Bus games; five minutes in La Catedral; and a wonderful La Cachila at Club Gricel

The day opened with a great deal of drumming outside our apartment block, which I initially assumed was part of a five-day national celebration of my arrival. It involved lots of men in blue shirts, and lots of buses parked haphazardly all over the place.

I went to confirm my theory, and with the help of Google Translate learned that it was bus drivers who, as well as welcoming me, were striking over pay. And using their buses to block one of the main avenidas in the city – namely, the one we live on …

The view from our apartment:

And on the street:

I wished them success with their pay battle, resulting in many handshakes. I imagine it was this expression of solidarity which had them pack up and return to work by the time we needed to catch one of their buses.

Speaking of which, Alessandra found new employment as Chief Bus Advocate for the city. Last time, I took taxis when feeling lazy, and the Subte when not – but her experience was that the buses were faster, more frequent, and had better air-conditioning. I tried them, and agreed. They were, however, more expensive than she claimed: she said that the fare was 40 pesos, but it turned out to be 41.35 pesos, which is well over 9p!

The frequency of the buses also helps, given that the tough economy here means way fewer taxis on the street. I think because not many locals can afford them these days, and there isn’t enough tourist business to keep them afloat.

Buses also come with a free game …

In some of the main avenidas, you have dedicated busways with tram-like stations, such as the one immediately outside our apartment.

Elsewhere, however, the city likes to entertain tourists with a really challenging game called Spot The Bus-stop. The signs are small, dark, and have a fondness for hiding behind trees. I recommend playing the game at night, for maximum entertainment value.

Only when you’ve successfully completed this game are you allowed to progress to the exciting sequel: Arrive or Die? So far we’ve always reached the Arrive level, but it’s been a close-run thing a few times. I assume bus drivers are paid according to the maximum speed they reach during a journey.

La Catedral

La Catedral is a venue every visitor to BsAs has to experience, partly just to see the amazing building, and partly for the unique opportunity to dance on a huge and completely empty floor.

It mostly attracts non-dancing tourists, who come for dinner (not advisable! 🐭) and to watch the midnight show. Very few dancers visit, so it’s definitely a bring-your-own-partner venue. On a good night, there might be one or two other dancing couples. When we visited, we were the only dancers.

The floor looks pretty from a distance, but is rather lethal when actually standing on it. I think it was lifted straight from the wreck of the Titanic. There are raised boards in several places, and multiple patches of missing ones. (Dancing there is still safer than eating there, though.)

We danced two songs just to tick the box, then caught a bus to San Cristóbal.

La Cachila at Club Gricel

I’d been to Club Gricel before, of course, but not to La Cachila. However, Color Tango were playing live, so that was an instant sale to me.

Gricel is a pretty funky-looking club, and the milonga finished at 2.30am, so the demographic was something of a surprise when we arrived. The percentage of grey hair was more reminiscent of an afternoon milonga. Alessandra calculated that the average age was 87.

I’ve had some amazing dances with the grey-haired brigade, so was undeterred. Ale was less sold, based on her early experience. She’d encountered one of the Men Who Gancho, which made her uncomfortable. (When she told me, I explained that it’s perfectly fine to decline to follow a gancho, and turn it into a smaller movement without entangled legs.) Oh, and she also managed to find the only 70-year-old Argentine man who had no idea how to dance!

Over to Alessandra to say more about her experience:

I spent all night looking at people dancing , and was really not attracted to most caballeros, due to age-gap, style, and above all the music.

There was one leader I had been observing, that I thought would have been amazing to dance with. Ben suggested several times that I should stand up and actively cabeceo her (yes, it was a woman). Initially I said …no way …too shy to do that … At 2am, when Ben shrugged and said then let’s go home if you’re not going to dance, I took courage and went close by and cabeceod her with a big smile . And thankfully she paid back with another beautiful happy smile.

Françoise is from Normandie, has been leading for 11 years and had a wonderful embrace and very clear lead – not to mention the unbelievable musicality and creativity of her dance. At some point, every single one of those Argentinian men who had avoided my cabeceo looked at us, pretty astonished, and maybe a little bit jealous too! Ben videod one of the dances. Françoise was happy to be filmed – indeed, when she saw Ben videoing, she said ” let’s make it a show then!” For the first time after two years I loved watching myself dancing. That’s a quite of an achievement for me.

Françoise, who has been in the “business” much longer than me, shared exactly the same report: women love dancing with women. It’s something special she could not quite identify; same degree of empathy? Same need of connection and embrace, without sexuality? Feminine instinct? Knowing what a woman wants? She told me all women usually love to dance with her, to the extent that the husbands get jealous that they prefer her lead!

Many of these questions will remain unanswered …

Two tables away … another friend! The one-and-only Lilili, who was retaining her record of being greeted by everyone in the club.

I was with Ale on the early music, and danced little for the first hour or so. All that changed when the live set began, however! So my only opportunity to take a photo was when they were setting up.

I absolutely adore dancing to live music, and it really seems to bring people alive in a unique way. Plus Color Tango play a lot of Pugliese, so I was in tango heaven.

A couple of examples to give the flavour of this part of the evening for me …

Unusually for a live band, they were more-or-less playing tandas. When they started playing a milonga, buoyed by my earlier good experiences, I cabeceod a nearby woman who raised an eyebrow and said “Milonga?” in a tone which suggested I might have no idea what I was getting into. I nodded. She said “Just one song.” I agreed, and we had a very fun dance which resulted in a “Muy bueno” in a tone more surprised than anything! It did not, however, change the one-song deal.

As we hugged and parted company, a woman at the table next to me beamed at me, I smiled and nodded, and the next two songs were the most fun I’ve ever had dancing milonga! I think I’d just stopped listening to my internal critique. I didn’t have any of my usual thoughts about “Am I doing too many rebounds?” or “Am I doing enough double-time?” and so on. (I mean, yes, and no, but it’s not important.)

I just kept it fast, rhythmical, and flowing. She was an absolutely amazing follower, who could both pick up on the slightest hint, and do her own double-time elements without the slightest feeling of impacting the flow of the dance. I was buzzing by the end of it!

I was reluctant to part company at the end of the tanda, and fortunately she felt the same way. We remained together in the gap between tandas. When the band leader announced that the next one would be Pugliese, we both simultaneously looked at each other with a “Let’s do it!” expression. The tanda was utterly amazing. I’ve mentioned those delicious times when I’m not sure who’s leading and who’s following, and it was that way almost the entire time.

A fantastic night, then, for both of us. And in bed before 4am! (Just.)

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