Thursday, March 29, 2012

Like Making Love

Betty [preparing to leave the apartment]:  Ah Joshua, how are your tango classes?
Me [looking up from jar of dulce de leche]:  It's... okay.
B [concerned]:  How do you mean?
M:  It's already been three weeks, and I still can't lead.
B:  But you are just eh beginner.
M:  I know, but when I lead, most people who dance with me get frustrated and tell me that I need more force from the body, esfuerza del cuerpo.  But when I try doing that, I feel like I'm just ramming my chest into theirs.
B:  Ah but ees not just eh force.  Eets ah...  ahn energy.  Eets eh feeling.  Eet has to come from here [clutches her abdomen] and that's when you connect with another person.  When you hear tango, don't you feel eet here?

-| As seen at La Viruta |-

M [nodding slowly with raised eyebrows]: Si...
B [raising her eyebrows]:  Are you sure?
M:  No...
B:  When I hear tango, I...  [she shivers] Eet ees like when you make love.  You must, I forget how you say...
[Silence in which Betty looks off into the distance.]
M:  You can say it in castellano.
B:  Entregarse.  Without that, eets just eh dance.  And tango ees not just eh dance.  Without entregarse, there ees no connection, eets just moving.  Without-
M [finding the translation on GoogleTranslate]: -To surrender.  Entregarse is to surrender.
B:  Si.  Without surrendering, you are just moving.  Without that, eet ees just sex.  But with eet, eets making love.
M:  So I have to surrender to my partner?
B:  Si.  For me, you have to have that feeling, or you won't understand eet.  For me, tango and making love are the same.  That's why I like doing both. [Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she turns to leave the apartment.]  Eets okay.  You'll get eet soon.

[ Learning to Make Love?  Every Night? ]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Believe it or not, one of the best things to do in Buenos Aires, which is one of the best things to do to get to know Buenos Aires, is one of only free things in Buenos Aires!  A company actually offers free tours, one offered in the morning [11 am] which takes you on a more political/historical experience, and one offered in the evening [5 pm] which takes you on a more cultural experience.  Realizing I still have a lot of BA to live through, I figured I'd give the evening tour - also known as the Aristocratic Tour - a shot.

I apologize for the lack of details I remember.  Names, places, dates, and actual locations defeat me.  So I've taken the liberty to cheat a bit, look up other websites/blogs online, and give you an idea of what I should have learned in two and a half hours.  

Go figure I never was able to enjoy history.

Our tour guide, Sol.

The starting point, el Monumento de San Martin.
According to a random blog, one of the statues had gone missing off of its plinth overnight.  Apparently, it's common for people to dress up as the police/officials and steal things that belong to the city.

Here's a terribly fancy house, el Palacio San Martin, which was built to house 25 children.
Once translated, you can learn more about its political purposes here.

Tourist shot in front of Torre Monumental!
Considered the "Big Ben" of South America, this clock tower is actually a gift from the UK.

According to Sol, I could've taken a picture with them [similar to the Queen's Guard], but I wouldn't be allowed to hug them.  Fundamentally against not being able to hug military personnel in my photos, I opted out of taking said picture.

Like many statues in BA, I had no idea what this one represents, who it depicts, or who made it.
Either I was too far from Sol to hear it explained, or she just never talked about it in passing.

According to Sol, the buildings/apartments don't look French in Retiro/Recoleta.  They are French.
The materials and furnishings were imported from France [and I guess the designers were too], which would explain why these apartments are going for about $4-6 million USD.
Oh, and Argentine people speak of property in USD because the peso is so unreliable because of inflation.  Everything else is spoken of in pesos.

I had to take a picture of a man who was airing out his jacket in this particular apartment.
Why?  Because this man can afford a $4-6 million USD apartment.

There is a Plaza Cataluna in Barcelona, Spain.  Therefore, Buenos Aires must have one too.

What's wrong with this picture?
The windows are painted on.

It is said that if you drink from this fountain, you will come back to Buenos Aires.
We'll see.

The Four Seasons Hotel.
For $25,000 USD/night, you can rent this entire building where the Rolling Stones, Madonna, and the Jonas Brothers stayed.

Not a particular part of the tour, Sol took a moment to let everyone take a picture of him walking down Avenida Alvear.

Another random statue that Sol did not talk about, or I did not listen to her talk about.
Blurry!  Taken from a distance!

Here is where Sol decided to tell us that this particular street is where the upper upper class decide to shop. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry...  Whatever's big and expensive, you can find it here.  Additionally, this is where we had the chance to see some real plastic surgery results.
Supposedly, plastic surgery is kind of a benefit on the health care, and you're allowed a certain procedure every so many years.  So it's normal to ask a person, "You haven't gotten implants yet?  Why not?"  There are about 100 breast implants/day.
Interestingly, people openly talk about these appointments, or other appointments, like therapy.  The Argentine people love therapy, and would rather work other appointments [lunches, dates, meetings] around their therapy schedules.

Former mansion, now the Hyatt Hotel.

Another former mansion, now the Vatican Embassy.

THE LAST former mansion that has stayed a mansion.  Actually just looks like a haunted house.

This is truly a terrible quality photo.
Here's the point: people here don't want to show off on the outside of their house that they can afford things they don't need.  Why bother painting or fixing the outside of your house?  Instead, they spend money on clothes and art.  This person, in particular, could not fit the large ceramic bull inside their one-floor apartment, so they decided to leave it outside on the balcony for everyone to see.

It's like we're in Merry Ol' England!
Sol said that it's commonly believed that the Argentine people truly believe in becoming one culture:
"We speak Spanish, we look Italian, we want French things, and we want to be British."

The most important element of the evening: having dinner and wine, then sharing Quilmes Stout [my favorite!] with a cancer research pHD student from London, an economics pHD student from Germany, a physics pHD student from Switzerland, and a gastronomist/chef from Ecuador, most of whom I met on the tour.

[a Tourist]

Thursday, March 22, 2012


A short introduction to some of the tango 'etiquette' I've learned in the past couple of weeks.

-| Before the Dance |-

The Look 
 ||  The proper way to ask for someone's permission to dance is to look across the room, make eye contact and nod in the affirmative or avoid it in the negative.  This comes from the traditional macho Latino culture; not wanting to be rejected in front of the entire room, this rule helps him avoid social humiliation.

Lead the Way  ||  Whether or not you're a man, if you asked someone to dance, lead them onto the dance floor.

Hygiene  ||  Not an official rule, but after dancing with a chain smoker who decided to breathe through her mouth, I've decided that it's important to keep personal hygiene in tip-top shape.  Brush your teeth, wear deodorant, have mints, and even change your shirt if it gets too sweaty.  Nothing makes you regret your choice to dance with someone more than body odor.

-| During the Dance |-

On Time  ||  Most dancers never start dancing as soon as the music starts; some small talk is made, and thirty or so seconds in, both partners assume the position and begin dancing until the very last beat of the song.  This might give them a break to recover from the previous song, but it's really meant for both dancers to listen to the music and understand 'the mood' of the dance.

Tanda y Cortina  ||  Depending on the DJ, a group of 3-5 same-style songs [milonga, tango, etc.] will be played at a time [la tanda].  Couples are allowed to enter at any time during these songs, but it's considered polite to dance with your partner until the end of those songs, when a song of a completely different style [la cortina] will be played.  Consider it a slap in the face and a kick in the groin if your partner decides to stop before la cortina.

Lack of Talk  ||  Don't talk during the dance.  Or, if you're apologizing, keep it to a minimum.

Circle  ||  From above, the partners dance in a counter-clockwise fashion.  Faster couples on the outer lanes, and slower couples on the inner lanes.

Don't Teach  ||  Don't teach on the dance floor during a milonga; save it for the class beforehand.  Or, if you like, teach very far off in a corner.

Tango Trance  ||  There's a point where the follower may close their eyes.  From personal experience, closing your eyes actually helps you to follow the lead by feeling what he or she is doing.  Not only does it cut off the pressure of people watching you, it puts you into a 'zone' and even makes you look sexy.

-| After the Dance |-

Smile  ||  Maybe this should be done before and during, but it's important for one's ego to see a smile from their partner after the dance; whether or not you got stepped on or was able to do any fun leg tricks, show that you had fun.  That's why you're there, isn't it?  Also realize that at the slightest suggestion, any beginner can be scared from ever dancing in a milonga.  For life.

Thank You  ||  Thank you partner.  If you're being thanked, don't respond with 'You're welcome,' as that's considered both strange and rude.  Respond with a 'Thank you.'

Lead the Way  ||  Same as before the dance, if you did the asking, lead your partner off.

[ Proper ]

Thursday, March 15, 2012


A year ago, The Boy's chest pounded all morning, hesitant to open his email account.  He sat in front of the lobster heart He removed earlier, eyes pressed against the microscope, the tiny forceps in his hands hovering over silvery tissue.

"What's wrong?" Mika asked, "You've been quiet all morning.  That's not like you."

The Boy looked up, then at his watch, then at her.  "Today's..." He began.

"Today's when you find out!" She gasped, and grabbed his shoulders with harpy-like strength.  "Have you checked have you checked have you checked?" She asked, jostling him back and forth, and He shook his head.

"We don't find out until noon."  He turned back to the lobster heart, but didn't bother touching it.  His laptop lay nearby, shut off.

She said something reassuring, something about no matter what happens, something blah blah blah blah.  He wasn't listening.

Time at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory passed slowly to begin with; what was supposed to be a week-long stay during Spring Break felt like forty years of gluing shiny dots on lobster backs, placing them in water tanks and tracking movements, removing their tiny hearts, removing even tinier nerve bundles from the hearts, and dousing other hearts in neurotransmitter.  That morning passed slower than usual, and The Boy thought He would suffer a heart attack from all of the anxiety.  When the lab instructor called for a lunch break, The Boy realized He had been hardly breathing.

"Aren't you going to check before lunch?"  Mika asked while He put on his jacket.  His watch read 11:30, still a half hour too early.

Although it was spring break in mid-March, snow still lingered on the trees and pathways on the island.  The sun had done a decent job melting some of it, but He could still see his breath fog with every other step.  She skipped from side on the way to lunch while She held her arm in his.  This did next to nothing to calm his nerves, but if it made her feel like she was helping, He would let her continue.


Her cell phone beeped during the taco salad lunch.

"Emily wants to know if you got it." She said.

"Tell her I haven't checked my email."

Mika typed away, and in a few seconds, her cell phone beeped again.

"Emily says that you should grow a pair and check it."

He rolled his eyes, and took a bite of ground beef.  Food at MDIBL was considerably gourmet compared to most camp food [although he had never been camping], but today's lunch tasted particularly bland and dry.

The walk back to the lab seemed even longer than before.

Everyone in the group returned to their lab stations, and The Boy switched on his computer.  His fingers gripped the keyboard as He waited to connect to the internet, and opened his inbox.  There was a sudden sense of panic as his eyes ran up and down the list of new mail, and after a few seconds of not seeing what He was looking for, He realized He wasn't even reading the words.  Taking a moment to breathe, He slowly went through the inbox.  And there it was, the tenth or so line down:

From: Cleveland Johnson;  Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Announcement

He dragged his cursor over the email, and hesitated.  Grow a pair, Magno.  Emily's advice rang through his head, and He double clicked.


They stood on the shore, just outside the lab.  Fresh, clean air filled his lungs again, and She balanced herself on some rocks, and stared to the horizon.  The sky seemed less cloudy, the wind less cold, and the ocean water less dark.

"I...  I don't think I can breathe."  He gasped, and placed both hands on his knees.  "Holy shit.  Holy shit."

Mika smiled, looked at him, and then back to the ocean.  "You're going to see the night sky from so many places..."  

She, of course, would be right.


He thought of where He would be in a year.  Somewhere out there, He thought, beyond the sea.

In a year... Well, He wouldn't even be finished with the year.  So much would change in that time, and He didn't bother trying to figure out how much.  He'd find out, eventually.  

He knew that He would learn about himself, more than He dared to before.  The Boy would experience so much in a year; mysterious skin conditions, questionable invitations to homes,  eye-opening life conversations, and incredibly embarrassing practices and performances.  He would walk for kilometers before He admitted He was lost, learn how to speak a foreign language for the sake of getting a lower price, prepare to get into a contemporary dance school, and even wake up in stranger's apartments at 3 in the afternoon.  This year was something unexpected, something He never would have been able to predict would ever happen.  Living abroad would be more than just going to country after country.  He'd learn to do something He'd forgotten; how to live, and how to love it.

And when He came back home?  He'd still be miles away from where He used to be.

[One Year Away]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Storm

About storms [metaphorical and literal]: they happen all the time.

The last time you walked to a milonga during a rain storm you got lost; whoever danced with you later didn’t appreciate your soaked pants legs brushing up against theirs, or your sweaty and rain-drenched shirt they would press their face against during each song.  To avoid that, this time, you’ll find yourself speed walking just to avoid the rain; the day-long shower will clear up for 30 minutes to let you make the 20 minute walk to the milonga.

“Estabas en la Viruta de la noche?” She'll ask, and you’ll realize that it’s not the music in your headphones; it comes from the girl standing next to the ticket collector.  Mistaking being caught off guard and confused, She'll translate: “Weren’t you at la Viruta last night?”

You’ll make small talk – what were you doing at la viruta last night? oh you’re from montreal?  oh you're traveling the world? – and you’re glad to find out she also took the beginner’s class.  While students are waiting for the teacher, She'll actually ask you to dance.  To review what you had learned last night, of course.

Surprisingly, being the only ones on the floor at that moment, it’s not that hard to dance with her.  In fact, her constant reassurance and lighthearted smiles make making mistakes with her so not terrible.

You might be inside, but the storm hasn’t even begun to clear.

You know you have to practice with people who have more experience.  You work with the best, and that’s how you get better.

About more experienced people: good ones also want to get better, so they won’t want to work with you.  As a matter of fact, working with you frustrates them.

They’ll force a smile as they purse their lips, blink frequently with wide eyes and tilted head as you step on their feet, and rub the area over one eyebrow as you continue to apologize for not understanding everything the teacher said and how to do it.  When the teacher says to cambia parejas || change partners, you catch the sigh of relief and rolling of their eyes as they turn to grab onto the next Rico Suave.  After all, this is only your eighth day of classes.  Shouldn’t you be a tango master by now? 

This doesn’t help the fact that the teacher is the kind who thinks you'll understand the material faster if he yells louder.  Understanding every fifth word he says while he jabs the air with his finger and stomps on the wooden floor boards confuses you only more, while your pareja waits with arms crossed, eyes flicking back and forth between you and the teacher as if to catch the information flying from his mouth and into your ears.

The clouds get thicker, darkening the floor around you.  The lightning strikes brighter, blinding you to keep you from seeing where you’re going.  The thunder rolls louder, making it impossible to hear the music.  The rain keeps you frozen from making the next move, dampening your confidence and keeping you from speaking with your body.

"Necesitas más esfuerza del cuerpo. ||  You need more force from the body." One partner will say, and she'll press her head against yours to look for it.

"Necesitas más presencia.  ||  You need more presence." Another will say, and she'll grip the hell out of your hands.

The storm – literal and metaphorical – keeps getting worse.  From within the confines of La Catedral, you can see flashes of lightning, a cold blue, light up the sky and corners of the warm and dark milonga.  Is that rain you hear outside, or the broken fan hovering above your dinner table?

When the class ends – thank god that it finally ended – you turn to pack your frayed Ugandan Converse shoes into your bag and trek back home.  All you want is a pack of crackers and dulce de leche.  Comfort food for such an uncomfortably soggy night.

But She won’t let you.

“Do you want to dance?  I know I’m not supposed to be asking because I’m the girl, but…  I just don’t want to be boring and sit around and just watch people practice.”

You decide not to mention that that’s what you’ve done for a considerable amount of time since you arrived.  As a way of not saying ‘no,’ you quickly warn her that every woman you danced with in class left frustrated with you, and that tonight just isn’t your night.

“That’s alright.  I totally understand; whenever I feel like I danced pretty shittily, I leave in a really crappy mood.  But don’t let it get to you, you’ll be fine.  How about we just teach you how to walk around?”

You can’t deny her that.

She’ll be the one who clears the clouds that night, if not only for a moment.  She’ll calm the lightning and quiet the thunder, and She'll even hold out a flowery red umbrella for you stand under the rain.  She’ll go slow, telling you what your body is or isn’t telling her, something that most dance partners won’t do.  She’ll let you walk her around in circles around the floor, not feeling any shame from the onlookers; who cares if you’re just leading her in a simple walk?  She’s the only one who’ll talk to you instead of smile the mistakes away.

You’ll find yourself there until closing, 2 am Tuesday morning.  You give her your email [because She'll be able to find you on Facebook, because cell phone time costs a shit ton here], and walk her outside, complimenting on how patient She is.

“That’s the only way I learned,” She'll say, “I just kept dancing with people who were patient enough to tell me what did and didn’t work.  I have a friend I met at a club who just wanted to learn to tango, and we’d get together all the time to just play around.  Nothing sexual, just tango.  It’s great.”

Here’s the thing about more experienced people:  the best ones will want to teach you, helping them get better.

You tell her that you need to find one of those, and She smiles.  Worried about how late it is, you offer to walk her to at least the bus stop, but She won’t have any of it.  She can manage on her own.  Upon walking out of the milonga, you notice the rain has cleared up, mostly.  You’ll smile at each other, kiss each other on the cheek [only once, because that’s how it works in Argentina], and go your separate ways.

There’ll be a moment when you look back, and realize that She's already around the corner.  You’ll realize that you hope this ray of sunlight in the middle of the night will find you online, and maybe you’ll even go dancing again.  For a moment, She cleared the storm to let you breathe.

On the walk home, the rain will suddenly start again.  There’ll even be a crash of lightning, and an incredibly loud clap of thunder that actually makes you almost fall into the late-night flower shop’s bucket of roses.  But you’re not in a hurry, not this time.  You’ll let the rain fall, soak your shirt and your pants.

Getting wet won’t be so bad.  Not when you've been warmed by the sun.

[Sun-Kissed & Rain-Soaked]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Queer

Fact:  He had never asked another man to dance before this year.  This did not mean, however, that He had never danced with another man; He, of course, just graduated from college.  Same-sex dancing, from what he remembered, was taken light-heartedly between friends at most Galas, house parties, concerts, and other social venues.

But passionately?  He had never seen nor experienced that.  He expected it to be a big deal, a kind of revolutionary way to dance that would amaze performers and audience members.

Before we get there, however...

Taking the advice of his host, He decided to head to one of the more popular milongas in Buenos Aires, La Confiteria Ideal.  One of the more noticeable characteristics of this milonga was the expensive entry price: 45 pesos|10.47 U$D, a whole four dollars more than most of the other classes he attended.  Another noticeable characteristic was the massive space covered in marble floors and pillars.  But what had caught his attention were the glass cases sprinkled throughout the main floor.  Each case displayed fancy sweets, chocolates.  Tonight, He would tango in a [terribly fancy] candy shop.

"If you can walk, you can tango." Leonardo, whose slicked back black hair and relaxed demeanor did nothing to contradict the tango dancer stereotype, explained in English.  This would be the only thing Leonardo explained in English, but it was more than He could comprehend in one class.  For the next hour, He was led by Leonardo around and around the small square designated for the six person class to learn how to walk normally.  He was surprised at how difficult it was to just walk, especially with a tango teacher.

"Why are you so tense?  Relax." Leonardo asked.  He shrugged.  He thought he was keeping the tension required to tango.

After attempting to just walk with a Venezuelan woman and a sixty year old grandmother, He left the class in incredibly low spirits.  It seemed to be the more classes He took, the worse He became.


He found his way to Tango Queer that same night; this was the actual part of his fellowship project.  He did two things upon entering the milonga: the first was to reapply deodorant, as the sweat from running from La Confiteria to Tango Queer decided to make itself apparent, and the second was to sit grumpily far from the dance space and let the previous lesson's reality sink in [What the hell am I doing here?  I can't tango.  I couldn't even lead an elderly woman!].  Two women stepped onto the floor, music began, and it wasn't until they finished their tango and waved the students sitting around the floor when He thought to himself, Oh crap.  Another class to humiliate myself.

The students divided into principiantes y intermedios || beginners and intermediates, most of which piled into the principiantes group.  One of the two female tango dancers said something in Spanish, waved her hands around, pulled a girl from the circle of beginners, shifted her weight from foot to foot, continued saying things in Spanish, and waved her hands to the rest of the beginners to follow.  He reached out to take the hand opened in his direction, and found himself in the follower's role.  He looked up into the face of a forty-five year old man, Andrew, who he learned was taking a vacation from work for two weeks to learn Spanish and tango.  Their feet stepped on each other, their shoulders collided with that of others, and heels dug their way into Achilles' tendons.

Aside from the beginner's inexperience that led to these [often] painful mistakes, He found that dancing with Andrew
And so was dancing with Emilio, Tony, Christoff, and Emily.  Sometimes he would lead || conducir, and sometimes he would follow || seguir.  The class consisted of only this: changing roles, shifting weight, learning to walk, and learning to pivot on the balls of the feet.

The milonga [in this context: open dance] afterwards, also proved to be normal.  Men danced with men, women danced with women, and there was even the occasional man who did dance with a woman.  In these instances, sometimes the woman would lead.  Hand positions traded places to indicate who lead and who followed.  Everything the dancers did was beautiful, graceful, sensual...

... anticlimactic.

"Why aren't you out there now?" Emilio asked, and He shrugged.

"I don't know enough yet." He, Emilio, Tony, and Julia sat at the edge of the dance floor, watching the slow turns and leg brushes of nearby dancers.  "Just the basic step.  I can't go up there yet, not when everyone up there is an expert.  I need to take more classes first."


A few days later, at La Viruta, He met two newcomers to tango [so very behind his five days of classes]:  Diana, a woman from Holland who was in Buenos Aires because her boss was making her sell products in a way that she 'didn't agree with,' leading her to quit her job and take very much needed vacation, and Martin, a man from England who also was forced to sell products in a manner he didn't agree with, leading him to quit his job and want to eventually work for a more worthwhile company [UNICEF].

Both were in their mid-forties, had left their terrible jobs, and were looking for themselves in Buenos Aires.

How many people would He meet during his travels who so dearly resembled the Eat, Pray, Love woman?


Christopher, a Canadian-born man raised in Italy and who lived all over the world [Madrid, Paris, San Francisco, etc., currently in Florence] was currently taking a 50th birthday vacation from his sports equipment managing position.

"I manage 38 sports equipment stores in Italy.  I set my own schedule, I work the hours I want to, and I come in when I want.  My job allows me to travel because we need to find partners all around the world.  My job's great.  But I just needed a vacation."

The teacher at La Marshall had assigned them partners half an hour into class; although both spoke English and understood a considerable amount of Spanish, neither really benefited from this pairing.  Christopher had arrived that morning in Argentina, and He had taken only a week's worth of beginner's classes.  Christopher was decidedly the leader of the pair, and He wanted to learn what it felt like to follow [how else would He understand the body signals required to tell his partner what to do?].  After class, both found themselves sitting with a glass of white wine, watching the experienced dancers.

As in Tango Queer, same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners switched roles between every song.  Occasionally, a folklore song would play and a kind of tap-dance combined with waltz and bar-mitzvah circle dancing would be performed.  And sometimes a dance involving handkerchiefs being twirled in the air and drawn around necks would be performed as well.

He and Christopher would discuss who was particularly good, and what made said person a good tango partner.

Fact:  A good tango partner can lead.  A great tango partner can lead and follow.  An amazing tango partner can do both without facing their partner.  The best can do everything with their eyes closed.

Tony, from Tango Queer, walked over and asked if He remembered what He learned in class.  He shrugged, took another sip of wine, and almost dropped the glass when Tony nodded his head in the direction of the dance floor.

"Normally, in tango, the leaders never ask to dance.  We just look across the room, and if we find a partner we are interested in, we nod.  If the partner nods back, they both meet each other on the dance floor.  No talking is done.  But since you do nothing but look at the dance floor, I have to ask you.  So let's practice."

He laughed, nodded, and stood up and made his way through the tables and chairs.  He warned Tony that all he remembered was the basics, to which Tony replied, "Just relax. Follow.  Don't be nervous."

Two songs passed in what felt like ten seconds.  If that was what it was like to tango outside of class, He could easily understand how Argentinians did it until six in the morning.

"Now you can say you've danced milonga in Argentina." Tony said, packing his belongings.  He said that He wouldn't be able to say that confidently until he lead a milonga in Argentina, which would certainly take some time.  He went to sit back down with Christopher.

"I wasn't watching you the entire time," Christopher said, "But when I looked over, it looked like you knew what you were doing.  It looked great.  Shall we?"

He asked if Christopher was serious.

"Why not?  I'm here for only ten days, and I'm not going to be an expert before I leave.  I won't look like that," he said, nodding to the other dancers on the floor, "but that doesn't mean I can't have fun.  So what if it's not perfect?  Perfect is boring."  And with that, He and Christopher went onto the floor.  Yes, all the basics that they had both learned went flying out the window, and they weren't so skilled at avoiding bumping into the other partners.  But it was fun.


He went to bed at 5:30 that morning, surprised that he could stay in a milonga for that much time.  But Christopher was right; He shouldn't be so worried about looking perfect or knowing what to do.  As long as it was all fun, He'd learn eventually.  But learning only came with practice, and sitting on the sidelines and watching dancers didn't count.  He'd had enough being the fly on the wall, the shadow, the benchsquatter, the fart in a hurricane.  Of course He might not get noticed, but who cared?  He was a stranger in a strange land, and in this situation, that came as an advantage to not knowing.  Tango didn't run in his blood, not yet.

He had learned more than He thought He would from going to queer milongas, more than in the non-queer ones like La Viruta, La Catedral, La Confiteria, and El Gricel.  Considerably more important than the hand positions, the amount of force required to push a partner from the chest and arms instead of with force from the feet, he had learned to relax.  To be in the moment, to enjoy where he was, regardless of who or what was in it.

Wasn't this what Philip was telling him earlier?

Considering He realized this in the first week of being in Argentina, He could say that He was doing alright.  Nine more weeks of this?  Who knew how far He'd go, how much more He'd learn?

[In The Moment] 

Monday, March 5, 2012


Beatriz - Betty, the host - reminisced while reciting names of milongas from memory.  "When I was your age, we would go out dancing until 6 in the morning, then eat a breakfast in the café, then go back home to shower and pack a picnic, and spend all day in the parque before going out again at night."  ||  "... park..."

"No dormiste?" I asked, shuddering at the thought of pulling an all-nighter [this was negatively associated with writing papers and studying for tests all night, a reinforcement of which I wanted to rid myself]. ||  "You didn't sleep?"

"No, no, no.  Not during the weekends.  We are people of the night."

At La Viruta, students of all ages learn/practice/play with tango, milonga, and even swing dance for six plus hours.  Few of the teachers speak English; the best way I've coped is to listen for key words ["vuelta!  uno, dos, re-gre-so" || "turn! one, two, I return"] and watch everything the teacher does.  Occasionally I'll meet an English/Spanish speaker, and she'll translate for me.

The first class started at eight pm; my legs had given out by two the following morning.  Unfortunately, I completely ignored the fact that all clubs in Argentina only begin at two am.  By the time I had left, many of the students were gone and all of the experienced dancers were only beginning to warm up.

Unlike many other dance halls I've seen [in the U.S.], the dance floor tiles are not bordered; there is no separation between the place where people dance, where people eat and drink, and where people talk.  Una milonga is one large dance floor upon which some tables for resting and eating happen to be placed.

In a world submerged in red, orange, green, and purple lights, you can't help but lose track of time.  And if you're dancing with other new students [from Sweden, from San Diego, from Michigan/Argentina], especially with those who are willing to attempt to do some of the fancier moves performed by the dancers more experienced than yourselves...  You could easily be there until dawn.  Monday morning.

I'm going to have to try do that soon.

[Soon To Be Person of the Night?]

Friday, March 2, 2012


Almost as if his first few nights in India were replaying themselves, but in Spanish, the Boy found himself flustered, exhausted, and frustrated with the local language.  Finally arriving in Buenos Aires, he sat in the arrival terminal and waited to take a taxi to a [temporary?] host's home.


Words so very familiar to him five years ago suddenly resurfaced in his memory and blurred together; as to what were their actual definitions...  That was going to take some time.

He wondered when his [temporary?] host would be home.  Not that it mattered - his watch still read Adelaide time.

"Lo siento..." he stammered, the flavor of six years of Spanish classes tasting stale, "sabes qué hora es?"  He watched as the woman sitting next to him picked her head up out of her hands.  She too looked physically exhausted, but she smiled.  ||  "I'm sorry... do you know what time it is?"

"Son las doce y media," she said, first glancing at her watch then looking over to The Boy's.  His fingers fumbled over the tiny buttons, first moving the hours ahead, then behind.  ||  "It is 12:30."

"No, no las dos, las doce." she emphasized.  The Boy half-laughed, and fixed the time accordingly.  ||  "No, it's not 2:00, it's 12:00."

"Lo siento..." he always was apologizing, "hace cinco años que practicaba el español."  ||  "I'm sorry...  It's been five years since I've practiced Spanish."

"Ah," she nodded, and placed a hand over The Boy's, "es bueno. ¿asdlkfqjwpeoincsdkjahsdlfajsfdh?"  ||  "Ah, that's okay. [something unintelligible in Spanish]?"

The sudden barrage of Spanish language hit him full force, and he frantically waved his hands in front of him.

"Perdóname, por favor,"  Now he wasn't sure if he was speaking Spanish or Italian, or the bastard child of both, "¿Puedes hablar más lentamente? Tengo problemas con... el... escuchar y comprender..."  He slapped himself on his forehead, embarrassed at how much he couldn't say.  ||  "Forgive me, please.  Can you speak more slowly?  I have problems with...  the... to listen and to understand."

The woman nodded, laughed.

If one were to walk past the benches in front of the McDonald's that afternoon from 12:30 to 2:30, they might have overheard the laughter from a woman and a seen boy speaking in broken Spanish, waggling his hands, and wringing his fingers through his hair.  Upon careful inspection, one might have noticed that plenty of things were being said and understood between the two.

"Tu español es bastante bueno.  Pero mi inglés, ¡ay!" she shook her head.  ||  "Your spanish is good enough. But my English, ay!"

"¿No hablas inglés?" The Boy asked.  He wondered why he hadn't asked this before.  ||  "You don't speak English?"

"Nada."  ||  "None at all."

He sighed.

"¿Qué esperas?" she asked.  ||  "What are you waiting for?"

"Espero... el tiempo correcto cuando mi... ¿host?  La mujer con quien voy a vivir llega a su casa."  ||  "I'm waiting for... the correct time when my... host?  The woman with whom I am going to live arrives at her house."

"Ah.  ¿No sabes si está en casa ahora?"  ||  "Ah.  You don't know if she is in her house now?"

"No... recibí un..." his fingers tapped the air in front of him.  ||  "No...  I received a..."

"¡Ah!  Un correo electrónico."  ||  "Ah!  An email."

"¡Si!" He exclaimed.  He didn't realize how much Spanish he had forgotten, or how much he would recognize.  "Recibí un correo electrónico de ella, y dice que no va en casa hasta las tres o cuatro de la tarde."  ||  "Yes!  I received an email from her, and it said that she's not going to be in her house until three or four in the afternoon."

"¿Porqué no la llamas ahora?"  ||  "Why don't you call her now?"

"No tengo un teléfono cellular."  ||  "I don't have a cell phone."

"Vamos.  La llamamos."  She said, pulling out her coin purse.  ||  "Let's go.  Let's call her."

"Oh.  Lo siento.  Me llamo Joshua." The Boy offered his hand and he put his backpack onto the trolley.  ||  "Oh.  Sorry.  My name is Joshua."

"Me llamo Rocio."  ||  "My name is Rocio."

She placed some coins into the coin slot, pushed the button to release them into the machine, and dialed the number in The Boy's notebook.  He watched as she held the phone to her ear, and as her eyes lit up when a voice came on the other line.  A countdown timer read 1:00 on the payphone.

"¿Hola?  ¿Betty?  Me llamo Rocio, estoy aquí con un estudiante... asldfkjqwpeoifajsdlfkahsdkfjqncasdaldkfajefuiandfaksfhkalshfasfkbdkadjfhalalksdjhfasldkfjhqweiounacsxkf."  More words were said that he couldn't follow.  "¡Ah!  Pues, debes hablar con Joshua..."  Rocio shoved the phone into The Boy's face as the timer read 0:05.  ||  "Hello?  Betty?  My name is Rocio, I am here with a student...  [something unintelligible in Spanish].  Ah!  Well, you should speak with Joshua..."

"¿Hola?  ¿Betty?  Me llamo Joshua.  ¡Adios!"  The call ended, and Rocio laughed.  ||  "Hello?  Betty?  My name is Joshua.  Bye!"

"Puedes ir a su casa ahora."  ||  "You can go to her house now."

Rocio and The Boy exchanged email addresses, and planned on finding each other on Facebook.

"Eres muy interesante." She said, narrowing her eyes and looking him up and down, just before leaving to catch her flight to Peru.  As he began to say his goodbye to this utterly random woman who had helped him contact his host, Rocio pulled him into an embrace and kissed both cheeks.  He turned away, and went to catch a taxi into Buenos Aires.  ||  "You're very interesting."

This was going to be fun.


Thursday, March 1, 2012


Not everything goes according to plan [at least not right away].  As I'll prove, this isn't always a bad thing; perhaps it depends on how you use the unexpected time that turns a minor inconvenience into a major success.

WARNING:  This is a long one.

-| Too Bad |-

"Your flight gets into Sydney at 9:30 Sunday night, and doesn't leave until 11 the following morning?" Philip asked.  "That's plenty of time to store your bags and go see the city.  Of course you need to see the Opera House.  But that's not going to last you thirteen hours.  I think you should go to a bar.  By yourself.  It's the perfect excuse to meet people.  You know, the whole It's my last night in Australia kind of thing.  Imagine the people who'll want you!"

I imagined running around Sydney, down random streets and around the harbour, in and out of bars and clubs at 3 in the morning.

"Yeah, but you've gotta be careful."  Dean warned.  He had been living at Philip's for the last two weeks, directing a new show for the touring group.  "That's really not that much time, not in my opinion.  You're going to have to pick up your bags first and then find a place to store them for the night.  Then you're going to have to a take a train or taxi into the city.  Do whatever you want there for a while - I'd really suggest sticking to one thing.  The roads can be pretty packed during early morning, the trains will be busy, and of course there are shady places all over.  Then you're going to have to collect your bags, check in, and go through security all before 8ish.  If I were you, I'd be on a train back to the airport by seven.  Maybe you can just watch the sunrise at the Opera House.  That'd be romantic."

My heart sank at the thought of rushing an already short experience in Sydney, and spending a romantic moment with my shadow.  I shrugged, and settled on running to the Opera House at night, and then going to one bar before taking the train back to the airport.

-| Lisa/Lisy |-

"Yeah, I think Sydney needs to work on their airports, especially on the night life.  I mean, look at all these people who can't even sleep on a chair."

I looked around the silent airport terminal, and how many people were curled into their sweaters and luggage.  Lisa/Lisy [I think she introduced herself as Lisa, but in a letter she showed to me later, the writer addressed it to a Lisy...] sat next to me, and we were the only people in the terminal awake and talking.

"It's too bad you're leaving in the morning.  If that baggage storage place were open only a half hour alter, you would actually get to see a bit Sydney before you left."

I sighed.  "Please don't remind me."

"Even if a hostel were accepting late-night, last-minute check-ins that would be great.  Such a shame."

-| Wee Hours |-

My watch read 4:03 am.  I had lost all feeling from my waist down, my neck was sore from lack of pillow, and my eyes were burning from recently removing dry contacts.  I still clung onto every word Lisa/Lisy said.

Having grown up in Melbourne her entire life, she decided to just get out of the house and travel, no plans on how or by what means she would make it possible.  Her first stop was Italy, back to where part of her family had originated.  Then onto France, Germany, Spain.  A friend in Spain said they should travel together to Brazil, and she did.  A visit to Argentina became a 6 month teaching career.  The teaching career had led to a romantic interest [not a student], and the romantic interest had led to a heartbreak.

"Now?  Now I'm just going home to work.  At least, until I have enough to travel again.  I don't think it's something you really get over, you know?  Once you start doing it...  It's hard to stop."

I knew.  My year was 7/12 over [had it been that long already?], and I could tell that going back home would be hard.  Fortunately, deep and meaningful life conversations like these would make the transition easier.

-| Sweetie, Denied |-

"I just don't understand why I can't buy a cheaper, refundable ticket to Ecuador or Chile."  I leaned over the counter, exhausted and frustrated, trying not to yell at the woman.

"I'm sorry sweetie.  We don't make the rules.  We just enforce them.  But because you have a US passport, you need to have proof of further travel before going to Argentina.  And by further travel, it has to be outside of South America.  If you want, you can go buy a fully refundable ticket to LA, and return it as soon as you land in Argentina.  But we can't give you your ticket.  If they realized we let you go without proof of further travel, not only would you be deported as soon as you landed, we would be fined $10,000.  And we would have to fine you."

I knew she meant well, and that she [probably] said some true things.  Deep down, however, I knew that a) South America could care less if I had proof of further travel, and that b) a ticket to another South American country would be fine.  Logically, people backpacked/traveled for months or years around the Southern continent without proof of coming back to the US.

"I...  I just tried buying a ticket at the other counter.  A fully refundable ticket to the US is more than three grand."

"And how are you expecting to support yourself in Argentina without sufficient funds, sweetie?"

"I meant that I haven't transferred the funds to my debit card.  I can afford it, but it's going to take a couple of days before the funds transfer."

"Mmm hmm.  Well, we can do one of two things.  Either we can send you back to the US-"

Internal monologue: GOOD GOD NO.  I WOULD BRING SO MUCH SHAME TO MY SCHOOL AND THE FELLOWSHIP and probably family and friends as well.

"-or we can change your flight to Wednesday.  Unfortunately, there are aren't any flights for tomorrow, but that might buy you some time to transfer funds into your account."

"I...  I guess that's really my only option.  I'll take the flight change."

"Sweetie, do you think two days is enough time to transfer funds and buy a ticket?"

We'd have to wait and see, wouldn't we?

-| Silver Lining |-

I spent the next two hours running around the airport, attempting to find a location where my laptop could connect to the internet.  Reaching a ripe old age of almost 5 years, my laptop regularly had problems connecting with the world.


The request to transfer enough funds for purchasing a ticket sent, I sat for a moment and realized: Where am I going to sleep for the next two days?  What am I going to eat?  Will I shower?  The gravity of the situation rearing its ugly head, I came to the conclusion that I would have to spend the extra money for a room in a hostel.  Hopefully, one would take me on such short notice.  I flipped through the airport guides for nearby hostels.  The cheapest and closest one was only around the corner from the first train stop leaving the airport; that would have to do.

It didn't hit me until I had dropped my bags at the foot of the hostel bed: I had two days in Sydney.

After the whole baggage storage plan had fallen through, and my ticket to Argentina had been denied, I was somehow granted more time to venture out into the tourist capital of Australia.  Perfect.

-| No Baggage |-

For the first time this year, I left my backpack in my room, and set out into the city armed with only a map and my camera.  What else did I need?

I actually should have asked myself that question before I left the room.  An hour and a half and a bowl of kung fu ramen [homemade and hand-pulled of course] later, I desperately patted my pockets in search of my wallet.  I had left it in my backpack, all the way back in my room.  Sheepishly, I begged for forgiveness from the ramen woman, left my camera as collateral, and ran to the hostel and back.

So much for not worrying.

-| Tourist |-

I did the tourist thing.  Which is hard to do when you're on your own.  Which also results in angular, one-handed photos of yourself in front of tourist attractions.  Which results in a lot of deleting, but also a lot of keeping because of entertainment and quality value.

-| Nice Tourist Shot 1 |-

-| Nice Tourist Shot 2 |-

-| The view outside of the hostel. |-

-| Real Ramen Noms |-

-| Pseudo Albino Monk? |-

-| Blossoms! |-

-| Mom:  "Joshua, can you find me a pair of Ugg boots?  They are my dream boot." |-

-| Ibiseeing You! |-

-| Take pictures of signs that describe you. |-

-| Accurate |-

-| Real Monks? |-

-| Where's his labyrinth? |-

-| Sayid played soccer on this field! |-

-| Look how close I can get! |-

-| "Hark!  Chester!  Wallace!  Do you hear what I hear?" |-

-| Supposedly rubbing the golden snout of this boar brings good luck. |-

-| A member of Slipknot was at the Dymocks.  Many excited people in black got in line and yelled. |-

-| Angel Place |-

-| What's that doing here? |-

-| Aussie shirt on the Aussie bridge |-

-| Aussie shirt on the Aussie bridge overlooking the Aussie Opera House! Triple Threat. |-

-| T-Minus 10 Hours |-

There was a pain in my chest, a twist in my stomach, and a cramp in my head as I checked the transfer update: TRANSFER PENDING.  The night before I was supposed to go to Buenos Aires, and the transfer still hadn't gone through.  Sure, I received an email from the flight company saying that I had requested to buy a ticket to France, but I never received a confirmation email saying that the booking was completed.

And without that booking confirmation, I wouldn't be allowed on the plane!  Again!  And they would either have to delay my flight - again! - or even worse, send me back home to the US!

A sudden slap of common sense hit me across the face; maybe all I needed was that email showing that I requested a ticket to France after Argentina.  Maybe they didn't need the confirmation email.  After all, if [two days ago] they were suggesting I buy the ticket, and that was enough evidence to get onto the plane...  Surely that wasn't enough time to receive the confirmation.

The plot began forming in my mind; I could just show a printed email of an attempt to buy a ticket out of Argentina.  Whether or not it was denied later by the booking agency because of insufficient funds, it didn't matter.  I could be on the plane to, if not already in, Argentina by that time.  And if the ticket was denied before I got on the plane?  I would easily attempt to buy another ticket.

Seeing the loophole was one thing, but realizing I could have jumped through it earlier [two days earlier, more specifically] was another.  Regardless, I had had my time in Sydney.  I left after dinner to go into the city; I towards a bar.  Alone.  Why not?  It was my last night in the country, and I had plenty of reasons to celebrate [I had the time, I had a plan, I had a full night's rest, I still had yet to be a night-time tourist, etc.].

-| Karaoke |-

I found my way to a decently classy bar.  To my luck, it was a pre-Mardi Gras celebration.  And what better way to celebrate than with a karaoke competition?  And who better host to host it than a drag queen named Penny Tration?

-| T-Minus 4 Hours |-

Exhausted, I headed back to the hostel at almost 3 in the morning.  I would have to pack my bags in the dark [hopefully without waking up the other 7 men in the room], take a shower, take a nap, clean up the bed, check my flight,and check out out of the hostel before 7:30 in the morning, when the shuttle would take me to the airport.

-| Attempt # 2 |-

"Enjoy your flight to Buenos Aires, Mr. Magno."

-| Case in Point |-

Don't not worry when things don't always go as planned.  Take the time you need to breathe, work out the next couple of moves that'll get you by in the short-term, then relax.  There's only so much you can do to help the situation, but so much more to do instead of panicking about it.