1645  Notes from Buenos Aires 16


Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2003 19:50:58 -0500
From: Rick McGarrey <RICKMCG@FLASH.NET>
Subject: Notes from Buenos Aires 16

'It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...'
(Part 1 of 3)

A fantastic day in Buenos Aires! The cold and damp
has lifted, and it's a clear and warm. It feels like
spring, and all of the cold damp pollution that has
been hanging around the streets seems to have blown
away. My movie has gone from black and white to
Technicolor. I get off the subte (subway) at
Tribunales and walk past the big old court house
building, and past the confiteria on the corner where
the lawyers hang out. Every town seems to have a
courthouse square and a coffee shop for the lawyers,
and BA is no exception. Then I head down the street
behind Teatro Colon, one the world's great opera
houses, and out onto the broad expanse of 9 de Julio.
A glorious sight. There is no other way to put it.
The Obelisco glowing in the sun, the wide avenue lined
with stately old buildings. I walk south toward
Congreso, soaking in the sights and sounds of the
street. I have awakened from my long coughing
winter's nap. No dancing empanadas today, but there
are people in cow suits and a mouse hopping around for
the kids, and all sorts of jugglers running into the
avenue to work for tips in front of the cars. I see a
car rush by honking with a white cloth being held out
of the window. I used to think this was some kind of
celebration, until Alejandra told me this was what
people did in an emergency to get to the the hospital

I'm headed to Parana street, just off Plaza Congreso
to see Oscar, in search of some rare music. I'm
looking for Anselmo Aieta, a name that I first
encountered on the back wall at Club Sin Rumbo. But we
can talk about that later. For now, the day is too
nice to stay inside of Oscars cramped office. So I
wander around Congreso, looking at the interesting
buildings with their tall towers and clocks. There is
even an ornate Dutch windmill on the old Confiteria El
Molino. I've thought about living here, but it has a
few problems. Almost every political demonstration
seems to end up either here or in Plaza de Mayo in
front of the Casa Rosada, so it can be an inconvenient
place at times. But today it is beautiful. The tall
Obelisco on 9 de Julio seems like it should be the
center of the country, but actually the central survey
point of Argentina is a monolith across from the old
Teatro Liceo in the Plaza. Just like the tower in
Plaza Cagancha in Montevideo, which is kilometro zero
at the center of Uruguay, this tall block of white
marble is the center of everything in Argentina. It
is the point from which everything is measured.
Kilometro zero, a place to begin the journey to every
other place. A 'zero point'. I've been thinking
about the 'zero point' in tango lately as well. It is
a point of perfect balance. The place to look for at
the heel to heel position, the place where every
single tango step must begin and end. And every dance
as well. I'm convinced that finding posture and
equilibrium at this point is the technical key to
dancing tango. Late one night after the milonga at
Club Espanol, and dinner and champagne at the Museum
of Ham (no kidding!), I actually scrambled up to the
top of the 7 ft. high 'monolito' to try out my
balance. I stood right on top in the exact middle of
the column in Plaza Congreso at 1am in the morning,
dead center at the start and finish of Argentina.
While Alejandra kept an eye out for the cops.

But now it's midday, and after my visit with Oscar I
have two ways to head home from Congreso. One is my
favorite way to travel, the old 'A' line subte with
it's wooden cars, and hanging lamps. The other is
colectivo 12 (el doce). I decide to catch bus 12
right in front of the Congreso building, and
three 'doces' show up at the same time. They seem to
bunch up sometimes, and being a wily commuter, I jump
on the last one to avoid the crowd. Riding home I
keep thinking 'What a glorious day!' The sights are
endless. I see lots of business men in their sharp
suits, and beautiful women walking down the sidewalk.
On one street a line of about 20 workmen stretch
halfway down the block, walking slowly and hauling on
a rope. They bend forward, walking in a line with the
rope over their shoulders, grinning slightly. They
seem to be aware of the primal nature of their task,
although instead of pulling a barge on the Volga, they
are probably pulling a quarter mile of fiber optics
cable under the street. I feel so good I want to jump
out and help them pull. Tonight Alejandra and I are
headed out to the ornate Club Espanol, which may be
the most beautiful place in BsAs for a milonga. It
may be even nicer than La Ideal, and certainly the
dancing is better. I just talked to my friend Olle
the ski coach last night, and his summer racing camps
are finished on Mt. Hood. He wants to get a place in
Hood River to catch the last of the windsurfing season
in the Gorge, and we are ready! What could be better
than ripping on the river in September, with the best
tango dancing in the USA just down the road in
Portland. A large skinhead with a goatee and
piercings is sitting next to me on the bus, and I
notice he's making a funny movement with his finger in
front of his chest. I look out the window, and see we
are passing a Catholic church, and I realize he has
just crossed himself.

I am constantly reminded that Argentina IS a different
country. We were in the electronics department of a
large discount warehouse type of store down here, a
cutting edge 21st century kind of place everyone in
the U.S. would immediately recognize and feel at home
in. I was talking to the young salesman about buying
a notebook computer, when he apologized and said he
was leaving. The other young man who was taking over
came up, and they exchanged a hug and a kiss to
signify the shift change at work. Argentines and
Uruguayos are always walking up to each other on the
street and asking questions, discussing things. In
the U.S. I may go out on a day of running errands in
public and remain in my own world, talking only to
people in banks, stores, or offices that are necessary
to take care of business. Without realizing it, I
have walls up, avoiding physical, emotional, and even
eye contact with strangers. There is a subconscious
feeling that strangers are a bit annoying, intrusive,
possibly even dangerous. Take a walk around BsAs and
these walls start to crumble. Someone will open the
door to your private portable little shelter, and walk
right in. They may walk up to ask for the time, or
for directions, and then tell you what they are doing
and where they have been. Someone in the car next to
you will roll down the window and start talking to
you. A pretty young woman may stop you on the street
for something. Casually meet an attractive woman,
either socially or professionally, and she may walk
right over to give you a hug and a kiss. The walls
come down in a very shocking, and nice way. I learned
that if you think of Argentina as a huge family, one
that is more affectionate and expressive than many
real families in the U.S., things will begin to make
sense. The young sales boys are not making a public
gay statement. The young woman is not trying to
proposition you. The guy in the car who just cut you
off is not rolling down the window to shoot you. He
is just another member of your family who wants to
talk about something. They are all members of the
Argentine family, acting in a way that is very natural
for them. And if they really like you, watch out. On
this trip I sat next to an older milonguero in Lo de
Celia4s who I feel real affection for, and the fact
that Alejandra and I had appeared unexpectedly from
the U.S. was almost too much for him. For five
minutes he kept looking at me and laughing, giving me
hugs, and pinching my cheeks. I don't want to be a
spokesman for the tourist bureau down here, but this
experience alone makes it worth the price of the air

What is their opinion of us in the U.S.? The
word 'refrigerator' is sometimes used,
meaning 'cold'. I didn't think this was fair, until I
thought about it. I tried to see myself through their
eyes. I have several very good friends, that I have
known for more than 20 years, and I am barely
comfortable shaking their hands. I'm not just a
refrigerator, I'm a freezer.

(End of part 1. Part 2 continues in report #17)

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