Michael and I are two smart tangueros and we need to buy the lastest fashion in trousers - 'los pantalones'. So we head for Avenida Pueyrredon 367 in Once, Balvanera.
Usually, I would be an active/passive presence supporting Stephanie when she shops for clothes, and likewise Michael with Lucia. Today, it is just men shopping together, an altogether different experience. Men tend to shop with a determination to complete the task, then to go for a beer. We board the 168 colectivo for Pueyrredon, a wide busy road that crosses the city from south to north. The road is full of traffic, today impatiently running the lights in the heat. The sidewalks are totally congested with Portenos - they too are shopping, but the main street sales are plastic shoes, tee shirts, and simple necessities. The traders spill along the pavement leaving room for just two files of shoppers to pass. My hand goes defensively to my wallet.
Pueyrredon 367 is a very ordinary clothes shop from the outside. The windows are set back at 90 degrees to the footway, so in passing you hardly notice the shop at all. Stepping into the entrance it is clear this is a shop solely for men, and for tangueros. The displays show an ordinary array of jackets and trousers, shirts and ties. Yet inside is quite unexpected.
There can hardly be a centimeter of wall or ceiling that is not festooned with trousers. Where there is no more room for trousers, there are rails of jackets and shelves of shirts. Everything speaks tango. Above us - maybe 10 feet - is a rack of jackets, some of royal blue, orange and lime, trimmed with edging of grey. The trousers are of all colours imaginable, and every cloth and texture. Here are silver with gold, there red with a line. You seek a shiny suit? There are plenty of them, maybe a hundred.
Both Michael and I head for the same rack. We are different in stature, but both share a similar waist size. All of the trousers here are made to the same length and shortened to fit before purchase. We lift down maybe thirty pairs of trousers of every type imaginable. In the rack below we examine the Italian style - classier and more expensive, but still a third of the price elsewhere. Michael with immaculate taste selects a pair in black bearing four front pleats with a discrete double pin stripe. I cast an eye over the grey striped pantalones but reject the burgundy. As Michael strolls from the changing cubicle it is clear that his choice is perfect - but for the circus size that swamps him.
Michael returns to the search - so I try those he rejected, and amazingly they fit me to perfection. The cracked full-length mirror shows not me, but an elegant and sophisticated tanguero in my place. The moment reminds me why women shop together.
Two machinists - both men, for there is not a woman in the shop - set to work on a leg apiece. Nimble fingers hand-stitch the trousers to 33 inch length. As I wait I glance to the ceiling. Racks, and more racks of trousers disappear into the recesses, as if reflected in opposing mirrors. How can they know what is up there? How can they retrieve them from such a height?
My pesos slip into his hand, and the plastic bag containing my new tango trousers slips into mine. We hug - both sensing appreciation for the deal. Michael's new trousers must wait.... but I am sorted.
Inside was a cool gloomy cavern; outside a vibrant, noisy, chaotic city. The hot air of the street hits us as we leave.
"Let's celebrate", says Michael. "Its time for a beer".