Tango Buenos Aires Festival 2011

One might wonder how a coherent blog can be written at 4 in the morning after 3 hours of tango class in the afternoon and then dancing from 11 to 3 am.   Well, it wasn’t.  I’m still working on it, just past midnight now, about 20 hours and another tango class later.  We were at La Milonga del Morán, in the Villa Urquiza barrio.  How can a dirty, grungy basketball gym be transformed into a sublime Tango experience?  The lighting was what you’d expect in an auto repair shop, same goes for the sound system.  Sawhorses with recycled formica countertops for tables are, well, reminiscent of 4th of July picnics and Rizzotti’s, a beer garden on Alpine Road in Portola Valley.  (We used to ride our horses over there on Saturdays, tie them to the hitch racks under the eucalyptus trees by the creek.)  No one was wearing a suit and tie except Ben, who ditched the tie as soon as we sat down (and still the sharpest-looking guy there!).  Everybody seemed to know each other.  All ages were present, lots of  young people.  The dance floor was packed, meaning it took about four songs  (10 minutes or so)  to make a complete circuit around.  The phenomenal sound of Sexteto Milonguero, followed by a Tango performance by Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurion, added to the amazing wabi-sabi atmosphere.  I mean, how can you not have a great time, despite the dismal decayed environment, while watching two of the most highly acclaimed tango dancers in the world?

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese word that describes an experience of beauty that is imperfect, transient, and incomplete.  Wabi-sabi  is all about authenticity.  “Wabi… (according to Wikipedia) “may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction and/or manufacture, especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions.   Wabi-sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”  Yikes, it’s starting to sound like my evolving tango experience!  Or is it a definition of my existence?

I think I like wabi-sabi.  (I like wasabi too, just like I love sushi.)  I think what made the difference, the other night, was the PEOPLE.  The milonga was filled with friendly, happy, enthusiastic, dancing people.  Negative environment meets positive people: the yin/yang of it all, the good vibes.  A fantastic wabi-sabi experience!  This delightful concept also applies to the highs and lows, the polish and the grunge,  the glitz and glam of the World Tango Festival!

The Buenos Aires Tango Festival and World Cup runs from August 16 – 30.  Billboards and ads on TV are all over town and down in the subte too.

Here’s how it looked the first time we went over to the Expo Center for a free concert:

UNESCO has declared Tango to be part of the world’s Cultural Heritage.  Every year, porteños have the opportunity to remember, reimagine, and recreate the traditions of Tango which came out of a mixing of raíces, culturas y identidades (roots, cultures, identities).  Every day for 14 days there are dance classes, dance performances, concerts, jam sessions, milongas, exhibits, documentary films, workshops and conferences, not to mention the rounds of competitions down to the semi-finals and finals in two categories:  Tango Salón (the social dancing of ordinary people at milongas, very useful for dancing in small spaces) and Tango Escenario (stage tango, also known as show tango or Hollywood tango, wonderful for dancing in big open spaces).   All of the events at the Mundial are free,  and it’s not over yet…. tonight  (monday) is the Salon Tango Finals, and we HAVE TICKETS!!  (Note: Just cause it’s free doesn’t mean you don’t have to stand in line for  hours to get your ration of 2 tickets to high-ranking events.)

Orquesta Típica la Andariega

The first Expo event we attended was an awesome orchestra at the Horacio Ferrer theatre,  Orquesta Típica la Andariega.  They were fabulous!  Three girl bandoneon players, a pianist – orchestra leader (Pauline Nogues), a female violinist, two male violinists, a male bass fiddle, and a female singer.  I feel really sexist just mentioning their respective genders.  Should I call them girls?  chicks?  chicas?  femmes?  donne?  How could I describe this group differently?  If I don’t mention their genders at all, then my readers don’t realize how unusual it is to see women musicians in Tango orchestras.  Even the singers are almost always men.  Well, please send me your comments on this dilemma, and I will move on.  Their music was definitely fabulous and in the tango nuevo category… definitely tango, but kind of jazzy.   Here’s a photo with their singer Andrea Peñaloza:

That same evening we watched several rounds of eliminations for the Salon Tango competition.  Six or seven couples at a time were announced and danced three tangos on the main stage.  The panel of judges (el jurado) you can see off to the left, and behind the dancers, a huge live screen view of the dancing.  I liked the couple in the middle of this one:

Here is another shot during the same round.  This is definitely not Dancing With the Stars.  This is the real McCoy.  Which dancers do you like best?

We didn’t get to watch the Stage Tango finals.   I wanted to, of course, but we can’t do it all!  And they were only handing out tickets to one or the other show, so whichever ones you got, you got.  But it didn’t matter, because quite a few of the performers turned up at the tango school last week, crashing Raúl Bravos’s tango classes to get last minute tune-ups and new moves from the maestro who’s taught just about everybody who teaches dance in Buenos Aires.  And he’s still got it!

At the Expo Center they have an entire room dedicated to the worship of Carlos Gardel.  It is pretty amazing.  Gardel was born in France, and came with his mother to Buenos Aires when he was three years old, around the turn of the last century.  He died in a plane crash near Bogotá, Colombia in 1935 or thereabouts, pobrecito.  Gardel had a beautiful voice, a great stage and screen presence, and was a self-admitted womanizer.  So many beautiful women, so little time!

Carlos Gardel, the Elvis of Tango

I enjoyed looking at the archival photos and documents of Gardel’s childhood and early years:

In front of the main stage is a seating area for several hundred people, and behind that is a big dance floor.  We milonga’d for a little while but the intensely bright event lighting was making me see fireballs even with my eyes closed.  You can see the big screen on the stage behind the motley crew of dancers enjoying the free music and dancing in a big warm space on a cold evening in Buenos Aires.

milongueando en el Mundial

free dancing at the world cup of tango

Before I go on to the other concert we attended, I know my readers wouldn’t want to miss seeing some of the fabulous stuff for sale at the Expo Center, like….. tango shoes?

So many shoes, so little time!  No, I’m not getting a kickback for the free PR.  I wish!!  And for the guys, great tango shoes and electronic entertainment while you try them on:

Some of the men’s tango shoes are being made now with pop-out, interchangeable soles.    The part that pops out is the ball-of-foot area.  Each pair comes with 3 pairs of soles, with different finishes so you can mix-and-match to the floor conditions.   Not even Ken & Barbie could have dreamed up this type of accessorizing!  (well their brain capacity was under the legal limit.)

You guys better look sharp!

And if you need some new duds for that special milonga, (no guys, not for you!  we’re back to the girls) you’re sure to find something in one of the Expo shops: Ooh la la!


And there’s other cool stuff there,  books on Tango and little bandoneon photo and CD holders.  Yes, they are so cute, I had to get one.


tango trinkets

handpainted signs Buenos Aires style

A few days ago we went to the historic Teatro 25 de Mayo to see  Quinteto Nestor Marconi.  Here is a photo of the historic hall:

Teatro 25 de Mayo

Nestor Marconi is a world famous bandoneon player, one of the few surviving musicians of the generation of 20th century Tango.  Marconi played in the orchestras of José Basso and Enrique Mario Francini — Armando Pontier.  He was bandoneon soloist with the philarmonics of Oslo, Montreal and Toulouse, partnered with Roberto Goyeneche in the film Sur, and performed with the renowned pianist Martha Argerich, amongst many other notables.  Marconi is truly a living legend of Tango.

Quinteto Nestor Marconi

From left to right, pianist Leonardo Marconi, son of Nestor (he is really amazing!);  Esteban Falabella, guitar;  Juan Pablo Navarro, contrabajo;  Nestor Marconi, bandoneon;  Pablo Agri, violin.

These guys are all virtuosos.  Like, this was the best live tango music I have ever heard.  It doesn’t get any better than this!   I sneaked these photos with no flash, Ben was my accomplice (his camera).  Here are the best ones of Nestor:

Nestor Marconi

Quinteto Marconi opened with El día que me Quiera, a long version that began with the melody of the Gardel arrangement but then began to weave in strands of Piazzolla-like meanderings.  OK, I’m no music critic, so I won’t try to pretend.  Just let me say that the  quintet played a selection of classic tangos by Piazzolla, Horacio Salgán and Bardi in their fantastic nuevo style, and a selection of Marconi’s compositions.  They ended with a hauntingly beautiful version of Adios Nonino, one of my favorite songs.  The sound was fabulous, the solos were amazing, it was all perfectly perfect.

Nestor Marconi, 24 august 2011

Yesterday I had a conversation with Verónica Alegre, a tango teacher, about the many ways that tango impermeates Buenos Aires.   Tango is the breath of the city, the air that porteños breathe.  She said you can’t really know tango unless you’ve walked the streets, sat in the cafés, danced at the milongas till dawn or your feet just can’t take another step, whichever comes first.  If you can’t make it all the way here to see for yourself, I suggest listening to Piazzolla’s Hora Cero (Zero Hour, Astor Piazzolla, 1921-1992).  It’s the name of a song as well as the title of one of his CDs.  In this tune you hear the heartbeat born of the second half of the twentieth century.  His work embodies both gritty urban sounds and polished, heart-breakingly transcendent melodies.  I would describe it as a fusion of traditional tango with jazz.  You hear traffic, sirens, the subway rumbling through: it’s all part of the rhythm of the city, the rhythm of tango.  And not just the noise of the streets, but the movement of the people who inhabit this unique city.  Verónica reminded me that the way people sit in a café and chat over coffee is part of the essence of tango.  The expressions on people’s faces as they talk, as they joke; the way they walk, the way they kiss (couples here kiss wherever and whenever they feel like it; how cool is that?).   It’s all part of the seductive rhythm of the city, the nightlife, the sounds and rhythms of tango.  Piazzolla took the tango he’d grown up with in the 30s and 40s, what we think of as the Golden Age of Tango, and morphed it into a new sound.  Ben noted that Gershwin’s An American in Paris is a similar reflection on a new landscape.  Each generation always reinvents their own expressions, recreates their world view.  In Piazzolla’s music there is dissonance, but it works to create the whole.  Just like not every street in Buenos Aires is beautiful, not every tree is green, no sidewalk is without a few cracks.  A perfect reflection of an imperfect world, our beautiful problematic world, our wabi-sabi world.  Some of us want to escape to another era (have you seen Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest?  Great flick!), but at some point one realizes that it is what it is.  Piazzolla moved on from that point, and created a new era in tango.

billboard at the Expo Center

I’m going to end this post with a poster for my friend Roxy, who completed 365 days of tangoing every day; she’s now moved on to 1,000 days of…  more tango?  I think, and a month or two in Buenos Aires this fall.  ¡Felicidades, home girl!

Bravo Roxy! You completed 365 days of Tango!

My next post will be about the finals in Salón Tango, including a stunning performance by Juan Carlos Copes.  Who will be the world’s best tango dancers in 2011?

Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Canyengue, anybody?

This weekend we took a 4 hour canyengue workshop with Marta & Manolo.  We had taken a dozen classes with them in years past, but of course we forgot most of it.  Tango teachers count on people’s almost complete lack of recall; it keeps them in business!

Marta Antón & El Gallego Manolo

Marta Antón &  El Gallego Manolo have been dancing tango all their lives.  They specialize in canyengue, a dance which preceded tango. Canyengue was danced by prostitutes and other riff-raff  like sailors and stevedores in dockside cabarets and in the arrabales (sketchy areas on the edge of town) in the early 1900s.  In the old days it was considered sinfully provocative and sensual; in other words, body contact.  The word canyengue is of African descent, with the ye pronounced porteño style; blacks in Buenos Aires pronounced it caniengue.  The term caminar canyengue (canyengue walk) comes from the way the tough guys of the era walked.  Like, the ultra cool arrogant strut.  If you got it, flaunt it!   This type of walking is also called caminar arrabalero (the arrabales, as I mentioned, being the old neighborhoods, the fringes of BsAs back in the day, like Tita Merello in the movie Arrabalera [1945]).  You have to understand that, in tango, walking is not just walking.  A good tango walk is worth its weight in gold.  Everything else is built upon the walk.  I’m talking about a grounded, fluid walk.  It shouldn’t be any different from your normal walk, so long as you’re not a penguin.

Marta & Manolo today: still lookin' good!

Marta & Manolo have their own style of teaching.  They never line you up and have you do exercises, and they hardly ever put guys on one side & girls on the other, practicing the respective footwork until it’s time to try it out together.  No, they just tell you to start dancing and they come around and help you out more or less randomly.  It’s not a teaching style that works really well for everybody, but it does provide some 1-1 teacher time, which is of course extremely useful.

We have also had the opportunity to study with Facundo Posadas whom, as you tangueros know, also dances canyengue and talks about its history.

Facundo Posadas

Facundo is about the same age as Manolo who is in his 70s and has been dancing canyengue (and tango) since he was a slick kid from the barrio (gallego means Spaniard).  If you listen to canyengue you will recognize it as older versions of tangos that you already know from the 1930s, 40s & 50s.  In Buenos Aires you can go to milongas where people dance canyengue.  MOCCA is the acronym of their community: Movimiento Cultural Canyengue Argentino, and Marta & Manolo are its founders.

Canyengue dancers Lukas & Karolina from Berlin

Marta & Manolo spent 11 years touring all over the world, from 2000 to 2011.  They lived and taught in Hanover, Germany for 4 of those years, where Marta learned to speak German.  She also speaks Italian, a little English, and even less French.  Despite being in their 70s Marta & Manolo still teach several days a week, like our friends back home, Norm & Anne Tiber. Before they taught at EAT (the Escuela Argentina de Tango) they were teaching at another dance studio (there’s lots in Buenos Aires.  More dance studios per capita than any other city in the world!  I think).  Octavio, the jefe of the tango school, was telling me the other day that he happened to walk into their class when it was just ending, in the midst of fervent applause and tears from the 25 or 30 students. “Qué pasa?” he asked.  The students explained that Marta & Manolo were dancing the way they remembered their parents and grandparents dancing,  The kids were overwhelmed with a sweet mix of appreciation, nostalgia and full hearts.

are we stylin' or what?

I had the same feeling today.  Ben and I, and another student (a Brit on her way home from the Middle East), were listening to Manolo talk about how it was in his day, growing up with tango in the 1950s.  He said they really dressed up in those days.  They wore jackets and ties; they were really dapper and fastidious.  Their toughest critics were older brothers and cousins.  When Manolo would get dressed to go to a milonga, his older brother’s friends would look him over.  “Nene,” (kid, baby) they would say, poking him in the shoulder, “you better look sharp!”  Before looking around to ask a girl to dance, he would straighten his tie, check his cuffs, trousers, hair; then he would give the cabeceo, the “dance with me?” nod to the girl.  He always kept a folded handkerchief sprinkled with cologne in his left palm, between his hand and the girl’s.  When the dance was over, he would escort her off the dance floor back to her seat.  And if he danced more than 4 or 5 dances with the same girl, the older brothers’ friends would come up to him, poke him in the shoulder: “You better watch out, nene, her cousins saw you dancing with her!”  But before he began going to milongas, his older brothers and cousins made him pass his “exams.”  They invited one of their girlfriends, a seasoned milonguera (tango dancer) over to the house.  Manolo had to dance with her.  He was terrified!  He was so frozen up he could hardly dance!  She was a good sport, though, and he finally loosened up enough to dance her adequately around the pista (dance floor).  Finally, he could tag along to the milongas, and not embarrass himself or his family.

Manolo said that the first time he ever danced with Marta, almost 40 years ago, he was really intimidated.  But when the dance was over, she looked at him and said, “Eres el mejor!”   (“You’re the best!”)  His heart melted!  But she apparently played it cool, because it took him another 16 years to win her over.  Once, after one of her tango performances, he presented her with six (6!) dozen roses. Evidently, she wasn’t too impressed with him at that moment; she tossed the roses in the trash! Years later, during an interview in Spain, the incident of the six dozen roses came up.  How did Manolo feel when she deconstructed his offering?  “La muy hija de puta!” he said.  No need to translate that, my readers know their bad words in Spanish.  The Spanish paper wrote: “when Manolo says ‘hijo de puta!’ it’s a term of endearment!”

Marta & El Gallego back in the day!

When Marta heard him telling the story today, she walked over and joined us.  Manolo was positively radiating from the telling.  His outburst of feeling was contagious, and my eyes filled with tears.  “Porque lloras?” he asked me.  (“Why are you crying?”)  Marta asked me if I was okay; they were really concerned for a few seconds. I told them it was just tears of joy feeling their happiness!  Everyone laughed and Manolo said that a person who allows themself to express their genuine feelings is very fortunate.  And now I feel like part of the family… we have laughed and cried together.

Canyengue Addicts Anonymous!

The last advice Manolo offered, (and this is not just for you guys out there, the same goes for us girls, I think…) is that a man has to marry twice.  The first time is to practice, and the second time to enjoy.  Practice being a good partner, and hopefully you’ll get it right the second time around (or the 3rd or 4th . time?).  And speaking of practice, when Ben & I get decent enough at canyengue, I’ll post a photo!  I promise!  We are also taking a really fun Chacarera and Zamba class on Thursday nights: stay tuned for more!  (note: Zamba is not Zumba!)

*Special Note to my Readers:  Thank you so much for all the emails you’ve sent me, and the beautiful comments you’ve posted!  My readers are the best!!  You can subscribe (for free!) to my blog, which means you’ll get an email notification every time I publish a new post.  Just go to the bottom of the blog and you’ll see what to do.

Over and Out from Tangolandia!  Ciao!

Barrio Norte

Good morning from Barrio Norte.  Also known as Palermo Botánico.  The invisible line between my neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods is open to interpretation and negotiation.  We are half a block from the Botanical Gardens:

el Botánico

Our apartment is awesome, though sadly lacking in Art.

dining area

Since I took that photo we moved the table up against the wall lengthwise to give us a small dance practice area.  The living area:

home sweet home Buenos Aires!

Our landlady says the flowering trees at the front of the building have beautiful pink blossoms all spring!  Jacarandas, I think she said.  But this week has been downright cold, dipping into the upper 40s at night.  Brrr!!!  At least we’re not in Patagonia.  This little balcony will be perfect for sipping those mango mojitos this Christmas!

our balcony

And, not last or least either, the view of the street from the balcony.  Despite being a low-key, residential street, Ugarteche can be pretty darn noisy!  If we keep the tv tuned to the soccer channel it blends with the traffic and it all evolves into a pleasant white noise (what kind of evolution am I talking about?  the backwards kind… i.e. almost everything since they invented petroleum products, gunpowder, and those darn computers).

Ugarteche in winter

Here’s where we cook.  On the left is a window & to the right a pass-through to the dining area. The cooktop is gas, and there’s a real oven.  The vent hood actually works, too, unlike the one at my ranch.  That comes in real handy when you have a guy that is such a fabulous cook…

our beautiful kitchen

Across the street is an adorable French mansion flanked by 10-story apartments:

We walk everywhere!  We don’t have a car or even bicycles. We take the subway to go downtown, and one of these days very soon we’re going to take a bus ride out to the Mataderos district where dwells the legendary tango shoe maker extraordinaire.  Although all the walking we do is great exercise (as if we don’t get enough dancing Tango!) it is not without risk.  Crosswalks are a target zone for humans.  The few bike lanes we’ve seen offer no protection whatsoever from moving vehicles.  Bicycle riders, motos, Vespas, strollers, little old ladies, no one’s safe!  When you’re behind the wheel, you have the right!  Homicidal taxi drivers are not to be trifled with, and anybody riding a bicycle must be a suicidal maniac!  However when the traffic is backed up, like during rush hour, a bicycle could be transcendent.

Rideshare stand in the Plaza Italia

Okay, let’s go straight to food.  We have a great fruit & veggie place just around the corner.

the produce man

Freshly made pasta is available in pasta shops with a variety of fillings.  We bought a pound of fresh ricotta-stuffed rigatoni the other afternoon for only $3 (special of the day).  Please note the empanadas on the upper shelf.  Empanadas are really yummy too.  Ben wants to take an empanada-making course here in Buenos Aires so that when we get back to California and he opens his café-restaurant, he can serve homemade empanadas along with fresh artisan bread and plenty of café cortados.

pasta fresca

Here’s the young ravioli-maker caught in the act at El Raviolón, on the corner of French and Sanchez de Bustamonte:

the Ravioli maker

butternut squash filling

To add to the amazing fresh food available within blocks of one’s apartment, there are also lots of delicatessans, this one is our favorite for its impeccable prosciutto imported from Italy and its faultless Serrano ham imported from Spain.

Fiambres Benavidez

Sr. Benavidez looks like he could be Santa Claus or a biker from Sturgis, but even though he’s not smiling in the photo I swear he was a second before and the second after.  He is  friendly and likes to joke with his customers.  He has a basket of fresh bread every day but Mondays (cause the panadería takes Sunday off); not just any ol’ bread, but really good artisan stone-hearth baked bread, from baguettes to pan integral (whole wheat) to ciabatta (my favorite Italian bread) and pan del campo (country style).  They cure their own ham (it hangs from the ceiling) and also have wine, cheese,  jams and condiments.  Just walk in the door, the aroma is dazzling, and if you look hungry, they give you samples to help you make up your mind.

Señor Benavidez

Like most shops, they are open in the morning, closed for lunch/siesta from 1 – 5 pm, and then open again till 9 or 10.  Restaurants don’t open till 8 for dinner, and stay open well past midnight.  You are never given the check until you ask for it… even at a streetside café.  Relax, you’re in South America!

a fish market on Ugarteche

This gorgeous chili-pepper red facade is Guido’s, a restaurant & tapas bar.  Unfortunately it wasn’t open when we walked by… way too early!

Ben at Guido's

And you can’t escape medialunas to go with your coffee.  They’re available everywhere.

all kinds of medialunas!

I know this post is way too long but there are a few more pix that are begging to be flown.  We came across this thrashed but apparently still running ’66 CHP cruiser on our scenic march to the Museo de Bellas Artes (a superb collection of art from medieval to post-modern and admission is free).  The red & blue lights are mounted on the dash.  Will the owner please contact me?

Chippie Ride and the Lawman

We also spent a few hours touring the Evita Museum.  If you haven’t heard the Evita Perón history lesson, just download the Madonna-ized version.  This historic home/orphanage is really something.  Some of her shoes are on display, definitely a chick-attraction.

Museo Evita

On one of our previous trips to Buenos Aires we had an apartment next door, and we kept telling each other we were going to check it out, but we never got around to it.  Too busy with tango classes in the afternoons and milongas till 3 or 4 am.  This time around, we’re taking it a bit more easy, and making time for some sight-seeing.