Thursday, October 12, 2006

Destination Buenos Aires

by Valorie Hart
Copyright (c) 1997-2000, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

As a first time visitor to Buenos Aires, and a personality in the Tango world and as a foreign woman, every person in Buenos Aires and every Argentino I know here in the United States have been curious about my impressions of the premiere city of Tango Argentino. When I was in Buenos Aires, the question how do you like our city was constantly asked with a cautious curiosity, as if I would answer in some negative way. Others before me have had a fair share of complaints coming from cultural differences, about the food to the smoking to the housing to the ways of social interaction to the infamous Buenos Aires taxis - you name it, and it's been discussed. My answer was, and is, always the same: me encanta Buenos Aires. Me encanta con todo (I am enchanted with Buenos Aires, enchanted with all). I loved the food, the city itself, the hustle and bustle (I lived in Manhattan, New York City for thirty years, so I am accustomed to the ways of a large and diverse city like Buenos Aires). The taxis were clean and the drivers nice enough. I loved the shops and the cafes. I loved the people. I loved the milongas, especially the milongas of the barrios - Sunderland in Villa Urquiza, Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo, Canning, Sin Rumbo, La Galeria in Boedo, Juvenil in Almagro, Los Andes near La Chacarita, Cochabamba in San Telmo, Salon La Argentina and Confiteria Ideal in the Centro, Club Almagro in Almagro and all the tango shows not for export.

I loved the city by day and the city by night. It truly is a city that never sleeps, even more so than New York City and Madrid. Of course, I was fortunate to have as my companion Alberto Paz, who grew up in Buenos Aires. I was also fortunate to have met so many wonderful people here in the United States from Buenos Aires, so that my going there felt like a natural homecoming. Most of all I loved the people of Buenos Aires. I can identify with the porteƱo spirit, similar in intensity to that of the native New Yorker. One of the most satisfying and emotional experiences for me was that of the city itself having a palpable feeling that it is the embodiment of the Tango. The very streets and barrios and places are the music of the Tango. Parque Patricios, Monserrat, Calle Corrientes. So many lyrics I had heard before became real as I walked the streets that inspired them. One day, after a rain, I stepped on a loose sidewalk paving stone, and hissing the appropriate epitaph in castellano, I heard igual que baldosa floja/salpico si alguien me pone el pie... in my head and I had to laugh with the joy of the common shared sense of it. I felt like I was living the Tango. The other musical education was in the milongas themselves, experiencing the unique ways the DJ's play the music. Music is played in tandas of four pieces of music, what we might call sets of music of the same rhythm. Purists would only play tandas of the same orchestra, say an all Pugliese set or Troilo or DiSarli or Tanturi. But mostly, the tandas are played of music, as famous DJ Felix Picherno explained to me, in the same line, mixing the orchestras but keeping in the same rhythm. Between each tanda a cortina is played. Since I know that cortina means curtain, I envisioned the idea of the use of the word being an imaginary stage curtain coming down and going up between each musical act (in this case the act being the tanda). This is my own twisted gringa logic that I share with you. I found many instances of words used in colloquial ways that defy the meaning of actual translation, and I was always told not to ask why, and just learn and accept the idiosyncrasies of Buenos Aires. But I digress. The cortina is only played for about sixty seconds and it's a piece of "non-danceable" music. The most interesting was a disco rendition of Por Una Cabeza played at La Galeria. When the cortina is played, everyone leaves the dance floor and goes back to their tables or to the bar, and starts the custom of catching the eye, the choosing of partners for the next tanda. Non-tango tandas are played too. The formula might go something like this: four fast tangos (like D'Arienzo, Biaggi, Di Angelis, Tanturi); cortina; four valses; cortina; four milongas; cortina; four slow tangos (like DiSarli, Pugliese, Troilo); cortina; four of the same kind of non-tango (we heard Dixieland, vintage Rock 'n Roll, Cumbias, Swing); cortina; four vintage tango (Canaro, Lomuto, Orchestra Tipica Victor), and so on with vals, milonga, tango, non-tango and all intermixed with the ever present cortina. One would think that the cortina would interrupt the flow or the groove, but on the contrary. The cortina gives an order to the dancing and the sociability of the milonga. It allows people to change partners, sit a tanda out and talk or drink. Partners are chosen for a myriad of reasons, but one of the criteria is how well you dance a particular rhythm. So if you're good at milonga, you'll be asked to dance the milonga tanda; if your good at vals the vals tanda, and so on and so on. Generally you are asked to dance the entire tanda. This is great. For the first piece of music you have the getting-to-know-you dance. The second gets a little more fluid. The third gets you in the groove, and what can I say about the fourth, except that it usually goes to that magic place of Tango trance time. After the high of the fourth dance (and the physical endurance), the cortina seems refreshing and necessary to bring you back down to earth. As with any person who mixes music for social dancing, each place and their DJ take on a personality. The notables in Buenos Aires now are the master Felix Picherna (Sunderland and other places), the hip and charming Horacio Godoy (La Estrella and Almagro - THE place to see and be seen), and the master mixer of the twenty something crowd adorable and gracious Claudio Castello who keeps the crowd rocking at Regin.

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