Monday, 12 March 2012

Flor de Milonga



Colectivo no 10 tears along Chacabuco in the direction of Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo. I disembark at Carlos Calvo, the doors crashing to close, the engine screams, and the faces of the tired and weary stare out at me as they are propelled towards their homes in La Boca and Barracas.

With the bus departed, I am now strolling in gentle afternoon sunshine. Humberto Primo is quiet. A young couple sit on their doorstep, deep in conversation, an elderly woman sweeps her first floor balcony with a long handled broom, and the ancient, weather-beaten, unofficial parking attendant guides - with his grey duster - a rusting Ford Falcon into a tiny space.

My current destination is the bakery in Peru. There with a smile, and perhaps a free taster, I will be served with biscuits, bread and media lunas. Calling for fresh ground coffee (sin azucar) at the Chinese supermarket, I shall return home to El Sol, to relax on the roof terrace, observing the cloudless sky, with the sound of city below.

Today is Tuesday, and Tuesday in San Telmo means Flor de Milonga.

As my early readers will recall, on my first visit to Buenos Aires in 2007 I danced with Lucia at El Arranque. La flaca Lucia was described by the old milongueros as "their favourite tanguera". She started life as a waitress at a prominent milonga, but was soon in demand when the milongueros realised that she could dance...not just well, but without equal. Part of her fate -as a dancer - was then sealed. The other part was sealed by dancing with Gerry from Ireland, whose great charm was not to go un-noticed. They now share their lives and run Flor de Milonga together, assisted and enlivened by their playful daughter Michelle.

My tango shoes are strapped to my back as I slam and double lock the hostel's outside door. The air is cool, and darkness has dropped across the roofs of San Telmo. The streets themselves are never dark, unless shadowed by tall plane trees. I turn back towards Peru and within 5 minutes reach Avendia Independencia 572.

As ever, the milonga's secret is given away by the sound of tango, drifting from the upstairs balcony to the street. Just inside the doorway is the Flor de Milonga sign, and the staircase that ascends to the first floor studio. That sense of fascination rises each time I visit Lucia and Gerry's milonga. From the top of the stairs I see figures moving to music. Tonight the club is popular, but not too crowded, affording the rare opportunity to move on a milonga floor. Gerry greets me at the door, and Lucia blows a kiss. For those that haven't been to Flor de Milonga - this is a bohemian space that time forgot. If one could step back twenty, thirty years, Lucia y Gerry's forbearers would be circulating to some of the same tunes and dancing the same steps. There too would be the shadowy figure of a lone dancer in the corner of the room, and the pretty tanguera fastening her shoes. It is hard to imagine a trip to Buenos Aires without the Flor de Milonga magic.

I take a table by the pista and sip sparkling water. Her shoes, now secure, she accepts my cabeceo, and we dance. I sense the moonlight on the trees below the salon balcony. I hear a gentle breeze stir the leaves. And I am lost in tango as we dissolve amongst the dancers, seeking the secrets of Flor de Milonga.