Death by wabi-sabi?

The first days of spring are as fickle as a woman who refuses to dance with one guy and then says “yes” to the next guy who asks.  Yesterday it was in the 70s and absolutely gorgeous, today it’s windy and chilly. But I can’t complain because we’ve seen some really great live tango orquestas in the last couple of weeks.

Orquesta Típica el Afronte

Orquesta Típica el Afronte plays regularly at one of our favorite milongas, La Maldita Milonga.  You could say they’re the house band. Located in San Telmo, on Perú 571, we call this location the “movie set milonga,” cause of its gritty, funky, wabi-sabi atmosphere.  The dance floor is really old, which means it’s not perfectly flat.  In a few places you feel like you’re dancing down a little slope and then back up again, kind of like being in a boat that dips with every swell. But the vibe is so splendid, the concentrated essence of a dance floor well danced for years and years…. you just can’t buy that and have it installed.  This is the real thing!

Orquesta Típica el Afronte

Maldita is not a really nice word, but not especially bad … “damm milonga!” would be my translation.  El Afronte translates as “confrontation.”  Their music is a blend of old and new, traditional tango with jazzy nuevo flavor, executed with skill and spirit.  Perhaps their name reflects the confrontation between classical Tango and the revolutionary new sound that Astor Piazzolla created, a new genre of Tango, born and bred in the post-WWII 20th century.

Another night we made a quick taxi trip over to the Armenian Hall in Palermo Soho.  Only about 12 blocks from our apartment.  This milonga is called La Viruta, which is a Porteño term meaning dance floor.  All you milongueros know that a particular location, a dance hall or club, may have different names on different nights.  For example, the famous milonga Niño Bien, on Humberto 1°, is called Rouge on a different night. The name of the milonga belongs, basically, to the person or persons who organize it. Just like our friend Norm Tiber organizes La Milonga Dorada in different locations in the San Luis Obispo area.  The organizers may DJ the music, or they may have an invited DJ.

Los Reyes del Tango

Los Reyes del Tango (Tango Kings)  didn’t start playing till 2:30 am.  We came in just after midnight and managed to snag one of the last tables. The densely-packed crowd of 500-600 kids (Ben’s professional estimate) danced to a Latin blend for about an hour till the tango kicked in around 1 am… (it goes to 5!  We stayed till 4.)

Los Reyes del Tango

You gotta love these guys!  I think they qualify for some kind of wabi-sabi award (are we sick of wabi-sabi yet?): an amazing juxtaposition of musicians in their sixties and seventies playing to a packed Tango club full of 20 and 30 year olds!  The wise and beautifully aged, like a good bottle of vino tinto, bubbling over with music that is ageless  —  as fresh and young as ever!

bandoneones blazing

In this foto you see two of the three bandeonistas gettin’ down! Stepping back from my enthusiasm for a moment, Los Reyes’ sound was not as light, tight and bright as ever.  I found myself wondering if these guys, when they get together to rehearse, just end up drinking and lying to each other about their glory days.  Or, even scarier thought, maybe they don’t bother to rehearse?  At any rate, they were much applauded and enjoyed.

Last night we ventured out to a brand new Palermo Soho milonga at Café Vinilo, a hip urban café, a bit too edgy to be chic.  I mean, a dead tree in the atrium hung with dry, brown leaves isn’t my idea of upbeat chic.  But, hey, there’s a 50s-era sideboard stereo with turntable, and speakers on each side built into the cabinet.  Did your folks have one like that?  Mine did. They were playing Ella Fitzgerald. Made us feel quite at home.  La Milonga del Bonzo has live music every monday, starting with a tango class at 8, milonga from 10-12, then the flavor of the week, i.e., singer, guitarist, poetry, etc. from midnight to ??  A community space for upcoming new artists. We like it!

I was reading in the September El Tanguata that a concert at the Tango World Finals, the Horacio Salgán Orchestra, (we didn’t go)  was an extraordinary, historic event because two pianists, Andrés Linetzky and Nicolás Guerschberg, working from original 78 rpm recordings of Sebastián Piana, Eduardo Rovira, Francisco Canaro, Astor Piazzolla and Aníbal Troilo, recovered and transcribed, at times measure by measure, the original partituras of some early treasures from those orchestras’ repertoires.  Their concert was an invitation to close your eyes and be transported into another era.

While this may be too much information for the armchair reader, I think you Tango dancers know what I’m talking about.  It seems particularly noteworthy in light of all the different genres of tango that are out there these days.  Buenos Aires breathes deeply the essence of the classics but also drinks assiduously from new sounds being brewed as we speak.  Some of the newer stuff, like electronic tango,  is despised by many, but the portrayal of urban dissonance like traffic noises, sirens, etc. is an element that Piazzolla incorporated into his music in a way that worked, and was groundbreaking in his time.  (Leonard Bernstein also comes to mind.)  Some of the new tango orchestras are in the midst of similar transformations, bringing new sounds into the light, and it’s absolutely marvelous to be able to observe, from the fringes, the contemporary music scene in Buenos Aires.

Pablo Agri Cuarteto

Violinist Pablo Agri brings a beautiful harmonic balance to his blend of the old with the new.  The classical training, the technical superiority of every member of his quartet, is obvious, but there’s also a relaxed lightness, an unpretentiousness in their sound.

Pablo Agri, violín

el contrabajista

The bandoneonista looked to be the youngest recruit of the quartet. Maybe a younger brother?

el bandoneonista

Emiliano Grecco, piano player, is only 21 and has already made a name for himself in the underground music scene.  Not only is he an amazing pianist, he is also a composer.  The quartet played a couple of his compositions and I can tell you they were extraordinary.  Next time we see him play, I will corner him and find out more about him… all I really know for sure is that he is the spitting image of my son Ode!  Am I right?

el pianista Emiliano Grecco

After the show it was only midnight so we went dancing.  Talk about culture shock!  We stepped into another world when we walked into the milonga Viejo Correo.

Viejo Correo: the old Post Office milonga

I felt like I’d been transported back to the 50s in a steel-mill town, somewhere out in the middle of nowheresville.  The clothing was 70s-ish but definitely not Summer of Love.  I saw more guys wearing fake rugs than in a Vegas casino.  Trailer Trash meets Juan Travolta.  And the gals….  well, beehives are still in vogue somewhere in the world, you knew that, right?  I would only wish that place on someone who really yearned for a Route 66 experience.  Even the waitresses were archetypal.   And here’s the cool blue ride to take the waitress out in:

Ford Falcon funkalicious!

Can you see how confusing and wabi-sabi this Buenos Aires reality can be? I mean, I walk past the Acropolis every time I go to the subway stop!

which of the buildings in this photo will be around 100 years from now?

I want to end this post with a REQUEST.




Please, listen up.  I want everyone who HAS BEEN, is NOW, or PLANS TO BE  Addicted to Tango to send me an email detailing:

WHEN, WHERE, and HOW did you realize that you were HOPELESSLY ADDICTED TO TANGO?

(For my spanish-speaking readers:  ¿Cúando y cómo sabías que le había caído preso al tango?  O sea, ¿que llegaste a ser adicto sin esperanza?)

My plan is to collect all your comments (feel free to send photos too!) and insights into the depths of your pathos & etc.  I will post it all on the blog (so long as it’s not obscene) and then… we’ll see what happens from there!

Let me know if I can include your name or if you wish to remain anonymous. Through our collective reflection we can shed some light on the how and the why tango can become an obsession.   If we don’t manage to penetrate the depths of our collective psychosis, we can at least have some fun sharing our common dilemma.  I am already sketching out a Tango Addiction Flow Chart, and perhaps a Telltale Signs Deep Water Chart.

Death by wabi-sabi?

Drag those hidden desires and obsessions out of the murky depths and into the twilight of your favorite milonga!  One of our favorites is Boedo Tango, a very classy place.

guy on the left appears to be deep in prayer before stepping out onto the dance floor...

Now, don’t forget to respond, and soon! (

Ciao from Buenos Aires!

I’ve Developed A Dangerous New Habit

No, I haven’t taken up cart-driving.  (Although that could be fun!)  Nor have I started up my own recycling delivery service:

I’ve made the chic, eco-friendly, planet-friendly, sustainable choice  …riding a bici in Buenos Aires!

The streets are crowded with people and traffic,  aplastada like an empanada is my subway haiku, taxis cost money (but not that much), buses are fun if you like to window shop while standing, so why not ride a bike?  Cause it’s suicidal, that’s why!  But what about the beautiful parks?  They can’t be all that dangerous….. right?  It’s just getting to them that can be tricky.  Fortunately,  you don’t need your own bike, there’s a citywide Sustainable Mobility Plan.   So one pretty day we set out to ride bikes, but the closest Bici Station, at the Plaza Italia, was closed.  A week passed before we went back, only to be informed that we needed to sign up first.  Sure, let’s sign up!  Easy, right?  ha-ha!  First we need your ID, your passport,  a document from the local police certifying your residence, and your firstborn child’s bank account access code (sorry, Ode!).

a stack of bicis

We went to the closest comisario de policia , across from the Plaza Italia, but were told we had to go to our neighorhood comisario which is a few blocks in the other direction.  That was a tough blow to our bike ride plan, so we went for a nice walk around part of the park instead (the Palermo bosque is the size of Golden Gate Park) but the wind kicked up and pretty soon we had to break for pizza and coffee.  A few days later we went for a walk and, thanks to a friendly sidewalk flower-seller, found our local comisario.  They have a casual waiting room with blue plastic seating and a flat-screen tv to keep visitors occupied (like turning on the tv to keep the kids quiet).  We handed over our pasaportes to the pretty cop with hair down to her waist and a big semi-auto on her hip.  She logged in all our info and told us to come back the next day to pick up our certificates (cost: 10 pesos each).  The next day we went back and a big male knuckle-dragger informed us that our certificates would be delivered the following monday morning.  Monday afternoon we went back to the comisario to let them know that our certificados de domicilio had not, in fact, been delivered.  We were told that, yes, the logbook showed that the certificates had been delivered, probably to the doorman of our building.  It was suggested we speak with our doorman.  We asked Santiago, our friendly doorman, about it and he said he had not received anything for us.  Ben ranted and raved about South American bureaucracy for a while, I finally quieted him down with a glass of wine and some bread and cheese.  (However he did like the first officer and gave her a commemorative SLO County Sheriff’s Star.)  Lo and Behold, the very next morning the buzzer rang, it was a police officer letting me know he was sliding our documents under the front door of our building.

adorable police vehicle

A few days later Ben, on one of his Search & Rescue missions, found an open BikeShare stand in Las Heras Park, so we went over there armed with documents in order.  The nice young kids had their laptop up and running and they had us signed up in a jiffy… almost!


bici-chica scrutinizing willow's documents

Ben getting his Bike Share account

But, alas!  they didn’t have a functioning printer so we couldn’t get a couple of bikes just yet.  We decided to hoof it over to the Plaza Italia bici station, their printer was supposed to be working.   About 10 minutes later we made it over there, their printer was working but they were out of paper.  I suggested they used look in the trash to find a usable piece of paper with a blank side as yet unprinted, meanwhile Ben was ready to buy some paper, but it was suggested we try the next bici station, only about 10 minutes farther on.  Meanwhile the sunshine tangoed with the clouds and wind, and I was glad I had worn my tennies, leather jacket and cap.

At the third bici station, we were finally able to get our documents printed and signed.  We received the short version training on checking out a bike and a helmet if you want one (in the contract it says you have to wear one but in reality if you want to crack your coco that’s your choice).  So we went for a ride!  Yahoo!  We blasted up Libertador past the Facultad de Derecho, and turned up Scalabrini Ortíz.  Ben led me through some really scary intersections, but we finally made it back to the Las Heras bici station, dropped off the bikes, and walked over to a nearby café to warm up with coffee and a snack.

Spring will be here in just 2 days and I am looking forward to warmer weather, bike rides, runs in the park, and outdoor milongas.  I’m looking forward to walking around town in sandals and a tank top, and having gelato at a streetside café at midnight on my way to a milonga!   I have another post with photos of live tango orquestas coming out very shortly, so stay tuned!  Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Salon Tango Finals

Welcome to the New Normal. Are you wondering what I’m talking about?  Well, maybe I’m wondering what I’m going to say next.  You see, I grew up in the sixties, when normal was usually negotiable, and frequently difficult to define.  One of my favorite country western singers said, “Some people have friends in high places.  I have high friends in places!” If you know who I’m quoting, you win!  The winner gets…. something really special … TBA in a moment TBA.  Like maybe a free tango lesson?  A Buenos Aires city tour?  Va bene?

So, we were having dinner the other night in a really nice little bistro, a seafood place about 3 blocks from our apartment, the food was really good, it was about 10 pm and really crowded and noisy.  Suddenly I had a Realization.  I didn’t mind the crowd or the noise.  In fact, I really liked it.  That’s such a sea-change for me, lover-girl of horses and wide open spaces.  But the point here being that I had stepped through a portal into another reality!  I had been assimilated into the city!  After all the daily subway and bus rides at rush hour (which is perpetual unless you’re up and about in the morning which I’m not; public transport evaporates after about 10:30 pm, except for taxis which purr around the city in the middle of the night when you’ve just emerged from a milonga and your feet are killing you and it’s cold out and you might have to walk a few blocks to a busier street and wait 5 or 10 minutes for one to show up, finally…), I’ve adapted.  (You know, like in that Star Trek episode when Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and his gang are fighting off a Borg invasion, and our fearless heroes keep recalibrating their weapons but Data, the android, keeps announcing “they’ve adapted.”)  All this to say I’m finally getting used to all the crowding and being squished, aplastada like an empanada, hordes of busy people in motion everywhere.  I will probably never get used to walking on the extremely crowded pedestrian-only streets downtown, like Suipacha, Florída, Lavalle, also known as pickpocket central.  But I have adjusted my system prefs to accommodate all the people and the constant noise levels of Buenos Aires.  I am in the New Normal.

Buenos Aires is so different from other cities.  In some ways it feels like New York, with all the tall buildings and traffic and noise, but it’s so much friendlier, so much more hip, the beautiful buildings, parks, cafés.  More like Paris, they say, but I’ve never been to Paris.  Not yet.  The people here are really good-looking, and seem more educated and cultured than anywhere I’ve ever been.  They are also kind and considerate.  Men open doors for women, people smile and make eye contact.  None of this walking around, head down, don’t speak to anyone.  Even the cops are friendly.  Buenos Aires is truly a liveable city.  Like, where else would you see the tiniest vintage microcar pull up to a light?

1953 BMW Isetta

Luckily for all of us, Ben had the presence of mind to get his camera out before the light turned.  Is this not the most adorable Barbie car ever?  It’s only got one cylinder, and the front of the car opens up to let you get in!  How cute it that?  There were two little girls in the front seat next to the driver, they appeared to be just as excited to be riding in it as we were to catch a glimpse!

And now to the Finals of the World Cup of Tango!  El Mundial!

we had a great view

Here we are at the Tango Salón finals.  As I explained in my last blog, Tango Salón is close embrace dancing.  It’s the only way to dance tango on a crowded dance floor.  Tango Escenario, or stage tango, is the other style which is beautiful and very dramatic.  The finals were held in a sports stadium called Luna Park, in La Boca.  It’s a very nice venue, and was packed to the rim for both nights of the Finals.  The fabulous Mario Orlando DJ’d the entire event, except for the live music provided by Rubén Rada and the Orquesta Río de la Plata:

Mario played tangos by the orchestras of DiSarli, Pugliese, D’Arrienzo, Troilo, Tanturi, Biagi, Lucio Demare, Enrique Rodríguez, Fresedo.  All much-loved tunes that you tangueros are familiar with.  There were four final rounds, with 10 couples in each round.  They were all very good dancers!  And they came from the four corners of the whole world.

The judges were a grouping of the legendary:  Maria Nieves, Eduardo Arquimbau, Carlos Borges, Guillermina Quiroga, Julio Dupláa, Jorge Torres, Miguel Angel Zotto, Cachi & Juan Manuel Fernández, and Aguila Crespo.  My apologies in advance for any spelling errors!

The first prize given out went to a couple from Japan, for Most Elegant Couple.  Fifth prize went to another Japanese couple, from Tokyo; Fourth to a very chic Italian couple; Third to a pair from San Francisco (Go Team!) Brian Nguyen & Yuliana Basmajyan.   (All entrants had to pre-qualify by winning the competitions in their home country.  In California, it was our friends and longtime tango teachers Gato and Andrea who were in charge of the US Finals which took place last spring in SF.)

After those presentations were made, complete with flowers and boxes of tango clothes and shoes and trophy bowls for the lucky winning dancers, the announcer let the crowd know that the judges were unable to decide between 1st and 2nd place.  So the stage was cleared once again to make room for the dance-off between the top two couples. Here’s a photo:

They were phenomenal!  I personally was voting for the Venezuelans: a tall elegant guy in a white suit, and his gorgeous partner.  But they were all so perfect, how could anyone choose?  The judges’ point system came out in favor of the Colombians.  It was a happy, ecstatic moment, as you can see:

Diego Benavídez Hernández and Natasha Agudelo Arboleda, from Bogotá, Colombia!  Besides all the flowers, engraved glass bowls, tango clothes and shoes, the winning couple received 30,000 Pesos (about $8,000) a trip to Paris (this weekend!) from Air France, including a mandatory performance (are we jealous yet?) dancing at the Eiffel Tower!

2nd Place winners John Erban & Clarissa Sánchez

Topping off the evening was a tango by Juan Carlos Copes and his daughter, Joana Copes, with the full orchestra.  They were fantastic!  I feel most privileged to have seen the living legend in person!  He also dances an awesome milonga in Carlos Saura’s movie Tango, from a few years back.  (Please note, all of these performances are on uTube, check it out!  Use these search terms:  Mundial de Tango Salon Buenos Aires 2011)

Juan Carlos Copes y Joana Copes

All in all, the Mundial was attended by 400,000 people during its two weeks of concerts, shows, films, workshops, dance classes, milongas & etc.  It was a fabulous success, and the talk about town is that once again tango has gone back to its roots, i.e., we are in the midst of a renaissance at the local level: emerging new tango clubs, young new composers, musicians, orquestras, dancers from a host of barrios (as portrayed in my post on the Tango Zone!).  This is truly an exciting time to be here.  Our favorite dance teachers, and doubtless all the best maestros of Buenos Aires, have been working with the dancers, helping them  polish their technique and choreography.  No matter where the couples were from, I think I can say absolutely that this was not their first trip to Buenos Aires.  A pilgrimage to the Mecca of Tango is a journey that all serious dancers must take at some point.  (Hello!  this means YOU)  The downside talk is that porteños are a bit embarrassed that there were no winners from Buenos Aires this year, and people asking why.  How can it be possible that foreigners are taking the gold?  A very interesting question and topic for discussion.

The next big competition is the CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino), in March.  We were here during the CITA a few years ago, the milongas were so packed you could not even find a place to drop your jacket & purse unless you made a reservation AND showed up before 11 or so.   The CITA offers classes, workshops, the whole nine yards.   It also means that the price of privates (dance classes) will double, and hotel rooms and late night taxis will be harder to find.

gelato at Persicco

Hope you enjoyed the post!  Here I am rematando (finishing off) the evening with a dulce de leche granizado.  The best!  Ciao from Buenos Aires!