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Learning to tango in Buenos Aires


Many of our friends have enjoyed themed vacations for years. Some of the places that they have visited and can’t stop talking about are trips to Montana for fishing, skydiving and bird watching; touring the Grand Canyons, and the other numerous national parks; visiting Rio De Janeiro and New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and my all-time favorite dream vacation, but not yet realized, spending a month in Venice, Italy to learn how to paint its beautiful sea and landscapes. When our friends would tell us about their wonderful journeys, my mind would spin and wonder if any of our traveling passions would ever materialize. Our opportunity for a themed vacation came when an advertisement appearing in the catalogue “Bridge to the Tango,” published by Daniel Trenner of West Medford, Massachusetts arrived in our mail. The picture of tango dancers and the description of the upcoming trip to Buenos Aires took my breath away. The adventure was for 11 days of intensive studying and training with instructors whose ages ranged from early twenties to late seventies. The experiences and memories of the older instructors ranged from the beginning of the 20th century, when tango was in its infancy and danced mostly in brothels, through the reign of the infamous dictator Juan Peron and his wife the ever-popular Eva. The younger instructors, fortunately, were far removed from the hard times and challenges their ancestors experienced and were mostly concerned about the rapture and passion of their profession as tango aficionados and teachers. Part of the advertisement shows the excitement of two dancers embraced in the tango and gave the purpose of the tour and descriptions of the instructors that were the participants in that wonderful journey. The brochure also includes some exciting comments from former students who went on a tour, which added to the flavor, expectation, and romance that occupied my mind.

I showed Barbara the flyer; we didn’t waste any time reviewing the itinerary inch by inch, over and over again. She didn’t know that I had already booked the trip. The more we delved into the details, the more excited we became. Famous tango dancers, such as Gustavo Naveira, Olga Besio, and Omar Vega were to be our mentors and instructors. Even tango dancers we saw so many years ago in the “Tango Argentino” Broadway show were part of the group.

When I first told Barbara that I had already booked the trip, she didn’t say a word; she thought I was joking. When I convinced her that it was for real, the hugs and kisses that followed are still felt by me today when we dance the tango. What a surprise birthday present for her, and what a chance for us to really get the feel of the tango, which we loved so much, in the country where the passionate dance originated. A copy of one of the pages of the travel brochure, “Bridge to the Tango,” which captured our imaginations, follows. It is reproduced with the permission of Daniel Trenner.

Now the fun began. I had booked a March tour, which is summer/early fall in Buenos Aires, so we had to prepare the proper clothing for that time of year. We had to arrange for air transportation and research the best exchange rate for the dollar. Exchange rates can be very tricky; there can be a difference of ten to twenty percent if the right choices aren’t made. Many travelers use their hotels or exchange stores to convert their dollars to local currency, which can be a very costly mistake. We found that our Citibank ATM card was the fastest and least-expensive way to convert dollars. There are many Citibank outlets in Buenos Aires: no lines, no forms to fill out, no passport problems; you can just walk into a bank as you would in the U.S., go to the ATM machine, use your card, and, behold, the local currency is in your hand at a very favorable exchange rate. We also had to educate ourselves to whatever sightseeing was available within our time frame, the history of Argentina, and to any additional tango dancing opportunities in Buenos Aires.

Our tour had an optional airfare in coach with not much of a discount. The flight was ten hours and, considering that we had to be at the airport two hours prior to take off, we decided to explore flying business or first class so we could use the especially comfortable lounges reserved for those classes. American Airlines was the primary airline going to Argentina; its price for first class was more than our tour price. So we opted for business class, which worked out to be a couple of hundred dollars per person more than coach. As luck would have it, they were running a special promotion for our time slot, which included the use of The Admiral Club’s first-class lounge at the airports. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Foreign flights require that passengers check in two hours prior to scheduled take-offs. Our plane was delayed for an additional hour, which meant killing three hours at the airport. What a difference having the use of The Admiral’s Lounge made, as they served free coffee, Danish pastries, nuts, and pretzels, and also had comfortable large and spacious seats, with no crowds, plenty of reading material, private restrooms, several television sets, and finger sandwiches. Not a bad way to spend three hours. Since then, whenever financially possible, we try to fly business or first class if the airline’s lounge is included in the price. We left for Buenos Aires from Miami, Florida. Luckily, we were wintering in Florida at the time, which made it convenient for us to take an airport limousine from Boca Raton, where we were staying, to the airport, without worrying about parking or the safety of leaving a car for two weeks at one of the airport parking lots.

Business Class on our ten-hour trip was exceptionally more enjoyable than our previous experiences with flying coach. There was more than adequate room for our carry-on bags in the overhead compartments and a separate area for hanging clothes or storing golf bags. After settling in, we were offered champagne, wine, refreshments, and finger snacks. The seats were spacious and reclined completely for sleeping, and were almost as comfortable as a standard bed. This became especially important as our flight left around midnight for a scheduled arrival at 10:00 A.M. By the time we boarded and got organized, a good night’s sleep was a welcome friend.

The seats were two abreast with large windows, which gave us the feeling of spaciousness and made getting a good night’s sleep a pleasant reality. The restrooms were larger than what we were used to when flying coach and were restricted to passengers in our section, which cut down on waiting time and the activity that is so prevalent around the service areas on planes. Snacks were served without the usual annoying waiting period due to our section having fewer people to accommodate. Private television was available with a choice of several current movies to choose from, which was nice; it certainly was better than not being given a choice of movies, as is common when flying coach. Breakfast was served upon request. It was an event; we chose our meals from a menu, which included a good variety of hot or cold breakfast delights. Ten hours “flew by” very quickly, due mostly to the comfortable seats and the relative quiet in our restricted area, which allowed us to sleep without too many interruptions.

While resting on my comfortable seat/lounge, I took the opportunity to read about the history of Argentina and to see if there were any places of interest that we might include in our sightseeing. I bought the Lonely Planet City Guide to Buenos Aires, by Wayne Bernhardson. While at home, we had done extensive research on the Internet, so reading the information in the travel guide became easy and familiar to us. Although Argentina dates back to 1536, when Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza made camp in Buenos Aires, the romantic history of Argentina actually began at the turn of the 20th century with the introduction of tango dancing and a singer/song writer named Carlos Gardel. To appreciate the passion that the people have for the Argentine tango, a brief history of tango and its first and foremost hero, Carlos Gardel, is in order.

The tango originated in the streets around the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, in the 1890s, and was considered a vulgar dance practiced in houses of ill repute and other unsavory places. It combined gaucho (cowboy) verse with Spanish and Italian music. Carlos Gardel was also considered to have been born and nurtured in the streets, but not in Argentina. He was born to a single mother, Berthe Gardes, in Toulouse, France, in or around 1890. Today, being a single mother carries very little social stigma, and in many cases, women travel that journey by choice preferring not to be tied down with a permanent partner, while enjoying the experience of motherhood. But in the late 19th century, Berthe and her young son were a disgrace to her family and community. When Carlos was three or four years of age, Berthe’s lover paid for her and her son to relocate from France to Argentina.

Carlos Gardel with Mona Maris

Carlos Gardel with Mona Maris

They arrived in the capital alone and abandoned, and were immediately destined to live in the poor neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. So we have the arrival of the tango and Carlos at the same time, late in the 19th century, and the same place, Buenos Aires. These two forces were to become engaged in one of the most passionate dances of all time. It began in the lowest of places, brothels and tenements, and found its way into the homes of the rich and famous. Around the world it travelled—New York, Paris, and Italy—making music, inspiring dancers, and finally the grand finale: acceptance of its passion in motion pictures.

Today, wherever tango music is heard, a picture or the sound of Carlos’s voice is in close proximity. He has become almost mystical. When he died in an unfortunate plane crash in June 1935, it is said that a Cuban woman committed suicide in Havana, while a woman in New York and another in Puerto Rico tried to poison themselves, all over the same man whom they had never met but with whose voice and music they were enamored.

Our plane arrived at the Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini de Ezeiza, simply known as Ezeiza (EZE), Buenos Aires, at 10:00 A.M., exactly on time and with no unusual surprises. The airport was located only 29 miles from our hotel, the Continental on San Roque Boulevard, downtown, in old Buenos Aires. Our luggage arrived at the airport unharmed, which was another surprise, so we promptly took a shuttle bus to our hotel. We were surprised at how light the traffic in Buenos Aires was, considering its population of approximately three million residents. It appeared that most motorists obeyed the traffic laws. We arrived at our hotel and considering that it was rated a four-star hotel, we got another surprise, but this time an unpleasant one. We learned that foreign hotels are not rated the same as in the U.S. Although the hotel was not up to the American standards that we expected, it was located in a great part of the city, and was only two blocks from Avenida Florida Blvd, which boasts every type of retail store imaginable: leather goods, women and men’s designer clothing shops, shoe stores, etc. Also, the Avenue has every type of restaurant that exists: Italian, Spanish, American, French, South American, Russian, etc. We tried as many restaurants as possible in our short stay in Buenos Aires and, of course, Barbara tried as many of the shops as she could. Her only complaint was that she didn’t have enough time and money to visit them all. Some memorable sights on the Avenue were street dancers dancing the tango at will, women wearing colorful designer dresses, men sporting Latin type hats, with suits and ties. The views gave the avenue a very sophisticated Bohemian-European-Manhattan atmosphere.

Hearing tango music while walking along the busy streets was absolutely enchanting; people just stopped and began dancing whenever their fancy dictated. Of course, Barbara and I also enjoyed a few impromptu tango steps while we walked along, joining the others in the pleasure and the feeling of our surroundings.

Our hotel was only a short walk from the historic area of San Telmo. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, and was one of the wealthiest areas in the city until yellow fever took its toll. The wealthy abandoned their dwellings and the area became a haven for scoundrels and the immigrants of that era. Still unspoiled by the rampant modernization that seems to be going on all over Buenos Aires, San Telmo has become an artist’s quarter, where bohemians find large spaces to rent at low rates, very much like Greenwich Village, New York, after WWII, when our GIs found inexpensive lifestyles while attending local universities. It was here in the late 1800s that the tango was born in the brothels and houses of ill repute, and it was in neighborhoods like this, in Buenos Aires, that Carlos Gardel grew up and turned the tango into the nation’s, and the world’s, most popular music and seductive dance. Most of the nightlife of Buenos Aires is concentrated in this district, as well as some of the most interesting restaurants and bars. As street dancing is popular in this neighborhood, Barbara and I took advantage of the great music heard everywhere to practice some of our tango steps.

Considering the location of these wonderful places and their close proximity to our hotel and the “Confiteria Ideal,” where we would spend most of our time being taught tango and listening to great lecturers, the fact that the hotel didn’t meet American four-star standards became less important. We spent very little time in the hotel, and only used our room to get some much-needed sleep after long days at the dance sessions and milongas (clubs). Fortunately, the hotel had a restaurant with large viewing windows looking out on the street level, which became a great comfort station for drinking delicious dark Argentinean coffee and for “people watching.” It’s amazing how European the people looked; the men were inclined to wear European-cut suits and the ladies dressed in a very sophisticated and stylish manner. The viewing of the street activity and the beautiful Argentineans was very relaxing as we enjoyed an espresso or cup of local coffee. Breakfasts were included in our tour price, so we were able to begin our day by admiring the passing people traffic, as we leisurely enjoyed our extensive meals.

Arriving at our hotel in the morning gave us an opportunity to unpack and settle into our hotel suite. It had a bedroom and a separate sitting area with window air conditioners. Although the hotel and rooms were quite old, they were quaint and very comfortable. Our group leader, Jeff Anderson, welcomed us at the reception area set up for our group. Fortunately, he would be at our disposal for the entire trip. Jeff told us that some of our tour group were going to the Avenida Florida Boulevard for lunch, and then to a local shoe store to look at leather dancing shoes that were handmade by a local shoemaker on site. We joined some of our new friends for lunch, which we rushed through, because we couldn’t wait to order new dancing shoes from the local shoemaker. Barbara and I were fitted by a pleasant assistant and we were hypnotized watching the shoe master, Joseph’s, precision as he created a pair of dancing shoes in about a half-an-hour. The shoes were made of the finest soft Argentinean leather, almost tissue-like to the touch. When our shoes were ready two days later, we tried them on and were surprised that they fit perfectly. Needless to say, we would wear them at every dancing opportunity, as our happy feet enjoyed the feel of the soft, tissue-like leather caressing them; they didn’t even require a breaking-in period.

We spent our first evening getting acquainted with our new friends at a cocktail reception. Our new acquaintances were from around the world: Germany, Italy, Canada, and many parts of the U.S. Later that evening, at about 10:00 P.M., we were off to our first milonga at the Club Gricel. We were escorted to the club in a small bus by our fantastic staff instructors who began their routine of catering to our every wish and to our safety. The club had a typical nightclub atmosphere and held a comfortable two hundred people. There was a DJ in attendance playing a variety of music for dancing, but most of the dancing and music was tango. There is no such thing as a “no smoking” area in the clubs in Buenos Aires, so a smoke cloud filled the place and made it very uncomfortable to see and breathe, especially since the club wasn’t air conditioned, which is not uncommon in the city. But, the music and dancing made up for these shortcomings. The male patrons were all dressed in suits, as is the custom at clubs, and the women wore pretty, short-sleeved dresses with slits on the sides that showed off their sexy legs. Considering it was summer/early fall in Buenos Aires, there was surprisingly a lot of sweating going on in the club. It’s probably one of the reasons that the milongas start late in the evening and continues into the early morning, as it does cool down quite a bit between those hours.

The tradition at the dances is that, if a man wants to dance with a particular female, he makes eye contact and then nods his head. If the woman accepts the invitation, she will nod her acceptance; if she doesn’t want to dance, she will turn her head away. It is customary for men to ask women to dance, even if the women are escorted by other men. Using eye contact takes away the embarrassment and doubt that goes along with verbally asking someone to dance. It’s really a neat way to enjoy an evening without all the uncertainties that go along with approaching strangers and asking them to join you in a romantic dance. Our instructors made sure that everyone in our group had a partner to dance with. Many of us enjoyed dancing with the locals once we got the knack of “eye contact” and its meaning. The dancing routine was that three tangos would be played, with about a minute intermission between each to talk and get acquainted with your partner. This also allowed dancers a chance to decide whether or not to continue dancing with the chosen person. If the partners decided to continue dancing, then, when the music resumed they would continue dancing in the “line of direction” (counter clockwise), being very respectful of the other dancers around them. No kicks, fans, or other dangerous moves were allowed on the dance floor because they could interfere or cause collisions with other dancers. Occasionally other dance music was played, more or less as an intermission between tangos. The students took advantage of these dances to show off their swing, cha-cha, mambos, etc. It is strange that the Argentines do not dance any other dances than the tango and its variations. Our night ended about 2:00 A.M., and we left exhausted from the excitement of our new experience and the incredible amount of dancing we had done. Many of the students stayed until closing at 5:30 A.M. God Bless them!

The next morning, which was Saturday, we woke up at about 9:30 A.M., and rushed to enjoy a buffet breakfast. The selection included many hot and cold dishes, which we devoured to replenish our energy, which had been exhausted the night before. In the early afternoon, we had our first tango lesson at one of the most picturesque salons in the city, Confiteria Ideal, which has been featured in many movies, such as the 1997 Tango Lesson, written by and starring Sally Potter and one of our dance instructors, Gustavo Naveira; the 1998 movie Tango, written by Carlos Saura and starring Carlos Rivarola, Cecilia Narova, and Mia Meastro; and the 1998 movie Evita, written by Tim Rice, Alan Parker, and Oliver Stone, and starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. The Confiteria was built in 1912 as a café-bar-nightclub and still carries the look of the turn of that century’s Art Deco architecture, with its ancient wood flooring, dark wood furniture, opulent marble staircase, and an ornate two-person elevator. Some of the world’s famous people, such as Maurice Chevalier, Marie Felix, Dolores del Rio, Vittorio Gassman, Robert Duvall, and many local and foreign dignitaries, have enjoyed the food and dancing at this one-of- a-kind romantic establishment.

The emphasis on our first lesson was the relationship between dance partners and their responsibility toward each other. To emphasize the importance of each one knowing and respecting the other’s movements, we were taught some of our partner’s steps. The men danced the women’s part and the women did the leading. Talk about confusion, yet it was very helpful in learning how difficult it is for a woman to dance backwards and to respond quickly to the male’s lead. I learned to do ochos (figure eights), cortes (kicks), and many other sophisticated tango steps while dancing backwards; it was quite different and very easy to confuse the steps. It took a while, but the men seemed to get the routines down pretty well and translated their experience into holding and leading the ladies with a lot of consideration and appreciation for their role in the tango. In Argentina, it is not uncommon to see people of the same gender dancing together. They are taught to dance both parts, as leaders and as followers. We practiced for about two hours and then had a one-hour intimate interview session with a master teacher of the tango. Our teacher shared with us his joys and heartbreaks with the tango, and how dancing saved his sanity during his youth through the troubled political times in Argentina. After the session, we had an additional hour of practice with our partners, the dance instructors, and other students—male and female. It took a bit of getting used to dancing with a member of the same sex, but it worked out well and we gained important knowledge—not only in dancing the tango, but applying what we learned to other dances.

After the session, members of the tour paired and enjoyed dinner at one of the many local restaurants, which was followed by walking around San Telmo and enjoying a street fair that was taking place. At about 10:00 P.M., we again boarded our bus for a night at Salon El Pial, another local milonga; however, fortunately, this club was air-conditioned. We danced the night away and returned back to our hotel about 2:00 A.M., again leaving many of our group to dance on until closing at about 5:00 A.M.

After several lessons, our instructors concentrated on the meaning of improvisation, which is the essence of the dance. “It’s easy enough to learn the many steps in the Argentine tango, but the fun and passion of the dance is to improvise and to introduce new steps and feelings into your dance routines. To hear the music; to feel the music; to express the proper attitude; when this synergy is accomplished, then improvisation causes passion to radiate from the dancers’ bodies and movements resulting in a ‘dance of love.’” At one of the sessions Dan Trenner interjected: “And isn’t this why we all traveled from around the world to Buenos Aires, to learn and experience the ‘dance of love’?” Everyone smiled and agreed with his interpretation, that if the dance is properly performed, the result will be a romantic expression of love through tango dancing.

The rest of our trip was the same every day: a morning buffet breakfast, dance lessons for about four hours at different venues, lectures by master tango dancers, an afternoon nap when possible, dinner at a local restaurant, dancing at a different milonga till the wee hours of the morning, and then returning to our hotel, exhausted and exhilarated from the day’s activities.

An exceptional day was a visit to our tour leader’s apartment for a private rooftop dance party at his La Cupula, which is a spectacular turn-of-the-century penthouse. Buenos Aires is often described as the “Paris of the South,” and the view from the penthouse roof validated that belief. We got the same feeling when we visited Paris. The views were similar and absolutely magnificent; their church steeples, cupolas of every size and shape, and the brilliant effect of the sun’s rays shining off the gold trim of many of the cupolas and steeples were mirror images of the architecture in each city.

The party was exciting as a trio band consisting of a guitar, bass, and bandoneon played beautiful tangos, which gave us an opportunity to meet and dance with many of our instructors, master teachers, and local dance aficionados. A buffet was set up with local finger foods and an open bar kept everyone refreshed and somewhat immune from the afternoon heat of the sun. There were several tango exhibitions by our teachers, some local dancers, and teachers with students. It gave us an opportunity to dance on the rooftop with our instructors and made me feel as if I were dancing in the sky on a cloud. The afternoon turned into evening as we socialized and caressed our partners and our newfound friends to the sounds of tango music. We drifted from the party and walked the enchanted streets of the magical city back to our hotel to prepare for another evening of tango dancing at a local club.

One of the places we wanted to see while in the city was Eva Peron’s burial place in the Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery is in the trendy Recoleta section of the city, where there is an artisan market and the dwellings of the wealthy residents of Buenos Aires. The cemetery is enclosed by a high wall, but some of the high monuments and statues can be seen from the outside. However, the message is clear: “private privileged property.” Traditionally, only the wealthy and powerful members of the aristocracy were buried at this cemetery, with Eva Peron being an exception. The remains of Eva are secured in a modest Familia Duarte subterranean vault, which irritates the upper class to no end, as she was considered anything but an aristocrat. Her embalmed remains (embalming is not usual for the people of Argentina), rest there after being transported from South America to an obscure cemetery in Milan, Italy, where her husband, Juan Peron, lived, and then back again to Buenos Aires after his death. Her family tomb is modest, but the floral arrangements at and around the tomb are breathtakingly beautiful: fresh, colorful, and by no means humble. When entering the cemetery, one is overwhelmed with the aboveground splendor of monuments, mausoleums, and statues, ranging from modest to grand scale mini-cathedrals. Many mini-buildings have gates and/or glass doors; their coffins and stairwells can be easily seen from outside, as if the viewers were being asked to look at the splendor within. The overall cemetery reminded me of the aboveground cemeteries in New Orleans, only on a much grander scale.

Only a few blocks from Eva’s tomb we found the tomb of her husband, Juan Peron, in the less-exclusive graveyard of Chacarita Cemetery, which is not on the elaborate scale of the Recoleta Cemetery, but is the home of many famous people who were not of the aristocracy. The cemetery was established in 1870 to accommodate the countless victims of the yellow fever plague. It has only a few tombs and statues to match the splendor of Recoleta, one of the most visited being Buenos Aires’s “songbird,” Carlos Gardel, who is held in a near-saint status by many Argentineans who feel a quasi-religious devotion to him. Plaques from people around the world cover the base of his life-sized statue, which is embroidered with flowers placed by the steady procession of people paying their respect to the great tango singer; the abundance of beautiful flowers that decorated his tomb enhanced the overall appearance of a rather dreary cemetery.

The day before our dance tour ended, we had some free time to go shopping and sightseeing, and to leisurely walk around the nearby neighborhood. We chose to return to the leather shop to buy a spare pair of their handmade soft-leathered dancing shoes, to be used on special dancing occasions. Our last class and farewell milonga was at the Sunderland Club, where we had a cocktail party, danced with our partners, other students, beautiful local women, handsome men, and some of our master instructors. I actually danced with two male instructors and enjoyed the dancing very much, even though dancing the female part was quite difficult, but with the expert guidance that I had, I was able to dance and enjoy the follower’s part. One of our master teachers, Mingo Pugliese, and his dance partner-wife, Ester, approached us and said they liked our styling and passion for the dance. He said, “Michael, all of the teaching, demonstrations and lectures that you were a part of mean nothing if you do not develop the proper ‘Attitude.’ There is no dance, if you do not have the right romantic ‘Attitude’ when doing the tango.” He praised our attitude and told us to “Continue dancing for the love of it, and to have a happy and passionate life with the tango as I and my wife have.”

The next morning we had our farewell breakfast and said goodbye to the many new dancing friends that we had shared our wonderful themed vacation with. We extended our stay for three additional days, and accomplished all the sightseeing that we had planned. The cemetery visits to see the final resting places of Eva and Juan Peron and Gardel will always be etched in my mind. We spent many hours just walking around the city, visiting neighborhoods, and talking to as many locals as possible. Fortunately, Barbara has a great understanding of the Spanish language, which helped us to just relax and meet people on a comfortable level.

There was a special place that we wanted to visit, and put a whole afternoon aside to satisfy our curiosity; it was the few blocks called “Caminito” in the La Boca district. We have been in love with the word Caminito for years as it’s the name of one of our favorite Argentine tango songs, sung by our favorite singer, Carlos Gardel. In the song, Caminito means “little path,” and is the road to his lover. The last stanza of the song goes something like this: “Little path covered with thistle, the hand of time erased your tracks. I would like to fall beside you and let time kill us both.” As with many tango love songs, the words are very dramatic and often fatal. So, with Carlos’s music ringing in our ears, we headed for the area so dramatically described in the song.

When approaching the small area, the variety of bright colors that the buildings are painted caused my eyes to dilate: bright yellow, shocking greens, many shades of blue and all the shades of red; these colors were on the sides and fronts of the buildings, steps, and trim. Even the light posts were painted in rainbow colors. Although there were menageries of colors, they somehow blended to express the story behind that small area by the waters of La Boca, which mean mouth, as in mouth of the Riachuelo River. Millions of foreign immigrants entered Argentina between 1880 and 1930, turning Buenos Aires from a small town into a bustling metropolis. Many Italians migrated from Genoa to La Boca and settled in the Caminito area so they could work in the nearby shipyards, as they had in their home town of Genoa. They were poor and took scraps of metal or other discarded usable materials from the shipyards to build their homes in Caminito and the surrounding area. The material’s finishes were ugly, so they decided to paint them with whatever leftover paint they could find at the shipyards. Although today no one lives in Caminito, the area is a testimonial to the ingenuity and hard work of its original settlers. The buildings are occupied by shops and restaurants, and are considered an open-air museum, representative of the time when La Boca was the melting pot of Argentina.

Tango music filled the air throughout the area, giving motion to street performers, tango dancers, and musicians. Barbara and I immediately joined other tango lovers and showed off some of the wonderful routines that we had learned from our accomplished dance instructors. The whole scene seemed to be out of an Alice in Wonderland story; the street dancers were dressed in formal attire, men wearing tuxedoes, while the ladies showed off their open-back, short, beautiful dresses. We felt part of the exotic kaleidoscope; how much better could it get?

We found a second-floor restaurant and sat on the terrace overlooking the square where we could view the surreal colorful scene and enjoy a hearty lunch. We ordered pizza with cheese and pepperoni, which was a house specialty, and polished it off with a bottle of very sweet white Argentine wine, while we watched the street fill with tourists. By the time we finished our lunch, the streets were packed with people shopping, dancing, or just browsing the stores. We joined the crowd and couldn’t help buying some tango paraphernalia. I bought a great ceramic picture, 10 × 14 inches, depicting two tango dancers with a Caminito sign in the background; Barbara bargained with a shopkeeper for a beautiful multicolored shawl and two fans with tango dancers and Caminito’s colorful buildings in the background. With our arms filled with our purchased prizes, we bid farewell to Caminito and its rainbowed past and present, which is still etched in my mind as a fond memory of love and romance in the place where tango was born.

While looking out the window of the plane that was carrying us home to the U.S., and watching the beautiful city of Buenos Aires fade into the distance, Mingo Pugliese’s words were echoing in my mind: “You must have the right romantic ‘Attitude’ to truly enjoy the tango, but what’s more important, you must have the right ‘Attitude’ to fully enjoy life.”

While doing the tango at various dance halls, Barbara and I have been approached on many occasions by people watching us dance and have been told that when dancing we seem to be telling a story of love and seduction. It makes us feel fulfilled to have people enjoy our dance routines, and I often smile when I think of Mingo’s advice. Maybe, in some way, we captured what he was telling us. In any case, we thank you Mingo for helping enhance our love and passion for the tango. Some years later, we were at the weekly milonga of the “Argentine Tango Lovers of Long Island” in Westbury, Long Island, and the dance master teaching the tango and performing a show was none other than Mingo’s son, Pablo. What a wonderful experience; certainly “six degrees of separation” were in play, our being taught by the senior Puglieses in Argentina, and then by their famous son, thousands of miles from Buenos Aires in a local Long Island club—what are the odds? He loved the story we told about our experience with his parents, and spent most of the evening telling us how much he loved the tango and his beloved Argentina.

Extracted from his book, Around the World with Mike and Barbara Bivona. Part One.

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