Friday, 30 December 2016

El Rey do los Pantalones, Once

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". 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Agustina Vignau y Hugo Mastrolorenzo at Yira Yira

Friday night is Yira Yira milonga in Humberto Primo 1462, a location which some readers will recognize from a previous blog about Los Consagrados. 

On different days and nights, different organisers arrange their particular milonga at the most popular venues, of which Humberto Primo 1462 is one. Yira Yira is organised by Ana Dani, making it one of the more popular events in the week and a must for a Friday night. 

We set off from Casa Luna to walk the few blocks along San Jose. The night is close, but dry. The evening feels relaxed. We are just two days from Christmas Day, but there is little sign of Christmas festivities or decorations. Occasionally coloured lights may flicker, but otherwise is it just another night in the city.

Tonight Stephanie and I sit with Porteno friends at their table. Not quite together - just slightly apart, for together would signify that we were there 'as a couple' and reduce the invitations to dance. Where you sit at a milonga can make all the difference between 'another night' and 'a special night'. The local regular milongueros know who sits where, who to cabeceo, and generally who not to invite to dance. Likewise, the discerning visiting tanguera is looking to dance with Portenos and not tourists, and a seat at the back with another English, Dutch, German or American is not the best place to be.

Stephanie and I dance our first tanda together. As we enter the pista we feel the moment of inspection from tangueros at tables alongside the pista. The question of status at the milonga is all to do with tango skills. Everyone arrives equal, but soon to be divided into those with recognisable skills and those without. The first tanda establishes one's place in that order. Experienced tangueros lose interest if tango skill is not immediately evident, the less skilled watch for the duration of the first song. Shortly afterwards, Stephanie is cabeceod by one of the older milongueros. Success!

I dance a series of tandas with different tangueras, some local and some tourist. The dancing here at Yira Yira is smooth and unhurried. There is an adherence to the codigos of tango - the rules governing behaviour on and off the dance floor. We make gentle progress around the floor, aiming to conclude the tanda at the exact point at which we started - meaning that the woman is right by her table, rather than having to be walked back across a crowded floor. 

It is then that I receive a mirada from across the pista. I have seen her dance; she rarely misses a tanda unless declining to rest. She is taller than many of the Portenos, suggesting that she may be a visitor too. But she dances with experience and grace. She rises as I reach her seat. We step onto the pista. Our embrace is unhurried...slow...tender....expressive. I sense her balance and we step into the dance. We walk. 

This is a different experience from that hitherto. She is an exceptional dancer, totally at home on the pista. There are moments of pace; and others of gradual movement, as if unwinding seamlessly. Some moments seem to pause and cling in the air, our breathing totally synchronised. 

The codigos - traditions - require that conversation is confined to that moment between the three or four songs of a tanda. The first song over, she speaks in Castillano, asking me whether I am Porteno. I say no, and we smile, me being flattered to be so asked, her for the success of her piropo. 

Each song brings a further delight. As we become familiar with each other's weight and style, our dance becomes more complex - not in steps, but in intention. I lead, she plays. I invite, she accepts, perhaps with a breath or fleeting decoration. I inhale, she lifts. I stride, she responds. 

The tanda is over too soon. We finish right against her table. I stroll back to my seat with a grin.

As I reach the end of the salon, the lights change. Now is the moment you, my readers, have been waiting for, and almost certainly why you are reading this particular blog. The performance.

I noticed him first. It was his hair. Dyed blond, a flap of thick hair to the crown, the sides shaven. In fact he looked out of place at this milonga, belonging in appearance more appositely to a rock concert. His jacket bore patches of dust; his trousers baggy and shapeless. Then I noticed her. Quite tall, slim, beautiful, with an impossible flexibility. 

She wears a dress that is slashed to the navel, the front covered with roses. They enter the pista, not as do other performers, but with a singularity that is hard to capture in words. Yes, these are the Stage Tango World Champions of 2016 and don't we know it. Not from the point of view of arrogance, of which there is no sign whatsoever, but simply from the massive level of performance and technique and style. Their tango is one of angst, each rose being ripped from her dress - by him and by her. Our emotions are exhausted simply by the display, but our sense of occasion is heightened by their skills. It is one of those times when you look back with memories and say "I was there" was President Kennedy's death; it was the birth of a child; it was Queen's last concert together. 

'Stage tango' takes tango to another level, one unreal for social tangueros, but presenting a show-case of the core skills. We watch in wonder, spellbound. Moments or rippling applause pepper the performance, but most sit or stand wrapped by the moment. As the first part of the performance concludes, the audience break into cheers of excitement. And Hugo y Agustina leave the floor.

For their last performance of the night, Hugo wears 'that jacket', its meaning now clear. Between them they carry a bird cage containing a helium balloon. This is the dance that propelled them to World Champions earlier this year, as controversially as the way in which Piazzola entered the tango scene. No one doubted their right to be champions; but some were simply not ready for the drama of their performance. The audience falls silent. The dance is not to music, but to voice. Their expressions are those of mime, as much as of tango. 

They, and the cage, take the applause as actors in the most remarkable event. No formal bows, here are peeking displays to the crowded tables, as if the performers are glancing through windows to the world. Tangueros dart to capture the momento of a fallen rose. 'Memorable' is too unmemorable a word. 'Life changing' would be a word too far. But somewhere between is the correct and appropriate description of a feeling danced. And we know that, if Buenos Aires deliveres no more, this would have been enough.

It is later at Casa Luna with a glass of chilled white wine, that we reflect. A bright red paper rose lies between us.  Will we see the like again? Perhaps we may; but not as it was this night, in the steamy milonga of Ana Dani at Yira Yira, with the swell of Portenos, and the knowledge that the memory is for ever ours.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Teatro y Tango

When civilisation as we know it, ends, there will still be music -  there will still be tango.

Teatro Colon is Buenos Aires' premier theatre. Using the search facility at the side of my blog, readers will be able to see what I have written about this wonderful building, and my previous visit.

Michael informs us that he will procure tickets for a 'rehearsal performance' at the theatre. Each Wednesday, the theatre is opened for Portenos to attend the 11 am final rehearsal of the week's programme for which tickets are free if collected the day before.

We set off on collective 59 for Teatro Colon, disembarking at Obelisco Norte in the city centre. With the recently introduced Metrobus, travelling uninterrupted along the centre of 9 de Julio, the journey is quick, efficient, and economic at a 6.5 peso fare.

Our early arrival affords us the opportunity to savour the atmosphere and architecture of the auditorium - horseshoe shaped, its huge splendor with circle balconies above cascading in tiers, every section dressed with rich brocade curtains held back on brass arms. At each level clusters of Art Deco lamps - 7+4 at the first level, 5+3 at the next, and so on to 'the Gods'. Above us, illuminated by countless lights, the famous 318  square meter dome decorated by Raul Soldi, on which a choir can be seated as if to sing from heaven. 

But today is an orchestra rehearsal, hence the free invitation, so no heavenly choir. The musicians are dressed in day clothes, some wearing jeans and tee shirts, others in bright summer dresses. They start to tune up and the sound amplifies. French horns find their pitch, the flautists practice their arpeggios, the second cello wriggles his toes in his sandals. 

The leader arrives promptly at 11 am and the orchestra instantly subdues. It is as if  'teacher' has entered the room. There is silence whilst he secures unity of pitch, without oscillation to disturb perfection. And now the conductor arrives. He too is dressed casually in polo shirt and chinos. He glances briefly at the audience filling the auditorium.

We start with Webers "Oberon". This is a play-through piece, uninterrupted by the conductor, but it concludes with his directions, in which various sections and phrases are re-defined to his style. Even to my non-professional ear, the alterations bring a significant change of mood and emphasis, a new palate of musical colour.

The orchestra reconfigures with part of the brass section leaving. A short, inconspicuous man wanders onto the stage and chats briefly to the orchestra leader before walking over the conductor for a hug. He holds an instrument, similar to that of the first violins, but with an ageing patina that sets it apart. He glances across at a double bass player and smiles in recognition. And the performance of Tchaikovski's Violin Concerto in D commences.

The morning rehearsal has an informality about it; and yet an energy, helped by the fact that the audience are here because of a love of music rather than a social grace. The soloist starts his cadenza which winds, turns and tumbles, capturing everything that is Russian, Argentine and Classic. The violas smile, the first violins gape at his virtuosity. This is a brief but significant gift to both orchestra and audience.

Later we sit together at De Querusa milonga. The early dancers are giving way to the experienced tangueros. Beautiful - sensationally beautiful women, and handsome men dress the floor. The Pugilese tanda draws a new expression.

Amongst the dancers one couple stand out. He is tall and leads strongly with fluidity. She dances exquisitely from the hip, her feet precise and expressive. They are perfectly connected.

Stephanie and I glance at each other. Without words we realise that this is a replay of the concerto and cadenza. He - the soloist - she the priceless instrument. Other dancers, like the orchestra, fade from view.  Here a sacada, now a colgada - virtuosity in dance.

Approaching midnight, we leave De Querusa. Outside the rain falls in torrents, the gutters filled like streams, lights reflecting from huge raindrops as cars splash along the street. Tonight it is 'no' to the colectivo and 'yes' to the taxi. We clamber aboard and tear through a drenching city back to the safety and protection of Casa Luna.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Estancia San Francisco - Its not just cheese

Me: Why am I excited about a trip to a cheese shop?"
Stephanie: "Because its not just a cheese shop, its an event!"

We walk in from the street. Gustav greets us with a smile, then a grin. He speaks English with an accent like Manuel from Faulty Towers, but the resemblance ends there. Gustav is the manger of a speciality cheese shop, and is robust, with greying hair and a large white apron. His hands are quick and manicured. He is always happy.

Our conversation started the usual way in Buenos Aires. "Where are you from"? "London"? 'No, we are from the north". "Ahh, Scotland - my brother lived in Scotland". We decide that Scotland is close enough to qualify as our home whilst we are 7,000 miles away, and leave it as 'Scotland'.

This is a cheese shop as you may never imagine. Large cheeses dress the windows to the street, and rows stretch along the counter top. Each labelled and marked with price per kilo. Stephanie selects Patras Paulina, a large, firm, yellow cheese, and a smaller piece of Pategras San Pimenta.

Cutting the cheese is an art. Deft and quick - you would not wish to meet Gustav in a dark alley with his knife. We examine the range of salame and pick 100 g of the de Puro Cerdo. And the nuts - there are bags and boxes of nuts, some shelled, others whole, varieties unseen elsewhere. Brazil nuts are expensive, and we choose walnuts. Then to the olives.

Olives are not behind the counter. They are displayed in a brightly lit windowed show case of olives and other delicacies, in large round metal bowls, spilling with produce. The Aceitunas Negras Conimenta are jet black and dimpled. "You try"? says Gustav. They are hot, peppery and astoundingly robust. We will have a pot "so big..." we say, and Stephanie cups her hands, extending them as Gustav ladles another spoonful.  I feel the heat of summer sun and the sound of olives raining to the ground in the harvest; I see the dark barrels in which they are stored over the winter; I smell the oil and the spices.

Cheese is an expensive commodity here in Buenos Aires that many local Portenos cannot afford. It is sometimes given as a present, especially the more exotic cheese. This is principally a nation of meat-eaters, although basic mass-produced cheese appears in the beautifully cut sandwiches, quiches, empanadas and omelettes.

We drift to the cash point to pay. This is not supermarket style, its just a separation of cash from the produce. Around us are a thousand jars and boxes of exotic items, savoury and sweet - each with a distinct character. We resist the temptation this time.

Gustav waves as we leave the shop. He remembers not our names, but he is always happy to greet. We remember his because relationships are so important here, and with this comes the value of connection. A bit like tango. Are we surprised? Not at all.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sleepy rainy Sunday in Buenos Aires

Sunday feels somehow different. It is a day when the tempo of the city slows, as if resting after a week of exertion.

I walk out early to see if Panaderia Sabor a Mas, the local baker, may be open. But the metal gates are down. Save for the Chinese run supermarket - a long thin shop that extends metres back into gloomy cold displays and hardware - the street is quiet. An old woman walks her dog. A roll shutter is pulled up to admit the morning light. The sound of a motorbike drones past the top of the street.

As I turn the block a fresh wave of air rattles the trees and swings a second floor balcony wind chime. It is as if a switch has been turned. Within seconds random droplets of water hit the sidewalk where they spread and evaporate. Then more drops catch the morning breeze. The skies open like a colander and streams of water bounce on wall tiles and the roofs of parked cars.

I reach the sanctuary of Casa Luna and make for the covered area at the rear of the house. Here rivulets of water spill from the garden across paths. The banana tree glistens and sways. Lights flicker. Small birds settle under roof eves. Cleo the house cat darts for cover as a crash of thunder announces the intention of the day.

Even with the downfall, Sunday still feels as if it has sleep in its eyes. I sit with the iPad to write. A crackling radio competes with the sound of the rain. A voice gives way to a tango.

It is the moment when I evaluate a first week as house co-manager. Being here in the rain is just a part of why I am here. The trip is not simply about travel, tango and the urgency of new experience; but chance to collect and reflect with purpose about meaning.

It is as if entering a new dimension of life; where sounds, colours and tastes have more significance than events. The clock ticks, but sometimes slows and pauses.

Now the smell of coffee breaks the reverie. Stephanie arrives with two steaming cups that clatter to the table, together with plates of fresh cut fruit. Sunday in Buenos Aires is not a chore. It is just a moment's pause between now and then.

Gijon - its a surprise

We return from Tucuman exhausted by a humid walk on hot sidewalks. Dusk has settled, but it is still warm. In the transition from afternoon to night, families descend from small apartments to front steps to breathe in the cooler evening air. We are at that moment. I feel the moisture on my brow, but in the time taken to walk to Monserrat, a breeze lifts our mood, and we think about supper.

Gijon is close by at Chile 1402. It is a family parilla, brightly lit and always busy with tables both inside and out. The youngest waiter is in his late 50's. Its end wall is a shrine to football with Boca Junior and River Plate separated by glazed brickwork. A TV screen silently shows today's match. 

We are waived to a table and settle with the menu. A moment later we notice Michael. He sits alone with a bottle of Malbec, the last remnants of his meal about to be cleared. His departure is blocked as I slide our tables together, and he reciprocates by filling our waiting glasses from his bottle. This fragment of time tells of Buenos Aires - a place where companionship and friendship matter more than space and time. 

Stephanie takes charge of our ordering. Tonight, calamari frites followed by lomo steak to share, with mixed salad, a bottle of Malbec and sparkling water. In moments our two bottles of Malbec stand side by side, our's chosen for price, Michael's selected for quality.

In 1852 the French agronomist Michael A Poujet brought the Malbec grape to Argentina. Fortuitously for the variety, the Argentine landscape provided perfect soil and climate combination; so when towards the end of the C19 phylloxera decimated the French vines, the Cot was not lost. 

As so often happens, the Argentine copy was a huge improvement on the French original. The word 'Malbec', with a Cahors origin of 'bad-mouth', became one of Argenina's most successful exports. Contrasting now the re-introduced French Malbec with that of Argentina is to compare a table wine with a 'Grand Vin'. The Argentine flavours are full of spiced fruit with a touch of oak and a burst of exuberance. The colour is robustly deep purple. 

Our waiter slides into view with a huge bowl of calamari. They are battered and deep fried to perfection. Here at Gijon this is a speciality dish, each night dozens of portions being carried to dozens of tables. On the tongue they are soft, with just a gentle bite, teamed with a sense of the Southern Atlantic. 

Our wine tasting confirms that Micheal has a discerning palate from which we need to learn. The difference in our choices shows the subtlety of his against the vernacular of ours. Playfully, I try to switch them as we devour our calamari. 

Michael is a true tanguero, perhaps just a few years short of milonguero status. His grey hair and quiet dignity give him a timeless quality, one reflected in his expanse of conversation. We speak of life, of tango, of beauty and of wine. The restaurant buzzes around us, but we seep into a bubble of our own making in a moment of sharing. Here is a photograph of his companion, there is a reflection on the quality of our lomo which Stephanie divides with a fork. Life softens. The clattering of plates recedes. Over an hour passes in but minutes. 

We leave with a valued hug from our waiter and a cheerful handshake from a group of Portenos at the next table. Outside the air is now fresh, and a breeze blows leaves along the pavement. We joke about escorting each other home. The metallic sound of our key in the lock. The clang of the ornate iron framed doors to the street, and the peaceful haven of Casa Luna which we share.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Lavalle 3101 - DNI Tango Store Grand Opening

Its Friday 16 December, the weather is hot with uninterrupted blue skies. The Jacaranda tree outside casts a short shadow. Here in the garden dappled light cuts through the banana tree protecting the palms and a carpet of intensely green moss.

Our goal today is the Grand Opening of the new DNI Tango Store in Lavalle. Dana has sent Stephanie an invitation, and we are to meet Michael, our Casa Luna house guest, there.

Milongueros, those Portenos that dance tango, care less for tango fashion and more for tango technique. It is not what you wear, but how you dance. Older milongueros arrive in short sleeved shirts and worn suit trousers, with battered shoes in which they walked to the milonga. The milongueras dress for comfort to keep cool. At the milongas their fan and lipstick may provide the only splash of crimson. Europeans and North Americans on the other hand cannot resist the 'tango wardrobe' - the latest shoes, the dress with cowl back, the tango skirt, the wide legged trousers, the shirt with patterned insert. DNI know this, and the need of those with US$ or Euros to spend on 'the right look'.

If I sound judgmental, I am not. It is the visitors who spend that keep the milongas alive. Yes, entry charges to milongas rise, but this is due to rampant inflation - the cost of room hire, paying for the DJ, the cashier and the wardrobe attendant - and not the visitors. The visitors help to subsidise their existence, and without tourists many milongas would close.

The tourists add colour, and not infrequently, style. Before their trip to Buenos Aires many have paid a fortune for private lessons with visiting Argentine teachers, to perfect their salon tango, whilst many milongueros have never taken a tango lesson. Some tourists arrive lacking 'a feel' for the milongas, and sometimes without a full understanding of the codigos, but many acquit themselves well on the pista.

Colectivo 168 leaves Pres Louis Saenz Pena with a jolt as we speed into the traffic jam that is ubiquitous just after 7 pm in Monserrat. Stephanie and I stand, hanging onto the rails after paying our 6.5 pesos fare. Portenos are returning home from work and most look tired, whilst we are fresh from a chilled beer. We reach Estacion Once and cut across Corrientes to Lavalle.

The store is situated on the corner and clearly in party mode. The latest tango fashions are displayed against larger-than-life black and white photos of Dana y Jonny. Flashes from a photographer. The hubble of voices as racks are explored for 'that dress'. A champagne cork pops. A woman pirouettes to test her new tango shoes. Another bends to check the hem of a dress.

We find Michael alone in the corner for the tangueros. He tries new trousers that are yet to fit at the waist  He reaches for his champagne glass to toast our arrival. Immediately I lose Stephanie to a rail of tango dresses from which she leaves with a hanger and darts to the changing room. Within seconds she emerges transformed from 'Primark to Prada' in a floral dress. Dana smiles - from the transformation she knows she has a sale. Other women look disconsolate - perhaps because their size 14 does not have the effect of Stephanie's size 10. The dress touches, or should I say, caresses every curve. For a moment Michael releases the waistband of his new tango pants, then juggles modesty and champagne.

This is the success of tango fashion - not for necessity - but because of the 'feel good factor' that changes girls into women, and women into girls. For the men, each metre of new cloth adds centimetres to their height, each tailored shirt removing inches of girth.

We celebrate the acquisition of a dress,whilst DNI celebrate the acquisition of pesos. This is 'win-win'. Another glass of champagne chills my credit card. We smile, Michael grins, the sales girls croon, and I bite on a finger sandwich.

It is after 8.00 pm that we leave the store to retrace our steps to the colectivo. Dusk has arrived as we leave. The bus is quieter now as we watch the passing streets and barios, the closing shops rolling down shutters, neon lights transforming the city from day to night. Stephanie clutches her DNI bag and rests her head on my shoulder. It is now quick change for Yira Yira milonga. But will she wear the dress?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Casa Luna and Los Consagrados

Casa Luna is situated in the bario Monserrat, to the west of the micro centre, just a few blocks over 9 de Julio.  Monserrat is an old, and historically poor bario, the resident population being families that have lived and worked here for generations. The street is busy teaming with life from early morning early morning.

We occupy the ground floor Eva Peron room, but by choice will move to the upstairs Carlos Gardel room after our hosts Vicki and Rob leave for the USA. The Gardel room has ensuite bathroom and small sitting area, with easy access to the office. A back staircase leads to the single Porteno room. Exit through the garden door and you reach the Garden apartment, connected to, but separate from the main house. Double sliding doors ensure lots of light, whilst the garden setting provides total peace. It is at the large table in the garden here that I sit and write. A breeze rattles the leaves of the banana tree whilst red geraniums and hydrangeas add splashes of colour to dense green foliage that reaches over twenty feet above my head.

In the bario just paces away fresh fruit abounds at the corner shop, whilst diagonally across is El Gigon, a superb perilla serving the most divine steaks. On the other corner a pizza shop, and but two blocks to Campo dei Fiori where outstanding fresh pasta is served under the ancient domed brick ceilings by equally ancient waiters who started here as boys.

But now for tango. Saturday night is the night of Los Consagrados.

Buenos Aires is a city of milongas - the location where tango dances are held. Of the more traditional is Los Consagrados in Humberto Primo 1462. Those assiduous readers of my blog will recall my blog entry from 2010 in which I described an exhibition here of tango from Lucia y Gerry

We depart in limpid air as dusk arrives. The entrance way is grand, with metres of marble leading to a majestic staircase. Above the romantic notes of Lucia Demare are muffled by heavy curtains, beyond which the salon extends longways through a mirrored hall. Tables are filling, but we are booked as Vicki and Rob's guests, so separate according to convention to sit at reserved tables opposite across the room.

As a new tanda starts, prospective dancers search across the room for the cabeceo and mirada - the code  to identify a partner. Stephanie accepts my cabeceo for the first dance, and I cross to her table. She rises. We enter the pista. It is Calo, a deliciously expressive tango. As new dancers on the floor we attract inspection. Seated dancers assess the level of our skills and experience to determine whether they too will accept our cabeceo and mirada in forthcoming tandas.

Whether as guests of Vicki and Rob - veterans of Los Consagrados- or because we have just passed the test of initial inspection, we dance most tandas for the next two hours. It is clear that 'the embrace' is key. Get it right, and tango is effortless. Get it wrong - the dance is tough like stringy steak. Here the Portenos - local dancers - are unforgiving. The embrace must be close, gentle but safe, flexible but clear, sensitive, intimate but respectful. It is the door to connection. And with connection comes the perfect tanda.

Satiated with tango for one night, and fresh to Buenos Aires, we leave to eat; our destination being a loved pizza cafe in San Telmo where we will be greeted with hugs. Outside the milonga, the bario shines and gulps of warm air from an evening breeze refresh our faces. We slip our dance shoes across our shoulders and stroll hand in hand. Yes, we have arrived in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Touchdown and transfer

Some might say that a blog about leaving a plane and getting to one's destination is a bit like watching paint dry. But others have asked specifically for this, to help them handle the transfer seamlessly. So, I will keep it short.

Ezeiza presents as a typical international airport. Head straight for immigration and take the left, busy snaking queue for non-nationals. Tip - chat to fellow passengers in the queue, they readily share plans, ideas and inspiration about their personal journeys, and the time goes more quickly.

Travelling the direct flight from Heathrow with British Airways means that the likelihood of missing baggage is small. Consecutively loaded cases always end up at different places, so relax during this rather stressful wait. With luggage collected and nothing to declare, the rest is a breeze. Head through the first doors into a waiting hall, turn left and approach the Manuel Tienda Leon coach desk to book the next part of your journey. 

It is quite possible to book a remise (bespoke taxi) or simply seek a black and yellow taxi outside the terminal building, but I propose the fast coach transfer to Manuel Tienda Leon hub in Retiro, where you will transfer to one of their taxis for the last leg to your hotel, getting you safely to the city without having to negotiate prices. The inward journey costs 280 pesos, meaning that for up to three travellers this is an economic option. It also gives you your first chance to see the city from an elevated position on the coach as you enter via the motorway. Present details of your destination address, and pay by cash or credit card. Tip - have a pre-printed slip with your destination address to save confusion.

Disembark the coach at the hub, retrieving your cases against the ticket issued at Ezeiza. You, together with other local travellers will be called for the next taxi stage, the taxi touring two or three hotel drop-off points, eventually delivering you to yours. If the driver helps you with your cases it is normal to tip up to 10 pesos.

And so, you have did we on Friday. 

The next blog will tell of our arrival at Casa Luna, Monserrat, our induction as house managers, and our first milonga. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Barrister of 37 years is hotel manager for 3 months

Welcome to legal readers from and It is good to see you here.

This is a unique moment, when the readers of my camper and legal blogs meet those of the world of Argentine tango, and travel with me to Buenos Aires.

My trip, whilst unremarkable to tangueros, is a step into the unknown for my legal readers. Gone, the 'family court', to be repaced by the 'afternoon milonga'. Gone, the 'Ministry of Justice', to be replaced by the crazy structure of South American politics and the Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires.

For legal readers, this is your chance to let go the day-to-day routine of the Bar or Solicitors' practice, and to taste a new world that rests somewhere between reality and imagination. No, you do not need to understand dance, let alone Argentine tango. You simply need to allow new breaths of a different air to enter your lungs, and let your your mind do the rest.

My next blog will be in December from Buenos Aires. Stay by, and subscribe. You may find that you are interested, and maybe surprised.

To my current readers, prepare yourselves for a new chapter of Buenos Aires life - its colour, the highs and lows, the glittering light, and the passing storms.

Welcome back.

copy from Stephen Twist Barrister Blog ↓

Thirty seven years of practice as a barrister must have an outcome. Silk; or judicial appointment to the High Court Bench? No.

A quiet fade-away into slippered retirement, wearing jazzy socks and carrying a secateurs? Not.

So, for what else, as professional life slips to a close, is an aging barrister qualified?

Those who know me know the answer without the help of this blog. Over the past nine years, fifteen months in Buenos Aires has told me about life, and the need to live it. It has incited me to dance Argentine tango – the tango walk, the moment, the giro, the embrace. So, when my friends said, “Come and look after Casa Luna while we are away”, the answer was a sudden and simple, yes.

Picture if you will, a warm balmy evening, the crickets cricketing across the paving stones, the soft sound of music drifting on night air, the lights low, a rustle in the trees where a slow draft of liquid air gently shakes glossy leaves. As we reach the steps to wide double doors, the music is defined as tango. Above, figures move in close embrace, feeling the dance and feeling life.

The orchestra strikes up a song from Di Sarli for a new tanda. I ‘cabeceo’ across the room to secure a mirada response from an unknown dance partner. She smiles. I walk. We meet at her table. She rises to dance. A passing tanguero nods for us to enter the pista. We embrace and we walk. I feel her weight, her balance, and the tenderness of her touch. I smell her perfume, and allow the infinite structure of the music to dictate the rest.

We dance the tanda of three songs, each taking us further and further into the moment of the dance, before the cortina indicates that we part. Light suffuses, our breathing synchronises, we experience that ‘melting moment’ of connection when dance becomes life, and life becomes dance. Deeper and deeper, until there is no more depth to explore. The music ceases. We stand for a moment before returning to her seat. This is the milonga of Buenos Aires. This is the magic of dance.

Seven thousand miles from England. But a million miles from legal practice on the North Eastern Circuit. Courts and clients fade to distant memory. ‘Not before 10.30 at Teesside Combined Court Centre’ ceases to have meaning. We leave the milonga at 6 am, a taxi awaits, it races through deserted streets until we reach our leafy bario, collecting media lunas (tiny sweet croissant) and brewing fresh coffee as the sun rises before another glorious balmy day.

So, there it is. Until April, Casa Luna, Buenos Aires shall be my home, a place filled with sunlight, and anchored with an embrace......

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Recall to Buenos Aires

Now in the last two months before a return to Buenos Aires, its time to blog.
This next trip will span 2016 into 2017 - with departure early December and return in April.

Our first destination will be Monserrat - to assist friends in relation to their well known and loved tango house; after which we will be returning to Defensa, San Telmo for six weeks.

With a four month visit, drawing upon a total of fifteen months in the city, we aim to post a regular update, giving the flavour of a day in the Capital Federal. We will be covering some of the more unusual places and events, visiting new milongas, adding a food and restaurant guide, and describing how the city works for the visitor day and night.

Subscribe to the blog to join the experience. Who knows, it may inspire your next visit!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review - Tangueros' top ten travel necessities for Buenos Aire

In my last blog I listed items that will protect or enhance your trip to Argentina.

I should add that I have no connection with any manufacturer, and no financial interest in any of the products.  Clearly, I cannot guarantee any one of them. I review them simply because as a seasoned traveller they make sense to me.

Travelling anywhere in the world poses risks. The art of travel is to limit them in a proportionate way. Argentina poses no more unmanageable risk than parts of Europe - in Barcelona many travellers are victims of crime. When examining risk, we look at simple steps that will lower the chance of you being a target, and give added peace of mind.

1.  Travel Blue Sliding Wallet
For me, this travel wallet is a recent discovery. I am yet to use it in Argentina, but - having used many alternatives - consider this to be the best so far.

The travel wallet is not intended to double as a handbag. Its very design limits content, for example it will not house your passport. Yet it is just at the right side of economy when walking on the street, where my advice is to carry the bare minimum. Europeans are not as conspicuous as elsewhere in South America, but frankly we do tend to stand out as foreigners.

Street robbery is rare. More likely is simple, unnoticed theft. This may be accompanied by distraction (having your clothes sprayed with a grey-green substance, followed by offers to help clean it off), or opportunist theft (pick pocketing). Pick pockets habitually seek easy targets, and these are male tourists who carry their wallet in trouser jacket pocket; or female tourists carrying a handbag.

The Travel Blue sliding wallet is a perfect answer. Attached securely to your belt by a thick security strap, the travel wallet slips fairly easily below your clothing, either inside your trousers or up inside your shirt. 25 cms in length, it folds in half with a firm velcro fastening. Opened out, it is evidently very light, but tough and secure, coming with a two year guarantee. To the left are three vertical pockets for credit cards, held by internal velcro strap. This makes for easy removal by its owner when the wallet is open. For bank notes there is a lengthwise slide compartment, beneath which is a further zip compartment. Coins can be contained in a mesh section to the right, although I question why one would add the weight and bulk of coins to the wallet. Additionally, there are two small slide pockets -one for a photocopy of your passport.

I like this wallet because the fabric is robust, but soft and pliable when concealed under clothing. It is particularly comfortable against the skin, allowing you to place it under a shirt, or better, slip it below the belt inside trousers or a skirt.

I rate the travel wallet with 9* out of 10.

2.  Protector III Personal Alarm
Do you really need a personal alarm when travelling? No, perhaps you do not. But this particular personal alarm doubles as a property alarm, or to secure an hotel/hostel door, and this is why I always carry one.

The alarm with a back-clip, 8 x 5.5 cms, is light weight - you will scarcely notice it - and very robust. Mine is 10 years old and still going strong. Battery life (3 x AAA) is excellent, lasting well between annual trips.

The alarm is activated by the pulling of a pin attached to the strap. This means that you can secure the alarm inside luggage to any fixed item - such as a table leg, and know that if someone attempts to remove your bag, the pin will detach, alarm activate, and continue until the pin is relocated. The alarm is a high piercing note that nobody could fail to hear. The light also flashes on activation.

On the street, I use the alarm inside my shoulder bag, with the strap attached to my clothing. At open air milongas, the strap can be easily attached to a fixture leaving you safe in the knowledge that if someone takes your bag, they certainly will not hang onto it once the pin is pulled.

I rate the Protector Personal Alarm gets 10* out of 10.

3.  Super 48 Key-Bak
House and room security is taken seriously in Buenos Aires, and you will find that you pass through several locking doors before you gain access to your apartment or hotel/hostel room (unless digital or 24 hour attended). So keeping your keys safe and easily to hand is really important.

The Key-Bak system involves a 4 foot robust tensioned retractable cord which locks into a belt-mounted high density plastic case 5 x 7 cms. Yes, this is big, but fits surprisingly lightly (100g) and conveniently onto a man's belt with either thread-through or clip-over mechanism. Once attached, it will not be removed until you unclip your belt. The huge advantage of the Key-Bak is that with correct positioning, your keys will align with a trouser pocket for aesthetics and security, whilst the weight remains on your belt. Swivel the ring to unclip the cord, then the reel will free and extend all the way to the door lock.

I rate the Super 48 Key-Bak gets 9* out of 10

4.  Ledlenser K1 Key ring torch
There are times in Buenos Aires when you really need a light. Returning home from a milonga at 3 am and negotiating a dark passage - arriving at a venue and looking for the door bell - facing a power cut and searching for a candle - getting to your door and locating the key hole. Need I go on?

The advantage of the Ledlenser K1 is that it is utterly tiny and almost weightless. Just 4 x 1 cms (smaller than a little finger) powered by 4xAG3 micro batteries, it gives all the light you will need from a key ring torch, and saves pulling out your  smartphone in a darkend place.

The Ledlenser is however not sufficiently robust to be placed on your keyring where (like the one I bought) it will be damaged. But as a handbag accessory, it is ideal.

I rate the Ledlenser K1 gets 7* out of 10

5.  Transparent back pack
Men may take one look and reject this item - but most women immediately realise its worth.

Bag snatches are not uncommon. Thieves are looking for high value items, such as cameras, computers, tablets, iphones, wallets/purses and travel documents - and tourists often carry them in back packs. So, what better than to advertise the contents of your bag to the world? A pair of dance shoes, a pack of tissues and a lipstick are hardly worth stealing - and the mere fact that you carry a transparent bag signals that you have nothing to hide.

The bag has almost zero weight, and will pack flat in the bottom of your suitcase. Once in Buenos Aires, this can be your dance bag for milongas. The transparent vinyl  is surprisingly robust, it has a fabric base and strong adjustable straps, with additional carry handles and side pockets.

You may need to order this item via the USA, but in our view it is worth the wait and cost.

The transparent back pack gets 10* out of 10

6.  Casio Unisex Watch

The last thing you want on your travels in Argentina is your Rolex. When out and about you simply want  a water resistant watch to tell the time. This watch is almost ideal, and at a great throw-away price.

The Casio watch says 'I am not worth stealing' and sends a further security message about the wearer. With clear numbers and second hand, it fits lightly and snugly to the wrist. Battery life is good, although you may wish to change the plastic strap for a light leather one. It lacks an alarm, but compensates in neatness. And who expects to meet a deadline in Buenos Aires? This is truly a 'unisex' watch. At 6'2" I have two.

The Casio Unisex watch gets 8* out of 10


7.  Zendure A3 Portable charger
If you are the type of traveller that leaves technology behind, this is not for you. But most of us these days carry an array of electronic items, each requiring their own individual wall charger plug. And so we end up with a bag of plugs and wires, together with an array of adapters needed for charging in England before we leave, and in Argentina after we have arrived.

The Zendure portable charger eliminates this problem, allowing you to charge each of your electronic devices by USB from a 204g hand-held device either at your hotel/hostel/apartment - or on the move. This way, you need never have a flat phone or failed ipad.

The Zendure A3 portable charger gets 9* out of 10

8.  Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II
Am I weighing you down with unnecessary electronics? In relation to the Bose SoundLink I sense not.

This blog is written principally for the travelling tanguero, for whom tango music is essential. It is not the same simply listening through a pair of headphones - there are times when you want quality sound through a speaker in your hotel/hostel room, a dance studio or in your apartment.

Most hired dance studios have an ipod/mp3 compatible connecting sound system, but unusually in your hotel or hostel - and in the apartment you will need cables to connect through the TV sound system.

Numerous trips to Buenos Aires have compelled me to take a portable sound system with me. This has been a pair of computer speakers, with the limitation that they cannot be used remotely and need to be powered. With the Bose SoundLink you say farewell to all of that. This device, which works independently of mains power, will connect by bluetooth or cable to your device, making it utterly convenient in every setting. Weighing in at 1.2kg - but with excellent sound quality, order this with the travel case, adding a further 159g.

The Bose SounLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II gets 9* out of 10

9.  UK extension lead with USB
When travelling to Argentina, I always take an extension lead with me. It means that I can operate every electrical item from the mains with only one universal travel adapter, and charge up items immediately following a 14 hour flight.

The link above is for a combination lead giving two UK power points and two USB. Alternatively, consider a multi extension lead for Argentina.

A power lead gets 10* out of 10

10. Universal Basin plug
Neither hand basins nor kitchen sinks have plugs in Argentina - only the English seem to wash in standing water! Is this a luxury item, or a necessity? Either way, consider buying an inexpensive plug and pop it in your case.

A basin plug gets 7* out of 10

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Travellers Survival Guide to Buenos Aires 2016

I prepared this guide in 2007 following my 6 month stay in Buenos Aires; but readers request that I update and re-post. So, here is the 2016 edition - prepared specifically for tango dancers.

When to go and how long for?
Buenos Aires (BsAs) has an area of 80 square miles and a population of 3 million. Flights from London take approximately 14-17 hours, covering a distance of 7,000 miles. So this is definitely long haul to southern hemisphere. This is why we recommend at least 3 weeks in BsAs, and if you plan to travel further afield, take 4-6 weeks for your first trip.

As a southern hemisphere city, the best time to visit is either spring (late September to mid November), or autumn (mid February to late April). Spring in BsAs offers fresher weather with the Jacaranda in full bloom. Autumn is more mellow and relaxed.

Both seasons have their attractions. Bear in mind that June, July and August can be quite cold; and December and January quite hot, hence the better 'out of season' flight offers.

What flight and where to stay?
Only one rule in booking an airline - not via the USA unless you have an entry visa and propose to break your journey there. Even with close connecting flights you are required to exit flight-side in the States and return through intensive immigration control, including baggage/importation checks. Our experience of this is traumatic, especially if your connecting flight is within a 3 hour slot, which you probably won't make. So, whilst flights via USA may be competitive in price, they will be hard work, and substantially longer.

We suggest either direct flights from Heathrow to BsAs with British Airways (13.5 hrs), or regular connecting flights via Madrid/Paris if on a tighter budget.

Pre-booking accommodation in BsAs is not essential, but is advisable. Serious tango dancers tend to avoid regular hotels, taking tango hotels,  tango houses, or tango hostels. They have the added advantage of providing contact with other tangueros who can show you the ropes and introduce you to the milongas. Those wanting independence will find a wide selection of apartments for rent via Airbnb - follow this link if you are not currently signed up (we get a reward if you do!)

Popular places to stay are Recoleta (smart and central), Palermo (lively and leafy), Monserrat (central with traditional milongas), and San Telmo (Bohemian and artistic). My personal preference is San Telmo, hence my San Telmo Facebook group.

Currency in Argentina is the Peso (AR$). Notes come in 500/200/100/ 50/ 20/ 5/ 2 denominations and coins in 2, 1 peso. Be aware that some prices are shown in US$ so it is advisable to check currency conversion rates before you buy. Euros have some, and £sterling little value. We suggest that you pre-buy 5,000 pesos in the UK to cover your immediate expenditure on arrival. Whilst in BsAs you may use cash points (with premium charges) or Azimo money transfers - which is our choice.

For credit cards, we recommend Halifax Clarity - giving the best, charge free rates for travel outside Europe. Apply for the card at least 2 months before your travel date. Follow Martin's link above and scroll down to his 'Best Buys'.

Smart packing 
We often carry excessive luggage and pack too much. BsAs is a thriving, exciting, international city where you can buy almost anything you would ever want at competitive prices. The exceptions are - electronic items and English tea. So why take items you can buy there?

Lost or mislaid baggage on arrival is a habitual problem with South America flights, and there have been occasions when passengers and baggage are not reunited for several days. If you co-travel, split your packing between suitcases. If solo, ensure that you have the basics for two days in your hand baggage allowance.
Here are a few suggested items to add to your usual luggage:

Electric points in BsAs have unique two point diagonal connectors. With a UK power lead and a single adaptor (available throughout BsAs) you can connect your mobile phone, computer and other items for simultaneous charging, and add your UK hair dryer and other equipment. Consider too, a portable power charger for your phone, tablet and camera if you are out for a long day and evening milonga.

Stephanie and I recommend that you take your mp3 player and portable speaker system for any trip - useful in hostels, apartments and rented dance studios, giving you tango music when and where you need it. Keep them in your hand baggage during transit.

For security peace of mind, you may also wish to take a good quality travel wallet,  theft-deterrent light rucksack, property protection alarm, Keybak with belt clip, a cheap water resistant watch which need not be removed at customs, and a mini torch for the times you arrive late night back at your apartment.

We recommend that you take several photocopies of your passport - such are frequently needed for i/d - and store a digital copy securely on the cloud for easy access in the case of loss. I also photograph and store details of each credit/debit card, together with a record for cancellation phone numbers.

Before leaving Europe, ensure that your phone roaming is either covered by contract or switched off to avoid roaming charges on data.

With a long flight in mind we recommend that you consider an upgrade if affordable, or preferential seating if not. With a minimum of 14 hours flight time, some preparation is wise. Consider support socks, neck support, eyeshades, phone and ear phones (Bose noise cancellation if you can afford them). Keep your passport (or photocopy), a pen and details of your destination address to hand - you will need these to fill in the entry forms that are distributed in the lead up to landing. Exercise frequently and drink plenty of water during the flight, for dehydration is an issue. Take a pashmina for warmth on the plane, and later when returning from milongas - it will double as a sarong during your stay.

As you land at Ezeiza, don't be fazed. Take a few moments to savour arrival, rather than be intimidated by what lays ahead.

BsAs International Airport
EZEIZA (also occasionally called Ministro Pistirini) is 22 miles (35kms) from the city centre. There are two terminals A and B which are adjacent and connected by a 5 minute semi-covered walkway. Your flight will generally arrive at terminal A but may be diverted to terminal B, smaller and more intimate.
Immigration control
Take the non-resident queue and be prepared for a wait at busy times. Have your passport and completed immigration card (distributed before landing) ready. Keep details of your destination address and return flight to hand. If asked about the purpose of your visit, inform them that you are a tango dancer. You will be waved through with a smile.

Luggage reclaim
This is standard as at any international airport. Be prepared for missing luggage and do not panic.  Inform the airline (here again, written record of your destination is essential) and proceed to your hotel/apartment to shower, relax and have a drink. Your luggage should be delivered within 24 hours.

Exit hall
One you leave flight-side you will enter the exit hall (still a protected area to which the public are not readily admitted). See the kiosks on both sides for transfer tickets for taxi or bus, and buy your airport taxi or Tienda Leon coach ticket here using the record of your destination address. Before you leave get directions to the taxi or bus stand (located at terminal B). Otherwise, ignore the kiosks and proceed straight ahead into the arrival hall where throngs await arriving passengers.

Travel to the city takes 30-40 minutes by coach or taxi.

We have mentioned Tienda Leon which I habitually use on arrival, not least because it is safe, stress free and good value for up to two passengers. By coach, purchase a ticket that gives connection to your hotel or apartment. Hand your cases to the driver who will give you a ticket receipt. The coach will head for the city coach terminal, a safe area where you will transfer (in time) to a usually shared, included price taxi that will drop you outside your destination. Yes, this adds up to 20 minutes to your journey, but is part of the exciting arrival experience, and gives a good view of the city.

If you are to take a taxi from the airport pre-book a remise in the exit hall, or take a black and yellow cab from the airport concourse. Agree the taxi fare in advance for this journey as it falls outside the metered fare and will involve toll charges en route.

So you have arrived! What a relief.
As with any South American country, security is taken seriously, so familiarise yourself with the house rules and keep your keys securely. You are exhausted, but resist the temptation to collapse straight away. Have a brief stroll around your bario (neighbourhood). Take a bag, find a local supermarket and buy some water, bottle of wine, cheese, fruit, coffee (without added sugar - 'sin azĂșcar), tea and fruit for your room or apartment. Buy a cheap folding umbrella. Locate your nearest cash machine and friendly bar. Return to unpack and rest. Tomorrow, the city!

Our top ten hints - for simple safety whilst travelling
BsAs is essentially a safe city, although as with any South American city, poverty raises an incidence of crime. For this reason alone, we suggest:

1. Carry only what you need, and nothing more. Keep your house keys accessible on your key-back.

2. Avoid wearing watches, jewellery (including costume jewellery) or expensive cameras that will draw attention. Wear your cheap water resistant watch.

3. When drawing cash, ensure that it is safely placed before you leave the ATM; and secure your wallet or purse before leaving shops.

4. Never keep cash in a back pocket, and split larger amounts between bags or wallets. Consider carrying a 'false wallet' - with expired credit card and small notes.

5. Choose your handbag with care. A rucksack style bag is more difficult to dip or snatch, and the clear plastic variety has advantages. In busy areas, consider carrying a bag to your front rather than your back.

6. Take only radio taxis (black and yellow), write down your destination before you leave, and hand it to the driver. For your return journey, carry a piece of paper with your address. Keep smaller notes to one side for your taxi fare to avoid being short changed or given false notes.

7. Keep your sube pass handy before entering the subte (underground) or boarding the colectivo (bus). Take extra care on the subte, planning your journey in advance. 

8. In cafes or restaurants, avoid putting your bag or sack on the floor or pavement. Keep it secure on your lap, attach to your leg, or use the high shelves provided in some cafes.

9. When out and about, if stranger/s approach you do not engage - stranger contact is not part of the culture here. Move into the road/open space and draw attention. ’'Spray and help' - the old trick of spraying green or grey paste and then offering to help clean your clothes - this means danger. Disengage and move away immediately.

10. Walk with purpose and don't worry. Those who appear diffident are the visible targets for street crime.

Locate your local subte and check 'Getting Around'. 

Use Hoy Milonga to locate your choice of milongas.

Use Omnia Lineas to work out which colectivo (bus) is best for your journey.

Tipping: 10% in restaurants and cafes, small notes for theatre or cinema kiosks, a porter or ticket staff at the milonga, and if you have a favourite milonga, treat the waitress with a good tip to get a decent table! Not expected to tip taxi drivers.

Contact me if you would like further help on any topic, or would like to suggest changes to this posting. Don't forget to follow this blog.

And here, a glimpse into what awaits, courtesy of professional photographer, Miles Twist.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Is there such a thing as an Ocho?

Photo by Miles Twist

Inspired by Tara Isabella Burton, Peggy, and Oscar Casas - my tango hero

"So you dance salsa", they say in reply to my disclosure that I travel to Buenos Aires to dance.

It was back in 2007 that I packed a rucksack, clutched my passport and credit card, rehearsed my three words of Spanish, and embarked for Buenos Aires on a late lifetimes journey of tango - Argentine tango.

For me, stepping out of a barrister's suit (and wig) into dusty South American streets by day, and packed milongas by night, was both a challenge and a reward. Since university, this was the first time that I had attempted to express myself outside the professional frame, and I slipped quietly and unnoticed into a new life where unless you were a tanguero, reputation and status were nothing.

This was the start of a life about tango. To understand, I must tell you that Argentine tango is not about dancing. Tango is not just a dance. It is something so much more. Having attempted a pastiche of ballroom tango in my twenties, I went on to compete in ballroom dancing little realising that just beyond my gaze was a dance culture that would eclipse them all.

At a technical level, Argentine tango involves unchoreographed movement within an embrace, according to fluid codigos, danced to tango music. But that is like saying that Mozart is formed by notes on a page played by musicians. One needs to step, and sink deeper into Argentine tango as an experience to understand it. It can be a moment of anticipation, frustration, fear, challenge, joy, delight, loss. It can be a bitch and a gift. Most tango dancers make themselves slaves to their master, tango. It is both something that one does because one has to, and something that is done to you because you cannot resist.

"Tango is about answering a subtle question", says Oscar Casas, my first Argentine tango master. But he does not disclose the question. Is he enigmatic, or simply honest? Is the reality of tango - an unanswered question?

Some say that tango is to do with the connection that develops, or envelopes through the tango embrace. It can be one of the most powerful connections that exist between two strangers. It may be intimate, or fun; it may be reassuring or testing. It too is an enigma, where words fall short of dance.

Others contend that Argentine tango is all to do with the music - 'traditional' tango music. Michael Lavocah in 'The Guide to Tango Dance Music' takes the reader on a formidable journey through Golden Age tango. The structure of tunes was critical to how tango was danced - or 'pivotal'. The formation of tandas (a group of three or four tunes danced as an uninterrupted series) dictates the experience of tango too. There are those, who decline to dance Argentine tango to non-tango music, that contend that the formation of the tango beat and structure of the tango phrase is utterly essential to the experience.

"Tango is about presence", "tango is a feeling that is danced." Argentine tango is certainly something that needs to be experienced before it can be understood, and frequently the experience - for those not brought up in the barios of Buenos Aires - takes time, effort, exasperation and patience.

"There is no such thing as an ocho", says Oscar. Maybe this is the closest one can get to the secret of tango. Argentine tango is not to do with 'steps', but with feet on the floor. It is not to do with a 'dance hold' but with an embrace. It is not concerned with 'the occasion', but with the moment. It is that moment, elusive, tantalising, washed away in a song that defines our search.