Hola a todos!
I am back, ready to reveal my single greatest moment in Buenos Aires thus-far, although I must admit that there is now at least one other experience running close behind - more on that later.
So, where were we? I was bouncing down the Avenida de Mayo, smiling ever so contentedly, on my way to the famous La Confiteria Ideal. By a wonderful, quirky coincidence, my very good friend Madeleine (originally from Cambridge days, now living it up Stateside, pursuing a PhD at Princeton - but we are not jealous…) had e-mailed me that very morning. Mad came to BA a couple of years ago and had a simply stunning time. Her e-mail included among other things a rather envy-heightening list of cultural experiences to be indulged in, very few of which I was even aware of existing, let alone could I assert to have tasted. "Of course, it is early days" I reassured myself. One such activity on Mad´s list was to visit La Confiteria Ideal, where Madonna shot scenes for Evita and which is still very popular to this day. I confess that the building is not among my favourites, even here in BA. It had a rather forlorn, tired aspect, as associated with a once-proud structure, now - in some senses at least - in decline. The dining area was a reserved, stuffy affair, where numerous indiscreet signs duly warned me against taking photographs and using the facilities as a non-paying customer. Still, the building was not without a certain charm and I particularly liked the upstairs area, a vast, pillared construction, complete with high ceiling and tasteful coloured marble. Well, BA was once the richest city on the face of the Earth after all…
I must interject (ever so briefly) to apologise to Terry in particular for my lack of architectural panache in explaining such covetous destinations. Rest assured that I have taken plenty of photographs (there were no such warnings posted upstairs after all). This room struck me as reminiscent - like so much of the architecture of BA - of a Parisian salon. I could easily imagine rounding a column to happen upon Hugo hunched over a written labour of love or Cezanne deep in heated discussion with some detractor or other. Of course, my view of a Parisian grand salon is very different from your own and in all likelihood patently inaccurate. Perhaps, one day, I shall succeed in posting some photographs and such deficiencies will reveal themselves clearly.
La Confiteria Ideal was one such suggestion from Mads, another was to dance the Tango. It just so happens that I managed to combine my first experience of the two, thereby assuaging some of my original envy. Yes, in a low-lit, grandiose and rather exhausted salon, with scratchy yet emotive music swaying in the shadows, I had my first lesson in the seductive, teasing, emotional yet logical way-of-life (for to call it dance only is an injustice) that is the Tango. I had the time of my life. The setting was stately, the company was friendly and impartial and the teachers were brilliant. Gustavo and Loriana are lovely people, dedicated to what is for them not so much a hobby as a life-blood. Loriana in particular is a superb teacher and it certainly helped that her grasp of English is extensive and witty. "Remember, in this dance the men decide What, Where and When but, ladies, we decide How". Another little gem surfaced not long after: while explaining a difficult (for us novices at least) manoeuvre involving the ladies kicking, ever so daintily, up the inside of the man's leg, Loriana said of the execution, "careful chicos, kick too enthusiastically and we shall be without male partners for the remainder of our class". I was both elated and filled with dreadful foreboding most of the time Loriana was speaking. Loriana's first statement is perfect: it is true that in Tango there is a perfectly exquisite dialogue existing between the man and the woman, a secretive code barely physical and invisible to all but those well-tutored in the dance. This communication is helped by the physical intimacy, the proximity encouraged by the dance and yet, I can imagine that such intimacy may well have sprung up in response to the not invalid view of the Tango as an overtly logical (and therefore perhaps cold?) set of movements. A man holds the lady's right hand in his left, while encompassing her back, just below the armpits, with his right arm. Pressure from the man's left hand, right hand and right elbow determine much. Push gently against the lady's right hand with his left hand and the man forces the lady to put her weight onto her right leg, to support her resistance to the pressure being placed upon her corresponding hand upper body. This frees up the movement of her left leg/flank and so she knows that the next movement will commence with a step from this foot. Ingenious. I felt the scales of ungainliness, of awkward, juvenile movement, falling away under the patient, clear, watchful tutelage of consummate professionals. Granted, I am far from mastering the Tango but, I was enormously pleased with how quickly I took to the dance (and, yes, perhaps a little too pleased with the wonderful, encouraging compliments of my guides). I am convinced that my (admittedly brief) background in martial arts came to the fore in this arena of balance, poise and force. Force in the logical sense of kinetic bodies and just what force such movement creates and how best it can be exploited. Core stability (oh, how I miss those lessons with Jim and Sally!) is also key: I was not at all surprised but, nonetheless, delighted, when Gustavo stated immediately at the outset of our lesson the importance of a straight back, in line with the hips and feet, and the perils of performing with a posture counter to this shape.
After nearly two hours of surprisingly intense physical effort and furious concentration, I felt overjoyed and so grateful for being presented with such a wonderful opportunity. The icing on the cake (and what icing!) was provided by Gustavo and Loriana treating us to a five-minute demonstration of the Tango in the hands, hips, back and feet of experts. I have tried, in the woefully inadequate photos that I took, to convey a sense of the easy grace, the intense expression and the haunting beauty of their dancing. After struggling with my camera for about a minute, I gave up my efforts and gave myself up to taking in such a wondrous scene. Gustavo was in his element, the perfect embodiment of a conductor, signalling - oh so surely and discreetly - the paths the two of them were to dance. Loriana for her part was beautiful: the "How" expertly executed. Add to this that Loriana is heavily pregnant and my admiration reached new heights: a breath-taking achievement.
My friends and I departed with giddy steps, full of excited and awe-inspired chatter, to go our separate ways with bodies held slightly higher, firmer, straighter, yet more flexibly controlled, our sights taking in everything with a sharper focus, a keener sense of colour, of contour. A near-death experience? Not quite but, definitely one to write home about and certainly one with the power to alter an outlook quite perceptively, for no matter what length of time. A truly marvellous cultural experience and a phenomenon that I am quite willing to undergo again with likened results, be them incurred from dancing the Tango, sipping mate, or any other cultural event, within reason of course… Tango lives and breaths, miraculously, and I am incredibly grateful to it for reminding me that I do likewise, and equally miraculously.