September 5, 2016
As you can probably tell, I am not posting on my blog in real time these days. My trips, as a result of a number of reasons, have really evolved into being more a personal pilgrimage – a journey within myself to identify further my person…and to use these experiences to further evolve myself, with intention…. some may call it utilizing self-creation as a tool. In truth, as I take my time…I rather enjoy it. It allows me to re-live the joy of the experience over again long after I am gone. So even as I write this, I experience the feeling of wonder and peace as if I am there with my new friends right now!!
As I have mentioned, while I am chronicling my journey…this isn’t a Tango blog. I am nowhere near developed enough to create that…nor is that my interest of intention. There are plenty of those out on the web both horrible and disrespectful to women and men and reflect a complete ignorance of the deeper aspects of what Tango is and what is means!! Oh, we can take classes…learn the steps…that isn’t it!!
At the end of my last post I said, “Tango isn’t just a dance”…it isn’t just a bunch of steps…it isn’t just a walk, a giro (turn), an ocho, a gaucho, a hook, a sacada…or whatever…it definitely isn’t simply the ego…when Alejandro introduced me…they treated me like family…so, Tango is much more than a dance…I met people who go to Milongas simply to listen to music and see and talk to their friends…to be a part of their community…even when they talk about each other or fuss about each other…they show that they are family…oh, one of the most beautiful expressions…not styles…but expressions of humanity I have seen…
And so, each time I have gone to Buenos Aires…. We sit and eat…and that…means an abundance of things…similar to the Tango community that April Parker and Angel Montero (yes, have to give a shout out to my peeps🙂 create around themselves in Atlanta…after class we head to Felinni’s…love the class and dance…but the social part…they don’t forget…which makes you want to be a part of what is taking place…and, another point…Felinni’s Pizza is SICK…whew…SO GOOD….
So again, just prior to the end of my trip…Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas invited a mix of friends over for dinner…and, I will say…so that I could have more friends also…and I could join the pack🙂 and now I am fully vested…
A mix of people from around the world….left to right, Rachel, Patrick, Alejandro (that man can cook), Erzsebet, Leroy, Yumiko, and Jane…talk about a wonderful time and conversation…actually, quite hilarious…Leroy is pure energy and fun…who would of known I would meet a retired fire-fighter from Chicago at the Tango House of Alejandro Gee in Buenos Aires…not to mention the unique stories of everyone else around the table..stories of Great Britain, California, Buenos Aires, Eastern Europe, Tango Champions….and much much more…and, I’ll leave the adult conversation within the context of what is talked about in House Tango…stays in House Tango🙂
You can see the pictures…but, can you feel them. Ahh…a Tango question…you can see it, hear it…you know where you are…but, can you feel it in your core…we are having such a good time….
No steps, no patterns, no posturing…but, you are looking at Tango…as I walk my pilgrimage finding my way…thank you to all my new friends for touching my life and helping me to see what I have on the inside…helping me to be my own Alchemist…and Yes, Erzsebet…my chakras are improving….
Hasta Pronto…Mi Amigos…
September 5, 2016
Although my primary emphasis is to expand the depth of my pilgrimage, learn the city, absorb the culture, figure out Tango, there are certain things that must be experienced…not just as a tourist…but, to acquire the feeling so that you can learn to understand it. Thus, Confiteria Ideal and Obelisco Tango becomes a must. First,
Confiteria Ideal!! An amazingly historical place in the history of Tango and Buenos Aires…to the degree that the BBC did a specific special on it. There are regular rumors that this place will be closing down. So, I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to visit, absorb, check it out…and get a dance in :) Now, as I mentioned, I am on a journey of sorts. I make no projections that I am a milonguero, Tango expert or anything near those levels. As my friend April Parker says, I’m just a Tango baby…and I’m trying to find my way🙂
One of the things I find so interesting about this place, is that locals will show up during lunch hour or whenever they have a break or when they just want to dance throughout the day. And so, even in the early afternoon, you will find regulars here as well as entranjeros (foreigners) enjoying their Tango.
This place is absolutely beautiful. You can order food and drinks…whatever your palate desires and get your dance on. Now, I am going to be forthright…being a Tango baby…it can be rather horrifying to come to a place such as this, or El Beso, Gricel, Obelisco, and Salon Canning when you are learning to dance. You may see people that look like they could use a walker, but when they hit the floor and the music comes on…they move with the grace of a Gazelle or Ballet dancer…and here I am…feeling as if I am fumbling around. But, eventually I engaged in the Cabaceo…and started dancing. And, it was such a wonderful feeling to overcome that fear and dance in Confiteria Ideal!! And, at the end of my dance…La Senorita said to me, “Senor, tu caminata is muy bueno”…ha ha ha ha…man…talk about walking on cloud 9!!!! It was all I could do to keep from running back at that moment to Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas and yell…I did it…I did it…talk about taking an internal pilgrimage and learning about yourself…ahhh…so good!!!!🙂
Confiteria Ideal is a landmark in and of itself, but has many collectors items within giving testament to the history of Tango.
And, of course…there must be tributes in place to the historically amazing Carlos Gardel…
Needless to say, that when I walked out of there, my feet were not even touching the ground. There are a great many things to be said about facing your fears…which begs the question…are you growing as a person, are you really on an internal pilgrimage if you have not faced your fears. As Pema Chodron would ask, “have you faced the snake…have you faced your greatest fears…and made peace with them” …then you grow… if not…then your are not…
Walking outside, I love to see the markers for some of the basic Tango steps…it is in the life blood of the city…whether many Argentinians respect their historical Tango or not….
Later on that day….while I was still on Cloud 9, I get back to Alejandro’s Tango House. Alejandro says to me, “aren’t you coming out with us tonight”…sometimes I was tired, sometimes admittedly I was a bit unsure of myself – only a few people I know want to intentionally look like an ass :) Ha Ha…but, yes they are out there…not something I would do on purpose :) In this case, I was on my cloud and said, “sure, why not…thank you.”
So, this evening I met Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas at Club Obelisco Tango.
And for those that are curious and for entertainments sake, here is a posting of some rules and some Tango art🙂
As we arrive and I sit at Alejandro’s table. And, it is common that the regulars have their own reserved table. So, I sit with Alejandro…a few of his friends are there and more are arriving until we eventually have about eight (8) people at his table. Now, admittedly my Spanish is limited…although it is significantly improving :) All of these gentlemen are older…as I talk with Alejandro…some of them have been dancing together over 60 years. Of course, me…I am a Tango baby I’m not fawning or flopping all over the place. I don’t know much of anything about Tango…I’m learning…All I know is..it isn’t the typical club scene..people are sipping a little…maybe some Champagne, wine, a taste of liquor here and there…and empanada or such and some water…and although I’m learning Spanish…they are still talking to me…and I’m talking to them…like we are all understanding each other….I watch them dance, I dance a little (YES YES) ha ha…and I am having such an awesome time… that I ask for a picture to be taken…talk about some of the coolest people…sitting there with them I learned so much about Tango that isn’t really taught…and so, I got this wonderful photo of us:
Going left to right is: El Flaco Dany, Tango Alejandro Gee (my friend that I stay with at his Tango house), Osvaldo Centeno (kind gentleman that gets me back and forth to the airport), Tito Rocca (am amazing Tango singer), Ricardo Luis Gallo (el pollo; what a fun man), Cacho Latronico, and Tito Franquelo. Just absolutely fun and amazing people…
We get through the night….one of my best nights ever…walk outside and I’m just taking in the night air..and snap this photo…you to take at least one picture of Che Guevara…if you don’t…especially if you are from the U.S., then you probably really need to see somebody professional🙂 It’s not the best picture..but, it is Che…
So, it’s been a long day…and a long night…I get back to Alejandro’s…do a bit of reading and post the picture I got with the Milonguero’s….now I don’t know much…I’m still learning…but, in the morning when I look at my facebook page…I see a note from my friend and instructor in Atlanta (April Parker ) that says and I quote:
“LOOK AT THAT Malik Watkins!!!! Holy mother Mary of ****, you’re hanging out with the Tango Gods! Dany El Flaco FTW!!!!”
So, then people start asking me…how did you get to sit with them…I’m like…ehhh…with who…I don’t know…I am Alejandro’s friend…so I just followed him like he…uhh…said… Well, now that I’ve done more reading…and am learning the history of Tango…it would be similar to a foreigner coming to the United States and following a friend…and you join your friend at a table with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and etc….and, these Milongueros were so accepting….so cool…and never treated me like the clueless Americano…which I certainly was…I learned so much about Tango that evening….it isn’t just the dance….Thank You so much to the Milongueros that evening, they treated me like family…and I felt a part of a family….and nothing but Love to Alejandro and Erzsebet….and you too April Parker (funny lady)….
September 5, 2016
Two of the things I love most about each day. First, is my Tango lesson with Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas; Second, my daily walk around the city. Public transportation is there if I really need to get somewhere, but oh how I love to just walk, feel, smell, taste, and experience each thing of each day here🙂
Today I go off into a different direction. One thing for sure in BA, Argentinians love their dogs/pets and they are everywhere…watch your step bubba :) They love them to the point as in many larger cities, there are people whose profession is to walk dogs – I ain’t mad cha!! But, how many dogs can a person walk at one time. Obviously, I would have gotten that Jeopardy Question wrong. But, I do have to ask…now where are the pooper scoopers?:
Never-the-less, everyone looks at peace…so, I’m gonna be peaceful with them…besides…look at this common view:
Can you see it? Can you feel it? Yes, old world architecture with the appropriate breaks with balance…but, if you sit there and reflect on the history of Buenos Aires, of Argentina, of the socio-economic dynamics both historical and contemporary and its relation to Tango…what do you feel on the inside?🙂 ahhh….gotta love it…
And, while I do love street scapes such as this…the people, the families, the youngsters, this kids…bring it to life…
Kid on a skate-board riding the rail…okay, it’s a great picture..thanks for the compliment🙂
This day, I headed out without a plan…just to roam, and feel and reflect…and just by chance I came upon another wonderful gem. The CG on the building…stands for Carlos Gardel – this is one of his original homes:
For many, Carlos Gardel stands as the most prominent person in the exquisite history of Tango…in short…his life is the quintessential exemplar of Tango. What a wonderful surprise to come upon his home/museum. I won’t write a long essay on him, if you don’t know who he is you can always look him up. For those that know, then you can imagine the emotional response associated with this aspect of my internal journey….nothing but love…
More inside the home/museum of Carlos Gardel…where he spent his time composing, writing…so interesting…
As with many of the great ones, Carlos Gardel met death in an untimely manner. It is said that Carlos Gardel died in a manner befitting him….in that “without knowing pain or agony, as he deserved, as he created songs that poured balm on the lives of others…
If you know Tango, then you can imagine the feeling of spending time in his home reading about his life. If you don’t, then compassion can guide you to that place. What an amazing experience, and my own reaction to this experience…will just keep adding to the depth of my own compassion…
Continuing on my stroll…always on the look out for what is to be really seen…I love to see people from all the variations of life…and to refer back to what I have read, what I am learning…and ask myself…what is that human story…how did they get to this place…oh, it’s beautiful…
Oh, to see…to feel….to sit and become a part…yes, my feet hurt🙂 my legs are tired…even a bit frustrated trying to build the muscle memory and mental awareness to dance my Tango…it isn’t always easy going through the process of finding your way….then again, that’s what makes it sweet…especially when you can sit…and like a seed, allow yourself to grow…
Indeed, there are some things that really just catch your eye. Now, in all truth, I can’t even tell you what exactly this building is…but, sometimes you don’t have to know in order to acknowledge the time, effort, skill, diligence and mastery that screams from something that has been created:
Another long day…another absolutely amazing day…my mind is over-flowing with what I have learned…so walking helps me to process everything and place it in a context to be used for present and future growth…and as the sun goes down…I love this part of Buenos Aires as well…the views at night, the flow of people, the change in how something looks from day to night…being a night creature…maybe you understand what I am saying…things can be just as beautiful even when they have a cover on:
Definitely will be checking out the theater on my next visit. :) Walking back to rest, come across a beautiful view. A program being held to support those with personal problems such as Alcohol use and other maladies…amen to that!!!! It is beautiful to see people not just focusing on condemning other people, but trying to do something to help them. That, in and of itself, is beauty…
And so, another day…another night…another period of growth…a pilgrimage may look one way on the outside…but, trust this…that isn’t what is really taking place on the inside…if you are making progress. And, as the evening comes to a close:
I love me some Buenos Aires….Buenas Noches!!
September 5, 2016
Call it a rhythm…call it routine occurrences…but, so many things can be categorized within the cycles of life. It seems that, of late, I am continually touching on a cycle in life that places information on ‘pilgrimages’ into my mind. Pilgrimages of the type – Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James); The Hajj (Islamic Pilgrimage to Mecca); or, even the Mount Kalaish Pilgrimage in Tibet (Buddhist and Hindu). On the surface, the associated discussion is treats the pilgrimage as a component of a person’s faith…. a journey that symbolizes devotion. And, while this may be offensive to some – no apologies in advance – herein resides a problem.
It should be much more than a simple act of devotion, it should really comprise an opportunity to identify, explore and realize what exactly resides within ourselves. That is why I get a lot more out of discussions on pilgrimages that are fashioned after Paulo Coehlo’s El Alquimista (The Alchemist). The journey…the pilgrimage within…is indeed…the most fascinating…how we respond to our walk…to our pilgrimages…is the clearest illustration for us…on what resides within…
When I read back through this blog, I become fascinated over and over again at the opportunities I have had to see the world….in many ways…all of those experiences represents my own pilgrimage. Not a pilgrimage to just see one thing or to take one walk…but, the pilgrimage of many places, of many things…and of many walks.
Of course, this part of my pilgrimage includes a great deal regarding Tango. It is amazing to read a book such as ‘The Quest for the Embrace: The History of Tango Dance 1800-19830’ by Benzery Saba…and then walk the streets of Buenos Aires.
One part that screams volumes to me is the discussion with renowned milonguero – Carlos Gavito,
“when I learned, around the 60s, there weren’t so many names. Tango was very individual, very personal. Everyone had his own different style of dancing…that’s why for me, there are no tango styles…the style is the person. Milonguero style, for example, doesn’t exist; the milonguero exists, the one who’s dancing. I spent the greater part of my life at the milongas and I dance Gavito.”
Ahhh….so beautifully said!! Now, as I’ve said before…I don’t pretend to be a Tango master…I’m clearly a Tango baby…that is looking to find the way…but, I do see how so many camps exist and have always existed…and it really resonates with me…to not just focus on the style…but recognize it as an expression of that person….and that is alright with me. And so, as I take my trips to Argentina, and walk the streets of Buenos Aires…I am looking to find my way…my way…my journey…my pilgrimage inside of myself manifested by what I see and feel in the environment. And, having arrived…here I go…🙂
Oh how I do love the feel of the old city…without going into the implications of various types of city planning…the intimacy of the feel, the architecture, the variations in people walking down the street, how close everything appears. I do love the opportunity to visit a place more than once so you actually get to know it…it becomes a part of you. The familiarity helps to build the expectation of comfort even in a place where you are just learning the language and the culture.
Such an absolutely beautiful day…to get out of the car…and to just walk amongst people…to observe life and its various expressions…
To see the children play and learn proper soccer technique…to hear the sound of joy coming from them with the chatter. Interesting how many places I’ve been are much better than the United States in soccer…with all the technological advances, these other countries always seem to come out on top…even without the riches. That screams many things…for those on the inner pilgrimage.
And, ohhhh, this building always speaks to me: Palacio del Congreso Nacional Argentino….always one of my first stops…just to sit and look. It always makes a trip better for me to read about a place, then to go see it for myself. In this case…the interplay between how social and political dynamics impacted Tango, and vice-versa :) Amazing to travel and to become a part of it, to the extent that you can actually feel it!!
I must say, it is also beautiful and common to see Argentinians express their social and political views…right at the gate of the Congress building…it isn’t just a unique United States trait…every visit and practically every day you see someone expressing themselves in the local political process – protecting the animals from cruelty, and also protesting President Obama’s visit in this case:
Getting to know a place, its expressions and how you respond to it…one of the tasks of the pilgrim :) So, as I walk…behold…all you Tangueros…
The National Academy of Tango…and a plaque for Carlos Gardel…for those in the know…he is the Humphrey Bogart, among others in South America…and in many ways…exposed the world to Tango.
What a surprise of a gem. Now of course everyone in Buenos Aires doesn’t revel in the history of Tango, but it is beautiful to see those who do celebrate such a rich contribution to world culture (more on him Carlos Gardel later).
Ahh…so wonderful to be back in Buenos Aires. So after a long walk, it’s a walking city which is a much better way to get to know it, I come upon such beautiful places. Many people visit these places. But, I am visiting less for the tourist aspect and more to get a feel for the cultural expression to add to the quality of my internal journey.
I love how they light the city at night…colors and contrast combined with the context and structure…is really a powerfully beautiful yet subtle statement…almost sounds like a wine tasters description of a good vintage :) The Pink House, the parks, those old structures…many a night…I just sat in solitude…with my thoughts…revisiting history, but also developing an awareness of my own feelings…no distractions…just me and my BA🙂
After a long walk, heading back to Alejandro’s….I stop at my favorite Parilla (which he always teases me about) :) To get some of the famous Argentinian grilled meat…they remember me from last time so it’s my personal version of the show ‘Cheers’ in Buenos Aires…and look, my old buddy sits with me while I enjoy one of my favorite dishes….cats are something else; mi amigo el gato🙂
Finishing up this day, long flight…long walk…good emotions from seeing my friends Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas….one last thing…
Helado!!!!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!! :) This in and of itself is worth it…absolutely delicious…texture…taste…context…I have to admit…walking into an ice cream shop to order so that you can practice your Spanish…that is pretty close to priceless…a nice slow walk to enjoy my Helado, then to sleep…Tango practice starts tomorrow….Buenos Noches Mi Amigos!!
July 23, 2016
It is obvious from my previous posts that while I am here attempting to immerse myself into modes that allow me to absorb Argentine (BA), I am also studying Tango…as far as I am concerned – the dance of dances. Not just by traveling and being a tourist, but by studying the history, keeping up to date on politics, attempting to understand the context of federal and local government, attempting to become versed in local language and customs…and obviously the language – which is not the easiest thing to do at this age. But, it isn’t always easy to reprogram your mind…and if you are going to do it…then language is a sure way of doing just that!! Staying away from the simplicity of the big hotels and areas that seem to be nothing more than a projection of American or Western Culture – Yes, they have McDonald’s…but, not for the kid…
My return was wonderful for many reasons, but again…it’s not just about the place…it’s about the people. So, I was so glad to see my new friends again…Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas…my Buenos Aires Hosts with the Mosts!!!! :) Now, I so enjoyed a hug and kiss with Osvaldo (it’s an Argentine thing, you may not understand), but to see these two again brought a feeling of peace that comes when you recognize that you have found a good place to help you continue your journey in life:
Just like Santiago in the book by Paulo Coehlo, “The Alchemist”, sometimes you don’t know where you will find your treasure. I had made a decision that I was going to go the Buenos Aires, so I simply started doing research on the internet…came across several opportunities on Trip Advisor…and started emailing various people. Several conversations were started before I first came to BA, and based on those conversations I went with Alejandro and Erzsebet. To be sure, I took lesson from a few people when I first got there…but Alejandra and Erzsebet they had the stuff I was looking for…now this wasn’t a suit, a hat, some shoes, fancy moves and a rose in the mouth…This was and is more like Tango boot camp… :) Not for the show..but for the SELF…to borrow a line from Christine Denniston, “The Meaning of TANGO: the story of the Argentinian Dance”,…and I am paraphrasing,
one old milonguero walked up to another asked him, “how is your tango coming”…the other milonguero said to him, “after 40 years, I think I am finally getting my walk together.” Oh, how I love that sequence of conversation….as in many ways, that is the dance…it isn’t something that comes together after a few lessons…it’s more of a life time. They teach out of Alejandro’s Tango House:
An absolutely amazing place, excellent accommodations and location…full of culture, great proximity, and place of which you can personally attach. And, Alejandro laughs when I say it is right across the street from my favorite Parilla!! :) These two have been absolutely amazing…telling me where to go, how to get my business done, making my stay comfortable, talking with me about Argentine (BA) culture..and many other wonderful things..not to mention introducing me to El Beso, Salon Canning, Gricel, La Confiteria Ideal…and many wonderful people at the milonga’s and other places around the city….not to mention kicking my culo good every day to make sure I remembered my lessons🙂🙂🙂 :) whew…between that and all the walking to feel the barrio…I was a sore old man🙂
But, let me be clear. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Buenos Aires or Tango. As my friend April Parker and Angel Montero (Atlanta Tango) so appropriately calls it…I know I am a Tango baby…and proud of it!! To be clear…
This is not a Tango blog…I am simply writing about my own journey in life…there are plenty of blogs in the internet universe that cover the Tango Journey and experiences….some of them are excellent…and some are written by individuals who are complete ‘BOLUDOs’….check out my Lunfardo :) This isn’t a commentary on styles…old or new…or those from different parts of the world or even the Rio de la Plata Region (Argentina and Uruguay)…often times the evolution of the different expressions are clearly evident. Either way, I am simply referring to my own journey…seeking my own voice and expression culminating from making peace with my own emotions and spiritual journey. Thus, while I am walking along on my own journey, I’ll only talk about bits and piece’s for now…sometimes if you want to know what something smells, tastes or feels like…you have to do it yourself :) So, on this walk in my current experience and through time…I’ll talk about a few things…but, the best part of it… in me…is yet to come…in the mean time…I’m so grateful to my friends in Argentina…those I have now…those I am getting to know…and those yet to come – so glad we found each other!! By the way, I absolutely love the Malbec!!!! 🙂🙂
July 23, 2016
When I first started this blog, and over the life of it, its primary purpose was to allow my children and loved ones to be able to follow along with me to these unique places. Then part of it was to also document some of the interesting projects I was working on….then, as the places became unique so then the purpose of my blog began to evolve. Not long ago I was talking with a group of colleagues, and the discussion of our hobbies came up. Of course, one of my most loved hobbies/passions centers around international travel – unique places, things and people. When they asked to name the places, oddly enough…those in the room had to fill in some of the places I didn’t name. Not because I had forgotten the places, but over time it has become less about the places and more about the people – people – friendships in all walks of life. When asked which of the places were my favorite, I didn’t have an answer for them. All of these places are wonderful in their own way, and they all have problems in their own way. What makes them so special is less about the architecture, the way of life, the scenery, or even the silliness and immaturity of naming a place simply for the effect of portending to be better than someone else who has not had that specific experience.
Because now it is less about the place, although they are all wonderful – even a post-civil war/conflict country such as Liberia, it is more about the people. In some instances, places may help shape us, but for me it is the people and their life stories that make such a huge contribution to the expansion of the sense of humanity. As far as I’m concerned, if my breast is not expanded after being someplace, then that means I have not spent enough time getting to know the human story attached to that area. Thus, while this blog has its beginning in one context…it now has evolved into more of a tracking of my own spiritual journey. Maybe one day I’ll put all of it together and fill in the blanks regarding emotional and spiritual evolution or what I was dealing with at that particular time. Maybe one day, I’ll turn this into something similar to our grand matriarchs writing, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” (Maya Angelou). But, in the meantime, I shall continue on my journey…. whether I am limping along the way or not🙂
One of the things I like the most about international travel, is when you get to spend either enough time in a place to get to know people or you can go frequently enough over a longer period of time so it becomes less about just the geography and place and more about the people. And, so in returning to Buenos Aires, it was so wonderful to get picked up at the airport and return to a familiar setting, face and personality in the form of My Man, Osvaldo….
Now, please excuse the fact that I look like I have landed a starring roll on Criminal Minds as the new Psycho Path that Hotch, Morgan and the Team will be tracking down…nothing I can do about that right now :) But, it does say something about moments….
Osvaldo is one legacies of a different era of Tango – Milonguero. My Spanish sucks – although I am working on it – and, he doesn’t speak much English…probably none – Osvaldo speaks the Argentine version of Spanish – meaning Lunfardo. Which I am even worse at, but better now. So for the 40 minute ride from the airport other than body language, smiles, and a generally good mutual disposition – you have to love the human language….he said “muy calor”…and I said, “si, muy calor”… and we both laughed at that…meaning it is “hot as hell.” But, that was sufficient. It was a good ride, a good feeling, good to be back amongst the familiar. It isn’t always about the spoken language…just an appreciation for humanity and the human story. And, to add the effort to learn a new language, a new culture, a new way of life, a new dance…and to build appreciation for more that is going on in the world…brings a smile to my face. Especially now, that I am making progress on my ability to communicate with others around the world…
Thus, it takes a little longer to write about the experience…as there is so much going on….”Hola Malik, Bienvenido”….
April 12, 2016
So, to borrow from my ‘main man’ – Donny Hathaway – “I’ve been so many places in my life and times…I’ve song a lot of songs, made some bad lines…I’ve acted out my life in stages…with so many people watching…but, here I am, and I am singing this song to you….”…of course I am paraphrasing🙂, and the expression of songs comes in so many forms…but, hopefully you get my drift.
If you know me personally or have read my blogs, then you know that I have documented many of journeys here…and some I have not, but maybe one day. Some of these travels have come with work, some from family, and others – well, there are always other impetuses!! Being a distinct Anthony Bourdain groupie, my first two steps when preparing for a trip tends to be Mr. Bourdain, and also a historical source that can give me the context of the past, contemporary, and future that I am about to enter.
While recently I was in Argentina in October (2015), that journey had only just begun. And, so now I return and the journey continues. Instead of following Mr. Bourdain, I am taking a different route. This is less about sights, although some relevant ones will be included, food or just the overall experience. This is more about my personal journey into some of that and my own personal depths. At this point, I’ve been around long enough to experience intense joy…and intense pain…successes and mistakes…like many of us, our canvass of life is painted with all of that, plus what we want to see, be and experience. Through the planning and embracing, I have been reading Pema Chodron…so relevant to this trip.
“embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to sear for unknown lands…Pema Chodron…
Some equate the spirit and the soul as being close enough to be the same. Let’s not go with semantics…the best definition of the soul I have ever heard was given by Maya Angelou – she said, the SPIRIT…is the longing…I will leave that as that…place in your own context, and ask, what do you long for? And, so I set off….
(view of a ship coming out of the port in Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Out of all my travels, this has been the first time I’ve posted on my blog so far after the trip. For me, my trips are less about just seeing things, and more about pushing my internal dynamics – all of them – so that I can add the world and all its intricacies into the composition and flavor of the dish of self I am making…hopefully, you know that I didn’t travel on this container ship…but, thought is represented something hugely symbolic.
As we travel and experience life, we see horizons…the separations. Oh, it is much easier to breath above the separate…where we are all familiar with. But, as we travel and experience new things, feelings, experiences, people, emotions, history, and all the things that come with humanity…what about the horizon. Can we breath and learn to live underneath the horizon? That makes the difference between and person who see’s something, but can’t see it;…who hears something, but can’t hear it;…who experiences something, but can’t feel it!! That’s why there are those that grow up around significance, yet it escapes them. And, there are those that grow up around that others perceive as having no significance, yet they see, hear, feel and experience the world around them.
This may be considered as a bit deep by some for a travel blog, and others may find it more than appropriate. The latter are those that understand the significance of breathing underneath the horizon.
More to come…
November 24, 2015
My life has been blessed and fortunate regarding being able to travel and see the world. Hopefully, it provides a vehicle for others who can’t get there physically to use their minds to vision and feel the experience. Since I have a bit of down time, I am going back in time to bring some experiences forward that I have not previously shared.
This particular experience regards my initial work in West Africa. As part of a team with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, we traveled to Ghana and Liberia. The primary purpose was to explore what we could do to help Liberia recover from their civil war. Many have heard of developed and under-developed countries, at this time….Liberia was considered neither. It was considered a post-conflict country, because the civil war had not long ended.
During this time, you could not get a European or American flight straight into Liberia. So we had to fly into Accra, Ghana. From there, we took a United Nations jet from Accra into Monrovia, Liberia to accomplish our mission. It was completely existential!!
This trip was amazing for many reasons, other than me catching a nasty case of Malaria. But, upon returning to Ghana, we had the opportunity to get a personal tour of one of the Slave Castles used to feed the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade – Cape Coast. I have posted these photos on different web-sites, but never on my blog.
However, I want you to keep this in mind. When I worked extensively in West Africa, often times when I got into a discussion…many West Africans would apologize for slavery…state their tribal affiliation….and then state how their tribe had nothing to do with slavery. One reason that is the case is because it is documented that African Tribal Chiefs along with European nations were complicit in the development and maintenance of the slave trade. This is not to cast blame or to take it away from anyone….it is just an observation based on historical facts – Given credence based upon my own personal experiences there.
So I make this post not to stoke flames but to promote thought…to share an experience, so that our minds can travel across the world and through history. Just like we should have respect for what took place in the concentration camps in Germany – such as Auschwitz….We could list out the historical atrocities on each continent that illustrate immense human suffering. Could be the Japanese throughout Asia, the British against the Boers, but, the list would be so long. Now my focus is this experience. We need to see it, imagine it, feel it and understand it. It should let us know that everyone’s history has a story for all of us. This should create more compassion and kindness for each other. So these pictures are not posted to simply stoke a racial discussion on who has suffered the most. There is no monopoly on suffering. It is simply an opportunity, to see your side and the side of others…and the history that should inform us of…..
Not many words here, just the description….Observe and let your imagination flow:
Standing on top of the battery of Cape Coast Slave Castle….
Looking out from the battery, you can imagine the number of ships waiting off the coast to drop off their supplies for trade and to pick up the human cargo for transport to the Caribbean and the America’s…
General holding cell for the slaves…
The door to the female storage section of the dungeon…
This is the opening to the section of the dungeon where they kept the female slaves who refused to perform sexual acts for the captors…
This is the opening to the male slave storage dungeon….
General views inside of the dungeons. These dungeons held at minimum of 1,000 slaves as a time during the days of trading…
This is the area of the castle where they kept the most rebellious and problematic slaves – chained to the wall:
Another view deep inside of the dungeons:
This is the pathway to the infamous “Door of No Return”…this was the last walk the slaves took to board the ships – never to return again….
Peeking through one of the openings above the tunnel, this is a closer view of the path down the tunnel to the door…
A closer look….
This is the actual door of “No Return” – where African Slaves passed through to the ships never to return again…
Standing at the door and looking outside, this is the view of today….markedly different from the days when the Castle was active…
When Ghana gained its independence, it took over the Castle and re-stored it. The door of ‘No Return’ was symbolically renamed the ‘Door of Return’ to provide a sign of the return of Africa’s lost children…
This experience certainly provoked many feelings; however, I keep those to myself. My hope is that it provokes some feelings for you, and that each of us takes inventory of our thoughts and feelings to improve our relationships and views of the world….As always, hope you enjoyed and more to come…
First Day in Buenos Aires, standing in front of the Congreso National…an absolutely beautiful sight that projects lots of things if your feelings are sensitive and aware enough to pick them up.! … yeah, I know – my clothes are baggy…lost lots of weight – guess that is better than them being too small🙂
When I first went to Buenos Aires, I had no guide, no expectations and very few assumptions…probably a good way to approach life! However, I did connect with Tango Alejandro Gee before I arrived; and, he literally became my guide so that I could find what I was looking for during my time in country – literally, experientially, and spiritually.
Sitting at dinner and a Milonga with Alejandro, he shared some excellent wisdom. Alejandro said that an older Milonguero once told him, “in Tango, you have to learn how to walk in the dark.” For me, that speak volumes of wisdom. It solidifies how Tango has many analogies that can be used in our lives. A story in the bible that is often repeated is how when the storms came and everyone was afraid, how Jesus spoke to the waters and said “Peace be still.” For me, that wisdom is not just for the storms in the ocean or those in the sky – it speaks to the storms of the soul. For those storms of the soul are the ones that really need to be changed into peaceful situations….not to mention the darkness faced by those struggling with the reality of mental health conditions.
One of the challenges of writing a public blog is that when you make your writings public, then people can read into your psyche. But, sometimes we need to expose what is in our psyche for our own benefit and the benefit of others – so that those who may have the storms of life on their journey may also learn and benefit.
So it is true, we do need to learn to walk in the dark. One of the things I find so interesting about Tango are the analogies that can be developed – being able to stand with balance; to develop our posture; to walk in spite of; to make sure that we don’t take steps that are too big or awkward so that we don’t throw ourselves off of our axis; to become aware of what we believe in, and to continually stand on it regardless to how groundless our situation becomes; to develop relationships based upon these principles; and to breath and lead with the heart. Not just the physical heart, but our emotional center. And, how this heart has to be used in maintaining our connections with others. Sometimes in Tango we make mistakes – there may be a separation, we may step on toes, we may get lost; but, don’t stop…just accept the mistake and keep dancing..keep living….keep your heart aligned with….(you fill in the blank)….and continue on.
Just as these things inspired Tango originally – what is your passion(s) – what do you source to drive the power of your existence – what compels your passions to come alive – to thrive – to evolve – to give comfort – to bring you together with others – to build relationships – what is the inspiration of your passion? What happens to your passions – is there always joy, is there pain, loneliness, loss, happiness, camaraderie, family, love, the loss of love? With El Beso – has your soul ever been kissed to the degree that when you smile it isn’t the mature adult smiling – but, it is the smile of a child – your inner child. What happens with your passions – is there always peace or do the storms of life come along and you are in need of the words – ‘Peace be still.”
It is unfortunate that often times, movies about emotions are considered chick flicks. This indirectly undermines an understanding of the actual nature of the emotional capacity of men. Maybe one day, someone – whether it be a man or woman – will right that wrong and let chicks know they haven’t cornered the market on the expression of human nature.🙂
With that said, it is absolutely wonderful to go somewhere where you can’t speak the easy language of words…you are forced to use the human language – a language of patience, of compassion, the language created when you stop projecting your own internal inadequacies and actually seek to understand. This is the language of humility, patience and hope that a respect for humanity is met with respect.
I am being careful here with my wording as I don’t want to trigger stereo-types (e.g. cognitive shortcuts). So, without repeating the cliché that Tango was born in the brothels, let’s focus more on the river plat region. During this time very little interaction between the upper class and immigrants or the poor took place. And so, the Tango culture was basically born in how the immigrants and the poorer interacted together. Much of this social interaction took place at night, so let’s just say that the night time culture of an urbanizing environment brought together the people of the night who were from ALL walks of life. Those who frequented these establishments became known as Milonguero’s…the dancers, singers, musicians, and those who made a living during the night🙂 … if you know what I mean – so let’s just say that if we are talking about brothels, we are also talking about pimps, prostitutes, thieves, and others that work in the night. There is a story I was told about a Milonguero who was a thief. The organizers still invited him to their gathering. But, they also knew to take everyone’s valuables and lock them up in advance. By engaging in this act, they could enjoy the Milonguero’s contribution to their social gathering, while also dealing with the reality of protecting their stuff!!🙂 Consequently, when a Milonguero says, “to dance Tango, you have to learn to walk in the dark,” then hopefully, you get my drift🙂 I got it…
What stands out though, is that these individuals from all walks of life were not just seen as some pariah. They were a part of the intricate mix of those who made the origins of Tango, of such, that it lasts the tests of time and continues to support people socially by bringing them together – not separating them. This says quite a bit about how being overly judgmental ultimately undermines the quality of our own interaction with others…not necessarily that of the person being judged….
and, the fact of the matter is – when people come into your life – they bring their life – the good and the challenging – judgement isn’t a useful tool – so, can you see there humanity – do you have compassion for them – if you can answer the question of why, does that build understanding – if they are willing to dance the dance of life – then, help them dance….
As I bring this specific trip to a close….being here, I was looking for something specific…looking to connect to the inspiration of Tango…to understand!! …. that is my learning process….Thank you to Alejandro Gee and Erzsebet Tamas (Jou Jou)….I found it…and now that I found it, I know what to connect to…Tango music, if they have words, are sung mostly in Spanish…but the relationship between the words, music and environment doesn’t always make it necessary to understand the words – if you can connect to the inspiration (some of us need that – and some of us don’t). But, after being here and connecting to the inspiration…I can give you an example of what it means…click on this link, and listen to the words and look at the convincing expressions…and feel the emotion of what is being conveyed, and you will know for sure…what this trip was about….and what was found…
and now compare….
Do you understand it now…? Whew….I do…..!!🙂
This trip was exceptionally amazing and I have to share and give thanks…thank you to all those that inspired it…you know who you are. But, also thanks to those who give me instruction in Atlanta, Georgia – Angel Montero and April Parker!!
Usually after I travel abroad, I start to think about where I shall go next. Well, in this case…I already know….with respect to Buenos Aires – in the next few months – Voy a Volver!!
November 12, 2015
And now we come to one of the main purposes of my trip. This cultural exploration to delve into the inspiration and expression of Tango. What I am specifically interested in is a specific style of Tango that is connected to the “Golden Age – the early years of the Dance.” I want to see and connect with what drives the older dancers – many of the themes I have touched on in these posts on Argentina. So, I followed the advisement of Alejandro Gee and took the walk to a particular Milonga being held at “El Beso – The Kiss.”
When referring to an older style, a description of its inspiration is found in “The Meaning of Tango”:
“Imagine a young man at the end of the nineteenth century, fourteen, fifteen or sixteen years old, living in a village with his large extended family in one of the poorest parts of Spain or Italy. He hears that the Argentinian government is running a campaign to bring people just like him to their country. They will find him a place to stay, feed him for the first week he is there, and help him find work. He has already heard that Argentina is one of the richest countries in the world – far richer than his own country – so he decides he will go there, make his fortune, and then come home and build a grand new house for his mother…
So our young man leaves, for the first time in his life, his mother, his sisters, cousins and aunts, and makes the long boat trip to Argentina. He arrives in the great port of Buenos Aires, only a few years earlier practically a village itself, now a bizarre mixture of sophisticated European capital city and Wild West frontier town…There are more people in each street than he has ever seen before in his whole life, and practically all of them are men…
Our young man finds himself far from everyone who has ever loved him and everyone he has ever loved. Perhaps in another place he would have consoled himself by getting married, starting a new family, having children to love. But the city he is in is a city of men. Maybe he will be one of the lucky few to find a woman to love him, but the odds are against him…Many of the men must have found the loneliness and isolation intolerable. The only place they could express their softness – the sweet tender part of their nature – was in the arms of a prostitute or dancing the Tango.
To dance with the women in Buenos Aires, the immigrants had to learn their dance – and learn to do it in a way that pleased the woman, or the women would not dance with them. The unique pressures of this extraordinary city, in this extraordinary moment of its history, formed the evolving Tango, and made it into something more than a dance. The Tango became an expression of a fundamental human need: The Hunger of the Soul for Contact with Another Soul.“
– Christine Denniston “the meaning of TANGO”
Which answers some questions regarding Tango – what is the passion – what does it source to drive the power of its existence – what compelled it to come alive – to thrive – to evolve – to give comfort – to bring people together – to use as a tool to build relationships – what is its inspiration? In the history of the development of this human story, is it the pain, loneliness, the loss, the missing Joy, happiness, camaraderie, family, love, the loss of love?
Will not go too far into that as each person has to find their own soul in the Tango, their own longing – if you want to go that far – as Maya Angelou said it, “the soul is the longing…” so in the music, in the dance, in the embrace, in the camaraderie – what part of it relates to what you long for? Whew…I like the sound of that :) To sum it up…as the name of the club implies – “has your soul ever really been kissed”? And, what happened after that?….🙂
Walking pass the door and into the stairwell, the color of the walls, the posters, the feelings generated by the environment and projected from the soul in tandem with the old style Tango music you hear playing, and a sense of expectation starts to rise….
Once you walk in you see every one seated by the organizer. And, it reminds you of a traditional type of arrangement. The organizer generally seats the women in one section, men in another, and couples in another – although in certain sections you will see them interspersed with each other…
The environment, once you stop to observe the nuances, is something that reminds you of another time – a time when chivalry was a part of the order of the day. Although people are seated in different sections, they communicate about a willingness to dance through the Cabeceo…a way to inquire about whether or not a person wants to dance while both maintain their dignity. If the answer is in the affirmative, the man walks to her and escorts her to the floor. The main focus of the dance is to make the follower have a wonderful time. Afterwards, the man has the responsibility of escorting her specifically back to her seat. If she is not the best dancer, it is the responsibility of the leader to adjust to her in a way that still ensures she has a wonderful time. I witnessed this on several occasions and the many examples of chivalry were quite impressive to say the least.
To watch the dance…
Is a completely amazing experience. I’ve seen many amazing things in this world, and this ranks right up there at the top. If you get captivated into watching one couple dance, then it appears they are doing their own thing. But, when you expand your focus, while including that couple, to include the entire floor….then, you witness one of the amazing views in life. Similar to watching a flock of birds or a school of fish shift directions. It appears they are doing different things because each has their own favorite steps, moving at various times to what they find in different layers of the music. But, then it is as if a signal goes off…and, then they all move, seemingly, together counter-clock wise around the room in the line of dance – creating a glowing sense of harmony! A beautiful sight to behold…
As Alejandro mentioned, the majority of these individuals were older people. Some appearing to be at least 80 years old…and many of them mimicking the walk of a cat…At first many of them just looked at me as I wrote in my journal with my look of amazement.
Then after awhile, they began to smile and an older gentleman sitting next to me began to speak to me. Interestingly, as he talked, he quickly recognized that Spanish is not my first language. And, I told him in my elementary Spanish way that I did speak a little. And so, our conversation began. I asked him about his style of dance, Viejo Estilo, the old style of Tango. He spoke slowly and was so very patient that he gave me the time I needed to think and form my own sentences in Spanish. Instantly, made me ponder what is it about older people that drives that patience in life and in the dance. Just as if I was dancing with him, he made me feel good and made me want to talk to him more. We indeed had a wonderful time.
As I asked him about the Viejo Estilo, their is only one thing he kept mentioning over and over again – El Piso! El Piso! El Piso! El Piso means: The Floor…which goes into the vocabulary of the dance. Never lose the floor!! Right from the start when studying Tango and watching Tango in El Beso, you pick up right from the start it is a form of communication! It is a language. And, in every language you have to get the basics of vocabulary.
Borrowing again from Christine Denniston –
“A newcomer, to Tango, learns the way a child learns a language. First, absorbing the language of the fluent speakers around it, then after about nine months starting to speak the occasional word, gradually gaining confidence and skill, until after about three years the child can have a reasonable conversation.”
In this communication of the language of Tango, there are certain focus points necessary to build the vocabulary.
Tremendous emphasis is given to just learning how to stand; becoming aware of your axis; developing your posture; and, learning how to walk…significant things that must be dealt with before steps can be performed effectively or are even necessary. Of course there are more aspects to this vocabulary, but this serves as a start. Now, keep in mind….I don’t claim to be an expert, knowledgeable, or even proficient. In many ways, I am a baby still learning how to stand and walk. Added to my own mix, I have ZERO, as in Nada and Nunca, history of dancing. But, for me it isn’t a dance. I’ve found some tools that can be used on my path in life that also allow a person to improve their relationships and build…
What gives me hope, is that I read of an old Milonguero – Old Style Dancer – who was asked by his companion “how is your Tango coming?” The old Milonguero replied, “after forty years of dancing, I think I am finally getting my walk correct.” *chuckle*….so, that gives me hope!!
There are plenty of sources you can use to learn about Tango, I’ve only discussed a few that are relative to where I am on my personal path and journey in dance and in my life. And, believe me, there are plenty of principles in Tango and Buenos Aires culture that can be used to make the path and journey more mutually beneficial for all involved…finishing this trip with just a few observations – coming next!