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!

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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.

California Part II: the Argentine Invasion

The sun was playing hide-and-seek with us the day we hiked from the beautiful, sunny Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. As we neared the bridge the wind was fierce, and the fog came swirling in. Mist hugs the Golden Gate like a kid with a teddy bear, always tossing it away and then anxious to have it back. 

The sun reappeared as we retraced our steps, walking past the old stables by the beach. You can see San Francisco in the distance. Here’s one of Crissy Field beach, with the Golden Gate sparkling in the background. 

Crissy Field Beach

The Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge trail is a mile each way.  All the views are spectacular. We took a few shots of Alcatraz before chillin’ in the Presidio Café. One latte and one cappuchino. My body temperature slowly worked its way back to normal.

Nice being on this side of the water from that place.  We kept a sharp lookout for pirates.  You never know, these days… foreign infidels or homegrown NRA-lovin’ terrorists?

H. Bouchard

Blackbeard

Was Santos was feeling like a stranger in a strange land?  So far from Argentina, so close to the evil superpower. Did he feel like he was in the belly of the beast?  [cf. José Martí: “Inside the Monster: Writings on the United States and American Imperialism,” 1890s.]  But Santos is not the first Argentine to make the journey, not by a long shot. That claim goes to Argentine pirate Hipólito Bouchard, who ransacked Monterey on Nov. 20, 1818.  In just a few years, Bouchard went from sailor to naval officer to buccaneer. 

StinsonBch

Stinson Beach

Could Bouchard have anchored off Stinson Beach in the gale force winds that nearly blew us off our feet? Hey, we were just looking for a few rays of sunshine. We hoped to find them in Bolinas, where the sixties meets the sea, but Highway 1 was closed on account of mudslides. I guess a visit to that sweet spot will have to wait till the next go-round.

Hipólito Bouchard was a naturalized Argentine naval officer who fought under the flag of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata and Perú. He played an important role in Argentine independence from Spain. Amongst his most notable “activities,” Bouchard ransacked towns along the coasts of Perú, Ecuador, Central America, México and California, harassing Spanish pueblos and garrisons.

Acta de IndepBorn in Saint-Tropez, France, in 1780, Bouchard grew up around boats and sailing. As soon as he was old enough to earn wages (no child labor laws back then) he went to work on fishing boats and cargo transports. In 1798 he signed up to fight for the French navy against the English, thus beginning the hard life of the seafaring soldier. After campaigning in Egypt and Haiti, he arrived in Buenos Aires on a French ship just a few months before the beginning of the May Revolution, in 1809.  Most Latin America countries were trying to throw off the yoke of foreign domination in the early 1800s; most notably by the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British.

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Plaza de Mayo then,

and now.

Bouchard was liberal and anti-monarchy. He openly sided with the Revolution and quickly rose to second in command of the newly-created Argentine navy. His baptism of fire was in the battle of San Nicholás against the Spanish navy on March 2, 1811. This naval confrontation on the Paraná river was a tremendous defeat for the Argentines… but essential training for the young marine. “The art of winning battles is learned from defeat.” [Simón Bolívar]

Batalla de San Nicolás

In July and August of 1811 Bouchard fought against the Spanish Royal Navy’s blockade of Buenos Aires. In 1812 he enlisted in the Horse-Grenadier regiment under General José de San Martín. “Certain countries such as France and Argentina established units of Horse-Grenadiers for a time. The British did so as well. Like their infantry counterparts, these horseback soldiers were chosen for their size and strength to break through enemy lines and fortifications.” [Wiki] They were some bad-ass dudes… perhaps the original “bad hombres?”

They say Bouchard was a hard, brutal man who, if he wasn’t busy burning and pillaging, was picking fights with his own crew. He handed out harsh penalties for insubordination. Walk the plank, anyone? Keelhauling? Do you think he ever heard of Long John Silver, Blackbeard, or Captain Flint? I guess not. Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t write Treasure Island until 1883.

Maybe it’s the other way around: Robert Louis Stevenson might have heard stories about Hipólito Bouchard. He might have known people who knew of him, because Stevenson spent the last two decades of his short life (he died at 44) in Vailima, Samoa, where he settled in 1880. He and his wife Fanny were always sailing around the South Seas when he wasn’t busy writing. Stevenson wrote Treasure Island for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, in 1883. Among other notable works, he published Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886.

I never turned to piracy when the law was onto me, but as to kidnapping … well, sometimes you have no other option. Driving around San Francisco we stopped to say hey to ‘ol Cristóbal Colón. He wasn’t a pirate, just another heartless real estate developer. We parked about 10 blocks away and then we walked another dozen or so in the wrong direction, away from Coit Tower. We would have reached for our ancient sextant, but the stars weren’t out yet. Amazing how I can get lost with or without my GPS. Finally we climbed another 6 blocks of stairs going straight up the hill. Tango dancers can keep going all night, that’s a known fact. Dancing, that is. 

Colón at Coit Tower

By the way, Cristóbal Colón never made it to California, so I have no idea what he’s doing in San Francisco. He merely sailed around the West Indies, so named because he thought he’d landed on the coast of India. Colón always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the lands that he visited during those 4 voyages were part of the Asian continent, as previously described by Marco Polo and other European travelers. [Wiki]. Colón’s refusal to accept that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia might explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, and not after Colón. On Colón’s last voyage to the Caribbean his crew escorted him back to Spain in cadenas… chains. They say he had gone completely mad. 

I got a nice shot of the Bay Bridge for my hour of climbing. You can see a bit of the Embarcadero on the lower left.

According to Bartolome Mitre, Bouchard was a big, tall, muscular man. He was dark-skinned with straight black hair and asiatic eyes, said to be black and penetrating. Too bad about that fiery temper. 

hmmm… dark-skinned?

Does he look like a dark-skinned man to you? On the cover of the above book, I mean. Ever heard the term “white-washing” history? Making someone look whiter than they are, i.e., rewriting history? Let me show you what I mean:

Bouchard had the decisiveness of a man of action, plus the understated confidence of a man of the world, e.g., one who has traveled far and wide, is proficient with modern weaponry, and can project cool in any situation. Let’s call him a James Bond prototype.

Tall, dark, handsome, smarter than you and not afraid to take control of a situation. A man who “owns” the room as soon as he walks into it. Attractive with a subtle edge of danger.

Mike Colter, aka Luke Cage

They say Bouchard had a passionate love for Argentina, his adopted country. I can relate. Of course, his love of country took a backseat to his avarice and rapaciousness. He craved plunder and riches.

Spanish pieces of eight

Bouchard was, you know, not much different than a multi-national corporation that changes banks like you and I change channels, island-hopping from the Caymans to Panama to Switzerland to Moscow, one step ahead of the IRS and one payment behind on its big yellow cheeto payoff.  I’d take some of that… wouldn’t you? Call it what you will, we’re still living with piracy and plunder.

In 1815 Bouchard left the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers and returned to life on the open water. I guess the good green earth just didn’t do it for him. Not enough pillaging and booty? Who can say? No doubt he yearned for the vast, open seas, under the yoke of no master but that fickle, dangerous temptress of the bluegreen depths.

One of Bouchard’s most prestigious campaigns was realized under the orders of Admiral Guillermo Brown. Together and in the company of their men, they ravaged the Pacific coasts of the Americas, attacking Callao, Guayaquil, San Blas and Acapulco, burning and plundering. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Almirante Guillermo Brown (1777-1857), Irish born, was the first admiral of the Argentine navy. He devoted his life to the service of his adopted country, in honor of which he is considered the Father of the Argentine Navy.

The fleet of Brown’s campaign was composed of the Hércules, commanded by the Admiral himself; la Santísima Trinidad, under the command of Brown’s brother Miguel; the sloop Halcón, commanded by Bouchard, and the schooner Constitución, under the command of Oliver Russell. The boats Hércules and Santísima Trinidad left from Montevideo heading south the 24 of October, 1815; the other two boats would set sail five days later. Their orders were to reach Mocha Island, off the coast of Chile, south of Santiago, where they would establish a plan of operations.

Mocha Island, Chile

The Brown brothers arrived at the island on December 28,1815; the Halcón reached port a day later. Upon arrival, Bouchard expressed his belief that the Constitution had sunk in the huge storm which had battered Cape Horn for fourteen days. Russell’s ship had been heavily loaded with large caliber guns and other provisions. Neither the Constitution nor its crew were seen again.

On Mocha Island, Brown and Bouchard agreed to operate together for the first hundred days of 1816. They also agreed on the manner in which the loot was to be divided: “It were to be divided into 5 parts, 2 for Brown for being the commander in chief, 1-1/2 for the Santísima Trinidad, and the same for the Halcón. From there Bouchard and Miguel Brown set out for the Peruvian coasts, while the Hércules went to the Archipelago Juan Fernández to release some patriots who were imprisoned there.” [Wiki]

Describing Bouchard’s famous trip, our trusty Wikipedia historians applaud the sailor’s “two-year campaign, going around the world in the midst of continuous work and danger; a voyage of thousands of miles through the remotest seas of the earth, in which a revolt is mastered, a fire on board is extinguished, the slave trade in Madagascar is stopped, Malaysian pirates are defeated in the Strait of Macassar, and the Philippines are blocked by Admiral Brown’s fleet, [which] controlled the South Pacific, imposing the law on its greatest kings, by diplomacy or by force.” [Wiki]  Not your average John Doe, these guys.

Almirante Guillermo Brown

Brown’s fleet arrived at the island of Puná, in the neighborhood of Guayaquil, Ecuador on Feb. 7, 1817. Upon arrival, the Admiral ordered Bouchard and his crew to remain at anchor, keeping watch over several dams they had already taken. Supplies of fresh drinking water were essential to the Argentine fleet. Brown took command of la Santísima Trinidad, with which he was preparing to attack Guayaquil. The next day, he demolished the fort of Punta de Piedras located five leagues from Guayaquil. But Bouchard’s luck did not hold. The ninth of February was a total disaster for Bouchard, who was captured while attempting to take the castle of San Carlos. After a difficult negotiation, the other Argentine corsairs managed to exchange Brown for the frigate Candelaria, three brigantines and five boxes of official correspondence found onboard the Consecuencia. They finally made their getaway aboard the frigates Hercules and Consecuencia, the sloop Halcón, and the schooner Carmen. They had to abandon la Santísima Trinidad, which was no longer seaworthy.

After three days, Bouchard had had enough. He was done… for a time. He informed Admiral Brown that his ship was leaking and that his officers wanted to return to Buenos Aires. He asked for his share of the loot. The dice were thrown; Bouchard had to part with the Halcón, in exchange for the frigate Consecuencia, the schooner Carmen, and about 3,475 pesos.

Bouchard decided to return to Buenos Aires by Cape Horn. Again there were differences with his crew; these were mostly resolved by violence. He fought a duel with a sergeant major, which would later result in serious legal problems. Additionally, when an officer of the Carmen informed Bouchard that the schooner was leaking, the corsair demanded that the officer attempt to sail around Cape Horn with a full crew, because he didn’t want to lose the boat. At that moment the officers of the schooner, induced by the crew, disobeyed Bouchard and changed course for the Galapagos. The Consequence stayed her course, arriving in Buenos Aires on the 18th of June, 1816.

On the 27th of June, 1817, at the age of 37, Bouchard received his official pirate’s license (patente de corso nº 116), beginning what may be the most colorful and picturesque chapter of his life. On the first anniversary of Argentine Independence, July 9, 1817, he embarked from Barragán, a port in La Plata, at the helm of the frigate “La Argentina” for a two year cruise. In charting the direction of the ship, Bouchard planned to sail in search of the great equatorial southward current, which runs across the Atlantic to the African coasts. With a bit of luck, it would allow him to skirt the Cape of Good Hope, in order to pursue and harass the ships of the Company of the Philippines that sailed along the coast of India.

Plaza San Martín, Córdoba

On July 19, a deadly fire broke out on board the ship. The crew worked for several hours to contain the flames. Scuttling the boat was not an option. To reach the Indian Ocean, the ship headed northeast towards the island of Madagascar. After sailing for two months, the Argentina anchored in Tamatave, on the east side of the island. In Tamatave, a British officer introduced himself to Bouchard, and asked for his help in preventing four slave ships from leaving Madagascar. Bouchard offered all his forces available to prevent the slave traffic on those ships, of which three were English and one French. The British commander ordered his crew to aim their guns at the slave ships, while Bouchard, seconded by several armed men, exercised the right of visitation which had been used in Africa, Great Britain and the United States since 1812.

Bouchard verified that the suspicions of the British officer were real, so he kept the slave ships in port.  Before the Argentina left Madagascar, her crew seized the slave ships’ provisions and recruited five sailors from the French vessel. The Argentina resumed a northeast course, intending to attack any unlucky Spanish ships sailing nearby.

During this journey the crew came down with scurvy, which is a vitamin C deficiency. So many crew members fell ill that the few remaining healthy sailors had to make a tremendous effort to keep the ship on course. On 18 October they spotted an American frigate whose captain informed them that the Philippine Company’s ships had not trafficked in the ports of India for 3 years, because most commercial cargo was passing through Manila. The Argentina continued her course toward the Philippines, resisting several storms that accompanied her until she reached the Strait of La Sonda, which separates the islands of Java and Sumatra. On November 7 Bouchard decided to drop anchor at the island of Java so that the sick could be attended to.

I’d play sick, too, for the chance to spend a few months recovering on Java.

After leaving Java, the Argentina continued its course for the Phillippines. The area was dangerous, due to the presence of Malaysian pirates. The ships used by these pirates were shallow, with cannons on both prows, a single sail and many oars. An encounter with some of those pirates occurred on the morning of December 7, when the lookout spotted five small ships. The combat began at noon, when the Argentina was boarded by pirates. Bouchard decided to save his powder, choosing hand-to-hand combat instead. After whooping their asses, he ordered his crew to take the pirate boat, while the other pirate boats fled. The commander summoned a court-martial to try those who had been taken prisoner, and he sentenced all but the youngest to the death penalty. The prisoners were returned to their ship, whose masts had been knocked down, and Bouchard’s men proceeded to use their boat and its crew for musket practice until it sank. After leaving the Strait of Macassar, the Argentina crossed the Sea of Celebes and anchored at the island of Joló, centrally located among the Philippine Islands.

typical Filipino “proa”

Bouchard arrived in the archipelago on January 2, 1818 and remained there for five days. Numerous rocky shoals and strong currents made navigation difficult in those seas. The inhabitants of Joló Island considered themselves invincible. They were excellent sailors, as well as fearsome pirates. Bouchard, foreseeing some kind of nocturnal raid, issued a stern warning to local authorities that if a boat approached after sundown, he would open fire upon it with all the munitions at his disposal. He’d make the enemy boats light up like the 4th of July!

While the frigate’s crew was negotiating with the natives to secure adequate supplies, sentries were stationed, with loaded muskets, to repel any possible attack. That night a sentry saw movement and alerted Bouchard’s men. The Joloans, in their boats, approached la Argentina and were preparing to board the vessel. Bouchard gave the order to open fire.  The Joloans were surprised and quickly fled.

A few days later, after a series of annoying incidents, the monarch of Joló appeared with a peace offering: the gift of a richly adorned proa, filled with fruits and vegetables, plus four water buffalo, to the delight of the hungry sailors. From that moment they were able to fill their water barrels without being disturbed, and the islanders were invited to trade freely with the crew of the ship. How about a bottle of rum for a night with that lovely island girl? A few pieces of eight? Shiver me timbers, the pirate life.

la peña

After refueling, the ship headed for Manila, the city that Bouchard intended to blockade. En route they spotted an English frigate heading for the same port. Bouchard decided to board her to check for illegal cargo. He attempted to conceal his identity, but the captain of the frigate was no dummy. As soon as he made port in Manila, the captain gave notice of Bouchard’s presence to the Spanish authorities.

On the 31st of January, 1818, la Argentina approached the port to have a look at her defensive capabilities, which were impressive. Manila Bay had solid defensive walls and a fort, la fuerte de Santiago, well stocked with powerful artillery. Bouchard began to take boats in the zone, quietly, always keeping his distance from the Spanish artillery. During the next two months he took 16 ships in his signature style that began with an intimidating cannonade progressing to a rapid assault. To further tighten his grip on Manila, Bouchard sent an armed boat with 23 crew members to block the Strait of San Bernardino under the command of 2nd Captain Sommers. In that action they captured  a number of small boats.

la Fuerte de Santiago, Manila

The inhabitants of Manila began to despair. Because of the blockade, the prices of food and basic goods had doubled and even tripled. The governor ordered that two ships and a war schooner be prepared to go in search of Bouchard. This expedition was deliberately delayed, and when it finally departed, the Argentina was already gone. On March 30, 1818, after making off with the best loot, Bouchard set sail for Hawai’i.

I’m outta here!

On August 17, 1818, Bouchard arrived at Kaleakelua Bay, a small port on the west coast of the island of Hawaii. At the anchorage a canoe, manned by native islanders, approached la Argentina and informed them in rudimentary English that a sloop moored in the harbor, belonging to King Kamehameha I, had previously been a Spanish ship. They were also told that the night before their arrival a frigate had left port, destination unknown.

Bouchard decided to pursue the unknown frigate, which they soon had in view because the lack of wind had nailed it to the sea. He ordered Sheppard, one of his officers, to take a boat and ask the commander of the frigate about the sloop that was in the Hawaiian port. After the inquiries, Sheppard reported that it was the Santa Rosa or Chacabuco, a sloop that had sailed from Buenos Aires about the same time as La Argentina. The crew of the Santa Rosa had mutinied on the shores of Chile, and changed course for Hawaii.

will dance for daiquiris

After learning of the fate of the Santa Rosa, Bouchard ordered the frigate to return to port, suspecting that some of the mutineers were among the Santa Rosa’s crew. Upon reviewing the sailors, he recognized nine men he had seen in Buenos Aires.  He had iron bars put on their hands and feet in punishment. During the interrogation, he learned that the leaders of the revolt were on the island of Kauai.

Taking a break from the revolt on Kauai

When Bouchard arrived at the port he found the Santa Rosa practically unarmed, so he decided to meet with King Kamehameha I. The corsair went dressed to the nines in his uniform as Lieutenant Colonel of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. During the meeting, Bouchard demanded the return of the sloop. The king argued that he had paid for it and deserved compensation. Several authors affirm that during this meeting Kamehameha I recognized the sovereignty of the United Provinces; however, other scholars dismiss this, arguing that Bouchard, in his log, never mentioned the signing of such an important transaction, and furthermore, that the corsair did not have the authority to do so.

King Kamehameha I

After the negotiation, Bouchard returned to the Bay of Kaleakelua and waited for the king to send him the agreed upon provisions. The provisions failed to arrive, so Bouchard took his fleet of two warships to meet Kamehameha again in his residence at Kailua. Kamehameha, facing the risk of two warships in his capital, agreed to let him stock up on provisions in Maui. On the 26 of August Bouchard took charge of the Santa Rosa. Obtaining supplies in Maui, he rearmed and reconditioned the ship. He then sailed to Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, where he met Francisco de Paula Martí, a local expat and native of Jérez, Spain. Bouchard appointed Martí representative of the United Provinces of South America and Captain of the Armies. He also recruited Peter Corney, and made him Captain of the Santa Rosa. Maybe they toasted the new Captain with a few copas of Jérez?

On October 1st la Argentina anchored on the island of Kauai. Bouchard captured the sailors who had mutinied on the Santa Rosa, shooting the leaders and punishing the rest with twelve lashes each. After replenishing food, water and munitions, and hiring eighty new crewmen, Bouchard’s fleet drew anchor for California.

The real Bouchard? This handsome Argentine fits the description!

Bouchard set sail for the coast of California, where he hoped to take advantage of Spanish commerce. However, the Spanish authorities had already been informed that two corsairs were in the vicinity. Territorial governor Pablo Vicente Solá, who resided in Monterey, ordered that all valuables be removed from the city, and that two-thirds of the supply of gunpowder be transported a considerable distance from town. A discerning and resourceful man. He reminds me of California’s longtime gov, Jerry Brown. He recently declared California a Sanctuary State. I love this portrait  of him. Maybe Califas should secede from the union… it’s trending right now, worldwide. Just kidding… not.

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On November 20, 1818, the lookout at Punta de Pinos, at the south end of Monterey Bay, near Lover’s Point, sighted the two Argentine vessels. After notifying the governor, cannons were loaded, the garrison was armed, and the women, children, elderly and those unable to fight were sent to Mission Soledad. 

Punta de Pinos today

Bouchard met with his officers to plan the attack. Officer Corney was already familiar with Monterey, and aware of the great depth of the bay: 2.2 miles [3,600 meters] deep.  They decided to use the schooner Santa Rosa for the attack, because the frigate Argentina, with her enormous draft, might run aground so close to the harbor, and because the troop landing was concentrated there. The frigate lowered several smaller boats to the water, to tow her away from the reach of the Spanish artillery. Once towed out of range, Bouchard sent Captain Sheppard to the Santa Rosa with 200 men armed with rifles and spears.

Monterey, California circa 1842

The schooner Santa Rosa, under the command of Officer Sheppard, anchored at midnight near the fort. The men were tired from rowing out to the schooner and towing the frigate, so Sheppard decided not to attack that night. By the first light of day he discovered that he had anchored too close to the coast. The Spanish artillery was only a few yards away and ready to attack. The captain decided to open fire, and after fifteen minutes of combat the Santa Rosa surrendered. Bouchard observed the defeat from the frigate, but also noted that the Spaniards, since they had no boats, did not attempt to seize the Santa Rosa. Bouchard ordered anchors carried toward the port. However, because of the frigate’s draft, they could not get close enough to open fire. At nine o’clock in the evening they began moving the survivors of the Santa Rosa to the Argentina.

At dawn on November 24, Bouchard ordered his men to make a charge with the boats. They were 200 men in all, 130 armed with guns and 70 with lances. They disembarked a league from the fort, in a cove concealed by rocky cliffs. The fort put up little resistance, and after an hour of combat the Argentine flag was raised.

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The Argentines ransacked the city for sixteen days (or six, depending on the source).  They appropriated cattle, burned the cuartel, the gunners’ barracks, the governor’s residence and the adobes of the Californios next to their gardens and orchards. 

Old Monterey: the Customs House

Mission Carmel

Having done considerable damage in Monterey, Bouchard’s fleet sailed south on November 29, heading for Rancho El Refugio, on the Santa Barbara coast. This ranch belonged to a Californio family whose members had “collaborated” with the Spanish, whatever that means. On December 5, Bouchard and his men disembarked near the ranch and, meeting no resistance, seized provisions and slaughtered cattle. A few soldiers from the nearby presidio were in the vicinity, waiting to take some of Bouchard’s men prisoners. They captured an officer and two sailors who had gone ahead of the others. Bouchard waited for them all day, believing they had gone astray. When his men didn’t return, Bouchard decided to leave for Santa Barbara, but first he set fire to the ranch. Arriving in Santa Barbara, Bouchard sent an emissary to the governor for an exchange of prisoners. After the negotiations, the three captives were returned to the Santa Rosa. Bouchard also handed over a prisoner, “el borracho Molina.” Poor Molina had to endure Governor Solá’s anger, and was sentenced to 100 lashes and six years’ imprisonment.

Santa Barbara coast

On December 16 the flotilla raised anchors and continued south to Mission San Juan Capistrano. There Bouchard requested food from a Spanish royalist officer, who replied that he had “plenty of gunpowder and bullets” for him instead. Bouchard, no surprise, decided to send 100 men to take the town. After a brief fight, the corsairs took some valuables and burned down the houses of the Californios. On December 20 Bouchard sailed for Vizcaino Bay, on the coast of Baja California, where he repaired the ships and gave his men some well-earned rest. Among the Spanish settlements in California, Bouchard was referred to as “California’s Only Pirate,” and “el Pirata Buchar.” 

Several factors led me to begin thinking about writing this piece on Hipólito Bouchard: 1) vacationing in California this summer enabled me to see some of the places I’ve known all my life from a new perspective; 2) my love of boats, sailing, and exploring new places; and 3) stumbling by chance upon a street named after Bouchard while walking in Lanús, a town just across the river from Buenos Aires, at Puente Alsina. HB

 

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Marina on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

There’s a lot more to this tale: Bouchard went on to plunder and pillage Mexico and El Salvador; he hooked up with Simon Bolívar and General José de San Martin in the struggle for independence throughout South America. Another turn of the winch found Bouchard in Valparaiso, Chile, in July of 1819, where he was found guilty on the charge of attacking a boat with an expired privateer document [patente de corso]. Bouchard replied to the Chilean government that they had no authority to judge him and that he would only respond for his actions before the proper Argentine authorities. Note the signature: “Yo, el Rey.” [I, the King]

Patente de corso

So, you may ask, just what is a Pirate Permit?  This refers to the charter or document which permits the holder (aka licensed pirate) to attack and loot vessels on the high seas or on the coasts. Nice job if you can get it! No medical care, no pension, lousy food, dubious company… and no burial expenses when you go to Davy Jones. Whatever riches you manage to pillage or steal are yours to keep forever, providing you hide them in a very, very secret place that only you know about (or an off-shore bank) and you live long enough to go back and find them. If they’re still there, of course. [If you like this kind of story, you’ll love Conan Doyle’s, The Sign of Four]

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I want a pirate t-shirt!

On December 9, 1819, Bouchard was acquitted of piracy charges in Chile. The court agreed to return the ships, newspapers and other papers to Bouchard. But, while awaiting the verdict, all the money, weapons and ship’s provisions had quietly disappeared. Somebody must have put the Black Spot on Bouchard!

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A pirate pawning his loot.

with Santos at the Baywood Café and Marina in Los Osos

 

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with Roxy & Johnny at the Sandpiper in Monterey, Pier 1

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with Pati at our friend Anne’s house on the water in Los Osos

Bouchard’s last years and death

When he retired, Bouchard decided to take care of the haciendas that had been awarded to him by the Peruvian government, in San Javier and San José de Nazca. He bought a sugar plantation and mill in partnership with his old comrade Echeverria. Bouchard had not been in contact with his family for some time. He had lived with his wife for only ten months after the expedition with Almirante Brown, and did not get to know his youngest daughter who was born after he began his expedition around the world. He finally brought his Argentine wife and children to the sugar plantation in 1836.

During his life at sea, Bouchard has been characterized as a cruel, unforgiving man. He instigated serious incidents with his crew, and took fierce reprisals against those who were insubordinate. They say that on his estates he treated his slaves with the same cruelty with which he had treated his seamen. Sick of his abuses, one or more of his slaves killed him on the night of January 4, 1837. “By his own slaves, suddenly” according to his death certificate.

The remains of Bouchard were lost until 1962, when they were found in a crypt located in the Church of San Javier de Nazca in the city of Nazca, Perú. On July 6 of that year they were exhumed and repatriated to Buenos Aires by a commission formed by the Argentine Navy and the Peruvian Navy. Today they rest in the old pantheon of the Argentine army in the Cementerio de Chacarita, in Buenos Aires. 

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Spanish Men-of-War Engaging Barbary Corsairs, painting by Cornelis Hendricksz Vroom, 1615 

Some historians have pointed out that the flag of the United Provinces of Central America (from which the flags of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica are derived) were inspired by the flag of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (the earliest flag of the Argentine Republic), which flew from the frigate La Argentina in the service of las Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata in 1818 and 1819, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hipólito Bouchard, of the Argentine navy.

The End

Abstract: Terror struck the coast of Alta California as Bouchard sailed north. Blood was spilled, towns looted, pirate joy was everywhere. Monterey, the capital of Alta California, was taken by force. Bouchard and his men seized more than 20 pieces of artillery, rescued an Argentine warship, and imprisoned Spanish sailors and soldiers from the Cuartel of Monterey. More than 25 enemy ships were set afire, administering the kiss of death to Spanish commerce in its colonial possessions. The newly-created Argentine flag was flown triumphantly. It was certainly a memorable cruise.

 

 

 

 

Córdoba: Hotel Nazi, la Salamanca, and Other Tall Tales and Adventures

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The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was founded on July 6, 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, a Spanish conquistador.  Cabrera named the city after Córdoba, Spain.  Córdoba was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553).   The U of Córdoba is the oldest university in the country and the second oldest in Latin America.  It was founded by the Jesuits in 1613.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The most recognizable is perhaps the Jesuit Quarter (la Manzana Jesuíta), declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. 

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This beautiful barrio consists of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus.

recova Plaza San Martín

recova Plaza San Martín

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In January we flew up north to the province of Córdoba. The original Córdoba, in Andalusia, Spain, was built by the Romans and conquered by Muslim armies in 711.  Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and the Caliphate of Córdoba, which included a great swath of the Iberian Peninsula, not to mention my favorite Andalusian cities: Granada, Málaga, Sevilla.  According to archeologists, Córdoba had upwards of a million inhabitants in the 10th century, in a time when only one other European city had more than 30,000: Constantinople.

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Córdoba was famously cultured, enlightened and stunningly beautiful, and is credited, as I will illustrate, with jumpstarting the Renaissance.  The city was known for its gardens, fountains, artificial lakes and public baths fed by an aqueduct.  Muslims bathed daily, unlike their fragrant European neighbors who were averse to cleanliness, and instead resorted to the invention of perfume.

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General San Martín

During these centuries, Córdoba became a society ruled by Muslims, in which all other groups had second-class status but lived together in relative peace and poverty except for the noble classes, who were exempt from paying taxes.  Spain returned to Christian rule in 1236, during the Reconquista.  In 1492 Fernando and Isabella, los Reyes Católicos, forced all the Muslims, Jews, gypsies and other “deplorables” out of the country in the name of Catholicism.  (Many converted to Christianity to avoid being deported: los conversos)  The ebb and flow of tolerance seems to be a recurring pattern worldwide.  We humans just can’t seem to rise above the avarice, ego, and drive to dominate others, which is apparently encoded in our DNA.  History repeats itself. 

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Because of its enlightened rulers, Córdoba was home to a university, medical schools, a library of 400,000 volumes, and 27 free primary schools for children of the poor.  The literacy rate was high for both males and females …. encouraged by a famous king, Alfonso X, el Sabio.  Alfonso the “wise” was crowned in 1252. He is known for his interest in science and literature.  Under his rule, early Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) were translated into Castilian Spanish.  Alfonso X sponsored, supervised and often participated with his own writing and in collaboration with a group of Latin, Hebrew and Muslim intellectuals known as the Toledo School of Translators, in the composition of an enormous body of literature that kick-started the production of literature in Spanish as we know it today.

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Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule.  The Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university campus, as I have mentioned, all date from the 17th century. The campus belongs today to the historical museum of the National University of Córdoba, which has been the second-largest university in the country since the early 20th century (after the University of Buenos Aires), in terms of the number of students, faculty, and academic programs.

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January and February is school-free summer vacation time here in the far southern latitudes.  Trees are in blossom all over the place.  The Córdoba countryside reminds me so much of California; the Santa Lucias, the Gabilanes, Los Padres, Ojai…  Seeing Córdoba adds life and depth to an understanding of our California missions.

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Isn’t she lovely?

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a Dominican convent in the Jesuit quarter

Segue to the 20th century: a beautiful bronze bas-relief in the historic quarter of Córdoba, dedicated to the women of Córdoba.  Just in time for International Women’s Day!

monumento a la Mujer Córdobesa

monument to the women of Cordoba, 1956

In case you might not know about or have forgotten about a very difficult period in Argentina, there is the Museo de la Memoria in Córdoba.  The coup d’etat of March 1976 was a civic-military rebellion that led to the establishment of a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla.  The junta called their state-sponsored terrorism the Process of National Reorganization.  People called it “la Dictadura” and “el Proceso.”  It was not the first, but by far the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. [Wikipedia]

Museo de la Memoria

More than 30,000 people were “disappeared,” tortured and killed.  The junta remained in power until December 10, 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín was elected president by free and fair elections.  In Buenos Aires you will see many bronze plaques set into the sidewalks, in every neighborhood, where the names of the disappeared are listed, along with with the date they were kidnapped from their homes at that location.  On the facade of the Museo de la Memoria are hand-lettered the names of those who were “disappeared” in Córdoba.  I saw quite a lot of politically-inspired street art in Córdoba.  People having a voice is what democracy is all about.

we want to live   …    we exist because we resist

 

El Cordobazo: a student – worker uprising against a previous dictatorship in 1969.

When reality gets too depressing, you have to just forget about it all, for a while.  C’mon, let’s go dancing.

Saturday night Milonga in Plaza San Martín, Córdoba.

If you’ve got a bad case of the blues, and the Cathedral at Plaza San Martín is just too damn lovely, take a walk on the Goth side, near the Plaza España.  It’s absolutely wild!

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Gótica extremensus!

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You would think this cathedal, la Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, was built in the 1700s… that’s what I thought!  I mean, it’s positively crawling with grotesque and beastly gargoyles.  But I was soooo wrong, just like the Beatles’ song.  Also known as the Iglesia de los Capuchinos (let’s just call it the Cappuchino church, even if it doesn’t have an espresso bar), it was built by the Franciscan order between 1926 – 1934.

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Gothic my ass!  The brickwork gives it away.  It’s pretty amazing, just the same.

Hmmm… prehistoric Legos?  Holy Friars!  What were they smoking?

Córdoba Day 1.

Our first destination in Córdoba was La Cumbre, a pretty little town 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.  We loved La Cumbre… we stayed there for a whole week.  You can keep your yurts… La Cumbre is the best base camp anywhere.  It’s friendly and picturesque, and the dozen or so sidewalk cafés and bistros serve up some really delicious food.  How about a plate of crusted stuffed Patagonian trout?  Rúcula and radicheta salad with caramelized pears and melted brie?  We’re talking’ some really good eats in this town, not to mention the BBQ, the empanadas, and the quintessential malbec: in vino veritas!  In La Cumbre the Tourism office doesn’t close till midnight.  Argentines are all about their night life!

La Cumbre

La Cumbre has a lovely willow-lined creek on the edge of town.  

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We discovered the creek while wandering about town the next morning, trying to find the 10K trail we were told about.  It starts behind the statue of El Cristo Redentor and ends at the San Gerónimo reservoir.

el Cristo Redentor

It’s a 10 minute climb up a series of steps to get to the lookout.

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Nice view of La Cumbre.  The best part was getting to pet the adorable cuddly vicuña for 10 pesos.

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The trailhead starts right behind the statue and we nearly missed it, but our new friends, las Gaby, pointed out what looked like a rabbit trail going straight up, a few feet from the backside of Christ.  The four of us spent most of the day climbing with hands and feet up a narrow, rocky trail to the top of the ridge. Lush, grassy green hillsides with horses and burros grazing.  My kind of paradise!

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There was a cute burro hanging with the herd but he kept moving away and I couldn’t get a good shot.  As we climbed up the views of La Cumbre just got better and better.  Santos added the “the bear went over the mountain” to his repertoire of Latin American hiking music.  After living in Buenos Aires for most of the last 6 years  – that big beautiful cognitively-dissonant city that I love –  it was delightful to be up in the hills with the sweet air, the fresh breeze.  The  warmth of the sun was absoutely glorious.  A wonderfully healing and energizing day.

We had to ditch our sneakers and socks to ford a creek that was only a few inches deep.  Our happy feet dried in the sun as we kicked back in the tall grass munching trail mix.  We scrambled up faint paths on all fours, rock to rock, like, seriously climbing!  On the downhills we scampered and skittered like clumsy goats, concentrating on each split-second landing, not afraid, but keenly aware of the possible unfortunate consequences of one poorly placed foot.  Luckily I had brought along a good pair of hiking shoes, and with zen-like concentration I donned the spirit cloak of a mountain sprite.

We finally made it over the ridgetops and scrambled down, down, down to the San Gerónimo reservoir.   The water was still a little muddy from recent rains.

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Dique San Gerónimo after the rains

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web photo: cobalt blue water!

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a spillway: built to last!

It was about 4 pm when we made it to the reservoir.  After a short break our 4-person team set off down the dirt road towards La Cumbre. Riders on horseback passed us ponying a mare with a colt skittering alongside.  It was about a 4K walk into La Cumbre.  After a while we turned onto the main road (also dirt) and to our right was a sight for sore eyes: la Estancia Rosario!  It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the gate was OPEN!

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La estancia welcomed us with beautiful sweeping lawns, benches all over the place, a café, a restaurant, huge nice restrooms, and a shop that sells an enormous variety of alfajores (saddlebags in english).  Alfajores are cookies sandwiched with jam or dulce de leche.  Sometimes the cookie dough is made from almond paste and nuts, or breadcrumbs mixed with honey and spices.  Speaking of breadcrumbs, I spent so much time in the ladies’ room washing off the sweat and trail dirt, and rebraiding my hair, that the team sent one of the Gabys to drag me out.  Then I had to stock up on alfajores… dulce de leche is my favorite, dusted with coconut instead of dipped in chocolate.  Estancia el Rosario makes the best alfajores I’ve ever had.  Ah, alfajor heaven!

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So, rested up, full tummy = happy heart.  We set off to hike the last couple of miles into La Cumbre.  Piece ‘a cake!  Flat, no stones in my passway….

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

Robert Johnson, 1911-1938, King of the Delta Blues

A stray dog decided to join our wolf-pac.com.  Maybe he liked the scent of dirt, dust and alfajores?  After awhile he changed his mind and headed back to his comfort zone.… the familiar.  He didn’t want anything weird to happen at the next crossroads.  Happens to all of us at some point, right?  If not, there may still be time…

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After a day of climbing nearly vertical rabbit trails, walking on the flat was sooo easy.  We were NOT complaining.  But then, as if the universe wanted to applaud our efforts, we heard a vehicle approaching, bouncing and jolting its merry way along the washboard.  We all turned to look.  It was a white ’64 Ford pickup.  Its driver spotted us and slowed down to have a look.  Three women and one guy.  The odds are good but the goods are odd!  Just kidding, he was a good guy.  There were 4 or 5 tires in the back of the truck which looked liked couch cushions to us.  Santos spoke to him, he gave a nod, and we jumped in.

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Gabriela la Morocha and Gabriela de Córdoba: las Gabys

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Back in town, we celebrated under the umbrella of a sidewalk cafe downtown with Quilmes, empanadas and a spiked mango licuado for yours truly. Good times and best friends forever!!

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Later on Santos and I drove to Cosquín to go to a peña.  What’s a peña?  It’s a club where you can sit and have a nice meal and a bottle of wine and listen to live folk music, and sometimes other local musical offerings.  Santos was really jazzed to go to Cosquín, because it’s THE center of Argentine folk music and dance, and he’s way into all that.  They have music festivals there all year round, and the biggest ones are broadcast live on Argentine public tv, night after night. 

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During the day they have rodeos where you can watch gauchos in Argentine style caps and sombreros ride outlaw bulls and broncs. It’s kinda funny for me cause, being a cowgirl myself, I’m used to American rodeos with clowns and dumb-ass announcers and lots of flag waving and team roping and steer wrestling, barrel racing and all the rest.  In Argentina, especially in the provinces, they’ve got guys riding broncs and bulls with folk singers singing at the same time!  Crazy!  But that’s how it’s done here.  Their rodeos are called domos.  Later on, for the folks at home, the tv broadcasts hours of folk dancing, all in very elaborate and beautiful costumes, very much like our baile folklórico in California and Mexico.

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dancing la Zamba at Peña La Salamanca

So that evening we went to la Peña Salamanca.  The food was great (we had locro, a traditional corn and beef stew) and there was a stream of different groups performing… a dozen at least.  It was the week leading up to the big festival weekend, so lots of performers were in town doing the rounds of the peñas.  We got up and danced to the chacareras, and when a group played some Piazzolla, we were the only dancers brave enough to get out there and show our stuff.  The audience went wild for us!!  Blame it on that bottle of tinto we were drinking.  

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The fact that we were visiting “la Salamanca” made Santos spill the stories his mom told him when he was little, about the Devil and la Salamanca.  

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According to the Santiagueño version, la Salamanca is a place where people go to make a deal with the devil (Zupay) in exchange for knowledge and powerful gifts.  La Salamanca is usually a cave in the mountains.  Zupay may teach the initiate the musical arts, such as playing the guitar or other instruments, dancing, horse breaking and training, or the evil arts of brujería (witchcraft).  Tradition tells that if you hear the music of la Salamanca, you will fall into an evil life, full of fear and horror.  People of good faith can avoid falling into the temptation of the Zupay by carrying a rosary.  It is said that those who have made a pact with the devil can be spotted because they cast no shadow.

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“As always, there are many versions of this legend, but most of them agree on the main points.  This story was well known in Spain during the 14th and the 16th centuries and was so famous that it went with the first Spanish sailors who took part in the colonization of Central and South America. This is why … people still refer to … caves and dark places as “Salamancas.” [spanishinspain.blogspot.com.ar]

While I was writing about la Salamanca an old Robert Johnson song came into my head.  I remember stuff like that instead of people’s names and what I had for breakfast.  Weird, right?  Are you seeing a connection here between the singer and la Salamanca?

          I got stones in my passway
And all my roads seem dark at night

          – Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”

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[The following story is from Henry Goodman, excerpted from Vagabonding, Rolf Potts, June 26, 2015]

Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads  

Robert Johnson been playing down in Yazoo City and over at Beulah trying to get back up to Helena, ride left him out on a road next to the levee, walking up the highway, guitar in his hand propped up on his shoulder. October cool night, full moon filling up the dark sky, Robert Johnson thinking about Son House preaching to him, “Put that guitar down, boy, you drivin’ people nuts.”

Robert Johnson needing as always a woman and some whiskey. Big trees all around, dark and lonesome road, a crazed, poisoned dog howling and moaning in a ditch alongside the road sending electrified chills up and down Robert Johnson’s spine, coming up on a crossroads just south of Rosedale. Robert Johnson, feeling bad and lonesome, knows people up the highway in Gunnison. Can get a drink of whiskey and more up there.

Man sitting off to the side of the road on a log at the crossroads says, “You’re late, Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson drops to his knees and says, “Maybe not.”

The man stands up, tall and black as the forever-closed eyes of Robert Johnson’s stillborn baby, and walks out to the middle of the crossroads where Robert Johnson kneels. He says, “Stand up, Robert Johnson. You want to throw that guitar over there in that ditch with that hairless dog and go on back up to Robinsonville and play the harp with Willie Brown and Son, because you just another guitar player like all the rest, or you want to play that guitar like nobody ever played it before? Make a sound nobody ever heard before? You want to be the King of the Delta Blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?”

“That’s a lot of whiskey and women, Devil-Man.”

“I know you, Robert Johnson,” says the man.

Robert Johnson feels the moonlight bearing down on his head and the back of his neck as the moon seems to be growing bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter. He feels it like the heat of the noonday sun bearing down, and the howling and moaning of the dog in the ditch penetrates his soul, coming up through his feet and the tips of his fingers through his legs and arms, settling in that big empty place beneath his breastbone causing him to shake and shudder like a man with the palsy. Robert Johnson says, “That dog gone mad.”

The man laughs. “That hound belong to me. He ain’t mad, he’s got the Blues. I got his soul in my hand.”

A few more notes about the legend of Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist who supposedly made a pact with the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time.  Robert was the 11th (and illegitimate) child of a poor Mississippi family.  He was 17 or 18 when he found out the name of his biological father, and he then took on his real father’s last name.  Robert married at 19.  Perhaps due to bad luck, as some say, his wife Virginia died in childbirth, losing the baby, too.  She was only 16.

A few years later,  Johnson made the mistake of fooling around with the wife of the owner of a club where he was playing.  The outraged husband sent a bottle of poisoned whiskey to Robert’s table.  Apparently Robert drank a fair amount of that whiskey, ’cause later that evening he stopped playing, walked outside, and passed out.  He died three days or two weeks later, as the tale spins, from the strychnine-laced whiskey.

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Everyone knows a deal’s a deal, especially if it’s a deal with el diablo.  When your time runs out, you’re done.  Robert didn’t collect a lot of time in this world, but the devil sure got his due.  That’s the story of Robert Johnson, part history and part fiction.  For me, the truest part is the mesmerizing sound of his soulful voice, the genius of his music and his technical skill on the guitar, for all of which he earned the title “King of the Delta Blues.”

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          Asked the lord above “Have mercy now

          save poor Bob if you please”

          – Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

[Check out this YouTube history in Spanish: Historias y Relatos – El Pacto de Robert Johnson]

Did we earn our Adventuresome Tourist badges on day 1?  Yikes!  Segue to another sketchy location about 30 miles away:  La Falda.  Home to the  decrepit, deteriorating, notorious Hotel Eden, the world-famous Nazi vacation retreat and watering hole.  Córdoba Day 2.

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Hotel Eden is an enormous building… about the same size as the Hotel Palace.  But you can’t book a room; it’s actually not habitable.  The second floor has big holes in the floors and walls, so the guided tour only took us up the decaying stairs (that was scary!) to the 2nd floor landing.  The hotel hasn’t been open for business – except guided tours – for many years. 

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view from the back

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section of the ground floor

The main event was a long boring documentary about all the rich Germans who stayed there before the war.  Albert Einstein did visit the hotel in 1925.  It was widely rumored that Hitler was also a visitor but there is no supporting evidence.

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Santos and his brother Einstein, 2017

During Einstein’s visit to Argentina he met with an Argentine physicist, Enrique Loedel Palumbo, who had written his doctoral thesis on the optical and electrical constants of sugar cane.  Is that, like, what color is it and can it bite you back?  According to Wikipedia, the two had a conversation about the differential equation of a point-source gravitational field, which resulted in a paper published by Loedel in Physikalische Zeitschrift.  I’m guessing that was a German scientific journal.  It’s claimed that this is the first research paper on relativity published by a Latin American scientist.  You go, Enrico!

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Enrique Loedel Palumbo, 1925

Another influential character, George Strausser Messersmith, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.  Messersmith also served as head of the U.S. Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934, during the rise of the Nazi party.  He was best known in his day for his controversial decision to issue a visa to Albert Einstein to travel to the United States.  Good move for the USA!  ICE, get a clue!

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George Strausser Messersmith

As America’s consul general in Berlin in 1933, Messersmith wrote a dispatch to the State Department that dramatically contravened the popular view that Hitler had no consensus among the German people and would not remain in power, saying,

“I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this government remains in power for another year, and it carries on in the measure in this direction, it will go far toward making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come. With few exceptions, the men who are running the government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” [Wikipedia]

We enjoyed walking about the ruins of the pool and adjacent servants’ quarters.  Guys on one side of the pool, girls on the other.  How convenient is that?  How about I swim over to your place later, baby?  Our tour guide, noting the sparse accomodations of the maids who took care of the children of rich Germans, and their proximity to the equally spare quarters of the male wait staff, gave rise to amusing speculation about how much hanky panky was going on after hours under the noses of the fat cats.

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The scariest part of the Nazi hotel tour, besides the mala onda (bad vibes – which apparently have at least an 80 year half-life), was the crowded squeeze of our tour group into a basement wine cellar full of empty wine bottles arranged into low walls on every side, kinda like the bones in the Paris Catacombs.  Spooky. 

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The last and worst part of our 60 peso tour included a wine and cheese tasting in the bodega.  A little taste was all there was.  A 3 oz. plastic cup half full of an unidentifiable anemic red wine, and a piece of cheese literally no bigger than my pinky fingertip.  No little toothpicks, no cute little umbrellas; 50 tiny cheese bits piled on a wooden board so you had to grab a morsel with your fingers, touching many other cheese bits in the process.  Yikes!  Where’s the city health inspector?  Where’s the building code inspector?  AWOL and for good reason.

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After waiting 20 minutes in line for the formidable aperitif, we had to do a U-turn and leave the way we entered.  There was only one staircase, and it was barely wide enough for 2.  If there had been a fire or an earthquake, we would all have been buried under that low-ceilinged hell hole, like so many cans of bait.  No wonder the municipality of La Falda washed its hands of the hotel, and left its care and upkeep in the hands of a park concession business: imagine Curry Village in Yosemite turned into a FEMA shelter. 

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We couldn’t wait to get the hell out of La Falda.  Others seem to like it just fine… dozens of cafés and food joints lined the road up to Hotel Eden, and they were all jumping.  We grabbed a parking spot, walked into a place across the street, found a quiet booth in the back, and zoned out.  We took our sweet time consuming a plate of fries and cool drinks, basking in the A/C.  (It was a hot day in La Falda.)  When we finally made our way back to the rental car, we found a small dent in the front fender.  Did some lurking evil spirit follow us back from the Nazi Hotel?  

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One of the young guys who works at the hotel spotted us trying to pop out the dent in the parking lot when we returned that evening.  The next morning he brought over a dent restoration specialist friend.  They restored the fender to near perfection in about 5 minutes… and didn’t charge us anything.  Another star for the Palace Hotel!

On Córdoba Day 3 our first stop was El Cajón Reservoir, just a few kms north of La Cumbre.  We spotted a dirt road leading towards the river that spills out of the reservoir to the south.  We rattled along that first dirt road and finally got to the creek, but there was no place to park except sand dunes, and only one sketchy turnaround.  Later we realized we could have just parked in the road and waded across the river.  No problem blocking traffic at a dead end.

But I was a little shook up from all the big potholes and treacherous sandy spots.  So we headed back to the highway and took our best shot at the next dirt road.  Bingo!  It seemed like a long ways and practically all washboard, but finally we found the river crossing.  I parked on the other side, pointed in the return direction.  I always like to be ready to get the hell outta Dodge; must be all those 007 movies I grew up watching.

Río Dolores diquecito El Cajón

We were delighted to find ourselves in a nearly empty riverside retreat with a few acres of natural lawn sloping gently down to the water.  Families and kids were up and at it, splashing around in the water, and a couple of barbecues were already in high gear, making us hungry.   As we walked upstream I was blown away by the number and size of my namesake trees along the river.  Do you remember Kenneth Grahame’s famous children’s book, The Wind the the Willows?  Almost all the characters are animals.: Ratty, Mr. Badger, Mole, Otter, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, and a “mixed lot” of rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stouts.  Nice to catch a glimpse into the willowy land of make-believe.

“Please, Ratty, I want to row!”

 

grandma willow

There was a little snack shack where we bought sodas and choripan.  If you’ve never had a choripan I feel really sorry for you.  Think Ray’s Own Brand Pork Sausage from San Luis Obispo, hot and juicy in a french roll with a little salsa criolla on top.  Extreme yumminess.  Actually they weren’t the best choripanes ever.   That honor goes to the first one I ever tried, at an authentic gaucho asado in the middle of a day-long ride in Bariloche, in 2012.

Santos and I sat in the shade of a willow to eat our choripanes.  Then we strolled upriver aways to get our bearings.  We didn’t go in the water, cause we hadn’t brought towels or swim clothes, but we lounged contentedly in the sun, like a couple of cats.

Rio Dolores choripan shack

We eventually hit the road, cause we had a number of places we wanted to check out.  We stopped in Los Cocos.  It was perhaps once a quaint town but shows every sign of death by tourist trinket shop overdose.  They have a pretty park that you have to pay to go in.  It looked nice from the sidewalk, but we didn’t take the bait.  You can also pay for a ski lift ride (el teleférico) that hauls you up and down the mountain.  Instead we stopped for coffee in a quiet café that had a shady deck and a resident feline.  That was the best of Los Cocos. 

We continued north to Uritorco, a peak known for its healing energies, complete with a creek for swimming.  It’s all private land so you have to pay for the privilege of river access.  We paid the man, parked, and walked along the river a ways.  There were lots of people camped there.  We wanted to hike to the top, only about a half hour hike, but turns out it cost extra!  We hit the road again.  

I guess I’m used to the immense free, or nearly free, state, county and national parks we have in the U.S.  The concept of private land on mountain tops seems odd.  But we had ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and Aldo Leopold.  They set the standard for all time. 

Rio Quilpo, San Marcos Sierra

Santos and I headed north again, this time to that quintessential hipster paradise and land of enchantment, San Marcos Sierra.  A little ways off the beaten track, but not too hard to find.  The roads of San Marcos Sierra are unpaved, but there is wifi, and I hear they’re putting in their first stoplight.

Like most colonial towns San Marcos Sierra is built around a big square.  There’s lots of tall trees and a few patches of grass… some of it cannabis, judging from the lingering scent about town.  San Marcos Sierra really is a hippie magnet.  The local economy depends on apiculture (bees and honey), olives, goat cheese, and tourism.  You can rent a room, a tent, a sleeping bag.  The beach along Rio Quilpo is a big draw.  We saw hippie grandmas herding their grandkids to the beach and back.  Reminds me of California beaches in the sixties and seventies, minus the sand.  

Río Quilpo swimming hole

We had coffee and medialunas at a cute place in the shade across from the church.  I read that the local environment is pure and unspoiled.  They probably have a town ordinance prohibiting pesticides.  That explains the clouds of flies buzzing around everywhere.  Nice idea but things can get out of hand in that tropical heat.  We were under constant attack from the buzzing little black nano-drones.   I always used fly spray on my horses – maybe that’s why my brain has more than a few crossed wires.  

The Río Quilpo is crystal clear.

I guess the town looked a lot different 400 years ago.  Amazing that this beautiful colonial church survived. 

San Marcos Sierra church

 

church interior

We walked to the river and found a few rocks to sit on.  Santos sat in the shade with his back against the riverbank, and I found a quiet spot below where I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, reading.   There were whole families camping in tents above the riverbank, kids playing in the water.

reading Middlemarch by George Eliot

I had a lovely time reading by the river for a couple of hours, with my toes in the water.  That alone was worth the journey.  I’m not sure what Santos was up to, but it turns out he took a few surrepticious photos.  Friends wanted to know what huge book I was reading.  Middlemarch, by George Eliot (an English woman writer), published in the 1870s.  I was reading it cause I heard it’s considered the greatest novel in the English language.  But no, not my cup of tea.  I found it monotonous and depressing, like a Downton Abbey episode that keeps repeating.  Nowhere near as good as the novels of Jane Austen.  If you’re into 18th century British women’s literature, I did enjoy this good critical comparison of both novelists: “Without Austen, No Eliot,”  Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker,  Jan. 28, 2013. 

Later we walked into a few shops looking for algarrobo flour for Santos’ homemade bread.  They grind the algarrobo pods into a delicious dark brown flour.  In San Marcos Sierra we parked the car, walked around town, splashed in the river and no one charged us anything.  Way to go!  Santos wanted to try the locally brewed beer, but the pub was closed for mid-day siesta.  Wow.  This town is nothing if not laid-back.  We had to be satisfied with a photo of the Quilpo microbus, and a glimpse into the Hippie Museum.  

Museo Hippie  …  Peace and Love!

We got a bit lost heading back to La Cumbre that evening.  Blame it on all that lovely sunshine making algarrobo guacamole of our brains.

On Day 4 we spent a couple of hours swimming and lounging around by the pool.  Later on we went for a 10K ride.  Late afternoon drifted into sundown as we climbed up the high ridges.  For the first hour or so we followed twisting dirt roads wide enough for vehicles.  We forded a lot of creeks.  Our horses were amazing.  They had one speed, and it was non-stop.  They never slowed down unless asked.  Higher up we forded stony streambeds and clambered up rocky, slippery trails; those criollo horses never missed a beat.  Best trail horses I’ve ever rode, and I’ve been riding since I was a wee one!  Santos, who grew up playing hooky in the dirt streets of the barrio, had no riding experience whatsoever.  But after the first half hour he was sitting his horse really well.  A natural, that guy.  Santos is the Man. 

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our horses Zamba & Gurí

We rode past ranches, a polo field, and 3 or 4 drop-dead gorgeous homes straight out of the magazines.  We were met with plenty of attention by 3- and 4-packs of dogs.  The horses were unfazed. 

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

Our trusty guide, Pedro, had the keys to multiple gates crossing private ranches, enabling us to continue ever onward and upward.  Climbing the last few switchbacks up to a trail along the ridge, I spotted a faint crescent of moon topping a far ridge.  The rising full moon gleamed incandescently.  The moon’s powerful presence hijacked me to another realm of consciousness, where I remembered just how small and insignificant we humans are in the grand scheme of things.   I felt as if I was light years away from civilization.  A magical moment, indeed.

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The moon lit our way as we rode along the hills and ridges above La Cumbre.  By the time our horses began to pick their way back down the rocky paths it was getting late.  The meandering trails turned into broad, well-travelled dirt roads leading to town.  We walked back to our hotel, dog-tired.  We celebrated the great ride and moon viewing with shots of Tequila.  We rested and showered and went out for midnight pizza at Rhapsody, a hoppin’ joint just across the street from the Hotel Palace.  The sidewalk tables were all full but for one… the one that was waiting for us.  We shared a Rhapsody specialty, pizza al fuego… with their special spicy jalapeño sauce.  Así nos gusta!

Córdoba Day 5:   Cuesta Blanca

The four of us renewed our mountain climbing skills the very next day.  It was a long drive… almost 2 hours.   A typical LA commute, right?  We had to pass through the city of Carlos Paz, which we didn’t like much.  We had already driven about an hour south towards Córdoba, and we needed a coffee break.  We found a place to park, close to where I took this photo.  Then we hoofed it 4 or 5 blocks to the main drag where we claimed a couple of tables at a sidewalk café.  The good thing was we had a spot in the shade, and the waiter didn’t waste any time bringing our café con leche, jarrito, lágrima, café solo, cortado, etc.  Argentine coffeespeak: it’s another language.  But Carlos Paz was hypercrowded, noisy, full of traffic fumes and annoying trucks blasting promotions from loudspeakers.  El infierno. 

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

We drove out of that hell hole all the way to Cuesta Blanca, the Hippie Beach or La Isla Hippie, as some call it.  There are only two ways in. 

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First you have to drive up a steep, twisty, dusty dirt road for a few miles, till the road drops back down to a spot near the river.  You hike to the dam, then uphill to the top of the dam – 5 minutes –  where a guy paddles you upriver in his canoe to the beach landing.  

Some folks don’t bother hiking in; they just splash around below the dam.

The second way in (or out) is a 40 minute hike up and over a steep hill; a snaky, rocky trail full of brush and boulders.  We took the canoe.  I love the slow, steady drifting along, riding the water.  Easier than swimming and you can bring all your gear. 

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a glimpse of Cuesta Blanca from the top of the dam

 Check out these horses!  How beautiful is that?

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Cuesta Blanca is an idyllic, laid back, no rules but respect others and pack out your trash kinda place. If you need to use the restroom you have to take a hike, ’cause this site is privately owned and wonderfully unspoiled.  We swam, sunned, kicked back in the shade, lunched on salame and bread and cheese and drank vino tinto.  A really cool place, and not in the guidebooks.  It was las Gabys who knew how to get there.

Santos took this awesome shot

Playa Hippie from the other side, upstream

When you get to the top you’re rewarded with a view of the whole scene.  Quite a few people bring tents and kids and stay for days.

We paid 50 pesos apiece for the canoe ride, and returned via free climb, as you can tell in the above photo because the sun was setting when we left.  None of us had thought to bring a flashlight… hey!  We’re on vacation!  We don’t need no stinkin’ flashlights!! 

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca; 4-legged guardian on watch duty

The light was fading as we hiked out, and we had to backtrack several times to find the trail.  But we made it back to La Cumbre just fine, later that evening.  The four of us went out for beer and empanadas, and I had my fruit smoothie.  We had to put up with a karaoke bar on the sidewalk at the café next to our café, where we listened with amusement to the assorted bunch of nut cases who thought they could sing.  That put us in an entertaining mood, and las Gabys wanted to take us to their new favorite bar around the corner from the Palace, la Biblioteca.  They had been in there a few days before and the bartender had refused to make them Daquiris.  “No es para vosotras, señoritas,” he told them, “Es un trago muy macho.”  (“It’s not for you, ladies,” he told them, “It’s a very macho drink.”)  We decided to head over to la Biblioteca and show them how girls can throw down tequila shots.  Mission accomplished.  Delicious with a good kick in the ass!

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Our last two nights in Córdoba we stayed in the capital, right in the historic district.  We ate out at nice cafés and restaurants and walked all over town.  I used to dread getting lost in strange cities, but I’m beginning to realize it can be a fine and passionate experience of the here and now.  And if I have someone to keep me company I don’t end up in a panic with tears running down my cheeks.

dancing la Zamba in Plaza San Martín

 

Over and out from Córdoba, Argentina

When Tango Breaks Your Heart

Jlo & Marc Antony

This could happen to YOU!  It happened to me!
blk:wt half sunk on rocks

Man Overboard!  Metaphorically, that is.

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Get it?  I thought so.

What happens if you LIVE for TANGO, but your dance partner’s secret desire is for YOU to want to dance with him ALONE?

Bieber

“Baby, I want you to love me like no one has ever loved me.”

pensive woman

I guess that means I never loved you enough?  Has anyone?  Is it humanly possible?

imaheart torn apart

“If I was the LOVE OF YOUR LIFE, you wouldn’t WANT to dance with anyone else.”

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How many times have you been dancing… let’s say, in a class in Miami, New York, Buenos Aires… and your boyfriend suddenly walks over and rips you away from the guy you just rotated to?

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Yes, he’s an animal!  Sorry!  Talk about embarassing!

man beast

How about when two of your favorite teachers comment that you are a saint to put up with him?

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Yeah, the relationship was disintegrating over the last year or so.  The vibe was toxic.  I had to get out.

know the feeling?

know the feeling?

He’s a extraordinary guy in so many ways: smart, sexy, generous…  a real heartbreaker.  “Qué pinta de malevo!” they said in Buenos Aires.  Definitely old school.

el malevo

el malevo

He played the possessive, jealous Latin Lover to a T.  He expects a woman to devote herself to him 100%… you know, like our parents’ generation.  He was raised that way.  All the women’s lib and progressive politics never really made a dent in his consciousness.  He couldn’t hear what I had to say or understand what I was feeling.  Blah blah blah!!  You get the drift.

Fabian Pérez

Tango gigolo

Yeah, he should’ve been a King.  Maybe he was in a past life.  Carlos V? Shakespeare’s Othello?

Othello

Ah, yes, my Caliban, the “passionate child-curious part of us all…” (from The Tempest).

xCaliban

He would have been happy burning and pillaging, plundering women by the score.  Taking “art groupie” to a new level! [1]  ¡Cómo no, Comandante de mi vida, por supuesto que te quiero!  Be Merciful, O Love of my Life!

tough guy

I just had to get lost in Jane Austen for a while.  Like, take a time out from the 21st century?

Jane in blue

I reread Persuasion.  Dashing sea-captain wins girl’s heart.  Girl’s family doesn’t approve: he’s not sufficiently rich or well-connected.  She breaks the engagement.  He goes off to sea, endures raging tempests and howling gales, pillages French merchant ships aplenty, survives enough courageous exploits for a whole season of telenovelas.  He returns 7 years later, fabulously rich.  Everyone adores him now.  Quite the huffy Salty Dog about town.  What happens next?  Read it yourself, you lousy knave!  Or at least see the movie version.

Persuasion

Have you noticed “the versatility of shipwreck imagery in conveying various forms of misfortune?” [2]  Speaking of his ship, the Asp, our hero was rashly confident:  “I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me.” (Persuasion, 71)

classic clipper

The guy’s got attitude.  My guy had plenty of attitude, too.  Definitely a tough customer.

Captain Frederick Wentworth

Austen’s Captain Wentworth

But whom would you prefer to live with?  A feudal warlord or a happy village idiot?  As those really our only choices?  Of course not, silly.  But my point remains: we have indeed strayed far off course in this 21st century.  Are there no crossover models available?  Like, a compact SUV?  A mini-Hummer? What ever happened to the ideal Renaissance Man?  You mean the DNA still hasn’t evolved?

da vinci

Wherefore art thou, Leonardo?  Veni, Vedi, Vinci:  I came, I saw, I conquered.  Not sure who said that; a Roman Emperor perhaps?  Maybe THE Holy Roman Emperor… Carlos V?  Alexander the Great?

Alfonso X El Sabio

Alfonso X El Sabio

Recognize this guy?  Old Alfonso the Wise is the tío that kick-started the Renaissance.  I’m not kidding!  Check him out.  He wrote the first book about the game of chess around 1283.  The original lives at the Escorial, in Madrid. Yeah, he was a heartbreaker too, you can be sure.  Renaissance Man cultivated “…a harmonious mind, whose splendid passions and imaginations are controlled and directed by [his] enlightened reason…” [Wiki]  Where can I find one of HIM?  Does HE exist?

Elizabeth and Mr. Collins

Elizabeth Bennet disdains Mr. Collins

No, I don’t think he’s got it.  His motto is Vini, Vedi, Vegi.  ja ja!  I came, I saw, I ate salad, I bored my cousins to death reading from Fordyce’s Sermons, then I got drunk and made a complete fool of myself.  Too bad, so sad.  Not my knight in shining armor.  Not even California Chrome.

Calif Chrome

I’m tired of being the subjugated woman!  Internalized oppression, get thee hence!  Somebody please let me OUTTA HERE!  Hmmm… no answer.

girl crying

Am I dreaming?  Do I have unreasonable expectations?  Am I thinking too reductively?  Is it too tempting to boil it all down to the struggle between dark and light?  Am I done playing out my postcolonial subjugation fantasies?

Cristóbal Colón just back from the East Indies with a few captive Indians

Cristóbal Colón just back from the East Indies with a few captive Indians para Los Reyes Católicos

Guess I gotta be my own Rescuer.

pirate wench

Free at Last!!  Lord have mercy!!

beauti ship & whale

The Captain’s delightful sister, Mrs. Croft, comments on the voyages she has enjoyed with her husband, Admiral Croft.  She advocates that women should go to sea with their husbands, and not be left behind to wait and wonder, despite the discomforts of life on board… not to mention being the only female amongst the crew… yikes!

woman ship 2

Must have been tough to be a drama queen with no other women to bitch to.  Oops, I meant to say, to pour upon each other the sisterly balm of wise and considered counsel?

wise women

“We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days,”  Mrs. Croft advises Anne, Austen’s heroine in Persuasion. (75)  A critic notes, “Mrs. Croft is arguing, obviously, for the place of adventure and geographical mobility in women’s lives.”  You go, girl! [3]

girl stcse dock

Maybe I’ll go live on a boat…  a little morning yoga on deck, anyone?  Plenty of sushi and piña coladas?  Warm, tropical waters?

boat tropics 1

Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Mela? in Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away

Did I mention subjugation fantasies?Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato in Swept Away (1974)

It’s my turn to forge ahead with a little borrowed relentless self-confidence!  I know you’re all anxious to see if I’m brave indeed or just foolishly reckless. Back on land, summertime is just around the corner… throwing out those delicious green tendrils, the tiny budding sweet peas, the gorgeous bursting hollyhocks… yeah, could be salad, could be scenery…  is there still time to plant my garden?

hollyhocks2

Jane Austen describes a farmer in Persuasion, the scene at Winthrop.  I feel like him.  He “does not simply think that the season will change; it is as if his exertions will somehow help to bring the change about.  His labor is a sign of his hope.” [4]

mex farmer

The farmer’s hard work can be seen not as an attempt to control the natural world, or to force a particular outcome in the narrative of our lives, but as a collaboration or stewardship with nature which guides our efforts, and which may grant us a deeper understanding of nature, including human nature, and give us hope for bounteous harvests to come.

peasant women“When characters in this novel exert themselves in such a spirit, they gain, by degrees and despite inescapable human limitations, the liberty of soul that makes possible authentic happiness.” [5]

2 beauti ships in calm waters

Yeah, I have been reading and rereading the last issue of Persuasions, the journal of the Jane Austen Society (JASNA).  Does random literary analysis float your boat?  I find it particularly convenient when trying to escape reality.  Yet another rereading of Persuasion is next, as soon as I unpack my books.  Yes, moving again.  How many times now in the last three years?  I’ve lost count.  For now, it’s the ranch for the summer.  Just me and that ornery palomino mare, let’s hope she doesn’t slam me into any more phone poles!  Full speed ahead!  Let loose the topsail!  Damn the torpedoes!

Yes, Virginia, even married couples danced with others a century ago: a quadrille.

Yes, Virginia, even married couples danced with others a century ago: a quadrille.

See you soon on the dance floor!

See you soon on the dance floor!

sleep eat dance

and goodbye to a great friend.

Norm

[1] Stole that line from Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris.  A must-see for all Francophiles.

[2] Toby R. Benis, “Shipwrecked on land in Persuasion,Persuasions, No. 35, 2013, 203.

[3] Ibid, 202. Persuasions is the annual compilation of critical essays on Jane Austen’s life and works, published by JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America.

[4] Kathryn Davis, “Austen’s Providence in Persuasion”; Persuasions, No. 35, 216.

[5] Ibid, 223.

P&P poster

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!

kjgsd

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…

sadkhasd

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.

pastries

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!

Portland Tango Scene plus… Milonga Tips, Codes, and Advice for Newbie Dancers in BAires

NorseHallneon

If you dance tango in the U.S., sooner or later you’re going to gravitate to Portland, like a small planet unexplicably attracted to Saturn or Jupiter… a pull that can cause a small planet like Earth to… flip its axis! A Tango mecca like Portland exerts an influence on everything in its gravitational field. Where else besides Buenos Aires or Paris can you hear a musician playing Piazzolla on the street corner?

images

So what’s there to do in Portland? Like, Tango every night!

birthday dance at Norse Hall

birthday dance at Norse Hall

The Portland Tango scene is really awesome. Partly because the music is traditional (but I miss those Buenos Aires salsa breaks) and also because it’s accessible: no more than 15 minutes to any of the milongas.

milonga at Berretín

Saturday night milonga at Berretín

Did I mention the outstanding DJs spinning classic tango every night of the week? …like tango DJ Joe Leonardo. He also creates retro black and white tango films. (tangosilentfilms.com).

DJ Joe Leonardo & girlfriend Hannah

DJ Joe Leonardo & girlfriend Hannah

Monday night you can dance in the dough… next to the vault!

Fort Knox North

Fort Knox North

the Treasury Milonga

in the old U.S. Treasury building downtown

The Treasury Milonga replaces the PPPA milonga, which was at a really cool location on the east side of the river. Kinda wabi-sabi, ¿qué no?

PPAAneon

Tuesday nights there’s a brand new, fabulosíssima milonga at the Bossanova Ballroom.

Bossanova Ballroom

Bossanova Ballroom

Wednesday nights are for all you Alternative fans…

milonga blah blah

they just call it Wednesday Tango!

What I just don’t get about alternative tango is, how can you call it Tango if it’s not TANGO music? Is Tango a dance, or is it a genre of music? Can you separate the two? We went to check out the Wednesday milonga, and when I asked if the music was alternative, aka Nuevo, the doorman told me  “it’s so far alternative it’s not even tango.” Wow! For an interesting discussion on traditional vs. nuevo, see The Rise and Fall of Tango Milonguero Style at tangovoice.wordpress.com. But we are so far from Buenos Aires, and so close to……. the Dark Kingdom.

Portland evening

beautiful Portland evening

Thursday nights at Norse Hall are unforgettable… what a great milonga!

cortina at Norse Hall... who is that guy?

Norse Hall

cortina at Norse Hall... who is that guy?

cortina at Norse Hall… who is that guy?

Let’s see, where was I… Friday nights is La Milonga Felíz Alternative.

Oops!  that's not it!

Oops! that’s not it!

I wish we were in BAires at Café Vinilo!

I wish we were in BAires at La Milonga de Vinilo!

Saturday nights is Milonga “aime comme moi” at Tango Berretín. Alex Krebs’ place, ¡buena música, buenos bailarines, buena onda! (Spanish lessons on the house.)

Unknown

De vez en cuando toca el quinteto de Alex: (sometimes Alex’s quintet plays):

with guest artists in this case

with guest artists in this case

Sunday evenings you can tango at Lenora’s Ballroom: beautiful space, friendly atmosphere, and all the traditional tango you need to get your endorphin fix for the night and all your mental faculties gratuitously upgraded and ready to face the work week.

another industrial chic tango venue

urban chic tango venue

“Tango invites you to become the protagonist of an ongoing story, which is danced with another through a mutual improvisation that depends on a deep, body-to-body communication, an entwinement of the spirit and the limbs. When you dance it, if you want to dance it well, you immediately understand that it is perhaps the only dance that requires the equal participation of both dancers in order to be fluid. Thus its difficulty, complexity and sensuality…. Tango anyone?” [Velleda C. Ceccioli, Psychology Tomorrow, May 2013].

lkhsd

a good connection is essential…

A foto-cortina from a visit to the Peninsula (SF Bay Area). I know most of my readers will recognize Ben, el Rey de la Milonga, and tango teacher Igor Polk:

having' fun!

having’ fun!

girls making' friends while the guys dance! go figure!

Cecilia & Willow making’ friends while the guys dance!

OK, and finally, coming straight to you from my spies in Buenos Aires:

Advice for newbie dancers heading to BAires: milonga tips, codes, and what you need to know to get dances!

milonga at Aires Tangueros, Rivadavia 1392

milonga at Aires Tangueros, Rivadavia 1392

An Anonymous Tanguera speaks:

The reason guidebooks and friends contradict each other is that there is no way to answer your questions. Where would men be more likely to ask a stranger to dance? What kind of stranger? There are so many factors that affect whether you will get asked: your appearance, your height, your level of dance, the confidence you project, the warmth you project, your style of dress… and so on. I go to two or three milongas a week, and at any one of them I might dance nonstop or I might never leave my seat. I’m the same person each time, but there may be fewer men I know one week… or maybe I’m projecting a different energy.

milongueras

milongueras de BAires

Where do men who dance well go to dance? Maybe the men you consider good dancers are not the ones I would consider good. My friends don’t necessarily like the same leaders I do… we all have a different connection. In any case, it is not true that the afternoon milongas attract better dancers. I can’t think of an afternoon milonga that has a level of dance that matches some of the better night milongas. That said, I dance with some great leaders at afternoon milongas. It is sooo variable.

matinee milonga at La Ideal

matinee milonga at La Ideal

Anyway, as a 35-year-old woman, especially if you are attractive and look younger than your age, you will get asked to dance often. Unless the day you go there happens to be dozens of other young, beautiful women… many of whom are already known by the men. That happens. The best thing to do if things look hopeless is to go to another milonga.

Milonga Viejo Correo

Milonga Viejo Correo

My best advice would be to not stress about it. You will get to dance. You will have a good time. You will be here for long enough to find your own favorites. Some little milongas del barrio are much more fun than the famous ones that all the tourists go to. I mean, I wouldn’t go to Niño Bien with a gun to my head!

blog_tango_450

I need to understand what style of dance you’re looking for. You mention “milonguero salon style,” which is really confusing. Milongas here are increasingly breaking down by age/style — unfortunate, but a reality. The young milongas are almost exclusively salon style… a more open embrace with more elaborate movements and adornments. Milonguero style is quite the opposite… very close embrace, with teeny movements (back crosses instead of ochos with pivot, for example) and almost no decorations. Since you said you liked Canning, I suspect you are looking for close embrace, but not true milonguero style.

IMG_1021

A friend of mine likes a couple of young, salon style places… Villa Malcolm and Milonga 10. If you don’t usually dance salon, you may find them a bit intimidating (not knowing anyone and facing a lot of stunning 20-year-olds). As he says, La Viruta is good only very late… and yes, the good dancers all dance with each other.

good friends at Sunderland

good friends at Sunderland

An Anonymous Tanguero speaks:

I think that the key is to understand and respect the codes. If I see a woman who stands up after a cabeceo and looks for the man, I just don’t invite her: beginner and super banned.

Unknown

If, when the tanda finishes, she stays talking with somebody on the dance floor, banned, too easy and I don’t want milongueras to think that I am fishing.

los Reyes del Tango en la Viruta

los Reyes del Tango en la Viruta

I also suggest you study the dance floor. It’s easy to see who is who. If nobody knows you, nobody wants to take the risk. If the milongueros see you dancing with somebody they respect, they are going to invite you.

milongueras de la Viruta

milongueras de la Viruta

If you don’t want a coffee invitation, go home early. At El Beso, after 1:30 nobody dances if there is nothing after, because then is when they invite, they expect to be invited.

El Beso

El Beso – I love the walls!

Basic but important, don’t dance more than 2 tandas in one night with anybody. Since I have a family I prefer to dance only one tanda per night so there are no misunderstandings.

kjhasdf

no misunderstandings here!

You sit with women, and if a man invites himself to sit down next to you, look at him as if he’s raping his own mother. In other words, give him a dirty look and DON’T DANCE WITH THE PENDEJO!

who, me?

who, me?

We have two reasons for inviting a new girl to dance: she is an outstanding dancer or she is super cute.

super cute!

super cute!

La Viruta is more a place to hang out with friends, to continue dancing with people you know after other milongas close, or to look for a hook-up.  If you are only interested in tango, it is best to enter when the entrance is waived between 2h30 and 3h30, since before you also have tandas of rock and salsa. At La Viruta, men typically do not cabeceo, but walk around and ask women to dance. The guys that ask women to dance are typically not the ones hanging out with friends, so you have to judge if they are the kind that looks for a hook-up, and if you want to dance with them. It is normal to say “no, gracias” if you are not interested. Don’t go to La Viruta on Thursdays, there are no tandas. And never dance after 5:30. The lights are off for a couple of seconds just before la Cumparsita.

Orquesta El Afronte en la Maldita Milonga, Perú 571

Orquesta El Afronte en la Maldita Milonga, Perú 571

Tango is the same all over the world but dancing in Buenos Aires is different from anywhere else you have ever been.

Teatro Colón

Teatro Colón

house band at Café Vinilo

house band at Café Vinilo, Gorriti 3780

Be friendly, smile, try not to dance with the vultures, be open to new experiences, have fun and leave plenty of room in your suitcase for shoes! You are going to have a great time!

el Obelisco en la Av. 9 de Julio

el Obelisco en la Av. 9 de Julio

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!

And for my political commentary of the week, please take note:

hombres

Here’s Looking at Portland

Portlandevening2*

PORTLAND IS ALL ABOUT THE RIVER… broad and busy by day, stunningly elegant by night.

view of the the South Waterfront from further south

view of the the South Waterfront, taken from the Sellwood Bridge

Portland is a sprawling city of 600,000 bisected by the Willamette River, divided into quadrants, spanned by a dozen bridges, and bounded on its northern shore by the Columbia River and the state of Washington.

yacht harbor on a gorgeous day, taken from the waterfront bike trail

downtown yacht harbor, at the end of Montgomery St.

The Port of Portland, located about 80 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean, is the largest freshwater port in the U.S.A. Portland ships out more wheat than any other U.S. port, and is the second largest port for wheat in the world.

The northernmost bridge of Portland is so Gotham City:

St. John's Bridge, photo by Ben

St. John’s Bridge, photo by Ben

Each bridge has its own flavor and story… all impressively heavy metal, functional, and even inspiring.

Hawthorne Bridge and boats

Hawthorne Bridge and yacht harbor on a gorgeous May day

the cute version

the cute version

Under construction is yet another bridge which will facilitate multiple forms of public transport across the Willamette: Max Light Rail, Tri-Met buses, the Portland streetcar, pedestrians and bicycles: NO CARS ALLOWED! Popular Science magazine awarded Portland the title Greenest City in America in 2008.

TriMet bridge

TriMet bridge: completion expected in 2015

Portland is famous for its outdoorsy, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, homemade beer brewing and coffee slurping liberals. There are more than 60 breweries here. In 2010, CNBC named Portland the Best City for Happy Hour in the U.S.

for those of you who go for the brew

for those of you who go for the brew

Ever seen the TV show Portlandia? It satirizes the city as “a hub of liberal politics, organic food, alternative lifestyles and anti-establishment attitudes.” [Wikipedia] What other city can happily negotiate such a dysfunctional but workable dynamic between guns, gays and greens? Perhaps that explains the weltanschauung behind the Keep Portland Weird movement.

images

Ben sums up Portland in 2 words: pedestrians vs. cyclists. He thinks walkers and hikers don’t like bicyclists ’cause they damage the environment… I mean, seeing a bike tire track in the mud of your favorite hiking trail would make anybody flip and run for their gun… wouldn’t you? …ja ja… and naturally bicyclists wish pedestrians would just get the hell outta the way!! But the real issue has, perhaps, more to do with primal fear: fear, that is, of being turned to toast under 2000 lbs. of steel and rubber. I found an intriguing apropos discussion on the City of Portland website, just for a reality check:

4 types of cyclists orange2

The intrepid few “Strong & Fearless” identify primarily as bicyclists, and ride everywhere without fear (or almost everywhere), under any and all road and weather conditions. Truly courageous or merely suicidal?

he's multi-tasking

a multi-tasking cyclist

The “Enthused & Confident” — like Ben — ride daily to work or school, for the pure joyful adrenalin rush of riding. (Also to save bucks and shrink their carbon pawprint). Who wouldn’t want to ride Portland’s beautiful bike lanes and bike boulevards?  There’s even bike lane stoplights and, lucky for me, no bike path traffic cameras! Not yet, anyway. Is it a crime to cross on the red when there’s no traffic in any direction?

OK, but... what if I can't find  the speedometer on my bike?

OK, but… what if my bike doesn’t have a speedometer?

As Portland has been particularly supportive of urban bicycling, it now ranks amongst the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Approximately 8% of commuters bike to work, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average. [Wikipedia]

Main Map-v3

“The Interested but Concerned” group covers the vast majority of Portland cyclists. “They like riding a bicycle… they would like to ride more. But, they are AFRAID to ride. They don’t like cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous when a driver runs a red light, or guns their car around them, passing by too closely and too fast.” (City of Portland Bicycle Plan 2030) Sounds like me. I KNOW I’m taking my life into my hands every time I get on my bike. Duh!

weird cyclist

“No Way No How!” is the anthem of group four. Besides primal fear and equally primordial  laziness (aversion to exertion), not to mention the over-abundance of Pacific Northwest Stormy Mondays, they may be unknowing victims of an acute case of nostalgia for the gas-guzzling, chrome-dazzling Twentieth Century; back in the day when petroleum was plentiful, and joy riding in a true-blue Made in the U.S.A. cruiser was a sign of status and All-American Attitude. On a lucky day you may still catch sight of one around town:

'63 Lincoln

’63 Lincoln… yea, baby!

Pontiac Bonneville - 1965?

’64 Pontiac Bonneville

el Jefe chillin' in the back seat

el Jefe chillin’ in the back seat

You don’t have to be a cute mutt in a cool car to be in my blog, either:

Charlie & me

Charlie & me

But wait… we’re not done with the bridges yet! A block from our apartment in the Pearl District is the Broadway Bridge:

Broadway Bridge

riverfront walk near the Broadway Bridge

Portland’s urban growth boundary, adopted in 1979, separates urban areas (where high-density development is encouraged and focused) from traditional farm land (where restrictions on non-agricultural development are very strict). This was quite atypical in an era when automobile use led many areas to neglect their core cities in favor of development along interstates, in suburbs, and bedroom communities. Former industrial areas reeking of urban decay were “redeveloped” into prosperous new neighborhoods… like the Pearl District. The city has grown inward and upward, as opposed to sprawling outward. Impresionante, Portland! California, are you listening? 

Burlington RR Bridge

the Burlington Bridge: a railroad bridge with a vertical lift

the Steel Bridge

the Steel Bridge: bike & pedestrian path AND train tracks on the bottom, cars on top

Almost 200 years of industry (shipping, logging, manufacturing) went into making Portland the city it is today. This heritage is breathtakingly visible in the older parts of the city and all along the riverfront, especially around the industrial waterfront and deepwater port. Heat-forged iron and steel trusses and beams hold up bridges and docks. Old brick buildings and warehouses were reborn as shops, bistros, cafés, apartments and lofts, galleries and urban “outfitters.”

below the bridge

the poetry of steel, under the bridge

Portland is so modern and yet its history continues to underwrite its modernity. I really like this contrast, in which each flip side of the coin does not disavow its alter-ego. Past and present are connected in a wabi-sabi “…beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes.” [Diane Durston: Wabi Sabi, The Art of Everyday Life, 2006]

Morrison Bridge on a grey afternoon

Morrison Bridge on a still, grey afternoon

big train comin' thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

big train comin’ thru the Steel Bridge, photo by Ben

lkjhasdf

random tango dancer in Biker Babe jacket checking out the income-producing side of the river

Portland has an impressive and beautiful downtown, lined by scores of trees, parks and greenspace, and the ultra-beautiful Japanese gardens:

Japanese Gardens

Portland Japanese Gardens

The International Rose Garden has a stunning amphitheater. We walked up there yesterday, in a light rain:

amphiteatro2*

We haven’t seen the Chinese gardens yet, but I’ve heard they’re stunning!

Portland Chinese Gardens

Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Portland is a fabulous and colorful city, well known for being cool, hip, fashionably eco-sustainable-everything, and ultra walkable (a walkscore of 98 in the Pearl District), with a kid-friendly, tech-friendly urban vibe.

Streetcars rock Portland!

Streetcars rock Portland!

Portlanders are friendly, multicultural, awake and aware of what’s goin’ on in their world and their town. Artists, hipsters, locavores, LGBTs, tree-huggers, tango dancers, Power-to-the-People progressives, retired hippies, fanatics of every stripe, wealthy young entrepreneurs and tekkie types…. and cool habitats for humanity from A – Z. The growth of high-tech startups and related businesses have earned Portland the nickname Silicon Forest. Powell’s Books, whose three stories above ground take up an entire city block, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Portland is also the karaoke capital of the U.S.!

Hoyt Street townhouses

Hoyt Street townhouses

What do I like most about Portland? My liveable downtown neighborhood, the Pearl.

pedestrian path

pedestrian path in the Pearl

Jamison Square reminds me of ___ Gardens in Paris

Jamison Square reminds me of the Luxembourg Gardens

kid-friendly waterfall/pond at Jamison Square

kid-friendly Jamison Square fountain

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

our friendly neighborhood Lovejoy Bakery

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

looking down on the bakery from our apartment on a sunny day

I also love the ubiquitious cafés with outdoor seating, reminding me of Buenos Aires and European cities. Here’s our favorite, authentic (all the staff imported from Italy), delicious trattoria, Piazza Italia, right around the corner from Jamison Square.

Piazza Italia

Piazza Italia

Downtown Portland’s numerous cafés remind me of Buenos Aires, Rome, Barcelona, Paris… they make you feel like the streets in your hood are an extension of your living room! Sustainable living abounds, complete with rooftop gardens, terraces, wind turbines, solar power, etc. What do I mean by sustainable etc? I know, I had to look it up too. See my notes at end.*

another lovely pedestrian path in the Pearl

another pretty pedestrian path in the Pearl

Portland has many different faces: cool steel under grey skies…

;jhasdf

reflecting pool

convention center

convention center

parks, pedestrian and bicycle trails all along the river…

waterfrontpark**

springtime waterfront

waterfront in spring

juxtaposition of old and new in the Pearl District

juxtaposition of old and new

colorful streetcars

green & yellow streetcar

blue streetcar

blue streetcar

old and new cottages on the south waterfront

old and new cottages on the south waterfront, a stone’s throw from the river

A perfect example of wabi-sabi: isn’t the one on the left so timelessly beautiful? (Maybe needs a little work on the interior…)

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

houseboats & sailboat on the Willamette

Ben says he likes the culture of Portland. Portlanders are quite courteous, both on and off the dance floor. They respect walkers and cyclists… they stop for you even when they don’t have to. Portlanders find value in music, dance, food, the arts… and in people connecting with each other. The pace of life is slower. Huge ships in port are constantly loading and unloading, while at the same time fishermen troll the river in small boats. Portlanders work to continually improve their quality of life; they don’t just care about the environment; they make it HAPPEN.

Sauvie Island - my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island – my favorite idyllic getaway only 10 miles upriver

Sauvie Island rules & regs: but no one's watching

Sauvie Island rules & regs: overzealous verbiage to be sure

Portlanders also care about what goes into their food, i.e., Portland is NOT a fast-food paradise. Human beings are essentially the same everywhere (our DNA is identical, right?) but the culture here has developed favorably for a healthy, sustainable environment, and people-friendly transportation systems.

The climate is, well… I’ve written pages making fun of the climate. Seriously, I like it hot, humid and tropical! Sadly, today is yet another drizzly grey day here in Portlandia. Seems like there’s only one season here. The trees change but not the weather. But if it keeps the unwashed hordes from discovering and moving to this idyllic Pacific Northwest homeland… it’s okay.

wabi-sabi doorknobs

wabi-sabi doorknobs in a recycled building materials shop

That’s all for now, friends… stay tuned for my next post: the Portland Tango scene. You’re gonna like it!

*What do I mean by environmentally sustainable design? It’s the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. McLennan, J. F. (2004), The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. More references: (1) Anastas, P. L. and Zimmerman, J. B. (2003). Through the 12 principles of green engineering. Environmental Science and Technology. March 1. 95-101A. (2) Fan Shu-Yang, Bill Freedman, and Raymond Cote (2004). Principles and practice of ecological design. Environmental Reviews. 12: 97–112. (3) Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations, and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. You gotta appreciate research and researchers! They help dummies like you and me make sense of the world we live in!

Ciao from Portland!

Ciao from Portland!