Every day is a school day in Argentina. Today I learned: trust Terry on milongas, but never on cafes! He’d seen our visit to Cafe Tortini, which was beautiful but had mediocre food at tourist prices, and told us we should instead have gone to Cafe de Los Angelitos. So we did, with him. It was beautiful, but had rubbish food at tourist prices.
Service was so slow it took 45 minutes to get our glasses of water. We wanted coffee, but didn’t dare order it – we’d have been there for another hour or more. When presenting the bill, the waiter pointedly told us that the total didn’t include service. I pointedly left the appropriate tip for the standard of service …
Still, there’s no arguing with the ‘grand’ part of the description; only the ‘cafe’ bit.
However, what the place lacked in service and cooking skills (seriously, how do you even find a bad chef in BsAs?!), it made up for in aesthetics.
It was a place of elegance and sophistication, suitable for the patronage of an English gentleman of refined tastes and impeccable decorum.
Widescale protests against government spending cuts had closed many of the streets, so we opted for a 40-minute walk home. That took us close to the Obelisco, so I took Tina there for the obligatory photo (I’m pretty sure they don’t let you out of the country without one).
It’s amusing that we spend most of the time being careful to protect our phones, then right in the very centre of the city we simply hand it over to a random stranger who needs to stand 20 feet away to get the entire monument in shot. The secret is to pick someone who doesn’t look like they can run very fast …
Milonga 6: Nuevo Gricel at Club Gricel
After a bit of rest at home, we headed off to Nuevo Gricel at Club Gricel to help them celebrate their 14th birthday. Or possibly 13th – I’m not very good yet at Spanish numbers.
The usual WhatsApp reservation secured us a table at 10pm. The club closed at 2am, but my plan was to stay until midnight to give us a couple of hours of dancing while still getting home at a sensible time.
So anyway …
I’d better start at the beginning, because it was not a promising start.
The ‘OMG what is even happening here?’ start
We duly arrived at 10pm and were shown to our table. We ordered some coffee to wake ourselves up, and then decided to wait for some decent music for our first tanda. The current tanda was a very fast rhythmical one. Followed by a very fast rhythmical one. Followed by a milonga. Followed by another very fast rhythmical one. And one more. Then a fast vals.
I mean, I’m better than I was at dancing rhythmical tandas, but first impressions count when a stranger is seen in a milonga, so I always want my first tanda to be to music I really like. Tina also feels that slow, lyrical dance shows her off to best effect.
The relentless samey tandas continued until midnight. We finally got desperate enough to dance a Tanturi tanda. That also didn’t go well: we literally got about a minute in, just long enough for me to wonder what the hell had happened to the floorcraft here since my last visit (though that was Yira Yira at the same venue), when there was a scream and a thud from the other side of the ronda. Two couples had collided, very hard, and one of them – both man and woman – were flat on their back on the floor!
They were both elderly, and the man wasn’t immediately moving. I thought about putting my rusty first-aid into practice, before deciding that my minuscule Spanish would probably make me more of a hindrance than a help, at least unless CPR were needed. Fortunately it wasn’t.
After a few minutes, both were helped to their feet, and were laughing about it shortly afterwards. But it was no surprise to me that there had been a major collision – some leaders were doing out-of-control giros, and there was much cutting in from inner to outer ronda or vice-versa.
Needless to say, the combination of music that wasn’t my thing, and floorcraft so bad it almost put two people in hospital, didn’t exactly increase my expectations of the evening. You’d have thought that the accident would have calmed people down, but no: I was about 10% dancer, 90% bodyguard, during the resumed tanda.
We returned to our table afterwards, and waited in vain for a lyrical tanda. There was literally not a single one over a two-hour period! I’d by this time given up on the DJ, and was just waiting for the live music to begin.
The utter transformation!
Then magic began to happen! First, Tina recognised someone walking by: Lilili, a fellow member of the Stranda Facebook group. We’d each posted Stranda requests, and Tina and Lilili had started messaging.
She’s one of those people who just exudes joy!
Then Color Tango began to play … Pugliese! They are effectively the heir to his orchestra, and their leader was, until recently, Roberto Alvarez. From the orchestra’s webpage:
In 1978, Alvarez was invited by Osvaldo Pugliese to be part of the bandoneon section of his famous orchestra, and immmediately started writing his first arrangements for the orchestra. Since 1984 until he left the orchestra he was the lead bandoneonist of the orchestra and wrote 25 orchestral arrangements for Osvaldo Pugliese’s repertory.
You can also check out their website for their upcoming events in 2018.
As is customary, nobody danced during the first song, to show respect to the band, despite me absolutely itching to do so, and then couples drifted onto the floor as the second song began. Tina and I quickly joined them.
We had a fantastic tanda! The music was absolutely delicious, and Tina has that perfect combination of following the lead exactly when it is provided, and making beautiful use of the space provided for her own dance. It’s a true 50/50 dance between us, and with this music, and this band playing it, it was heaven.
I was escorting Tina back to her seat when the band started playing more Pugliese, and I got a laser-powered mirada from a woman sat a couple of tables up. I smiled and nodded, and we had an absolutely amazing tanda. Instant connection, and clearly both hearing the music in exactly the same way. My own dancing felt like it was as smooth as the finest Malbec in all the land, and she was clearly delighted to have space to give full reign to her own ideas. We were both grinning like five-year-olds.
Magically, the floorcraft had returned to the standard I’d expected. Maybe it’s the fast rhythmical stuff that attracts the toros en una tienda de porcelana. The floor was also much emptier, perhaps because many of the earlier dancers had gone home to apply ice to their bruises.
I have to say that here it felt very natural to do the ‘escorting back to the table’ thing, and as I did so another woman at the same table gave me a questioning look. Another smile, another nod and I was off again – and more Pugliese! Another absolutely fantastic follower, and I was now wondering whether the earlier part of the evening had just been a nightmare, or whether this part was just a dream.
This time I made it back to our table, but as soon as the next song began I was out of my seat like a shot. Clearly all the rhythmical stuff earlier had been because the band was going to play non-stop lyrical songs. Lilili cabeceod me, I accepted and we just had the most fun! As with the earlier followers, she was a truly beautiful dancer, and took full advantage of my invitations for collaborative dance. We had an absolute ball!
After that, I looked around, spotted a likely-looking candidate – alert, and swaying slightly with the music. Again, a perfect tanda! I just couldn’t believe how such an unpromising evening had transformed itself into this most magical of nights.
The band set ended, but fortunately the DJ was now playing non-stop lyrical tandas – including, yes, lots more Pugliese. I withdrew my earlier police report on his DJing. I danced non-stop, and literally every tanda without exception was in the ‘really lovely’ to ‘how is it even possible for my dancing to feel this good?’ range. (Narrator: A good connection with a really skilled follower can make any leader feel like a tango god!)
My tiny bit of Spanish is giving me the confidence to attempt Spanglish chat in the gaps between songs, and that too is transformational. It really is a case of not caring about the correct words or grammar, and just focusing on finding a way to be understood. I’d been concerned my Spanglish might be painful, but followers were appreciative.
The two hours whizzed by so fast I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my watch to see it was 01:50 – with the last tanda coming up for the 2am finish. Tina and I danced this, despite both being tired. While it lacked the energy of our earlier dancing, it was still the perfect way to complete the evening.
Well, that and a quick photo with Lilili. She accosted a random tanguero to take it. We carefully positioned ourselves under the Club Gricel sign, and he carefully framed the shot to exclude it. Lilili explained that we wanted the sign, and he shot a blurry video clip. Finally, though, success!
(Mostly they were just in the photo to make me look slimmer.)
Tina had also led Lilili in Jive during one of the cortinas. Video may follow, suitable to acquiring the necessary permissions.
Lilili wrote on Facebook afterwards:
If I had to pay for all the fun I had yesterday , I would have run out of money.
Me too: I’d be so poor I’d have to sell the cats!
Absolutely astonishing evening. Next time, I would arrive at midnight, when the band is due to play, but that aside I could not have asked for a more amazing time than this. Honestly, if I’d only been in BsAs for one night, and this had been that night, it would have been totally worth it.