Sunday, February 24, 2008

Portrait of A Young Girl in Red Velvet Coat

What do I mean by that title? I mean it's a bit silly to show something and then explain what it is. Some people love slideshows where the host talks for nine minutes about each slide. Sure, sometimes that can be awesome. "This picture of us riding donkeys down to the Colorado River is kind of hilarious because, I swear to god, these donkeys were screwing with our heads, and they knew they were. We'd get to a bend on this totally hairy switchback path where there was like a five-thousand foot drop, my donkey would stop, ease on over to the very edge, sort of sway over the abyss, then suddenly like lose his grip and start to topple, rocks and dirt free-falling for three minutes, then at the last possible instant this god damn burro, I'm not making this up, somehow regains his traction and we continue our descent down the path unscathed, over and over! I kid you not, this happened fourteen times!"

On the other hand, it is possible for a photograph of a pear to stand alone. I know this is a philosophical thing about art: do you have to understand the context of a Manet or a Cezanne or a Mondrian, or can you decide whether you like it or not based on what you're seeing today on the wall there?


Casa Rosada. I think it's like our White House. Okay, let me get right into the burro story. The deal is, I went down to the Peru station on the metro A-line because I wanted to get some video of those cool wooden turn-of-the-century (19th) subway cars. Was going to go for a ride, put something on youtube. But I ended up totally bummed because the train that pulled into the station was more like a Disneyland monorail thing than anything [insert name of famous mid-20th-c Argentinian person, e.g. "Eva Perón"] might have ridden on [conclude with a balancing clause including the googled name of some famous 19th-c Argentine after whom a major metro hub station is named and whose bones I have fondled in Recoleta Cemetery, e.g. "let alone Carlos Enrique Pellegrini."]

So, seeing as how I'd blown 90 centavos on the ride down here, I had to do something. So I walked. Looking around, I had those age-old super-duper-cliché thoughts of anyone who's ever walked in Buenos Aires with a digital camera in their back pocket: "Damn, this place is so faded. But it must have really been something back in the days of
Carlos Enrique Pellegrini." Followed by, "Wow, talk about your juxtapositions! Every single block, it's endless repetition of 'cool old Paris-like building from 1889 juxtaposed against Stalinist Architectural University Doctoral Student's Thesis Blueprint monstrosity from 1961.' (Yes, I googled Stalin and I know that he died in 1953).

Well, I just can't help it. These are the things that nail you right in the eye here.

Buildings from three different epochs reflected in the windows of a 4th epoch.

I thought my dad would dig that graffiti. He often tells me that we are all one, there is only one consciousness, there is no division betwixt us all. Then he rolls down the window, gives the finger to the guy he just cut off in traffic and screams things at him that have the letters f and u in them.

"Four kinds of stuff, maybe five, plus wetness."

The famous Twin Palaces of Retiro.

I was intrigued by that plant growing up there.

The corniness of this made me laugh much like the "tango" dancers on Calle Florida do, but heck for all I know this corner might have been the very spot Gardel himself belted out his first canción. So I should wipe that smirk right off my face.

Sunday street fair in San Telmo. You wouldn't believe the quantity and variety of mate gourds you can choose from here. Seriously, thousands.

A pretty wall.

A street sink.

Faucets dating back to the Roman Invasion.

I can't say it. Okay, I'll say it. "Juxtapositions."

Your typical Art Deco Wang.

This is kind of cool, and you see it around town a lot. You've got a missing building and a space there that is typically now a pay parking lot. But up on the upper floors, you've got the paint from the rooms that used to be there. And it's usually these pastel combos. I gotta wonder when those walls were painted. It feels like 40 to 60 years ago, something.

The following shot is a close-up of the molding from the one above.

More of the same, about three miles from the other one.

Hitler? Proust? Julio?

Yes! "Juxtapositions!"

Some street that makes me think of "The French Connection." Okay, maybe Buenos Aires was once the Paris of The South after all, much as Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East, Saigon the Paris of Indochina, Abidjan the Paris of Africa, and Paris the Paris of France!

Juxtapositions! Old and new, baby. Old and new.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What A Day Is Like

Here is a write-up of what happened yesterday, a day much like any other day down here.

I awoke to the buzz of my travel alarm clock at 6AM, with nearly two hours of quality sleep since the previous night's tango doings. Ate, bathed, made my way down into the B-line metro. It was still completely nighttime outside, about 85F temps. The ticket booth woman was fast asleep, her chin glued to her neck. Dropped ninety centavos in her dish, which woke her up.

Took the B-line to the C-line and got out down near the Malvinas (Falklands) memorial in Plaza San Martin, where I met up with twenty or so touristy/studenty types like myself who were taking a train together up to Tigre and then up into the Delta from there.

I'd found out about the trip while googling "tigre delta." The regular custodian dude here at my apartment had been telling me for a long time that I should get my ass out of the city and up to Tigre and the Rio Lujan. So I was doing it.

We took a train from Retiro Station, and I watched the sun rise over the shanty towns ("villas," pronounced vijas) along the tracks there; my first Argentine sunrise was quintessentially Argentine, if you get my meaning.

Arrived in Tigre, which is up the river from here, 1.5 hours later and had time for a cappuccino and some media lunas (croissants). When I asked to pay, "sigh" was how much I owed.

Meaning, of course, seis pesos. Even the simplest possible verbal exchange here invariably involves at least minimal humiliation on my part.


"Si, sigh."

Not knowing what the f he was saying, I gave him two tens, proving to him the lameness of me.

We motor up the river. Way up the river. Miles and miles and hours up the river in a 1920s-era teak shuttle boat. The Delta ends up reminding me of other Deltas, only much bigger and more expansive and populated, but equally or more beautiful. Seemingly the exact same tulles, water lilies, weeping willows as we have up the Sacramento River Delta in California.

Up at the Dorado Club, way up the Delta del Paraná, it eventually comes time for lunch, so the twenty of us are sitting at our long table out on the lawn eating and drinking tons of meats and potatoey things and deserts. Plus water, beer, wine, and Coke and for me, in lieu of bourbon, Scotch. Eventually, an hour into lunch, I'm chatting with a woman next to me who ascertains that my name is B- and that I'm here for reasons of the tango.

A minute later, the gal sitting directly facing me, who's been there for an hour but for some reason I hadn't shared a single word with yet (people to either side and kitty-corner were too fascinating), says to me, "Wait a minute. Your name's B-?"


"You're here for tango?"


"Do you know a couple named Daniela and Julio?"


"You don't?"

"Oh, wait a minute. Maybe I do."

"My name's Kelly," she says.

A few weeks ago I had to start looking for a new place, because my time in my current flat is up on Feb. 29. I checked out many places, most of which qualified for full legal nightmare status. Much smaller for the money than what you'd get in Santa Barbara, in horrifying jail-like settings, with zero air and no light. Pretty much one step better than a musty hole in Recoleta Cemetery. I almost took one of them, imagining I could do no better, and wanting to get it over with, but backed out in the last second.

Then I found a super wonderful room in an awesome place. The owner is a beautiful young woman named Daniela, who, evidently, has a boyfriend named Julio. She told me that by the time I arrived there, March 1, another American, a girl named Kelly, would have moved into another room there, and that the two of us would share the house (rooms on opposite ends).

And there Kelly and I were sitting across from each other, UNBEKNOWNST! way up the Delta del Paraná. For some reason this kind of thing happens near daily down here.

When I got on the train back to BA in the Tigre station, I got on the first train car, but somehow kept getting snaked as I was about to take a seat. So I kept moving to the next car, trying to get lucky, and kept getting snaked. Finally near the front of the train I saw a seat and shot into it.

Lucky for me I ended up sitting down right next to Kate, who had arranged the trip and who's been here in BA for 4 years. She was happy to have someone to talk to on the train back, said she never had before, and she proceeded to give me a super interesting rundown on the whole Argentine history, vibe and scenario, on the way home.

Normally I would not dig on a long computer train ride with closed windows on a scorching day, but chatting with Kate about the Argentinian plight and psyche on the way home beat the heck out of staring at the windows wondering how easily I could break through them if need be (I am clinically claustrophobic).

By the time I got back into my apartment, it was 9:30PM, and I was to meet a friend here at 10PM to go to the Sunderland milonga (a milonga is a dance place or dance happening), way the hell out in Belgrano. I decided I wouldn't go. I was too dang tired.

Instead I mixed up a pitcher of margaritas to celebrate the fact that the regular custodian was back and had unlocked the door to the roof, which had been kept locked by the temp custodian for nearly two this-sucks weeks. So when my friend arrived here, I said I ain't going out to Sunderland, let's go up on the roof and watch the clouds blow by the moon and try this Mexican/American cocktail he'd never heard of, the margarita, which he knew only as a pizza variety (he being Czech).

By the end of the pitcher, it was around midnight and he'd talked me into going (damn you, margarita!), so I put on a suit and we went down and caught a cab. As usual the cabbie hadn't a clue where this particular (nor most) milonga was, so it was a long drive with lots of referring to The Guia map book, interrupted by thirty or forty vibrant spoutings of six- or seven-hundred word bursts of Castellano, which sounds to me like slurred Portuguese delivered with a faux-Spanish accent by drunken Sardinian dock workers.

We did manage to get to Sunderland (it's always interesting arriving for the first time at the facade of a milonga whose interior I know so well from youtube videos, yet whose exterior and setting I don't have a clue about), and I paid the 23 pesos for the cab ride and Castellano spoutings, since my friend would pay on the way back.

I was getting pretty tired now, at 1AM, with two hours of sleep in the previous 36 hours.

If you've been to Sunderland, you know it's a different kind of milonga, being a basketball court with cement tile floor. The clientèle biases older, and there are very strong lights overhead, such that if you looked up, you'd get blinded. This is to keep the sporting event vibe.

There always seems to be some new cast of characters that I am familiar with from youtube or tango DVDs at each new milonga I go to. And I am still like some not-genius-level kid who goes to Disneyland and is stunned and amazed each time he sees Micky Mouse or Donald Duck or Snow White, right there in the streets of Disneyland!

Of these tango star types there last night, there was one particularly interesting couple, and a couple interesting singles. The single woman was a gal who was the teacher on the first tango DVDs I ever studied.

As to the other three....

At one point I was sitting at a table and a Namibian woman I knew asked me if I was familiar with the taxi dancer concept (these are people you pay to tango dance with you, typically young men who dance with women who come down from North America). I said yes, and then she nodded toward a table across the room, where there were several people including a handsome young man and a seventy-something woman who had been dancing together earlier.

I said, "Uh, that's not a taxi dancer situation. He's Dante Ezequiel Sanchez, the current World Champion of Tango Salon Style, and she's Coca of Osvaldo y Coca, the World Champions from 2004." If she didn't actually soil her britches when I told her this, she at least nearly did. "But he was dancing so slow and gently with her!"she said.

I nearly said, "She's probably eighty, what do you expect?" but instead I said I'd noticed that the better a dancer was, often the less they did and more slowly they moved.

As for me, each time I danced near Dante y Coca on the floor, or danced by their table, I thought, "Oh my god, the world champions of tango, right here in Buenos Aires!" :)

The night wore on. These milongas typically take a break around 2:30 or 3AM and one or more couples put on a demonstration dance, the MC points out the various tango luminaries who are here with us tonight, big applause, and when I said I'm collapsing from sleep deprivation, let's bail, my friend said we'd leave after the demo, since the demo couple were friends of his (and we were sitting at their table, a place of mild honor). Of course it did not go down this way, and we did not leave there (he was to pay for our taxi back, which is why I waited for him) until 4AM, 22 hours after I'd woken up with 2 hours sleep before heading up river.

When we did manage to get out of there, after the typical endless rounds of kisses and chats and handshakes, we went looking for a taxi, but instead, as a BUS came by, my alleged friend said, "I know this bus, the 41, it goes where we're going."

I said, "But I paid for a taxi here and expect you to pay for a taxi back." He laughed and we got on the bus, which screamed and pounded and shook for an hour to get me WITHIN 12 BLOCKS of my apartment at 5AM. I got my friend to refund me half the taxi fair out there, and now I still had to find another taxi to finish my ride home, starting with me in a very seedy area.

I got home around 5:30AM (after enjoying the company of a surly cabbie), talked to my girlfriend on Skype, and went to sleep at 6AM, 24 hours into that day.

I woke up at 9:30AM, couldn't sleep, made coffee and typed this.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Recoleta Cemetery Photographs

I'll start by throwing some of my snaps on the wall here, and then after a day or two of stewing (maybe more of a marinade) in my own juices I'll edit in some thoughts on the whole "Recoleta Cemetery Experience."

I also made a youtube video of the same visit: