Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 3



One great thing about staying at Hotel Wilton is the breakfast buffet. Now, it's nothing fancy - no omelets done to order or eggs hollandaise - but it's got the good basics. Bread, pastries, fresh fruit, fruit salad, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cream cheese, deli slices, juice, tea and coffee - nutritious and simple and a great way to start a new day. Because every day we spend in Buenos Aires is long and exhausting, and god forbid that we run out of steam by 3:00 p.m.!

Since Friday was a complete shoe shopping write-off - the first item on our list on Saturday was Comme Il Faut (I insisted). The boutique is about 1.2 km from the hotel. It's lovely to walk there, through peaceful streets lined with tall leafy trees and turn of the century continental architecture. Although Arenales (where Comme Il Faut is located) is not a major throughfare like Callao or Santa Fe, there are many high-end stores (gourmet, fashion, home furnishings) on the street with impeccable and charming window displays. If it were any other similar sized street in Toronto there would be nothing on the street except residences and at most a convenience store.

The dog-walkers were out in full force, so we had the opportunity to enjoy the sights of the delightful groomed dogs in all different shapes and sizes. They are such well-behaved cuties - the dog walkers would loosely tie a whole bunch of them by the side of the road while dropping off each dog at their homes, but none of the dogs would run into the road or sniff and bark at strangers who passed by!

We were on a tight schedule, so we got to Comme Il Faut moments after it opened its doors. Shopping for shoes with Man Yung is the BEST. People can't believe that I'm so lucky to have a husband who could double for a very competent fashion consultant. Some of the salesladies recognized us from the previous year - and they were inclined to be even more friendly and helpful when they saw how quickly Man Yung looked at the shoes. He would go through the boxes incredibly quickly - what we liked we put to one side and what we didn't we put to the other side without that strange, agonizing, constipated indecision that plagues a lot of the other patrons. What we went through we made sure were returned to their boxes and stacked back neatly. We gave enough information about heel height, shoe type and colour preference to the salesladies so that they were able to decide accurately what we wanted to look at, without having to bring us every shoe in the store. Within fifteen minutes we had four perfect pairs for me - two blue pairs and two red pairs. "Why don't you have men's shoes?" Man Yung asked. The salesladies looked horrified. "NO! NONE for the men! NEVER!" they exclaimed.

The ladies of Comme Il Faut are great - professional, classy, (Man Yung would also like to add: "Very beautiful!") and proud of the shoes that they sell. That's one thing we notice time and time again whenever we shop in Buenos Aires - people are proud of what they do and what they make. And when you show them respect and appreciate their product or services - they are all smiles and they treat you like long lost friends. I had a problem with one of my Comme Il Fauts that I bought back in 2007 and Comme Il Faut was able to resolve the problem very quickly for me after I emailed them. I wanted to thank the lady who helped me in person - but unfortunately, she was not in the store that day. However, just by expressing that I wanted to thank one person for something that happened a year ago, all the other people became even nicer to us!

After dropping off the brand new shoes at the hotel (you can bet that the rest of the day I was thinking incessantly about my beautiful new Comme Il Fauts), we went to the Galerias Pacifico, where La Escuela Argentina de Tango's central location is located, and where we were going to meet up with Martha and Manolo at their canyengue class at 1 p.m. We deliberately arrived early so we can have a nice lunch at the food court.

The Galerias Pacifico has a really, really nice food court - if a mall in Toronto had the same kind of food court it would be considered a gourmet food court and a tourist attraction. There's so much delicious choices I could hardly decide - and I have to decide for the both of us since I'm the only one who could read Spanish and actually have some idea about what we were ordering.
Apart from pasta, pizza, salad, fast food like burgers and the like, there's also several different kind of barbeque available - Argentinian and American styles - and we ended up ordering a small parrilla (you can see it being cooked on the big horizontal grill behind the counter and everything) which Man Yung washed down with some beer. There was soccer playing on the tv screen while we ate - perfect! Except that Man Yung was so engrossed in the game he set his plastic cup down wrong and spilled the beer all over the table - luckily my lightning fast kung fu reflexes kicked in and I was able to jump out of the way at the last second.

The way to the Centro Cultural Borges on the third floor where the school is located is always a bit of a maze. There's elevators, and then stairs, and then passageways, and more stairs - wait, there's a security guard, better ask him how to get there. Anyway, we made it. There were lots of people waiting outside the classroom for the previous class to end. We were pleasantly surprised to see many people from the previous year's Camicando festival - either attending the class that was ending or waiting to attend Martha and Manolo's class - and meeting them again, it was like we just saw them yesterday.

Finally Martha and Manolo arrived - and much hugging and crying ensued (especially by Man Yung) with the other students looking at us rather strangely. Martha and Manolo looked well - Manolo was in good health this year so he looked much better than the previous March, when he was suffering from a cold. We were overjoyed at seeing each other.

After the class we went together to a nearby cafe. We were the only patrons there as it was the awkward time in the afternoon - to late for lunch and too early for dinner. There was only a narrow sidewalk in front of the cafe, so there weren't any people sitting outside people-watching - in fact, in the congested streets next to the mall, who would want to sit outside and breathe in all the traffic fumes? But inside the quiet comfort of the small cafe - with its old world decor and efficient, polite waiters - we could talk and catch up.

Martha and Manolo did not have good news. Osvaldo Cartery had quit smoking and he was not adjusting well to the change. He couldn't even finish an entire tango, he got so out of breath. Now, we were really looking forward to learning from Osvaldo and Coca this year at Camicando - Man Yung had been studying his style all year - so we were really concerned when we heard this. Martha and Manolo were worried and stressed out themselves - as they said, they had been sleeping poorly, eating poorly and thinking too much. There was the big Camicando festival (which starts on the following Monday) that they had to organize and they had relatives who were in poor health, so they were constantly shuttling back and forth trying to take care of everything and everyone. I don't know whether it was the life of tango that they lived or whether it was some innate quality that suited them to dance tango - but no matter what their troubles or their worries, Martha and Manolo handled everything with incredible poise, tranquility, love, care and acceptance. Anyone else in the same situation (including myself) would probably be having a nervous breakdown and calling attention to themselves with all the drama.

We only had a brief hour together before Martha and Manolo had to leave and attend to their busy schedule - so we were on our own for the rest of the afternoon. It was so hot and tiring taking just one class of Canyengue, I seriously doubted whether I would be able to survive the festival. However, Man Yung was still full of energy after the class (and the very light dancing at La Milonguita the previous night meant that he was hankering for more dancing) - so off we went to El Arranque after a quick shower at the hotel.

El Arranque is about eight blocks from our hotel along Callao. It looks like a cinema from the outside, with lots of black, black, black. But inside - I always get the impression that the place is a grey green, moldy colour - was it the lights, or the floor, or the walls? We had been warned by some of our teachers about the nature of El Arranque: arrive at the right time and it's alright, come at the wrong time and it is a meat market/pick-up joint. As they would say emphatically: "MUY FEO".

We might have arrived during a "Muy Feo" time..... it wasn't crowded at all, but there were some very odd looking people sitting in the singles section, staring hungrily at one another. It seemed that the thousands upon thousands they had spent on plastic surgery did nothing to turn the clock back - rather, it had accelerated their descent into FREAK LAND.

Anyway, we arrived, got a table at the sparsely occupied "couples section" on the right side of the stage, and started dancing... but noticed that the level of dancing at the milonga was kind of low. "Hey, I'm the best dancer here!" said Man Yung, kind of surprised. Which was promptly confirmed - the older local couple at the next table deliberately started to talk to us to let us know that we were dancing very very well. The regular dancers in the milongas are generous in that way - if you dance well, they'll let you know.

However, at El Arranque that afternoon, it really was not that big a deal. We were in a place where hugging lasciviously was more important than actual dancing!

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