BUENOS AIRES -LET'S DANCE - robmellors

BUENOS AIRES

We seem to have developed an affinity for the Southern Hemisphere. 12 months ago we were in New Zealand, now it's Argentina. Our compasses have spun through 180 degrees and are pointing firmly towards the South Pole. We're not venturing quite that far but we shall be visiting the southern most city in the Americas.

For now we have fetched up in Buenos Aires and have been staying in a delightful apartment which still has its original 100+ year old lift. The apartment is owned by Rachel, who hails from New Zealand so our connection with the Antipodes continues. It's a superb place to spend a few days in BA - close to transport and near the centre of town.

I'm not sure what to make of Buenos Aries. A mixture of old(ish) classically styled buildings, modern glass sky-scrapers and crumbling barrios. The traffic is a nightmare and the buses and underground crowded. Yet it still has some charm and sophistication. The Argentine people are very polite, helpful and friendly. We don't feel threatened at all even when we say we are British. But, of course, many Argentinians have English, Welsh and Scottish ancestors. I think it's only the politicos who stir up trouble about Las Malvinas - The Falklands- to draw attention away from the terrible economy.

Buenos Aires is famous as the birthplace of the Argentine Tango and everywhere you look you find tango classes, street dancers, Milonga clubs and all things Tango. Sit in a bar in San Telmo and you'll be entertained by a couple dancing brilliant tango and passing the hat around. The girls all wear skirts slit up to their navel and the men sharp suits, ties and hats.

But as we learned, Tango is not all about showy moves. it's about dancing in a close clinch joined at the shoulders not the hips as in Ballroom. Rachel, our landlady, says that when you really get into the dance it's more like a meditation whilst moving the feet. Of course, we had to have a go and so arranged a lesson with the help of tangotaxidancers.com, run by another Rachel, a Brit this time. Rachel introduced us to our tango teachers, a lovely young couple, Gabriel and Romina, at her lovely old apartment in the centre of the city.

Over the next 1.5 hrs we learned the basics - a simple walking step, a 7 step basic pattern, a more complicated 8 step variant which includes the 'ocho' or swivel out move for the lady and the equivalent of a forward and backward rock step useful for going round corners and marking time. We were also taught the all improtatnt hold. "Imagine you're having a cuddle," said Gabriel, "but only with your shoulders joined. The feet need to be free to move." After our lesson it was announced that we would go to a real, genuine Milonga with Gabriel and Romina and we were whisked off to a cafe/salon in downntown BA. It was a lovely old building which looked like it was straight out of the early part of the 20th century. There were quite a few dancers there but not so many as to intimidate us so for the next hour or so we danced and chatted. There are strict rules of etiquette concerning milonga which our teachers were able to explain and prevent us making a faux-pas.

You dance a 'Tanda' which is a set of 4 tunes (3 if the music is quick tempo) and are expected to stay on the dance floor for the whole tanda. At the end of the tanda you have a 'cortina', a short break which gives couples time to change partners, etc. The cortina is signalled by a blast of really loud music and it was a real surprise after listening to all the restrained tango music to find David Bowie singing Let's Dance at full volume. Still, our very first Milonga was great fun and sitting with Gabriel and Romina was like spending time with friends.

For our final day in BA we visited La Boca - which in times gone by was the place where various imigrants from Europe fetched up to try their luck in the country. They built an enclave out of the materials to hand - from their ships and such and painted them in pastel colours. These days La Boca is really just a tourist destination but it is interesting to spend a few hours there resisting the allure of the tourist tat on sale.

After visiting a place full of slightly kitsch memories of yesteryear what else could we do but visit a cemetery and wander among the ghosts of yesterday. Not just any old cemetery, of course, but Recolleta. Basically, in order to get into Recoleta you have to be very famous and very rich. And very dead, of course. If you're not interred in Recoleta when you pass on you're not part of the BA upper crust.

RIcoleta really is a city of the dead. Streets and avenues of tombs and mausoleum in all manner of shapes and sizes. Some quite plain and restrained others opulent, ostentatious. Many have glass doors so that you can see the coffins inside. I say, coffins because these are family tombs with many generations of family lying side by side. Some of the tombs are well cared for, decorated with flowers and artwork. Others are sadly neglected and broken. There is, however, one tomb that we and several hundred other tourists come to see; that of Eva Duarte de Peron - Evita. Eva's tomb is nestled along with many others, is not as grand as many and is in many ways quite unremarkable. But the cult of Evita lives on in Argentina and around the world and looking at her final resting place one couldn't help but hum 'Don't cry for me Argentina'.


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