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10 little quirks about Buenos Aires

Photo credit: LWYang  on Flickr.

For something a little different, here are some unusual things you might encounter on your visit to Buenos Aires. Are there any other eccentricities from this city that stood out for you?

Argentine futbol fans are passionate beyond belief.  

In Buenos Aires, the rival teams are Boca Juniors and River Plate. You can not like both. It is simply impossible. Even small children can become upset when finding out their new school friends are supporters of the other team. Game day includes busloads of estactic fans, leaning out of windows chanting and waving their shirts around. Boca Juniors has their own world famous band at all their games banging their drums and chanting a variety of songs which even the youngest fans sing along with. Some people even leave work early or arrive late just because they wanted to stay home to watch the game.

Mate (pronounced MAH-teh) is shared at many social gatherings.

The ´don´t share your drink bottle´ rule does not apply at many Argentine social gatherings as the famous mate (tea leaves in a gourd) is passed around the group and shared amongst all those who want to participate. There are a set of ´rules´ about how to make mate and participate in the round, which are generally followed but the most important for beginners to remember is not to move the bombilla (drinking straw). The tea is not to be stirred!

Drinkable yoghurt comes in sachets remarkably similar to normal milk.

While drinkable yoghurt in sachets is perhaps not a terribly different thing in the world, the surprise it can bring to those who do not understand spanish and pay little attention when trying to distinguish which ¨milk¨ they are buying from the fridge, makes it worth noting. Consider yourself warned so you don´t need to find out first hand what happens when you accidently pour strawberry yoghurt into your coffee. Handy hint: make sure it says Leche.

Most road markings are simply suggestions.

When it comes to intersections, the official rule is ´give way to the right´.  In real life, it is usually first come first served, or whomever is going the fastest or whichever car/bus/truck is biggest.  You will find some stop signs placed at some intersections, but these are merely to suggest that this intersection is more dangerous than others so it might pay to slow down a little.  Painted lines on the road seem rather decorative than to serve any purpose and some larger streets (ie capable of fitting 5 cars wide) do not even have lanes painted on them. And as for indicators on the car, it appears that many porteños are unaware what that lever on the steering wheel is for. Hazard lights, in contrast, are used frequently to communicate many things including, ´trouble uphead!´ and ´I am looking for a parking spot´ and even ´I am just double parking while I run in to buy some bread at the bakery´.  

Icecream can be delivered by the kilo

Porteños love their icecream. Summertime means late and super hot nights where shops are open til the wee hours and full of rambunctious children of all ages. If you are with friends and have a craving for icecream in the middle of the night, you can get it delivered right to your door without having to leave the air-conditioned comfort of your living room.

Don´t touch the fruit.

When you run out of fruit, you do not have to look far to find a local fruit and veggie place - conveniently obvious by the large crates of fruit stacked precariously out the front of a little doorway. Most places prefer that you don´t select your own fruit, but stand there listing one by one, the variety of things you need. It seems most people shop in small amounts (foreign ´locals´ can stand out by their long lists of weekly shopping) so as not to hold up the line.

Dulce de leche runs in the veins of almost everything.

You probably expected to see a lot of dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk). It is no secret that it is what fuels most Argentines throughout the day. But perhaps you were not quite prepared to the extent that dulce de leche rules the baking section of this country. It is smeared over and between layers of cakes (it is considered an acceptable way to ice a cake), it oozes out of alfajores, it is piped into medialunas and facturas (pastries) and is one of the most popular icecream flavours. You can even buy an ice cream cone piped full with just, you guessed it, dulce de leche. Warning: consuming that amount of dulce de leche in one go is not for the faint hearted.

Entrepreneurial sellers in most forms of public transport.

Not only buskers, Buenos Aires also has public transport sellers. You name it, they sell it. Announcing themselves to the passengers (each trying to make themselves distinct), they make their way through crowded carriages selling their goods. One single train/subway/bus trip will expose you to a variety of opportunities to purchase batteries, socks, teatowels, chocolates, baking, nail scissors, battery packs, pens, note books, sewing kits, children's books, lollies, card holders, earphones … the list seems endless. But you never know when you might need an emergency toenail clipper or have a sudden need for a bar of chocolate to keep you company on your commute.  

Not everyone dances tango.

It´s true. There are not sensual strangers dancing under a street light on every corner in San Telmo. Some porteños are even known to start learning how to dance tango while travelling  in another country. Whilst tango beats strongly beneath this monstrosity of a city, it is only a select population of locals who involve themselves in dance. Tango music is a little more accessible to the entire population and you will definitely be hearing it at some point during your stay whether at a cafe, a neighbour´s apartment or someone singing in the street

The tradition of dog walking.

One of the most impressive things of the city, is turning to the corner and being confronted with a happy pack of 12 dogs walking orderly around one figure.  While the laws of the city state that dog walkers can not walk more than 8 dogs at a time, one walk through the parks and streets of Palermo or Recoleta shows that some dog walkers are flaunting this - some with up to 15 dogs. The dogs seem to love it, happily panting their way together towards the local park where sometimes, several walkers meet up and the dogs spend their energy playing with each other.

Returning to tango - Excerpt from Stories from a Travelling Tanguera

It has been over two years since bright red leather high heels have adorned my feet. I have been in a tango embrace just a handful of times during this period, if dancing in the kitchen counts as dancing tango. Needless to say, it was high time to get back on the horse and see what had changed in the world of tango and whether or not it really is like riding a bike and you never forget.

It was with trepidation and a familiar feeling of butterflies-in-the-stomach, that I approached my first night out in this fair city, at the milonga where it had all started.  Milonga Del Moran has been around for eight years, and is a grand lady of ‘barrio milonga’ - neighbourhood milonga. Held in Club Moran in Villa Pueyrredon, this monthly milonga is run by a young trio of people with an immense passion for tango. Marcelo Lavergata and Lucila Bardach run a class prior to the milonga which welcomes all levels of tango dancers. DJ Mariano Romero keeps a steady flow of tango, vals and milonga throughout the night, drawing on his immense knowledge of tango music to create varied tandas for all tastes.

Two days after I first arrived in Buenos Aires in 2011, a new friend kindly offered to show me around the city before ending up at a milonga - Milonga Del Moran. Exactly six years later, this now husband was again taking me to the same milonga which happens to be in our neighbourhood.  However, I was apprehensive with fears (both old and new). Would I remember how to move in a tango embrace? Would I be able to follow the lead? Would I tense up and forget all that I had worked so hard to overcome in the weekly lessons and numerous milongas that I had attended during the height of my tango addiction? Would I remember how to connect with my dance partner? Questions, doubts, anxiety - it seemed a little strange to have all these within when I was now more knowledgeable about tango and was heading to a milonga with a guarantee of dancing (it is handy having a partner who also dances). 

But I need not have worried. My fears are calmed once we walked inside.  Instead of a peck on the cheek that greeted me all those years ago, I receive a warm, long embrace from the organisers who have now become friends. My feet slip easily into the old comfort of tango dance shoes and the tango addition bug starts to stir within. I see some familiar faces waving to us from within the crowd, pleased to see us out on the dance floor once again. I am more relaxed dancing now that I know that no one is judging how I dance (an easy worry to fall into for new dancers dancing here in Buenos Aires for the first time - rest assured no one is really paying THAT much attention to you).  I even manage to find two fellow kiwi tango dancers, far from home and happy to be experiencing the relaxed barrio milonga vibe that Moran gives. As I sit and talk to them, I realise how far I have come with tango and how it is not a dance that I do anymore, but a part of my new culture and life.

My feet seem to remember what to do despite my ankles giving a little protest at stretching in ways they haven’t for a long time. The tango embrace still gives the warmth and acceptance that it always have, and the music still swirls around, taking you to another world during the tanda. It was only a short evening (as late night milongas are rather a stretch for this old girl now) but one that has left me wanting more.

Things to know:

Milonga Del Moran


Held monthly (usually around the third week of the month) on Saturdays.

Class from 8pm, Milonga from 9.30pm.

Club Social y Deportivo Moran

Pedro Moran 2446

Agronomia, Buenos Aires

Public Transport: Buses 111 and 108 take you from the city centre to nearby. Suarez train leaves you with about 10 blocks to walk.  

The Women of Tango Music

Think of tango music and an image of a man with a fedora, singing his soul out all for the love of a woman or Buenos Aires (or both) is easily conjured up. You could be forgiven for thinking that women tango singers don´t exist as so much of the popular tango music is sung by men and Carlos Gardel has his image well ingrained as THE singer of tango music.

But whilst driving in our car the other week, listening to one of the myriad of tango radio stations, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very antique recording of a woman singing which got me thinking about how little I knew about the women who wove their own magic into tango music.

The Golden Age of Tango is generally agreed as being from the mid 1930s through to the early 1950s. Throughout this time there were many women who left their mark on the tango scene. Here we give you just a quick taste of three to whet your appetite.

Azucena Maizani

Azucena Maizani has been considered as the female equivelant of Carlos Gardel - rising quickly in the 1920s with her talent as a performer on stage and radio.  Not only a performer, she was also a lyricist and composer and her song ´Pero Yo Se´ was recorded by Angel D´Agostino in 1942.  Interestingly, she was knowing for portraying her female characters as suit wearing, tough yet sensitive and romantic male figures - a figure which is well ingrained in tango. She suffered many tragedies throughout her life and sadly died in 1970 after a stroke several years earlier that she never fully recovered from. She recorded 270 tracks during her career and here is one for your listening pleasure:


Libertad Lamarque

Libertad Lamarque was awarded the Konex Platinum Award for ¨Best Tango Singer in Argentina¨ in 1985, cementing her place in Tango Singer History.  An actress and a singer, she performed in film, stage and music throughout her career amassing a staggering amount of recordings (above 800) and appearing in 65 movies. Rumours abound about a rift between her and Eva Peron as they both appeared in La Cabalgata del Circo together and she had mentioned several times the lack of respect Peron had given to the film and those involved.


Ada Falcon

Setting Ada Falcon apart from her peers was her mezzo-soprano voice. At a time where most women singers were sopranos, Falcon reached fame through singing with the orchestra of Francisco Canaro. She recorded over 200 songs during the 20s and 30s - the peak of her career. She was involved romantically with Canaro but he refused to leave his wife. Suddenly in 1942, she withdrew from public life and became a recluse, eventually leaving behind all the glamour and expensive lifestyle she had previously thrived on and moved to Cordoba to live as a tertiary nun, eventually dying in 2002. She is buried in Chacarita Cemetary and there is a film about her life.


If this is something you would like to explore further, visit Female Tango Singers Milonga Project https://www.facebook.com/TangoFemenino/.  The woman running it has shown just how much female tango music there is out there that should be listened to. It makes for an interesting playlist with 173 songs available. It is also interesting to delve into the mostly tragic lives that these artists had, as dramatic and soulful as the music they sang.

Christmas Eve Tango Shows in Buenos Aires

(photo credit: Beatrice Murch)

Feliz Navidad! The festive season is upon us again and with the splash of purple springtime now well past, the sun is heating up for what will undoubtedly be a sweltering summer week of festive celebrations.

If you have never experienced a summer Christmas before, you're in for some distinct differences. Christmas lights don't seem to make sense as having just passed Summer Solstice means the days are at their longest; everyone is out and about in flip flops, singlets and shorts; and having a very large meal (usually meat filled) just seems to go against all logic but it is what we southern hemisphere dwellers do. 

Buenos Aires in years past has lit up with an abundance of fireworks when welcoming in Christmas Day and New Year, and while this tradition still continues, it has somewhat lessened probably due to the fact that it can be up to 35 degrees come midnight and no one really wants to head outside away from their air conditioners. Nevertheless, it is a noisy family occasion and traffic jams continue well into the wee small hours as family members move between houses wishing each other well and entertaining the noctural children with gift giving. 

So if you are in Buenos Aires, the most logical thing to do is to make your own celebrations sparkle with a little bit of tango. After all, the magical essence of the city will be sure to make your own festivities just that little bit more special. Only La Ventana, Gala Tango,  El Viejo AlmacenPiazzolla Tango and Madero Tango are offering special shows on Christmas Eve.  Each has a unique evening planned that usually includes welcome cocktails, a gala dinner, elaborate tango show and after the midnight toast, a party with a DJ and regular shuttles back to hotels.

Since transport over the festive season is very limited (and in light of the recent transport strikes), booking your tango show can take all the hard work out of figuring how to move about the city as most offer free transfers. Note that on celebration days between the hours of 9pm and 3am, there are almost no buses or taxis.

If you are arriving between Christmas and New Year and still want to get in a tango show, most are offering specially planned events to welcome in the New Year - a unique way to welcome in 2017. Transfers, cocktails, dinner, tango show - all followed by parties until the wee small hours of the morning. Madero Tango is even offering the additional surprise of watching fireworks go off over the docks of Puerto Madero. Whether it’s traditional (Esquina Carlos Gardel, Cafe de Los Angelitos), romantic (Gala Tango, La Ventana), extravagant (Madero Tango, Señor Tango, Rojo Tango) or bohemian (El Viejo Almacen, El Querandi), you´re sure to find a New Year´s Eve tango show that suits your style.

Whatever you decide to do, may you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Al Pacino tangos to Por Una Cabeza in Buenos Aires

You may have heard that Al Pacino is in town at the moment. Anyone who has seen Scent of a Woman will remember the infamous tango scene with Pacino´s blind character whirls a female around the dance floor while a tango orchestra plays on. While arguably lacking in actual tango dancing (besides the initial embrace and walk), the song he dances to is one of the most famous songs in the tango world. 


Por Una Cabeza (By a horse´s head) was penned by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera and is the voice of a horse track gambler that relates his addiction to horses to his attraction to women. Written in 1935, it has been sung by many famous singers and used in multiple movies. It premiered in 1935 in the movie Tango Bar starring Carlos Gardel. It was in Scent of a Woman and is the song to which US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama danced (with Mora Godoy and José Lugones) to during the visit to Buenos Aires earlier this year. 


It was also used in the movie Easy Virtue with Colin Firth, who does a much more convincing version of actual Argentine tango, although mixed with a bit of showy Ballroom Tango. It is good to note that Gomez Addams is not actually dancing what the Argentines call tango but that´s another story.


The song is so famous that it is not limited to the golden age of tango singers who have given us such personal interpretations of the song. Singer Andrea Bocelli has also given his version of the infamous song, singing alongside two stage tango dancers as his honey voice gives a beautiful rendition of this traditional work. 


So how did Al Pacino fare on his second public performance of this song? If the Buenos Aires press is anything to go by, he gave a rather disappointing 10 second interpretation of the famous movie scene. With an Argentine girlfriend and an entire performance (An Evening with Pacino) the Teatro Colon, one might expect at least some knowledge of the basic steps. You can be the judge of it with this glimpse of his performance (and the theatre) here.