Friday, March 21, 2008


Trasnochando is a famous old-timey tango song. The word means something like "All-nighting it."

In my younger days there was an aspect of this when I was going to college. The cycle of periodic all-night cramming for midterms and finals and the last ditch paper-writings meant that I was never fully awake during the school year, never had any kind of natural sleep rhythm happening.

Then came the raving days. In California the legal dance clubs are only open until 2AM, and then it's off to a 24-hour food joint (Denny's, Carrows) until maybe 4AM, latest.

That was until 1992 when the rave scene came to my town. Suddenly you could dance from midnight until 9AM in warehouses and basements, and we often did.

The other night a friend from Perth and I went to a pizza joint in San Telmo before heading over to the milonga. We were going to catch the whole class-practica-live band-milonga deal. On the way to the pizza joint we stopped in at a hostel so my friend could chat with the gal who runs it, a friend of hers. We hung out for fifteen minutes while gringos talked to her friend about where to eat. Then we chatted for ten minutes, then bailed to the pizza joint.

Had some beer, nice salad, nice tomato and basil pizza, then asked for the bill.

Meanwhile, while we'd been eating, I was noticing the trees blow around like crazy in a park beyond the front windows. Been here long enough to know what that means: rain's-a'comin. This is especially true on those days where the humidity is intense and has a painful burning feeling on the skin, like that day. You can see that kind of rain in this video.

As the gal put our bill on the table, lightning flashed, the earth rumbled and, as they say, the sky opened up. It just totally dumped on us. It was one of those deals where within seconds trash is whizzing by the windows in the street river.

Our milonga was three blocks away, yet we were totally pinned down. Three times we decided to go for it, and got sent back. Even during the light spells the drops were so huge that each one was a big splash on our heads or bodies. I was already soaked from the three attempts but was trying to preserve somewhat dry underwear. It was already too late for my hair.

So we sat down with some Spanish-speaking dudes in the resto and hung out with them for awhile. The lightning was consistent and intense. This little corner of San Telmo flashed and boomed and soaked.

It was too late to make the class or the practica, but I'd told a friend I'd meet him there at 10:30. He's not a tango dancer and wouldn't know anyone at the milonga, so I wanted to be there when he arrived, like I said I would be. So at 10:15, even though it was raining, it wasn't drenching, so I said Let's go for it. We went for it. After a block we found a few overhangs to run under, but basically we got soaked down to the unders. Not all bad in this hot weather, but not ideal either.

When we got to the top of the milonga stairs, turns out it was a very crowded situation, you needed to have a place to sit: you needed a reservation. We didn't have. So I whipped out my, "Tengo unos amigos aca." I have some friends here. "Su nombre?" Their name? At that point, my friend who I was meeting there comes from the bar to the door, and the door guy sees that I and my friend from Perth do indeed have "friends here." So he lets us in.

Now, when my friend had arrived there--the one who later got us in by coming over from the bar--was asked if he had reservations, he said he was there to meet me, and gave my name. When the door guy said "Quien?" Who, my friend said, "The guy with the hair." The door guy says, "Oh, okay," and lets him in. So if that was confusing, to sum up: he got in by saying he was there to meet me, and I got in by saying I was there to meet him. And neither of us had reservations nor a place to sit.

Fortunately another very cool friend of mine who will be recognized if I say here he is tall, young, attractive, always surrounded by beautiful woman, an American, a beginning tango dancer but awesome Salsa dancer...had scored two tables for himself and his friends, so he shared his spare table with me, my friend from Perth, and my other friend who had come to see what a milonga is like.

Back to the pizza joint for a moment. I've hung out with this woman from Perth a few times, and the convo finally found its way to the exhaustion and burn-out and sense of disconnectedness that this "tango expat" life leads to.

By tango expat, I mean someone here for some months rather than weeks. We are up to some very strange hours, often sunrise. Sleep is anywhere between zero in two days to 8 hours at any different time of day or in various chunks.

Every day has some mix of taxi rides, bus rides, subway rides, long walks, long times spent sitting in dark places, times spent dancing with people you know or don't know, times drinking beer, wine, cocktails, coffee, mate, mineral water, times spent in classes, waiting to get into classes, changing shoes in hallways, changing shoes under tables in clubs, times bumping into people, being kicked by people on floors, walking miles to shoe stores or milongas, standing at back-alley bus stops at 4:45AM, climbing stairwells to places you've been, places you ain't been before, meeting people you know, ones you don't, staring out windows across valleys of tenement buildings into other windows at 3AM, wondering what that person is doing there, what are they staring at? A television? Someone else across the way from them? Should I go to bed now, or say "F it," have a mate, take a shower, and go out. Walking past homeless people and cops and workers and woman and groups of young Goths at 4AM in the morning, looking up at the moon which for that one minute happens to be visible in this town's tiny sliver of sky.

So even if the song may be talking about a period of years, you can relate to it even if you're only here for months. Even the part in the end makes sense, either about this kind of life in general, or about the really precious relationships we seek and rarely find--but sometimes find--on the dance floor, people who then go home the next week, or whom we shall soon leave behind. Back home I liked this song and thought I understood it. I didn't realize that I was only grasping it in an abstract way. Now it evokes all kinds of memories and feelings from my real life.

Here is Trasnochando performed at that milonga the other night. If you want to follow the lyrics while you listen to the performance, the video starts with the line "Siempre fueron, mis mejores compaƱeros," in the first stanza.

Trasnochando performed by El Orchestra Tipica Afronte

Trasnochando, como todo calavera
que no ve lo que le espera
que no sabe donde va,
rechazaba, tus consejos buen amigo,
casi fuimos enemigos
por decirme la verdad.
Siempre fueron, mis mejores compaƱeros
los muchachos milongueros,
jugadores y algo mas;
y con ellos, noche a noche derrochaba
entre copas, baile y farras
esta vida que se va.

Trasnochando conoci
el nombre que vos sabes,
no quisiera repetir
lo que anoche te conte.
Todo todo lo perdi,
solo de ella conserve
esa foto que hay alli
y que ya no quiero ver.
Vos que todo lo sabes
manana cuando venis
esa foto la guardas
la tiras o la rompes.
Para mi lo mismo da,
vos hace lo que queres
no la quiero mas mirar
ni pensar lo que ella fue.


Staying up all night , like a hollow-eyed skull
that does not see what's ahead
that does not know where he goes,
I rejected your advice good friend,
we almost were enemies
for you telling me the truth.
My best companions always were
the milonguero boys,
the gamblers and something else;
and with them, night after night I wasted ,
between drinks, dances and parties,
this life that is going away.

Staying up all night I met
the name that you know,
I would not want to repeat
what I told you last night.
I lost everything,
I only kept of her
that photo over there
that I no longer want to see.
You who knows it all,
when you come back tomorrow
keep that photo,
throw it away or tear it apart.
To me it is the same,
you do what you want
I don't want to see her anymore
nor to think about who she was.

(Translated by Alberto Paz)

And here are links two other videos from that same night:


"Both night-shift work and chronic sleep deprivation are increasingly implicated in mental and cognitive problems."


Why the city messes you up.


tangobaby said...

Those are wonderful videos. His singing makes me want to get my red stilletos out of the closet. And the dancing video...perfect expression of tango.

Be sure to take care of yourself. It's so easy to get run down and very sick with that crazy schedule. And also hard to adjust to "normal" once you're home.

b said...

thx tb. I am rundown but haven't had even a minute of sickness. You know my secret. :) Plus I just found out I've lost seven pounds here living on meat, cheese, bread, and alcohol.

tangobaby said...

Yes, I do know your secret. Although I would not have believed it until you are living proof of it. *pun intended*

You are on the Original Atkins diet there. Well, except for the bread. I guess the dancing cancels out the carbs.