Sunday, August 28, 2011

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

Monday March 2, 2009

Dear V,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We took advantage of the break to take some photos:

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

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

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

 The colectivo running through the streets of San Telmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Man Yung usually doesn't ask this particular Toronto Tanguera to dance, but one night a couple of weeks ago, due to the severe Tanguero shortage, he did.

Whilst dancing, they had the following merry conversation.

"Haven't seen you here very often, and haven't seen you at [insert name of local weekend traditional milonga] either lately," said Man Yung.  "And by the way, where's your partner?"

"Oh, he doesn't like to go to [local weekend traditional milonga].  He likes to go to [local weekend alternative milonga] much more.  All the ladies there, including the DJ and the organizer, have come to the consensus that my partner is THE BEST DANCER IN TORONTO." She emphasized this declaration with a set of brilliant, rapid-fire auto-adornments.

Man Yung was duly impressed.  "Wow, congratulations!"*

*  "No, no, Irene!" said Man Yung after reading this post - "Stop twisting around everything I tell you!  She didn't say it that way.  She was just complaining about how her partner likes to go to all these other places because he is much more popular with the ladies.  In fact, I think it must be partially your fault that the tangueros don't show up where you show up - you can't say no to all the people who ask you to dance all the time!  If all the tangueras are as picky as you, all the tangueros will have to try a lot harder and inadvertently elevate the standard of tango in Toronto - that's no way to build a tango community!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Osvaldo and Coca - 55 years of milonga and Emerald Wedding Anniversary at Porteño y Bailarin

This just in on Youtube:  Osvaldo and Coca performing to "Carillon de la Merced" at Porteño y Bailarin on the occasion of their Emerald Anniversary - to overwhelming and warm applause:

We are always so delighted when new videos of Osvaldo and Coca appear on Youtube - then we can call them and tell them about it!  You can call our communication methods a primitive form of Skype, heh.  It's hard to fanthom what 55 years together is like - we ourselves have been hanging out (on?) together for 18 years* but there's a long way to go to reach 55!  Will we be able to dance even half as well as Osvaldo and Coca when we reach our Emerald Anniversary?

Here's a compilation of all of the performances in tribute to Osvaldo and Coca on the same night:

What an exciting night!  We just realized, and it's kind of unbelievable, but we actually shared the stage once with Jorge Garcia and Susana Soar at La Baldosa and Daniel Nacchuchio and Cristina Sosa at Circulo Apolo.  Beautiful Buenos Aires, when will we see you and embrace all our dear friends again? 

* Man Yung asks: "Why, Irene, do you like mentioning that we are together 18 years all the time?  It doesn't matter the number of years so long we are together now!"  Ha ha Man Yung! You sound romantic but I know what's up...You always wink and tell people that it is "Time to change partners!"  When Osvaldo and Coca got interviewed with Practimilonguero, didn't Osvaldo say he wouldn't mind if Coca ran off with a rich man the next day?  I'm thinking - maybe we can find Man Yung a rich lady (after all, people are willing to pay in U.S. dollars to dance with Man Yung) and then he can share some of the riches with me so I could go and buy Lululemon's entire fall collection!  Win-win!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Donkey Kong

Ah...the Gorilla.  King of all Primates.  Lord of the Jungle.  Did you know we share 95% of the same DNA with these powerful great apes?  I have been in total admiration of the mighty Gorilla ever since my high school teacher took us on a field trip to see "Gorillas in the Mist", starring the beautiful and enchanting Sigourney Weaver (who also coincidentally starred in another of my favourite movies, "Ghostbusters").  Yes, I am not ashamed to say that I, too have submitted school essays entitled, "When I grow up... I want to be a Gorilla".

Strangely, the Gorilla has been evolving very rapidly over the last few decades.  Is it global warming, genetically engineered food, or reduction in natural gorilla habitat due to the greedy land developers acting in cohorts with corrupt chinese officials?  Whatever the cause, King Kong (or Donkey Kong) is no longer content to wildly swat at swooping combat planes from the top of the Empire State Building, or throw colourful wooden barrels at intrepid jumping Italian plumbers.  No, indeed.

Nowadays, you see Gorillas learning to stand and walk on their own hind feet:

Go, go Ambam!  You have a better walk than most Campeonato contestants!

Yet other clever Gorillas are learning to participate in rampant consumerism.  Watch this bunch open their x'mas presents:

 Sorry, no iPad - the only thing in the box was a handful of peas.

Yet others are expanding their music talents - by learning to play the Keyboard.  And the Drums.  Soon the Gorilla Boy-Bands will be scaling the charts as rapidly a big monkey climbing a skyscraper:

Koko - not only the undisputed Gorilla sign language queen - but also Mozart of the Animal World

Unknown Gorilla tops even Koko - plays the drums just like Phil Collins!  
While selling Cadbury chocolates!

And then, there's the crazy Breakdancing Gorilla of the Calgary Zoo:

Has better body to feet coordination than most Tangueros

Gorillas have evolved so far, they have even gained insight into the fact of their mortality.  It is a sad but eventual reality for all us living creatures - but before this, only we as humans were aware of it. With the crossing of this last frontier, there is really very little to differentiate what is human, and what is monkey:

Scientists teaching a Gorilla (and a handful of rabbits) that it will die

With the foregoing advancements in Gorilla evolution, it was only a matter of time before Gorillas will learn how to dance tango - and dance it even better than us humble humanfolk!  After all, Gorillas have longer limbs, better strength and stamina, more acute hearing...These talented animals are naturals for the physically demanding art of the Nuevo, with its death-defying acrobatic spins and drops, incomprehensible musical cacophonies, and American-football style tackles into crowds of bodies on the busy Toronto Tango pista.  And they don't even need to learn how to lead - flinging their flimsy human partners across the room is as easy as lifting a finger.  New Tango is dead?  Bah, humbug!  Not with the Nuevo Gorillas holding the fort (and teaching classes most weekdays at your local tango extravaganza).


"OWWWWWW!!!!" said Man Yung.  He just got collided into, asteroid-to-earth style, right in the middle of a tanda of milonga.  He whipped his head around and caught sight of the hulking tanguero who had barreled into him - and who continued to spin merrily along, oblivious to the collision and still pushing, pulling and shoving his modern tanguera Fay Wray like she was a ragdoll in a tango dress (and leggings).

"That guy didn't even have the courtesy to stop and say sorry!"  said Man Yung, exasperated.

I rolled my eyes.  Surely Man Yung is not so naive, having been marinated in Toronto Tango for as long as he has?"

"Of course he isn't going to say sorry.  He's an instructor - so he expects the crowd to part for him like Moses in front of the Red Sea.  In addition, he isn't like you and me - he's a Gorilla in a t-shirt.  Everyone knows that while Gorillas have mastered sign language, they haven't gotten to the part where they teach them how to apologize for bumping into people on the dance floor.*"

* Apparently, they have also failed to get to the part where they teach the Gorilla how to navigate on a crowded dance floor.  Or lead.  Or dance to the music.   Or to teach others how to navigate, lead, dance to the music, etc.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Aural Indigestion

The beginning and middle of the week for Man Yung is like a desert. When will we be able to make it to the next milonga? And when we finally get a chance to dance - it is really cathartic for Man Yung. The sullen, irritable moodiness he has been sporting all week disappears. Man Yung is happy, he is smiling...and he might even take me shopping at Lululemon...

Imagine this then: we go out dancing for the first time in the week, and afterwards, instead of being happy - Man Yung feels even worse than before! "I had been looking forward to dancing all week, Irene," said Man Yung. "But right now, it doesn't feel like I have danced. In fact, it feels like indigestion!"

Usually Man Yung would blame his milonga induced stomach upset on me for not following well - but now I've gotten so good he couldn't blame me anymore!

I pat Man Yung reassuringly. "Sweetie, you feel horrible because the music was particularly vile tonight!"

There's not a lot that would keep Man Yung away from a milonga. We've kept on going to places that are too hot. Too cold. Floor too sticky. Ambiance lacking. We've even continued to attend milongas where the flapping, squawking dancers have obviously escaped the insane asylum.

But there is one thing that will stop us attending a milonga. It's called "Bad Music". And there's a lot of it going around, as it goes hand-in-hand with the other ubiquitous scourge of tango - the "Clever DJ" syndrome. Whenever the music starts to go downhill, Man Yung and I will look at each other, shake our heads slowly, and say "Look, there goes another DJ trying to be to be too clever for his own good."

Why do some gringo DJs always feel this overwhelming drive to be "Clever"? Why do they have to choose music that has to be unusual, or obscure - just to show off the size of their music collection and/or musical knowledge and confound their dancers? Why can't they just play music that is beautiful, popular - and that makes people want to dance?

Once, a local DJ announced that he was open to all comments and suggestions. He actually repeated this on an habitual basis - the main thing, he said, was to make the dancers happy. He even pushed for our opinion several times.

At last, we couldn't bear it anymore. We actually told him what we thought - in a rather long email in fact, analyzing his playlist song by song and pointing out exactly what went wrong.

Was he mad? We were expecting a long-winded rebuttal - but it never came. Curious. It took him more than a week to get back to us - and when he did, it was a stock response thanking us for taking the time to email him with our thoughts.

Well, the music actually continued along the same track as before. More or less the same tandas in more or less the same order. The same kind of rhythmic music from rhythmic minded orquestras in every tanda. The same orchestra in two or more tandas in a row. Strange, brassy sounding versions of milongas with tempos that sped up and slowed down with the singing - that no-one could dance to. Jarring modern versions of the classics.

Then, the DJ started playing weird things - and coming up to me with a grin to ask if I knew what they were. Like anyone did. I shrugged my shoulders and laughed politely the first couple of times this happened. But after a couple of weeks of these quizzes, I realized that the DJ was deliberately playing obscure music so that he could "stump" me and show off that he was better than me!

So the next time he played his enigmatic gems and came over with his quiz, I told him right off. Of course I didn't know what he was playing - no-one plays this kind of music in the milongas of Buenos Aires! He was playing late late D'Arienzo, D'Agostino with any singer but Vargas, stuff from the 70's... might as well throw in some Cacho Castaña or Susana Rinaldi, or even some Carlos Gardel!

Mr. DJ: Don't think that you are good because you play something that people can't recognize and that no other sane DJ would play. That is the worst trap that DJs could fall into - the other trap being laziness and unwillingness to change tandas from week to week. Vileness in tango music playlist reaches its zenith when the DJ couldn't be bothered to change the tandas he plays - and compounds the problem by playing strange undanceable stuff* alongside it, just to prove he is clever and not sleeping on the job.

* Don't be mistaken though, that weird stuff is undanceable for us - if we can dance to violin concertos, The Beatles, and the sound of crickets chirping, we can dance to anything. But just "anything" DOES NOT A GOOD MILONGA DANCE EXPERIENCE MAKE.

The best DJs in the most popular traditional milongas in Buenos Aires are quite content to play the classics, day after day, year after year. They play music not to prove their superiority - they are there to make their dancers dance and have the sweetest, most wonderful time possible in their milongas. They love the dancers with their music - and that's why we love them back. No need to pack the Pepto-Bismol!

Osvaldo and Coca at Milongueando 2011

Osvaldo and Coca, wonderful as always - performing at the opening milonga of this year's Milongueando festival:

Do we even need words?  The proof is in the dancing.  They are once and forever champions of tango (and those who dispute it or want to character assassinate are only insanely jealous). 

Monday, August 8, 2011

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

Dear V,

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

Sunday March 1, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 Part 7 - Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dear V,

Are you ready for your trip yet?  Less than a week and you will be here!  You must be scrambling for last minute stuff.


Saturday February 28, 2009

(this is the one in which we walk 40 blocks)

Saturday started off as a nice cool(ish) sunny day.  Since we had no plans except to go to Sunderland at night, we decided to take a walk along Callao all the way to Alvear Palace Hotel.  It’s like the Buenos Aires Ritz - and it’s located on Av. Alvear, famous for its haute couture and designer boutiques. 

We went at a comfortable slow pace, looking at the shops along the way (including one with fashion jewellery and accessories - really nice colorful designs, but too expensive compared to the necklaces we got at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa).  Some of the stores were closed, I guess they only opened on weekdays.  The area is really nice to walk in - none of the hustle and bustle of the main streets downtown, nice "Parisian Belle Epoque" architecture, polite people (with money but not flashy).  We passed by the Christian Dior store we bought a lot of Man Yung’s polos from last year - the quality is just not as good as Lacoste, but in any case they didn’t have sales on polos.  It was only one little block always from Alvear.

Most of the designer stores were closed on Alvear too.  There was an entire family subtly begging at the corner of Callao and Alvear - a man with his wife and children, and the strange thing was that they were dressed respectably.  You wouldn't think that the man in the suit with his wife and children were begging except for their odd position on the sidewalk, stiff, awkward, body language and sullen, silent stares.  Man Yung thought it seemed kind of harsh for the man to parade his entire family like this as part of his panhandling enterprise.

We went into Alvear Palace - it has a shopping concourse filled with antiques, expensive gaucho souvenirs and knick-knacks - but no air conditioning, so we didn’t stay and look.  The hotel was grand, but not anything we haven’t seen in say, Chateau Frontenac or Royal York downtown.  Man Yung said that it didn’t make sense for us to have tea or sit down for a bite to eat there - which was my original plan.  Why spend money on these frivolities when you can have a huge delicious meal at La Madeleine, where they would appreciate your tips and give you great service?

There was Louis Vuitton next to Alvear but too bad, it was closed so I can’t get a bunch of designer handbags so I’ll look like any other designer handbag crazy chica on the TTC - so sad.  But there’s one thing we’ve noticed in Bs As - not even the rich people carry handbags with big designer logos.  Even the bags on display at LV didn’t show obvious logos.  That’s maybe where the Argentinians are ahead of a lot of “fashionable” people in Canada and Hong Kong - they don’t need to show the labels in order to boost their self-esteem. 

We passed a park right at the edge of the fair with huge trees with sprawling roots and took some photos.  Some sinister looking people in green canvas vests were pretending to be Red Cross volunteers and trying to get people to give them “donations”.  We ignored them and walked on.

Tree in the park at the end of Alvear. There's a lot of these kinds of trees in Buenos Aires - all along the Av. 9 de Julio, Plaza San Martin, etc., etc.  I think they are called Ombú.

At one end of Alvear past LV is the fair we have gone to every year - a tourist attraction filled with tourist souvenirs and kitschy artsy items.  Every year we’ve walked through it I have felt sweltering hot - but this year was much better and a little cooler, even though my throat was killing me.  We used to pick up some souvenirs here for people, but this year we just didn’t (because you will be in Buenos Aires soon anyway ;-))  We took a little stroll through the fair, and watched a live acoustic band play something that sounded a lot like elevator music in the performance area next to a grassy lawn.

 View of the stalls at the Recoleta Fair (also known as Feria de Plaza Francia)

Anywhere there is grass and open space in Buenos Aires, you may see Porteños sitting and lying down, basking in the sun.  Here we are catching an open-air concert. I have a displeased look on my face that says "I'm bloody hot, and the sun is in my eyes."

 You may not be able to tell by this photo...but these guys are playing "Muzak"

Under the canopies of all the stalls it can be sweltering hot. 

Walking past the stalls, we couldn’t find again the vendor who looked like the spitting image of "El Indio" who was teaching baby tango steps to a blond turista last year. But we finally went into the “Buenos Aires Design” mall at the edge of the Plaza Francia - it’s in all the tourist attraction guides as some kind of cutting edge interior design furniture place.  But we didn’t see much evidence of that - only a lot of tourist restaurants (they had American style food, Japanese food, Italian food, “Authentic” parillada, and of course, the Hard Rock Café) and a lot of tourists.  It's a nice modern mall, open to the outside with patios, and it would have been nice to sit under an umbrella in the sun and having a beer, except the prices were tourist prices.  There was only one furniture store that I could see - with a huge white and silver round garden bed with a canopy.  Man Yung said “Let’s get it!” and I said “Sure!  We can pack it and take it with us on the plane!” (like it would fit in our tiny condo.  Our cats would love it though).

We walked a little around the area, past a young asian looking woman with two clever white terriers - the old one was too tired to play but the young one was excited about playing “fetch” with a ball while still on a leash.  A few steps ahead and we encountered some streets that looked exactly like Parisian streets - leafy and grand - so much so that I swear they even smelled like them (like old stone and damp).  The only thing that was not Parisian about this area was the great number of tangled wires overhead. 

Streets in Recoleta.  It's like you are in Paris!  Except there are so many wires overhead it looks like someone was playing cat's cradle with the electricity grid.

On this same street is a empanada place called "El Sanjuanino". The décor is rustic Argentinian and the expository and poetic writings in the menu hails all manner of its “authentic-ness”.  Could we have possibly stumbled upon the most “authentic” empanada places in the world? ;-)   The walls were decorated with photos of the owners posed with famous people who we couldn’t recognize - but that's because we are gawking, camera-toting Norteamericano tourists.   You too can feel like a gaucho on the pampas eating here - the tables were greasy and Man Yung put his hand on something gross ;-).  The empanadas were 5 pesos each - 3 if you take out.  We decided we’ll just eat something here and had 2 empanadas each with some water.

El Sanjuanino - you know you are walking into history when it is covered with a thin coat of decades old cow grease...better not lean on the table, Man Yung!

The empanadas were very big, pretty good (but not the best that we've tasted, despite the "authentic-ness" - but perhaps authentic empanadas are not supposed to be the tastiest) and although the menu said they contained olives, only EVERY SECOND ONE CONTAINED an olive.  How they managed to do this I don’t know.  The olive was very authentic in itself - it still contained the pit.

A handsome, young, clean shaven male tourist (yes, Man Yung, I remember these kinds of things!) sat at the next table, studiously reading.  He seemed to speak Spanish to the waiter with much facility, and we watched him order some strange, adventurous and "authentic" stuff from the menu that were not empanadas.  When we leaving, I asked him in Spanish what the hell it was that he was eating.  He replied haltingly (with not as much facility as I had previously thought, and with a little bit of a gringo accent) that “It’s some kind of soup, with some stuff in it…” 

We walked back to the hotel.  My sore throat was not any better after the walk in the hot sun so we decided to go to the Farmacity that we passed along the way to get some Listerine.  Back at the hotel I tried gargling with it - and I felt even worse.  I decided to call my travel insurance and see if they could recommend a doctor.

They couldn’t, but they assured me that my case was covered by travel insurance and they started a claim file for me.  I had to submit receipts when I got home.  They usually took care of which doctor and did direct billing - but only in the States.  Here they didn’t know who we could contact, so I called the hotel front desk and Ricardo (the gentleman that checked us in) told us to go to the German Hospital about 7 blocks away.  We went to the lobby and Ricardo was eating, and when we spoke to him to confirm about the hospital we noticed he still had a big crumb on his lip.

We took the taxi there - the taxi driver knew where it was with me having to repeat the intersection.  I had trouble saying the intersection name - Arenales was easy, but how to pronounce “Puerreydon” (or whatever that was)?  It was really not that far away.

The hospital is in a big grey building - the emergency is at the side and not the front.  Or rather “the emergency where they overcharge foreigners is at the side and not the front”.  I was afraid that I would be in for a long wait just like in Toronto - however, that was totally not the case.  They have everything set up efficiently - the front desk directed you to a specialist based on your case, you then lined up at a cashier a few steps away (where the two male cashiers sat behind glass booths), gave your personal details and passport information, paid your 150 peso consultation fee, got your receipt, and you would be told to wait in the adjacent waiting area for your name to be called.  The waiting area was empty with two rows of seats on the side and a flat screen tv playing the current soccer match.  I sat down for about 30 seconds and the specialist (I looked at the receipt and it was some kind of OOORRINGGSHHOAAAOSSEEGNINNTHA specialist - well, not exactly this, but a really long unpronounceable and scary looking title nonetheless that I can’t even recall how it’s spelt - called me into the examination room.

The doctor was a very nice, pretty young lady who seemed to want to greet me and say goodbye with a kiss, but I felt that was too bizarre and remained stiffly and awkwardly unreceptive - hey, to think about it, just like some of the "North Eurozone" tourists we meet at the milonga.  They must do things different here because the last time I checked, my family doctor doesn’t give out free kisses ;-).  It didn’t seem that we could conduct the examination in English, so we spoke in Spanish.  Luckily I studied some medical vocabulary just before coming to Bs As - I was preparing to discuss illness with the old maestros because these days they have all sorts of ailments (see Osvaldo last year - we could talk about the progress of his health, but this year he had recovered and was quite ok) but surprise, all that studying became useful for me!

So, the doctor posed all the regular questions - how do you feel, what hurts, any mucus, any swollen lymph nodes etc...  A quick visual examination revealed inflammation of the throat.  Then the doctor brought out a big black suitcase with some kind of machine in it and said “How about I take a look using this ______” My Spanish was not so good as to know what it was (are you surprised?)  Well, I wasn’t going to say no - and then this big long black tube was produced which was inserted into my nostril down into my throat through my nasal passages. I think I must be superhuman not to 1) sneeze, 2) gag, 3) sneeze and gag at the same time.  I didn’t even do one or a combination of the above when she told me to swallow and to make the “ahhhh” noise when the tube was still in there (ewwww). It must be some optical tube.  After that nasty and intrusive experience, we concluded that yes, I indeed had an infected throat and she wrote some prescriptions and told me to bring a “radiograph” to the cashier again.  I asked her if what I had was serious or contagious and the answer to that was “no”.  I have to say though, the doctor was very kind and nice.

Well, there was a reason why she was kind and nice.  That was because the “radiograph” COST 720 PESOS!!!!!!!  Man Yung and I were  in shock.  Hurray for travel medical insurance - I ended up paying by credit card because we certainly didn’t have so much cash.  Man Yung told the cashier that he should have got rid of his wife ;-).

We got our prescription filled at the hospital - yes, the services were expensive but the medicine was 40% off.  After we submitted the prescription note, we were directed to the cashier again - we had seen the “chico” at the cash so many times he was now like family.  I thought that I had to go back to the pharmacy to get the medicine - but no, if they are charging 720 for a “radiograph” they do things efficiently - they sent the antibiotics in a cylindrical container through an air pressure delivery system.  It was amazing.  But they could only fill part of my prescription - they had the antibiotics but not the cough syrup, I had to get that somewhere else.

Although the sticker shock was awful, I felt much better with the knowledge that I was not going to die (at least not yet) or spread some potential fatal disease to the tango masters.  We still had some free time so we walked back to the hotel from the hospital (we probably also didn’t want to take a taxi because we felt so much poorer after paying the doctor).   Santa Fe was busy and filled with people - you have to be cautious but not as much as on Corrientes - it is also greener with its trees and not so dry and polluted.  Trees make a big difference wherever you go.  We looked at restaurants along the way - there are some really nice ones - and popped into an accessories shop to buy some packages of girly cartoony stationery for Osvaldo and Coca’s grandchildren.

I took some medicine when we got back to the hotel, and then we went out to eat.  We wanted to try another restaurant that was opposite La Madeleine on the other side of the street - on previous trips Man Yung had always wanted to try other restaurants, and we had looked at the menu of this other restaurant when we passed by many times.

Apart from two women and the waiters there was no-one in the restaurant.  The waiter directed us into one of the deep leather booths and gave us a menu, then disappeared.  It wasn’t that the menu was expensive, or that the food selection (they had everything, and Man Yung was interested in the parrilla) wasn’t good - it was the complete lack of service that made us just get up and leave.  The waiters seemed annoyed to be bothered by customers.  It was almost 7 p.m. and there were no customers - for good reason, I guess, because we got up and left as well. [Now Man Yung realizes why we were bothering the waiters - no one in Buenos Aires eats until 9 p.m.  We were way too early.  But La Madeleine is 24 hours and is ready to serve patrons any time of the day.]

So we went back to La Madeleine.  As I said, my appetite was returning so I ordered Man Yung’s steak with mushroom sauce, and Man Yung ordered a steak with pepper sauce and potatoes in baked in cream and parmesan - both very delicious, and heavy. 

Somewhere along the way on this busy day I called N (the expatriate tango blogger who we were supposed to hook up with) and told her that I couldn’t make it to the free Café de los Maestro’s concert on Saturday evening.   I had left her a message on Friday night but I wanted to make sure that I got in touch with her too - we didn’t have definite plans since her eye was infected but I didn’t want a misunderstanding either.  We talked about how it was at Sin Rumbo etc.  We also called Alberto to see how he was - still not so great, and we told him about Sin Rumbo too to amuse him.  I am using the phone a lot this trip, and my Spanish must have improved because it appears I can actually have conversations on the phone without any body language!  We called Osvaldo and Coca to see whether we had to make reservations - but they were making them and meeting us there.

Martha left us a telephone message that they would be coming too to Sunderland.  We were just about to leave for Sunderland when we picked up the message so we weren’t sure whether there were places reserved for them - yikes.  Anyway, we took the taxi to Sunderland - and was surprised that it cost only 30 pesos.  Sunderland Club is on a residential street - you didn't expect a milonga place until you spot the sudden, glaring illumination of the lights and the big painted sign above the entrance in blue italics on whitewash.  We didn’t have much time to examine the way the building looked - Osvaldo and Coca were already outside, early, and we went in with them.  They didn’t have to pay the entrada, so we didn’t have to pay for them. 

The gym is about half the size I thought it would be after seeing so many videos on Youtube.  The ceiling is high, the floor looks like granite (I brought a new pair of Comme Il Faut with me because the soles were smoother - I feared that the floor at Sunderland would be just as terrible as at Sin Rumbo.  Man Yung strained his kidneys trying to pivot on that floor) - and was actually quite reasonable to dance on.  We arrived early, there weren’t many people and no-one was dancing - but Julio Duplaa was there on the opposite side of the room.  A light must have gone on in his head when he saw us with Osvaldo and Coca as to what kind of style we were dancing (Of course he may have another light go on when Martha and Manolo came as well to sit with us.)  He was happy to see us and said hello. Coca seemed a little upset when we arrived and told her that Martha and Manolo were coming too (she said “I didn’t know that!" - she must have been worried about seating arrangements) the table that was reserved for us already said “Osvaldo Manolo Coca Martha” - and it was the VIP table right next to the table of Jorge Dispari, Maria Carmen and their "posse".  Osvaldo made us sit right at the edge of the floor, and Martha and Manolo sat opposite us - they came a little bit later before the dancing started.

Osvaldo had actually invited many of his friends to come.  There was a blond lady from Brazil called T with her boyfriend, the mustached C.  She was very animated, always shrieking and laughing and hugging Osvaldo and Coca and acting like the life of the party. Another couple sat next to us - the woman had a riot of curly hair and looks a little like L (a Toronto tanguera) and the man was a big, hefty, benevolent looking man with a balding head.  They danced very well, except she had to lean quite a lot to dance with him. Osvaldo and Coca's friends looked like that they had a bit of money, and definitely, tango was a diversion and not a job for any of them.

Lots of people came to greet the “Masters” at our table - even Jorge and Maria Carmen came over to say hello.  The difference was that Martha and Manolo would wait for people to come over to say hi to them - while Osvaldo and Coca would go all over to say hello to everyone.  Everyone knew everyone there.  Jorge and Maria Carmen brought their entourage along, including their daughter Samantha, “adornista extraordinaire”.  She had short hair and ribbon tying her shoe to her legs in the criss-cross pattern, ballerina style - her mini-dress and shoes were all in black. I realized something.  Last year at Sin Rumbo we bumped into the Disparis and they had a bunch of people with them  - including a girl who could do so many adornments it was amazing to watch.  She didn’t happen to be “just a disciple” - she was their daughter (she was kind of wearing the same kind of shoes and dress as last year) No wonder.  If you have been dancing tango from the time you were in your mother's womb, you too would be able to do the impossible adornments at the speed of a hummingbird's wing.

Comme Il Faut and shoes like them are now commonplace - even the older Porteñas are wearing them.  One woman wore an extravagant yellow and black pair, but too much was going on in those shoes - ribbons, white polka dots, stripes, everything.  It looked like the shoes had all the symptoms of the plague all at once.  Once upon a time, people were afraid that their shoes were too flashy - but now, no matter whether they dance well or dance horribly, everyone is wearing over the top rainbow coloured stilettos. 

Martha and Manolo actually danced a lot - but Osvaldo and Coca danced even more.  Osvaldo still runs out of breath, so we were a little concerned for his health.  We danced when we were told or urged to - since we were with the “Masters” it would be embarrassing for us to be rushing on the dance floor every minute without them.  We were also keeping an eye on everyone’s belongings.  Osvaldo talked (complained) to Manolo about us and how Man Yung has stolen all his steps.  Manolo reassured him that that was the way we first met - Manolo and Martha saw Man Yung dancing Manolo's steps and they stopped him and asked him “Who is your teacher?” - to which Man Yung quite aptly replied - “You are” (That is such a classic).

Sunderland was not actually as crazy as I thought it would be - there were more good dancers there than anywhere else we went, and although there were tourists, only a few were stupid, like the Nuevo couple that kept on their big moves and big boleos on the dance floor.  I kept on expecting a large group of tourists to show up after midnight - but they did not materialize.  It wasn’t that packed, the night we went - in Youtube videos you see people sitting on the benches next to the wall, but this time they were empty. 

We have been dancing better and better these days since we arrived - but Martha may not be pleased that I am dancing “plain style” without adornments.  People on the side would watch us, smile, wave to us or give us the thumbs up to tell us we were dancing well.  Carlos Rivarola, sitting at one of the tables on the edge of the dance floor, stared at us intently, wondering where the hell we came from and what the hell we were dancing to look so much unlike the rest of the tourists. Osvaldo’s friends were impressed, and Osvaldo was very interested when we were dancing his steps - he kept on looking and looking at us like he couldn't believe that his Tango DNA has somehow reproduced in a couple of chinese people in a small tango community on the other side of the globe.   

E, the clowny guy from the big annual nuevo tango festival (you have to guess which one we are talking about), performed.  Perhaps that’s why the tourists didn’t come this night - the good dancers would scoff at his clowniness and the tourists who would appreciate him wouldn’t travel so far to Sunderland because they would be afraid to be ripped off by the taxi driver.  Julio Duplaa looked very grave looking at their awful performance, but some of the bits were funny (especially to Osvaldo‘s friends).  I can’t believe they let them perform to to four songs.  It must have taken up at least twenty minutes of dancing time. The last one they “tried” to dance normal tango to Di Sarli’s Bahia Blanca - nope, it really didn’t work.  Actually, it highlighted their suckiness. 

Martha and Manolo left at 2:30 a.m. and we accompanied them out the door.  We said we had to stay until Osvaldo left because Osvaldo invited us - they agreed that was the polite thing to do.  Of course it took them a long time to leave - everyone had to say goodbye to them - and then in the corridor just outside the restaurant part of the building (and where everyone was smoking) a short man who looks a dwarf version of H from Toronto stopped them and grabbed me and started dancing some steps.  He tried to do more and more stuff (he is want you would call one of those “fancy dancers”) but it didn’t really make a difference to me.  Since we were dancing open embrace, I was even able to do some adornments, and Man Yung said Martha was giggling when she saw I was doing adornments and following this guy so well.  “H” claimed to know someone from Toronto, “La Turca” somebody.  He claimed that everyone in the world knew him (while we were wondering who the hell he was).  I said “Sure, everyone knows you!”  I know better than to argue with drunk people or Argentinians with big heads (and small bodies).

Some more highlights of the evening - we saw Samantha dancing with a “very old milonguero” - but very energetic, because he was doing many moves and also dancing rock and roll with Samantha.  We saw Ofelia, who is 80 and the mother of the organizer at Sunderland, but who has the legs of someone half her age.  We bumped into Juan Esquivel again, with his girlfriend, and he thought we were there by ourselves and was about to invite us to sit with him - and we told him no, indeed, we were with Osvaldo and Coca. While dancing, we encountered “H” on the dance floor and switched partners so I had to dance with H and Man Yung had to dance with his partner (who wasn’t a very good follower at all - “H” even dances like H from Toronto with his pushing and shoving, lack of music and awkward embrace).  We danced with “L” and her boyfriend - he’s pretty good, and she’s pretty good, Argentinians are naturals if they dare to dance.  Samantha danced with her dad (doesn’t it look weird when they do that?)  The Dispari table had a father who danced with his eight year old daughter - she was already pretty amazing.  Man Yung didn’t like it though - it looks like some tango professionals are training their children to be nothing but tango dancers from their infancy.  What about school and trying to get into a normal profession?  The tango scene couldn't possibly be good for children.  When we finally left the milonga we saw a young professional tanguera (who had been dancing up a storm at the milonga) standing outside leaning against a post, smoking a cigarette - she isn’t even twenty yet and already she looks worn out and world-weary. The life of Tango appears glamourous - but just take a few steps off the stage or outside the milonga - we suspect you may find hard living, drugs, loneliness and heartbreak.

We can’t believe it but Osvaldo and Coca stayed until the bitter end - after 4 a.m.  Surely he should not be partying so hard given his health?  We paid the tab for the entire table - even for T and her boyfriend who had a meal and champagne (and were lovey-dovey all night).  It was around 250 pesos, but lucky we paid for everyone and not just the “Maestros” - because Osvaldo made T and her boyfriend drive us home.  Think of how embarrassing it would be if we didn’t pay for them as well!

Osvaldo and Coca take to the floor at Sunderland during the last few tandas of the evening, February 28, 2009.  How gentle and musical they are! (But, oh, what party animals)

Driving back into town, T and her boyfriend followed Osvaldo’s car, and they would pass each other and roll down the window and gesture wildly and yell endearments to each other.  EVEN ON THE HIGHWAY.  The cars would swerve all over the road as they waved and shouted in the quiet barrio night.  Those crazy people.  Then Osvaldo and Coca took the highway in the other direction.

T was nice, and we chatted with her a little bit.  She told us that Osvaldo was teaching at Saraza on Tuesdays, and that it was a very nice milonga and we should go.  She gave me her email address so that I could email her and she could email back the address and times.  She must have a bit of money because she usually lives in Brazil and had been in Argentina 4 months already (but not on vacation).  She had been to Toronto as well. 

By the time we reached the hotel it was so late (or early).  We were exhausted. That was waaaaaaaay too much party for one night. 

Sunday to follow….


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