I found this video today which tells the story of how Hector and Norma began their milonga Cachirulo in Lo de Celia Tango Club. They moved many times — first to Centro Region Leonesa, then Plaza Bohemia at Maipu 444, then Club Villa Malcolm in Villa Crespo, and finally Obelisco Tango for the last three years.
I have Jorge De Gouvea to thank. Yesterday I danced a vals tanda in Lo de Celia. After the third dance of the tanda, I said to Jorge: That was the most incredible vals of my life. I wish I had a video of our dancing.
He called me today and came over for a visit in the afternoon. He wanted to see all the videos I recorded of him in the milonga before it’s too late. Jorge is losing his eyesight and held a magnifying glass in front of the computer screen. Ten years ago, he and Irma competed in the milonga champship. Jorge saw the video for the first time today.
After our visit, I checked my YouTube subscriptions and found the only video that Erwin recorded on Sunday at Lo de Celia. It was the last vals of the tanda with Jorge.
I’ve lived one quarter of my life in Buenos Aires, and I’m here to stay. I fell in love with Buenos Aires and the people during my first visit 20 years ago. It was an easy decision for me to start a new life in Buenos Aires. I’ve never regretted the move to Argentina.
A couple of months ago, a tango friend and I were attending an outdoor concert. Luis knows I’m from Chicago, and asked me an interesting question: “Can you tell me the best thing about Chicago?” I thought for a few seconds and said, “Luis, I can’t think of anything. I haven’t been there since October 2006, and I’m not going back. My life is in Buenos Aires.”
I had to acclimate to a new culture and language through total immersion on a day-to-day basis. There was no information on the internet about living in Buenos Aires as we have today.
We had tango music in our home during the 1950s. My parents bought long-play records of various orchestras that were popular in the USA. I remember that my sister and I asked our parents to show us the steps they learned at the park district dance classes.
We had to learn a second language in high school — German, French, Spanish or Latin. I chose Spanish and studied it for two and a half years. Even though I didn’t use it for many years, I was glad I learned vocabulary and verb conjugation. I needed to speak Spanish to survive in Buenos Aires. There was a period when I was afraid to answer the telephone, preferring to avoid conversation. I listened how Argentines use the language for three years before it made any sense. My accent is obvious to Argentines, but I can make myself understood. That’s all that matters to me. I hear more English being spoken these days in Buenos Aires than when I arrived in 1999. Argentines are the best English speakers in Latin America.
I left my American lifestyle behind and embraced a new culture. Instead of having to depend on a car for transportation, I walk and take the bus. I gave away my television five years ago, and I don’t miss it. I don’t have air-conditioning in my apartment when a small fan keeps me comfortable on hot days. I don’t use a credit card or even a cellphone.
Life today in my Buenos Aires neighborhood reminds me of the way it was growing up in Chicago during the 1950s. Neighbors knew one another and took the time for some conversation. Shopkeepers knew customers by name. I regularly meet neighbors on the street who have time for a visit. The friendly shopkeepers who call me by name are the ones I patronize. It’s nice to feel part of the community.
I have a great life in Buenos Aires — no stress, mild weather with mostly sunny days, loads of free concerts to attend, good friends, and most of all, tango with the milongueros viejos.
March 28, 1932 —
José doesn’t look his age at all. When dancing, he looks even younger.
I never know who I’ll find at my corner table in Lo de Celia, but it’s usually a foreign newcomer. Last Sunday was no exception. She asked how long I’ve danced at Lo de Celia and lived in Buenos Aires. I knew it was her first time, and it was so obvious that she was desperately trying to get any man’s invitation. Her first dance was with a foreigner whom I’d noticed a week earlier. He was hard to miss with green sneakers (which, by the way, aren’t allowed in Lo de Celia). Her second tanda was another foreigner. Her third tanda was with an Argentine, an awful dancer who thinks he dances well. I encouraged her to have patience and stay around when the working crowd went home at 22 hs.
She told me that she is from Colombia and started taking tango classes only 18 months ago. I felt her frustration not being invited to dance. Her body language — no smile and arms across her chest — needed improvement. I offered some suggestions, and she was receptive.
I know how lucky I am. I’ve danced with so many wonderful dancers for so many years in the milongas. I’d rather dance a few tandas with my favorite partners than be dancing constantly for exercise. Anibal Serena, Jorge De Gouvea, Hector Giocci, and Carlos Sanchez embraced me during six lovely tandas on Sunday. My night was complete.
I prefer sitting in this section where I can watch the show in Obelisco Tango. The show on Monday did not disappoint. First, it’s a fashion show put on by the foreign female visitors. If you’re dressed to impress, you may get a front row seat, and that means you may have a tanda advantage. I couldn’t help notice a particular woman, who danced constantly on Sunday at Celia’s, was doing the same on Monday. She reminds me of an ostrich because she buries her face in the man’s shoulder.
The ladies’ room is at the far end, and that’s my first stop before going to the table. I change my shoes, remove my jacket, comb my hair, check my makeup, and wash my hands. Women around me did the same at their tables, as if no one is watching. One of these days I’m going to take photos and show them to the women.
I’m not desperate to dance. I know that a man who wants to dance with me will find me. An American friend on my list of favorite partners was there. He dances like a porteno and feels the music. I didn’t know where he was, but came around to invite me for the Di Sarli tanda, my favorite.
The milonga was more crowded later in the evening. Ismael Heljalil got my attention when he raised his arm as he has since we first danced in 1999. I always want to dance the Juan D’Arienzo/Hector Maure tanda, and it was so special with Ismael. He said to me, no se puede bailar, referring to the poor navigation on the floor. Ismael called it a night, and I did the same.
March 16, 1940 —
The photo was taken the last time Mario went to Lo de Celia, and we danced. Swollen feet prevent him from wearing shoes, hence he’s unable to come regularly to Celia’s. He hasn’t been back since then. Losing weight through diet and exercise is a challenge for many milongueros viejos. It’s the only way they have a life that includes what they love most — the milonga. I miss dancing with Mario. Just watching a video of him brought back the feeling of his embrace.