5 Jul 2009

Newsflash: H1N1 in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, July 2009

Over the last few weeks, the H1N1 situation here in Argentina has taken a slight turn for the worse. As of yesterday, we registered 55 deaths in the entire country, which is perhaps the 3rd highest death rate in the world.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation (update #57, dated 3rd July 2009) for Argentine is standing much lower at 27 fatalities, likely due to the lag in reporting time.

After weeks of indecision, the Buenos Aires health authorities finally made a long awaited decision to close schools and Universities early for a 1-month break, commencing tomorrow (Monday 6 July) instead of the normal 2 weeks winter vacation.

Not so great news - face masks are out of stock, even in the hospitals!!! This has been reported in the local press, and unfortunately the less than reassuring report is indeed true. One of my pilates teachers, a student in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, confirms the lack of face masks. Local pharmacies near my area have also ran out of them.

So perhaps this is NOT the best time to be in Buenos Aires...

SALUD A TODOS (Good Health to All) !!!

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24 May 2009

Signs you have been Spending Too Much Time in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, May 2009

A couple of months ago I was talking with a girlfriend, another foreigner who moved to Argentina for tango. While chatting in Spanish, I suddenly realise I don’t know what is the castellano word for “honest”. I realise I hardly had the need to use the word in the 2 years I have been here! Then the revelation come to me with a slight sense of shock - to describe someone as “honest” here seem to carry a slight derisive ring, almost akin to saying the person is Not the sharpest crayon in the box. You know...a fool.

What is happening to my value system??

Perhaps I have been staying too long in Buenos Aires...

So I have put together below a compilation based on my own experience. For those of you tango long-stayers in town, any of the following sounds familiar? ^_^

Signs You Have Been Spending Too Much Time in Buenos Aires

Lifestyle, habits and local customs
~ There is a queue in front of you. The customer being served at the cashier/ticket booth starts to chat leisurely with the cashier for a couple of minutes. You mentally resign yourself to the wait without fretting incessantly or calling the person impolite names in your head.

~ You develop an ability to 1) scrutinise the pavement for uneven or missing tiles, wet patches on the ground, dripping water from air-conditioners overhead in summertime and of course the ubiquitous dog poo, 2) scan shop windows for interesting items, 3) keep aware of the mood of your general surroundings for safety reasons as well as demonstrations in the distance which will necessitate a rapid route change, 4) avoid collisions with pedestrians, since there are always a few in a mad rush... doing so all at the same time while walking down the street at top speed yourself.

~ When walking 4 blocks becomes a piece of cake. Walking 8 blocks is no big deal either. When you first arrived in town you looked for a bus to bring you 4 blocks. I am from a tiny tropical country where its hot and humid, nobody walks.

~ You start to hoard coins. You learn to lie saying “No, I don’t have 50 cents” smoothly, without a guilty conscience. Why? Because NO HAY MONEDAS (There Is No Change), a sign frequently displayed at shops’ cashiers. Due to a black market cartel on coinage, nobody wants to give each other small change in coins.

~ Mentiroso, Mentiroso (Liar, Liar). You are no longer THAT indignant by being lied to, in particular by public service personnel such as the call centre of Telefonica and certain employees of the Consulate of Uruguay. Those said-employees please feel free to contact me.

~ By default you take nothing for granted – you will believe it when you see it happen with your own eyes.

~ You are rather suspicious of any Argentine member of the opposite gender who tries to start a conversation with you, regardless if they are 17 or 70.

~ You can’t see a guy and a girl together without automatically assuming that they are a couple, especially if they are Argentine. Double ditto in a milonga.

~ From time to time, the guy in front of you gets up the bus instead of letting you board first, or takes that seat you were secretly eyeing. You feel somewhat miffed by what you now consider a breech of good manners. In the immortal words of my Italian girlfriend, “Hey, but he is a MAN”. Implying that a real MAN would lay down his life for a lady, what’s a seat or so.

~ Instead of maintaining a discreet and polite blank stare on the train/bus/street, you ignore the dictates of good manners and take a good looooonng look at anything or anyone that catches your interest without embarrassment. The adage “Mind Your Own Business” is on very rocky local grounds, so as to speak.

~ With some contextual help, after 10 minutes of careful listening you actually have some understanding of the Brazilians when they talk. When they are speaking Portuguese. Which is a different language from Spanish.

~ Your overseas tango friends are visiting Buenos Aires again. You are meeting them for a meal and you are running late. Your mobile rings. You know it is them calling you because you still have their mobile numbers stored on your mobile from their previous visit.

~ You have the numbers of various milonga organisers and milonga venues stored in your mobile phone. But you can’t find the mobile number of your real estate guy when the toilet plumbing runs into trouble.

In the Milongas
~ An undesirable guy comes over to your table trying to chat you up in a milonga. You keep him talking on his feet for >20 mins by NOT saying the words “please take a seat”, in hopes that he would go away. And you feel offended when he finally invites himself to sit down without your invitation to do so.

~ In a traditional milonga, you feel it is rude for a woman to reject a guy even though he was uncouth enough to approach and issue a verbal invitation.

~ To avoid giving the impression that you are both leaving the milonga at the same time, you tell your friend, an Argentine guy who is a familiar face on the tango scene, that you will leave first and to come meet you outside in 5 minutes.

~ You didn’t change shoes at the milonga because you are just there to enjoy your friends’ company/you don’t feel like dancing/your feet hurts. You automatically expect that guys should have observed that you are not in your dancing shoes.

~ You went to a practica with an overseas guy friend. You are chatting with each other. You feel insulted on the behalf of your guy friend's male honour when an Argentine guy approaches you to ask you to dance without acknowledging your friend.

~ You finally bought yourself a pair of jeans in the “chupin” style. You have always been a devotee of the straight-leg look, and had long ago swear to run a mile from the former style in question. Chupin style – tight fitting, almost sprayed-on look for jeans & pants adopted as the fashionable norm for women.

~ While going shopping, grannies in their advanced 70s next to you ruffle through clothes in colours (bubble-gum pink) and styles more befitting teenagers from the rack that you just skipped over. Your boyfriend’s 60+ year old mother is more fashionably dressed and better maintained than you.

~ 80s music comes on over the radio or telly and you start to enjoy it. Ehmm..that period wasn’t really that bad, was it?

~ You start to think that the mullet hair style actually doesn’t look half-bad for Argentine guys. In general guys would risk looking like a joke spotting a mullet cut...but somehow the look does sorta suits some Argentine ones.

~ You are up-to-date on the current month prices of the various tango shoemakers in town, but you have no idea how your financial investments are doing.

~ It is that tax time of the year again. An ad from the Argentine government comes on the telly extolling the establishment of the Ministry of Science & Technology - allegedly made possible because the citizens pay their taxes. The tagline goes “Help Your Country Help You” - and you roll your eyes in rabid disbelief. I was a government servant for 8 years in the biomedical sector, and I did believe I have a responsibility to tax payer's money.

~ The government of Buenos Aires embarks on road works and other infrastructural improvements. Instead of thinking “Good job, the government is trying to stimulate the local economy by injecting money into the system to create a multiplier effect”, you think to yourself “So which snout is getting fat at the trough now?”. Line item in budget balance sheet = 20,000 pesos for a signboard, 50,000 pesos for 5 metres of pavement etc.

~ You stocked up >10 different types of chillies/chilli sauces/spicy pastes in your fridge. You are inordinately amused at the locals’ inability to eat anything remotely approaching picante (spicy). You add repeated hyperboles when ordering local version of "spicy" food. This only applies to people from food cultures who like to eat fire ^_^

~ You consider it acceptable that pizzas and empanadas constitute food items to be consumed on a daily basis.

~ You no longer feel guilty about not eating your veggies. For (a) month(s) at a time.

When you return to your home country for visits
~ On the 29-hour plane ride home & for the first week after leaving Buenos Aires, you create confusion by saying “Gracias” instead of “Thank you”. You keep wanting to sprout Spanish in response when people talk to you. In fact, often a Spanish word feels the most appropriate when you want to describe something. No words in your other 2 languages feels exactly right. And that’s quite a lot of words.

~ When you are back home for a visit, you automatically lean in for mutual pecks on the cheek when you see your friends. You are slightly taken aback and feel strangely hurt when they don’t kiss you in greeting.

~ And you just can't wait to return to BA...

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8 Apr 2009

Falleció Cacho Masci - another milonguero passed 5 April 09

In the present moment, April 2009

Earlier on, I was told the cryptic prediction by my girlfriend Maria, that March 2009 will be a difficult month.

"Pesado" she had said...

And it was.

A friend that I have known since I arrived in Buenos Aires 2007 was confirmed with lung cancer. Back in those early days when I hardly spoke a word of Spanish, she was a comforting presence. She is a non-smoker. In February, I had noticed the high cancer antigen marker in her blood test. Between disbelief and trepidation, we visited doctors and labs. Each visit was a further confirmation. A rollercoaster ride of denial, fear, determination, hope, self-doubt, reluctant acceptance, denial.

A draining repeating cycle.

Although I have been involved for years in the biomedical area in my line of work, I never had to accompany a friend through the diagnosis of malignant cancer until now.

I hope that you will make it, my friend!!! You have to...you have to. Life should give you another chance to enjoy what you have. Your true wealth. Because with this trial you have begin to see past the thick curtain of "rolling red dusk" 滾滾紅塵 as we call it.

Back to Buenos Aires tango.

On Sunday, halfway through the evening around 9.30 pm at Lujos at Maipu 444, milonguero Cacho Masci collapsed while dancing. He is the brother of "El Nene" Masci. A crowd of friends and concerned regulars of Lujos rushed to his aid. There were mutterings of his heart condition. Then the ambulance came to ferry him away. After that, nobody had the heart to continue dancing any further. Most people left Maipu 444 in sober spirits. My friends Louis & Janet who are visiting Buenos Aires were in the milonga..

The next night at Gricel, we heard the announcement he had passed away. It is sad to know there will be one less familiar face at my Sunday night milonga.

One hears about milongueros having a happy last dance and passing away. I know it is not a sad manner of passing for someone who spent a lifetime dancing. It is perhaps one of the best way of going for someone who lives for the milonga, to leave happily dancing and surrounded by friends. Furthermore it is a fast way to go, not drawn out and painful like how some milongueros have suffered in their last years. I should be happy for him.

As yet, I can't shake the heavy feeling in my heart.

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31 Dec 2008

End of the year, Buenos Aires

Taken at 19:45 hs, 31 December 2008.

It struck me today standing outside this large doorway. Exactly to the day, a year ago.

It brought me back to that faraway moment, in the dark warm quiet indoors safe from the random burst of firecrackers out on the streets of midtown, roving bands of people celebrating their farewells to yet another ano que se fue, while calling out to the hours newly arrived. Inside, time passed immaterial. Silently oblivious to everything as the world has condensed down to 4 walls and the high ceiling which contained us.

The place behind this doorway where we first met and spent our happy moments is gone now. For a few months now, it has been shut, empty. All the people have left. A handwritten for rental sign is displayed outside the top windows.

Caught up in a moment of lightheadedness from my cigarrette smoke, it struck me suddenly standing there looking at the doorway across the street. In Buenos Aires, time stands still. In stark contrast to the manic heartbeats of the city, the daytime streets blocked with cars and buses spewing summer smog, its tecnicolour nights blurry with movements of passerbys and drenched with Piazzolla's bandoneon calling to the city and the Obelisk.

There is a saying in Argentina everything changes. Having lived and breathed the air, I can taste it, I can feel this saying deep in my bones. Everything changes, non-stop. In such a world of molecular inconstancy, one can only live in the present moment. It doesn't give you a choice. Like my other realisations of this city, I wasn't searching for it in some academic cross-examination. The revelation came from having soaked in the atmosphere, seeing, feeling the same vibrations of fate like the rest of the inhabitants of the city. Perhaps I was plugged into the city's lifeblood through you, my porteno now gone away.

6 years of living in the another southern land in the great continent of Australia hardly left me with this sense of gritty realism and the surreal, bipolaristic interplay between optimism and fatalism that is Buenos Aires and Argentina.

But conversely, perversely, because everything changes, nothing changes in Buenos Aires. Everything stays the same, in some big cosmic joke where the punchline goes over the audiences' head.

The city is impervious to the drama, the highs and lows of the human condition lived out by its people, in this land so abundantly blessed by nature and yet in turn nonchalantly cheated by nurture. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow... a tale..full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In Buenos Aires, time stands still. At the end of the day, nothing changes, and we are back to square one.

This final sunset means nothing without you, my friend.

Tonight, this last night of the year, a chilly wind blows in Buenos Aires. Too cold for this tropical wanderer to your city.

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28 Dec 2008

Heartbreak in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, end December 2008

2008 in Buenos Aires came and went. The beautiful 2008 dream has ended.

Endling my year with 2 songs from Kill Bill 2 movie end.



~ by Shivaree ~
There's a nail in the door
And theres glass on the lawn
Tacks on the floor
And the tv is on
And I always sleep with my guns
When you're gone

There's a blade by the bed
And a phone in my hand
A dog on the floor
And some cash on the nightstand
When I'm all alone the dreaming stops
And I just can't stand

What should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
And then the wind just starts to moan
Outside the door he followed me home

Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it won't be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

There's a shark in the pool
And a witch in the tree
A crazy old neighbour and he's been watching me
And there's footsteps loud and strong coming down the hall
Something's under the bed
Now its out in the hedge
There's a big black crow sitting on my window ledge
And I hear something scratching through the wall

Oh what should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
I just hate to be all alone
Outside the door he followed me home
Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

Well you're up so high
How can you save me
When the dark comes here
Tonight to take me up to my front walk
And into the bed where it kisses my face
And eats my head

Oh what should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
And then the wind just starts to moan
Outside the door he followed me home
Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

~ by Meiko Kaji 梶芽衣子 ~
Hana yo Kirei to, Odaterare,
Saite Mitanara, Sugu Chirasareru.
Baka-na, Baka-na,
Baka-na On'na no... Urami-bushi.

Sadame Kanashi to, Ariramete,
Naki-wo Misereba, Mata Nakasareru.
On'na, On'na,
On'na Namida no... Urami-bushi.

Nikui, Kuyashii, Yurusenai.
Kesu ni Kesenai, Wasure-rarenai.
Tsukinu, Tsukinu,
Tsukinu On'na no... Urami-bushi.

Yume yo Miren to, Warawarete,
Samete-misemasu, Mada Same-kirenu.
On'na, on'na,
On'na-gokoro no... Urami-bushi.

Makka-na Bara nya, Toge ga Aru.
Sashitaka-naiga Sasazu'nya-okanu.
Mo'eru, Mo'eru,
Mo'eru On'na-no... Urami-bushi.

Shinde Hanami ga, Sakuja Nashi,
Urami Hito-suji, Ikite-yuku.
On'na, On'na,
On'na Inochi no... Urami-bushi.

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26 Jun 2008

To dance well, you have to know

How To Wait (Part I)

In the present moment, June 2008

"The most difficult thing in the dance is to wait"

Pablo Retamar

Occasionally during class, remarks casually uttered by teachers leave a lasting impression. These sayings, short, pithy, have the unwavering accuracy of a cobra's strike. They contain one part dance technique, one part philosophy and one part observation of the human pysche. The astuteness, simplicity and elegance of the observations have the blinding force of an epiphany.

These are moments of "wu" (悟 enlightenment) in my dance. In a flash, my mind crystalised into thought what my body has already unsubconsciously understood as a natural result of dancing and learning in Buenos Aires.

Why we Don't Wait when we Dance

There is no Time!
To function in the modern city life, we are almost conditioned not to wait. Existing in a world of high speed super-whiz bang technology, with its intrinsic work pressures, stressed time management, family commitments, there is never enough time. Work assignments with yesterday deadlines, impatient clients, traffic, crowded streets, long queues everywhere for food, to pay the bills, grocery shopping etc etc.

Time is a monster. To parody the saying, we have become Time's Bitch.

Faster! Higher! Stronger!
(apologies to the Olympic Games)
In our minds, waiting often implies = being slower, which in turn leads to = losing out. We are conditioned since young to excel. The competitive world tells us that the early bird gets the worm. We have to be faster (and hence better) than the next person. First product to market. First to reach the finish line.

The flipside of this mindset is a fear of failure. Being faster vindicates that we are not slow, we are not stupid.

The Dreaded Silence
Don't laugh when I say this. Majority of us will agree that most people do not handle silence well. It makes people uncomfortable. People feel obliged to make small talk, about the weather, traffic, news of the day, anything! to break the dreaded silence ie. the fear of not knowing what to say to fill up the space. It is the same with people making presentations or giving talks when not behind the safety of a podium, they have the awkwardness of not knowing what to do with their hands.

So from moment to moment in our normal daily routine, we feel we must do something to fill up space once it becomes available.

The problem is that unwittingly, we bring these attitudes and our insecurities even to our leisurely pursuits. This comes across in our dance.

What does it mean to "wait" in tango?
Dancing with someone who has not waited sufficiently feels like this. To use an analogy, it is like speaking to someone who is constantly giving an answer before we have finish speaking the entire sentence up to the full stop.

Let's flip the situation around. To continue in the above analogy, since we did not actually hear the complete sentence from our partner to the very last word, how would we know that we are giving the full response in return?

Of not waiting adequately : "Better" case scenario...
The "conversation flow" between the two dancer is on-going....but with maniacal overtones. Because one or both parties did not wait completely for the step to be fully conveyed before launching off on their own stride, there is no natural ebb and flow from one movement to the next. The movements lack a certain release, so overall there is a physical feeling that the shared dance has a faint echo of tautness.

So it is like this: Picture 2 persons on caffeine-high chatting about their favourite pastime :)

When we dance with excellent dancers, failure to wait completely is our loss since we miss out on the subtle nuances and cadence that makes their dancing so wonderful.

Of not waiting adequately : Worst case scenario...
We respond to our partner well ahead of time. In our rush to response, we did not anticipate that our partner's intended step is not as we had imagined. By rushing ahead (and guessing wrong), we have effectively robbed our partner of the choice of his/her intended next step after this step. Being able to give our partner the freedom of choice when dancing is a very nice thing to share.

Even if we made the right "guess", by not waiting enough, it is very likely the timing between one movement to the next will be out of sync.

Up to this point, perhaps some readers may have made the assumptions that the situations above apply solely to the follower's lapse in not waiting fully for the leader. Or it relates to dancing specifically in either open-embrace, or close-embrace.

In actuality, this quality of knowing how to wait in the dance is equally important, whatever the embrace, for both men and ladies alike.

Why do I say knowing how to wait fully applies equally to the men?

In the event there may be a small handful of unaware leaders out there who routinely fault only the ladies on being too quick on the trigger - leaders, let me tell you a well-known secret
~ You have to follow the ladies too ~
As much as we ladies must follow, leaders in return you have to follow the ladies. You must understand how to wait too, for that just right moment when our movements are complete, before you embark on the subsequent move.

Leaders who rush into the next step, you will produce a slight out-of-sync feeling which will decrease the quality of your dance.

More on knowing how to wait next.
-To be continued-

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17 Jun 2008

Newsflash - Trouble in Buenos Aires!

In the present moment, June 2008

For visitors planning to visit Buenos Aires this week, DON'T. My recommendations - postpone your plans for this week and perhaps for the next week too.

Remember "El Paro del Campo", the footnote in my last entry? El Paro del Campo was the strike by the agricultural sector to protest the rise in exportation taxes by the Argentine government.

The current atmosphere in Buenos Aires aren't so quite nonchalant as previously described. Over the last few weeks, the situation has slowly but steadily deteriorated. Food items like meat, vegetables, milk etc. are running low once again. These dietary stables have been increasingly hard to come by in the city. Of course with food scarcity, rising prices just fuel the overall sense of disquiet in the city.

The escalating tension between the warring factions have spread to the street level. People are still out and about on the streets but the mood is subdued. There is a certain wariness in their behaviour not seen earlier during the food shortage in March. What I mean by "wariness" is that the portenos are being very careful right now about spending money, except where absolutely necessary. It is a reflection of the sense of uncertainty, perhaps in anticipation of bad times ahead. The riots in year 2000 and the following decimation of Argentina's economy are still fresh in people's mind.

With the coming summer holidays in the northern hemisphere, the peak tourist season for European tango visitors to Buenos Aires is fast approaching. My suggestion to visitors and tango friends - it may be more prudent to buy an airticket with some flexibility for date changes. In the meantime, monitor BA's situation closely.

Newsflash, Take Note!!
Strikes / riots are expected in the city centre tomorrow, Wednesday 18 June. For visitors already in the city, venture out with alertness.

We love tango and Buenos Aires. Just remember to keep safe.

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