Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doing my bit for the follower/leader disparity problem in Toronto

Nine out of Ten Torontonians agree: Man Yung is the Energizer Bunny

Some followers with significant others go to milongas to dance with their significant other and other people. Some followers go to milongas to dance with everyone except their significant other. Other followers go to milongas to get away from their significant other.

I happen to be one of those followers who go to milongas just to dance with her significant other.

This is because I happen to enjoy dancing with Man Yung. This is also because Man Yung is more than a handful. He can dance all night; I cannot. So if I have any energy, if I can still stand in my Comme Il Fauts without wincing in pain, I dance with Man Yung.

This creates some problems in the milonga. We are still in North America after all - and many leaders still ask for a dance the "old fashioned way" - i.e. go right up to a follower and open their mouths and ask. Even if the follower has attended the milonga with her significant other. Even if the follower is not looking at them. Even if the follower is clearly preoccupied with playing with her iPhone, writing copious notes, talking with her friends, eating rum cake etc. etc.

I wish that the cabeceo was the general rule instead of the exception in Toronto, because if that was in effect, it would save the poor gentlemen quite a bit of embarrassment when I turn to them and say - "No."

Another problem that happens is when Man Yung invites a follower who came to the milonga with their significant other (asking permission from the significant other, of course) to dance. In this situation, the significant other of the invitee may either 1) feel an obligation that he has to ask the significant other (me) of the inviter to dance or 2) feel that for reciprocity's sake, he is entitled to dance with with the significant other (me) of the inviter.

While I thank the follower for dancing with Man Yung (as indeed I thank every follower from the bottom of my heart for dancing with Man Yung - the way he dances is enough to wear out ten wives, let alone one!), my answer to her significant other still has to remain "No."

"But you're so mean, Irene!" sobbed Man Yung as he prepared the soup. "If you don't agree to dance with the significant others of these followers that means they might not be allowed to dance with me next time! I really enjoy dancing with these ladies!"

"Too bad, Man Yung," I responded. "We have more followers than leaders in this community. I'm doing my bit to alleviate the follower/leader disparity problem in Toronto by not dancing and by letting you dance as much as you want to in the milonga. However, if you have already worn out all the single followers you proceed with all the attached followers at your own risk!"

Friday, January 29, 2010

Adela Galeazzi y Jorge Garcia - Milonga "Parque Patricios"

Adela just sent us the link to her latest performance with Jorge Garcia, the amazingly quick-footed brother of El Flaco Dany, at Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo:

What a beautiful example of milonga traspie! We can't wait to be back in Buenos Aires to see these masters dance in person!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alberto Dassieu's Tango Story Part 1

Alberto and Paulina performing to Piazolla's "Verano Porteno" in San Francisco, January 2010

Since Alberto and Paulina are touring San Francisco and San Diego now, we thought it would be a perfect time to post a translation by our friend V. Roldan of a little "historia" that Alberto wrote about his recollections of his experiences in Tango. It is an enchanting, sometimes humourous story, filled with details of tango people, places and things long past but still carried on in the memories of the milongueros still living and dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

The original full spanish version can be found here on Alberto's official website.

Translated by V. Roldan

Part 1

It’s the beginning of January 2005, Paulina is wondering: she wants to know how was the beginning of my beautiful illness called dancing Tango. I was born October 13th 1936 in the beautiful barrio of Saavedra, and as a kid since I was very little I liked feeling Tango. Why? I don’t know; don’t ask me because I don’t really know.

At the back of my house there was the path to a dance floor of a club “All Boys de Saavedra”. At that time it didn’t have the dance floor that it now has, before it was a basketball court and at the back of my place there was the entrance to the dance floor.

I remember being very little, I was 8 or 9 and no other than Osvaldo Pugliese came to the club. This event led me in a very defined direction. Why did that lead me? Because I used to sit at the stage and watch Caldara and Ruggiero [Pugliese’s bandoneon players] “break” the bandoneon on stage.

And I was sitting at the stage, imitating all they did. For example, if they played the bandoneon beating it I would do exactly the same thing.

No need to mention that I would stay until the very end, and after I got home after that day, the pillows in my house became bandoneons, a bandoneon that every time I heard it said: This is Osvaldo Pugliese.

To help increase my passion for tango, my dad who also liked tango used to go to a very small tango dance place called “Pena” that was beside the “Prestamo” Bank. At that time at Cabildo between Ibera and Quesada, there was a small night club and that’s where they had the “Tango Pena”.

Among the well known tango people that used to go to that place on Thursday, there was no other than Leopoldo Dias Velez, a man whom they called “Magan”, who used to own a bakery across the street - an excellent person - two brothers, Tito and Coco, who were motorcycle mechanics – anyway, wonderful people.

The age difference, I was only 9 or 10 at that time. But… why did my dad take me there, if there were only grown men? Because my dad used to hear me sing, and I had a Tango in my repetoire that I sang all the time that when I listen to it now, I say to myself: Why did a little boy sing a tango with such strong lyrics? If a boy sang “Caminito” or “Adios Pampa mia” or “Fondin de Pedro de Mendoza” it would have been okay but this tango that I used to sing was very intense, now every time that I hear it I say: Piazzolla Florentino, such a tango!:

“When last night I turned at the corner, and quietly had crazy thoughts, I dreamt with only seeing her and yell at her my angriness due to her betrayal and now that I’m holding her in my arms…”

These lyrics are not for a 9 year old kid, who was I going to have in my arms? Only my mom or my aunt! But I liked that tango and I sang it. And my dad said that I sang it very well, and also Leopoldo Diaz Velez agreed but I was only 9 years old its not like nowadays that the kids bring the opportunities to themselves at that time my dad was the one bringing me the opportunities and it was only because he was very “Porteno” and a bit Bohemian, otherwise it wouldn’t have been that way.

And right then my sickness for tango started.

My mom liked dancing, but my dad didn’t dance with her. My dad was very frisky, he danced with the younger ladies, and since my mom as she was a bit chubby – well, he didn’t dance with her.

But my mom didn’t make a big deal out of it, she would then say to me “Rulo [Alberto’s nickname], lets go dance a tango", and I would dance with my mom, I leaned on her big bosom and we would dance!

And then, it would be the aunts that wanted to dance with me, I don’t know why, it may was that I enjoyed dancing so much that I did things that they liked in the dance. Then when I turned 12 or 13 we left to live in Olivos. That place also touched my tango, despite the fact that Olivos wasn’t close to tango specially that area….. Oh well, but it must be the things we ourselves create, not the place. We lived on Italia Street and Bartolome Cruz, a block away from the presidential area and one block from the Avenida Libertador, on the way to the river. As for Tango at that place, there was nothing.

But my dad knew a man that had at that time a disco club that some years later there was a sad incident, very sad because it got burned down and many young guys died. The name of the place when the fire happened was “Keivi’s”.

Before the place burned down, at that time when I was 12 or 13 it was called “Copacabana” and it was a place where couples would come. It was what they called a “night club”.

In Olivos there were three nightclubs: Copacabana, King George and Pepe Lemoco, they all belonged to the same owner. This man was my dad’s friend, and his last name was “Chiape”, he had his history but we are not going to go into details about it, but he was an excellent guy. I knew him and this was despite the age difference (I was a kid and he was a grown-up). My dad wasn’t a fool when it came to choosing his friends. Everybody minded his own business, my dad with his pizzas, the man on his stuff but my dad knew he was an excellent person.

So one day he tells my dad, Pablo, your son enjoys tango so much, why don’t you let him play the music at the night club? And my dad said: This would be perfect.

I could do this instead of staying up all night. We used to sit on the sidewalk until late, looking at the people called “bathtubs” - these were the people that would take the bus that was called bathtubs because it looked like it, they came from el Congreso to the Port of Olivos.

We liked it, as a kid we say hello to all the people who were riding the bathtubs, and we stayed with my sisters, until maybe 12 or 1 am so my dad said, “Well, this is going to be perfect!” He could play the music until 12 or 1 am instead of hanging around on the Avenue Libertador, which was one block from my place.

And that was the way I started DJ’ing. I found some tango discs, and they were Angel D’Agostino and Angel Vargas, recordings from 1940 more or less, they were a jewel - it was with time that I realized they were a jewel.

At that time I liked them and that was it. Then what did I do, I put Angel Vargas and the boyfriend of a girl will come and knock on the DJ booth, a place with glass from which I did not have access to the outside, and then he would tell me “Hey, could you please put a foxtrot?” And I would say yes, I would put a foxtrot – but only one – and then go back to Angel Vargas. So they would come back and tell me could you please put a “bolero” and I would say “Yes of course” and then would put only one and again after that Angel Vargas. And that was the way Angel Vargas became one of my favourites.

One or two years passed by, and they invited me to a party at the Jockey Club (at Bartolome Cruz and Malaver). They had a sports center for the employees and it had a big dancing floor. On Sundays they had a picnic, and all Jockey Club employees would go.

The dance floor was very nice, and everyone would dance. Then… the first steps… One of my sisters had the idea of saying “My brother knows how to dance”. And since that day, all the Sundays we would go the the Jockey Club, and I had people to dance with, older ladies, ladies not that old, young girls… but young girls there weren’t many and the ones that were young they wouldn’t know how to dance tango… they danced other things, foxtrot, or rumba or conga but not tango.

Then, months passed by and there was a party with the theatre people, the organizers was one of the famous actors at the time, Faus Rocha. He had two daughters, a slim one and a chubby one. The chubby was somehow attracted to me, and her mom liked me because I danced tango, thus with me being a tango dancer she saw things in me that I didn’t see.

Well, I was her favourite dancer. This took place in a “confiteria” - its name was “Nino”. Dancing tango at “Nino” would be the same as saying nowadays in the “La Recoleta” area in 2005 when you see a person go to dance tango in one of those nightclubs, they would say: Where does this strange bug came from?

It was more of less the same, but I was restless, I danced tango, and she liked it, so everything was perfect. Few blocks from there, at Roca street and Avenida Libertador there was an area very frequented by people that liked dancing, “el bajo Vicente Lopez, about 1951 or 1952.

From my place there were 4 blocks but to get me out of the river, or from playing racket or ball or from swimming, which I was very good at, it wasn’t easy they couldn’t get me away from those things but there was already something big in me and that was dancing.

It wasn’t only the music that I liked, I liked dancing tango too. A friend of mine Pocho Galli, whom I still see from time to time (Pocho Galli had a brother, Rubito; which was very extrovert for dancing, I didn’t know that) he asked me, “What about going to “Rancho Grande” to dance?”

For me going to Rancho Grande was an unthinkable thing, it was at Roca street, and from Bartolome Cruz to Libertador, the first business that had dancing was called “Buenos Aires”, then it was “Rancho Grande”, and then a place that we called “el Chamame” because they played music form the suburbs, then another milonga, it was called “El Trebol”.

The Trebol had a peculiarity, now I understand but at that time I didn’t: the peculiarity, what was it? The girls that went to that place, they “made a living” - in other words they were prostitutes. And the guys that were there 90% they were pimps, the ones that would come back to pick up the money. At that time I had no idea.

One day I went out dancing, and I danced with a lady that danced very well. I danced one tango, two tangos and at the third one a guy approached me and said- “Hey, don’t you think you are dancing way too much with my woman?” I mentioned that I didn’t know she was his woman and he said “Yes, she is my woman.”

And that “my woman” didn’t mean my spouse or wife - that “my woman” meant something stronger. The thing that that gentleman didn’t know was that that place was my neighbourhood and everybody around knew me.

Then, at that time there was a guy that was a boxer - not a great boxer but he still managed to fight for the South American championship. His name was Tatita Fernandez, he had a stuttering problem, but he was my friend, we went to school together. He witnessed the incident and came over and he told him – “What’s your problem with my friend? Yeah, you Com-compadrito, you son of a bitch!” And that was the end of the discussion. How did the conversation end? With a “Knock Out” – “El compadrito Knock Out." At that time that was the way people dealt with issues.

to be continued...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things they never told us about Taxi Drivers in Buenos Aires Part 2

(Continued from previous post)

One night past midnight we had just finished attending the closing milonga of Camicando at La Baldosa. La Baldosa on Friday nights is held at Salon El Pial, in the barrio of Flores. We needed to get to Sin Rumbo, all the way in Villa Urquiza, but how? Inexperienced, we failed ask the organizer to call a taxi or a remise for us.

The salon itself is in the middle of a maze of quiet, dark residential streets. There were no taxis to be found on the street in front of the salon, so we had to wend our way out of the residential subdivision - keeping our eye out for danger and observing the numerous prostitutes waiting for customers to pass by on the street corners or under doorways as we hurried along.

Finally we reached a main thoroughfare - however, it was very late at night and there was very little traffic. We stood waiting for a good ten minutes without any luck. Finally, we spotted a taxi. But it was a non-radio taxi. Should we get in? We decided to take a chance.

Of course we were nervous taking a non-radio taxi that we flagged down in the middle of the night in a middle of an unfamiliar area going to another unfamiliar area away from the safety and numbers of downtown. I think that is about as risky as it gets when it gets to taking taxis in Buenos Aires itself.

The driver was a young man, which actually makes it riskier (see below). We kept an eye on the areas that we were traveling in - made sure that the driver was taking the main routes, where there were still lots of people about, and lots of restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs still open. We could still jump out and call for help if necessary! But the other thing I tried to do was to talk to the driver. We would observe what was going on in the road - there happened to be a bunch of cars that were racing each other along the road that we were traveling - and make remarks like "Peligroso!" (Dangerous) or "Que pasa!" (What's happening?) to see what our driver would say. If he had bad intentions, we figured that by engaging him in conversation and observing his replies and reactions, we would be able to detect it if somethings was "off" about him, and we would cut short our ride accordingly.

We were about 2/3 of the way (and it is a long trip) to Villa Urquiza, and so far, so good. Our driver was a little quiet, but polite and normal. Then, we passed by a group of people in front of a seedy-looking bar. Our driver waved to them.

What was that all about? Worst case scenario: he could have been signaling to other people in his "gang" of taxi-passenger robbers. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Amigos!” I exclaimed.

Our driver confirmed with a smile that he was indeed waving to his “amigos” (as opposed to a bunch of “bandidos”). After this, our driver cheered up considerably and became quite talkative – friendship is a big thing to the Portenos. We had just edged into Villa Urquiza and it turned out that yes, those were the driver’s friends from the neighbourhood. He actually grew up in Villa Urquiza – in fact, just a few streets from Sin Rumbo.

The lesson to be learned from this? Well, we took a chance and scared ourselves silly. But we minimized the risk by talking (nicely) to the taxi driver and making sure he knew that we were aware of what he was doing – without putting him off and giving an impression that we were "just another bunch of paranoid, rude and uptight gringos”. Good manners like your mother taught you and a friendly attitude can also be used as a tactic - for safety.

6. For safety reasons, choose an old taxi driver and not a young one.

In our experience, the older drivers (50+) are calmer and more professional. Having driven a taxi for eons, there’s nothing that they haven’t seen before and they are less likely to take risks in the street. They are more likely to be raised to have the good manners in vogue decades ago - which makes for a better taxi ride and less risk at the end of that ride of the driver trying to defraud you. The plain truth: what you hope to find in a good milonguero (good navigation, manners, familiarity with the culture of El Tango, calmness on la pista) you are more likely to find in a taxi driver who is around the same age as most good milongueros.

As for the young ones (40 and under) – some of them can be gentle, like the one who drove us to Villa Urquiza, but most of them, we suspect, would rather be doing something else rather than taxi-ing gringos around town.

This resentment can manifest itself as surly, bitter silence and barely perceptible grunts of acknowledgement when you communicate your destination address and when you pay your fare. Or it can manifest itself in road-rage at break-neck speeds. In the worst case we have experienced, our driver got caught up in a shouting match with a bunch of truck drivers in the middle of traffic – and almost got into a fist fight over the pressing question of “whose mother came from a country village and whose didn’t”.

7. Some Taxi Drivers can be a treasure trove of tango lore

Tango is a great way to break the ice with Portenos - that includes with Porteno taxi drivers. If we ever get into a taxi in which tango is playing on the radio, we will always comment on the music. Bonus points for recognizing harder to name pieces, like Pugliese's version of "El Encopao!"

If the taxi driver is at all interested in tango, he may give recommendations on where you could go to dance - we heard about Viejo Correo for the very first time from a taxi driver who went there to dance in between shifts. He may even point out tango landmarks, like the time our driver pointed out the stadium "Racing Club", for which a tango had been written.

Some taxi drivers may even be milongueros who have been featured on Youtube. On our second trip, we wanted to meet Osvaldo Centeno - and guess what, we found ourselves sitting in his taxi one night totally by chance!

Osvaldo Centeno with Ana Maria Schapira dancing to D'Arienzo's "Amarras"
If you are lucky like us you might get to ride in his taxi too and have a chat with him about tango!

8. The "Remise"

As far as we understand, the "Remise" is an unlicensed taxi. That means that there's no regulation, probably no insurance (for the commercial purpose of transporting passengers - god forbid you get into a crash) and the fares are rather mysterious. One driver told us that the return trip back to town will cost "the same as what you paid to get out here." Other drivers couldn't tell us how much it would cost in advance - all they can say is that they will know "when they get there." This is because the fare is dependent on the number of kilometres you had to travel based on the driver's reading of the odometer multiplied by a figure that isn't on a posted chart but is rather something that sprung out of the driver's noggin. Strangely enough, this fantastic figure still results in a fare that is substantially cheaper than for a taxi.

Nevertheless, the "Remise" seem to be an accepted way for people to get around - ask for the organizer or the doorperson at the barrio milongas to call a "taxi", and nine times out of ten they will call their handy number for a "Remise". Logically, it is safer to take a "Remise" that has been called by the organizer at a milonga than a non-radio taxi just off the street - I think we are supposed to be reassured by the fact that the "Remise" driver service is probably known by the organizers and used on a regular basis. In fact, one night getting into a Remise after a milonga, our driver realized that the previous passenger had left their handbag in the car - and rushed out to notify and give the handbag to the milonga organizer so that the item could be returned to its owner.

That being said, we've had some strange hair-raising rides on "Remises" - like the time our Remise driver ran through every single red light going into town. Was there a law that permitted Remise drivers to run red lights after 3:00 a.m.? Perhaps "Remise" drivers are known for risky driving practices - when Osvaldo and Coca called one for us to take us back into town after our visit to their house, Osvaldo told the driver he better drive well because Osvaldo had his "eye" on him!

9. Tip your taxi driver well for better karma

We don't live in Buenos Aires so there are many things we are unfamiliar with - like the layout of the city, like the language, like what the money looks like, etc.

The information that we get from the internet indicates that you don't have to tip taxi drivers much - half a peso or a peso seem to be the norm.

But since we are just tourists and not particularly sharp at spotting counterfeit bills or "switcheroos", we have to go by goodwill and good luck. Hopefully, the friendly conversation we have had with the taxi driver may have made him less inclined to defraud us. In addition, clear communication of a generous tip may also help.

We aim for around 10 percent, rounded up to the nearest peso. So, if the taxi ride is 13.5 pesos, we may give the taxi driver a 20 peso note and clearly indicate, "Podria darme cinco (5) pesos"? If it is a 25 peso taxi ride, we may give the taxi driver 30 and ask for 2 pesos back.

This is not because we like to be lavish big spender gringos. It is actually a psychological tactic. Firstly, we have done our calculation and we know exactly what we want back. Secondly, the driver will realize that since we are dealing with whole pesos, he could keep his precious change - the last time we checked Argentina is still in a crisis over "monedas". Lastly, the driver can do a little cost-benefit analysis and realize that it would take less effort to just take the generous tip than engage in risky sleight-of-hand with the bills.

Conclusion: Taxis are a great way to get around Buenos Aires - if you take a few precautions and have a positive, friendly attitude

It's not easy for a taxi driver to earn his living in Buenos Aires. The traffic is crazy, and the street layout is impossible, and there are all sorts of characters on the streets. Driving through that mess hour after hour, day after day can induce nervous breakdown.

It's even harder than before to make a good living, with the gas prices rising and the recession. Last March, in the middle of the recession, we had never encountered so many empty and available cabs.

We have it good as foreign tourists with favourable exchange rates - taxis are a good deal for visitors like us. Why not take a taxi if you could? Getting from place to place in a taxi is fast and efficient. You'd also be putting some money into the local economy. And who knows, even though we won't guarantee that your taxi driver will be treating you to empanadas at El Sanjuanino - you might even get to see and learn a little about Buenos Aires - and about tango - through the eyes of a taxi driver.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Things they never told us about Taxi Drivers in Buenos Aires - Part 1

Radio Taxi in Plaza Francia

Man Yung and I are not veteran taxi-takers. When we lived in Hong Kong there was so much public transit available there was hardly ever any need to take a taxi, and here in the suburban hell of Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, we are slaves to the almighty car.

We approached the idea of taking taxis in Buenos Aires with much trepidation - the net is abound with stories of daylight robberies, fraudulent change-giving, outrageous scams, extended rip-off tours, or, at the very least, extreme jaw-dropping grandmother-scaring hair-curling eyebrow-raising impoliteness etc. etc.

However, we were pleasantly surprised after three trips to Buenos Aires and an average of around four to six taxi rides each day of our trips, that 95% of the time we have had good to terrific experiences with taxi drivers. Of the remaining 5%, we were lucky to encounter (knock on wood) no more than a little bit of a curt, surly attitude from the taxi driver.

That would mean, by our calculations, that 9.5 out of 10 of all taxi drivers we encountered in Buenos Aires were professional, polite, and intent on one goal and only one goal: to get you where you want to go in the most efficient route possible. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things we have experienced in Buenos Aires was the ability to flag down a taxi (because there are so many, night and day) at the spur of the moment and immediately be whisked off to wherever we wanted to go.

Likewise, our spanish-speaking Toronto milonguera friend has nothing but good things to say about the taxi drivers that she has encountered. On her last trip, just because they were talking about where to have the best empanadas in the city, the taxi driver drove her to El Sanjuanino in Recoleto and treated her to some. And no, he wasn’t trying to get her phone number - he was just trying to prove that hand made pastry and hand-chopped fillings make for the best empanadas, ever.

That being said, we understand that taxi-taking in Buenos Aires can still seem like a scary prospect for some people. In this light we offer you:

Irene and Man Yung's list of "Things they never told us about Taxi Drivers in Buenos Aires" (we had to learn the hard way, but then it wasn't too bad)

1. Don’t bother to look for seatbelts – there aren’t any

In Canada we get ticketed if we don’t wear seatbelts. In Buenos Aires taxis, you’d be lucky if you can find any, and if you find some, they are not likely to work. This was the conversation we had with a taxi driver on the first day of our first visit to Buenos Aires:

Irene: Where’s the seat belt?
Taxi Driver: It’s there, it’s right there!
Irene: [Looking around frantically] Where? Where?
Taxi Driver: There! Underneath!
Irene: [Searching desperately for “Underneath”, wherever that may be”] Where?
Taxi Driver: There!
Etc. etc.

Take a deep breath and pray that the great spirit will give you strength to accept what you can’t change - or take public transit next time! It would save you a lot of aggravation.

Nevertheless, never fear - Buenos Aires taxi drivers are some of the best drivers in the world: See #3 below.

2. Flag down the taxi on the passenger side of the street

It took us a whole week to understand this. We would quite lamely flap our arms up and down standing on the driver side of the street trying to flag down a taxi. Almost all the streets downtown are one-way so we figured, what's the difference, the cars are all going the same way. Some taxi drivers took pity on us and picked us up anyway - but most taxis would just fly by without a backward glance.

I think there is a traffic law that forbids taxi drivers from picking up passengers on the driver's side of the road - so don't be idiots like us and get over to the right side of the road! The taxi drivers will be happier to pick you up if they don't have to contravene the law and that would make for a much nicer trip.

3. Buenos Aires Taxi Drivers are some of the best drivers in the world.

Molson Indy? Formula One Grand Prix? Dakkar Rally? Days of Thunder? Forget it. Buenos Aires drivers are the real deal.

Man Yung used to be just plain terrified riding in a Buenos Aires taxi - gripping for his dear life on anything that was still attached to the door until his knuckles turned white. He used to swear that he would never, ever dare sit in the front passenger seat - because guess what, the thrilling experience may just cause him to lose control of his bladder.

However, many rides and zero accidents (knock on wood again) later, we've realized that Buenos Aires taxi drivers on the road are just like good milongueros on the dance floor. We can't count how many times our driver has easily overcome what we thought were "impossible" traffic situations in Buenos Aires. You don't believe that the taxi will be able to turn out of a lane when it's bumper to bumper with the bus in front of it without backing up? Wrong. You didn't think that your taxi could squeeze into a gap in the traffic that would be a tight fit for dental floss? Think again. Did you seriously doubt that your taxi driver could maintain a breakneck speed on the crowded streets and not hit any cars, pedestrians or light poles? Doubt no longer!

In fact, it appears that the more difficult the situation, the better the driving skill. The only time we almost got into a collision was on a completely quiet residential street with no traffic. Our taxi driver was so preoccupied looking for the address he almost collided at an intersection - into the only other moving car in the area within a four block radius!

4. The Great Debate: Radio Taxi or no?

Everyone says that for safety reasons, you don't get into a taxi unless it's a Radio Taxi. That's good advice and we would advise everyone to listen to it. Radio Taxis are affiliated with the larger taxi companies with dispatchers and there's less chance of any "funny-business" or worse. There's also less chance of getting lost, since the driver can call the dispatcher for directions. People traveling on their own or people who cannot communicate in Spanish should definitely only take Radio Taxis for their own safety.

That being said, we have taken Non-Radio Taxis. Why? Because sometimes it's hard to differentiate between Radio and Non-Radio Taxis (and you thought Man Yung's short-sightedness was only a handicap for him in the cabeceo) and it seemed rude not to take a non-Radio Taxi we had flagged down from across the street once it has arrived right at our feet. Sometimes it's the only taxi available on a dark street on a dark night in a dark, deserted neighbourhood and we've already been waiting for fifteen minutes.

Luckily (Knock on wood again and again) we have not been robbed or killed taking a Non-Radio Taxi. The worst thing that happened was that our Non-Radio taxi driver was unable to radio for directions to Glorias Argentinas, and therefore 1) he had to consult a very ancient tattered map and 2) he had to roll down his window and ask passing cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers for directions and 3) he still get lost and circled a couple of times in order to get there. But he did get there anyway, and we have realized through talking to Oscar Hector and Alberto Dassieu and from taking other Radio and Non-Radio Taxis on subsequent trips - Glorias Argentinas is pretty difficult to find. People always overshoot it because all the streets in the neighbourhood are dark and sometimes signless one-way streets.

In fact, we have encountered some pretty nice Non-Radio Taxi Drivers and had some very interesting conversations. We once asked a Non-Radio Taxi Driver while riding in his taxi whether, in his opinion, it was safe to get a ride from a Non-Radio Taxi Driver. His answer?


So with this in mind, please read #5 below for safety precautions while taking a Non-Radio Taxi, or indeed, any Taxi in Buenos Aires.

5. Good manners = Good Safety Precautions

This is what I do whenever we take a taxi:

I scramble into the taxi while saying an audible and friendly "Buenos Dias Senor" (if day), "Buenos Tardes Senor" (if afternoon), or "Buenos Noches Senor" (if night).

We never slam the taxi door. We close it gently and cautiously, like the car was our own.

I have the destination address ready: either written large and legible with a bold Sharpie felt-tip pen on a small note pad which I immediately show to the driver, or I will tell him the intersection ("Callao y Santa Fe, por favor", for example) if it's a major intersection and I can pronounce it correctly. I won't bark out the directions - even while showing the written directions I will say, politely, "Por favor...."

When we are traveling to our destination, I won't be turning to Man Yung and yapping loudly and continuously in Chinese or English like the taxi driver wasn't there. I might exchange a few words with Man Yung but this is not the time to be engrossed in a private conversation - this is the time to observe your surroundings and, if your spanish is up to it, to engage the taxi driver.

For example, observe if the weather is hot/cold/rainy/sunny. "Hace mucho calor!" I might remark. Or perhaps point out something unusual happening outside. "Que paso? Hay una muchacha en un bikini en la calle!" And if we have a normal/polite taxi driver, he will respond in agreement, and offer an observation of his own.

If you have created a good impression so far (yes, it is important to create a good first impression, even to your taxi driver) and your taxi driver a nice normal, friendly guy, the taxi driver may continue a conversation with you. He'll like to know where you are from, why you are in Buenos Aires, whether it was the first time you have traveled to Buenos Aires, etc. This is not the time to clam up and feel offended about a stranger probing your background (unless you happen to be an International Man of Mystery, in which case you are entitled to your secrets) - this is an opportunity to practice your spanish, and perhaps find out a little about whatever you wish from a Buenos Aires expert. Yes, your Porteno taxi driver should be an expert in Buenos Aires - he drives around in it every day!

"But I'm so tired from staying up all night dancing in the milongas - all this sounds so exhausting!" you say. And I agree, it is exhausting to make so much effort - but there's a good reason behind it.

Continued in Part 2.....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Martha and Manolo's Intensive Canyengue and Milonga Seminars - March 1 - 5, 2010

Just received news from Martha and Manolo about their intensive seminars on Canyengue and Milonga in March. For more information, please visit the website at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Alberto Dassieu in San Francisco and San Diego, January 2010

The updated information from our teacher Alberto Dassieu's website about his upcoming tour indicates that he will be in San Francisco from January 11 to January 28, 2010, and San Diego from January 29 to January 31, 2010!

Information on Alberto's activities in San Francisco can be found on the Tango Mango website. This website has a lot of detailed information on milongas and classes in the San Francisco area and also has information on where Alberto will be when he is in San Francisco.

More information on the San Diego leg of his tour can be found on the Tango Essence website.

Last but not least, Alberto and Paulina will be at the Chicago Mini Tango Festival April 8 to 11, 2010, just in case you miss him in January!

P.S. We're working on a translation of Alberto's life story in Tango as posted in Spanish on his website. My spanish isn't good enough so once again, I enlisted my spanish-speaking friend to help us with this - and she finds Alberto's life story absolutely riveting! "Can you give me the dates of his tour in San Francisco and San Diego?" she asked me last night at the milonga. "I'm going to see if I can make it to his classes there!"

Watch this space for updates as we post the translation - in several parts, because Alberto's story is very long!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pina Bausch and Tete

Pina Bausch

We didn't even know that Pina Bausch existed until she died last year. Man Yung happened to stumble upon a tribute to her and the two other titans of dance who passed away in 2009 (the other two being Merce Cunningham and Michael Jackson) in a recent edition of Ming Pao's monthly magazine.

I was planning to write about Pina and Tango. And Pina and Tete, because they had met each other and had danced together in one of Pina Bausch's productions in Buenos Aires. There is a page on Tete and Silvia's website about their friendship and collaboration here.

I was thinking: "What won't I give to have a chance to look at footage of them dancing together!"

Then I read sad news on the internet. El Tangauta reports that Tete had gone dancing at El Beso, and then was found dead in bed in his apartment the following day.

The news shook me to the core. Writing about meeting him in Buenos Aires in 2008 in our previous post, it seemed like only yesterday that we danced. The Tete whom we met for a brief moment - filled with vitality, energy, passion, kindness, humour, laughter, music, all the stuff of humanity and of tango and of life - dead.

Although Tete and Pina have passed on, their legacy in dance will continue to live in our hearts and minds.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 9


Something to make you more jealous‏
From: Irene (
Sent: March 5, 2008 12:44:43 AM
To: V (

Dear V,

I know that all these updates are making you feel bad about not getting a second mortgage and joining us on this trip, now I have more news to make you feel even worse, hee hee!

Today was not supposed to be too exciting, we woke up really late, almost at noon, went out to La Madeleine to have lunch (it's a restaurant close to the hotel which is open 24 hours - the speciality is pizzas from wood burning oven but we haven't tried it, but the pasta, empanadas, salads and beef are good, we´ve been there for lunch and past midnight dinner for several days now) because we missed the free breakfast. We then headed out to the festival at La Nacional.

So it was the same classes - Canyengue, followed by movies of milongueros, and then a break while we skipped Candombe class, and then Milonga with M&M. Osvaldo by the way is in really bad shape and couldn't come to teach his class today - perhaps he won´t be returning to the festival. In fact he is the hospital, he had a fever after yesterday´s class and the doctor decided his condition needed to be monitored. We asked Martha whether we should go and visit him in the hospital, but she didn´t know where he was. We have cancelled private classes with him, it would kill him to have to teach now. I hope he gets better soon, Man Yung and I both feel very sad and anxious about him.

The movies of the milongueros was really exciting. There was video of exhibitions by Portalea, Miguela and Nelly Balmaceda, about two or three milongueros we recognized from "Tango, baile nuestro" the documentary that was made in 1989. The milongueros of today can´t hold a candle to these dancers - they were really inventive, and most of all, they danced because they enjoyed it and really didn't care about what they should or should not do and what was orthodox or unorthodox. Everyone had their distinctive style and were respected for it. Nowdays you see everyone in cookie cutter styles - "Villa Urquiza", "Milonguero Style", "Tango Nuevo", or whatever happens to be the newest label, the newest fad. Everyone does the same steps, all the women do the same adornments they have copied from youtube. It was really an eye opener, watching these videos and really how great these dancers were without having to be anything other than themselves. All of them were good without having to conform to any of the "standard styles" that seem to restrict us today.

We went out for a walk in the surrounding area while Candombe class was on - the streets look a lot like the streets in Paris. There is a leafy canopy over the street, there are many cafes - looks very similar to Paris except there's a lot more traffic belching black smoke. The weather today was quite nice too, no rain, a little sun but some breeze and lower humidity.

We went to have a light meal at La Continental (it´s a chain restaurant that also specializes in pizzas) and our waiter was called Manolo! When we got back to class we told M&M that we had a waiter called Manolo and that we gave him extra tips because of that and M&M thought that was really funny.

When we went back to the festival, in fact, Alberto was there! He was waiting for the Camicando Candombe instructor, Yuyu Herrera. Apparently Alberto needed to find a partner for a job but his regular partner's mother just died, so he was going to ask Yuyu if she can find a friend to take his partner's place. He was wondering why we weren't at the festival. Anyway, so he knew M&M, I guess the tango community is really small. Manolo made it a point to comment to us in front of Alberto that he liked Alberto's style of dancing and that he is a very good dancer.

We made plans to meet with Alberto at El Beso that night. Our european friends (Ms. K and her parents) came along with us, and we all got to sit with Alberto. Before they came, however, El Beso was pleasantly empty, only a few couples were dancing. Some big names were there - we saw Pocho at the door, and Tete was there also, already dancing. Yes, like Maipu, there was a wall of milongueros, but Alberto had to sit with us on the wall right opposite, the wall of tango siberia, I guess, because we were behind like two rows of tables and chairs.

So with a nice wooden floor, nice music (the best music we have heard at a milonga so far this trip - but still, I´m hearing Troilo everywhere, why?) and not really caring about Tete and Pocho or whatever watching, actually why not compete with Tete while he is dancing vals, said Man Yung :) we danced about three tandas before any of our party showed up. Pocho was staring at us but it didn't look like Tete was looking, but then Tete waved to us to come over to his table and I asked him, are you Tete? and he replied yes, and we exchanged pleasantries and he said something to me that sounded like "we are going to dance together later" and I thought, sure right, he is just being polite.

So the others arrived and Alberto and Paulina were really gracious to our european friends. Our friends thought Alberto was AN AMERICAN (And I already told them who they were going to meet before we went to El Beso, but they weren't paying attention), until I had to explain to them (AGAIN) at great length who he was, how long he had been dancing for and that he was also our teacher. Man Yung danced a lot with Ms. K (what a relief for my feet!) and Alberto asked her to dance too, and so did two other men, one a milonguero. She had not danced so much in all the milongas she had been since she arrived in Bs As (I mean the aggregate!) She had no idea who Tete or Pocho was, can you believe it?

So, while I was making plans to see Alberto again for class on Friday, guess what (and this is the part where you get to be insanely jealous) TETE walked over from all the way across the room to ask me to dance. I wasn´t even paying attention, Man Yung had to distract me from my conversation with Alberto and Paulina. I thought he wasn´t going to ask me after all, because he had spent the entire evening dancing with flaquitas - all very skinny, very young (or looked like it) with very high comme il fauts and very skimpy outfits with very pronounced adornments.

What was it like dancing with Tete? We danced a tanda of Di Sarli with Rufino singing, and I can tell you it was like a very terrifying ride on a roller coaster, but kind of fun too. I've watched many videos of Tete dancing, and it looks so simple usually - lots of molinetes and direction changes - but dancing with him was completely another matter. Tete was competing with Man Yung for the "most steps crammed into 10 minutes" trophy today. Man Yung was watching us dance and he said that he had never seen Tete do so many steps - and unusual ones too, I have never danced or experienced the lead for some of the steps that he was leading. His lead was very clear and precise, and he used a lot of explosive force (centrifugal and otherwise) and every bit of his body to communicate the different leads he needed for all his steps. But to dance with Tete, you cannot anticipate moves or go faster than him, or be too involved with your adornments, because you will miss the lead, and he won't dance seriously with you. I saw him clowning around with some of the flaquitas - dropping his hands, for example - but he was really serious with me for some strange reason. It was a really challenging dance, but he was very musical because all his moves connected with the music in a percussive way (I don't know how else to describe it).

Dancing with Tete: Not just like any ol' rollercoaster, but a rollercoaster that also suspends you in mid-air like a dangling rag-doll while accelerating and twisting at super-sonic speeds!

After he danced with me he left the milonga! Man Yung has got new respect for him. Previously he thought he only did the same ten steps over and over again, and that he didn't navigate the dance floor as well as people said he did (because he was kind of getting in the way dancing with the flaquitas) but in fact he was very skilled at navigating (and at high speeds too, with lots of stops and sudden turns to avoid other people), but he needed a partner who could keep up with all those hairpin turns and surprise stops. And he kept his word - he said he was going to dance with me, and he did.

Ha! I know all this is making you horribly jealous ;-) I wish that you came with us because at El Beso you would definitely be asked to dance by Tete, Pocho and all the others.

Alberto was very proud of me, and Paulina agreed, dancing with Tete is "muy dificil".

Ok, hope my exciting account at what happened at El Beso will at least give you sweet dreams tonight of dancing with Tete. For me, alas, it was such an experience my brain is going to explode with excitement and I'm probably going to have a nightmare about riding on a rollercoaster with a bunch of milongueros!

Hasta pronto,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Crispy B.B.Q. Pork Equation

My mother put a few dollars in my hand and a shopping list. I was nine and therefore finally old enough to be entrusted with the onerous responsibility of buying a few groceries at the clean new market - so off I went. Short, skinny, disheveled and wearing a tatty hand-me-down t-shirt two sizes too big, I ambled up the steep white concrete sidewalk in my flip-flops to "Chi Fu Commercial Centre", the brand new mall serving our brand new highrise neighbourhood of Chi Fu Fa Yuen.

Chi Fu Commercial Centre, Hong Kong

Mom kept it simple - my chinese was not good as I went to an English school and I wasn't too smart! I had to buy a few eggs which I had to hold up one by one to the lightbulb dangling in the egg section in the supermarket to check for "impurities". To this day I still don't know what I was looking at or looking for, but luckily I never bought too many rotten eggs! I also had to buy a piece of fish belly at the fish stall. It was fascinating looking at the still beating hearts and lungs of the newly slaughtered and halved fish lying grotesquely on ice.

The easiest part of my shopping expedition was the B.B.Q. pork. You can find cantonese-style B.B.Q. everywhere you go in Hong Kong and in expatriate chinese communities everywhere around the world. It's just as common, and important, to chinese people as asado is to the Argentinians - but chinese people are just much more low-key about it. In fact, chinese people eat so much chinese B.B.Q. it could almost be considered it's own separate food group.

Cantonese-style B.B.Q.

"Ask the man at the counter for $10 worth of Char Siu - extra lean," Mom said. So I did. The man at the counter unceremoniously took my $10 bill, grabbed a random piece of Char Siu hanging from the metal skewer, chopped it up, put it in the container, and shoved it back at me through the window. Mission accomplished!

Fast forward fifteen years later to Toronto, Canada. B.B.Q. pork is one of Man Yung's favourite foods - goes exceptionally well with Scotch. He was busy teaching karate class so he asked me to drive out to what he considered the best B.B.Q. joint in town at Sheppard and Brimley.

"Tell the man at the counter that you want 'two bones' of Siu Yuk," Man Yung said.

"What the hell is 'two bones'?" I asked. "How many pounds does that weigh? How much does it cost?"

Man Yung had to hurry back to class. "Just ask for 'two bones'!" he said before whipping back into the dojo.

At the B.B.Q. counter, I was still confused. What is "two bones" worth of anything? Which bones was he talking about? Leg bones? Head bones? Or was it some ancient chinese measurement like a "tael" or a "catty"?

It was my turn. "What do you want?" asked the man at the counter.

I looked at the $20 bill that Man Yung had given me. "Ummm...... how much Siu Yuk can I get for $20?"

I ended up with four pounds of the driest, leanest part of pork rump. Eating it was a little bit like munching sawdust.

"You should have asked for 'two bones'," said Man Yung as he choked down a mouthful.

It was a sad day when I started to realize that certain things are meant to be vague, mysterious and unquantifiable, and some things in life cannot be reduced to a series of logical equations. I wish that it was not so, and that Mom's way of looking at things would always be right. If you ask for $10 worth of something, you should get at least $10 of value back.

"That's what you may think," Man Yung said, reading this post. "When you went to buy your Char Siu in Hong Kong, I'm pretty sure the B.B.Q. place cheated you. What kind of idiot asks for $10 worth of Char Siu? It just shows to the B.B.Q. people that you have no idea how B.B.Q. works. That's why the man at the counter was so rude to you all the time. He could give you $8 worth, or $9 worth - and he knew neither you nor your mom would ever know the difference. You have to talk in his language to get his respect."

In all, you have to know the "Secret Handshake" of Chinese B.B.Q. to get decent B.B.Q.! From more than a decade of experience, I can tell you this is what I know now:

1. A "bone" of Siu Yuk refers to one of the ribs on a half pig. The rib is the tastiest part of the pig for "B.B.Q. connoisseurs" like Man Yung, and to people who make B.B.Q. The layered fat and meat means that this part is the juiciest part of the pig - and the meat will not be overly greasy, or have large chunks of fat attached. The meat will also be intensely flavoured because the spices and marinade are spread on the inside of the rib cage before roasting.

2. The rib is where the crispy skin, fat and meat on the rib are in perfect proportion to each other. On the other hand, bite sized pieces of the rump always have either too much dry meat or large pieces of fat. Since the meat and fat are thick on the rump, the marinade will not reach the meat and it tastes bland.

3. You always order two, or at most three bones for a meal for the average family. One bone is too thin and therefore almost impossible to slice accurately from the hanging carcass, especially if the roast is piping hot from the oven. "Goddamn that woman asking for one bone and ONLY one bone! I almost burnt my fingers off!" we overheard the B.B.Q. chef say, talking about the customer ahead of us in the line one day.

A request for "four bones" will elicit the question: "Do you want that chopped or not?" People usually order four bones so they have a whole intact piece to put in front of the altar at the temple as an offering to the gods or to the ancestral spirits.

Six bones, on the other hand appears to be default amount for people holding a "thrifty" wedding banquet. Chinese people must have roasted pork at their weddings for good luck. The rich can afford a whole roasted suckling (unfortunately, the little ones are more succulent) pig at each table of the wedding banquet, but the poor may have to make do with just a large piece of a big pig. Nowadays the wedding guests eat the roasted pork right at the banquet, but in the good ol' days, the groom received the bride first into his house - and if she was a virgin as advertised, the groom's family will send the bride's family a roasted pig on the third day.

To this day, my parents are still waiting for the roast pig delivery.

4. Asking a B.B.Q. chef for "$10" or "a pound" of rib Siu Yuk, or even Char Siu, means that you don't know what you are talking about or that you are looking for trouble. In order to make it exactly to "$10" or "a pound", the chef will have to leave half or a quarter of rib, or a part of a piece of Char Siu still hanging on the skewer. He's going to have a hard time selling to another customer what you didn't want in your quest for the exact "$10" amount or "a pound", and he will curse you for it.

5. To the B.B.Q. chef, rump of Siu Yuk is the favourite of people who don't care for flavour: for little kids who want the fat to be clearly demarcated from the meat so they can spit it out ("Fat! Ewwww!") and for upper-class people over-fastidious about what they eat ("I'll just have a little bit of white meat on the side, thank you. Just a tad. And no sauce. I'm watching my cholesterol"). Ditto for "extra-lean" Char Siu - it's for kids who don't understand the flavour in a little fat, and people watching their diet. Health be damned, B.B.Q. in its most greasy, juicy, burnt, salty, intense glory is to be savoured and enjoyed!

Order "two bones" of Siu Yuk or a piece of "half lean half fat" Char Siu from the B.B.Q chef and you can sometimes watch him smile secretly to himself and go dreamy-eyed. He's thinking back to old days when people knew how to order B.B.Q. and weren't so picky and uptight about getting their $10 or a pound's worth of B.B.Q. He may also be thinking about how wonderful it would be to chew on a couple of ribs of Siu Yuk accompanied by a shot of rice wine in front of the t.v. after a hard day's work. Not only do we get a smiling B.B.Q. chef happy to serve us who will recognize us and treat us like regular customers right away, we may even get some extra B.B.Q. for free!

So as for Chinese B.B.Q., it is for Tango (you knew that this was coming, right?)

If everything works in Tango as my mother thought it should for Chinese B.B.Q., the amount of effort I put in Tango should equate to the Tango result I get at the end of the day. But is this true?

When I'm well-rested, wearing comfortable shoes, dancing on a very good smooth floor to the best music, does this mean that I will dance my best?


When I've danced my best, will I be able to achieve my best again if I try consciously to duplicate everything I did on that former occasion (down to the adornments I was doing and the perfume I was wearing)?


Do dancers who have taken classes with fifty or more "big name, big hype" teachers dance better than someone who has only followed one or a few local or less well-known teachers?

Not necessarily.

Do dancers who have spent $$ on private classes always dance better than dancers who have only taken group classes and never spent a dime on a private class?

Not at all.

Will a dancer who has traveled to Buenos Aires ten times, or has spent ten months (or more) in Buenos Aires end up dancing better than dancers who stayed home?

Not in Toronto that we've seen.

Will channeling "Fino Rivera" or "Tete" or "Fabian Peralta" or "Javier Rodriguez" or "Chicho Frumboli" or "Pablo Veron" or the current ubiquitous trendy "Campeonato style" in posture, step repertoire, haircut and fashion details make you as good a dancer as the original (or at least getting there?)


Would the ability to write good resume, to craft an ambitious "Tango World Domination Master Game Plan" and plenty of effort in self-promotion make you better at Tango?

As George W. Bush once said: "You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on." But it won't make you better at Tango.

Unfortunately, it seems from our tango experience that $10 in Tango input does not equate in a $10 Tango return. It may even result in considerably less!

"What kind of idiot is looking for a good rate, or equivalent rate of return on their Tango investment?" asked Man Yung. "Why can't they just enjoy it without worrying about what they can get out of it or what kind of status they can achieve with it?"

Scientists and economists have not yet been able to identify and measure units of Tango. Sometimes, grasping at all of Tango's mysterious, nebulous Tango-ness can be quite frustrating.

Luckily, Tango is one of the things that can give you a lot more than you intentionally put in. On good days, Tango can even give you a little bit of the infinite.

Happy 2010 to everyone and may everyone find vast amounts of Tango bliss wherever they go!

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