Archive for the ‘French Quarter’ Tag

Mañana de carnaval   Leave a comment

Mañana de carnaval

Since our first year in New Orleans, we have honored a yearly tradition on Mardi Gras.This year made it eleven years that on the day before Ash Wednesday, on Fat Tuesday, we wake up, have breakfast, dress up for the occasion, and head for the French Quarter.

Every year we shop in our closet for something original to wear

We walk up St. Ann from Jackson Square and make our way to Pere Antoine on Royal and St. Ann. We put our names on the reservation list and proceed to enjoy the last of the St. Ann parade. Music blasts from upstairs, and the street is a cacophony of voices, laughter and happy Mardi Gras wishes.

People know where we hang out for lunch, but they don’t know how we’re dressed

After lunch we make our way to Bourbon Street, and look out for some of our friends wandering around until the sun begins to go down.

Everybody loves to be photographed with intriguing characters

We make one last stop at Quarter Past Time on Chartres where we dance a tango on the sidewalk.

The sidewalk on Chartres St. where we dance before going home

Then we head home to watch the Rex and Comus Balls with all the pomp and circumstances that is expected from royalty.

Words are not enough to describe what is like to be part of the sea of bodies that flood the streets of the Vieux Carre where alcohol and levity rule the day. Remarkably, in eleven years we have never seen or heard of a fight, an altercation, or rowdy behavior. Everybody is on their best drunken behavior, and everyone contributes to the common desire to have a good time.

Our video memories contain adult off color humor, political satire, and artistic displays of normally hidden body parts and suitable for an informed, adult mature audience…

The essence of giving thanks   13 comments

Thanksgiving is as foreign to Argentines as tango is foreign to Americans. They are traditions that need to be learned before they are understood and adopted. For Americans Thanksgiving Day is a time to sit down together, count their blessings, and give thanks for their families and their loved ones. Families in America are a reflection of the diversity of this great nation. No two are exactly alike, but there is a common thread they each share, and the traditions and rituals of Thanksgiving have been passed from generation to generation.

Tango is not that sacred for Argentines, but for those who consider it their way of life, it is a sociocultural phenomena rich in rituals and traditions that is celebrated all year around with the extended families that are formed with those who share the same love and passion for the music, the poetry and the dance. Likewise, the rituals and traditions are passed from generation to generation. Thanksgiving has not transcended to Argentina the way tango has been inserted into the American culture. But it ever does, you can rest assured that the traditions will be respected and preserved, and no turkey will be replaced with ostrich for an alternative Thanksgiving dinner. No High Five Giving Day either.

Imagine if you can, one who makes the decision to become an American as an adult. The discovery of a tradition such as Thanksgiving Day takes time to absorb and understand, but when it does, it takes on a special meaning of its own. Blame it on worn out neurons but I have little recollection of Thanksgiving Days before 1995. This was the year Valorie and I spent our first Thanksgiving together, less than a week after she moved from New York to Sunnyvale. We were the guests of an Argentine couple in San Francisco. The turkey was cooked in brandy. Then we danced tango.

The next year I was in Los Angeles and Valorie in New York. The year after we both were in New York, and in 1998 we gave our first Thanksgiving Grand milonga with turkey and all the trimmings at the Dance Spectrum in Campbell, CA. Then in 1999 we spent Thanksgiving in a corn field outside Champaign, IL. This started a tradition that continued in New Orleans, first in the French Quarter, then Uptown and the Irish Channel. Our devotion to the spirit of the holiday has been super sized by our love of the tango and everything good that it inspires.

Valorie and I are busy preparing Thanksgiving dinner, and setting the table to share it with loved ones. We’ll remember everyone who took us into their homes and those who came to ours over the years, and be thankful for the memories. We will toast to all of you, count our blessings and give thanks for having you all in our lives.

A Thanksgiving to Remember


King cake season is over.

At midnight Tuesday February 24, the New Orleans police began its march along Bourbon Street from the uptown edge of the French Quarter. Led by fit cops riding spirited horses and the chief and his top brass on foot, the patrol cars blasted their sirens, flashed blinding red and blue lights clearing the street, and announced through its loudspeakers that the party was over, that it was time to go home or at least get indoors.

Looking like a modern version of Moses, the NOPD parted the sea of revelers revealing a sea of crap brewing and accreting in the streets, gutters and sidewalks, the garbage of Mardi Gras.

Marching right behind the police squad cars, Garbage king Sidney Torres IV riding a festooned garbage truck led the krewe of Sanitation parade as Bourbon Street was swept, scrubbed and rinsed so the dawning of Ash Wednesday would not see any traces of excess, sin and debauchery.

The city no longer weighs the Mardi Gras garbage to assess the financial success of Mardi Gras to discourage alcohol induced organized littering. But a mega success it was. Crowds matched the pre Katrina levels.

It was a gorgeous day, with blue skies, and warm weather.

Meanwhile, one week into Lent, we returned to our weekly tango night and were pleasantly surprised by the return of Jonathan, our favorite bartender back from training with the National Guard. We also continue to suffer from a shortage of decent male dancers, a curiosity phenomenon associated with the city I was told, something to do with Southern men laziness and sleaziness, I couldn’t catch the slurred phrase coming out of a sazerac sipping local’s lips.

I have long stopped worrying about those who don’t come since I began to pay attention to the quality of my dances with arguably the best tango dancers in the city. There I was feeling like a fox in a chicken coop sharing tandas after tandas with Valorie, Patricia, Linda, Jessica, Graciela… Contrary to traveling teachers or mail order “nuevo” acrobats, I have the satisfaction of having had an important hand in brigning up these ladies to the superb level they occupy. It’s like cooking with fresh herbs grown outside your window. It’s only fair that I love going dancing to Le Phare.

WE DO THE FAT TUESDAY   Leave a comment

The Rex Procession has been the highlight of Mardi Gras day since the Rex Organization was formed and first paraded in 1872. While there had been celebrations in many forms on Mardi Gras before that time, the Rex Parade gave a brilliant daytime focus to the festivities, and provided a perfect opportunity for Rex, King of Carnival, to greet his city and his subjects. The Rex Procession today is true to the long tradition of rich themes, elegant design, and floats built with traditional materials and designs. Most of Rex’s floats are built on old wooden wagons with wood-spoked wheels. In recent years the theme and design of the parade have been suggested in advance of the parade with the publication of Parade Bulletins, designed to give the public a glimpse of what will roll from the Rex Den on Mardi Gras day.

Themes for the Rex Parade historically have been inspired by the worlds of mythology, art, literature, and history, and draw on the rich images of ancient cultures and faraway lands.

The 2009 Parade Theme, “Spirits of Spring,” is true to that tradition. As New Orleans continues its process of renewal and rebirth, the 2009 Rex Procession illustrates the universal appeal of that theme, with beautiful images of Springtime and renewal. From Persephone to Poseidon to Eostre, ancient cultures created legends, myths, and festivals celebrating the arrival of Spring after the harsh winter. Flowers, butterflies, and bears awakening from hibernation—all are portrayed in this tribute to the renewing joys of Spring.

Our first order of the day is to pick a costume we will wear all day, then we head downtown to catch the end of the Rex parade on Canal Street and finally we walk around the French Quarter heading to our lunch destination at Pere Antoine on the corner of St. Ann and Royal. This year we have seen the crowds reach the level we were used to before Katrina. The sun reigned the entire day and we lived to do the Fat Tuesday once more.

Mardi Gras and the Rex parade

CARNAVAL   Leave a comment

The celebrations of Carnaval began last night. In Buenos Aires 30 streets around the city were blocked so more than 30 corsos could take place every weekend until the end of February, Saturdays from 7pm – 2 am and Sundays from 7 pm to midnight. A corso is a carnival foot parade. More than 105 murgas with more than 17,000 members were chosen in pre carnaval competitions by panel of experts in music, wardrobe, dance and larger than life dolls and puppets. A murga is not quite like a Brazilian Samba School but more like a second line parade with a script. Murga has been one of the forms of social art that more grew in Argentina,  at the greater rate than the political and economic crises.

King Momo seized again the bodies and souls of more than 17,000 people, who got the 2009 Carnival dancing and singing in 105 murgas at the 30 corsos that were organized simultaneously in different districts from all the city. With ingenious names and colors the murgas, for more than ten years considered a cultural patrimony of the city, put rhythms to the barrios.

Carnaval celebrations go all the way back to 1869. That year the first corso took place in Buenos Aires, with comparsas of black and “blackened” whites, that shone with their costumes and their rhythm, while their singing and their wild and harmonic dancing shot legs and arms into the air. The music of La cumparsita, which means a small comparsa, was originally written as a marching song for a small murga of college students in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Back in the nineteen sixties, in the city of Buenos Aires the celebration of carnaval was a time of the year to let go of inhibitions and take to the streets to dance, parade and become part of a masked crowd that moved about the city engulfed in a cacophony of drums, chants and popular tunes. It was all about coming out.

As it happened during our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, all the popular social clubs offered the possibility to dance to the greatest orchestras of that time. The announcements filled full pages in the newspapers. Posters, fliers and hand bills were all over the city walls and sidewalks. In retrospect, the choices were overwhelming. Anibal Troilo in Avellaneda at the Racing Club. Osvaldo Pugliese in Atlanta at Villa Crespo. Juan D’Arienzo at Club Atletico Boca Juniors. Carlos Di Sarli at Velez Sarfield. Francisco Canaro at the Luna Park.

Carnaval was a time for venturing out and it was the greatest time to be young and bold at the end of summer in Buenos Aires. Carnaval was a time when eyes made the first contact from behind a mask, encouraging the shy to be daring, reassuring the undecided to take a chance to openly express the feeling of attraction.

That New Orleans, the Crescent City, is part of the United States baffles a visitor’s mind. Long after the city was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase, traces of nobility, aristocracy and the diversity of races, languages and cultural traits seem to preserve the rituals of celebration of the greatest free show on earth. They call it Mardi Gras, but it is carnaval minus tango. So we take a break from the ritual of the embrace and embrace the ritual of parades.

The Krewe de Vieux rolls through the French Quarter

More photos and videos HERE

2006 Labor Day Dedadence Parade   Leave a comment

Post-Katrina Decadence Parade 2006

2002 NEW ORLEANS TANGOFEST   Leave a comment

Top-flight tango dancers from around the United States, Canada and Argentina, arrived the weekend of August 23-25 for classes, dinners, and a show that gave New Orleans a taste of Argentina, where it all began.

The three days of workshops, dancing, food and drinks, as well as various social events, culminated with the spectacular centerpiece of the three day event, a professional Tango Show, with live music, dinner and social dancing, held at the beautiful International Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel.

Headliners of the first New Orleans TangoFest were Miriam Larici, star of the Broadway show “Forever Tango,” and Hugo Patyn, of the Oscar-nominated film “Tango.” Bringing the beat for Larici and Patyn were Miguel Arrabal, Jorge Vernieri and Ramses Colon who played Argentine tango music. Completing the professional line up, were Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart, who came to New Orleans in 1999 for a teaching gig; the two never left. They danced their authentic, smooth, elegant tango as danced in Buenos Aires in the ‘40s.

Jorge Vernieri
Ranses Colon
Miguel Arrabal
Valorie Hart-Alberto Paz
Miriam Larici- Hugo Patyn
Miriam Larici- Hugo Patyn

In the tango world — which aficionados believe is a state of mind as well as a physical pastime — the time-honored method of both inviting someone to dance and accepting the request is eye contact and a head nod. This speaks highly of politeness, courtesy and above all about avoiding uncomfortable and at times embarrassing experiences.

Eye contact and a head nod won’t get you in to TangoFest,” warned the Times Picayune in their Lagniappe section, inviting people to make their reservations right away.

The Gambit Weekly‘s Frank Etheridge wrote, “It takes ‘two to tango,’ is a cliche in both meaning and use, as it can represent anything for a call to partner up in a game of bridge to a smirking reference for you-know-what. But to many, the sensuous and sultry dance is an art form, and a perfect match for the rhythm of New Orleans. Consider the popularity of Planet Tango, a local group led by Alberto Paz, a native of Argentina, and Valorie Hart, a U.S. native, that regularly brings social dances and classes to Uptown within their format of developing education on, and appreciation of, Argentine tango.

As if New Orleans isn’t hot enough in the summer, the first TangoFest generated a lot of extra heat with its three theme milongas, which started Friday night at the House of Tango in Uptown New Orleans, continued Saturday night at the International Ballroom overlooking the city lights and the Mississippi river, and ended with a bang Sunday night at Muriel’s Restaurant on historic Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter.

Opening night at the House of Tango
Opening night at the House of Tango
View of the Mississippi Dining room at the Doubletree
Dining room at the Doubletree Dining room at the Doubletree
The South Americans
Miriam, Alberto, Linda, Hugo
Alberto and Valorie
Miriam and Hugo

THROW ME AN OCHO MISTER   Leave a comment

2001 Mardi Gras Tango Odd-Essay

The year was 1718, the occasion a one way cruise; the skipper was Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville, his mate, brother Jean-Baptiste, Sieur of Bienville. The passengers included French and Canadian immigrants; whores, beggars, Indian slaves, thieves and cutthroats on leave from Parisian jails. The destination, a below sea level collection of swamps in a miserable steamy, sticky and suffocating heated bend of the Mississippi river. Starvation and deadly disease were a threat. Bienville pulled into the quay on May 7, unloaded the passengers, threw their belongings overboard and proclaimed: Welcome to the Crescent City, enjoy the Mardi Gras!

Mr. Nick of the Bywater Tango club recruiting on Royal St.

Mr. Nick of the Bywater Tango club recruiting on Royal St.

A couple of hundred years later, after being ruled by the French, the Spaniards, and finally purchased by the United States, the state of Louisiana has earned a reputation that some call European and others Third World. In particular, the city of New Orleans is recognized as the birthplace of jazz, its culinary variety and Mardi Gras.

It is said that the celebration of carnaval was imported from France as a ritual that begins on the twelfth day after Christmas and ends at midnight the day before Ash Wednesday. These dates are very familiar to Catholics although there is very little religious about Mardi Gras.

Joe Canoura and his revelers

Joe Canoura and his revelers

Some say that the Church gave up trying to fight the decadent pagan tonesof the celebrations by its faithful, and looked the other way while people went out indulging in food, drinks and other carnal excesses, so their bodies would be strong enough to endure the Lenten period of fasting and abstinence.

This is a city where the smell of crawfish boil turns more people on than Chanel #5, and where waitresses at the local sandwich shop tell customers that a “dressed” fried oyster po-boy is healthier than a Caesar salad. The major topics of conversation when you go out to eat are: restaurant meals you have had in the past, and restaurant meals you plan to have in the future. People don’t learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday.

For visitors, New Orleans is Bourbon Street, and Mardi Gras a time for housewives and coeds to expose their breasts in exchange for plastic beads. It is actually the outsiders, who for fourteen days, fill the city coffers with a cool billion dollars, litter the streets with a tonnage of garbage and convert Bourbon Street into the greatest loitering place in America. Major Mardi Gras parades have long abandoned the French Quarter because the growing size of the floats and crowds began to pose a major fire hazard. However three walking parades “roll” through the streets of the Vieux Carre, and neighboring Fauburg Marigny and the Bywater.

Members of the Follows who Lead Society

Members of the “Follows who Lead” Society

The Krewe de Vieux and the Krewe of St. Ann are for humans. The Krewe of Barkus is for all the dogs of the city (the four legged variety) and parades exclusively in the French Quarter.

The super krewes and the big parades now roll through the streets of surrounding neighborhoods, continuing a tradition that began just before the Civil War, when a secret aristocratic society of well bred white supremacist founded the Mistick Krewe of Comus for the purpose of saving the spirit of Mardi Gras, which they felt had been condemned to extinction by the idle and feckless Creole of colonial and Catholic heritage.

The old line formula has not changed a lot: a host of black men lead the parade with propane gas tanks on their backs waving flambeaux; high school marching bands; masked horseback riders and police squad cars march in between tractor pulled floats overflowing with lights. They sport giant theme figures, from mythology to Star Trek, to political satire. They are manned by masked riders wearing elaborate customs and donning titles such as kings, queens, captains, pages, marshals and throwers.

The PURPLE Ball at the Bywater

Miss Valorie, Miss Cheryl and Miss Sabina missbehaving

Miss Valorie, Miss Cheryl and Miss Sabina miss-behaving

For a first time participant, as a parade slowly rolls through streets lined with enraptured spectators, who seem capable of pushing little old ladies out of the way to catch Mardi Gras throws, one wonders if some will leave the parade with footprints on their hands. In reality, one quickly learns how to avoid catching beads with the nose, how to befriend fellow catchers, and how to go home with the booty of trinkets caught from the floats hanging around the neck.


Heels on wheels

Although the plastic beads from Taiwan, which have long replaced the original glass beads from Czechoslovakia, have no other value than that charged at the French Market or other stores along Royal and Bourbon Streets, the whole unjustifiable idea is to run beside the floats, waving hands, jumping up and down, yelling throw me something, mistah, and catching the colored beads before they hit the ground.

On Bourbon Street, after midnight and a couple of cocktails with names like hand grenades, hurricanes and goodies, young All American coeds bare their breasts in exchange for fake jewelry to the chants of go, go, go descending from the festooned balconies of the Vieux Carre. The lenses of video cameras propped high above heads and shoulders catch a glimpse of flesh.


During the ensuing months, late after midnight in the heartland of America, infomercials will peddle Mardi Gras’ Housewives and Coeds Gone Wild videos on TV with an assortment of revelers exposing their breasts. They will most certainly be followed by lunatic preachers who will inspire other freaks to come on down to New Orleans and second line their way into the parades waving flags with slogans that read Satan Rules and Jesus Judges.

Miss V sampling the Creole fare

Miss V sampling the Creole fare

Anticipating a dry season for tango dancing while everybody else was having fun, a meeting was called at a secret location somewhere in the Warehouse District on Tchoupitoulas St. for a purpose soon evident by the release of the following proclamation:


WHEREAS, Mardi Gras has cast its fun over our passionate tango nights and care usurped the place where a milonga is wont to hold its way. Now, therefore, do I deeply sympathizing with the general anxiety, deem it proper to join the Annual Festival in this goodly Crescent City and by this proclamation do command assemblage of the Krewe of the Mistickal Nights of the Tango. Given under my hand this, the 1st day of February, A.D. 2001. TANGUS.

Tangus, lord of franela and firuletes

Tangus, lord of franela and firuletes

Further, breaking all old line rules, the Krewe would not require a membership fee, would welcome people regardless of dancing style, gender, race or sexual preference, adopting the motto: Pro bono tango, be nice or leave.

The We-Can-Tango-to-anything Krewe

The “We-Can-Tango-to-Anything Krewe

And so it happened that the Krewe of the Mistickal Nights of the Tango was seen second lining at the Krewe de Vieux parade through the French Quarter on their way to the Planet Tango’s Mardi Gras Milonga at Pierre Maspero’s Restaurant. Further, masked and unmasked members of the Krewe continued their carnival celebration through the streets of New Orleans, some having been spotted at the Krewe of Barkus parade holding the leash of at least two of the eighteen hundred canines that joined that parade.

Parading on Royal St.

Parading on Royal St.

Two well known tangueros who own a self-described former flop house and bordello provided a first rate balcony party during one of the major parades. Petite tangueras with Ph.D. degrees were seen in the street shamelessly screaming
we need more beads! Soon they became unrecognizable under the weight of the tonnage of worthless and hard won baubles.

Six weeks of king cakes, Purple, Bunch and countless other balls, lots of street dancing, masking and bead collecting, finally came to an end at midnight on Fat Tuesday, as State trooper cruisers begun to clear Bourbon Street followed by the Krewe of the Sanitation Department.

Everybody has gone into fasting and abstinence to shed the extra pounds of king cake from their waistlines. There are only 50 weeks until Mardi Gras 2002 and the next meeting of the Krewe of the Mistickal Nights of the Tango.


Tangus with an attitude

Mounted Brett greeting Miss Cheryl

Brett greets Miss Cheryl

He leads, he follows, they want to have fun

He leads, he follows,


Hitching a ride


Second line: An informal parade performing impromptu dances that follows the brass bands and floats.
Crawfish: One of the year’s four seasons. The rest are, Shrimp, Crab and King Cake.
Tchopitulas: A word New Orleanians can pronounce, but can’t spell.
Po-boy: A sandwich judged by the number of napkins used.

2000 UNA NOCHE DE GARUFA   Leave a comment

The city of New Orleans shares an uncanny resemblance to another port city colonized by the Spaniards, culturally influenced by the French, and originally created to serve as a human dumping ground for the most undesirable characters from the Old Continent.

Settled on the banks of a mighty river, the blueprints called for a Cathedral and the Cabildo circling the central square. Today, New Orleans is without a doubt the most authentic European city in the United States. Buenos Aires continues to be the most European city in South America.

From the late nineteenth century settlements of Buenos Aires, the tango emerged as the dance and music of the disenfranchised lower class and in a little over one century it has become an international ambassador for the cult of the human embrace.

The dance floor at Pierre Maspero

We first visited the Crescent City in October 1999 invited by Casa Argentina of New Orleans to teach a four day Argentine tango workshop to about twenty couples. Actually it was Sabina_Nola (an e-mail handle at the time) who had originally asked the proverbial question, “when are you coming to New Orleans,” after she had missed us in San Francisco while visiting California. When she approached the Casa Argentina, the task to host us, promote us and introduce us to the local dancers fell upon a couple of Ecuadorians who were  having dances in Metairie, just outside the Parish limits.

An amused group watching a tango exhibition

Barely a couple of years old, tango in New Orleans had been quietly practiced in a downtown cabaret and at a quiet suburban studio fifteen minutes away. We remember getting the impression that these were two groups separated by a common passion (and a stretch of Interstate 10).

Performance by Gary and Phyllis with Alberto and Valorie

On December 29, 2000, six months after we had moved to the  Crescent City, we wanted to share with our new tango friends a taste of the good tango life that lies ahead.

So, we gathered in the heart of the French Quarter for a night of “garufa,” a night of partying the tango way, a night to thank and be thankful for the renovated spirit of friendship, camaraderie and unselfish love of the tango.


Sabina on the left and Robin on the right flank one of the group tables

The location was the second floor room of a nearly two-hundred year old restaurant, which was smartly decorated with garlands, Christmas lights, multicolored ribbons, votive candles and freshly cut flowers.

Gwen, Aaron, Linda and friend

Four round tables were set around the dance floor, each one with centerpieces topped with candelabra and individual flower vases. The open bar began serving the first arrivals at 9 PM as they gathered to greet each other, their lively conversation leading to a delicious dinner which included paella, salmon, shrimp pasta, Caesar salad and a delicious bread pudding for dessert.

Eddie, Alberto and Valorie

The evening stretched into the first hours of the morning when the last couple literally dragged their happily tired feet off the floor and marched, with the reverberation of the sounds of legendary orchestras in their hearts, into the misty gray halo that wraps around the colonial street lamps.