Thursday, July 20, 2006

Looking for Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall is a hero in Buenos Aires. He fell in love with the tango many years ago and visits frequently. Not long ago he made a film, "Assassination Tango," with BA for the setting and the tango as a subtheme to an aging contract killer plot. It wasn´t a very good movie, I thought, and I believe Duvall to be one of our best actors. On Monday we tried to find a restaurant in La Boca where, according to Lonely Planet, Duvall is a frequent diner. It seemed like a good recommendation to us. But we got lost and, even with the help of a taxi driver, could not find the place.

Last night, however, I came close. Our class adjourned to the Academia Carlos Coppello for our first tango lesson. And there on the wall was a poster from the film with Duvall´s autograph featured prominently. There were also pictures on the wall of Duvall and the owner. Surely he had passed through that very room, not more than a year ago.

It didn´t help my dancing, however. Nor did my shoes, the comfortable Chaco sandals that I´ve worn from Europe to Central America, Asia and back. Tango shoes have heels, even for the men, and they make a clicking noise on the floor. Mine made kind of a shoosh sound every time I stumbled or stepped on my partner´s toes. Still, we made a brave show of it, slipping and slidding to the seductive rhythms of the tango. On the walls the famous tango singer Carlos Gardel´s ever-present image looked down upon us. His picture was on the side of two buildings we passed in Abastos, the district where he lived before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1935. Carlos is a god here, Elvis and Frank Sinatra rolled into one. I´ve got dozens of his songs on my iPod.

Getting to the tango school was an adventure. Lucila decided all 22 of us would go by bus. When it arrived, Diana, Ben and I got on board, but no one else would fit. Before we could get off to wait for a less full bus, the doors closed and Lucila waved goodbye. It was our first bus ride and neither of the three of us were clear about where we were going. But the passengers and driver were friendly and I was able to talk with Lucila on my cell phone to receive directions. As it turned out, we arrived well before anyone else, and Lucila was very pleased at our accomplishment.

The weather has improved dramatically. Yesterday was bright and sunny, and today promises to be the same. Porteños, however, dress all bundled up as if it´s winter in New York, when actually it feels like a nice summer day in San Francisco. Yesterday, after writing my blog, I set out on the subte for the city center, the Plaza de Mayo, and walked through the busy business district north to the district of Retiro in search of Plaza San Martin which my friend Norma from Holy Cross had told me about. First I encountered the Galerias Pacifico, a huge monument to consumption that includes an art gallery in the center with works by Freda Kalho and Diego Rivera, not to mention Picasso. On the way I stopped by Norma´s church, the Basilica de Santisimo Sacramento which is relatively new, having been built at the turn of the last century. Plaza San Martin is a very large park facing the harbor and the wide lawn was filled with sleeping porteños while the pathways contained numerous dog walkers as well as people like me enjoying beautiful weather. I stopped to take a picture of a fenced area for dogs and was approached by a helpful young man whom it turned out was fund-raising for some kind of AIDs project. At least that´s what I think he said. I gave him two pesos which seemed to him insufficient.

My next stop was Recoleto, another upscale business and residential district north of Retiro where a large cemetery houses the now dead rich and famous in hundreds of little houses decorated with elaborate statuary. The most notable, of course, is Evita. I donated five pesos for a map but I still got lost in the maze of cemetery streets. Eventually I spotted a crowd and realized I´d found her. The tomb is modest in comparison with some of the others. Made of black marble, the door (can she leave?) was covered with flowers. The visitors with me did not seem especially reverent, but were frantically taking photos to remember this moment at a later date.

After a lovely lunch at an outdoor cafe bordering the park in front of the Cemeterio de la Recoleta, I took a taxi to Belgrano in order to be on time for class at 3. There were secretive murmurings halfway through the session, and Lorraine unveiled two beautiful cakes and a candle, numer 9 (signifying my 39th birthday), which was lit and I blew out. Feliz Compleaños was sung and we all celebrated my advanced age. I also received for a gift a lovely book containing paintings by La Boca´s most famous artist, Benito Quinquela Martin, whose subjects included colorful ships and their seamen.

After class we viewed a video documentary of the mothers of the disappeared by a professor from San Jose State, Bob Freimark. Today we are going to have a "charla," a chat, with some of the mothers and grandmothers who lost 10-30,000 relatives during the "Dirty War" from 1976 to 1983 against anyone with vaguely leftwing or progressive politics. This group of women continues to demonstrate every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo for justice, since few have yet been punished for the many crimes committed back then. I also hope we will be able to march with them.

Robert Duvall, I´m still on your trail...

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