Adorno mini-workshop #1 8/28/17

Many of you have approached me and asked me about doing adornos. What movements "should" you do? How many? When? How do you get comfortable waving your feet around? Since I've taken a break from my Body Dynamics class (which started as a follower technique class), I have not taught an adornos class for a while, so....

I will be teaching several adorno workshops over the course of the fall. Each one will be stand-alone, but together, they will cover ALL of the adornos I have learned, tips for practicing, tips for using them, etc. Using adornos well is an art, and the best compliment I have ever received in Buenos Aires was from another teacher who told me after our first dance that I adorned not just with my feet, but with my soul! Oh yeah!

  • Please sign up and pay ahead of time on my website registration page.
  • Cost: $25. Pay & pre-register by cash or check before August 21st: $20.
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Time: 7-8:30 PM
  • Limit: 10 participants (first ten to pay are in the class)
  • Location: 4315 NE Garfield Ave.
  • Bring socks & your dance heels, and dress for stretching/drills on floor :-)

 

Bodyfulness: my new favorite word

Why do we always use the phrase "mindfulness" when talking about being aware of our bodies? Biking home from tennis, I came up with BODYFULNESS as my new word of the day.

With the help of my chiropractor, I have mostly solved my shoulder issues in tango. I need to keep my shoulder blades anchored into my spine, and avoid letting my partners pull my shoulder forward when I lead. I have been working on doing correct planks, pushups and other exercises to build my muscles to keep everything in the right place. I try to keep aware of my body, and get my shoulder blades into the correct position as soon as I feel them sliding forward. I am being BODYFUL as much as possible.

Now, I am struggling with mapping new neural pathways in my body for bicycling, working out and learning tennis.

For bicycling, I have found that I refocus on my correct form each time that I have a moment to let the bike glide downhill. Luckily, my regular routes around NE Portland have a lot of up and down variation. I find I am biking a bit faster with my shoulders anchored.

When I work out, I try to picture how my deep core connects to my legs and my shoulder girdle. If there is a move that does not allow me to do that, I slow down. If that doesn't work, I simplify the move to just arms or legs and center of the body. I try to only attend class where I know the instructor is very well trained so that s/he can further tweak my form. I went to class today, and feel that I kept my shoulders anchored the whole time! That's a new level of BODYFULNESS for me, and it shows I am getting stronger.

For tennis, this is going to be a longer-term goal. I have almost no distance judgment, and I find that I was making up for that by reaching too far to get the ball. Last week, the guys at the next court helpfully gave me pointers ("You look like a ballerina! Get BOTH feet on the ground to hit the ball! Follow through!" etc.). I find that I miss a lot of balls when on both feet because my eyes think the ball is closer than it really is. To compensate, I stand on one foot and I let my shoulder drift out towards the ball. Now that I can feel that, I am working on re-calibrating my eyes, and keeping feet and shoulders anchored.

It's going to take some time to apply my new neural pathways to all of my activities. I am happy to find out how much stronger my upper body is when I use it correctly. I enjoy being in my body, having BODYFULNESS, and I try to stay there as much as possible. It gives me a sense of wellbeing that I don't have when I just stay stuck in my mind.

Performance anxiety and a good partner

Scared but still performing

I have been performing since the age of five. Until college, that involved singing in choirs and attending a capella singing competitions. I started performing dance three months after I began to dance in college. I performed dance throughout my master's degree in dance. I also continued performing as a singer.

I have been terrified of performing most of that time. I know all of the tricks to calm the body: deep breathing, pretending that everyone not on stage is in their underwear, ignoring the audience, etc. None of them work for me. I get through performing, and then I retreat to a corner and shake for a while.

I try to avoid performing.

Peak experience

I recently performed twice in one week: five dances. That is the first time I have performed in several years, and I was even more nervous than before.

AND...

It was a peak experience. I danced the best I have ever danced in my life one of those nights. Even in video, which takes away something from the real experience, it looks pretty good. Even to me, the perfectionist. It was better than perfect: it was fun.

What made it work for me?

Jose Garofalo

What made me survive performing? A good partner. A partner who said, "Look at me, you are dancing for ME!" and didn't give me time to think about whether people were watching.

I have know Jose for almost 20 years. He was one of my first teachers. When I visit Buenos Aires, we always have a coffee together and chat for a few hours. I trust him. I knew he would not sacrifice me to looking good, to showing off, or to showboating for himself. He took care of me, just as a good leader does on the social dance floor.

100% improvisation

Jose was so busy before we performed that we didn't practice. I didn't get a private lesson fitted in or anything. In other words, I had to wing it 100%.

On the way to the performance, Jose played a song on his phone and asked if I liked it. I asked to perform to it the next performance, as I had never heard that version before. He played a few more, and we agreed on a tango. Three blocks from the venue, he said, "What about this milonga?" and played Azabache. "Fine," I said. That was it except for one tanda to warm up.

Not having a plan and not having practiced (and not having danced together for about ten years at all) meant that I needed to pay attention. I didn't have extra brain space to really freak out about performing.

Twenty-one years of tango training kicked in and. . . it was wonderful.

Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017
Milonga performance at Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017

What's the best tango embrace?

Over the 20+ years I have danced tango, I have been taught LOTS of different "best" ways to embrace my partner in tango. Many students have come to me with sore arms, shoulders and backs "caused" by their partners. "What's the best way to dance so I don't get hurt?"

I see a lot of room for improvement in how we dance and how we teach the embrace. For myself, I have found that learning to stabilize my shoulders and arms has helped me dance better with more people, and with fewer injuries. As long as I am using my body correctly, I can do several different styles of tango embrace.

So what is best? Body-based choices. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?

Anchor your shoulder girdle

You have several layers of muscles at work in your back. You want to make sure that the deepest levels of muscles are strong and aligned, and then stack the outer layers on from there. If you use too much neck and shoulder work for your embrace, you are stressing ALL the layers.

Since it is hard to feel the layers of muscle in your back (for most people), focus on one area: the lower tip of your shoulder blade, and the muscles that help anchor it into the center of your body.

back shot for shoulder girdle video with words.jpg

 

Exercises

Here are the exercises that I am currently for MY shoulder girdle strength!

1. Table top: Get your arms and shoulder girdle in the right position to use as a stable area.

2. Plank: Build your strength and stability by placing more demand on that area.

3. Negative pushups: After your can stabilize, continue to improve by increasing the demand on those muscles.

4. Pushups (and yes, I can't do these yet!). For those of you out there who do pushups: MAKE SURE you are doing them using these muscles, or you won't be training the correct muscles. Have someone watch you to make sure that the focus is back muscles. Yes, there are other muscles being used, but those muscles may not help your tango embrace as much.

 

Want more info?

For more in-depth info, I recommend two fabulous books that I use all the time to show my students how the body works:

  • The Anatomy of Exercise & Movement by Jo Ann Saugaard-Jones
  • Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain (and there is a related Exercises book)

Imagery to help you

Words get in the way. For many people, pictures work better (especially for my visual learners). However I can't transmit the picture in my head to yours without words and the pictures I draw while teaching. Here are some pictures that work for me or some of my students. If they don't work for you, throw them out!

  • Wine corkscrew: Think about opening a bottle of win. Your shoulder blades are the wings that pull down and in. Your neck and spine are the cork sliding straight up!
  • Hanger: Imagine that the back of your neck is the hanger handle, and that your shoulders and arms are following gravity, like a heavy coat drapes on the hanger. The coat does not need to hold itself up.
  • Tree: Your legs and torso are the main strength to hold up the branches. Imagine your head is the top of the tree and that you are REALLY tall. Relax your shoulders: the roots are holding you up. The tree on the right of the picture is the one I think about: it's on my college campus, and I spent a lot of time under it, playing guitar. Don't laugh too hard.
  • Fountain: Water shoots up and out of your head, falls to the basin of the fountain, and comes up the middle again. The shoulders are out of the picture! This can help with breathing as well as energy circulation.

Practice time = all the time you aren't dancing!

I definitely try to "forget" all of my technique and just dance when I am out dancing. In order to do that, my technique needs to be hard-wired into my brain so that it just happens. How do you get to that level as fast as possible? Do your tango homework all the time!

Practicing all the time does not mean carving out an hour or two a day to practice. I certainly do not manage that, and I am a dance teacher. Instead, I try to stay aware of how I move my body whenever I have spare brainpower.

I suggest:

  • Find good posture for your shoulders and middle back when you start work.
  • Set your computer timer so that it gives you a reminder every 30 minutes to find your center back, relax your shoulders, and restart your work with better posture.
  • Standing in line waiting for something? Use those extra brain cells for finding your perfect alignment so that you can use it in tango without thinking!
  • If you have a job where they don't stare if you do stretches, take 5 minutes of your break time and do the exercises above.
  • When you walk the dog, carry groceries, cart your kid around, etc., check in: are you working "smart" or cheating? Fix it!

 

Revisiting the "heels up vs. down" debate: walking backwards

A reader asked me to be more specific about how I have changed my tango walk to remove foot and back pain from following tango. Rather than write a comment on a three-year-old blog entry, I decided to have a fresh look at my technique and why I have chosen the tango style that I dance and teach.

Razan, thank you for the question: "Can you say more about walking backwards, i mean what exactly did u change?"

The short answer: video

More detail: body-based is best

The foot

The foot has a lot of moving parts. For tango, there are two main components: being on balance over your arches when not traveling; and rolling through your feet as you travel. Both take a bit of work to perfect.

The arches of the foot work like a springboard if your body weight is correctly placed on the foot. Placing your weight too far forward, onto the metatarsal bone heads, or onto the toes, makes your body work a lot harder to maintain good balance. It is not impossible to dance on your toes, but it will hurt your body.

As I say to anyone who points out some famous tango dancer prancing around on her toes: "If you are a trained ballerina, you can maintain your balance like that. On the other hand, what age do ballerinas retire? How long do you want to dance tango?" Not to mention that ballet, while pretty, is not tango.

Find your feet

Gently massage one of your feet. Find the part of your arch that is the softest/highest. That is what I call the MAGIC METATARSAL. That is the center of your foot arches. It is the keystone of your foot. It may not touch the floor, but if you keep your weight balanced over that part of your foot, you will be using your arches correctly.

Now, put your feet on the floor and walk around slowly. Roll through your foot like a cat. Feel how all the bones and muscles and ligaments and tendons GENTLY work together to make a fluid, strong step. Feel how taking front, back and side steps changes how your support foot "launches" you (I am still looking for a good word instead of "launch" or "push off" that makes fewer people tense their foot to move!).

When you stop traveling, your balance is not a static thing: there are micro-adjustments happening all the time to help you maintain balance. Close your eyes and feel how much variation there is in "standing still" and then try it on one foot: harder, isn't it? Let yourself feel/learn what your feet do to balance.

The ankle

The ankle's main movement is that of a hinge joint. Your ankle is happiest moving forward and backward. The bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, help hold everything together. The ankle does have some movement side-to-side in the secondary joint of the ankle, which helps to stabilize the body over the joint.

For more than you probably ever want to know about the ankle, here's a clear video about the ankle.

How do you apply that to walking backwards?

Watch this video of people walking backwards. Look at how their heel is the last part of the foot to leave the ground when they push off (except for some of the girls in backless shoes :-).

If you let the foot and ankle move naturally, you get a much better step, every time. You will cause less wear and tear on your body per step, allowing you to both dance longer AND look more elegant.

What happens when you get tired?

When you stand up on your toes, you are constantly using more muscle work than when more at rest with the heel down against the floor (or against the heel of your shoe, as IT rests on the floor). Any time that you are using more muscle and work to stay upright, you are working harder. When you add that to standing/walking in heels AND backwards, for hours on end, you are talking about tiring out your body.

When you get tired, you begin to make mistakes. Your core gets tired, and you let your back start to take the brunt of your balancing act. You let your ankles roll in or out, as most of do not have perfectly balanced muscles to keep us from doing our favorite bad habit. After my broken toe this year, I have one foot that likes to roll in, and one that likes to roll out; not pretty if I get too tired!

However, if you put your heels down and use your feet naturally, you will have a lot longer you can dance before you are tired AND you can protect your body from injury better as well.

Images to help you change to heels down

1. Imagine that there is a thumbtack on the bottom of your heel, that gently pushes down into the floor as you roll over your heel (just as you would gently push a tack in with your thumb, to pin paper to a cork board). The floor is soft, like a cork board, so you don't need to tighten your body. Just let the heel sink into the ground (or your shoe if you are not barefoot).

2. Elephant feet: Let your foot be soft and imagine that it is HUGE and can easily hold you up. Softening your feet will help normal foot/ankle motion to occur.

3. Pouring sand: Imagine you are a mold, and each time you step, sand gets poured into the mold. First, it flows into the shape of your foot, then your leg, then you body, and finally to your head. The sheer weight of the sand holds you firmly to the floor so that you don't have to grip your feet.

4. What works for YOU? Tell me!!

A final thought: walking backwards is beneficial!

Walking backwards may actually be good for you! Check out this article and tell me what YOU think!

 

 

 

Tango musicality and inspiration

TED Talks do it again!

I watch TED talks while spinning wool and knitting (some of my other non-tango interests). You know how you type something in, and a few TED Talks later, you are down some interesting rabbit hole of thought? Well, I ended up watching a talk with Benjamin Zander, the pianist and conductor, and realized:

HEY! This is one of the things I've been trying to say about musicality in tango! Phrasing and HOW you use the music, makes all the difference in how that dance feels! What do you think? Watch it and tell me!

Take Jose's workshops!

The Oregon connection

I first met Jose in 1999 when I went to Buenos Aires for the first time. My friend, Alejandro Tosi, had mentioned that he studied with Jose, and it turned out Jose's classes were close to my hostel. I took group and private lessons from him AND I interviewed him for my thesis on gender roles in tango. I hosted him in the USA a year or two later, but he has not had a visa since then. We are lucky to have him back!

Jose Garofalo's bio

José Garófalo was born in 1964. Between 1979 and 1983, he studied art with Guillermo Kuitca. At the same time, he participated in plays, speeches and street actions where dance and theater were integral parts of his creations. In 1987, he started taking tango classes in Centro Cultural Rojas and in the same year he joined the Tango Ballet of the University of Buenos Aires.

He has studied with: Milongueros like Miguel Balmaceda and Nelly, Pupi Castello, Tete Rubin and Maria, Carlos Gavito, Gustavo Naveira, Rodolfo Dinzel. He has trained in choreography with Pedro Calveyra, Graciela Gonzalez, Marcela Trappe and in stage arts with Emilio Garcia Wehbi .

He is currently President of the Civil Cambalache Association (since 2007). He directs the annual Cambalache Festival in Buenos Aires (since 2004). He works as a Tango teacher at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (since 1998). He participates in Troesmas research group dedicated to transmitting knowledge of teachers who are no longer dancing in the milongas. He directs the Companía Tragicomica Tanguera (since 2011). He is an artist of Vasari Gallery (since 2007). 

He lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jose's class schedule

All the details are here! I have scheduled workshops at different price points and different levels of tango, in the hopes that everyone gets a chance to at least try Jose out. I think he's great, and I think a lot of your will think the same thing after a lesson or two or ten!

Build your base for ongoing work!

For those of you who (rightly) feel that an hour of a workshop without review or followup is useless, take heart! First, I plan to bring Jose for the next two years, so you can continue to study with him and build on what you learn this year. Second, I will be teaching classes during the year specifically exploring the material from these classes and building on them, so that you come into next year's workshops at a higher level, ready to absorb more!

The knees in tango: how much flexion should I have?

A lot of tango technique is focused on the foot and ankle, as well as on the hip joints. The knees have a much smaller role in tango, but it is still important to have good technique all the way up the leg!

Bend zee knees!

When I was a sweet young thing in Omar Vega's milonga classes at Torcuato Tasso, he used me to show moves. Between my bad Spanish and (apparently) bad technique, he could get really frustrated with me. "Bend your knees! More! More! Too much! Straighten your knees!!" I heard that every week until I figured out what he meant.

Knee Structure

Let's look at the structure of the knee. Notice that nice, rounded surface where the bones meet? They are meant to roll/flex in a front-to-back movement with very little lateral motion.

The muscles that attach to the knee or run across the joint, move the knee. For efficiency, the muscles at the front and back of the knee must have some sort of balance of power. You can see that the hamstrings (back) and quadriceps (front) are the big muscles groups of the upper leg that need to be balanced.

The problem: weak knees

Most of us have weak hamstrings and gluteal muscles from sitting too much, so we rely more on our quads, and hold the flexion in our knees with too much muscle work. When that happens, the leader cannot feel the follower's feet very well (and vice versa): there is no connection to the ground energetically, and so the power of the move is reduced. In high heels, that pulls your forward onto your toes, and adds extra work and possible discomfort to your tango.

Fixes to the knee problem

Leg strengtheners

Any exercises that build your gluteal muscles and your hamstrings will benefit you for tango. Check our your local trainers, physical therapists, exercise classes, etc. I have learned a lot of exercises from my chiropractor (who is also a physical trainer). I use my information to make sure that I am working correctly when I go to my Barre 3 classes.

Mobile alignment

Build your hamstrings and gluteal muscles, but in the meantime, try to balance your knee bones so that the BONES hold you up, and the muscles simply help. Not too flexed, not too straight, and constantly adjusting: that is the secret! It's not a "position" but a "range of motion" approach. Let there be some variation in your move. After all, the proprioceptors in your ankles are constantly adjusting for balance, and that needs to travel up through your knees and hips to your body. You can't hold a static shape that is right: everything constantly adjusts.

Extend your legs?

So the answer is: yes and no. A good tango step is a balance between too straight and too bent a knee and allows for efficient muscle use and balance. Too many dancers reach their legs out behind them as they take backward steps. This might look pretty, but it has no power, and the leader does not know where your feet went. Check out my videos if you'd like more about how I think you should move.

 

 

 

Savoring tango

If you are eating a great meal, do you shovel your food into your mouth? NO! The cook at music and dance camp saw my son (a favorite allowed into the kitchen to help) shoving his food in, and told him, "Jamie! Respect the food!"

If you were drinking an expensive glass of wine, would you gulp it down? No, you would slowly sip it, rolling it around your mouth to enjoy the flavor, taking your time to experience each taste; to savor it.

If you are experiencing a wonderful tango song, let each step roll off your feet, pause between movements, enjoy being in your body, in this embrace, in this tango. Don't shove moves into your dance! Respect it! Savor it, like a fine meal.

Falling in love with Buenos Aires

As Al told me when I met with him pre-tour to get a sense of what kind of experience he wanted from my tour: "I probably won't ever go there a second time, so I want to see some sights. I don't care if I dance a lot." Right from the start, part of his tour fell through when another member of the group decided not to go to Iguazu Falls, and that got cancelled. But Al persevered, and found plenty to do! Here you have his own words:

Notes from the tour

Buenos Aires. There was so much more to my visit than tango and milongas. I can start with saying I fell in love with Bs As. Don't ever think of it as a third world place. It's definitely different from here. Especially NOW with this freezing weather. The climate is subtropical and was just approaching summer south of the equator. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't have any experience with mosquitos and I didn't use any repellants. And humidity wasn't a problem for me even in the Tigre delta. Or out in the pampas at the estancia. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm.

The Palermo barrio where we stayed was a great neighborhood, akin to the Pearl in Portland. I had most of my meals outdoors at sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The food was great and the portions were not skimpy. I had a difficult time finding a lite meal.

As for the milongas, I need to practice my cabeceo. It's nothing like in Portland where everybody is mixed together. Men on one side of the dance floor and women on the other side. Not being prepared, I didn't get to dance as much as I would have liked. And watching the Argentines tango was eye opening. It seemed as natural to them as breathing. Or walking down the street. And milongas seemed to be available everyday from afternoon to late night. I particularly enjoyed the outdoor milongas: la Glorieta in Belgrano, and La Milonga Gran Nacional in Avenida de Mayo.

Transportation was no problem. I even managed to learn how to get around on the subway (yes, they have a subway system) by myself. Cabs are plentiful and not hard at all to get. However, their sidewalks could use more maintenance. They are uneven and broken up in places. I walked a lot and there were street fairs all over the place, it seemed in every neighborhood, every few blocks.

The biggest drawback was the economy. I wasn't prepared for that. The inflation rate is 40% and some places wanted to be paid in US dollars and not Argentine pesos. However, I had no problems using my credit card or debit card for making withdrawals from ATMs once I figured it out. But once I got back to the US, I couldn't get my leftover pesos exchanged. They wouldn't take Argentine pesos because of the volatile exchange rate. So if you go, spend all of your pesos before you leave.

Prices there are reasonable. As I told everyone, should I ever hit the lotto or Publisher's Clearing House (LMAO), I would definitely have a winter home there. I don't imagine that would be a problem for rich people. I could go on and on, but I have things to do. So, hasta luego, todos.

Milonga reviews, Buenos Aires 2016

This is a collection of short reviews by the different members of the group. I did not attend all of the milongas with them, so I asked the dancers to send me short bits I could post as a collage of our experiences. All in all, we covered quite a bit of turf, especially among the afternoon milongas and practicas.

El Abrazo Tango Club

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Fridays, 2:30-8 PM (lesson 1 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos
  • FB page

This is a low-key venue with a nice intimate feel. The level of dancing is modest. I arrived early and was seated by the friendly hosts in an auspicious corner with good sight-lines. But really, the venue is so small, it would have been pretty easy to make eye contact from any table (at least with my glasses on). The mix seemed to be about 60% porteñosand 40% foreign tango tourists. This is a good place to get your feet wet, as it has a more casual feel than the bigger traditional milongas. (Stevyn)

Milonga After Office

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Mondays, 3-8 PM (lesson 1:30-3 PM)
  • Entrada: 100 pesos for class and milonga (water 30 pesos)
  • FB page

This was my favorite milonga overall. I went there twice. I liked the instruction at the lessons. The place was tourist friendly. The seating arrangements were made with the intention of getting people to dance. I danced with ladies from all over the globe: Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Brazil and of course, several porteñas. The teacher, who acted as hostess during the milonga, was active in getting people dancing. At one point she suggested that I dance with a porteña who was not getting asked. I did and it was a good dance. Hopefully, some of the other gents saw her dance and kept her busy the rest of the milonga. As I had to leave for the airport to go home, I don't know how that went for her. (Larry)

Milonga de los Consagrados

  • Location: Centro Región Leonesa, Humberto Primo 1462
  • Saturdays, 4:30-11:30 PM (lesson 3:30-4:30 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos for milonga
  • FB page

This is my favorite milonga to attend in Buenos Aires because I have been going to this venue since 1999, and dancing with some of the same guys for that long, too! For me, it's more of a social event than other milongas because I know so many people. I had my best tanda here both this year and last year (with the same guy). Last year, I had a blockbuster 6 hours of dancing without stopping evening here; this year, because I was with a group, I left a lot earlier. I enjoy having folklore, tropical and swing sets during the evening, so this is a good venue for me. (Elizabeth)

The ceiling fans were quite loud. It was a problem for the lesson, making it hard to hear the instructor, but not for the milonga. The class was good and the teacher invited the students to sit at her table. She was even kind enough to dance a tanda with me at one point in the evening. At the end of the second song, she deemed me to be a milonguero! I got so flustered that I completely screwed up the third song. I found it relatively easy to get dances with cabeceo and had several very good partners during the milonga. It was good that I've learned to dance in small spaces. (Larry)

I was uncomfortable in this venue and did not dance much. The music was too loud for my sensitive hearing, and the "air conditioning" (fans) was uncomfortably strong. The lighting was initially so low that I could not make eye contact. It got better later, but by then I was out of energy. (Stevyn)

Nuevo Chique

  • Location: San José 224, Casa Galicia
  • Tuesdays and Thursday, lesson 2-4 PM, dancing 4-11 PM
  • Entrada: 80 or 85 pesos (I have forgotten!)
  • FB page

This was my first experience dancing in Argentina. I was a little disappointed in that many of the dancers were tourists. However, that led to connections that made dancing at other venues easier. The length of the hall was a little hard to work. I mostly danced with the ladies directly across from me that I could make eye contact with. It was hard to connect with the women in the back seating area unless I got up and was "passing through the area." It was a good get-your-feet-wet dance. (Stevyn)

I often suggest Nuevo Chique as a place to dance for new dancers or people new to Buenos Aires. The level is definitely not super-high, but that means that intermediate dancers will be able to get dances. Also, the average age for afternoon milongas is a bit higher, so it's a good venue for older dancers as well. I had wanted to dance with my husband, but we were not in each other's sight lines. I had worried that he would not get dances, but he danced a lot; so I didn't need to worry about it. (Elizabeth)

La Viruta

  • Address: Armenia 1366
  • Days: Larry went Thursday night, but dancing most nights
  • Thursdays: 6:30-midnight classes, practica midnight- 4 am
  • Cost: includes class and practica

The first place I went was a late night practica at La Viruta. It was a total bust. I couldn't get anyone to dance with me. I was quite concerned that this would be the norm in Argentina. Happy to say this was not the case. (Larry)

El bailongo de la Glorieta

  • Location: Echeverría 1800, in the park at the bandstand
  • Time: Class from 7-8:15, dancing 8-11:30 PM
  • Days: Dancing happens here a lot, but we went on a Wednesday
  • Cost: seemed to be by donation

I had not been to La Glorieta since 1999. It is mostly the same, but I enjoyed the warm summer weather, as I used to go in the winter, all bundled up! They put everyone's belongings in the center of the floor and danced around them; a good way to avoid theft! (Elizabeth)

This is a beautiful outdoor venue. It is like the one in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, but much larger. The sound was good, the floor was good and the dancers were willing to dance. I had probably the best dance of the trip with a lovely dancer from Buenos Aires. She tried to say I had a good ear for the music, but she couldn't think of the word in English (haha). (Larry)

La Marshall

  • Location: Riobamba 416 (El Beso)
  • Fridays, class 10:30, dancing 11:30
  • Cost: 90 or 100 pesos (can't remember!)
  • FB page

This is a wonderful late night venue, mostly queer, with a surprisingly good mix of both gay men and lesbian women, but obviously welcoming to all comers.  The level of dance was high and a bit intimidating, but I really enjoyed myself and look forward to going again. (Jessica)

I went to the lesson with Jessica, and stayed for the milonga. There were only five women, and I danced with all but one of them. Last year, there was a lot of dancing between the men and the women, but not this year. Because no one is entirely sure who is dancing with whom, cabeceo is really difficult at this venue (Are you leading? Following? Both? confusing). The lesson was good: there were total beginners up to advanced dancers, and Augusto managed to provide a two-level lesson, with additional things to try for those of us who were advanced; I know as a teacher how challenging that is, so good work! (Elizabeth)

Muñecas Bravas (Laboratorio femenino de tango)

  • Address: Tucumán 3428 (La Maleva)
  • Mondays, 5-8 PM
  • FB page

This is a very special fun event and hands down my favorite. It is a very small afternoon venue, 10-15 women, with a focus on exchanging lead and follow. It was very friendly, with shared mate during brief rests in between lots of dancing and a ton of fun. (Jessica)

 

Canal Rojo Tango (Salon Canning)

  • Address: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331
  • Wednesdays, 4 PM - 1 am
  • Entrada: I forget :-) I think it was 80 pesos

I went to Salon Canning twice. The second time I went to Canal Rojo with my wife and I was able to get dances after she left to go to the opera. (Larry)

I went to Canal Rojo after a few friends reminded me that they had not seen me at Canning yet this year. Although we left early to go to another venue, it was fun to go and dance for a few hours. The level is definitely lower than it used to be, but I think it's because the guys I know are aging and have less mobility than before. One guy I had met at Los Consagrados this year, came and grabbed me for a few tandas of really nice music and those were my best dances of the afternoon. The woman sitting next to me wanted to talk about the political situation in Argentina to the extent that I finally left, because I couldn't cabeceo and hold a conversation at that speed and complexity in Spanish, at the same time. (Elizabeth)

 

La Gran Milonga Nacional

  • Location: on Avenida de Mayo, between Avenida 9 de Julio and the Casa Rosada
  • Cost: free!
  • Three stages of live music, tango performances, etc.

We went over later in the evening. The venues were far enough apart to keep the sound separate. The dance floor space was very limited, but I did get a dance with Elizabeth on the asphalt. There is video so it did happen. LOL. I really enjoyed some of the orchestras, but it was the kind of place that you probably had to bring your own partner if you wanted to dance. (Larry)

I went over to the festival earlier in the evening with my husband. We listened at the various stages, and danced in the street together. I returned later in the evening with some of the other dancers and did some more dancing. Unlike other years, I didn't go up on the stage to dance; because the other women didn't want to dance, I couldn't dance with all the guys at once ;-) (Elizabeth)

Parakultural (Salon Canning)

  • Location: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331.
  • Tuesdays, 7-9 & 9-11 PM, classes; dancing 11 PM - 4 AM.

I went by myself and I couldn't get a dance, but the class was good. (Larry)

I went to a very cliquey milonga yesterday at Salon Canning. It was still fun. The women and the dresses were gorgeous, the skill level was very high. I took the class prior for intermediate and advanced dancers and it was tough but fun! I only danced with [the friend of a friend who took me there]. I certainly tried to cabeceo others, but guys were avoiding prolonged eye contact with me. I still enjoyed the people watching. (Felicita)

 

 

Running, opera and bikes: a first trip to Buenos Aires

Thanks to Jim, another tour member, who is guest-writing today's blog entry!

Running in Buenos Aires

After a half-century of being an avid runner/cyclist/hiker, it was with great excitement that I hit the pavement in Buenos Aires. This effort is made a little easier in Buenos Aires than at home, because just prior to sunrise, one hears the most strange (and beautiful) bird call, awaking me at the proper time to suit up and get going.

My first run was a several kilometers around Palermo, the neighborhood in which we were lodged. First reaction: Estoy contento porque estoy corriendo en Buenos Aires! (I am happy to be running in Buenos Aires!) Not knowing the lay of the land, I stayed close to the hotel. Given that it was about 5 am, I was astounded by the number of people still on the street! Most seemed to be party-goers who were heading home.

The following days, my runs took me farther afield, and with even a little uphill; going uphill is the runner's friend. During the daytime, I noticed many runners, even during the hottest parts of the day. This was very encouraging, because when I come back, I'd like to have a partner or two and take a running tour of the town.

Speaking of tours, let's switch gears and talk about tours en bicicleta.

Biking in Buenos Aires

First, let me digress for a few sentences. I am not a "tour" type of person, but I was indeed fortunate that Elizabeth ran this tour, because she designed the tour so that I was able to be myself and do things my own way: 1. stay physical; and 2. be independent.

A bike tour for me means a 50-km ride at a pretty good clip. However, the tour that Elizabeth found for us did not conform to this expectation. Instead it was at a very leisurely pace. Guess what? Did I ever find this relaxing! I was able to talk with my fellow riders, including Megan and Anna, our tour guides. I was actually able to "see" things that I would otherwise have missed. I learned a lot about the history of Buenos Aires. So, here we learn again the important life lesson: eschewing "my" way and following another's way, often leads to delightful results!

Teatro Colón

OK, I admit it: I love the opera. As mentioned before on these blog pages, the opera house in Buenos Aires, is rated the third best opera house in the world. With this in mind, I was more than excited to attend an opera here. Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was playing. Having seen operas in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, I had some previous data about opera halls, with which to compare Teatro Colón.

First, the actual structure, both inside and out, is stunning. The paintings on the ceiling inside Teatro Colón reminded me of the Sistine Chapel. Second, the acoustics were very good. I felt as if I were almost right next to the singers. Some of the other venues occasionally had a “washed out” sound. Not so here.

The actually performance was outstanding and made me happy, thinking about this good advice: I got plenty of nothin’ and nothin’ is plenty for me. I thought that the opera troupe, from South Africa, was excellent. Excellent singers in an outstanding venue make for a great experience.

Overall Tour Impression

I came back from Buenos Aires, hoping to return as soon as possible. This old Puritan came away utterly charmed. (In more colorful terms, as I tell my friends, the December 2016 Puritan Siege of Buenos Aires was a massive failure – thank goodness). I have to give a lot of credit to Elizabeth for designing a tour that took into account my many idiosyncrasies. She went way out of her way to make the tour a memorable experience. I doubt if any other tour would have been as successful for me, and for this, I am thankful.

Isla Macondo

Bed and Breakfast place in the Tigre delta

Susana and her husband are friends of Argentine friends of mine. The last time I visited their house out on the Tigre delta, they were still building it. That was in 1999 or 2000 (Silvana and I can't remember exactly when we went there, and neither of us took pictures). When members of my tour group asked what else there was to do in Argentina besides tango, I thought of Isla Macondo, and wrote to them.

The Caraguata River is not a happening place: this is the place to go in order to do nothing! Think the opposite of the bustle that is Buenos Aires. Think RELAX! This is where people go to just hang out for a few days. You can swim in the river, take a canoe out and paddle around, or use the river taxi to check out the various restaurants and bars that dot these waterways; but that's about it.

We took the local train to Tigre, about an hour away from where we were staying in Palermo. Unlike my last trip, you can now just use your Sube card (subway/bus pass) and get on the train! It think it was 12 pesos for the ride. It was a holiday weekend, and the train was packed to the gills with folks escaping the city for a few days.

In Tigre, we only had time for lunch before boarding a river taxi. We ate at Vivanco Restaurant (General Bartolomé Mitre 74, Tigre). The flan was magnificent, especially as I had not yet had flan during this visit, and it is my favorite dessert! Connie had some sort of prawn dish.

To take the river taxi (lancha colectiva), you have to know the address for your destination. "Caraguata 1098" got us the right tickets and they put us on boats depending on our destination. Then, as we went up the river, the guys on the boat made sure that they had a list of where everyone needed to go, and stopped at each place on the way. They managed to snag each dock, pull the boat close, off- or on-load people, and off we went, with barely a pause.

Susana met us at the dock for Isla Macondo. She was surprised to see us an hour early: apparently, they had added extra launches because of the holiday weekend, and we could have had a bit more time in town. She offered us tea and mate, and homemade fruit bread, fresh from the oven. The group settled into their rooms, and the island had its inevitable effect: people kept dozing off in comfy chairs!

From what I hear, dinner and breakfast the next morning were very yummy. My memories from 1999 are of a scrumptious outdoor barbeque, good wine, and excellent coffee and breakfast the next day. Susana is lovely and eager to please. Her husband is building another house for vacation rentals nearby, to add to their capacity.

My husband and I were going home that evening, to make sure that the other tour participants in Buenos Aires were OK. It was quite a journey for one day: almost 3 hours on the boat total, plus 2 hours back and forth to Buenos Aires on the train. Plus it was so relaxing out on the river! I wish I had stayed overnight, too! They have three bedrooms available, great food, and very good hosts.

To book at Isla Macondo, you can contact them at susana@islamacondo.com.ar and ask for details. They do not speak much English, but I do, so that was not a problem for the group. I appreciate that they were very flexible with the changing travel plans of my group in a way that a larger business would not have been. They are open December to May for the summer season.

 

Lessons learned while running my first tour

Note to self while in Buenos Aires: "I don't know why I thought I would have as much time to blog as I did last year. I don't think I understood how much time it takes to organize a group of people each day, especially when I tried to make this a tour where we didn't just walk around together and do the same things. That may have been a nutty idea..."

Some of the tour participants have been kind enough to be guest writers on the blog so that you can see all of our adventures, not just the ones I have had. Thanks to Connie, Felicita, Larry and Stevyn so far!

I learned a lot running a tour. This was a WAY different experience than I have going to Buenos Aires by myself. That made me try some different things and see the culture in new ways. Here is what I learned about myself and about Buenos Aires, tango, and Argentina.

What to keep in mind running a tour

Lesson 1: Let yourself be a tourist!

I never allow myself to just be a tourist. Since my student days in Europe and my days as a Peace Corps volunteer, I have always tried to fit in as soon as possible; to blend in and not be noticed.

Because of that, I never did most of the touristy things other people apparently do on their first trip to Buenos Aires! I still have tons of things I have not done yet, even after visiting since 1999! This was the first time I really played tourist, and it was fun!

Lesson 2: Take the pulse of the city by talking to taxi drivers

I always talk to taxi drivers when I am in Buenos Aires. They give me diverse reactions to the economic and political climate of the city, and help me catch up since my last visit. I rarely take taxis, but since I was with a group who DID take taxis, I would sit in the front and talk to the driver. I got a lot of Spanish practice as well as information.

I always learn about Buenos Aires when I go there, but going with a group made me ask different questions and learn new aspects of the city than if I had gone alone.

Lesson 3: Take time for yourself!

I have always thought I was mildly extroverted. Despite having anxiety nightmares each night before the start of the teaching quarter at the university (for years!), I never quite put that together with being shy. I love to talk to people one-to-one, but in groups I don't do as well. Because my Myers-Briggs showed me almost right down the middle of the introvert/extrovert divide, but on the "E" side, I somehow decided I was an extrovert! Nope.If I ever run a tour again, I will have to schedule in more down time for myself so that I can be more of a "people person" for the other hours of the day. Do not expect that you are going to get any vacation.

Lesson 4: Expect that people's wishes will change

I tried to prepare my tour participants for how Buenos Aires would be, but I couldn't prepare for their reactions to the place.

  • Some people came wanting to learn Spanish. Some took their lessons and really enjoyed them. One person doubled the Spanish I set up for them. One person quit Spanish because it was too stressful. I am happy that Verbum was able to be so flexible with their needs.
  • One person came hoping to jump from beginner status right into the milongas. I didn't realize how shy he was, and I don't think he realized how intense that would be for him. In the end, going to lessons fit him a lot better and was more relaxing. If I had forced him to go with his original plan, we would have both been very frustrated.
  • One person came with expectations that everyone in Argentina danced tango, and that everyone traveling must be coming to dance; and that he would dance the night away each day. I didn't ever say that, but again, I can't see inside of people's heads, and I didn't know there was such an expectation. After a few brutal visits to the milongas, where a stranger does not always get to dance; younger people focus on younger people; and quality of movement wins over number of steps you know, he was able to go out and dance and enjoy himself, but with a better understanding of the Buenos Aires tango scene.

The takeaway

Next time, spend less time getting everything set up perfectly before leaving, and allow a few days of adjustment for people to figure out what they REALLY want; and expect that your first few days will be spent running madly around, helping people adjust.

Lesson 5: Communication is key

Smartphones are GOOD

Next time, I am going to insist that everyone has a smartphone! We have half smartphones and half "dumb phones" and we spent a lot of time trying to track people down who were AWOL. I think a lot of time would have been saved if I could have texted/called everyone. I found out the day we left that Verizon could have shipped my husband a phone that worked as a loaner while on the trip; next time, we will do that!

Being clear

I learned a lot about how much information can fit in someone's head. Over the course of the tour, when I wanted people to remember the plan, I learned to make instructions shorter. I learned to email each part of the plan separately (i.e., milonga plans and day trip plans were in separate emails) so that people could search on their phones/computers more easily if they had forgotten. I adapted the level of detail to whether I was speaking to the person with ADHD or the person on the spectrum or the detail-oriented person. "Clear" means for THAT person, not what I think is clear.

The takeway

If you know the people you are taking on tour, it will work better. The people I knew better had a smoother ride because I already knew how to talk to them and how they processed stress and information. I don't think I would run a tour for people I don't know at all: that would be WAY harder.

 

 

 

The ups and downs of newbie milongueros

I wrote this two days into our tour, but forgot to publish it!

Journal, December 6, 2016

Walking into a new milonga and getting dances is never easy at first. Even for me, with 20+ years of experience, a new venue means I may have to sit for a while until someone asks me to dance. Luckily, I come to Buenos Aires enough that my face is vaguely familiar, and I get to dance more often than most.

That is not the case for a newbie dancer, whether in Buenos Aires or elsewhere. Watching the folks from my tour get their "sea feet" has been an informative experience. In some cases, we are in the very same rooms I came to in 1999 on my first trip to Buenos Aires. I remember some of those agonizing days when it seemed I would never get to dance, ever.

The three dancers who are solid intermediate/advanced intermediate tango dancers, have done well. My husband settled into his first milonga here, and danced more than I've ever seen him dance. We were seated in a way where I couldn't catch his eye, but I needn't have worried! He has the cabeceo down and enjoys the challenge. My West Coast Swing dancer also has a lot of experience just getting out there and dancing. Now that he has adjusted to the cabeceo, he is doing well. I yelled at him for poking me in the back to get my attention at a milonga, and helped clarify some of the subtle cultural signals that are hard to see when you are new; and he's off and dancing at milongas without my help! My female tour member who leads and follows is having a lot of fun at the queer dances and the role-exchange practicas; but sitting more at traditional milongas where you don't switch roles. She also is being intrepid and going off to dance by herself. Bravo!!!!

My newer dancers are having less success. It is never easy to just get out there, cabeceo, and dance. However, as they are finding out, it's easiest at the traditional milongas where the women and men sit across from each other. When people sit in clusters of men and women, it's much harder to get eye contact if you are someone new.

Having said that, one of my newer dancers managed to get to the milonga on his on, on the subway, despite getting lost. He hasn't danced much, but I admire that fact that he has shown up. Getting on the dance floor takes a while sometimes.

My beginner dancer has largely abandoned dance for the moment, but I am not despairing. After all, he is exploring the city, learning Spanish, going running each day on his own, taking private lessons with a great tango dancer I know, and taking a break from parent care-giving. Adding on putting yourself in extrovert situations in the milonga and being very assertive to cabeceo, is just too much right now; and that is OK. It is way stressful.

A day trip to Colonia

I helped Felicita set up a three-week trip to Buenos Aires in November, as she could not fit her schedule around the tango tour in December. Her main focus was improving her Spanish, in addition to dancing as much as possible. She took a day off to visit Colonia, Uruguay, and agreed to write it up for the blog. Thank you, Felicita!

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

A day trip to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay is a perfect day trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Hop on the boat and you are there in about an hour. I was lucky in that the weather was perfect and all the flowers were blooming. 

I arrived about 10 am and left at 7 PM. One day is plenty to visit the historic town with your two feet. However, I wish I had rented a scooter to ride up the coast a bit. I guess I'll have to go back! If you aren't a scooter person there are golf carts and bikes.

I recommend the lighthouse, the oldest church in the country (Iglesia Matriz Church, built in the early 1800s), walking up and down the Calle de los Suspiros window shopping and simply walking around this historic town with a significant Portuguese history. While walking around you will see beautiful architecture and art.

I was really curious about the tile museum. It never became clear to me why none of the museums were open. I hope that I will see it next time!

Logistics

Getting There

You can get from BA to Colonia in about an hour via Boque bus (https://www.buquebus.com/english). Buy the tickets online prior to your departure. My "there and back in a day" ticket was $125 US Dollars. It was the Friday of a holiday weekend, so I'm guessing this is a little more expensive than normal. Get to the terminal at least an hour early, as going through customs takes a long time; plan accordingly. Apparently, there is a cheap boat ride to Colonia but is 3 hours long.

Money

I was told by several people that no one in the city would take Argentina pesos, which isn't entirely true because the lighthouse did. You can exchange your money at the boat stop in Uruguay, but be warned that you need at least 100 to exchange back. 

Tourist Office

Once you step off the boat head outside and veer to your left. There is a tourist office with maps and helpful people.

Connie's non-tango tango tour

Connie was my only non-tango-dancing tour member. She dances, but not tango. Her husband is an enthusiast, so they compromised by doing a lot of tourist things, but scheduled so that he could go out dancing, too. The result: Connie gently prodded me to include a lot more touristy things for the tour, and as a result, it was much more fun. Here are HER tour highlights. Thanks for guest-writing, Connie!

Buenos Aires Adventure

I had many firsts on this vacation. First time traveling: to the southern hemisphere; visiting South America; and exploring Buenos Aires. Argentina in December is warm because it’s the beginning of summer. During our visit, we had temperatures of 85-95 degrees. Luckily, we had low humidity, with only one afternoon of rain. It was pleasant for walking in the morning and evenings. Most of my afternoons were spent in a very relaxing ways, reading, eating ice cream, and drinking my favorite aperitive, the Aperol Spritz.

Of course, there are many more delights I saw in Buenos Aires, but these are my favorites.

Colonia, Uruguay

We took a fast (1 hr.) ferry ride to Colonia del Sacramento, a city in southwestern Uruguay, by the Río de la Plata, facing Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and capital of the Colonia Department. It has a population of around 27,000. We spent a lovely time walking around the old town and eating a unique brunch in an outside café. It is renowned for its historic quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tigre Delta

 

At 5,405 square miles, the vast Tigre Delta is among the world’s largest, and it is one of the only major deltas in the world that does not empty into a sea or ocean. It flows into the Río de la Plata, which separates Argentina and Uruguay, after the Río Paraná splits into several smaller rivers and forms a multitude of sedimentary islands covered in forest and grasslands. With its islands and canals, Tigre is what Venice might have looked like before development.

 

Isla Macondo

We had an excellent time on an overnight trip to a wonderful B ‘n B in the Tigre Delta area. We took a train to the city of Tigre (35 km north of BA). Then, we took a 1 hour water taxi ride into the surrounding delta region to reach our BnB. Floating on the latte-colored waters – rich with iron from the jungle streams flowing from inland South allowed us to view the local stilt houses and colonial mansions. All along the shorelines are signs of water-related activity, from kayaking to wakeboarding, canoeing to sculling.

 

Tours of Estancia El Ombu and San Antonio de Areco

We escaped the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for a a close-up look at traditional living in the pampas. We were driven through Argentina's sprawling pastoral landscapes, the pampas. We saw never-ending fields of waving grass and scrub-covered hillsides until we reached the quaint streets of San Antonio de Areco. We strolled around the historic town with a knowledgeable guide. He told us stories about the area's history as a meeting place for the local gauchos. Then we headed to a local estancia (ranch) to ride horses and/or take a carriage ride with the rugged gauchos. We wrapped up our adventure with a delicious freshly prepared barbecue and singing and dancing with the gauchos and Elizabeth.

 

My adventures within Buenos Aires

Teatro Colon

 

I toured the beautiful Teatro Colón, the main opera house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is ranked the third best opera house in the world by National Geographic, and is acoustically considered to be amongst the five best concert venues in the world. As of the year 2010, the Teatro Colón boasts a building restored to all its original glory, giving an air of distinction to its productions. I was also lucky enough to spend an evening in one of the opera house’s upper level boxes watching Porgy and Bess.

 

El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore and Music Shop

 

I visited this wonderful bookstore that was built in 1919. It served as a performing arts theater, then as a cinema, and now a bookstore. It retains its original frescoed ceilings, ornate theater boxes, elegant rounded balconies, detailed trimmings, and plush red stage curtains. The interior of the building remains as stunning today as when it was first built. I reveled in this wondrous monument of a bygone era. While the selection of books is a standard chain store fare and mostly in Spanish, bibliophiles will find the staggeringly opulent display of books to be reason enough to visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid.

 

La Recoleta Cemetery

 

This cemetery is in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It contains the graves of notable people, including Eva Perón, presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and a granddaughter of Napoleon. In 2013, CNN listed it among the 10 most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.

Of course, there are many more delights I saw in Buenos Aires, but these are my favorites.

Home, home on the estancia...

San Antonio de Areco

Driving to San Antonio de Areco from Buenos Aires made me feel that Kansas is hilly. It is FLAT out there in the plains! At one point, our driver stopped and we could see the flatness fall away on both sides: can you see the curvature of the earth? If yes, then we saw it.

San Antonio de Areco is a sweet little town. It is chock full of BnBs and restaurants, and is often full of people from Buenos Aires, getting away for the weekend. It's only 100 km from the city, and we had a perfect day for a tour: sunny but not too hot.

First, we met Juan Manuel (think Robin Williams in a burly version of Kevin Kline's body) at la Esquina de Merti (corner of Arellano and Bartolome Mitre), and had coffee, juice and a snack. The city was asleep, except for the people attending mass. Juan Manuel said there had been a folkdance event until very late, and so many people were sleeping in that day.

He told us about the city's history. Then we toured the main square, took a look into the beautiful church there. I have already managed to forget most of what we learned. The main takeaway for me as an anthropologist, was that the Spanish considered the indigenous peoples to be sub-human and so there was a crisis of identity when Spanish and indigenous people intermarried. The criollos wanted acceptance and status, but were considered inferior. The gauchos, living in the provinces and working the land, raising horses, etc. created a culture that was more polite, gentlemanly, more elevated than the Spanish manners, in an attempt to put themselves on a more even playing field with the ruling classes.

I learned a new term: la gauchada: a favor. Because the gauchos valued how people treated each other, you can ask a favor. You are basically asking them to follow their gaucho code of keeping your word, being respectful and doing the right thing, it is almost impossible for someone to say no to this. I haven't tried to use it, although I asked some friends about it. Even the ones who are porteno-porteno, felt you should grant favors asked this way.

La Olla de Cobre

Then we visited a chocolate factory, La Olla de Cobre (The Copper Pot). They are apparently famous for their alfajores, YUMMY cookies filled with dulce de leche (or something else) that I can no longer eat because I can't eat gluten. The others had samples and seemed to really enjoy them.

They also make their own chocolate. I bought some dark chocolate and some chocolate-dipped candied lemon slices to bring home. I like a bit more POW in my chocolate. This was a bit smooth and not as dark as I usually eat. However, I barely got any of it because my son liked it so much, so I know it's good!

The Draghi museum and workshop

For me, the high point of the San Antonio de Areco part of the tour was the Draghi workshop and mini-museum. It was very cool to see the amazing silverwork that the Draghi family has created, and even cooler to see partially finished objects that were works-of-art-in-progress. Wow and wow. I also enjoyed looking at the traditional silver pieces for personal adornment, for display of wealth on your horses, and for the home. I would have liked more time to look around, but three different tour groups were trying to not get in each other's way.

 

Estancia El Ombu

 

 

After visiting San Antonio de Areco, we hopped back in the car, and jolted our way to Estancia El Ombu. Apparently, the road to the ranch is SUPPOSEDLY paved: the government has produced funds to pave it twice, but it is a dirt road. That money disappeared into someone's pockets, and the proof was the dusty, bumpy way to the ranch. And we think we have graft here in the USA!

El Ombu was lovely. You can rent rooms there, and there is a swimming pool, horses to ride, and great food if you want to get away from Buenos Aires for longer than a day.

For us, we had time to have a snack, a leisurely amble around part of the ranch on horses, a long lunch with three salads, drinks, and more meat options than any of us could eat; and very good dessert (they made me something special because the regular dessert had wheat: VERY yummy).

After lunch, there was gaucho guitar and song, folk dancing, and a Indian horse whispering show. We ended up as part of the show. I am not adding the video in (although thank you Connie for the footage!), but I may change my mind later on.

 

Tour review

I was skeptical about the price of this tour, but I have to say, I feel they did a great job. As I am less than excited about driving in Argentina, the thought of being picked up and dropped off right from the hotel was very attractive. Luis was early (Argentine and early!), a good driver, and a very nice person on top of it all.

Juan Manuel is one of the chattiest people I have ever met. I have never had Monty Python and Shakespeare quoted to me in almost the same sentence. He lives in San Antonio de Areco, but is from Buenos Aires and has traveled extensively. For the people in my tour who didn't speak Spanish, having a tour guide who is completely fluent in English was helpful. He was almost as excited about participating in the tour as we were, and he does it a few times a week.

Guillermo and the tour office were very fast in replying to inquiries. They sent very specific, clear emails, and are clearly well organized. I still don't quite understand why most of the payment had to be made in U.S. dollars at the tour (it felt like a spy mission), but we were able to pay the reservation fee online.

I picked this tour because everything was included in the price. Other tours had you show up at San Antonio under your own steam; or got you to the estancia, but didn't seem to drive you home. Tips and the drinks we had in San Antonio while Juan Manuel gave us the history of San Antonio de Areco, were our only expenses for the day. The only question that we could not answer: were we supposed to tip the driver and the tour guide? At $200/person, we decided that we had spent enough and left it alone.

Bike tour of Buenos Aires

Biking in Buenos Aires, where the lines on the street (including the double yellow) seem to be more of a suggestion than a traffic regulation, seems insane. However, when I sent out an email to see who would like to bike, I was surprised to see that most of the tour group wanted to do it, so I signed myself up, too! I am SO glad that I did! For me, it was the high point of this trip.

I booked a private tour, as the youngest in our group will not see 40 again, and most of our group was 65-75. That way, we did not have to keep up with a group of younger people. This turned out to be a good idea, as we managed to do about 2/3 of the originally planned tour. It was really hot and sunny, and we chose to go a bit slower and take a bit more time at each stop.

Biking Buenos Aires is a great company to work with: enthusiastic, young bikers who love Buenos Aires and want you to love it, too. Their location in San Telmo is only a few blocks from where I used to stay in the neighborhood. They made sure that we were provisioned with water during the entire trip, had sun screen in case we did not, and included a lunch stop at a great food cart AND a lesson making and drinking mate!

Anna, our local guide, and Megan, our American guide, worked really well together. I was amazed at how much Megan has learned about the history of Buenos Aires and Argentina! We learned about the beginnings of Buenos Aires, colonial history, the background of La Boca, Peronism, the dictatorships, the Desaparecidos, modern economic history, development of the city--even I learned some new things, and I studied Buenos Aires and tango for my M.A. in anthropology!

 

Buenos Aires restaurant reviews 2016

Staying in Palermo Soho allowed me to try a bunch of new restaurants with my tour. Of course, I have a few favorites from other years that I revisited, but I don't usually stay in this area of town, so I have some new favorites!

Lobo Cafe

Honduras 4730, C1414BML CABA (Website: http://lobo.cafe/)

Food was not cheap, but it was plentiful. Here's Al's lunch the first day he got to Buenos Aires. I think he went there every morning for breakfast. The waitresses would tell me if they had seen him when I walked past! The waitress picture is Laura, who was there every day and enjoyed practicing her English when Spanish fell through for folks.

By the way, this is supposed to be a slide show, but I can't get it to work correctly. If you click on the photo, the next one comes up. I'll fix it as soon as I learn how :-)

 

Ninina

Gorriti 4738, Buenos Aires (Website: http://ninina.com/)

Ninina was Jessica's favorite hangout. Again, not cheap, but wow! Here is where I learned that the Argentine word for "kale" was...ready for it? "Kale." They had amazing juices of veggies and fruit that knocked my socks off. Their coffee was great. Their salads were great. As I can't eat wheat, I have no idea how yummy all the beautiful cakes and pastries were, but they were gorgeous. Wifi meant that a lot of Argentine dot-commers were there with their computers, downing coffee and chattering away.

If anyone else took pictures here, I will add them in. I guess I was too busy drinking kale, ginger and whatever else was in it, juice!

 

Almacén Purista

Juan Ramírez de Velazco 701, C1414AQO (website: http://www.almacenpurista.com/

I ate here last year as well, but I don't think I reviewed it. Where in the USA can you eat lunch for three hours without the waitresses trying to get you to pay and leave? I love Buenos Aires.

The waitpeople were very "on" it about whether there was gluten in each item on the menu. I felt very confident that I was not eating wheat, which makes me enjoy eating out a WHOLE lot more than other places.

This place has a focus on natural food. It has a huge menu of all kinds of food, which is a bit unorganized. Yummy, and halfway between our hotel and Silvana's, so it was easy for everyone.

 

Calden del Soho

Honduras 4701, C1414BMK CABA, Argentina (Website: http://www.caldendelsoho.com.ar/)

I only ate here once, but it was a favorite of the more carnivorous of our crowd (being married to a vegetarian has changed my eating habits!). Again, there was more food than should be eaten at once, but that did not seem to stop us.

The waiter can recite an entire table of people's orders and drinks from memory. Impressive! We also got free champagne at the end of the meal because he liked us. This is another slide show where you need to click on the photo until I learn how to do this. Sorry!

El Patio de Montevideo: yummy, yummy, yummy!!

Montevideo 387 (right off of Corrientes)

We went to this place with our friends Sara and Kent. Amazingly huge portions for great prices seems to be the aim of this place. We had sausage appetizers, salad, squash puree, rice, potato tortilla (for the vegetarian) and large steaks for three, for $51. We were too full to have dessert and could barely finish what we ordered. That is for FOUR people! Go there!

Sans Armenia Tapas Bar and Restaurant: gluten free beware!

Costa Rica 4602, C1414BSJ CABA (website: https://www.facebook.com/Sans-Armenia-Deli-Drinks-142825765788273/

This was somewhere that many of the tour members ate. They enjoyed it. I had a hard time here, as I told them I was celiac, and they brought me a meal they said did not have wheat in it. Just before I took a bite, I smelled it, and it smelled like soy sauce: WHEAT! They agreed that it had soy sauce in it and offered to replace the meal. After insisting that I couldn't eat wheat and then avoiding eating it by luck, I decided not to eat. Not a good night for me.

 

La Popular de Soho: 3rd choice for evening, but good

Guatemala 4701 (Website: https://www.facebook.com/lapopularfutbol/)

We got off the train from Tigre very tired and hungry. We tried to eat at Sintaxis, but they were full until closing. We tried to eat at Don Julio's, but they had a waitlist. Very low blood sugar by this point (as in crying), my friends dragged me across the street to La Popular. We had a fabulously large dinner. I had a roasted chicken quarter, "rustic" potatoes and some wine, along with salad that other people couldn't finish. Yum. By the end, I felt very happy and back in one piece. Note to self: eat sooner!!!

 

MezCal

Costa Rica 4502, C1414BSH CABA

On the corner of Costa Rica and Malabia, overlooking the Plaza Armenia, MezCal was a before-dinner drinks favorite with some of the tour members. Great people-watching (and probably great food, but I never ate there) if you sit at the outside tables. When I ordered a Campari, it came in about a 12-ounce glass. Eek.

 

Gluten-free happiness

Sintaxis

Nicaragua 4849, 1414 Palermo (Website: http://www.sintaxispalermo.com/

As I have already waxed poetic about Sintaxis in last year's posts, I won't go on here. I ate here a few times over the two weeks of the tour, and took munchies with me each time to tide me over between trips.

I tried some new meals here. The empanadas were very good. The torta pascualina was excellent. The ravioles were exquisite. I think I tried every limonada they had, with my favorite being the maracuya (passion fruit) one. I discovered that they had savory rolls and little cheese biscuits to go that were super-yummy.

 

Almacen de Pizza

C1414, Malabia 1825, C1414 CABA, Argentina (website: http://www.almacendepizzas.com/2012/index.php)

GLUTEN FREE PIZZA! Ok, most of what they had was not gluten-free, BUT:

This was the only place where they came out with specially wrapped plates and utensils to ensure that they had not been contaminated with wheat!!!!! Those of you who are not celiac or gluten-sensitive have no idea how much this means to me. I accidentally got "glutened" at least twice during the trip, despite taking gluten enzymes at each meal. I didn't eat for about 24 hours because I was afraid to get glutened again. Sitting down to a clean plate and utensils, and a little pizzeta, made my stomach relax enough to feel hungry and enjoy eating.