Buenos Aires Between the Lines

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

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maybe I could upgrade to graffiti artist?

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

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Honk if you’re a Hippie!

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

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“AUTO BEING REPAIRED”

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

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’63 Fiat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amen to that!

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

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

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

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Lago Nahuel Huapi

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

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Tacuarí 1557, San Telmo

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raúl Bravo with Guillermina Quiroga

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

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Raúl performed with Guillermina Quiroga

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Feliz Cumple, Maestro!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adios, Maestro!

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

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

 

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4 thoughts on “Buenos Aires Between the Lines

  1. Willow, I was happy to read that you are doing well. Forget what other people tell you to do. Write for your own pleasure. If someone doesn’t like it–the hell with them. Dennis

    Like

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