The Horse – Tango Connection

bareback1

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.

Willow's kitchen

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? 

11541908_370658973130189_7588950250547102997_n

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. 

pissed-2

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.

images-2

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!

images-6

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!

beauti-dancers

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!

ma-ferme-milonga-z

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.

tangopassion

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. 

tango-rojo

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.

zona tango

“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!

mil Lanus6*

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.

nv1

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!)

IMG_0899.JPG

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!