26 May 2008

"So... what do you eat when you are REALLY hungry?"

In the present moment, May 2008

For vegetarian (& other visitors) to BA:-

One early afternoon I was in the company of several vegetarian tango friends visiting Buenos Aires. For lunch, we settled for convenience upon a resturant along Av. Sante Fe after a trip to Comme Il Faut, just around the corner 1.5 block away.

Besides myself and another friend, there were 3 vegetarians (2 girls, 1 guy) around the table having lunch. The conversation turned to the topic of finding vegetarian fare in Buenos Aires. When the mozo (waiter) came to take our orders, one of the girls, a Bulgarian with pretty eyes, decided to try her luck to ask for a tomato juice. The expectant mozo, poised with pen and notepad in hand, paused slightly, evidently non-plussed by this unusual request. He gave a polite but definitive reply "No hay!" (There isn´t any). Fruit juices in restaurants here are strictly FRUIT juices. Ask for an fruit juice or what is known here as "licuador" - orange and grapefruit juice are ubiquitous....even peach, banana, apple etc, and you will be fine. Anything else more exotic and you are likely out of luck.

As a devoted red meat lover, I do not perhaps have a proper appreciation of the ordeal vegetarians face in Buenos Aires. My own diet when eating out, consist of an unhealthy but happy regime of pizzas and meat-based dishes, so the lack of palatable vegetarian dishes never bothered me much. My own limited perspective had always been - well, after all, there are always salads on the menu no matter where you go, so perhaps it wasn´t as rough on vegetarians as it has been rumoured.

Granted the choices may not be very exciting, unless one ventures to the finer and hipper dining spots in Palermo or Recoleta. The typical house salad on the menu is an uninteresting mixture of lettuce, tomato and onions with a simple salad dressing. Other common choices available would perhaps be a Caesar or Russian Salad (Ensalada Rusa: potato, egg, carrot and peas with mayonnaise). Plus there are a few vegetarian pastas and risottos too, which seemed decent enough I thought.

Over lunch, we discovered that due to a lack of time to cook in, our Bulgarian friend had been existing on a limited diet of cheese, nuts and bread for the last week. She recounted her comic-tragic experiences in Buenoes Aires being vegetarian:

"I am vegetarian, so I will have to look for vegetarian dishes when eating out in the city" she explained to a porteno.

"Ah! I see, I see" replied the porteno, nodding sympathetically.

"But, what do you eat when you are REALLY hungry?" asked the porteno a few seconds later.

Oh dear. Poor things (I mean the vegetarians).

In case readers suspect the sincerity of the above mentioned porteno, I have heard stories that requests by customers to leave meat (carne) out of the dish may still result in liberal smatterings of chicken and ham. Don´t laugh, but some people here do not consider those 2 items as "carne".

The medley of guidebooks on Buenos Aires mentioned a handful of interesting vegetarian restaurants in the city, scattered around Palermo, Recoleta-Barrio Norte or sometimes in tourist-filled San Telmo.

Put this in the perspective of tango dancers who are visiting Buenos Aires for a few short weeks. Time is a luxury. Days are spent rushing between classes, hunting down shoes and CDs while nights are passed amidst milongas and practicas. Time flies quickly. Most tango visitors I met stayed around the central city area; they have limited time to cook and usually grab a bite outside between tango activities. So unless one makes an effort to make time out to seek out these vegetarian establishments, mouth-watering vegetarian meals will not be daily fare.

My lunch companions and I joked that with the on-and-off (currently ON) food strike affecting Buenos Aires*, vegetarians will survive the longest if we starve. And finally have the last laugh.

For vegetarian visitors to Buenos Aires, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Av. Corrientes & Callao and need a bite, perhaps you could check out this vegetarian restaurant call "La Ciboulette" around the corner on Sarmiento & Callao (Sarmiento 1808):-

Incredibly, this seemingly little known restaurant is actually a vegetarian "tenedor libre" (literal translation: "Free fork". ie. Eat-all-you-want for a set price) with a smorgasbord of vegetarian meals. Perhaps here, vegetarians can finally find a relatively decent selection of dishes. Unfortunately I can´t give a review of the quality, and I hope readers would forgive my lack of spirit as it is not my natural inclination to choose vegetarian establishments for my eating pleasure. Hopefully this little post-it note on the community bulletin board will help to ease the lot of visitors to meat-obsessed Buenos Aires.

Incidentally, this restaurant is also located nearby one of the sites used for CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino) held in March every year in Buenos Aires. So CITA visitors can seek out this place when pressed for time during the festival.

The story with the Bulgarian friend has a happy ending. Five minutes later, the same mozo returned to our table and announced the surprising news "Ms, I am pleased to say that we can indeed prepared tomato juice if you like us to bring you one. Would that be fine with you?"

The tomato juice was drank gratefully.

* El Paro del Campo (The strike of the rural area):
In March, the government and the rural sector embarked upon a tussle of war over the proposed rise in exportation taxes of food product. Basically, with the strong Euro and US dollar against the Argentine peso, it is much more lucrative for the large agricultural industry to export home grown products like beef, vegetables, grains etc to Europe and United States. This government wants to raise export taxes and at the same time discourage the outflux of the best products from the country. The agriculturalists struck back against the government by stopping food from coming into Buenos Aires.

The 1st strike lasted for over 3 weeks in March. Beef and pork literally disappeared from the supermarkets shelves. Popular supermarket chains like "Coto" and "Disco" displayed sadly empty "carne" sections, only chicken was left. During this time of "sin-carne" in Buenos Aires, I saw portenos poking with dismayed expressions at the packets of chicken left on the supermarket shelves, which they either bought with a lack of enthusiasm or simply walked away from. You can tell which food "groups" come first for the porteno taste buds :)

In April, a truce was finally agreed upon between the warring protagonists, so the blockade lifted for 3 weeks in April while the government and the agriculture sector engaged in more talks. In early May, talks broke down and the agriculturalists went on their 2nd strike to continue their protest. As I type, apparently today the negotiations took a turn for the worse. Bit of a debacle...

This time round, the supermarkets and wholesalers are prepared. They stocked up on food during the truce in April. Readers will be glad to know that to date in Coto and Disco, the shelves are flushed with Carne, Pollo (chicken) y Verdura (vegetables).

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4 May 2008

The Big Bosses of Tango: ANIBAL TROILO

In the present moment, May 2008

Some folks are addicted to the news, to events currently happening. Que paso?? Take my parents for instance. News on the telly, news on the radio, news articles in the newspapers. News in my country, news overseas, news from all round the world. Such are daily fodders of life for my parents, who are rivetted to news on an hourly basis.

Conversely, I am inordinately fond of documentaries and given any excuse, will consume them in large qualities like popping candies. The calm and factual voice of documentary-telling, when juxtaposed with the colourful stories unfolding infront of one´s eyes, is a fascinating combination which gives me hours of viewing pleasure. There lives a bit of the historian in everyone:)

Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo
Finally I have the opportunity to watch the DVD tango documentary "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo". The word "Capo" is used to refer to the Head of an organised crime syndicate, a.k.a The Big Boss.

The nickname given to Troilo by his dad was "Pichuco", and affectionately, Troilo is also referred to as "El Gordo" ("Gordo" means fat). Since Anibal Troilo passed away in the month of May (18 May 1975), I though it is rather apt to feature this article during this month.

If you are a fan of tango music, you will know of the unassailable status Anibal Troilo occupies today. He is Argentina´s national hero of tango music. Troilo is known as "El Bandoneón mayor de Buenos Aires" (The greatest bandoneon of Buenos Aires).

The day of Troilo´s birth (11 July 1914) on 11 July has been dedicated as the National Day of the Bandoneon in Argentina.

The sphere of influence of Troilo´s mark goes beyond that of tango music for dancing, although Troilo was always intent on his dancing audience. His warm personality that inspired goodwill and loyalty from those that knew him, his vision in arrangement and most of all, his talent as an orchestra leader for orchestrating and elevating tango music to a complex and symphonic level made Troilo the national tango icon that he is today.

For fans of Troilo, we can enjoy the elegantly designed official website of Anibal Troilo at http://www.troilo.com.ar/ The Spanish version contains a fascinating wealth of information on Troilo, while the English and Japanese versions are in brief.

"El Bandoneón mayor de Buenos Aires"

I previously read that Anibal Troilo adored his mother above all else. So the documentary began fittingly with these words in the voice of his bandoneon:

"It is me, your bandoneon, I am talking to you Anibal Troilo, from Solera and Gallo*. The one you used to take to the movie at Corrientes and Medrano** as a boy.

The same bandoneon your old mother bought, with the coins she used to keep in the closet, and it was on her account that my plaintive tunes were sadder on the opening night of "Alma de bohemio" ".

* Solera and Gallo are streets in the barrio of Palermo in Buenos Aires. The area is also popularly known as Palermo Soho, for its resemblance to the artistic vibes of Soho, NYC.

** Similarly, Corrienties and Medrano are 2 cross streets along Avenida Corrientes, at the Subte (train) station Medrano (B line) in the barrio Almagro.

The documentary recounts that Troilo´s love affair with the bandoneon started young; he convinced his mother Doña Felisa to purchase his first bandoneon when he was 10 years old. In his youth, Troilo was influenced by 2 renowned bandoneonists, Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz. The duo at the time were part of Julio de Caro´s sextet. Another major bandoneonist who shaped his style was Ciriaco Ortiz, whose orchestra Troilo played in before starting his own.

Troilo made his debut on 1 July, 1937 with his own orchestra tipica. Among his musicians was the pianist Orlando Goni while Francisco Florentino was his singer. With this pairing, the orchestra played rhythmic, very danceable music. Later on with singers such as Alberto Marino and Floreal Ruiz, the orchestra developed a more melodic style with less driving compass.

How Troilo played his bandoneon

"No hay tango viejo ni tango nuevo. El tango es uno sólo. Tal vez la única diferencia está en los que lo hacen bien y los que lo hacen mal."
Aníbal Troilo

(There is no old tango or new tango. The tango is one. Perhaps the only difference is in those who do it well and those who do it badly.)

Troilo´s stage presence is a distinctive one. He sat quite still and played with quiet and plaintive eyes, staring lost in internal conversation with his bandoneon. The classic signature look is Troilo playing with his eyes closed, head slightly tilted, double-chin pursed and rapted in phrasing the bandoneon chords. Above I have included a CD cover that captured this signature look of Troilo´s.

It was said that Troilo had a relatively understated and retrospective style. Paradoxically, his control and fine balance allowed his bandoneon music to convey poignancy, subtleness of emotions and richness of texture.

In the documentary "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo" there was a description that I particularly liked of Troilo´s style. In an interview with the bandoneonist and arranger Pascal Mamone, he described a tremendous sweetness in the Troilo sound. He said, "There was one thing about Troilo, he would play a note... which will perforate your heart"

The description in Castellano: "Hacer una nota que te perforaba tu corazon"] - what a marvellously beautiful and poetic turn of phrase!

Pascal Mamone was borned in 1921. He was taught by his idol Pedro Maffia and later joined his orchestra in 1942.

Recommendations of "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo"
If you are interested in knowing more about Anibal Troilo, one of the greatest celebrity of tango music, this DVD would be an excellent source of interviews and archival material. The tone in the DVD documentary is slightly academic, so I would recommend this DVD as a must for Troilo fans and lovers of tango music who are already versed in the major tango orchestras and various musicians.

For fans of old tango movies, there is even an amusing scene from "Tango Vuelve a Paris" (Tango Back in Paris, made in 1948) showing Alberto Castillo together with Anibal Troilo, in animated discussion about taking Paris by storm with their music, in the same way that Pizaro, Canaro, Arolas and Gardel had made their triumph marks before.

So far there is only 1 other DVD made in this series, Los Capos Del Tango: JUAN D´ARIENZO. I was told that the directors had planned another DVD on Osvaldo Pugliese but apparently the effort stalled in the negotiation of production rights.

Information on the DVD:
"Los Capos del Tango: Anibal Troilo" was produced for Solo Tango and contains approximately 93 mins of play in total, featuring 60 mins of material taken from interviews and visual material of Solo Tango archives. In addition, it comes with an extra 30 mins consisting of 3 musical videoclips of Troilo and his orchestra tipica. Non-Spanish speakers would be pleased to know that while the language medium used is Spanish, English subtitles are included!

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