Thursday, 24 October 2013

Manolo y Salon Cochabamba

Crossing Avenida San Juan after dark is not for the feint hearted. Here, you leave San Telmo for Constituion - a bario with a chequered reputation. Portenos who are unfamiliar with the bario will avoid walking there, preferring to travel by taxi.

Intrepid, Stephanie and I decide to set out on foot. Our first stop is Cochabamba 444, the home of Solon Cochabamba, a lively young milonga. The street is grey and overcast by the autopista which travels out of the city towards the airport on huge concrete gantries. The milonga salon leads straight from the street. Inside is bright, with seating each side and tables across the far side adjacent to the bar.

The milonga is filling as we arrive, but Gerry and Lucia have reserved a large table for their guests. We settle and look across the pista. D'Arienzo's Lagrimas y sonrisas is playing, and this is our prompt to dance.

Here are some excellent tangueros, mostly younger and full of vitality. We are able to step out and break away from the tight milonguero style whilst the floor is relatively quiet. As the evening progresses, Salon Cochabamba draws a larger  contingent of ever younger dancers, and the floor becomes tight, requiring precise definition and expression.

It is Lucia's birthday, so we stay for the birthday vals and the cutting of a huge cake in three separate tiers - so large that everyone seems to get a piece.

After the heat of the milonga, the air outside is cool and fresh. The large tree at the junction with Defensa is opening into full spring-time leaf and shadows dance in the breeze. We turn left - our next destination being Bolivar 1299 - the Restaurant Manolo.

I am yet to decipher the history of the eighty year old Restaurant Manolo, so if you can help, do contribute below. The restaurant appears suddenly and inauspiciously in Cochabamba, with windows on two sides. Arriving at the door, we press the bell, and the door catch is released. As elsewhere here in Buenos Aires, security is taken seriously.

Inside, Restaurant Manolo reflects its founding owner. The tables are dressed with linen cloths, and all of the waiters (exclusively male) wear white shirts and long aprons. Each carries a serviette over their left arm, and at their side all of the equipment necessary to open every bottle. There is a collegiate uniformity and calmness about them. Our favourite waiter takes us to one of his tables. We glance about the salon. At one end the restaurant's association with La Boca Juniors is evident. Football shirts and photographs festoon the walls.

La Boca Juniors is not simply a football team. For those who do not know about football in Argentina, it is arguably more important than politics. When La Boca do not win, depression sets in. In the barios of San Telmo, Constitution and of course, La Boca, the team is as important as family. Their blue and white strip reflects the colours of the nation, and a La Boca win can wipe out the national debt for a night in the imagination of its supporters.

The bife churiso mariposa is sufficient for two to share, with a mixed salad dressed by the waiter at the table and accompanied by a bottle of Bodega Septima malbec. For dessert we share a zabaglione, warm, frothy and full of Marsala wine. Limoncello is served as a digestif.

We are the only tourists - the clientele being local families and couples. The restaurant lies just sufficiently beyond the tourist safety zone as to be preserved for posterity. The bill (for those that need to know) is 350 pesos.

We leave and saunter into the night air. It is a full moon and traces of high cloud shadow its huge globe. We ignore the taxi that slides past hoping for a fare. The cartoneros are out, collecting cardboard and plastic from the large wheeled bins, in small handcarts. The sound of the city re-imerges as we make our way across Avenida San Juan and into Chacabuco and home.