Sunday, 28 January 2018

Sunday in San Telmo



‘Hielo, hielo’, is the call from Calle Defensa. I peer down from the terrace to spy the white-coated icecream vendor threading his way through a mist of colourful tourists. His box hangs from his shoulders on broad leather straps that were used by his father before him. The sun is still hot, so his trade is brisk.

Either side of the street the traders have their stalls. Early, about 8 am, we heard a gentle clanking on the cobbles, indicating that the market overseeers were busy setting out the metal frames and wooden benches. The sound, hardly discernible, was familiarly in a soothing way than disturbing. By 10 am the scene had changed, with advancing pools of tourists seeping, then pouring into the street. From time to time they pause, only to pulse forward when a channel appears.

It is now after 4 pm and the lone Argentine singer who stood away from the sun in the shadows has given way to amplified sounds of a singer, guitar and drums in San Lorenzo. Judging by the waves of applause he (or they) are surrounded by a crowd of onlookers who he is unsuccessfully teaching to clap a rhythm. They must be English. 

In fact the English presence here in San Telmo is sparce, new visitors preferring the seemingly safer barrios of Palermo and Recoleta. English accents from around the world are however ubiquitous. It is the principal language for stall traders with those not bearing the tell-tale Latin signs.

Shortly, our performers will be driven from the street by the San Telmo drummers, a band of about thirty who, as dusk gathers, process along Defensa every Sunday when not raining. They dress for carnival, with aerobic extravagance as they turn and spin.

Of course, Stephanie and I pass them at a pace. Our destination is not their rehearsal carnival, but the real street milonga in Plaza Dorrego. Here we will dance tango on the polished tiles of the square for an hour or so until Pedro (El Indio) Benavente calls the Santiago del Estero folk dance of Chacarera,  now learned by all Argentine children. 

At this point, we too slip away, along deserted Sunday night streets, and back to the lights of Independencia and home.