"Tomorrow is 1 April, and we have just five days left in Buenos Aires", says Stephanie, adding "before the month changes, you would be a fool not to describe our four months here in the city of Argentine tango". "Tell them about the city of dreams".
It is really difficult to capture succinctly the experience of an extended stay in this city. A first observation is just how much I love Buenos Aires. Its a busy, congested place with broken pavements and crumbling buildings. Old buses used to transport activists and demonstrators belch out plumes of diesel fumes that hang like curtains in the calles. On occasions the humidity rises so that shirts stick to backs, and backs to chairs. Sometimes even tango fails to enthral and we leave a milonga to search for consolation pizza.
But mostly Buenos Aires captivates. We wake to sunshine, blue skies with a dissolving wisp of white cloud and breath of cooling air - the 'buenos aires' after which the city is named. People walk the streets at a modest pace, relaxed, unhurried. From passing cars we hear music, often tango, sometimes cumbia blaring with its heavy contra-beat rhythm. Groups of men sit in cafes to chat. Women share experiences over a light lunch. If you were to smile at strangers, they will smile back. And, if lucky, you too will catch the seductive aroma of an asado, as yesterday in Plaza de Mayo where an asador served smoking beef and chorizos from his charcoal filled half barrel.
As tangueros, a huge attraction of the city is ubiquitous tango. Each night there will be approaching forty milongas where you can dance tango, and beforehand take a class. We arrive early to see beginners walking in close embrace - harder than you would imagine; and improvers executing new found skills or filming the final demo by their teachers. The music is that of tango's 'Golden Age' - from the late twenties through to 1950. It is melancholic, teasing distant memories from lost generations of Portenos. It speaks of tough lives lived in poverty and sadness, forged on an anvil of half-forgotten emotion. When we dance tango that is what we hear - and feel. That is why tango should be danced to the music of tango and nothing else.
The pace of life is the pace of choice - so different from Europe's metronome beat dictated by work, by commerce and unnecessary necessity. On the streets of Buenos Aires you rarely see anyone run, and hardly anyone hurry. Life's art is the 'stroll' - a pace assisted by the fact that if you walk quicker, you simply wait at the next intersection for the pedestrian lights to change.
"What will you miss most?", asks Stephanie. "All of it", I reply. "The fact that my watch stays unnoticed on the kitchen table; that my stomach tells me when to eat; that when we hear music we love - we dance; the sound of a champagne cork popping and landing on the receipt for 56 pesos; that our days stretch limitlessly into exotic nights".
"And most of all, I will miss the embrace", I add. "The hug that men give to men; that men give to women; that we return without self-conscious question". "It's a moment that speaks of love and respect, one which at the milonga is mirrored in tango's safe, warm and close embrace".