Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The inner side of a birch tree leaf

This one is for you, tangobaby

The world has turned green over night.
One had seen the signs: the hesitant silvery haze that draped the tree silhouettes, air thickened to the point of curdling and the spidery bones of transmitter masts cutting into the pale blue mass of an evening sky.
Spring looked coyly from behind the curtain of rain, teased small yellow flowers out of the ground. But still, it seemed to be postponing its big arrival.
Until now.
Yesterday I was running late for my train so I took a shortcut through the small park nearby. It had looked transparent for so many months:being at its outer end, one could already see the outline of the railway station, old lopsided benches scantily seeded along the way.
But yesterday for the first time in months everything was flooded by the tide of green fuzz.
Finally all the buds broke out, bursting into life. I held my face into the damp mass of leaves, their skin wrinkled and tender like the one of a new-born.
As I did so, a distant memory worked its way from the pit of my stomach into my brain.
I must have been four years old and visiting my grandparents. In the backyard of their house there was an old birch with branches hanging low. In the morning I used to snick out the house and hide there. I talked to my plush dog. I scribbled into my colouring book.
But mostly I just sat there holding my face up high, letting the old scruffy tree caress me.
And then my grandma called my name and I emerged from beneath it, bedrizzled with morning dew, with stray leaves stuck in my hair.
This time of a year I'm always haunted by childhood memories.
As if all the smells, feelings and recollections that laid brittle and lifeless during winter, thawed out at once and now hang suspended in the air.
Before long they all will evaporate in the musky heat of summer. But for now, I wander around surrounded by them.
My memory is pretty good, yet selective about how vividly to display bits and pieces of my past.
Some of them look sepia-coloured and washed-up along the edges: from a safer distance I observe faces and places long disappeared.
But some of them are so vibrant they leave me gasping with happiness. Sometimes this joy is so intense it hurts me.
But nonetheless these two or three days of a year are worth waiting for. Worth living for, for that matter.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dining and w(h)ining

Couple days ago I met up with a friend. We'd been pretty close in the past, but had eventually drifted apart. Still, over the years we've got into a routine of doing a bit of catch up now and then. On such occasions we'd get moderately drunk and talk about how our lives were going exactly according to plan and what lousy plan-makers we obviously were.
Two years ago she got married. Her husband is a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the early nineties. He is slick, polite and keeps his cards close to chest. We get along well enough.
On that day I was tired because of some minor emergencies at work, but I didn't want to let her down: we hadn't seen each other for, give or take, seven months.
My friend looked gorgeously fresh, but pissed off. She told me that her little sister stood her up earlier even though they were supposed to go looking for new bedside lights or something and how she hates going shopping alone.
I suggested a little restaurant close to my work: my colleagues and I go there sometimes. It's tiny, tucked away in a back alley, almost completely hidden from the public eye: one has got to know it to find it. It looks smart: minimalistic, yet in dramatic black and purple, with a narrow smoky mirror on one wall that makes the room look bigger.
As we went in, she took a look and pulled a face.
- What's wrong? - I asked.
- Well, nothing. - But she wrinkled her nose in disapproval.
- Don't you like it here?
- Well…now that you asked … it looks so juvenile.
There we go.
I mean, Sunday morning I woke up with a zit on my chin. It was so huge I'm sure it would have talked back if spoken to. Same day I had a row with my mother (basically about nothing, but it was a fierce one nonetheless) and ate a whole box of old pralines I stashed away three weeks ago in the futile hope that they'd have the decency to disappear before I'd get hot and bothered about my life again and butcher them to wraps.
But does that make me juvenile? Well, maybe.
I let the remark pass anyway. Mainly for the sake of the evening that was laying ahead. Plus it rained and I didn't want to get soaked while looking for something more appropriate.
– Come on, - I urged her. - Give it a chance.
Reluctantly she gave in. We found a table; an easy-on-the-eye girl appeared, bringing along the menu cards and a basket full of crispy fresh bread.
My friend took her time going through the menu. I settled for a glass of red wine. She asked for some special sort of water they didn't have. After much ado she ordered an Insalata Rucola.
-Won't you have some wine? - I asked. - Are you pregnant?
- Are you crazy? We are leaving for Bali next week. I couldn't afford it.
I chuckled. – Come on, it won't burn a hole in your wallet.
Now she was talking in a patient tone that made me want to bounce all around the place.
-I'm talking about calories, dummy. Besides look, they don't even have a wine card here.
Yeah, right. Silly me.
She has never exactly been the whippiest hippie ever, but easygoing enough to drink a beer straight from the bottle, maybe even spill it. How things change.
She went on talking about bed lights, and how she was looking for a lampshade in some particularly bluish blue that apparently doesn't exist, but it can't be, can it? - Because look, the cushions I bought last month – they were exactly that colour and absolutely gorgeous, though it took ages to find them.
I drifted off and back to her soliloquy without her noticing as much.
- And what have you been up to lately?
Her question caught me off guard.
- Well, not much. - Somehow I couldn't come up with anything interesting to say.
She sniffed suspiciously at her plate then stabbed the lonely little rocket leaf that strayed from its friends in distress with the fork. She nibbled on it and pushed her salad aside.
The waitress reappeared. My friend handed her plate back.
-The parmesan was way too ripe. For this kind of salad one is supposed to take a younger one. Now we are done with starters, I'd love to have… do you serve beef? But make sure it's not a beef jerky on arrival.
As the girl darted off (not without giving us an evil eye) my companion turned her attention back to me.
- Are you still dancing?
- Oh, yes, – I answered.
- Really? - She looked uneasy.
- Why not?
- Oh, well, I don't know. I always thought that sooner or later you'd kind of grow out of it. Like, move on.
- I don't know. Do you think I should?
- Well, yeah. After all it's not something you are going to do till you are all old and rusty. I mean, wouldn't it look a bit pathetic?
Our food arrived. I ordered another glass of wine.
…She let her beef congeal on the plate in front of her, while musingly watching me eat.
- How is your fish?
-Oh, great, great. - Discretely I moved my plate closer to the table edge: I was half expecting her to fork in my potatoes so she could start moaning on my behalf.
By the time we ordered coffee I was exhausted, craved my bed and some crappy book. Finally, the waitress brought our check over.
-Let my pay. – I grabbed my purse.
- Please, don't. Don't, - my friend said. - I'll pay, ok?
She left a generous tip.
The rain stopped, but the humid air wrapped itself heavily around our shoulders.
-You must be hungry. - At once I felt guilty.-You didn't eat much. Next time you choose where we go, ok?
Oh, no problem. - She smiled lightly. – Anyway I haven't been eating much lately. - She slipped into silence for a moment. - Sorry if I was a bit on a whiny side today. Sometimes I just can't help it. - Briefly she turned away and I noticed the almost girlish thinness of her neck. - Doesn't it suck to be so … She was looking for a word.
- Mature? – I threw in quizzically.
She glared at me and then we laughed.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The kindness of strangers

My car has finally broken down. Nothing unexpected, yet rather unpleasant.
I've been thinking about getting it fixed, but it wouldn't pay off in the long run, so I'm looking for a new one. I wouldn't have any reason to rush it, if not for tango. I can easily reach my office by train; my parents live a stone's throw away. But – surprise, surprise – carpooling is turning out to be quite an issue.

At the moment I depend on the kindness of strangers.
And boy… some kindness it is.
Last weekend I stayed at home. Not voluntarily so. I called not one, not two… five people. I told them about my car and kindly asked to take me with 'em. I collected my share of excuses all right. It went like that:

I don't know yet if I'll go. (Well, as I happened to hear through the grapevine, she did after all)
I would take you, but I'll be paying a visit to my parents beforehand.
I could, but I don't know yet if I’m going to drive back or crash at my friend's.
It has nothing to do with you. I just don't do it.
The best one came from a guy I've known for ages. I called him at home, then on his mobile, left messages. Oh...he called back. Monday morning.
- Sorry, honey, saw your caller ID, but didn't feel like calling back.
Felt a bit low, didn't fell like talking, all that buzz, simply wanted to be by myself. What's up?
- So – you didn't go dancing?
- Well, actually I did. Why?
- Nothing. Forget it.
- Oh… ok. And how was your weekend? Up to something naughty?
These are people I interact with on a weekly, at times daily basis. So what is it about? Independency? Privacy? Self obsession? Are we bound to remain strangers to each other, no matter how often we dance together?
We’re sweat- but not car sharing.
They know me well enough. I'm not much of a nuisance. I would pay for gas. I would sing a nice song for them (I'm a good singer, mind you), but only if they wanted me to. If they want me mute, they can stuff a sock into my mouth (as long as it's a clean one). For Chrissake.
I'm ranting away, I know. Right now I'm going cold turkey, tangowise I mean. I live in the middle of an industrial nowhere. The only milonga in the hick town I subsist in closed down early this year. The next decent one is thirty km away. Surely I can reach it by train and bus, but it would take at least four hours on the whole. And no, it’s not an option, not after work, not at night.
I’m trying to look on the bright side of life though. Over the weekend I watched “Waitress”, “Rendition”, “American Gangster”, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, “Don’t come knocking”. That’s what I call a major movie catch-up. Some of them I even enjoyed.
And I contacted a carsharing firm this week. So I’ll be fine apparently.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

„Raise your head and don't look at the floor”

Over the last couple of days I’ve been feeling a bit low. While browsing youtube, I came across this video. Here is Carmen Micaela Riso de Cancellieri, known as Carmencita Calderón, the long-time tango partner of legendary El Cachafaz. Celebrating her hundredth birthday.

How could I never have seen it posted before?and how amazing is that?

From her mother she learnt: “Raise your head and don't look at the floor”.

I should stop complaining, really. For the next seventy years anyway.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

(My) plummy dress...

I’d kill for the dress that Renee Zellweger was wearing at the London premiere of "Leatherheads". Seriously.
Marchesa girls keep outdoing themselves.
PS.Well,the man at her side isn't bad either.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

“Whether you agree or disagree…”

...It must be by far the most fascinating site I’ve stumbled upon in ages. It’s entertaining (a perfect way to spend office hours, when no one is looking), but there is much more to it. This program must have been the forerunner of “60 Minutes” and Mike Wallace gives us an example of some very fine journalism.
One can read the transcripts of interviews, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Take your time, listen and enjoy. There are Elsa Maxwell, Salvadore Dali, Aldous Huxley for you.
PS. The first interview I watched was the one with Gloria Swanson. Of all things, I was surprised by how extremely fragile she appears. But still big - and for a change in a picture to match her worth.