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Habitaciones en alquiler May 17, 2006

Posted by tangoandthecity in Whatever.
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Apologies to anyone who's been directed here by Google. I don't have a room to rent. But if you have a few moments, read on – you may be interested in what I have to say on the subject.

Somehow, despite the fact that I have moved constantly in the last 15 years, rarely staying in the one place for longer than a year, I've never experienced the kind of all-consuming flat hunting mission that can occupy people with months. Perhaps I've been lucky - the perfect place, or at least one I was prepared to settle for, always popped up at the right time. Or maybe I've just been lazy – projecting perfection onto houses and rooms and flatmates so that I could avoid the onerous search – because, come to think of it, most places I've lived in have failed to meet my expectations. Or giving up, believing it to be fate, thinking that it's simply not the right time, or the right place. But laziness, luck or fate, I'd somehow escaped. Until now. I thought it would be a reasonably straight forward process. True to form, the first place I ever stayed in this city, only one of two that I looked at, was $200 US a month for a room in a refurbished antique apartment in a fantastic location. Unfortunately this time, this room was not available, but I was determined to find something similar: a room in or near San Telmo, in an antique building, with some natural light and preferably for under $250. No such luck.

Over the course of 10 days, scouring the net and local notice boards, contact agencies and talking to friends, there were only a handful of places that even seemed worth looking at. And of those 10 or so rooms, all were either too small, or too dark (a common problem in the older buildings in the city, as rooms are constructed around a central, internal courtyard) too expensive or not available. San Telmo had either soared in popularity in the past few months or I had originally been misled.

I began looking further afield, in Congreso. I looked at more expensive rooms but in the end couldn't justify the price. I veered towards the fatalistic (a habit of mine) and began to think that maybe it wasn't to be. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be in Buenos Aires. Perhaps it was time for me to go home. But I knew that if I went home now, without having learned to tango, I'd be disappointed. So I kept searching.

After 10 days or so of constant searching, I found a place. It's not perfect. It's in Montserrat not San Telmo. The room has natural light but it's right on the street – the traffic noise is so loud it's as though it's amplified. There are expensive breakables everywhere and I smashed a lamp (and almost elecrocuted myself) within moments of moving in. The decor is OTT – leopard skin rugs and cushion covers, gilded mirrors, chandeliers and potted palms, a fusion of Las Vegas and Louis XIV kitch, with some African and Asian stylings thrown in. But my room is large, I have my own living space, my own bathroom and even, should I need it, a space to practice tango. And to be honest, the kitchness of it all is part of the appeal.

The owners are a couple of tangueros – an old-school Argentinean milonguero and his American wife. They met when she was out here on a tango tour and after spending a few years back in the States relocated out here. It's kind of like living with my grandparents which is actually quite nice. My last grandparent died two years ago and, despite the fact the fact I hadn't stayed with her for years (she'd long been in a nursing home) it wasn't until after her death that I began to feel nostalgic for the tranquil days spent in her apartment, for that contact with another era. And it's appropriate really – because this old-worldiness is also a big part of the appeal of tango.

la ciudad May 16, 2006

Posted by tangoandthecity in Buenos Aires.
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Buenos Aires. They say it's more European than Latin American. They say it's the fourth noisiest city in the world. They say a lot of things about Buenos Aires and I'm sure much of it is true. But though the classical buildings of microcentro, and the French-style departmentos of the inner-city barrios lend a kind of European appearance to the city, in my opinion, like all cities of its size and import, Buenos Aires is very much her own. She may not be typically Latin American but she's not exactly European either. And as for the noise, well, I don't know where they get these statistics from, nor how they calculate these things, but it doesn't really matter: with collectivos careening down the narrow city streets from early in the morning until late at night, and portenos' propensity for animated, exuberant conversation regardless of the hour, noise is a constant feature of the city. And without a doubt, part of her charm.

A flat sprawl of concrete spreading westwards from the muddy Rio del Plata, criss-crossed by a web of autopistos, with no real icon to speak of (one could hardly consider el Obilisco in the same class as Sydney's Opera House or Paris's Eiffel Tower) she isn't the most beautiful of cities. Her charms lay instead in the living culture of the city – the vibrant cafe life, the endless night, the weekend ferias and of course, the tango. Just being in Buenos Aires puts a spring in your step, despite the late nights and subsequent late mornings, despite the pollution and the noise. The artistic life extends from the hallowed halls of Teatro Colon to the neighbourhood arts centres and cafes of the city's barrios, and out onto the streets. You are surrounded by it wherever you go.

The city has its quirks of course, as all cities have. The obsession with keeping massive dogs in tiny inner-city apartments, the sight of the paseaperros walking the streets with up to 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes in tow, or the owners taking their mutt for a stroll themselves at 3am, always confounds and amuses me, even if the ever-present dog turds don't. Portenos' addiction to sugar, their horrendous driving, their ability to linger over a single coffee for hours on end, their generally lax approach to time…it can be infuriating but at the same time it's all part of what makes this city tick. And for me, part of the appeal. I couldn't live here forever – the natural beauty of Sydney, and family and friends, will always call me home – but for a while, for six weeks at least, I'm happy to experience what it's like to be a porteno. To stay up late and sleep until noon, to put up with the bags under my eyes, to somehow get by on a diet that consists almost entirely of carbs (pizza, empanadas and pasta) Malbec and cigarettes and, of course, to dance tango.

el tango May 12, 2006

Posted by tangoandthecity in Buenos Aires, Tango.
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Before coming to Buenos Aires I thought that tango, like all ballroom dancing, was kind of naff. My only experience of the dance was via television – the Australian ABC's Strictly Dancing which, with a nod to the fabulously camp Strictly Ballroom, treats all ballroom dancing with a kind of wry tongue-in-cheek humour. And since the only tango dancer I ever met was also writing a romance novel, well…

But tango in Buenos Aires is a completely different deal. It has it’s naff elements – the glitz and glam of performance tango, the tango buskers who descend on San Telmo and La Boca of a weekend and willingly pose for tourists and with tourists for a few pesos, the tango-themed paraphenalia that lines the Plaza Dorrego market – everything from Carlos Gardel mugs to fridge magnets and snowdomes. Milongas attract their fair share of over-made up women who should have put their fishnet stockings out to pasture years before, and their partners, whose ancient suits barely do up over their paunches. For all this, it still possesses a timeless, indefinable beauty.

On my first weekend in Buenos Aires, after the antiques traders had packed up for the day, I walked down to the Sunday night milonga in Plaza Dorrego. There, under pale lamplight, on a makeshift dancefloor of cardboard laid out over the cobblestones, I watched couples of all ages and from all walks of life dance to the haunting strains of the tango emanating from a beat up old stereo. There were tourists there, like me, watching. There were tourists dancing as well. But this was no spectacle. Couples danced with their eyes closed, in tune with the music, and with each other. It was at once unpretentious and classic. And impossibly romantic. I was determined to try it for myself.

As I did, soon enough, in a class in a local arts centre in San Telmo, with wooden floors and ample amounts of atmosphere and French doors opening out on to the Buenos Aires night. And I felt it, that very first night, the thrill of not thinking, of letting go and just doing. For someone who lives almost exclusively in her head, it was a revelation.

But I had so many questions: how does a woman retain her independence, her identity, in a dance that requires total submission? When a couple dance tango is that all it is or is it something more? What is the essence of tango – is it the music, is the connection with another, is it all about the steps? Is there such a thing as modern tango? Everyone you talk to seems to have a different opinion, some held more firmly than others. True to the nature of any genre, the old timers seem to have a strong sense of the tradition of tango – they know what it is, and what it isn't. But for the younger generation tango is more fluid – something to be fused with other forms of music, electronica for example, a foundation on which to build upon.

And so, after 4 months of travelling around South America, dipping in and out of Buenos Aires and the world of tango, I've decided to stay for a while and attempt to unravel a bit more of this mystery. And learn to dance, of course.

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