On the way UP ARGENTINA
Dancing the night away to the beat of tango tunes will be moving a whole lot closer for New Zealanders when direct flights to Argentina start up later this year. LORRAINE THOMSON steps on to the tango dance floor in Buenos Aires.
Dancing is not exactly my forte, but I was game enough to give it a try at the Gala Tango Show in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. Tango dinner shows are really for the tourists and there are about 30 shows in this city. But sitting down in an elaborate, candle-lit theatre environment, eating succulent Argentine red meat dishes and drinking full-bodied Argentine red wine, while watching professional tango dancers inter-twine, had all the ingredients of an enjoyable evening. Audience participation made it even more entertaining. I can tell you, the first thing you have to learn is eight tango steps – simple! Then you are allocated, in my case, a male professional dancer – and off you go – dancing on stage in front of an audience. Thank goodness I was in a country where not too many people knew me! Tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1890s along the Río de la Plata, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay and later spread to the rest of the world. Today, there are many forms of tango but the authentic tango is the one closest to that originally danced in Argentina and Uruguay. At the Tango Show the dancers performed both traditional and modern versions. Some of the traditional dancing looked like a version of our Maori poi dancing – only the poi reached down to the floor and made a loud “bang” when touching the floor at an ever-increasing pace. The modern tango dancing looked like a series of seductive steps with flicks and lifts. The female dancers wore thigh-high split dresses with no backs, fish net stockings and high heels – certainly a world away from my dancing attire. The slick male dancers wore long dark jackets, baggy trousers, pocket handkerchiefs, white shirts, ties, cuff-links and held stern, serious faces. Although it was a dance show, it was also a costume show as there were numerous changes of daring outfits, sparkling jewellery and hair adornments. A five-piece band provided the supporting music for the show and the male musicians, all wearing white tuxedos with long jacket backs, white shirts, white bow ties, and white shoes, were enthusiastically playing the grand piano, cello, piano accordion and two violins. This was definitely a talented visual and audio evening – accompanied by fine dining with most attentive staff. Buenos Aires has in fact a number of fine dining choices. Dinner on my first night in the capital was at Floreria Atlantico – just across the street from the Sofitel Buenos Aires where I was staying. This restaurant is definitely a best-kept secret as you enter through a flower shop with no indication there is a delightful dining establishment down the dark internal staircase. As Argentina has made a name for itself in terms of the meat it serves, I tried the T-bone steak with green beans, potatoes, asparagus and composed butter. This dish is huge and definitely enough for two people to share. Another delightful and somewhat famous place to dine in the city is the La Brigada Steakhouse. This is a traditional Argentinian restaurant [voted in the top three in Buenos Aires]. The interior walls and ceilings are covered with football jerseys and football photos and so it is not too hard to work out what the national sport of this country is. It is also a place where football players come to dine. For an entrée I tried one of the restaurant’s delicacies – veal heart sweetbreads. For the main course and with my dining companions we tried Beef Three Ways. When this arrived it was a large platter of chorizo beef, eye fillet and lomo sirloin, which the waiter cut into serving portions with a spoon. This was lunch on my second day in Argentina and an introduction to the fine cuts of succulent meat, which were to be an integral part of my dining in this country. In-between dining out, there is a wide choice of sights to see in this city
of 40 million people. The main opera house for the city, the Teatro Colon, is considered to be among the five best concert venues in the world. The auditorium in the shape of a horseshoe, is richly decorated in the style of Italian and French classic theatre. On a guided tour of the 117-year-old opera house, I learnt 1,000 people work here every day making costumes and shoes and that there is 24-carat gold leaf in the ceiling artwork. At the Sunday antique markets Feria de San Pedro Telmo, you can spend all day wondering around stalls of artifacts of yesteryear with arts and crafts and jewellery made from local gems. I was particularly drawn to the displays of Argentina’s national gemstone – the rodocrosita or the Inca rose gemstone – which is pink in colour. Turning from gemstones to tombstones, a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery is an experience I will remember for sometime. There are rows and rows of three to four metre high elaborate mausoleums and vaults belonging to many of the major players in Argentina’s history, including Eva Peron [second wife of Argentine president Juan Peron and spiritual mother of the working class]. Some 350,000 people are buried here. Many of the mausoleums have glass windows with steel grills where you can look through and see the caskets of family members. Prominent members of Argentine society seem to live on after their death in this city – well they are remembered. The National Museum of Decorative Arts is an ornate Neoclassical mansion bequeathed by the family of Matias Errazuriz and Josefina de Alvear. It is fun to walk around the ornate rooms and think what life would
LEFT: Learning how to tango dance, Lorraine Thomson [centre] with professional dancers at Gala Tango in Buenos Aires. TOP: Capilla [chapel] in the alpine village of El Alfarcito, Norte Region. ABOVE: Headstone for Argentine national heroin Eva Peron, Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cactus plants, some 500 years’ old and five metres tall, in the Norte Region; Galerias Pacifico shopping centre focal point; one of hundreds of mausoleums at the Recoleta Cemetery; La Brigada steakhouse [Buenos Aires] and one of the meat dishes served for lunch.
LEFT: Llamas in the foreground with snow- covered Andes in the background. BELOW: Lorraine Thomson on a Sayta Horseback riding tour, Salta.