21 November 2009

a few days later

A few days later and I'm still thinking about shoes.  There are 5,000 riot police down the street from my apartment, making it impossible to go anywhere (read about it in the new york times!) - the football rivalry between Egypt and Algeria is now playing out on my doorstep, and I have glass stuck in the soles of my shoes from the broken shop windows.  The cat is curled up on one of my ugly green pillows (rococo gone asian, if that's possible), and I'm listening to "Electrocutango".

I wish I was in Alexandria, having a coffee at Pastroudis.

...  But they closed Pastroudis, one of the most famous literary cafes in Egypt (opened by a Greek in 1926), made famous & alive by the characters of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.  The manager just died, and an Egyptian chain restaurant bought it out.  No one thought to save it.  Why?  Because no one even knew it was important.  

Can you imagine Starbucks buying out Les Deux Magots in Paris??  This is modern Egypt.  No one knows, no one cares - and I can say this honestly about the things which make up Egypt's artistic and intellectual history.  Egypt has a legacy more immense than any other country in the world -- but the people of Egypt are no longer bearing witness.   


17 November 2009

best friends

Shoes are always there for you when your life is falling apart.

Friends, lovers, and music can fail you.  Wine can pitch disastrous backlashes, like a gypsy curse.  Chocolate can be anti-climactic, not rich enough or gone too soon...  But shoes?  They never talk back to you, they never tell you that you're over-reacting, they don't give you headaches or make you recount your life story to yourself in the mirror at 3am, and they make you look confident, slim, and powerful.  Can you think of a better friend during crisis time???

15 November 2009

warning: the effects of tango withdrawal

I just finished one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and it seems that everyone I know is, from day-to-day, going insane or is utterly miserable, despite being generally happy.  This is probably just daily life in Cairo, where I spend 3 hours in a car or bus every day trying to get from one place to the next.  The following exchange has become a common greeting among me and my friends:
Double Kiss
"How are you?"
"I'm angry. You?"
"I'm anxious."
"Good, let's go get dinner."
Needless to say, I barely danced any tango this week, trying to balance exams with royal engagements (no joke, the prince is in town) and time lost to traffic jams.  And in my moments of stress I realized that I hadn't had a tango high for about two weeks.  

So, the first free moment I have, I schedule a private lesson.  Thursday 3pm.  That's simple enough.  I planned ahead: wake up at 7am, catch the 8am bus to New Cairo to make a 10am hieroglyphics exam, take the exam (translating, transliterating, and commenting on the Old Kingdom's Shipwrecked Sailor), wait for the 1pm bus, take it downtown, take a taxi to Zamalek, arrive in Zamalek 2.30pm, sit down for 15 minutes, then take a taxi to my tango lesson. 3 hours of traveling, mais c'est la vie en caire (absolument pas la vie en rose).  

...All went as planned, until when I finally got into the taxi to go to my lesson, the taxi driver refused to take the bridge I wanted him to take.  He was trying to take a longer route to argue for more money, so I was stuck in traffic for 30 minutes, making myself 30 minutes late to a 1 hour tango lesson.

I lost it in the cab.  Talking to myself, crying, sobbing in the cab driver's face asking him "lei?? lei?? ana mish fahma! mish fahma leiiii!" (why?? why?? I don't understand! Don't understand whhhyyy!).  He started freaking out and when we finally got to the studio, I said, "I'm sorry, my life is falling apart right now, please forgive me, you should've taken that goddamn bridge" and threw 30LE at him, still sobbing.  Normally I pay 5LE, but I was having an existential crisis, and I watched unbelievably as he took the money and drove off happy.

I walk into my lesson.  Mourad sees that "I'm still asleep" but then, no, "I'm upset."  

...  All he said was, "Do you need a hug?" And he gave me a wonderful tango hug, we started dancing, and by the end of the hour my body and mind were totally at peace.  The weekend took off from there: I played tennis at the Marriott, went to Puccini's Tosca, cooked breakfast, and read Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" over an espresso at Arabica.

The moral of the story is, never pay these cab drivers more than they deserve, and if you're feeling like a terrible grumpy person with no reason to be breathing, it's probably because you're neglecting your ochos, your boleos, and the embrace which makes the world a livable, beautiful place.

07 November 2009

comme il faut

Most people know Comme il Faut as the famously innovative designers of Argentine Tango shoes.  With a little shop on the Rue des Artisans in Buenos Aires, they started only some years ago in 2003, but since have been known as the leading designers of unique tango shoes of the best quality.

Well, did you also know that Comme il Faut is the name of a Haitian cigarette company...?  Haïti Chérie...

More importantly, it is also the name of a great tango written by Eduardo Arolas, who also wrote "Derecho Viejo" and "Una Noche de Garufa"...  In fact, on Comme il Faut's website, the intro of the song is played in a little animation...  My favourite version is performed by Troilo's orchestra, but here in Historia del Tango we have Arolas' premier performance of "Comme il Faut" in Paris.   

What I like about this video is how, well - absurd it is. If you catch Arolas when the blonde translates the name of his piece into French, the first time she says, "Comme il Faut", he snaps his fingers and points at her, "eso es... comme il faut..." And towards the end of the clip she seems surprised that he plays well ("il joue bien!!"), as everyone stops dancing simply to stare at him and his musicians... 

Alors, comme il faut!


02 November 2009

tango: the art history of love

by Robert Farris Thompson
A beautifully written book about the origins and development of the tango, from early musical styles and dances like the habanera and canyengue to writers of tango lyrics and the famous originals, their style and their story.

List of chapters:
1. Tango in Hollywood
2. Tango as Text
3. The Cultural Preparation
4. Habanera: The Call of the Blood
5. Milonga: The Great Buenos Aires Conversation
6. Dancing on the Edge: The Early Tango Called Canyengue
7. Tango as Music
8. Tango as Dance

Pictured with Montgolfier Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008.
...Purchased in Cyprus on my way back to Cairo, where French wine is rare and (g)astronomically expensive.  What can I say of this wine?  Not much, only that I am thrilled it is not Egyptian.