La Boca, more Tango and...

La Boca is a rough district of Buenos Aires with a thin tourist veneer over a couple of streets.

In the mid 19th century the area was settled by Spanish and Italian immigrants, most of whom worked in the meat packing factories and on the docks. Legend has it that the excess paint, left over after ship and barge painting, was used to liven up the local corrugated iron shacks and that this lead to the area's trade-mark brightly coloured houses.

Our guide book suggests not straying from the four main tourist streets, adding that there is nothing you would want to see anywhere else in La Boca. It was one of the few areas of BA we visited that I was not prepared to walk to or from. Take a taxi or bus.

The tourist areas of La Boca are now self-consciously colourful with lots of good street cafes, bold murals and papier mâché figures. Luckily there are also many purveyors of tasteful mementoes and fine folk art. (My dictionary defines "sarcasm" as ironically scornful language.)Recommended (the area not the mementoes).

The three figures on the balcony (above) are Maradona (an ex-footballer I believe, who began his career in the Boca Juniors soccer team), Eva Maria Duarte (an ex-actress) and Carlos Gardel (who died in a plan crash in 1935, but is said to "sing better every day").

Tango permeates all aspects of tourist BA. But it is also a part of real life in the city. For example the excellent non-tourist CD shop Zivals (at Ave. Callao 395) has a fine selection of European and USA rock and Pop CDs. But the section devoted just to Argentinian Tango CDs is bigger. (Normal CDs cost around $10USD).

As can be seen above (top row, left) Tango was also danced between men in the past.

Most restaurants offer some form of Tango entertainment, and the one we ate at in La Boca was no exception. When we arrived the scantly clad female Tango dancer was ready and waiting. Alas in spite of many phone calls her partner failed to arrive and another couple (top row, centre) dancing on the street corner had to be recruited by the restaurant manager to take her place. Eventually a lack-luster partner was found (bottom row, centre). Watching the interaction between the dancers was as entertaining as the dancing itself.

Even the underground (the Subte) can cost you more in tips to the Tango dancers than the fare (bottom row, left). Since the fare is only $0.30USA anywhere in BA, this not a great problem.

Probably the best Tango dancing we have seen was at the free show at El Balcon (first floor on the corner of Defensa and Humberto). The show was a good balance of sultry (and very athletic) dancing (top row, right) and good music. The food (you have to order a meal or pay a cover charge) was excellent. Although after a while "more prime steak than you can eat" for $7USA becomes repetitive.

Whilst walking along Ave. Sarmiento near the zoo, under a thick covering of trees Judy was (how to put this delicately?) covered in bird shit. Luckily several of the passersby immediately offered help in the form of paper tissues and bottled water to clear up the mess.

Or to put it another way...

We were nearly the victims of a classic BA scam. One member of the gang sprays the victims on the back with brown "gunge", then as soon as this is noticed, his accomplices arrive and offer paper tissues and water. In the confusion and distracted by the cleaning up process, the victim's wallet/bag/camera is lifted.

Both of us realized what was going on and walked briskly away before any harm was done (except to our clothes).

A few seconds latter we were approached by a man who claimed to have seen what happened and told us we should call the police. Was he part two of the scam or was he genuine? We don't know.

We got in the second taxi to slow down, and drove back to our car park, where we spent the afternoon doing laundry.

Stephen Stewart.

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