Monday, September 29, 2008

Tango, Folk, … music everywhere… and more stories

Rainy Sunday in BA, time 23:16, I’m about to cross the street to go to an internet café and upload the article below. It’s been a good Sunday, although Geneva weather seems to make a comeback in my life, I have a good story to tell but that one is for tomorrow…

Tango, Folk, … music everywhere… and more stories
(Sunday 28Sep– Day 4) (Where am I now: sitting on my mattress at my host’s living room/my room, Rividavia 3789 Apt 1A)
(What is the time now:14:33 pm on Sunday,
What am I listening to: The rain outside the window and the cars passing by)

Beer takes you a long way
It’s been a wonderful weekend, no debate about it. It started nicely on Friday afternoon where, after a very long walk, zigzagging the streets of downtown BA, I ended up at a pub with Menelaos and some of his colleagues for some beers. Beer seems to be the staple drink in this city, at least for the income group of the people I’ve met so far. It’s also dead cheap, with $3.50 for more than a pint of Quilmes (the local brand) I just feel I’ve drank more of it than I’ve ever done in a weekend. The place, with the imaginative name Bar-Baro (add the 2 together you get a Greek word…) in the intersection of Tres Sargentos and Reconquista was pretty near Microcentro (the financial/business part of the city). That’s where you see the people still in “work clothes” hanging out for some drinks in preparation of the weekend. I met some of Menelaos’ colleagues, quite interesting people with a pretty diverse background. They casually mingled very successfully with the general population of after-work drinking bankers/office workers and the group of 6 local girls sitting behind us chatting about their boyfriends. Sounds like Geneva right? Not even close.

Most of these people are slightly off the beaten track, profiles pretty different to the well-paid, housing-allowanced expats you get to meet in Geneva (I am one of them, I know the kind). It’s not about the money or the position: diversity here has to do with the real background and the experiences of the people. Take Anita, 31 from Norway, she has been travelling for 4 years, left Oslo with a semi-complete degree in Social sciences and some debt she stills needs to re-pay for it. She’s been living in BA the past 2 years, speaks perfect Spanish, and earns less than a 1000USD a month (a good salary in BA) translating English/Norwegian/Spanish texts in a pretty well-known company (can’t tell you…). Her boyfriend is 5 years younger at 26 and Argentinean. Her plan is to save more money and tour Latin America, because “there’s nothing better than travelling and discovering places and people”.

Losers? Maybe by your “Geneva convention” standards but I’ve met a lot of “international” people in Geneva: same old questions, “where are you from, where do you work, do you like Geneva?”. Same answers as well, more or less. I asked exactly the same ones again (well, replace Geneva with Buenos Aires, anyway). Now you tell me why did I not get bored not for one bloody minute? Why was I actually interested in her real background (It wasn’t her looks and she has a boyfriend anyway…) not the CV elements we so easily dish out whenever we meet someone? I’ve done it many times, I even think I should prepare a pre-recorded helpline message on my profile: “For where I work/if I like it, press 1”, “For do I like living in Geneva, press 2”, “For Do I ski in winter, press 3”, “For Do I miss Greece, press 4” and so on…
I guess I will find out more about her, Buenos Aires people are so friendly, she has already invited me for an “asado” (BBQ) next weekend…

Music…everywhere (i)
You expect it. They’ve all told you about it. Buenos Aires lives and breathes tango. Yes, ok I agree. I don’t have the proof, just some indications but I guess walking around downtown on a Friday afternoon, in Calle Florida (the busiest commercial/pedestrian street in BA, think “Rue du Marche”, “Ermou”, “Tsimiski” whatever) and seeing a couple of dancers doing the tango, unmistakably reminds you that despite being surrounded with Global retailers (Zara, McDonalds, Burger King, Nokia, Kodak, whatever) you are in Buenos Aires. I paused, just like most of the people to watch this. Interesting contrast, the circle of viewers that had formed around them were mostly tourists, locals casually went about their business like this is a daily happening. I guess it is. It’s also beautiful. Sure, I would never be able to dance so elegantly, let alone convince someone to dance with me but it was still a wonderful sight. Choreographic movements, elegance, woman in a short skirt dress and high heels, gracefully, effortlessly spinning around the guy, his slick hair combed back, black shirts & trousers.

You don’t even need to like this type of dance or music, at that moment it was unimportant, for me it was beyond that – it was a clear statement, right there before my eyes: you are half the way around the world, far away from all you know and are used to. Welcome to the trip of a lifetime…

Music…everywhere (ii)
“Tonight we are going to a peña (péh-nia)”, Menelaos said. I didn’t know that word in Spanish. I only knew “pena” (pé-na) and it means “pitty”. Far from that, peña is a folk party/event with live music, that people go to dance. I mean in: People go to dance. Forget the European clubs (or the ones in Athens at least) where stylish, well-dressed, posh people go out, listen to music blasting from the speakers, unable to talk, too shy or uninterested to dance, they just “hang there”, drink in one hand, ultimate boredom & introversion in the other, they use the one hand and the contents of the glass to lighten the grip of the other one…
Forget classy surroundings as well, this is no club, peñas usually take place in big warehouses or hangars, large enough to fit hundreds of people, tables and a stage.

Ours was at the Caballito (pronounced: ka-ba-shii-to in Argentinean Spanish) District. It is an old converted train station with the most appropriate of names “Estación de los Deseos” (Desire station). We went there at a normal time, 01:30... It’s not that it took us long to get there, it’s that Menelaos had arranged for one of his friends to have his birthday party at his place so we also stayed around for a while. Beers, pizzas, birthday cake/singing and all. We didn’t kick them out because we had to go to the peña, on the contrary, Menelaos left the birthday boy some keys and told him to clean and lock up once they were done… As I had said before, different people…

Back to Desire Station. After paying the astronomical entry fee of $3 (makes you think of clubs in Europe…), we moved into a huge room full of people already drinking, eating and…dancing. You need to try and understand the first impression I got. This location, inconspicuously set up in an old train station, the way to the entrance extremely badly lit and away from any major intersection, was a place I would never access on my own, it looked just too scary to visit even if you knew exactly where you were going. Suddenly I felt like I was peeking inside a more real part of Argentinean life. It was almost something out of the Dirty Dancing film (except for the Dirty in the Dancing). I was the tourist and this was “Staff only” event it you remember.

People of all ages were simply dressed, little jewelry, no make up, just themselves, their friends and music. It’s all they did for hours and hours. Dancing to the tunes of beautiful folk music, drum, violin and guitar. Nonstop, elegant, slow dancing, gracious moves, on their own, in pairs, in groups, clapping to the rhythm of the music. It was wonderful! I had never seen such a thing, people twirling around themselves and around their partners, hands on their waist and then suddenly high up in the air, holding colorful pañuelos (handkerchiefs) never losing sight of their dancing partners, looking into each other’s eyes, even people who were obviously not couples or even friends, were having these non-stop conversations with their eyes, starring, smiling, so little said, so much meant…

I wanted to film it, it really tried. The fact that it was dark but most importantly that I was the only one doing so, made me feel completely out of place. I put the camera inside my pocket, took a girl by the hand and joined them till the sun came up…


Christos Teriakidis said...


all videos are ok. Hope you are well and have nice time in Buenos Aires. Vamos Argentina!

Have fun and enjoy this lifetime experience!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Currently, i am drinking my waking up-monday morning- coffee in the office and really enjoy reading your blog!

Take a lot of pictures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


George "Teriax" T. said...

Kwstakiiiii !

Kanw akrivws to idio me ton adelfouli pio katw...

Concerning the people you have met so far...

My dear friend dont forget we all live in our "fish bowl"...Same people, places, questions, problems (problems? do we really have problems?), streets, cars, trees, images, smells etc... We are like a gold fish in a fish bowl, swimming take your tram, go to work, walk maybe back, through the lake etc etc same things every day. If we go for a weekend or a day to a different place or do an activity that takes us out of our "fish bowl" we feel we did something different.

Now...NOW my friend...



Thats the beauty of it ! you will see and meet and talk and do whatever else you do, with so many different people...Its beautiful ! As you said you meet so many differently refreshing people (not always people you would hang out with but they are interesting!) that you will come back a bit changed...

And a small warning...You mind find all of us back here, all of us here still in out "fishbowl" a just a tiny bit less interesting after that !

It happens... But that is the beauty of it...

Its called becoming wiser !

odevoted said...

Matey Nice to hear from you "live"

Didn't want to repeat what the others say, but the blog is kicking ass, and it's a spark of light and a smile on my face in the morning here on a different continent, time-zone but somewhat same life.

I guess the following is not in sync with the current post but I’ll just put it here.

So let me tell you about the Madonna concert in Athens and I will not be as merciful as you!

Total disappointment (my wife will completely disagree)

It is not the Madonna I wanted to see, the Madonna I wanted to remember having ‘been there’ to see live.

The Madonna I would tell my kids about on day. The Madonna that reminds me of my adolescence year’s , of my first shy dances on the sounds of Lucky Star and Crazy for You….The Madonna that simply brings us together even now after many years on the dancefloor with Like a Prayer and Into the Groove ……

The Madonna of “Ciao Italia 1990 Live in Torino”

This was a fully orchestrated marketing show, fully computerized, almost fully played-back, with a 55 year old woman on steroids who has still not found the real peace inside of her, and who needs to shout “I Can’t u hear you moth$#%ers” to her audience to get a lousy “Woua Woua”…….It was a freak Show, It was a night at the Circus…..I was looking all around me and could see vast amounts of entire families (grandparents, parents and kids) having come there to SEE Madonna ……….obviously the connection was never there....and I Admit that like most people there , I wanted to go and see her once in my life....but not like that

Don’t get me wrong, I know it could not be the Madonna of the 80s or the 90s for the obvious reason, nevertheless a concert’s reason of being is primarily to reward your audience, to give them a few hours of intimacy, to make them feel just a bit closer to you, to give them something they will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives, something that cannot be packaged into a CD or the screen of your MP3 player.
So why did she completely screw up all 4 of the oldies she played, I did not want to hear a heavy metal version of Into the Groove or a gypsy version of La Isla Bonita ???

All I was asking was for 4 original songs out of a two hour promotional set, of the real thing, All I was asking was a tiny piece of herself that I would keep with me for the rest of my life, for every time I would be again on the dance floor (with you  ) - I guess , all I was asking was a 30 minutes of time travel into the last 20 years ……. And those who have benn to a U2 or Depeche Mode concert, know very well what I mean…..

So there you have it, my personal experience is sort of detailed in the above, I hope you’re having the time of your life, by the read of it, you are, take care of yourself, and live the dream.

Hasta La Isla Bonita hermano