Monday, September 26, 2011

A shoe on top of your head

....or a bowl

Over the weekend, Man Yung told me about one of the Zen stories in the history of Buddhism that kind of bothered him.  It went something like this:


"Some monks in a monastery in China a long long time ago started to keep a cat as a pet.  Under the teachings and rules of Buddhism, monks are not supposed to keep pets, but they kept this a secret from the abbot.

Since the cat was friendly and SO CUTE!!! [at least, that's what I'd say], some other monks started to care for and play with the cat as well.  This caused a rift in the monastery - the first group of monks claimed that the cat was theirs, and the second group of monk denied that and said no, the cat was theirs.

Word of this disagreement reached the ears of the Abbot.  The Abbot asked the arguing monks to be brought before him - and they came, ashamed for breaking the rules, but asking the question - who does the cat belong to?

"Let me resolve this for you," said the Abbot.  "Whoever can come up with the most convincing argument under Buddhism that they are entitled to the cat will keep the cat.  If you cannot come up with a good reason, the cat must be killed."

Neither faction could come up with a good reason (under Buddhism).  So the Abbot ordered the cat to be put to death.

The Head Disciple of the Abbot was away from the monastery when all this hoopla occurred.  When he came back, the Abbot told him what happened and asked him what he thought.

After hearing the story, the Head Disciple took off his shoes, put them on his head, and walked off.

"Ah!" said the Abbot, nodding his head in agreement.  "If Head Disciple had been here, the dispute would have been resolved quite amicably, and I would not have to put the cat to death!"


After hearing the story, I was completely outraged. 

"What a crock of $#%@!!!!, " I said.  "I know what I'd be saying to the Abbot - I'd say: Goddamn your rules and regulations! I'll give you a good reason why Mr. Kitty is coming with me.  If you so much as harm a hair on my cat's head, I guarantee that I will hack you into little pieces and serve you up as freshly steamed meat buns!"

"This proves that you have not yet attained enlightenment, and that you don't understand the story" said Man Yung quite sagely.  "Let me break it down for you!"

1.  Under Buddhism, monks are not supposed to keep any pets, or have any attachment to any material or earthly thing;

2.  Under Buddhism, monks are supposed to be serene and not supposed to fight or argue over anything - let alone pets;

3.  Therefore it is impossible to make any argument under Buddhism as to the ownership of the cat (or as to any other thing);

4.  Moreover, under Buddhism, it is a sin to kill any living creature - the "killing" referred to by the Abbot can only be a spiritual action to destroy one's attachments to material or earthly things, and not to the action of killing a material or earthly thing;

5.  Accordingly, the correct response to all of this is to put your shoe on your head, i.e. an absurd response to something completely absurd; And Lastly:

6.  This is only a story and none of it happened (i.e. Come on, Irene!  Did you really think they'd take Mr. Kitty to the back of the building and make a soup out of him?  By the way the monks aren't supposed to eat meat.  And what would they feed the cat in the first place?  They can't kill anything so they can't feed the cat meat anyway)

"So you see, Irene, the whole tale revolves around absurdity - the story can only be a story as it fails several levels of logic in its right context.  Kind of like the visiting (or is it now local?) Tango professional who thinks he's dancing and teaching Tango.  He is apparently unaware that the general consensus among Toronto Tangueros and Tangueras is that he is not really doing either - but merely dancing with himself!"

"Oh, I get it now!!!!!!"*

*  HUh!!?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Man Yung is one of those rare old birds who still carries a handkerchief in his pocket wherever he goes. Hmmm...perhaps rare only in North America - because many of the milongueros in Buenos Aires still use handkerchiefs! Come to think of it, hankies are not just quaint, they are quite handy - to mop sweat from your brow, to soak up unexpected spills from your alcoholic beverage, to wipe the doggie doo off the shoe of your dance partner (yes, it has happened - haven't written about that yet!) - and of course, to dab away the tears from the eyes of ladies whose hearts you have just broken*. A rumpled kleenex just doesn't have the same kind of "je ne sais quoi".

* But please, not all at once - and not all with the same hankie before washing!

After I stumbled across a tutorial on how to make rolled hem handkerchiefs at The Purl Bee's website - I became an even rarer bird than men who carry hankies. I became a person who makes hankies by hand. And here they are!

My handmade handkerchiefs for Man Yung - he used my new linen Anthropologie Odille "Sailboat Skirt" as a backdrop. I love that skirt - I don't care that it is mid-September, I'm wearing it to Tango!

I made these five rolled hem handkerchiefs from 100% cotton "fat quarters" - scraps of cloth originally for quilting, measuring 18" x 22". I trimmed off the extra 4" and was left with a square of 18" x 18" - perfect for a larger size handkerchief. Just a bit of trivia for you: the famous Hermés scarves sport hand rolled hems so fine, they roll the hems towards the front of the scarf so you can admire the handiwork as well as the print.

Here's another photo showing some of the hand sewn rolled hems. I'm much more of a knitter than a sewer so my sewing isn't perfect (actually, it's terrible). I'm quite proud I managed to make these!

Some men would be afraid of this particular selection of fabrics - but not Man Yung! He will use and wear whatever pattern in whatever colour that strikes his fancy. In fact, Man Yung's sartorial choices are more intrepid than the ones made by most women!

I can't wait to use this rolled hem technique to make some extra fancy scarves and handkerchiefs from Liberty of London Tana Lawn - 100% cotton fabric that is so smooth and light, it looks and feels like silk. Can you take me to The Workroom next weekend, Man Yung?

Lastly: I, too, have a Hankie/Tango story: The first time I danced with Osvaldo Cartery, he put his hankie in his left hand to shield my hand from his sweaty palms. Or was it to shield his hand from my sweaty, grimy paws? In any case, what a considerate gentleman! (and here's the video to prove it):

Forgive the shaky beginning of the video - Man Yung was really confused by the camera. And look - both Osvaldo and I were a lot skinnier back then! We took this at El Arranque - we were there post-Camicando 2007 with Martha and Manolo and Osvaldo and Coca. Afterwards we all went to a tenedor libre, and then a walk down Lavalle where Osvaldo grooved to reggae music and they handed Manolo flyers - to see a Tango Show!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Buenos Aires 2009 - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saraza - beginning of the milonga

Tuesday March 3, 2009

Dear V,

More Camicando. More classes. Unfortunately, the big egos in some of our fellow students continue their rampage.

The second floor in Salon Victorial is divided into small, interlinked and doorless rooms - there's not enough space to have all the students in one room so we kind of branch off  to practice wherever there is space.  There was a couple hogging the larger central vestibule next to the stairs.  Since there was more than enough space for twenty couples (and better ventilation - yes, it is hot again) we started practicing in the vestibule.  This apparently annoyed the couple who was already there.

They stopped practicing to glare at us.  "Can't you FOLLOW THE LINE OF DANCE?" they said.

We looked around to ascertain the "ronda" they were so adamantly insistent upon.  It was as we thought - the place was empty except for the four of us and the sound of crickets chirping.  Wow, they invoked the "Gods of Codigo" even though it was not remotely a milonga.  What do you think?  I'm thinking that what they really wanted to say was "Get out of our territory, we are taking the "Master Classes" and therefore we are more important than you!" So true: we are indeed so low on the hierarchy of tango importance, we haven't even made it to the bottom rung of the ladder.  We left them to their little kingdom.

When classes ended for the day, we went back to Santa Fe and Callao and shopped for paper to print our emails on.   We are too embarrassed to ask for more paper from the front desk. Then it was back to the hotel for a shower, and then to Saraza in Caballito.  We were running a little late so we flagged down the first taxi that came down the road.

It happened not to be a radio taxi, so I engaged the taxi driver in conversation all the way to the milonga.  We talked about everything - the taxi driver even told us about his daughter, who was graduating from medical school (he pointed out the school as we passed it on the way).  He was very proud of her.  We talked about the weather in Canada, the profusion of chinese supermarkets all over the city ("You really like Buenos Aires?  Then you should move here, and open a chinese supermarket!" he suggested helpfully), whether or not Buenos Aires is getting more dangerous (yes, he said, because of all the drugs from Mexico).  When we got to the inner barrio streets we were still chatting away and trying to find Saraza together.  In fact we were talking so much that the driver didn't pay attention to the road and almost crashed at the intersection!

Saraza is held in a Club de Barrio called Club Telégrafo y Crisol Unidos.  Apart from the dance hall there's also a kickboxing/martial arts/fitness gym - for guys only, apparently.  You can peer into the gym from the windows facing the cobblestoned street.  To get to the milonga itself you have to walk down a very long corridor painted in white.  We were there early, before the milonga patrons had arrived - because we wanted to take class with Osvaldo and Coca.

They were already there - we kissed and hugged each other hello, but their attention was focused the class which, including us, had eight people. There was a young argentinian couple (dressed in baggy clothing), a few singles, and one of Osvaldo and Coca's friends from Saturday night. It was still daylight outside, and the light filtered though into the room from the open air courtyard - all the french doors had been flung open to let the breeze come through.  Osvaldo and Coca had brought a little portable stereo and played music from a CD that had their favourite performance and class music. 

Osvaldo taught two or three simple and very short steps - all based on the walk.  You'd be surprised how difficult it is to get it right, even among "advanced" learners in the class.  Osvaldo's style is deceptively simple - it all looks like walking, but the fact that some people can find it difficult just shows how little of walking people have learned from their other teachers!  After a bit of practice and lots of coaching, Osvaldo and Coca made each couple demonstrate the steps they taught to make sure they had got it. Man Yung got a lot from the class. 

After the class we sat at Osvaldo and Coca's table at the back of the hall near the kitchen - people were starting to come in, and Osvaldo and Coca ordered Matambre.  They asked what we wanted to order - and we said we weren't hungry, we had a huge meal before class.  "What did you eat?" asked Osvaldo.  We explained we had noodles...that came in a cup.  Osvaldo rolled his eyes.  Osvaldo and Coca's friends came - we all sat squished together at the long table.

By the way, we didn't have to pay the milonga entrada - it turned out that this was the exact same milonga we got free passes to from the milonga organizer Ricardo who came over to us when we were at Milonga del Centenario the previous Thursday!  What a coincidence!

The milonga may have been free but we weren't feeling up to enjoying the evening.  The music was ok.  Lots of locals, cabeceo-ing each other from across the room.  When we danced the people stared.  An older, very animated lady with reddish brown hair and dressed like a gypsy came to congratulate us on our dancing - we pointed at Osvaldo and Coca and told her they were our teachers. She didn't know who Osvaldo and Coca were.  She started to talk excitedly about folklore and we stood there nodding politely.

The standard of dancing at Saraza was very "barrio" (see Glorias Argentinas), but on the whole quite musical.  It's the outsiders who look out of place.  The young "nuevo" couple who took the class had a lot of skill, but the figures and the adornments they were trying to exert all over the music drained the musicality out of their dancing.  There was also a guy with a big handlebar moustache, dancing (actually, it was more like shuffling) in fuzzy fringed suede moccasins while leaning back awkwardly. He was just as bad a leader as his partner was bad as a follower, but nevertheless she proudly put in every clumsy, ugly adornment from the women's technique classes and youtube videos that she could muster.

But they were no way as distasteful visually (and I'm sorry to say it) as the "CANYENGUE!" couple who showed up.  Camicando alumni, unfortunately.

Canyengue really trains your ear for the music and looks pretty great when danced in a musical, subtle way. However, when danced to ALL the music (that means non-Canyengue music as well as Canyengue music - for some overzealous Canyengue aficionados, the whole Mundo de Tango is one big Canyengue party) with costume changes, uncontrolled enthusiasm and too much stamping of the feet (Man Yung compares it to roach-stomping) - it looks really, really embarrassing.  We had seen the lovely couple before - drawing the spotlight on themselves time and time again at all the other Camicando events.  It didn't look so bad when there were droves of other Canyengue couples around them (there is safety in numbers, I guess) - at Saraza, they stood out.  We watched them prance about splendiferously - and why not, the man had a Canyengue "hat and neckerchief" thing going on while the woman did her share of roach crushing in open-toed, flat-soled, gladiator-style flip-flops.  It was quite a show, especially with her booty exaggeratedly protruding in Canyengue embrace -  her panty lines clearly visible under her diaphanous, transparent, white linen harem pants.

They saw us!  We were hoping that they would not.  They leisurely stomped and jerked over to the table, still in full Canyengue embrace - no, not to say hello.  "Ha ha ha ha!" said the lady, looking at Osvaldo and Coca and then looking at us.  "Lookie who's here!  Taking classes with Osvaldo and Coca, heh?"  She gave us a sly wink.

We predicted that this Auntie Number 8 in the see-through harem pants will lose no time and tell Martha and Manolo at the first opportunity that she had "caught" us taking classes (and hanging out) with Osvaldo and Coca.  Good thing we told them beforehand.*

* Not like there is anything wrong with hanging with Osvaldo and Coca!  In fact, Osvaldo and Coca taught classes at the first Camicando we ever went to in 2007.  But from the way that the "CANYENGUE!" couple acted, it was like they had caught us red-handed in some kind of Canyengue Sacrilege!

It was all very tiring.  We were ready to leave at 11 p.m. - and not because we had contravened any of the ten commandments of Canyengue. We let Osvaldo know that we wanted to go - and he got Ricardo, the organizer, to call us a remise.  The remise came pretty quickly. "Have a good trip!" said Coca, cheerily (did she mean back to the hotel?  or back to Canada?). Osvaldo came outside with us to make sure we got into the right car.  Herding Chinese people (or is it Japanese?  Korean?) is like herding cats.

When we got back to the hotel, Man Yung realized with a shock that in the rush, he had left his big red Crocs at Saraza.   Sigh.  It was quite an ordeal for me to try to explain to Ricardo on the phone what it was that we left at the milonga.  Despite all our efforts at explaining (Ricardo probably got all the women sitting against the wall to stand up so he could look under the table), Ricardo couldn't find them.*  Man Yung was inconsolable.

* That was because Man Yung didn't actually leave his big red Crocs at Saraza.  He never brought to to the milonga - he left them at the hotel!

Can you blame me for not being hungry when we popped over to La Madeleine for late-night snack!


Sunday, September 4, 2011


End of the evening at one of Toronto's lively weekend milongas.  There I was, minding my own business (and playing Siege Hero) while waiting for Man Yung to finish dancing one last tanda with one of the lovely single Toronto Tangueras, when local friendly Tanguero comes walking all the way over from the other end of the room to ask me to dance.  Again.

I thought I was looking intently at my iPhone screen - I'm pretty sure that I didn't look up.  Not even once.  In fifteen minutes.  To cabeceo ANYBODY.  But here comes the hopeful invite anyway.

The answer: No.

"Come on, Irene," pleaded the aforesaid "friendly" Tanguero, "It'll be fun!"

You don't have to have psychic powers to predict my response with 100% accuracy - STILL NO.

The regretful incident is over, but the question still lingers in my mind...Fun?  For whom exactly?

When Man Yung and I first decided to take tango classes, the only goal we had in mind was to have something fun to do together on the weekends.   And eight years later, it still holds true - tango is most fun when we dance together.

We have observed that many tangueros and tangueras like to dance with other people - often even more than with their own partner!  They may even sit apart at the milonga to advertise their availability.  There's nothing wrong with that - the social aspect is deeply ingrained in tango culture.  I'm glad that the option of dancing with different people makes dancers of Tango happy - I'm sure that we all love our own partners to bits but sometimes a break is nice!

For those who like to dance with other people - I respect your choice.  I would also like Toronto tangueros to respect my choice - which is not to dance with anybody but Man Yung.  I like it that way.  And if I change my mind, I will stop playing "Angry Birds" immediately and set my gaze like laser-guided missiles in your direction.*

* Ha ha!  NOT!  Not even if you are George Clooney. Or Alain Delon.  Or even Fabio.  Be totally jealous - for me, Man Yung is da bomb! 

Everyone says "Yes!" to Fabio!  (Except Irene)

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