Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tango Time

Can I share a little more of my visit to Buenos Aires with you?  Hope this post doesn't go on too long, and just glad that my pictures are actually appearing for the moment.   Let's see how long that lasts, shall we?

Since it is Argentina, it IS Tango.  A little bit everywhere.  These two were dancing in front of the Parliament building.  A little like everywhere else, where you will find Michael Jackson impersonators moonwalking for spare change, in Argentina, it is someone who will tango.  Not being from there, it is sometimes hard to take it seriously, especially if you are not maybe SO comfortable with your own sexuality, or deep searching eye contact or just general PDA's (public displays of "affection").  

Or if you think that Tango is mostly trotted out for tourists and certain members of the public as a way to make a quick buck off of some scantily clad women.  (Such an original idea!)   But when you are in Argentina, you have to take it more seriously, and a little bit to heart.  It is quite a part of the culture and very much a part of the Argentine self-image of being passionate, expressive people with more than a few drops of volatile Italian blood.  Since the Paradis' were visiting Buenos Aires on business, we were treated by our hosts to quite an excellent (but not cheap) Tango show: Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel and Universe.  Which was to be found in an exceedingly glam new nightclub in the Porto Madera neighborhood.  Here's what your prospective fellow travelers have to say about it on Trip Advisor.  I agree.  You are not going there for the meal.

Let's also not forget that Argentina is a country that has gone through periods of dramatic well-being for some, and for very many, not so much!  And not so much! Again, very recently.  It's not surprising that they have a dance that expresses, in the metaphor of courtship, the intense struggle of daily existence and the endless confrontation of crushed hope and expectations.  On the other hand, there is joy, and relief, in dance.

If what you know about Argentina is mostly from Evita, make sure to get a bit of a guided tour if you go there.  (Or read up before hand!)  The guides we had were open, funny and irreverent.  The history and current realities of the place may yet surprise you. And for me, it was hard not to consider, how quickly America (the United States of....because Argentina is also America, you'll quickly be reminded) could arrive at a similar kind of edgy disappointment if we continue to allow our own democracy to become subsumed in reckless greed and military-industrial strong arming at the expense of too many .

Some things I did not know about Argentina:  it's population was once 40% black.  A slave population that was "managed" by putting them on the front lines of every war in the nation's history.  It is now not remotely evident that there were actually EVER any black people in Argentina.

The country's largest landowner is the Benetton family.  Yes that family.  Now you know why they don't need/you don't see so many shops any more!  The others with major land holdings you might recognize are Ted Turner, George Soros and Sly Stallone.

The only Harrods outside of London was once in Buenos Aires.   The building remains, with it's 80's style signage. When Mr. Al Fayed took over the company, the Argentine government of the time, declined to renew Harrod's trading license in Argentina.

The university system is free to anyone in the world who qualifies and has the appropriate papers to enter the country.

You will not see many Starbucks (any!?)  in Argentina.  The bad news or the good news is that most global chains that you have seen in other big cities have apparently not recently felt that Argentina was a good economy to invest in. (Land yes, coffee shops no?  Hmmmmmm)  Accordingly there is a sepia-tinted quality about Buenos Aires pervading it's food, it's neighborhoods and it's fashion, that is charming.  And a poncho and boots will never be wrong there.

I have never seen SOOOOO MANY BOOKSTORES!!!!! (I would go back just to take pictures of bookstores and learn Spanish so I could read them.)

There are stray cats and dogs-on-leashes everywhere.  The dogs are not picked-up after.  This can be traumatizing. Especially next to the zoo.

If you go to Argentina and you like dulce de leche.  You will be very very happy.  And you will have to eat Alfajores. (Eat the super-fresh ones from a good bakery - get your calories' worth of flavor!  The packaged chain "coffee shop" ones are ... packaged  - from a coffee shop! )   Although a friend recommends Vauquitas (at Kiosks - also alfajores - don't ask for Vaquitas they won't know what you're asking for!)

p.s.  It is easy and cheap to jump in a Radio Taxi (don't take the other kind).   Since they're so cheap, you can tip them well.  They're like old-school NYC  cab drivers - if you can speak Spanish with them, I'm sure it would be interesting.  I decided they're all old soccer players and musicians trying to eke out a living on taxi driving and dreams.

Tell them I sent you.


  1. Great to start the day by reading your post! I've been there 10 years ago, a couple of months before Argentinian economy colapsed. From BA, I took a bus to go to Lima, Peru, passing by Chile. I wanted to see landscapes ;-) 80 hours in a bad bus but funny memories... I was also surprising by the amount of libraries... and the price of books which was then the same as in Europe. Santa Evita (T. Eloy Martinez) and A los 20 años Luz (Elsa Osorio) are great books to travel in Buenos Aires and in time (a lot of argentinian authors are translated into english of French). I thought that slavery was prohibed there. It's always impressive to remember that BA was sometimes like the Paris of Latin America... Oh, and BTW, since I've been in Argentina, Chile and Peru, I never say "America" for USA ;-)
    we want more pics!!!

  2. Oh love your words and photos!
    Yes to alfajores (especially alfajores!) and books and tango!

  3. Globe Trekker step aside...MP, you are the best darn tour guide ever. I feel like I really learned something here. A real sneak peek behind the scenes. Love your perspective and observations... keep them coming. xo

  4. I loved that post! I have wanted to go to Argentina for so long, but I always had to go the opposite way – to France. My mother was an ardent tango dancer and she taught me when I was very young to dance with her (since my father had been badly injured in WW2.) She had had a fiancé who emigrated to Argentina – he wanted her to go, she did not want to leave Paris. I wrote a post about my mother and the tango if you wish to read it:

  5. so informative :D and love those tango pics!