Sitges Tango Festival July 18 – 22

warm tropical nights… milonga under the stars… the crowd watches a demo by Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes

We carried the rain with us as we flew from from Paris to Barcelona one gray day last July. From the airport we drove through the midsummer drizzle 30 km south to Sitges. By sunset that evening the skies were clearing, though the wind continued through the night. In the morning the sky was still cloudy, but, intrepid beach-goers that we are, we walked half a block to the beach with our giant sunbrella and his & hers beach towels. After an hour the clouds had flown away north (to drench Paris again, no doubt, as they’d been doing all spring) and the day turned sunny and hot. Here’s my personal bodyguard testing the water…

the water is warm!!!

captured web photo… it actually wasn’t this crowded!

Known as the St. Tropez of Spain, Sitges is a small city known for its beaches, nightspots, and historical sites.  A wide boulevard winds along the Mediterranean, with cafés, restaurants (fresh fish! tapas! clams oysters mussels calamari, lobster…) beautiful old houses, historic churches, alcázars, plazas… tango on the beach, anybody?

white sands, white tie…

and Tango.

Sitges became a counterculture city back in the 1960s… and it still resonates hip and cool. One of the hottest gay beaches of Europe, too. Franco was still in power in those days, but apparently rebellious Sitges managed to skate by … or maybe I’m just desperately under-informed.

main beach and plaza

pretty tiled fountain

in the historic center

a beautiful old portal

I really go for historic buildings, and Sitges is full of them.

looks Art Deco to me

This retro wedge-shaped building was one of the landmarks I used to orient myself while walking around the old part of town. The streets are winding cobblestone paths, most not even wide enough for cars, and even though they mostly all lead down to the beach, it’s easy to get lost in the maze (unless you’re looking for the beach, of course). But since being lost is my normal state, I actually felt pretty much at home. Everywhere you look are restaurants, cafés, colorful shops and marketplace stalls selling tango-fashionable loose trousers, and loads of more pretty things.

Every day is market day in a tourist town, and the food on display was appetizing and delicious!

CJS pizzas (just say “CJ’s”)

the olive seller

CJS deli

CJS salmueria

a portal in the historic center

la Sirenita de Sitges

Our room in a small hotel a half-block from the beach overlooks a beautiful house, three floors, dazzlingly white walls with blue shutters, an intense cobalt blue (one of my favorite colors!) with a terracotta roof. Classic mediterranean. Sorry! I didn’t get a picture. But here’s a serene spot on the hotel terrazza, where breakfast is served till noon, and you can order drinks and/or snacks the rest of the day and evening.

Hotel Los Globos

If you’ve had too many mojitos you can just hang out and talk to the resident parrot.

Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight! Isn’t that one of the last lines in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island?  The Hotel Los Globos resident parrot-greeter talks and whistles loudly whenever anyone walks by. He seems really sweet, but then I didn’t risk sticking my finger between the bars. We humans always want to believe animals have thoughts and feelings just like us. I guess we just can’t imagine anything different, but… birds will be birds! And they have brains the size of a pea. Of course it helps if you use all the brainpower you have!

The afternoon we arrived we walked all around town. The main church is perched on a high point of the malecón, the walkway along the waterfront.

la iglesia principal

There was a wedding party outside the church, with lots of chic people standing around, waiting for the novios to exit. I felt like I’d stepped into an episode of La Reina del Sur, but fortunately there was no exchange of gunfire. I should have taken a few photos but, shy me, I didn’t want to be the intrusive tourist. Later, as we walked along the beach, we happened upon the sweet ending of yet another wedding! The couple was wrapped up in a big piece of  cloth which was then knotted around them, like a giant pretzel. Trapped forever! or so it would seem. A day of domestic mergers in sunny Spain.

Sitges evening milonga

The Sitges Tango Festival had world-class teachers: Miguel Angel Zotto, Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes, Rubén & Sabrina Véliz, Sebastián Jiménez & María Inés Bogado  (winners of the 2010 Mundial de Tango in Tango Salón), Marcelo Ramer & Selva Mastroti, and Marcela Troncoso. All Argentines, all professional tango dancers and teachers. Miguel Angel Zotto was flying solo — he had a lovely assistant who was filling in for his wife, who had just given birth to twins! Way to go, Miguel! Nice guy, by the way, totally unpretentious, the way I like my tango teachers. <www.festivaltangositges.com>

Ensemble Hyperión under cover at the Jardines de Terramar

Classes were held every afternoon (no morning classes, thank you! you gotta sleep sometime!) at three locations, organized by the customary levels of beg-int-adv. (Or is that beg-int-tango teacher? ja ja) I took one class per day… my usual limit. Ben took lots… the Energizer Bunny. I took a DJ class with Gabriel Sodini, also Argentine. More of a chamuyo, really, a question & answer session, but informative. Gabriel is buddies with our old friend Gato Valdéz, who DJ’d the all-nighters on the beach, starting at 2 am, after the official milonga ended. What a fun time we had!!

the gala Saturday night milonga & show… fabulous!

I highly recommend this tango festival. Super location, super teachers, great shopping, cheap street food, tapas, fish… sun and sand… and reasonably priced classes!

dinner on the beachfront

Life is Good.

Ciao from Sitges!

Paris Retrospective

shock and awe at Deyrolles

One night I dreamt I was still in Paris, at Deyrolles. A fabulous scene was filmed here, in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. In the dream, Ben and I spent a couple of hours just prowling around upstairs, and more than a few critters seemed to come to life before my eyes!

how do you think we look, dear? deer? aunty antelope?

I felt like I’d taken a step back in time. Perhaps a time warp of the imagination? Deyrolles still sells dessicated butterflies (dead, but still pretty), stuffed birds, and so on and so forth…. the price tag increases exponentially with the size of the dead critter, especially when the number of legs goes from 2 to 4 (with the exception of their insect collection, of course).

Oops! just noticed the grizzly?

Paris reverberates with music and musicians… every summer they have la Fête du la Musique, a big music festival, with free music all over the city, from small neighborhood cafés and clubs to giant concert halls and expo centers. We stumbled on this antique instrument shop one day as we were strolling around aimlessly… one of the best ways to see Paris.

old musical instruments for sale

are those lyres beside the harps?

Walking around Paris you find stuff you never dreamed of… like the best chocolatiers in the world.

Cocteau: avant-garde eggs

Unfortunately the average tourist who “does” Paris in a 3-day hypertour only gets off the double decker tour bus to file into the Louvre to see la Gioconda, and is too exhausted at the end of the day to relax and mingle with locals. Here are a few pix (hard to choose!) of some splendid creations:

Apricot pistachio tart…. yum

the essential baguette, fit for palace or attic alike

Ben, the aspiring baker, comments that the ONLY reason bakeries open (for a few hours) on Sundays is because people have to have fresh baguettes every day!

Salvador Dalí, well-known Spanish baguette lover and surrealist, did a fine series of illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s fantastical story about a girl who wandered into a stranger than strange land. We saw the exhibit at the Espace Dalí  in Montmarte. Dalí’s ink drawings are amazingly delicate: such loving, precise and precious details… perhaps intended for a particular child, as was the book. Of course, Alice in Wonderland IS a children’s book… for the imaginative child in all of us.

white rabbit

Dalí knew that even Angels need a little extra support sometimes.

even Angels have rough days…

Salvador Dalí circa 1940

And since this is a retrospective with some of my favorite Paris photos, here’s Adam giving God a drag in Montmartre:

maybe this explains why so many Parisians smoke

Angels on both sides of the Atlantic

The above angel is from Recoleta, in Buenos Aires. Our own Mackinze is perhaps a less worldly Angel, but she sparkles even brighter than the crystal chandeliers of Versailles!

“she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” (Will Shakespeare)

Speaking of worldly, unworldly, otherworldly… (am I missing anything here?) in Paris I noticed that, despite the monstrosities you see in Vogue or on the fashion page, what women REALLY wear is what you see in the shop windows on the Champs Elysées.

I’d wear it too if I had the bucks!!

But la femme does not live by frock alone; we must accessorize!

Spanish fans are wearable Art. Vale?

This amazing fan shop is right across from the Museo de la Historia de Barcelona, Plaça del Rey. (Please excuse the Barcelona photos, I couldn’t resist!) Needless to say, I bought several, even some teeny tiny ones!

this is only one wall…

One cannot recall Paris, retrospectively or otherwise, without seeing the Louvre again. It’s huge, stunning, imposing… even intimidating. Imagine being a peasant from the 18th century, seeing the city for the first time! A LIFE-CHANGING EVENT!! Even if you’re a 21st century worker-drone!

the Louvre from across the Seine

nice front door… yeah

my favorite street artist, Miss.Tic

My favorite Starbucks, so Parisian!

on the Champs Elysées

How about my favorite guy in the universe?

traveling tanguero, takin’ it to the water

Here he is at Sunderland Club.

who’s the babe?

COMING SOON: my long-awaited post on the Sitges Tango Festival!

Ciao from North America!

Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

Luxembourg Castle

One fine day we left Paris for a weekend drive to Luxembourg. The french countryside is so very beautiful, so very lush this summer, on account of all the rain. Abundant greenness everywhere, though not as wild and untamed as the more remote places back home in California.

old path and steps in the river bottom, near the castle moat

The french are so neat and tidy, so meticulous! I thought only the germanic tribes were like that! We took back roads and drove through village after village, each one so perfectly cared for, so historic. Here you can see the juxtaposition of three eras: medieval, eighteenth century and twentieth.

which era would YOU choose to live in?

Downtown Luxembourg was bustling; people were eating, drinking, shopping, listening to music. A street fair was bubbling over one of the plazas, with entertainment and a huge yard sale.

kinda like Farmer’s Market in SLO

Every building is historic and well-tended. There must be hordes of worker-ants crawling around every day inside and out, keeping it all so perfect for us lucky tourists.

a quiet plaza in Luxembourg

Part of the old castle fits like a jigsaw puzzle into the natural rock formations carved out by the river a few eons ago.

some good hidey-holes there

this gorgeous building caught my eye

I stole this photo of Luxembourg lit up at night:

looks prettier without the skyscrapers

We found more old rock walls on our way back to Paris. It was like the family field trip minus the kids; late afternoon and we were hungry. We took the turnoff  to Provins almost by accident: it looked big enough to have a restaurant that might still be open on a Sunday evening. As luck would have it, we drove into a medieval village le plus belle de tout. A middle-eastern café was still open and quite busy. While throwing down hummus, pita bread and baba ganoush, I couldn’t take my eyes off the church across the street, where a diverse clan of gargoyles guard ancient stone.

parts of it are more vintage than others

Eagle gargoyle

Big Bird gargoyle?

Old Woman Gargoyle with Message

Porky Pig?

I give up: dog-dragon-gargoyle?

I thought maybe some of them were griffins but Wikipedia says griffins have the body of a lion with an eagle head. Gargoyles, as you know, are there to protect churches from evil spirits and other wandering disembodied bad vibes.

a goat gargoyle

I thought THIS was a GRIFFIN. WHOA!! Please note!! CORRECTION!! Our good friend Adrian from San Luis Obispo, who happens to be British which of course makes him an expert on cathedral decor, writes:  “Incidentally, the creature you have at Font St. Michel is a wyvern, not a griffin, since it has the hind quarters of a serpent – preferably with a barbed tail.” Oh my gosh I had no idea!! Knowing this could come in real handy, especially if you time-travel to the middle ages, or have a nightmare where a wyvern is going to toast you if you don’t answer the riddle about how his tail came to be barbed.

detail of Font St. Michel, Paris, Latin Quarter

Wikipedia sure has some amazingly curious articles on a host of obscure topics! Our wyvern doesn’t have a dragon’s head, but a lion’s. In every other respect it is undoubtedly a wyvern. This oddity is “a frequent heraldic device on British coats of arms and flags… A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the ancient kingdom of Wessex.”

a golden wyvern

So why are griffins part lion and part eagle? “As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions.”  I think I want one!

Provins church: note the older portions mixed with more recent

The arched doorway of the church in Provins reminds me of Notre Dame de París, but with way less fuss: broad strokes as opposed to devilish details. Compare it with the doorway of this catedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona:

Barrio Gótico

And for more comparison here’s the lady herself: Notre Dame de París:

Notre Dame is famous for her gargoyles and her hunchback, from the story by Victor Hugo

Once you see one gargoyle, you start seeing them everywhere! Here are some from that cathedral in Barcelona.

A few gargoyles to protect from Dark Side flybys

Little Provins turns out to be a big stop on the European Medieval circuit…. remember the Renaissance Faire? This is where it lives. Time stood still here in 1429, when Joan of Arc went to mass accompanied by Charles VII.

Wow! She is one of my favorite saints… that girl really rocked the boat — and paid the price. My favorite, unforgettable painting of her lives in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

St. Quiriace was built in 1160, partly destroyed by fire in 1662, and is pretty much out of service these days, you can’t even get a peek inside. But the vibes there are amazing; we loved it. Here is a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, wearing solid gold armor. I can’t seem to find my photos of her; this is off the web:

correction: this one is MY photo of Joan of Arc!

St. Quiriace

Here I am at the doors:

yes, I go to church occasionally!

wabi-sabi detail

the watchtower next door

This is the old keep, or watchtower, sometimes called Caesar’s tower. We circled it.

Ben likes ancient rock walls too.

Provins is an amazing place, definitely the spot for all you history buffs. I couldn’t stop taking pix of the old houses, they are so beautiful!!

a busy corner in Provins

part of the old moat

How cool is that!!?!

a pretty country cottage

on the outside, a rustic cottage

On the inside… I’d be happy to decorate it for you!

the banker’s mansion?

City Hall or an official residence?

Provins is a living town, albeit a tourist town: how convenient. However it is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! Its rolling green hills are like California’s wine country in spring. Just gorgeous. By the way, don’t get Provins, the town near Paris, mixed up with Provence, a wine-growing region in southern France, close to the Mediterranean coast: Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Monaco. Not a bad spot to combine vacation and business: just ask James Bond!

Thanks to all of you for your emails, comments and likes. I really appreciate news from home. It helps me feel connected and not adrift somewhere in the universe…. sometimes I wake up and it takes a few moments to get oriented…. where the heck am I?

Next blog up: Tango Festival in Sitges, and fabulous Barcelona!

Au revoir, Paris!

La Puta Qué?

Did you ever read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne?  We skipped over to Uruguay for the day and saw a tagged paint mare: you can see PUTA in capital letters on her neck.  I think you all know what that means!  We didn’t notice any apparent misbehaving tendencies at first glance but then horses can really fool you!

la muy puta yegua

Along came a casual tropical cowboy who proceeded to mount up and move the group of foragers a few yards down the road.  It was a pretty day and I was happy to see some horses just hanging out along a back road.  We were cruising on a junky old moto that we rented for $18 for the day, electrical issues, bald tires, no speedometer, no deposit, no problem!

local cowboy

The day trip across the river is known as the expat shuffle: you take a ferry across the river, go thru customs in Uruguay (what a joke that is!) and, depending on your inclinations, stroll the quaint colonial era pueblo, shop till you drop, do the waterfront pub crawl, climb to the top of the faro (lighthouse), head for the beach, or (most popular option) get on a bus to Montevideo.

After the hour trip across the Río de la Plata, we disembarked and walked into town.  We passed an ultramodernist new tourist center, not quite finished yet.  We set off the alarm when we walked up and onto the deck…  howdy folks!  the gringos are here!

tourist trap

Colonia is a pretty tourist town.  Some folks joke about it being a “dead” town and I see their point but, heck, Uruguay needs all the help ($$) it can get!   The only thing they have going for them are some cool beaches and hot soccer players.  There’s a sweet harbor on the river, a lighthouse (we made it all the way to the top!) shops, cafés, restaurants, boutique hotels, tour guides.  We skipped the tour.  I’m the official tour guide, naturally.  Who else would have noticed the horses?

Lucky us, it was a beautiful balmy day at the lighthouse.  We climbed it.

el faro

We circled it.

the bullring

Ben was happy as a clam to be riding a scooter, he didn’t care where we went!  (He says it’s not quite like his F4, though.)  Here he is at the top of the lighthouse, with helmet:

At the beach…

did we miss the tsunami warning?

strolling around town…

checking out the microcar

We saw picturesque old adobes that reminded me of San Juan Bautista, back home in California.

we take VISA!!

bisected house

Café El Santo

pretty stone facade with jasmine

Okay, is it bothering you that this post is turning into Better Homes & Gardens?  Sunset South?  Well, too bad, cause I just love old historic buildings!  especially when they’re kept up nicely…  here’s some more:

Posada Plaza Mayor

Adobe colorado

old Mission

No lack of cool old cars to cruise those cobblestone Colonia streets:

what make is it? somebody help me out!

10 oct. Flash:  a Studebaker by all accounts!  Thanks to April in New Mexico, Jack in San Luis Obispo, and Arlene in Santa Barbara!  You guys rock!

awesome truck from the... 40s?

And a café-bar by the old stone lighthouse.  How cool is that?  The hungry thirsty hordes had not yet gathered when I took this picture:  Or they got stuck listening to the droning nazi tour guide.

ye old lighthouse watering hole

When I finally stepped off the back of the moto my knees were weak, my feet were numb, and it felt like my hipbones needed resetting.  Kinda like getting thrown off a rank horse and trying to get back on your feet so you can go catch the sonofabitch!   We walked a few steps past that amazing stone tower onto the wharf, past the yacht club office, and onto the terrace of the Yacht Club restaurant.  What a view!

Are we having fun yet?

Oops, forgot to put a view in.  Here we go.

the view from the top

We ate seafood pasta, salad, a bottle of wine, dessert… the works!  A sweet getaway. Towards the end of the afternoon the herd instinct kicked in, we answered a few mournful cow calls, and allowed ourselves to be herded back to the mother ship.  The ferry, that is, the S.S. Colonia Express.  As we closed in on the big beautiful city, I took a picture of this old slow-sinking rustbucket still moored in La Boca harbor.

the wabi-sabi mother ship

Being away from town for a day was no big deal, but I can well imagine the desperation one might feel being gone too long from the glorious night-life of this throbbing music lover’s paradise.  Seriously, we find music everywhere we go!  Friday evening we walked into a local restaurant, and found ourselves listening to a young woman singing arias from Carmen and La Bohéme, with live piano and violin accompaniment.  Opera never fails to bring tears to my eyes!  Live music is a total body experience, you feel it with all your senses, not just your ears.  Every molecule you own vibrates with sound, sinking deeply into body and spirit.  Positively transcendent!

Yesterday, having coffee after our tango class at a café we frequent by Plaza San Martín, we opened our eyes and saw that they have Friday night Jazz, and live Tango on Saturdays. The cultural richness of Buenos Aires is really inspiring.  So many young musicians, you see them walking around with instrument cases, getting on the subte or collectivo. We saw these guys on the subway today on our way home from a solidarity festival at Parque Avellaneda.

subte músicos

Ben’s spanish teacher plays percussion and trombone in a band we saw today at the park, Orkesta Popular San Bomba.  Way to go!  They have a great singer and a great Latin sound, but their sound system was a complete disaster.  We will check them out again when they get their act together!

Orkesta San Bomba at Parque Avellaneda

Somehow the future isn’t quite as scary anymore, seeing the next generation so present and engaged in the creation of a world culture that knows no borders, and whose currency is music!   Speaking of young musicians, we’ve been to some great live music at various places…  this is CAFF (Club Atlético Fernández Fierro), a former auto repair shop.  It has the funkiest club entrance ever, like out of a Batman movie:

Yes, that’s me in my spring Batgirl outfit.  Here are a couple of shots from the show at CAFF:

Dema y su Orquesta Petitera

at CAFF

Dema is hysterically funny and was wildly applauded.  He’s kind of a cross between Tom Waits and Giancarlo Giannini in Swept Away (a film by Lina Wertmüller).  Jaded but innocent, desperate yet full of macho bravura.   Check him out on uTube!

One of our favorites: Orquesta Victoria at Café Vinilo:

Orquesta Típica La Victoria

Orchestra La Victoria has a piano, clarinet, cello, contrabajo, 2 bandoneons, 3 violins, and two singers (Fuertes and Varnerín) who do amazing tango duets, just like the singers of  the old days!  (Listen to Pregonera, Pastora, Remolino… sung by the duo of Carlos Dante and Julio Martel, Orquesta Alfredo de Angelis.)  This youthful tango orquesta plays mostly classic tango but also some nuevo, in the genre of Piazzolla.  They are way cool and we love them!

Well, friends, despite lots of late night dancing, serious lack of sleep, tango classes, yoga class, Italian class, running in the park, and walking, walking, walking all over town… not to mention spending hours writing and posting my blog…  I seem to be thriving!  must be Ben’s good cooking!  Oh, and my favorite gelato flavors of the month? … dolcatta, tramontana, and dulce de leche granizado… and zabayón!  and the delightful spring weather!

Please don’t forget to send your Tango Addiction stories to me at <runninghawk.willow@gmail.com>.  I now have my very own web address: <willowtango.me>.   Click the “follow” button!   Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Willow at El Santo