My farewell milonga, El Abrazo – and a surprise lift to the airport!

Once again, I feel like I’ve been here forever, and I feel like I arrived ten minutes ago.

After a final early morning’s work, it was off to El Abrazo for the last milonga of the trip. This was once again at El Beso, my fourth visit this week. It was a wonderful way to end my stay …

El Abrazo

Once more, there were plenty of familiar faces there. I was seated at a front-row table with a rather distinguished-looking tanguero who was writing in a notebook. I’ve seen this before, people making notes about the previous tanda, and have always been curious as to what and why, so decided to ask.

I wasn’t sure my Spanish was up to this conversation, so decided on this occasion to cheat: “Perdón, señor, ¿hablas inglés?” He replied, in English, that he didn’t speak Spanish – so that made the conversation rather easier. I wasn’t much the wiser afterwards, mind, but hey – some people take notes, some write blogs …

El Beso milongas don’t go in for the formality of separate seating for men and women, but I’ve noticed that most of the men tend to be sat on one side, under the El Beso sign, while most of the women are on the opposite side. My table today was with most of the men (though with two women at the table next to me), so long-range cabeceo was required, across the room. This proved very reliable, with no Incidents.

I don’t know quite why, but long-range cabeceos always feel particularly pleasing. Perhaps it emphasises the magic of being able to invite someone to dance with no more than a questioning look and a nod.

The music was again a good balance of rhythmical and lyrical, from DJ Mario Orlando; I danced almost all of it.

I didn’t know the woman next to me, but when it came to the lottery draw, I summoned up enough pidgin Spanish to explain that I was leaving tomorrow, and gave her my ticket (most of the prizes are free entry to milongas). She thanked me, and asked if we could dance later. I happily agreed.

The next tanda turned out to be chacerera, and she looked rather hesitant when I gave her a questioning look. I assumed this was the usual scepticism about a foreigner dancing a folk dance, but it turned out she was a bit vague on the details herself. In truth, I think I knew the structure better than she did!

I later danced a tango tanda with her, and she was one of those effortlessly flowing followers who feel as light as a feather in pivots, but fully grounded in the walk – it was delicious.

As were the rest of my tandas! To me, the afternoon milongas here are tango heaven. The standard of dancing (certainly by the followers) is very high, but with none of the snobbishness and reserve which sometimes accompanies this. It means I can lead anything, and many followers take full advantage when I create space for their own dance. There was more than one occasion when I had literally no idea what my follower’s feet were doing, but I could feel the rhythm, and needed do nothing more than follow their direction and timing with my chest.

I’ve mentioned before that El Beso is a bit of a goldfish bowl, and I get the impression that new faces sometimes get greater scrutiny, especially by tables with groups of women. There was a table of three who, every time I passed them, seemed to be watching closely, and I felt a little self-conscious. I was talking earlier with Laura about the stuff we can make up inside our heads when dancing, and I was somehow starting to feel they were disapproving in some way.

Laura was familiar with this phenomenon, and said the answer was always to look outside. It seemed to me the way to do this here was to attempt to cabeceo one of them. I did so, and got an immediate smile and acceptance. Simple!

Beatriz Dujovne, author of In Strangers’ Arms: The Magic of the Tango was there. I’d met her in Sueño Porteño last year, and we’d been unsuccessfully trying to meet up this time thanks to conflicting milonga schedules – so it was funny to manage it by chance on my last day here! We enjoyed a very nice tanda – and she very kindly took the photo at the top.

Once more the time whizzed by at great speed, as I danced with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces. I wanted to really soak up the experience, to retain this feeling for as long as possible, and interestingly found that to do so I needed to stop dancing for a couple of tandas, and instead sit back and just experience being there; dancing was too busy to allow this. I sat on one of the bar stools and just watched, just basking in the wonderful atmosphere.

I of course resumed dancing afterwards, and the final tanda arrived before I knew it. I said my goodbyes, and then had the bittersweet experience of walking home though this wonderful city one last time this year. Down Corrientes, past its million sweet shops and pizza parlours. A last look at El Obelisco while crossing the thousand lanes of Avenida 9 de Julio. Up Lavalle, and–

Er, well, not very far up Lavalle, actually. I realised I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and almost non-stop dancing had left me very much in need of an emergency steak. The restaurants here are a little on the touristy side, but had the advantage of being right here, and I feared I might not last long enough to make it a block or two away. I chose a place more-or-less at random, and succeeded in actually getting a rare steak for probably only the second time here! (Raro is more usually interpreted as medium-rare if you’re lucky, and medium if you’re not. I have considered showing waiters a photo of a live cow being led on a rope.)

The steak was good, the Malbec not so much. I had, however, treated myself to a decent bottle – costing several pounds! – to enjoy a glass or two at home. Then onward along Lavalle, up Leandro N. Alem, past Plaza Roma, and home. Where I packed. then sat down on the sofa for that glass of wine or two. I managed two sips before exhaustion overcame me and I headed to bed.

A surprise lift to the airport

Laura had said a friend of hers could give me a lift to the airport in the morning. This turned out to be Marco Bellini, the singer for El Afronte!

Seen here in a more familiar setting!

We’d been conversing in Spanish on WhatsApp – with liberal use of Google Translate – before I met him and discovered he speaks perfect English. We had a really enjoyable conversation during the drive, and I’ll update the two-tier pricing blog post, as he filled me in on some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations between the milongas.

I’d allowed plenty of time, as I’d previously sat on the motorway for an hour as protestors burned tyres. They were doing the same again today – but thankfully this time on the opposite carriageway.

Usually by the end of a trip, I’m ready to come home. That definitely isn’t the case this time – I’ll say more about that in another blog post. On the plus side, I can’t wait to catch up with friends back in London. Oh, and BA has finally resumed direct flights, so this time I’ll get to skip the Sao Paolo stop, reducing the flight time from a touch over 16 hours to 13h 20m.

Hasta luego, Buenos Aires. You’ll be missed.

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