Article from Los Angeles Times

'Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien: A Yanqui's Missteps in Argentina' by Brian Winter


An American discovers modern Argentina -- and the tango.

By Karla Starr

March 30, 2008

Long After Midnight

at the Niño Bien

A Yanqui's Missteps in Argentina

Brian Winter

PublicAffairs: 252 pp., $24.95

expat life turns the immigrant story on its head, plopping our
sympathetic, cultural curiosity into an exotic locale-as-playground.
Since Argentina's currency devaluation in early 2002, Americans have
fled to Buenos Aires -- exotic, beautiful and relatively cheap --
following the story lines of '20s Paris or Prague in this decade.
Arthur Phillips' novel "Prague" offers a glimpse into a relatively
spoiled expat subculture in the Czech Republic's capital city that
feeds off undervalued currency, enacting melodramas of the leisure
class amid political turmoil.

Fortunately, such solipsism is
absent from Brian Winter's memoir, "Long After Midnight at the Niño
Bien: A Yanqui's Missteps in Argentina." The Texan had good timing.
With a semester in Spain under his belt, the college graduate moved to
Buenos Aires in 2000, well before the influx of expats. After a few
weeks spent wandering and learning about the country's history, Winter
was invited to the Niño Bien, a milonga (tango dance hall), where he meets many of the porteños (Buenos Aires residents) in this story.

tango is the lens through which we see such characters as Johnny Walker
Black Label fanatic "El Tigre," a former sailor who danced with Madonna
during the filming of "Evita," and the daintily tattooed red-haired
tango teacher Mariela. Winter sets their personal woes and life
experiences within Argentina's complex history, making their situations
drip with meaning.

Winter quickly found work reporting for the
Reuters news agency just as the economic crisis of 2001 was unfolding.
It turned Buenos Aires into, among other things, a "city of lines," in
which residents waited to withdraw their life savings from banks. He
depicts it all: the city's famed architecture, why Eva Perón was so
loved and just what happened to Buenos Aires' once-large black
population. He finds remnants of past crises in old currency -- australes, pesos, "nuevos pesos"
-- that give an antique market the feel of a "museum of past failures."
But always he returns to the tango. "[J]ust as the country endures its
most terrible crisis . . . people are rediscovering the tango," insists
Luis, owner of the Niño Bien.

The tango may be a needed filter
in discussing Argentina's endless lists of coups and failed starts, but
after an entertaining overview of President Juan Perón, Winter's
comment that the leader "had a tango singer's flair" feels predictable.
Yet his discussion of this "Enron of countries," synonymous with
corruption and mismanagement, and his portrayal of its people's
unshakable melancholy is so vivid it begs for expansion.

now an editor at USA Today, is funniest and most direct when mocking
himself, as when he unwittingly asks an elderly woman in Spanish
whether he can do something unmentionable to a bus, takes tango lessons
in, of all places, the city's Armenian cultural center or later, in
Mexico City, describes himself as "the most grotesque creature
imaginable -- a Texan with an Argentine accent." *