Just Tango On

A Midlife Solution, Not a Midlife Crisis

Don’t Laugh At Me, Argentina

Raining Gatos Y Perros today

Raining gatos y perros today

Big Feet, Short Attention Span

It’s two giant feet for Sam, and two flights of short stairs for Samkind.

For the second time in a month, I have fallen down the stairs.  Last month it was while I was looking at a text message and today when I was looking at my notebook. I was looking at my note so that I could remember the dutifully translated phrase for “did you find my black sweater yesterday?” I recovered my lost sweater (thankfully) from the coffee shop in which I wrote yesterday’s post.  I almost broke my finger last month when I fell down the stairs at Starbucks in Roanoke (there seems to be a coffee pattern here) and today I twisted my ankle, but not so badly that I won’t be able to take my first Tango lesson later.

It’s six hours of Spanish a day now, four hours in a group class in the morning and two hours with a one-on-one instructor in the afternoon.  I am exhausted by all the vocabulary and the grammar thrown at me. I’m sure that it will get better as the weeks go on.

When I went to the shoe store today for some zapatos negros, the saleswoman frowned when I told her my size. She wasn’t sure if she had the Argentine equivalent of an American size 11. When I was a teenager, everyone was sure I would grow into my feet like a puppy, but it didn’t exactly happen.

I am too busy paying attention to the next step to watch the current one. This can be dangerous, but I am THAT MAN, the man of action who laughs–mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha–at danger.

I just hope that I don’t leave my right foot in the coffee shop. I’ll need it for my lesson.

At a café, Defensa, San Telmo

At a café, Defensa, San Telmo

What Good Is The Money?

My uncle used to quote free-spenders during World War II. They would shrug their shoulders and say: “What good is the money if we don’t win the war?”

Thursday, I talked to a woman that is a professional photographer based out of New York. She is a native of Argentina and, like everyone else, we were discussing the truly menacing state of the economy.

Ever since I have arrived in Argentina, “la Crisis” has been the top story, along with the American elections. I asked her how, in a time of such financial stress, are the streets of Buenos Aires filled with people, the restaurants doing business, and people enjoying time out with friends?

She replied that the economy has been in trouble in Argentina for so long that people try to ignore it. She said: “It is good in bad times to be conservative, but it is also good, in bad times, to live your life.”

Moto-texter Av. Corrientes

Moto-texter Av. Corrientes

While Sipping a Café Con Leche

A few observations jotted down last night:

–It is better when alone to take a long walk than a long dinner.

–It is impossible to find nut butters here. Either peanut butter is banned, or it is a controlled substance only available by prescription.

–Going to an open supermarket is the best way to feel a part of things. There are no frozen meals, though, and it doesn’t appear that vegetables are high on the shopping list.  Dulce de Leche (caramel sauce) is available in about twenty-five brands. The checkout lines snake through the store and it seems that everyone already has someone in line to whom they deliver a forgotten item. The register lines are narrow and with the crowd pushing in, it would kill a claustrophobe.

–My friend Sharon told me that the ice cream was the best in the world, even better than Italy. I am not usually an ice cream man, but the Chocolate with Almonds with a scoop of Dulce de Leche helado (ice cream) is the best dessert ever. Helado is even better than Gelato. I make one meal a day of Helado. This seems to me to be the cornerstone of a nutritious diet.

Trees budding near Plaza San Martin

El Día de Mamá

It is hard to get used to the fact that it is spring and not autumn in Buenos Aires. When I arrived, Bs As was one hour ahead of Eastern U. S. time. Sunday, the country did its “spring forward” to Daylight time, so now we’re two hours ahead. When the U. S. “falls back” early next month, we’ll be three hours ahead.

Sunday, October 19th was also “El Diá de Mamá”– Mother’s Day.  It was one more reminder of how I’ve inverted my world. I called my mother and wished her a “Feliz Diá de Mamá.”  My mother’s an elegant and wise woman and a barricuda on the Scrabble board. Scrabble is a game we play nearly every day and it is one part of the day that is missing, and that I miss, in Bs As. I would write more about my mother, but as she said to me earlier in the week: “How can you be a Man of Mystery when you tell everyone everything?”

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking near my apartment and I noticed a very young woman, probably still a teenager, huddled in a doorway, holding what appeared to be a newborn infant wrapped in a blanket. The baby had a lot of black hair, as some newborns do.

Later in the evening, I passed a policeman standing on the sidewalk on the same block as the doorway. He was cradling what I thought to be the same baby in his arms. He held it tighter and kissed it on the head. I am not sure what happened to the baby’s mother.

La Puerta


A four-year-old child could understand that.

Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail out of it.

–Groucho Marx, DUCK SOUP

I’m sure for good reason, almost every building you come to in Buenos Aires has a security guard. You usually have to speak into an intercom to be buzzed in through the door. To take my Tango lesson, I have to push a button and speak into the speaker. I say “Tango” or “Guadalupe,” and feel as if I am giving the password to receive secret weapons technology. I think I could say “Lee Harvey Oswald” or “Genghis Kahn” and still have no issue getting the door buzzed open. The intercom is always answered and I have yet to receive a second question. Perhaps it’s the obvious gringo in my voice.

This afternoon I return to my school. I go to the third floor of the office building, and push the button on the school’s intercom. When the intercom is answered I say, “Uhhhhh, Sam” as if I have forgotten my name, but I think I need a different handle, perhaps “George Bush” or “Zorro.”

As happens to me half the time, I do not pull the door properly and I have to push the intercom again.  This afternoon, after three attempts I finally make it into the fortress of language studies.

Milagros, whom I call “la Jefa–boss–has become a faithful reader of this blog. She laughs as I pass her desk and she observes that I can add opening doors to Spanish and Tango as skills that seem to be foreign to me.

My guess is that I may be able to gain proficiency in Spanish and competency in Tango, but opening doors will always remain a mystery.


Piazzolla Tango

Dancing Down Corrientes

It’s a muggy Spring day and the town could use a good rain. Dust is in the streets and fumes are in the air. I am quite frustrated by my inability to follow along in Spanish class, to understand, and to speak as well as my classmates. This morning, the frustration showed on my face when la Jefa came in to take roll. She knew immediately I was “trieste” (sad) and I demurred, saying only that I was confused.

I was delighted to finally find some vegetables here. I didn’t know until this morning that the Spanish school’s office building has a vegetarian cafeteria, and I pigged out on greens, rice, lentils, and some kind of mysterious but delicious fried tofu cutlet. I was beginning to believe that the only vegetable served in Buenos Aires is papas fritas (french fries).

It’s Election Day in the U. S., and I have left politics off of this blog, with the exception of the freethinking Le Béret, but everyone I have talked to so far is hoping for an Obama win.  The United States is the big kid on the block and people I meet here are hoping that the U. S. starts to move forward to solve its problems.

I am stressed and I decide to go for a run. This is not a good running city, particularly on my street, Corrientes, which is sort of like living in Times Square.  The other night I told someone where I lived and I was met with quickly averted eyes and the question: “Can’t you move?”

I go out the front door which is currently blocked by scaffolding, wave off the woman who sits on a stool in front handing out call girl ads, and I start down the street. Every few hundred feet there is a newsstand, which makes people naturally slow down. I try to avoid them, sometimes going around the newsstand on the street side and running in the parking lane. There are only cabs in the parking lane, but I always worry that someone is going to open a door into the street and hit me. A truck is parked ahead, so I step back onto a sidewalk where an old lady with a cane is gingerly holding on to her daughter’s arm. I slow down and push off on my right toe, turning my torso to fit neatly between them and a man handing out restaurant flyers. I step close to the curb and a businessman opens a cab door on the passenger side and grazes my hip, but I see him and I am not injured. I can see the concern in his eyes. I wave.

I cross a garage entrance and a car is turning into the drive. I jump to the right. He brakes.

I make my way down the street, slowing at times, dodging and weaving. There is a hill toward the end of Corrientes and I speed up on the way to the river. As I reach the corner, a gentleman in a suit with a briefcase clicks his heel and makes a dead stop. I twist my body and run across the avenue to the river landing, where a motorcyclist almost runs into me while she is talking on her cell phone and slowing to park on the sidewalk.

So much for Spanish and not blogging. The post comes to me in a flash as I approach the river.

There is a breeze, there is shade from the buildings, and the view of the modernist suspension bridge is lovely. I catch a view of Bice Restaurant, a wonderful Italian restaurant from Milan that has a location in New York. The New York location is an old friend and I smile as I think of going there and enjoying their handmade pasta.

Further down the path, I spy two more old acquaintances: TGIFridays and Hooter’s and I am vaguely annoyed. America IS the big kid on the block and I run a step faster as I think of making the world safe for Big Macs, Buffalo wings, and hot pants.


  1. I have read bits and pieces. I think you have great talent and good luck with the Spanish. After all is said and done, if you publish a book, It would sell. Best Regards. Jack

    Comment by Jack Helms | February 16, 2009

  2. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts and observations. More practise will make you formidable.

    Comment by Dustin brooks | January 20, 2011

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