Sunday, August 28, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009, Part 9 - Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday March 2, 2009

Dear V,

The first day of the Camicando festival!  We had attended both the 2007 and 2008 editions… and now it’s already Camicando 2009.  Can’t say we are too enthusiastic though – we love spending time with Martha and Manolo, but we must be getting old because taking the festival classes make us feel so tired!  Maybe it’s the hectic milonga schedule we have during the night as well.  We were pretty exhausted from the previous night, and instead of getting up for breakfast we just stayed in our room and tried to get as much sleep as possible.

Not a promising start at all to the day – one step outside and we could feel how muggy and hot it was.  We went to withdraw cash (650 peso limit!) and then we went to a modern looking restaurant half a block from the hotel called El Callao just for a change.

El Callao has a very clean, angular décor – all straight lines.  The building itself is independent, set back from the street with a wide granite tiled plaza in front.  Looks like a place where "executives" go to eat... The inside of the restaurant is quite impressive with its dark mahogany furniture and white tablecloths, but get this – not enough air conditioning.  We were sweating while eating.  The food itself was another disappointment – we ordered from the Executive set menu (told you - it's for "Executives"), and found the beef too dry and over-cooked.  And you thought that the Argentinians couldn't go wrong with their beef. Nevertheless, the décor was nice, the service excellent. We had a very pleasant and cheerful waitress.  The restaurant had a notice saying it won't take credit.  Man Yung said to her - "I don't have any cash, only a credit card - I think you have to call the cops because we can't pay!"  Oh, what a big flirt.

After this “meh” lunch (won’t be going back there again) we went back to the hotel to call Osvaldo to verify whether he would be teaching at Saraza.  Yes, it indeed is true… so there was an extra item to squeeze in on Tuesday night.

This year’s Camicando isn't at La Nacional – apparently a few weeks before the event, the roof caved in and the venue was off limits until it could be fixed.  Kind of scary!  Camicando had to scramble for an alternative venue.  They eventually found another place in San Telmo – the Salon Victorial.

Salon Victorial is located on one of the narrow streets in San Telmo – a stately and narrow house with the typical Buenos Aires turn-of-the-century architecture, stone steps, red tiled floors.  A very impressive and nostalgic looking building.  Once we walked in, we discovered it’s fatal flaw – no air conditioning.  The weather was not cooperative either, it was so humid and hot. 

There’s a restaurant I think on the first floor (it was all dark and empty when we peered in) – the festival was held upstairs.  We saw Roxina (Martha and Manolo's direct student and one of the Camicando instructors) first on the steps, and her newlywed husband J.  J has accompanied Roxina to Camicando every year since we started attending the festival (and perhaps even before), and he helps with the organization as well as some of the translation.  We congratulated them on their marriage.  Roxina looks more and more beautiful every year, I think it is the happiness of being in love!

Not much more to say about classes – Martha and Manolo are great, as usual.  They give a lot of individual attention to all their students.  We always try to slack off and take it easy but they will not let any of their students stop practicing!  This year they have a new category call “Master Classes” – and you can see many international couples flocking to those at the festival. Anyone who has danced for more than a week in tango thinks they are a master already, ha ha! 

It was really hot at Salon Victorial – sorry, but that is the truth.  Sweat poured down our heads (instant shower!) even when we were standing still.  We went to Canyengue (sticky hot close embrace) class first and Milonga (you can dance open, but you have to move faster) class second – neither of which made us feel any cooler.

It was nice to see familiar faces and not so familiar faces at the festival, partaking of the “Camicando Inferno”.  There was E, an argentinian girl who has moved to the States – she brought her girlfriend, thus introducing a little of “La Marshall” to the canyengue scene.  There was the very friendly couple from Chile we have seen every year, who we keep on trying to exchanging emails with… and with whom we never seem to connect through email.  We never end up receiving any of their emails, even though they insisted they had sent them.  No, we didn't go and delete them on purpose.  I think our gmail has been screening everyone in tango (or is it just Canyengue?) and rejecting all the emails. 

I have mentioned about every one thinking they are a “Master” – not only that, but everyone really wants to be a “Teacher”.  There was a tall guy with sunken eyes and a shock of white hair at the festival – when the couple from Chile asked us a question about a step that Martha and Manolo was teaching, he stormed over and started "teaching" the Chilean couple before we had a chance to open our mouths to answer them.  The Chilean couple still didn’t get it – now, should you blame the students or the teacher?  Tango is filled with such “volunteer” instructors – any given night in the milonga they are blocking the line of dance with their instructive demonstrations and spur-of-the-moment lectures.

There’s a name in Chinese that we give to gossipy chinese women who believe they are better than you, can't refrain from letting you know that fact, AND they can’t seem to mind their own business – let’s term it the “Auntie #8 syndrome”.  I actually have a couple of these Aunties in my extended family, rubbing everyone around them the wrong way.  Well, guess what, there was one such lady at the festival!  We must be magnets for such thing (or perhaps she gravitates towards other Chinese people so she could speak conspiratorially and patronizingly with us in Chinese) because she made a bee-line for us.

“So, who are Martha and Manolo?  Are they any good?” she asked.

(Then why on earth are you taking their classes? At their festival?) “They have been our teachers since 2006.  They are excellent teachers,” we replied.

She wasn’t interested in our reply.  “You know, I came with a partner who speaks Spanish.  We are from New York.  New York tango is at a really high level. My partner is a really great dancer.  He could give you pointers. ”

Like it was any of our business.  We kind of shuffled over to get  away from her (but that didn't stop her from coming over to us all the time and dropping more "words of wisdom" and hints about the greatness of her tango community, her tango partner - and by association, her own tango greatness)

Break time.  The trouble with being in a historic building is that there are historic issues with the historical relics inhabiting the historic space.  I had to go to the washroom which was located down a dark and creepy unlit corridor in a creepy back room with garish fluorescent lighting.  Tried flushing - big mistake - the handle flew off and the flushing failed to occur.  That toilet needs an exorcism, AND there was no soap (not that much of a surprise in Buenos Aires).  Anyway.

We took advantage of the break to take some photos:

No, I guarantee no haunting here at Salon Victorial...especially not in the washrooms!

Ghostly images appearing on the walls of the Salon Victorial (just kidding - the Salon is kind of a Bohemian Art Gallery as well as Camicando central)

"Don't jump!" we yelled.  Ha ha, just a photo we took of the shirtless man in the building across the road from the Salon Victorial. Look at the gorgeous wrought iron balcony - typical of buildings in the San Telmo area.

 The colectivo running through the streets of San Telmo

With Martha and Manolo in one of the practice rooms.  "You can't make us practice more now, Manolo," we said, "We are on break!"

Salon Victorial has a little open air space in the middle of the building. During the break, many of us headed over there for some fresh air.  We bought a beer for Martha and talked a little with her.  We let her know that we were going to take Osvaldo and Coca’s classes on Tuesday night.   She was ok with it.  “Tell Osvaldo and Coca that Martha and Manolo send their love”, she said.

After classes, we headed back to the hotel – we were sopping wet from sweating and really needed a shower and a change of clothes. We were hardly in the hotel room for a few minutes when we were headed back out again - this time to Centro Region Leonesa.  Guess who we saw there?  It was Oscar Casas, looking down and waving at us from the second floor balcony!  "I figured that it was the time of year again when you guys will make it down to Buenos Aires!" he said.

Inside the dance hall we said hello to Maryann as well, who looked stunning as always (and where does she get all those really gorgeous dresses?), sitting in the front row doing the cabeceo and dancing every tanda.  As for us - we danced a little bit but didn't have fun. [I have here in my notes that Man Yung danced with "Josephine".  Who is Josephine?  Man Yung has at least one girlfriend in every milonga, even in Buenos Aires, and I can't keep track of them all - Irene]  The sound system got on our nerves - the music blaring out was loud but thin and tinny.  We were hungry - we ordered empanadas, but they weren't good because they were too mushy.

After about an hour Man Yung and I looked at each other and decided to leave and see what else was on.  The Tango Map listed a place called "Milongueando" which wasn't too far from Leonesa, so we said bye to Oscar (Oscar was sitting with Ricardo Viqueira and his son next to the bar) and headed out.
Milongueando was only a few blocks away, but unfortunately, it wasn't a milonga - it was a practica.  The venue was a "professional" tango school place (with spiffy modern renovation) and you could see into the school dance floor through the glass storefront.  Some beginners in jeans were inside, practicing their ochos awkwardly in sneakers.  We didn't even go in - but our taxi had already left.  We saw another taxi down the street about 20 metres away, and tried to flag it, but it didn't come over right away.  When it finally did, we asked the driver what he was doing, and the reply: counting money. 

There wasn't much other choice - we decided to head to Gricel.  The area around Gricel looked kind of sleazy, looked like it was a bar on the outside, with lots of people lining up to get in.  When we finally got in, we saw that the place was packed - sardine style.  Tables were placed edge to edge and you could hardly get up out of your chair without knocking over something.

The dance floor itself was overflowing - and dangerous.  All sorts of tango styles converged in that area and it was a free for all as everyone tried to stake their territory with all their pointy appendages on any available space. There was air conditioning - but apparently only from one air conditioning unit in the corner of the dance floor near the entrance.  Man Yung saw another of his tango girlfriends (actually, M from Montreal who took just one class at the Camicando festival) and danced with her a couple of tandas.  Man Yung also almost thumped a guy who kept on bumping into us - the guy backed off when he realized we were for real.

Guess who we saw there?  Osvaldo and Coca! They arrived after we did and sat by the table near the entrance (the one that Man Yung refused because everyone coming in would be disturbing you and trying to squeeze past - the organizer had to reseat us nearer to the bar because Man Yung was giving him the evil eye).  Osvaldo and Coca were just as surprised to see us as we were to see them [And neither of us were stalking the other!  We always end up bumping into each other at milongas even though we have no plans to meet].  Juan Esquivel came later and sat with them - he was also surprised to see us again so soon. He reminded us to see Milonguisimo, and let us know that we were dancing well.  Not that you could tell with all the shenanigans on the dance floor blocking the view (perhaps Juan was just being nice!).

So our Monday night at the milongas was a bit of a bust.  We were back in the hotel by 2:30 a.m.  "Next time we are in Buenos Aires on a Monday, remind me to just stay all night in the hotel!" said Man Yung.

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Alberto Dassieu

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