June 09, 2005
Jewish Exponent Feature
When I decided to learn how to do the tango, I decided to do it the old-fashioned way: I went to Buenos Aires.
Sure, it's a far way to go to learn the tango, but I guess you could call me a purist. You could also call me someone who loves to travel, so when the opportunity presented itself, I was only too happy to pack a bag, board a plane and take off to Argentina.
The trip can be costly, but there are all kinds of bargains out there if you search for them. And the monetary rate of exchange, unlike Europe, so favors the dollar (3 to 1) that the trip can actually be quite affordable.
Buenos Aires, that charming, beautiful and cosmopolitan city and its suburbs of 11.5 million people, had a financial meltdown in late 2001, but has risen again like a phoenix. Today, in trendy bars, restaurants and ever-present tango clubs, you'll have to fight to get a seat. But the rewards will be well worth it.
To begin with, if you want to learn the national dance, there are many places only too happy to open their doors and teach you the tango - the dance with "attitude." Any tourist book or hotel concierge can point you in the right direction.
And if you go - although I guarantee you won't be able to sit still for very long without giving it a try - there are also many milongas (dance clubs that, at best, combine the neighborliness of a social club with the faded elegance of a 1930s ballroom).
Music of the Night
My lessons began at one of the many tango academies that dot the city. With a class of about a dozen other enthusiasts, we began our instruction at 11 each morning and continued until about 1 p.m. My dance teacher, named Sergio, was a tall, graying and quite attractive Argentinean whose love of tango was quite obvious. Even though he spoke almost no English (luckily, I speak some Spanish), we communicated quite well, especially when he told me that the tango was a dance that must be executed with attitude.
And so, with Sergio's help, I learned to stiffen my back, count the eight beats that make up the basic steps, and assume the correct attitude.
At night, my classmates and I, often accompanied by our teachers, went out to try our newly learned dance technique. While we weren't as successful as those born to the tango, I must say we all had a wonderful time nonetheless.
And even though learning the tango was one of my primary reasons for making the long trip, once I arrived in Buenos Aires, I realized that this was a magnificent city with much to offer.
Indeed, the Jewish community in Buenos Aires is alive and well. Traditionally, there has been a very strong cultural and educational life within the Jewish community. Today, there are about 40 Jewish schools (some 30 of them in Buenos Aires), while the country itself is home to 250,000 to 300,000 Jews, the largest number living in this beautiful capital city.
They have a lot to choose from; you can start with the food. Argentina is known for its fine fare, including its world-renowned beef. One taste of the succulent steak will tell you why its reputation is so deserving.
But in a city as large as Buenos Aires, you can enjoy anything from McDonald's to luscious cuisine in five-star restaurants; from cozy outdoor cafes ideal for fine food and people-watching to local stands featuring traditional foods washed down with water: con gas for fizzy; sin gas for still.
Then there is the cultural aspect of Buenos Aires. For example, El Teatro Colón, a world-class opera venue that offers daily tours, is considered one of the four most important opera houses in the world when it comes to acoustics and infrastructure.
The Museum of Belles Artes boasts art by world masters while the thoroughly modern Malba features the works of Latin American artists. And the Evita Museum highlights the life and times of the glamorous Eva Perón.
Speaking of Perón, you can visit the remains of Eva Duarte de Perón in her mausoleum at one of the most important cemeteries it the world, the Recoleta Cemetery. The four-block area has become a resting place for almost every hero, villain, artist, writer and capitalist in Latin American history.
Although it may sound maudlin, it is not, and the art nouveau and stylish tombs feature ornate statues, elaborate wrought-iron work and more.
Another area in Buenos Aires worth the visit - and much more alive - is La Boca. With its seedy cantinas and crowded tenements, the waterfront quarter of La Boca still feels like the melting pot where tango flourished a century ago. Its colorful look is the result of painter Quinquela Martin's inspirational "Piccola Italia" ("Little Italy"), as it is also known, and filled with a Mediterranean flair, from its cuisine to its architecture.
Today, the street-museum Caminito is a must for tourists, and restaurants, craft shops and a public path along the river make this area an unforgettable place.
Also on your visitor's checklist is the widest boulevard in the world - Avenida 9 de Julio. An obelisk, standing 223 feet tall that was erected to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city's founding, has become the star of many a postcard. For that matter, so has the rest of the city that is possibly one of the liveliest and most beautiful in the entire world.
Oh, and one last thing … just make sure when you go you don't forget to bring along your attitude! u
For more information, log on to: www.buenosaires.com .