So Very Hot

Apr 21st 2010: Thoughts, Travel

Wow. I’m on a high. It came from somewhere quite unexpected. But let me get back to that in a moment…

Boarding school had the clear disadvantage that, when the hormonal growing spurts of puberty hit you with an unearthly hunger at 2am, you would be stuck in a dormitory with a bunch of boys who didn’t know how to cook. You obviously being one of them. Without a kitchen and always strapped for cash we were required to leverage our low standards and our overexcited creativity. An illegal and as fire hazard classified water boiler dedicated to exclusively cooking cheap spaghetti together with the prepackaged tomato sauce became the nutritional source of choice to make it through the night. Even though the process was driven to a holy ritual and the result was sanctified, it was something that could only be recognized and classified as food at that particular age. Evaluating the pasta’s readiness for consumption required a long researched scientific test, a critical part of the procedure. A single spaghetti would be fished out of the pot and thrown with force against the ceiling. If it dropped back down we would have to endure our hunger for some more time, but if it stuck to the ceiling it was time to drain the bulk of the water, add the sauce mix, stir, and dig in. As the test spaghetti were rarely reclaimed, you might be able to imagine what some of the dormitory ceilings (and the corresponding water boilers) looked like towards the end of the semester.

Thanks to my current, unstructured lifestyle, I have come to realize that 24 hours, which never used to be anywhere near enough, can be rather long. Even embracing photography fulltime and working focused for an exhausting ten hours still leaves a good chunk of the day unallocated. As I am cursed with an relentlessly active ego craving to fill any void, I find myself creating lists of things to do and semi-useless skills to learn, often for no particular reason other than “wouldn’t it be cool if …” – a strange flashback to college days.

Reviewing my lists I came to realize that, just as you can categorize the emotional involvement with a job into the three categories of job, career, and calling, you can group your personal interests into the analogous groups of distractions, hobbies, and passions. Distractions are usually born from boredom and are, by design, rather mindless… like learning the New York cab whistle, or learning to wear flip flops, or memorizing the lyrics to Sabotage, or starting a random collection of strange objects, or watching all movies of a particular director first in chronological then in reverse alphabetical order. Hobbies on the other hand are based in curiosity. Something, maybe formerly a distraction, peeked your interest and now you want to know more. You want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes and you are willing to make the effort. Finally, passions are founded in necessity. You have reached a point where you cannot not do it. It is part of your odd personality, it defines you and your quirks, and even though you might loath it at times, you cannot help yourself but care about it.

One of the distractions I picked up while in Buenos Aires is Tango. This is the pride of the Argentineans and even though soccer is still god, especially here, and only a very small fraction of the population actually dances Tango, they will frequently remind you how it was invented right here, how Argentina is the cradle of Tango. They tend to skip over the part on how it was invented: bored but horny men standing in line at brothels, waiting for the women, distracted themselves by dancing with each other and thus invented Tango. It evolved from there with some remnants of the origins remaining in, for example, the clothing and at this point no trip to Argentina is complete without watching a professional Tango show. Even the famous Puente de la Mujer (“Bridge of the woman”) was inspired by Tango, photo at the bottom. I didn’t see the relationship until I accidentally came across this Tango photo.

When asked why not more Argentineans dance Tango, the common reply is that it is slow and boring. True, it is a slow dance when compared to, for example, Lindy Hop, which is more of a very fun, improvisational aerobic workout. But calling Tango boring is missing the point. After five weeks of private lessons I finally had my I-get-it-now moment. Tango is hot!  I start to get my friends’ addiction to it, their need to go to every Milonga, to travel around the country and the world to dance as much as possible, to visit Buenos Aires again and again just to hit the Tango bars until the early hours of the morning.

The last few weeks I’ve been working for one on unlearning how to walk, an ability ingrained and exercised since the tender age of one and which after almost three decades of practice is hard to abandon. But walking is as critical to Tango as the cat is to the crazy cat lady. The other skill focused on is leading the partner as it’s pretty much your fault if she hits the wall, steps on someone’s (your) foot, or just turns left when you want to go right. In that respect Tango is very unforgiving and any hesitation is punished right away. To make things more complicated, you also have to improvise while leading. You can pretty much do anything you want. Correction: others can – I still can’t. Tango is very unstructured and for a complete novice it is hard to just put a bunch of random moves together at the right time with the right steps, all the while making sure you communicate to your partner so she knows what’s coming. And to top things off you obviously need to pay attention to the music, too. Just as with other activities, there is a lot of the mechanical fundamentals you have to go through to adjust your body and head before you can even get down with the real thing. So I liked my classes, but wasn’t ecstatic. Today was different.

My guidebook describes Tango as “an affair that lasts for three minutes.” I couldn’t really imagine what they meant by that and watching Tango dancers perform I honestly didn’t see it either. Not really. It looked superficially sexy. So unlike god soccer, Tango does not appear to be a real spectator sport, despite the many Tango shows offered. You need to experience it. And today I did. I don’t know what endorphin cocktail kicked in, nor what triggered it – I’m still doing basics, no sexy moves, no tight embrace – but damn! in the last dance of lesson something happened. And I almost got through the dance without  blunders, too. Now I understand what the guidebook was talking about. It was hot and sexy and awesome. A total rush. I feel I only got the first few glimpses, but I walked home on a happy high. And it was different from other, somewhat similar experiences, like the Adrenaline fueled rush I would occasionally experience during Kendo matches or while hitting the throttle on my yellow sportsbike Blitz. And it is unlike the meditational, reflective, and Zen-like calm while being in The Zone taking photos. This is a new, fantastic third type. The only commonality across the three appears to be the lack of participation, the unusually passive state of the rational half of the brain. Take that, age of enlightenment!

While other interests explored often ended up dropping like a zapped Earthworm Jim, I think my Tango spaghetti has now left the stage of distraction and is now stuck as a hobby, at least for a while, further decorating my ceiling. What’s hanging on yours?

Posted in Thoughts and Travel by Ernst Bruening on April 21st, 2010 at 11:49 pm.

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