Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Los Laureles

Barbara announces that she, Amber, Mercedes together with other friends will be going to Los Laureles to dine and to dance.

Los Laureles is deep in bario Barracas, so deep that it almost kisses the Riachuelo, the river that feeds the old port of La Boca; so far that it drops off my map of Buenos Aires. Omni Lineas tells me that colectivo 24, 45 or 70 will take us from San Telmo to Avenida General Iriarte 2290, and so we steer up Chile, avoiding the carnival revellers, to Avenida 9 Julio to catch the bus.

Save for a detour to Av Regiamento de Patricios, colectivo 70 races through La Boca towards Barracus and, twenty minutes later, we decamp almost at the door of Los Laureles.

Few old bars of this character remain in the bario - here since the 1890's, formerly a general store with a tap room, but since its early years as the hot-bed of political intrigue. From the 1920's to 1940's Los Laureles became a tango bar of distinction due to the presence of José Angel Lomio - the tango tenor known as Angel Vargas. He was shortly to join Angel D'Agostino, leader of one of the great tango orchestras.  Enrique Cadícamo, tango lyricist  and tango composer Juan Carlos Cobian also frequented the bar. It now retains the mantle of one of the best known tango bars in the Capital Federal.

We choose to enter through the side door which leads directly to the packed dining area, a busy bar running to our right. Along the far wall are rows of chalk boards showing tonight's specials. Further over are photos reflecting the bar's history. Towards the street side is the tango floor, the band perched in the corner - violin, bass, piano and bandoneon. Dancers circle the small tight floor, in close embrace, without the gender divide of leading and following. Here a young athletic youth is led by his tall female partner, towards the back of the floor two men exchange leads. Mercedes is already on the dance floor showing her virtuosity as she leads a young woman into an ocho.

We join the diners at one of the tables scattered around the tiny pista. Dressed with heavy, white linen cloths, each is covered with dishes and glasses, the favoured tables nestling close to the dance floor. Waiters rush conspicuously delivering pizza and other light meals.

Tonight we are not eating - simply dancing. We leave glasses of chilled white wine and slip gently into the pista. The violin and bandoneon tease each other with contra-rhythms as we close our embrace. You sense the history of Los Laureles seeming into dance - with moments of astute character followed by fragments of silence. Only the voice of Angel Vargas is missing.

Between tandas we return to the table to chat, cabeceo and taste the crisp Argentine Chardonnay. The evening becomes suffused with the fragrance of timelessness - like the slow moving sepia images of dancers projected to the screen.

Following the short performance by dancers making a neat professional debut, we leave the bar. Outside, the midnight air is fresh and we await the colectivo which arrives in a late-night hurry of screaming gears and rattling coachwork. A breeze through the open window refreshes. Soon, we cross Av San Juan and enter 9 de Julio, telling us that this special journey is over, and another delicious night of tango slips into memory.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

De Querusa

Sitting at the entrance desk playing guitar, Luciano greets us with a wide smile. This is our first visit to 'De Querusa Practica'.

Organised by Andres 'tanguito' Cejas, Noelia Coletti and Pablo Giorgini this has to be one of the smartest places to dance Argentine tango in Buenos Aires - not for the venue, but for the tangueros. This is a place for the beautiful and the competent.

Taking colectivo 126 from Bolivar/Independencia, San Telmo, a rapid, rattling journey of just over 20 minutes brings you to Carlos Calvo 3745. The doorway is within metres of the bus stop, leading straight from the street to an open reception area. Behind, the sound of tango and Tanguito's encouraging tones as the initial lesson comes to an end. Luciano looks up, offers a big hug and welcomes us to the practica.

The well lit salon is large and long, lined by small tables; with a huge seating area towards the rear of the room - leading to a café bar from which pizzas and empanadas are already being carried by hungry dancers. A dozen couples remain on the pista, developing their recently acquired or practised steps, each one showing the gorgeousness that is Buenos Aires in what they do, how they do it, and fascinatingly, how beautiful they look.

Luise, Stephanie and I take seats near the door to change our shoes. Now is a moment to take in the essence of De Querusa Practica. The average age here is youthful - 20-40, but with a sprinkling of mature tangueros of distinction, or those that retain the quick confidence to partner the young and energetic. The old milongueros seen at other milongas are replaced by rows of attractive men and women. The DJ sits on a low stage above the pista, and below him the tangueras, like a chocolate box of treats.

It is early in the evening and the floor is relatively clear, with space to walk and to dance. Luise accepts my cabeceo and we slip silently into the ronda. Embrace is close and each move is accompanied by a breath and the gentle intimacy that is tango. Around us, other tangueros dance using space intelligently and with respect. Those entering the pista check for the moment and await an acknowledgement to join the ronda.

Nearly four hours slip by in a trice, with elegance and joy. Relieved from his door-keeping duties, Luciano arrives to invite Stephanie to dance a tanda. The stage-side line of tangueras look on longingly as Luciano strides out, and another dream is made.

The bus to return home screeches to a stop, and we board clutching our tango shoes. We race along Av San Juan. After the elegance of De Querusa, the lines of boarding late-night revellers seem dull. And so we are whisked back into the reality of real time, towards the bario of San Telmo.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Walk in the Rain

Wednesday 18 February - Avenida Callao - it is starting to rain.

I have just left Cuatro Corazones at Callao 257 3A clutching new tango clothes, and exited from the marble hall through glass doors into an overcast street. Ahead, passing in waves and streams, walk porteños - families with small children, elderly couples, teenagers and individuals - some chatting together with animation; others silently - as if caught in pensive, reflective moments of time.

I am witnessing the early stage of the silent protest to remember Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor who died of a single bullet to the head just hours before he was to give evidence to inculpate the President in a political cover-up, shielding Iranian officials from the AMIA Jewish-Argentine charity federation bombing.

The tides of porteños become blocks of silent, walking humanity, and the first few drops of rain catch my arm. I dart for the cover of overhanging eves and one of the avenida's few trees just as the droplets become a downpour, and streams of water gush along the deep concrete drains. In an instant, the scene becomes a moving sea of umbrellas - a complex design of circles and octagons of all colours, between which flutter the blue and white of Argentine flags.

What is so remarkable about the scene is the maturity of the crowd. Here stands a tall, middle aged doctor from Belgrano, his navy blazer contrasting with sharp-creased cream trousers, his hand-made shoes soaking up the rivulets of rain. Nearby, a family group of a dozen shelter under six umbrellas, their raincoats flapping in the warm breeze. Only the street dwellers and those that care not about governments are missing. Otherwise, we have the whole spread of Argentine society standing silently together for one cause.

The crowd moves forwards. The rain now is so intense that the presence of an umbrella is quite academic - for the cover provided ignores the fact that streams of rain are pouring from those alongside.

My tango purchases seem now an irrelevance. The moment arrives when you give into the rain - allowing it to wash the tears of Nisman.


Friday, 13 February 2015

Arrival in Buenos Aires

Perfect blue skies, and sunshine, a copper butterfly weaves past to the shade of the vine that plaits the garden wall. Nearby, a clatter of Sunday lunch plates.  Further, bird song and the occasional screech of a flight of parrots, and more distant, a drum foretelling the start of carnival.

Yes, it is now four days since arrival in Buenos Aires. Taking the direct, overnight flight with British Airways, we touched down shortly after 10 am on Wednesday, passed slowly through the eight congested immigration booths, out into the bright light of Ezeiza airport and onward by Manuel Tienda Leon coach to the Capital Federal.

On Calle Peru, San Telmo, Carolina's apartment rented for the next 9 weeks, sits at the rear of the house. The entrance way to the historic building is grand and opulent, floodlit for effect at night. Tall dark oak doors lead by chestnut marble steps to a pale marble outer salon and thence to the courtyard enclosed garden via rich stained glass doors. Beyond, the tap-tap of an old clerk typing at a 1970's electric typewriter.

From the garden, the way to the apartment is by a turned flight of twenty two steps bordered by exotic plants. Here, then, is the balcony overlooking the garden. Through period double doors - a bright 'loft within a loft', the sleeping area gained by a spiral staircase spans the light and airy living space. It was described as a haven, and it most certainly is.

For those unfamiliar with Buenos Aires, San Telmo is the oldest part of the city - bohemian, artistic, culture-rich bario, comprising a close-nit grid of narrow streets separated by the grander tree-lined avenidas. It is here that tourists and the Portenos co-exist side-by-side, apartment by apartment, producing a rich mix of energy and colour. After 15 months in Buenos Aires, I feel possessive and safe in San Telmo. Of course, safety is an illusion in a city where inflation racks the price of bread each week.

But for the moment, arrival is as sweet as the air of Buenos Aires is fresh.