I stepped off the airplane at Kennedy into a total shitstorm, but its good to be back nevertheless. I love how, when you return to a place after being gone awhile you sortof ride this sleepless, raw energy, prolonging the grace period of “being jetlagged” and taking your time “getting back into the swing of things.” View from my bedroom window at about 5am on a Sunday morning:
My last couple of days in Buenos Aires were spent doing the typical last minute things– consuming as much grass-fed beef as possible, as much Malbec as I could, and buying as many cheap genie pants & similar crap in Once as my guilty conscience would allow. My last tango experience wrapped things up well, also– I had a card to use up from Escuela Argentina de Tango so my last class was an assisted práctica with them. In it, I noticed a few nice things: I no longer walk into a class convinced I’m the worst one there, my palms are sweating far less, people actually want to dance with me, and, well, I can do this! Its a great feeling. Last dance was with someone who could have well been the first person I danced with here in BA– a roly-poly Porteño named Ricardo (or something) but the difference was immense– with the first Ricardo I was stumbling, tense and nervous and then with this one I couldn’t wipe a smile off my face as he put my feet where they were supposed to go.
Back in New York I’ve checked out a few places to dance besides Sandra Cameron, and will continue my research. It’s easy enough to dance every night of the week here, and there are several afternoon milongas, but I haven’t yet gauged the crowds, music, et cetera. I’m going to miss all the live orchestras and unfumbling leads in BA, I know it. I danced with a pretty amazing Polish guy the other night at Dance Manhattan, so who knows. So until my next trip to South America– and depending on this graduate school application ordeal and shitty economic climate, it may be sooner rather than later– goodbye Los Porteños y Jenny. Be sure to check out the new greatest hits page and also the updated tango lessons page for my opinions on several places to dance in Buenos Aires.
On Wednesday night I went to a tiny Buenos Tangos class at Club Indepencia (572) which was fine– worked on sacadas with an Englishman who struck me as a nutty professor, then skipped over to 571 Peru to see El Afronte play, noticed a few people I didn’t feel like dancing with, so went back to Indepencia for Buenos Tangos/Unitango orchestra. By the time I got back to the Unitango event, the milonga there had gotten pretty small, although there was one of the big daddy dancers there, older, bald with ponytail, hulking about. I’d seen him around, mostly at Canning dancing with a cuuute brunette, so was naturally terrified of him. He sort of kept me in his line of vision as I grabbed a table, changed into my shoes, went to the baño, which is distinguished as “nice” because usually they are toilet paperless dumps, went the to bar etc etc. sort of trying to say “chill out dude let me get comfortable.” But golly, this guy really wanted to dance. Really strong telepathic message, coming, er, from over there.
Taking a breath, I turn, nod, and join him on the dance floor where he proceeds to take me for a RIDE. He had a really powerful, strong, yet warm embrace (Porteño with force) and a penchant for crouching under my stepping foot and flinging it outward, as if it were his. (This was okay because we were the only people dancing and could disobey feet-on-the-floor tango rule… plenty of space here tonight.) It was really fun to follow him, as much as I could. He gave me a lot of time between steps for decorations, which was fun, and ended songs with really hot little leggy poses, some that lifted me off the ground… and then gave me the best comment of my life: “do you have a deafness… problem?” (imagine thick Porteño accent) and I say, why yes I do, and he says “because you are very sensitive to the music.”
I hear the bottom third of music, the bass tones, so I think because musically I don’t get confused by the higher notes, I tend to focus my attention on the lows; I feel them. Furthermore, the orchestra was really nice, playing Piazzolla and Pugliese that I could recognize somewhat. Maybe this isn’t especially complex but his comment made me feel good, and made for an encouraging evening, and a noted progress on my dancing in general.
Just before you leave a place, you stumble upon all the coolest things that you wish you’d been doing the whole time. It always happens. Today it was, among other things including a great milonga with a terrific little Piazzolla-playing quintet in San Telmo, Miguel Angel Castellini’s magically decorated boxing gym in the Once neighborhood.
Stepping inside, I’m hit by a heavy stench of B.O. and more framed boxing paraphernalia than one could ever imagine in Rocky Balboa’s locker room. Most if it is from Miguel’s champion days, during the late 70s when he beat the hell out of someone at Luna Park. Look down the steps, there is Miguel!
Taking a breath, I descend the stairs. Met by the bald man, I explain my interest in boxing, and Miguel puts a gentle arm around me and shows me around his sanctuary– the various equipment, rings, and even a few fighters.
Here he is coaching a very tough lady.
He sends me off with a schedule of classes and makes me promise to volver, pronto.
Buenos Aires, I love you. Why do I leave on Saturday? Why, again?
It is summer and a lot of things are shut down or just not running full-throttle, specifically the art world. I wonder, though: has the art world just hit pause or does it not really exist? My new friend Ian maintains that the artists fled the city during the 2001 crisis, but are starting to trickle back in. Space itself isn’t so cheap here, though, so I wonder if Ian is right. There are a lot of beautiful, empty, raw gallery-esque storefronts, garages, and entryways that would make ideal alternative spaces and small galleries,– and they must be cheap– but no one seems to be doing anything with them. Maybe they will. It is a little disappointing to see potential but feel no energy. But then again, its summer, so who knows.
There is some great, weird graffiti though, click on the thumbnails because its important to see the details:
Over the past month I visited a couple of the “it”-galleries suggested by TimeOut and the like. Only a few were open, but at best they reminded me of the lesser boxes inside a building like 526 West 26th. They might be okay, but they don’t hold your attention for long. One of them was Braga Menendez which is huge and seemed to have a nice program but the current show of three different artists having nothing visible or conceptual in common was just a little confusing. Daniela Luna’s gallery, Appetite, has gotten a bit of attention for being edgy, but it was closed both times I tried, and when I pressed my nose against the glass the show there seemed like the aftermath of a party crossed with a flea market. Maybe its just the summer though.
MALBA is a lovely contemporary museum but not a tremendous amount of originality inside– read: a lot of the seems to mimic European and American trends in pop, mimimalism and conceptualism, but what can we expect? Artists everywhere were interpreting postmodernism for themselves, so it is to be expected, but still isn’t very interesting. I really liked a couple of paintings though. They were by Emilio Pettoruti (b. 1892) painted later in his life. Abstract/cubist paintings, really strong color.
At the Belles Artes Museum I was taken by some turn of the century oil works by Argentine painters. I really, really loved the small corner full of grouchy, visceral gaucho portraits by Cesareo Bernaldo de Quiros, like this one and others depicting guys on horses drinking maté and hauling the game home. The compositions are honest and dramatic, and the painting ugly in a Flemishy brown way.
Some others: Candido López, who was also a soldier, painted eerie atmospheric pictures of military camps reminiscent seen from above and afar. They are very pretty and a little weird. Reynaldo Giudici (I actually wrote his name down twice in my notes without realizing it) paints great canvases of people eating food! La Sopa de los Pobres (1884) and Subiendo la Cuesta (1883) were my two favorites. If I had the patience to do large canvases in oil, I’d want to paint like this.
The Fundación Proa was a lovely space in La Boca with a very academic survey of Marcel Duchamp, beautifully installed but really text-booky. However, when you’re bored, you can just look out the window:
So does Buenos Aires fail as “the other city?” Maybe, maybe not. I think there is definitely the space, the grit, and the potential to be great place for artists, so I will have to come back again when its not summer and re-evaluate.
Last night I met a huge ego from Germany at a Parakultural class with a violent embrace– really rigid, and jerky– who got totally pissed off when I didn’t follow his “lead.” I think I suggested he’d have a better time dancing by himself and walked off.
Well. Attitudes sometimes get in the way. I know I’m no angel. And while I realize it is very challenging to learn tango as the lead, that it is a blow to virility struggle with a step, we go to class to learn things. There are awkward moments, hours, in this process. We have to accept this awkwardness, even invite it! and leave the attitudes at the door with our street shoes and cell phones.
Generally, any given weekly class in Buenos Aires attracts a different group of students each time it meets. Tango-tourists come and go, the locals move around. I have a few classes that have the same core group, but in general, I’m passing through the arms of men I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. They are all different. There are the fantasy guys who want to wrestle you into the dramatic tango dancer he visualizes twirling and kicking around his pelvis and between his legs. Coming up after fantasy man is the timid one who leans back so far and touches you so weakly you feel that you feel like you’re fumbling in the dark. Making his way around the room, Mr. Greg Arious insists on blabbering, humming, or counting through every step– dude, will you shut UP already, I told you I’m deaf… and also there is a fair share of the cocky, more experienced dancers who feel entitled to touch you in “friendly” (and condescending) ways, such as placing palms on your hips or patting your back. I’ve grown tired of smiling this off and just walk away now.
Most troubling is the guy who is so desperate to connect in that tango way: the fluid flow of energy between two physical, working bodies, that he’s, like, gyrating and sparking like a live wire seeking ground. When you dance with him he tries to bore an incision into your chest somehow, then squeeze himself into it. This is annoying because you need the connection in order to dance well, but in this case, you want to withhold it from him, because he is not relaxed, he isn’t gentle. And most importantly, he isn’t opening to you. So you dance like shit.
I know there have been books written, and instructional videos, and other blog posts explaining the “passion of tango” and whatever, I’d be glad to read these things, as long as the prose isn’t too purple– I just haven’t yet. There are occasions when you are dancing with a great dancer and without even touching you or using muscles or movement, its like BOOM something locks into place. He holds you with this soft, but powerful ray of light: an energy channel that sees right into you and coaxes you to open up your own. Suddenly you can’t hide anything. The second your mind drifts, your axis wobbles, or you tense up, he knows. You can only give him what you have, and as soon as you don’t, this intangible matrix will say “you’ve left me, come back.” Its pretty scary, and lovely, and it takes training in both confidence and in dance.
The other side of this, is that despite needing to establish this connection with your partner in order to dance well, as a woman (and a between-the-lines-reading American one, at that) it is also a little difficult to know whether or not your partner is about to get the wrong idea… Is he starting to think about making the beast with two backs? I mean, we practically already are. For this reason I am starting to really appreciate the more formal milongas with men and women seated separately, and you get to return to the comfort of the girl-side of the room after the tanda, safe from any sexual advances. In the hipster milongas, the line isn’t so clear and you don’t know when you’re off the hook or when you have to start inching away. Everyone knows the meaning of “gracias”: “thanks, now get lost.” And gracias for that.
I’d like to give a shout-out to yoga. I don’t do it despite having a best friend who is a certified Ashtanga & etc. instructor and whole group of fanatic yoga people for friends. I’ve found that most of my favorite dance partners practice the zen zombie stretching and sweating, and as a result they have great posture, _very_ open energy channels, and an innate ability to relax, and help me relax too (huge feat, I can tell you).
The Chacarita Cemetery is essentially a small town (9 x 9 city blocks or so?) whose spiderwebbing streets are lined with grandiose mausoleums ranging from traditional neoclassical style to slick funeral-parloresque art deco to swirly art nouveau. I killed about an hour there before getting completely creeped out and heading back the land of the living, although I had to think– why get buried when you could spend eternity in one of these?
I’m sort of in love with Analia Vega and Marcelo Varela. They are a brilliant couple with a hefty tango resúme and so warm, funny, and clear. With Lucas DiGiorgio they teach my favorite class on Monday nights at Rodriguez Peña 1074. It’s an advanced class so I always get babied but, maybe that’s um, why I go!
This past Saturday night they performed at a lovely Valentine’s Day milonga at Peru 571 which I think is– rather basically– known as the Buenos Aires Club. The milonga there was eye-candy, the band, Sexteto Milonguero, excellent, and Analia y Marcelo were amazing. Here is a close-up clip of one of the more intense bits of their performance– Marcelo gets a little carried away. Each time I watch it I get goosebumps.
And here is another:
On Friday night, Damián made dinner for some friends at his beautiful apartment. I decided my contribution to the affair would be an attempt to bring a little Audrey Saunders to Buenos Aires and make some fruity cocktails for these Malbec drinkers. Not as easy as it sounds!
At the store, I quickly ascertained that anything imported to Argentina will cost disproportionately more than something “industria Argentina” (read the label, folks), so I had to work with what Argentina offered me while transgressing the ubiquitous availability of wine. Mum, Meaghan, Grammy Ro, check this out: a bottle of Grey Goose is $239 pesos while Hiram Walker vodka from somewhere in Argentina is an easy $10 pesos. Cointreu is locked up in its own little cage with the Jaegermeister!
Hiram Walker was also smart enough to make whiskey and gin (brilliant man, who is he?) thinking I’d wow-em with some old-fashioneds, I procured some maraschino cherries, triple sec, and orange, but was astonished when I found that Angostura bitters ran for about $50 pesos. Americans interested in visiting Argentina, nota bene! Bring some bitters!
So what do I do? Everyone drinks grapefruit soda here (I love this especially when dumped into some beer) so I used a little of this in some homemade lemonade (fresh squeezed lemons, simple syrup, tonic water, a little seltzer), added to some of the Hiram Walker’s vodka. Over ice, with some lime to make it pretty it quite nice and very refrescante in this humidity. And also masked the difference between Mr. Walker’s concoction and Grey Goose…
The peaches are perfect this time of year, and Damián has an immersion blender, so we also made some nice Bellinis. So much for transgressing wine.
Anyway, everyone got drunk and started to play this game:
If you are someone who likes to be obvious about your sexual desire for random women on the street, you should come to Argentina! You’d be welcomed by the machista culture here and joined by several maté-sipping caballeros who are sure they don’t need to avert their eyes or be otherwise polite when a girl passes by. Once in a while, I turn around and pipe-up a little ¿puedo sacar un foto por favor? and get them to be all nice and pose.