Monthly Archives: May 2007
We were welcomed to the Netherlands by Marion and Leo, an adorable Dutch couple who help run the Eindhoven Tango Festival. Leo makes glass sculptures and jewelry, and at the end of the weekend he gave me the beautiful gift of black glass earrings to take home with me. They’re totally cool. We taught 10 successful workshops in two days, which were thankfully full of incredibly good-natured students. Video summaries of the workshops are here: http://berkers.nu/wordpress/?p=20 and a few photos of us teaching are included with this post. Thanks to the photographer!!
On Sunday night we attended a modern dance performance at Eindhoven’s Parktheatre. The building architecture itself is very new and ultra-modern, and the Guangdong Modern Dance Compagny from China was very inspiring. The crisp, complex musicality got us brainstorming about my next show in DC (for you planners, it will be March 29-30, 2008). We were very happy we made it to the show, despite some logistical confusion earlier that day. Isaac said we were meant to be frustrated getting there so that we would appreciate it so much. I continue trying to become more spontaneous and adaptive and sometimes I make some progress…
After this much traveling, I’m becoming more and more sensitive about what I eat, and while in Eindhoven my staple breakfast was a yogurt-strawberry-banana smoothie and a couple of slices of whole wheat bread. After the festival we spent a few wonderfully peaceful days in Utrecht with two ex-patriot friends of mine. Utrecht is the hipster city of the Netherlands, where I bought a super-cool pair of baggy jeans and visited a well-stocked yarn shop to feed my secret knitting addiction.
In all of the cities we have visited, certain things remain constant: tango, wireless internet, coffee, and chocolate. In Riga, Latvia, Ilmars gets the gold star by presenting us with not one, not two, but 12 bars of the national brand of chocolate “Laima.” We walked by the Laima factory one day and smelled chocolate for several blocks before and after. Can we really eat 12 bars of chocolate in a week? Hmm…. Thank you Ilmars!
Old Riga was, of course, lovely, with its art nouveau facades and medieval walls juxtaposed with modern glass office buildings. On either side of the canal running through Riga are generously sized parks with lots trees and fountains to stroll by. Contrast has become a theme of our travels, particularly in Eastern Europe. We were unaware of how far north we were in Latvia until it was 11pm and the sky was still a deep shade of blue in the west, the end of a very gradual sunset, as in Alaska. Sometimes in summertime, they have “white nights,” when the sun never sets at all.
The small things, however, remain for both of us the most captivating. For Isaac, I think the subtle interactions between people, at times more reserved or more familiar than we expect, are fascinating. For me, maybe learning a few words in the local language, and enjoying the availability of such things as fresh squeezed carrot juice and kefir (yogurt-like drink).
Some surprising discoveries in Riga include the restaurant chain Lido, a cafeteria-style concept in which each location is elaborately decorated in a different theme. We went to four separate Lidos within a week, including one in a shopping mall near the airport the day we arrived. You might not expect much from a place like this, but the good was in fact quite excellent, particularly the shopping mall branch, which offered five types of sprouts on its salad bar!
I also have to mention the flowers. Downtown there are several streets lined with fresh cut flower vendors, and apparently Latvians buy and exchange more flowers than any other nationality. People here give flowers whenever invited to dinner, for example, and for celebrations or accomplishments of any kind, in addition to recognized holidays. Happily, I was given flowers three times while here, but always an odd number of stems. Even numbers are for funerals or for placing on gravestones.
To recover from the weekend of workshops, we took Natalia’s advice and spent a few hours in one of Riga’s many sauna spas, something I recommend to anyone traveling in this part of the world. Then, on our last day walking around central Riga, we discovered something very special. After waiting out the rain in a cozy coffee shop, the sun came out and Isaac sprang into action with the camera. Following him into one of the inviting, aforementioned parks, a looked off to my right and saw a small bridge glittering in the sun.
On closer inspection, we found that the iron railings were covered with hundreds of padlocks. Yes, padlocks of every shape and size, some of them unmarked, but most of them engraved (either scratched by hand or etched professionally) with two names, a heart, and a date. Natalia explained later that this was a new tradition in Riga for newlyweds, who close the lock on the railing and then toss the key passionately into the canal waters below, sealing the vow of love forever….
We hit the ground running in Berlin, the tango capital of Europe (although we’ve heard Istanbul is competing for the title). We arrived at Tegel airport at 7pm, met Thomas and Erin for a quick dinner at 9, and were at the Roter Salon by 11 to perform and dance the night away. While in Berlin, we caught up with several long lost tango friends from far flung places, and also watched an electrifying performance by Pablo and Dana, who are perhaps the most beloved Argentine couple in Europe right now. The quantity of perfectly musical, fluid ganchos (singles, doubles, and triples) would be impossible to keep track of, even if one had the presence of mind to try….
After spending a month in the smaller tango communities of eastern europe, dancing in Berlin felt almost shocking. Here, there are often three or four milongas in a single evening which are populated not only by Berliners but also by Argentines, Americans, and Europeans of various flavors who happen to be passing through. On Saturday night, we shared the dance floor with over 300 other dancers. There are three tango shoe stores in Berlin, several tango orchestras, and perhaps a hundred tango teachers, including maybe a dozen studios dedicated entirely or nearly entirely to tango. Berlin even has a tango map with 30 milonga locations identified throughout the city. Our workshops were held the same weekend as those of Pablo and Dana’s, and still both events were full. Needless to say, if you can’t get to Buenos Aires, try Berlin!
For this particular weekend we invited an old friend of mine from Boston to teach yoga as part of our tango workshop. Brad lives is Moscow now, and incorporates into his yoga instruction his diverse experiences with theatre, zen buddhism, and martial arts, to name only a few fields he has explored passionately. He will be teaching with us in DC in August during the “Tango Makeover” event (Aug. 8-10). Not only was I happy to see him again after several years, but weaving yoga exercises into the tango workshop helped me understand more what is important for me in teaching tango. I became re-inspired to complete a book project which has been hiding in some remote corner of my hard drive for several years now….
And what visit to Germany would be complete without indulging in the extraordinary Leysieffer chocolate! Conveniently located at the airport, Leysieffer makes the most exotic flavors ever conceived of, including my personal favorite, dark chocolate with sea salt. There were many other food items I was extremely happy to see in Germany, like organic yogurt, whole wheat bread of a dozen varieties, and fresh green salads. I dragged Isaac three times to my favorite bakery, the Brot Garden, for breakfast.
I felt a little sad to leave Berlin, actually. I’ve been there several times and compared to so many other places we have visited it felt familiar. But, the tour must go on…