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Buenos Aires - an article from the NYTimes (Leído 4045 veces)
Stephanie
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Buenos Aires - an article from the NYTimes
25.06.03 a las 06:44:18
 
I would like to share with you this note that appeared in the New York Times

Buenos Aires
By LEWIS NORDAN


In a recent autumn afternoon in Buenos Aires -- just-spring in the United States -- when the relentless blue of the Argentine day was softening to a richer gold, I found myself wandering alone on Avenida de Mayo and in its plaza. I was near the end of my trip. I laid tired eyes on the cathedral and Casa Rosada, the impressive pink government house, and on a statue with an Argentine flag; farther along, I saw speeding taxis and rare book stores. I was both exhausted and giddy with the romance of the city, for I had also just spent a week drinking gallons of espresso and eating dulce de leche (a caramel-like jam that I almost became addicted to) and staying out in clubs until 4 each morning in this 24-hour city. My head was filled with the brilliantined nostalgia of tango shows. Then something happened that told me just how good a time I was having and how far compromised my judgment had become by a diet of caffeine and sugar and tango.

I came upon the Cafe Tortoni and felt drawn inside by its marble floors and wooden tables and dark wood walls with large mirrors. The ceiling was stained glass, and watercolors and caricatures hung on every wall. Some of these likenesses I recognized, including that of Carlos Gardel, the Elvis of tango culture, and the writer Jorge Luis Borges, a personal hero of mine. There were old photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings of these and other luminaries of the 1930's arts world: Pirandello and Lorca and the feminist poet Alfonsina Storni. If my head needed more excuse to spin than it already had, the sight of this magical literary gathering place set it flying. I learned that the Hotel Castelar sat somewhere along this same street, the spot where Lorca stayed when he came to town. I finished my coffee and crepes and left to find this hotel, which in my mind had become a sort of shrine.

And then an odd thing happened. On a crowded street, on a bright afternoon, a young man and woman suddenly approached me and threw ink onto my jacket. As I stood frozen in surprise, they began to clean me up, dabbing at me with handkerchiefs. Then the man jerked my jacket down so that I could not move my arms, and at last I understood that I was being robbed. They took my wallet, then fled into traffic. They jumped into a taxi, which was pulling away as I stood on the curb looking on in confusion.

And this is where everything I had ever learned about personal safety flew out of my head. I chased the taxi and (straight out of a Martin and Lewis movie) leaped onto its hood and rode a wild ride until the car stopped. I shouted: ''La plata! La plata!'' which I hoped meant ''money,'' as a chorus of helpful onlookers took up the cry. Why I would do this thing -- I, a middle-aged man with gray whiskers -- will be incomprehensible to anyone who has not fallen under the spell of this city and its culture of the tango. This is my explanation, anyway. I was not angry, the amount of money was small, I had not the presence of mind to remember that my papers were in the wallet. I was doing this thing out of some weird exhilaration that I can only attribute to bitter coffee and sleep deprivation and dulce de leche and the tango. Most of all the tango, I insist.

The cab finally stopped. The muggers threw my wallet out of the cab window and raced away on foot, marking a zigzag path through traffic.

The end of this ridiculous display took a pleasant twist. When the very helpful policemen, who soon arrived, realized I could not communicate well enough for them to take a statement, they drove me to a place where they knew a translator. Where else? The Hotel Castelar, where I was debriefed in the spiritual presence of Lorca.

If this incident provided the adrenaline highlight of my week, it was certainly not the first. I had not known, had scarcely suspected, the magic of the tango until I saw it performed in Buenos Aires. At El Viejo Almacen in the San Telmo neighborhood the week before, my first night in town, I had felt no less transported than when I was flying along the street on the hood of a cab. I had entered the cabaret that evening to witness my first tango show. When the dancers appeared, the four men came onto stage first. They sported fedoras and black suits, reminiscent of Carlos Gardel. In their faces I saw also his sly smile. The men began to dance as partners, as men had danced together in whorehouses and dark streets in the dawn of the tango. Then came the women, also dressed in black. The men then partnered with the women, and when these four couples began to dance, I fell under their spell. The musicians behind them played violins and piano and double bass and, very important to the sound, bandoneons -- accordionlike instruments that virtually weep with nostalgia and sentimental expressions of lost love and the need for a good mother. Some numbers were serious and dramatic and others were playful and ironic. The dancers' intricate steps and glances, sometimes sly, sometimes bold, allowed me to believe that I was somehow a tanguero too, an insider, and that I shared some special knowledge with the dancers. I shouted my encouragement.
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Stephanie
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Buenos Aires - an article from the NYTimes (cont)
Respuesta #1 - 25.06.03 a las 06:45:27
 
This is the way I spent my nights. Cafes, tango shows, milongas, or tango bars. Some were better than others. The Taconeando was touristy but pleasant. Bar Sur was small, maybe a little seedy, but authentic and the dancers were good. El Beso (''the kiss'') in the downtown section was excellent. In Pelvi's Cafe, waitresses served drinks in their underwear. In La Ideal, I found not only tango dancing but tango lessons, where my fantasies of being a part of the tango culture were allowed to run rampant. I even went to a fiery flamenco show (the troupe called itself Grupo Fuego). The show did not begin until midnight and the dancers were wonderful and the place was properly authentic, that is, kind of a dump, but I realized here, once and for all, that I had given my heart to the tango. Flamenco would never lure me away.

In the daylight hours, I wandered the barrios. On Calle Florida, a long handsome pedestrian avenue, where kiosk is king, street performers plied their trades -- magicians, human statues and mechanical men, a clown with an accordion. I listened to music. I watched tango dancers on the street. I saw a homeless woman, rail-thin and filthy, sitting in a doorway wrapped in a tattered shawl reading a slick fashion magazine. In Palermo in Rosedal Park, I saw Felliniesque scenes of wealthy families in bathing suits with beach umbrellas on the grass. I saw a woman with her personal trainer, another throwing a stick for a dog. A grandfather and grandson played together, dog walkers struggled with their many dogs and leashes. The German School of Equestrian Sports engaged in a jumping competition. In the wealthy barrio Recoleta it was easy to find a French cafe like Cafe de la Paix, where lovers kissed.

I loved these long walks, but the wealthier barrios did not supply the images that fed my feelings of romance. I preferred the bohemian barrio San Telmo, where children played futbal on the cobblestone streets and old men sat over chessboards in Cafe Britannica and antiques shops lined the streets with memories of a time long past. I asked a local man, who happened to speak some English, where I could get the best steak in Argentina, and he pointed me to Vieja Rotiseria, one of many parillas, or barbecue places, in this barrio. In fact, he ate with me and insisted that I order the steak with chorizo, a highly seasoned pork sausage. The restaurant was a humble place, a sort of hole in the wall with oilcloth coverings on the tables and an enormous stove near the door and wine bottles around the walls. The man who waited on us had worked there since 1965. We ate, the food was delicious -- but the best steak in Argentina? I'm still withholding judgment.

In barrio Recoleta sits a lovely cemetery that houses the mausoleum of Eva Peron. Near here, in the Plaza Francia, is an arts market, and there are churches and monuments that some will find beautiful. But for me it is the cemetery that makes a visit to Recoleta necessary. To enter this city of the dead is to walk among statuary and mausoleums of granite and stone and bronze, connected by a maze of pathways. At its entrance stands a huge tree, maybe a yew, whose branches reach out a hundred yards and must be held off the ground by sturdy wooden braces. The stone walls of the cemetery, that is, the faces of the mausoleums themselves, rise up on either side of you as you walk. Dozens of stray cats watch from low walls or tombs, which bear the names of generals and ranchers and others unknown to me -- probably a lot of bad people, if you consider the history of the city. Many tombs are crumbling, as are the pathways. Still, with all these images of decay, it was not exactly mortality that ruled my thoughts, but something more sentimental, more dreamy, ephemeral, as if the past was filtered through a gauze of violins and bandoneons. Evita's grave site was marked with plastic flowers, and young lovers took turns getting their pictures taken in front of it.
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Stephanie
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Re: Buenos Aires - an article from the NYTimes
Respuesta #2 - 25.06.03 a las 06:45:58
 

All these sights were the heady lead-up to the moment my wallet was taken and I found myself on the hood of a speeding car. My penchant for romance, maybe, the magic of the tango, I'm not sure how I got from point A to point B, but it all felt connected somehow. I loved Buenos Aires. I loved the way I felt when I walked its streets and shouted in its milongas. I loved the cabdrivers, and enjoyed many hilarious conversations with persons who spoke as little English as I did Spanish.

A cabdriver told me a joke in broken English. It requires a little setting up. First you have to know that when Juan Peron died and was entombed, his tomb was raided and his hands were cut off and stolen. Second, you need to know that this April was election time in Argentina and a former -- and disgraced -- president, Carlos Menem (later to withdraw from the race), was running again as a Peronist candidate and likely to make it to the runoffs. So this was the joke: Did you hear? Peron's hands have been found. Where? Around the throat of Menem. Well, maybe the joke loses something, and I've since learned it's the oldest joke in town. But that night, in our shared clumsiness with language, it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard.

After the attempted robbery I found myself exhausted beyond belief. Until that point I had lived on coffee and dulce de leche and denial, but now it had all caught up with me. I dragged myself out to one more tango show the night before I left town, but my heart was not in it anymore. I slunk back to my hotel in the small hours of the morning and collapsed with the thought that I was through, I would not go out into the barrios again, though one more day of this visit remained before I would leave to go back home.

Yet when I finally roused myself the next day at noon and realized I had only hours before my plane left and that I would see no more tango, I caught a cab and sailed into the south of the city for one more crack at the life.

Barrio la Boca is one of the poor southern barrios that the guidebooks tell you to avoid at night. And though I was more wary than I had been, I told myself it was not night, after all, but afternoon, and so I would go. The cab drove away and left me standing on a strange, deserted little street, the Caminito.

The Caminito is really only a cobblestone alley. Along it there are many tiny bars and cafes, a few gaudy paintings of tango dancers, even a place with cardboard cutouts where a person could stick his face through a hole and seem to be a tango dancer. The thing that makes the street amazing is the buildings. Their colors, really. The buildings are poor structures faced with corrugated sheets of zinc. They are painted in the most dazzling colors I have ever seen on architecture -- green, orange, blue, red, yellow. Impoverished as the barrio might be, the colors seemed a vivid expression of something beautiful deep inside these people that poverty had not taken from them.

And finally, on the cobblestones, appeared tango dancers, as if to help me say goodbye to the city, practicing their songs, their graceful steps, there on the Caminito in the lemony sunshine, beneath the bright walls.
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