El Dia de Enamorados con Analia y Marcelo

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:

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Cocktails, Dinner, and Guessing Games at Damián’s

img_5197On 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!

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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:

Cat calls and other Porteñoise

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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.

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Other Kind of Dancing

Out with the Chowhounds

Ricardo, a Buenos Aires native now living in Los Angeles, invited me out with him and his family after noticing some of my activity on my other favorite website, Chowhound. Seizing the opportunity to eat at some of BA’s finer restaurants while basking in the normalcy of having people to hang out with, I joined him first at Casa Felix, a lovely “puerto cerrado” (secret café) run by a beautiful couple at their home in Chacarita.

The meal begins with a cocktail in the back garden, and you mingle with the other 12 or so diners. I met some jolly folks from the USA and then Ricardo and his nice family.

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After cocktails, we are invited into the patio:

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There was a full moon:

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The first course was a darling little set of potato-balls, doused in lemon with smoked bell pepper, green apple chimchurri, and oyster mushrooms on top.

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The salad, which could have easily been a desert, was green mango, huacatay leaves, and a crispy thing on the bottom. It was _so_ delicious.

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Between the salad and the main course we had a little shot-glass filled with shaved, frozen watermelon. It wasn’t that photogenic, but I thought it was a really flavorful and felt interesting to eat an icy thing in the middle of a dinner.

The main course was a grilled peppermint-oil flavored pejerrey (river fish?) with humita, and a creamy tomato sauce. The subtle peppermint flavor with the tomatoes and the fish was a little surprising, but light enough. The humita had a rich, smokey flavor, so there was a lot going on in your mouth.

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Ricardo was in charge of the wines and everyone should try this sparkling one that we had with dessert:

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Dessert  was a white peach crumble with homemade lemon verbena ice cream from their garden.

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Here I am with a camera-shy Ricardo:

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and here is Ricardo’s wonderful family: Carlos, Veronica, and Ada:

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Somehow, despite my pleading, Ricardo managed to convince me to have lunch with the whole gang the following day at La Cabrera, which everyone knows is a very fine place for all things grilled. I tried everything they ordered– sweetbreads (yuck!), blood sausage (inasmuch as I’d rather not admit it, really good), chorizo (fair), bife le lomo (to die for), some kind of pork (very good especially with the homemade applesauce), and all the little circular dishes of yummy eggplant, mushroom, onion, and olive things. I am going to be a strict green-tea drinking vegetarian for the rest of the week.

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Milonga Initiation at Niño Bien

Last night I went to my first milonga at Niño Bien, which is a very famous old-fashioned dance hall where all the weathered milongueros go to dance with women who know what they’re doing. I went to watch, have a glass of wine, avoid eye-contact, but also see what the cabaceo* sequence really looks like.

As an American Sign Language user, I am particularly drawn to the non-verbal linguistics of tango– how communication is put into effect by listening and responding to each others’ bodies, how the cabaceo can simplify, condense, and replace a whole conversation in just a manner of eye-contact or a nod. Is there another instance where body language, sensitivity, facial expressions, and tacit openness carry the same weight as in the deaf community? Oh, yes there is, but can we not talk about that for now? This blog is rated PG.

I buy my ticket and enter the packed dance hall and the organizer seats me not on the women’s side– its too full– but sort of off to the corner on the men’s side. I enter just as a tanda** is ending and the dance-floor is clearing out. Just about everyone stops by my table to kiss and greet the blond sitting across from me, who turns out to be Deby the American-turned Porteña who also operates a B&B! I’d read her blog a few times and had heard of her so it was kind of ironic I was plunked down at her table.

trippen_sandals1 Even though I was hoping not to try to dance out there, I started to feel bad because I was wearing my big wooden Trippen sandals and I felt like everyone in the room was staring at them. So quickly, under the table I slip on my little beat-up practice shoes and feel a little bit more comfortable.

Between tandas everyone goes and sits down at their designated tables (I kept wanting to clap at the end of songs, such is the theater of this place) and my god, I’m surprised at how closely the women’s section resembles a giant flock of harpies… or hungry beasts at the zoo. They are fanning themselves, flipping hair, gossiping, pointing, and seeking a cabaceo. When the music starts again, couples having connected from opposite sides of the room somewhat magically join each other on the dance floor. Duchamp’s Mile of String comes to mind.

One man who may or may not have been a milonguero comes up and asks Deby to ask me that now since I’ve removed my sandals, will I dance with him? I tell him um, no, you’d better not… Deby reprimands me for being shy so I dance with Mike, who is thankfully across the room, and then I have to accept the other guy’s second invitation, which resulted in a tanda that was one note short of disaster. I’m a little like “told you so” but whatever. Gotta start somewhere. I dance once more with Mike who tells me I should try yoga to learn how to breathe.

I felt kind of brave for going to Niño Bien, alone, knowing that I was going to be a misfit and that I would need to straddle the line between being very modest (and realistic) by saying “no” and also being polite and accepting invitations. I often wonder to myself “Why do I do this? Why am I trying to learn tango?” None of my friends do it nor have much to say about it, so its not about them. I haven’t made many friends or had a ton of fun in the New York tango community either. Nevertheless I want to learn tango because it is a way of socializing that I want to be sure I can do as I get older and frustrated or bored with communication as usual. For me tango is a sort of third language after English and ASL. Talking and writing and partying in English has its limits, as does the visual nature of sign language, which combines spatial linguistics with strong non-manual expression to say things that English just cannot. Tango is a language of feeling that is communicated more directly than any verbal language, and when done well, I can only imagine what it must feel like.

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* a cabaceo is an invitation to dance that is initiated by the man by making eye contact with a lady from opposite sides of the milonga. She can then nod to accept the invitation or look away to refuse it. The exchange of furtive glances saves the man potential for embarrassment. In the hipster milongas, the men and women aren’t seating separately so the men have to sortof wander around looking for a dance, which is sortof sad.

** a tanda is a set of 4 or 5 songs of a similar musical theme, played as a set. It is expected that two people will dance the entire tanda together, but if you decide to leave a dude in the middle of a tanda, you’ll be considered very rude, but one shouldn’t have to suffer through a set of fourish songs that is going horribly. It sort of ruins the night for a man because then he will be frowned upon because other ladies will hesitate or refuse to dance with him.

That’s it for the vocab. lesson.

La Boca

La Boca is so cute! As long as you avoid La Caminita, the tourist promenade populated by so many waiters waving fliers and street tango dancers kicking and passing hats that you can barely enjoy the scenery. I am thinking of commissioning a filete artist to paint a sign to hang around my neck reading “¡No Graciás!” with the hope of deterring the aggressive walking advertisements from demanding things of me in broken English.

Regardless, it was a beautiful day and along the way to the Fundación Proa, I found that the people were just as happy to be photographed as the brightly painted buildings and sleeping animals.