Tag Archives: El Ateneo

Perry

We had a few jobs today before our class so we set off down Corrientes.
First stop El Correo, to pay the electric bill. First problem “No Hay Luz” the post office had a power cut.
Never mind we carried on towards the HSBC where Viv wanted t draw some money. Her card was not allowed in this machine. Knowing how Argentina works we tried again with a lower amount, same response. You would not mind so much but this is, after all, our bank.
We crossed the road to the Abasto Centre, I know that they have Link machines upstairs.
We got the same response, and some annoyed customers who were waiting for us to finish. I responded “Es su loco pais, no quiro mis dinero”
Any way further up the road we found a Banco Francais. First machine had no money, second machine gave the same response. We tried for $300 and finally got some money. Viv said “What am I supposed to do with just $15?” Makes you wonder.
We wandered on and at last managed to buy a tray to fit under the drainer, Viv has been looking since we arrived. That’s one job out of the way.
So we decided to stop in La Reina and try again. “Quarto kilo escones de Queso” I ventured. Then I pointed to the cheese straws and asked “Quarto kilo por favor”. To my horror she put them in the same bag, and then I realised, again I had just four of each. “No quarto Kilo” I said. She put them back and re-weighed. At last I had what I wanted, and with a couple of empanadas for lunch we were done.
Well the class went well again, we left and walked towards Callao. On the way we stopped for ice cream. More confusion as I asked for chocolate with peanuts for Viv and Duche de Leche with brownies for me. What I got was one cone with both flavours. Nothing for it but to order another. A, no two, mountains of ice cream for a couple of quid.
We were walking to El Ateneo but by the time we got there we were positively covered in ice cream. It took some cleaning up before we dared to enter a book shop.
You would think that the amount of English speakers there are here that we would have no trouble finding a Spanish English dictionary, but there was non here. German, yes, Cantonese, dozens. Every language you could think of but no English.
We had seen a fascinating building from the collective on Monday, so as we were passing we thought we would take a look. Palacio Sarmiento is the ministry of culture and education. Beautiful building and worthy of the man who brought education to the masses here.
The search for a dictionary continued, we tried four more shops without success, but the last one did tell us to go to Cordoba y Parana, but it was out of our way so it will have to do another day.
I did manage to get Viv some glasses though, in Callao subte station. The guy was very helpful and we even got a case. Perhaps Viv can now manage with my pocket dictionary.
Time to rest and lick our wounds, then we are off out to meet Perry for a meal.
As usual chaos reigned, all my fault We were at Mochica we should have been at Mamami. We sat drinking our stout wondering where Perry had got to. I did not have Pericles phone number in my new sim card and I guessed he did not have my new number either. When all hope was lost I thought of checking my wallet, and found a business card. Then it all became clear. He was waiting where he had said and we were in the wrong restaurant.
Ten minutes later Pericles arrived. We ordered the pollo a la brassa, and another Quilmes stout.
We got a full update on Pericles business activities and we gave him an update on our apartment. We now have a number of mutual friends, so we talked for hours.
When we left Perry showed us a sandwich bar that we had seen before but had not yet been in. Turns out it is run by a Londoner by the name of Stuart. We promised to come and eat there some time.
The stout was now starting to kick in so it was time for bed.

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Big Issue

We thought we would do some last-minute shopping and took the subte down to Callao. I wanted to head straight for El Ateneo but Viv saw Zivals and wanted to go there instead. Well Zivals was closer and I never argue with a woman about shopping.

For some reason we ended up looking in the DVDs at the English films and were amused by the title “Enrique V” to those not familiar, this was “Henry V”. Viv said “I don’t understand why they translate names”. Someone else was having difficulties and as he was an English speaker he tried us for help. His name was Mathew and he hailed from Cape town though by his accent we guessed not a native. We found out he was originally from Windsor and was here for the Tango, so we had a lot in common.

I did the “your from South Africa, you must know” thing I am afraid, and although it is a big country, the tango scene is still quite small. So although Brigitte is from Johannesburg and Mathew from Cape town, he did know our friends. It seems they both work in the travel industry so the links are closer than we thought.

Mathew had brought travelers cheques with him and was having trouble changing them, we made some suggestions though I am afraid we never use them so despite knowing our way around we do not know the best places to exchange travelers cheques. We told him we would be in Porteno Y Bailerin tomorrow and that it was only a block away, but I think he is being guided to places nearer to where he is staying and not well enough versed in travelling the city yet to navigate here at night.

We had hoped to find some sheet music for our friend at home but we had no luck either here or in El Ateneo so in frustration we went to a very nice cafeteria on Santa Fe and Callao (where they also do not sell sheet music). We had a glorious piece of apple crumble that we shared, it was far too expensive, but hey we are on holiday and it is getting near the end. So we sat in the window luxuriating with our expensive confection, looking out at the street life.

On the corner a young man paced up and down accosting every passer-by trying to sell them a copy of Hecho en BsAs their version of The Big Issue, nobody was  taking him up on his offers, hundreds passed him by, most trying their best  not to even acknowledge his existence.. I felt guilty sitting there at a table having spent nearly £10 on something we really did not need and watching him struggle to earn pence. He was after all not begging, he was selling a magazine, I have an issue with people who just stand with their hand out but this guy, at least was making some effort.

So I went out and      a) Kicked his dog and told him to Fuck off.

or                                     b) paid more than the cover price for a magazine.

Choose your own ending and which would a local have done?

I never got my sheet music although we did get some presents and we still seek some raffle prizes, but what exactly we are after will only become clear when we have it.

This post is in danger of becoming too big so I have decided to creat a new one for the night.

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Me and Buenos Aires (The reply)

Having read Mshedghogs me and Buenos Aires http://mshedgehog.blogspot.com/2010/05/me-and-buenos-aires.html I was driven to write a reply, but of course my regular readers will know that my trip there got in the way, still it gave me time to think about all the things I love about this great city.

It would be wrong of me to just go on about how great it is without first letting you know the downside.

I studied Spanish for years, I am not saying I was the greatest student, I did always find it difficult. When I first arrived in Buenos Aires however I had to throw away the grammar book along with how to pronounce Spanish. They talk very funny here, large numbers of Italian immigrants coloured the language with their own style and accents, throw into this mix the indigenous Indians, Jewish settlers and eastern Europeans and you begin to see why this could never be pure Spanish.

The condition of the city roads is appalling, though this is nothing compared to the pavements, which are regularly dug up by the utility companies who seem to have no obligation to repair them. So while you dodge the holes and broken flags mind you do not put your foot in the Buenos Aires dog dirt mountain. Dogs here are regularly walked in large groups by professional dog walkers, who have neither the time nor desire to clean up after their charges.

Another thing I do not like is Americans who come here just to teach tango, OK forget I said Americans, just tango teachers, if you look foreign and dance everyone wants to offer private classes at upwards of fifty dollars an hour and they are not averse to offering you advice from the minute you start dancing.

It does not rain here often but when it does, it does it like it means it. The streets get flooded and getting about is difficult, taxis become non existent and the power often fails.

There are just too many tourists, and on every corner (in the centre anyway) there is some one trying to sell you leather or paintings or just general tat like any major city. Also like any other major city beware ladrones. There are a million scams to separate the unwary from their wallets, so beware.

So now I have put you all off let me try and redress the balance and show you what, despite its faults, makes me love this great city.I have to start with what brought me here first, The Tango. There are over one hundred and thirty different milongas each week. (A milonga is a dance event in this case) Don’t mix up venues with milongas, the same place on a different night could have up to three different milongas starting at different times, they are different also on different nights. They have different hosts and DJs, different staff, sometimes and the whole feel is like another place. The classic example is Sociedad Leonesa, everyone calls it Niño Buen this is the name of the milonga on a Thursday not the venue, it has other names on other nights.

Your choice is about the crowd that goes (young-old, couples-singles, Nuevo-traditional and on) the DJ and the Host but never are two the same. The DJ and host can make the place; some DJs play exceptional music others so-so. Some hosts treat you like a long lost friend from your first visit, to others you are just another source of dollars. In my favourite milonga every one kisses me when I arrive, the host (male) the waitress and most of the punters who are regular (male and female).

So when you first go be sure to get someone who knows what you want and knows the milongas to show you the way. On most days you can dance from about two in the afternoon until four the next morning, but there are sometimes even twenty four hour milongas. Dancing is not the end or even the beginning, you can of course see any one of the dozens of dinner shows around, most of the “tourista” milongas have exhibitions and on the main streets you can see busking dancers on almost every corner. Still it does not end, why not catch a concert, there are even free ones where artists, conductors and bandonistas of world renown perform in public buildings, if you can get there early enough to beat the locals to a seat. Make no mistake these are great performances and locals will queue for three hours for a chance of a good seat. They know what they are listening to, it is in their blood, so when you see them giving a standing ovation to a youth orchestra, you know they are not just good but great. Every street in the centre is infused with the sound of tango as you walk the streets the sounds will change from Pugliese to Canaro from Otras Aires to Gotan. Tango culture is everywhere; you cannot compare this city to any other. I could bang on forever about it, but in all honesty, words are not enough, if you have not been then you simply cannot understand. I have said it before and will go on repeating the words of Carlos Copes “to know Tango you must know Buenos Aires”

You cannot visit a foreign land without sampling local cuisine, and if you are adventurous enough to try, Buenos Aires will not disappoint. Steak obviously is a staple, do not leave without having tasted at least one Biefe de Lomo it will melt in your mouth and leave you feeling very full indeed. Then of course there is the great Argentine barbeque Asado, go to a genuine family asado and you will see meat piled to the sky sizzling with flavour and dripping with juices.

Don’t miss out on other local dishes like locro (a type of stew), or carbonada (slightly sweeter). Lentejas (lentils) and not forgetting the ever present empanadas (a type of pasty). For breakfast there are medialunas (croissants) and facturas (pastries) with crème de pastel or chocolate and of course the ubiquitous dulche de leche which they will eat with any thing and often make cakes almost entirely of the stuff.

With all the Italian immigrants you would expect ice cream, pizza and pasta and you would not be disappointed they are everywhere. Enter one of the many family owned iced cream parlours and you may think you have died and gone to heaven.

Then there is the drink, they have a great beer here, the brand name is Quilmes, try their stout or “Negra” lighter and sweeter than Guiness perfect to sup while enjoying the dancing. For celebrations here they drink Cidra a sparkling cider that they serve like champagne, but you do not have to be celebrating to enjoy this, it is so light and refreshing that even a non cider drinker like myself will enjoy it, but even though it is relatively cheap the locals will be surprised if you quaff a whole bottle yourself.

You do not have to miss out on fresh fruit and vegetables, after all this temptation, there is a verduraria on almost every corner, but make sure you pick your own, as some are not averse to off loading their old stock on unwary foregners.

The people here are very friendly, but you need to make some effort. They will often talk to exranjeros, but unless you meet in a business arrangement, it is best to be formally introduced. Once you have one or two friends however you rapidly accrue more as they will all want to introduce you to their friends as well.

Talking of business, keep away from tourist shops and find small local vendors or artisans, give them five minutes of your time and try your castillano and they will move mountains for you. You can get anything made here by skilled craftsmen happy to help you out and not yet on the bandwagon of bleed the tourista dry.

The thing is to get out of the centre, in my barrio (Almagro) I can get almost everything I could want or need within two blocks. Walk five blocks and I have the massive (and expensive) Abasto Centre a bit like the Trafford Centre but bigger and without the themed areas. Shopping heaven here for the real shopaholic, but of course you have come here for shoes. Behind the Abasto is Tango ocho famous for Traspie shoes and on the other side is Susanna Artesenal. Whereas five blocks in the other direction is Tango por Vos, a company established for over twenty five years.

Take the subte into town and you can go to Comme il Faut or Flabella or Darcos all within a few blocks. I am informed that there are now more than thirty shoe makers in Buenos Aires, and I know that Tango Ocho will make to your spec if you have the time to wait (three weeks they told me).

While you are now travelling it is worth noting the cost of travel here; you can travel anywhere on one subte ticket $1.10 about 20p, maximum fare on the bus (collectivo) is $1.25 at present. Of course for the inexperienced you could take one of the ubiquitous black and yellow cabs starting a $4.60, be careful though, they do not like giving change from big notes and the one way system sometimes give them the ability to run you a dance. Beware also the fake note scam, they hand you back a fake note and say that you have given them a fake. It is best to keep smaller notes for the taxis and coins (metalico) for the monedas on the busses. (collectivos only have monedas (coin machines) and do not take notes of any size)

Visit at least one of the cemeteries not for morbid fascination but to view some of the marvellous statues, angels and edifices.   

There are literally hundreds of Fairs around the city, one not to be missed is Ferria Mataderos on a Sunday, you can browse all the usual rubbish that is sold or eat from one of the many stalls serving hot food, but you must watch the manic horse riders as they race up the street trying to hook a ring from a scaffold with their knives. Closer to the centre there is Palermo every weekend, lots of souvenirs and antiques to be bought here but much more touristy. And even more touristy is Plaza Dorrego at San Telmo, but hang around and later in the day is a free outdoor milonga, you just cannot beat this for atmosphere.

There are acres of open parkland here that you simply must visit to sit and enjoy the normally glorious weather. Some of the best are the Rosedal, The Japanese Garden (best of the many national gardens) and Parque Centenario.

Walk the streets and view the many impressive buildings, look up and view the cupolas. Visit Teatro Colon, one of the greatest Opera houses in the world. El Obalisco, a giant needle that has come to be the symbol of Buenos Aires. Biblioteca Nacional, a giant flying saucer of a building that redeems the stark and unimpressive architecture of the seventies. And do not miss El Ateneo, formally Teatro Splendid, not just a book shop that was voted second best in the world by The Daily Express, but the building is second to non, I promise.

Finally although some parts of the city can appear dark and threatening, I have never felt personally threatened anywhere and the kids here show some respect, something that they do not in the UK. Respect is something different here, it is not false, driven by rules or some worry about causing offence, it is a genuine understanding of feelings. Political correctness does not exist here; people say it how it is, if you take offence it is because there is a problem with you not them. One famous tango dancer is called Flaco Dany, (Skinny Dany) it describes him, not insults him. Get used to hearing Che Gordo (fatty) or Guapa (pretty girl) or even Che Negro. No one should be insulted they are merely saying what they see.

If you can walk the pretty streets of Palemo in spring or stand in the foyer of El Ateneo or even the Rosedal gardens without a smile on your face, then there is no hope for you, because you must be truly world weary. This city can bring a smile to even the dourest of faces.

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Ladrones

You get them everywhere but more so in big cities, out to make a quick buck and catch the unawares.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to take the subte down to Callao and visit again El Ateneo. I took my camera this time hoping to get some good photos, this building is just so beautiful I need to record it for future reference. Once inside and having taken a few pictures including the bride and groom who had come for their wedding photos, we went for a coffee.

It was a very nice coffee and I expected it to be expensive, what I did not expect was the waitress to more or less demand a tip, money with menaces. She got one peso off me, she should try being nice it works much better. I bought a couple of tango CDs before we left other staff were a bit more friendly.The inside of the "Secondbest bookshop in the World"

Viv likes to be in her comfort zone and wanted to get some things, she knows Scalabrini Ortiz well, so I said we could go there next. This involved taking the D line back, we know this route well as we used it all the time when we were at Luba’s house. The subte was a crush and as we got on two guys looking lost wanted to get to the opposite door, then when the crush got worse they moved again causing us to keep moving. I may be extranjero but not a fool when a hand reached for my pocket I was already there. As Viv said though “how do they know which pocket has my wallet?” They left at the next station eliciting many comments from my fellow passengers, all of whom hate the idea that foreigners will think this a city of thieves.

After our mini shop we walked back and talked about the difficulty of using my laptop here, so that if the price was right I should buy a mouse. Only one block away from our apartment is a small computor shop and I was pleased to find a wireless rechargeable mouse for $60 ar. I arrived back pleased with my purchase and plugged it in, there seemed to bo no life. I checked the packaging it said, in english software and rechargeable batteries. There was no software, I coud live with that, but on checking it had no batteries either. The guy in the shop looked surprised to see me back so soon, maybe he thought I would go back to Wales before I opened it. A row ensued in the shop, he insisting that batteries not included, me insisting that rechargeable meant it was rechargeable not that it could be if I bought batteries off him. We were at a stand-off, but I was not leaving with a useless mouse. in the end he gave me my money back, he would perhaps have been better saying it was a mistake and giving me one complete, saved himself a row and made a sale, hey ho, this ia Argentina.

Tonight we are off to an expats meetup, I do not really fit the profile, but then most who go do not fit either. It is at a Japanese restaurant again not my thing but I will get a chance to see Igor again. Igor is a big friendly Russian the founder of the expats site. Always laughing and smiling, he makes everyone feel happy, and although we have little in common with him and are often stuck for words we enjoy his company.

The evening started badly, we took the subte down to San Telmo then I could not remember the address. Fortunately I was able to phone Pericles and we were soon there. The menu was complete mystery, in the end, on the advice of the waiter we chose two different menus so that we could share. Others were having similar problems, so that when the food came nobody knew which was which. The whole thing was quite chaotic, the poor guy next to us saw us eat three courses while he waited for his vegetarian dish with his tongue hanging out. To be fair the food was very good, but rice and fish? no matter how good is not my prefered fare.

Everything was settled up at the end and Pericles, Igor, and a nice Argentine lady (sorry I am crap at names) escorted us out until we reached Piedras. Tonight being Wednesday we usually go to Salon Dandi. For some reason it is not now in the tango guide, but Gloria had responded positively on Monday when I said “hasta miercoles”. So just in case during the day I rang Dandi “Hay una Milonga anoche” “Si por supuesto” was the reply, no worries then.

As we walked with Pericles we crossed Diagonal Norte while the others walked in the road, good citizens that we are, we stepped onto the pavement. Next thing, zip, we were sliding and almost unable to stay upright. Our first thought was that we had stepped in the ubiquitous dog dirt that pervades every street. We were not that lucky, they had in fact just painted the kerb yellow. Now our shoes and Vivs Tights were covered in yellow paint, fortunately Viv had changed out of her Comme Ill Faut’s, but was still not happy about her street shoes. The street workers suggested bleach, our new Argentine friend called them “Idiotas” or some other appropriate insult.

We left them at the junction of Piedras, wishing them “Goodnight” and they said “enjoy your Tango”. It was about five blocks to Dandi when we arrived Viv could not recognise it, all the lights were out and shutters down, at least we now know why it was not in the guide, though why others told us it was on is a mystery.

We hailed a taxi, no longer bothered about tango, we had had enough and just wanted to get back home. The driver was one on his own, he talked and talked, wanted to take us to another tango venue “conoces Canning” he said. We just said “take us home” he almost fell out of the car laughing though, when I removed my shoe and showed him theyellow paint, at least someone was happy tonight, and he did give me some good practice with my Spanish.

Subte to San Telmo $2.20, Japanese meal for two $180 taxi home $30, tights and two pairs of shoes ruined, priceless, apologies to MasterCard.

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Callao

For gringos pronounced Cash ow.

What I love about this city is that despite having come here eight times now, it still has the capacity to make me stand back and say wow! and surprise me.

Early risers today we were out the flat by eleven, Viv had even been out to  5aSec for the laundry.

We walked down to Scalabrini y Santa Fe where there was a shop she wanted to look in, unfortunately there was nothing there she wanted, and so as always at times like this we went for a coffee. Viv remembered she was supposed to be going shopping with Janis, so we phoned to cancel. The weather was improving and I think winter coats were the last thing on her mind.

We caught the subte at Scalabrini and got off at Callao. We were looking for El Ateneo, but were on the wrong street, there is a beautiful building just two blocks from the subte on Cordoba , someone asked us what it was, we just said  “no se”. Anyone know what it is?, it looked like some sort of university or technical school.

We walked down Callao and turned into Santa Fe just up from the corner was the entrance to El Ateneo. What we saw is hard to describe, it is an old theatre which is now a book shop. They have not destroyed the interior, only removed some walls, so that as you walk in you are confronted with the auditorium and as you pass into it you are surrounded by all the balconies and boxes. The stage area is set out as a cafe with the stage lighting still in place. In the centre of the stalls is an escalator down to the pits where the children’s section is. We stood in the middle and just said “wow” No photos could do this justice, it is simply the one place any visitor should see. The Guardian did a survey of all the worlds book shops and this was voted second best in the world, the best I have GOT to see.

Unlike so many old buildings the whole character has been maintained. It has a whole new life, but all it’s former glory is maintained.

We walked back along  Callao as we wanted to look in some other record shops before we decide what music to bring home.

Isee they have a new way of employing people here; there is a whole army of people putting posters on lampposts. So what is so different? well they also have another army following with buckets and scrapers cleaning them off again.

Along the way it is worth looking up to see the beautiful sky line, and the many copulas that still survive.

Gloria Garcia again welcomed us to Plaza Bohemia, sadly the numbers were very down. This was a shame because we were treated to a wonderful session from the Tango singer Luis DeRosa, I think Gloria kept him singing to liven up the evening, but we enjoyed it no end.

Luis DeRosa

Luis DeRosa

We had a short chat with him afterwards and like many he was surprised to meet tango dancers from Wales. I tried to explain as best I could how hard it is to find tango in Wales and how much we have to travel. (that is why I am a Frustrated milonguero)

I had a bus route worked out for the way home, but when we saw the bus we needed disappear, well there were so many taxis.

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