here first: the one and only true Mecca of Tango exists in the city of Buenos Aires, that awesome and amazing metropolis 6,000 miles S.E. of San Luis Obispo, California.

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Buenos Aires’ quality of life is ranked 81st in the world, which ain’t bad. That makes it one of the best places to live in Latin America, with its per capita income among the three highest in the region. [Wikipedia, 2012]  Buenos Aires is the MOST visited city in South America (ahead of Rio de Janeiro) and the 3rd most visited city in Latin America, after Mexico City and Los Angeles.  (Yeah, you heard that right. LA has been a Latin American city since its inception.) About 13 million people live here in the greater metropolitan Buenos Aires.

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Buenos Aires defines itself as a multicultural city, being home to multiple ethnic and religious groups.  Several languages are spoken in the city in addition to Spanish.  This is because in the last 150 years the city, and the country in general, has been a major recipient of millions of immigrants from all over the world, making it a melting pot where multiple ethnic groups live together.  Buenos Aires is considered one of the most diverse cities in Latin America. [Wikipedia]

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Many Argentines are of Italian descent; the rest are Spanish, with a spattering of other nationalities, like the spots on an Appaloosa.  Many are criollos, persons of mixed Euro and indigenous blood, born in South America.  That’s why Argentines are so handsome, so beautiful.  It’s all about the mix!

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One of my favorite places to dance in Buenos Aires is Salón Canning… one of the most famous tango clubs in the world.  Not everybody loves it, some people think it’s stuck up and cliquey, and they’re right, too.  But the most fabulous dancers in the world go there to dance, to drink, to hang out with friends, to meet interesting foreigners and celebrate special occasions.  It’s THE place to see and be seen in Buenos Aires.

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Amen to that!

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Orquesta Típica el Pichuco at Salón Canning a couple of weeks ago

In case you’ve already forgotten your geography lesson, you’re not alone.  A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span has fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. “We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.” [The Eight-Second Attention Span, Timothy Egan, NYTimes, Jan. 22, 2016]  If they did a survey of presidential candidates that number would shrink by at least half. 

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Buenos Aires is about 6,000 miles southeast of San Luis Obispo, California.  But in energetic terms, like, cosmic vibrations, Buenos Aires, in fact all of Argentina, might as well be in an alternate reality.  Land of warm and friendly people, beautiful people, trees with big purple flowers (Jacarandá), trees with spiky trunks and pods of cotton popping out (Palo Borracho), plenty of rain all year round.  Land of vast prairies, unspoiled mountains, and abundant natural resources. Outdoor types come here for some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers and backcounty in the world… blue skies, good vibes, asados (BBQ) and Trout Fishing in America. 

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Lago Nahuel Huapi

The hypotheses of prominent scientific types submit that the cosmic Tango Zone is most commonly found in these latitudes, late at night, while staring into a big glass tube full of smoke and mirrors.  Some people in white jackets call it a telescope.  I call it a wine glass — or champagne if it holds lots of tiny bubbles — into which one can stumble … metaphysically if not literally … into dozens of milongas featuring live music every night of the week.  One of my favorites is El Tacuarí, a funky offbeat tango salón in a gritty, rundown, unpretentious barrio called San Telmo.

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Tacuarí 1557, San Telmo

Compared to Salón Canning, el Tacuarí inhabits a whole other universe.  It’s a down home kinda place, a real milonga del barrio.  Tacuarí is part of a collaborative organization of dancers, musicians, singers, artists, tango teachers, DJs, milonga organizers.  One of their newest events is a monthly Tango orchestra jam session, where musicians gather to play for friends, family, and fellow musicians and dancers.  I was there last Friday and it was phenomenal.  Four orchestras each played a 30 minute set: an exhilarating mix of traditional tango, vals and milonga, along with Piazzolla and other contemporary tango, all performed with the exuberance of youth and nuevo flavor. 

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The Tacuarí tango zoners appear to be mostly under 30; hip, cool youngsters, lots of scrubby looking guys and beautiful young women, a few middle-aged hipster intellectuals, the usual lefty mix.  

 

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El Tacuarí was so jammed it was almost a meleé.  A few dozen people spilled out onto the sidewalk in front; a happy, high-energy vibe filled the space.  Musicians and company started arriving before 10.  Beer, wine, sodas and empanadas were consumed at an alarming rate.  More tables and chairs kept appearing from behind the very tall curtains at the back of the dance floor.  The dance floor disappeared under the crowd.

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A group of leather-jacketed Fonzie types were standing around, beers in hand, by the doorway.  (Are they here for the music, I ask?  Of course not, says a friend, they’re here for the girls!)   There’s no scarcity of men who can dance in Buenos Aires.  The odds are good, and the goods are…. dark and handsome!

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The orchestras were electrifying.  Most of the musicians appeared to be under 30.  The music was awesome, the singers were really good, all of it as intense and passionate as the porteños who create it.  The evening just kept getting better.  Young unknowns = future giants.

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Tango is the heartbeat of Buenos Aires.  Tango was born here, and it still thrives.  UNESCO calls tango a national treasure.  Tango is rich, sultry, elegant, compelling.  What can I say about it?  My understanding is infantile compared to those who have grown up with it.  Let’s just say that the more you get into it, the more you see that it’s an enormous genre of music: complex, classical, orchestral, radiant and romantic, an entire world unto itself, with a long and fascinating history.

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What brings most people to that first tango class — is it the music? or the dance?  Everyone has their own story.  The more you get involved with tango, the more addicted you become.  Tango pulls you in, like a giant magnet; you just want more and more.  A beginning dancer — a principiante – learns a vocabulary of different steps and moves which the leader (usually a guy, but not always) puts together spontaneously as you dance.  There are no set choreographies in tango.  You have to practice long enough for the moves to become embedded in your muscle memory.  After the long and awkward early learning stage (aka Tango Hell…) you begin to put the moves together fluently and expressively.  Your inner response to the music is channeled through your outward expression. 

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If you’re a female principiante, let’s assume you can accept being led, perhaps in a way that is new and maybe out of your comfort zone.  As you and your partner begin to move together, you may need to channel some of your impulsive energy into the dance floor.  This will help you to connect and surrender to your partner’s interpretation of the music.  Your energies will blend, possibly approaching harmonic convergence.  OK, I’m having a little fun here, but it’s true.  You are approaching the celestial realm of tango.  It’s called Connection.

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Of course this happens.  It’s really so elementary, so fundamental to tango.  The follower acquiesces to the leader’s interpretation of the music.  You are dancing through his lens: his eyes, his body, his feeling.  He, in turn, responds to your interpretation of his lead… the energetic response creates a completely new blend which, being spontaneous and improvisational, is always moving, shapeshifting.  It’s a merging, an intimacy that is absolutely blissful.  Two become one.  Time and space collapse around you.  You and your partner exist in a timeless bubble, alone in the universe, but not  really alone.  You’re connected in so many ways: to each other, to the other dancers, to the music, the musicians, the sound waves pulsing through every molecule in your body; your feet are connected to the floor, caressing it;  the meaning and feeling of the lyrics deepens your understanding.  At some point in time you realize you’ve arrived.  You’re there.  You’re dancing Argentine tango.  The connection is everything.

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I apologize for not remembering the names of the orchestras.  I was tired, brain dead and happy but incoherent after 3 hours of classes with Ruth and Andreas and a glass of vino tinto.  Ruth’s women’s technique class is the best ever… picture a relentless 90-minute yoga / modern dance workout, in heels.  And you get to practice all those lovely adornments you’ve been wanting to learn.

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El Tacuarí is over 100 years old; it dates from 1910.  The original tile floors, brick bovedas, walls of hormigón; all a bit old and worn out.  Steel reinforcement cross beams were added at some point.  El Tacuarí has been renovated and updated many times… we’re talking past life experiences… previous incarnations… we all know how that goes.  Some of those lives were better than others. 

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But… BIG NEWS!!  As you may know, Argentine Tango was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Tango informs a huge part of the cultural identity of Argentina and Argentines.  This year the City of Buenos Aires added El Tacuarí to the list of Tango cultural heritage sites.  This level of recognition by the city means that El Tacuarí will receive funding for restoration and preservation, as well as for modernization, including a new acoustic ceiling, improved ventilation system, and restoration of the original tile floor.

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Juan Manuel, the bearded piano player, looks like a runaway from Portland

“The music, dance and poetry of tango both embodies and encourages diversity and cultural dialogue.  It is practised in the traditional dance halls of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, spreading the spirit of its community across the globe even as it adapts to new environments and changing times.  That community today includes musicians, professional and amateur dancers, choreographers, composers, songwriters, teachers of the art and the national living treasures who embody the culture of tango.”  (unesco.org/culture)

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“The tango is one of the most significant expressions of Rio Platense culture.  During its beginnings at the end of 19th century, the tango was associated with the working-class sectors of the city of Buenos Aires and was thus rejected by the rest of society.  Only when it succeeded in Paris did it become universally accepted by the rest of the social classes. Throughout its history, it often moved from the main cultural stage to more low-profile venues.  Even then it was widely accepted because it was a musical and poetic expression which reflected the social transformations of the city, which moved from its origins on the banks of the river to the brothels, before becoming the property of the Guardia Vieja (the old guard, the generation of tango composers who worked between 1900 and 1930).  It is both a dance form and a song, and changed with the formation of tango orchestras and the development and evolution of an instrumental form.”  (atlasdebuenosaires.gov.ar

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“Each of these expressions had a social, a political, an economical and a cultural frame that shaped and explained it.  In each of these periods these expressions gave rise to spaces where they could be held or performed.  A place, a physical or geographical space, is full of a social meaning which confirms the presence and the identity of its bearers.  It is a place full of memories and affection which regulates interaction, evokes hierarchies and reminds us of those who are absent.” (Ibid)

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“Each of these places expresses a different moment in the development of tango and explains a different tradition in its use, in the construction of identities and relationships through time.  These places are historical.  They differ from each other.  They show the complex structure of the territory and of meeting points.  They express the Rio Platense identity and let others see our singularities, and they allow us to work at constructing our identity.” (Ibid)

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Raúl Bravo with Guillermina Quiroga

At El Tacuarí you can take classes with one of the greatest living tango teachers of all time. Raúl Bravo, maestro de maestros, has been teaching tango for 63 years.  Some years ago the city of Buenos Aires formally designated him a “national living treasure,” and I, along with countless others, have called him Maestro for many years.  Saturday night was Raúl’s birthday, and many tango greats danced for the crowd.  Besides Raúl’s birthday, we also celebrated the 7th anniversary of la milonga del Tacuarí.  Photos, videos, calendar of classes, milongas and shows can be seen on Raúl’s facebook page, and at El Tacuarí Tango.

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Raúl performed with Guillermina Quiroga

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Feliz Cumple, Maestro!

Gloria & Eduardo Arquimbau, Angela Ruth Manonellas & Andreas Erbsen, Nora Robles & Pedro Calveyra, Toto Faraldo, and el Pibe Sarandi are some of the other world class teachers at Tacuarí.  Classes are only 100 pesos (less than $7) for 90 minutes of the best tango instruction in the world. 

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Ruth and Andreas, owners, teachers and organizers of el Tacuarí, go off every winter to workshops and performance tours in Italy, Germany, and France.  They just returned a few weeks ago from their 2016 European tour.  Lucky them, since it’s summer in Europe when it’s cold and rainy here in Buenos Aires.  Argentine Tango teachers seem to go back and forth to Europe like you or I would go to the supermarket. The above and below photos were not taken last Saturday, but you get the idea…  they were spinning around too fast for my camera…. a stunning performance.  

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[I repeat, the above photo is NOT from last Saturday night!  [If you have video or stills from the event, please send them to me and I will update the post.  Same goes for the names of the orchestras and musicians.  I appreciate your collaboration.][Estimados amigos, si vos tenés vídeo o fotos del evento, por favor enviarmelas a mí y voy a actualizar el post. Lo mismo va para los nombres de las orquestas y músicos. Agradezco su colaboración.]

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Before closing I have sad news to report:  the death of Horacio Salgán, Argentine tango composer and pianist.  Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post wrote the obit, which I quote in part:  

“Horacio Salgán, an Argentine tango composer and pianist who helped broaden the vocabulary of his musical form and became one of the genre’s most influential and revered maestros, died Aug. 19 in Buenos Aires. He was 100. … Like his near contemporary Astor Piazzolla, Mr. Salgán cast a mesmerizing avant-garde spell on the tango that did not always enchant musical purists in his homeland.  …  Mr. Salgán helped to forge the vanguard of the “new tango” sound in the 1950s and 1960s in a way that was less about rebellion than about synthesizing his varied, somewhat un­or­tho­dox musical influences.”

“Among others, Mr. Salgán drew inspiration from the U.S. jazz shadings of Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington, classical works by Béla Bartók and Gioachino Rossini, Brazilian choros and sambas, and African percussive rhythms. The result was deemed too uncommercial for radio airplay at the start of his bandleading career during tango’s “golden age” of the 1940s.  … his best-known compositions — including “A Fuego Lento,” “Don Agustin Bardi” and “Grillito” — remain exquisite, even swooning, melodically.  In addition to writing hundreds of his own compositions, he also arranged older tango standards to suit his protean tastes.”

“Mr. Salgán, who found appreciative audiences in world capitals such as New York, Tokyo and Paris, survived the fickleness of musical tastes in his home country. By his 80s, he had outlived most of his peers and was revered in Buenos Aires as tango’s elder statesman.”

“As he shifted into composing, he called upon his grounding in the classics as well as his mulatto heritage — Catalan on his father’s side, mixed race on his mother’s. …  At 20, he played with Roberto Firpo, later with Miguel Caló.  “Ella Fitzgerald was reportedly so hypnotized that she recommended the duo to jazz impresario Norman Granz, who then produced their 1961 album ‘Buenos Aires at 3 a.m.’”

Here Bernstein quotes Salgán from Yale art historian Robert Farris Thompson’s book Tango: The Art History of Love:  

“Training in Western symphonic music opened up a whole world of harmony, orchestration and pianistic execution….  But there’s also a black dimension to my music. It’s not casual, nor flagrant, but part of my origin . . . my style and my truth.”… “There are many people who come to tango or to other music genres with the idea of innovation.  I came to tango neither to save it, nor for anything of the kind,” Mr. Salgán once told the Club de Tango magazine. “I, among other things, play all the genres — classical, jazz, etc. — but … have a respect almost religious towards music itself, because music is a bridge towards God. . . . What turned out came because I spontaneously so felt it.”

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Adios, Maestro!

 That’s all for now, folks.  Thanks for tuning in.  I always appreciate your thoughts and comments. 

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That’s me with Santos and Raúl.   Ciao from Buenos Aires!

 

Death on Pasaje Bollini

The other day I saw a dead man in the street.

El muerto 4

He had a book in his hand, and it wasn’t Alice in Wonderland. As I approached, I saw someone walking over to the body. Was he an innocent bystander?  A first responder?  An investigator?

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Maybe the man in the white trousers was a cold-blooded killer.  I sidestepped around the crime scene, hoping to pass for an innocent streetwalker. But I couldn’t avoid staring at the weird green light emanating from the cobblestones.

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The green light moved. White trousers was holding the light.  What did it all mean?

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Nice looking corpse. Was he really dead, or just playing possum?

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A dark narrow hallway appeared; I slipped inside the café. A crowd had gathered at the crime scene; no one seemed to notice me. La Dama was empty. The bartender was gone, or maybe he was just in the back room. Dark cafés always have back rooms. The only thing moving inside was a curious feline who studied the scene from behind the shutters.

La Dama gato 2*

It looked like a scene out of that hard-boiled genre from the 1930s… they called them detective stories… like Farewell My Lovely, or Spanish Blood, by Raymond Chandler. 

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Chandler’s short stories have never been equalled, but Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) came pretty darn close.  San Francisco, Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s… the days of police corruption, Prohibition, bootleggers, narcotics-smuggling, red light districts, big beautiful cars with running boards. Mean streets. Gangster heaven.

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Raymond Chandler

A gorgeous blonde drifted in and sat down at my table. A young kid with a striped apron appeared out of nowhere to take our order. The girl ordered vino tinto; I asked for a coke. I wondered if she knew what was happening. If she did, she wasn’t talking.

Valerie1*Some more girls showed up and so did the band. Pretty soon the joint was rockin’ to a bluesy kinda sound and the owner – the infamous Dama de Bollini herself – bought us all another round and passed out party favors.

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Meanwhile, out on the street, Mad Max pulled up in a rundown bucket of bolts that Sam Mendes could have used on the set.

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Parking is verboten on Pasaje Bollini but… who’s gonna tell him?

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He was thirsty and looking for a cold beer… turns out he wasn’t dead in the street after all; just taking a break till the film crew called it a wrap.

Tom Hardy

Mad Max snagged the blonde. After a couple of beers he was ready for tango lessons… that’s what they all say, right?

La Dama 1

Over and Out from Buenos Aires!

The Horse – Tango Connection

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A lifetime’s experience riding horses has trained my body well. I know how to move in harmony with another being, glued body to body. Of course it’s my body that knows how to balance on top of a thousand pounds of unpredictable animal, not my conscious mind. Speed up, slow down, stop, spin 180° for no reason, launch like a rocket, no warning, no plan, just pure visceral animal awareness and response. The pure here and now of just being, responding to environmental cues…  did a teeny tiny leaf blow across the trail?  Did a deer just run out from behind that stand of trees? All of a sudden you’re traveling full speed ahead and sideways at the same time!  How can you move like that, friend? And where are we going in a blind panic? Who or what are we running from now? Off we go again! Whoa!

Oops!

bye bye to one of my 9 lives!

I’ve been bucked off or otherwise sent via air mail a hundred times at least. Believe me, you learn to pick a convenient bush and bail…  just roll yourself into a ball. You learn to avoid obstacles. A branch suddenly appears in front of your face… did your horse just drift aimlessly under a tree? You were so relaxed, so OBLIVIOUS that you never saw it coming.  Human error, not animal attitude. Or maybe the whole kit and caboodle tripped on a log and you all went down and you have, if you’re lucky, 5 seconds to get your foot out of that stirrup hanging in the air above you before your horse gets back up… unless being dragged to death is your idea of an exciting final exit. The universe sometimes give us choices.

o vas al hospital o volves a subir!

o vas al hospital o vuelves a subir!

Okay, shake it off, relax, check yourself for cuts and scrapes. Not bleeding? Excellent. After all, you’re out on the trail somewhere and there’s nobody around to come to your rescue and there’s no cell phone connection out back of beyond. You may not be in the middle of nowhere, but you can see plenty of it once you top that next hill.

taking a break - tomando un descanso

taking a break – no cell phone needed

Count to 10… climb back on your horse, if it hasn’t run off. Hopefully your reins aren’t busted. (That’s why we have long saddle strings.) Back to the Here and Now. All beings present and accounted for? Are we in our happy place again? Good. Riding horses is a very Zen experience. Almost as good as dancing tango. Produces endorphins… and the occasional adrenalin rush.

that's me on Stormy... I bred, raised and trained her myself. 100% quarter horse.

that’s me on Stormy in 2013… I bred, raised and trained her myself. 100% quarter horse.

Carlos Gardel was very fond of horses, especially racehorses. Of course, he had better luck with women than running the ponies. (“Por una cabeza…”) Here he is with his good friend, jockey Ireneo Leguisamo, el Mono (monkey). Like cowboys in the Wild West, Argentine gauchos rode their horses everywhere. To be seen on foot was a cruel disgrace.

Gardel y Leguisamo

Riding is really all about harmony and synchronicity, even when you’re negotiating with the darn animal to go the way YOU want to go. Dancing tango is a negotiation, too. A constant shifting and adapting to your partner. You’re always seeking consensus, looking for that sweet spot where you and your partner and the music coalesce into an energetic entity moving effortlessly across the dance floor. I guess this is why my favorite milongueros tell me they love my strong and confident embrace. Following the lead of a dancer moving fluidly on his axis is a piece of cake compared to riding a horse… no flight or fight response needed. Just make sure you’ve had your shots… antibiotics, anti-venom, anti-seduction meds. And a shot or two of your favorite snake bite medicine.

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my favorite condiments

Dancing tango shouldn’t be like trying to move a fridge on wheels. You should feel weightless, free-floating on your own axis. Our bodies naturally seek the merging, the symbiosis, the surrender. Not only that, but just touching another living being can be, should be, is, energizing and electrifying. That’s why we humans love our pets, be they large or small. Don’t we live for that energizing touch? That movement in harmony?  Isn’t that what dance is all about? Isn’t that what it means to be human? 

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A milonguero friend and I had an interesting talk about tango and energy, the connection. I can’t reproduce his exact words – we weren’t speaking English – but we were on the same page. The feelings, the sensuality, the energetic impulses received and transmitted… sometimes even jealousy and wanting to “possess” the other. 

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Another Porteño friend of mine says that the only way for a tango dancer to live with a jealous partner is that some evenings they go separately to different milongas, and other nights they go to milongas together, sit together, and dance with each other exclusively. It has also been suggested that, to avoid the problem entirely, a milonguera should not fall in love with another tango dancer, but with a non dancer who is okay with her going out dancing the nights he gets together with friends to watch soccer matches. They say tango always triumphs, in the end. It’s more powerful than us pathetic humans. My friend Marcela says you don’t call tango, it calls you… and you can’t disconnect, ’cause you’re already programmed, i.e., addicted.

MARCEL DANCE

MARCEL DANCE: LIVE, LOVE, DANCE

Well, one might argue that relationships tend to evolve into codependencies as well, as we sort out shared responsibilities and obligations. Mutual trust and complicity have always been needed to carry on the daily logistics of survival, since the beginning of time. You might call it the matriarchal paradigm, built upon caretaking, trust and sharing of resources.

Unci = grandmother

Unci = grandmother

The other logistical option is the master/slave relationship, the patriarchal option: a paradigm built on fear, greed and domination.

I'm the head bitch, bitch!

I’m the head bitch, bitch!

Two very different survival strategies.  Obviously we have created both modalities, and neither is going away any time soon. But the Tango paradigm is yin-yang, it’s BOTH masculine and feminine. It’s a constant, dynamic negotiation between two people, always giving and receiving; it’s a fluid, creative, energetic interaction.

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Tango begins with an emotional response to music, followed by an invitation to movement. You might call it a kinesthetic free play zone with an established vocabulary of movements which become instinctive over time. The mind lets go of conscious control, and the movements, embedded at the molecular level, become effortless. Here in the mecca of Tango people don’t talk while they dance… why would you?  The magical collaborative creativity and sensuality of the dance can only take shape when you allow your mind to be still, to take a break, to CHILL!

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At milongas there are multiple LEVELS of CONNECTION going on. Don’t worry, this is not rocket science. First and foremost is your OWN BODY connection, YOU to YOU. I mean, you’ve got to be energetically connected muscle to bone to sinew to tendon to brain, heart and mind… from the top of your head down to your little toes. Think of a dancer warming up, or a good workout; you’re flexing and unflexing every muscle, then stretching it all out and releasing every bit of tension. Feel your blood circulating. Feel your breath going in and out. Feel yourself pulling up, extending, elongating, that string pulling up from the top of your head, you silly puppet!  Feel your spine loosening up as you breathe into your bones. Don’t ask me what that means!  Just do it!  Feel it!  Walk tall!  Get you some Attitude!

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When you walk onto the dance floor, you OWN that floor. You are fully present. That’s YOU connected to your own body and energy field. And believe me, your positive flowing and glowing energy is about 90% of your attraction to potential dance partners. Second, you are connected to the floor. Your feet caress the floor. You seduce the floor as you walk, turn, glide, pivot, sweep. You slice the energy field around you with a precise lápiz, a quick tap, a slow and sensuous boleo on the floor. Your connection to the dance floor is a private love affair all in itself!

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You come to know the dance floors in Buenos Aires through your feet. Your feet have memorized the feel of each floor, and it’s peculiarities… the little dips, sinkholes, cracks, missing pieces of wood or tile, the places that snag your heel (we don’t like those), the delight of a well-polished floor. Even with your eyes closed, you know where you are in the room, just from the floor. And if you and your partner are dancing well, they say you’re “sacándole viruta al piso.”  That is to say, dancing with passion, energy and skill, awakening the admiration of onlookers.

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In Buenos Aires a good connection is called la entrega, the surrender. The man feels the woman surrender her energy to him through her chest, and he responds likewise, surrendering to her, pressing his chest to hers, both accommodating each other to the rhythm of the music. The exchange of endorphins and other pheromones in the blend takes place at a molecular level, through skin contact, sweat & etc. Scientists are still learning about all those chemical responses. But we know well how powerfully they act upon us. When you encounter someone who dances with a rhythm, a vibe, an energy that is similar to or blends well with your own, it’s like falling in love. You go crazy, your common sense goes out the window, you just want to continue to dancing for hours glued to that other body which pleasures your senses so deeply. A connection that powerful doesn’t happen every day. 

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And it’s not just the chemical cocktail… it’s the energetic connection. The energy flowing, swirling in between and spiraling around two bodies in close embrace. When you feel the lead all the way down to the tips of your toes, that’s a really good energetic connection! Can it be tracked on one of those machines with the needle scratching in time to the beat of your heart? Like the ones that track earthquakes or a lie detector? Is that like your heartbeat? or your pulse? or does it detect some other energy flow? Like, are you tuning into the energy of the earth’s vibration… and isn’t the earth in tune with the other planets, the sun, the moon, the stars, our entire universe? I’ll leave that answer to the NASA crew circumnavigating out there somewhere in the starry darkness.

El Indio

El Indio

But it is true, when you’re really connected on all these levels, that you seem to be able to keep on dancing long after you should have collapsed on the dance floor. How does your body manage? Is it adrenaline that keeps you going? I don’t think so. I think it has to do with all the levels of connection that give your body an impulsion, like the vibration of a violin or guitar string, which resonates in time and space with an energy that builds upon itself and keeps on expanding, keeping you in resonance with your partner and the music. Just ask Einstein.  And who’s to say we’re not tuning into some even grander celestial vibration? (Let’s tweet Papa Francisco and see what HE thinks…) I think it’s the inexplicable power of music, especially live music.

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“Tango is passion; you have to feel it. It’s impossible to define with words.”

Orquesta Típica el Pichuco

Orquesta Típica el Pichuco at Canning last week

I think I’ve explained, in my own perfectly imperfect way, the connection to the music. But what about the DJ and the musicians? What part do they play? It’s the DJ and the musicians who keep their finger on the pulse of the milonga. They know when to speed things up or slow it down. They have an exquisitely developed perception of the energy of the dancers and the atmosphere of the room. If it seems like a lot of people are sitting down, he or she will play a tanda that brings everybody out onto the dance floor. A good DJ creates his or her own tandas, and knows the music so well that they can make changes on the fly to suit the mood of the dancers and the evening. Live tango orchestras respond to the dancers also, of course, and vice versa. Each feeds the other. It’s that yin – yang again. 

Los Herederos del Compás

Los Herederos del Compás at el Beso

Dancers are also connected to the other couples in the ronda… and believe me, it can get gnarly out there. There is a great and wonderful and sometimes annoying difference in levels of dance ability, levels of awareness, levels of solidarity and of musicality and of congeniality. I mean, some people are just oblivious to others… are they autistic? sociopathic? psychotic? or just plain hijos de puta?

Club Gricel

Club Gricel

What about levels of experience and familiarity with the other people in the room? Like, don’t you dance a bit differently when you know everybody as opposed to when you’re surrounded by strangers? You’re probably more relaxed and less self-conscious, which affects your dance tremendously. There are some nights when the dance floor feels like a battle zone, especially when newbie dancers are taking backward steps, slamming blindly into other couples who are moving forward. It’s famously hard to learn to dance in the states or elsewhere and then transpose your skills onto an immensely crowded Buenos Aires dance floor.  You simply cannot do the same kind of big moves you may have learned in a tango class somewhere – even if you learned it here. The “8-count basic?”  Forget it. That was a North American invention. Nobody dances in a box here. Think CIRCULAR. The dance floor may be a square or a rectangle, but the ronda is a moving circle, and within it each man and woman is circling each other. Here you learn to restrict yourselves to a teeny tiny circle, so even if the ronda isn’t moving at all, you and your partner are still dancing to the music. And the grand choreography of the milonga is a huge moving spiral of energy drifting upward into the realm of the divine.

La Nacional

La Nacional

My old friend Mark Twain spoke of the meltingly beautiful feeling of live music:  “Intellectual ‘work’ is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of divine sound washing over him—why, certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it’s a sarcasm just the same.” — from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889.

Los Reyes del Tango

Los Reyes del Tango

So let’s say your connection to everybody at the milonga is yet another level of connection, and then there’s your connection to the space itself. Meaning, your connection to the atmosphere, the vibe, la onda… your connection to the greater whole, your awareness of the transcendent level. You’re not trying to dominate the place, the people or the vibe; you’re not going to glare at anybody, no… you’re sending out good vibes, you’re smiling, you’re connected with YOUR people, YOUR family. This IS your family!  FEEL the MAGIC!

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una milonga del barrio: Lanús

Like feeling the atmospheric tension of a storm before it breaks, when you are in the midst of a milonga your entire mind, body and spirit is bombarded by the energy of the room, the atmosphere, the presence of all the dancers, the musicians, the DJ…your friends and family!  The people you know and the ones you don’t know yet. And if you have a glass of vino tinto or champagne, you’ve tuned down your personal tension level just a notch which allows the energy to flow through you instead of bouncing off you (which is what happens if you’re stressed). And, to circle back to an earlier thought, when you’re feeling connected to your tanguero family all around you, you will soon be dancing.

Carlos Gardel

A friend of mind from the states wrote to ask me a “Question:  Have you ever heard of a proper way of getting a dance at a milonga other than the cabeceo?”  This was my rambling reply:  Let’s say I’m sitting happily at a good table at Canning (location is everything). When you’re at a milonga there’s not much time for socializing with the girls — go ahead, during the cortina if you like, but if you’re still jabbering away after the tanda starts you won’t notice the cabaceos and after a few minutes they’ll quit looking in your direction. Also, you’re busy scanning the room for people you know who always dance with you, then checking out people you’ve seen dancing but haven’t danced with yet: potential targets. You’re also noticing the really good dancers and checking to see if they’re possible targets; perhaps sitting with people you usually dance with. That’s a high potential target. I get a few of those on a good night. Be friendly to people at tables near you, make small talk when appropriate but don’t overdo it. When you are seen dancing over and over with some of the best dancers… that’s a target-rich environment. Organizers smile at you, kiss you, chat with you, and give you great tables. Some of them will dance with you.

milongueras

milongueras

You already know that the cabeceo works well in smaller milongas like El Beso, Cheek to Cheek, Tacuarí, Fulgor, because everybody can see everybody, more or less. At Canning or Yira Yira or Gricel or any large dance floor it’s often impossible to see across the room, especially if it’s crowded. Opportunistic type males will walk around, pretending to be going somewhere, greeting friends, going up to the bar, the restroom, taking a photograph, or just walking back to their seat after a tanda. During their stroll they will try to walk close enough to a desirable prospect to smile, reach over for a little kiss on the cheek, “hola, cómo estás?” kind of thing, a sure signal to the woman that you would like a dance with her, and then you move a little ways away, maybe back to your seat if it’s not too far away, so that when the music starts you can catch her eye again up close. However if you do not know the woman at all, have never been introduced or made small talk with her or danced with her, this would not be acceptable.

cabeceo-2

A woman will also get up during a cortina to move around, to catch someone’s eye; she will walk over to a table of girlfriends, talking and laughing with them, to be noticed. if a woman likes to dance with you she will usually greet you with a kiss on the cheek when she comes in, if you’re within range while she is escorted to her seat. Another really good way to get to meet new dancers — another target rich opportunity — is to sit at a mixed table, of both sexes.  This is how Julia Pugliese organizes her milonga Sueño Porteño, the one that used to be above the supermarket parking garage on San Juan. Only now it’s at La Leonesa (which used to be Niño Bien) on Wednesdays and Gricel on Sundays. She mixes all the tables up, men and women. So you men can make small talk with the girls at your table and then ask them to dance.

Fulgor de Villa Crespo

Fulgor de Villa Crespo

I’ve learned that there are social milongas, where people mostly go to hang out with their friends and dance a little. The level of dancing is usually not too good. Then there are milongas where the good dancers go, and they tend to be the younger crowd or a mix of younger and older. At those milongas, like Oliverio, Cheek to Cheek, Maldita Milonga, Zona Tango, Cochabamba, Catedral, and La Viruta, there isn’t as much use of the cabaceo. The guys just walk around and come right up to your table or wherever you happen to be standing and ask you. It’s kind of refreshing to not have to bother with the cabeceo. (Don’t tell anyone I said that.) One thing I really don’t like is when a guy keeps staring at you but you never get the nod or some kind of indication that he’s asking you to dance. I tend to assume they like looking at me but they can’t dance or they’re afraid to ask, afraid to be turned down. And there is a cultural code here, too, in that people look down on you if they think you’ll dance with anybody who asks. It’s an Argentine thing, I think; after all there’s so many men who dance tango one has to be selective. If I don’t like a guy’s embrace, if he’s holding me too tight and/or pulling me off my axis, I will say thank you and leave him standing there right after the first song. And then as I walk back to my table I see people nodding at me, “good girl!”  

who, me?

who, me?

Here are some additional tips for making friends at a milonga from tango-therapist.blogspot.com, taken from the U.S. best-seller, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The tango version references the “meta-language of culture” at milongas, i.e., ways to let someone know you like dancing with them: 1) physical touch (example: being warm and friendly, the embrace); 2) quality time (having a conversation); 3) receiving gifts (a man buys you a drink, usually a high-status drink, such as a glass of champagne)(don’t offer her a beer, dummy!); 4) acts of service (gentlemanly behavior, sharing food); 5) affirming words (Porteños praise abundantly, even excessively; women praise the man’s looks or dancing ability if they want to get another tanda).

El Catedral

El Catedral

The Buenos Aires Tango scene is really WONDERFUL. There is a strong sense of community here.  Argentines are blessed with spirit and intelligence, warmth and affection. They are well-spoken. Their tv shows and commercials do not glorify guns, violence, and negative sexual stereotyping. Teenagers can actually be seen communicating with parents and grandparents. Social activist types organize milongas to raise money for kids, for libraries, for medical clinics in the villas, and the like. A few weeks ago there was flooding in some areas due to the heavy spring rains, and there was a milonga to raise money for people who lost their homes and animals.  Argentines laugh, they cry, they hug a lot, they kiss a lot. Men kiss and hug other men constantly. Women kiss and hug other women constantly. People standing in line for something will start talking to each other, help each other out. If you’re not dancing, just sit in a milonga and watch people interact. There is a strong feeling of friendship and camaraderie. This is the City of Good Vibes.

soy

Since election campaigning in the States is already front and center, I’m going to throw in my two cents, for what it’s worth… and two cents ain’t worth much these days! Feel free to apply this to your electoral process, whatever country you may live in. Molly Ivins, the late journalist from Texas who never minced words, must have been thinking about George W and Donald Trump when she wrote: “Good thing we’ve still got politics in Texas – finest form of free entertainment ever invented.”

the late, great, Texas journalist Molly Ivins: here's lookin' at you, kid, wherever you are.

the late, great, Texas journalist Molly Ivins: here’s lookin’ at you, kid, wherever you are.

“As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.” To come up against her in writing would be like showing up at a gun fight with a knife! 

And now for my Espacio Publicitario:

a aviso armado INGLÉS CONVERSACIONAL

Over and Out from Buenos Aires!

Over and Out from Buenos Aires!

Las Calles de mi Ciudad – Pasaje Bollini

Palermo Soho (1)

view from Plaza Serrano, Palermo Soho

My laptop became seriously ill a few months ago.  It had a couple of hot flashes (overheated may be the technical term), and every time I tried to resuscitate it the screen continued black as death and the poor thing kept emitting 3 pitiful beeps until its voice finally, thankfully, went silent.  For a few weeks it was in the capable hands of a local tekkie friend of a friend.  Prayers were spoken for the survival of its memory & fotos & contacts & music (especially the music!) & my favorite movies.

Recoleta's City of the Dead - how many cats can you find?

Recoleta’s City of the Dead                                                                   how many cats can you find?

My laptop descended from the original Apple.… the forbidden one … somewhere near the Gardens of Gethesmane West, just off road from the Great Number One: the Pacific Coast Highway.  South of Big Sur, north of Point Sur. Well before the first coming.  Way back before Anna Domini met some tribal proselytizers who knew great PR when they saw it: a naked couple in an organic garden, apples all over the place, a fig tree, a bird, a snake, an electronic mouse, a tiny sparkling flat stone.  Some say it was a pomegranate, not an apple.  A much more sensual fruit.  So messy they’re best eaten naked, out of doors. Speaking from experience, naturally.

some say it was a Pomegranate, not an Apple

so delicious, how can you resist?

Even my Atheist and Rainbow tribe friends were praying for my laptop, as their most recent ancestors are known to have worshipped the gods and goddesses of Silicon Valley.  As always, I am humbly respectful of the deities of Arts and Sciences, including physics, calculus, equations (all of which I am, regrettably, hopeless at), subspace woofers, nano chip technology and black hope collapsibles…those teeny tiny particles that appear to be nonexistent but are in fact trendy mega-scale outer space sinkholes in basic blackout… universally fashionable, dare I say?

universally stylish black holes

where does the time go?

I haven’t written in so long, it feels weird.  For a while I was staying in a cheap room at a friend’s in Palermo Soho, no fridge, no hot water.  I needed a place to stay cause the owner of my apartment came back to Buenos Aires for a few weeks.

Niceto Vega 1 (1)

Renovations in progress. There WAS hot water off and on… or was it just my imagination? My room was freshly painted and I had to put my head under the covers to mitigate the fumes. But it was right around the corner from La Viruta and La Milonguita, and only three blocks from Salón Canning. Nice location. Lots of shops with expensive shoes and clothing that I can’t afford, plus delicious boulangeries and restos. 

Cocu 1

la Cocu: to DIE for!!

la Cocu: to DIE for!!

Palermo Soho is a fabulous barrio, but you gotta watch your back after dark. Double doors to get in and out, locks top and bottom.  That’s just to get into the building.

double doors to get in and out, locks top and bottom.

After a couple of weeks I felt more at home in Palermo Soho, while the remodeling continued full speed ahead. The kitchen was scrubbed clean of accumulated grime: the flat had been vacant for 14 years. More rooms were painted, the bathroom was worked on, door latches repaired. I love the endless on-demand hot water. The graffitied street front was redone in pink and turquoise. A fridge was found, a relic from the 70s, filthy and nonfunctional. A whole day was spent cleaning, putting in new parts, getting it up and running. Elbow grease, ingenuity and a few pesos. The best helping hand is the one at the end of your arm. Wise words from my ex-Texan mother-in-law.

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small but efficient

el patio central

el patio central

19th century vs. 20th

19th century vs. 20th… see the turntable?

nv3

A bit of a culture clash in the living room… estanciero vs. mid-century modern? The tv looks like a relic from the Star Trek holodeck storage lot. Spock probably watched I Love Lucy on it… trying to develop the emotional side of his psyche.

Now I’m back in my other apartment. It’s a warm, beautiful space, filled with color, art and books.  A quiet space where I can write. A huge sunny balcony on the 8th floor, high above the street. I finally have a working laptop, and I’m feeling independent and feisty. However, I’ve sorted out my finances and realize I can’t afford this apartment; my original budget was 300 pesos/day (not including rent).  jaja!  A latte and medialuna is 75 pesos. Sure, you can order the same items for 55 pesos at cafés like Bonafide, Café Martinez, McDonalds… every McDonalds has a real espresso machine, wow.  But the quality of the coffee sucks. You do get what you pay for, in some things. True love cannot be bought, of course, but it can turn out to be expensive just the same.

living

living room

sunset from the balcony

beautiful Buenos Aires sunset from the balcony tonight

So I upped my budget to 400 pesos/day… (at the current blue market rate, that’s $26/day)  jaja!  I get around town on foot and by bus or subte. Milongas are 80 – 90 pesos, a late night taxi ride home up to 100 pesos (the price of taxis goes up when the sun goes down), a bottle of water is 28 pesos at Canning… I already mentioned coffee.  So who needs to eat? I drink black tea at home. When I start to feel that financial anxiety panic, (we all get that one, right?) I pull out the scrap of paper I keep in the night table, where I scribbled a favorite O. Wilde quote: “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” 

e4efc10cdda914b5a08b53364e0e601b

Man was given an imagination to compensate for what he is not; and a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

Speaking of means, I’ve gone into business for myself, teaching English to milongueros, students, travelers… and my latest venture, taking newbie tourists under my protection, showing them the best places to tango, to eat, how to navigate the city, where to take tango classes for 60 pesos, where to shop for shoes and other necessaries… where to get free emergency medical care day or night… in brief, Tango Tourist Boot Camp. An orientation for the hapless tourist to avoid being taken advantage of. You too can learn to NOT look like a tourist target! (Free Lesson 1: put away that damned camera!)

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I don’t see any tourists, do you?

A week ago Sunday was the first warm day we’ve had so far this spring. It was marvelous for a few hours, until some big puffy clouds came along in the late afternoon, followed by a wind that swooped down low and did a reverse vacuum job on the red dirt paths in the Botanical Gardens. The following Sunday was warm, too; the mercury climbed to 80°F. The bloody full moon that was all over the press — “if it bleeds, it leads” — was sparkly white and shimmery; trinkets glittering in a milonguera’s ears. Yesterday it was sprinkling off and on all day. Like Paris in the rain.

Paris-Street-2

Which brings me to today’s lead story: Paisaje Bollini.  A beautiful and historic two-block long cobblestone street a few blocks from my apartment.  On Pasaje Bollini you see houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which replaced earlier structures built by Italian immigrant families who were brought in to work the fields and vineyards of la finca (farm) of the Bollini family. The finca’s boundaries were Avenida Santa Fé, Colonel Díaz, Chavango (now Las Heras), Sanchez de Bustamonte. The street name was made official in 1887… the same year my piano was built. How cool is that?

Paisaje Bollini 1

Pasaje Bollini 1

Back in those days, before the turn of the century, people played soccer in the street, hung out sharing matés in doorways, and celebrated Carnaval. Tango was still in its nascent form, down by the docks. Some sources say there was always a lot of street fighting here. They fought with facónes, gaucho knives.  Naturally, Italians are always fighting when they’re not drinking wine, cooking pasta, or making love. Or maybe on account of all of the above. Hot-blooded.  I know, I’m Italian too. They tell me it’s obvious.

Paisaje Bollini 9

Pasaje Bollini 2

La Dama de Bollini bar and café is an icon from the 1980s, when writer/poet Jorge Luis Borges and other counterculture types gathered for long afternoons and evenings of drinking, smoking, solidarity scheming, existentialist conversations and other random head-trips. It was an atmosphere of poetry readings, art exhibits, tango, jazz and boleros, no doubt kick-started by some serious consumption of illegal substances. La Dama de Bollini is said to have been a source of inspiration for artists, writers and musicians trying to survive the dictatorship, and whose art, songs and stories were distributed underground.  A hidden patio a few yards from French became “El Corralón,” a space where poets, fringe fanatics, underground activists and the usual gang of art groupies and hangers-on spun through the long nights; some of whom ended up in the commissario’s office, or worse, by morning. Cecilia Leoni, matriarch of the Bolllini family, still owns two lots on Pasaje Bollini, La Dama and a cultural space run by the Bollini Foundation. Another family member, Lionel Bollini, busy behind the bar, kindly let me come in and take a few photos before opening.

La Dama Bollini 7

La Dama Bollini 3

La Dama Bollini 1

La Dama after dark

Recently, a committee of neighbors successfully acquired the aid of the city, who recognized the value of preserving Pasaje Bollini as an historic and cultural site. A local company donated paint and the services of 30 workers in restoring and repainting the facades of the historic houses, and as of this month, September 2015, parking on the cobblestone street is no longer permitted.

paisajeBollini1

The behemoth CABA trash trucks are also now banned, not because of the noise, but because over time they pulverize the cobblestones. And they’re trying to figure out what to do about the 300+/- dogs per day who wander thru Pasaje Bollini, many unleashed and unatttended. The neighborhood association has installed several doggie poo trash bins. Next they will be restoring the old streetlamps and fixing the sidewalks which are delightfully narrow. Only wide enough for one person or two skinny dogs.

Paisaje Bollini 20

Pasaje Bollini 5

Nice contrasts: colors, textures, styles, architectural adornments.

Paisaje Bollini 4

Pasaje Bollini 6

I bet this was one of the bars or boliches (dance halls) that crowded Pasaje Bollini in the old days. Even the sidewalk looks beat up.

Paisaje Bollini 11

Pasaje Bollini 6

Doing my research for this article I found out, amongst other things of note, that there are many other “hidden gems” like Pasaje Bollini here in Buenos Aires. Some of these picturesque narrow streets and courtyards were created as a by-product of errors in calculation by the early surveyors who laid out the streets. How delightful! No wonder I feel so at home in Buenos Aires. These are my kind of people.  If I had only been a 19th century surveyor, I too could have created lots of little wrinkles in the map!

DamaBollini1

La Dama Bollini interior

Borges wrote “La Cortada Bollini,” a poem published in 1930, about a legendary knife fight between Italians and the native gauchos on Pasaje Bollini. He also wrote a story about the malevos (hoodlums) in the neighborhood, titled “Evaristo Carriego.” The real Carriego was a friend of Borges’ father. And if you dance, you know it’s a beautiful tango.

Paisaje Bollini 18

Pasaje Bollini 7

Flashback to an older era. Here’s a picture from some years back, before the urban renewal:

back in the day

before the restoration – not so long ago

One of my next projects will be exploring some of the hidden courtyards that time has passed over… and only a handful are in the tourist guides. 

Paisaje Bollini 22

Pasaje Bollini 8

The above barbecue place is elegant, warm and intimate: white tablecloths, excellent wines, impeccable service, and a huge open fire grill so you can watch your steak and sausage cooking. Speaking from many pleasant experiences…

Paisaje Bollini 13

Pasaje Bollini 9

The organic shop is adorable but expensive. The Taco Box I haven’t tried. I’ve gone out for Mexican food twice in the last few years, and believe me, it’s unrecognizable. I won’t even try it anymore… I just make it myself. All the necessaries are available: frijoles, chiles, lime, cilantro, tomatoes, onion, avocados, mangos, papaya, tortillas de harina… and the best beef in the world. Sorry, no corn tortillas.

Paisaje Bollini 10

Pasaje Bollini 10

Walking along Pasaje Bollini the other day, I saw people playing music. I approached; they stopped playing. For a minute I thought I had been beamed into a Fellini movie!  No… they are the Heroes of Swing!

Swing Heroes

Heroes of Swing

Check them out on Facebook. I’m going to one of their shows very soon.

La Dama Bollini 2

La Dama Bollini 4

la Dama Bollini 2.2

La Dama Bollini – the bar

Looking into the courtyard in the late afternoon… positively magical!

la Dama Bollini 2.0

La Dama Bollini

Thanks for reading my blog, friends, and thanks for your comments… always much appreciated!  And now my Espacio Publicitario:

Do you live in Buenos Aires? Need someone to help you get your English up to speed?  I’m looking for a few good students. Contact me! englishcalifiore@gmail.com. Not available mornings.  I’m on the Milonguera Schedule.

Promo Big Knife

Over & Out from Buenos Aires!

Over & Out from Buenos Aires!

Seduction Buenos Aires Style

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Argentine men have the art of seduction down to a T.  Or would that be capital A for Amore?  L for Love?  Just because every man you meet calls you linda, hermosa, divina, preciosa, una diosa… even waiters bringing you coffee… do they really mean it?  jaja … Do they really think you’re the cat’s meow, baby?  Wake up, girl!  Reality check!  They’re just practicing their seduction skills…. anticipating a little hootchie-coochie or an even higher return on their verbal investment.

Porteños can sling piropos in their sleep… “Tengo frío, tengo calor…tengo todo, menos tu amor!

piropos

Can you blame me for not being very focused on writing?  Sure, sometimes I get an idea and go on a roll.  But it’s just not a priority anymore.  Is it possible to be too happy?  There’s always a cheerful vibe in this city… it’s the people.  The offspring of intense, handsome spaniards and laughing, creative Italians who mixed with whoever else was here when they arrived, and whoever showed up later.  Mix with plenty of vino tinto, pasta, salads, argentine beef and good bread.  Naturally, the government and infrastructure are fucked up, confused and disorganized, but the people are warm, friendly and hospitable.  Can I ever be this happy back in the states?

Marcelo Carpentier, tango singer

Marcelo Carpentier, tango singer

“Tus ojos me dicen sí; por qué tu corazón no?”

If a guy asks you (while dancing) if you can cook, (after using some of the afore-mentioned adjectives) maybe it’s a pre-interview screening for a lifelong unpaid domestic contract (which you’ll end up having to pay up the yin/yang to get out of), or maybe it means you’re just such hot stuff they’re already feeling the heat!  If they ask you out for coffee, beware!

coffee date

coffee after the milonga? uh-oh!

It doesn’t help that Argentine males are so Fine.  I mean Fine with a Capital F.  All that Spanish, Indian and Italian blood sizzling thru those Vesuvian veins… they can’t help it!  And trying to resist their charms is a full time occupation!  Do I need occupational therapy?  OSHA, where are you?  Oh, yeah, up north, where the weather is cool and so are the men…  with some exceptions, of course.  Is there an antidote?  An antibiotic?  An evening-before pill?  Why not pass them out at milongas?  For 70 pesos you get your entry ticket and your anti-swoon medication.  Live tango orchestra with singer?  Make that 100 pesos.

Marcelo Carpentier, tango singer

Marcelo

Hmmm… wait a sec.  Wouldn’t that take all the pleasure out of tango?  Who wants to dance close embrace with someone who doesn’t make your DNA strands start buzzing like bumblebees? Deactivate that thought, girl!

Leo Messi

Leo Messi

“…. Argentines [are] quite uninhibited in publicly expressing tenderness and affection among people of the same or different sex. Men of all ages will embrace and kiss each other when meeting, and there are also exchanges of kisses among men and women who are relatives or friends, and, of course, among women themselves.”  [from the Kinsey Institute on Argentina]

friends at a birthday party

friends at a birthday party

If these seductive Argentines are powerful wizards and magicians they may send their own personal spirit interventionist to bewitch and seduce you while you’re asleep.  Did you think your dreams were just random subconscious meanderings?  A kind of merging with some universal image transfer center, a cosmic Kinko’s?  Google Image holodeck?  Netflix unhinged? Where do you think all these words I’m writing come from, anyway?  Perhaps I subscribe to a giant interplanetary recycling center that implants bits of shredded text into my brain while I’m sleeping?  Who the heck knows?  Some days I need a double latte just to remember my name… don’t we all?

Leo Messi

Leo Messi, looking a little uncomfortable all dressed up

On the downside of Latino men, there do still exist those possessive and jealous males who go completely beserk if their wife or girlfriend dances with others.  On this subject, I’ve said plenty in the past.  Love and fear can’t exist side by side.  Fear begets jealousy and insecurity.  If a man likes to dance with lots of pretty women, he’s enviable and seen as completely normal, right?  But if a woman likes to dance with lots of men… start piling the stones!  Whatever happened to the women’s liberation movement?  I guess I’m starting my own South American front.  “I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.” (Oscar Wilde)

desolé

Lest the reader think I’m a completely insensitive female swine, let me just say that I like to have fun with words and I like to play on the dance floor.  But, seriously, Tango is all about the heart connection. The creativity of shared expression. The pure sensuality of one’s feet caressing the floor. The complexity of the music, mutually interpreted. The buena onda (good vibe) shared by everyone on the dance floor.  The tangible pleasure of human connection unhindered by social convention… simply guided by the códigos (codes) of Tango.

how's your musicality/sensuality quotient today?

how’s your musicality/sensuality quotient today?

Maria Inés Bogado, winner of the mundial in 2010 (with partner Sebastian Jiménez), sums up in a few words the pleasure of a great connection: “… I have to feel that he receives me, surrounds me, is with me in the dance.”  She expresses her displeasure with men who dance …. as if their partner were a mannequin: “I don’t like when the man does not think about the woman in the dance, but concentrates on the figure…. I love when the couple is moving like one person, when the dancers are concentrating on each other.  When I saw tango for the first time, I loved that it is more about the connection and therefore I don’t like when the man is harsh and wants to show something to the outer world, to the people around, not keeping the feeling inside the couple, inside the embrace. Even in tango nuevo there are ways and styles of dancing that allow the man to show [off] the lady he is dancing with, to show he is there with her.” (from an interview in El Tanguata)

Maria Inés Bogado & Sebastian Jiménez

Maria Inés Bogado & Sebastian Jiménez

For those of you who are still on the fence about your next trip to Buenos Aires, here’s a quick heads-up.  Why do tango dancers from all over the world flock to the Mecca of Tango?

La Glorieta

La Glorieta del Belgrano

1) The dancing: classes, milongas, cultural events, clubs, shows, dancing in the streets.  For the sheer number and quality of milongas here in Buenos Aires, there is NO place like it in the world.  Are we having fun yet?

La Catedral

La Catedral

2) The atmosphere: the wabi-sabi beauty of this city, like Paris but grittier, less polished, perfectly imperfect: trees, parks, fountains, sculptures, sidewalk cafés and bistros, museums, architecture from classic to avant garde, arte deco and nouveau, even the dubious 50s Fellini/Stalinesque.

Congreso

the prettier side of Congreso

3) The milongas: every type of milonga you can imagine, gay, straight or confused; hipster, dragster, elegant or tacky, luxe or wabi-sabi… classic or nuevo…  you can find it here.  Afternoon milongas, early evening milongas, late night… the 20-something crowd (La Marshall, de los Zucca, la Pepa), the old geezers’  cruise-ship crowd (El Arranque, Lo de Celia), the students (Zona Tango, Maldita Milonga, la Viruta), the international scene (Canning, Gricel, la Milonguita), the tourist milongas (La Ideal), the milongas del barrio (el Tacuarí, La Milonga de Morán, Fulgor de Villa Crespo, La Floresta), the young hipster crowd (La Catedral, La Marshall, Oliverio Gironda).  The choices are endless!  My favorites?  El Beso, Porteño y Bailarín, Maldita Milonga.

la Gricel

la Gricel

4) The shopping: cool, artisanal clothing in boutiques and street fairs, stuff you won’t find anywhere else… lots of lacy summer things right now…  Tango Moda (Balcarce 961, San Telmo) is a hip and colorful boutique offering Porteño style trousers, shirts and jackets for all you seductive milongueros, locally tailored in gorgeous fabrics; they also have a diverse assortment of elegant ladies’ tango clothing, from casual to the nines.  Tango shoes: the list is quite long. On Suipacha in the 500 block there are 5 or 6 tango shoe shops.  Flabella is my favorite, one of the original tango shoe shops, not pricey and they last forever.  Darcos is next door.  I also love Neotango, on Sarmiento… considered by many, including yours truly, to be the BEST tango shoes in terms of both price and style. (No, I’m not gettin’ paid to say it … I wish!)  The other shop to make us swoon is Comme il Faut, in Recoleta.  Very pretty shoes; many swear by them.

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Pepe Lopez

Pepe Lopez

5) also shopping for books and tango CD’s, from the old guy who sells vintage CDs and vinyl in San Telmo, to Zivals and El Ateneo.  Plan to spend some time going through the horizontal stacks.  El Ateneo is also the place for books, cards, journals, agendas… not to mention coffee, special events, readings, art exhibits, etc.  Antiques like maté accessories, gaucho horse gear, china and crystal, etc. can be found at the Feria San Telmo and also in little shops tucked away all over the city.  Leather goods, of which the best are of excellent quality, are beautiful and NOT cheap.

feria San Telmo

la Feria San Telmo

5) Want to stay for at least a week up to a few months, but don’t want to spend a few months’ salary on hotels?  Rent an apartment.  Check out bytargentina.com, or AirBnB.com.  An awesome writer and tango dancer friend of mine has a lovely apartment in Barrio Norte that you can rent when she’s out of the country.  (www.airbnb.com/rooms/4650379)  I also know of some inexpensive options for you penny counters…  you can contact me via comments.

living room

living room

6) Need medical care? Surgery? Teeth fixed?  Emergency care is free here, and surgical procedures will cost you less than your co-pay in the states, including inpatient.  The hospitals are beautiful and up to date.  Think state-of-the-art German, French, Italian, Argentine hospitals.

Hospital Italiano

Hospital Italiano

7) Vacation in Patagonia.  Rock-climbing in El Chaltén, skiing in Ushuaia.  Visit the Perito Moreno glacier, los Torres del Paine.  Hiking and fly-fishing in the Lake District: the land of 7 lakes and 7 rivers, home to the most stunning Andean lake in the world: Nahuel Huapi.  Absolutely gorgeous!  Get your hydrotherapy fix at Iguazu Falls, on the Brazilian border.  Beach it in Mar de Plata, cruise the Galapagos and see la Tierra del Fuego.  My favorite?  Horseback riding in the Andes.

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Lago Nahuel Huapi

8) Trying to lose weight?  Follow my regimen for at least 2 weeks and you will lose weight, unless you have some sort of metabolic/hormonal/emotional issue.  You will walk everywhere, eat 2 meals/day (small portions), snack on fresh fruit, veggies and yogurt.  Ice cream and café cortados at midnight, before or after the milongas.  You will dance 3+ hours/day. You will drink unsweetened teas and lattes.  Get plenty of sleep.  You WILL lose weight!  And your feet may be a little sore…

Salon Canning

Salon Canning – crowded as usual

10) Do you need a dance partner? a taxi dancer?  You are perhaps a beginner and no one wants to dance with you?  Dance classes with the best tango teachers in BAires will run you about $7.00 for a 90 minute group class. Privates are a different story.  Some of the best local teachers offer privates for around $500 pesos/hour (about $40/hr.)  My friend Marcela Hourquebie is one of the best. Check her out on Facebook.

Marcela

Marcela Hourquebie

Teachers who also teach in the U.S. will charge foreigners the same astronomical sums as in the states.  You can accelerate your learning curve by taking privates but remember, you can’t make the grass grow by pulling on it!  Focus and determination are required. Tango is not for the easily discouraged!

tango taxi dancers

La Nueva Escuela Argentina de Tango boasts classes by tango superstars Aurora Lubíz, Raúl Bravo, Jorge Firpo, Gabriela Elias, Claude Murga and others (located in the Centro Cultural Borges, las Gallerias, Viamonte and Córdoba).  El Tacuarí, in San Telmo (Tacuarí 1557) has some great classes and prácticas, including the absolute best women’s technique class I’ve ever had, taught by the fabulous Ruth Manonellas… a class I continue to take, and if I was into beating myself up, I’d take it every day!  DNI Tango School in Almagro (Bulnes 1011) has 90 minute classes for US $6, and offer a free first class.  Their teachers are all young pro dancers, but not superstars… not yet, anyway. I have not taken classes at DNI, but many good friends have. If you’re into nuevo, it’s the tango school for you.

11) Where else can you hear the best live tango orchestras?

Orq Juan D'Arienzo

Orq. Juan D’Arienzo

Orq Los Herederos del Compás

Orq. Los Herederos del Compás

Orq. Sans Souci

Orq. Sans Souci, singer Chino Laborde

Orq. Sans Souci

Orq. Sans Souci

Orq. El Afronte

Orq. El Afronte

Orq El Afronte

Orq El Afronte

12) the fact that God is Argentine:

Díos es Argentino*

13) Where else can you make a living walking dogs? New York, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

BAdogwalker

14) Summertime is a beautiful season to be in Buenos Aires.  Most days are somewhat hot and humid, with temps in the 25°- 34°C range.  But not to worry, most of the milongas have working A/C, and they’re not so crowded, ’cause everybody’s at the beach!  I’m not kidding, either:

Mar de Plata

Mar de Plata

I must end this post on a sad note, because in recent days and weeks the tango community has lost some of its most beloved dancers and musicians.

Horacio Ferrer, poeta-cantaor

Horacio Ferrer, poeta-cantaor

“Qué días grises vive el tango. A las recientes desapariciones del poeta Horacio Ferrer y de Leopoldo Federico se acaba de sumar la repentina muerte de Carlos Rodolfo Dinzelbacher, más conocido en el ambiente como Cacho Dinzel, maestro de bailarines, un decano en la enseñanza del tango danza. Por su famosa escuela del barrio de Boedo pasaron casi todos los grandes bailarines de los últimos 30 años, porque su tarea docente empezó incluso antes de que volviera la democracia a la Argentina y el baile porteño recuperara la importancia social que tuvo en el pasado.” La Nación, 4 enero, 2015.

Cacho & Gloria Dinzel

Cacho & Gloria Dinzel

“These are grey days for tango. To the recent passing away of the poet Horacio Ferrer and of bandoneonista Leopoldo Federico has been added the sudden death of Carlos Rodolfo Dinzelbacher, better known in the tango community as Cacho Dinzel, tango teacher, dean of the tango academy. Through his famous school in Boedo passed almost all the great dancers of the past 30 years; he began teaching before democracy returned to Argentina, and was instrumental in restoring the social importance of tango in Buenos Aires.”

Esquema Dinzel

una Esquema Dinzel

Adiós to Marta Antón, a lovely and talented dancer who, alongside her companion of many years Manolo (el Gallego), taught me, and many others, to dance Canyengue.

Marta Antón con su pareja Manolo "el Gallego"

Marta y Manolo

“Aníbal Troilo has long been considered the supreme bandeonista of all time, but there is no doubt that Leopoldo Federico was the foremost bandoneon player of all those born after 1975, the year Troilo passed on, and also the best of those born some years earlier.” (Mauro Apicella, La Nación, 28 diciembre, 2014.) His loss to the tango community is deeply felt.

Leopoldo Federico

Leopoldo Federico

Aníbal Troilo

Aníbal Troilo

Julio Cortázar

Julio Cortázar

W@ la Nacional

Amen Buenos Aires!