Valentín Alsina: the Other Side of Buenos Aires

When I tell people I live in Valentín Alsina, they either nod or look at me quizzically.  Porteños look at me like, “I’m sorry.”  Foreigners have never heard of it.  But from those who also live on my side of the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, I get smiles.

Puente Alsina, as seen from the capital

Puente Alsina, gateway to my neighborhood.  Puente Alsina crosses the Matanza River, commonly known as el Riachuelo, separating the city of Buenos Aires from the province of Buenos Aires.  The Riachuelo is dreadfully polluted.  The most contaminated river in Argentina, so they say.  Makes me want to cry.

Once a thriving part of the great metropolis, Valentín Alsina has seen better days.

Puente Alsina seen from Valentín Alsina

downtown Valentin Alsina

Valentín Alsina is a street artist’s paradise.  Images and opinions get right in your face.

This one says it all.  No client = no business.

Ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is still a favorite in this working class district.

Young family with a couple of fuzzy friends.

Do you believe in creating your own reality?  Don’t we all?  There’s a Coliseum on the this side of Rome.

Create your own reality now, before someone else creates it for you.  If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!

Version 2

Need a little help with the remodel?

“Wabi means that which fails to satisfy, wholly refuses to submit to one’s aims, and goes against what was wished.  Take to heart that wabi is not considering one’s incapacities, nor even embracing the thought that being ill-provided for is in any way out of the order of things.” the Zencharoku, 1828

Bandoneon and bajo… the wabi and sabi of Tango.

Tango is the beating heart of Buenos Aires.

They call this el Muro Sur (the southern wall).  You drive right past it after crossing Puente Alsina.

murosurazul

Abandoned factory…

meets lonely playground.

Pretty flowers and bright happy calacas remind me of Califas.

I like to imagine that some talented neighborhood kids did this fabulous copy of Picasso’s Guernica.  I spotted it a few months ago, walking around looking for the Alsina cultural center.

German aviation forces bombed the Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.  “Guernica had no military or strategic importance, and thus provoked a popular reaction against the absurd sacrifice of innocents.” [culturagenial.com]

This is my neighborhood.  I think it’s pretty nice.  I’m a fan of all things wabi-sabi.

The wabi-sabi ruin below is just a block away.  Definitely a scene stealer.  I hope somebody remodels soon.  Perfect set for an action sequence in a nitty-gritty urban thriller… am I right?

Wabi originally meant ‘sadness of poverty.’  But gradually it came to mean an attitude toward life, with which one tried to resign himself to straitened living and to find peace and serenity of mind even under such circumstances.”  Diane Durston, Wabi Sabi.

When it rains in Valentín Alsina, it pours.  Last year my neighborhood flooded.

Too close to the river, I guess.  Below, a block from Santos’ house:

That green stuff in the foreground is the grass between the street and the sidewalk.  Flooding gives me the creeps.  Whoever’s in charge of water management infrastructure hereabouts (levees, spillways, floodwater diversion systems) has been sleeping on the job for the last fifty years… and stashing those big checks in some offshore account.  Panamá, Caymans, New Orleans?

What’s all this  talk about diverting cash flows?  When you lose buying power to massive inflation, or get charged 40-70% interest on your home loan cause you missed one payment… you must be in Argentina.  Argentines pay taxes and get NOTHING in return.  Broken dirty streets and sidewalks, broken sewage systems, inefficient wastewater treatment plants, ancient power grids… kind of like Venezuela, I guess.

Retirement pensions were cut 15% in 2018, and the government of Macri is considering another cut in 2019. That’s money people earned and saved… what kind of idiot thinks he has the right?  Macri is such an imbécil, like his fellow Emperor Has No Clothes Trump.  Hmmm… maybe that’s why there was a fiery picket line blocking Puente Alsina when I was heading home yesterday.

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Picket Line on Puente Alsina

This Monday and Tuesday there were paros (work stoppages).  Subways and collectivos (buses) were grounded both days.  People survive by ridesharing with others who have cars.  But no vehicle was going to cross Puente Alsina this afternoon;  picketers lit fires at both ends.

Flashback from a New York Times reporter: “Back this month for the first time in 16 years, I saw a country stuck in what has now become its natural state: crisis.  As if living a déja vu, I flipped on the TV to once again hear Argentine newscasters fretting about bailouts, the peso in freefall, and fears of default.  Many stores advertised going-out-of-business sales.  Still more storefronts were shuttered and empty, with For Rent or For Sale signs.”

“Consider the recent Group of 20 summit that drew global leaders to Buenos Aires, including President Trump.  The Argentines erected a glamorous media center for an army of press.  They filled it with avant-garde art and offered unlimited wine on tap, craft beers, fresh pastas and rare cuts of Argentine beef.  They staged edgy performances – a sort of tango show, as if produced by Andy Warhol. – …  Yet for the vast majority of the summit, the wifi – the most fundamental necessity for working journalists – was offline. Broken. Didn’t work.”  – Anthony Faiola, New York Times, 27 Dec. 2018. 

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Welcome to Argentina.  Sounds like Burning Man.  No desert playground here, but we have our own Burning Man.

Who’s your Daddy?

Sorry, no avant-garde art or craft beers out here in the stix… but Don Tito cooks up the best asado in Valentín Alsina.  Sit back and enjoy an adult beverage while I relate my Cliff’s Notes style version of local history:

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General José Maria Paz

Lanús, the bigger city next door to Valentín Alsina, essentially a suburb, was established as Villa General Paz in 1888, named after numerous battles captained and won by General José María Paz in the Argentine civil wars of the mid-19th century.

Villa General Paz was officially renamed Lanús in 1955, in honor of Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús (1820-1888), a settler of Basque origin, who helped found the city.

Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús

Lanús dedicated himself to importing goods from Europe, and made a fortune supplying the war effort against Paraguay in the latter part of the 1860s.  Paraguayan troops had occupied the city of Corrientes in 1865, thus persuading Argentina to enter the war as an ally of Brazil and Uruguay, who were already fighting the Paraguayans. [La Defensa, Diario Digital, 24 Dec. 2016]

Lanús was one of a group of wealthy men who helped Bartolomé Mitre start up the newspaper La Nación in 1870 It’s still one of the most widely read papers in Argentina, although perhaps not the most respected.  Lanús later became a provincial Senator, and vastly enriched his fortunes provisioning the armies who obliterated the indigenous peoples in the south of the province.  He’s no hero in my book.  Bad karma.

karma

What goes around, comes around.

The geography of what is now Valentín Alsina and Lanús, with a navigable river flowing into the Río de la Plata and hence to the Atlantic, precipitated the intense growth and commercial development of Lanús.  Those in a position to profit could see that it would not be long before the huddled masses of the second half of the nineteenth century would be arriving: people from other latitudes and hemispheres, with other experiences and knowledge, other cultures and languages.  All of them looking for a place to put down roots.  The soil was generous, the sun smiled upon the land, and the river linked the new city to the sea, assuring the progress of some …  but not all.  Sound familiar?

Lanús wasn’t always as rundown as it is today.  In the 1940s, Lanús was still mostly fields, creeks and trees.  Lots more people arrived when the meatpackers opened: Frigoríficos Wilson and La Negra. 

The canneries employed so many people there were 3 shifts a day.  Frigorífico Wilson built a ballroom in Valentín Alsina, where workers danced on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.

A downtown was built; streetcars were assembled and rolled onto new rails.  Cars were still scarce in those days, while horse-drawn wagons were everywhere. 

Practically every enterprising business made deliveries by wagon.  Horse-drawn carts are now prohibited by law, but I still see a few around Valentín Alsina.  Fueled by necessity, post-industrial creativity flourishes.

Who are the cartoneros?  Mostly skinny men and an occasional woman, pulling a jury-rigged metal-framed cart, collecting used cardboard to sell to recyclers for a few pennies.  I’ve never seen a well-fed cartonero.  Recently I saw a cartonero loading a beat-up pickup.  Civilization and Progress. 

a local dairy from back in the day

Someone once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. “It would be a good idea,” he replied.

Now a major industrial center, Lanús is served by freight and passenger railway lines.  The city has chemical, armaments, textiles, paper, leather and rubber goods, wire, apparel, oils and lubricants industries, as well as tanneries, vegetable and fruit canneries.  Primary and secondary schools, as well as several technical schools, are located in the city, as well as the Hospital Eva Perón, one of the largest in the Greater Buenos Aires area.  Lanús has a football club, Club Atlético Lanús, currently playing in the Argentina Primera Liga.

mundial de 78

Argentina won the World Cup in 1978.  Argentines like to fight so much at soccer games that only one side of the stadium will let fans out after a match.  The other side has to wait at least an hour before they are allowed to leave; and all the bars and liquor stores within a mile are shut down.  I know; been there, done that.  Last November a couple of Boca players received eye injuries from broken glass when some River fans threw rocks at their bus, as they pulled up outside the River stadium.  The match had to be rescheduled, and finally took place in the Santiago Barnabéu stadium in Madrid.  Argentines are passionate about their sports… and they’ve produced some of the best players in the world.

Messi, Argentine God of soccer

Another Argentine passion is Tango.  You knew we’d be getting to that, right?  Following is a compilation of Santos’ favorite tango singers from Valentín Alsina.

Above, Tango singer Mercedes Simone, 1904-1990.  Following, one of Santos’ favorite singers, Hector Varela, a local from the Lanús area.

Hector Varela (1914-1987) was a bandoneon player and composer of tangos who joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo as first bandoneón in 1934.  Legend has it that Tita Merello and Libertad Lamarque, Argentine singers and actresses, asked Varela to accompany them.  Varela’s parents wanted him to become an accountant.  He graduated with an accounting degree, but never worked a day as a numbers cruncher.  In 1935 he joined the orchestra of Enrique Santos Discépolo, where he met Aníbal Troilo, another almighty god of Tango.

Cuando Troilo toca, Dios habla.  When Troilo plays, God speaks.

An image of Troilo on the screen at Milonga Marabú

In 1939 Varela briefly formed his own orchestra, but then returned to the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo, “el Rey del Compás,” and stayed there for 10 years.  He formed his own group again in 1951, and over the years recorded 383 tangos with singers Armando Laborde and Argentino Ledesma, among others.

Another superstar from Valentín Alsina was Sandro, a singer and songwriter. (1945 – 2010)  Sandro sang rock, pop, and ballads.  Not just any ol’ musician, Sandro went on to become a well-known actor, producer, and director.  He recorded 52 albums, selling more than 8 million, and starred in 16 movies.

Sandro on the far right, at a birthday party

Sandro won a Grammy in 2005.  He was the first Argentine pop singer to perform at Madison Square Garden, and is dearly beloved to this day.  Sandro’s star status enabled him to buy a mansion in Banfield, near Lanús, where he installed a recording studio, and lived there until he passed away in 2010.  A statue of Sandro inhabits a nearby park here in Valentín Alsina.

Sandro

Edmundo Rivero, (1911-1986) singer, guitarist and composer, was born in Valentín Alsina.  Rivero trained in classical music at the National Conservatory in Belgrano.  A friend said he was “…a character straight out of the Quixote, born in the Pampas.”  Edmundo Rivero had a deep, gravelly voice, and an unmistakable style.  In 1935 Rivero joined the orchestra of Julio de Caro.  In the 1940s he sang with Canaro.  Later he sang with other orchestras, including Horacio Salgán and Aníbal Troilo.

Edmundo Rivero

    «Mire, Rivero, mejor bájese del palco, porque me parece que esto viene de         “cargada”».

     «¿Le parece?».

     «¿Y no ve que le tiran cosas?».

     «Ah, pero a mí en los bailes siempre me aplauden así».

     «¿Está seguro, Rivero?».

     [translation follows]

     “Look, Rivero, you better get off the stage, they’re starting to throw things.”        

     “You think so?”

     “Can’t you see they’re throwing stuff at us?”

     “Yeah, that’s how they always applaud me.”

     “Are you sure, Rivero?”

Alberto Morán (1922-1997)

Born in Italy, Morán emigrated to Buenos Aires with his family when he was 3 years old.  Morán made his singing debut in 1940 in the famous café El Nacional, known as la Cathedral of Tango (not to be confused with la Nacional, on Adolfo Alsina, or la Catedral in Almagro, or la Catedral in Mataderos).  Morán really made star status when he joined the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese, in 1944.  Some of his most famous songs include “Pasional,” “San José de Flores,” and “El abrojito,”​ which is a kind of thorn that pierces your heart.

Tito Reyes  (1928-2007)

Tito Reyes con Troilo

Tito Reyes was born Tito Cosme Sconza in the Puente Alsina neighborhood.  He and his six brothers were raised by Italian immigrant parents in a house his father built; wooden with a metal roof, the typical immgrant house of the period.  The Sconza family home was elevated 1-1/2 meters above the ground, because the barrio of Valentín Alsina floods frequently due to storms.

No kidding

Tito grew up listening to the radio.  He taught himself to sing, listening to Carlos Gardel on Radio Colonia.  Tito apprenticed as a shoemaker, and later worked in construction and as a welder.  Tito never quit working; he didn’t think that singing in cafés was a real job.  Eventually, though, he must have wrapped his mind around the idea of becoming a professional singer,  because in the early 1950s he began to use Tito Reyes as his artistic name.

The rains always end, sooner or later. The sky clears, the sun comes out, and lovely clouds come riding in on the sunset like a live fire-breathing dragon.

from my balcony

Seriously, how can you worry when you have a dragon like Smaug hanging around?

Saints need sinners.  Otherwise, they’d be out of a job.

Jus’ having a little fun.  Hope you’all are too.  Over and out from Buenos Aires.

José Ignacio: Puerto Tranquilo

 

calle tranquilo en José Ignacio

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step… or a long bus ride.  Our summer vacation began in early February (summer in Argentina) with a ferry ride across the Paraná, from Buenos Aires to la Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

Off the dock in Colonia, we hopped on a double-decker cruising bus.  Sure beats traveling on a recycled school bus ready for its next incarnation.  I flashbacked to the early 80s, traveling steep snaky dirt roads in the Guatemalan highlands.  When I came back to my senses on the luxe bus, there were no baskets of fresh fruit, veggies and squawking chickens on the roof, and no pesky goat lookin’ for whatever tastes good in your backpack.  Goats are equal opportunity consumers as well as consummate recyclers… not to mention smelly and noisy, but they do have cute kids.  Don’t forget to cross yourself if an overloaded, swaying truck appears around the next corner.  And if a tire suddenly blows, the culturally correct response is laughter and wild clapping of hands.  Take it easy folks, thanks to la Pachmama we’re still alive and kickin’.

If you were traveling in Central American in the early 80s, nobody laughed when jackbooted paramilitary squads pulled your bus over at a checkpoint.  Everyone had to line up and show their papers… men over here, women over there.  What always struck me — and it happened many times — was just how young those helmeted soldier-boys were.  Sixteen?  Seventeen?  Every single one armed to the teeth, most notably with an AK47.  A gift from the CIA, no doubt, or some international gunrunner with military connections.  The CIA was oh so helpful to groups of armed men fighting to protect their countries from the bonds of our “sphere of influence.”  You know I’m kidding, right?  So close to our own backyard.  These soldier boys were always wowed by my California driver’s license.  They wanted to hear about the beaches, the surfing, California girls.  Most of the time time they forgot to ask me what I was doing in a war zone.  Too many Beach Boys songs, I guess.

no goat ride-along… just a chicken

But I digress.  We rode our cushy bus from Colonia to Punta del Este, that wannabe mini Miami 209 miles (337 km) north of Colonia.  Our expat friends picked us up in a rental car.  Their car had been stolen, then impounded by customs, and was awaiting trial for its owners being Uruguay residents and property owners driving a car with Argentine plates.  Bad enough having your car stolen, then having to go to court to get it back, knowing the fines and lawyer’s fees will be more than what it’s worth.  Don’t you just love South American bureaucracy?  Full-on medieval.  Lots of hands out every step of the way.  Kind of like an inescapable codependent fling.  An interminable nightmare.  I recently found out that Argentine judges can hold prisoners in jail indefinitely until it pleases them to set a trial date.  There is no right to a speedy trial by a jury of your peers.  And if you do go to trial, like Cristina Kirchner, Argentine ex-president, accused of skimming in the 8 digits, you can be let out on indefinite bond, especially if no one will come forward to testify against you.  She was re-elected to a congressional seat last year, and no doubt will be running for president again in 2019.  Being out of the limelight is just too tiresome for most politicians.  Everybody wants to keep their hand in the cookie jar.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Geez, I’m trying to get politics off my mind and back to summer vacation.  I guess that means I need some more time off.  Yesterday I was fantasizing about Zihuatanejo, my favorite Mexican beach town.  Three times in one lifetime isn’t nearly enuf for this dreamer.

 

I think I need a supersize dose of that good ‘ol Zen mindfulness.  Like, y’know, being in the Here and Now.  Ommmm…  Listen up, brothers and sisters.  The Argentine peso is in free fall these last few weeks, and the government is in a state of paralysis. The only scheme they’ve come up with is to beg the IMF for a $30 billion bailout that everyone knows will be impossible to pay back.  On the morning news I heard that Argentine is now considered a deindustrialized country.  What the F#*%?  Not enough money to retool factories, let alone build new ones.  Not enough guita to lift the marginalized out of poverty and homelessness.  Since Macri was elected (2015) the percentage of Argentines living in poverty has jumped to 30%.  The government figures are lower: up to 25.7% in 2018. [Indec.gob.ar]  Politicians always accuse the government of rounding down.  Your guess is as good as mine.  According to Indec, Buenos Aires has the lowest level of poverty in the nation: 9% per capita, 5.6% by household.  In my barrio on the fringe of town poverty per capita is 25.5%, 17.4% per household.  Foreign investment slowed to a grinding halt in May, then went retrograde.  Argentine capital booked a flight offshore… like it hasn’t already been there for years.  Bye-bye!

In January Bill Gates met with Argentine president Mauricio Macri at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  Gates (founder of Microsoft and second richest man in the world) told Macri he’s ready to invest in Argentina as soon as Macri lets Milagro Sala out of jail.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me, but …. apparently Macri is not the brightest star when it comes to economics and/or human rights.

Bill Gates with Angela Merkel and Mauricio Macri in Davos, January 2018

Milagro Sala is an Argentine political, social and indigenous leader.  She is the head of Tupac Amaru, a neighborhood organization which has constructed thousands of homes in the province of Jujuy (pronounced who-whó-ee).  She is a leader of the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), a workers’ union.  The right to form unions and to go on strike is written into the Argentine constitution.  Not so in the U.S., where teachers recently went on “walkouts” in a number of states where striking is illegal.  Milagro has been fighting the expropriation of native lands in Jujuy  by both Argentine and international corporations.  She’s currently still under house arrest.  Luckily she has a few angels watching over her.

Milagro Sala with Papa Francisco.  [photo © http://www.cronista.com]

Argentina’s heading down that ol’ lonesome road into economic crisis yet again.  Many working class Argentines are having to choose between buying food or paying rent.  Utilities doubled in the last 12 months.  Public transport (bus and subte) has nearly doubled… from 6 pesos to 11 [about 40 cents].  Projected inflation for this year (2018) is 27.4%. [Invenónmica.com.ar]  Rumor has it there are food shortages in southern Patagonia because truckers can’t break even on account of diesel prices.  Truck drivers are having a “paro” tomorrow: a one day work stoppage.  They would like to have their wages kept up with inflation… good luck!  I was watching a progressive tv channel last week which was unexplicably off the air the next night.  Now it’s back on with a different, less contentious host.  I hope this train stops before we get to the Venezuela station.  Is there a rest stop somewhere on this highway of the damned?

Friends, we’re not in Kansas anymore.   We saddled up our horses and rode to a verdant oasis called José Ignacio, on the coast of Uruguay.  Take a deep breath and forget all about the gloomy news.  Catch a glimpse of this beautiful hideaway at the end of the trail, where we spent 10 glorious days in February.  Our expat friends from California have been living in this part of the continent since their kids were little — the kids are in college now.  As fun-loving freeloaders we offered to be guest chefs and house-sitters; we even brought recipes we promised to cook.  Because of our friends’ wheels-in-the-hoosegow problem, and on account of their participation in Carnaval, we became dog, cat and houseplant sitters as well as chefs-du-jour.  The beach was a five minute stroll down a dirt road, across a two-lane highway, over the dunes and onto a glorious, empty beach.

Daisy, quantifiably cute terrier and Santos’ new best friend and lap-warmer, loved to walk the beach with us.

Our friends’ house, a rambling 2-story brick structure, faces west to a protected wetlands and south to the beach.

There’s a wide shady galería for kicking back.  We had our toast and tea there every morning.

Quite a sweet spot.  All around us were fields of marsh grasses and thickets of blackberries, hydrangeas, cattails and other pretty flowers I don’t know by name.

Santos spotted a baby frog… precious!!

After posing for photos it jumped back into the cattails.

Walking around the neighborhood we came across an old Chevy pickup,

and quite a few homes made from recycled containers.

How cool is that?  Let’s hope they have plenty of insulation.

Santos and Beth on the front porch

Did we land in paradise or what?  We ate outside every night on the outdoor dining deck.  We threw down plenty of grilled steaks, chicken, chorizos and morcilla, all grilled on the parrilla – an Argentine wood-fired barbecue.  We fixed pasta with fresh shrimp sauteed in garlic and jalapeños.  And what’s not to love about grilled veggies, especially peppers, onions, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, squash — if it’s fresh, edible and you can put it on the fire, it will be delicious.

In the evenings we would watch the sunset until the stars came out, drinking Malbec and talking with our friends.  Around 10 pm we would head to the kitchen and start fixin’ supper.  Argentines eat late, European-style.  Beth made roasted artichoke-parmeggiano appetizers that were amazing.

The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular, especially the view from the second story deck.  Big pink sunset taken by yours truly from that magical spot.

Our friends let us use their amazing beach chairs that shapeshifted into backpacks, with big pockets and cupholders for beach blanket bingo, drinks, munchies, book, fishing gear, stray kittens… whatever you might need for a few hours of beachcombing, swimming or splashing around, reading a good book, dreaming in the sand.  The only thing these folding chairs don’t do is transport you to the beach and make daiquiris.  But that’s okay, we improvised.

Santos went for a swim and found the edge of terra firma just a few yards out.  The sand beneath his feet was just gone… Upa!  No wonder they call it Playa Brava.  There were only a few other people on the beach during the week.  By a few I mean 4 or 5, seriously.  On the weekends we saw more people, but we never came close to feeling crowded.  It was mid February and summer was winding down.  School would be starting back up at the end of the month.  The days were still hot but the wind kicked up mid-afternoon.  In California we call them sundowners…  a late afternoon breeze that calms down after sunset.  Porteños are such urbanites, when they go to the beach they all go to the same beach and it looks like the French Riviera… masses of people all clustered together under little umbrellas.  But José Ignacio was tranquilo. Muy tranqui. 

Almost every day we made a run to the fresh fish place, a few klics down the road.  It’s just past the little unspoiled (as of yet) beach town of José Ignacio, at the next cruce de caminos, near the Laguna Garzón bridge.

The ladies who work there are delightful, and all the fish is that day’s catch.  They close when they sell out.

The first day these girls shelled a kilo of shrimp for us in record time, smiling.  Another day we bought all kinds of fish and crustaceans to make cioppino… delicious!  I made fish tacos with my favorite yogurt-lime-chile sauce.  Cooking is truly a creative pastime.  Why not do it with joy?

Kite-surfing at Laguna Garzón.  It’s a mile-long lagoon protected from the ocean by dunes.

 

Santos and Beth at the fish place.

Our wonderful hosts let us use their bicis whenever they weren’t home; we biked into town almost every day. There’s a bike path most of the way.  José Ignacio is so tranqui.  There are two beaches in José Ignacio: Playa Mansa and Playa Brava.  Playa Brava (rough, turbulent), where Santos almost went to Davy Jones, is on the south side of the point, facing the prevailing winds.  It can be pretty breezy in the afternoons.  Playa Mansa (mansa = gentle) faces east, and is protected by the point, kinda like Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo, my ‘ol stomping grounds. 

Playa Mansa

El Faro, the lighthouse, is right on the point between Playa Brava and Playa Mansa.  José Ignacio is small – about 6 blocks by 7 blocks.  Population 290.  There are lots of cute little beach houses on the point…. many are vacation rentals.

Our friends tell us the whole town shuts down in winter, including the shops.  Population zero.  They go back to Montevideo or Buenos Aires, or California.  When it’s winter here, it’s summer in the states.  If I could afford two places I’d definitely go for the endless summer.

Below is the beach on the other side of the lighthouse: Playa Brava.  You can see at a glance  that the water is rough and tempestuous.  People walk along this beach, but they swim and sun on Playa Mansa.

La Farola is a lovely restaurant with even lovelier views… ¿qué no?  Everything in José Ignacio is just a couple of blocks from the beach.

Santos liked the municipal center.

We took a break under a palm tree – it was a hot day.

Another day we had coffee at Almacen El Palmar.

El Palmar has live music off and on all afternoon and into the evening.  There’s a mike, a guitarist, percussion… even a singer.  The canopied dining room lets the breeze in but not the sun.

Time for a cappuccino and croissant, or house empanadas?  You got it.

Are we hungry yet?  They have local cheese, too.

No wonder Mark Zuckerberg has a house in José Ignacio…. or so I’m told.  No one will bother him here.  This is a very laid-back beach; it’s a safe place.  Muy tranquilo.  We discovered a great farm stand selling fresh organic fruits and vegetables: La Granja Orgánica José Ignacio.

What a great place! I brought back the shopping bag.  Their emblem is the Southern Cross.

la Cruz del Sur

We parked our bicis at the farmstand or the café, so we could walk about.  The lighthouse is open daily but we didn’t feel like paying to climb circular stairs.  El Faro is  mighty pretty though, and lends a charming touch to the scenery — as well as keeping boats from breaking up on the rocks.  José Ignacio also has a general store with a veggie counter, a butcher, homemade empanadas and pizzas to go, and just about all the groceries you could want.  It’s a small store, so if they don’t have it, do you really need it?

This is the other restaurant I mentioned, La Huella, (the footprint) on Playa Mansa.

Here it is at night.  We checked out the menu while beachcombing one afternoon.  A beautiful spot, right on the edge of Playa Mansa.

One night we went to meet friends of our friends at a big party beach on the south side of Punta del Este.  There was loud annoying pop music coming from a beach bar, all rhythm, all repetitive, no lyrical content, with only the vaguest attempt at melody—yikes!  Nothing like bad disco music to put me into a foul mood.  Rock’n’Roll, Blues, Country, Classical, Tango, Flamenco… a thousand times yes.  But disco?  Yeeech.  After the sun went down we froze.  It was windy.  The only thing we had to stave off the cold was vino tinto in a box, and I can’t drink much of that without getting a headache.  The conversation reminded me of when I subbed for a class of 6th grade boys, the constant idiotic chatter and crude jokes.  We didn’t even have a fire to warm up our circle of 10.  I closed my eyes and wished I was elsewhere, dancing tango… my happy zone.

We hung out with the same group of people a week later at Carnaval in Punta del Este.  I guess the ice had melted… it was a lovely warm evening.  We had fun.  One of the party had arranged for a long table right on the sidewalk at a pizza place.  The table was inside a clear plastic tent-like structure, so there was nothing between us and the parade.  We could see and be seen, but protected from the wind.  I didn’t bother taking pictures ’cause I just wanted to enjoy the moment… the dancing, the outfits, the drumming.  It was amazing!  A sight not to be missed.  Maybe one of these days I’ll get to N’Orleans, or Rio.  We enjoyed Carnaval.  It was a memorable last night in Uruguay.

Trump showed up for the dancing girls.

The very next morning we left Punta on the bus to Colonia.  As homesick as we were for Buenos Aires and our favorite milongas, we still had a few hours to kill before boarding the ferry.  We wandered around the historic district, walked out to the point and the lighthouse, and finally settled in for light refreshments at one of our favorite waterfront bistros.

I love this view.

Santos kicked back.

We watched a boat sail in to the marina on a gentle breeze.

Over and out from la Colonia del Sacramento!

Two Uruguays

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Lately I’ve been reading too much news, and none of it is encouraging.  The loud little voice inside my head wants to scramble off the map and hide out somewhere for a couple of milennia.  A few Portuguese on the other side of the Río de la Plata found their patch of paradise back in 1680, on a beautiful little spit of sand surrounded by water.  Manuel Lobo, founder of the colony, should be recognized as the inventor of modern soccer because he and the Spanish kept kicking ownership of la Colonia del Sacramento back and forth until 1828, with Brazil and Spain coaching.

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Full steam ahead to the 21st century.  Colonia became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thus attained tourist trap status, but managed to maintain its sweet and idyllic vibe, keeping the plastic and trashy side of commercialism at bay.

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The polka dot place serves free art with every meal, and plenty of locally crafted cerveza.  A chopp [pronounced like the o in slope] is a draft beer; a choperia is a pub.

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In Colonia you can fish or picnic under a ceibo,

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or grab a cold one at the Casa Grande.

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There’s an ancient stone lighthouse (el faro) that you can climb up for the panoramic view,

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and cool vistas to the south, looking across the river towards Buenos Aires.

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The Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento was built by the Portuguese in 1808.

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I think it’s pretty cool.  Like the fountain, too.

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Colonia’s massive portals and high stone walls hide secrets and forgotten stories; maybe even pirate treasure!

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Felix Luna, Argentine historian and writer, lived here.  Santos really likes his books.

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We stayed at the Posada Don Antonio, which has a lovely breakfast room and a beautiful patio and pool.

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From there it’s a two minute walk to a quiet abandoned cala (cove),

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and just past it, a block or two from the water’s edge, you pass the old map of Colonia, embedded in a wall.

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The dock, on the sheltered side of the peninsula, was warm and sunny the day we visited.

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We had a snack at the polka dot place, in the shade of an ancient sycamore.

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Fast track to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Montevideo has an historic district, la ciudad vieja, and parts of it are worth seeing.

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We took a tour of the neoclassical Teatro Solis, built in 1856.  Beautiful inside and out!  It belongs to the city now, and they have done much to repair and restore it. The list of world renowned singers, dancers and musicians who lit up the stage there is absolutely mind-blowing:  Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Arturo Toscanini, Ana Pavlova, Margarita Xirgu (actress and friend of Federico Gárcia Lorca), Rudolf Nureyev, Josephine Baker, actresses Lola Membrives and Eleonora Duse, dancers Isadora Duncan and Tórtola Valencia, Astor Piazzolla, and Italian actor and director Vittorio Gassman.

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There’s a couple of French style Baccarat crystal chandeliers inside which even I, lover of funky ranch and mission style, was drooling over.

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While the Big Baccarat might feel quite at home in the new winter white house (if it could stand the company) it would be be seriously slumming in my dream fixer-upper:

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Oops! Did I unconsciously lapse into an alternative reality?  I didn’t see that comin’… did you?

The tall white building in the background, across the plaza from the old customs house, is home to the mercado del puerto … where you can buy fruits and veggies, beef and freshly caught fish, and all the other stuff you’d rather not buy at the supermarket.  We did go to the supermarket a couple of times, and it was a nightmare. It was small, super jammed (the aisles were narrower than the legroom in economy class) and an altogether unpleasant experience.

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The old customs house is still beautiful:

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Back of the old customs house is the river, where a couple of pitiful boats were tied up. We went for a sunset happy hour cruise, live tropical music on deck.  I was hoping for a cocktail to go with the tropical beat, like a Mojito or a Daiquiri, but to my dismay they only serve beer and soft drinks.  I guess they don’t want customers drinking, dancing and falling overboard.  So who’s gonna feed the fish?

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The bronze horseman in Plaza Zabala is Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, founder of the city, who no doubt wrested the land single-handed from a bunch of native fishermen who were tragically underinformed vis-a-vis the use of explosive powders in modern colonial warfare.

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We heard rumors of a milonga at a place called La Pérez, and we found it, but there hadn’t been a milonga there for a really long time. However, checking the local milonga listings, La Perez is still happening, but at a place called Lo de Maria, on a different night.

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Undaunted, though it was Sunday, we did find a milonga: Joventango, at Mercado de la Abundancia.  Calle Aquiles Lanza 1290 esq San Jose.  9:30 pm – 2 am.

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The developed part of Montevideo, aka the banking district, rumored to be the Latin American version of a money laundering automat, like the Caymans, contrasts starkly with years of mismanaged and stalemated development.  Oops!  I forgot that’s called progress.

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Reminds me of Texas: saving unborn lives is a top priority, or so they say; but once those babies are born, hells’ bells kid, you’re on your own!  No guarantee of education, housing or healthcare or jobs… but you can carry a gun.  Here in Montevideo the ubiquitous A/C units look like a blight of tin boxes on the facades of almost every building.  When was the last time you bought a new car that didn’t come with air conditioning?

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Thankfully the local stevedores still have a labor union. The average daily pay is better than the minimum wage in Mexico.  Impressed?

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If you think President Ban/Trump is going to support the higher minimum wages the AFL-CIO or AFW will be asking for when they build all those new auto factories they’ve promised in Michigan, guess again. Maybe they’ll be relocated to Uruguay, now that Mexico won’t have us. ¡Pobre México, tan lejos de Díos, tan cerquita a los Estados Unidos! (Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.)

The “historic district” of Montevideo is block after block of hopelessly rundown and deteriorating buildings. Such a shame.

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Rumor has it that when the government expropriated most of the properties in la ciudad vieja, it was given to the military generals, who kept it but didn’t keep it up. Here you see the results. This story was told to us by someone who’s family has been living in the same house continuously for over 100 years.  And now I’ve probably said too much.

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Note the sign: no free parking on this street.  Gracias, mi general.

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This building’s classical beauty begs for restoration.  Somebody fix me up, please!

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Despite all the issues facing the people of Montevideo, they still have a collective sense of place:  I Love my Neighborhood!

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The upshot: of the two Uruguays, Colonia gets my vote.  The worst day in Colonia beats the best day in Montevideo.  Sorry, Montevideo!

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Happy to be back home in Buenos Aires

Stay tuned:  your travel guide to the beautiful province of Córdoba coming soon!

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Tango Dancers Open Café

Carlton Café & Bakery

Carlton Café & Bakery

We’ve opened a café of our own right here in the backcountry of California’s Central Coast. This little backwater halfway between Frisco and LA is its own kind of gorgeous, straight out of Steinbeck: rolling hills covered with vineyards and statuesque oaks; cottonwoods and sycamores along the creeks flowing into the Pacific Ocean and the mighty Salinas.

Salinas River

Salinas River

Atascadero, once so sleepy it rolled over and played dead every night at 6, now practically teems with amorphous protomorphium swimming blindly upstream through the marine layer into they know not what or wherefore (picture 3 pm when junior get-highers get out of jail free). But no worries, we are all about helping our fellow pleistozoic critteralium evolve and merge into the more convoluted streams of higher consciousness, otherwise known as twenty-first century artsy wine-guzzling nouveau-cui$ine Culture with a Capital C.

6005 El Camino Real carltonbakery@gmail.com

6005 El Camino Real
carltonbakery@gmail.com

There was at last count one really good restaurant in our three-block downtown: Fig; another one in nearby Santa Margarita: The Range (as in, “Home, home on the Range”)(*if you don’t love classic western writer Will James I’m not talking to you anymore!); one great burger joint: Sylvester’s Big, Hot n’ Juicy; an awesome homestyle Mexican place (El Compadre) next to a fine bakery (Hush Harbor); and a classic dive: the newly reborn Whisky n’ June. (Never trust a man who doesn’t like whisky and women!)

yeah baby

yeah baby!

Hmmm… where was I going with all this? Floating facedown in those muddy waters of swirling upwardly mobile sometimes divinely-inspired (as in a chocolate croissant) sense and sensibility, was I? Oh, yeah, downtown Atascadero also has…

The ARTery

The ARTery

a hangout frequented by cool artistic types that boasts a scandalous history of NIMBY activist-inflaming murals painted by folks from that evil southern city of the Fallen Angels. And the shining star of A-Town, the Rotunda…

City Hall

City Hall

… a wannabe colonial domed and pillared squarish brick city hall structure (reminiscent of an abandoned feminine implant from 20,000 feet up) casting its authoritative gaze on the strangely-named “Sunken Gardens”: our courthouse square minus the courthouse. “Sunken” perhaps refers to the meaning of atascadero in Spanish: a place where one gets stuck in the mud, a kind of hell hole. A close friend’s husband, born and raised in Puerto Rico, told me that when he was a kid, his mom would yell at him to clean his room ‘cause it was an “ATASCADERO!”

Heck, even Oprah's been here!

Heck, even Oprah’s been here!

Atascadero has too strip malls, too many Starbucks, too many stoplights, and nine too many exits off the 101. Just another California town basking in the warm fall sunshine. Lord, please bring us some rain sometime soon! Which is why we couldn’t come back to God’s Country without bearing special gifts gleaned from our 2-1/2 year tango-crawl through the wilderness of the civilized world.

the current incarnation

the newly reborn Carlton Café

A room at the Carlton... just upstairs!

a room at the Carlton… up above the bakery!

How much time could YOU fritter away lounging in a great café in a great city like New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Barcelona?

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

So how ‘bout we don’t call it frittering. Call it a waste of time if you will, but a QUALITY waste of time (oink oink KPIG). How many hours could YOU spend sitting around drinking a velvety latte or a structurally perfect macchiato? I sure can… and I don’t know where the time goes but it does keep going…have you noticed time passes on the left? ‘Cause it’s always going faster than we are. And left is the evil side: “a sinistra” (to the left). When Dante descends into hell, his path winds down to the left. Counterclockwise. Got it?

hmmm... lost his head?

hmmm… did we take the wrong turn?

Picture yourself sitting in a nice comfy chair in a cool, beautiful wabisabi space… quality time, chill time. Time to think, to dream, to get inspired; to power thru your daily in-box, google this’n’that, check your FAQs, consult your horrorscope… fire off a few nasty grams to the big cheese… wait a sec… don’t toss your luck to the winds and ruin your forecast! Breathe, do some yogalates, take time to visit with a good friend, take your mom out to lunch, celebrate your cumpleaños in a great café… dancing tango, of course.

Confiteria Ideal

Confiteria Ideal

So, you may be wondering, where IS she running off to now with this late night verbal soirée? Just explaining to y’all why we HAD to bring a little taste of café-culture home with us, in the form of delicious artisan breads and pastries, high-octane coffee, and a beautiful wabisabi space for dancing tango!

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

The tall relentless guy in my world just HAD to open his own bakery, so he could bake the bread and bring home the bacon. A place to wine and dine friends ‘cause he loves to feed hungry hordes. 

Courtney's Chocolate Bread

Courtney’s Chocolate Bread

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

And a place where he and his buddies could stand around and spin lies, surrounded by lots of dough, solving the world’s problems over and over again, day after day. Luckily those problems never get solved (you’ve noticed that, too?)… so they rework possible outcomes, endlessly reposition themselves… when people consume caffeine they can talk all day long!

Ben and Eduardo

boy can they talk!

Besides, we were drinking so much coffee out, one day he did the math and decided it would be cheaper to open our own café! Now he’s wondering about that math… duh!

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2+2=22?

Must be the faulty DNA we all share. Didn’t those wiser-than-us extraterrestrials toss all the rejects on our planet? Where did YOU think politicians came from?

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

If you think too much and too frequently, like yours truly, you really NEED to dance, and you particularly NEED to dance tango. Tango dancers DANCE through our ups and downs, our romances, our breakups, our broken hearts, broke-down cars, our fallen soufflés, disinflated egos…

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when in doubt keep dancing

Just in case you’re already thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions, let’s review the guiding principles of Tango:

1)  you keep doing it
2)  every time you do it you feel happy
3)  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care!

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Stop by the café, get comfy, relax, have a lovely mocha or macchiato, bite into a flaky crunchy croissant, a berry twist, toasted 5-grain bread with butter and jam.

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Watch yourself go from pathetically morose and incommunicative to chatty and sociable! Instantly reenergized and ready to take on the world! What are you waiting for?

¡Felíz Navidad!

¡Felíz Navidad!

Milongas and Milongueros: True FAQs! An Interview with a Buenos Aires Milonguera

Carlos Di Sarli with Troilo

Carlos Di Sarli with Aníbal Troilo

A Guest Blog by Diana Howell, in her own words 

(edited and illustrated by Willow Running Hawk, including an Interview on 12.16.12)

Milonguero Defined

el Indio

el Indio

The strict definition of milonguero (females are milongueras), here in Buenos Aires, is someone who frequents milongas more than four times a week, and usually means someone who is at milongas every night, or just about every night.  I fall into this category, pretty much.

Julio Duplá, organizer of Sin Rumbo

Julio Duplá of Sin Rumbo

Milongueros are usually good dancers, sometimes fabulous dancers — which makes sense, if they’re dancing every night — sophisticated in the ways of the milonga, and streetwise, i.e., savvy about all aspects of the milonga. They often have a set table that is reserved for this “frequent flyer” dancer. Milongueros come in all ages, but the really weatherbeaten ones have put in a lot of years on the milonga road, dancing till 6:00 am every day. They have the sleeping habits of a vampire, and live on a poor diet of champagne-based fluids and salty snacks.

guapoSome still smoke, though nowadays they have to go outside the dance halls to light up. Heavens, what a drag that must have been in the “good old days” when everyone lit up inside! They say you couldn’t see across the dance floor for all the smoke! Many milongueros are divorced and live alone; some are married, but have cut back on their frequency of milonga attendance — making it possible to stay married? Younger milongueros who are in a steady relationship are usually with another tanguera (a woman who dances tango).

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

La Conquista: Beware the Tango Gigolo!

Some milongueros live off of foreign tango dancers, temporarily or semi-permanently; the sleazier variety keeps a sharp eye out for new victims. They are invariably good-looking, charming, well-dressed and capable dancers who can speak a few key words in a variety of languages.

Gato & Andrea

Gato & Andrea

These tango gigolos are quick to complement your dancing, your charms, your sex appeal. Their strategy is: spot, slay, suck! In other words, he spots a victim (let’s just say this could be you!), slays you with charm until he gets access to, and eventually moves into, your apartment; then starts draining your bank account until you either get wise and cut him off, or run out of funds!

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This has happened to a lot of foreign tangueras here, so beware the silver-tongued devils! It’s been interesting watching the one or two month couplings of milongueros with foreign girls; every month or two, another new foreign face.

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The slightly less sleazy variety just wants a sexual conquest, and he will push, push, and keep pushing you, until either he doesn’t get anywhere, in which case you, once his “queen of the hop,” no longer gets so much as a glance from him; or until he beds you. His game is ALL about conquest. Then he moves on, looking for fresh blood, no doubt sharing all the details of the conquest with his compadres.

a regular at La Baldosa

regulars at La Baldosa

His attention level (unless there is good money involved) is very short, and I think it has to do with the training pattern of the dance: one or two tandas with more than a dozen different females on a nightly basis trains them to think of relationships as equally loose and temporary. Keeping a milonguero interested enough to dance a few tandas with you, without falling into his sex trap, requires skillful and delicate balancing of interests.

Buenos Aires boys

Buenos Aires boys

NEVER accept an invitation to go out for a “coffee” after the milonga, because the translation of that code is: coffee & sex. Accepting a ride home is pretty iffy too, unless you REALLY know him, and even then… ¡con cuidado!

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Of course, if you do not have any money, but are 20 years old, drop dead gorgeous, and a great dancer, he will hang around forever, because you are a feather in his cap. “Look at me guys, she LIKES me! She’s MINE.” Some of the nicer milongueros are so dog-gone honest, they’ll admit they’re married, but still invite you to be their girlfriend.

just kidding, Javier!

just kidding, Javier!

Most of the other dilly-dalliers use the old “we live in the same house for economic reasons, but are not a couple anymore” routine. Some of the married milongueros (especially the older ones), are simply there to dance tango (their wives do not prevent them from attending, and have learned to preserve the marriage by letting them dance). These guys are the most fun, because they don’t have a “conquest agenda,” and are happy and eager to dance with you.

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For married milongueros, dancing tango is a form of safe sex, because when you complete a fabulous tanda, it is almost as good as great sex! It allows married tangueros (and tangueras) to get a feeling of closeness with a member of the opposite sex (who is not their mate) without stepping outside the relationship. Of course, some do step outside those bounds. Like, we ARE discussing men, right?

Confitería Ideal

Confitería Ideal

Milongueros are, by and large, muy ensimismados: very self-centered. 

Call it machismo if you like. It’s ALL about them: you are just there to make it happen. Just think “EGO-MAXIMO” and you get a fair picture of the typical milonguero.

Tango Gigolo

Tango Gigolo

So, why are we so fascinated? What makes us long to dance with them? Isn’t the idea of dancing Tango a romantic fantasy held by many women? Also, good leaders dance wonderfully well, making us dance our best; and of course, there is the magic of their embrace — strong, resolute, and close enough to melt any woman’s heart!

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The strength of a typical Argentine lead can be felt in the confidence of his embrace. Women come from all over the world for this embrace! It’s close, strong and decisive, and it makes you feel absolutely WONDERFUL.

Raúl Bravo, the quintessential milonguero, el maestro de maestros!

Raúl Bravo, the quintessential Milonguero, el maestro de maestros!

A less confident embrace makes it very difficult for a women to know what her partner wants her to do. Even a mediocre Argentine leader usually has a good embrace. My favorite leaders (besides Porteños!) are from England, Italy, Holland, and Germany; they have excellent basic technique, smooth, with a solid embrace and a refreshing lack of the complicated figures that no one has room to execute on the dance floor anyway.

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All that aside, it is a great time here, and I love meeting up with people from diverse cultures, not only to share the dance, but to chat about our various cultures. What a GREAT way to go international! I have met dancers from Sweden, Scotland, even Cameroon…  yes, there is tango in many African cities! HOW GREAT IS OUR WORLD OF TANGO!  Speaking Tango is like having another language, another passport, a passport of a universal cultural identity, that of devotion to and love of Tango.

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FAQs about Milongas:

The earliest and latest hours of the most popular milongas are always the best time to dance; the floor is less crowded and it’s easier to see someone else to cabeceo. All milongas follow the same pattern: less crowded at the beginning and, as people begin to arrive, more crowded, more energy, more noise, and lots of conversation during the cortinas.

Salon Canning

Salon Canning

There seems to be a “peak time” every evening, when the energy is at its height, the floor packed. Then, as people begin to leave (perhaps because of work the next day, or to go to another milonga), the late night portion of the milonga begins. During these late hours many of the milongueros — people who attend milongas nearly every day, usually for years, even lifetimes — who did not dance much (but watched, and conversed with other milongueros at their table) will begin to dance, with very select choices.

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Having waited for the crowd to leave, the people who remain are usually more serious dancers, to whom having more floor space to dance is more important than dancing in a high-energy crowd. Interestingly, the music gets juicier at this point.  Many times I have heard Argentine women complain: “As usual, now the music gets good!”  (…nothing quite like those conversations in the ladies’ room!) They complain because they must leave early, for work or family obligations.

Colection UPTango designed by Ute Prause. Photos: Joan S‡nchez

Milongueros usually stay almost to closing time, and others will show up late as well, knowing that the crowd will have thinned out. At the early milongas (“matinee milongas”) you don’t need a watch to tell what time it’s getting to be, because many men disappear around 8:00 or 8:30, as precise as clockwork, going home to la señora, so as not to miss dinner or cause a riff at home.  Some women do likewise, and they will often change back to street clothes in the bathroom. (Note: this is a good idea if you use public transit, to avoid attracting attention from thieves.)

Buenos Aires Street Style

Buenos Aires Street Style

A Milonga is all about the Music!

For me, the most important element of a milonga (besides the dancing) in Buenos Aires is the music; the volume is turned up! This explains why dancers from BAires complain about the low volume of music at milongas in California, and I also find it really difficult to deal with. The music must enter you, body and soul, so you can dance to it! If you are not enveloped in sound, this is just not going to happen.

La Gricel

Just about every milonga in California plays the music way too low. This would never be acceptable in Buenos Aires, and the milonga would not survive. Also noteworthy is that mostly songs with lyrics are played here. Can you imagine why?

el Catedral

el Catedral

Because the lyrics are divine! The spectacular poetry of tango gets everyone into the mood of the dance. Granted, not understanding the words makes it difficult to appreciate the lyrics, but you are missing out on a much more profound experience of the music.

Pasion_milonguera

A third distinguishing factor is that you are simply not going to hear non-tango music played at a BAires milonga. There are alternative milongas where nuevo music is played (sometimes called neotango), but it’s still tango. You will, however, hear rock, swing, and latin or tropical (a mix of salsa, cumbia & other latin rhythms) during the break, usually played mid-evening, depending on the DJ.

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The floor fills up exponentially more for the salsa or tropical than for swing. And some milongas, like Niño Bien, Sueño Porteño and La Nacional, always play a Chacarera followed by a Zamba. These Argentine folk dances are increasingly popular in Buenos Aires. There are also dance halls called boliches that play mostly rock and latin rhythms. Taxi drivers know where to find them.

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a boliche

The Pulse of a Milonga

A milonga is a living thing; it has a beginning, an end, a pulse, a mood, an energy. People choose milongas because they like the music, the dancers — people they want to dance with, good level of dancers — and the opportunity to socialize — they meet up with their friends.

BAs boys 5

Milongas come and go in popularity. Perhaps this is due to the fickleness of human nature. Sometimes we crave a change, or something about the milonga changes: the DJ, the promoter, the clientele. The energy of milongas is determined by the music and the dancers.

el Catedral

el Catedral… cool atmosphere, funky floor

Of course, sometimes at well-known and popular milongas the energy will just not be there, and if that happens many times, the milonga will no longer be popular or well-attended. The dance floor is also very important.  Most people prefer wood, it’s perfect to pivot on, and easier on the feet. Tile is also nice for pivots and suave moves, but it’s harder on your feet. One of the largest milonga spaces in the capital is El Pial (venue of milonga La Baldosa) which has a tile floor (a baldosa is a tile).

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And ladies, please note, if there is liquid spilled on the floor, KEEP AWAY, because once the bottoms of your leather shoes get wet, you will not be able to pivot easily, and your evening may be over! It takes at least an hour of dancing to dry them out. Word to the Wise: Always carry a second pair of shoes!

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Milongas Come and Go

Milongas can disappear forever, sometimes from lack of popularity, or perhaps the venue is sold or torn down (like Maipu 444), or the promoters did not have the proper licensing or fire exits. Sometimes milongas are suspended for a while until the proper licenses are procured. New milongas are always appearing, and their promoters will make the rounds of all the larger, more established milongas, handing out flyers and talking to dancers to promote their incipient venues.

Sueño Porteño

Sueño Porteño

Sometimes the newbie milongas survive; sometimes they don’t. The largest and most established milongas have been around the longest, and these include: Sin Rumbo (“El Catedral del Tango”… the oldest continuously running milonga in BAires: 80+ years), La Gricel, Salon Canning, Niño Bien, La Nacional, Sunderland Club, El Beso, El Trovador, El Pial. This is not a complete list, not even close: there are hundreds! Some of the best times can be had at small neighborhood milongas; very few are listed; many are known by word of mouth alone.  Keep in mind that milongas are not on every street corner, and less than 2% of porteños (BAires residents) dance tango.

Porteño y Bailarín

Porteño y Bailarín

has living in BAs changed you?

In regards to the dance, yes. One thing I’ve assimilated is the style of dancing at milongas. In the US you are taught all these complex moves which you’re never going to use. In Argentina they only do about 5 moves on the floor, but they do them so beautifully it makes you cry. Argentines are so into the music. They value finesse. It’s not how MANY moves you can do, but how well do you do them? Are you connected to your partner? Transitions here are seamless, the music envelops you completely. That is the standard here, and it has become MY standard!

nice dancing

Many people in the US just don’t get this. Are you dreaming of dancing a corrida, a molinete, a boleo in Buenos Aires…? Forget it! There’s no room! Also, two big differences between leaders here and in the states, are: (1) everybody dances really close in Argentina, and (2) people here actually dance to the music. Of course they grew up with the music, they know the songs. We’re missing out on so much!

La Viruta

La Viruta

why is Tango so addicting?

My personal theory is that both males and females get a hormonal charge (endorphins) from the dance itself and the physicality of the dance; and another hormonal charge (oxytocin—the same one that gets released during sex) from the physical closeness and intimacy. All humans like being in close contact with other humans; it makes us feel good. It’s not just in your mind, it’s in your DNA! All tribal peoples do this, it just feels good. And, though we may be unaware of our cultural roots, WE ARE ALL TRIBAL PEOPLES! Tango also has the poetry of its lyrics, the romance of the culture, the beauty of the music and the dance, and the tremendous social aspect of the milongas. All milongueros admit that tango is addicting. We joke about it!

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Compared to other addictions, Tango isn’t so bad. I mean, I have been compelled to dance tango seven nights a week! And talk about temptation! In Buenos Aires you can start dancing at 3 in the afternoon, and continue to 6 the next morning.  Do you think my time in rehab (i.e., the states) will be good for this problem?

Tango Addiction

at what point did you realize you were addicted?

I’ve talked to many people about tango addiction, including my porteño friends. Everyone knows it’s addictive… and obsessive! During my last three months in Buenos Aires I told myself I was going to stop dancing on Fridays. I was concerned that I’d become addicted. That only lasted 2 weeks… two Fridays!

THE RULES OF TANGO ADDICTION  

1:  you keep doing it
2:  every time you do it you feel happy
3:  it turns your life upside down but you don’t care.

when did you start dancing tango?

I’ve been a dancer all my life. My parents met on the dance floor. I was a belly dance instructor and performer for over 25 years. I lived in Morocco for 2 years. I listened to Middle Eastern music for so many years, I thought I could never live without it! But then I found Tango about 6 years ago. I was dabbling in a little ballroom, and a friend suggested I go to a milonga. Tango captured my body, my mind, my heart… it pierced my soul! The rest is history!

Diana belly dancing

Diana belly dancing

does tango take you somewhere?

Absolutely, yes. You’re focused on your partner and the music, both of you totally connected, grounded to the floor, to the earth. My eyes are closed. You don’t want external stimuli interfering with your dance; it’s an out-of-body experience. In the entire universe nothing else is happening!

baldosas sin rumbo

For those few minutes you fall in love with that partner, deeply enjoying the music and the dance together. When you’re in that perfect state, like the perfect storm, your partner doesn’t have a name, you don’t have a name… your egos are absent, it’s just exquisite. After one of those tandas, you can almost go home…

What is your favorite Tango music? 

I love the Golden Age of Tango… Canaro of course, I love PoemaPaciencia is one of my favorite songs. I love Donato, depending on my mood…. D’Arienzo, Malerba, and, oh my, Pugliese! I only want to dance Pugliese with certain people.

San Pugliese

When they put on a Pugliese tanda, it changes everything! You need more space and more athletic ability, more focus, and a leader who is really with you. Why do they play Pugliese so late? Because you need a lot of energy to dance to Pugliese. I love di Sarli too, and the Golden Age vocalists you don’t find any more, like Fiorentino… he was a tenor of Italian heritage, from the operatic tradition.

Francisco Fiorentino

Francisco Fiorentino

The voice training that they had back then… wow! Modern singers aren’t nearly as dramatic, and most are not as well-trained. And Troilo, of course… I was really fortunate this last year, Buenos Aires has so many free concerts, both tango and classical. In terms of culture BAires really has it over California.

who have you studied with…

My “Número Uno” teacher in the states is Marcelo Solis [California: Bay Area]. I was fortunate to have started with him. If you train with Marcelo, you can dance with anyone.

marcelo solis

In a private, Marcelo dances with me for a whole hour. Lisette Perelle is also a fabulous teacher, especially for technique…

Lisette

and Glenn Corteza for musicality and ease of movement.

Glenn Corteza

Eduardo Saucedo teaches at La Ideal in BAires, and in the States: fabulous!

eduardo saucedo

And ALL the milongueros of Buenos Aires that I dance with are my teachers! When you are starting out, “sample the market” (of teachers), then stick with one, or maybe two, at the most. Don’t confuse yourself with too many “takes” on the subject, it will show in your dance. Same goes for visits to Buenos Aires.

mil guapos

Is the Tango scene in Buenos Aires changing?

A big change in milongas since I’ve lived in BAires is the door prizes. During half-time at the milongas (usually about 1:00 or 2:00 am) there are door prizes, based on your ticket number. A few years ago, a pair or two of shoes was given away each evening, plus lesser prizes, like a bottle of champagne, wine, tickets to the next milonga, a tango CD, or tango apparel. These days, it may be partial credit towards a pair of shoes, or a drawing for shoes only once or twice monthly, partial credit for Tango clothing, fewer bottles of champagne (always shared with others at your table… Porteños LOVE champagne!) and even pizza vouchers — reflections of a much weaker economy. Another indication of the economic downturn is that some milongueros will only attend one milonga per evening, whereas in the past, they may have attended two or three. An entrada now averages 35 pesos (about US$7.00) and a non-alcoholic beverage 15 pesos (US$3.00). The price of a drink depends on the venue, and can be very expensive, especially if you want American whiskey.

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But a glass of local wine is still only about $3. Then there are the taxi fares, which jumped considerably in mid-2012, after having already doubled on New Year’s Day 2012. Any food you get at a milonga in BAires is paid for just like in a restaurant, unlike in the states, where a table (or several tables) of nibbles like fruits and veggies, chips and dips, cheese and crackers, sodas, water and wine are usually free, and are often provided potluck style. If you eat and drink well at a California milonga, the $10-$12 door price is a bargain!

las chicas 2

The Argentine economic downturn is a reflection of the world economic crisis. Many Argentines believe that another big “restructuring” is on its way. Now, in December, [2012] it’s high season for Tango tourism, with lots of visitors from the States, Asia, Australia, and Europe. It’s the warmest time of year in the Southern Cone. December 1st is International Tango Day, where thousands dance to live Tango orchestras in the streets of Buenos Aires. It’s a great place to meet people from all over the world.

Unknown

Can you describe a perfect lead?

First and foremost somebody who KNOWS what he’s trying to do. There’s nothing worse than a weak lead… and you cannot change a lead-idea in midstream. A good leader has confidence, he just LEADS!… Even if YOU think a step is difficult, it won’t be, if he leads it properly! A good leader makes it almost impossible for you to take a wrong step.

pareja joven 2

Argentine men, even if they’re not great dancers, have a confident embrace, a decisive lead. They say women come from all over the world to feel this embrace… it’s true!  One thing that has surprised me is that not all men can dance milonga well, even Argentine men! So, it isn’t genetic after all? To dance milonga well you must listen to the music… if you don’t catch the beat, you won’t get the flavor of the dance.

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

What about followers… what are our worst sins…?

Even if my leader is not the greatest, or not at my level, I try to give him my total attention. I give him the best dance I can. I don’t look around the room. If you focus on that moment, that leader, that bubble of time you have with him, your dance with him will be so much better… you can make him look better than he ever has! I must say that in BAires, lots of Porteñas cultivate the Little Orphan Annie look, occasionally frowning, or raising an eyebrow while dancing with a bad lead.

pissed 2

But you can better your dance by always maintaining your structure, executing your movements elegantly, maintaining your dance integrity no matter what. I’ve only ever had to walk off the floor if I thought someone was dangerous to me or to others…. or if someone was man-handling me in a sexual way.

baby don't go!

do you dance differently on a crowded floor?

Well, obviously, on a crowded floor, where you may advance only 20 feet per song, your steps should be well underneath your body, no overextended leg; shrink your bubble! Try to not get upset if you are grazed by someone else’s heel. You can dance the same steps, but as baby steps… or steps in place… covering very little ground. You can make it look good!

Diana with Juliet, a BAires expat from Canada

Diana with Juliette, a BAires expat from Canada

what advice would you give to beginners?

The most important thing in tango is your basics. Glenn Corteza puts it very well: “your dance is only as good as your basic.” Skip the advanced classes, take the basics classes over and over. Everybody’s in such a hurry to learn fancy moves. What becomes most enjoyable is executing a step seamlessly, effortlessly, with the music… that’s the beauty of Tango. Be totally in the moment.

pareja joven

I think beginners should stay beginners for a long time. Even if you never advance beyond the basics, if you move exquisitely, gracefully, you don’t need anything else. Don’t tell yourself, “oh, that was bad.” There is no such thing as bad tango. There is no such thing as good tango. Tango just IS.

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Milonga Resources and Cabeceos:

The milonga listings are a great resource in BAires, and can be picked up for free at most milongas, tango shoe stores, and other tango venues. They list milongas day-by-day, with milonga names, the venue name and location, starting and ending times, and names and telephone numbers of milonga organizers. You will also find listings of Tango schools, teachers, and prácticas.

Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

maestros Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

There are quite a few really good milonga websites as well, some with videos, so you can get a sense of the atmosphere of each particular milonga. I still favor the little milonga listings booklet, which fits right into your shoe bag. It’s always a good idea to call and reserve a table for the milonga, to avoid being seated in the back or behind a pillar, where it will be more difficult to catch a cabeceo. Check out <hoy-milonga.com>.

Can you explain cabeceos?

Ah yes, cabeceos! The system here to ask, or be asked to dance, is called cabeceo. It’s based on eye contact. Men are usually seated on one side of the dance floor, women on the other, and couples at the ends; sometimes a slight variation on this theme. To get asked to dance, you scan the room, trying to catch the eye of someone you would like to dance with, or looking across to see if someone is trying to catch your eye.

cabeceo-3

Eye contact is followed by a nod of acknowledgement, or raising of the eyebrows. The better you are at this, the more you will dance.

cabeceo-2

Be aware that in touristy milongas such as Confiteria Ideal or Salon Canning, you may be approached at your table, instead of cabeceo’d. In traditional tango culture this is considered extremely rude! So you can Just Say NO. The guys do this because so many foreign women do not understand the cabeceo code. If I am approached this way, I usually smile my best smile and say “porque no cabeceo?”  No reason to be bitchy about it.

What is a typical day for you?

I sleep late! In the afternoons I take classes, get groceries, meet friends for coffee, do ART….. I’m a Plein Air painter, an Impressionist. I do landscapes in oil, and watercolors when I’m traveling. I like to eat a big meal about 3 pm, then take a nap and think about the milongas I’m going to that evening. These days, with all the matinee milongas, you don’t have to be a vampire anymore. Of course it’s a different crowd at the early milongas.

La Nacional

La Nacional

and the food?

Beef is king here, and it is wonderful! However, vegetarian restaurants are sprouting up here and there, excellent Italian pastas and pizza are everywhere, and chicken is on most restaurant menus. The food is bland, spices are not prevalent, everything is too salty, and high fat abounds. I prefer the Peruvian food, it is very tasty, with complex flavors: more of a “cuisine” than Argentine food.  There are lots of McDonald’s and Burger Kings here, and why anyone would want one of their offerings instead of a nice Argentine steak is beyond me! The medialunas (small croissants) are to die for, as well as dulce de leche anything!

café & medialunas

what about Argentine fashion?

Argentine women like to dress!! As Amy Lincoln says, they’re “well put together.”They wear lots of creative (but not expensive) jewelry, big earrings, scarves, lots of bling! In the US, black is practically the uniform at milongas, but not here. Argentine women do wear a lot of black, but they also wear pretty, lighter colors.

Diana and Amy

Diana and Amy

In California, people tend to dress down. Here in Buenos Aires mostly younger women dress down, but you can always spot someone in a sequined dress. “Dress-up” was my favorite game when I was little, so you know where I’m going with this theme! In my opinion, Argentine women dress and look sexier than American women. Not all men wear suits anymore, but usually nice trousers and shirts; only foreigners wear cargo pants or  jeans — and a few stray Porteños!

milongueras en negro

did you fall in love with the dance, or the music…?

Because I’m a dancer I can’t separate the two. It’s like a combo plate, you can’t buy one without the other!

beauti dancers

how long have you been in Buenos Aires?

I moved here in the fall of 2011… I’m not sure when I’ll leave… if ever?

obelisco

Ciao from Diana Howell in Buenos Aires!

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

Luxembourg Castle

One fine day we left Paris for a weekend drive to Luxembourg. The french countryside is so very beautiful, so very lush this summer, on account of all the rain. Abundant greenness everywhere, though not as wild and untamed as the more remote places back home in California.

old path and steps in the river bottom, near the castle moat

The french are so neat and tidy, so meticulous! I thought only the germanic tribes were like that! We took back roads and drove through village after village, each one so perfectly cared for, so historic. Here you can see the juxtaposition of three eras: medieval, eighteenth century and twentieth.

which era would YOU choose to live in?

Downtown Luxembourg was bustling; people were eating, drinking, shopping, listening to music. A street fair was bubbling over one of the plazas, with entertainment and a huge yard sale.

kinda like Farmer’s Market in SLO

Every building is historic and well-tended. There must be hordes of worker-ants crawling around every day inside and out, keeping it all so perfect for us lucky tourists.

a quiet plaza in Luxembourg

Part of the old castle fits like a jigsaw puzzle into the natural rock formations carved out by the river a few eons ago.

some good hidey-holes there

this gorgeous building caught my eye

I stole this photo of Luxembourg lit up at night:

looks prettier without the skyscrapers

We found more old rock walls on our way back to Paris. It was like the family field trip minus the kids; late afternoon and we were hungry. We took the turnoff  to Provins almost by accident: it looked big enough to have a restaurant that might still be open on a Sunday evening. As luck would have it, we drove into a medieval village le plus belle de tout. A middle-eastern café was still open and quite busy. While throwing down hummus, pita bread and baba ganoush, I couldn’t take my eyes off the church across the street, where a diverse clan of gargoyles guard ancient stone.

parts of it are more vintage than others

Eagle gargoyle

Big Bird gargoyle?

Old Woman Gargoyle with Message

Porky Pig?

I give up: dog-dragon-gargoyle?

I thought maybe some of them were griffins but Wikipedia says griffins have the body of a lion with an eagle head. Gargoyles, as you know, are there to protect churches from evil spirits and other wandering disembodied bad vibes.

a goat gargoyle

I thought THIS was a GRIFFIN. WHOA!! Please note!! CORRECTION!! Our good friend Adrian from San Luis Obispo, who happens to be British which of course makes him an expert on cathedral decor, writes:  “Incidentally, the creature you have at Font St. Michel is a wyvern, not a griffin, since it has the hind quarters of a serpent – preferably with a barbed tail.” Oh my gosh I had no idea!! Knowing this could come in real handy, especially if you time-travel to the middle ages, or have a nightmare where a wyvern is going to toast you if you don’t answer the riddle about how his tail came to be barbed.

detail of Font St. Michel, Paris, Latin Quarter

Wikipedia sure has some amazingly curious articles on a host of obscure topics! Our wyvern doesn’t have a dragon’s head, but a lion’s. In every other respect it is undoubtedly a wyvern. This oddity is “a frequent heraldic device on British coats of arms and flags… A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the ancient kingdom of Wessex.”

a golden wyvern

So why are griffins part lion and part eagle? “As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions.”  I think I want one!

Provins church: note the older portions mixed with more recent

The arched doorway of the church in Provins reminds me of Notre Dame de París, but with way less fuss: broad strokes as opposed to devilish details. Compare it with the doorway of this catedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona:

Barrio Gótico

And for more comparison here’s the lady herself: Notre Dame de París:

Notre Dame is famous for her gargoyles and her hunchback, from the story by Victor Hugo

Once you see one gargoyle, you start seeing them everywhere! Here are some from that cathedral in Barcelona.

A few gargoyles to protect from Dark Side flybys

Little Provins turns out to be a big stop on the European Medieval circuit…. remember the Renaissance Faire? This is where it lives. Time stood still here in 1429, when Joan of Arc went to mass accompanied by Charles VII.

Wow! She is one of my favorite saints… that girl really rocked the boat — and paid the price. My favorite, unforgettable painting of her lives in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

St. Quiriace was built in 1160, partly destroyed by fire in 1662, and is pretty much out of service these days, you can’t even get a peek inside. But the vibes there are amazing; we loved it. Here is a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, wearing solid gold armor. I can’t seem to find my photos of her; this is off the web:

correction: this one is MY photo of Joan of Arc!

St. Quiriace

Here I am at the doors:

yes, I go to church occasionally!

wabi-sabi detail

the watchtower next door

This is the old keep, or watchtower, sometimes called Caesar’s tower. We circled it.

Ben likes ancient rock walls too.

Provins is an amazing place, definitely the spot for all you history buffs. I couldn’t stop taking pix of the old houses, they are so beautiful!!

a busy corner in Provins

part of the old moat

How cool is that!!?!

a pretty country cottage

on the outside, a rustic cottage

On the inside… I’d be happy to decorate it for you!

the banker’s mansion?

City Hall or an official residence?

Provins is a living town, albeit a tourist town: how convenient. However it is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! Its rolling green hills are like California’s wine country in spring. Just gorgeous. By the way, don’t get Provins, the town near Paris, mixed up with Provence, a wine-growing region in southern France, close to the Mediterranean coast: Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Monaco. Not a bad spot to combine vacation and business: just ask James Bond!

Thanks to all of you for your emails, comments and likes. I really appreciate news from home. It helps me feel connected and not adrift somewhere in the universe…. sometimes I wake up and it takes a few moments to get oriented…. where the heck am I?

Next blog up: Tango Festival in Sitges, and fabulous Barcelona!

Au revoir, Paris!

Paris II

Can you guess where old Napoleon Bonaparte is buried? Who else gets a red porphry sarcophogas and and a golden dome?

dome me baby

If you get up high enough up, you can see the dome halfway across the city;  it glitters in the sun.

RIP Napoleon

What a city! So huge and attractive and full of monuments, sculptures, beautiful old buildings, plazas, fountains …. remains of old roman walls, roads, columns. Just a big WOW!! What else can I say? The resemblance to Buenos Aires is striking. Only Buenos Aires is the younger sister who isn’t quite as good a housekeeper as her big sister. Urban transportation is excellent, by the way. The Metro is clean and crisscrosses the city both above and below ground. It runs from 5:30 am to 1:30 am for night owls like tango dancers, and to 2:30 am on Friday and Saturday nights!

This is the Hotel les Inválides. It’s not really a hotel, but part of a huge complex where soldiers were trained, including stables for the calvalry. The term “hotel” refers to its  past function as a VA hospital.

Everyone needs a nice deep wide moat to keep goths and barbarians out!

and plenty of cannons doesn’t hurt

Ben surveys the moat on a warm day:

a nice resting spot after the forced march

Speaking of perimeter defenses, we walked around the bottom of the old moat that surrounded the castle that was knocked down when they built the Louvre. The Louvre began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under the reign of Phillip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum.

the deep of the keep

Speaking of the Louvre, here’s the front door:

wash me!

Napoleon also built a stunning opera house:

La Maison du Musique

with figures in green and gold all over the roof!

Wouldn’t you love to have a spacious, high-ceilinged apartment in a building like this? It overlooks a little park near les Inválides.

pricey apartments

A typical downtown street, busy, but not too much traffic:

green cross

The neon green cross denotes a pharmacy. We had our daily coffee break at the café on the right. Here’s the famous department store, Printemps. Not much to look at on the outside, kind of a postmodern pastiche, but on the inside…. super expensive designer clothes, shoes, everything….  an entire floor devoted to lingerie! The Printemps lingerie department makes Victoria’s Secret look like a Girl Scout pop-up store. So many different labels, each with its own floor space, displays, attendants. I have to confess, I bought a few pairs of stockings that were very expensive. I have never spent so much on stockings. Am I a bad girl? I hope so!

don’t even go near this place!

I also wanted a new lipstick, but not bad enough to pay 40 bucks for it! Even Ben’s mom Bess has been to Printemps, many years ago. And my mom says she still wears a blouse she bought there way back when. She and my dad heard Edith Piaf sing one night in a little club, after the war.

You can find any kind of hat in Paris, or have one made to order:

Paris hat shop

Parisian women here seem to like red shoes:

somehow it all comes together… kinda

I don’t think the heels go with the backpack…

but they do match the purse! When we walk around we sometimes stroll up stairways that lead to streets above, or below. Streets that have stairs can have street name signs just like other streets. This was not a hard climb for us; we do 6 flights up several times a day!

this one leads to Rue des Artistes

We stumbled on this street which appears to have been built, or rebuilt, in the early 1920s. So quiet, pretty, cobblestones, flowers; even room to park your smartcar!

how sweet is that!

It feels like time stands still in this quiet lane.

A unique style: Retro Deco?

If I lived in Paris I might consider a smartcar, just for its parkability, but that wouldn’t be very green-minded of me, would it? Sustainable urban ecology is the only way to go! But if I had big bucks, I could buy this Cooper Copy Cat…. sorry I didn’t catch the make! Can somebody out there tell me?

looks a lot like a Mini

Parisians are quite friendly. Even with the language barrier. French drivers do NOT try to run you over in the street, like in Buenos Aires. They actually slow down and stop! What a concept! Not everybody speaks English either, contrary to what I’d heard before. Maybe in Germany or Scandinavia, but not in France (or Argentina). I just use my Spanish or Italian, that works pretty well, plus I’m picking up a few words in French here and there. Ben says I can make friends in any language!

I have to show off our Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood. We love the open air market.

the deli

the fish place

fresh shrimp by the bucket!

I’ve never seen so many kinds of olives in one place!

got cheese?

don’t forget the blue cheese — goes great on figs!

a little dried fruit

And if you cook a lot, like we do, you’ll need some really good knives:

yeah, I know I’ve got a sick sense of humor!

he thinks it’s funny!

how about some flowers?

so pretty! 6 euros a bunch: about $7.50

The flower guy saw me taking pictures of the olive guy, so he had to have his picture taken too!

Gallic machismo!

And how about some absolutely irresistible pastries?

Yum!

I took that picture at a very chic bakery downtown. Here’s a pretty nice café on our block…. but we mostly cook at home. Paris is so expensive!!

Ben at the café on our corner of Rue de Tolbiac

Next blog up: Paris milongas and other night life!

Ciao from Paris!