As 2016 closed, I exchanged my practice as a barrister for the new challenge, with Stephanie, of 'manager of a tango house' in Buenos Aires. So - how has it been? What is it like to 'up and off' to another continent and take on new responsibilities?
Those who have been following my blog will know that Stephanie and I left the UK on 8 December to visit Buenos Aires for four months, our first two and a half months taking on the role of managers of Casa Luna, a well known tango house here in Monserrat. Our hosts and house owners, Vicki and Rob left for California shortly after our arrival, leaving us with their home, their tango guests, Cleo their cat, and the novel chance to manage a tango hotel.
Southern hemisphere summer in Buenos Aires is an unexpected delight. We had assumed that it would be hot and humid to the point that day-to-day tasks would be burdensome. Not so. There are occasional days when temperatures soar and energy levels drop; but mostly the climate is a joy, especially on those days when we read of snow and sleet in the UK. The weather does dictate a pace - taking each day at a time without too much expectation for activity when really hot, or wet; but the climate brings a new attitude to life, and even the hottest, most humid moment - or a sudden thunder storm - brings more opportunity than restriction. Climate becomes simply a state of mind, to be addressed as it happens, and to be cherished for the difference and variety it makes to daily life.
Neither Stephanie nor I had any doubts about our capacities to run a tango house. Of course, the unknown element was 'the guests'. With three letting rooms - additional to our own suite - we wondered what experiences awaited. We need not have been concerned. Vicki and Rob's policy - to invite English speaking, tango dancing guests from the USA or Europe - meant that all of our guests have shared our passion for life and for dance. The ethos of the house is one of independent, supported living, in which the house managers meet and greet guests, advise about tango venues, city sites, restaurants and places of interest. Most guests choose to eat out, dining being relatively inexpensive, so there is little pressure on the well equipped kitchen. Our first 40 days have been fascinating, with great guests who have added interest and friendship. To date, all have been experienced visitors to Buenos Aires.
The tango house itself was designed and built as a 'Petit Hotel' for its first owner Dr Rodolfo Bonanni, and retains many of its original 1930's Art Deco features. As with most properties here in the capital, the house is but two large rooms in width, yet extends back deep into the block, with an enclosed side passage leading to the garden at the rear. The rooms comprise the Peron Room - a ground floor double, the Porteno Room - formerly the maid's quarters, a single room with adjacent shower room, the Garden apartment, and the Gardel suite - currently occupied by Stephanie and I. Additionally, there is the through reception room/dining room, the dance studio and the kitchen leading to the back stairs and laundry. From the Gardel suite there is a large first floor terrace, overlooking the garden featuring a vigorous banana tree and other semi-tropical plants.
Caring for Cleo, the tango dancing cat; and tending the garden have been two principal tasks. The other main responsibility is house security, taken very seriously throughout Buenos Aires. Over our first 40 days, we have been successful in these roles. In relation to the house guests, we sense that we have added value to their stay; and in the process, made good, lasting friendships.
Reflecting on our extended stay, not simply as tourists, but as house managers, the experience has been totally energising. It has given our time here a special quality - one of 'belonging' rather than just passing through. At milongas, when asked about my trip, I take pleasure in boasting that I am here to work as manager of a tango house, if only in my own mind, giving me a significance that otherwise I would not have experienced.
We have now entered our final month as managers of Casa Luna. Already, the weather has started to change from hot days and steamy nights, to warm days and cool evenings. As the summer season unfurls we already taste a tinge of regret at the prospect of leaving Casa Luna. But another adventure awaits as we return to San Telmo and the familiar streets of another bario.