On Sunday Me and C. took two friends from England to Feria de Mataderos. Feria de Mataderos is one of my favourite Buenos Aires Sunday outings: delicious traditional take away foods; reasonably priced market stalls selling every possible Argentine craft and foodstuff; gauchos racing down the street in their quest to snag the tiny metal ring overhead; live music and folk dancing in the street. I am like a walking, talking advertisement for this place, always trying to arrange little outings there for anyone who happens to be in town. Yesterday was no exception. I was full of it all the way on the bus, “We’ll eat chico guaya and choripan. Yes you can buy all your souvenirs at fabulous prices. We’ll dance the Chacarera. Wait till you see the gauchos… You are going to LOVE it!”
The bus ride on the 55 takes nearly an hour, and we arrived about 2 o’clock… perfect timing for lunch. Full of anticipation, we walked quickly through the stalls that make up the outskirts of the market. This is where I buy my favourite tango trousers at $15 pesos a pair, except that now it is 2008 and so they are $18 pesos. I bought two more pairs. I was smiling. But, as we emerged from the far end of these stalls I had the weirdest sensation… something was not quite right, the street looked different, emptier. Something was definitely missing, and to my horror it was in fact the entire Feria de Mataderos.
Carlos disappeared into a restaurant to get the low down. I stood in an empty street apologising profusely to my friends. Carlos returned. Then it was that we realised our mistake. In summer (this year from 26th January through February and March), Feria de Mataderos is not during the day on Sundays, but it is instead on Saturday nights from 6pm… hot weather means that Argentines do not want to be dancing in the streets in the heat of the midday. And who can blame them? So all that was left in the square were the remains of the stage from the previous evening, and us: three English and one Argentine, starving hungry.
Determined to make the most of Mataderos, even without the Feria, we found a simple parilla restaurant and ate ‘vacio’ (flank steak), salad and ‘papas fritas’. This was not a place serving posh steaks of the ‘bife de lomo’ (tenderloin) or ‘bife de chorizo’ (sirloin rump) variety. Rather, all the other tables had a grill piled high with every possible more ‘intriguing’ cut of Argentine cow, various varieties of sausage and the Argentine equivalent of black pudding. Carlos, I know, was dying to order the same, but especially since one of our party was vegetarian I did not think it too great an idea and I stopped him. He made up for his disappointment by drinking a glass of red wine. He hardly ever drinks wine. It arrived in a tumbler style glass, full to the brim. My English friends laughed as he mixed it with coke to ‘improve’ the taste! The food was simple but good: not in the same exciting homemade league as the normal Feria de Mataderos fare, but we chatted happily in the warmth of the street, and relaxed in the sun.
Afterwards, lured by the tango music drifting from a building further down the block, we decided to check out the local afternoon Milonga. Every time I have been to the fair I have walked past it, but never ventured inside. This time I am glad we did. It cost us $5 pesos to get in. Why did I love it? It was absolutely Argentine. It was full of Argentines, ordinary people who danced tango, tropical, chacarera, and zamba with a delight and enthusiasm that just shouted, “We WANT to dance!” Some people were dressed up. One man danced in a pristine white Fedora style hat, another was in slick black from head to toe, including his sunglasses. Women danced with their female friends, or possibly with their sisters, mothers and grandmothers. There were no Comme il Faut or other posh varieties of tango shoes in sight. People were dancing in whatever shoes they had: court shoes, sandals, trainers. I had on platform street sandals with no backs at all, but that did not stop me. Carlos and I did a few rounds of the floor, which was smooth and not too busy. My shoes had rubber soles but I found I could pivot perfectly and my sandals stayed on my feet. It was an afternoon I will always remember, the best of moments with friends: just joining in like everyone else. It was fun. Good, simple, Argentine fun. We drank coffee, Argentine herb tea, ate pancakes with ‘dulce de leche’ and watched people dance what looked like a rough approximation of milonga, to the ‘pase doble’! As we left, the man in the white hat came and kissed me and said, “Muy bonita.” I wanted to hug him.
We ambled back through the market stalls. We found one where a woman had the most beautiful bags, real one offs and made by her, on sale for $25 pesos. My friend couldn’t make up her mind which one she liked best, so we promised to return another day. Or maybe next Saturday night.
At the bus stop a little boy wanted to know where we were all from. Carlos chatted to his mother as we waited, and finally the bus came and we piled in, paying our $1 peso each for the long trip home. By then I was exhausted. I am finding that I get tired all too easily at the moment. When a seat came free Carlos and I shared it, me on his lap. I slept as we sped back through Flores, happy with how the day had turned out: perfectly.
If the market had been on, we would never have gone to the Milonga. I would never have danced tango in my sandals. I would never have been kissed by a man in a white hat. A Mataderos treasure would have remained undiscovered. Sometimes when things seem as if they have not worked out, it is true that the joy lies just around the corner. Lately I have been telling myself that quite often. Sunday was the proof that indeed I am right.