Way back in January, I first set foot in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was the middle of their summer, the weather was sweltering hot, up to 41 C, and humid. Reading over my blog post from that time, I can sense my dislike for the city in my writing. The heat really made the experience miserable.
Later on in the trip local Argentines explained to us that the city nearly shuts down for the hot months of January and February.“Everyone who can get out of Buenos Aires during the summer gets out,” our couch host Gonzalo explained. “And those who can’t get out wish they could.” So that would explain why the city was empty, the stores were all closed, the streets were empty and Ben and I had trouble imagining why BsAs was one of South America’s most magnificent cities.
When Ben and I returned in April, the city was totally different. The weather was cool and school was back in session. There were people moving about the streets at all times of the day and night. Stores were open, parks were full and the city lived. I couldn’t believe what a transformation the city had undergone in just three months’ time. It took me several minutes sometimes to even figure out that I was walking down the same street as I had back in January, the transformation was that dramatic.
To close out our time in Argentina, Ben and I immersed ourselves in the arts of Buenos Aires. We went to a Tango club on the first night there, by recommendation of the insightful Gonzalo. We were not disappointed. Then, to celebrate our last night in Argentina, we attended an Opera.
This tango club, whose name I can’t remember, was real, social tango. I had imagined the dance to be full of flairs with the young and beautiful couples marching back and forth, sweeping across the floor and full of kicks and sexy leg grabbing. Well, there’s none of that in real tango, apparently.
The dance is much more subtle. The couples were all in deep concentration, the man stiffly holding the woman by her back, giving her cues that only tango dancers know. The woman would be so intent on following, her eyes were closed for the majority of the dance and her heels never touched the ground.
Did I mention that all the dancers were over the age of 55? Yes, Ben and I were the youngest people in that club by 25 years at least, and no, we didn’t dance. Boy, Argentina must be a great place if this is what the retired crowd was into. Drinking mate all day and tango at night.
There was a ritual I observed at the club. Tango music would play in sets of 2 or 3 songs. The man would choose a woman, usually by some cue across the room. They would meet at the dance floor and dance. When the song ended, they talked well into the next song before they danced again. Then, once the cycle ended, non-tango music would play. This was the cue to re-set, and all the dancers would go back to their seats and the ritual would start over again. Ben and I rarely saw a couple dance together twice, and it became clear that this was a social activity; they really didn’t see it as being sexual or sexy.
Well, to top off our experiences in the Arts we visited the Theatre Colòn for an Opera. At a whopping 25 US dollars each for a third balcony ticket, how could we resist? The opera that was playing was Verdi’s ‘Force of Destiny.’ The opera itself was nothing special, just your run of the mill guy meets girl, forbidden love, lots of stabbing and dying, opera.
The performers and the venue on the other hand, were anything but run of the mill. The theatre itself was built in 1905 during the time when Buenos Aires was the worlds’ wealthiest city. The wealth showed from the decorations to the impressive size of the building. The theatre was so elegant and impressive it would have made my high school musicals seem world-class. The vastness of the interior was breathtaking even for this modern girl, I can’t imagine what people must have thought back when it was built.
The performers were incredible as well. From the pit orchestra to the vocalists themselves it was all first-rate. What I loved the most was that not one single performer had a microphone. There was nothing amplified or rigged with microphones, no speakers, no wires. The whole performance was a shining example of human excellence in the arts. 25 yards away the stage I could hear the musicians clearly project their voices. The Theatre Colòn experience was a celebration of the incredible achievements of our fellow humans. From the architect who designed such an acoustically perfect building, to the brilliant stage design, to the vocalists themselves, the opera is a display of raw talent, unaided by electronics.
Which is how music should be.