End of Season SALE!

Save 20% in all tickets. EnterTANGOTIX at checkout. Great Seats! Free Cancellation!

An Evening with Alberto Podestá in El Faro - Tango in Buenos Aires

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

 

The entire atmosphere had me pinching myself to see if I was truly experiencing this. Several large cheese ladened pizzas had arrived for the table to share, complete with one large green olive per slice. Note - Argentine pizza uses cheese with reckless abandon and it can be one of the most addictive and delicious things ever.   Do not even look at this thing if you are on a low-calorie diet. The table contained several bottles of the familiar blue label of Quilmes beer, shared generously between friends.  With the place so crowded, I was locked in the middle of the table with my back up against the wall. I admit that I was a little smug with satisfaction that I had remembered every good mother´s advice about going to the toilet before you leave the house, as there was no conceivable way to make to the bathroom besides climbing on the table. Spanish words warmed up the room quickly as friends greeted each other with embraces and kisses and we squished up to give more space to accommodate new arrivals.


Saying that the tiny corner bar was packed was an understatement. We were gathered at El Faro, a local bar and café in Villa Urquiza. Established in 1931, its name means ´the lighthouse´ which its website suggests could be because it was a beacon of hope during the difficult times in the 1930s. It proudly declares its loyalty to the tango spirit that haunts these historic cafes, continuing to provide the local neighbourhood with tango music, performances and good home cooking.  Waiters could not make it to the front of the crowd so orders, beer and empanadas were passed with good humour from table to table. The sense of festivity pervaded the air and this wasn't just a gathering of strangers to watch some music. This was a community and neighbourhood banding together to support and share an evening together.


A hush settled over the crowd, rippling out from the front door. Everyone stood up as a gentle old man slowly entered the bar. Even the music and current performer slowly faded out in honour of this entrance. Soft applause ushered the gentlemen to his chair and patrons created space where there was none before to let him pass. A grin broke out on his face as he warmly greeted friends and fans alike. His smile lit up the room and will forever have a place in my heart and memory.


This is Alberto Podestá, the last reigning king of the original tango singers. A charming gentleman from a fabulous era, he has a cheeky smile of a rascal that easily conveys the mischievous and wicked sense of humour within him. It goes without saying that this smile is usually extra bright for the women in the room, with the usual additional twinkle in the eye, but it´s all part of the culture here.


With limited spanish at the time, I felt slightly out of place and awkward sitting in this family gathering type setting. But as Podestá began to sing, this was forgotten as my body seemed to understand the music without needing to understand the words. Listening to tango music sung or played live, readily communicates the sentiments behind the songs without an explicit need to understand the lyrics.


I still feel the goosebumps on my arms whenever I remember the swelling opening notes that issued forth from within Podestá. I sat, entranced by his melody and interpretation of the songs I had been hearing on my ipod for weeks. Nothing compares to the emotion and expression of live performance and this was no different.  As a tourist to these parts, I had come to Buenos Aires to stay and experience how the porteños live their tango. Surrounded by people from all walks of life, I could feel the energy of the room swell with love and pride when Podestá began to sing ´Por Una Cabeza´. This song was made famous by Carlos Gardel in 1935, and for the younger generation, in the infamous scene in The Scent of a Woman starring Al Pacino.  Many people joined in, their chorus of voices supporting but never overwhelming the strength of Podestá.


The evening left me swept up in the romance that this city possesses and as we turned ourselves out into the street afterwards, the night seem less dark and the stars seemed brighter, just like how tango describes the swoon of the heart.


Things to Know

I was fortunate enough to find out about this gig through my friend, a local porteño in the tango scene. Podestá does not perform on a regular basis, but recently he has been singing at several milongas around town. These are advertised by flyers on the street so keep your eyes open for these stuck up on payphones or any flat surface available.


(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

El Faro is worth a visit during the day for café and medialunas or in the evening for beer and empanadas. It is listed as one of the Notable Cafes in Buenos Aires. Visit their website for more details including the menu, photos and what shows are on.  The only two days it claims to be closed is Christmas and New Year and is open from 6.30am until 21.00pm Mon – Sat and 8.00am – 14.00pm on Sundays.


http://www.elfarocafebar.com.ar/

 

Collectivos 108, 111, 110 and 168 run from the centre of the city, or Recoleta, to nearby El Faro. It is also possible to take the subte Linea B until Echeverria and walk for about 15 minutes if it is a nice day. It is located in a residential suburb with some very old houses so it is worth digging out the map to wander around what Buenos Aires suburbs used to look like 20 years ago.


 

Embracing the spirit of Carnaval - Buenos Aires' Milongas de Carnaval

(Photo copyright Martin Bratina)

 

You have probably never seen The Pope dancing tango. You probably wouldn’t believe it if you did. But if you had been fortunate to attend one particular Milongas De Carnaval milonga during February, you would be forgiven for doubting yourself. For there was certainly a man in flowing white robes dancing tango, moving with grace and elegance and in his arms was none other than a ravishingly fire-engine red fish-net stocking clad woman with a devilish mass of red curly hair. Do not fear - you're not going mad. It's just the spirit of Carnaval creeping into milonga halls like the infectious murga beats drifting through the city.


The heart beat and rhythm of Buenos Aires has been exceptionally loud over the past three weeks as it’s summer and Buenos Aires has been taken over by Carnival (or carnaval) celebrations. Murgas (bands of marching percussionists and dancers) have been drumming up a storm in various barrios (neighbourhoods), singing out their songs until all hours of the night.  While the ‘carnaval of the country’ (complete with grand parades of flamboyantly costumed performers) is located in Gualeguaychú, a city 250km outside of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires itself hosts its array of mini-carnavals in the hearts of its barrios.


Over the last three weeks, various neighbourhoods have been revelling in celebrations with music, parades, drumming, vibrant costumes, plenty of dancing and the drums of the murgas reverberating late into the hot summer nights. The streets are abundant with colour and vitality. They have been blocked to traffic and played host to an array of chori-pan (Argentina’s  street food of BBQ-ed chorizo in a bread roll) vendors, dancers in flamboyant costumes, large bands of drummers, groups of friends and families. While not as grandiose as the Carnavals of Rio de Janeiro, the atmosphere over the city is electric as revellers party until late.


The spirit of Carnaval is not just limited to the streets and murgas either. Various milongas (places to dance tango) around town embrace the carnival spirit and inject a little bit of chaos from the streets, onto the usually sombre dancefloor. Milongueros (tango dancers) turn up in all variety of costumes and you could end up dancing with anyone from a nun to Messi or a man with a mass of blue curly hair. By the wee small hours, the music has changed to embrace the party atmosphere and revellers run riot squirting foam from a can, out over the dance floor. The playfulness is infectious.


Milongas de Carnaval aims to bring the spirit of tango and meld it with the rhythm and festivity of carnaval. Held in the open air from 1900hs until midnight, there are free open classes, live orchestras, performances and dance floors in the middle of the street. It’s the neighbourhood passion of tango you’d expect to see throughout Buenos Aires and it welcomes everyone, young and old.  The next Milonga de Carnaval is on the 28th February and March 1st and 2nd will mark the last weekend of the carnival celebrations with parades happening all over the central city.  Entry is free.


What you need to know:


MILONGAS DE CARNAVAL: It’s all happening this Friday 28th February in Villa Crespo (corner of Drago y Av. Corrientes).  You can get there on the subte Linea B and the station Malabia


Activities

1900 hs. La Colmenita (Children’s theatre)

2000 hs. Clase de baile: Sorpresa


Live Music

22 hs. Sexteto Fantasma invitados Juan Villareal y Martin “El Pitu Frontera”.

23 hs. Ojos de Tango

00 hs. La Juan D´Arienzo

DJ: Carlos “el gordo” Amaya


Dancers: Cecilia Capello y Diego Amorin

Dancing with angels: Cafe de Los Angelitos Tango Show Review

Born in 1890 by the name of Cafe Rivadavia, this traditional corner cafe used to be a meeting point for poets, musicians and folk singers. So the story goes, the swindlers and scoundrels of the time, also used to meet there and the police officials of the barrio called them by the name of ‘little angels’. It wasn’t until 1920 that this little nickname, Cafe de los Angelitos (Little Angels’ Cafe), became the official name. According to locals, it was at this time that it was also the hot choice for dating porteños.


The cafe and theatre that now stands was rebuilt after the original cafe was torn down in 2000, 18 years after it was shut down. Its interior is both modern and elegant, evoking the original spirit through dark wood, stained glass depictions of tango and the old patterned floor tiles which adorn every old building of Buenos Aires.


Despite its 300 person capacity, the theatre retains a sense of intimacy, with its baby blue coloured walls that are lavishly decorated with gold floral accents. This coloured scheme continues right down to the detail on the plates, which can have a surreal calming effect.


There are various options available for this show that include dinner and the show, but also the option to dine in the cafe before moving through to the theatre to watch the show. Transfers are offered for an additional price. Pick up starts from hotels in various districts for dinner guests at 7.45pm and after 9.15pm for show only. Dinner is served at 8.45pm and the show starts at 10pm.  The Executive and VIP sections feature a more elaborate menu, with private tables on the main level and second floor. Regular tables are also considered private but are set out in long communal style as there are large tourist groups that often attend this show. The menu is written in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French - offering all the Argentine cuisine highlights and while a vegetarian option is not explicitly offered, the wait staff are more than happy to check what the kitchen is able to make to accommodate this preference. Drink options include a selection of red or white Argentine wines, beer or soft drinks and is continuously served up until the start of the show.


While exhibiting the long history of tango in its show, Cafe de los Angelitos also embraces the modern twist on tango music that bands such as Bajofondo and Gotan Project have been creating. The background music during dining is all ´tango electronica´ and they even have a Tango Nuevo dance number in the show. The show is an hour and a half long and delivers everything you expect from a tango show - fast agile movements with impeccable timing and dance moves that leave you breathless. They break from some other traditional shows by including the use of props and adding character and humour to the performance. Included in the heavens above the large stage, is a live orchestra which accompanies the dancers flawlessly.  


Located downstairs (accessible by lift) near the toilets, is a large function room which reportedly can be hired for parties, weddings or even tango lessons which are given by some of the dancers on request.


With such a stunningly decorated cafe and lavish theatre, it would pay to arrive early to enjoy a coffee before moving through for the dinner/theatre experience that Cafe de los Angelitos offers. And in spirit of its mischief past, it would be wrong not to accompanying the coffee with a few pieces of Argentina’s devilishly good pastries.

Beneath the colourful facade of La Boca - A trip to Calle Caminito

It was probably the worst day possible to choose to make the trek down to La Boca. On paper it looked great. The city of Buenos Aires offers many free concerts and events for its citizens during the summer and La Boca was hosting free performances by tango singers and dancers over the weekend. Since I had failed to yet make it to La Boca, it seemed a great opportunity to enjoy Calle Caminito with the music that had come from its streets.


What we failed to take into account was that it is Carnival weekend – a weekend where every barrio in Buenos Aires closes off one of its streets to host music, dancing and festivities. This left several main arteries for BsAs traffic, severed from 6pm in the evening.  Add to this the thousands of people making their way to watch the Boca Juniors game at the stadium, locally known as, La Bombonera, and you have a recipe for traffic jams.  As you can imagine, the streets were packed with blue and yellow flags and shirts, a cacophony of moving colour as the lines of people snaked towards the stadium.


Armed with a bucket load of patience, we avoided the scarf-waving-arm-flailing groups of young men that line the streets encouraging people to park their cars and struck gold with a parking spot extremely close to the stage and Calle Caminito.


Calle Caminito (little street) is one of the most well photographed and world famous streets in La Boca. Renowned for its colourful houses and picturesque cobblestoned streets, this is part of the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires, La Boca, and located in the southeast part of the city on the river. Immigrants from Spain and Italy arrived in droves to Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th Century and most of the 4 – 6 million people ended up here. Homes were constructed from whatever materials that could found from the scrap yards and painted with whatever paint could be found or bought from the shipyards.


To my surprise, La Boca was not aflood with the usual amount of tourists that frequent this area. There were no stalls with art, no market, no tango dancers to pose with, no (often overpriced) souvenirs to fill our bags with. But for me, that was perfect. I had not visited La Boca in the entire time I had been in Buenos Aires, even during my initial visiting trip a few years ago. I thought it would be simply filled with over priced street art, tourists posing with tango dancers and fake facades.


But underneath it all, it isn´t. Calle Caminito and the surrounding area is not a fake set for tourists, it is simply a living representation and preservation of how the barrio La Boca was so many years ago. I became very engaged in reading about the history of this city, how immigrants needed to live with coming to a new land, how they tried to make a living for themselves and how they tried to brighten up what must have been a very dark time for them.


Add to this the strong belief that tango grew from these very streets and you begin to see a very interesting juxtaposition. La Boca is one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires and it is easy to see how the tango gets its dark and gritty nature from. While sometimes hidden under jeweled sparkly heels, fedoras and dresses with thigh-high slits, tango has a sadness and longing sentiment within it, that is understandable when you see how La Boca must have been. I remember once being told that a bandoneon is an accordion that had been left in the gutter on the street and rained on for many years, with the seasons passing over it. I could imagine this type of loneliness being something immigrants must have experienced, and standing on the cobblestoned streets, looking out at the river mouth, I began to see how complicated their lives must have been.


I was brought back from my musings by the concert. The stage was beside the river and while the quality of the performers was high, so was the sound as the sound technician took liberties with the volume switch. Unwilling to risk our ear drums for the sake of the music, we retreated inside the closest café, taking a seat near the window to enjoy the view as the sun set and allowed the evening to descend.

 

Things to Know

In regards to the history of this area, I highly recommend this old, but indepth blog post. It gives interesting information about the building of Calle Caminito and the history of the area including why La Boca lays such a claim to being the birth place of tango. http://www.buenostours.com/caminito

 

The colourful streets of Calle Caminito and the immediate surrounding area are popular tourist haunts. Be careful with your belongings and be sensible when it comes to personal safety. It is also recommended that you do not stray away from these few popular streets, as the surrounding neighbourhood is not considered safe to be in. Even locals suggest not hanging around these streets after dark.


There are several buses that run to La Boca. The subte´s closest stop on Linea C is Constitucion. A safer option is to take the same line until San Telmo, and catch one of the buses that travels down to La Boca from there. It is not recommended to walk. The bus routes include 29, 64, 152 (lead straight to Caminito) and 33 (passes one block behind).


Verano en La Ciudad is Buenos Aires´ summer season of outdoor events for the city citizens to enjoy. If you are here over the holiday period, check out http://agendacultural.buenosaires.gob.ar/evento/llega-verano-en-la-ciudad-2014/8863  for all the details of upcoming events.


Small talk on the tango dance floor

Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia

 

Having made it through the cabaceo and the first song of the tanda, I was feeling proud of my achievements until I was faced with the awkward seconds that hang between each song in the tanda. Facing the tall man I had danced with, my senses were running high as I tried to discern whether he was a local or a traveller and whether my broken spanish would need to be retrieved immediately. This slightly wild eyed look gave me away, and my dance partner smiled before saying, "Don't worry, we can talk in English".


Spanish for travelers usually covers all the usual basics - ordering food, practicalities like accommodation or shopping, safe travel and social interactions. A great place to practice your social interaction spanish is in-between the songs as you dance a tanda with someone.  There are a great many people out there dancing tango from all walks of life and of all ages. A great many people speak English, but since you're coming to Buenos Aires, it's respectful to have a few phrases of the local language up your sleeves. It also allows you to enjoy the moments between songs with ease and who knows who you'll meet!


The subject of the small talk is generally all the same unless you have danced with the person more than once. I remember reading somewhere once that asking someone's name is generally not the first question you ask, and may be exchanged at the end of the tanda. Other general topics include the climate, milongas, and superficial information. That said, talking is not necessary. Some dancers prefer not to break the connection with small talk so do not be afraid to simply smile and stand quietly until the music starts and dancing begins again.


Here are some questions to listen out for (formal 'you' included in the bold brackets):

Hablás (habla) español?

People will generally make an effort to talk to you in English if you do not know any spanish. The replies "No puedo hablar mucho español' (I can't speak a lot of spanish) or 'No hablo español' (I don't speak spanish), initially were my most practiced sentences. To my amusement, people usually replied with 'Pero, hablás muy bien!' (But you speak very well!) as if this one sentence were an indicator for my level of spanish.

Answer: No hablo español. Hablo ______ (your language e.g. ingles) - I don't speak spanish. I speak .....


De donde sos?

This question 'where are you from?' is very common and usually the first question asked if you look slightly uncomfortable at the prospect of speaking spanish. People are also genuinely interested to hear how far you have travelled simply for tango and their city.

Answer: Soy de ___________ (insert your country) - I am from ....


Cuando llegaste (llegó) en Buenos Aires/Por cuanto tiempo vas (va) a quedar en Buenos Aires?

Carrying on from the above question, my experience has shown me that since I'm the foreigner, I usually have to answer the question of 'when did you arrive in Buenos Aires' or 'How long will you stay in Buenos Aires?' rather than have any time to fire away with any questions of my own. People are interested in how much time you are here for and if you are enjoying it.

Handy sentences:

Llegue hace x (number) semanas (I arrived x weeks ago).  

Voy a quedar por x dias (I'm going to stay for x days)


Hace cuantos años bailas tango?

Continuing on with the numbers theme, be prepared to answer about 'How many years have you danced tango?'

Answer:  Por x años/meses (For x years/months)


Tenés Facebook?

It pays to be aware of the intention behind the questions being asked especially when it comes to social networking ('Do you have Facebook?'). Some people may be interested in meeting up as a friend for a milonga during the time you're here, and some may be interested in something other than friendship. Keep safe and take care of your own personal information - never feel pressured to give out personal details.


NOTE!

As tempting as it may be, do not say Gracias after the song until the end of the tanda, even if you have enjoyed it immensely. This indicates to the other person that you have finished dancing with them and would prefer to return to your seat. There are other ways of saying that you enjoyed the dance such as 'bailas bien' - you dance well. Of course if you say Gracias in response to a compliment, it will not be perceived as you wishing to end the tanda.