Valentín Alsina: the Other Side of Buenos Aires

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

Puente Alsina, as seen from the capital

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

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

Puente Alsina seen from Valentín Alsina

downtown Valentin Alsina

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

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

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

Young family with a couple of fuzzy friends.

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

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

Version 2

Need a little help with the remodel?

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

Bandoneon and bajo… the wabi and sabi of Tango.

Tango is the beating heart of Buenos Aires.

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

murosurazul

Abandoned factory…

meets lonely playground.

Pretty flowers and bright happy calacas remind me of Califas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picket Line on Puente Alsina

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

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

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

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

Who’s your Daddy?

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

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General José Maria Paz

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

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

Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús

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

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

karma

What goes around, comes around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

a local dairy from back in the day

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

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

mundial de 78

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

Messi, Argentine God of soccer

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

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

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

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

An image of Troilo on the screen at Milonga Marabú

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

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

Sandro on the far right, at a birthday party

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

Sandro

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

Edmundo Rivero

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

     «¿Le parece?».

     «¿Y no ve que le tiran cosas?».

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

     «¿Está seguro, Rivero?».

     [translation follows]

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

     “You think so?”

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

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

     “Are you sure, Rivero?”

Alberto Morán (1922-1997)

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

Tito Reyes  (1928-2007)

Tito Reyes con Troilo

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

No kidding

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

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

from my balcony

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

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

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

José Ignacio: Puerto Tranquilo

 

calle tranquilo en José Ignacio

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

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

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

no goat ride-along… just a chicken

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

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santos spotted a baby frog… precious!!

After posing for photos it jumped back into the cattails.

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

and quite a few homes made from recycled containers.

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

Santos and Beth on the front porch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Santos and Beth at the fish place.

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

Playa Mansa

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

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

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

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

Santos liked the municipal center.

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

Another day we had coffee at Almacen El Palmar.

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

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

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

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

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

la Cruz del Sur

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

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

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

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

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

Trump showed up for the dancing girls.

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

I love this view.

Santos kicked back.

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

Over and out from la Colonia del Sacramento!

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!

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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!

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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.

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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. 

zamba-guri-4

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. 

playa-hippie

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. 

Cuesta Blanca

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

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

Carlos Di Sarli with Troilo

Carlos Di Sarli with Aníbal Troilo

A Guest Blog by Diana Howell, in her own words 

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

Milonguero Defined

el Indio

el Indio

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

Julio Duplá, organizer of Sin Rumbo

Julio Duplá of Sin Rumbo

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

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

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

Clarissa Sanchez & John Erban

La Conquista: Beware the Tango Gigolo!

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

Gato & Andrea

Gato & Andrea

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

mil mirando-1

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

tango gigolo-3

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

a regular at La Baldosa

regulars at La Baldosa

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

Buenos Aires boys

Buenos Aires boys

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

mil joven 1

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

just kidding, Javier!

just kidding, Javier!

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

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

Confitería Ideal

Confitería Ideal

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

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

Tango Gigolo

Tango Gigolo

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

pareja blk&wt

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

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

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

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

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

BAs boys 3

FAQs about Milongas:

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

Salon Canning

Salon Canning

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

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

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

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

Buenos Aires Street Style

Buenos Aires Street Style

A Milonga is all about the Music!

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

La Gricel

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

el Catedral

el Catedral

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

Pasion_milonguera

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

dancing

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

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a boliche

The Pulse of a Milonga

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

BAs boys 5

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

el Catedral

el Catedral… cool atmosphere, funky floor

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

salon1

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

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Milongas Come and Go

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

Sueño Porteño

Sueño Porteño

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

Porteño y Bailarín

Porteño y Bailarín

has living in BAs changed you?

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

nice dancing

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

La Viruta

La Viruta

why is Tango so addicting?

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

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

Tango Addiction

at what point did you realize you were addicted?

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

THE RULES OF TANGO ADDICTION  

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

when did you start dancing tango?

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

Diana belly dancing

Diana belly dancing

does tango take you somewhere?

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

baldosas sin rumbo

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

What is your favorite Tango music? 

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

San Pugliese

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

Francisco Fiorentino

Francisco Fiorentino

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

who have you studied with…

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

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

Lisette

and Glenn Corteza for musicality and ease of movement.

Glenn Corteza

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

eduardo saucedo

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

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Is the Tango scene in Buenos Aires changing?

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

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

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

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Can you describe a perfect lead?

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

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

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

What about followers… what are our worst sins…?

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

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

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do you dance differently on a crowded floor?

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

Diana with Juliet, a BAires expat from Canada

Diana with Juliette, a BAires expat from Canada

what advice would you give to beginners?

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

pareja joven

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

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Milonga Resources and Cabeceos:

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

Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

maestros Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

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

Can you explain cabeceos?

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

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

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

What is a typical day for you?

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

La Nacional

La Nacional

and the food?

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

café & medialunas

what about Argentine fashion?

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

Diana and Amy

Diana and Amy

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

milongueras en negro

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

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

beauti dancers

how long have you been in Buenos Aires?

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

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Ciao from Diana Howell in Buenos Aires!

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¡Felíz Año Nuevo! 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 13 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Barcelona III: Milongas and Prime Directives

Are you ready to tune into a new channel? You could call it the Universal Channel (no, not Universal Pictures; not the Disney Channel, either). Let’s call it the CLC: Cosmic Light Channel. Ready to tune in and have your DNA synced? Ready to get rebooted by the galactic synchronizer? I keep hearing from every twinkle twinkle little star, saying that our bodies are gonna be receiving electromagnetic pulses from the CLC which will greatly accelerate our own personal evolutionary journeys! Not a roller-coaster ride, please! Just a gentle ZAP! from the cosmic mother board, like the little slap on the bottom babies get after leaving the tranquil maternal seas.

Spock

Spock

A lot of that grey matter which most of us have never used to capacity (Hey! speak for yourself!) may finally be put to work! And not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of all humankind. They say we should NOT go online, not watch TV, not travel, not use electronic devices (you gotta be kidding! ya mean, wean ourselves from the mother boobie?) during our “stimulus package” makeovers to avoid a quantum leap out of the cosmic jamba juicer into the proverbial (uh-oh!) frying pan! Not good! Steer clear of the Dark Side! No burnt side with my jumbo meal today, thanks! Definitely gotta cut back to fruits and veggies, nuts and spuds, during your cosmic tune-up and chakra alignment! I mean, you wouldn’t pour Karo syrup into your gas tank before a major road trip, would you?

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So, what should you do during your universal involuntary Solstice Synchronizing weekend? Well, food, sex and tango is always recommended… um, what else is there? More endorphins, please! Some serious prayer and meditation is always good idea, of course, with a little cosmic-chip wafer and wine. A scoop of Cherry Garcia in your smoothie will give you a better chance of chatting with you-know-who on the other side. Dark glasses to avoid being blinded by the Light. And don’t leave out the Xocolate!

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Well kids, If we’re going to be the heros and heroines of a universal paradigm shift, let’s do it with style and class: Enzo Ferrari all the way! Max out your carbon-cylinder footprint!  Be the protagonist of your own story, not the silent witness! If you decide to hibernate (highly recommended by non-tango dancer friends), stay at home, read, fix a fruit salad, bake your own bread, play with your kids, be creative! Make your own post-apocalypso holiday greeting cards, write a story and read it to your cat or dog (your cat will just fall asleep; your dog may provide helpful critical feedback).

So, just to be on the safe side, keep in mind these universal mandates:

  1. Resistance is futile (the Borg)
  2. Mutate now, avoid the rush! (Katie & Renie)
  3. Resist much, obey little (Edward Abbey)
  4. If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own! (Cosmic Muffin)

and these other guiding principles of La Vida Tanguera:

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

Graciela y Osvaldo La Yumba Tango y Milonga en Barcelona 0

La Yumba… our favorite Barcelona milonga!!

la Yumba

before the crowds

All the flavor of a real authentic Buenos Aires milonga!

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delicious dance floor!

We also like the Acuarilonga: an open air milonga a few steps from the aquarium, in the harbor right next to the Mare Magnum, surrounded by water with a bridge that connects to terraferma.

Acuarlionga

Sorry, I forget the name of this next milonga! Only a few blocks from our Eixample neighborhood, near Carrer d’Árago x Calabria. PR for milongas, prácticas, tango classes and workshops is spread out on the pool table. Nice bar, nice floor, nice vibe! Now, if we can just find it again… that would be nice!

unknown milonga!

possibly, La Milonga del Café

Catalans really like to play with words. There are 9 million Catalan speakers in Spain — no wonder they want their own borders — I don’t know how that would affect their economy; the way things are now, it could hardly be worse. But I’m no economist, so don’t string me up! I mean, I still use my fingers to count, ok? (All those years teaching kindergarten…) But the wonderful Catalan way with words leads to all these delightful milonga names, such as la Acuarilonga, la Milongallega (a gallego is someone of Spanish descent); la Gratalonga (a beautiful time); a milonga on the fringes of town: la Arrabalera; a milonga with a well-polished dance floor: la Bien Pulenta. How fun is that? Another night we stumbled onto a really cool milonga with live music in a tiny club. The sound was pretty decent, dance floor not bad, nice lighting, good dancers… check it out!

Milonga Bellos Aires

Milonga Bellos Aires

We went to an evening concert at Teatro Grec, an outdoor amphitheater up on the hill called Montjuic (monte de los Judíos), site of a Jewish cemetery dating to the Middle Ages, now a park and home to the Barcelona Olympic Stadium and numerous museums and event centers. Are you ready to recite the Barcy museum litany? :  there’s the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya), the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), the CCCB (Centro de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona), el Museu Picasso, la Fundación Joan Miróla Fundación Antoni Tapíes, el Museu de la Historia de la Ciudad de Barcelona, el Museu Maritimo, and of course, la Pedrera, one of Gaudí’s many masterpieces. There’s lots more museums and galleries, but ¡ya basta!

the original iconic Art hipster

Dalí: the original iconic Art hipster

If you’re serious about Art, besides learning all the acronyms, reciting the litany, and looking the part (see above), you’ve got to get a museum pass, the Articket Barcelona.

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It costs €30, saves you a ton of plata and no more waiting in lines. Pre-concert to-do list: kick back, have a drink, and watch the Barcy sky fade to indigo blue.

Teatro Grec

Teatro Grec

Tango en vivo!   Juan José Mosalini, in center with white hair and sensational bandoneon, in the midst of his superb orchestra.

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Orquesta Juan José Mosalini

Nothing like the earthy atmosphere of ancient rock-quarry walls ceilinged with stars for awesome sound; mix in a few spotlights slowly morphing from blue to purple to red, highlighting the orchestra and the dancers. I was swept away by a sense of timelessness: what a fabulous evening!

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dancers in white

Mosalini had different couples wearing different colors to complement the different Nuevo Tango pieces, including several Piazzola heartbreakers.

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dancers in red

Tango dancers in...

dancers in… um… flowers

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Recognize this couple?

Sebastian Jimenez y María Inés Bogado……winners of El Mundial, salon style, 2010. We saw them at the Sitges Tango Festival in July.

And how about that Pipa Club? I think we should spend another month in Barcelona just dancing at La Pipa, Plaza Real (ok, Plaça Reial in Catalan)…

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we spotted our friend Gato Valdéz here

Who’s the guy next to Aníbal Troilo? Somebody please tell me!

LaPipa-Troilo

Cuarteto Irreal

We didn’t see Quarteto Irreal, but you gotta love the poster!

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Yet another sizzling hot tango poster, exemplifying this absolutely electrifying Mediterranean port!  But that’s not all… what about Barcy’s amazing soccer team?

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Yes, I’m a Barcy fan. Can you tell?

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Of course, you already know about the Gothic Quarter, el Ravel (next time you listen to Otros Aires’ tune, Rotos en el Ravel, listen to the words… they speak of the multiculturality of this famous and fabulous city, an “encyclopedia of humanity”). And you may recall the sunset Jazz Chill-Out cruise… but there’s more! I have yet to write about world-famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (does the name la Sagrada Familia ring a bell?) and the Costa Brava: the meandering coastline heading north to France, not just vaguely, but very reminiscent of our own Big Sur.

la Costa Brava

la Costa Brava

Barcy just can’t be summed up in a few words, but let me try: so many hip young people, so much music, art, creativity: such a phenomenal scene! The delicious (and cheap!) tapas, delectable wine, sangria, cava… affordable public transportation (buses, subways, trains), free drinking water and recycling bins on just about every block; protests for Catalan independence every other day; corner cafés, pubs and bistros everywhere, plus the amazing nightlife: the bar scene, the nightclubs, the parties spilling into the streets at all hours…  and a waterfront! Barcy reminds me so much of Buenos Aires. How do you spell culture, nightlife, fun times, outgoing, passionate and compassionate people? ¡ESPANYOLES BARCELONA CATALUNYA! 

Hold everything!

the Maritime Museum

But wait… hold everything! No, you’re not going to the Magic Fountains before looking at some of the world’s most stunning artifacts from early Catalunya. An old Spanish friend of mine, Miguel de Cervantes, always reminds us to educate as we entertain! Besides, where else are you gonna get ideas for next year’s Halloween costume?

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La Pelirroja: biblical heroine

winged saints...

winged saints…

meditating monks...

meditating monks…

All these lovely artifacts can be found in a beautiful former palace, the MNAC: Museo Nacional d’Arte Catalunya. My favorite Barcy museum, and former palace. (Please note: la Pelirroja is not her real name. Just foolin’ around.)

el Palacio Real

el Palacio Real on a very pretty day

gorgeous black steed

gorgeous black steed – rider’s head in the clouds?

So if you want to see the Magic Fountains of Montjuic, you must begin at the stunning Plaza España, just down the hill, in the middle of a very busy intersection.

Plaza d'España by day

Plaza España by day

view of the palace from below

looking up towards the MNAC from Plaza España

You climb up the hill, sonambulate around the museum for a few hours until it gets dark, turn yourself around and, wow!! quite the view of Barcelona! In the next photo you can see the Plaza España lit up in the background, between the giant obelisks. The big round building, once a bullring, is now a huge shopping mall.

looking down from up top

looking down from up top

Yeah, they get quite a crowd around dusk!

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the sound of the water, the lights, the music…

Merry Christmas everybody!!

Happy Holidays from Barcelona!!

And don’t for get to have a superlative transformative Solstice!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Over and out from Barcelona!

Barcelona: Palau de la Música Catalana

Barcelona is home to one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world: el Palau de la Música Catalana. The Palau is one of the most brilliant examples of Modernist architecture anywhere. Absolutely stunning! I count myself very fortunate to have seen it, and extra lucky ’cause I got to see a fabulous Flamenco performance there as well.

The first modernist “curtain wall” is about 5 stories tall: a compelling contrast of modern and traditional. Catalan modernismo was a very local, very Barcelonesque architectural movement which had its roots in the industrial revolution of late 19th century Spain. In Catalonia the modernist movement went even further and developed a local style and personality, sprung from the Renaixença, the Catalan language and cultural renaissance. Modernismo was a natural response to the unprecedented urban industrial development occurring at that time, and not just in Spain, but all over the developing world. Like the recycling of Barcelona’s waterfront for the 1992 Olympic Games, the Barcelona Expo of 1888 created a big push to update and urbanize the city. This artistic movement became known as Art Nouveau in Europe. Smart people argue about when and where Modernismo (or Art Nouveau) originated, but by the Paris Expo of 1902 it was everywhere.

Designed in the Catalan modernist style by architect Lluís Domenech i Montaner, the Palau was built between 1905 and 1908 by a local choral society, the Orfeó Catalá. I find it amazing that a humble choral group became a catalyst  in the Catalan Renaixença.

Aren’t we in Middle Earth? Isn’t this Olde Elvish design?

                                                 la botiga — the gift shop

Oooh, if this isn’t the place to go for silk scarves and handpainted silk fans… gorgeous and very pricey! And loads of exquisite glass and ceramic items, jewelry… plus a whole room of art books. Truly just a light veil separates heaven from earth!

Midnight blue silk rosette fan… stunning!

It’s anybody’s guess what the ceiling motif is all about… silk fans? giant moths? flowers? Well, guess again… the book I brought home from the gift shop says they’re open tulips. An unbelievable fantasyland of the decorative arts! Everywhere you look are forms and shapes taken from Nature with a capital N. Catalan artists created their own language of symbols inspired by organic shapes and patterns from the natural world: birds, butterflies, leaves, flowers, not to mention fantastical animals and people. Like when you cut an apple in half crosswise, what do you find…? a star! Of course these photos are only a hint, a glimpse… you’ll just have to go see for yourself!

the dark blue windows are just what they seem… evening sky

The Palau has been called a “box of light.” Can you imagine the hours of work that went into creating the colored glass, the mosaic and crystal ceilings? In Catalonia, the middle class saw in the new architecture a way of placating their unconscious anxieties about modernization. All those noisy, dirty, annoying machines, motorcars, trains, foundries spewing smoke, steam engines… the transition from old world to modern world was kind of stressful back then, and these days, with exponential change by the nanosecond, I guess we’re still running on that same treadmill, trying to catch up to a world that keeps on moving just out of reach.

a wildly fabulous facade

Yet the Modernist movement was also a way for people to express their Catalan identity and spiritual roots, while displaying their newly-acquired bourgeois sensitivity to culture and the arts.

are you wowed yet?

not quite a full house, but a most appreciative audience

The Orfeó Catalá, from its humble beginnings as an amateur choral group, went on to produce concerts, symphonies, and operas, like Richard Strauss directing the Berlin Philharmonic, Camille Saint-Saëns, Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky, Pau Casals… and, in more recent times, Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Zubin Mehta, Manuel de Falla, Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones… and the list goes on! The Palau was recognized in 1997 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ain’t she wonderful!

The rich decoration of the façade of the Palau, using elements of Spanish and Arabic architecture, blends harmoniously with the building’s structure. The exposed red brick and iron, the mosaics, the stained glass, and the glazed ceramic tiles give a feeling of openness and transparency. An enigmatic group of sculptures symbolizing Catalan music on the corner of the building keep watch over a busy corner, just a few blocks away from the Plaça Catalunya.

sculptor: Miguel Blay

Prancing horseback Valkyries at the tops of columns frame the stage, while goddesses in bas-relief emerge from mosaic walls, each playing a different musical instrument. It’s wild!

musical muses decorate the stage interior

How can I transition to Flamenco after the Palau? A herculean task, and after all I’m just a girl! But I can testify that Catalans love their flamenco!  I’ll just post a couple of photos so you can get the drift… an evening of Flamenco at the Palau:

passionate, fiery!

The raw emotion of Flamenco, the dancer giving her all, the singer spilling out his guts, the complex rhythms which take you over completely; you are imprisoned, enthralled!

the power of Flamenco, like the surging ocean

When a dancer locks in your gaze, you can’t escape… even your breathing syncs with the dance; the compás of cajón, tacos, palmas and your heart; the singer pouring out her soul, the melodic complexity of the guitar that takes you far away…. the clicking of the castañuelos carved from ancient rosewood… Flamenco is insurmountable! It’s a mountain and you’re walking up the narrow path… it’s the ocean and you’re a tiny shell tossed around on the waves. Flamenco is only rivaled by Tango in my universe of music addiction. This is a perfect segue way to Tango, but not tonight. It’s 3 am and this girl’s gotta get some sleep! Adíos, que les vayan bien! Hasta luego! Vale?

Ciao from Barcelona!

P.S.  I almost forgot to mention that I changed the name of my blog to Tango Awaits You. Why? Because El Tango Nos Lleva was all about us and our Tango travels, but now it’s about YOU, dear reader, about the possibility of Tango in Your Life! Yes, YOU! Tango is out there, waiting, it will never go away, it will always be there, ready to plug you into the endorphine-producing ecstasy of dancing Tango. You might as well get started now… why wait? And I decided to put the title in English, since lots, though not all, of my readers are English-speakers. Personally, I prefer Spanish, in fact they tell me I’m much friendlier in Spanish (like, not a bitch?), that I’m downright warm and fuzzy in Spanish, but this blog’s for YOU! My friends and family! So there you have it, Tango Awaits You!! And thank you all so very much for all your comments and emails. It helps when I feel homesick for California!

GO OBAMA!