La Calesita

IMGP8311What I love most about adventures are the new experiences. Since I arrived here my life has been full of them. They bring freshness into my world and they have the power to turn an ordinary day or a sad day into something special. New Buenos Aires tango experiences are my favourite discoveries. With every one I feel as if I unwrap a gift, and uncover a fresh layer of this intriguing city of tango dreams. Saturday night found me and Carlos at an outdoor Milonga in Nunez that I have not been to before: La Calesita.

On my first night of tango in Buenos Aires, at La Ideal, a French Canadian on the next table told me about La Calesita. I remember him saying that it was open air, that the dance floor had a big… well I thought he said fountain… in the middle of it, that it only operated in the summer and that it should be on my list of venues to try. I thought it sounded very romantic and my imagination pictured something rather grand. That was nearly ten months ago. Finally on Saturday we arranged to meet some friends at this recommended ‘lugar’. Of course Carlos knew it well but he said little to me about it, so for me it was to be another magical tango discovery.

As we waited for the bus in Luis Maria Campos, I realised that I should have dressed more warmly. The wind was definitely getting my loose trousers in the mood for tango, they were nearly dancing off me. Carlos chose that moment to mention that the place was near the river and so likely to be cold. Luckily he is a total gentleman and his coat was placed around my shoulders before the bus ever arrived. I resolved to put thoughts of being frozen to the back of my mind. We hopped off  ‘el colectivo’ in Libertador and walked to reach the entrance to what looked like the grounds of a club. We crossed a wide open space and at last came upon a grove of trees hung with lights and a lit sign above the ticket desk announcing that we had arrived at La Calesita.

It was about 11.30pm (early) and there were only a few people dotted around the plastic ‘picnic tables’ surrounding the stone dance floor. There was nothing grand about the place after all, but I liked the informality. Carlos’ eyes were instantly fixed on the ‘parilla’ where a price board announced the presence of ‘choripan’ and various other much adored (by him) meat sandwiches. In the first fifteen minutes that we were seated he consumed two in rapid succession. I tucked in to a couple of cheese, red pepper and onion empanadas which were delicious and possibly homemade. Only the lack of coffee was a disappointment. My hands could have done with gripping a steaming cup of ‘waker upper’. Chilled Pepsi was a poor substitute on a chilly night.

At first there was no music. This was because a rock concert was blasting into the night just yards away behind the trees and any tango would have been drowned out by the final numbers. So we sat and ate and drank and waited as a few more people drifted in: couples dressed for summer in lightweight suits and flimsy dresses, parents with a baby in a pushchair, larger groups of friends in jeans and sweaters, lone tango dancers. They joined us around the dance floor and eventually the first tango was lifted by the wind and embraced us all. In the centre of the dance floor there was not a fountain, but a giant urn filled with a plant. Couples dance around this centrepiece and hence the Milonga gets its name: ‘una calesita’ is spanish for a merry-go-round or carousel. Carlos acted out children going up and down and round and round on horses to explain this to me, and made me laugh a lot in the process. Eventually we stood and joined the circle of dancers. As soon as our bodies touched, as always, my troubles fell away. He whispered, ‘Now we dance under the stars.’ and we did: no roof, just dark sky above the strings of coloured lights. His body kept mine warm. When I closed my eyes, the sound of dance shoes sliding and sweeping on the slightly dirty stone seemed unusually loud and I thought, beautiful. I have never heard that particular sound at a Milonga before. It will always form a strong part of my memory of La Calesita.

There were a few laughs along the way as occasionally the music just stopped, or the CD got stuck, or there was no cortina, or a vals tanda turned in to tango… I got the impression that handling the DJing on a cold and windy night outside was a challenge. I was amazed to see women dancing in strappy summer tops, and the range of glittery tango shoes was  impressive to say the least. At around 1am the host got up and made a speech, but his words were stolen by the wind. I heard not one. But I guess he thanked us for coming and I loved how people laughed and relaxed into the informality. I felt like we were all at a midnight argentine tango picnic. Next time I think we will take the mate and a flask of hot water.

Apparently on hot nights in summer the place is absolutely packed with people standing behind the tabled area, and the dance floor is like a sardine can. But not on Saturday. On Saturday it was more or less ours. We finally left at 2am. Our friends, it turned out, had fallen asleep in front of the TV. But really that did not matter. One thing I have got used to here is the ever changing plan. People are always turning up or not turning up, are early or late, changing their minds, falling asleep at the last minute and not making it (us included). But for us on Saturday night, just making the arrangement in the first place meant that we got out on a cool summer’s evening, and enjoyed the new, the different and the slightly quirky. And once again to my delight, I uncovered another of Buenos Aires’ perhaps slightly lesser known tango treasures.


7 Responses

  1. Sal,

    What a warm feeling reading this post when I woke up in the middle of the cold night here in NYC. Next time when I come back, I will visit one of these barrio milongas. Hopefully, I know how to speak a few words with the local then.

    warm hug from the frio Big Apple.

  2. I felt the magic through this one Sal! It sounds amazing at La Calesita.
    Didn’t your tango shoes get eaten-up by the outdoor surface?

  3. TP, Glad I gave you a warm feeling. It’s so hard for me to imagine freezing winters at the moment. Gorgeous sun here this morning and humidity rising. Yesterday was HOT! Mind you yesterday there were problems with the subway and so we were all crammed on to steaming buses in stationery traffic… not so wonderful!
    Are you taking spanish lessons? I don’t think I asked you when we met how you were managing with the language side of things. I think it is a vital part of connection here.
    Hugs, SC

  4. Charlotte,
    I wore my oldest pair of tango shoes, as I do whenever I am unsure of the likely state of the floor. These are the black patent Commes and they can cope with anything. I can more or less wash them afterwards!

    And I’m glad that you felt the magic. It was magical in the quirky way that I probably like the most of all.

  5. Very cool. Thanks for the share, Sally-Sweetz. Cheers, “Sly” 😀

  6. Thanks for this wonderful description. I am playing this piece in a concert soon & googled ‘calesita’ to see what I would get, not expecting such a thoroughly detailed account!

  7. Hi Suzanne

    Happy that you enjoyed what you read! I was back at La Calesita a few weeks ago. It was such a warm balmy night, and ‘me and C.’ danced vals under the stars. Perfect.

    I wish you every success with the concert!


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