Friday, March 13, 2009

If there's ever a milonga to be found in HELL... it would be brought to you, lovingly, by Monday's GRICEL

Thank you to Cherie, Debbie and Janis for your comments on my previous post. We always appreciate comments on our posts. We can never be certain whether our perspective is right or wrong - we can only be certain that what we write is coming from our own experience - so we welcome different perspectives on the same issue.

Our previous post on GRICEL (Mondays ONLY - we have heard that GRICEL on other nights are wonderful) was based on experiences over two Mondays. These are our observations of the venue, the people and the atmosphere in general:

1. The music at GRICEL Mondays is neither better nor worse than the other places we have been with a lot of tourists, i.e. Centro Region Leonesa (any night), El Beso (any night), La Baldosa. The sound system is better than Leonesa, but worse than El Beso.

2. Some of the waitstaff work at the other venues. We saw one waitress from GRICEL at Lo de Celia on another night. They are professional and courteous, and they do their best under the very difficult circumstances where there are lots of people and lots of people not speaking Spanish.

3. Air circulation in GRICEL is poor. There's only one visible air conditioning machine by the entrance, and the air in any of the areas outside the five metre range of the air con gets stuffy and hot. Condensation from the system drips down at odd places, disturbing some of the patrons. Contrast GRICEL with a modest milonga like FULGOR DE VILLA CRESPO - FULGOR has about 1/3 of the space but two air conditioners of the same size as GRICEL, and the air inside the venue is always fresh and cool.

4. GRICEL Mondays is crowded. The floor is a disaster zone - the crowded conditions and the almost universal disregard for navigation make it the place with the most bumping per square inch we have encountered in Buenos Aires (we qualify this by saying that we have not been to LA VIRUTA, PORTENO y BAILARIN, or PLAZA BOHEMIA this time). In fact, the crowded conditions and the poor quality of many of the dancers aggravate the bumping, in that people get caught in the milonga version of "road rage" - pushing and shoving past one another with no sense of respect or decorum. It only takes one or two pairs of crazies to ruin a whole dance floor - and here there's way more than one or two.

5. But what is really disturbing to us is the way that the organizers let more and more people in without any concern about overcrowding or blockage of exits in case of emergency. It was so bad last Monday that literally people had to crawl over the tables and chairs to get inside the milonga - the density of the placement of the tables and chairs near the entrance was such that people couldn't really pull their chairs out to sit down or get up even if they were at a table. Some tourists were observed complaining very loudly about having paid the entrada - but were not provided any table at all, because none were available. They were told to stand in the spaces between the tables until a table became available. You can imagine this - a literal wall of tables and chairs tangled against the entrance, crowds standing in the aisles - the place was a death trap. Yet the organizers still let the people stream in. If there was any kind of emergency and a stampede for the door - I can guarantee you that people would be crushed to death.

6. I don't know how it is with fire regulations in Argentina, but in Canada and in Hong Kong, if this kind of overcrowding occurs, both the organizers of the event and the owner of the venue will be held legally liable for anything that happens. For the organizer to have full knowledge but stand back and let the organizer pack the place like a tin of sardines for the sake of getting more revenue without regard for health and safety issues - this would be untenable. I can't imagine that the owner would be able to abscond responsibility if tragedy occurs by saying "I just rent the place out, I have no control over what the organizers do" - especially when he was there observing the conditions as they occured. Maybe I'm too sensitive and this is ok in Argentina. Even after the Cromagnon disaster a few years back in which almost two hundred died, and hundreds more were injured.

7. I heard that Osvaldo Cartery is called the "Padrino" of GRICEL Monday nights. I don't know exactly what that means, but I would say that would usually connote kind of a link between his patronage and the success of the place in drawing customers, etc. In any case, he is a well-known and well-loved dancer and there is a mutually beneficial reason for him and the milonga to be associated - people would come to the milonga because he is there, and he can come to the milonga to be seen and drum up business. I would also think that due to this association, he should be shown some kind of respect at the place. It is not like he and his friends are showing up without paying the entrada - as far as I know, the thirteen people sitting at his table that he personally brought to GRICEL for his birthday party (and not counting all the other people not sitting at his table who may have shown up out of respect for him on his birthday) all paid the entrada of 15 pesos each. They were not freeloading. So why was he placed at the worse table in the room - pushed right up against the cloak room in a spot with no lights, no air circulation, and forming part of the wall of tables against the entrance where people were trying to get in and out of the milonga? His friends had made reservations for a table the day before the milonga. By contrast, a set of tourists arriving later than Osvaldo and with no reservation were placed at a table directly adjacent to the dance floor right in the middle of the room.

8. The organizers - they were a piece of work. Not only were they surly and sullen and completely unaccommodating to Osvaldo's party (and rude and pushy to people paying to get in - well, at least this can be considered to be "equal treatment), they would instantly change their expressions and be "all smiles" for the photo op. And how nice they seemed when they were announcing the Osvaldo's performance and the "birthday dance". I can't believe that there could be anyone in the Buenos Aires milongas who didn't know that Osvaldo was close to death last year with severe illness - and that he was in and out of hospital for the entire year. He is just getting back on his feet, and even one tango is very tough for him. So why would they continue to play the valses for the birthday dance again and again? Osvaldo had just finished performing a tango with Coca which was hard enough on his health. The organizers were not going to stop with letting the heavy ladies dance with Osvaldo .... until Coca went out on the dance floor to stop it. Osvaldo was wheezing and gasping for breath. You can say Osvaldo can't be forced to do what he doesn't want to do - but have you ever been put in a position of peer pressure or public pressure? Osvaldo and Coca are two of the sweetest, most accommodating (grandparents! for god's sake!) people in tango, universally beloved - do you think that they are going to just walk off the dance floor in like a bunch of divas? It would be difficult for even the most sophisticated person to say no to peer pressure/public pressure like that, let alone truly lovely people like Osvaldo and Coca. Continuous birthday valses + sticking Osvaldo in a corner with no air circulation = Are you trying to kill him? I'm half Osvaldo's age and in much better shape but GRICEL Mondays gave me a headache and a sore throat that I have still not been able to get rid of.


Deby N. said...

I am truly sorry but you are speaking as an outsider, that is all I can say. The horrible table you are talking about? It is considered an honor in our "culture" to sit up front near the organizer. Sorry, but that is exactly where they want to sit. They could sit anywhere they want. They could tell Patricio and Adriana to reserve any table in Gricel and it would be done. I know that for a fact.

You just do not get it, and do not want to get and will not get it. Osvaldo and Coca sit where they want, and perform when and where they want.

As for DJs, the DJ at Gricel on Monday is not good. How you can compare him to Carlos Rey or Mario Orlando and say they are equal shows how much you know about music. Although Carlos Rey tends to play a little too loud at times, his music selection along with Mario Orlando's blows the DJs at Gricel off the face of the province. (They are DJs at Leonesa)

You make many generalizations, and while I realize they are your experience I beg you to please be careful.

Buenos Aires had inflation of 30% last year. Our prices continue to rise DRAMATICALLY. How can you say things are not that much more expensive? Last year the taxi meter started at 3.10 this year it is starting at 4.30. Food is 30% more. Clothing went up 110%. Maybe because you have "foreign money" it is no big deal to you.

I would like to know why you wrote about a milonga you absolutely hate and trashed. You trashed the organizers, the owner, the DJs, and everyone and everything. You were here for a reasonable amount of time. Why didn't you write something positive and nice about a milonga here?

I live here. I know what it is like here. It is not perfect. But I can tell you the worst thing to happen to our milongas is the foreigners who come here with a lack of respect.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for your comment. We think it is important to dedicate an entire blog post about this topic. Please see our most recent blog post (dated March 15, 2009) containing our reply to you.


Irene and Man Yung

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