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October 25, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires # 5

To dance tango at its fullest, it helps to have a feel for its culture.

By Beatriz Dujovne: Letter from Buenos Aires # 5. Sunday October 19, 2009

My friend Celina wakes me up at noon for our daily telephone funny routine. With a smiling heart, sun glasses, and giant invisible arms I step out of my apartment eager to hug this Buenos Aires I love. At this time of the year the jacaranda trees’ bluish-lilac flowers sprinkle the city with impressionistic-brush strokes.

As usual, I head towards my office which is a lovely outdoor table at my favorite confiteria in the corners of R. M. Ortiz and M. Quintana. After breakfast at 1:00 PM, with the eagerness of a kid looking for Christmas presents, I look forward to discovering the events I will find in the newspaper. I want to go to all of them; I want to play with all my toys. Choosing between Susana Rinaldi’s recital and Sexteto Mayor grand performance is no easy task. I discard seven or eight seductive events, and choose to watch a four-hour long Argentine film “Inexplicable Stories”; it is only shown at the Museum of Latin American Art.

Taxi! Taxi! To MALBA please. I arrive three hours in advance. Oh…No…It sold out three days ago. I have been observing how people in this city consume high doses of art. I see it everywhere I go, no exceptions. I get tickets for an older Argentine film showing: “The Other”. I was struck by its focus on expressions, by its minimalist plot. The story was inside the protagonist’s mind and you either figured it out or you did not. The director does not hand meanings to the audience. The absence of background music was palpable; I loved its silence. The few sounds that are usually background became foreground: the steps of the protagonist, the noise of vehicles, and the murmur of water flowing when the main character gives a shower to his senile father. In this wordlessness the man’s sweet communication with his father stands out poignantly. The silence of “The Other” reminds me of another Argentine film I saw yesterday, a gem called La Camara Oscura; the “action” was inside the protagonist, it was easy to intuit it, what was most important was the un-said. (Does this bend for interiority and silence in these two Argentine films remind you of tango?).

MALBA is not far from Fondo Nacional de Las Artes so I go to pick up the October cultural program (more toys). The walk through Palermo among European mansions is quite entertaining.
[A note about Palermo and tango: Ada Falcon, the famous tango singer used to live in this area enjoying a high life style. She and the famous music director Francisco Canaro were lovers…until the break up. She stopped singing. She disappeared. Years later she was found in a monastery in the province of Cordoba. A few years ago a rather interesting film was made of her life just before she died].

The clerk at Fondo Nacional hands me a free ticket. Events are free here. I give her a puzzled look. “Are you attending the Molocznik interview about Jauretche conducted by Horacio Embom? It is about Peron and the intellectuals”, she said. I knew none of the first three persons she mentioned. “Sure” I replied. If I gain one additional iota of understanding of this complex Peronist phenomenon that is quite alive today, it will be worth it, I thought. I do gain new perspectives but, as usual, I am fascinated by the human environment. This audience is highly opinionated and impressively knowledgeable. They insist in expressing their views, even when the moderator wants to redirect the focus away from them.
It would take too long to relate the content of the presentation. But I cannot resist reporting on just one jewel: when the interviewer asked Molocznik when the revolutionary Peronist movement died, someone from the audience answered the question before the invited guess had a chance. And he did it loudly: “When Evita Peron died. Evita was the left hand and Peron was the right hand”. The speaker thought it was an oversimplification but basically agreed with him that Eva Peron was the physical link to the masses.

[A note about Peron and tango: Peron was a dictator, a Hitler sympathizer who was brought to power by the working class led by his wife Evita. Peron lifted the ban on the Argentine lunfardo [slang] in tango poetry. The European-loving ruling oligarchy had banned the popular lunfardo to cleanse the language. Tango singers on the radio found cleansed lyrics to sing. There was no choice about it.]
On my way home something big and unusual calls my attention. It was an actual size war tank with an inscription on the side: “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. The body of the vehicle was totally made of old books. At first I thought it was a truck where old books were sold. No. It was an art piece with a political statement parked along the curb around the feria artesanal of Plaza Recoleta. The sign was on the street side, so taking its pictures became a bit suicidal as it required zigzagging among fast traffic in never ending motion.

I love that this city’s habitants are so politically aware and so eager to express their opinions. Creativity is very much in the air around here.

I enter the lobby of Recoleta Cultural Center and pick up the program of events. At any time you are likely to find an interesting program happening here. At this moment the closing of a week-long jazz festival is taking place. It has gone on from the 15th through the 19th of October. Yes, people of Buenos Aires like all kinds of music and dance. Cumbia is danced as much if not more than tango. Shall I go to the jazz event? No. Enough for today.

The colonial Iglesia del Pilar looks mysteriously attractive tonight. Its lighting transports me to the early 1700s when it was built. Its open doors show off the splendor of the shining gold altar. The sounds of the evening mass reach the street as the church is full to capacity and people have to stand in its front yard.

I watch the surrealistic picture of hundreds of devotees standing just a few steps from hundreds of others with mundane and artistic concerns. They stroll around in artsy attires, body adornments and tattoos. Some have their palms read by interesting looking Tarot specialists. Some are eating street food. No popcorn or hot dogs; mostly home made goodies and freshly squeezed juices.

I notice that the outdoor tango dancers, permanent features of this plaza, are already gone. They will be here again tomorrow afternoon. So will the accordion player. So will I. Same place, same time. Same appointment with daytime bohemia. Feeling a sense of communion with the light, the energy, the jacaranda trees, and the vitality of those around my “office”. I have a personal relationship with the staff of mature professional waiters that are so gifted at learning customer’s habits, who say hello and good bye in their very own personal way. One greets me with a kiss on the cheek. How can I explain this kissing between a waiter and a customer? It is Buenos Aires!

Posted by beatriz at October 25, 2008 03:59 PM


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