Thursday, March 30, 2006

Quick Trip on the Slow Train


Wow. So I really only spent an afternoon in London. Just enough time to wonder about and have a coffee. I admit it, I stopped at a Starbucks, but it was raining cats and dogs, the store was right there...

Bloody addict.

Very, very early in the morning I caught the train up to Edinburgh. There is some really lovely countryside on the way up here. Lush farmland, nestled in low, rolling hills. There are quite a few villages, very close, that are dominated by huge, medieval churches. It made for interesting scenery.

As well as sleepy scenery. I only had about six hours of sleep since leaving Minneapolis. I slept the last few hours up to Edinburgh (it was a five hour trip overall). After finding a hostel, which is quite centrally located, and near to the train station, I found some lunch and had a two hour nap.

I wandered about the University area, which is full of some nice parks and greens. I found myself a little lost after that. I generally seem to forget that most cities that grew out of medieval castle towns tend to radiate outward, rather than work in a block system. So often I get a little confused about the cardinal directions.

The whole reason I was wandering around that area to begin with was, well, to look for this tango club. There's not a whole lot of tango here in Edinburgh, but I thought I would check out what's here. It turns out that it is the equivalent of spring break here, so the building was closed. I might have to change the name of this blog.

Today has been full of a cold, thick mist, or maybe it would be called a dense fog. Cold, wet and wanting to at least see some sights, I went up to Edinburgh Castle. While not really terribly architecturally interesting, the exhibits are quite historically informative and interesting. I found that of the building itself, the World War I memorial, built in the twenties was probably the most interesting. Some bits, like the remains of David's tower, seemed to be half closed, or incomplete exhibits. Often I would find myself, after climbing a well lit stair or down a well lit hall, in closed off alcove with no explanation.

St. Giles church, just down the Royal mile from the castle, was excellent. The stained glass there, installed in the 18th century, is beautiful. On one wall it depicts the life of Jesus, on the other it follows the apostles, and early saints, as well as some of the early biblical figures such as King David and Moses. The faces of these figures are excellent.

The problem as I see it right now, is trying to come up with a better plan if tomorrow is a rainy day. I can't very well go traipsing about parks in rainy/foggy/misty/crappy weather.

Wait. Traipsing?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Long Day


I made it in one piece, as usual. I've never actually had any trouble with flights before. This one probably had the closest thing to an issue. I neglected to print out my itinerary before heading to the airport.

This could have been a Bad Thing.

It turns out that, in the case that they ask, if you don't have proof of onward travel, Immigration will not let you into the UK. As a consequence, Icelandair will not let you on your flight.

This was pretty simple to take care off, as long as I could find a printer. The airline couldn't print out an itinerary for me - their computers were down[1]. So I found the one printer in the whole airport I could use. I charmed - that's right, charmed - my way into printing out my itinerary at the reception of the airport conference center.

Who knew I could be so charming?

On an Apologetic Note...

To all those folks that I did not get a chance to see before I left again, sorry about that. I was a bit of a lazy bastard. I'd blame ballroom dancing, but there wasn't even a whole lot of that going on...

[1] No wonder all the airlines are having issues. They seem to have the biggest, piece of crap computer system out there. It's really time to modernize that one, guys.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mismanagement and Misadventure

Minneapolis, MN

Again, as a trip draws near I have done very little towards the preparation of the trip. I've order some books, I've paid for plane tickets, but naught else has been accomplished. You'd think, in this modern age of the Internet and email that I would have things more readily researched, hotels booked, and routes plotted.

In fact, I don't even have the slightest idea of where I will go.

Scotland, it turns out, is a remarkable small part of the British Isles. Bigger than Wales, but with a small population - roughly six million. Doesn't seem like much for a culture that apparently invented the modern world.

All this mismanagement and lack of planning certainly removes all the interesting travel related bits out and leaves us with ...well, very little.

I have been trying to keep myself active, though. It seems, mostly at night, though. There was a little tango dancing on Sunday, at the Loring. That felt pretty good. I couldn't remember any of the interesting bits I had learned (they'll come back), but I did feel very comfortable just navigating the floor. There was a certain confidence in my step that definitely wasn't there before.

Saturday night involved a trip out to The 400 Bar to see a band called The Heartless Bastards. They were billed as being a cross between The Black Keys and some other female lead singer that I had never heard of. While not having as much musical range as the Black Keys, the lead singer had a fantastic voice that conveyed just the proper amount of darkness and depression for a blues-rock band.

Good stuff.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Something Missed

From AP News, via

Portion of Patagonian Glacier Collapses[1]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - A vast Patagonian glacier shed a 200-foot wall of ice with a roar during the night, sending debris plunging into a lake in southern Argentina as hundreds of tourists struggled to watch in the dark.

About 400 tourists were on hand when the Perito Moreno ice bridge collapsed, a phenomenon that has been repeated every few years. This time, cameras were unable to capture the final crack late Monday night.

Carlos Corvalan, supervisor at Los Glaciares National Park, said a section of ice had been showing signs it was ready to fall for three days before it finally gave way at 10:55 p.m.

Corvalan told the independent Diarios y Noticias news agency that many spectators had been keeping a round-the-clock vigil, sleeping in their cars at an overlook. Although it was a cloudy night with visibility obscured, he said the booming sound of cracking ice could be heard for miles.

"It was quite a sonorous event, quite impressive," Corvalan said.

A branch of the Perito Moreno glacier regularly advances across the lake, repeatedly forming a natural ice dam. The latest wall of ice fell as lake levels began rising on one side, exerting enormous pressure. Only a portion of the 3,000-year-old glacier, known as the "White Giant," was affected.

On Monday, the Todos Noticias television network frequently interrupted regular programming with live footage of large chunks of ice breaking from the towering glacier and crashing into the water.

The footage also showed a kind of natural tunnel forming inside the glacier ice, reminiscent of the March 12, 2004, collapse, when a huge section crashed into the water as tourists on shoreline walkways cheered and shot footage with video cameras.

The glacier is one of 48 at Los Glaciares National Park, an international tourist destination visited by thousands of people visit each year, about 1,335 miles south of Buenos Aires in the remote Santa Cruz province.

Ok, so that would have been damn cool. Maybe a little dark but still...

[1]© 2006 The Associated Press

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Writer's Block

Minneapolis, MN

I've come to realize that there seems to be one way for me to really write regularly. I think it involves being able to walk frequently.

The suburbs are not providing this for me.

I have really lived in a suburban area for a quite a few years, and I've forgotten how often one has to drive from place to place. Sure, I could walk around the block, but it's the same set of houses that have been there for twenty-five-plus years. There has been remarkably little change in the neighborhood that I grew up in. So there seems to be remarkably little to provide some mental stimulation.

Perhaps that what's really missing. Lots of mental stimulation. I'm not even reading very much. I'm not even sure where the time has been going, during the day.

Not that things changed rapidly in my old neighborhood. I'm here at the coffee shop again (seems to be the only place I can sit and write with any kind of coherence) where I generally spent most of my time outside of my apartment in Uptown. It's a place of subtle changes, though. The art peaces change on the wall, as the shop features new artists. They changed bakers once. That did not receive high acclaim. A week later, it was changed back.

Fortunately, I have been doing more thinking about the next leg of my vagabond days. I'm headed to Scotland for a two weeks, followed by another four in Central Europe. It'll be a little more whirlwindy. I don't want to make it like my first backpacking trip to Europe, but I probably won't be staying three weeks in one place, like Argentina.

So I've thought that I really aught to write the location of the post at the top. Seems a little journalistic, and also a little pretentious, but, hey, it'll keep people up to speed with where I'm at. Plus it eases up the whole writer's block. Just getting a few words typed can help trigger a bit more.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Back North

Back North, where water drains clockwise, and the weather is cold.

It's strange to be back, really. There was quite a bit of thought put into to staying on Monday morning. I really liked it down there. The city was really starting to feel comfortable, and I was just starting to get the hang of Tango.

I had met some pretty cool people, as well, some of whom are staying on in BA for a while. I would have know some people while I was there, and not just been completely on my own. Certainly would have made the transition from visiting to living very easy.

But here I am, sitting in the coffee shop.

I decided, as it is, to stick with my original plan. So, I've already bought plane tickets for the next destination: Scotland. Well, London, actually. I'll get up to Scotland somehow.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Tango Zone

Imagine, if you will, a rock concert. A Band plays on stage, up front. A sea of people expand out around the stage, cheering the first notes of songs they know, going wild at the end of each number, and listening with rapt attention in between. Pockets open up in the crowd where hard core fans thrash away, only to die down at the end of a song, openning again in another part of the audience.

Now imagine that the band is a Tango orchestra.

Same scenario, different music. Except instead of thrashing and moshing, pockets open in the crowd with a few couples dancing. The dance lasts for the length of the song, and then the pocket collapses. The next song begins and another pocket opens. All this happens to the cheers of the crowd.

The Tango festival's crowning event was this sort of scene. The Gran Milonga al Aire Libre, on Saturday night, consisted of a band shell constructed in the middle of a large, five-lane avenue, and three city blocks of the same street blocked off for spectators and dancers. The band was an orquesta tipica - four bandoneĆ³ns, four violins, a viola, a bass, and a piano, accompanied by a singer. Beautiful music, accompanied by beautiful dance.

The large city blocks created one of the largest dance areas I've ever seen. The dancers included an amazing variation: young and old dancers mixed together on the street. This mix showed just how alive and well tango is here in Buenos Aires.

This is only the eigth annual Tango festival, so it doesn't necessarily have a long history. It seems like an affirmation of local culture. It really celebrates the major contribution to world culture that tango has been. It's also very much a Buenos Aires contribution. It's origins are here, and it's future is here. Neo-tango sounds, from groups like Tanghetto and the Gotan Project[1], as well as changes to the dance are keeping it alive and vibrant.

The festival certainly created a great cultural experience with the Gran Milonga. The event was enjoyed by dancers and onlookers a like. A beautiful, late summer night, made more so by a highly enjoyable event.

[1] Ok, so the Gotan Project is actually a French group. The French have been playing very similar music for years - accordian and violin-based jazz.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Last Weekend in BA

Today starts the last weekend in the city, before heading back to the States. It's starting out with something I haven't really experienced first hand here in Argentina (outside of the busride from Mendoza): it's damned rainy.

I am absolutely soaked.

I have this little travel umbrella. Sounds great, right? The key is travel umbrella; in heavy rain it covers my head, and the top of my shoulders - not all the way to the ends, mind you - and about three inches below that.[1] Walking the last ten blocks in this fashion was not the brightest idea I've had all week.

Still, it hasn't been a bad day. I had one of my last tango lessons (one more on monday). It went pretty well, actually. The last two have dealt with the milonga style of tango. This is a much faster paced dance, in terms of the tempo. It often results in stopping and shifting weight in place, as milongas are usually very crowded. The last two classes covering this subject pretty much involved exercises consisting of taking a step, and closing, taking a step and then closing. The step could be taken in any direction (forward, backward, side-left, side-right, and cross-diagonals), with either foot. The weight is shifted for the desired foot at those closes. Now, one doesn't have to stop and weight all the time, it was just a very useful exercise.

I'm trying to see a movie this afternoon, just to wait out the rain. I've a ticket to see Munich. The movie schedules seem to be a bit odd, as the film is not at the same time as the previous day. Maybe it's because it's friday, maybe because it's Argentina. So I have to kill a little time, here.

My plans for the rest of the weekend (hopefully tonight, as well - I'm starting to feel a bit under the weather) is to go to various milongas. There is one tonight at Confiteria Ideal. Another one outdoors as part of the festival. The third, on Sunday, is outside in the Plaza Dorrego. I've heard that the Sunday one is really laid back. I'm looking forward to that one.

The instructors seem to think I've improved somewhat, which is good. Hopefully this means I will get out and dance a bit more...we'll see.

[1] How's that for a sentence. It has probably too much (incorrect) punctuation for its own good.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Luna Park

I had seen posters for this concert the week before I left for Mendoza. I thought to myself "that would be cool to go see, if only I could get tickets and some people to go." Monday, in talking with some of the folks I had met previously, they were going to go, that they got there tickets on Saturday, and I should try and grab a ticket myself.

So, last night, I went to see Franz Ferdinand at Luna Park in Buenos Aires.

Bloody good show. We were standing just in the middle of the crowd of to the right, at first. When the band started (there was no opening band - I was blown away by that fact alone) the crowd surged up to the front, and I was dragged along with it. Pretty quickly, I was standing in a sea of Argentines, five people deep from center stage. People jumping, pushing, screaming, singing along (very strange to hear people singing English songs with a Spanish accent). It was fantastic.

They played straight through for an hour, followed up by a four-song encore with a really great drum solo, played by three guys on one drum set. It seemed like both the crowd and the band had to warm up to each other. Perhaps it was the langauge barrier, perhaps it was the fact that they were really in town to open for U2. They played a lot of songs from their new album at first, but once they started playing numbers from first album, the energy really picked up.

This was a much different show from the first time I saw them. They played at the Fine Line in Minneapolis two years ago. That show was much more intimate, with a lot more conversation in between songs. Of course, they had only released the one album and a single at the time. They did less improvistion during the breaks at that show, though. Here, they seemed more at ease with adding some variation on the songs during the breaks.

Absolutely covered with sweat as we left (the down side of the center-front - other people's sweat), I enjoyed a well deserved beer.

Check off Night Out in a Crazy Crowd off the list.