A lesson in Spanish pronunciation, and Misteriosa Milonga


No, don’t worry, I don’t mean I caused another diplomatic incident, this time by mispronouncing something, I mean I actually took a lesson in Spanish pronunciation …

Office this week.jpg


My day began at 7am, which was exceedingly painful after being on milonga time! I dragged myself down to the breakfast room and then set up my office for the morning.

I survived my first day back at work, finishing shortly after 1pm.


Spanish pronunciation lesson

Next on the agenda was a Spanish lesson … of sorts.

I have zero facility to learn languages; just trust me on that. But it would be enormously helpful to know how to pronounce things like addresses for taxi drivers – and, of course, the names of tango songs. So I’d booked two 1-hour lessons on Spanish pronunciation with a Spanish teacher, Judit, who handily lives just a 10-minute walk from our hotel.

Judit’s a great teacher! We started with the easy bits. First, you pretty much pronounce everything in Spanish (but for H). Second, pronunciation of the vowels never changes. Both are, of course, massively simpler than in English.

Then we went through the first half of the consonants, which aren’t quite as simple. These fall into three categories:

  • Pronounced the same as in English
  • Pronounced differently but consistently (eg. J = H sound)
  • Pronunciation depends on the letter(s) which follow the consonant

But again, the rules are relatively simple. So with my cribsheet, and a little time, I can now work out the pronunciation of any word which only has consonants from the first half of the alphabet … By tomorrow, when we’ve completed the alphabet, I should be able to work out anything.

Of course, being able to work it out by referencing my crib sheet and being able to do it on the fly are two entirely different things. But I’ll see how I get on with some practice, most likely after I get home. In the meantime, I can now actually tell taxi drivers where I want to go rather than showing them the address – as I additionally have the words for one to nine and a hundred, which is as precise an address as they want here.

Aside: Buenos Aires has a really sensible address system. Roads are a grid, so you either ask for a junction of two roads, or you ask for the block you want. Every block has its own set of numbers, so one block is 100s (100 to whatever), the next one 200s, and so on. So for El Beso, for example, at Riobamba 416, you just ask for Riobamba cuatro ciento, which is the 400-block. As the blocks are small, they just drop you in the middle and it will be seconds away.

I headed out to a milonga. Having been warned about pickpockets, I carried a small amount of money in my pockets (100 peso notes and smaller) and the 500s in my sock. Which was a good thing as I got pick-pocketed in the 100 metre walk room my hotel to the junction where I picked up a taxi. Whoever did it was extremely good – I knew nothing about it until I arrived at my destination and my pocket was empty.


Milonga 16: Misteriosa Milonga

This was the same location as Mano Blanca on Wednesday, but a different milonga. This is why the venue is only of secondary importance: the style and clientele could be very different for different milongas in the same room.

However, it had the same hostess as she recognised me and did the now-usual Argentine thing of looking delighted to see me and welcoming me with a big hug. Impressively, she even remembered my name (a feat I was unable to reciprocate). I also got a good table, at a corner where people entered and left the dance floor.

This was again a predominantly older crowd, with the exceptions being fellow foreigners. Mostly simple but very musical dance, which suited me perfectly. While the hostess was the same, the DJ clearly wasn’t: the music today was much better! I probably danced about two-thirds of the tandas.

I again won’t do chapter-and-verse, but three examples give a good flavour, I think.

I danced a milonga tanda with a follower from New York who was a delight. She was super-quick to follow even when I messed up and started to lead one step then realised I couldn’t because there wasn’t enough room. She was also doing her own double-time touches.

In the second song, she started hinting that I could go for it more, with more energy in her right hand. She perhaps thought I was more experienced than I was, and was keeping it simple for her. I took a scary decision. She was really good, and we felt very well connected, so I decided to try the made-up steps thing. I’d done it in a tango tanda before, but never in milonga!

But it worked! Not perfectly: there were some clunky bits here and there. But nothing that risked balance. It actually wouldn’t have been as fun without the made-up steps, and the messiness was the price of that – and one worth paying. I’d put good money on it that my follower felt the same.

At the other end of the energy scale was a tango tanda with a lady of a certain age. She didn’t seem very elderly, but was clearly a good dancer who struggled to pivot these days. When I led back ochos, she did ‘fochoes’ – fake ochos with stepping instead of pivoting. So I stopped doing those and kept it all to walking, rebounds, circular walk and side-steps. It was lovely Pugliese tanda, and a very crowded floor, so we had the slowest, simplest, smallest dance I think I’ve ever had bar Salon Canning. But it felt really enjoyable. She gave me a kiss at the end, and her friends gave me approving nods and smiles when I returned her to their table.

So, leaders who feel their dance is too limited: come to BsAs and dance with the old ladies! Just make sure it’s musical and you’ll have a great time.

I also had another follower – this one from Belgium – refusing to believe I was only a year in when we were swapping stories about our trips here. This place is good for your ego.

The dancing was interrupted for the raffle a lot of milongas do. You get a numbered ticket when you arrive, and then can win a prize, often a bottle of sparkling wine. In this case there were apparently a lot of prizes and a lot of winners as it went on for some time. I think, in truth, it’s 95% regulars there every week, and this is just a nice way to thank/acknowledge them.

But we visitors weren’t left out either. The hostess did a nationality roll-call. She went around the room, gesturing to any faces she either didn’t know, or knew to be foreign, and asked where they were from. About 5% of us were foreigners. She again demonstrated her impressive memory with me by announcing, rather than asking, that I was from England.

There was then a Gardel tanda. I quite enjoy listening to him, but dancing, not so much – other than Por Una Cabeza, which I adore. I was hungry, so decided this might be a sensible time head back to the hotel to have dinner. I reached for my shoes, but the hostess came over and demonstrated that there is a level above/below a handeceo: “You will dance with me,” she declared.

I didn’t know the music at all, but I didn’t need to. The first slow back ocho I lead, she turned it into a really languorous affair, and this set the tone. I lead something, she took over and handed back the lead about 15 minutes later.

I’m not complaining at all. She was a lovely dancer; what she was doing was beautiful; and it meant I didn’t need to worry about what was coming up in the music. It was a very enjoyable way to end the day.

I was tempted to sneak in a second milonga after dinner, but sanity won out. I was in bed before midnight.

5 thoughts on “A lesson in Spanish pronunciation, and Misteriosa Milonga”

  1. Buenos Aires has a way of getting its hooks into you. Is it the welcome you get from every organizer and waiter or is it just the chaos of the place? Who knows, but I have been coming back now for 15 years. Incidentally I have never been pick pocketed, the secret is to keep your wallet in your trousers, with your hand on it , or I have seen men keep it in their underpants, a step too far for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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