Sunday, July 10, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 4 - Thursday February 26, 2009

Dear V,

Thursday morning started with the hotel breakfast and then a quick walk to the back of the block to get our laundry. We dropped off more clothes but they won’t take Man Yung’s dress pants as in their opinion they must be dried cleaned. The plus sized manager almost had an apoplexy explaining to us that the dress pants cannot be “just washed”, and that our whites MUST be washed separately with the colours. Otherwise it was prelude to ARMAGEDDON. The other girl (the petite sized one) who served us last time was much more easy going, she actually let us have both whites and colours washed together (sacrilege!).

After dropping off our clean laundry at our room, we went out again - and in the hotel lobby who did I see? Mr P., a co-worker from my office. Of all the places he could have chosen to stay in Buenos Aires - he decided to book the same hotel as us. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going to vacation, so the first thing he said to me was for me not to tell anyone else in the office (why, is it not socially acceptable to be found in Argentina?) He was shocked to see me.

He is skinny and tall and white with a very very very high forehead and a long long face - and was wearing a funny long sleeved purple round necked shirt (don't forget it was hot outside) with big blocky colour patterns in the front. So, you can see, he looks even more out of place here in Buenos Aires than we do, and we are Chinese. Because of this, or despite this - “Some SOB stole his wallet while he was changing money”. Oh well. He was making the staff make copies of his ID when we bumped into him - and snarling about the horrible service. He was full of warnings about the “dangers” of this unsafe place Buenos Aires. I guess he won't be coming here again. We were full of wonder that of all things we would bump into M, all the way on the other side of the world - and he doesn't even dance tango.

We had to get an electric kettle. The one we bought last time and brought the way back from Toronto was broken and leaking and a electrocution hazard (we were wondering, what the hell with all this water when we boiled water? The kettle was cracked and leaking. Not even double sided lingerie tape would hold the water in. So sad.) We went to Garbarino on Santa Fe, only about four blocks from the hotel, to check it out. There was one on the internet site for only 69 pesos. We considered going to Chinatown for another, but that would cost at least 50 pesos not counting the taxi charges, and then Garbarino you can pay with credit card. So the same 69 peso kettle was right there in the store - wonderful, but I forgot to bring my original passport. I had to get out my citizenship card and copy of passport before they were satisfied.

Before heading out again, we called Osvaldo and Coca. I prayed that Osvaldo wouldn’t answer the phone - he has trouble understanding what I say, and he gets pretty impatient! However, he did answer the phone. I survived the conversation - he was busy today but we could go and see them tomorrow at his house at 2 p.m.

We had another lovely free day to ourselves so we decided to walk all the way to Artesanaal on Riobamba (almost Corrientes). We went along Riobamba, staying with the shade as we went along.

We came across a hat store with lots of hats, and not touristy “TANGO” ones. Man Yung wants to get an English tweed cap, and they have lots of them for just 35 pesos. Next to the hat store was a swanky Italian restaurant - white tableclothes, dark shiny wood décor and different sized crystal wine glasses lined up in a row. Restaurants that we wouldn’t even dream of going to in Toronto are accessible for us in Buenos Aires. But we still end up eating at “cheap” places!

Riobamba is not as “exciting” as Callao - less stores and less people to gawk at, but less riff-raff. We took lots of photos along the way, because Man Yung loves our new camera with a screen that he could actually see without using a microscope. We took a photo of a red cylindrical mailbox (like the ones in old Hong Kong and in England!), the exterior of the Museum of Patrimony (free entrada), a school with students hanging around it.

The mailbox and me decided this morning to wear matching colours

Riobamba just outside the Museo de Patromonio

Museo de Patrimonio. I think the building used to house the municipal waterworks

In Buenos Aires you find schools everywhere among the buildings, where you least expect. It's kind of like in Hong Kong, where there's not a lot of space, so you won't find many schools without a "buffer" round it with sports fields, playgrounds, etc.

The Lottery agency called "Irene". Coincidence? I think this was on Lavalle

When we reached Lavalle we decided to walk a couple of blocks up to the Buenos Aires Tango Club, just to see what it was all about.

There’s no storefront, just a gated doorway with a buzzer. If you look down the clean spartan white corridor though, the sign for Euro Records and Buenos Aires Tango Club is posted on the wall way at the end. After buzzing and getting in, we went up one flight to a very modest looking office. There was no mistake that this was a “tango” place though - from the tango souvenir figurines in the cabinet right at the door, to the “wall of tango Cds” facing the door. We were shown into the office with the “Mega wall of tango Cds” - housed inside cabinets. Two office desks. The female assistant took my list of Cd codes and started opening the glass and wooden doors in the cabinet of the “Mega wall of tango Cds” and picking out the ones I listed. Seemed like a lot of Cds indeed, she was looking up and down everywhere, but very efficiently. I took a seat opposite her “jefe”, the man with the coolest old school music studio/intellectual rectangular glasses I have ever seen. They had light amber lens and the lens merged into the frames like they were one piece, and the lens itself had the “tunnel vision of doom”/”Sci-fi house of horror” effect. Well, I ended with a mass of Cds - but how much did they cost? $100 US. We elected to pay in dollars and not pesos, because now I don’t have to rent an apartment from N's friend - I have a whole heap of dollars. So I decided to buy a few more Cds, discographies of various orchestras and Man Yung bought a tango figurine. Only $35 US more. Every time I bought something the gentleman with the glasses had to mark everything down in a big book with lots of item codes, etc. etc. It wasn’t very efficient, it felt, as Man Yung rightly put it, like “buying wholesale direct from the record company” - which was EXACTLY what it was.

As we made our way back to Riobamba, we encountered a DVD store for all the old Argentinian movies. We asked whether they had any tango movies, and they sprung out all the ancient ones with El Cachafaz. They didn’t have any instructional ones, and the lady said “you better look on Florida - because we aren’t selling these DVDs to tourists but to locals.” The DVDs cost 35 pesos each, and we bought 3 - I hope they work on our DVD player when we get home (the lady assured us that the DVDs were “multi-region”.

Back to Riobamba, it was only a short hike to Artesanaal. Right opposite we saw a barber’s shop with a sign outside that said a cut was 20 pesos. The door was open and two men were talking inside, and Man Yung wanted a haircut, so I said, “Why not try this place?” We walked in and asked whether they cut hair without washing hair (Man Yung’s pet peeve). The barber, a distinguished looking gentleman who looks like that Kelsey Grammer character from Frasier but with better (and more) hair said no way, snorting in disgust, he did not wash hair. His dad taught him how to cut hair but they never, ever wash hair. I guess, that means he will only wash hair "Only in your dreams", or perhaps "When Hell freezes over".

I said, “That’s great - my husband does not like to get his hair washed.” We didn’t even have to wait, Man Yung was seated immediately while two barbershop regulars sat around next to me talking to the barber while he cut Man Yung’s hair.

The barber’s shop is not one of those clean and sanitized no-nonsense places with nothing but mirrors, chairs, a striped pole and an ancient guy with scissors. This had a quirky, old world artsy décor - movie posters, different kinds of clocks - including a wooden one that was in a shape of an owl that told time by the direction of its eyes. There was another clock made out of the back of a chair. The barber was a funny guy but we were funnier. He wanted to trim Man Yung’s eyebrows but Man Yung refused. When he asked why, Man Yung said something difficult that I had to translate… and which I translated as “He doesn’t want to cut his eyebrows because it will affect his functioning in bed” which made all the guys laugh. They all had great hair, by the way. The barber was really skilled, and he was proud of his work, which is something that Man Yung has noticed in a lot of people here in Buenos Aires - respect and pride in their profession. In Toronto Man Yung’s barber would use an electric razor to trim and then use scissors to finish - much faster. Here the barber used his scissors first and razor to finish. The effect is less like a marine and more like George Clooney! Hee!

Right after our barbershop adventure we went to Artesenal. Man Yung says he wants shoes but I think he really only wanted to go there to play with the cat. And there are two cats! One a Siamese who always sleeps on the counter, and the other a tortoiseshell who sleeps on the boxes. V, you can just think about all that yummy cat hair sticking to your shoes (I know how much you love cats - not), and all those kitties who just want to kiss you because you are spending so much money in the store. Man Yung dangled string and it drove the kitties crazy. It didn’t work so well when he tried to do it to a Siamese cat on a leash that was being led by a little girl in front of Farmacity - but then that cat was more like dog? Anyway, after playing with the cats Man Yung had to buy some shoes - he got a black leather pair because he couldn’t get a black suede pair in his size. He got a red and black pair because they didn’t have a grey suede pair in his size. We paid in US dollars to get our discount of 10%…. Once again, heaps and heaps of US cash….

So, all the things I had planned that I had energy for were completed - I wanted to walk three more blocks to B. Mitre and Callao (El Arranque) to have empanadas at La Americana. I wanted to see if the empanadas at La Americana were really that much better than Santa Fe 1234 - and also because it was cheap.

Alas, Man Yung had other plans. The psychedelic glasses gentleman at Buenos Aires Tango Club gave us information on a Tango DVD place where we could find more DVDs because Man Yung wants to see examples of old tango dancing. Since we were right on Corrientes he decided to walk the three blocks up to check out this place. Now, that was not within my plans. I had had a sore throat since I arrived and I didn’t want to push myself too far. Going to La Americana and then taking the taxi home was as much as I could stand - plus a romp on Corrientes with it’s crowds of people and sea of traffic was not something that was going to make me feel better. Unfortunately, since I am not the Chairman, my objections were not logical and off we went to this mysterious DVD place.

Main thoroughfare like Corrientes and Callao invite caution - pickpockets abound. There was also a lot of traffic, so lots of exhaust and dust. Just overall unpleasant. I had not been feeling 100% since we arrived and I had developed quite a sore throat for a few days that I was quite worried about - sore throat but luckily without fever or swollen lymph nodes. However, it was extremely uncomfortable and Corrientes did not help. People everywhere - hot, dry, dusty and polluted. Man Yung keeping an eye on everything just in case. Some suspicious person with long greasy hair seemed to be deliberately observing and changing directions to follow us. Finally we reached the building where the DVD place was located.

It was located on the 5th floor of a building with one of those older one-building malls. Those places always make Man Yung cautious - they are dark and filled with “cheap” and suspect people. There’s one right next to our hotel where shady characters yell “cambio” at passerbys (maybe my co-worker changed his money there?). We found the elevator up to the 5th floor. People were nice to us in the elevator because we looked a trifle out of place. The doors opened - and the corridors were bare concrete and blank, like Hong Kong council flats. There weren’t any people - it was really quiet. Luckily the DVD store was just around the corner - very incongruent, the door was open although there was a chain across the front, and inside was wall to wall DVDs.

We asked the owner of the store whether he had any DVDs of tango - he had the usual instructional ones, which we didn’t care about. We said we wanted older footage, and showed him the DVDs we already bought - we wanted to find if he had other DVDs other than the ones we already bought. He asked his wife and they pulled out quite a few from the room behind the desk - but I didn’t have much faith that there would be lots to see in those DVDs. We decided to buy only one. Out came the official receipt book and they wanted to know where we came from too. I thought that was strange of them to ask, and they pulled out another receipt book where they had the receipt from when Bernard Caron from Montreal came and bought a bunch of DVDs of the old orchestras. I told him that Bernard Caron was a very well known DJ in Canada (OK, Quebec), and we had a wonderful time reminiscing about the way he looked (well, for about 5 seconds). Anyway, that little trip down memory lane seemed to make the proprietor and his wife very happy. They gave us key chains with Pugliese’s photo (and also their address at the back). The DVDs were 45 pesos rather than 35 pesos, but as the owner said “They are better quality). We’ll see.

I had enough of yucky Corrientes so I dragged Man Yung to a parallel street to walk to La Americana. It was much better on the next street - nice shade, less people. I had been looking for a fan to buy since mine broke - and Man Yung was saying, “Let’s look at the shops along the way!” Well, I was exhausted and my throat hurt and I just wanted to sit down and hopefully not pass out. But as luck would have it - we passed by a shop selling Chinese knick-knacks, and they sold fans! But it was wholesale, the owner lady (Chinese, so Man Yung spoke in Mandarin and gave me a rest) was not too happy we were only buying two. However, Man Yung had his usual charm and we bought two for 5 pesos each. Fan problem resolved.

We walked to La Americana but as we approached I saw a Confiteria in the old style across the street. La Americana had no air conditioning and it was filled with people, so I suggested that we check out the Confiteria L’Aiglon (Eagle or something) instead.

First, it had air conditioning. Second, it had the beautiful Buenos Aires old world décor (from the 20’s). Third, the prices were very reasonable! The price of the empanadas was cheaper than in Madeleine or 1234. And they had Parrilla, we ordered Parillada for ONE person for 41 pesos (even though the waiter said but it is for one person, we know that there would be way too much meat for one) - and shared it. When it came with it’s own brazier, spitting hot grease and smoke, it was as we had guessed, HUGE. I said to the waiter, “That’s for one person?!?”

Confiteria L'Aiglon - Asado, beer and heaping plate of fries

The parilla was great - it had all the internal organs bits and the blood sausages. I had opportunity to rest and drink some water and a pepsi. Man Yung had Warsteiner beer.

We went back to the hotel for a rest - not that there were many hours, because at 9 p.m. there were classes with Martha and Manolo in La Salsera, which is way out in Almagro. Just before we headed out we received a phone call from Alberto. He was not feeling well. His blood pressure was up and his doctor told him not to go out for a few days. I said, “Yes, when I am with Man Yung my blood pressure also goes up.” Anyway, our plans to attend Elba’s birthday party were in jeopardy. We told him we didn’t mind, we can cancel so he can rest. I emphasized that to Paulina when I talked to her. Alberto insisted that he would call us at noon tomorrow to update us on his situation.

We took a taxi - we thought we would make it at 9 but it was not so. The police had blocked the usual route and so we went in a really roundabout way, all the way around Abasto mall, through some streets selling wholesale flowers, and then finally to this dark little salsa club where Martha and Manolo were teaching. The taxi driver was nice, we talked about what Abasto used to be (a fruit and vegetable market) and the safety of the area around La Salsera.

It was 30 pesos for two of us, and there were more students in the class than in the Escuela de Tango Argentino. Some were local people and had taken many Canyengue classes and danced quite well, Martha and Manolo introduced us to them. Some young people were absolute beginners, and the women were so stiff and heavy that Martha said it was like they had screws on their feet screwing them right into the floor. Martha had a sore back from teaching one of the women. The price of the class was cheap - even included a free drink. We took a video of us practicing Canyengue there.

Irene and Man Yung dancing Canyengue in matching red Crocs. The HORROR, the HORROR....Bet you couldn't decide what is more horrible - Irene and Man Yung dancing, the Canyengue, or the matching Crocs, or the socks with Crocs! A veritable surfeit of horribleness. If you look carefully there is a couple behind us gawking in absolute HORROR.

After the class, we told Martha and Manolo that we were going to Viejo Correo and that we were going to take a taxi. They insisted that they were going that direction and drove us. Their car is the same one as two years ago - it would be going along, and then it would stall and they would have to start it up again. We talked about how much it would cost to buy them a “new” second hand car - around 15000 pesos. Man Yung was thinking of buying them a new second hand car, but it is too expensive - we suggested to Martha and Manolo that we would “say” that we would buy one, and when Martha and Manolo bought one, we wouldn’t pay (oh, the jokes we make)! Martha said that they wouldn’t want another car - the car they have is “a good car”. Just because it is old and broken you don't toss it out. It’s something to think about.

Viejo Correo is right opposite the Parque de Centenario, so the milonga of Nina Balbuena and Luis Cordoba is called “Milonga de Centenario”. It’s filled with local people who dance a little less well than the ones at Lo de Celia - more "vegetables". It was busier than last time we were there, they had cleared out the tables around the dance area so there would be more space. People were no longer doing all out “show tango”, but still they weren’t the greatest dancers. It was just a place for the locals to meet, relax and dance a little - like the way it should be, instead of a dance pageant.

Like Lo de Celia, people here did not play bumper cars. It’s not difficult to have a milonga that is not like a carnival ride. I think the only impediment is not skill but big heads - there were plenty of people here who do not dance as "skilled" as some of the people in Toronto.

The music there was populist. All the big later Di Sarli, Pugliese, with the greatest hits of D’Arienzo, Troilo etc. Man Yung liked the music - he doesn’t care for intellectual stuff, he wants stuff that makes him want to dance. Even the valses were big and brassy - Pugliese, Villasboa.

Nina didn’t quite remember us but we looked familiar. She gave us a big kiss (just to be safe) and we gave her a gift of a Chinese wallet. It wasn’t until later in the evening when we were talking (she asked me for my email) when I said I already have her email, and that we sent her a Christmas card - then she remembered! She is a sweet old lady, I love the way she makes her announcements so dramatic and filled with honey sweet sentiments when she thanks people for attending her milonga.

The milonga has black and white tiles, and they are always a little more sticky than the granite ones at Lo de Celia. We still had a blast dancing to the “Tango’s greatest hits”, with everyone looking at the two Chinese people. An older moustached gentleman came over to congratulate us and hint that he wanted to dance with me (but we didn’t), another gentleman came over to invite us “Sin Cargo” to his milonga next Tuesday in Caballito (not advertised in any of the tango magazines, however) and when we left, the people in the table behind us gave us the “thumbs up”. When we were leaving, Nina invited us to her house for asado on Saturday. We said, unfortunately, we had other plans, and we looked so regretful…. So she said ok, but we promised to return next week. And why not? It’s nice to go to places without tourists.

It was 2 p.m. when we finally left, the day’s many ordeals were too much for me and I couldn’t drag myself to La Madeleine. We went straight back to the hotel and ate instant noodles instead.

I am writing this to you on Sunday - see, still working hard just for your reading pleasure (or not). Friday to follow...


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