Monday, August 8, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009, Part 8 - Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dear V,

Here's the account of Sunday.  Can you tell that I am very behind in my reports?

Sunday March 1, 2009

We didn’t go to bed until at least 5 a.m. but despite being so tired, I didn’t sleep well at all.  I was coughing badly all night - perhaps from riding in T's (Osvaldo and Coca's friend) car with the windows rolled down while swerving all over the highway (plus all tht the yelling and gesturing).  It got pretty nippy and there was even some light drizzle blowing in - not a good thing if you already have a weakened immune system! I think I was coughing and sleeping at the same time for some part of night.   In any case, I got up all bleary eyed for the hotel breakfast anyway.  Afterwards we popped by the pharmacy next to the hotel to get the cough syrup - because coughing like that was just terrible.  Luckily the pharmacy opened on the weekend - but not the entire store.  You had to ring a bell and then the sole person working in there would come to the little window and take your order.  I gave him the prescription - and said I wanted the cough syrup but not the other thing.  It cost 45 pesos - more than the antibiotics which cost around 29 with the 40% discount at the German Hospital.

We had talked about going to La Boca or the fair in Palermo but frankly, I was just too tired.  We spent all day in the hotel - Man Yung watching sports (turn on the tv any time of the day and there's soccer - hey it's Argentina and they are soccer-mad) and I was writing everything that happened on Thursday and Friday - all 20 pages of it.  I hope you enjoyed it, because that was a lot of work! 

We called N (that expatriate tango blogger we got to know on the internet - still haven't seen her yet even though we had talked on the phone a couple of times) to ask her how the concert was on Saturday.  She was so excited - it was the Café de los Maestros and it was a free event. It was a good concert - but she got the time wrong and missed half of it. She was very upset.  I told N about our experiences in Sunderland and who we were sitting with (we still can't believe it!)

We have been admirers of Blas Catrenau's dancing since we saw a video of him dancing with his partner Graciela Lopez on Rick McGarrey's website.  His dancing is amazingly milonguero-milonguero - direct, strong, rhythmic, and all his own.  He was the first winner of the metropolitan tango competition in Buenos Aires.  Funny how the first winners of the competitions - Blas, Osvaldo and Coca, Pedro and Graciela - were all so original, so exciting and eye-opening - and now all you get are variations on Fabian Peralta and nothing else?

Blas Catrenau dancing his unique style of tango with Graciela Lopez at La Milonguita

Blas is one of the dancers on our (very short) list who we really wanted take classes with. Checking the listings, we confirmed that he was teaching at La Milonguita, the milonga that's run by him and his partner in life, Graciela Lopez.  Blas’s class started at 6:30 p.m.  We took a taxi there - it’s in Belgrano.

Heat and humidity continued to blanket the city. We passed by a fountain on the way and there was a young lady splashing and shrieking in the middle of the fountain, clad only in a black bikini.  We pointed this out to the taxi driver as something interesting - he said no, no, that was illegal and the police would arrest her!  We had to go a bit of a roundabout way to get to Centro Montanes where La Milonguita was held - we had to cross some kind of bridge and there was only one route over the bridge or something.  When we spotted the bridge Man Yung and I said “Ah, the bridge!” in Chinese and the driver said yes, it’s the bridge.  I told the driver that it was very good, he understands Chinese!

Classes hadn’t started when we reached La Milonguita.  The entrada lady hadn’t even set up yet.  I didn’t bring my good camera so we took some photos of the street outside using my phone.  There’s no image stabilizer so the images were quite blurry - not that there was anything particularly picturesque to see outside, since the building is located on a quiet street inside a residential area.  While we were outside, the sky started to become overcast again. In fact, the weather has not been good since last night - there was a lot of dry lightning when we left Sunderland, and it rained most of the day on Sunday.  It was just perfect because we were planning to stay in anyway.  When we had to leave the hotel for Blas’ class before La Milonguita, the rain finally stopped.  The timing was great. 

We were the first to pay - 40 pesos for both of us for the milonga including the class.  Graciela was busy setting up the tables and directing the staff to prepare the hall for the milonga. We were directed to put our stuff in one corner while the tablecloths were being placed on the tables.  The hall is pretty nice, and quite elegant, with a granite floor.  There’s stage at the end facing the door - and that was where the DJ set up.  A lady with curly hair put up gracefully came over to say hello, her name was Adriana and she was the instructor.  I had thought that Blas was the instructor, so I was disappointed to find that she and another gentleman in a light blue suit were teaching.  Oh well. 

Well, turns out that Blas supervises the class while his two direct students taught.  They made both men and women do a series of walking exercises - Adriana walks very elegantly, I must say!  I, unfortunately, looked super dopey with my practice dance sneakers and flowery flared skirt (don't try this fashion no-no at home!).  Also, I don’t pivot quite as nicely (I think I lack the required bum and ankle rotation - maybe I even walk like a hog wrestler) when doing “women’s technique”.  The male assistant teacher lead the guys to do the same exercises.

Then we were paired together and we had to do some exercises together.  Blas looked at us and corrected my non-pivot and where I was looking while in the embrace - that's because I’m not usually looking at anything, it helps me concentrate on the lead, and he wants me to look at Man Yung’s chest.

When we started to dance a little, that was when Blas started to become perplexed.  We kind of look all wrong, but there was something.... Blas made further corrections.  He thought I was hanging my head on Man Yung’s shoulder and our hand positions annoyed him (Man Yung's left arm goes forward too much!) - he corrected that to match his own standard and style - and corrected Man Yung on not waiting for me to embrace him first (because Man Yung is usually - “hit the road while running”).  However, when Blas embraced me to demonstrate his style, his attitude completely changed.  Something was up with these Chinese people - they look funny, but they could dance!  I'm not making this up, you know us - seriously, Blas no longer treated us like we were a couple of the usual beginner gringos.  He started paying a lot of personal attention to us, he basically felt that he had to “take over” from his assistants with regards to us.  He showed Man Yung many things using me as a demo - and was gleeful when I followed EVERYTHING he led.  When other people were told to switch partners (and the assistants gave like a whole lecture telling people they MUST switch partners) - Blas pointed at us and told us to keep on going and practice together.

Well, it became kind of a semi-private class with Blas.  His assistant teachers were intrigued because on the surface we are so geeky looking and awkward. I was on antibiotics but I was still coughing, and while the teachers were talking about something I was coughing so badly I had to hide behind Man Yung.  An older, blond, elegantly dressed French lady who was taking class lent me her cardigan to wear - I didn’t want to wear it at all but had to because she was being kind. 

At the end of the class they played milonga music and Blas got to “demonstrate” some milonga with me to Man Yung.  Blas has a very good lead and many fancy steps. When we finished dancing he had a huge smile on his face and we were laughing together.  Man Yung got a lot from the class - even if Blas didn't give us all his personal attention, we could see the class taught by his assistants was very structured, and good for basics and musicality. 

When we arrived at La Milonguita, there was an older american gentleman waiting outside for his partner, and we talked a little. He said La Milonguita is a great milonga.  After the class he said “Wow, look at the difference between before you took the class and after - Blas is a really good teacher!” - well, heh, after the class we might have listened to some of Blas’s advice about head and arm position, but all the rest was already there.  It’s surprising how little non-porteños can actually see (we found this to be true at Camicando too, but that’ll come later) by looking at others dancing.  You can even read florid and wordy analyses over the internet by gringos dissecting what is "good" in such an such a video or performance - but do they really understand what the porteños consider to be good tango?  From the reactions of the porteños we have encountered on this trip and on previous trips, we know that we are headed in the right direction.

We had originally planned to have dinner at the restaurant next to the hall - we had nice paella there with Alberto and Paulina last year - but the milonga was starting and Man Yung was anxious about getting a table.  Graciela told us that we could eat at the milonga - and gave us a table right next to the stage away from the dance floor, because the other tables were reserved.  Unfortunately, the menu for the milonga was limited and the food in fact was prepared in a different kitchen from the one for the restaurant in the same building.  I had a Matambre with Russian salad and Man Yung had this stew -  “Cazuela” - and bread (this was because the waitress recommended it).  I was hungry, even though I am suspicious about cold foods like “Russian salad” - so I ate it anyway and crossed my fingers. 

While we were eating Blas deliberately came over to sit with us to find out who we were.  He told us we were dancing well, “muy sauve“.  We replied we needed to learn more and were thankful and appreciative of his corrections.  Blas countered by saying that yes, we all needed to learn more but at some point you dance your own style.  He asked us how we knew him (I asked him if he was Señor Blas when we saw him) and I told him we came with Alberto last year.  We asked him for a business card to call him to arrange for private classes - he didn’t move to give us one but said “later”.  I told Blas we would love to have the opportunity to have a private class with him, but we would have to schedule it after the Camicando festival with Martha and Manolo.  Blas kind of had this “face” when we said “Canyengue”.  However, he replied, “They are muy buena gente (good people)”.

The milonga started.  The large table next to us had a group of people including a Chinese-looking lady in a yellow jersey like material dress (it was shapeless, thin and cheap), people in t-shirts and shorts with shopping bags and shoe bags etc. For some reason (because they seemed to be comfortable at the milonga and the table seemed to be a “regular” table for them) Man Yung thought they were “locals”!  I had to convince him that no self-respecting Argentine would go to a milonga like that - they were definitely tourists.  They were dancing with their shorts and jeans and casual clothes, for god’s sake!

The milonga was packed, but there were many poor dancers.  Man Yung pointed out to me that there were a group of Blas’ students - you can tell by their hand positions and the fact that they were dancing rather well. There was a grey faced hollowed eyed “milonguero” at the centre of the line of tables next to the kitchen door.  There was also that huge fat guy with his corner table (for some reason he looks like a “Walter” to me) - he must be 400 pounds - that we saw at La Milonguita last year.  Otherwise the tourist quotient was rather high. The floor was chaos - bumper car ride.  It was really hard to keep our concentration with all these collisions.  Man Yung asked the French lady to dance, she was sitting nearby - and while he was dancing with her Blas’ teaching assistant asked me to dance - but it was the last song of the tanda.  Blas’s student dances a bit too rigidly, like he is afraid of doing something incorrectly.  Blas is confident so he is not afraid to have his whole body express the dance and move with the music - but his student has not yet got the tango in him the same way.  I think he was dancing with me to find out what was going on - why was Blas so concerned about us? 

We had to share a table with a couple of middle aged tourists from ____________.  Talk about two joyless, sour faced people!  They didn’t talk to us, they didn’t really even talk to each other.  The pretty blond waitress, who was nice and jokey with us (and who Man Yung kept on asking to dance when she asked if there was anything else we wanted - she said “no, no, no!  I don’t know how to dance!") was totally different with them, because they only ordered one water to share and they never smiled or tried to be pleasant.  She was professional but almost at the point of being rude to them - I don’t blame her.

Every single tanda at La Milonguita they fidgeted with the lights.  It was lights on, lights off, lights partly on, lights partly off - if I had epilepsy I would be having an epileptic fit from all those flashing light changes.  I think they were making some kind of “mood lighting” - but when people were dancing crazy they would dance anyway regardless of “mood”.  And there were defects in the music as well.  One Donato track had been spliced and lengthened.  There was one track that skipped.  They played some odd music at the end too - and turned out all the lights completely.  It was so dark that it was good that so many women had “glow in the dark tans” - why is it with all these ladies in Buenos Aires with skinny x-ray bodies and flabby crepey skin and unnatural tans?  It is so unattractive, but tanning parlors must be making brisk business with this lot.

We didn’t leave until right at the end of the night.  My throat was still sore because the antibiotics hadn’t started to work, but we stayed right until the end anyway - I would have preferred to leave earlier, especially since Camicando started the next day.  Anyway, we still had a good time dancing.  At the door, Blas said goodbye - and gave Man Yung a “look” (hard to describe here, but Man Yung gets a lot of these looks from the porteños who think he is a cheeky dancer) and then gave him a huge hug.  He never gave us his business card - he decided that he shouldn’t interfere with us, we have some people behind us that he doesn’t know about and the best thing to do is to keep distance, although he respects us as dancers.

We got the coat check lady to call us a cab - good thing too because the lightning came back and it started to rain buckets.  We actually got a cab and not a remise - and I asked the young taxi driver whether there was a flood, because it rained pretty heavily.  He said no, it was normal for the rain to be this heavy, but it would be over quickly.  By the time we reached the hotel it was torrential and the streets were like rivers.  We had thought about eating out - but that was not going to be a good idea with the weather.  We just had our instant noodles and went to sleep.


jessiechung said...

What a wonderful journal you wrote, Irene! Reading your journal is like watching a movie. Thoroughly enjoyed every scene you described. How you described Bla's change of attitude is hilarious. I could almost see the muscle twitching in his face. Ha ha ha...
Great job!

Jessie and Dorian

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Jessie and Dorian,

So glad that you are enjoying these posts! We think you are getting a cinematic experience reading this because - everything that happened was real. Writing and reading all these accounts is like a video playback of what we went through in the trip for us too.

As for Blas - once he found out who were our teachers he didn't want to take us on (it's kind of like the martial art masters too - you don't just take up the students of other teachers willy-nilly just because they paid or whatever) - but we still would recommend that people take his classes if they ever get the opportunity. He's a great dancer and teacher.

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

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