Saturday, October 30, 2010


It was Alberto who gave us the idea.  We were at La Cachila with Alberto and Paulina when we noticed that Alberto was frequently sneaking off to the bar.  Was it for drinks?  No.  It was the fabulous complimentary melon fruit salad.

"I love eating melon," Alberto said.

You see, we were running out of ideas on what to buy our friends when we visited them.  You could get them wine, you could get them whisky - but what could you buy that would be really useful, that everyone could enjoy?

You could buy fruit.

"Why doesn't anyone give fruit anymore?" I asked Man Yung.  "I remember back in the 80's in Hong Kong, whenever we went visiting relatives or friends or whenever someone paid a visit, the visitor would bring these enormous baskets made of pink plastic coated wire - they were impossible to open - filled with apples and oranges.  Of course, I would always be disappointed.  Sugus candy would have been a bigger hit with me and my cousins. Even Quality Street - although the toffees were not a particularly nice surprise for me."

"Well, I like the Quality Street toffees.  Even before they had the wire baskets, people in Hong Kong were giving each other fruit.  They'd tie half a dozen, a dozen oranges together with red string, slap a pink paper on top - and yes, I know the kids prefer chocolates, but the adults really appreciated the fruit.  Families would sit together in the evenings peeling oranges and talking about the events of the day.  Fruit will always be eaten and would never go to waste."

"So why don't people give fruit anymore?"

"I think people don't visit each other anymore."

It's true.  Well, people do still visit.  But their hosts may allow them inside their houses - but rarely will they allow them into their homes.  We've been invited to people's houses before, here in Toronto.  Our hosts had gone to great lengths to make their houses look like the centre spread of "House Beautiful".  They would take us on a tour of the house.  "Here is the garden, here's the den, here's the master bedroom, here's the attic nook... here's the imported stainless steel appliances with moveable kitchen island with the Italian granite countertop."  Everything was pristine, you didn't dare drop anything from your plate and you couldn't even find a garbage can anywhere. It didn't look like anyone lived there, the occupants had just borrowed the space to throw a big party - and everything would turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

It's so much easier too, not to visit.  We have cellphones.  We have skype.  We have email.  We have facebook.  Anything except having to deal with the messiness of being together, face to face.

When we brought out two yellow melons from their plastic bags at Osvaldo and Coca's house and held them up chest level (a la Austin Powers one), they knew right away that Man Yung was joking about my lack, thereof.  Where did these cheeky chinese people come from?

In Argentina, like Hong Kong of yesteryear, visiting is still a daily occurrence.  Osvaldo always had his eye on the gate.  The godfather of his children, a distinguished bespectacled gentleman, came by to say hello.   A neighbour lady with a no-nonsense attitude and a wide smile came over and helped Coca check her blood pressure. 
Osvaldo and Coca, like all our Argentinian friends, let us into their homes. You came at lunch hour?  Then, please join us for lunch.  If the tablecloth is a little dirty, flip it over. In our home our children and grandchildren are always coming and going.  Our dog is fat, but fast - please make sure he doesn't sneak out of the gate!  There's the smell of tea, of cooking, of mate.

 "You must eat!" they said.  Force feeding optional.

The melons were a big hit.  "They were a little raw," Coca said, "but the kids couldn't wait.  They split open the melons right away, chopped it into little pieces, added orange juice and a little sugar...and we all ate it afterwards.  It was a very delicious fruit salad!"

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Codigo Violation Competition

We're going to write this on the fly because we want to beat Bob and Viv to it.

Today was supposed to be a fairly relaxing day - we could do some shopping, walk around, and attend Martha and Manolo's performance at Salon Canning late at night.  Until we scrapped our plans to relax and shop and went to El Arranque instead.

We made impromptu plans to see Bob and Viv there and headed out around 3 p.m.  You see, we still had not settled "Most/Least Favourite Tango Blogger" controversy with either fisticuffs or octagon deathmatch at Glorias Argentinas last Saturday, so we were all roaring for another round.

Just kidding.  Bob and Viv are really two of the nicest sweetest people in the tango blogverse and we cried all night when they left without asking us to dance at Glorias.  We met at El Arranque and had a lovely chat, a nice dance - and then the fun began because all of us, including the locals, decided to embark a Codigo Violation Competition.  Heck, why not, we weren't in the company of any Codigo Police so we wanted to try how far we could take it before we got kicked out of the milonga.

Here's how the tally stood at 7:00 p.m.:

Number of pairs of shoes changed under the table - SIX (We - and you have to guess which ones of us - changed when we got there, we changed when we left, so it doubles up)

Number of shirts changed right at the table - ONE, but it happened twice, once when we got there, and once when we left

Number of times wives were asked to dance without permission of their husbands - TWO

Number of ganchos on a crowded floor - AT LEAST FOUR

Number of times people danced without using their arms - HALF A VALS

Number of times people filmed other people without permission of the milonga organizer and got threatened by the waiter - ONCE

Number of times people started teaching on the dance floor - TWICE

Number of times people talked through the most of the tanda while dancing - ONCE

Number of times people ran right across the dance floor - SIX AND A HALF, six by locals who came over to say hello and half from us because we got stopped midway by a milonguero who wanted to invite me to dance (but strangely enough within the ambit of this competition, with permission of Man Yung)

Number of times people went against the line of dance - MANY, but it all involved the same milonguero within the same tanda

Number of Pugliese tandas danced and ecstatically enjoyed - ONE, and the whole crowd who made it to the dance floor loved it (Dany Borelli's music)

Number of women dancing with other women - NONE, although Viv and I had experienced this first hand before at at milongas and could compare notes

Despite all this, none of us were kicked out - and in fact, although we were expecting all the locals to hate us and give us the evil eye, the tally of evil eyes was surprisingly ZERO and the tally for the positive reactions from the locals were as follows:

Emails exchanged -TWO

Total strangers who came over to kiss and say hello - at least TWELVE

Locals who came over to invite us to dance -  EIGHT, but counting Bob and Viv because they have their own place here and are now as local as the locals

People we just made friends with and whom kissed us goodbye - MANY, and those who were too far off got air kisses and waves from us.  Because otherwise we would have to spend at least 10 minutes getting out of there.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Embracing yourself

Last week, it seemed that late spring had arrived in Buenos Aires - sunny skies, temperatures soaring - Man Yung changing his sweaty shirt more than three times at a milonga.

But today, the skies are overcast, and it is once again COLD.

For those who didn't get the memo and went out without a jacket wearing just a t-shirt or something skimpier - it's time again to embrace yourself.

Monday, October 18, 2010

We encounter the "Elbow Dancer"

We would rather go to a milonga further from the centre but it was around midnight on Sunday night and we didn't want to travel so far from the hotel.  We consulted the milonga schedule and decided reluctantly to head over to El Beso, which ends at 3:00 a.m.  That gives us at least a good 2 hours of dancing.

El Beso was packed - well, not as bad as before really.  There are fewer tourists in the milongas for some reason - someone mentioned to us that perhaps it was because they had all turned up in droves in August for all the tango events like the Mundial, etc.  Anyway, we got our table next to the mirror, ordered our drinks, and prepared to dance.

Floorcraft and navigation has been better everywhere we went, even compared to March, a mere six months ago.  Only two silly asses doing high kicks in the middle of the floor (usually there'd be around five to seven) and the rest followed the line of dance.

And then we encountered the Elbow Dancer.

Just looking at him, you'd think he was sane.  He was a distinguished-looking older spanish-speaking gentleman (perhaps Argentinian, perhaps not), dressed in a suit with gold cufflinks and with grey hair and beard.  He stood straight enough and didn't go nuts with the giros and the ganchos. 

We were minding our own business on the floor when we got nudged.  It's common when it gets crowded, we didn't pay any attention.

Then it happened again.  Nudge.  And again. Nudge, nudge.  Poke.  Nudge.

I glared at the couple behind us.  It was Mr. Elbow Dancer. He seemed to be dancing... but observing him again, I realized that he was Elbow Dancing. 

Turning his elbows sharply outwards slightly below shoulder level, he was like one of those chariots with spikes in Gladiator.  If people weren't giving him enough space - golly gosh, he was going to make it!

I glared at him as he approached again and WATCHED him poke Man Yung in the back.

"WTF!!!!" I yelled.  We spun around to confront the guy. I couldn't hear what Man Yung said but I certainly didn't hold back.  "What is your problem!" I yelled.  "What do you think you are doing, shoving into people with your elbows!"  I imitated his argy-bargy double-elbow prodding. I might have thrown an expletive somewhere in there.

"No entiendo," said Mr. E.D.  He was caught red-handed but he didn't want his partner to think that he was an ass.  "You have to move forward," he added, weakly.

"THERE ARE PEOPLE IN FRONT OF US!!!!" I said, pointing to the couple in front of us. 

Message sent.  We continued dancing.  The prodding stopped for the moment.

"That guy was asking for a punch in the face," Man Yung said at the end of the tanda.  I agreed.  I wanted to punch that guy in the face myself.  He was like one of those drivers who are so selfish, they keep on flashing their high beams and tailgating the car in front of them on the highway - even though it's wall to wall traffic right in front of the car they were tailgating.

However, there was no need for that.  Mr. E.D. finished the tanda and left.  But not before dragging the tablecloth right off his table (what, did he tuck it into his pants?) and almost knocking over a chair.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Now we will show you a knitted hat...

...because we are much too busy having fun in Buenos Aires to write a proper post!

Here's Alice Starmore's "Kittiwake" hat from her "Aran Knitting" book - a project I finished a couple of days before our flight to Buenos Aires:

See!  We did add some tango elements in the photo, just for those who were complaining about all that knitting and lack of tango in our blog lately.
As for what we have been up to, you can read the latest post at "Life of a Frustrated Milonguero" about what happened at Glorias Argentinas... from Bob and Viv's perspective.  As for our perspective, you will have to wait until, well, at this rate - probably 2013!

Monday, October 11, 2010

I love PacSafe

It must be product endorsement week here on our blog, because after going gaga over Alice Starmore, we are now in ecstasy over PacSafe!

If you are one of the two people who have been reading this blog since the beginning (just kidding, I'm sure there are at least four or five loyal readers), you may remember that we are always accompanied by our steel wire enforced, anti-theft bags by PacSafe on our travels.  In fact, the bags are so lightweight, organized and secure, we carry one model or another with us all the time even in Toronto.

 The "guts" of my Metrosafe200

Unfortunately, I had a bit of trouble with my trusty Metrosafe200 lately.  I had bought the newest model of the bag just ten months ago, and I hadn't been using it that much - only on our trip to Buenos Aires in March of this year, and sporadically afterwards.  Three weeks ago, I retrieved the bag from my closet in preparation for our upcoming trip to Buenos Aires this month, and started carrying it around to work.  I was in for a shock - when the strap broke off!

It was the swivel anchor clip on the strap that was the problem - it rotates 360 degrees, and the rotation point had worn down.  Now, I was pretty upset - the bag was quite new and still under warranty.  I took it back to the local camping store that I bought the bag from, in accordance with the warranty instructions that came with the bag (yes, I kept that and the receipt.)

The camping store manager tried his best to convince me that I wouldn't be getting a warranty replacement.  "Oh, that one year warranty return to the store thing is only for USA" was the first thing out of his mouth.  When he realized I wasn't going to go away so easily, he went to the back for around five minutes (and I was in a hurry to go to work too!), came back out after checking Pacsafe's policy and reluctantly handed me a "Claim Check" form.

As I filled it he muttered prognostications of doom.  Even after I told him repeatedly that the bag broke because of a structural problem in the anchor clip, he pronounced: "I don't think Pacsafe will cover wear and tear" and "My parents have Pacsafe bags and they don't have problems!"  When I asked him how long it would be before I heard back, he said "Oh, at least a month or more - the Pacsafe guy only comes by once a month and he will have to take a look to see if your problem is covered!" etc. etc.

Well, I was quite irritated with that and although I was prepared to wait "one month or more" for a replacement bag that may or may not arrive, I decided last week to contact Pacsafe directly through their website to see what their position was as to the anchor clip problem. I wrote them a short message explaining the problem I had with the bag.

Pacsafe's regional manager got back to me the very next day.  She didn't even ask for receipt or photos - apparently they had received reports about a bad batch of bags so she offered to replace my bag right away.  When she learned that I was leaving for my trip next week, she even expedited the courier package for me.  My message to Pacsafe was sent last Wednesday.  My replacement bag arrived by UPS from Hong Kong - on Friday.  Hooray!

Three hours after I received the bag, I received a telephone message from the camping store.  It appeared that once the Pacsafe rep got notified of the problem from the store, he/she sent a replacement bag to the store for me on an urgent basis too.  I called the store back and gave them the surprise news - that I had already received my replacement bag just hours before direct from Pacsafe!

As you can see I am very pleased with Pacsafe's customer service - they took the problem seriously and responded quickly.  They sent me the newest improved model, with a sturdier, now lockable anchor clip and slightly redesigned compartments.  They must have been listening to their customers, because they took a pretty great travel bag - and made it even better.

With their slash-proof straps, lockable anchors and other security features, Pacsafe bags give us peace of mind when we travel.  Instead of writing morosely about opportunistic thieves pickpocketing our bags or doing slash and grabs, we could focus all our excruciating long-windedness on writing about all the great experiences we will have in Buenos Aires.

[Pacsafe didn't pay me to write this.  They just replaced my broken Pacsafe bag really really quickly.  Sometimes that's all it takes to get on my good side!]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Alice Starmore's "Fulmar"

Despite all the hustle and bustle of having Alberto and Paulina in town a week and a half ago, I still managed to find time to finish a sweater.  Here's Alice Starmore's "Fulmar" sweater from her classic "Aran Knitting" book - a project I started last July:

It's one of the most intricate Aran knitting patterns you can find anywhere on this planet.  Alice Starmore rules!  Man Yung loooooooves the sweater.  It fits great and just look at the gorgeous pattern and colour!  It took forever on tiny US#1 (I could only get gauge by going one size down from the recommended US#2) needles, but it was a very satisfying knit. The tightly spun British 5-ply wool first seemed a little rough but after a little while, I appreciated the yarn's crisp, solid texture with the sweet scent of meadow grass and lanolin.  Just in case you were wondering, "Herring Girl Pink" does not at all detract from Man Yung's ability to kickass - and I quote him in a recent exchange with one whirling-dervish, spatially and navigationally-challenged bozo in Toronto: "Bump into me again and I guarantee I will break your nose." 

I used Frangipani yarns to make the sweater - and it was a great experience.  Firstly, the customer service from Jan and Russ of Frangipani was great - and shipping was super fast from West Cornwall, UK, to Toronto, Canada.  I received the package within a week of ordering.  Secondly, the yarn was amazing quality - not a single break or knot in the middle of the yarn, from beginning to end, in any of the cones of yarn I used.  If you want to knit a traditional fisherman's gansey, Frangipani's 5-ply gansey yarn is a fabulous choice.

I ordered three cones of yarn and I still have about 2/3 a cone left over, more than enough to make this - the "Kittiwake" hat from Alice Starmore's "Aran Knitting":

Alice Starmore's "Aran Knitting" book had been out of print for a few years - but now it's been reissued in a new expanded paperback format with new photos and one new pattern.  Back in the days when the internet (and ebay) was still in its infancy, the only way I was able to get my hands on a copy of the book was by calling knitting shops all over Canada to see whether they still had a copy in stock (I found mine in Ottawa).

If you like sweaters, or are interested in celtic culture and celtic crafts, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the book (it's available from Amazon). 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


In Tango, going from Toronto to Buenos Aires is like once thinking that this is art:

... to realizing that Art is really more like this:

Of course, not every dancer from Buenos Aires is great.  Some are just terrible, and teach the dancers here in Toronto awful things - movements that are inappropriate for the dance floor and the music and that have neither grace nor dignity.  But some dancers here worship these traveling charlatans - who are, despite their padded resumes and slick advertising, nobodies in Buenos Aires. The poor fools here can't help it, they have seen and only understand stick drawings - they can't conceptualize a tango that has beauty, emotion and colour.

We always tell our teachers from Buenos Aires - no matter whether it's Martha and Manolo, Osvaldo and Coca, or Alberto Dassieu - that they should not travel so much to teach all over the world.  They are getting on in years, and traveling is tough for them.  They have family and friends in Buenos Aires. Many of them don't need the money (or the financial or health-related risks) of a tango tour abroad and could live quite comfortably just teaching tango in their home city. They could get sick or worse, navigating strange cities and living with strangers, dragging their heavy suitcases with them wherever they go.

Not a single one of them could be persuaded. For them, teaching the world how to Tango is more than a mission - it's a duty.  If their efforts could illuminate, for even just one person, what the Tango of Buenos Aires is all about - then it would be all worthwhile.

Thank you, Alberto and Paulina, for bringing Buenos Aires to Toronto. 

[Update 10/07/10 - Dear Readers, the videos of Alberto and Paulina at Toronto's La Cachila milonga are temporarily unavailable, as they wish to use the footage for an upcoming documentary someone is making of Alberto!  I can't wait until the documentary is available!]

Alberto and Paulina dance to Orquesta Tipica Victor's "Adios Buenos Aires"

Alberto and Paulina dance to D'Arienzo's "Valsecito Criollo"

Alberto and Paulina dancing late in the evening at Toronto's La Cachila milonga 

Alberto and Paulina dancing late in the evening at Toronto's La Cachila milonga

Toronto Weather

Buenos Aires Weather