Posts Tagged ‘Spanish’

On a roll

Monday, May 24th, 2010

I had a really good weekend of dancing; Saturday night at Los Consagrados, and Sunday at Sueño Portenõ and El Beso.

The bicentennial celebrations have been playing havoc with the traffic in downtown Buenos Aires. The bus ride to Los Consagrados took about twice as long as usual so I arrived later than normal. The hostess was about to park me in a corner seat at the far end of the dance floor. It wouldn’t have been a good place to sit. Fortunately Ruben saw us on the way past and invited me to join him. It’s always a pleasure to sit at Ruben y Cherie’s table – good company and good dancing. My castellano still hasn’t advanced to the point that I can have a conversation with Ruben, and Cherie was feeling a bit unwell and wasn’t there on Saturday, but they always have guests at their table and this night was no exception. Those guests are usually extranjeros, often English speakers and always friendly.

My dancing got off to a bit of a slow start but picked up nicely. About an hour before the end, as the numbers started to thin out, I moved to a table with a free seat about half way along the pista for a better cabeceo position. I’ve seen the guy sat at the table several times and assumed he was a local. It turned out he’s another Brit and has been living here for several years. He came for a holiday and “forgot” to go home.

The bus ride home was more twisty and turny than Blackadder’s most devious twisty turny thing. Lots of roads were closed and I had the impression the driver was making it up as he went along. It took even longer than the journey to get there and would almost have been quicker to walk.

On Sunday I tried Sueño Porteño at Boedo Tango. I’ve only been there on a Wednesday before, when it is always very busy. I wasn’t sure what the numbers would be like because of the bicentennial celebrations and because of the torrential rain that started at about 6pm. I don’t know all the locations in the city where there are special celebration events so decided to use el Subte (subway) instead of los colectivos (buses), figuring the journey time would be unaffected by any road closures. When I arrived a bit before 7:30pm it was only about one quarter to one third full. My friend arrived a little while later and we actually got a front row table. I guess they reached about half capacity by the time we left at midnight. By then I’d danced lots, watched an enthusiastic amateur bicentennial celebration dance by some of the regulars and sampled the Boedo Tango pizza. There are a few photos from the evening in my  milongas set at Flickr (and also a couple from the chacarera tanda at los Consagrados on Saturday).

While waiting for the bus home I got an invite by text to El Beso. The night was still young, there was still 3 hours of dancing to be had at El Beso so I went. When I arrived it was standing room only. Standing at the bar gave me much better cabeceo options than I’d had from a seat on Thursday night and I danced lots.

My first dance was with a French girl, Octavia, who arrived just a couple of days ago and is here for 6 months. I commented recently on Mari’s “Proper” tango shoes post that I don’t care what shoes a follower is wearing so long as we have a good dance. We danced a good tanda and afterwards I noticed that she was wearing an eye-catching pair of silver and black 4″ stilettos. No, I haven’t a clue whether they were CIFs or Payless. I really, really don’t care. The point is they caught my eye and I watched her dance part of the first tango of the next tanda. When I’m not dancing and not trying to cabeceo someone I spend a lot of time watching the dancers’ feet. Dancers will know what I mean. She had the most beautiful feet I have ever seen. Ever. Period. Dancers will know what I mean.

Anyway I stayed until closing time and rode home on the number 12 colectivo, buzzing after 2 really good nights of dancing. It feels like I’ve turned a bit of a corner after being here nearly 7 weeks. It feels comfortable, the crisis of confidence I had a few weeks ago a distant memory. I’m ready to learn new stuff, to improve (and maybe it will rub off on my castellano efforts too). I’m on a roll.

Clarity and castellano

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

It’s a good job I’m not a professional writer. Apparently some of my posts have been open to misinterpretation. They lack the clarity I thought they had.

So just in case you thought otherwise, my teachers in the UK have not taught me to tango in a hurried “Anglo-Saxon” way, or to dance without regard for my partner, or the music, or the surroundings. When I had some private lessons here with Cherie y Ruben last December they complimented me, and therefore my UK teachers, on not having been taught any bad habits. I hope to take some more lessons with Cherie y Ruben soon.

Clarity is required in tango too. It sounds obvious but a leader needs to lead. I have to communicate to my follower what I want them to do. Sometimes I forget to do this physically and try to do it telepathically instead. And then things go wrong! Doing it physically doesn’t mean being aggressive but it does require a degree of assertiveness. There’s the equivalent of a volume control on the assertiveness. Too much volume is uncomfortable for the follower, too little volume means she can’t hear me and things go wrong again. The way they go wrong depends on the follower. Sometimes she’ll do something other than what I intended, sometimes she’ll just freeze and wait to be lead. Occasionally I think the volume is OK but the follower still does something other than what I intended.

Whenever a follower does something other than what I intended I try to adapt what comes next to suit and keep dancing. I’ll usually try to lead the same thing once more a little later in the dance. If it still produces not the intended result then I don’t try it again with this follower in this tanda. Also I make a mental note to review and maybe to change the lead for whatever it was.

If the follower just freezes that’s a clear sign to me to turn up the volume and lead with more clarity.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m generally not leading “loudly” enough. There are often hot and sweaty leaders coming off the pista at the end of a tanda. Unless the room is overly warm I’m not one of them. Maybe this has more to do with the fact that I prefer dancing to the slower tangos and usually find a way to dance the faster tangos slowly too.

If something goes wrong in a class or practica situation and the follower apologises to me I always reply with “Just assume if something goes wrong it’s because I lead it wrong, even if you think I didn’t”. It seems most likely to me that I lead it wrong because when I have been in a follower position with a teacher in a group class or private lesson there is no doubt at all what the response should be to their lead. In general I subscribe to the view that a good leader with a relaxed follower can lead just about anything. By implication, if the follower fails to follow then the leader didn’t lead properly. However, Mari presents a different perspective in this post.

The opposite of clarity is ambiguity. Ambiguity is imperfection and that irritates me. Context sensitive languages are ambiguous and the irritation that creates inside me is a very real barrier to learning. Castellano (Spanish) is very context sensitive. Here a few examples:

  • si – means “yes” or “if”
  • si no – means “otherwise”
  • sino – means “but”
  • hablamos – means either “we are speaking/we speak” or “we were speaking”. The 1st person plural of an ~ar verb conjugates the same way in the present and the preterite tenses.
  • fui – means either “I was” or “I went”. The verbs ser (to be) and ir (to go) conjugate identically to each other in each of the 6 (in Spain) or 5 (in South America) positions.
  • por – means “for” or “by” or “through” or “per” or “in”
  • que – means a multitude of different things depending on the construction it is used in.

Castellano is also supposed to be a phonetic language – words should be pronounced the way they are spelt and vice versa. Yet the porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) often aspirate the final phoneme of a word and speak so fast as to run one or more words together. Attempting to decode which words they have spoken, and then decoding the meaning from the context to work out what they actually said is hard work.

And when I try to talk to the locals and they look puzzled and say “¿que?” – because I haven’t worked out how to create some of the phonemes correctly, let alone pronounce whole words and use the right aspirations and spew the whole lot out at 200 words per minute – that is just plain frustrating.

Those are my (admittedly not very good) reasons for not working hard enough on learning castellano. So the promised 1-month blog post entirely in castellano will not be happening this week.
This post may also lack a bit of clarity, but if I try to make it perfect it will never happen!


Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I had a touristy afternoon yesterday. It was overcast and a little hazy, so not the best day to be out taking photos but undeterred I went for a walk along Avenida de Mayo from the Subte linea A, estacion Peru, to Congreso Nacional and then along Callao to Subte linea D, estacion Callao.

The photos are at Flickr in the Sightseeing and monochrome sets.

I’m generally cooking for myself and eating in most nights. While in Salamanca last year I discovered I rather liked tortilla española. Last night for the first time (ever) I made it myself. My landlady, who is a bit precious about her kitchen was rather worried by the idea and assured me it wasn’t easy. It was a bit time consuming but not difficult. There are loads of recipes on the web, I used the one here but halved the quantities to fit the frying pan I had available. A (much) larger frying pan would have been useful and would have cut the cooking time by 15 minutes – I had to cook the potatoes in 2 batches because they wouldn’t all fit and cook in one go.

It was delicious. My landlady agreed.

Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear that I had the same thing again tonight. I was going to add some mushrooms and ham to the mix but couldn’t be bothered to go and buy them this afternoon. Next time… (which won’t be tomorrow!)

As expected I did suffer a bit with DOMS on Sunday. My plan to go to the gym on Saturday was thwarted by it being the May Day holiday, and just about everywhere was closed. I went out for a walk instead which probably helped reduce the DOMS effect a bit. I was back in the gym yesterday morning and this afternoon. And the aches are all gone now.

There’s still not much progress to report on my efforts to learn castellano. Mainly because I’m not making anywhere near enough effort. There is another reason which I might write a blog post about.

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