Thursday, April 3, 2008

Buenos Aires 2007 Part III


Dear Veronica,
We are finally in Bs As after all those delays! We were supposed to leave on Thursday but due to the big winter storm our flight got cancelled and we were booked for a flight on the following day. Our flight finally left on Friday, although it was a lot of suspense and anxiety and a further delay of 4 hours until the plane finally took off. It was a hassle getting to the airport too because of the freezing rain and all the traffic lights out in Scarborough.

Our flight was pretty awful, and because we had to get the last seats on both our connecting flight to Houston and to Bs As, we were stuck in the middle seat of the middle aisle for both flights. We had to wait ten hours for our flight from Houston, the airport is like a small city but there wasn´t much to do there except go to the washroom several times, eat airport fast food and buy lots of liquor (you know Man Yung) If you haven´t been there it´s quite an ugly airport, like a huge freaking warehouse where every store is selling Tommy Bahamas clothes and Native American/Texan souvenirs.

I was really tired by the time we got to Bs As (can´t really sleep well sandwiched by two unknown guys on the plane, with lots of strange smells and sounds, if you know what I mean). We arrived close to noon. It was exciting finally being in Argentina - the humidity, the warm tropical temperature and the tropical foliage we saw once we got out of the airport immediately reminded me of Hong Kong. I was also surprised at how much the buildings along the highway reminded me of Hong Kong when I lived there in the 80's - lots of dirty 60's highrise apartments with decrepid rusty balconies and impromptu shanty towns. The streets of Buenos Aires themselves are nothing like those in Toronto - everywhere there's people, and the streets are so busy, there's no area that's "more" busy than the others, because the whole city appears to be open for business.

Hotel Wilton was smaller than we had expected (it is in a very narrow building in the intersection of Callao and Santa Fe) but it is clean and has a nice lobby. You have to speak in Spanish to the staff though! I was totally exhausted when we finally checked in, but we got plenty of stuff done after taking a short nap. I already bought shoes! Three pairs of Comme Il Faut tango shoes - the store is located about 1 km from our hotel on Arenales. We were in and out in 15 minutes, you know how fast Man Yung is with shoe selection. The saleslady was very pleased, because a) we selected some really beautiful and colourful shoes and b) we knew immediately what we wanted and what we didn´t want. The store was full of ladies who were debating and struggling with which shade of black shoe or beige shoes they wanted to buy, not very exciting at all, and some of them looked like they had been agonizing over their decisions for hours. What we read on the internet about snobby service at Comme Il Faut is totally untrue - the staff was friendly and forthcoming with the shoe selection.

We had lunch in Chinatown in Belgrano, which is about a 20 minute taxi ride from our hotel along the Avenido Libertador, and got some chinese groceries. China town was really great, it has a lot of packed supermarkets selling almost the same selection of stuff as in Toronto. However, there were no accupressure slippers to be found anywhere, and actually, we didn´t even find any suitable slippers at all. Hmmmm, when we were packing I remember distinctly that Man Yung was saying, "no, don´t pack the slippers, they are taking too much space, of course we´ll be able to buy some in Bs As" But he was wrong. Now I have no slippers and my feet have not been properly massaged and they hurt :P And when we get back to the hotel Man Yung is either sleeping or in the washroom or I´m sleeping so my feet will have huge bunions when we get back :( We could have bought accupressure slippers from Crocs in the Houston airport but they cost $30 US!) How are you enjoying your slippers! Are they making the dancing aftermath better? I am really feeling the difference now I don´t have them around, god knows how my feet will survive the Canyengue festival.

We got to see a lot of the city by taxi, which is really great, but the distances between points can be very far. The driving is crazy, there is a lot of cutting in, rushing around and squeezing three cars to one lane. So far we have been able to get taxis right off the street, it´s very convenient. And we haven´t taken the subte at all.

As it was Saturday when we arrived, we called the milonga ¨Glorias Argentinas¨to reserve a table and managed to speak to Oscar Hector, the organizer. We are a big fan of his tango show Milonguisimo because we saw some video clips on YouTube. Man Yung has learned some pretty serious stuff from the few seconds he saw of the milongueros dancing in the show, the first time he saw those dancers in the show his eyes nearly popped out, they were so amazing. Anyway, the show had closed and we thought we wouldn´t have the opportunity to see the show in Bs As, but as I was talking to Oscar Hector, he told me that he was doing the show that night at Glorias Argentinas! What incredible coincidence! Needless to say we were really excited to go there.
The milonga is really far from downtown in Mataderos. The taxi driver luckily was a milonguero himself (thirty years dancing experience) and although he didn´t know the way really well, he called dispatch and we managed to find it after like a 40 minute taxi ride, in which he had to circle around some dodgy looking inner streets for the last 10 minutes of the trip. Finally, in the middle of nowhere, we found the place lighted up like a marquee in the middle of nowhere, and who was waiting at the door but Alberto Dassieu, a milonguero from the show! So the first thing I did was ask him if he was Alberto from the show and we got a warm welcome.

Glorias Argentinas is located in a "club de barrio" - it's in the room with the stage and the black and white tiled floors. There's no air conditioning but there are huge fans in every corner of the room blowing everybody's hairdo to pieces. The local people, couples frequent the milonga - it's just an ordinary night out for them to dance a little and talk and socialize with their friends. Many of them ordered dinner - sandwiches, pizzas, plates of heaping cold cuts and other fare were available from the menu. We were the only tourists there that night.

We also said hi to Oscar Hector and told him how much we loved the show and how lucky it was that we were able to catch it. What a fantastic show - Alberto Dassieu danced with Elba Biscay, Susi Tilbe danced with Horacio Prestamo (Juan Esquivel, her regular partner had to have surgery and missed this performance), Jorge Uzunian danced with Haydee Malagrino, and Oscar Hector danced with Teresita Brandon. The show consists of performances framed by the history of tango and Miguel Balbi also sang. The dancing was just fantastic, no-one in Toronto has seen anything like this (or if they did they wouldn't appreciate it anyway! Where's the smouldering looks, the flashing legs, the outfits that scream "TANGO!"???) Man Yung was so excited about it, and we had the opportunity to tape the whole show which was everything that Man Yung had dreamed and hoped. He´s going to learn a whole lot from watching the show when we get back to Toronto.

After the show we danced a little (our first dance in Argentina! Very scary, I was really nervous and didn't want to open my eyes to see all the locals giving me looks of disgust and disapproval!) and said hello to some of the dancers from the show. I got invited to dance by Alberto and Horacio from the show, and Man Yung was invited by Susi Tilbe. I am really glad I have been practicing how to dance close embrace (as much as I can anyway with Man Yung, as you know he moves a lot and he is always doing something that makes it impossible to dance close) because it was ok with the milongueros. They were both really impressed, but Man Yung lost the opportunity to tape us dancing because for one tanda he couldn´t get the camera lens to open, and the other two tandas he was dancing with Susi. people at the milonga were very nice and tolerant of the "chinese people dancing" and we got a lot of smiling faces and "Muy biens" and thumbs up from the people at the tables. And with Man Yung and his exuberant personality, he was making friends even though he wasn´t speaking the language.

Dancing with Alberto was incredible, he is really grounded and leads with his whole body. Horacio is more like Man Yung with more separation and lots of turns, but dancing with them was really great. I am still excited about it because its really a big deal to be invited to dance with them, they are well respected milongueros from a very well know traditional show and I was happy that all that crazy dancing a million steps method of Man Yung paid off when I was able to follow just about everything they were leading. I've read on the internet that couples never get invited to dance by other people if they sit together - well, that isn't true, we still got invited to dance, it was so cool.

When we left Alberto was actually so kind, he gave us a lift downtown and told us to call him on Tuesday, we are going to buy videos from him and perhaps talk to him some more. We also met his lovely wife Paulina and his partner from Milonguisimo, Elba Biscay.

Sunday is today, and we finally had a opportunity to rest up from our flight. Since we have been in Bs As it has been really tough for me, I am in full survival mode, first with anxiety about safety (in fact so far the city feels quite safe, except for the crazy driving and lack of working seatbelts in almost every taxi we have taken), and then with the trying to communicate in Spanish thing. I am getting the hang of it but then Man Yung is driving me crazy with the jokes he wants me to translate to everyone who talks to me. I am tearing my hair out just trying to remember how to say ¨where´s the bathroom¨ and he wants me to flirt with the taxi drivers in Spanish!!! So I was a nervous wreck, hopefully it will be better as I get more rested and used to speaking in Spanish.

We should tell you about our hotel. It´s pretty nice and in a really great location near Recoleta. Santa Fe Av. is really busy, with lots of great stores, and the side streets remind us a lot of the newer parts of Paris, with really great fashion stores (Of course, all closed saturday and sunday for some reason) The style is quite like rK, sexy fun and sophisticated, but I don´t know whether we´ll have any time to shop for clothes these few days. The hotel room we got is bigger than anything we´ve had in Paris or Hong Kong, and the bathroom is huge, like a cavern really - I bet you can fit twenty milonguero couples in there for a milonga :)

Oh, and we notice that our hotel room fixtures have a lot of Argentinian personality too. Everything goes with a ¨bang¨ here and acts quite temperamentally. All the faucets don´t seem to give out any water until you turn it a certain degree, and then you get the ¨Niagara Falls¨ of water which splashes so hard that the whole counter and your clothes get soaked. The toilet is another Niagara Falls, but somehow it doesn´t flush everything down after all that noise and thunder (But Man Yung just told me he´s got the hang of it, you have to press down longer and harder and create the Igazu Falls first before everything is gone hee hee!) All the wardrobe doors slam really hard when you touch them, I was always thinking while I was in the bathroom that Man Yung was throwing a temper tantrum when he was trying to close the door, and he thought that there was a hotel room invasion when I was closing the door.

Sunday morning we walked around Santa Fe avenue, looked at all the closed store windows, ate really nice pasta in a restaurant nearby (Man Yung has been really impressed with the food here so far, in the Chinese restaurant Todo Contento on saturday and in the restaurant today), bought bottled water and napkins at the supermarket and ice cream at Una Alta Volta right at the corner (Man Yung says that the ice cream at Berthillon in Paris is better, I think that the standard here is good but also agree with Man Yung). Eating ice cream here is quite a battle, I think that they deliberately put it in the cone in such a way that it melts immediately (think water fall again) and your hands are completely covered with sticky mess within the first 2 minutes.

The afternoon we spent touring around San Telmo. Very nice, although touristy, looks a lot like Montmartre, right down to the cobbled streets and street signs, except everyone speaking in Spanish. Lots of street shows, and we got to "help" with one of the tango street shows - I don´t know what it is but the performer grabbed me to dance, realized that we were good dancers and then made us perform while he went around collecting money! So that was our foray into show business in tango. We noticed that there was a lot of mate cups, hats and knives for sale at the fair, but we didn´t buy anything, maybe we will go buy some souvenirs when we have more time.

Sunday evening we met up with Martha and Manolo - we were so pleased to meet them and we had missed them so much we were kind of crying. It has been nearly a year since we spent a whole month learning from them in Toronto. They came to our hotel to pick us up and Manolo drove us to the restaurant ¨La Reina de las Empanadas¨ on Callao and B. Mitre for dinner. Manolo by the way drives very safe, he is completely different from all the crazy taxi driving we´ve experienced, all the cars are always rushing past his car in the street as he drives at 20 km/hour (Just kidding, Man Yung is sitting next to me and he says, no way, at least 40 km/hour!). Anyway, the restaurant is supposed to have the best empanadas in town, and we had some tasty Criolla style empanadas (Man Yung loves the olive surprise inside) followed by a argentine style pizza with anchovies and cheese, very delicious. The coffee and the millefeuille pastry dessert afterwards was also very good, and we got to catch up a little with M & M.
We are so happy that they are taking time from their really busy schedules to meet up with us. The Camicando festival is tomorrow and Martha was still getting last minute calls all night from people wanting to sign up last minute.

We went to the milonga Ël Pial in Flores, which is another really off the beaten path neighbourhood milonga held on Sunday. On Friday there is a more famous milonga called La Baldosa, with more tourists mainly because of YouTube, we have seen Samantha Dispari (Geraldine´s sister) and Osvaldo y Coca demonstrate there in some videoclips. Well, M & M were there last Friday and saw Bryant and Faye there. They said hello and M & M seemed quite impressed with their dancing, and Bryant had told them that we were coming to Bs As.
Like in Glorias Argentinas, we were also the only tourists and chinese people there at El Pial, and in both places I think that 99% of the people were over 45. Anyway, it was really nice to have M & M there because they were well known to the organizers. It was also really nice because some people recognized us from Glorias Argentinas and said hi to us, hee hee, and some people who complimented our dancing didn´t know M & M so it was like a funny popularity context (just joking). It was really hot there, and lots of couples dancing, it would be impossible for any people from Club Milonga to navigate the floor at either this milonga or at Glorias. The floor is quite a disaster too, really sticky wax floor on which it was impossible to pivot, I almost fell over a few places when suddenly encountering Man Yung´s foot in a parada. :P

It was so hot that the people started protesting by refusing to dance. A fight almost broke out when someone who wanted to dance was stopped by someone who wanted to protest. Susana, the organizer, had to explain to everyone that nothing can be done about the air con, it was already at maximum, so many people got fed up and left by 10 p.m. We also left quite early, we were concerned about M & M not getting enough rest for the next morning, but not before winning a bottle of Sidra (sparkling cider) at the lucky draw! Two lucky nights, we are on a winning streak!

We are preparing to go to Neo Tango to buy more shoes just before the festival tomorrow (it opens at 11 a.m.), and it´s going to be more survival tactics for me with the long long hours of classes at the festival.

This is a pretty long email, hopefully you find it entertaining and a good snapshot of what is happening. If I get another chance when the computer is free you´ll get to hear more about what is happening over the next couple of days.

Take care and we'll talk soon,
Irene

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