Chilean Chronicles, Part 85: Cafe Tortoni and Really Living

When I was growing up and Dad was feeling deep-down good, he’d rear back, slap his right knee and exclaim, “Yee-hah, this is really living!”

I felt Dad’s words tonight as he, Dunreith, Lee and I were deciding on the evening’s activities here in Buenos Aires.

Our choices were between going to Café Tortoni, the oldest café in Latin America, spending time in El Ateneo, one of the world’s greatest bookstores, or taking in one of the planet’s most intimate and passionate dance forms, the tango.

This was truly a no-lose situation.

As she has done time and again during the 15 years of our relationship, Dunreith steered me and us in the right direction.

Based on Lee’s stated goal of having ice cream for dinner and her own intention of taking in a classic café, she cast the decisive vote for us to go to Tortoni.

By this point we had already had a full and fantastic day rich in conversation and laughter and language and friendship and connection.

We had spent about an hour in a travel agency with Rosi, a Brazilian widow with long, black hair, an easy smile and an efficient manner who has been married to her second older Argentine husband for the past nine years.

Dunreith and me with Rosi, a travel agent from Brazil.

Dunreith and me with Rosi, a travel agent from Brazil.

We had had our first parillada, a heaping pile of all kinds of beef and chicken and sausage with Jenny Manrique, a Colombian journalist and friend from the Dart/Ochberg community who has been living in Buenos Aires for more than a year.

Parillada at Las Cabras restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

Parillada at Las Cabras restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

Jenny chose Las Cabras, a loud and inviting restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood with low-set red chairs and a seemingly endless supply of meat, to meet us.

Together we wiled away a good chunk of the afternoon, switching back and forth between English and Spanish while Dunreith entertained us with drawing on the paper tablecloth. (Among others, I had the words, “Jeff”, “marido”, “hombre”, “funny” and “broma” directed at me.)
After all the eating, we didn’t need much more food for the evening.

Dad and Jenny Manrique talk outside a school in the Palermo neighborhood.

Dad and Jenny Manrique talk outside a school in the Palermo neighborhood.

Dunreith’s suggestion moved us toward the single place in Buenos Aires that friend and Chilean guide Alejandra Matus said we couldn’t miss.

A short cab ride later, we were outside the fabled establishment.

It didn’t disappoint.

Everything about “Tortoni,” as the tuxedo-wearing waiters called it, oozed class, Old World charm and Argentine swagger.

The high ceilings, much of which is covered with the original stain glass from when the café opened in 1858.

The circular marble tables.

Art work at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in Latin America.

Art work at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in Latin America.

The combination of artwork, artifacts like spoons, photographs and tributes to the place that lined the walls and filled the cabinets that were in nooks and crannies all over the place.
The dark wood that framed the main room and the circular burgundy pillars that held it up.

A picture and three spoons inside a glass case at Cafe Tortoni.

A picture and three spoons inside a glass case at Cafe Tortoni.

The busts of legendary authors Jorge Luis Borges and Luigi Pirandello.

The coner table that is permanently occupied by wax statues of Borges, “King of Tango” singer/songwriter Carlos Gardel and poet Alfonsina Storni.

Permanent customers in the corner of Cafe Tortoni.

Permanent customers in the corner of Cafe Tortoni.

The bustle of the wait staff and the unhurried way they waited for us to work our way through our decision about what to drink and eat.

The pleased, but unsurprised smile on the lips of the stocky man with a purple tie and thick mustache who stood near the entrance to the tango room when I told him what Alejandra had said.

The intimate and utterly absorbed conversations between well-turned out friends and family.

A timeless conversation at Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires.

A timeless conversation at Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires.

Dunreith and Lee each ordered dulce de leche ice cream, along with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, respectively. Both of them and Dad had a decaf cortado.

Dunreith and Lee tucking into a dinner of ice cream t Cafe Tortoni.

Dunreith and Lee tucking into a dinner of ice cream t Cafe Tortoni.

We all sat and talked and marveled at our fortune at being alive and with each other.

I didn’t slap my knee and called out as Dad used to do when Mike, Jon and I were young.

But I did reflect how the past few 18 months have been filled with one expansive and dream fulfilling experience after the next.

Together Dunreith and I have both moved forward together into uncharted territory and back into sharing and weaving with our existing community and family what we have learned and seen.

That process has only accelerated since Dunreith and I boarded a plane in mid-July and flew to Santiago.

We have tickets to fly home to Chicago two months from today.

Plenty more adventures await before then.

Uruguay tomorrow morning.

Tango or El Ateneo tomorrow night.

We’re really living.

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