An Extraordinary Day in Buenos Aires (TravelBlog
10th March 2008
Well, not so much an extraordinary day perhaps, as a series of quite ordinary things which felt quite extraordinary here.
After a weekend of walking through markets, parks, the dockside and brunching in our neighbourhood, we felt the urge to see something different last night. We had visited the Centro Cultural Borges on Saturday night, downtown, for a modern production by the Ballet Argentino. It was quite a spectacle, with a modern ballet take on mambo, traditional modern and to end it all, ballet tango. It was quite extraordinary, set against a blizzard of peacock and magenta body-hugging costumes, heart-thumping music and an exquisite take on classic dances, but all pointé. The audience was mostly an older generation, interspersed with the odd younger model – clearly the ballet is no pursuit for youthful porteños in the know. But, well, we were inspired to seek out some other forms of modern tango and so on Monday night, after an amazingly productive day on both sides, we headed back downtown to the Borges Center to watch Brazo Abrazo, a current interpretation of how Tango came to its 21st century form today.
It was like watching a car crash in slow motion, horribly painful but somehow unable to leave for the sheer grotesque form of both the dancers and the interpretation. If you have seen Sally Potter in her own film, The Tango Lesson, you begin to understand what we experienced. It pains me to say it, but well, here goes in all honesty, ugliness is just not attractive in a lace skirt or tight trousers. The lack of any beauty or real sentiment for this most complex of sensual dances led the middle-aged dancers to put on an ugly display of the violent, backstreet roots of the Tango, without any of the nostalgia or romance that one associates with the days when European sailors mingled in the ports with the earth-hardened gauchos, and ladies of the night. Instead, a surly, eight-stepped performance felt like watching a history of the apparent hopelessness of the female of the species, who all seemed to have their hair pulled by every man on stage, and whom, in any event, looked so much like men that, at the beginning, we truly thought we were watching a drag act. The men, with more make-up than hair, occasionally brought a touch of fancy footwork to the proceedings, leading me to wonder whether Greek sailors may have contributed disproportionately by bringing in aspects of zebeikiko to the dance. When two of the men stepped around each other, lightly flicking their heels and ankles, I did indeed think perhaps this show was going to get off the road. But, then, this unimaginative troupe decided that, actually, Tango’s roots lay in repressed homosexuality, which they revealed with barely hidden ardour and naked sexuality on stage. Now, I have nothing against an open display of body parts, but seriously, the people showing them need to have just a little touch of beauty. Perhaps that is cruel, but they were putting themselves out there as sensual people of the night, and all I could wish is that they stayed in their duvets. We left the performance with a glimpse into why Hollywood directors insist on screening only beautiful people…
So, that cultural feast over, we headed back to the northern suburbs for a late Monday night meal at Divine Patagonia, an eclectic restaurant showcasing the best of Patagonia’s wild meats, fish and wines. Truly, it was both original and divine – as was our beautiful waiter. Beauty, it seemed, had become the theme for the night. Until pudding, when the house speciality was “torta gallega con helado de crema inglesa”. We were impressed by the owner’s flair in explaining that this was a Patagonian speciality, brought over by the multitude of Welsh immigrants in the nineteenth century. Convinced as I was that we were about to see something revolting, I was not prepared for traditional Patagonian pudding to be, in fact, English Christmas Cake, replete with a dollop of custard ice cream. Oh yes, the British do export their ways with merry glee, more often than note inflicting their poor taste on the rest of the world.
Speaking of car crash dance performances and ice cream, I missed out one other special detail of our ordinary extraordinary Monday. As I came back from a productive day of work, pistachio ice cream was filling my brain. The ice cream here far exceeds the quality of any other in the world. Believe me, I have tried a universe of the creamy, hip-broadening stuff. And so, I can safely say, that I know Good Ice Cream. There happens to be a hip and trendy ice cream bar two blocks up from us which does not close until the middle of the night (porteños live late here, restaurants never fill up until about 11pm and it has taken us 10 days to work out why we are the only ones in any restaurant at around 9pm any night of the week). So, pleased with my day’s work, I swanned around to buy my favourite green ice cream. Portion sizes of everything cater to the 7foot American tourists one loves to deride, but here the men and women are in astonishingly good shape. My guess is that the women only eat ice cream, drink maté and smoke Marlboroughs. Ordering a small cone of pistachio heaven, I emerge from the depths of the ice cream bar carrying some Marge Simpson hairdo in an ice cream cornet (only green, not yellow) and can barely see over the top of the mound. Crossing the road, I hear two cars screeching to a halt. “Eat your damn ice cream linda – you can’t see the road”, the taxi driver shouts….
And with that, it was the end of a truly extraordinary ordinary day in Buenos Aires.