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.

Travel Digest - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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