Monday, July 25, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 6 - Friday, February 27, 2009

Dear V,

After everything was wrapped at at the Escuela, M&M went with us to the café across the street where they always go to, and where Manolo never leaves any tips (but always tell the waiters to take the clean tablecloth away and not waste it since we won't be eating) ;-) The waiters love Manolo anyway! We had something to drink ("not cold" water for Manolo, Coke for me, Beer for Martha and Man Yung) and had a little chat.  We told them about our visit to Osvaldo and Coca’s house.  We showed them our little mp3/video player, and warned them that we have learned a lot of O&C’s steps and that there is a video of us dancing that shows this.  They wanted to watch it - Martha said “Don’t worry, I won’t be mad” (Man Yung says that people who say that they don’t mind or that they won’t get mad are actually the ones who really mind and who will really get mad ;-) )  They were quiet when they watched it, and after they said we danced well - however, Martha was not very happy because I did not do “a single adornment”!!!!  I assured her that we had videos of us dancing at home where I was doing plenty of adornments, don’t worry (in fact, Man Yung thought the prolific adornments I was doing were very ugly, so I stopped doing them - but I wasn't going to say anything to Martha about that).

We also showed them a video of their performance at Lori Burton's studio in Detroit back in 2008.  They liked watching themselves.  It seems like that this mp3/video player is a big hit with everyone - both M&M and O&C were very intrigued by the machine. We told M&M we would get them one.  It may be handy for them to play music, as well as show people videos of their performances.

M&M went home - we went for a little walk on Florida.  We watched the “street tango show” - I was watching my handbag all the time in case there were pickpockets.  Man Yung likes watching even street tango shows, he might learn something from what the dancers are doing (that is, if we also want to do a street tango show and put it on our resume)!  We bumped into a Chilean couple who has attended Camicando every year that we have.  They will see us on Monday.

Street Tango on the Calle Florida, where you can find (almost) every Tango cliche in existence.  It is actually a very good "show" - these dancers are more professional and dancing much better than some of the visiting "maestros" that come to Toronto!  Maybe someone should invite them too -  I'm sure in some pockets of Toronto Tango they will be a huge hit.

We walked a little bit towards Plaza San Martin, really looking for a taxi and a street that went the direction of the hotel.  We passed by a toy shop.  Man Yung has an idea - he wants to buy some toys for Osvaldo and Coca’s grandkids.  We are going to keep our eye out for something suitable (and not too expensive).

After a short taxi ride with the most disgruntled taxi driver we have encountered so far (most are very professional and proud of their job, this one would rather be doing something else and it showed) - we went back to the hotel, changed and showered and then had a huge dinner at La Madeleine.  My appetite was finally back - I actually ordered and ate a Parisienne pasta, while Man Yung had a steak with mushroom sauce and fried potatoes the size and shape of marbles.  Man Yung’s steak and the sauce that came with it was totally delicious - I kept stealing bites from his plate.  We are getting into the habit of eating really heavy - and I have to be careful, because this is usually my downfall whenever I’m traveling!

Even though Sin Rumbo doesn’t start until 11 p.m. there really wasn’t that much time to relax and take a nap before we had to head out again.  Taking a radio taxi to these places is a must - the driver had to call in for directions, and it took 45 minutes to get there.  Sin Rumbo is 3 blocks away from the very edge of Buenos Aires, almost in "La Provincia", as they say - so it was far.  You have to cross many railroad tracks and really bumpy roads to get there - it’s a residential street in Villa Urquiza that happens to have a barrio club.

Hee hee! Julio Duplaa didn’t quite recognize us but he had a puzzled expression on his face that told us we may have looked a little familiar.  Anyway, he is always a gracious and welcoming host.  The milonga had not yet started - they rarely start on time, so arriving “late” is never really “late”.  There was a huge party at the end of the room, celebrating someone’s birthday.  We were seated on one of the side tables that lined the length of the room - black and white tiles again.  We had to share with another couple.  The woman’s name was Julia and she had a wrinkly face with sparkly lively eyes.  Her husband seemed kind of dour and grey and untalkative.  This was, as we later found out, because he just had a throat operation and can’t talk.  Julia encouraged us to get out and dance because we looked so naive - and Man Yung said he was “scared!!” and she reassured him that we should not be scared, we are only dancing for “fun!”  Sneaky Man Yung! 

We watched the dancers.  We thought we would see quite a few high quality dancers, but there was only one leader dressed in a black shirt and pants worth watching - and he danced open embrace with a lady in red with lots of figures.  The rest were very ordinary.  And they can’t navigate.  This was the first place we have gone to this year where a bit bumper car phenomena was apparent.  What was nice was that there were mainly locals, very few tourists.  The tourists that came provided lots of entertainment for the locals.  The table seated behind us had the big tall guys with the untucked shirts and the girls who look “pretty” - well, they had made a big effort - one wore a sarong that showed her midriff, with a delicate flower behind one ear, but her ripped abs, hard face and amazon stature made her look like as odd as a body-builder in a tutu. They did lots of voleos and stayed squarely in the centre of the floor because they couldn’t do their figures while in the line of dance. 

There was one young man in a suit that looked like a taxi dancer, because he was dancing with all these tourist girls who weren’t very good dancers. There was another more distinguished gentleman that Man Yung thought was a taxi dancer too (actually, he wasn’t - we saw him at Sunderland the next day and he knew Martha - he was a pharmaceutical scientist and spoke many different languages, yikes!) And again, we bump into the "Villa Urquiza" maestros ______ and _______.  We see them every single time on our trips, and they always bring an entourage of slender, handsome young foreigners who have been processed through their "dance factory" - and who look and dance exactly the same in order to gain maximum points in the big "competition".  They have a winning formula!  Maybe we should sign up!  But they'll reject us for sure, we are too fat and too old and we can't stop wearing Crocs.

One of the couples they brought with them actually did win some kind of competition (but not the "big" one). The man was young, with a little beard, very grave, and the woman with long dark hair and protruding butt.  They must have been pretty hot - she wore long sleeves and long pants and he was wearing a suit.  The way they danced was joyless and soulless - calculated.  Maybe they deduct points during competitions if you look like you enjoy dancing tango.  With them was an asian guy with a ponytail and a goatee, another trainee - he had no sense of music, and the same dour, “you’ve killed my goat” expression.

The floor was so sticky that even powder didn’t help.  Still, we enjoyed ourselves dancing.  As it has been at other places too, the locals liked our dancing and watched us approvingly as we danced past their tables.  The very good dancer in black we had admired came over early on to tell us we were dancing very well.  However, when the lady at our table Julia remarked that the taxi dancer was dancing brilliantly with one of his girls who was doing little “preschool” adornments - I thought “Oh, please" and completely abandoned all my years of Zen training.

I asked Man Yung to dance the rest of the vals tanda while they were still on the floor.  Man Yung had no idea what I had in mind, but I knew he wouldn't let me down.  We were really just doing our thing, and not really trying to get attention - while we passed by the big birthday party of people at the end of the room, the taxi dancer started doing big spinning figures and so we followed with big spinning figures of our own - because that's what the music told Man Yung to do.  And when the music stopped, the four rows of tables at the birthday party erupted in applause - clapping and whistling and the whole lot!  It was kind of embarrassing, everyone was looking over at us to see what was the big fuss about - I didn't expect that kind of reaction.  The Zen Masters were right - don't draw attention to yourself on the dance floor!   But... it was kind of fun pummeling the competition too (Bad Irene!)  When we got back to the table Julia congratulated us - she hadn't been watching us dance before (was she distracted by our jokes?) and didn't realize that we had mastered the high velocity whirligig too. 

The birthday girl danced an exhibition which had been choreographed, and every few tandas there would be salsa or rock or swing.  It was good to clear the floor a bit so it would not be so sticky. Julia was very nice, she suggested that we meet again at Viejo Correo on Sunday but I knew that we had other plans.  

When we left, we asked Julio Duplaa to call a remise for us.  He was about to give us a business card, but we told him we already had it.  He was still trying to place where he had seen us.  As we were getting into the remise, I asked him “did you receive our x’mas card?” and Man Yung said “Canada” - and then he remembered.  Yes! The Chinos from Canada wearing Crocs! We are doing our bit for the glorification of Chinos, Canada...and Crocs.

It was pretty late by the time we got to the hotel - another round of instant noodles and then off to bed.

Saturday to follow….


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Interview with Alberto Dassieu on Practimilonguero

Our good friend and teacher Maestro Alberto Dassieu has just been interviewed by the Practimilonguero group!

Listening to Alberto talk brings the era of his tango to life.  Enjoy!  For more information on Alberto, here's the link to an interview we did with Alberto a while back, and here's another link to a translation our friend did of some of Alberto's life history. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 5 - Friday, February 27, 2009

Dear V,

Here’s my long-winded account of Friday.  You are not the only ones “enjoying” my emails.  Man Yung is also printing them out and reading them.  He is loving these accounts!

Friday began with breakfast at the hotel.  We had plenty of time before we had to be at Osvaldo and Coca’s house at 2 p.m., so we decided not to do anything except rest.  Timing of meals is always tricky.  The schedule for the day was Osvaldo and Coca at 2, Martha and Manolo’s class at 4:30, and then Sin Rumbo at 10.  We decided to eat the hotel breakfast as late as possible, and then have a meal after Martha and Manolo’s class - otherwise we couldn’t really squeeze anything in.

Alberto had not called us by noon so we called him. His condition is progressing very slowly.  He gave me a bunch of blood pressure numbers.  I guess that meeting us on Tuesday was really too much for him.  Our presence in Buenos Aires is killing the Milongueros.  We said we would not go to Elba’s party without him - we will go to Sin Rumbo instead, and for now he must rest and we can make plans later.  We had to tell Alberto our plans - to visit Osvaldo and Coca (he’s ok with that) and then “maybe” we will take classes with M&M, but maybe not because we are so tired.  Alberto doesn’t like us taking classes with M&M and dancing “Canyengue” style - he must consider it completely opposite his style and bad for Man Yung's tango formation!  He doesn't realize that it has been really good for our musicality and that by learning from teachers with different styles and different preferences in music, we are actually increasing our ability to  dance to any and all kinds of tango music.

It was going to be a long taxi ride to Lanus, so we went to withdraw cash first.  The machine didn’t let us withdraw more than 300 pesos last year, but this year it seems that the sky’s the limit.  First 400, now 500.  So exciting.  Could we withdraw 200,000? 

The radio taxi driver had to call for directions.  95% of the taxi drivers we encounter are so nice and friendly and professional.  I’ve been too tired (and feeling under the weather) to have long conversations with all of them this year.  I’m just thankful that we can take the taxi out to wherever we wanted to go.  When we traveled to Osvaldo’s house, we realized just how far it was.  First you take 9 de Julio until the end, and cross the bridge into Avellaneda.  Then you have to travel a bit in Avellaneda, cross another bridge, and circle around and around first commercial and industrial streets, and then residential streets, before you finally reach Osvaldo and Coca’s house.  The streets of Avellaneda and Lanus, or at least the ones we went through to reach the house, are kind of like the  areas of industrial Scarborough, Argentinian style.  There are very few green areas, but many run down auto shops with corrugated steel and hand painted signs, interspersed with local eateries and kioscos with peeling faded storefronts.  It’s dustier and people are sparse.  However it is still very interesting  for us to see all this, even though the taxi driver was feeling nervous and locked all the doors “for security”.  We crossed a rusty steel bridge to Lanus, with quite a few people waiting for the bus at the foot of the bridge, and even saw a horse drawn cart.

It is surreal to visit the residential suburbs.  The few times we have, we have observed that the streets are always eerily quiet - whether at night or in the day.  All the houses are gated and there's no spaces between the modest houses.  Sometimes you see graffiti - but not too much.  The area that O&C live is less run down than the area in Mataderos where Glorias Argentinas is - there you have gaping holes between buildings where the buildings had been knocked down.  Here, you don’t, but still, it was very very quiet on the street.  But thinking about it, it is kind of like Scarborough suburbia - except the subdivisions of Toronto are nicer with “better” looking houses (which all look the same) and there’s better security so the houses do not have to be gated.  There’s more effort to make the subdivisions here in Toronto look regular and “nice”, with lawns and tidy streets and such.  But really, it all means the same thing. 

I can’t imagine how long it took for O&C to TAKE THE BUS all the way from their house to Buenos Aires to compete in the Campeonato Mundial. It cost about 35 pesos for the taxi to get there - right to their door. By bus, I'm thinking may take 2 or 3 hours, depending on how many times you change buses.  I once had to take a 3 hour TTC ride from my LSAT exam - buses, subway, RT.  I was cursing all the way.

The gate and door of the house was painted a light green - there is a garden that’s the size of our hotel bathroom in the front of the house, with straggling climbing roses.  Since we were 15 minutes early, we decided to take some photos of the street, and walk a little bit to the park half a block away.  The neighbour peeked at us from the open door of his house (we peeked inside as we passed - it was chaos inside with stuff everywhere) - thinking who are these strange Chinese people taking photos?  I bet the taxi driver thought it was strange we would go all the way there in the middle of ??? too.

In the park there was grass and trees (and one or two people sleeping in the shade) but there was also decaying concrete and a rusty children’s playground, and graffiti that someone tried to wash off - but layers of the graffiti traces remained.  What was it like to live there?  Where the regular day to day people lived?  It was so quiet, there wasn’t even any breeze.  We walked back and took a photo of the waterproofing shop right on the corner - they do balconies and kiddies swimming pools too, and there were two kiddie’s pools right in the front.  But apart from a lone man painting a sign on the whitewashed wall of the shop, there were no other people there.

At Osvaldo and Coca's neighbourhood park

On Osvaldo and Coca's street.  It was so quiet it was like the whole world was holding their breath for a showdown at noon in one of those old spaghetti westerns.

More of Osvaldo and Coca's neighbourhood.

We walked back to Osvaldo’s house, pressed the buzzer (and hoping that it really was his house!)  We looked in and saw Osvaldo getting up - and he rushed out to open the gate for us without a shirt on. It was very natural for him - because it was hot, he wasn’t going to sit around wearing a shirt.  It’s just like that in Hong Kong too, where people would sit around and even walk around in their council flats with just an undershirt and shorts. 

Osvaldo’s son was fixing the car.  We got introduced to a few of his daughters and his son as they came in and out of the sitting area, on their own business.  It was all very natural, like they weren’t even expecting guests.  It is a very humble house - the walls are wood paneled and covered with trophies, calendars, knick knacks and a big floor to ceiling drawing of Osvaldo and Coca dancing.  The living area was completely dark with red tiles, the only natural light was through the front door and the kitchen window.  We sat at the kitchen table - there was stuff on the table because they had finished eating and hadn’t completely cleaned up - and even a baby pacifier and such.  I sat on some wet crumbs.  They had two single sofa chairs in the living area but there was stuff on them and the floor too.  In any case, and this is what we treasure, we were welcomed into their house without fanfare to see how it was that they lived.  And it seems that the whole family including grandchildren lived in the same area.  It really reminded both Man Yung and myself of how people lived in Hong Kong before they started to make money in the real estate and stock markets and things became fancy.  Lots of my uncles and aunts lived with my grandparents, even after they married and had children.

Osvaldo and Coca's Home Sweet Home

So we gave our gifts to Osvaldo and Coca - a necklace for Coca from the Ottawa Museum of Civilization, and a scotch for Osvaldo.  He is feeling much better- gained a bit of weight - but last year he almost died.  He still gets out of breath even when he talks, and it is difficult for him to finish a tango without getting out of breath.  We talked about tango, and he remarked that there had been a tv special of the Campeonato and it talked about how Osvaldo and Coca’s style was distinctive and no-one else dances that style. 

We had the forethought to bring our mp3 and video player with the speakers.  We showed Osvaldo and Coca their recent performance at the Misterio festival last month (they thought it was ‘weird’ - everyone there was dancing and teaching Nuevo and they wanted to see them to perform?)  They liked watching the video very very much, they were so happy to have the opportunity to see - and perhaps confirm that they were still dancing as well as ever despite Osvaldo’s recent illness.  We had been talking about dancing in their style (not that they would believe us because they didn’t have a chance to see us dancing last year) and as fate would have arranged it, we had a video of our recent practica at Mad for Dance in Toronto to show them - dancing to their favourite Donato tracks of “El Adios” and “Tiempos Viejos”.  We showed them the video and they watched intently.

We showed Osvaldo and Coca this video of us practicing in Toronto to one of O&C's favourite tangos - "Tiempos Bravos" by the orchestra of Edgardo Donato.  We look at this video now and can't believe that we were dancing like that back in February of 2009!  Even our dancing was rough, green and naive compared to now. It was the first time that Man Yung found our dancing "marginally acceptable" (and not as likely to cause onlookers to lose their lunch).  We were happy that Osvaldo and Coca liked it, we were practicing a lot of their steps - but frankly, I think they were more impressed with the big fluffy red heart on the mirror (they like cute things shaped like hearts).  This was just before Mad for Tango's big Valentine milonga.

After watching, Osvaldo looked like he was about to cry.  Our video really surprised them - because we were dancing in their style!  Man Yung was doing Osvaldo's steps, and I was following like Coca.  "Your husband has very good hearing," they said, praising Man Yung's musicality.  They were also interested in my following, and said I was the “Coca of Canada” - hee!  They didn’t really care that we stole their steps from the internet, it was all about having someone dancing like them - because even after teaching so much no-one did, especially not in Argentina.  They did mention that some Italian guy did, but come on, obviously we are much more special (just kidding!)  Osvaldo was really moved and excited (time to worry about his blood pressure too - I told them that our presence was killing the Milongueros).  They watched the videos of us and of their performance at Misterio a few times - and called their children to come and see the videos (probably to prove to them “I told you so!  See, someone dancing in my style!”) The main thing Osvaldo was concerned with was that Man Yung had no “pauses”.  Osvaldo got up to show us what he meant, and even danced with me (which we videotaped) to show us how to do it:

We took this video at Osvaldo and Coca's house on our trip to Buenos Aires in February of 2009. They had just seen a video of us practicing their steps, and on the whole they liked it very much - except Osvaldo was annoyed that Man Yung didn't know how to pause! This was a little demonstration Osvaldo made just for Man Yung to study when he got back to Toronto.

Osvaldo was also a little concerned about Man Yung's leading and asked whether Man Yung was actually “leading” the steps or whether we were choreographing everything, and so asked Coca to dance a little with Man Yung to check:

Osvaldo wanted to find out whether Man Yung was leading his steps or whether he was just doing "choreography" - so he told Coca to check. I guess Man Yung must have been doing ok since Osvaldo was excited and impressed. Listen to him curse and say "Look at how that sonofabitch dances!"

I said to Osvaldo and Coca that we learned a lot from them, to dance with emotion and the music - and to not dance with so many intrusive adornments like before. Coca agreed that was the way to dance.

We didn’t want to take up too much of their time, so we said we had to go to Martha and Manolo’s class at the Galerias Pacifico at 4.  Coca called a remise for us, and as we were leaving, Osvaldo invited us to go to Sunderland with them on Saturday night.  Sunderland, the land of the cirque du soleil touristas and the “Villa Urquiza” clones!  We were planning to go to Glorias Argentinas, but the opportunity to go to Sunderland and perhaps even bump into Toronto people - while sitting at Osvaldo and Coca’s table, ha ha - was too precious.  We made plans to meet there at 11:30 Saturday night.  As we left in the remise, Osvaldo told the driver to drive safely with us - he had his eye on him!

The driver was from Spain, and although he didn’t dance tango he listened to it and talked about the orchestras.  He knew the area much better than the taxi driver so the trip was far quicker - but which really complicated.  We did drive by some green places this time - and passed by Racing Club stadium. The tango was composed by Di Sarli, according to the driver, but we were most familiar with Biagi's version.

It cost 31 pesos to get to Galerias Pacifico, even though there was a lot of traffic. We were just a little bit early for class.  50 pesos for the two of us again - this time Martha and Manolo were teaching Tango Salon.  There were some really beginner beginners in the class - because all the intermediates and up all want to take classes where they learn how to fly instead of walk.  Again, not many people. Anyway, I tried to rest as much as possible while Man Yung helped with “the ladies” in the class.  We took a peek at a video of the performance of M&M in Detroit on our mp3/video player to see if there was anything we wanted to ask M&M - there was only that particular figure that we could never quite get.  Man Yung says he kind of “gets it” now after asking them.  Martha said Man Yung “dancing very good”.  I said that Osvaldo noticed it was “without pause”, which Martha agreed.  But apparently he leads very well - he is able to lead beginners to do many things.  It’s the intermediates and so-called “advanced” followers who have problems following, because they are so intent on doing adornments and the figures they have learned, they can’t respond to his lead naturally.

Martha and Manolo doing a demo to an never-ending milonga at Escuela Argentina de Tango after their class on February 27, 2009. Just look at Martha's beautiful legs! And we always love Manolo's corriditas. What we didn't like very much were the tango tourists taking photos DURING the demo like they were at the CN Tower or Niagara Falls.

We are getting ready to go to Milonguita tonight, so more to follow about our chat with Martha and Manolo after class and what we saw at Sin Rumbo….


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 4 - Thursday February 26, 2009

Dear V,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mailbox and me decided this morning to wear matching colours

Riobamba just outside the Museo de Patromonio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 3 - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dear V,

I had a horrible time trying to sleep on Wednesday morning.  Even with the air conditioning at full blast it was so humid I was sweating all night.  Man Yung, on the other hand, slept very well - snoring along despite my tossing and turning and going to the bathroom and insomniac fiddling with the computer.

Finally I was able to get some hours of sleep and we slept until 11 a.m., missing our free breakfast entirely.   We dropped off our dirty laundry in a little Laundromat at the back of the block (15 pesos for a lot of t-shirts and underwear - much cheaper than the hotel). We decided to walk to Comme Il Faut without breakfast.

The streets around our hotel are great to wander around.  It’s like walking through Bayview Village as opposed to Scarborough Town Centre - it’s safer, and the shops are nicer, and there are lots of rich people and dogs.  The dog walkers are always out in full force around this area - the young ones with the big dogs, the old ones with the little dogs.  We took photos along the route - including ones of a very big tree in a very tranquil park, and the streets as well.

Callao and Arenales

Parque Vincente Lopez

Man Yung relaxing (no, posing like he is relaxing) under a big tree in Parque Vincente Lopez

Fancy apartments surrounding the Parque Vincente Lopez

After a leisurely walk, we finally reach 1239 Arenales, home of Comme Il Faut.  We saw a policeman giving a driver a ticket on that section of the street - there's always a policeman there on the corner, did someone bribe the police force to ensure the security of the shoes?  He didn’t bother to go over to the car and ask for license and registration.  He just copied down the license plate number. 

Relaxing and taking a break outside Comme Il Faut HQ...who am I kidding - I want to rush right upstairs to buy shoes!

It was noon when we reached Comme Il Faut - it had been open for a bit and it was busy.  Well, not really “busy” but half the showroom was littered with the shoeboxes of one undecisive statuesque blond tourist, probably from Eastern Europe.  She had a entourage of two women and an effeminate yet muscular young man who were no help with the shoe selection.  Times are a-changing’ - the young lady was not one in which to be undecisive over ugly beige and black shoes.  Her dilemma was that she simply couldn’t choose between a black and yellow pair with a rubbery yellow fringe at the back that looks like someone peed on some toilet paper and stuck it on the back of her shoe, and a blue and black pair with a strip of ruffly vertical ribbon at the front that looked like a bandaid soaked in bile.

Is business worse?  We saw Alicia, the owner, and she seemed more friendly than we remember from last time.  Maru the redhead was on vacation.  Silvana the blond one is now an airline stewardess.  The assistants are now all pretty, young brunettes in tight black t-shirts.  Elizabeth, the one who helped us, had very limited English.  But she soon found out that helping us was not a pain in the ass.  We went through the selections very quickly - no dithering and wasting time - and this time it was even faster and easier because I am only buying shoes with low 3 inch heels, and I know which styles are more comfortable.  Man Yung asked for some shoes but Elizabeth told him that they only have the 4 inch heels for men ;-)  I chose a sparkly green pair, a black and beige pair that looks exactly like my orange and black pair (I know, black and beige? Man Yung says I’m getting old so I have to start getting shoes that fit my “age”) and a higher pair that is striped pink and gold. 

The person who took our payment was Raquel!  The one I communicated with by email about the broken orange and black pair two years ago, and who sent me a free replacement pair even though I didn't ask for one (yes, kiddo, a FREE PAIR. This is why I am a Comme Il Faut fan forever).  She is so nice, and she actually remembered the incident and our email correspondence.  The prices on the shoes have gone up.  It was 300 - 330 pesos per pair last year.  Now it is 400 - 420 pesos. 

We were so tired and hungry from all that shoe excitement (yipee!) we exited out to Santa Fe to eat.  We went back to the restaurant that we went to the last couple of days of our visit last year - the Libertad Plaza.
Libertad Plaza - Good Restaurant, great "Revolutionary" decor

It is about one block from 9 de Julio on Santa Fe, and has that lovely old world style we like.  The restaurant is on two levels and there’s lots of mirrors and early 19th century décor, plus panels and artwork celebrating all the revolutions in history - except, oddly, the big important American one.  Service was great.  Service is great everywhere this year - the waiters are friendly and jokey.  Man Yung ordered exactly the same thing that he ordered last year - the “Manchester” steak with salad with Roquefort spread on the bread, and I ordered a “seafood” spinach linguine.  Man Yung’s lunch was delicious, just as he had remembered it.  Mine was “ok”, I was surprised that they don’t put calamari rings in their seafood pasta, but “brown” reconstituted squid (we have the same thing in Chinese cuisine - they dry the poor suckers and then soak them to restore their size just before cooking) and shrimps the size of capers.  But for me, I’m not finicky - any food that doesn’t make me want to investigate the bathroom (I'm still feeling queasy and under the weather - but yes, I still have energy to shop for shoes) is good food.

Every revolution in history - except the American one.  Look, menu!

We walked the four blocks back to the hotel, looking for the place where Man Yung bought his belt last time.  We found the store - but the belt he wanted was not in his size, either too short or two long.  Next we looked for the Carrefour Home store where we bought a cup last time for use in the hotel room.  Too bad - the storefront was there but the store was closed and out of business.  It was nice strolling up Santa Fe back to the hotel without a tight schedule to adhere to - we did most of our “dutiful” things on Tuesday and got them out of the way so we had a nice free day to just do whatever.  While walking out in the sun was too hot, walking in the shade was very pleasant.  We even went to the supermarket for water and instant noodles, and to the bank machine which actually let us take out 400 pesos !!!!!!!!!  Last year we couldn’t withdraw even 300 at a time, so it was like a big shock.

It was 4 p.m. when we got back to the hotel so it wasn’t like we had a big heap of time before we had to hike it to Lo de Celia which starts at 6 p.m.  We arrived about 20 minutes in - not a lot of people at all.  More people came eventually but only enough to pack the first two rows of tables on any side.  The standard of dancing was “high” in a milonguero sense - everyone doing their two or three figures to the music and not bumping into each other, which was nice and made the floor orderly and pleasant.  The music was pretty amazing.  Man Yung asked me what I thought about DJ Dany’s music compared to Toronto music.  I said, “He has more music and better experience in how to combine it together”.  He plays only music that is pre- 1950’s, which means that the big Pugliese and Di Sarli with Florio and Duran and even the later instrumentals were out.  But Dany is a genius with the limited time period he was playing.  All the music has been engineered to sound great with the noise and defects eliminated.  He didn’t fuss around with cortinas - there was one good rockin' Cortina all night long and it was enough.  Dany is especially good at Canaro and combining different orchestras for vals and milonga tandas - he has a wonderful ear.  By the way, Man Yung said he really thought the Poema tanda was way better than the tandas with Poema we have heard in Toronto. Both Man Yung and I think that the choices DJ Dany made were excellent.

The people were great.  There was only one girl that looked like a tourist who came - tall and amazonian but with European features - like if J and C [two tangueras from Toronto] had their DNA combined.  The rest were locals just having a good time, and not trying to win a dance competition.  We were seated at the second row perpendicular to the bar - all the women were seated in the row in front, and in the row in the opposite side facing.  After dancing a little bit the old old gentleman (they are all old but this one was even older) came over to “congratulate” us.  The lady sitting nearest to him hurried over to translate, they were both very nice and gave us some compliments.  The lady said that the gentleman who was talking to us was a “very good dancer”, and I gave him an indication that we can have a dance later (he asked, “are you sure, your husband is not jealous?) 

So I danced two tandas with the very very old gentleman, who despite his oldness was still pretty strong when dancing.  No, I didn’t have my wrist twisted inside out, nor was his embrace so constricting I couldn’t move - I just relaxed and very quickly I learned all of his two figure repetoire which he dances to all the orchestras and all the forms of tango dancing ;-).  Another gentleman also came to ask me to dance to Calo more towards the end of the evening, and his embrace was more open and he had 50% more figures than the old old gentleman (which means total of 3 figures, wow!). 

But the excitement of the evening was really Man Yung.  He cabaceo’d all the women in the row in front of us (they soon learned that all they needed to do to get a dance is to turn their heads and look at Man Yung), and some women seated in the next section as well. The lady that Man Yung danced with last year recognized us and was happy that we recognized her - and Man Yung danced with her the most. But not the women at the opposite side of the room, because Man Yung can’t see that far.  He danced with all the women many many times, which means in "codigo" terms that he wants to invite them all back to the hotel.  We changed our shoes under the table, which means we are hardcore gringos.  In general we were pretty uncool.  But we had a nice time, and people liked us.  Even the washroom attendant was nice (but maybe it was the peso I gave her). 

Towards the end of the night someone who looks like Osvaldo Centeno came and sat with another gentleman and had coffee, but he didn’t dance at all.  We are not sure that he is Osvaldo Centeno.  We didn’t bother to find out because N (the expat blogger lady) is mad at him and we don't want to piss her off too by going over to introduce ourselves.

It was wonderful that the milonga ended at 11 p.m.  The regulars (happened to be all the women seated in front of us) started smoking and talking and they were pretty friendly, a lot of them spoke in English.  We all said that DJ Dany was “the best” but surprisingly, he was very humble and said “no, no, no, that’s not true”.  We promised to return again next time.  We’ll have to work it in between the festival classes and the festival milonga at Dandi (Puke!  I'm sorry, I have never liked that venue) next Wednesday.

After that we took a taxi back to the hotel, changed and went out to eat.  Man Yung said it was just really great that the milonga ended so early, gave us time to do other things and not have to stay up so late.  Man Yung had his “Parisienne” pasta and I had a Matambre with a “Russian salad” at La Madeleine - the waiter was super friendly, I think the rumour has gone around that we tip good.  He mentioned that the “fat one” was sick so he was serving us today.  We were like “which fat one?”  I don’t know whether he was talking about our regular waiter from last year or the waiter from Tuesday.  Anyway, the service was really good, the waiter even spontaneously appeared with a glass of water when Man Yung went into a coughing fit.  The Matambre was delicious and made in the shape of a heart.  I wasn’t too keen on the Russian salad though - much starchy potato.

Right now (Friday) we are waiting for Alberto’s call about tonight (he might be too sick to go out) and then we are off to Lanus to visit Osvaldo and Coca.  I hope we can find his house and also… that we can find transportation back!  If you don’t get anymore email updates it’s because we are still lost somewhere in Lanus….

Have a great Friday,


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