You’ve been tango’d – a week in Buenos Aires 

Hello from Argentina! Rather a few days have passed since my last post so I will try to give a (witty) summary of my movements:

I left you last in Cape Town as I prepared for my 39-hour (layover in Doha inclusive) transit to Buenos Aires. That was about as much fun as it’s sounds but, as I stumbled, bleary-eyed and malodorous, off the Boeing 777 into the Argentine evening, my sense of wonder came rushing back to fill the void created by recycled air and immobility. I was in South America! For the first time. EVER!

I had booked a week of AirBnB in San Telmo, a bohemian quarter just west of the centre of town that conjured thoughts of Le Marais in Paris, or Portobello Road in London. Rich with bookstores, messy antiques shops stacked high with furniture, miscellany and dust, and hole-in-the-wall eateries and bars, it oozes character and eccentric charm.

A covered market in San Telmo

I was greeted by my host, Carolina, with a broad smile and a torrent of Argentine Spanish that my travel-dulled brain took a long time to process. Carolina was the living embodiment of the San Telmo spirit: vivacious, anti-establishment, unpretentious and charming, with a strong interest in politics and a penchant for self-rolled cigarettes. 

As an introduction to Argentina, I was presented with a crash course on the current political situation – an outgoing socialist government accused of corruption but led by a strong leader, replaced by a liberal capitalist president with a pure business approach to government. Public opinion was starkly divided between the two camps, I was to learn, but there was little doubt as to Carolina’s allegiances.

Breakfast-time supervision of a San Telmo protest

There are few better ways to explore a city than by feeling its pavements underfoot, meandering slowly through its avenues and parks at one’s own pace. On my first full day I set out to do exactly that. My feet brought me, via a beautiful fountain that I shamefully knew nothing about, to MALBA– El Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires. Among the watercolours and oil paintings of great artists I had not heard of, my attention was drawn to this installation. Ego and Id, matter and anti-matter, potato and shadow-potato.

Potato-based philosophical art

Seeking coffee and an alfajor (extremely decadent chocolate-covered thingy with a dulce de leche centre), I headed to Cafe Tortoni, a suggestion from Carolina, and a place where once the literati of Buenos Aires used to congregate. Now a gawping spot for tourists, (I can’t tell you how much I hate tourists!) it is still a magnificent building.

Cafe Tortoni – Starbucks eat your heart out

As a newly caffeinated Shohn (the way my name seems to be pronounced here) stepped out of the cafe, he noticed the next door building happened to be a tango academy, offering classes, in ten minutes’ time.

I ascended a marble staircase and entered the dance studio. The two teachers were already present – Victor, the suave sexagenarian, all silver hair and macho poise; Maria, at least half his age and for whom the word “sultry” had been invented. 

I, and a motley crew of other beginners, was treated to a silken demonstration of tango by the duo and was then told to take to the floor myself. The early attempts could be described as resembling what would have happened had the tin man asked for dancing lessons instead of a heart. At the end of two hours though……. It looked pretty similar. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, nonetheless.

Further wanderings the following day brought me to La Boca, home to Boca Juniors, one of the most famous football teams of this entire, football-mad continent. It is a brightly coloured, vibrant quarter, although less affluent than the more central neighbourhoods. Having forgotten to take photos of my tango class, I was happy to find an obliging tango dancer who helped me to replicate, somewhat dishonestly, the poses I might have struck in my lesson.

A colourful street in La Boca
The hat and scarf were props

Other notable B.A. activities include watching Los Jaguares play rugby against The Highlanders in a suburb a long way from the centre that I will call “Muggers Paradise”. The game was great but it’s fair to say I didn’t take much time to explore the local delights after the match!
Super rugby warm-up

My Friday night was a take of two halves: I had booked to see a show at Señor Tango, a renowned location in the West of the city. I had booked the dinner + show combination and was seated at my table to eat prior to the beginning of the show. I was next to Cesár, the affleunt, retired tango aficionado, and his much younger companion, Roxy. On my other side were three Brazilian ladies on holiday from Salvador who spoke no Spanish and even less English. I pulled on my beret, white mime gloves, and put my family’s love of charades too good use.
the aftermath of the tango show

The show was a mixture of mind-boggling choreography and smouldering looks from the dancers and some high-class crooning from a famous, Tony Bennett-style, Argentine entertainer. I loved every second.

The second half of the evening was all about “el boliche”, the local version of a nightclub. I had been advised not to arrive before 3am because that was laughably early…. Sure enough, when I arrived at 3.15am, there was a large queue for entry which, when I left at 5.30am, was still going strong! I’d like to say that it was totally different from other nightclub experiences but….. It was the same. I just left later. I’ve always been more party pooper than party animal.

The beautiful fountain I mentioned earlier

There you go folks – consider yourselves updated. I’m now in Calafate – look it up on Google – and about to visit some glaciers so, frostbite allowing, I’ll update you on that soon(ish).

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