Archive for November, 2010

Fog, traffic, tango – part 2

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I’m in Turkey for the Istanbul tango ritual, staying with a tanguera friend I met in Buenos Aires. This is the story of the second day of my visit.


Awaking at lunchtime on Saturday I look out the window to more fog. And on the highway 100 metres away, traffic. There are festival classes and seminars we could go to but sightseeing is the order of the day for me. In addition we have a wedding to go to this evening, starting at 7pm in the Asian side of Istanbul. Two bridge crossings in one afternoon, followed by another two for the festival milonga is a silly waste of time so our sightseeing is confined to the Asian side of the city. We go to Maiden’s tower, normally a nice viewpoint for both sides of the city, but today really only the Asian side is visible. The European side is almost completely lost in the fog. The drive there takes about an hour. Afterwards we spend nearly another hour getting to the Kadikoy part of the city and wander around for a while before sampling some traditional Turkish food. Another 45 minutes gets us back to the flat to change and head off to the wedding. Now we’re running late but another similarity between Buenos Aires and Istanbul is timekeeping. We arrive at the wedding venue, very close to where we spent the first part of the afternoon at about 7:30pm, a good 30 minutes before the bride and groom make their entrance. About 3 hours later we leave and rejoin the traffic across the Bosphorus to the Saturday night milonga.

This one is held on an artificial floating island called Suada. There is a ferry service from the shore on the European side to the almost invisible in the fog floating resort. The milonga venue is much larger than YEM on Friday night and there are about 400 people here. There are rows of seats on three and a half sides of the square space, a bar, the entrance and stairs to an upper seating level on the other half side. Through the floor to ceiling glass walls there is nothing visible in the murk. There is a nice wooden floor but probably due to the humidity in the air from the fog, it is incredibly sticky. Several people liberally scatter talc on the floor and lubricate the soles of their shoes but the effect doesn’t last long. I dance one tanda and decide I probably won’t dance many more.

The dancing tonight is more nuevo than on Friday night with more couples moving in random directions, lots of dancing large, lots of high flying Comme il Fauts and more than a few collisions. I am reminded of Brownian motion. The music is traditional tango, arranged in tandas and again just a little on the loud side. The exhibition performance is earlier than I expect given the scheduled 6am finish and is called “Generations”. In addition to last night’s performers it includes father to two of them, Gustavo Naveira, and his partner Giselle Anne. It’s far too choreographed and drags on far too long for my liking although the comedy elements are slightly amusing,

By the time the exhibition performance is over the fog has thinned considerably and the European side of the city can be seen twinkling in the murk. Possibly coincidentally the floor is now less sticky but the dancers are no better behaved. Despite me dancing very defensively in collision avoidance mode two of my partners get stabbed by followers and/or trodden on by leaders. I don’t hear any apologies.

We stay until about 3:30am, just missing out on a Pugliese tanda which starts as we leave. There is still traffic on the roads but no delays and we’re home in less than 40 minutes.

Fog, traffic, tango – part 1

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

We land early at 20:35 at Sabiha Gökcen and I’m second off the plane. With only hand luggage I buy my visa, clear passport control and pass through baggage reclaim by 20:50, our scheduled landing time.

Emerging into the public arrivals area, Cigdem, my tanguera friend and hostess for the weekend has not yet arrived. I text her to say I’ve arrived and she replies she’ll be 15 minutes. Outside the airport and in the car my first impressions of Turkey are fog and traffic. It’s Friday night and I’m here for the Istanbul Tango Ritual.

Fog is unusual in Istanbul yet it has been foggy all week. The driving style here is more than a little reminiscent of Buenos Aires and my hostess would make an excellent taxi driver. The only differences I notice between Buenos Aires and Istanbul driving styles are the Turkish drivers are less addicted to using their horns, and if one gives in to the temptation to do so then the others are less likely to join in.

In 30 minutes we reach her apartment. I get the obligatory tour (doesn’t everyone like to show off where they live?) and we change for the milonga. Half an hour later we are back out in the fog and traffic making our first bridge crossing of the weekend. For those that don’t know Istanbul is divided into two parts by the Bosphorus, or Istanbul strait, that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It marks part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. Cigdem lives in the Asian side of the city and the festival happens in the downtown area in the European side. There are two bridges across the Bosphorus to choose from and both are likely to be full of traffic until much later in the night than this. A handy iPhone app reveals the slightly less busy choice.

The Friday night milonga is held at YEM, in a glass-walled concrete-floored exhibition space. There are rows of seats on three sides of the pista, two bar areas and traditional tango music playing in tandas and a little too loudly. About 200 dancers are present with an excess of followers. The dancing is less nuevo and more close-embrace than I was expecting which is a nice surprise. I dance with Turks and tourists and later watch the obligatory demonstration. Federico Naveira and Ines Muzzopappa, and Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez dance fairly standard exhibition performances. Shortly after 3am we decide to call it a night and head home. The fog is still present and although lighter, so is the traffic.

Unfinished post – Winding down

Monday, November 1st, 2010

This post is out of sequence as it didn’t quite get finished while I was in Buenos Aires. I wanted to do a review of my time there. I started to write it two weeks before coming home, added to it at one week to go, then one day before boarding my flight but was too busy to actually finish it. So finally, here it is, several weeks late and still incomplete but never mind.


2 weeks from today I will be back in the UK. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here over 5 months, and very tempting not to go back at all. I’m making friends here and have settled into city living very easily. However there are sound financial reasons for going back and I’m looking forward to seeing my UK friends and dancing with them again – tango, modern jive and west coast swing.

Some of the milongas have gone a bit quiet again after lots of visitors went home after the festival in August. There is still an excess of leaders in most of them, but as we move into Spring the numbers will pick up again and the balance should improve. It’s a shame I’ll miss out but there’s no doubt I’ll be back here one day.

Coming to Buenos Aires for six months has been a Good Thing.

Back in April in this “Faffing around” post I laid out some objectives for this visit – improve my tango and learn some Spanish. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster on the tango front. My dancing has changed, improved. I’m feeling much more relaxed and my confidence has stepped up a few levels.  It got dented and knocked down a bit more than once but has ended up higher than when I arrived. Taking part in el campeonato was a surprise. Finishing not in last place was a decent achievement but secondary to the confidence boost gained simply by participating. My appreciation and feeling for the music has improved although I’m still not very good at identifying a lot of the orchestras. I rather like Biagi these days. DÁrienzo is now the guy I leave the floor for. And the milonga tandas. Although I have danced a few, and did dance one including “la milonga que faltaba” with Jo, which was another one of my objectives.

I did go to a Spanglish meeting, wasn’t impressed and didn’t go back. More recently I signed up for a “Spanish para extranjeros” course at Instituto de Enseñanza Superior en Lenguas Vivas “Juan Ramón Fernández”. There’s a blog post coming about that. My vocabulary has expanded but it hasn’t reached 1800 words. The blog posts entirely in Spanish objective quietly fell by the wayside. I have managed to get by but simply haven’t worked hard enough to reach the level I would have liked to. I can live with that.

On the exercise front I joined a gym just a block and a half away and I’ve averaged two visits a week. There were some weeks when I went four and even five times, and some – like when Sam and Jo were here, when I didn’t go at all. Gym membership wasn’t in my original budget and something had to give to make room for it. I couldn’t cut accommodation, food or tango, so out went medical insurance. A risk but it worked out OK.

I did a reasonable amount of sightseeing and took a lot of photos but didn’t venture outside of the city. Argentina is a huge country and I didn’t plan to visit anywhere outside of Buenos Aires before I arrived. The point of this trip was tango.  Everything else was secondary/optional/unimportant. I had a vague idea that I might go to Iguazu Falls but wasn’t prepared to pay to fly there, and wasn’t prepared to spend 16 hours on a bus each way. And I’ve seen plenty of other waterfalls. Iguazu might be bigger but they’re still just waterfalls and any photos wouldn’t really do them justice. The furthest I got from the city centre was an empanada cooking class in Adrogue.

I got to some milongas a fair way from the city centre including Sin Rumbo, Club Sunderland and La Baldosa. They were worth visiting once but too far to bother with on a short (say two week) visit or to go to more than once. Being a bit of a techie I kept a record of where I danced and when. In 174 nights I went to 141 milongas. Back in the UK and back at work it would probably take the best part of four years to go to that many milongas.

I read a lot of tango blogs and made lots of new international friends. Next time I’m in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, Vancouver, Istanbul, Minneapolis, Marseille, Bergen, Denver, Napoli or Lecce among others I’ll have tango partners to look up. And next time I’m in Buenos Aires I’ll have Argentine and ex-pat friends to see and to dance with.

Yes, coming to Buenos Aires for six months has most definitely been a Good Thing.