Friday, 14 September 2007

Buenos Aires Sunday 1st April

01 Apr 2007

Its Sunday 1st April, so I have been here for just over a week. It feels like a month with so much happening: finding my way around, learning how to do things the Argentine way, taking a new pace on life: both quick and slow, and dancing tango at last!
Oscar (who spends half of the year in Toronto with his beautiful Canadian wife Mary) is my tango teacher. He is inspirational and has in just three lessons taken me from diffident incompetence to the stage where tango is becoming possible. He and Mary live just 10 minutes away from my apartment, in Bartolome Mitre, straight off the busy street through a high wrought iron glazed door, along a deep, dark corridor, up a marble staircase to his studio which perches at the top of the house. There he teaches the occasional student, but more importantly, plans his next venture: his tango academy! His parents famously ran a tango milonga many years ago, and so this will be full circle for him. After our lesson (which lasts as long as it hour, or an hour and a half) we leave Mary; and go for coffee, to talk about tango and life, about intention and destiny, women and desire, substance and hope.

I have now attended three milongas -on Oscar´s instruction, to observe rather than to dance. The first, Nino Bien in Humberto Primo 1462, was like stepping back to the 1930s. The tangueras of all ages sat on one side of the room, dressed to draw attention to their beauty, and the men on the other side, some wearing suits and drinking champagne. Attracting a partner is a skill which needs to be learned. The 'cabeceo', almost imperceptible eye contact secures the dance. The woman will look and nod, and the man will rise, gracefully and without haste, walking towards his partner who will only rise as he reaches her table. He will wait at the side of the floor and she will approach and be taken into the embrace, then gently drawn into a trance-like dance, her eyes closed, her head against his face or chest, where decisions are his and his lead supreme. The result is spectacular, and only possible because of the culture that conceived it.

My first dance was with an Argentine tanguera who was placed so close to my table at the second milonga, that we had to talk. She was tall and striking and had danced for a year. She agreed to dance and was most gentle with me for my first attempt at proper tango. Tonight, Oscar expects me to dance under his watchful eye. He is to introduce me to his friends who attend this special milonga in the city. That will be my next blog entry!

Life in Buenos Aires is a cross between western European civilisation and chaos. Things work, every so often, like the buses, but not the trains, like the traffic but not the pavements, like the tango but not the government. It is a rich tapestry of ideas, political demonstration, conversation, passion and survival. The rich are rich and the poor are very poor. The peso is weak, but there is hope and style. And it draws you in to its exciting and challenging ways.