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!

monumento a la Mujer Córdobesa

monument to the women of Cordoba, 1956

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

Museo de la Memoria

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

we want to live   …    we exist because we resist

 

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

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

Saturday night Milonga in Plaza San Martín, Córdoba.

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

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Gótica extremensus!

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

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

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

Córdoba Day 1.

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

La Cumbre

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

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

el Cristo Redentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dique San Gerónimo after the rains

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web photo: cobalt blue water!

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a spillway: built to last!

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

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

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

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

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

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

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

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Gabriela la Morocha and Gabriela de Córdoba: las Gabys

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

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

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

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dancing la Zamba at Peña La Salamanca

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

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

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

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

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

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

          – Robert Johnson, “Stones in My Passway”

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

Meeting with the Devil at the Crossroads  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          I went down to the crossroad

          fell down on my knees

          Asked the lord above “Have mercy now

          save poor Bob if you please”

          – Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

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

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

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

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view from the back

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section of the ground floor

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

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Santos and his brother Einstein, 2017

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

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Enrique Loedel Palumbo, 1925

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

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George Strausser Messersmith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Río Dolores diquecito El Cajón

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

“Please, Ratty, I want to row!”

 

grandma willow

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

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

Rio Dolores choripan shack

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

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

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

Rio Quilpo, San Marcos Sierra

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

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

Río Quilpo swimming hole

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

The Río Quilpo is crystal clear.

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

San Marcos Sierra church

 

church interior

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

reading Middlemarch by George Eliot

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

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

Museo Hippie  …  Peace and Love!

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

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

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our horses Zamba & Gurí

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

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

polo field @ Estancia La Triana

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

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

Córdoba Day 5:   Cuesta Blanca

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

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

with las Gabys in Carlos Paz

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

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

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

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

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a glimpse of Cuesta Blanca from the top of the dam

 Check out these horses!  How beautiful is that?

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

Santos took this awesome shot

Playa Hippie from the other side, upstream

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

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

la Casa Jipi along the path to Cuesta Blanca

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

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

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

dancing la Zamba in Plaza San Martín

 

Over and out from Córdoba, Argentina

Buenos Aires Children’s Street Art

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I was on a bus one day going downtown and I noticed about 6 or 7 blocks of wonderful murals, all on Sanchez de Bustamonte, in the neighorhood of the children’s hospital. So I made some time to walk that neighborhood, which is not far from my barrio, and I took lots of photos. I didn’t have much success with my investigation of the murals’ history, but it is obvious from the artists’ signatures and notations, along with the content and style of the works, that credit for the art goes to the children, and friends and families of the children, who received services in the hospital and its clinics.

la doctora felíz

la doctora felíz

I ‘ve always loved doing art with kids, and one of my dreams is to open a children’s art gallery and working studio where kids can learn to make art. Of course all children, given the simplest of resources and a good dose of encouragement, will do just that, with little prompting.

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sueña con colores

I want to dedicate this blogpost to all the primary school teachers out there, who wake early every day and dedicate years of service helping children the world over to master the tools they need to build useful, productive lives.

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om…..

As a former kinder teacher myself, I have always been happily startled by the creativity of little ones… always drawing, painting (outside, please!), inventing with whatever materials come into their little hands, making their own imaginative toys and a great lovely mess in the process!

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When children begin to put pencil to paper, they start off with scribbles which eventually become letters and words and illustrations.

reading stimulates the imagination

reading stimulates the imagination

Kids begin to read and write at an early age, and the learning curve spikes upward dramatically after they master the basics.  Pretty soon they’re writing notes and cards and lists, being inventive and showing a great deal of focus, intention and follow-thru. I won’t go into a speech about it, but suffice to say it isn’t an accident that the lucky ones who have no access to tv or video games or computers at home become the earliest and most fluent readers and writers. Their creativity is not held captive, nor is their brain development put on hold, unlike millions of small children who sit, passive and expressionless, watching pixels on a screen instead of engaging their environment with all 5 senses.

pointillista

pointillista

Apparently there’s no harm allowing children to watch an occasional kid flick. Isolationism runs counter-productive to healthy parenting. I heard there’s a new trend called paleo-parenting which I think was the norm a hundred years ago. “Outside, all of you! Don’t come back till supper time!”  That was the mantra I grew up with. Freedom to roam the streets, the woods, the creek… to develop one’s powers of observation: bugs, rocks, leaves, bird nests, tree trunks, coyotes, squirrels… whatever moves. And hey, what about the beach? What a breathtaking world that is!

are we having fun yet?

are we having fun yet?

Some delightful parents of my acquaintance let their kids check out a movie per week from the local library. Their amazing kids can be found engaging in creative play at all hours, building, measuring, hoisting buckets of water into the air using branches and a rope for a winch, reinventing the wheel a hundred times; painting, sculpting in dirt, mud and sand mixed with water… snaring small toys or live birds with a string, a stick and a cardboard box (as we did as children) … reenacting favorite stories using stuffed animals and dolls… how much fun can you have when your brain is not programmed by television?

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book

Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book

I almost forgot to mention that the aforementioned parents of my acquaintance each speak several languages, which as you know is a kind of connect-the-dots-game for the developing brain.

the Beach

the ocean with big sun and little messages

It’s getting late. My brain sometimes runs out of words at 4 am. But there is still a herd of pictures waiting to be run into the corral.

Impressionist

Impressionist

The above doesn’t look like children’s art to me, but I like it… urban impressionist?

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins… wow

Mary Poppins, a children’s book by P.L. Travers, was about a magical English nanny. Originally published in 1934, Disney made it into a movie in 1964 – fifty years ago.

an artistic mishmosh

an artistic mishmosh with tree

I love this mural, though as a work of art it could be critiqued; and my best guess is that it was conceived and executed by a brilliant teenager.  Apparently the monster lurking above was reworked to death.

Doña Primavera ... a poem to Spring

Doña Primavera … a poem to our lady of Spring

At the upper left of the above mural a verse from “Doña Primavera,” a poem by Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, is just barely visible.

La Pachamama

La Pachamama

From the Earth who nurtures and heals us…

the day one discovers a favorite author

Importante dates that pass without realizing… the day you discover your future favorite author.

 to the texts which lend us perspective on the world and our lives.

girl with horse

girl with donkey

This last mural reminds me of a Marc Chagall painting. Delicate, colorful, yet the violent sky, the sad girl clinging to a burro… the flowers don’t look too healthy, either. What does it all mean?

another curious mural in my Palermo Botánico neighborhood

I am master of my fate, captain of my soul.

LAST MINUTE NOTE: Looking for a comfortable apartment for your visit to Buenos Aires? A good friend of mine from the states rents hers out when she’s not here. It’s in one of my favorite neighborhoods and has a big sunny balcony. You can check it out at: www.airbnb.com/rooms/4650379.

living room

living room

bedroom

bedroom

Let’s close with a photo from a curious and delightful day in La Boca.

Over and out from Buenos Aires!

Over and out from Buenos Aires!

Portland Tango Festival

Steel Bridge, Portland

Steel Bridge, Portland

In early October I dropped in on the City of Bridges to hear some great live tango orchestras. This year’s Portland Tango Festival showcased some fabulous live music: el Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler, and the Alex Krebs Orchestra. Alejandro Ziegler, on piano, evokes the sound of Pablo Ziegler, renowned Argentine pianist and composer who laid down lots of amazing tracks with Astor Piazzolla. Apologies up front: another reader informs me that Alejandro is NOT Pablo’s son. It appears that my milonguero friends here in Buenos Aires are misinformed. My apologies to all.

Pablo Ziegler’s New Tango Quartet in 1989: Horacio Lopez (percussion), Ziegler (piano), Quique Sinesi (guitar), and Oscar Giunta (bass). Photo courtesy Pablo Ziegler.

Pablo Ziegler’s New Tango Quartet in 1989: Horacio Lopez (percussion), Ziegler (piano), Quique Sinesi (guitar), and Oscar Giunta (bass). Photo courtesy Pablo Ziegler.

Pablo Ziegler worked intensively as Astor Piazzolla’s pianist from 1978 until the maestro’s retirement for health reasons in 1989. Ziegler’s playing style, both sharply percussive and metallically lyrical, is instantly recognizable to fans of tango nuevo.  In 2003 Ziegler won a Latin Grammy for his amazing album Bajo Cero.  Ziegler plays in the Jazz tradition, always improvising, arranging and rearranging his compositions on the fly, in the moment.  He encourages musicians to find their own voice.  His music is melancholy, evocative, far-reaching.  It speaks directly to our hearts and souls: nos afecta profundamente, como una puñalada en el corazón.  Opera has that effect on me too… the tears just come down, you can’t help it.  Dancing a slow tango to Ziegler’s version of Oblivion or Soledad in the wee hours, well, it just doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

“I always tell musicians: You’re free to change whatever you like. I can give you some examples of the way to phrase, but if you feel something different, just play. Probably it’s fantastic.  That’s one of the ways that I’m learning also from the musicians, too. Sometimes they’re playing and I like it that way.  It’s a very open way to play music.  If I bring some Beethoven piano concerto, everybody knows the way to play that kind of music, which is very strict.  But with this music, we have to feel it and do something different.  I’m giving them that chance.”  (Pablo Ziegler, from an interview by Frank J. Oteri, Brooklyn, NY. June 13, 2014) (www.newmusicbox.org/articles/pablo-ziegler-making-the-music-dance/)

ASTOR PIAZZOLLA Y SU QUINTETO TANGO NUEVO - MONTREAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 1984

ASTOR PIAZZOLLA Y SU QUINTETO TANGO NUEVO – MONTREAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 1984

Ziegler’s most notable recordings with Piazzolla include:

Tango: Zero Hour

Tristezas de un Doble A

La Camorra

The New Tango with Gary Burton, recorded live at the 1986 Montreux Festival

The Central Park Concert recorded in 1987

The influence of Astor Piazzolla and Pablo Ziegler is unmistakeable in the sound of Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler.  They absolutely knocked the walls down Sunday evening with their fabulous Buenos Aires sound!

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Photos by Jerry Berggen, courtesy of “Tango Steps,” the newsletter of the Lincoln Tango Club, Lincoln, NE.  (And he can dance, too!)

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I can testify that there really IS tango in Nebraska, because one wintry night a couple of years ago, driving across country, I had a few nice tandas at a milonga in a really cool urban space in Lincoln. (Note to Self: don’t EVER do that again. The drive, I mean.)

IMG_9778*

The Alejandro Ziegler Quartet headed to Lincoln to play the following weekend. I’ve got relatives just across the border in Indian Country, so I’ve been there many times. Have you ever seen Carhenge?

Carhenge

Carhenge

You, me and a few spaceship-loads of aliens on invisible tours of Planet Earth! Uh-oh, am I getting wonky again? Back to the subject at hand: the phenomenal Quarteto Alejandro Ziegler.

IMG_9779*

These guys were coherent, fine-tuned, on a roll, in other words, maravillosos!  I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t buy one of their CDs.  Uff!  I couldn’t find them on itunes either.  Idiota!  

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The Alex Krebs Orchestra rocked Norse Hall to a huge and appreciative crowd on Saturday night. Love the singers, especially the guy with the Dalí moustache. They sound better than ever.  The Portland tango community is lucky to have such a great house band.

Alex Krebs Orchestra

Alex Krebs Orchestra

Alex has his own milonga called Tango Berretín.

It's a lovely space, inside and out.

It’s a lovely space, inside and out.

Alex's Orchestra playing at Berretin Tango Club.

Alex’s Orchestra playing Berretin Tango Club.

Guille & Mayumi, teachers

Guille & Mayumi taught at the Tangofest

Liselot is a capable teacher, especially for newbies.

Liselot is a capable teacher, especially for newbies.

Here’s what I liked about the Portland Tango Fest:

•fabulous space: Norse Hall

•great live music

•excellent DJs, especially Dan from Anchorage (Sat nite)

•excellent DJs, especially Dan Boccia from Anchorage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

simultaneous traditional and alternative milongas

•simultaneous traditional and alternative milongas

•evening milongas started at 9 or 10 and went to 6 am… yeah night owls!

•classes started at 11:00 am, for obvious reasons. I mean, who really gets up for a 9:00 am class or workshop?!? pas moi!

•there were some very cool tango clothes and shoes for sale in the lounge

•there were some very cool tango clothes and shoes for sale in the lounge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

•there were 2 or 3 classes going simultaneously. Beginners had their own workshops tailored to their learning styles. This is a good thing.

•a team of Viking chefs cranked out scrumptious snacks & suppers all evening

•a team of Viking chefs cranked out scrumptious suppers all evening

•2 of my favorite milonga teachers were there: Jorge & Milena Nel

•a couple of unrivaled milonga teachers were there: Jorge & Milena Nel

•Did I forget to mention, LOTS of FABULOUS Tango dancers! Thanks to all of you for the great tandas, you KNOW who YOU are!!!

The downside:

•The gala evening demos were less than impressive. Comedy, acrobatics and tango selfies are no substitute for style and elegance.  I think our traveling tangueros need to head home every now and then to remember how it’s done in Buenos Aires.

La Nacional

La Nacional

FEEL the connection… to your partner, to the floor, to the other dancers, to the music, to the musicians, to your own heart.  FEEL the floor.  FEEL the music. FEEL the emotion… disconnect your thoughts and let sound be your oxygen…  just Breathe.

And what’s not to like about Portland in the early Fall?  The sun sparkled on the river radiating perfect warmth throughout the city — not too hot, not too cold. You didn’t need a jacket, except maybe leaving the milongas in the early morning cool.  The adorable streetcars and Powell’s City of Books were every bit as wonderful as ever.

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Mt Hood glowing behind a sparkly Portland night

Mt Hood glowing above a sparkly Portland night

Bye bye, Portland, till next time!

parrot guy

parrot guy

A few days later I found myself on the east coast suffering the throes of tango withdrawals. Needless to say, I wasn’t in Miami, that throbbing hotspot of tango cool. No, I was just a senseless misplaced pawn on a giant Monopoly board. I’m still in recovery from visiting the Sunshine State. One is bombarded with hyper-signage everywhere, and I mean everywhere. PR on steroids. The land of Madmen from Planet Dollar $ign. No cool cafés, no quaint cobblestoned villages, just shopping, greasy fast food, gated beachfront properties, Big Box churches and Big Box stores.  The beach is beautiful, to be sure, but driving is the only way to get around… unless you’ve got a beak and a pair of wings. And the tango scene in northern Florida can only be described as, well… pitiful? nonexistent? Sorry, Sunshine!

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Please excuse the nonsense bubbling up from the uber-consciousness waystation I like to call my mind….  The only thing I wanted to take with me from Florida was Mai Tiki Bar on the Cocoa Beach Pier.

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How cute is that! And, a couple of adorable kids!

20141104_162625 2

Jacqueline

This gatorade fest I did NOT want to take with me.

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Are they on Shrooms? Zoloft? Marie Callendar?

 I touched down at Ezeiza two weeks ago, shifting into high gear once more, back to the Mecca of Tango: Buenos Aires.  Highlights from my next post:

view from my balcony, la jacaranda en flor

view from my balcony, la jacaranda en flor

milonga del barrio Floresta

la milonga del barrio Floresta

Orquesta Unitango

Orquesta Unitango

street art near the children's hospital

street art near the children’s hospital

Buenas noches from Buenos Aires!

Tango Dancers Open Café

Carlton Café & Bakery

Carlton Café & Bakery

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

Salinas River

Salinas River

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

6005 El Camino Real carltonbakery@gmail.com

6005 El Camino Real
carltonbakery@gmail.com

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

yeah baby

yeah baby!

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

The ARTery

The ARTery

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

City Hall

City Hall

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

Heck, even Oprah's been here!

Heck, even Oprah’s been here!

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

the current incarnation

the newly reborn Carlton Café

A room at the Carlton... just upstairs!

a room at the Carlton… up above the bakery!

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

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires

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

hmmm... lost his head?

hmmm… did we take the wrong turn?

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

Confiteria Ideal

Confiteria Ideal

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

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

Salsa break at La Milonga del Carlton

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

Courtney's Chocolate Bread

Courtney’s Chocolate Bread

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

still life with 5-grain loaf, cheese & olives

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

Ben and Eduardo

boy can they talk!

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

kjgsd

2+2=22?

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

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

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

sadkhasd

when in doubt keep dancing

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

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

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

Pati & Willow at La Milonga del Carlton

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

pastries

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

¡Felíz Navidad!

¡Felíz Navidad!

Costa Brava to East Coast

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Preview: Atlantic sunrise

Opening this post with no dazzling first line was not really what I had in mind. Somebody please just toss a poetic blast of bombast at my beleaguered brain! Say what? Can you repeat that? No matter, let’s just get down to the biz of catching up on our whereabouts since we left Barcelona last August. People keep asking me, where are you guys? Well, right now we’re in Portland, Oregon. And, sad to say, many long miles from the beautiful Costa Brava, España. Here’s where we were in August 2012: along the coast north of Barcelona, known as the Costa Brava. We rented a car and went exploring.
Big Sur's got nothin' on the Costa Brava!

Big Sur’s got nothin’ on the Costa Brava!

Many years ago I asked one of my uncles, in Italy, how they manage to keep Italy so clean, green and well-tended. “We toss all our trash into the Mediterranean!” he replied with head-tossing laughter!
a noisy little cove... check out the boats!

no trash in sight… just lots of gorgeous scenery!

Not trashy here on the Costa Brava, and only 116 km south of the South of France. Check it out! This beach borders the historic town of Sant Feliu de Guixols. I have no idea who that happy saint was, it’s Catalan to me.
ljhasd

Sunday afternoon at the beach – Renoir could have painted this

Sant Feliu has an awesome museum, the Espai Carmen Thyssen, founded by the late Baron Hans Henrik von Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002), a wealthy Swiss-German industrialist art collector with an ancestral Hungarian title and a villa in Montecarlo. The museum is named for von Thyssen’s fifth wife, Carmen “Tita” Cervera, a former Miss Spain, whose art-loving instincts played a key role in bringing her husband’s valuable collection of nineteenth century Andalusian and Catalan art to Spain.

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The museum entrance is on the right. Behind the arch is the 10th century Roman monastery, built over the ruins of an old castle which saw plenty of action back in the day. Apparently the monks were occasionally  called upon to drop their rosaries and defend their turf from marauding turks, moors and other riffraff, with arrows shot from narrow openings in the high walls.

Carmen Thyssen Museum

Carmen Thyssen Museum on right

former monastery

Benedictine monastery, rebuilt in 1723

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Ben at the Arc de Sant Benet (1747)

Quite the jetsetting playboy, Baron Thyssen once famously explained his surname: «Bornemisza significa que no bebe vino, y yo más bien debería decir que no bebo agua». (“Bornemisza means “doesn’t drink wine,” but in my case “doesn’t drink water” would be more apt.”) The Baron also has  museums in Málaga and Madrid. In the 1980s he created a foundation to prevent his fabulous collection being dismantled and sold off to private collectors. My mom, a retired art critic, reminded me that she interviewed Baron von Thyssen when  he visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, accompanying an exhibition of his personal collection.

CarmenThyssenMuseum

PR for the fabulous inaugural exhibit at the Espai Carmen Thyssen. What a gorgeous day, and filled with spectacular art. The above painting made me nostalgic for our time in Paris: it rained so much last spring.

The Baroness Carmen Thyssen said of Sant Feliu: “…her dazzling beauty and  joyful people I found captivating from the first.”

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Sant Feliu aerial shot

Adios, España! In late August we flew from Barcelona back to Paris and on to San Francisco. After visiting family and friends in California we took a month-long break in beautiful South Carolina.

Charleston SC

Charleston SC

From Charleston — where I could stay forever — we drove south to Murrell’s Inlet for a vacation from the vacation! A restorative, off-schedule downtime of surf, sun, sleep & fresh seafood prepared by Chef Ben.
cloudy day at Murrell's Inlet

late afternoon on the inter-coastal waterway

Avendaw Creek

Avendaw Creek

Ben caught a big fish.

Ben caught a big fish.

we kayaked

we kayaked

we found a dockside watering hole.

we spotted a dockside watering hole.

a working fishing boat

a working fishing boat

Art on the docks

Art on the docks

tidal marsh

tidal marsh

even a pirate ship!

even a pirate ship!

ciao! from South Carolina

ciao! from South Carolina

Atlantic sunset

we head off into the sunset

South Carolina was wonderful last september, with its sizzling beachfront and dripping wet hot humid weather… I loved it! But eventually it was time to move on…
spent a few days in the Smoky Mountains

we spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tango near the Capitol Dome

we tango’d near the Capitol Dome

We milonga’d in DC one night before heading to New York state. It was a warm and beautiful night in DC, and really cool to be dancing in Freedom Plaza, with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. engraved on the stones beneath our feet. The next day we drove through northeastern Pennsylvania over into New York, and then more or less followed the Hudson River Valley north, bypassing New York City, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Freedom Plaza - Capital Tangueros

Freedom Plaza – Capital Tangueros

the old homestead in PA

the old homestead in PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

Wayne Hotel, Honesdale, PA

upstate New York

upstate New York

Albany

Albany

Albany

Albany

Appaloosa in the Green Mountains

grazing appaloosa in the Green Mountains, Vermont

falls near Rochester VT

falls near Rochester VT

Red Barn

Red Barn

Sandy's Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester VT– where old hippies munch good munchies

The frenetic grease-dripping fast food twilight zone of a cross-country road trip finally came to a standstill when we took up lodgings in Montpelier, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Time slowed to a crawl. We woke up to shorter days, longer nights, cafés and restaurants shutting down so early — and this is the state capital! (pop. 8,000) People actually watch TV and play board games in the evenings. Not to be left out of all the fun, we picked a free tv (the formerly glorious, heavyweight color tv, so impressive back in 1965!) and signed up for cable… like hooking up a one-way IV sucking down your bank account. That lasted a couple of months till we went back to watching news and soccer matches online.

Vermont was picture-postcard pretty! Ben started artisan bread-making classes at the New England Culinary Institute. We found a 3rd floor apartment in a 100+ year old house downtown. Pretty comfy, though we only had a bed, a kitchen table, 2 chairs and some cardboard boxes. When we arrived in October the leaves were turning and the days were still pretty nice, not really too cold yet, the nights just barely dipping into the 40s.
view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

view of the Montpelier Capital Dome and clock tower from our apartment

Ben enjoyed his breadmaking classes at NECI, though the expectation level was decidedly a few rungs below his experience at the French Culinary in Manhattan a few years back, where highly paid world class egomaniacs belittled & berated their students’ efforts…  turning out some highly trained professionals nonetheless. A little constructive criticism can be a useful part of the learning process… ouch! Every day was a blast for Ben; he even enjoyed trudging through the snow to be at the bakery at 6:00 am. He was lightyears beyond most of the students… mostly mouth-breathers, you know, adolescents with perpetually hanging lower lips. When he had extra time (he’s fast) the chefs let him do his own thing, and he made the most of it: croissants, pan au chocolat, marzipan pastries, escargot, stollen, panettone… you name it. Lots of yummy stuff… not to mention a million varieties of artisan breads, made the traditional way. Like, the way they make it in Paris. Voilá!
La Brioche, the NECI bakery

La Brioche, the NECI bakery

Ben cooking at home

Ben cooking at home

Yeah, he loves to cook and the kitchen always looks like a tornado’s touched down, but it’s worth it. Delicious! Notice the way cool 1950s electric stove? The oven window looks like a porthole on a spaceship. My spaceship!

what a classic!

a vintage classic

The door on the left is a warming oven, and the rear left burner is a deep well with a built-in soup pot. Crazy! Some nut will pay big bucks for it on eBay someday!

Speaking of tornados, we were in Vermont when Hurricane Sandy tore up New York and New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy NYC

Hurricane Sandy NYC

She was just a breath of whispering wind by the time she reached northern Vermont — lucky us.

St. Anne's was RIGHT next door!

beautiful St. Anne’s was right next door

Fall colors in Montpelier… flaming red, orange and gold. There were still a few warm days but not for long… the days got shorter and colder, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do after dark. Burlington had a small tango community, but their milongas were not what we were used to — sorry, friends! Although we did have a fabulous evening at the Palais de Glace Holiday Milonga, in Stowe, and a New Year’s Eve Milonga with live music (and a hysterically funny skit!) in Hartford, Connecticut.

too many women in his life!

he’s gotta quit flirting with the waitress… or there’ll be hell to pay!

Happy New Years' Eve!

Happy New Years’ Eve!

Three months in a deep freeze was a little much for me… I’m a California girl! Snow is exquisitely lovely, of course. Making cut-paper snowflakes is my idea of a good time in the snow. Furnishing our apartment was kind of fun, though. We found this really awesome blue ultrasuede chair at an estate sale:

with lime green piping... and a matching couch!

with lime green piping… and a matching couch

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

Getting it up to the apartment was a challenge

nothing like a few bored neighbors to lend a hand!

nothing like friendly neighbors to lend a hand

Needless to say, the winding steep and narrow stairs up to our spacious atelier in Montpelier would not admit the couch, nor the bed. Lucky for us when we moved out three months later the new tenant took it all. I kept picturing how much fun it would be, rappeling all that furniture back down in the snow.

fast forward to snowy night on our street

fast forward to snowy night on our street

Montpelier West Branch

Montpelier West Branch

Beautiful Montpelier Round House

Beautiful Montpelier Round Porch and Tower

Before long our world became an exercise in whiteout conditions, arctic blasts, ice showers and icicles, frozen cars, frozen streets, sidewalks and noses; woolen mittens and lost kittens, gloves, scarves, wool caps, snow boots, layers upon layers of the warmest stuff you got… fleecy jammies and bathrobes (or my version: just drag the blanket around the house with you), down jackets… and don’t forget sheepskin booties for indoors. Snowy winter holidays prevailed. But before all that white stuff covered everything, we took a weekend trip in Maine, including a stop at L.L.Beanville.

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

battling moose at LL Bean world headquarters

Maine coast

Maine coast

New England Saltbox

New England Saltbox

boats in dry dock

boats in dry dock: Wicked Good is no secret; La Galatea, Cervantes’ first novel (1585)

having dinner in Bath, Maine

having dinner in Bath, Maine

Home of the Lobster Roll

Home of the Lobster Roll

Maine Weekend Harbor

Maine harbor

Colf Mountain

cold mountain, New Hampshire

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Brrr! Those were cold days.

icicles in Montpelier

icicles in Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

downtown Montpelier

my son and grandson hiking!

my son and grandson hiking

the old stone tower

the old stone tower

the sled run

the sled run

view from the tower

view from the tower

tall snowy trees

tall snowy trees

our building on a snowy evening in Montpelier

a snowy evening in Montpelier: our apartment top floor

pretty Montpelier at Christmas

Christmas in Montpelier

We left Vermont in mid-January, driving across the frigid Midwest. Mile upon mile of frozen highway: bleak, cold, heartless. Miraculously, we only met one snow storm, near Buffalo, NY. It lasted less than two hours. I parked us in the draft of a big semi and hung onto his coattails till the storm eased up. We kept to the northern route: Buffalo, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Boise… all the way to Portland. One evening we found a great little milonga in Lincoln, Nebraska… what a pleasant surprise! The Milonguero Spirit appearing in a place previously disguised as Nowheresville! No wonder… the home of the Univ. of Nebraska Press. Publishers of books and journals specializing in American history, the American West, and Native American studies. (Lewis & Clark fans, take note!) Our next destination: Portland, Oregon. Stay tuned!

Next stop: Portland

Next stop: Portland

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.

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

a regular at La Baldosa

regulars at La Baldosa

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

Buenos Aires boys

Buenos Aires boys

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

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

just kidding, Javier!

just kidding, Javier!

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

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

Confitería Ideal

Confitería Ideal

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

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

Tango Gigolo

Tango Gigolo

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

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.

marcelo solis

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

Lisette

and Glenn Corteza for musicality and ease of movement.

Glenn Corteza

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

eduardo saucedo

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

mil guapos

Is the Tango scene in Buenos Aires changing?

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

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

las chicas 2

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

Unknown

Can you describe a perfect lead?

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

pareja joven 2

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

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

great milonga dancers Jorge & Milena Nel

What about followers… what are our worst sins…?

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

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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.

baby don't go!

do you dance differently on a crowded floor?

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

Diana with Juliet, a BAires expat from Canada

Diana with Juliette, a BAires expat from Canada

what advice would you give to beginners?

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

pareja joven

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

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Milonga Resources and Cabeceos:

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

Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

maestros Jorge Firpo y Diana Mestre

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

Can you explain cabeceos?

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

cabeceo-3

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

cabeceo-2

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

What is a typical day for you?

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

La Nacional

La Nacional

and the food?

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

café & medialunas

what about Argentine fashion?

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

Diana and Amy

Diana and Amy

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

milongueras en negro

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

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

beauti dancers

how long have you been in Buenos Aires?

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

obelisco

Ciao from Diana Howell in Buenos Aires!

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA