December 03, 2009

Whether she’s living in Egypt, China, Japan, or New York, peripatetic author and dancer Patrizia Chen knows how to tap into a new culture. T+L talks with the Italian-born writer—whose recent novel, It Takes Two (Scribner, $25), explores the passionate tango subculture of Buenos Aires—about feeling at home anywhere.

Q: Your book really captures the essence of Buenos Aires. How did you become so familiar with the city?

A: Whenever I’m there to dance, I seek out authentic experiences—opting to tango at the neighborhood milonga (dance hall), El Viejo Correo, over touristy spots, for example, or joining porteños on trips to the Tigre Delta.

Q: How have you connected with other places?

A: Similarly, by finding a community. In Japan, I got involved in ikebana—floral arrangement—through the Sogetsu Foundation (sogetsu.or.jp). As a girl in Cairo, I became friendly with a fabric merchant in the Al-Mouski Bazaar. Soon I was helping Egyptian women choose material for their party dresses.

Q: Any other tips for living like a local?

A: Walk everywhere; you’ll get to know the city inside and out. And consider renting an apartment so you can cook with market-fresh ingredients. A great agency for finding a place in Buenos Aires is Buenos Aires Housing (buenosaireshousing.com.ar).

El Viejo Correo

Located on the Parque Centenario, this authentic, neighborhood milonga that is very much not oriented towards tourists features one large tango patio on a black and white checkered tile floor. The decidedly gritty space with a max capacity of 400 fills up with loyal Porteños who come regularly, making the 20 year old spot one of the city’s most traditional tango destinations. Different organizers set up a different milonga on different days of the week, each lending a slightly different style and attracting patrons of varying skill sets.

Al-Mouski Bazaar

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