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Archive for the ‘Tango’ Category

Anyone who has ever stared down a blank page and blinked first knows how devastating writer’s block can be. I’ve read several articles

on the causes of it, but the best reason I’ve heard to date is actually the simplest to cure – the cause of writer’s block is a lack of fresh ideas, and the best source of new ideas that I know of is travel.

My favorite place to stay in Trieste

You don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth either to be inspired. A jaunt across town to a new neighborhood is just as inspiring as jetting off to Japan, and a lot more economical for those of us on a budget.

Let’s take a look at all of the potential ways local and long distance travel can inspire us.

First and foremost, it’s all about the place. First impressions can be quite powerful when you’re visiting a place for the very first time. For frequent travelers like me, who have been so many places, the challenge is to see a familiar place with fresh eyes. Armed with a seek-and-you-shall-find attitude, I’m always amazed at how many new things I can discover.

The most fascinating thing to write about is people and the cast of characters that make up the place you’re visiting. You can write about their physical appearances, perhaps so very different from your own. You can capture their mannerisms and customs, or you can dig a little deeper and find the commonalities. One of my favorite things to do is recreate conversations with the colloquialisms of unconstrained everyday conversation. It makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping.

Another thing you can do is take us on a tour of some of your favorite places and tell us why they’re your favorites. For example I’m a WWII history buff, and on almost every visit I make to London, I always go to the British War Museum. I become a time traveler. I can feel the sense of urgency, the life and death struggle of nations as the fate of democracy hangs in the balance.

Why not make up stories about your favorite places. I’m often fascinated as I walk the winding back streets and alleyways of old cities like Venice or Barcelona for example. I try to imagine the everyday life of the inhabitants of these ancient dwellings. What happens behind closed shutters, on bougainvillea-covered balconies or in local shops? I look at the laundry hanging on the balconies and try to guess, from the articles of clothing, who lives in that household. What they do for a living?

If it’s a gondolier, does he sing because he is happy? Is it a bank president having an affair with his secretary behind his wife’s back? Or is he madly in love with his wife and rushes home each night to plant a kiss on the back of her neck? Are the children bored with their over stimulated digital lives? Do they still play outdoors? Is a woman sick and dying behind shuttered window? Does she still have a burden of regret weighing heavily on her soul, pinning her to this earth like an insect in one of those shadow boxes. What was the regret and what could she have done differently?

Local culture, cuisine and customs also yield a rich harvest of stories, observations and ideas. Engage all your senses: taste, touch, hear, see and smell what the place and its people have to offer. Participate. Go out of your comfort zone and learn something new, something indigenous to the place. Mush a dog sled in Alaska, dance Flamenco in Barcelona or dive the Great Barrier Reef. Or be a tourist in your own city.

And, finally, never leave the house or hotel without a notepad and pen because Inspiration can strike at any time, curing your writer’s block in an instant.

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I often find myself in new places for business and because I’m in and out of a city quite quickly, I don’t always have much time to spare. However, when I do get some downtime, whether I’m traveling for work or pleasure, I always do a bit of research before I set out to explore. I like to arrive in a place that I know a little something about, and I’m not talking about its tourist attractions. I’m talking about its soul, its character(s) and its culture.

There’s nothing more thrilling than the flash of recognition you get when you see or visit a place that has some significance  because you’ve read about it in a novel or seen it in a movie. There is a familiarity that arises from knowing a place’s “back story”. If you have that, you’re no longer visiting a stranger; you’re visiting a friend.

Let me give you a few examples of books and movies that can help you learn the back-story of specific places as well things you can do when you get there to enhance your experience.

Books

Barcelona – The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlo Ruiz Zafón. The novel includes hand drawn maps that trace the characters’ steps through plot twists and turns so you can follow in their footsteps.

India – A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. This sweeping epic does a great job of breaking down the early formative politics of the country. Reading it will give you a better appreciation and understanding of today’s India.

Montreal – Forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs sets many of her thrillers in Montreal. I sometimes half expect to bump into her character, Temperance Brennan in one of the many settings she describes.

Movies

Rome – Roman Holiday. Follow Audrey Hepburn as she hops on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck to see the sights in Rome. Fall in love with both the city and the guy.

Paris / France – French Kiss. Follow Megan Ryan and Kevin Kline from Paris and Province to the Cote d’Azur in this delightful little comedy.

New York – When Harry Met Sally. For me this is the best way to live vicariously in New York.

Having read a book or seen a movie about a place gives significance to the sights in the places you visit. It makes the experience that much richer. But you can also enhance your experience once you are there.

Here are five fun things you can do.

1)    Take a class in a “native” subject. Take tango lessons in Buenos Aires, cooking classes in Bologna and an Ikebana class in Tokyo.

My attempt at Ikebana

2)    Attend a cultural event. Attend the local symphony, a dance performance or a concert given by local talent in a club or a restaurant.

3)    Take a tour. It’s a quick way to get an overview of a place, after which you can pick and choose your favorite spots to go back to and savor on your own.

4)    Treat yourself. Travel can be stressful process at the best of times: standing in long check-in lines, losing your luggage or just getting oriented. Book a massage, facial, or a wash and blow dry at a local hair salon. It lends an air of “normalcy” to a place, and it makes you feel better no matter what situation you’re facing.

5)    Sample the local cuisine. Always make it a point to try one local dish, whether it’s pizza in Naples, poutine in Montreal or antelope in Africa.

Finally as a way to relive the experience once you return home, bring back a music CD of an artist or group that you heard while visiting a place. If the music isn’t live, but piped in through a sound system in restaurant or played on the radio in a taxi, go ahead and ask the waiter or taxi driver about the singer or group. They are happy to tell you about the music to promote their country’s talent.

Once home, you can become an armchair traveler and let the music transport you back in time and place to experience those magical moments again and again.

What the teacher did

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My trip to Tokyo was ill-timed for attending a milonga but not for taking a tango class.  This time, instead of a private lesson, I took a group class at the Tropicana bar/club located in the Roppongi Hills area in the Minato district of Tokyo.  It’s a high-rise, über-urban community that allows residents and visitors alike to shop, work, live and play all in one compact area. It is also where East meets West. According to my Japanese friends, the district is populated with the highest concentration of “foreigners” in Tokyo.

Walking along its crowded streets I wonder if I’m in Minato or Midtown Manhattan.  English is definitely the lingua franca here but it’s peppered with accents as colorful as the neon signs that bathe the streets in an eerie kind of sci-fi glow.  Roppongi Hills pulses to a world beat all its own so it’s the perfect place for bars and clubs.

It’s also the world beat of tango that brings me here. Tango, like Roppongi, is a small world. Connecting is easy when you have something like dance or foreignness in common.  Often times it’s six degrees of separation — sometimes, as in the tango world, it’s even less. In my case it was three degrees.

I made the first connection through Arlene Toth’s London Tango blog” http://londontango.wordpress.com/ and an introduction to Alberto Paz in New Orleans.   Alberto, http://www.planet-tango.com/, put me in touch with Yaeko, one of his former students here in Tokyo.  And Yaeko was kind enough to organize a group lesson for me in Tokyo.

We never did make that lesson – we both got lost in transportation, each of us waiting for the other at different exits of the metro one night.  I was so disappointed because I had really wanted the experience of a Japanese group lesson – just like in the movie Shall We Dance.  Dejected, I returned to my hotel.

What turned out to be bad timing for a dance lesson turned out to be good timing for friendship.  Undeterred by the mix-up, Yaeko called and invited me to dinner instead. We may have been too late to dance but we weren’t too late to eat.  That night we talked tango for three hours.  When I asked Yaeko why she danced tango, she gave me an answer that only milongeuros and milongeuras would fully understand.  “I didn’t choose tango,” she said.  “Tango chose me.”

Afraid that her passion would become all-consuming, she took some time off to study the violin.  I can understand that. Some times I question my own sanity when I find myself dancing salsa four or five nights a week.  Once or twice my friends who don’t dance have mentioned the word “intervention” in connection to my passion.

And so I too stop for a while and fill my evenings with more practical pursuits like yoga, or Pilates or cooking lessons. That is until I realize they are a poor substitute for the one thing that truly makes me happy – dance.

Over dinner Yaeko suggested an opportunity for another lesson with Luis Castro and Claudia Mendoza, who are guest instructors at the Club Tropicana.  The next night, we made sure to pick an easy meeting point and we connected with time to spare.  I joined Yaeko and her friends in a small group lesson, which turned out to be more like a master class.

Milonga was the dance we practiced that night, and the intricacy of the footwork discouraged me. I realized I had a long way to go.  I also realized that to reach this level I would have to put in some time and get serious instead of playing at it one lesson at a time.    Up till then I was learning tango with some waltz thrown in. Milonga was fast, fun and frustrating, and I would have been totally discouraged if it hadn’t been for Luis, Claudia and my fellow students encouraging me. Even the more advanced students had to work at some of the steps. We were in it together.  By the end of the evening I had managed to pick up a step or two and I felt more comfortable.

Afterward we celebrated our progress at a nearby restaurant. As an outsider I was amazed at how at ease I felt among this group of strangers. It was only for a couple of hours, but it felt like we’d been meeting there for years.

I suspect that this is due in part to how the tango world functions.  Dance is like owning a passport that grants you access to an amazing country.  And participating in tango is like visiting family. I had really thought that I missed my chance when I missed the first lesson but in truth, I couldn’t have planned things better.  The lesson at the Tropicana was a last minute suggestion. And so I’ve added a fifth lesson to my dance is life list.

Lesson #5: Dance is like life. Some things you just can’t plan…sometimes you just have to improvise. https://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/dance-is-life/

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www.castroymendoza.com

http://jantango.wordpress.com/about/

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Oktay Ortakcioglu

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Thanks to all of you tangueros and tangueras who were kind enough to provide contacts to instructors and milongas in Tokyo.  If any of my other fellow dancers have suggestions on milongas or salsa clubs – I’ll happily take them as I don’t leave until Thursday.

In the meantime, I am going to treat myself to an all-Tokyo film fest this weekend, which will include:

Lost in Translation – As I will soon be Lost in Tokyo.

Blade Runner (The Director’s cut) – I’m told Ridley Scott’s futuristic film noir evokes the sights and sounds of present day Tokyo and the Shinjuku area where I will be staying.

Shall We Dance?  The original Japanese version of this film really hits home for many of us.  If it says anything about human nature, it’s that it’s never too late to rediscover who you are – especially if you happen to find yourself in Tokyo.

Enjoy!

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Otra Vez!

hats off 008What’s a business trip without a little pleasure?  So the first thing that’s  going into the suitcase this morning are the killer black and red stillettos purchased from Comme il Faut when I was in BsAs last month.

(Yes, yes, I’m also bringing the lap top  – the IT guys have got me up and running for this trip.)

Tango, Tango Nuevo and now Tango New Orleans.  My thanks to Arlene at Londontango for putting me in touch with Alberto and Valorie.  Lessons have been scheduled, and I am going to do my best to hit a practica  with Maria Elena and Enrique.

Eso!

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Laissez le bon temps rouler!Coming soon posts from New Orleans to Tokyo and a few places in between.

PS if any one knows of any good places to dance  Salsa or Tango in either of these cities, I would love to hear from you!

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/kiskamedia

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It’s not tango music but the steps are there.  And this is probably my last post on the subject for a little while.  I’m hoping to find a milonga or two on my upcoming trips to The Big Easy and Tokyo. 

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