Monday, November 15, 2010

The good, the magical and the ugly tango

Evening milongas at Confitería Ideal are definitely on my dislike list. The matinees are tolerable on, say, a Monday afternoon when there are few milongas to choose from, but at night…good grief. 
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the architectural beauty and history of the venue itself, and I recommend a visit by any person seeing Buenos Aires for the first time (tanguero or simply tourist), but that's also part of the problem. The venue is always full of gawkers.

Tango instructors prey on the tourists like vultures to road kill. The dance floor is sprinkled with the tourists who took their first tango lesson in the afternoon and have decided, unwisely, that they can brave a turn on a Baires dance floor—awkward and also dangerous. Local men (who should know better) make verbal invitations instead of using the cabeceo. Overall, the quality of dancing is disappointing. For entertainment value, however, Ideal also features the oh-my-God-I-can't-keep-my-eyes-off-this-train-wreck kind of tango, performed by a few “characters” from town—regulars that are a spectacle to see.

Against my better judgment, I agreed to meet a porteña friend of Matthew's last Saturday at Ideal. I was glad to go because I had not had the opportunity to meet Sofia before, but even in her email she promised, "The dancing is not so good, but perhaps you will find ONE good candidate." On the upside, there would be live music by Los Reyes del Tango and a performance by Coco and Osvaldo.

In hindsight, I should have left my dance shoes at home and just enjoyed the entertainment value of the place. One thing about Ideal, you won't offend anyone by breaking out your camera and taking some video of the dance floor. While frowned upon at the traditional venues unless there is a performance, at Ideal anything goes, which is probably why the characters choose to dance here.

I will share these oddities with you, but only if you promise to watch the above link of Coco and Osvald which captures the authentic Argentine tango I love.

The couple in this video rival another couple that frequent Ideal, Julian and Alicia who Matthew and I find endearing. Julian and Alicia have a "Golden Age" elegance to them in spite of their outrageous dance moves, where as this other couple is just out-and-out garish and strange. The clip is short and doesn't quite capture the full picture so let me help. 

She is donning a black corset that attaches at the crotch and rides up at the hips leaving a gap of skin at her red skirt waist. Safety pins keep the pieces from falling completely apart. Her snagged and running thigh-high stockings end at her butt cheeks—the true stars of the show. Spoiler alert: Let's just say she is not wearing her granny panties like a proper lady.

This is Julian and Alicia. Matthew introduced himself to them last year because we were so intrigued by earnestness. Their dancing in this particular clip is tame compared to their usual action. She will often do half splits, pelvic gyrations and deep knee bends all the way down to the floor while shimming her shoulders. They really are sweet people, are obviously dedicated to their craft, and I hope this clip at least illustrates what I mean by “Golden Age elegance.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making the change

I am feeling a little bitchy today.

I am usually on edge when my stash of small bills starts to dwindle. When I realized today that I was on my last $10 peso bill, and only have $100 peso notes left in my stock-pile, I had to start scheming.

You never want to be without small bills in this town. Paying for something with a $100 peso bill for anything that costs less than $50 pesos is a humbling experience. It seems that vendors would rather turn down your business than make change for your $100. Even a $50 peso note will get you a look if you are buying something for less than $20 pesos.

As petty as this seems, it gets stressful when you want to buy a banana licuado for $6 pesos at the kiosco on the corner or asparagus for $5 at the produce stand and realize you only have a $50 note. I am to the point now that I don’t even bother to try. Some vendors will begrudgingly make the change after a lengthy hem-and-haw session, but the shame I feel later for taking their small bills is so not worth it. (Damn that Catholic guilt.)

Nothing is worse than wanting to go to a milonga and realizing you only have a $100 peso bill. I once was forced to wait at the door of a milonga for 15 minutes waiting for them to make change for my $100. I felt like a naughty child caught lying to the teacher and forced to stand in the corner with a dunce cap on. Twice I have had to ask for change from fellow tangueros to avoid this situation. Now, I just don’t go out if I don’t have change, it’s not worth the stress.

To put this into perspective, a $100 Argentine peso note is roughly equivalent to $25 U.S. Most milongas cost $20 pesos (about $5 U.S.). Can you imagine getting the third degree from any cashier in the U.S. for trying to make a $4 purchase with a $20 bill? 

When my small bill stash starts to dwindle, I usually head to the big chain grocery store in my neighborhood, Carrefour. Their cashiers have never given me trouble with making change, although I usually break a $100 by making at least a $20 purchase. Today, however, I had lots of provisions to purchase so I brought two $100 peso bills just in case my purchase was over $100.

When the total came to $103, my heart sank. Add to the situation that I stupidly forgot to leave the one $10 bill I had at home and absentmindedly pulled it out with my big bills when I went to pay. Seeing the smaller bill, the cashier handed back one of my $100s and asked me to provide the smaller bill. Crap.

“No.” I said, “Necesito el cambio.”  (I need the change.)

She stared at me. “How dare you!” She said to me with her eyes, “You can’t expect me to give you $97 pesos in change!” I stared back, held my ground. I can be a stubborn bitch when I have to be, and I wasn’t about walk out the door with fewer small bills than I came in with.

She finally sighed, rolled her eyes and called a manager over to bring more small bills. They both made sure it took a few minutes and whispered to each other as I stood waiting. The man in line behind me groaned. He was probably a tourist because Argentines are used to this crap.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Swimming in my head...

In the last week or so, I've noticed that my brain seems to be processing my thoughts more slowly. No, I am not tired. I am entre (in between) two languages and am finding it muy difícil (very difficult) to process ambos (both).

When I am on the phone with my family or a client from the U.S., I find myself stuttering slightly while my brain tries to process and speak English. Inglés for goodness sake! My native language. But the words just don't come readily anymore as my brain tries to automatically replace English words with Spanish words if I know the translation. I think of it as "owning" the word. If I know a Spanish word confidently, I own it, and therefore want to make use of it to reinforce my retention.

Some words, like "process" or "client" or "telephone," that are spelled similarly in English to the Spanish word (proceso o cliente o teléfono), look a little foreign now printed in my native tongue. As you can see, even as I write this, I find myself wanting to replace many English words and phrases with their Castellano counterparts. I've edited mucho out, but I've left some of these exchanges in my text (with translations in parenthesis) so you can see what I mean. I've done this from time-to-time since I have been here, especially in texts to Matthew when the Spanish word is shorter, saving my text characters so I can squeeze as much as I can into one message. Now, however, I realize this has become so frequent in my writing and spoken language that I have to be very careful when I send emails and speak to clients. Spanish slips in when I don't pay attention.

Por ejemplo (for example), yesterday I said to a client, "Es lo mismo," instead of saying, "It's the same." "Perdon," I then said, instead of "I'm sorry." It seems normal now to use these words, until I realize the other party has no idea what I am saying.

Todo el dia (all day), I subconsciously translate Castellano to English, English to Castellano, making mental notes of the Spanish words I don't know, or am not sure of. Trying to commit to memory new vocabulary and colloquial expressions. I need to own more words. I desire fluidity. Aha, just now another example. I would normally say "I want to own" and "want fluidity" but my brain just processed "necesito" more words and "deseo" fluidity because I have difficulty remembering and pronouncing "quiero" (I want) and often confuse it with "creo" (I believe). So my grammatical limitations in Castellano are now also dictating my choice of words in English. 

¡Ay dios mío! (Oh my God!) Espero que (I hope that) this means fluidity is just around the corner. It would be nice to have a conversation con (with) un porteño before I leave in December without having to say "No entiendo" (I don't understand) or "Hablás más despacio, por favor. Hablo un poquito de castellano." (Speak slowly, please. I speak very little Castalleno.)

Sólo puedo esperar. I can only hope.