Monday, October 26, 2009

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 2

The first entry "Part 1" for our 2008 Buenos Aires trip could be found here. Sorry for the big delay!


Dear V,

No first day in Buenos Aires can be complete for chinese people without a trip to Chinatown. Not only is it important for a chinese person to connect with chinese food (A hot, late lunch with a large Quilmes beer at Todo Contento yet again - although walking down the block we were almost tempted to try "old marinated style duck necks and chicken feet" at one of the smaller restaurant/take-out places - seems that there are quite a few very very chinese establishments that have no inclination to cater to non-chinese in Buenos Aires), it was crucial for us to buy as many packages of cup noodles as possible to last for the rest of our trip. At 4 a.m. in the morning after an exhausting day, a mere twenty metre walk (more like a mutual limpy drag - I'm dragging Man Yung and Man Yung is dragging me) to the twenty-four hour La Madeleine for food is beyond contemplation - therefore, a trusty pava electrica (electric kettle) and cup noodles are a must.

The food at Todo Contento was good, although to our sophisticated Scarborough "protein lovers" tastes rather basic - more carbs like rice and noodles than anything. We noticed that more non-chinese are being hired in the restaurant as well as the supermarket though compared to 2007. Was it a change in the law? Or a change in the clientele? The proprietress let us know that it is mandatory that all the chinese stores hire at least a minimum number of Argentinos. Which means that many of the chinese here are not yet "Argentinos", but may be there either illegally or temporarily.

It was still mid-afternoon when we completed our shopping in Chinatown, so we hailed a cab and went back to the hotel - and immediately headed back out to buy Lacoste polo shirts at the Santa Fe Lacoste location. That's how it is for us for the first 24 hours in Buenos Aires - a mini shopping frenzy involving Instant Noodles, Lacoste shirts (Man Yung can sweat through about four or five during a milonga - disgusting!) and Comme Il Fauts. The staff at Lacoste recognized us from last year (I've discovered that if one exhibits the same kind of good fashion taste and quick, decisive skills of selection as Man Yung, one would always be remembered) - however, the handsome english-speaking manager was not around ("Que lastima!!" we all exclaimed in unison) because he had gone on vacation.

Unfortunately, the sun, the heat and yes, the very long flight had contributed to us feeling extremely tired and cranky - so no shoe shopping but a nap instead was in order.

Alberto and Paulina came to pick us up in the evening. We had been exchanging emails with Alberto and Paulina throughout the year since our last trip but Man Yung and I are such lowly insignificant tango dancers, what if all that wonderful friendship was only a dream? How could we even imagine Alberto and Paulina treating us so well and taking around all the milongas and introducing us to there friends even though we dance so poorly? And how would Alberto react seeing our yucky dancing after putting so much of his heart and energy into teaching us how to dance well just the year before? Would it drive him to an early grave? I was a bundle of nerves.

But when they arrived in their car - all the anxieties melted away. Alberto and Paulina aren't just two wonderful dancers on Youtube, or world-famous milongueros and teachers of tango. The way they greeted us showed us what was really important - and that we were friends, and that mattered more than anything.

Alberto and Paulina took us to La Milonguita, a milonga run by Blas Catrenau and Graciela Lopez that had recently moved to a nice new location at the Centro Montanes, right at the edge of Palermo. During the drive there, I was eager to hear more news from them, and to give them a preview of the horrible dancing from us ahead so that they wouldn't be too disappointed ;) .

Alberto told us about his performance with his assistant Ms. E at Susana Miller's festival this year - she was under immense pressure as her mother just passed away, the funeral was just on the morning of the performance. However, dancing and teaching tango was E's dream - and to complete the performance was something she had promised to do not only for herself, but for her mother who supported her with her whole heart. It was a performance to remember, a tango that encompassed all of love beyond life and death.

We also talked about Alberto's other performances - a recent memorable one with a trendy new live orchestra that played in the style of one of the good old ones (I'm not saying which one because then you will be able to guess!) How was it? Just plain awful - the music that is. The music was brassy and loud, oddly accented and would bust your eardrums apart. It just shows that no matter how you try to recreate it, some methods of playing the tango have been lost and it would take years of trial and error and experience to get the playing back to the sophistication of the golden age. Alberto had heard the lovely playing from the original orchestras and to hear the modern equivalent was too much of a contrast. Anyway, at least they are playing tango - it would take time, but eventually they will get there.

We arrived at La Milonguita early so we could have dinner there - we peeked into the milonga hall so that Alberto and Paulina could say hello to their friends Blas and Graciela. There was a tango class going on and we were curious too, after watching Blas and Graciela dance in a video on Rick McGarrey's website! (However, it would not be nice to run away and take classes with Blas when we were out on the town with Alberto, right?)

Alberto, like most of the Argentinians we have become friends with during our trips, knows all the good places to eat - and this one was no exception. There's a spanish restaurant next to the milonga hall right in the same building - I believe the place is a club and many come to eat there whether or not they had planned to go to the milonga afterwards - and being early, we had our choice of tables. Alberto picked a table in the corner next to open doors leading out to the concrete courtyard outside. There was a nice mellow breeze coming in from the open doors, and the twilight was settling in. We were with our good friends and teachers, about to share a hearty dinner. It was a moment of harmonious tranquility. Sensing the moment, Alberto ordered the perfect red wine - "Rincon de los Amigos". It was delicious with the torta and the seafood paella.

We did more catching up with Alberto and Paulina over dinner. We had missed Alberto and Paulina when they travelled to New York the previous summer - but they had plans to visit North America again in the fall of 2008, if, that is, their plans with an organizer from Montreal worked out. We hoped that this would come to fruition for Alberto - we knew how difficult it was for good teachers from the older generation to be able to teach overseas when everyone wanted to learn the newest trendiest tricks from the most shameless self-promoters with the biggest brand names. While we were talking and eating, Blas Catrenau came over to say hello to Alberto and Paulina, and we were introduced. Blas is a very charming gentleman - and an incredible dancer who won the first metropolitano competition with his partner Graciela, back when people actually won for dancing fabulously in their own idiosyncratic way and not for parroting some "sure-win" style.

La Milonguita Fridays was not very crowded (it is more crowded on Sundays) and because of Alberto and Paulina we got to sit at a very nice table right on the edge of the dance floor. The floor must be marble or white tile, it was glossy and smooth, and there was plenty of space to dance! Man Yung was able to cabeceo with success - a plump young portena adornista was intrigued by the way he danced - but one tanda and 300,000 molinetes later, it was quite enough for the poor thing (Nothing new here!)

And as for our dancing? Being one of our teachers, of course Alberto would be concerned. However, it was not so excruciatingly bad after all - Alberto did raise an eyebrow and suggested to Man Yung that there was one "minor thing" that he would like to take the opportunity to correct (was it the continuous molinetes, or the dancing on the toes, or the strange posture, or perhaps the speeding around the dance floor without even a thought of pausing? Or all of the above?) Phew! He didn't disown us. What a relief.

We didn't stay so late, and Paulina and Alberto were not party animals either. We left after enjoying some nice tandas together. It was a wonderful evening - and it certainly would not do to tire ourselves out on the very first day when so much was lying ahead!

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