In Buenos Aires, nights out start with pre-drinks or "previa" at 1am

Elizabeth Yentumi on nightlife in Argentina, which differs from the UK on more than just the time.

One of the most well known aspects of Buenos Aires is the buzzing nightlife scene. While I’ve never been a club-hopper, something which has always threatened to undermine my student status, I do enjoy the occasional night out and love to dance to anything with a beat. My debut into Buenos Aires clubbing was quite the experience.

Many similarities exist between the standard British night out and its Argentine counterpart. First of all there is the customary pre-drinks or ‘previa’ which serves not only as a fun social prelude to the evening but also provides slight economic relief in the face of increasing nightclub drinks prices. The main difference lay in the fact that the gathering I found myself at began at the horrifying time of 1 am. Three hours later I tried to explain to a group of spirited, stylish portenas (Buenos Aires natives) that by this time in the UK I would have spent a respectable four hours on the dance floor and would be contemplating my journey home and the leftovers I would gorge on before running into the open arms of my bed. This was received with incredulous stares, a few snorts and a ‘Che boluda! Ya no empezó la noche!’ meaning ‘Mate, the night has only just begun.’

It’s now 4.15am. I tried to hide my fatigue and restlessness to get to the boliche, nightclub, while the girls continued to ply me with Argentine mainstay Fernet, an amaro or bitter spirit. Type Fernet into Wikipedia to see a full list of the ingredients to get an idea of this strange, new herb-filled drink. I may like it now but my facial expression after that first sip bore an uncanny resemblance to the look I gave my Grandma after a spoonful of cod liver oil when I was 5 years old. The taste wasn’t far off either. Sadly I couldn’t hide my expression as quickly as I had hoped. We finally arrived at the nightclub by taxi at 4.45am (not that I was aware of this).

Other similarities between UK clubs and Argentine ones include long queues of scantily clad girls teetering on heels, higher entrance fees for men and drinks deals for guests who arrive before a certain time. The real difference, however, can be found on the dance floor. A rhythmic and lively genre of music called Cumbia is played in addition to the popular UK and US chart music we’re used to. Originally enjoyed in the 90s by lower classes and pinched from the Caribbean coast of Columbia about 50 years before, the songs are a fusion of West African beats, Spanish guitars and various Argentine folkloric influences like cuarteto. What this somewhat incomplete definition really means is that people can shake, shimmy and let loose a bit more than when dancing along to the faster, static beats of pop music.

Cumbia also encourages dancing in partners, which is not only good, quasi old-fashioned fun and a bit like a salsa class with tipsy students but also an ‘efficient’ way for a guy to initiate conversation with a girl. Imagine a Latin American Grease. On the practical side, if you don’t dance energetically it doesn’t look as though you aren’t enjoying yourself; just that you are ‘feeling’ the beat. The relaxed vibe allows Argentinians to party until long past dawn. And if staying out until 8am wasn’t enough, why don’t we add a spot of breakfast before we go home? Personally, I was proud of the 6.30am end to my night, although it was slightly undermined when my friends, who I realised were far from quitting the dance floor, made me promise I wouldn’t go home so ‘temprano’ again. A poor show from the British girl who claimed to have a passion for dancing. I made it until 6.55am the next time. I can’t quite hear your applause...

Some things don't change no matter where you are in the world. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism