Monthly Archives: March 2007

Demo in Naples

Here are some photos of our Friday night demo (3/23). They were taken by Leo, one of the local tango instructors here. Molte grazie to Leo!!!

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Bella Napoli

Each day we have spent in Naples could be an entire story in itself. A wild and unforgettable city, it is a place much like Buenos Aires where nearly all its inhabitants were born and raised here, and this gives Naples part of its unique character. Pino picked us up from the airport and as we loaded our luggage into the car he asked, “What have you heard about Naples?” Adjectives like chaotic and festive came to mind. He laughed and said, “Yes, that is true.” That first drive through the city to Casa Miracoli, where we would stay, was an introduction to life in Naples. At rush hour, or at any time, really, lanes of traffic and red lights are purely optional. Cars, motorini (motor scooters), and pedestrians flow like a swirling river through the hopelessly too-narrow streets of Naples. Forward, backward, sideways, vehicles and people slipping by one another with barely a centimeter to spare, all at a speed which made even Isaac gasp and close his eyes a few times. After almost a week here, it seems that all of Naples runs at two alternate settings: fast forward and slow motion. This dynamic is mirrored perfectly in the locals’ consistent and regular consumption of coffee and alcohol, a custom we felt obligated to participate in, of course….

Arriving at the apartment was like walking into a sitcom – four young italians greeted us when we entered, and two more were engaged in either taking apart or putting back together a sink in the kitchen (we weren’t sure at first). Everyone was chatting at a lively, bubbly pace, and soon three more people arrived: the plumber, his assistant, and his assistant’s 5-year old daughter, who immediately began exploring the house. There were many more explanationsj of how to fix the sink, and two large bottles of Peroni (an italian beer) were opened and shared with everyone including the plumber and his assistant. Isaac and I sat on the couch watching the scene unfold… Soon after the sink was repaired, a pizza delivery man arrived, and what better meal for our first evening in Naples but the most famous pizza in the world. We have since eaten Neapolitan pizza almost every day (classic Margarita, prosciutto and rucola, salame….) and will happily continue until we leave.

On Friday, Sara took us on a leisurely walk around the center of Naples, and along some of its most enchanting streets. The extreme narrowness of the streets (many exactly the width of a small car without its rear-view mirrors) together with the extreme tallness of the buildings gives the impression of being in a stone labyrinth, but a labyrinth full of busy people, small vehicles, shops, and laundry waving in the wind from the upper level windows. She told us about the miracle of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples who protects the city and its inhabitants. Twice a year in the Duomo (the Cathedral of Naples), San Gennaro transforms his preserved blood from solid to liquid. The Neapolitans wait anxiously for this each time, always the same day and the same hour, because if the miracle does not occur it is a terrible omen and is surely the fortelling of a disaster that will soon befall the city. Sara assured us that this is not a religious belief but a real phenomenon which is of utmost importance to all Neapolitans whether they are Catholic or not.

Also on this day, Sara and I discovered that we are two days apart in age. So near the end of Friday night’s milonga, the group presented me with a Baba cake (traditional sponge cake soaked in rum) and a bottle of champagne. Agata explained that I had to slice off the top of the bottle with the flat side of the huge kitchen knife that she brandished with a big smile. I must have looked a bit intimidated because she put it in my hand gently and stood behind me. And with her help I am very pleased to report that the top of the neck of the bottle did indeed slice completely off! Imagine, all these years I was opening champagne by removing the cork…. Silly me. I looked over at Isaac and we instantly agreed that this was a tradition we were going to keep.

On Sunday night’s milonga we celebrated Sara’s birthday similarly, with the addition of the most enthusiastic birthday dance I have ever seen among tango dancers. Not a waltz, not a tango, but a milonga (Toca Tango, in particular) was chosen by Sergio up in the DJ booth while the entire room clapped time with the music. Isaac leapt from a chair into the circle to dance with Sara, an act which spurred the next 15 men to create similarly dramatic entrances until Toca Tango had been played not once but twice through.

One more special tradition from this creative group of dancers is the community mural. Every Sunday they stretch a canvas or paper over a large table and provide paints and brushes, insisting everyone contribute a few swirls of color before the end of the evening. I painted a few leaves onto a plant that someone else had added along the right side of the canvas, and I came back later to see that other things had appeared to compliment what I had painted. I was suprised to feel so happy at having created something in connection with other people. A marvelous and inspired idea that creates a real sense of connection within a group, exactly the definition of community.

Today we are recuperating from the weekend of workshops and milongas, looking forward to a few more free days to explore this amazing city and be enriched by its boundless energy. Fabrizio says the people here have a love/hate relationship with the city, that they are locked in a kind of passionate affair which contains both the frustration of an overpopulated, semi-functional infrastructure and the joy of the creative and expressive energy that seems to run through every molecule of Naples.

Sharna

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London pics

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London Blog

It’s becoming a ritual of mine to write blog entries (to be posted upon next wireless access) on the flight to our next destination. It fits nicely with our schedule from now on, one week in each city. It feels like about the right amount of time to review and chronicle our adventures without forgetting anything, selecting the highlights from each place we visit. At the moment we’re flying further and further from London and approaching Naples, where we are already looking forward to pizza and vino with great enthusiasm.

But let’s rewind a bit. In England we stayed 30 minutes west of the city with friends in a small cottage called “Little Magpie,” adjacent to a quiet country golf course. On day one, we didn’t even go into the city, opting to stroll around the course and into small wooded areas for the afternoon. Later on Sibel and John took us for dinner at one of England’s oldest pubs, a warm and cozy place where we were advised not to order anything other than beer and roasted meat. Happily, both we excellent examples of typical local fare and we were happy to include that experience in our trip to England.

The next morning we made good use of the cappuccino machine in the kitchen with English scones and crumpets (it really is a shame these are not available in the US). Friday we spent a full day site-seeing in London and decided unanimously that we never wanted to do it again. I guess it is a good thing that with still almost three months to go on our tour, we discovered that we both share a short attention span for tourist activities. Nevertheless, by the time we left London we had seen the famous wax museum Madame Tussaud’s (Isaac dragged me and I was glad he did), the very funny and clever west end play 39 Steps (I dragged Isaac and he was glad I did), the London Eye (a slow motion ferris wheel with enclosed glass pods operated by British Airways, from which one can see the entire city from very high up in the sky!), Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and Westminster Abbey.

Of our tango activities the Sunday evening event stands out, where we taught and performed at a milonga held in a private club called Home House. Now, this club just happens to be a beautifully restored and maintained 18th century townhouse. It is huge and has several exquisitely beautiful rooms in which to lounge, eat, drink, and dance! We felt very decadent drinking coffee on a purple velvet couch there before the class began….

Sharna

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Cyprus weekend: the photos

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Cyprus Vistas Part II

Sunday morning we woke up super well-rested and supremely happy. After a leisurely breakfast including locally produced thyme honey and orange juice fresh squeezed from orange trees in the garden outside, the boys decided to take a swim. Isaac, Alkis, and Giorgos braved the wind and waves while Anna and Nikki sunbathed back at the hotel. They came back refreshed and salty, and we packed and piled back into the cars for our final excursion to Agamas, a protected nature reserve on Cyprus. At the beginning of the hiking trail we visit another legendary site, the Baths of Aphrodite. The Baths are like The Rock, not a human-constructed temple or structure, but a natural phenomenon with mythological significance. We spot an eel swimming in the small pool of water sheltered in a cave-like opening in the rock, and decide to continue on.

We take the trail that opens to the sea, and we are not disappointed. By now we have been overwhelmed by the beauty of Cyprus’ coastline vistas several times, but actually walking along one of the cliffs that we had seen from the top of a hill the day before was especially thrilling. We looked straight down into the clear aquamarine water, and out to the horizon. Nikki pointed out the perfect harmony of the location, earth, wind, fire, water, and we felt even more energized as we walked along the cliff that curved back and forth with the shape of the island itself. Alkis and Anna decided to go for a jog. Nikki and I sat for a while on a sunny rock and took a few long deep breaths. The others each found their own walking pace and we eventually met up about an hour later back at the parking lot, where an older woman was selling the sweetest oranges we had ever tasted.

After a brief rest, we head to Lara Bay for an early dinner at another excellent psarotaverna in plenty of time to watch the sunset, which we thoroughly enjoy amidst enthusiastic toasts to tango, friendship, and Cyprus.

As I write this, we are on a plane to London and Isaac is sorting his multitude of photographs of the weekend trip. He is becoming quite the photographer, yet another excellent reason I’m glad to have him around…. 😉 We’re reflecting on the past month and especially this final weekend with gratitude for the reminder that life is not a dress rehearsal, and that the beauty of the natural world is infinite.

-Sharna

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Cyprus Vistas Part I

For our last weekend in Cyprus, the core group of tango dancers planned a very special adventure for us. Friday evening we spent the night in Limassos again, and woke up with the sun glittering on the sea. After coffee and breakfast by the water, we headed out with Anna along the old road to Pafos, the western-most city of the island. Along the way we stopped at Colossi Castle and the ruins at Kourium, as well as at a roadside stand for a basketful of the most perfect strawberries I have ever tasted. Red all the way through, totally sweet, totally perfect.

Kourium is especially breathtaking because of its location – high on the side of a mountain overlooking green hills and valleys that slid all the way down into the sea. The aqua blue of the water and the bright yellow flowers painting the hillsides made us feel like we were inside a postcard. The ancient stone outdoor theatre is a beautiful structure which is still used for concerts today. As we were imagining attending such a concert in this unbelievable setting, Haris, the second member of our crew, appeared at the top of the theatre and waved down to us. We climbed up and down the steps a little while longer, until we were thoroughly baked by the sun and it was time to continue on to meet the rest of the group in the village of Pissouri for lunch.

Lunch proved to be an event in itself, when five more of our party converged on one of the best psarotavernas in the region for traditional Cypriot fish mezze. My favorite dishes in Cyprus include without question tarama (a creamy pink caviar spread), grilled Halloumi (sheep’s milk cheese), grilled octopus, and fried calimari. Fresh grilled whole fish is particularly traditional and so naturally we had to have that, too. I never quite got the hang of slicing the fish off the bones but Isaac generously extracted a few forkfuls for me…. 20 man points to Isaac… 🙂

Now a group of nine, including baby Estella, we sorted ourselves into 4 cars and headed toward the hotel near Polmos where we would stay. Hugging the Mediterranean sea on our left, the convoy continued along the coast with one more brief stop overlooking Aphrodite’s rock. No visit to Cyprus would be complete without paying homage to this particular Greek goddess, said to have sprung from the sea on this very spot. Isaac is the first out of the car with the camera to capture yet another spectacular view of the elegant curves of the island coastline, a series of vertical cliffs descending into the clear blue water, and just a few meters offshore, The Rock itself. This is our last stop on the southern coast of the island. Back on the road, we head away from the water for about 20 minutes to cross to the northern coast, where we’ll spend the night.

Wow, what an amazing day, and we are not done yet! I’m riding with Alkis, who is anxious to reach Paradise Place, a cafe in Polmos which has a beautiful view of the sunset. We are racing against the sun and in the end we watch the sunset from the car, which doesn’t stop us from drinking a round of Keo (Cypriot beer) to celebrate our wonderful day together when we do finally reach Paradise Place. Paradise Place is actually a tiny shack of a bar on the side of the road. Not much to speak of but indeed a beautiful view of the sea. The owner seems surprised to have customers in the off season. Isaac and Shalom play several competitive rounds of tavli (backgammon) while I dance a cha cha with Alkis and baby Estella is passed around to various members of the group. Finally, we head for the hotel and send a team of four into town to pick up a tray full of kebabs for dinner. The food disappears quickly and Christos fills his nargile (hookah pipe) with fragrant apple tobacco, which mellows out the evening until Isaac is done taking photographs of smoke rings and everyone is ready for sleep.

-Sharna

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