I think my favorite feature about Buenos Aires is that all over the city on any given night are a number of locations - clubs, boites, community centers – that teach the tango to the city’s citizens (and ambitious tourists.). This dance, which originated in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century along with the inimitable tango music, combined rhythms from Africa, Spain and Cuba with the music of a vast population of immigrants from Europe. By the 1920’s, not only had it become chic in Buenos Aires and across the La Plata River in Montevideo, but in Paris, as well. Serious musicians formed tango orchestras, and the endless variety of tango steps and flourishes sprang forth. Tango’s popularity had ups and downs amidst right-wing dictatorships, the military junta and even the arrival of rock and roll. It looks like it is here to stay, which makes this dance-lover as ecstatic as the fierce, elegant, seductive dance itself. Yes, we spent an evening at a club with a group lesson going on. I was able to supplement my one all-day tango lesson ten years ago in New York with a couple of new steps and a renewed sense of the spirit of the tango (which borrows some of its flame from flamenco – my theory).
I also love the emphasis on design in Buenos Aires. From several museums dedicated to design to the incredible ubiquitous store design to shops dedicated to excellent local designers of clothing, jewelry and all sorts of wares, one feels the intentionality of beauty in the city. Not to mention that a significant portion of Buenos Aires looks like Beaux Arts Paris. As Newton’s cousin from São Paulo commented on our photo here, Buenos Aires “is our Paris.”
One must then extrapolate third world realities and reconcile the battered sidewalks…speaking of which, they have no pooper scooper laws; the famous baroque bureaucracy; a malfunctioning post office; and the fact that poor squatters from elsewhere can shut down an entire truck-lined highway in one direction on a Saturday to emphasize the need for a school bus in their recently-erected neighborhood. In this case the logjam was not caused by a typical truckers’ strike.
But I’ll get back to the beauty, as we were re-impressed (we’d both been here before years ago) by the acres and acres of gorgeous open green spaces that we passed just getting from the airport to our old friends’ Joe and Guadalupe’s apartment in the Recoleta neighborhood. The boulevards are so wide that one needs two cycles of ‘walk’ signals to get across, but there’s something akin to yet another park down the center! There are loads of these outstretched trees everywhere.
We had a thrilling evening with our friends at the restored-to-grandeur Teatro Colón, where the Orquesta Filarmónica played early 20th century atonal Shostakovich and Richard Strauss (not Johann) to such perfection that it might as well have been tonal, it was so disarming.
After the concert, we loved the hip décor, hustling young handsome waiters, diverse crowd and excellent pizza at Piola (Libertad 1078).
Joe and Guadalupe lived in Manhattan for many years. Now they divide their time between Buenos Aires and Cleveland, Ohio. They frequent the Jockey Club when they’re in town, and we had a fun, if not profitable, Saturday with them there.
We loved the famous old Recoleta cemetery, and when Joe and Guadalupe had to prepare for their return to Cleveland, we got a hotel room in a cozy niche across the street.
We had a morning at the serene Jardín Japonés, a gift from Japan and one of countless gardens in the city.
We adored the San Telmo neighborhood Sunday market and spent the day on the square and along the avenues lined with venders, replacing our stolen leather wallets, securing a Cuban cigar for a friend, finding two small antique snifters, and loving an exquisite rendition of street tango music delivered on a small keyboard and an accordion. Because the Brazilian ‘real’ currency is strong there are many Brazilian tourists in the city, so the tango segued into Brazilian samba with a large imported rhythm section. Some years Brazil gets the Argentine tourists! Newton decided to use English with our hotel desk clerk after she appeared less-than-amused by the Brazilians there; the rivalry is old and involves soccer, economies, arrogance, etc.. Where wine is concerned, I say Argentina wins. We had such great inexpensive wines, unaccustomed as we are. The food is also wonderful, and what fun to go out for a week and spend so little.
But we must recommend the best place of all…not so inexpensive, but with the most creative chef and chic design: Tegui in the Hollywood section of Palermo (5852 Costa Rica).
We were there at night with romantic lighting, but I found this wide black and white stripe wall to the right, opposite the lush garden on the left, one of the most stunning restaurants I’ve ever experienced.
Newton was always happy anywhere he had Argentine beef and ‘papas fritas:’
Needless to say, our suitcases clanked with wine bottles when we caught our flights home. We’re still enjoying it, along with more tango music on the iPod at which cue I leap up and assume a strong-but-slivery stance and pretend as I saunter that my flip-flops are stilettos.