Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Vibrant Club Scene-Tango in Buenos Aires

An old photo on the wall of a club showing a more formal exhibition style Tango.

This club was called Salon Canning. A British Men's Club from the last century, it represents a warm and comfortable place to spend the evening. Around Buenos Aires from the center of town out and around all the suburbs are 100's of clubs, large and small, all offering Tango classes daily and open 6 nights a week.

This is Lourdes, a friend who I paid to be my dance partner during lessons. She is a Taxi Dancer with clearly defined lines of employment.Both Men and Woman hire themselves as partners since many foreigners like myself do not feel comfortable asking someone I don't know to dance mostly because I'm uncomfortable with my skill level. Everyone says,"We all were there and the only thing you can do is Dance. You'll never learn to dance by watching".

The dance floor early in the evening before the crowd shows up after mid night.

 How is it that a dance form originating in the bordellos of Buenos Aires and Montevideo before the turn of the last century continue to attract new followers? Originally a dance embrace between two men (woman weren't allowed in social gatherings) with roots in African and European musical forms it was extremely popular in the lower class slums of French,Spanish and Italians immigrants.
In the early 1900's, Argentine musicians, dancers and orchestras travelled to Europe where the craze ignited a widespread following among the upper class.  Tango was introduced into the U.S. about 1914. Tango was new, raw, exciting and sensual.  All of these elements continued to create a fast boom of excitement and caused military dictatorships to ban or severely limit the dance since it was a 'public gathering'. Throughout the 30's ,40's and 50's the love, hate relationship between governments and public dances such as Tango continued a see-saw, up and down popularity. By the 50's Juan Peron of Argentina supported Tango and once again a resurgence of interest swept the country.
There are lots of forms of Tango. Many people have seen what might be called Exhibition Tango. Almost acrobatic with twirls, lifts and deep splits marks this form. It is not common but represents a form among certain sectors of dances, many with classical ballet backgrounds. Other forms might be defined by either a loose embrace with lots of room between partners or a close embrace where the upper body of leader,follow is glued together yet from stomach down it is far apart. There is Tango Waltz, Tango Electronico, New Tango and other styles, old or new, that provide a form for new interpretations to be introduced.

Tables surround the dance floor. This particular dance was hosted by a live band.
One of the Exhibition Couples show off their steps in front of Tango Afficionados.

The dancing continues.

Very quick steps and moves are practiced repeatedly. That is why it is exhibition Tango.

Back to dancing for people like you and me.

I must underline one of the facets of Tango that seems unique. Two people emerge on the dance floor after the man nods, winks, lifts a chin or in some subtle way communicates his desire to dance with a woman. They dance for 4 dances. The Man leads, the Woman follows. Perhaps they don't know each other. She must learn to trust, she will perhaps have her cheek touching her partners'. She might be enveloped by the embrace that is tight though not restrictive. They are so close that personal hygiene is an important value. Mouth fresheners, cologne are used as are perfumes. Nothing should get in the way of the communication between leader and follower.
In the following photos taken in a couple of different clubs, I noticed a number of people I had seen in other clubs over a three week period. We're talking mid week at 1 or 2 AM. These clean shaven men in their 30's, 40's,50's and beyond come to dance as do the woman, some married, some not. Couples or singles, it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tango and Buenos Aires= how I wound up in the bosom.

Moaning sounds, groaning, sounds of enjoyment...Where am I? I look around. I´m sitting in the shade at a beachside restaurant in southern Argentina. I´d driven my motorcycle here to have a beer and suddenly I´m disoriented. I am at a restaurant, sitting outside. I look around and see a couple laughing, making noises of enjoyment as they comment on the taste of their seafood. They are happy. As I look there way, the man turns and comments on my motorcycle. He´s interested in my trip and equally interested in letting me know that in his younger day, he too, rode lots of motorcycles competing in races. He opens his shirt showing his hairy chest and points to the surgery scars from broken colarbones, and tibias. Quite a strong introduction.

"Where are you headed," he asks. I tell him though I´m still a week or more away from Buenos Aires that, in fact, I´m headed to Buenos Aires, adding,"I´m going to immerse myself in Tango classes, Milongas, the culture".
He smiles and slowly pulls out his cell phone as if to make a call. Instead, he shows me a video of himself dancing in the Tango World Championships. As he holds the phone up for me to see, I squint in the bright light and see two dancers gliding across the floor with movements and positions that I´ve only seen in other movies. He says, "When you get to Bs. As., give me a call. I teach Tango classes, have an extra bedroom at the studio. You can stay there". Another open opportunity. Where will this lead?

I like this.
 It happens perhaps more on the road when a connection occurs beyond the normal. I have been blessed to have been invited into more homes and impromptu dinners and offers to stay with them than I´ve ever had before. Is it that I represent something "out of their world", different, challenging in the sense that they can´t conceive of traveling alone, at times, for 35,000 kms.(I must admit, I can´t comprehend it either). Perhaps it is a culture more open and inclusive than my culture where formality is more the rule,where peole make more dates to come over for dinner rather than just show up. Here people show up and they become part of whatever is happening. Here people seem to hang out together informally. Parks are loaded with famiies spending hours together just talking, eating,sharing mate.I haven't been with a group of men who gather a couple times a week eating and lightly drinking until 3 Am talking politics and other subjects. This doesn´t happen with my people. Or does it? 

Maybe I´m left out?

Back to the story.

When I finally arrive in Bs.As. I  give Mario a call. He gives me directions and I show up in time for lunch. My motorcycle safe in his garage I survey the environment. Not all that clean, not all that inviting but, we´ll see.

Thus began my introduction into Tango culture. Mario says,"You need some shoes if your´re going to dance the Tango". We hop in his Taxi(many people seem to do multiple jobs in order to get by and do what they want to do in life) and head for a shop that sells Tango shoes. OK, we´ve committed at least my feet. Mario and I return and he gives me a private lesson, one of many over the next 3 weeks. He is big, many would say fat, yet his movements bely his weight. They are light, soft, smooth. Perhaps that is why he dances 5 nights a week until the wee hours of the morning (without alcohol, I´might add, not because he doesn't like it but because it doesn't help in the dance where balance and quick steps and smooth turns are paramount to being desired as a dance partner.)
That night I get my first introduction to Tango and some insights into the culture that supports, surrounds and encourages the continuation of a dance with social roots in the last century. We go about 10pm to a club called Salon Canning. A former club of the British presence in Bs.As. 100 years ago, the hall is large,lightly pianted white with soaring ceilings, filagree architectural detain in the columns and rows of tables two or three deep around the parimeter.There are , I dare say, perhaps 100 places like this providing a range of Tango experiences 6-7 nights a week. That means MANY people are involved. It cost me about $5.00 to enter and that may have included the class I joined (that was way beyond me).
The dance floor was wood, smooth and as the room very slowly begin to gain life after the Tango lesson about 11pm, the lights dimmed and a few couples entered the dance floor. Smooth movements, eligant attire (more so for the women)and many eyes seeing who is coming in. Kisses abound as individuals saw others they know. These people all shared something in common- a love of dance and more specifically, el Tango.
Older couples in their 70,s and 80´s danced with an attitude of having done this as a social event for many years. Young, voluptous women, mostly slender with sensual dresses danced with men in the 70,s and enjoyed the individual nature of a life time of moves that others may or may not do. Three dances with the same partner then you sit down and wait. That is if you are a woman.
It is a man's world.  
If they didn´t come with a partner they oftentimes sit together at the tables for two that form the inter line of tables closest to the dance floor. Many of these men have come to the same clubs for years. They have "their spot or table" the waitress know what to bring them. Water. Perhaps a beer later or a glass of wine or a plate of salami,assorted cheese and olives to munch on. Not much alcohol.  No main course meals. No drunkneness. No boisterous attitudes. This is serious, in a sense, these men are here to dance. And so are the woman.

They choose their partners by either knowing the woman from other dances or quietly observing which woman can follow a man who might have an intricate or unique style. Those woman who show an ability to adapt to various styles will dance all night. Three dances with one man then another, then another. A nod across the room, a visual gesture, not a spoken request is how the invitation to dance is made. If the woman comes with and sits with a man, they are off limits to invitations to dance by other men. Unspoken agreement.
Tango is usually associated with Carlos Gardel.
There are many others in the holy pantheon of notables who left their mark on the cultural heritage of Buenos Aires. Anibal Troilo,Pugliese. This WAS a man's dance, between two men. Woman wern't seen in social circumstances where dances might have occurred back in the last century.    The dockworkers, the itinerent immigrant looking for a new life. The Italians, the Spanish were the predominant immigrant groups from the 1880s´to the 1940´s and to this day their way of speaking and gestures, use of slang and style is emolated by the 2nd and 3rd generation. It is Buenos Aires. Some would disagree but then, this is my story.

I don´t know how they do it. The steps are basic and simple yet people spend their whole lives working to perfect their moves, learning from others so as to participate, for some many nights in the week.

I don´t know how they do it. I mean when you go out dancing with a partner or alone to a club at 10 or 11pm and get home at 3 am and go to work in the morning?? And do this several times a week? Well, I´m retired so I can take a 2- hour naps in the afternoon/evening but these people work. They arn´t "dandies", living off the deliquencies of others, these are bank workers and hair stylists, homemakers and car mechanics. I saw men in casual suits with wire brimmed glasses of a professional level who you would never imagine be dancing all night. They look like bank managers, stiff, unimaginative, dry and yet they have the moves. Who woulda guessed? Not me, and my prejudices.
Women don´t usually show up in jeans or minimally dressed. Take that back. Minimally dressed with elegant attire that shows off what curves they work to maintain. Most of these women, young or older are slender and take care of themselves, enjoying the opportunity to dress up and be feminine.
No smoking and come clean with perhaps a dash of cologne. A mouthdrop would help also. The intimacy of the close embrace puts two people who don't know each other heads touching or cheeks touching and bodies from the chest upward very close while stomach downward is left with distance so the man can lead from his chest and shoulders.
This was a problem for me. Embracing a woman, even in one of my many dance classes was not easy. Embracing and directing the movements I wanted was even harder. I'm not a directive person by nature. I don't have strong opinions about many things. Thus translates one of my great challenges on the dancefloor. If I don't know where I'm going, how would a woman who is following my lead know? They wouldn't. Thus begins the challenge. Be clear. If you make a mistake, make a mistake but be clear about it!
 I'm reminded of a saying I've come across in motorcycle travel literature: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there". The same goes for Tango. More to come. Stay tuned for more pictures of nightly dance activities.
Enrique Mario Peralta getting a trim by another man of many talents-award winning hairstylist, Tango instructor,Taxi Driver, Mattress salesman. Anything to do the Tango.

Lourdes, Tango aficionada, graphic designer, set designer, masseuse, chef. Taxi Dancer. Dances 5 nights a week.

Mario, the man making the moaning and groaning sounds over a lushes' lunch whom I met far south in Argentina. Dance instructor, Mechanic, Taxi Driver.

"Gato(cat)Romero, at 76 he still knows how to dance. One of the many young men of the 50's,60's scene who set a high standard for Tango dancing. Know among 'those who know' as a real dancer.

 Mario loves to laugh. He's just a big kid!

 Mario's house, dance studio. The painting is of Anibal Troilo a great musician among the many who set forth on a remarkable career in the days of Tango's greatness. Now everyone dances to his music.

'Cutting the Rug'. Another guest at this birthday party kept saying, "Do you know where you are? You're in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Do you know why nothing will happen to you? It is because of "Gato". Nobody hurts him or his friends.

Mario and Lourdes. Best of friends.

Nice way to spend a lovely March afternoon in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Junkpile Art makes a national statement in Argentina

I'd heard about this guy.
His name is Carlos Regazzoni.
For the last 30 plus years he's been working with the junk, the detritus, the left over, the fallen, no good pieces of metal that abound in a modern society. He sculpts. He makes art. He lives and works behind the grand and once more famous train station called Retiro. Perhaps the largest covered railroad station in the Western Hemisphere, the veins of this great city pour out into the suburbs from this station. It's downtrodden now, a reflection of its former self still shows opulence and status. A modern,urban slum nestles next to it. Regazzoni has more work than he can deal with. In fact, his fame has grown from his earliest days as a day laborer selling keroscene from a cart to his invitation by the France government to live in Paris 6 months a year, next to a Train station and warehouses and do his art.
I'd seen metal sculpture of horses and men, indians and lances encountering each other. They were way out in the country at a location without fanfare or even a note indicating who'd done the work.I stopped my bike, went over to view the collection much closer. They conveyed a lot of tension and aggression in the field of battle.
 It wasn't until I was in Azul, Provincia de Buenos Aires and saw similar work with the theme of Sancho Panza and Don Quijote. It so happens that Azul has the largest collection of original works on that subject of Don Quijote and Regazzoni was commissioned to do some sculpture of the Don Quijote/Sancho Panza theme. Here are photos of the scenes showing what to me implies fighting on the frontier between indians and troops, whether they be gauchos or army.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Provinces-The Outer, Outer, Fringe of Buenos Aires, Argentina

For lack of a better title to encompass several entries about the Province of Buenos Aires I shall devote some time to a rural, vibrant and rich environment of small towns with upscale restaurants of quality, downhome feeling of small townness and diversity. These towns like Azul, with a population of 63,000... has a vibrant center with homemade pasta places, many bakeries, restaurants, and few supermarkets. People still frequent their speciality shops for cuts of beef and lamb. People connect.
I kept looking at this guy and his younger friend at the Cattle selling/stockyard. Blue eyed, Basque perhaps but clearly a representative of the diverse European backgrounds of the immigrant populations.
My host who invited me along.Following an hours drive to Ayacucho where we dined (lunch) lavishly with a group of cattle breeders, we proceeded to the stockyards and the awaiting cattle whose fate would be sealed as the highest bidder settled the issue.
My host is cobbling together different interests, he's following his father in the buying and selling of cattle right now. I asked him what his long terms goals were and he looked at me as if I was from Mars. "Long term goals?" We work a variety of jobs and go with what seems to offer the best opportunity". Career goals? He just laughed.

 This is immigrant populations with lots of Welsh, Italian,Basque,Slovak and other groups.  Towns like this exist in the rural periphery of Buenos Aires. I should say we're 3 hours away and definitely rural and not relating to Buenos Aires other than all traffic and commerce heads that way. Can't deny it.
The horse drawn carriage with the barker identifying different groups of cattle for sale. All done with a nod, a wink, a raised eyebrow.

 I went to one town for a cattle sale. It just happened to be  full of Basque descendants. They know family lines and history and who is related to whom whether you are from there or not. People are open and friendly and enquire about my trip. They invite me to dinner. They have long lost relatives who left Europe in 1900 and went to America. They feel a connection. We're all immigrants. Families went in different directions. Some went to North America and some to South America. Where else can you still find the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora but Buenos Aires?
Azul was built in 1832 at the direction of Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas as an outpost or fort, on the fringe 'of civilization' where the government attempted to control more and more land that previously was inhabited by wandering indian groups. Argentina did an even better job or subjugating the indigenous populations than we did in the USA.. Hardly any exist today. They 'honor' the indigenous populations by naming streets after them. Sound firmiliar?
Now it is all agriculture and cattle and the people are doing quite well by all standards.Some pictures of cattle stock yards will attest to the continuing investment in cattle, the struggle around planting Soybeans and the ongoing balance of a faltering economy.

Wait a minute. I'm getting way ahead of myself. From Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego up to here is about 3000 kms. All that distance is Pampa, wide open rock strewn territory that is governed in some areas by rabbits, foxes, and sheep and oh yes, oil. Some motorcyclists say it is a boring trip up the coast toward Buenos Aires. Used to rocky,crushed gravel roads which can be difficult in the best of conditions in the south, now it is paved, it is long, it is straight, it is still plagued by strong cross wind which add to the challenge or threat, however you frame it. The coastal dry sand dunes main attraction is the sealife, ranging, depending on the season,to Sea Lions, Penguins, and even touch calving whales, breeding grounds that allow close contact. That is the coast. As we move further north after several days of travel the landscape changes and what was once open rock strewn landscape becomes a little hillier, a little greener, some diversity is noted. Streams flow, grass grows, livestock is seen along the road munching away. All of a sudden you are in a different environment. The same, yes but different. Richer, visually and it excites you as you enter another zone.
I'm heading in this direction because there is a supposed 'outpost' of motorcycle enthusiasts who either live here or gather here and I want to find out what they are about.They live in Azul (Blue)
I'm also here, ahead of schedule, because I bought my 'cuchillos criollos, gaucho knives, hand made steel with traditional handles of deer horn and armadillo tails,etc.in another town close by and here I am.
The motorcycle group consists of perhaps 10-15 middle aged men with motorcycles who like to either talk about a trip they plan or a trip they made. Sound familar? All of this is equally spiced by long winded discourses on politics,etc. of which the Argentines cannot be outdone. Where else can a group of men spend a long evening talking tell 2 AM around a fire with beef and wine? I did this 3 times in a week. The only difference is that I didn't have to get up and go to work the next day. That didn't seem to stop them from connection which is VERY,VERY big here.They are affectionate, touch each other when talking, kiss on the cheek when meeting. Something missing in my life.
So here are some photos of the meals that a group of men put together and the 'clubhouse' filled with momentos and signs of world motorcycle travelers over they years who have passed this way coming or going to Buenos Aires ( 3 hours and a world away).

 my camping spot on Peninsula Valdez. The next site was this lovely 130 year old mansion in Azul. Built by a Brit with lots of money, it has many, many rooms, a huge pool and an assortment of cattle, horses, llamas and other critters on 120 acres. Small by comparison.

 Chacras de Azcona. My "digs"for 5 days longer than I intended to stay. Why do I have to put up with these meager dwellings???

An early 60's Citroen deux chevier still working and used daily.

The main house at Chacras de Azcona in Azul.

AZUL, Provincia de Buenos Aires- The Motorcycle Gang

I originally headed for Azul, a 'small town' of 60,000 some three hours outside the fringe of Buenos Aires to visit an 'outpost' 'la posta' de motoqueros, a small self supporting excuse to gather and tell stories, eat, drink and make friends. That I did. I was welcomed by Jorge, "El Pollo", his nickname meaning chicken, why, I have no idea except nicknames are common and used among friends. It is in his two car converted garage that this club house gathers. The walls are covered with writings, pictures, mementos from world wide motorcyclists who have stopped here over the years. It is a comfortable place especially when the parrilla fire is going and steaks and other meats are cooking away and the fresh bread, wine and salads cover the table. The place starts getting crowded. I'm the guest and everyone wants to hear stories and tell their own from years of motorcycle travels in Argentina and Chile. Here are some photos. I participated in three asados in one week. I wondered what their wives thought?
A German Couple (right side)each on BMW motorcycles. They've been on the road for several years. They settle when funds run low, work then continue on their way

up on the rafters go a momento of their visit

 joining us was a couple from Romania on their motorcycle.

 much political discussion takes place. All of these guys live and work in Azul, mostly in agricultural pursuits.

What a fabulous meal awaits us!