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Baby, It's Cold Outside!

It is cold outside.  From my balcony, the cold drizzling rain looks almost like snow.  This year has been a cold winter.  My guests from Austria are surprised.  10 Celsius in Buenos Aires is really cold.  Much colder they say than 10 Celsius in Austria.  "It is the wind."  I tell them.  They are preparing to buy more sweaters.

I called Felipe this morning.  "Do you remember when it snowed?"  I asked him. He tells me he will call me later.  He is teaching his son to drive.  "Stay in." he advises me.  "Drink mate.  It is too cold to go out."  Everyone feels this way.

Yesterday I went to buy vegetables and fruit.  I was having guests for dinner.  I was preparing a vegetarian dinner for them.  I almost never buy chicken or fish for me anymore.  It has gotten very expensive.  Everything looks so good, so fresh in the fruteria.   I have to stop myself from buying too much.  It goes bad and then I waste money.  This is more important now more than ever.

I look at everything I selected. "51 pesos." the young man tells me.  The positive is I can break a hundred peso note.  The negative is that I bought almost nothing.  There is fruit for maybe 2 days, at the most 3.  The same with the vegetables.  I say to the young men in the fruteria, "I remember when this only cost 10 - 12 pesos." 

One young man laughs at me. "That was a long time ago.  You were not here." he says to me. "I was," I say to him. I point to the apples. "In 2006, apples were 2 kilos for 3 or 4 pesos. Now they are 9 pesos or more for 1 kilo.  Potatoes were 3 kilos for 2.50 pesos." He smiles but says nothing.

He smiles sadly, "Next week the prices will be higher because of the weather." he says to me. I tell him I know.  I have already heard this.  I can hardly wait.  I spend around 400 pesos a month on fruits and vegetables.  That does not include oatmeal, milk, mate, etc.  Most likely I spend around 550 a month.  That is me, one person who doesn't eat meat.  I wonder what families with children do.

Everyday the prices go higher. The milongas are now 20 pesos. Taxis are going up 30% by the end of the year.  If we take a taxi to and from the milonga, have something to drink, it will be a 100 peso night. Forget it.  I take the bus.  Oksana too.  Sandra never.  She refuses.  None of us understand why the milongas are so expensive.  Less of us will go.  Who will go?  There are less tourists.

The milongas are still crowded on weekends. The week days are empty.  Yes, July is always like this. However, this year was quiet in May and June as well.  Tourism is down and the locals have no money. In the US and Europe when things are slow, the prices get lower.  Here they get higher.  I don't understand why the organizers of the milongas don't lower their prices so more people can come. It seems to me that if the milongas were more like 15 pesos or even 12 pesos, people would start coming back again.  Better to have 100 people at 15 pesos per person than 50 at 20 pesos.  It is not the way people think here.  I have long accepted that.  Raise the price to cover costs..and then go out of business.  Happens all the time.

If it is not on Facebook it does not exist.  Last night my friend Beatrice came to dinner with her husband Kragen.  It was my way of thanking her for making the videos of me dancing with Roberto.  Of course Beatrice and Martin my house guests came too.

When my friends read that I had a dinner party they didn't even bother to post to Facebook.  The phone rang.  "How come I was not invited?"  They wanted to know.  In Argentina we have an open door policy.  This was different.  It was not a party party.  Just something small.  "Who was there?"  they demanded.  Then the real test when I insisted no one, "Was Oksana there?"  "No."  I told them.  "She was not."  They are not used to me having a dinner party where I don't invite the world. "The next one." I promise.

I think about getting dressed to go out and dance tonight. It is cold, wet, and rainy. Martin is coming down with a cold. My guests decide they would rather stay in. I think about paying close to 80 pesos and no one will be there.  I decide to stay in too.  Tomorrow will be Gricel and I will go to celebrate the birthday of a friend.  Better to stay in and drink mate.

Back to Seattle

My feet touch the ground and I leave the Amtrak train.  I see Jeff as I leave the station.  Mary Lynne is in the car.  Jeff as usual has a plan.  We are going to a Japanese market.  Jeff lived in Japan when he was in the Navy.  He learned to speak some Japanese.  He should meet Gigi.  She lived there too. 

The area we go to is like a small Japan town.  The market is beautiful.  I want wasabi chips.  Jeff insists I first walk the market.  He points out many things to me.  Some were things I knew, but others were new to me.  He told me about a tea that becomes a beautiful flower when you put it in water.  He and Mary Lynne had experienced it on one of their trips.  They have it in this market and he shows me the tin.  He secretly buys one for me.

I decide to buy real green tea as it is very expensive in Buenos AIres.  Except when I see the prices here, I am astounded!  $17 or more!  The prices in Buenos Aires really are not that bad.  I convert everything to pesos.  I know that this sounds funny.  But sometimes something that might be a good price in dollars is not that good a price in pesos.  I can buy it cheaper in Argentina.

Jeff points out some less expensive brands of tea.  We go to find my wasabi chips.  I go overboard.  I love wasabi chips.  I but several different types.  Why am I buying so much junk food?  I never eat like this.  We go up and down the isles looking at all the different things.  Japanese packaging is pretty cool you have to admit. It screams "Buy me I am so cute."

After our brief tour of the Japanese market we go to some other shopping areas. Tonight I am having dinner with my fiend Ken.  We are going to go dance in Seattle at China Harbor.  I am excited.  I have never actually met Ken.  He is one of my blog readers and a friend of many of my friends.  Jeff and Mary Lynne are a little rattled that I go out with men from the Internet this way.  It is hard to explain "El Mundo del Tango."

When I get home I ask Jeff what he did with my suitcase.  He looks at me blankly. "Don't you remember I gave it to you?"  I tell him.  He goes out to check the car.  We think about it.  I actually have him convinced that I gave it to him.  The fact is that I left it on the Amtrak train.  Visions of Federal Express stream through my brain with my suitcase ending up in Peoria or Tallahassee.

We call Amtrak.  I brace for the worse after my Federal Express experience.  The woman asks for the ticket locator number and then apologizes as she puts me on hold.  She comes back, tells me my suitcase is on the train in Portland, they will put it on the train to Seattle and I will have that night at 9:45. My, Federal Express, take a lesson in Customer Service.  Hopefully it will be there.  Jeff says he will go get it while I am at the milonga.

Then reality hits. I HAVE NO MAKE UP or PLANCHEADOR: (I don't know what you call it in English) What am I going to do?  In a way it is sort of funny.  It would be horrifying if I was in Buenos AIres.  But here in the states it almost makes no difference.  Jeff offers me some of Mary Lynne's makeup.  I make due with what I have.  The fresh look I suppose.  Not my normal vamp look.

It is nice to finally meet Ken.  I love meeting my blog readers.  We have mutual friends.  It is sort of funny.  He comes on time like an American and ends up in the living room with Jeff, who acts like my dad and gets to approve.  I like an Argentine am late and come in well, like I do, talking.

Ken thought we would go to dinner at Ivar's but it was a long wait.  So we set off to find a restaurant close to the milonga.  On our hunt we pass a mysterious looking building.  Ken decides we should go there and check it out.  The place is called Pasta Freska

We walked in.  It looked OK.  People were eating.   A slim Indian woman in jeans was running around dishing out food with a spatula.  She smiled at us and waved us to a table.  "The chef will be with you in a moment." she said.  "The chef?"  I thought.  "OK".  We watched as the woman continued to dish out food from bowls and plates at each of the tables.  It was a little strange.  Ken and I watched.

In a few minutes came The Chef, Mike.  He asked us what we didn't like to eat.  I told him no beef or pork,  Ken told him no anchovies.  He asked a few more questions.  He told us that the menu was a surprise.  That it would be 6 courses.

A surprise it was!  We were never allowed to ask what was coming.  The food was incredible.  I ate everything.  More bad great food.  I had a wonderful tortellini in hot pepper cream sauce. Ken had penne pasta with meatballs, I had a halibut baked with spices and vegetables, Ken had a seared shark, there was chicken marsala stuffed, the food was amazing, and it didn't stop coming.  The chef Mike and the young woman were very attentive.  While it was a very strange dining experience it was well worth it and fun.

Now overly full it was time to go dance.  I had heard great things about this milonga.  It is in the banquet room of a Chinese restaurant overlooking the lake.  I sit and watch.  I am content to do this. Most people dance the same pattern.  They dance it well, but the same.  I listen to the music. 

A young Mexican man asks me to dance.  He is a beginner.  It is a disaster.  I am kind.  I sit him down after the first song.  He wants to talk.  I am kind.  He wants lessons.  I tell him I am leaving on Wednesday.  Mostly I watch.  I am not used to asking men to dance or being forward.  I am used to using the cabaceo.  They do not do that here.

I use it on one man.  He is very nice.  He wants to come to Buenos AIres.  I tell him about my Bed and Breakfast.  He is sorry I am leaving on Wednesday.  I meet several very nice men when I am dancing. I find the dancers in Seattle to be very nice.  I dance with my friend "Arturo" who spends half the year in Buenos Aires. 

A woman comes up to me.  "Are you Howard Bisgeir's cousin?" she asks me.  I am a little shocked.  I laugh, "Yes,"  I tell her, "How did you know, we don't exactly look alike."  She laughs and says "You are on his Facebook."  Ahhh if it isn't on Facebook, it doesn't exist.  She tells me she used to work with my cousin and what a sweet guy he is.  I think I know this.  He is my cousin.  What a small world. Facebook and Tango.

I dance a few more tandas.  I like Seattle. The people are nice here.  It is not Buenos Aires, but it is nice.  I wish I could have stayed a little longer, but my "dad and mom" are waiting for me outside in the car, hopefully with my suitcase.

The Secret Society

The milongas are empty.  Tourism is down.  The locals have no money.  I don't think I have ever seen them this empty.  Not even in January on a hot weekend.  The tourists are complaining.  "Where are all the locals?"  I am getting emails and messages on Facebook.  "Is there a secret society where the locals go to dance?" they ask me. 

Tango is too expensive for the locals.  It used to be we could go to dance every night and maybe in the afternoon.  Now, no matter how much you love tango, you can only go maybe twice a week.  The entrance to a milonga is 20 pesos, something to drink another 10.  If you have to take a taxi home, at the least it is 20 pesos.  A 50 peso night.  For an American this is $12, for a European, 10 euros.  For us, it is still 50 pesos. Who can go more than one or two times a week?  The tourists go home, they go back to work.  We are still here.

Their Tango Disneyland is being ruined. One night at Niño Bien a guy from the states sat and complained to me about the lack of Porteños in the milonga.  He told me how he had been coming twice a year for 4 years to Buenos Aires.  He waved his arm at the floor, "Why would I come back for this?" he said to me. Sorry to rain on your parade. 

Shoe stores charging more than 450 pesos for plastic and cardboard shoes.  Authentic tango shoes.  How do they all stay in business?  Everyone is a teacher.  If you are born in Argentina, then it must be in your genes.  It doesn't matter if you can teach.  It doesn't seem to even matter if you can dance.  It only seems to matter if you are Argentine and have the right connections.  Chantas everywhere.  At the very least they get a paid vacation.  Maybe.  Who really pays?

What happened to tango?  What happened to the elegance of the dance?  To the overcrowded milongas stuffed with locals?  Where people danced until 6 am in close embrace to only tango music without a question.  Where a maestro was looked up to.  Where the occasional foreigner came to learn and respect a dance that was steeped in tradition.

Tango Disneyland.  Where the locals can no longer afford to ride.

Tell Me Something Good

I had dinner the other night with a friend.  He was a tango dancer from a time ago.  He started dancing over 20 years ago.  He stopped when he had his second child 9 years ago.  He popped in and out.  Now divorced 3 years, he wanted to start back in. 

"Tell me about the milonga."  He says.  "Tell me something."  "The milongas are different now."  I tell him.  "They have changed a lot." "How is my old friend Omar Vega?" he asks.  I stare at him in disbelief.  He continues, "We were great friends.  I knew him 20 years ago.  What is he up to these days.?" "He is dead."  I tell him. My friend looks at me like I am crazy.  "Omar Vega." He says to me like I am stupid. "Do you know who I am talking about? He dances milonga traispie.  He had a German wife and kids.  I knew her."  He tells me.

"Yes, I knew who Omar Vega was.  I knew him well.  He passed away almost 2 years ago." I tell him.  He looks sad.  "How, where?"  I fill him in. He shakes his head.  "Who else?"  I tell him about Tete, about Osvaldo, about several other milongueros.

"The milongas are different now."  I tell him.  "Even the tourists are complaining." He leans forward as his jaw drops. "The tourists are complaining? What are they complaining about?"

"They say there are not enough Argentines in the milongas. There are too many tourists.  They want to know where the locals go to dance, if there is a secret underground society they don't know about.  They don't understand why the locals don't dance with them.

They don't seem to understand that the milongas are too expensive for us now.  The entrance is 20 pesos.  Something to drink maybe another 10 pesos, and if you have to take a taxi home, well another 20 pesos.  50 pesos for a night out is a lot.  Most people do not go out more than once maybe twice a week now.  They can't.  It isn't like the old days.  Who has a budget of a 1000 pesos to spend on milongas for a month?"

"The worst"  I tell him, "Is when they complain to me about how expensive it has gotten here. As if I am supposed to feel sorry for them."  My friend looks at me.  "Nena, tell me something good."  I smile at him.  "I like the chicken."

A Change Of Time

I have a guest who has stayed with me  7 times in the last 4 years.  I remember the first time she stayed with me.  We went to a milonga.  I took her to the milongas I usually go to.  After several milongas she said to me "These people are all so old. Aren't there any milongas with younger people?"

She found her way to Canning, to La Viruta, and all the other milongas.  She bought tons and tons of shoes. She took 2 lessons every day with name brands.  The amount of money she spent made my head spin. We would meet in my kitchen after coming home from our respective milongas.  She would revel me with tales of the people she met, of the name brands, of the people who danced in the US and other countries.  Mostly I listened.  Sometimes I would play devil's advocate.  She is a smart girl.  I didn't understand how she could idolize these people.  Or really how anyone could.

It had been over a year since she had last came to Buenos Aires.  She came home after her first milonga. We met in the kitchen the next morning.  "I can't believe it!" she said to me.  "Every guy tried to sell me something! CDs, Lessons, and even themselves!" she said to me.  "It was disgusting."

Each day she has been here has been the same.  She cannot believe how she is being hustled in the milongas by men and even some of the women to buy things.  She is watching women she knows pair up with the Argentine men even if they are married.  "Has it always been like this?" she asks me. "Or is it worse now?"  The bloom is off the rose.

Tonight before I leave for the theater she stops me. "Do you think that you could recommend a milonga to me where no one wants to sell me anything?  Where the people just want to go to dance?"  I tell her "You could go with me on Saturday, but everyone is old.  There are no teachers there.  No one wants to sell anything.  People just want to dance.  Enjoy the music."  She looks at me. "Do you think they will dance with me?"  "Of course."  I tell her.  "Why not?"

What Once Was the Tango.

On Saturday I met Amanda at Canning.  I usually do not dance on Saturdays.  It was only because Amanda wanted to go that I agreed to meet her there.  Salon Canning has a milonga every day of the week.  The ambiance of the milonga depends on who is the organizer.  Each day is different.

I love going to milongas with Amanda.  I get a history lesson each time.  She tells me wonderful stories of what it was like to dance tango here in Buenos Aires.  Between us both we know everyone.  Of course we share our stories like two teenagers talking about boys.

She pointed out an older gentleman to me.  She said his name is "Chino."  He was dapper in a dark blue suit, shirt, and tie.  This is how all the men used to dress in the milongas at night when I first came to Buenos Aires.  At the very least a sport coat and dress slacks.  No jeans.  No tshirts.  No tennis shoes.

The women too, would be dressed beautifully.  You never saw pants.  Simple elegant dresses or skirts.  Sandra tells me that she loved to watch her mother get dressed to go dance tango.  Now you see everything, whether it is flattering or not.

According to Amanda, Chino is almost 80 years old.  You would never know it from his erect posture and still handsome face.  She says he was a real lady killer in his days.  "He had all the girls."  she tells me.  "He was so handsome and he could dance."

He is the only one she wants to dance with.  I see no one.  After moments of the cabaceo, Chino invites Amanda to dance.  She meets him on the floor and floats into his embrace.  They are beautiful to watch. They move gracefully around the floor.  Their bodies in tune with each other, with the music.  Amanda has a beautiful smile on her face, one of contentment.  I love watching them in the sea of bad dancers. They stand out for their elegance, grace, and simple steps.  It was the tango I came to Buenos Aires for 10 years ago.

On Monday I go to Canning again. A different night, a different show.  There are many tourists here after the CITA convention.  I look at the way people are dressed.  The women usually dress better than the men. With few exceptions there is little elegance here.  I watch more as a spectator.

No one is dancing to the music.  The few men here that can dance well are either not dancing or chasing foreign women young enough to be their daughters.  The floor is a mess.  A crowd out of control.  I dance two tandas this night.  One with a milonguero who bugs me throughout to be his girlfriend and the other with a handsome man named Mario from Rosario who smells wonderful.

On Thursday I go to Niño Bien.  I have agreed to meet friends from Hong Kong there.  I was glad to see them but very sad to be there.  I danced one tanda with an old friend and another with my friend from Hong Kong.  I sat and remembered how this milonga once was the "Who's Who" of tango in Buenos Aires.  Everyone came here.  Now almost no one comes.  There is mostly tourists here.  Maybe 90%.  I think everyone else has stayed home.

This was once a milonga where all the men wore suits and the women dressed up.  Sadly the only men in suits are the older milongueros who are here.  I feel sad.  I watch the floor.  It looks dangerous.  This is not for me.  Even if I stay later, I don't know who I will dance with.  The milongueros are looking for girls young enough to be their granddaughters.  Dancing is not the goal here.

I leave at 2:30 am and stand on the corner waiting for the bus.  The music wafts down.  I am glad that I had the opportunity to know the tango as it once was.  The foreigners who complain about the tango needing to change are finally getting what they  want.

The Milonga Chronicles: Ghosts in the Milonga

La Nacional has reopened.  I have mixed feelings about it.  It has been closed for some time now.  The city closed it down to force them to make repairs to the building.  The milonga that used to be there has a small part of my heart and many memories from my beginnings of tango in Buenos Aires.

Orchestra San Souci is going to play.  I like them very much.  I tell my guests that we should go.  It will be an opportunity for them to hear live music in a great place.  They want to come with me.

We take the bus to Congreso.  I tell my guests not to worry about the barrio.  It looks worse than it is.  We took the #12 bus instead of waiting for one that will get us a little closer.  It is only 6 or so blocks to get there. 

I remember this walk on the narrow sidewalks in the dark.  It was scarier then because I was not really sure where I was, and the neighborhood was much worse.  There is no longer garbage thrown all over the streets. Maybe that will come later.  During the crisis there were many vacant buildings. Now most are inhabited.

We get to the Italian club where the milonga is to be held. As I walk up the steps I feel something.  I am not sure what.  Regret? I feel uneasy.  It is a strange feeling. I start the climb up the stairs to the floor where the milonga is too be held.  I hear the music wafting down.

I feel very uncomfortable as I climb the stairs.  It is deja vu, but I have been here before.  Many times. I feel the ghosts.  Are they watching me?  I don't know who they are, but I know that there are many.  La Nacional in the old days was a milonga that was popular.

The memories come floating back.  The ghosts follow me.  When I enter the room, it is spectacular.  It is a completely transformed room.  La Nacional before was dark, with a floor that was old and distressed. The paint was peeling off the walls, the wall sconces were never lit, and the chandeliers were dirty.  This room has a beautiful refinished wood floor.  It is freshly painted and the intricate moldings are highlighted.  The wall sconces and the chandeliers are brightly lit.  The tables are adorned with freshly laundered tablecloths, something that never happened in the past.

I walk through the door.  The tables are arranged completely different.  I look to my right.  This was where Pupy Castello used to sit.  He would pass comments and salutations to everyone that passed through the doors.  Especially women.  He was famous for his less than chivalrous comments.

To the far right in the back is where El Tigre would sit.  You could hear him all over the milonga.  This front section was all known entities.  They sat there all the time.  It was where I met the cretino who crashed his car and changed my life.  I would see him here on every trip I made.  The first time he asked me to dance was here.  I was so honored.  He sat me down after 30 seconds and thanked me. No one had ever done that to me before.  I was shocked.  Then Rulo came and rescued me.  Some rescue.

Atilio shows us to a front table. My guests sit with me of course.  They are watching the floor looking for someone to dance with.  I am lost in my memories.  To the left in the front row would be Flaco Dany, Miguel Zotto, and Gavito when he was around.  Their table would read like a who's who in Tango.  My table was behind theirs.  Osvaldo would lurk on the sidelines watching and waiting. More ghosts.

Pablo Banchero was the organizer.  He would do announcements with another Pablo.  They were hysterically funny.  The two were like a comedy team.  They were Mutt and Jeff.  Banchero tall, dark, and slender, the other Pablo, shorter, with long hair.  It was sometimes the highlight of the evening to listen to those two.  Banchero the straight man to the other Pablo.  Even with my limited Porteño Spanish back then, I would laugh.  Just watching them was funny.

I look around to see who is here.  Really no one from that era.  I feel sad.  I know it must show on my face.  The room is crowded and getting more crowded.  I do not feel like dancing.  I listen to the music. The woman at my table is driving me crazy complaining about no one inviting her to dance.  We have not been here that long.  It is always such a numbers game with the Americans.  Quantity over quality.  

I look around to see who I can invite to dance.  I am probably not sending out the right signals tonight. I am lost in my memories.  It was here I first saw Geraldine dance with Javier.  They were so young and so incredible.  They were unknown. They burned the floor up with their passion.  Samantha, Geraldine's younger sister was 8 years old.  She danced with all the old men.  She was adorable.

I watch the floor now.  Not the same.  I remember being able to watch dancers here and learn from them.  That was in the days when name brands loved their tango and loved to dance.  Now most of them love their bank accounts more.  Back then not that many tourists came here.  Not like now.  I was one of the few.  

An Italian man invites me to dance.  He is dressed very stylishly.  I like that.  So many people dress like slobs now.  When I used to come here even though it was one of the most casual milongas, you never saw jeans.  Women always wore nice dresses or skirts.  Men wore dress slacks and a nice shirt.

The Italian man is a nice dancer.  We dance the tanda of Biaggi.  He is here for a month.  He wants to know what milongas I go to, which are the best.  I give him as much information as his bad Spanish and my worse Italian will let us.

The woman at my table decides to leave and go find another milonga.  She is not dancing enough here. She has been here less than an hour.  She is more intent on dancing than hearing this great orchestra.  Hay por todo.  Something for everyone.

I pass the time mostly talking to friends.  There is no one here that I used to see at the old La Nacional. Where are they now all those milongueros?  Dead.  In other countries.  No longer dancing. In other milongas.  I feel the ghosts.  They are watching.  Silently, but they are here.

The orchestra comes on.  They are spectacular like usual.  I love the voice of Chino.  He caresses the songs.  I dance a few tandas.  A young man who I have been watching most of the night invites me to dance.  He is a very nice dancer.  I have never seen him before.  He tells me that he has seen me many times.  This always amazes me.

Sergio and Alejandra used to teach here.  They were mountain of passion.  Their dancing and their teaching and their life.  I used to love to watch them.  Now they live in Italy.  A shame.  They were good teachers.

The orchestra has finished.  It is a week night.  People are leaving.  We stay.  The young man with me is dancing.  He loved the orchestra.  I still feel sad.  I try to talk about it with a few people here, but they don't understand.  They were never here.

Soon there are few people.  We decide to go.  As I leave I look at the beautiful room one more time. As we go down the stairs I feel the ghosts.  I remember Omar Vega trying to get me to go to breakfast with him one night.  Following me out to the street and trying to get into my taxi.  I barely got away from him.  The driver was a friend and knew all the characters from the milonga.  He was a dancing taxi driver.  He would go to each milonga, dance, then pick up a fare and leave. People would go to several milongas in a night.  In those days you could do it.  The milongas were only 6 pesos and taxis were much cheaper.  I have not seen this driver in years.  He would sell CDs and lessons.  Another lost soul.

We get to the street.  There used to be the same guys taking care of the door here.  They are no longer here either.  I tell the young man with me, that we will take the bus.  Something I almost never did in the old days coming back.  Different times.

The Milonga Chronicles: A Night at Niño Bien

I have changed my milonga routines.  I had to.  I get so bored going to the same milongas and seeing the same people. Here is the same as everywhere, only we have more choices.  I am back in Niño Bien on Thursdays.

I usually go around midnight.  Oksana and I catch the #60 bus and walk the two blocks to Niño Bien.  We are a little crazy to do this.  The neighborhood is less than nice.  Tonight I have a guest with me.  She wants to go earlier.  She comes out dressed in a way that there is no way we can take the bus.  I explain to her that we are going into a bad neighborhood.  If she wants to take the bus she must dress down.  She doesn't want to.  I tell her we should take a taxi then.

Taxis kill me.  Inflation is out of control.  The cost of everything is going through the sky.  It is still cheap for foreigners.  For us it is a nightmare.  Food is getting to be impossible.  Meat was up 30% last month.  Good thing that I don't eat it.  When the cost of gas went up, so did the cost of taxis. 21%.  The ride to Niño Bien is now 24 pesos if the driver goes the way I tell him.  A year ago the cost was 16 pesos.

Oksana is going to meet us there.  Jonny gives us a great table right in front.  I feel the emptiness of no Tete. Flaco Dany is not here.  I look around the room.  There are many people who are no longer here.  I remember when I first came to Niño Bien it was full of locals, milongueros, and mostly men.  There were few tourists.  It has changed dramatically.  Now the milongueros mostly do not come here. There are lots of tourists. 

I want to dance.  But with who?  I look around the room.  The men I want to dance with are working the room.  They are seeking the foreign women.  Some are taxi dancers looking for future work.  Some are attorantes looking for an easy way out. Others just want some fun.

I see a young man standing by the bar.  I smile at him.  I continue to look at him.  Soon he nods at me. I smile and nod back.  He comes for me and we go to the floor. I am happy to be dancing.  We finish the tanda and I go back to my table.

A woman I know from the milongas is seated at our table.  Jonny tells me not to worry.  He will find a chair for Oksana when she comes.  The woman asks if she can sit with me, is it OK.  I tell her not to worry.  It is fine.  It is funny sometimes how the milonga works.

I am watching the floor.  It looks mildly dangerous.  Foreign women insisting on looking like they are trying out for a show.  High boleos and fancy kicks.  Most badly executed and dangerous.  It is almost humorous to watch the faces of the Argentine men who have invited them to dance.  They need to navigate a  runaway ship.

You would think that common sense would prevail.  The dance floors are crowded and the dancers here do not do show moves.  These women do not seem to understand the nicest thing a man can say to them is "Me encanta con tu abrazo" or "Tienes un abrazo muy dulce," not "I loved that boleo you just did, especially when you kicked that French guy in the ass."  Last week I lost part of a toe nail and got stab wounds on my left foot.

My guest is complaining about not dancing.  I don't know what to say.  I have told her several times it takes time.  You have to look around and cabeceo.  Sometimes you don't get your first choice dancers.  You have to dance with your second and third choices.  The men want to see you dance. I am dancing alot because I know many people here.

I watch a taxi dancer.  Really I am not sure what to call him.  He is universal..taxi dancer, attorante, teacher.  He has his sites set on a plain looking young woman.  He asks her to dance.  She is thrilled of course.  He is good looking, Argentine, and he tells her he teaches.  I am sure that is his line.

All taxi dancers have a "type."  They specialize in certain types of women.  Some like older women.  Some go for the plain janes on their first trip here.  Others like Asians.  It gives them an opportunity to hone their skills.

My guest is dancing.  I hope she enjoys her dance.  She prefers to dance with younger dancers.  The problem is, the younger dancers prefer to dance with younger women. If you are 25 and beautiful everyone wants to dance with you.  If you are older it might not be as easy.  There is a surplus of women for the men to choose from.  The taxi dancer is moving in on Plain Jane.  She has smile on her face like she has just seen the light.

I notice a man on the floor.  He is a morochito canoso.  He is dressed well.  What I really notice is how he moves.  He is light on his feet.  I have never seen him before.  I would like to dance with him.  He is smooth in his movements.

They play a milonga.  I am not one for dancing milonga.   Most men cannot dance it.  I prefer milonga liso over traspie.  To me liso is more elegant, more musical, and I like my footwork better.  Traspie is just shorter steps.  For some reasons people think they have to jump around doing traspie.  I look around to see who is here.  I like this tanda of milongas.

I look to the table where the Morochito is sitting.  He is avidly talking to the woman at the next table.   The man he is with looks at me. I have not seen him dance, but I am adventuresome tonight.  He comes to get me.  A gentleman.  Actually tonight the men have been caballeros with me.  Maybe it is the table.

I go into his embrace.  Nice.  There is only a few bars left of the song.  I smile at him "Cortita pero linda."  I say to him.  Ah the flirting compliments one must give to stay dancing.  He smiles back, "Hay una otra." he says to me.  The next song in the tanda starts. He dances well.  This is a nice surprise. These two men I have never seen dance well.  I wonder where they are from and where they go to dance.

When the tanda ends I want him to understand how much I enjoyed dancing with him. "Un placer."  I say to him. He nods, "Igualmente.  Muchas gracias."  he says to me.  I smile at him.  He leads me off the floor.  I hope to dance with him again.

I look at the Morochito.  I want him to dance with me.  He looks, but then goes to dance with someone else.  Maddening.  I dance with a friend of mine.  We are in a war zone.  My partner must spend time trying not to get us kicked or stepped on.  Unfortunately I get stabbed by a plastic stiletto heel.  I want to smack the woman, but instead I just glare at her.  She tosses her head and ignores me.  The floor is brutal. 

Out of the corner of my eye I see Oksana.  She is scanning the floor looking for me.  It would be rude of me to do anything.  I hope she sees me. When the tanda ends I thank the man and then take off for where I saw Oksana.

"Didn't you get my messages?"  she asks me.  I tell her I have been busy dancing and not checking my phone.  She wanted to know if her Ex was here before she came. "He's here, I tell her, with the 12 year old."  She is trying to avoid him.  We go to the table.  Jonny brings a chair for her.

"How is it?"  she asks me.  "I am dancing a lot."  I tell her.  I am still trying to get the eye of the Morochito.  He looks at me, but once again goes to dance with someone else.  This is frustrating. My frustration doesn't last long.  Jorge Garcia, Flaco Dany's brother comes for me.  I love dancing with Jorge.  A tanda with him makes everything alright.

When the tanda ends, Jorge walks me back to my table. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the taxi dancer has moved to the table of the plain Jane.  They are drinking champagne.  I wonder who is paying.  Everything is so predictable.

Finally the Morochito sees me and nods his head. He comes to get me and we walk to the dance floor.  I go into his embrace.  Lovely.  He has a wonderful sense of the music.  He dances as well as he looks.  Between songs he says to me "You know there are certain codes and I am never sure if someone understands them."  I nod my head.  I tell him "I have been dancing here since 2000."

My guest is upset.  The other woman at our table told her to hire a taxi dancer.  I asked her why she thought she said that.  She doesn't know.  I tell them my dance was wonderful.  Oksana asks me who I danced with.  I point to where he is sitting.  "Actually,"  I tell her, both he and his friend are good dancers.  I think she is shocked.  I hardly ever comment so positively.

It is nearing 3 am.  I look at the floor.  At least it is clearing.  It is easier to dance. The woman with the taxi dancer gets up.  He has a dazed expression on his face.  Plain Jane is saying good night. As she turns to leave his expression turns to anger.  He wasted a whole night on her. He starts to case the room again.  Maybe he can salvage the night.

He spies her on the other side of the room.  A very thin woman in a too tight of red dress. She is looking desperately for someone to ask her to dance. He makes his way over to her and smiles as he asks her to dance.  On the floor her look is still in amazement.  Prince Azul came out of the dark like magic.

I dance again with the Morochito.  Why have I not seen this guy before?  I ask him his name. "Roberto." he says to me.  I am close to horrified.  Why do I always have to meet Robertos?  I say to him "Every man here seems to be a Roberto."  I think I was a little strong.  He looks shocked.  I recover and say "I guess it is a generation thing.  Like Deby.  That is my name.  There were lots of Debys in my year." He smiles and agrees. "How beautiful your abrazo." he says to me as we walk off the floor. I thank him.

My guest wants to leave.  Oksana and I still want to dance a bit more.  We agree to stay another half hour.  Both of us continue to dance.  The dances are all good.  This is so unusual, but nice.  Oksana is going back to the US.  I am going to miss her.  We joke about it.  I guess this is our grand farewell.

It is time to leave.  As I change my shoes, I notice the taxi dancer is now sitting with the red dress.  He has his arm around her.  All is not lost.  Some things never change.  A night at Niño Bien.

Tete.........El Ultimo Vals

I am not going to tell you that Tete Rusconi was my mentor, my teacher, or my best friend.  He was none of those.  I hardly danced with him in the 10 years that I knew him.  The reality was that although I admired him tremendously, I didn't care much for his style of dancing.  I did however adore him.  He was one of the many personalities of the milongas here in Buenos Aires.  Everyone loved him.

I met Tete my second trip to Buenos Aires.  I had no idea who he was.  Actually I had no idea who anyone was except for the few who had come through San Francisco to teach.  He came up to me in a milonga full of himself in a way that only he could be, stood right in front of me and went "Soy Tete."  I remember standing there blinking.  I wasn't sure what to do, and then he started to sing.  I thought he was crazy.  I walked away as fast as I could while he laughed at me. 

I remember telling the woman I was staying with about this crazy old guy who came up to me, announced himself and started to sing.  She told me who Tete was.  She said he was one of the milongueros, an excellent teacher and dancer, but yes, crazy.  In a good way.

The next time I saw him he made sure to come up to me and just started to sing.  This time I laughed at him and told him my name.  He gave me a kiss.  This started a sort of game between us.  Every time I came to Buenos Aires (before I moved here) and I would see him, I would see if I could surprise him before he started to sing to me.

I was sitting in El Beso.  I think it was the summer of 2002.  I was at a table alone and it was early.  In came Tete with a bag.  He sat down next to me and opened the bag.  It was full of ice cream bars.  He looked at me and said "Dinner."  I thought he was being funny.  He offered me an ice cream, but I really did not want one.  He proceeded to sit there and eat maybe 4 or 5 ice cream bars.  I realize now, it probably was his dinner.  Most of these guys didn't have much money and ice cream bars were cheap.

One time in 2003 when I came here in the winter I got sick.  One of my friends who owns a tango house didn't want me to be alone.  She had some free rooms and asked me to come stay with her.  I bundled myself up and moved to her place for a few days miserable with the flu.

One morning at about 10 I came into the kitchen in my PJs and there was Tete at the table eating pizza. I was a mess.  He took one look at me and started to sing.  He told me he was going to stay there for 3 days.  My friend later told me, she allowed him to stay at her place 3 days because he had no money and no where else to go.  Like everyone else, she adored him, and wanted him to have somewhere to go.

It was those 3 days that I spent with Tete, that I learned about him and his tango.  Yes, he was a rock and roll dancer to start with, but once he started to dance tango, he never stopped.  It was a love affair that ended with his life.  He loved everything about tango, the music, the dance, the milongas.  Teaching for him was a way to spread his joy.  It was never about money for him. 

I remember there was another house guest staying there.  She came into the kitchen that morning and was horrified by this old guy eating pizza at 10:30 in the morning and me in my pajamas talking to him. I introduced her.  He did not fit her ideal of a tango teacher.

Like most milongueros he asked her if she liked Buenos Aires, tango, where she was dancing.  When they started to talk about tango (with me in the middle as translator) she gave him this rap about pilates and inner core.  Pilates had not yet come to Buenos Aires, and really, it would not matter if it had.

He wanted to dance with her.  She was really put off.  I told her she was lucky.  I knew the teachers she was taking lessons from. Finally she consented to a dance.  When they finished, he told her she needed to learn to walk.  He started to show her.  It was obvious she didn't want to hear it.  Instead she talked about pilates.

He asked me if I did this pilates thing whatever it was.  I told him no.  Then in my pijamas he asked me to dance, flu stomach, headache, and all.  So we did.  He told her to watch my feet.  He told her "She knows how to walk."  The woman didn't care, excused herself and left.

I sat there in the kitchen with Tete, sick, and listened to him for another hour.  First I had to explain pilates.  That made him laugh.  "She thinks that will teach her tango?"  He talked about learning to walk. He got up and showed me.  He talked about the embrace and how important it was.  Then he talked about the music.  "Never lose your embrace" he told me, "and don't stop walking."

I always saw Tete in the milongas.  From time to time at a party or an asado.  He always greeted me. In the last few months he would give me a hug to go with the kiss on my cheek.  He had long stopped singing to me.  Instead we played a game of making faces at each other, like children.  In Niño Bien last month he kissed me on the mouth, which is not really acceptable.  I told him so.  He knew I was mad.  He stuck his tongue out at me.

The last time I saw him was at Porteño just before New Year's.  He gave me a big hug and kiss.  He told me to have a good New Year.  He made sure the kiss fell on my cheek.

I was home.  Oksana and I had been talking for more than an hour.  Then in five minutes she called me back.  "Tete died." she told me.  "Miguel just sent me a message."  I was numb.  We both started rambling.  

I am very sad. This era is ending. Omar..Gatito...and now Tete among others.  I am sad for the tango as I once knew it.  I will continue walking because I cannot stop. I will never lose my embrace.  Bless you Tete, you will be missed.

Feliz Año Nuevo: Las Dos Diosas

For the last 4 years I have had a party in my apartment on New Year's Eve.  I opened the doors of my apartment to whoever wanted to come. This year I just did not feel like it. I am about to make some changes in my life, and I really didn't have the where with all to host a party in my apartment.

Oksana said at first she wanted to have the party in her home.  Then on Monday, 3 days before New Year's Eve, she began to have doubts about having strangers in her house.  She decided against it.  So here we were, two geminis, Las Rubias Mafiosas, and we could not decide what to do on New Year's Eve. 

On Tuesday Oksana called me.  She had received an invitation to a private dinner party.  Her friend John often hosts them in his house in San Telmo.  She read me the menu and it sounded wonderful, plus it included all the wine and champagne one could drink before midnight.  She said the house is spectacular.

We decided to do it.  Neither of us would know anyone.  We decided this was a good thing.  Both of us are looking to make changes in our lives and we figured a party with all new people would be a great start for the new year.

On New Year's Eve we got all dolled up. Me in a short black dress and Oksana doing her best to look like a tiger.  What I love about Oksana (among many other things) is that she is one of my only friends who will take the colectivo or the subte no matter what.  So here we are all dressed for a party going to San Telmo on the #29 bus.  I mean really, the bus is 1.20 pesos and a taxi would have been around 25.  I don't mind people looking at us like we are crazy.

We walk to John's house.  Oksana tells me that he will not be there.  He took his dogs and cats and went to his place on the river.  So she really will know no one.  It is sort of exciting.  We reach the house and ring the bell.  A woman named Natasha comes to let us in.  As we come up the stairs into the house I am in awe.  The house is more than spectacular.  It is amazing.  It is one of the most beautiful homes I have seen in Buenos Aires.  Everything is well done and well decorated.

Natasha leads us to the terrace where the other guests are.  We go up the beautiful steps to get there. The terrace is crowded with other guests, mostly men.  Oksana gets a big smile on her face when she sees the party is mostly men.  I on the other hand have realized that this is not an ordinary party.  Before I can say anything to her she says out loud "See, I brought you to a party where there are mostly men.  Isn't that great?"  My mouth drops.  She has not realized that these men are all Gay! "Isn't this better than the last party?" she says, "They were all women."  I am still speechless.

Our host brings us glasses of champagne and hor d'oeuvres are being offered.  Immediately a group of men come to introduce themselves to us.  They are very charming.  I look at Oksana and finally she realizes what is going on.  She looks at me in shock.  It is actually pretty funny.  We circulate through the crowd introducing ourselves and meeting the people who are there.  Most of the men are from Europe, a few from South America, and few from the U.S.  There are maybe 6 other women.  They appear to be Gay too.  Oksana and I are the only straight people there.

Our host tells us the plan for the evening.  We are to change tables every course so we are with different people.  It sounds like a good idea.  There is to be lots of champagne, music, and fireworks. Oksana and I go to sit at a table.  We are soon joined by several men.  With one exception, they are all from Europe. One man is from Denmark, but he has been living in San Francisco 13 years.  We hit it off immediately.

The food was amazing.  Everything was perfect.  Even the weather.  It was warm with almost no humidity in the air.  The conversation was stimulating and interesting. Then one of the men asked me "How did you and Oksana meet?" I didn't think anything about this question so I told him "I write a blog and she used to email me comments all the time.  One day I wrote her that I thought it was stupid for us to email when we were in the same city and that we should just meet for coffee.  She invited me to her apartment and from there we became friends.   The men give me a knowing look.  I realize then that they think we are a couple too!

"I tell them, it is not like that.  We are just friends."  They smile.  I tell them how after my car accident I cut many people out of my life and Oksana was one of them.  But then 4 months ago she emailed me, and since then we have been hanging out together.  "That is such a nice story." says one of the men.  "I am glad you are back together." says another.  They don't believe that we are not a couple.

Now it is time to change tables.  When I come back from getting my food there is a man sitting next to Oksana, I have to move further down the table.  These guys are not as interesting.  They are from the U.S.  Another who doesn't dance tango wants to argue about it. I miss my other table. When the whole table begins to light up cigarettes that is my cue.  I hate cigarette smoke.  Mr. Texas tells me "Well you know can leave."  So I did.

I went to the table next to me.  There were several of the guys from my old table. "We miss you!" They said.  "I missed you too"  I told.  I told them how everyone at my table was smoking and that they were really boring.  I was glad to sit with these guys, they were more fun.  There were two women, a couple who climb mountains.  They were trying to convince the rest of us how much fun it is.

Oksana was trying to drink as much as she could before we had to pay for the drinks.  I can't drink that much because of a medication I am taking.  So I was the responsible adult.  We mingled with the boys, the girls did not seem interested in mingling with us.  They had each other.

At midnight there was a spectacular display of fireworks and champagne. Loud disco music came on.  We mingled more.  I talked mostly to the guys from our first table. It was a little boring because they all had each other, and then there was Oksana and I. They all thought we were a couple, and nothing would convince them otherwise.  So we decided to go to a milonga or another party.

When we got to street level we just started walking.  Actually Oksana started walking and I was following.  "Where are we going?" I asked her.  She shrugged her shoulders and rambled on about a party somewhere on Entre Rios.  I think she was still shocked we spent New Years with 31 Gay men and 6 Gay women. We continued to walk down Indenpendencia. "You know this is a really shitty barrio?"  I say to her. "There are people on the street." she says to me.  I cannot believe we are walking down this street, two blonds all dressed up.  So much for being the responsible adult.

As the street gets worse a taxi pulls up and a man gets out.  He comes and gives Oksana a hug and kiss and then me.  It is Gustavo.  Not Gustavo our brother..but another Gustavo who teaches tango. "What are you doing here?" he asks.  We sort of shrug our shoulders.  "We are going to Gricel."  he says.  "Get in the taxi with us.  You should not be walking in this barrio."  Well Gricel was on our list..so away we go.

We tell Gustavo and his girlfriend how we ended up at a party of all Gays and that they thought we were gay.  I don't think they thought it was as funny as we did.  We arrive at Gricel.  Oksana says to me "Probably there will be all women there."  I tell her, "Well they won't be Gay."  When we get inside I peer around the corner.  I tell, "There are men."

We share a table with Gustavo and his girlfriend.  As the night or the morning wears on the crowd comes in.  I greet the people I know.  People are in a festive mood.  Personally I am bored and so is Oksana. Our friend Arturo comes to the table.  He wants to go to La Viruta, but it is only 2:30 am.  We ask him to wait another half hour.  He doesn't want to.

We dance a few tandas but mostly talk.  We are changing our lives.  Both of us are staying in Buenos Aires but it is time for a new stage.  The question is what and when and how.  I have ideas.  So does she.  Now to activate them.

It is a little after 4:00 am.  Another guy comes to the table. "Do you want to go to La Viruta?" he asks. We tell him yes.  We go in a taxi with him.   I want to tell the taxi driver how to go, but this guy an Argentine thinks I am crazy.  It takes forever to get there.  The driver is taking us on a tour.  I hate when this happens.  I am glad the guy paid for the taxi.

We enter La Viruta.  This is one of the few nights you have to pay.  They have the entrance in Euros and Dollars but not in pesos.  We ask in Spanish what it is in pesos?  Oksana asks why it is listed in dollars and euros, and are they even accepting pesos.  She must have been getting it all night from Argentines because she is defensive.  We pay and enter.

The waiter knows Oksana and gives us a good table.  I go check my purse.  It is worth the 3 pesos to me.  La Viruta is known for its insecurity.  On my way back to the table a young man asks me to dance. I accept because he is cute.  He cannot dance.  I thank him and walk away. He goes for my hand "How about champagne?  You are beautiful."  It sounded better coming from the Gay guys.

I dance with a few guys and go back to the table.  Our taxi partner is there.  He is sort of bent on sticking to me.  I don't like this.  He is not for me.  A mutual milonga acquaintance comes to the table to greet us.  He gives me a kiss and wishes me Happy New Year.  Then he asks the taxi partner "Are you with Deby?"  I cannot believe it!  He says YES!  That is it.  I am on the move.  I walk around the room. Lots of drunk guys.  I see my friend Bette.  I sit with her awhile and talk. 

When I go back to the table the taxi partner guy is not there.  I sit down.  Soon there is a cute guy with a nice smile behind me asking me to dance.  He dances the same pattern they all dance here.  So I have to figure it out because there is no lead.  It is a good thing he is so cute.  He talks to me between the songs.  He is really charming. 

The night or the morning goes on.  I get several propositions.  None that are interesting. I go and sit down.  It is just as much fun to watch people.  I remember last year this place was packed.  You could barely move.  This year it is almost empty.

 It is a little after 7:00 am.  They play the cumparsita.  I look around.  I do not want to dance with anyone.  I change my shoes. I watch the cute guy dancing with a young woman.  She is sort of a plain jane. When the song ends they go different ways. Oksana comes to the table.  "Are we leaving?"  she asks.  "I don't think we have a choice."  I tell her.  She disappears for a moment.

The cute guy comes to the table. "It was nice to meet you." he says to me.  "I hope I see you again."  He looks very hesitant.  I smile at him. "A mi tambien."  I tell him.  He goes and stands away.  I see the plain jane come and they leave together.  I wonder what that relationship is or isn't.  You never know here.

Oksana comes back.  The taxi partner wants to know what "we" are doing.  Oksana asks him where he lives.  He says "Amagro."  I tell him I am walking home.  I live close to here.  Oksana tells him she lives in Nuñez, we say good bye and leave.

On the street, she looks for a taxi.  We look at each other.  "Happy New Year."  I say to her.  She says to me "It has to get better.  I still cannot believe we had New Years with 31 Gay men.  I am going to kill John."  I laugh as I start home. It will get better.  I know it will.  This is 2010.  A new decade.