Friday night. Finally my friends will get to experience tango. They have heard me complain for three days about how tango has been commercialized. Now they get to come with me to a milonga. I am taking them to Gricel. Here they can sit with me at the table.
Before we go, we have dinner at a restaurant in my barrio. I know all the waiters. Except the one for our table. He is new. I speak to him in Spanish. Yet he brings us all menus in English. I find this humorous. These past 2 days with my friends have been very interesting. I have become the tourist that speaks Spanish. It is weird.
I order dinner for us. They have french fries with every meal. I urge them to try puree de calabaza, another local favorite. We all have chicken. I have salad. They are amazed at my will power. "I can't eat like that." I tell them. I have even turned down ice cream.
After dinner Dave wants one more ice cream. We go towards the ice cream place that is the best and closest. I beg them "Can you guys try something other than chocolate and vanilla for your last time? You are here in Buenos Aires, at least try dulce de leche." They check out the flavors. Dave decides I should order for him. So I do. He is delighted with marscapone and dulce de leche with brownie. I think more than anything they love the ice cream and the french fries. "Tomorrow" I tell them, "You will try empanadas."
Now it is time to go for tango. We get in a taxi. Once again I give directions. Except when we get to Bulnes the driver turns. "What are you doing?" I ask the driver. "I told you to go to Jean Jaure and turn." He tries to tell me there are problems on Paraguay. "Since when?" I ask him. "Paraguay was fine 3 hours ago. Your way is 4 pesos more and I will pay no more than 15 pesos for this taxi ride." The driver is shocked. My friends have no idea what I am saying but they are smiling. They know I am giving the driver hell again. "How do you know?" he asks. "Because I live here." I snap back at him "and every Friday I go to dance at the same place." And for the first time, he apologizes and says he will stick to the 15 pesos. Tonto...
We arrive at Gricel. I have explained to Matt and Dave they must sit across from me and not next to me. If one of them sits next to me then the men will think that I am with someone and not ask me to dance. We enter and I walk to the back tp where my table is. Along the way I greet my friends. Somehow because Fabi is on vacation they have made a mess of the tables. I have to sit one table over. The woman at this table tells me they did the same to her. I explain to my friends that the tables are another thing. "You know," I tell them, "It is easier to work for IBM, than to survive in the milongas."
They are enthralled. Rightly they realize that these are mostly local people. "I don't dance" says one of the men, "but now I understand what you have been saying. This is really different from what we saw on the street. The other was so commercial." I tell them, "The other was not commercial, it was just bad." They ask me who is dancing well. I tell them, "No one really, these people are just here to have a good time. The better dancers are not here yet." It is almost 2:00 am. "There is another milonga, and when it lets out those dancers will come here."
My friends do not drink and they also notice that there is little alcohol on the tables. I tell them it is impossible to dance tango and drink. "You cannot be a drunk tango dancer." I get up to go dance with a friend. When I return they ask me how I knew that that guy wanted to dance with me. I explain the cabeceo. "We invite each other with our eyes. That way if one of us does not want to dance, then it is not an embarrassment."
I keep asking them if they are bored, but they say no. They like watching. It is interesting. They point out someone and ask if that person is good. It is funny what an untrained eye will see as "good" tango. I explain posture and how the simple steps are the best. What they like best is that everyone seems to be having fun. At 3:00 am we finally leave. "How can I dance until 6:00 am?" I say to them, "When tomorrow you must finally see the cemetery?"
It is Saturday, their last day. I am sad. I really like these guys. They really do not want to see the Recoleta cemetery. I understand. "Who wants to see a bunch of dead people?" they ask me. I laugh when they say this. I usually say this to people who want to stay in Recoleta. When they went to check in for the cruise they met all these other people. When they asked what they had been doing, they were able to give this long list of places they went to. They said all the other people went to the cemetery. "They kept asking us "Didn't you go to the cemetery?"" "Well there you go." I say to them. "People are going to say to you, "You went all the way to Buenos Aires and you didn't go to the Recoleta Cemetery?" They are going to think I was derelict in my taking care of you."
We get on the 67 Bus. It is always a fight for coins. This amazes them. That and that they could not go into a bank and get a roll of coins. Or change dollars. "Different life. I guess I am used to it." I told them. "Doesn't seem wierd to me anymore."
As we walk through the fair Dave mentions he might want to buy a mate. This morning when I had mate he tried it with me. It was just a random thought. In the walk to the cemetery we pass aisles of bad tango art. I think to myself "Does it ever stop?" At the door of the cemetery they ask me if I am going to come in. I tell them no. We agree to meet back here in 30 minutes.
In December 2001 I stayed here. This was when I decided to move to Buenos Aires. It was when I fell in love with the city, the culture. One of the darkest times of the country. The beginning of the crisis. Crisis. A favorite word here. I know that now. I make my way through higher priced junk to sit under the big tree. I take out my Ipod and listen to what else - tango music. I watch the scene.
In 2001 none of this was here on a Saturday morning. You could sit in the quiet at La Biela and have a coffee. Now I watch another pair of bad tango dancers competing with a pair of mediocre folkloric dancers for tips. There is a juggler. An old man singing to recordings. There is the wide expanse of the fair when before there were a few (and I mean a few) craftspeople selling real crafts. I watch a large tour group of older Americans pushing their way through the crowd. They are complete with matching t-shirts and name badges.
I remember once in a tango Internet forum how someone once posted how tango is everywhere in Buenos Aires. I answered that no it is not. I live here and they told me I was wrong and gave me many examples. In the past 3 days I have seen lots of tango. Most of it a bad example of tango, but tango. No longer a cultural icon it has become a government icon to promote tourism. If you are a tourist, then you would see lots of tango. If you live here, you would almost never see it, unless you dance it.
In the past 3 days I have become painfully aware of what it is like to be a tourist. I have seen Buenos AIres through completely different eyes. I am a little sad. My 30 minutes are up. I have promised these guys empanadas before they go to catch their boat. I start back up the walk. Past the dancers, the jugglers, the loud tourists, and the bad tango art.
"Hey guys." I say to my friends. "How was it?" They shrug their shoulders. "Bunch of dead people." With that we take off for empanadas.