It is the intense nightlife, with tango as its undisputed king, which defines the Buenos Aires experience. The tango will teach you more about Argentina's capital than any guidebook ever could.
As evening falls on San Telmo, the oldest barrio in the city, we hear tango music coming from an empty restaurant. The tables are pushed aside and three couples are dancing, lost to the world outside. Clase de tango! We enter and order a glass of wine, too shy to join in. The beautiful teacher, a woman of around 40, shows how it is done, but the courage to try escapes us.
“Pain on which you can dance,” the tango is called poetically. We feel sorry for an old woman in a flowery dress who is practicing ochos (figure-eights) against a wall. She seems so utterly alone it hurts to look at her. Why isn’t there anyone to hold her while she makes her turns? But the tango is not about happiness. A couple in their 30s try very hard to dance in harmony but something keeps going wrong. They start to blame each other. “Why don’t you follow me?” “I beg your pardon, why don’t YOU lead me, like a real man?”
For the rest of our time in Buenos Aires the tango has us in its grip. There is no escaping it. We take lessons every afternoon at different places in San Telmo, and practice at night in the milongas. In the Las Fulanas restaurant at Plaza Dorrego the waitresses, dressed in traditional costumes, turn out to be tango virtuosos as well. One night as we are enjoying a romantic moment in a corner, one of the waitresses asks my partner to dance. I see him stumble on the dance floor, in the firm grip of this determined girl, who is clearly taking the lead. The “me Tarzan” in him seems to have gone into hiding in the jungle.
“How was it?” I ask him, when he returns to our table. “As if I were kissing another woman,” he confesses. Tango is very intimate and sensual, and it can be an intimidating experience to dance with a stranger. “Well, don’t worry,” I say. “I could see you didn’t like it.” We embarrass ourselves on the dance floor until five the next morning.
Stay in Buenos Aires' oldest barrio and experience what the capital of tango is all about. Here's a Truly Wonderful – and affordable – hotel in San Telmo!