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April 14, 2005

No Place Like Home XI - Tango

Things in Argentina do not go as planned.

I called Michele when I got to the hotel. She called me back a short while later, with an awful case of the flu. She gave me the addresses of both places to see tango (La Nacional and La Marshal). I'm embarrassed, but the idea of going to a milonga alone, with poor Spanish and not knowing how to tango was more bravery than I could muster. I changed plans.

I wanted to see some tango much more than I wanted to dance it. I looked at Mayra's suggestions and chose Piazzolla Tango as the least touristy, and also easiest for me to get to.

The walk to Tango Piazzolla at night in drizzling rain took me down streets that were now familiar to me. But I had not yet seen the corners lined with young men picking through garbage. Poverty is still a painful issue and the economy seems to have a way to go.

Tango Piazzolla is on Florida, the pedestrian shopping street in a relatively small dinner hall that was all red velvet, white plaster and gold trim. I'd say Mayra was right, it was a tourist option (at 160 pesos, it's a painful expense for a Porteño) and although it was obviously the form cleaned up and theatricalized, it stayed low key. The meal (the ubiquitous bife de chorizo) was the least expensive part of the evening; 40 pesos more than the show without the meal.

There was a six-piece tango orchestra (guitar, violin, double bass, piano and two bandonéons), two singers, one male and one female and four dancing couples. All were quite good, particularly the singers, who made their dramatic misery particularly clear whether you understood the words or not. The ones I caught were, "When all the doors have closed, there is still the bandoneon". In tango, it seems, misery is a joy.

The dancing was elegant and clear. The men partner slightly differently than in ballet; it's more controlling. A man in ballet will use a strong supporting hand right under the woman's shoulder blade in a lift; in tango the same hand position is used to guide the woman. The man does less and directs more. Also notable was the stance; the shoulders are erect but the knees are in a constant small plié. There were only a few group numbers in the show; most of the dancing was done couple by couple, and partners did not switch. Not every tango was sultry, two - a number with a comic dandy and his bubbly partner who had to pursue him and a number for two couples playing the waiters and waitresses at Tango Piazzolla, were comic.

The nicest surprise was that I did not dine alone. A party, perhaps the only Argentineans there, noticed that I was alone and invited me to dine with them. They were a group of travel agents, and had gotten in complimentarily to sample the place for future clients. They genially practiced their English. It reminded me, though, how few Porteños I had actually met. I spent most of talking to the young man across from me, who was delighted to have someone to practice English with. At one point in the middle of the conversation, I said that Spanish was a better language to have an argument in. He laughed.

"Or to curse in." I said.

This drew a blank.

I put my hand to the side of my mouth and silently mouthed "fuck". He got that, and said quite loudly, "Oh! You mean, like, 'Suck my dick!'"

"Good grief don't SAY that!"

Who said English is not the international language?

Then he asked if it would work if you said it to a girl. I told him gently it would work if he wanted to get slapped.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at April 14, 2005 9:09 AM

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