Friday, December 08, 2006


It might seem odd to begin an account of my trip so far by discussing dance. I am not much of a dancer really. I enjoy the dirty dog as much as the next man and I do not move with the lumpen wobbliness that proved so amusing to my friends at university. But nevertheless, when Buenos Aires welcomed me at immigration last week, it did so safe in the knowledge that I was not about to set the world of tango alight.

My only previous experience at dancing the tango, this time last year, was truly traumatic. The lesson was in Spanish, and so I did not even realise that I, the man, am required to lead every step. Consequently, I was dancing with experienced middle-aged women who expected me to lead and were sadly disappointed when I remained frozen to the ground. This emasculating experience was compounded by the presence at the class of a girl who I fancied like mad. So I spent the evening neurotically searching the room for her, checking that she was not being charmed by someone rather more proficient on his feet than myself. Ah, the curse of the male ego...

But two things have warmed me to the tango in the last week or so. The first was a truly wonderful show in the San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires. Usually tango shows play a lot of very old music, weeping with melodrama and sentiment and devoid of any sensual tension. After ten minutes of this, I generally lose the will to live. But this show centred around the music of Astor Piazzolla, one of the great musical interpreters of sex and seduction. Piazzolla revolutionised tango, partly by adding new instruments and scales, but also by adding two integral sexual elements : conflict and deferral. When a couple dances to Piazzolla´s music, they engage in a theatre whereby both interact with each other, facilitate each other´s virtuoso performances, but spend little time actually dancing in union. There is a certain
masturbatory violence to this sort of tango ; it treats sex as a necessary farce. If western bump-n-grind is a porn flick, and traditional tango is a romantic melodrama, then Piazzolla´s tango is Lynch´s Blue Velvet.

The second thing to have fired my enthusiasm for tango is that last night, in my second ever tango lesson, my partner and I were judged the best couple in the hostel and were awarded a litre bottle of Quilmes. To be honest, we won in spite of my performance, which was described by the American Idol-style as "inexperienced, yet faintly folkloric". My partner had danced tango before and she devised a clever way in which she would lead the step but make it appear that I was in charge. And it was these archaic gender values which won the day.

I am now in Bariloche, a tourist mecca in the heart of the Argentine Lake District. The scenery is beautiful, though its chocolate-boxiness does very little for me personally. It is Alpine (specifically Swiss) in feel but Andean in scale. I plan to do very little here except read, write and do a spot of trekking. My original plan was to spend Christmas in Santiago, but I have heard little positive about Chile´s capital. From what I can make out, it is an LA-style concrete jungle. Besides, whenever I leave Buenos Aires I always feel like a virtual magnet is pulling me back. I must spend another two weeks there before moving north-westwards to Bolivia, so that is where I will spend Christmas and New Year. Other countries are like playgrounds for neurotic foreigners, perenially searching for the pure travelling experience. Such an idea is an example of the petit objet a - it does not exist in any form other than a western desire to engage with the Other. No doubt I shall seek it out once I reach Bolivia (where I plan to couch-surf and do some voluntary work in a women´s refuge), but for now I am very happy sipping coffee and watching the world go by.

Ciao for now amigos - hasta luego...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that there are riots following the not very lamented departure of Pinochet, so Santiago might be lit up for Christmas in more ways than one.

Where do you find the time to write a blog like this - I'm vastly impressed.

e-mail -


12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert - you haven't posted anything for a whole week....i need something to read!
Enjoy! x

4:55 PM  

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