Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buenos Aires: Fact and Fiction Part I - 2007

Everyone I've talked to who have gone to Buenos Aires has their own "expert" opinion on what it is really like. Things that we have heard from others and read on the internet influenced the way we prepared for our trip and predisposed us to view the city and our experiences in certain ways. This is something I wrote right after our first trip to Buenos Aires in 2007 to dispell or confirm some of the things we had heard prior to our trip:


Man Yung and I have been thinking a lot about our experiences in Bs As and what we had read or found out from people about the city and about tango before our trip, and we are trying to sort out what is fiction and what turned out to be fact. This is an interesting preliminary list, maybe we'll have it published one day for the edification of the public?

1. Fiction?: You won't get invited to dance if you go to a milonga as couple.

Fact: Not entirely true if you go to milongas that are more couple-oriented and traditional. In a lot of the downtown milongas where singles from all over the world flock, or other some other downtown milongas like El Arranque on certain days and times where as Martha Anton puts it: "Man Looking for Woman, Woman Looking for Man", people in couples will usually not get invited and will usually be presented the worst tables behind the singles by the host. However, in the traditional milongas on the outskirts of town where there are less tourists and more local neighbourhood couples, if you fit into the culture of that particular milonga: i.e. you are not showing off the latest nuevo tango moves, you are dancing to the music rather than in the cosmic "show tango" non-groove, and you act friendly to the locals - there is a high chance you will be asked by the other local couples to dance. Conversely, it may be very hard for singles to get dances at these places.

2. Fiction?: Argentinians are never on time.

Fact: We have met Argentinians that were not on time: One guy said he may meet us on Monday at the Camicando festival and he didn't show up. We had totally given up on him, and then he showed up on Friday at the closing milonga of Camicando with a copy of the DVD of the documentary "Susana Pial Tango" that we wanted to get from him. That makes him FOUR days late.

However, some Argentinians are on time. In a scary way. Martha and Manolo said they would meet us at our hotel at 6 p.m., then Martha called and said she may be 30 minutes late, and then M&M showed up right at 6 p.m. which sent us scrambling to get dressed and ready to meet her in the lobby. And they were at every class and seminar at least 10 to 15 minutes early. And when Alberto asked me to call him on Tuesday at noon, I called him at 12:05 and he picked up the phone after merely one ring, which made me think the horrifying thought: "He is waiting right by the phone for my call" (Thank GOD I didn't listen to Man Yung who said "Oh, he's argentinian and it'll be perfectly fine if we called him at 12:20 or 12:30") And when we said we'll meet him for dinner on Thursday at 11 p.m., he shows up at 10:50 p.m.

Some argentinians are late, and some are on time or even early, but that's the same for the chinese and probably for other cultures too. So it really depends on which Argentinian.

3. Fiction?: Argentinian men don't kiss each other and/or Argentinians will only kiss you on one cheek.

Fact: We were told the first fiction by an Argentinian who lives in Toronto. What we found out was Argentinian men do kiss each other in greeting, it's just that the Argentinian in Toronto that misinformed us didn't want random men to kiss him!

We were told the second part of the fiction by a Toronto "instructor" who has travelled to Buenos Aires each year for years. What we found out was usually Argentinians who don't know you well or don't like you too much yet will kiss you on one cheek for a greeting, but if they really really like you, they will kiss you on both cheeks and if you are really special those kisses will be pretty WET. :P

I guess this instructor only got one kiss because he didn't really hang around people who particularly liked him?

4. Fiction?: The standard of dancing in Bs As is not very high (Can you believe someone actually said this? We heard this from Toronto instructors who travelled there around the same time we were there).

Fact: The standard of dancing in Bs As is very high. The standard is only not high if you go to the places with a large percentage of tourists (most of the downtown nighttime milongas), in which case you will get a fluctuating level that varies from "Montreal" level of dancing to "Jerk and Spasm" level of dancing. The last time we checked Buenos Aires still has the best tango dancers in the world!

5. Fiction?: Is this Villa Urquiza, or not?

Fact: Apparently these are NOT Villa Urquiza: Any of the Misse Family. Geraldine and Javier are pretty much straying from the style too [In late 2007 Geraldine actually comes out to state that tango is tango and there's no particular Villa Urquiza or whatever style in Chicago's Tango Noticias magazine], although that doesn't mean that they aren't terrific dancers. Roberto Herrera is not Villa Urquiza, and I would say that the Zottos are more influenced by Antonio Todaro. Who is "Villa Urquiza": El Chino Perico, Portalea, Fino Rivero, Alberto Dassieu, and others of the same generation. Anyway, the name of "Villa Urquiza" has been so misappropriated by various foreign tango professionals and by YouTube that when Alberto said he danced Villa Urquiza style my response was "??!!!?" I've got to engage in a longer conversation with Alberto to really understand what the style is, but from what I have learned from him, the style connotes a certain elegance of walking and moving and a way of being "bien parado", and also dancing with sentiment in the music that goes beyond steps or adornments. Right now Villa Urquiza seems to be mean the man dances with his back really straight with lots of giros and enrosques and the woman dances with lots of adornments and her butt sticking out - look at any video of Fabian Peralta and his partners, or Javier and Andrea, or Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo - in some dictionaries that's "Villa Urquiza" but that's not what the older generation perceives it to be!

6. BONUS ROUND: Random "Warnings and dangers about Bs As":

A) Driving and particular Taxi driving. Very very scary road conditions with all the cutting in, several vehicles including buses and trucks squeezing in a two vehicle space etc. But we didn't see any accidents, although we saw a lot of cars broken down at the edge of the highway on our way to the airport - about 7 or 8 cars.

B) Dripping water from above, everywhere, all the time. When it's not raining. Is it from air conditioners? Or from high rise septic systems? Don't want to think about it, but certainly I got dripped on at least twice a day.

C) Air Pollution: Weekdays the air is totally disgusting, with a lot of buses belching out thick black smoke.

D) Not so scary: Dog poop. There were some but I think Paris is much worse in terms of "Will I step in one". The dog walkers are really responsible (poop scoop in hand) and the dogs were friendly!

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