Spooky Milonga

One evening in late June we jumped on a bus and rode it all the way down Rue Tolbiac, almost to the end, a block from the François Mitterand library. Looking for a milonga, we walked past the funkiest trashiest old building I’d ever seen. It had a medieval tower whose top was wrapped in netting… some kind of restoration? Keep the hunckback from flinging rotten fruit on passersby?

tower tour, anybody? Eiffel Tower it ain’t!

A set of windows on the 2nd or 3rd floor was painted into a giant gaping mouth with sharp monster teeth, waiting to devour anyone who dared enter. Silly us, we hadn’t yet realized that scary building was our destination!

Who’s hungry? I am!

We kept walking, not seeing any place that looked like a milonga. Around the corner the sidewalk sloped down to the level of the ground. There was a big chain link fence, a parking lot full of junky cars, graffiti everywhere, weeds, broken windows, trash… where the yada yada were we going?

colorful graffiti…

Ben spotted an opening in the chain link, with a paper taped to it that said Milonga Los Frigos and an arrow pointing to a trail leading around the side of the horrific palace.

boho chic?

We ducked under some trees and plunged into the semi-darkness of a shady overgrown courtyard slash/ abandoned side yard.

the spooky path

After a few steps we saw the twinkle of tiny lights through an opening in the brush. Three young people sitting around a card table came into view, smiling and looking completely normal. Could these be the demented gatekeepers of a horrific palace? Had we just entered the Twilight Zone?

We paid our €7 each. Apparently still having that deer-in-the-headlights look about us, the slim young Parisian (she spoke a little Spanish) led us along a dirt trail that led to the cobblestone patio and then, happily, towards what looked like a bar in a cave. Emerging from darkness into light is always a little confusing. We thought maybe the bar was the milonga, but she said it was just the bar, and so we walked past it (you could hear Billie Holiday singing softly) to yet another cave-like room on the ground level. By now we heard the music and saw open doors on a small wooden deck leading into — you guessed it — the milonga! Couples were dancing, and others sitting around small tables lit with candles. The ceiling was a series of stone arches paved with brick (we were right under the overpass) and the dance floor was, well, not great, but … what else do you expect at a monster’s ball?

trés jolie!

….and so we danced happily ever after in the remodeled troll cave. With French champagne in hand we toasted the classic sounds of Orquesta Sans Souci, Sexteto Milonguero, Canaro, Troilo, Biagi, Caló, de Caro, Pugliese, Enrique Rodríguez and other Top 100 Tango Tunes. We drank to bat caves, badger dens, rabbit warrens, hobbit holes and other warm snuggly hideaways. We danced underneath Rue Tolbiac, left bank of the Seine, 13th Arondissement, and we kept dancing until we dropped. Perfect, blissful, tango exhaustion: you try to pace yourself, but another favorite song comes on and a mysterious underground force compels you to get up and dance some more!

BOO!

Happy Halloween!

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!

Enchantment in Paris

Have you ever torn off the top of a paper sugar tube? A few minutes ago I popped a top, turned it upside down, and accidentally dropped the whole tube of sugar, which sank, bow first, straight down into my coffee. I thought I’d seen the last of it, but just then the white tube rose slowly from the depths and popped back up! Magical! I managed to grab the stern end before it sank again; I wiggled and shook it gently just above the dark sea, and the pretty white powder slid sweetly and uneventfully back into the dark chocolate-colored brew. Amazing!

Sugar magic

Tossing the empty wet paper into the trash, my heady sense of fait accompli spoke to my earthbound self with just enough ridiculous praise to send me over to my laptop, not quite ready but perhaps willing to set a few words in order, hoping they’ll sort of spill out on their own, like they do on the good days, when it’s all I can do to crank them out as fast as the thoughts pop into my head… bolstered, of course, by the last cup of coffee, which picked me up out of a scattering of random thoughts as I watched the grey skies turn even darker. Like the continuing off and on rainy weather, which perplexes even meterologically inclined Parisians, I trust my thoughts to arrive in a similar fashion: on again, off again, as random as a herd of cats and just as unpredictable. Which they do. Arrive, that is. Unexpectedly and from who knows where?

Belle Epoque bling

Ahh… you gotta love Paris! Life is good. That gorgeous mansion on the Champs Elysées, a block from the Arc de Triomphe, is a musée (museum), one of hundreds in Paris.

Pont Alexandre – in honor of Alexander the Great

The little poppies and the fragrant basil and parsley Ben planted on our balcony have been thriving on these spring — now summer — rains. Paris is a green oasis of busyness, the traffic kept in check by sidewalk cafés where time stands still… and no one ever brings the bill until you ask for it.

Les Deux Magots

Life imitates Art and vice versa

Ancient walls and monuments are a constant reminder of the fleeting life cycle of us two-leggeds. Beautiful fountains here and there are a tranquil pools of Rest & Relaxation in the midst of it all.

a fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens

close up

I love this twelfth century wall near St. Etienne’s and the Pantheon. The plaque credits Philippe Auguste for building the wall.

XII century soundproofing

To Great Men your Country Recognises You

Abundant greenery is balanced by ancient stone…

Musée Rodin

cool cobblestone passages…

no trash in sight, either

…the Feng Shui of timeless stone and flowing water.

Font St. Michel

Louvre & Carrousel Arch

Versailles

Versailles Gardens

Sleeping Beauty awakens!

While touring Versailles we accidentally woke up Sleeping Beauty! We chased her thru the gardens, then into the Royal Palace where we followed her from one glittering room to another, so dazzling they seemed make-believe!

please have a seat…

Definitely the turf of a hometown princess. She knew every secret door and passageway, each spiral staircase leading to dungeon, scullery, towers…

Who has the key to unlock the golden gates?

We finally pinned her down in the Medieval Library. The trick was to open a book and read her a story: she was a captive audience! After listening to a few French tales of bravery, duels and treachery to the Crown, she told us her sad tale of woe.

no discount: not an energy saving light fixture

“Please let me come with you,” she begged. “Release me from captivity and take me to the 21st century!” We were willing, but insisted she trade in her glass slippers for a pair of trademark jeans — French couture, of course. 17th century meets 21st!

Hall of Mirrors

Goldilocks vs Goldfinger?

Versailles vs. Versace? We promised her three squares and a calico kitten to cuddle. Her first meal in our reality — cheeseburger, ice cream and coke — was wolfed down faster than you could say Little Red Riding Hood.

a well-balanced meal

We offered her the grand tour, but she declined the double-decker sightseeing bus; modern petrol-sucking machines give her the heebie-jeebies. She’s quite environmentally conscientious for someone who’s been asleep for 300 years! Alas, the coach house was empty: our sturdy draft horses were sent up to summer pastures in the high country. So our pragmatic princess hoofed it around town with us in her flip-flops and never complained, not even under her breath — although we did catch a few eyeball rolls!

May I have one of each, please?

We marched along happily in our quest for the best chocolate in Paris. Christian Constant was our knight in shining armor, with his jasmine and orange blossom scented petit fours, leaving a trail of bittersweet implosions in our mouths…

Avant-garde chocolate eggs

We were taken on a close-your-eyes journey tracing the old chocolate trade route through India and Arabia — where essence of Rose, Vetiver, and Ylang-Ylang leads to Tahitian vanilla, Verbena, Corinthian raisins, Cassis, Frangipani, Saffron, Chinese ginger and Cardamom from Malabar.

chocolatier haute chic

We tasted dark chocolate (ganache), almond praline, ginger praline, almond-hazelnut paste, raspberry mousse, Sicilian tangerine, bitter chocolate truffle. Holy Zocomoly! [Christian Constant, 37, rue d’Assas, Paris 75006.]

A la Mére de Famille, 35, rue Faubourg – Montmartre

Sleeping Beauty was wide awake, finally, cooled down by chocolate ice cream, the only known antidote to chocolate fever. We followed her into Starbucks on the Champs Elysées.

tres elegant!

We thought it only right to warn Sleeping Beauty about the “other” Starbuck:

father of many but accountable to none

After a much-needed coffee break (the Princess likes Caramel Frappuccinos) she wanted to test drive a Maserati race simulator, only €20 for 5 minutes, but we were afraid of losing her in hyperspace. But we did catch a glimpse of some really cool vintage rides.

Peugot Formula One?

Nissan Topless Retro

Ben took his time scoping out all the Fiats, Lancias, Renaults, Peugots, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Ferraris in that pricey neighborhood. Sorry, no Cadillas, BMWs, Audis or Volvos… not even an old Chevy pickup! Sleeping Beauty opted for a more affordable transportation alternative: a horseback medieval warrior who nearly swept her off her feet!. She only had to put in a few quarters! Can’t see her astride that horse? Duh! She’s wearing her invisibility cloak!

guardian of Notre Dame

But we suspect she’s really after the handsome Count of Tivoli, a dashing young fellow from a good family:

Prince Charming?

That might be a kiss worth waking up for!

Notre Dame in the sunshine

So we flew past Notre Dame, scorned by our own little Princess who has the real dirt on what notre mére had been up that night about seven hundred years ago: fiddling with poison apples and deadly corsets were just a few of her evil games. But the Principessa had other fish to fry. She wanted to stop by the Louvre to see all those glorious paintings and sculptures of her friends from a bygone era.

Marie Antoinette and her children

Louis XV ?

Was she there when Napoleon crowned Josephine empress?

Louis XIII: 1610 – 1643

Louis XIII went off to make war; his favorite sport cost him his life.

party time in the sculpture section: waiter!

playful Louvre Lion

view of the Louvre from the roof of the Musée d’Orsay

view of the Louvre from the Seine

Sleepy Cinderella loved the Louvre; but all that Napoleonic bling made her hungry as an 11-year old Princess can be. We took the Metro to another quarter, and stopped for refreshments.

look who’s wearing my chapeau Italienne!

could we sell this ad to Coca-Cola?

either she got a refill, or I mixed up the order…

Obviously, she runs on Coke, burgers and fries. She begged us for mac & cheese but we don’t go in for processed foods. We had to draw the line somewhere! Emergency rations only! Give a princess an excuse and she’ll clean out your fridge!

Back at home base — Camp Ocean Pines it ain’t — not Camp Roberts either, nor is it Big Sur, Tuolumne Meadows or Groovy Beach — Sleeping Beauty morphed into Cinderella when she saw what a mega-mess our camp cook can make. We prayed for delivery of a flock of the ubiquitous Café Scrounger Pigeons to clean up our kitchen, but we got Cinderella instead. No more dust bunnies under the couch, or my best marinara sauce splattered and petrifying on the white enamel cooktop!

Cinderella for reals!

We were beginning to worry she’d be putting a call in to the Royal Inquisitor (aka Mom!) if we let her continue the cleaning frenzy, so we took her to see Midnight in Paris. Sure enough, Sleepy Cinderella loved it! Miss mise-en-scéne’s metabolism finally slowed down to a crawl. We got her tucked in for the night, downloading photos to her Facebook till she passed out. Now that her story has gone viral due to her gazillion aunties, uncles, cousins, first cousins, and adorable little sister, she plans to make big bucks singing and dancing on the silver screen AFTER she finishes the Vampire Training Academy. No wonder she can’t sleep before midnight! File those nails and don’t forget your fangs!

Cinderella loves to dance so she accompanied us to a few milongas, including one on board the NixNox, tied up at Quai de la Gare (Mitterand). That gently rockin’n’rollin’ dance floor sure adds extra altitude and torque to those giros! We strolled along the quay after sundown… about 10 pm Paris time.

France doesn’t do daylight savings

red party boat

quay-side cafés and restaurants

Nix Nox, the Tango boat

milonga on the Nix Nox

how cool is this!

Two weeks is a very short time to visit a city as big as Paris. Mackinze was almost tireless… we were proud when we did manage to tire her out! She climbed all the way up the Eiffel Tower (we did too!), danced on the banks of the Seine, kept watch while we adorned Pont des Arts with locks and tobacco ties, and gave spare change to musicians playing on the Metro and the clarinet player outside the Musée d’Orsay. She also sat thru a few episodes of my favorite telenovela, La Reina del Sur. I got hooked on it in Buenos Aires. I can read basic body language in the vernacular but, unfortunately, simple French conversation is beyond me. However, statements like “You’re toast, cabrón” and “my Russian friend is going to teach you to sing like a canary” come across quite clearly no matter what language is spoken!

Kate del Castillo

Ben and I turned Cinderella into a lover of all-natural French yogurt with organic granola and Senegalese mango. She liked the spaghetti and meatballs confected by yours truly, just like nonna used to make, except I don’t stand at the stove for hours rolling them back and forth in the frying pan till they are perfectly browned and as spherical as cue balls. Next day we had meatball sandwiches with fresh mozzarella on baguettes. The only thing missing was the jalapeños! She liked to sneak out in the morning and raid the local boulangeries for our breakfast staples: croissants, chocolate croissants, almond croissants… croissants with black tea or coffee.

Editor’s note: this post is turning into a novel, will you please bring it to a close!?

Friends and Family in the café at Versailles

My response: Sure boss, but our little takoja is so much fun, and she is so photogenic!

Ben’s in this one and I’m taking the picture

Cinderella strolled the banks of the Seine:

the Left Bank: rive gauche

we had nice weather that day

ghost reflection at the Queen’s dressing table

mesmerized with a Coke

Besties visit the Tour Eiffel

Mackinze climbed the Eiffel Tower as well as endless stairs at the Louvre and other museums and palaces about town, not to mention up and down to the Metro, and the 108 steps up to the apartment at least twice a day — usually running up! Way to Go Girl!

Grandpa Ben, Mackinze and me from the top!

view of Sacre Coeur from the Eiffel Tower

at the Arc de Triomphe

Musée Rodin

with King Tut

Cinderella petting a calico cat

Boat and Duck Races at the Luxembourg Gardens

She loves ducks! Photo by Mackinze.

la Principessa con Pére Ben

Cinderella had to go back to Never-Never Land…. sob! and we are already missing her. I wonder how much change she could collect if she spent a few hours meeting and greeting people while passing the hat (her new French chapeau) outside a local Starbucks…. so she can buy herself a Caramel Frappuccino!  All you have to do is practice saying, “Bonjour! Café pour moi? Je suis tres jolie!” You can do it, girl!

at the Hotel Meurice, with attitude!

She might also look into dog-walking. You can make a lot of dough if you can handle a sizeable herd…. it’s not too soon to start saving up for college!

Arf! Arf! Bao Bao!

BE GOOD!!!

This post written especially for friends and family of Mackinze, Ben’s 11 year-old granddaughter and a shining star in all of our lives! All the rest of you are pretty darn special, too! Happy Fourth of July! Have a great summer!

Ciao from Paris!

Paris Street Art: meet Miss.Tíc

Despite the incessant rain we blog along, my photographer unfazed. Apparently he and his camera are waterproof, just like our extraordinary street artist, Miss.Tíc.

Dangerous in every aspect!

What she really looks like I have no idea, but her spray paint alter ego is a stunner!

I only break hearts.

‘Go ahead and break mine!’ some of you out there in virtual hyperspace are no doubt thinking. Miss.Tíc must live in our Butte Aux Cailles neighhood!  That’s my hunch and I’m stickin’ to it. We don’t see her work anywhere else. In fact, my best guess is that she’s friends with local shop owners, because nobody seems to paint over her ‘graffiti.’ One of her best works frames a very popular local café:

One man hides another  …  Bomb Alert!

If any of you readers can render better translations, please send them in. My French is unpardonable and I know it!

Life passes quickly, but time slowly.

What the heck does that mean?  I think I get this one:

I’m on my moon time, so get lost!

My interpretation, probably way off. Miss.Tíc seems to go for sexy poster boys:

Desire is created in our secret gardens.

This one decorates the wall of another local café, just down the street:

That was a helluva day!

Yikes, I found out all about Miss.Tíc when I googled her just now! She’s famous!

that’s Life… it’ll pass!

“Born in Montmartre of a Tunisian immigrant father and a French mother, [whom she refers to as] an enlightened peasant,” Miss.Tíc grew up on the hill, Butte aux Cailles, “neighborhood of poets, painters and prostitutes…” (Hey, that’s our neighborhood they’re talking about!) Miss.Tíc came to be known for her street art; “she often refers to this district  in her works and performances.” (Wikipedia, my translation from the French)

another version

Miss.Tíc spent a couple of years in California in the 1980s. She must have been impressed with California style graffiti — God knows there’s plenty of it!  She returned to Paris after a devastating break-up, and around 1985 began to channel her feelings about life and love into street art. Using red and black spray paint and stencils, she uses random walls to frame her work. Despite no formal art training, Miss.Tíc’s self-assured and sexy heroine is knee deep in talent and expertise.

Miss.Tic’s cat?

“For years Miss.Tíc has bombarded the walls of Paris with her subtle and ambiguous stencils. And all this time, the owners of these same walls erase them….  So when we find one intact, it is a pleasure, a great pleasure …  You can find her works enhancing walls throughout the 13th – particularly the Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood.”  (from www.missticinparis.com)

Each gives but who picks up the tab?  Miss.Tíc’s sketchy self-portraits, enhanced by sardonic humor, chronicle the feminine wisdom gained in encounters with the other sex.

You only love me in passing.  Her street-smart style playfully questions modern femininity, subjectivity, and sexuality.

Book of doubts. Notice how only one eye is behind the veil? How like a woman is that? and how interesting the oblique reference to veils. In the last few years Miss.Tíc has begun to create works off-the-street. I love the way she is beginning to use more colors to express her feelings!

Time is a serial illusion.

One should only declare love to love itself!?

Illusion is stronger than passion.

You make me dream… I better go back to sleep.

To the walls … let the art girl play!

If you told me of your thirst… is it to calm mine?

Bomb Alert! … Art Rock

Art and Life are one and the same!

We love you Miss.Tíc! Keep it up! Back to the walls! Women Artists United! We have Nothing to Lose but our Illusions and Delusions!

How does it feel to be posterized and put up on a wall? Hmmm, let me think … Fun!

Meanwhile, still looking for Dalí…

and keeping my eyes open for those divine moments when I spot Miss.Tíc on an obliging wall! And waiting for that magical Peugot to show up at midnight …

Ciao from Paris!

Catacombs and Celestial Spheres

Paris is positively popping with Tango! Wednesday night we danced in Napoleon’s former hunting lodge, Chateau du Lac, on a pretty pond in the Bois de Vicennes. They call it the Milonga Imperial. I wonder if Napoleon ever danced here? Judging from his supersized ego, he was probably one of those unfortunate types who always seem to be dancing with themselves. Doesn’t he know it takes two to tango?

Napoleon hunting in the forest of Fontainebleau, 1807

I did manage to come up with a picture of Napoleon hunting… seems like he had a whole regiment tagging along. Wouldn’t that scare off the deer? If Napoleon had been the humble sort who took the time to make offerings to Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, he might have had more luck bringing home the bacon.

Diana, mythical huntress

No hunting at this la Milonga Imperial, only shy cabeceos. After three weeks in Paris we have danced at a variety of milongas. Paris Tango dancers are a friendly bunch, despite the language barrier. They seem to be quite as addicted as we are, and they come in all colors and flavors, the usual package mix, from beginners to…  well, let’s say experienced but not quite ready for stardom, with no plans to morph into instant tango teachers anytime soon — in other words, dancers just like us!

la Milonga Imperial

Parisians can milonga every afternoon and evening at a multitude of venues. There’s lots of milongas to choose from: at least 10+ choices on your average weeknight, and on the weekends, wow! <tango-argentin.fr> lists 0ver 80 milongas every week, a handful of which also have prácticas every day! At least half of these are what we call Matinee Milongas; from 4 or 5 pm to ’round midnite. Parisians don’t tend to milonga past 1, because the Metro quits running at 1:30. And don’t think you can just grab a cab if you’ve missed the Metro; you will definitely turn into a pumpkin or worse; ’cause cabs are scarce, except near luxe hotels. And soooo expensive. But evenings in the City of Lights… just amazing! Especially when atmospheric conditions fuse with technological genius… voila!

The nightly Paris light show is brought to you by an elite team of high tech engineers. Way to go Paris!

Tangueros here use some variation of the cabaceo; however, when it comes to dance floor etiquette… it’s the Tour de France! There seems to be very little interest in maintaining your own little bubble and going round and round in the bigger bubble. All evening long people are passing on both sides, bumping and bulldozing. Ben says it’s amazing they have as few collisions as they do; but then the French have always been good drivers. Unlike San Francisco and Buenos Aires, Paris motorists don’t try to run you down in the street!

Tour de France 2012

A rather swell 4-pc Tango orchestra played for 2 whole hours at la Milonga Imperial. I didn’t catch their name… blame it on my nonexistent French! I don’t savvy word one except merci and vin rouge. It’s a girl group:  3 women (bandoneón, piano, violin) and a token male (contrabajo). They were pretty good! Live music gets a star rating from us! We also like milongas with a good floor and great atmosphere: give those 2 stars. A bar, café or restaurant adds a star; and top-notch DJ’ing gets one too. Maybe we could create our own milonga rating system and sell it to TripAdvisor? Tango Tours R Us? Seriously, though, our friends in several Tango communities are going to be asking… what do Parisians wear to milongas? The answer is: Parisians dress more or less the same as they do in LA, New York, Buenos Aires, or your local dance studio… from boho chic to very elegant. However, no jeans were spotted at Napoleon’s chateau-restaurant.

Porte Saint-Denis

The other night we walked by Porte Saint-Denis on our way to Milonga 323. It’s an historic area full of beautiful old buildings. Porte Saint-Denis, built in 1672, was one of the gates into Paris, like the Arc d’Triomphe across town. It replaced a medieval gate built on the same spot by Carlos V in the 1400s. Milonga 323 has a good floor, but there were only 4 or 5 couples there. The organizer was a petit young woman with a mop of golden-orange frizz; she fussed over us like a hyperactive poodle! She seemed to be trying very hard to attract more people to her milonga. Apparently we missed a big tango event that same evening; thus the poor turnout.

milonga l’Esprit

Milonga L’Esprit has a crazy guy that dances in the center of the dance floor, although you couldn’t really call it dancing: he just bounces back-and-forth from one side to the other, and jerks his don’t-know-any-better partners around. I guess he’s famous cause we were warned about him before we left Buenos Aires! Yep, he exists! Probably wears an invisible shock collar so if he tries to leave the middle… Zap! Ouch!

There are plenty of workshops and classes around, and they cost plenty. We see a lot of PR announcing, for ex: Milena & Miguel, fabulous tango dancers and teachers, etc… but we’ve never heard of them. If you speak Spanish AND French, and dance tango fairly well, you could make a decent living in Paris! (Sorry, no sick days, holidays, vacation time or pension!) We’ve only met up with one Argentine tango teacher, Coco Dias. Reincarnation of Napoleon? Friendly guy, though, invited us to a private party and tango event but we couldn’t make it. Catch you next time, Coco!

Coco’s the Porteño in Paris

There are some darn good DJ’s in Paris. Some are really good (la Balbutiant, Casa de Tango, Milonga Imperial). What I mean by really good, is a milonga that sounds like the milongas of Buenos Aires. Like, the Tango Tunes Top 400. If you occasionally DJ, like I do, you know the drill. First, select your favorite tunes by your favorite orchestras, off the internet or your CD collection or your iTunes; next, you organize them, in tandas and cortinas, to make your playlist. Well, if you make up your playlist with your least favorite tunes by the same great tango orchestras, and put them all together into tandas and cortinas, that’s what I call the music at a not-so-good milonga. Lacking a certain passion, that essential flavor, el sabor del tango. 

Tango Passion

The tango scene is not the only Paris underground: there’s also the Catacombs.

going down?

We toured the catacombs a few days ago: so many bones and skulls piled everywhere, damp stone passages, very poorly lighted… that place gave me the creeps! Ugh! Spooky! You go down down down a spiral cement staircase, 134 steps down to be precise. Not nearly as attractive as these 108 steps in our building. No indeed. They’re dank, smelly, creepy. The bones are mostly laid out in a distinctive pattern, maybe you can guess it from these photos. Are we scared yet?

I’m goin’ in…

death procession

I’ve seen the catacombs under Rome and also under St. Peter’s, so I was somewhat prepared for it, (listen to me lie!) but what surprised me was how small the skulls are. My first thought was, OMG, these are children! But, passing each niche, punctuated by plaques writ or engraved on cold stone, and an occasional puddle underfoot — water dripping thru layers of porous limestone which underlies all of Paris — I finally realized that all the skulls were small, cause people were littler back then! And their average life span was about half of ours today.

Some of the quotations etched in stone are priceless, like the one about how death equalizes kings and beggars alike.

One of the workers at the Catacombs had been a prisoner for many years. During those years he came to be very fond of the view of the city from the prison. He was eventually released from bondage, and found work stacking femurs and tibia underground in the 1770s. In his spare time he chiseled the view of the city he had gazed longingly at for so long. He was killed by a cave-in; his final resting place the Catacombs.

the underground city

do you see what I see?

I was more than happy to climb up the 100 winding stairs and be back in the sunlight! We went to a busy boulangerie-café, had sandwiches and coffee and watched the world go by for an hour or so till we recovered from that subterranean nightmare. Ben kept making silly jokes, talking to the skulls, you know, like, hey, what happened to your brains? geez, you really lost your mind! The guy has a sick sense of humor!

After a couple of hours underground I was so over it. Here’s a cheery hasta la vista, baby!

Be seein’ ya!

Ready to climb the stairway to heaven? Back to the realm of the living?

this train is bound for glory…. praise the Lord!

Now that we’ve had a quick armchair trip to the underworld, how about putting the spaceship in reverse and heading up to the finer celestial elevations? Nothing like a little music to elevate your spirits in this earthly paradise.

Notre Dame

A few nights ago, a packed crowd at Notre Dame time-warped us back to medieval nights, thanks to a wonderful choir of all ages singing Bach’s Magnificat. There was musical accompaniment: several violins, contrabajo, tambourine, organ… really I’m not exactly sure because there was a crowd up there on the temporary stage, in front of the main altar. The conductor, a young black Frenchman, took care of business gracefully, dynamically, and with a reassuring smile. The thousand-year-old cathedral radiated sound like only a thousand-year-old stone and glass cathedral can do.  It felt like we were lifted up into space and touched down on the intergalactial mother ship, i.e., heaven! An unearthly celestial blue glow diffused over us pilgrims gathered to hear the choir sing Bach. Radiant joy pulsed through every single molecule I own. An awesome experience, 5 stars!

choir at Notre Dame

The Magnificat (also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary) is a song of praise set to music. It is one of the most ancient of Christian hymms and perhaps the earliest hymm to Mary. The name Magnificat comes from the first word of the Latin version of the canticle’s text, which comes from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:46-55) Johann Sebastian Bach composed music for a version of the Magnificat in 1723. In 1724 he finished setting the canticle (i.e., the words of the hymm, in German) to music. Pretty awesome stuff! Ben took some nice photos.

stone reaching for the sky

We’re still having that tempestuous spring weather here in Paris. It’s been raining off and on for almost a week, and the forecast calls for more of the same indefinitely… maybe forever. That line about “springtime in Paris” is totally bogus. I recently discovered that Paris is north of Albany, Boston,  even Bismarck, North Dakota for chrissake! Cheyenne, Chicago, Denver, Montpelier, New York, even Seattle! Geez Louise! We had just enough warm days to figure out which milongas had functioning AC, and now we’re back to going out with jackets and umbrellas! Who planned this vacation, anyway?

Open Studios in Paris this weekend!

Have a good weekend, everybody! And remember, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!

Ciao from París!

On Getting Lost and Finding Dalí

In the last week we’ve covered a lot of territory: the Luxembourg Gardens, the Paris catacombs, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur and Espace Dalí. We’ve also found time for milongas, checking out more boulangeries and patisseries, and getting our Paris Metro passes. First rule of thumb for Paris newbies: try to avoid getting lost in the Luxembourg Gardens. I wandered off from Ben one fine day, looking for the w.c., and I couldn’t find my way back!

a beautiful day near the Luxembourg Gardens

This beautiful fountain (Fontaine de l’Observatoire, 1874)  reminds me of the Fontana di Trevi in Rome, which predates the Luxe Garden’s fountain by 112 years. The Romans tended to build fountains where their aqueducts converged. This fountain is a natural spot to meet up with someone, cause it’s so large you can’t miss it. Plus, it’s right at the south entrance to the Gardens.

the horses have fish-tails!

The water spilling over the edge and into the still pool is just lovely. Above them four nymphs are circling, symbolically representing the earthly sphere, with its four directions and four colors of humankind. The figures hold aloft a circular band with the 12 symbols of the Zodiac. Pretty cosmic stuff! You might say it prefigured the hippie era. Farther on is a long strip of green lawn edged with shade trees and dotted with sculptures.

give the guy a drink! he’s thirsty!

The lawns were busy with families, kids playing, couples romancing, and teenage girls in bikinis on beach blankets getting a head start on their summer tans.

The Luxembourg Gardens were built in 1615 by Marie d’Medici, Queen consort of France. She was the second wife of Henry IV. The palace was modeled after the Palazzo Pitti, in Marie’s hometown of Florence, Italy. Following the assassination of her husband in 1610, which occurred the day after her coronation (yikes!) Marie acted as regent for her son, King Louis XIII, until he came of age. She was noted for her involvement in the ceaseless political intrigues at the French court, and also for her extensive artistic patronage. And we thought our era was full of Sara Palins, Andy Warhols and Sarkozys?

Club Luxe Med?

If you walk past the huge reflecting pool, where pint-size sailing ships stage battles, there are acres and acres of trees, planted in straight lines that crisscross like a grid. Beneath the trees are dozens of park benches, also set in rows and interspersed with more sculptures, fountains, a carousel, an apple orchard, a café, pony rides… it’s an enormous invisible labyrinth! Every time you stop and turn around, it looks the same… trees and benches all around you. Are you getting that lost feeling yet? A bit dizzy? Like, too many giros? Not to worry, along came an avenging angel on horseback to save the day!

with his trumpet blazing!

With his cell phone beeping, is more like it. The tall guy was glad to find me, and plenty pissed off about my being lost for two hours! Here I am looking lost (but not really lost) on a rainy day in our neighborhood:

I admit I get lost easily..

especially if I walk into a Macy’s or even Target! Right brainers have more fun but we get into more trouble, too!

stay in your cubicle or get lost in the garden!

Anyhow, he got over it and his reward was a beautiful baguette!

make ’em eat bread!!

After my traumatic day I was in serious need of caffeine and sugar. Luckily, that’s not a problem in Paris.

how about a latte and a little something…

passionately sweet!

the fruit is real!

And if you really want to get lost, how about a delightful cobblestone street to find yourself in?

just follow the path!

So one very pretty day we found ourselves in the Metro, heading up the hill to Montmartre. We got off at Abbesses, and a big elevator took us several flights up to a beautiful plaza. We walked up curvy cobblestone streets, past dozens of adorable cafés,

Chez Marie

tourists by the dozen

more cafés

climbed up hundreds of stairs

you’ve got to be kidding!

are we there yet?

past free art on display

Adam offers God a drag?

finally arriving in the artsy tourist mecca, with its plaza packed full of artists sketching, painting, and displaying their works.

plaza des Artistes

Montmartre is a charming picturesque art enclave. Of course, it was a real artists’ zone back in the late 19th / early 20th century, and later re-engineered as a tourist destination. And there really is a population of artists making a living every day in Montmartre, though the game has changed. A village of artists, by artists, for artists, now that’s a different animal. Unfortunately there are precious few such places left these early 21st century days. Maybe in San Telmo? San Luis Obispo?

a busy painter

The Plaza des Artistes is just a stone’s throw away from the huge white monolith of Sacre Coeur, built into the top of the hill.

Sacre Coeur Cathedral

Dazzling!

returning home from the Crusades?

We blinked as we caught sight of Paris spread out before us in the distance, huge and glittering like a medieval dragon about to take flight.

After somewhat restoring our much abused strength with some crunchy sweet pralines purchased from a street hawker, we walked up a few more flights of stairs into the cathedral. Mass had just begun, and we weren’t sure if we should take seats and pray or just follow the tide of tourists coming in one set of doors, circling and gawking (no photos please!) before exiting out another set of doors. But then we saw a regiment of nuns who began to march up the aisle singing, followed by six priests walking their timeless procession. The singing was beautiful, as singing by women who have the time to practice and rehearse should be, so we found seats, stood up, and sang along with everyone else. It was quite stirring and wonderful.

After partaking of free blessings on the house, we made our way back to the main plaza in search of the Musée Dalí. Properly known as Espace Dalí. We found the petit musée and spent a couple of hours looking at some of Dalí’s best drawings, paintings and sculptures (bronzes). We took time to read all the commentaries (in French and English, side by side, how thoughtful!) and we both enjoyed learning the background and thought processes of the artist on each piece. I didn’t know that he illustrated several books, including an edition of Alice in Wonderland and the Romance of Tristan and Isolde.

Alice in Wonderland

Dalí also did some work for Walt Disney and created the dream sequences for the Hitchcock movie Spellbound. I’m a fan of Hitchcock too, so it was interesting to learn of the Dalí connection.

Salvador Dalí 1939

I already knew something of Dalí’s friendship with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (check out Los Olvidados, his classic 1950 documentary on street kids in Mexico City), along with Man Ray, Garcia Lorca, Picasso, Modigliani and the other artists and assorted groupies who lived in Montmartre in the early 1900s.

Dalí & Man Ray, 1934

It was noted that the long twirling moustache Dalí developed (after the above snapshot) resembled that of 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Perhaps Dalí appropriated those curls to call forth Velázquez’ ancestral artistic spirit as a kind of inspirational muse? Or maybe they were proto-rhinoceros horns? Dalí called his method of creative design a “paranoic-critical method” of “accessing the subconscious” for creative inspiration.

Velázquez self-portrait

Is that the Jungian collective unconscious or the artist’s personal subconscious? According to exhibit notes, Dalí’s iconic “melting watches” are “a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid and deterministic.”

We think Dalí was influenced by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which was published in 1916 (remember MC2?) and won Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921. Einstein postulated that time is relative and not fixed. Their paths may have crossed. Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933, due to the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany. Dalí had his first New York gallery opening in 1934, entitled Persistance of Memory. Let’s just say it’s possible that Einstein was aware of the Surrealist Movement, and Dalí had most certainly heard of Einstein.

father of modern physics

self-portrait with butterflies

Dalí is so much fun! He is portrayed as being wildly egocentric, but I don’t really get that from his work. Sensitive, yes… creative — wow! off the charts!! but also loving… of nature, of women, of literature, of classical painting, of humankind’s creativity and contradictions.

I see… a rhinoceros!

I was delighted and astonished by actor Adrien Brody’s portrayal of Dalí in Midnight in Paris. He really brought Dalí to life for me! Apparently he saw a kind of cosmic geometry unfolding in the horns of a rhinoceros; as others see geometric designs in crystals, snowflakes, drops of water, honeycombs… you name it. And I don’t doubt that the universe truly has been formed in a perfect, geometric, yin/yang sort of unfolding. If the fundamental nature of matter in our universe can be traced to a handful of subatomic elements, then even the molecules of your mind spring forth from the patterns instilled in us from the beginning of time. As authors of our own stories, we play a director’s role, enabling us to pursue the perfection of our selves in a search for meaning that evolves in the context of natural harmony. I admit I’ve always been a fan of surrealist art–some of it LSD induced. “I don’t do drugs… I am drugs!” proclaims a t-shirt at the Espace Dalí gift shop.

I am Dalí!

I could go on and on about Dalí, but our 20th century genius is not in need of PR. The Art here in Paris is absolutely dazzling, to say the least. There is an amazing Degas exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay right now:

a woman bathing

First Sunday of the month is free admission day at about 150 Paris museums, so that will only take us, let’s see, 12 first Sundays a year…. 2 museums in a day…. no way, that’s too tiring…. 1 museum per month… looks like we’ll have to stay here another 12 and a half years to see it all! The pressure is on!

Dalí’s St. George and the Dragon

Looks like I don’t have enough space in this post to cover the catacombs (spooky!) Paris milongas, Paris tango fashions, Paris tango etiquette, Paris DJs and Paris milonga music! Stay tuned for all that and more. And what about about springtime in Paris? She’s a fickle one, to be sure. Sunny and up into the 80s one day, absolutely gorgeous; chilly, windy and rainy the next; then hot and humid with thunderstorms! Isn’t that just like a woman?

Au revoir from Paris!

Paris II

Can you guess where old Napoleon Bonaparte is buried? Who else gets a red porphry sarcophogas and and a golden dome?

dome me baby

If you get up high enough up, you can see the dome halfway across the city;  it glitters in the sun.

RIP Napoleon

What a city! So huge and attractive and full of monuments, sculptures, beautiful old buildings, plazas, fountains …. remains of old roman walls, roads, columns. Just a big WOW!! What else can I say? The resemblance to Buenos Aires is striking. Only Buenos Aires is the younger sister who isn’t quite as good a housekeeper as her big sister. Urban transportation is excellent, by the way. The Metro is clean and crisscrosses the city both above and below ground. It runs from 5:30 am to 1:30 am for night owls like tango dancers, and to 2:30 am on Friday and Saturday nights!

This is the Hotel les Inválides. It’s not really a hotel, but part of a huge complex where soldiers were trained, including stables for the calvalry. The term “hotel” refers to its  past function as a VA hospital.

Everyone needs a nice deep wide moat to keep goths and barbarians out!

and plenty of cannons doesn’t hurt

Ben surveys the moat on a warm day:

a nice resting spot after the forced march

Speaking of perimeter defenses, we walked around the bottom of the old moat that surrounded the castle that was knocked down when they built the Louvre. The Louvre began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under the reign of Phillip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum.

the deep of the keep

Speaking of the Louvre, here’s the front door:

wash me!

Napoleon also built a stunning opera house:

La Maison du Musique

with figures in green and gold all over the roof!

Wouldn’t you love to have a spacious, high-ceilinged apartment in a building like this? It overlooks a little park near les Inválides.

pricey apartments

A typical downtown street, busy, but not too much traffic:

green cross

The neon green cross denotes a pharmacy. We had our daily coffee break at the café on the right. Here’s the famous department store, Printemps. Not much to look at on the outside, kind of a postmodern pastiche, but on the inside…. super expensive designer clothes, shoes, everything….  an entire floor devoted to lingerie! The Printemps lingerie department makes Victoria’s Secret look like a Girl Scout pop-up store. So many different labels, each with its own floor space, displays, attendants. I have to confess, I bought a few pairs of stockings that were very expensive. I have never spent so much on stockings. Am I a bad girl? I hope so!

don’t even go near this place!

I also wanted a new lipstick, but not bad enough to pay 40 bucks for it! Even Ben’s mom Bess has been to Printemps, many years ago. And my mom says she still wears a blouse she bought there way back when. She and my dad heard Edith Piaf sing one night in a little club, after the war.

You can find any kind of hat in Paris, or have one made to order:

Paris hat shop

Parisian women here seem to like red shoes:

somehow it all comes together… kinda

I don’t think the heels go with the backpack…

but they do match the purse! When we walk around we sometimes stroll up stairways that lead to streets above, or below. Streets that have stairs can have street name signs just like other streets. This was not a hard climb for us; we do 6 flights up several times a day!

this one leads to Rue des Artistes

We stumbled on this street which appears to have been built, or rebuilt, in the early 1920s. So quiet, pretty, cobblestones, flowers; even room to park your smartcar!

how sweet is that!

It feels like time stands still in this quiet lane.

A unique style: Retro Deco?

If I lived in Paris I might consider a smartcar, just for its parkability, but that wouldn’t be very green-minded of me, would it? Sustainable urban ecology is the only way to go! But if I had big bucks, I could buy this Cooper Copy Cat…. sorry I didn’t catch the make! Can somebody out there tell me?

looks a lot like a Mini

Parisians are quite friendly. Even with the language barrier. French drivers do NOT try to run you over in the street, like in Buenos Aires. They actually slow down and stop! What a concept! Not everybody speaks English either, contrary to what I’d heard before. Maybe in Germany or Scandinavia, but not in France (or Argentina). I just use my Spanish or Italian, that works pretty well, plus I’m picking up a few words in French here and there. Ben says I can make friends in any language!

I have to show off our Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood. We love the open air market.

the deli

the fish place

fresh shrimp by the bucket!

I’ve never seen so many kinds of olives in one place!

got cheese?

don’t forget the blue cheese — goes great on figs!

a little dried fruit

And if you cook a lot, like we do, you’ll need some really good knives:

yeah, I know I’ve got a sick sense of humor!

he thinks it’s funny!

how about some flowers?

so pretty! 6 euros a bunch: about $7.50

The flower guy saw me taking pictures of the olive guy, so he had to have his picture taken too!

Gallic machismo!

And how about some absolutely irresistible pastries?

Yum!

I took that picture at a very chic bakery downtown. Here’s a pretty nice café on our block…. but we mostly cook at home. Paris is so expensive!!

Ben at the café on our corner of Rue de Tolbiac

Next blog up: Paris milongas and other night life!

Ciao from Paris!

Paris! week 1

Here we are in gay Paree! Until yesterday I was still trying to finish my last blog from Buenos Aires, and feeling rather behind in keeping up with my own life. That sounds strange, no? Am I both the actor and spectator of my own life? Aren’t we all?

Beautiful Paris, you’re as grand as they say! After a frenetic front seat Grand Prix ride on the traffic-jammed boulevards of Paris, and thrilled to have finally made it to the City of Lights, we find our apartment on Rue de Tolbiac, 13th Arondissement. It’s a comfortably wabisabi turn-of-the-century building located in a charming neighborhood called Butte des Cailles (Quail Hill). There are 2 sets of winding wood stairs separated by a small bare courtyard: we climb six flights up with luggage. The steps are old and worn but not worn out. Just polished by time. Judging by the effort going up, I’m guessing we won’t need a gym! The Stairmeister!  But lovely views from our windows. Church towers, rooftops, courtyards.  Nothing homely in sight. We’re in Paris!

towers of St. Anne’s from kitchen

Our apartment is small but plenty of room for 2 traveling tangueros. We have a cozy living room with green tiled fireplace, wainscoting, plank floors, “french” doors opening onto a small terrace  that looks down to a cobblestone street. So quiet compared to our neighborhood in Buenos Aires!

home sweet home

The bedroom has the same view, looking out at rooftops, a pretty marble fireplace, a comfy queen bed with a big pouffy duvet and pillows in blue & white, and a small desk and chair.

charmant

The only closet is in the hall. We call it the Barbie bathroom. Like everything made by Mattel, it’s ridicuously cute and always on the brink of coming apart.

teeny tiny

Our kitchen is a pastiche of eras and trends, but has roomy chopping-block counters, and a decent 4-burner stove with an oven which unfortunately burns your toast before you can blink. There’s even a washing machine! The kind with the hobbit door that can whoosh a small flood into your kitchen if opened in an untimely manner — speaking from previous experience, naturally.

our petit kitchen

The day we arrived we scouted the neighborhood, walked up to the Place d’Italie, and spent a pleasant hour at O’Jule’s, a popular outdoor café across from the plaza, a relaxing and comfortable spot of green in the midst of the 13th.  St. Anne’s chimes the hours and half hours: We’re not in Kansas anymore!

la Place d’Italie

I love the sound effects of Paris: the rumbling Metro, traffic, church bells tolling the hours, people speaking French, police car sirens; I feel like I was slipped into a Pink Panther movie! Ben likes to venture out before I even wake up, and he usually comes back with croissants or breakfast pastries. He does this to give me a reason to get out of bed before noon. Believe me, he had me figured out in a split second! He is taking photos of bakeries, lots of photos. He says if you want to call your bakery a boulangerie you have to bake on the premises. It’s the law!

sweet pastries on every corner and then some

Yes, that’s all sugar, in its myriad forms. Another fan of french cuisine is this guy, France’s new Socialist president, Francois Hollande:

Power to the people

No doubt he runs on sugar and caffeine too. I have no idea what his campaign promises were, but like every other politician, he’s given to mouthing sweet nothings. Let’s hope he can keep France out of the euro crisis and his hands off random women.

Sarkozy’s booty

Hollande appears to be less of an egomaniac and philanderer than his predecessor, Sarkozy, who ruled France in the timeless tradition of that other famous French blueblooded egomaniac, Napoleon. These days I could care less what labels politicians use: they’re all dancing around the same glittering fountain of gold, projecting pretty false promises of unreach- able achievements onto whatever size screen you are tethered to. Hollande will have at least four years to make his claim to fame. Napoleon did it in 10.

I am da MAN!

Old Napoleon must be rolling with laughter about how much trouble these 21st century politicians can get into. Back in his day, the French “badboy” could do just about anything he pleased, from expanding his empire and war chest through aggression, trade, and diplomacy (like royal marriages, insults, alliances, trade embargoes, you get the idea…) to giving license to his capos to abscond with valuables and antiquities from all over Europe. But, hey, the French love him!! I trust Texan Molly Ivins on the subject: “Never trust a man who doesn’t like whisky and women.” Way to go, girl!

To get a better picture of the royal lifestyle, we toured Napoleon’s apartments in the Louvre. Gold leaf, precious gems, mirrors, sculptures, carpets, tapestries, silver, china, swords, treasure chests… you name it! Everything for the royal family.

just a wing of the Royal Palace

All hail the Conquering Emperor!

how about a little Napoleonic bling?

menage a trois, anybody?

He and Josephine liked to throw lavish parties:

Honey, can you set the table?

As soon as I’m done fixing my hair…!

After only two days of marriage, Napoleon left to conquer Italy. Way to go, Emperor! Josephine, already mother of two by a previous marriage (her first husband was assassinated), assuaged her loneliness with a lover. When Napoleon found out, he was furious but, being a player himself, he somehow found his way back to France and his young bride.

Napoleon and Josephine at a party

Could they be a previous incarnation of Sonny & Cher? Amazing! But their union bore no children, so Napoleon, heeding the biological imperative of reproducing one’s DNA, eventually divorced her and remarried. Apparently they remained friends, so I guess Napoleon has the high moral ground over Sarkozy, IMF exec Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the U.S. Secret Service.

You’re toast, boy!

The Louvre: what a place!  Echoing halls, all glitz and glam, cool polished marble, the musty breath of ancient art and treasures of every description. Paris writer David Downie says that previous French president Francois Mitterand’s biggest and most successful endeavor was the makeover of the Louvre, transforming it from a dusty, dreary place into a modern labyrinth of Art, complete with a 72 foot pyramid of glass and criscrossed steel that rises above the central plaza, leading down into a giant arcade with theater, shopping concourse, Metro stop and parking lot. I like the way he describes in a nutshell the 9 million tourists who visit the Louvre every year: “Here were smiling hordes stuffed with exotic delicacies from the merry-go-round of Louvre restaurants, casting beatific glances at skillfully lit artworks before loading up on reproductions, CDs, designer sportswear, computers, and gadgets.”* Ka-ching, ka-ching!

Walking around the galleries, the quiet, awestruck murmurs of your fellow museum-goers and art lovers becomes a soothing white noise to foreground your art experience. It really is breathtaking, though, all jokes aside. In just our first week here we’ve been to the Musée d’Orsay as well, and we’ve seen the most awesome art: Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Degas’ The Dance Class, Cezannes, Renoirs, Monets, daVincis, Goyas, Leonardos; all of it spectacular! (*Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light, 2005)

sweet girl

Paris really does make all other cities pale by comparison. Ben got us both Friends of the Louvre photo-ID passes, good for a year including all special exhibitions. Our first day at the Louvre, new passes in hand, we celebrated with lunch at Angelina’s, a lovely café a few flights up in the Richelieu building.

I had to tweak it cause the background so bright

Standing guard outside the windows are a long lineup of gentlemen in stone:

Dante?

a bookish kinda guy? a writer?

Another day we followed the crowd to La Giocanda (AKA the Mona Lisa). Finally seeing her was rather anticlimactic, after all the other exquisite portraits on the same level — early Italian painting from the 13th to 19th century. Of course she does represent a major breakthrough from the medieval two dimensional portrait (of mostly saints, Christ and the virgen) to what we call modern: a face whose eyes look right into yours, a face with psychological depth that engages you immediately and gives you cause to reflect on all its complexities and layers of meaning. For me, there are many other portraits just as striking, without the lines and layers of bulletproof glass.

a Leonardo? I’ll go back and check…

Ben likes it all, but prefers sculpture to portraits. He thinks this carved marble throne is fit for a king! (cushion sold separately)

throne programmed to repel bad vibes

with matching queen’s throne!

this throne more user-friendly

Outside in the huge plaza a bronze maiden is always ready to provide a fetching backdrop to the tourist portrait:

are they talking about me again?

My favorite Parisien horse stands guard over the Musée D’Orsay:

(back to you, Autumn!)

While a black-spotted golden leopard stalks its marbled cage:

cousin of Romulus & Remus?

Today we were going to walk to the Luxembourg Gardens, but it’s raining and blustery! Darn this Paris spring weather! But tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm. Paris is a truly walkable city. Every block has interesting shops, and the bars and cafés are most excellent! My favorite outing is to take the Metro to a point somewhere on the Left Bank, get off, and wander your way back. SO much to see! Even though we will be here 2 months, the pressure is on to visit a museum or tourist destination every day… and even then we know we’ll never see it all.

That’s All, Folks!

Over and out for now. Stay tuned for a piece on our neighborhood, Paris bakeries, and a guide to Paris milongas by a pair of opinionated norteamericanos!

Ciao from Paris!

Last Days in Buenos Aires… sob!

Fall in Buenos Aires arrived with a vengeance! Before that we had lovely days, and delightfully warm nights. You’d leave a milonga at 3 am, and didn’t need a jacket or sweater. Then, all of a sudden, the temperature dropped into the 60s, dipping into the 40s at night, and that cold wind!!

San Telmo, photo by BuenosAires4U.com

Trees along the streets are turning yellow; leaves are falling, their colors blending with the assorted trash and grunge of the streets.  I took one last shot of the Palacio de los Patos, the view from our apartment.

a parting shot…snif!

People walk by bundled up, with the omnipresent neck scarf and winter coat or jacket. Women have traded in their summer flats and sandals for ankle boots, riding boots, sexy lace-up booties, not to mention faux fur animal print boots! Cold weather seems to bring out the female feline.

on the prowl…

Alas, it’s time to leave our favorite city, time to head north to check in with family and friends. I’m fixin’ to hold my precious first grandbaby! Tagging along with the anticipation and delight of a wee bundle of joy, we tango every night till 3 or 4. What’s to stop us? I almost missed my 11:30 yoga class… so hard to get up in the mornings. I feel like a spoiled girl!  Hmm… I guess I am a spoiled girl! Speaking of children, here’s my sweet baby Teo. See that reddish hair! Yes, there is some Irish blood in the family. Just have a look at our wee leprechaun!

my son Ode & baby Teo

I made a list of my New Year’s resolutions; I know I’m getting them in late; is that like bouncing a check? Or forgetting to file? Seriously, though, the New Year has brought us feelings of accomplishment, that is to say, progress in tango. Ben says he’s keeping his resolutions to himself… (should I be worried?) but I don’t mind sharing what I’m working on. After all, who doesn’t go through the same stages, more or less: the same fumbling bumbling beginner’s hell? (for a silly primer on the plight of the beginning dancer, go to <centralcoasttango.org> and click on Tango Hell.) Here’s a preview of my resolutions:

Posture, balance, embrace, walking… and you thought walking was just putting one foor in front of the other? Think again! My goal right now… ONE of my goals… is to keep it simple, focus on my foot to floor connection, and dance with my partner, not with myself!!  Sublimate your expression, dance HIS interpretation of the music… and when he pauses to let you play, you can renegotiate the contract for a few moments. This brings the yin and yang energies into balance… ¿qué sí? qué no? 

Along with my resolutions, here’s some photos of the last days. We accidentally met some traveling dogsledding skiing tangoing Alaskans!

new friends Jane & Peter in San Telmo

That same day in San Telmo Ben captured this shot of our friend El Indio dancing at his Sunday milonga in Plaza Dorrego:

El Indio & friend

And we also chanced to see Orquesta Típica el Afronte, playing on the sidewalk near the Plaza Dorrego Sunday Fair. These guys rock the house on Wednesday nights at Maldita Milonga, 571 Perú, in San Telmo. We’ve seen them many times and they are fab!

Orquesta Típica El Afronte

We had a relaxing day in San Telmo, spending time with good friends and gorgeous Buenos Aires fall weather.

Ben & me

If you’re young, dance tango, plan to visit Buenos Aires, and like to mix it up with all colors and flavors of other young travelers, then we may have found the best cheap hotel for you:

Hostel San Telmo

Our last days in Buenos Aires we tango’d all over town with our best friends. We had our best-ever privates with our dear friend Marcela Hourquebie. Marcela took us light-years beyond the usual private classes, losing ourselves and then finding ourselves again, transforming our way of being, of dancing, of thinking, of processing, of leading and following. I even learned to be on my own axis 100% of the time (unless he takes me off my axis, of course). Yes, I know I’m the poster child; finally, after almost 10 years of dancing tango, I manage to stay on my axis? About time, girl!

best friends!

Towards the end of our stay we experienced the deepest work. Our brains were de-fragged, our internal processors upgraded, and of course it all carries over into your relationship. When your dance partner is your life partner, you reach some deep practice. Your relationship is stripped to the core and then rebuilt, remodeled, like having your piano brought up to A440, or trying out a new bit on your horse, your hands softer now and your horse more responsive. Always working towards a deeper harmony. Your embrace is fine-tuned, adjusted. It’s fluid, mobile, re-negotiated daily. Taking a step will never again be just another step! If you were the house-mouse living on a touchscreen floor, what would the trail of your steps look like… points of pressure with only faint traces in between? Even better, visualize a blazing light-trail, revealing a minimum of pressure changes as the free foot moves across the floor? This is really too complex for me to explain! Pooh Bear may need to call on Christopher Robin to assist. Have patience with me, cause trying to explain helps me integrate the new structures into every cell, every molecule. Change means work!

Everything you thought you learned in those first few years of tango classes, workshops, milongas – all the money you spent on lessons, shoes, clothes – you find yourself rediscovering the basics, because you’re standing in a new place now, and everything looks different, feels different. You go back to the basics to relearn it all again. You refine your walk, your posture, your attitude. I still love voleos, sacadas, ganchos… but my focus has moved towards elegance, simplicity, refinement. I’ve quit trying to embellish every other step. I’m making more of an effort to really listen to my partner, to be really connected to him. It’s not easy! But I’m also letting go of judgement. There is no such thing as good tango or bad tango; Tango just IS.  

at La Coqueta de Recoleta

More pearls of wisdom from Marcela: Quit chasing the music; let the music come to you, let it come from within, let it fill you, enter you wholly and completely. (No corres detrás de la música; deja que la música te llega a ti, que entra en ti.) This is such an important piece of the puzzle! From the male point of view it has often been said, and nicely I think, “for the man, there is only the music, and the woman.”  Female point of view, anybody? For the woman, there is only the music, and the man. Absolutely fundamental, absolutely imprescindible!

be connected in blue

And who could live the true milonguero lifestyle without great friends to drag you all over town to all the best places to eat, drink, and dance?

best friends!

In yet another angle on the HOW TO WALK WITH YOUR FEET ON THE FLOOR theme, let’s focus on the arrastre, which in English means drag and can refer to steps or to the sound of the bandoneon: you slightly drag your toes on the floor… tracing invisible lines, invisible pictures, invisible perfume crossing and recrossing the dance floor, resisting, then giving into the floor, giving in to the music. Your feet should never stop, but move fluidly with equal pressure in mid-step. Your change of weight should be almost imperceptible. Let your feet talk to the floor, caress the floor…. my goal?…  to dance like her!

Gracias, Marcela!

Taking Mario Orlando‘s DJ class hasn’t hurt my appreciation for tango, either. Au contraire, mon cher! I think I can honestly say that I carry around in my head the BUENOS AIRES TANGO TOP 400  24/7!! My personal background muzak.

gracias, Mario!

And who wouldn’t gain an infinite amount of floorcraft (and I don’t mean steerage!) after months of classes with Raúl Bravo? Gracias, Raúl!!  I hope you’re enjoying your visit to Russia!

Gracias, Maestro!

Can you believe he’s in his 80s? He dances with the skill and energy of a 30 year old, and that’s NOT an exaggeration! Raúl teaches the fancy stuff, the moves, the choreographies, along with the technique that you need to stay on top of your game. Last July, his classes were so advanced, we honestly couldn’t believe he let us stay in the class! Almost everybody there was already a really good dancer or a pro; others dropped in for a refresher from the maestro de maestros, in preparation for the Tango World Cup (alias el Mundial). By the time we left, we were finally feeling worthy enough to take his class — how can I say it differently? Finally worthy… that’s BIG!

Okay, one more Thank you!!! to our Maestro of Milonga (and Milonguero style, and Vals) JORGE FIRPO!

Papito rocks!!

Jorge Firpo and his beautiful sweet wife and tango partner Diana Mestre, have been SO good to us, so patient, so comprensivos, so positive and upbeat 100% of the time!!  How do they do it? Who the heck knows? They’ve got a good thing goin’!  And as dancers they are soooooo fabulous!! He runs his classes like a drill sergeant with a smile, and she quietly and patiently passes on imprescindible tango technique, embellishments and other secrets to us ladies. They have a huge and loyal following, even on other planets! (cause their star shines that bright!!) not to mention their very own Fan Club, Los Fans de Papito! Ben made Jorge a Deputy Sheriff and even gave him his own badge!

I almost forgot to mention the night Guillermo & Dolores took us to Las Cañitas, a part of Palermo that has a few very cool blocks of pubs and restaurants. The night we went I was cameraless, so I swiped these cool pix off the web:

La Lupita, shrine to Tequila & la Virgencita

’round midnight the best time to go

the bar at La Lupita

she reigns over the bar and all of Mexico too

Get the feeling I like the place?

So the day finally arrived, we had to leave our beloved Buenos Aires. I mean, just for a moment, let  yourself feel the angst, the pathos (what is pathos, anyway?). Ben kept reminding me I didn’t need to cry all the way to the airport, as I’ve done the other times. No, I had to be a big girl and stay focused on the future: see my kids, my grandbaby, visit friends and family, then on to Paris.

New Years Resolution No. 1: Let yourself go, be who you are, give your infinite Self up to the moment. Let your interpretation of the music, your passion for the music, flow thru you. Relax, ground, dance WHO you are! Feel more colors, more sensation, more attitude…. accept nothing less than total transformation! 

New Years Resolution No. 2: Feel the lead! Listen to his body, listen to your body…  Don’t just step… flow! let your feet have a conversation with the floor.

New Years Resolution No. 3: Connectivity! Connect with yourself first. Feel that invisible string pulling you skyward, and then feel the roots that connect your feet to the floor. Through them you ground into the earth. When you feel connected internally and externally, your mind able to focus and not running off in a million different directions, connect to your partner. You should feel the exact moment when you complete the embrace, that live circuit engaged. When the circuit is complete your electro-magnetic field becomes supercharged. Then you connect to the floor, to the room, to the circle of dancers, to the music, the musicians, the DJ. I learned in high school physics that the electrical connection can only flow when all the wires are connected and you are grounded thru the floor. Trying to anticipate the lead breaks the circuit. Crossing your fingers behind your back is cheating!

Flying out of Ezeiza, we had quite a rockin’ and rollin’ ride over the Andes – brown with white patches of snow – and we bounced over more potholes in the sky flying from Lima to San Salvador. I sang quietly to myself calling on the wakinyan, the Thunder Spirits, to bring this frolicking pony back to the barn safe and sound! I sang to the wanbli, the eagles, to fly with us and bring us safe and sound to our journey’s end. My flight mantra: “May the wind under your wings guide you where the moon walks and the sun sails…” (from The Hobbit)

The wanbli brought us back to San Francisco safe and sound. We spent a delightful few days visiting family and the new baby! He’s so adorable! Here I am with Teo and my comadre, Teo’s maternal grandmother.

el nene y las comadres!

We made a quick trip to Portland to look at artisan bakeries (part of the groundwork for Ben’s projected café-bakery-dance hall), visit old friends, and tango. We stopped in San Luis Obispo for a few days to reconnect with close friends: tango base camp. They put on a big throw-down for us! There was great dancing, and the music, food & drink, starry skies & view of the ocean from Val & Mary’s stunning hillside retreat was absolutely awesome!! Many thanks to all!! California milongueros really know how to party!!

Milonga chez Val & Mary

We celebrated Mary’s birthday, and had a sorteo just like the milongas in Buenos Aires, complete with prizes: CDs and other fun items.

Vive la France!

the lucky number is…

and the winner is…

Willow’s Short Version New Year Resolutions 2012:

There is no such thing as good tango or bad tango. TANGO just IS.

Don’t run after the music….  let the music run thru YOU.

RELAX 

CONNECT

GROUND

DANCE WHO YOU ARE!

FOLLOW HIM, BUT DON’T CODDLE HIM

STAND  UP  TALL  ON YOUR AXIS

BREATHE

Your GIRO is your signature….  make it your OWN

Don’t just step….  FLOW

FEEL THE LEAD

COLLECT

YOU are a DIAMOND

YOU are an ANGEL, an EAGLE…. DANCE with your WINGS!

Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Next stop: PARIS!

Living in Tango Paradise

Who is this guy?

I predict that Leonel Messi will be the first official consecrated and sanctified SAINT OF SOCCER!!  I don’t mean a hundred years from now, I mean, LIKE SOON! Within his and our lifetimes! Because he has a gift straight from that upstairs-place, you know, HEAVEN!!  You heard it here first! 

If you’re addicted to Tango, you’re probably interested in all things Argentine, and no doubt you already know about Leonel Messi, Argentine soccer star. Messi, currently playing for Barcelona, is golden. This kid has already made more goals than just about every soccer player in the history of the sport and, at 24, is likely to top that list before 30. Messi is not just a great player, he’s magical. He moves the ball effortlessly around, under, over and through the other team’s defenders, like Clint Eastwood shooting down 5 outlaws before they even have a chance to draw. He’s famously unpretentious, not a showoff, not a bully, just a super nice guy. Once he has the ball and is closing in on the goal, he’s not a one-man show.  He always kicks the ball to his teammates, setting them up for their own goals, but ready to take over and slide one in, and those poor goalies, they just can’t read him, and are always caught off guard. Some people have a sixth sense, others are just barely managing five, but Messi has a soccer sense! We love watching him play with his favorite toy, a soccer ball.

Uh-oh!  It’s back to that old story for a moment, yes, the ashes from volcano Puyehue, just across the border in Chile. Before we left Patagonia we took a day to drive the 7 Lakes Circuit, starting in Bariloche heading northwest. And we did drive part of it, but due to the volume of ash in the air, not to mention the bumpy dusty gravel roads, we only drove through Villa Traful, so shrouded in ash you could barely see the lake, and on to Villa Angosturas, the epicenter of volcanic fallout. Villa Angosturas is still struggling to clean up. They hauled away several feet of ash, but it’s hard to finish the job when the volcano burps and spits out another ash plume every few weeks. Tourists, the area’s main cash crop, are still visiting the lakes but their numbers are way down from previous years. In the above photo you can see for yourself. Ashy landscape en route to Villa Traful: visibility almost nil!

Hotel Llao Llao with volcanic plume

In this photo Hotel Llao Llao is to the far left on a hill. Looking across Lake Nahuel Huapi you can see a giant plume of ash. It looks like fog, but it’s not! We watched this particular plume move in our direction for about 24 hours before it enveloped us. The following day it moved on, the sky cleared, and just a trace of ash remained.

Patagonian ducks at Lago Moreno

Wild ducks were still playing house on the lakeshore, and we  took a nice walk through the Arrayanes forest to the lake pictured above. The sky was clear!

Ben in the Bosque Arrayanes

The tall guy was playing around with growing a beard, and he tried several versions which were unusual, distinctive, and even playful. Wondering how he looks now?

happy and beardless: it was collecting too much ash!

Finally back to the mecca of Tango,  we went dancing at Sunderland with good friends from San Luis Obispo!

me, Ben, Val & Mary

Do we miss our friends from the Central Coast? YES! Did we miss Buenos Aires when we were in the mountains? Yes, but we liked the quiet. Did we miss our apartment? No, not really. Did we miss a lot of tango classes? Yes. Did we miss dancing? YES!!! It’s tough to be a tango addict out in nature. Did we miss the lovely summer weather in Buenos Aires? Definitely! 80°F and humid, with frequent thunderstorms, is close to perfection. 85 – 105°F and dry with no rain for months (back home) is also very nice, but not as thirst-quenching. 65°F and windy (Bariloche) I can do without! But the cabin we stayed in was super nice: Balcón al Lago, Llao Llao.

Back in the city we have some great friends, and boy do they put on some great parties!

Dolores & Guilermo singing on a wabi-sabi guitar!

the girls are ready to go dancing!

Back in Tango paradise, we plugged into the city scene like a set of jumper cables suckin’ down juice from the Infinite Source of all Power: Tango. If you’re tired, stressed, lonely, got a headache, restless legs, whatever your issue, chances are Tango will set you straight. You know how sometimes you need to be around a crowd, even if you don’t know anybody, just to feel human again? Well I feel that way too! I prefer dancing at milongas that are not well lit. I don’t like to feel watched. There are some milongas in Buenos Aires where people dance to be seen: Salon Canning, Niño Bien, Confitería Ideal, Sunderland, Porteño y Bailarín. But I prefer the ones where you can be anonymous, like la Viruta, Sueño Porteño, Maldita Milonga, Café Vinilo, Círculo Trovador, Sin Rumbo, La Baldosa, El Tacuarí, Lo de Celia.  To name just a few. I prefer to dance with my partner, connect to my partner, connect to the music, the musicians, the floor, the community of dancers going ’round and ’round.  Then you can experience the bliss of joining the harmonious whole, the fantastic exotic universe that is Tango. You are just another pair of bodies moving around the dance floor, moving to the same beat and compás, that syncopated beat, the heart of Tango. It’s a healing, harmonious space where the music and your partner hold you close. You close your eyes and just dance.

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Ciao from Buenos Aires!