Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tango stories 3

I recently watched Ricardo Suarez dance milonga with Enriqueta Kleinman. I've watched him before, but now I'm mesmerised by how precisely he steps to the beat. I follow his feet; his steps are small and unostentatious, but effortless and absolutely precise. When my eyes follow other dancers I get the impression that none of them is quite so continuously exact, and some of the most experienced dancers in Buenos Aires are on the floor. Later I mention this to Enriqueta, and she laughs out loud.

'Ricardo! He's so amazing. He's incredibly precise, isn't he? & you know how old he is? 87! & he still works: he has a little store somewhere. He goes out dancing almost every night, and he's so popular he dances with all the best tangueras. & he doesn't even need glasses for the cabeceo! We women go for the older guys! The older the better!' & she laughs uproariously.

Momentarily I wonder if Tangocommuter can look forward to dancing with all the best tangueras in 30 or 40 years... but the wish dissolves pretty fast. She's not talking simply about older guys: she's talking about guys who for the most part grew up in families where everyone danced, and where tango meant so much that the kids would be outside practising, long ago. Sadly, not my background.

'The two things women appreciate above all else in a leader' continues Enriqueta, 'are the clarity of the 'marca' (lead), and a 'marca' that seems to be a part of the music.'

PS: Here's Ricardo dancing Tango Negro in Cachirulo earlier this year (sadly with wrong aspect ratio: he's thin but not that thin!). & Irene and Man Yung posted recently about Ricardo, with a video.

PPS: Here's the Practimilonguero video of Ricardo Suárez, interviewed by and dancing milonga with Mónica Paz.

Monday, 26 December 2011

29 in the shade with a fresh breeze...

Buenos Aires earlier this month.

Coming out of the hot subway into blazing midsummer sunshine to see... snowflakes adorning the front of the Abasto shopping mall. Bizarre!

Immigration from Europe to Argentina is starting up again, according to the Guardian. From Portugal to Brazil it's been a flood. There seems to be work in Argentina for young graduates from Spain and Italy in particular, where there's none in Europe. & on the streets I see many notices in restaurants and shop windows advertising work. I run into a young Italian woman who's in BsAs on holiday and looking for work: she'll be moving over next year. The climate is good, and the people welcoming. Argentina's history centres around welcoming immigrants and helping them to settle. Of course it's not immigration in the old, permanent sense, but as ever it's people going where the jobs are.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Tango stories 2

Enriqueta Kleinman tells me she went to a milonga in London. It'll remain nameless because she's not sure which night it was, but she says it was in a kind of side street or alley.

'You know, I've travelled regularly in the US and Europe, and I know cabeceo isn't practiced that much outside Buenos Aires, so I know what to expect. But a guy came up to me and just pointed to me and the floor! I couldn't believe it. Like I was his cow to be pushed around! He couldn't even say please!'

This is bad, this is very bad. It's uncivil and uncivilised. It's plain rude, it's really bad manners. It's shameful. It's definitely not cool. If you say 'please' you are in a sense begging, and accepting that you can be refused, although it's still hardly fair as you know that by being polite you are making it harder for a partner to refuse you. Perhaps it wouldn't matter too much if the dance was jive, without a lot of body contact, but tango is different.

Cabeceo is simple enough. A girl looks at you, or you catch her eye. You nod. If she nods back you go over and invite her onto the floor. If she doesn't nod back you look elsewhere. What's difficult about that? But ladies have to be part of it. If you spend all evening chatting with your friends, you might find yourself complaining next morning that you didn't get any dances. If you want to dance, it helps if you keep your eyes on and around the dance floor. Fact is, there are frequently more women than men, so I guess that refusing dances might might feel wrong, but if a guy finds he's regularly refused he's going to try and improve, or get out, so it's win-win.

I didn't think of asking Enriqueta how she responded to the boorish Englishman. (English? Surely not! Must have been a visitor...) But I know her slightly, and I know her English is good, so it's quite possible that a shamefaced would-be dancer sneaked out of a milonga that night. I hope so.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Distant music

I find this image fascinating. It's on Todotango here and I don't have permission to use it. I'll have to remove it if this is a problem with Todotango. I hope not.

The recording horn and the recording lens face each other across a small wooden room. The dark funnel of the recording horn is the focus, the central point. Down it the music will vanish to reappear now, or at any other point in time when we desire to listen to it. The image has disappeared into the unseen lens of a dark camera, invisibly onto film or a glass plate to be made visible chemically, and to reappear now and in the future. Another kind of record, a written score, is on the piano.

The horn dominates the layout. Some serious carpentry has gone into ensuring that the musicians are at the right height from the floor, and in the right place, for optimum balance of sound. Perhaps the producer would have run sound checks, listening through the horn (which appears to lead through a wood panel into an adjacent room) to get the right balance of sound. Three violins; two stand on little platforms and one on the floor, a little further from the horn. The fourth person at the middle of the central group and closest to the horn is probably the singer, although he could be holding, but not playing, a flute. Dominating the image, on the right, is Roberto Firpo at the piano, his left arm a strong diagonal into the central group of musicians. He's the leader, but I assume he's higher than the other musicians because the sound balance requires it, the back of the piano to the horn. Two bandoneons, perched on chairs with little footstools, complete the orquesta. The layout is neat and well-organised.

Presumably it's a small wood-panelled room, the photographer in the doorway, holding a magnesium flash at arm's length in his left hand. The other three sides of the room (there doesn't appear to be a corner behind the musicians) would help to retain and focus the sound into the horn. The horn means the date is probably pre-1928, when electrical recording became available. After that date there would be a familiar microphone on a stand, but the musicians would still have been arranged in relation to it for balance of sound.

It's odd and wonderful, this image of musicians at work, not only because this technology is so distant now. It's a photo of the musicians but it's also a photo of a process, the process of making a record, then a recent technology and industry. It's odd because it's relatively informal, in an age when photographs tended to be a formal record. You'd expect musicians to want to be seen in suits and bow ties on the bandstand. Here, instead, they seem proud to be seen at work in the recording studio, tieless, shirt sleeves rolled up, but looking clean and neat nevertheless, trousers neatly pressed, the gloss of brilliantined hair clearly visible.

Photo and film of the process of recording sound, two recording technologies together, have stayed with us. An obvious example is Jean Luc Godard's 1+1, a film of how the Rolling Stones developed and recorded Sympathy for the Devil, starting with just the words and an outline melody. The recording studio is immediately recognisable, with booths and baffles, microphones and cables everywhere.

The sound from Firpo's recording would have been relatively imperfect, but the image makes me want to know more: where was the studio, how did the musicians get there, what was the weather like? A day in Buenos Aires long ago, a tango recorded, and some sweet, slightly distant music we can still hear.

PS. I keep looking at the third violin, the one standing nearest the piano, who looks familiar. I wonder if it's Julio de Caro. I think he played with Firpo briefly in 1917; he would have been 17 or 18. Later he established his own orquesta.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Comment moderation

I've enabled comment moderation to give myself a pause when comments come in. If a comment is brief and terse, even if it's friendly and well-meant, it can sound a bit confrontational, and I might feel I need to reply immediately. (This can happen with emails too.) But comment moderation means I can sit on a comment for a while, thinking what it's really about before publishing, and then replying if necessary.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Tango stories 1

I can sit and watch the dancing in El Beso all night if I have to. I'm on the floor if I can be, but I'm under no illusions: no way can I lead like these guys. I can see what their partners expect, and I know I'm less than inferior by comparison. But I can sit happily all night and watch.

I've seen breathtaking fast complex phrases that are so clear and casually executed, that fit so neatly into the space, and also exist as part of the music. And simple things too, but things that are far too difficult to remember clearly, let alone to describe in words. If you want to see the best tango, and to be thoroughly humbled, as a leader, that is, sit in El Beso for a few hours.

But there's one thing I remember that I can describe: it'll have to stand for all the things I can't quite remember and could never describe. The tango had started to play but, as usual, the couples were still standing around chatting. When suddenly a couple emerges, just walking, step by step, walking, walking right round the room, casually threading it's way between the standing, talking couples. Kind of just walking but it was elegant, it looked wonderful, so it was a dance too. It was breathtaking in simplicity because it was only walking, a few pauses but no weight changes, no shifts from parallel to cross, it simply made a dance out of strolling round standing couples. How amazing is that? Pedro Sanchez and a partner. As he would say (in English): 'Beautiful!'

Friday, 16 December 2011

Paul's comment

Paul left an interesting comment to my post On Being a Tango Commuter which I thought was worth opening as a new post, rather than leaving it in the lost world of comments. I wrote about teaching outside London:

“TC wrote: a [teaching] couple with good intentions but who probably assumed that the time for close embrace social tango in rural UK still hadn't dawned

I wonder what the good intentions were specifically and how or why they got lost or diverted along the way.

This post also has me wondering about the conditions, ingredients or possible strategies that make it possible to re-create and maintain at least in part some of the traditions of close embrace social tango in some circumstances but not in others. Is it something that can be established by a set of top-down “rules of the house” promoted by some enlightened teacher or event organiser? Or does there need to be a critical core mass of close embrace social dancers who set the tone and establish the culture as faithfully transplanted from the milongas of central BsAs?”

Thanks, Paul. I assumed their intentions were good: I think they enjoyed dance and music, and found other people who shared their interest. But I think their dance was superficial, based not so much on the dancing in the better milongas, but on what they learned from some BsAs teachers. They assumed, probably correctly, that close embrace social dancing in rural England could be a turn-off. But instead of building up simple things which people could enjoy immediately, like a good walk and simple improvisation to the music, they rushed off and taught a whole load of complex and difficult stuff. & to me, not organising or encouraging social dance was a big bad error.

I can't answer the remainder of your questions but I think it's worth rambling around some of the issues. Other people will probably have answers. The central issue is the close embrace, isn't it? This is carefully protected in BsAs by the cabeceo and by the separation of men and women in milongas. This structure gives women control over who they dance with, which allows them to be much more trusting and intimate in their dance, and a deeper emotional intensity can result, perhaps one of the main reasons people go dancing. Some European milongas have adopted cabeceo successfully, so it can work here, but it's not a format that's familiar to us. We go to a dance to socialise openly with each other. Maybe that will change with tango. Successful tango involves close embrace, and successful close embrace means a woman should not be obliged to dance with a guy just because he wants to dance with her. So tango needs cabeceo or some other convention that does the same job.

In a 'second-tier cabeceo' men mix with women, but asking for a dance is by eye contact only. This is becoming more normal in London. It works OK, but isn't quite so clear. My guess is we could manage without a formal cabeceo so long as everyone is quite clear that the most wonderfully intense tanda is just a wonderfully intense tanda, with no relation to what happens when the music ends. But my ideal for the UK would be dance floors where cabeceo is strict, with separate bar areas where people can socialise.

My experience of rural tango suggests that the close embrace itself isn't much of a problem, but there's a feeling that the social implications could be problematic. People just aren't used to it, but quickly come to realise they can enjoy a close dance and can separate at the end of it. After all, the fun in fooling around with double ganchos and pretending you're in Strictly Come Prancing isn't very substantial. People realise pretty fast there's more on offer than that.

Some BsAs milongas have rules written out but that's mainly for visitors, as everyone there understands the consensus. I think people are going to work their way to a consensus, which is preferable. It might not be an exact replica of anything in BsAs, but if it does the job, why worry? It doesn't matter what colour a cat is so long as it catches mice, as Chairman Deng Xiaoping remarked. & we're not going to develop a consensus quickly unless we discuss with each other what we want, and give constant feedback to organisers. The main thing is that everyone gets really great dances, and as the quality of dances improves it'll probably become clear that a more formal structure works best. But cabeceo doesn't work in dark rooms! Tango isn't danced in the dark, and the moody lighting might have go!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Milonga del Angel

A bit late now for this one, but it's still worth mentioning: the Milonga del Angel in Nimes has organised nightly milongas between December 23 and 31, 2011. A yearly event: I should have spotted it earlier.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Of men, women and corriditas

I made a passing reference to women teaching tango and suddenly there's a discussion, which is worth continuing.

Why do I value women teaching? Obviously, for most leads, to dance tango you need to embrace a woman and move with her, which you really can't practice effectively with a man. The older dancers practiced with each other as kids, yes, but in close embrace? I don't think so. Anyone know for sure? They practiced together but never danced together.

& then women experience the way men dance in a way that men almost never do. An example came my way recently. A corridita is a 'little run' of steps. Tete used to use it often after the cruzada, the 'cross', in vals; a quick left-right-left, one-two-three. But how is it led? You can't just plough ahead and hope your partner's going to get out of the way fast enough, or she's going to get out of your way pretty fast when she sees you looking for a dance! If you look closely at a video or if you watch a Buenos Aires dancer, you might notice that there's a slight right-left-right movement of the shoulders. If you look very closely you might even notice a slight apparent lift. If you ask the guy how he leads it, he'll probably tell you he's no idea: it's just something he's done since he was 12. He just does it, one-two-three.

But women who take an interest in the hows and the whys of close embrace dance notice the energy they get from that 75 year-old leader when he leads a corrida; they know precisely when the corridita is going to come – and they need to know! They notice that a young guy, who's got great musicality and energy can't quite deliver that kind of energy, and moreover they're never quite sure when he's about to lead it. They realise that the old dancer breathes in, a quick inbreath, before the corridita, the tiniest momentary pause, and breathes out as he makes the 'little run'. The woman feels this slight physical lift and relaxation and follows effortlessly. This is the kind of insight that women who have danced a lot with the more experienced dancers and thought about their experience, are better placed to give you. Of course a partner you dance with regularly will know when the corridita is coming, led clearly or not, but then it's become a choreography, not something that necessarily works straight away with any partner you dance with.

Learning how to co-ordinate this is another issue: personally I know when the corridita is there in the music when it happens, but predicting it in time get a breath in is another matter. But you need to be aware of the need for it before you can start getting it together.

(With thanks to Monica Paz and Practimilonguero.)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

On being a tango commuter

It really isn't a lot of fun. When I moved out of London some years ago I was just beginning to get seriously involved in tango, but I knew there was local tango, and a train service, so I wasn't too concerned. But I was naïve. The local tango turned out to be classes only, taught by a couple with good intentions but who probably assumed that the time for close embrace social tango in rural UK still hadn't dawned. That assumption, and an unwillingness to create an opportunity for social dance, meant that tango there inadvertently remained something of an academic exercise. As for the trains, leaving a London milonga in full swing to catch the last train on a Friday night isn't a great end to an evening out.

So I started making a longer commute to Buenos Aires. Instead of at the most an hour or two of dance a week it's possible to go out daily, afternoon, evening and night. It's very easy to remember the advice from all the wonderful teachers I've met there. I can even write it down! But putting it into practice, creating new habits, changing muscle memories, takes time on the floor, there's no short cut. You can't really do this in a milonga. In the absence of a regular practice partner, private classes with women become intense practicas, with a lot of very welcome feedback, too. & sessions with teaching couples have been really inspiring.

Local tango remains uninspiring, although there's regular social dancing, organised with energy and good intentions. There's a vague feeling that tango ought to be danced close, but trying to practice the teachers' double ganchos is generally a lot more fun... As for London, as far as I can recall, the last great social teacher to visit was the late Ricardo Vidort, who died about five years ago. The unwillingness of organisers to invite good social dancers, even of a younger generation, and immigration policy*, haven't helped. London is a Mecca for extravagant choreography teachers, and tango there isn't great, although generally I think dancing close in London (if not exactly Buenos Aires-style close) is becoming more normal, more acceptable. I'm often reminded that tango outside London can be better, just, sadly, not where I live. But at least it's a good excuse to visit Buenos Aires.

(*There's a general complaint that short visits for any kind of teaching should not be treated as an immigration issue, but it takes years to change legislation, and it's such a sensitive issue.)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Una pena absoluta

'Es una pena absoluta...' (it's an absolute pain) '...ES UNA TORTURA!' (translation not needed). (Female) teacher to tango class, on what it's like dancing with guys who aren't precise about the beat. (I think I've quoted her Spanish correctly.)

Ricardo Viquiera and Fish

If you haven't already been there, check out Simba tango's latest post, 'Baldosa'. (Link on the right.) A dramatic demonstration by Ricardo Viquiera and Fish of just how little space you need for a good dance.

Fish is a wonderful dancer, and completely fearless too. I assume she's Fish Pez, and remember this video of her a few years ago dancing Candombe Milongon with Ruben Terbalca.

Thanks, Simba!

Saturday, 10 December 2011


The luxury of a morning in after a milonga, to enjoy a slow coffee in the sunshine and remember the partners you shared the previous evening with: the tall one who delighted in a fast vals tanda, the short round body that fitted itself so memorably and fluently into the slow grave music of some Tipica Victor, the older Italian who enjoyed so much the elegance of a tanda of De Angelis early when the floor was empty. I enjoyed dancing with her a few times: she spoke no English and very little Spanish, and I guess her conversations (with Pedro Sanchez among others) were in Italian of sorts, possible because it was the language of at least one of the parents of many living Argentines, and anyway Italian and Spanish are not so different.

And some local partners: the one with tattoos and tight jeans (I didn't notice the jeans until she stood up) seemed out of place in a traditional milonga, not so much because of the jeans (she looked elegant enough) but as she clearly preferred an open/close embrace and the kind of dance that goes with it. & then a wonderful lady who talked and laughed happily between dances and then simply melted into four tangos of D'Agostino (with Angel Vargas, as she reminded me): the floor just seemed to open up around us. Then that slender partner: at first we couldn't quite agree on the beat, then it began to settle down and by the fourth tango the shared warmth of the embrace was the only thing that existed, constant and unchanging, so much at one with partner that the music and the floor just fell into place around the embrace. Then we walked away from it; that, after all, is the agreement.

Dance and music: musicians leave hard evidence of what they've made, but dancers leave nothing but memories, and perhaps an unquantifiable change of consciousness created by the few moments' experience of intimacy with a partner, who may be a complete stranger.

Memories, and now videos I guess. Actually I wonder if video could be misleading for intimate social tango as it emphasises watching and performance rather than direct experience. It's great that people learn from it, but learning from video is likely to be partial. You see only the obvious and you may really need someone with long experience to show you, physically or even in the video, things that might not be immediately obvious. Video tends to minimise the physicality and you might end up with the bare bones of a dance, without its seductive flesh. I hope video doesn't end up degrading the close embrace dance.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Women teaching tango 2

Ultimately it's women who have the most direct interest in men dancing well...

All of which is a preamble to saying that Monica Paz, in addition to building up an oral history of tango through the excellent Practimilongueros videos, leads a weekly 'practimilonga' at El Beso, run by herself and a couple of women friends, which concentrates on the details of lead, follow and embrace, with some simple but useful material, and which works through social dancing; even the choice of practice partners operates through the cabeceo. It seems to be a well thought-out and useful system. She's one of a number of women teaching (among them Enriqueta Kleinman, Ana Maria Schapira and to a large extent Myriam Pincen too) who learned by following and watching. Sadly, not many people go, so it's like a private dance session with some very experienced friends.

Monica says that one of her interviewees said that in the old days, if you wanted to know how good a dancer was you watched the shoulders, whereas these days people watch the feet. To me this is the clearest indication of the difference between the London and the Buenos Aires close dance. In Buenos Aires it's not only the rotation of the shoulders about the axis, essential for a comfortable close dance of course, but it's also the lateral movement of the shoulders and torso through space and up and down, as if following the lines of the melody, in much the way an opera singer might sway while singing an aria. That's what I've understood from Pedro, and what I've seen in milongas. It's a very complete physical response to the music.

The Cachirulo milonga follows immediately after practica, but if you need to go to the practimilonga as a lead you might not have too much success at the subsequent milonga, as you'll be measured against some of the most practiced tangueros there are. If you're a follow, you might just have to hang in there and wait your turn.

The most recent Practimilongueros video features interviews during Monica's recent visit to Europe, with four teachers and organisers in Europe who accept the practimilonga model. Elisabetta Cavallari of RovigoTango, Dobri Gjurkov in Hamburg and N. Germany of Tangonido, Jessica Bijvoet in Leiden of Libertango and Tina Riccardi of Tangoquerido in Brussels. All maintain close contact with the social tango of Buenos Aires, and their comments are very interesting.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Women teaching tango 1

Tangocommuter is regularly told that men should be taught tango by other men, and wonders if this is really so... (Unless, that is, they intend to dance in milongas only with men.)

True, 60 years ago men and boys practised together. It may have been a good system, but for them it was the only possibility, as women other than family members weren't available for casual dance outside formal milongas. In the first place, boys seem to have learned from mothers and aunts: women are likely to have placed a lot more emphasis than men on the need for boys to grow up dancing well. & it's true that the men who grew up practising with each other grew up dancing well, but I think the key may not be who they practised with, but the fact that they practised; whatever the obstacles they were enthusiastic to practice. It mattered to those 14 year-olds to dance well. Like most kids would have been kicking a ball, perhaps a ball of rags, around and dreaming of football clubs, they were dancing and dreaming of a different kind of club. If you're keen at that age you're likely to get good, and they put in the hours. (No TV, no video games to compete for their attention!)

So I wonder if the idea that you absolutely must learn to dance with other guys might be mistaken. The men I've learned from in Buenos Aires – four of them – all grew up practicing with other boys, but have chosen to teach with teaching partners, although they are clear that it's good to know both sides of the dance. That seems the important point, rather than who you learn it from. Anyway, I've never met a man who taught alone, I'm not aware of anyone who does it.

For a guy, taking private sessions from a couple is costly but very helpful. The man teaches what the leader needs to know, his partner checks out how the learner is getting on. After all, who has the most insight into how a leader dances, the partner he's dancing with or someone who is watching? There are so many details in the embrace, the walk, the lead, that a woman is going to notice but which might not be obvious even to someone watching from nearby. Added to which, if she's accustomed to dancing with the most practised dancers she'll be measuring you against them, and indirectly you'll be learning from all the guys she's danced with. & of course the same would work for a follow, but I'm not sure that learning as a couple would be likely to be as fruitful.

Ultimately it's women who have the most direct interest in men dancing well.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Martha and Manolo again

WARNING: THIS IS A PERFORMANCE! It is a DEMONSTRATION of class material! (Only joking...)

Martha Anton and 'El Gallego' Manolo really are among the most welcoming and genial teachers I know. Manolo seems to be a walking archive of canyengue: I hope someone's cross-indexed his memory, although video is likely to preserve a lot of it. & Martha will remember you from years ago, with a big smile.

The classes are relaxed and unstructured. As they are held in the Escuela Tango anyone may turn up for a taster (and maybe so they can add '...studied canyengue with Martha Anton and 'El Gallego' Manolo' to their CVs). Or, like this class, it might be just a few friends, some who've known them for years. Whatever happens, Martha will have the beginners dancing basic canyengue to that hypnotic beat by the end of the class, or Manolo will have dug out something totally unexpected even to his oldest friends. All with a smile and about three words of English, if you don't speak Spanish. If you do, you might catch Manolo complaining about the young dancers who flock in demanding a lot of new material, and forgetting it as they leave...

Of course canyengue itself helps. You can dance it with a grin on your face, and the music is a lot more simple and cheerful, and less emotional, than tango. It's fun, which you can't exactly say of tango, and at its best it's fascinating to watch. I love the effortless way Manolo weaves himself around Martha at the beginning of this clip. Manolo learned in the late 1940s with his childhood friend, Rudolfo Ciere, at a time when canyengue was regarded as at best old-fashioned if not actually primitive. If I remember Robert Farris Thompson ('The Art History of Love') correctly, the crouching stance was regarded as regrettably African at a time when civilised people stood up straight and danced tango. But what Manolo learned was a kind of proto-tango, from dancers who were already getting on in years when he was young. Proto-tango dance to proto-tango music: it fits early Canaro like a glove. A lot of what you learn can be transposed to tango without much problem. Just make sure you stand up straight, though.

The music is El Pensamiento, played by the Cuarteto Punta y Taco. It doesn't quite sound like old music, and the group may be a sort of revivalist group, perhaps from the 1950s. Martha and Manolo have their own series of CDs of music for canyengue, which you can buy from them, a mix of early Canaro, Donato, Carabelli, Lomuto, with a lot of almost unknown orquestas, some of them wonderful. Many of the recordings pre-date the introduction of electric recording in 1928, so the sound quality isn't great, and it has to be said that the tracks from Canaro and other well-known orquestas are probably available in better quality on other CDs. But if you really want CDs with recordings by Perez Pocholo, Alfredo Cordisco, D'Alessandro, and many others, they are here. You may be able to listen to them on Todotango too.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

December 3 2001

An article on the BBC website reminds that this was the day the Argentine banks, faced with a run, were closed down, allowing only a limited daily withdrawal. The peso was unlinked from the dollar, and inflation soared. The writer had been on the point of buying a flat, and when she got access to her money again it was worth only enough to buy a car. Someone else had dollars, and was able to pay off a mortgage because of an excellent exchange rate... There's been talk of an 'r' word – 'run' – by European economists recently. Of course it was a close call with Northern Rock a few years back, although economists also think of it in terms of the flow of money in and out of central banks.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the flourishing and well-organised short-let business in Buenos Aires. If you have money and don't trust the banks, you buy property and rent it. & I've been told that when you buy property it's usually cash: you have to turn up with a suitcase full of notes, adding another nerve-wracking twist to an already fraught business.

It's interesting to look out on a prospering South American city ten years later, with a largely untroubled cheerful surface, at ease with itself and doing well. Being an immigrant, like being a refugee, means having to cope without a safety net. It means self-reliance, taking nothing for granted, not having time for self-pity. Perhaps Argentina was well-equipped to survive and bounce back, and feels good about itself for doing so.

Tangoandchaos has a graphic account of Buenos Aires from December 3 2001 and the following weeks.