Camicando began today! Even though our first festival workshop didn’t start until 2:30 p.m., we still woke up nice and early at 9:30 a.m. I had scheduled some "kamikaze" shoe shopping for the morning, and I was eager to get going. Once the festival started, we would not have either time nor energy to do any shopping!
After breakfast, we went to the nearby Bank ATM for money. Big line up. Everything was busier today - the Portenos had just finished their summer break. At the machine, we found that there was a limit on withdrawals to 320 pesos per transaction [in 2009, the limit increased to about double - why, we don't know], so we had to make repeated withdrawals to get enough cash. It was a bummer, because that meant that we had to pay a substantial transaction fee per withdrawal.
Back to school, back to work - the traffic was more congested, there were more people on the street. Stinky black exhaust fumes filled the air. After getting our cash at the Bank, we took a swift taxi down Riobamba to buy Man Yung some shoes from Artesanal, located a few doors down from El Beso. Unfortunately, Artesanal wasn’t open yet - it was too early.
Double bummer! However, I am never easily thwarted. We hopped into a taxi and headed over to Darcos. It’s located on the “street of the infinite number of tango shoe stores” – the majority of which look rather tacky and touristy. Darcos was also marginally so.
Darcos is one of the official sponsors of the Campeonato, so every year we'd see the winners and runners-up photographed in the store with their Darcos prizes. If you have seen photos of Darco’s on the internet, they always focus on the glittering, slick displays of shoes, tangowear and CDs and the shiny happy campeones. From the photos, we thought that Darcos would look like a fine lacquer box - red, black and gold.
In reality, the store’s messy. Shoe boxes are stacked willy nilly; clothes and CDs are crammed in every conceivable corner. The décor is red, black and gold - but kind of worn out.
To their credit, Darcos has a lot of different models of women’s tango shoes, more than anywhere else we've seen so far. Unfortunately, some of them looked suspiciously like copies of CIF and NT, except without the same level of craftsmanship and with rather gaudy and jarring colour combinations. As for the men’s shoes, they were standard – you can get the same models everywhere.
The day was already heating up outside and to make it worse, the air conditioning was broken and the store was crammed with tourists. The two salespersons were polite and professional, but it was obvious that they were overwhelmed and couldn’t serve everybody in a prompt manner. We waited for about twenty minutes. I was starting to have an "existential crisis" in that mini heat wave, but Man Yung was fine – is he always fine just looking at tango stuff, or he was better at imagining that he was standing under cool cascading water in a waterfall? In any case, despite my discomfort and the wait, I was determined to get a pair of shoes for Man Yung. He needed comfortable shoes, and Darcos are reportedly comfortable.
A sleek, smiling but somewhat stocky young man served us. He had a kind of curt efficient professionalism, and he was very knowledgeable about his shoes. He knew right away what size Man Yung wore and gave quick recommendations as to style. We were quick to decide on a pair of black shoes with pinstripes. Seeing the customers pile up, the last thing we wanted to do was to inconvenience our sales clerk further, despite his smiles and cordiality.
There were many customers there but for some reason, one couple stood out. The woman tried on nearly every single pair of the ugliest shoes in the store – it seemed to us that the winning tactic that she was employing was that if it wasn’t ugly, she wasn’t going to try them on. Her salesperson had his hands full trying to accommodate her, and she still couldn’t decide what to buy. She wasn't unusual - it was her partner that was the strange one. He stood there, looking offended at everyone and everything, with his green sweat-stained t-shirt pulled tightly over his protruding pot belly. I couldn't imagine him dancing tango. He looked like he really, really didn't belong. Staring at us with the intensity of a participant in a staring contest [and we hadn’t even started writing our blog yet!], he was antagonistic without even opening his mouth. "Yikes! What's up with him?" I thought.
In Buenos Aires, you can meet Tete, Pocho, Juan, Julio... and if you are really lucky, even the "Grinch"
Man Yung’s Darcos were expensive – 300 pesos, as expensive as the CIF’s I bought a couple of days earlier. I was surprised.
By the time we finished with Darcos, Artesanal was open. The store on Riobamba was very serene compared to the chaos at Darcos. There weren't as many choices as in Darcos, but the place was organized and the place was not packed. Man Yung found a pair of shoes he really liked, with craftsmanship he admired. Only 260 pesos! With an additional 100 pesos off from Man Yung's winning lucky draw ticket from Glorias Argentinas the previous Saturday.
But the really special thing about Artesanal was that it was run by cats!* A calico and a siamese kept their eye on the till (they slept right next to it) and inspected all the customers that came through the door. Naturally, Man Yung couldn't resist hugging all these the "tango shoe store" cats and babbling to them in baby-talk. He even tried to sneak them out of the store in his shoe bag but luckily we stopped him.
Camicando was held at La Nacional again, just like last year. This year, the line-up of instructors included Martha and Manolo, Roxina and Adrian, Yuyu Herrera, Osvaldo and Coca, and and milonga traspie teachers Eduardo Perez and Gabriela Elias. Going up the turn of the century grand stairs (and running out of breath) to the big hall was like going home again. We saw many familiar faces at the festival. Like us, many participants from the previous year had made the trek to Buenos Aires again for more classes on Canyengue, Milonga and Candombe.
The festival started with a class of milonga traspie with Gabriela and Elias but we skipped that class and arrived just before Martha and Manolo's canyengue class. Our friend from Toronto, Ms. X, who had been impossible to reach by phone on Sunday, had also arrived to attend the festival with us. We were happy to see her.
Guess who else showed up? The strange couple from Darcos. The canyengue class began and everybody was diligently practicing what Martha and Manolo just demonstrated to us. That is, all except the couple. Instead of practicing, they looked bored. The man went from rude staring straight into obnoxious comments.
"Are you advanced dancers?" he asked me abruptly. "The class level here is kind of low."
My eyebrows shot up to my hairline. I could hardly stay civil. "We were at the Camicando festival last year, yes we are very advanced dancers, we are here taking classes with Martha and Manolo because they are excellent teachers and even advanced dancers must always work on their basics. That is very important to us." I was so annoyed by his obvious contempt for the students and for Martha and Manolo I couldn't help but abstain from my usual humility! But what I was saying was true - Canyengue is challenging if you want to do it right. We are always working on getting the right posture and on correcting our mistakes, and Martha and Manolo are the teachers to turn to for this.
We jetted over to the other side of the room to avoid any further confrontations with this man and his partner. We saw Martha and Manolo attending to this couple as well as all other couples with the same patience, dedication and care. We would never in a million years have the same kind of patience - if we have to teach class we'd probably break out the shinais and start threatening people push-ups or a hiding!**
After the class we watched a twenty five minute presentation of old video footage of Martha dancing with various dancers from twenty years ago, among them Cacho Pistola and Petaca. Martha was absolutely amazing - it seems implausible, but even Geraldine is just a shadow of what Martha was at her peak. Her feet seemed to "speak" even when she was not doing her trademark adornments, and even when her partners danced figures that were impossibly challenging for the follower. Every dancer had his own individual style. Man Yung was astounded by the inventiveness and athleticism of the old dancers, but because the video presentation went by so fast, it was impossible to remember all. It was too bad we were not permitted to videotape the films, and the films were not for sale. We had been shown some priceless treasures from the past.
Camicando is quite gruelling so we decided to take a break and skip Candombe class - it was late afternoon so it was a good time to have a nice snack. We went to have an empanada at a nearby chain restaurant, and bumped into the european family who was attending the Camicando festival with us. They were also at Camicando the previous year, so we were quite glad for the opportunity to sit down and talk.
Our european friend had been dancing for six years, and her mother and father for about ten.
She talked about taking lots and lots of classes with Graciela Gonzales, DNI studio, Aurora Lubiz, and others. She liked going to Villa Malcolm, Practica X, La Viruta, La Catedral - and was a little surprised that we had never gone to any of these places.
She also complained about not getting asked to dance a lot, either in her home country (one of the tango meccas outside of Buenos Aires) or in Buenos Aires itself. It's frustrating, because here she was - young, pretty, with a lively sweet personality and intelligent bright eyes, and not a bad dancer at all to boot. Was it just the immense competition or was she doing something wrong, like, perhaps not wearing a bikini to milongas or not doing enough face dancing? Or was it the milongas she frequented? A mystery - and the lament of tangueras everywhere in the world.
After the break, we headed back to La Nacional to take Martha and Manolo's milonga class and Osvaldo and Coca's milonga class. Man Yung remembered some of the steps (we had taken 52 hours of classes with Martha and Manolo in 2006 in the one month they were in Toronto and we attended Camicando the previous year, so a lot of the material was not new to us) but it didn't stop him from practicing and refining his technique in class under the watchful eye of Martha and Manolo. And it didn't stop him from still getting into arguments with me about what we were practicing!
We had been looking forward to seeing Osvaldo and Coca again and taking their class. Man Yung had been studying Osvaldo's style all year and from what he had learnt from him the previous year, had found the key to unlocking many of his steps and movements. Osvaldo and Coca remembered us from last year and they were really happy to see us - they are so sweet that they are always happy to see everybody - and Osvaldo was very impressed that Man Yung could remember what he taught last year and duplicate many of the steps that he hadn't taught! Unfortunately, Osvaldo was not feeling well, and the steep flight of steps to the hall at La Nacional did not help - Osvaldo had problems with breathing and only finished the class with much difficulty. By the end of the class he was wheezing for breath. Yuyu Herrera tried to massage his back to make him feel better, but it didn't really help. We were very worried for Osvaldo.
By the time class ended, it was too late to go back to the hotel to shower and change - we had promised ourselves that we would try and catch Milonguisimo at it's original venue at La Confiteria Ideal, and Monday was the only night that we were free to go. After a warm embrace and goodbye to all our wonderful teachers, we were off into the night, with our friend Ms. X in tow: Milonguisimo-bound!
* Just joking. Artesanal is run by people - but there's always at least one sweet-faced, good-natured cat in every one of their stores.
** Martial Arts people can sometimes get all worked up like this. One of Man Yung's favourite sayings: "Tango people have no discipline!"