My usual Sunday milonga is lucky to have an organizer who wants to preserve the heritage of tango and of Argentina. It is not unusual for her to do things not common for a milonga. She has had exhibitions of folkloric dance troups, among other things. Last Sunday she presented the film "El Ultimo Alplauso" before the milonga.
It was included in the price of the milonga along with a bag of popcorn. You only had to get there a couple of hours earlier. I had heard from my friends in Austria the film was spectacular. They had seen it there and really liked it.
It is a documentary of the Bar "El Chino" that was in Nueva Pompeya. This bar on Fridays was a place that hosted tango singers. For 30 years the owner, Jorge Garcia hosted his friends who came to sing, accompanied only by a guitar. There was food and lots of it.
As I sat and watched the film a wave of nostalgia hit me. There were parts of it that brought tears to my eyes. The film was about the lives of several people who sang in the bar. German Kral, documented the singers and the bar with his camera.
In December 2001 I was in Buenos Aires for the third time. I was in love with Buenos Aires. I loved everything about it. Everything about it included the tango. To me the tango was a part of the rich history of the city.
This was a very dark time in the history. It was the time of the correlitos. Argentina was on the brink of financial disaster. Yet people were still dancing in the milongas. As a tourist I thought I knew what was going on, although today I know better. Yet it was this very spirit of the people that brought me here to live.
One night in a taxi (con un chofer de confianza) I told him I wanted to go somewhere different. It was a Friday night. I wanted to try a new milonga. My Spanish or rather my Argentine Spanish was not that good. My driver rambled on about "El Chino" or "Los Chinos" or something "Chino". I thought he was talking about a Chinese restaurant of which I had no interest. He kept insisting on taking me there.
He rattled on about the music and how I would love it. In the end I said OK. I remembered we drove forever. I had no idea where we were going. I had an idea that we were going to a Chinese milonga or something. I trusted my taxi driver. I knew him for 6 months. OK, right. Well everyone knew him. He lived in the milongas with us.
In the end we pulled up to this funky bar called "El Chino." People were singing tangos. He took me inside. In those days I ate no meat. I was still Ms. California Vegetarian. He introduced me to someone and I smiled. I don't think any tourists ever came to that place. I was seated at a table with a group of people. I ate french fries and salad and listened to spectacular singers and had a great time. It was summer. It was hot. I didn't care. Everything was so amazing.
It was an incredible experience. I was the "bicho rado." People talked to me, and I understood as best as I could. No one could ever understand why I didn't eat meat. The idea of people dancing and likeing tango outside of Argentina was another weird topic.
On the taxi ride back to the city I thanked my taxi driver profusely for taking me to this place. It was an amazing experience. I felt honored to have gone there. I never went there again. It was far. In 2005 Jorge "El Chino" Garcia died. The bar was never the same. It got sold a few years later, they took down most of the memorabilia and now it is one of those tango dinner show places. Sad.
When the movie was over the organizer introduced two of the singers who were in the film. I was so emotional I ran up to kiss and hug them both. I told them how I had heard them sing 10 years ago when I was a tourist. I had never connected this film to the place I had been to with the taxi driver until I saw it.
My road to dancing tango was so different. It has always been different. Maybe that is why I feel so sad about what has happened to our milongas and to the commercilization of tango. In a conversation with a friend the other day he said to me "I have danced with lots of foreign women. They dance very well, in some cases maybe better than our women. But they all lack one thing, they have no soul for the music. They don't feel it like a Porteña. I think unless you live here, you walk these streets, and suffer, can you really understand the music.
"And me?" I ask him. "Vos?" he says. "Tienes calle."