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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nice contrasts: colors, textures, styles, architectural adornments.
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.
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!
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.
Flashback to an older era. Here’s a picture from some years back, before the urban renewal:
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.
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…
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.
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!
Check them out on Facebook. I’m going to one of their shows very soon.
Looking into the courtyard in the late afternoon… positively magical!
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! firstname.lastname@example.org. Not available mornings. I’m on the Milonguera Schedule.