Monday, January 26, 2009

Chinese Astrology



Chinese New Year is today! This year is "The Year of the Ox".

We have posted some information on the different signs in Chinese astrology above - for the many people who are intrigued by this part of our culture.

Like western astrology, one part of Chinese astrology also deals with predictions about compatibility between people on the basis of their astrological signs. For example, some astrologers may consider that it alright for women born under the sign of the Rabbit to marry a man born under the sign of the Tiger, but a terrible idea if the man is a Rabbit and the woman is a Tiger (to heck with women's lib), and people born under Ox, Horse and Sheep make great friends, etc. etc.

The following list of random Chinese sayings and quotations will give you a good sense of traditional conventional chinese wisdom about relationships between astrological signs (one caveat: not meant to be at all a guide for choosing dance partners in a milonga!)

Riding the cow/Ox to look for the Horse (When a person settles for a less than ideal partner/job etc. in the meantime and continues to keep an eye out for something better. Kind of like that boyfriend whom you suspected never really loved you and broke up with you once he got his claws on the Miss Canada candidate with the IQ of 180, six-figure income and parents who were loaded)

A tureen of Snake and Rat soup (Unsavoury persons have a way of finding other unsavoury persons to hang out with. Sometimes they even form criminal (or tango) associations!)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Some people have awesome hidden talents. Just like in the Ang Lee movie. However, I'm not talking about those leaders who are flinging their partners right and left regardless of others on the dance floor because they think they deserve to perform in their own tango show right in the middle of the milonga)

Dragon conflict, Tiger battle (A huge fight. Kindly of like what would happen if the said above "hidden talent" leaders manage, in the midst of their milonga antics, to fling their partner into Man Yung and his partner on the dance floor)

Tiger head, Snake Tail ("All talk and no walk". "Looks good but not real good". "Hey, great resume - too bad about the sucky dancing")

Chicken fly, Dog run (Happens when everyone is running for the exits in a state of confusion. Can potentially happen at an opening of a Durian)

When one person gets a promotion, the Chicken and Dog rise to the heavens (When one person rises up in life, he or she will naturally help his or her friends and associates to ascend the ladder of success with them - regardless of actual merit or talent.)

Dog and Chicken work (A hard and difficult task. As in "trying to write down this list in a coherent and cohesive manner while Man Yung is brainstorming away at breakneak speed is Dog and Chicken work")

Ox head Horse face (These traditional Chinese guardians of hell may suddenly materialize to "escort" stubborn souls into Tango Hell)

The Tiger in the flock of Sheep (Mutton tartare, anyone?)

Hungry Tiger catch the Sheep (How about rack of Mutton?)

Sending the Sheep into the Tiger's mouth (I think you have already got the general idea behind this)

Die Rabbit stew Dog (The massacre of devoted but foolish followers. Once the ambitious attain their lofty goals of power, they often turn around to slaughter their loyal followers who enabled and assisted them. Happened famously in the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Happened with the followers of Chairman Mao. I dare say, it is even happening with Fabio - he leaves a trail of broken hearts, mangled self-esteems and emptied wallets wherever he goes)

Pig comrade Dog friend (The kind of "chums" you can't depend on - isn't it funny that deep down, you suspect that all your friends are kind of like that?)

Dragon and Snake mixed together (Another delicious traditional chinese delicacy - see "Rat and Snake soup" above)

Good vitality like Dragon and Horse ("Wow, he has been galloping around the milonga non-stop for four hours!" "Well, he must have good vitality like Dragon and Horse!")

Better to be a Chicken's mouth than an Ox's ass (A word of conventional Toronto wisdom: Isn't it much better be a reknowned and celebrated "Toronto Tango Instructor" than a no-body in Buenos Aires?)

Marry Chicken, follow Chicken; Marry Dog, follow Dog (Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky as to end up with a gem like Man Yung.)

Snake head Rat face (Describes someone with inauspicious appearance and shady character. But if that person is a Fabio, women will still line up around the block for a chance to dance with him!)

Monkey riding the Horse (Describes someone getting a promotion and raise. But the real question is, what does it mean when the Monkey is riding the Ox to look for the Horse while the Chicken and Dog rise to the heavens? I leave you to ponder that question)

Work like Ox, work like Horse (Hey, do you realize that writing this list is no walk in the park?)

Agitation like Dog and Chicken (Restlessness, nervousness and anxiety. Happens when people are not dancing for themselves but always thinking what people will think of their dancing. Loosen up! You shouldn't dance Tango to prove anything to anybody. If you are, there's obviously something deficient in your self-esteem)

Monkey head Pig brain (Looks smart but not really smart. Just shows that you've got to beware of advice from any so-called "Tango Expert")

BONUS ROUND: Special Ox sayings for the Ox New Year:

Ox eating the peony (Obviously, to him it's just another piece of grass)

Playing piano for the Ox (What exquisite Mozart! But to no avail - the Ox is busy chewing his cud)

Ox's neck temperament (Stubborn old Ox, all those lessons in the Julliard were all in vain)

Like a mud Ox submerged in the sea (The sensation that a Follower gets when a Leader's leading dissolves into blurry nothingness)

And finally....

Happy New Year, Kung Hei Fat Choy (Welcome Good Fortune!) - May your luck reach from the earth to the Ox constellation!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Toronto Blackout

There was a massive blackout in Toronto last week. 22,000 people were left without electricity and HEAT on some of the coldest nights this winter in Toronto's west end. Here's a photo from the CTV.ca website showing the extent of the area affected:


Aerial view of Toronto 2009 blackout

And right smack in the middle of it was our favourite milonga with the BEST MUSIC IN TORONTO (my apologies to all you other venues making this advertising claim - you simply haven't convinced me otherwise. Write to me and I can tell you exactly why).

So obviously, no tango on Friday night. So what to do with so much free time?

We break out the knitting. More precisely, the Alice Starmore designed "Mary Tudor" sweater I have been working on since........ 2004:


I have been crawling at a snail's pace on this project, when I used to be able to finish a sweater in a month or two. Man Yung has been nagging me and nagging me (and nagging me) to finish this sweater, but there's something incompatible between complex Fair Isle knitting and having to prepare oneself mentally for courses on the postmodern aspects of "Pain". Since that's all done (FOREVER. Yeah!), it's back to the knitting - I've only got one sleeve left, and I managed to accomplish about 15 rows while Man Yung channel-surfed.


Let me make an analogy for you: Fair Isle knitting (knitting with two strands of colour at the same time - typical of the Fair Isles in the north of the United Kingdom, and encompasing some kinds of Scandinavian knitting as well), Aran/Guernsey knitting (fishermen's sweaters - knitting with one colour with cables and repetitive stitch patterns) and Lace knitting are to traditional knitting like Milonguero style, Tango Salon and Tango Fantasia are to traditional Tango. Designs by designers like Alice Starmore, Ann Feitelsen, Gladys Thompson, Solveig Hisdal, in particular, will enable you to create heirloom sweaters that will be classics for ever - you won't be ashamed to pass these to the next generation! If you haven't tried one or all of these knitting styles, all you are doing some sort of trendy knitting easily encapsulated by the latest edition of "Vogue Knitting". Nice for a season or two, but not keepers. For me, if I'm going to do knitting like this I might as well buy my knits at the store - they can mass produce lots of them cheaply using machines.

Here's a shot of the floating strands on the inside of sweater - while one colour is being knitted in the front, the free strand "floats" behind it, creating a reverse colour pattern on the inside of the sweater:


One feature of the wool used for traditional fair isle knitting is that it sticks together and won't unravel easily. Part of the technique is to create "steeks" - and CUT through the centre of the steeks, like for the front band, and then knit up at the edge of the steek. It is not really as scary as it sounds:

Here's the front band from the front:


Eventually (hopefully sometime this lifetime) I'll end up with a sweater that looks like this:


If you aren't dancing tango right now and you want to gawk at more knitting, go to Wendy Knits - a fabulous traditional knitter with photos of all her finished works. Alice Starmore's website is another great resource.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spanish for Dummies

I think it's incredible that some people can pick up languages just like that - and be fluent in like three, or four, or twenty different languages all at once.

In any case, I think most people are like me - distinguished more by their ineptitude rather than aptitude - when it comes to languages. I spent seven consecutive years at school taking courses in French, I've lived in Paris for two whole months - and still I can still mess up the verb conjugation for (or perhaps totally forget how to say) the simple question: "Ou sont les toilettes?"

However, I can communicate in Spanish! And I have never taken any proper classes, whether at the local community college/university/spanish centre. It could be that the Argentinians I communicated with were incredibly kind and forgiving and willing to make an effort to try to understand what I'm saying despite my complete mangling of the language...*

Or could it be the Pimsleur? We've been to Buenos Aires twice without having to resort to interpreters or having to follow any tango tour. I've had no problem getting by without having to speak in English, and sometimes I've even had interesting conversations with Portenos!

While there's nothing like living in Argentina for months and months and getting a Spanish tutor (As if!! we can all be so lucky and live off a trust fund) for Spanish language fluency, here's some of my no-fuss, minimal effort recommendations for getting up to speed in Spanish, by yourself, on the fly:

1. Rosetta Stone

This is just like the "flash card" method of language learning - but better, because you are forced to interact with the flash cards in multiple ways to test your listening and reading comprehension. You can also learn how to write some Spanish by regurgitating the tags on the flash card at the prompt. There's also a voice recognition part that assesses the accuracy of your accent. That was very handy. The first time I was forced to speak in spanish I was told that although what I said made no sense and was grammatically incorrect, it was just plain amazing that I had absolutely no "gringo" accent at all! I spoke like a native spanish speaker (some hinted from Miami) except the words were all in the wrong order.

That's the thing with Rosetta. You get to learn a lot of vocabulary. And it's never boring because after a while you are like Pavlov's dog, addicted to doing more lessons because clicking on the correct responses gives you the "smiley face" and "bell of approval" - but teaching you how to put the vocab together in grammatical sentences is not Rosetta's strong point. Still, I learned lots of words and learned to pronounce PERFECTLY - because if I didn't, the indicator arrow for the voice recognition will stay in the red danger zone. No-one wants a glaring, flashing red reminder of suckiness - give me the "Green Light" and "Smiley Face" any day!

2. Pimsleur Spanish

This is so great - the favourite of all my Spanish learning aids. There are three levels with 30 half-hour lessons each, plus an "Advanced" level with an additional 10 lessons. Just pop a CD in the car (or play one of the lessons onyour mp3 player) on your commute and you are literally brainwashed into learning Spanish. In a creepy, hypnotic way, the knowledge just seeps into your brain as you are interrogated into responding in Spanish by the speakers in each lesson. The vocabulary is not extensive but you will get an innate and natural feel for grammar and sentence construction. You will start speaking and understanding spanish without thinking or translating into English first. Pimsleur Spanish complements Rosetta Stone very well in this respect.

3. Margarita Madrigal's "Magic Key to Spanish"

Magic Key indeed. If Rosetta Stone is for vocabulary, Pimsleur is for speech, Madrigal explains to you how it all works and ties it all together. You will get enough grammar to get by in day-to-day situations, presented in ways that are simple to understand and remember. With illustrations by Andy Warhol. All for $10.36! A steal.

4. Joseph J. Keenan's "Breaking out of Beginner's Spanish"

Hillarious and entertaining book. You will avoid some of the most common pitfalls in Spanish if you take Keenan's advice to heart. Plus a great big chapter on swear words and situation-appropriate insults.

5. Destinos: An introduction to Spanish

The haircuts and fashions are so eighties, but production values on this 52 episode "Telenovela" (Soap opera) Spanish learning video series are high and this is just a great (free) way to immerse yourself in the language. Bonus: Not only does the heroine meet a rich, handsome ARGENTINIAN who dances tango, he falls head over heels in love with her and decides to abandon his psychiatry practice so that he can move to California to be with his beloved! (Almost) every tanguera's secret fantasy.

6. Harry Potter

The best way to learn Spanish is just to STICK WITH IT. The worst way is to get bored and give up. All the language learning programs/aids I've used have had something special about them - whether it's Pavlovian conditioning, humour, hypnosis, simple memory aids or suspense/romantic fantasy - to keep the me interested and willing to stay learning. For additional practice, nothing beats the Harry Potter books - the stories are thrilling no matter what language they're in. And if you haven't read Harry Potter because you're afraid people would think you were being childish, look forward to looks of admiration when you tell them that you are reading it in SPANISH!

*In fact, Man Yung doesn't understand Spanish at all but he's had entire conversations with Argentinians in which the Argentinians spoke nothing but Spanish and he spoke nothing but Chinese and a little English.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Failsafe/Foolproof Resolutions - 2009 edition


1. Eat more frequently in bigger quantities (especially here - open until 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)
2. Exercise less. Spend more time sitting, perhaps even lying down.
3. Procrastinate more so as to experience even more stress (hey, wait a minute, isn't the Lord Denning essay due this Friday?)
4. Watch all Youtube videos of Javier Rodriguez/Geraldine Rojas/Andrea Misse and emulate every single bit of fancy footwork therein displayed sloppily and with no relation to the music.
5. Even better yet, indulge in trendy foot flexing adornments every possible second while dancing tango so your foot will always be at a 45 degree to the floor whether you are walking, doing giros, ocho cortados etc. Why keep your ankles together and your feet relaxed and on the floor when you can be permanently "kickin' it!!!!" like Elaine?

Alberto Dassieu

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