Sunday, 8 March 2015

San Telmo Sunday

Sunday in Buenos Aires is a most relaxing day. Traffic halves - and slows from a gallop to a trot, particularly the taxis that coast at walking pace looking for fares. Avenida Independencia is almost deserted. Gone are the trucks and deliveries, the pick-up and drop-offs, the honking horns, the blaring radios. Even the colectivos have a relative calm as they slide the calles without racing the lights.

Defensa is closed to vehicles; and is now a sea of humanity - the traders and performers, the ice cream and empanada vendors. On one side hand made jewellery and leather goods are spread out on bright cloths their makers sat on kerbs, low stools or haunches; on the other, the table stalls with deep awnings for shade. Here is every variety of tourist, from North America, Europe, China, Japan and of course the other states of the south. Occasionally, an English voice will penetrate the hubub and we will discretely look away.

Today is the day for a specific search. I descend the calle from Plaza Dorrego, leaving behind the ancient tango performers who have danced together on the same worn piece of hardboard at the same corner for two generations. Their mature daughter joins them now to support and share the performance burden, but the death of just one parent will mean the demise of this particular tradition. The antique stalls give way to tables of scarves, bags, incense burners, carved wooden figures; and to the street performers.

Just beyond Dorrego a slight Porteno in his early 50's breathes life into a wooden puppet which collapses drunkenly against a miniature lamp post. Further, the 'Spirit of Carlos Gardel' stands on a crate to sing. He, like many of the performers, has been at this same spot for decades, his grey hair contrasting with the black brylcreem of a creased Gardel poster.

I pause to greet Alvero, who makes and decorates didgeridoos with Inca patterns and animal designs. He smiles widely and greets me in Castellano. I am yet to see him make a sale, but he always exudes joy and energy. I want to shout to the crowd "Buy a didgeridoo from my friend" until I remember that, for some reason, I too am yet to buy one.

It is after midday and the sun is intense. Passers-by strive for the shaded areas of pavement, others move leisurely between the canopies over the stalls. The older traders display deep indented lines on their dark tanned faces and hands - a sign of their time on the street. To my right now is the parking yard, in weekdays full of cars, but today full of diners sat at small tables eating beef from the parilla. Towards the rear, a band of musiciens folklorique play a zamba.

In Defensa you are never far away from tango - a song, a dance, an apron embellished with the word, the playing of a CD from an open doorway. Later, at Plaza Dorrego, the square will be transformed into an open air milonga, the dancers treading carefully across lose-taped matting to a slow tango or vals.

I slip unnoticed from Defensa turning to my left and into Bolivar, joining again the slow passage of two taxis and a motorcycle. Here, a porteno shakes a mat from a balcony, a dog barks, and a roller shutter grinds to a close. Two young lovers sit on a step, their eyes glued together oblivious of my passing. Ahead, the lights change to green and the rush returns for a just a moment - but like a breath, to be followed by a San Telmo Sunday pause.