It Takes Two to Tango, But Hundreds to Start A Revolution

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This blog entry about the events of Sunday, February 29, 2004 was originally posted on March 02, 2004.

DAY 134:  Two days prior, I was in Rio de Janeiro — a city of samba — but had flown to Buenos Aires, a city of a different dance:  the tango.  If there’s one thing to be associated with Buenos Aires, it’s the tango — however, if there’s another thing, it’s political demonstrations.

Everyone at the St. Nicholas hostel — two blocks away from the Plaza de Congres — was woken up around ten in the morning by the same alarm clock:  the incessant honking of car horns outside.  The reason for the bumper-to-bumper chaos was the hundreds of Argentines with their blue and white flags and beating drums en route to congress for a huge rally (picture above).

From the Unitarists to the Federalists to the Peronists, Argentina has a long history of revolution, one made famous in a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Demonstrations, I was told by a native Argentine woman later on, are so common that people often forget what the purpose of the demonstration was about on a particular day. 

“Why were they demonstrating?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, it’s Buenos Aires.  We have demonstrations all the time.”

Some people in the hostel thought a big parade was going on with all the drums and excitement in the air, but I knew better — I had made that mistake once in Barcelona and knew that big group of people didn’t necessarily translate to celebration.  I went to the plaza to see what was up anyway.  Proud Argentines took over the plaza, waving the national flag.  Groups held banners in support of their cause.  Dozens of guys with drums of all sizes kept a constant beat to keep the energy going.  The sounds of firecrackers and M-80s cut through the air, sounding a lot like the cannons and gunfire of revolutions past.  Every news van in town surrounded the perimeter with cameras pointing inwards in the event things got out of hand, so they could blare it on the evening news.  Police stood at every street corner to keep the peace, and to react in case things got a little violent.

I worked in a nearby internet cafe along the parade route, waiting for something exciting to happen, but the demonstration was peaceful.  Later I found out that it wasn’t a protest rally at all; everyone had come out to support President Kirchner’s decision to congress that he’d put the economy and people of Argentina first, instead of paying back the International Monetary Fund straight away for their loan from the economic collapse in 2001.


FROM THE RALLIES OF THE PRESENT, I went to visit an icon of rallies in the past:  the tomb of Eva Duarte Peron, known more popularly as Evita.  After stopping at the office of Malaysia Airlines to sort out my flight to Africa, I walked over to the neighborhood Recoleta, where Evita’s cemetary was established.  According to Lonely Planet, the Cemeteria de la Recoleta is “Buenos Aires’ number one tourist destination… located in the plushest neighborhoods of Recoleta.”  Recoleta’s affluence was evident when I walked down the streets full of chic boutiques and cafes — that is, until I found the local Hooters.  The restaurant known for its, ahem, wings was closed and so I indulged in an old staple from my New York lunch hour days:  sushi at a nearby food court — a temporary break from all the empanadas and steaks I’d been eating.

You would think that being such a tourist draw, Evita’s tomb would be easy to find and behind a velvet rope.  However, in respect for the dozens of other souls resting in the cemetery, this was not the case.  The cemetery itself wasn’t your run-of-the-mill plot of land with tombstones jutting out of the ground.  It was more like a labyrinth of tombs, holding the dead of the aristocracy, easy to get lost in.  However, it was easy to find the correct direction by just following the people with cameras. 

Eva Duarte Peron’s body was in the tomb of other members of the Duarte family, and was just one grave out of hundreds situated in a small alley with no special designation from the cemetery.  The tomb was however, adorned with pictures, drawings and flowers from those visitors paying respect.

“You speak English?” a lost traveler asked me as I took some notes around the corner from Evita’s alley.  I replied with a “yes.”

“Have you found the tomb of Evita?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, pointing around the corner with my pen.  “That one.  With the flowers.”

He looked at me embarrassed as if to say, “Oh, duh.”


THE WEATHER WAS WARM, the sky was blue, the sun was shining.  I made my way out of the maze of the dead and walked across town, through the residential neighborhood Barrio Norte and the business area of Retiro, with its skyscrapers of Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems amongst other tech corporations.  Walking through the Plaza Roma, I made my way to the marina, where relaxed sidewalk cafes were juxtaposed to the banks of the canal

.  After walking around and over the canals via bridges, I stopped off for a beer to just chill out for a while.  Past the Plazoleta 11 de Junio de 1580 — with its statue of Juan Garay, founder of Buenos Aires — and the Metropolitan Cathedral, I eventually made my way back to the hostel in time to meet up with Stefi, the German girl from Nuremberg I met at the barbecue the night before, for a night of tango.


MY TIMING OF BEING IN BUENOS AIRES COULDN’T BE MORE PERFECT; I was in town for the annual week-long tango festival.  While it wasn’t as nearly as high profile as Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval, it was still a worthy cultural event to experience.  With the tango festival, there are many opportunities to experience the sensual dance accompanied by the music of strings, piano and accordion.  The mainstream way was to go to a theater for a tango show to watch professionals perform and dance for an audience, but the other way to go was to do the tango yourself at any one of the dozens of cultural centers around the city giving free lessons.

Stefi, who was so fluent in Spanish that I thought she was Chilean when I met her, was obsessed with the culture of Buenos Aires — she had decided to stay put in the city for her entire two-month vacation to be totally immersed in it.  She had a printout of all the small cultural centers in town with free tango lessons and chose one that started at eight o’clock in the working class residential area of Boedo, far away from the city center.  Outside, the El Zaguan cultural center was located on a quiet residential street in between houses.  Inside was a simple space, similar to a ballroom in a youth rec center.  Actually, it was more like a VFW or American Legion hall because we were the youngest students in there — younger by a margin of at least twenty years.

Not including the young people working the bar on the side, the instructors Martin and Leila were the only other young people on the dance floor.  They conducted the class entirely in Spanish at a speed too fast for my brain to process since I had heard nothing but English and Portuguese for the past month.  I tried to fake it by just understanding the context of the situation: I did the sweeping walk exercise when others did, and the backwards steps when they did.  My initial walks weren’t as smooth as they should have been and Martin clearly saw how uncool I looked.  He tried to correct me, but I still pretty much walked around like Frankenstein.

“[Something, something,]” Leila said in Spanish to the entire class after all the exercises.  She and her dance partner glanced over to me.

“[What?]” I asked.  They said something else and I just said, “Si.”  Everyone started clapping.

Stefi translated for me.  “That’s for you,” she said.  “Because you are the lowest of the beginners here.”


AS THEY SAY, “IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO,” and when the class moved from exercises to dancing with a partner, I lucked out with Eliana, this forty-something woman who, self-taught in English and French, volunteered to be my dance partner — but more importantly, my translator for the night.  She had been to the cultural center several times before and didn’t mind showing me a couple of moves.  I continued to be clumsy as the rhythm of the accordion coming from the speakers only made the others more graceful.

While the ten or so other couples practiced their moves, Martin and Leila gave me special attention so that I could catch up to the rest.  Martin, who spoke a little English, told me that the tango is a very macho dance, and that as the man you have to take charge — you have to feel the weight of your woman and then move her the way you want to and she will follow.  With his advice to be more forceful in the upper body, I got a little too carried away when I accidentally slammed Eliana’s back right into a pole.  Leila’s advice was that I had to really hold my partner securely; the dance’s origin was about the woman being helpless and the man should really wrap his arm around her tightly.  For the example, she had me wrap my arm around her body with my hand on her back.  She held me closer so that her boobs just pushed up against me tightly and needless to say, for a moment there I was — as Van Halen once sang — “hot for teacher.”

Eventually I learned the basic steps of the tango, and in just an hour, I had the hang of it, sweeping Eliana off her feet and occasionally stepping on them.  I was actually pretty proud of what I learned in just a couple of hours, and celebrated after class at the bar talking with Stefi and Eliana over some drinks while others continued to tango on the dance floor.  When I bid goodbye to Leila and Martin, I told them I wouldn’t be back for another class because I was headed off to Africa.

“I’ll bring the tango to Africa then,” I told Martin.

Knowing how clumsy I could be, he replied, “Uh, please don’t.”


STEFI AND I BID ELIANA GOODBYE and hopped in a taxi back to the hostel in the city center.  The cabbie struck up a conversation with us — Stefi did most of the talking with her incredible fluency in Spanish.  The driver interjected with questions to me, of which I replied, “Lo siento, no entiendo.  Fue a Brasil por un mes and olvide todo mi español.”  (“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  I went to Brazil for a month and forgot all my Spanish.”)

Holy shit, I thought, I just said that in Spanish.  My brain was finally reverting back to its old ways.

The taxi driver brought us to the corner of our hostel but kept on flirting with Stefi.  I let them go at it while I waited nearby looking at the menu of a restaurant.  Stefi finally got rid of the guy and he drove off.

“Thanks for waiting.  That guy wanted to go out with him for a coffee,” she told me.  “Really, who goes out with their taxi driver in the middle of the night?”

“Uh, I know someone who went off with her taxi driver in the middle of the night,” I said, referring to the escapade with Sharon in Rio de Janeiro.


BEING THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, both of us were hungry and decided to go out for food.  Pepo, a Frenchman working in London as an accountant that had just arrived in Buenos Aires, tagged along and the three of us went out to a restaurant that everyone on their way in recommended to us.

As I said before, if there’s anything to be associated with Buenos Aires, it’s the tango, and if there’s another thing it’s political demonstrations.  If there’s room for one more association, you have to give that honor to steak.  After a day of rallies and tango, nothing but the medium rare cut I had with a glass of Argentine wine and a side of fries provencial could have topped the day off any better.






Next entry: Colors of Buenos Aires

Previous entry: Flashbacks in Buenos Aires




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Comments for “It Takes Two to Tango, But Hundreds to Start A Revolution”

  • SHAAAROON!!!

    YOU OWE ME 50 REIS FOR CABFARE!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  12:36 PM


  • coo entry, a busy day you had there. Thanks for keeping the posts coming.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  12:45 PM


  • political demonstrations, tango-ing w/ hot teachers, steak??!!  u do more in 1 day than i do in a month….all i get to do is watch more one tree hill

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  12:46 PM


  • gimme a steak damn it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  01:20 PM


  • ...what markyt said.

    *stomach grumbles*

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  01:47 PM


  • your tango story reminds me of trying to learn to salsa dance a few weeks ago - was I bad!  Clearly the worst on the dance floor.  Maybe there’s a dance in Africa you can master.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  02:34 PM


  • Find any Nazi refugees there?  Don’t forget, the Tango, steak and demonstraions, aren’t then only things Argentina’s famous for.

    Posted by matto  on  03/02  at  03:10 PM


  • wow, that sounds like fun. now i want to learn how to tango. though i am clumsy as hell and have 2 left feet. and a steak sounds good right about now….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  03:35 PM


  • MATTO:  Plenty of Nazi refugees too… a lot of the Argentine features look like a blend of Spanish, Italian and German.  I saw a couple of swastikas as graffiti around…  no real threat though…  everyone’s either too drunk on wine or full on steak to care!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  05:06 PM


  • When I was working on cruise ships, we stopped in BA in 1999, right at that marina you were at!  (Recognize the brick buildings, etc..). 
    I also remember that a lot of the passengers and crew went to one of those “dinner and dance” tango shows you were talking about.. I think the place was called Senor Tango - wasn’t there myself but saw everyone’s pictures of the place..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  08:15 PM


  • Too bad I wasn’t there. I would’ve reciprocated the tango lessons and taught ‘em a few good Bronx breakdancing moves!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  08:33 PM


  • I would have bust out a few moves from the new Usher video!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  11:54 PM


  • tango lessons!!  you’re ready to star in “scent of a woman”... haha.

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/03  at  10:53 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Colors of Buenos Aires

Previous entry:
Flashbacks in Buenos Aires




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