Archive for April, 2011

The Punisher learns the Rumba…

April 25, 2011

I am a camera, a one-eyed one at that with poor depth of field and inability to focus adequately, but still able to make out images although fuzzy, still full of information enough to extrapolate some observations. So during the last Friday Night Social and practice session decided to use the fact that I sat out so many dances and took a look at the crowd who populate these sessions. Incidentally, this opportunity made it possible for me to vicariously learn, in a half-assed fashion, some new dance steps.
The one -hour lesson this evening was beginners rumba. Unusual for this evening was the fact that many more people attended the lession portion of the evening, and they were mostly people of my vintage or older, as well as the usual obsessive dance aficionados who dance up to five nights a week. So this was a good sign, in my estimation. It does not feel so great to be the oldest woman at these occasions.
Robin’s method of doing the lessons is to line the men up in drill fashion and showing them the basic steps upon which variations of the dance are based. Then she corrals all the women and gives us the female versions of the basic steps. Next, she tells us to pair with our partners and has us shuffle around doing the basic stuff together. Having no regular dance partner I was left for “Lounge Lizard” as the only option for a partner. He seemed somewhat reluctant to partner me, so I told him it was my special role as the “Punisher” in dance classes to make men have to do a dancing form of penance. He smiled ever so smoothly and lied through his pearly whites that I was a fast learner and he was happy to partner me.
Of course, I looked around to see how Monique, the attractive librarian who presents herself as mutton dressed as lamb, complete with clinging clothes that show no panty or bra line, and with lush long dyed brown hair she flips flirtatiously at every opportunity, managed to pair herself up. She had limpeted onto Raoul, a handsome Martial Arts instructor, who always looks hot and dances even better than he looks. Need I add, that Raoul looked dashing in matte black, like a dressed down matador. He certainly is a sight for failing old eyes. I am fanning myself as I write this!
Farouk, and early middleaged Iranian man was there struggling to learn the dance with Maura, my artist friend. Poor Farouk is very much in the same position as I am at these dances – we are both mercy partners for others, and the last ones to be selected as practice partners for other dancers, so we often end up dancing together, and we do have a great time schlepping our way around the dance floor alternating with leading each other around. Farouk has the most incandescent face when he smiles and he evinces a pleasure in partnering any woman. Oddly enough, where he seems to have trouble keeping in rhythm with the music with other women, whenever he dances with me he has a certain relaxed flair as we struggle together in some arcane moves on the dance floor. He is relaxed in the same manner with Maura; she and I have decided that this is because he has adopted us as older sister types with whom he needs not be shy or awkward.
Ron and Linda, a lovely Chinese couple in their early seventies, danced up a storm. They both look like delicate wizened children, and are so obviously delighted to be learning to dance together. Linda is always gracious to send Ron over to take his punishment with me on the dance floor. He is sweet and willing, but tends to argue with me over what I am supposed to do with my feet. Mind you, I have noted that he and Linda do get into some rather heated exchanges during lessons where they end up hissing at each other while gesticulating wildly at the floor and demonstrating in turn how each of their steps are to be performed. I strongly suspect that the reason why Linda is willing to lend out her husband to another woman for a turn is so that she can have a reprieve dance with a man who shuts up and just dances!
I did learn basic rumba with “Lounge Lizard” who is much taller than me and takes big steps and has long arms to fling me out far in a turn so that I was left scrambling to get back into the proper clinch position with him. He seemed to relish flinging me around like some sandbag and then dragging me back into the clinch with flair. Oh, well. Guess both of us were getting punished.
It appeared that many of the older couples didn’t seem to enjoy dancing all that much. The deadly serious, earnest, unsmiling expressions hinted at a perhaps enforced presence at this dance. They might have had more fun playing darts at home. However, there was one older couple who were endearing. he is much more fit and healthy than his wife, and dances regularly without her. But here they were at this dance together and he took care that she was dancing at a comfortable pace, rested when she had to, and while they were dancing he gazed and smiled at her with such pleasure. When they didn’t dance, they watched other couples and made little comments to each other as if discussing the finer points of dance as demonstrated by others.
Maura did a great turn with “Lounge Lizard” at a swing number. They looked really great together. Wade, Maura’s boyfriend, put me through the Tango paces without either dropping me onto the floor or being flattened by me whilst doing “La Carpa” which always makes me feel like the Queen Mary being manoeuvred into dock by a pipsqueak tugboat. Farouk’s older brother, a fabulous dancer, undertook to practice a Rumba with me, and I felt good, as if finally I was beginning to catch on. But then, that is what dancing with a strong male lead does so well – it makes the woman into an instantly better dancer.
Before the evening was over, “Lounge Lizard” summoned me to do a Tango with him. We did quite well in spite of our height difference, for several turns around the dance floor, but when he dragged me into the initial “La Carpa” position, I stiffened and announced “No, you, don’t…don’t you dare try this with me…we look silly doing this step together.” So he punished me be making me go through several variations of a weird move where the man nudges the left foot of his partner so she moves in a circle around him, and then finishes with a flourish of Ochos and leg-rubs. It kind of looks like someone nudging their dog’s foot to make him pee on the correctly appointed post. Maybe this move looks sexy when skilled dancers perform it. We must just have looked plainly weird. Not to be daunted, and not particularly caring as to whether I look elegant or skilled ( but looking Okay might do) I took my punishment in good grace and laughed during the essays. “Lounge Lizard” does not like a laughing partner. Too bad.
The Rumba is a most forgiving dance to learn. it is not particularly grueling, nor does it require athleticism or great stamine, or major memorizing of steps to perform at an adequate competence. It was a great lesson for this night’s dance to reintroduce couples who have not danced frequently in recent time to the pleasures of moving to music.

Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?

April 15, 2011

Those eternal questions we all ask of ourselves, everywhere.
My amazing younger sister Margaret has acted on her own questioning of this universal concern with self, origins, connections with previous generations and has undertaken an intensive research of our roots which provides her with much fodder for story telling and passing on what she learns to her daughter, my Mousey, Renaissance Man in order to help them grasp the strings which universally binds us – our present and of who and what we originate from – in a continuum.

Past September, she and our half-brother, Wise Psychologist, who lives and works in Berlin, undertook a journey to Hungary to find the village where our father was born in 1913, and to visit the childhood home of our mother in Buda. We spent many hours on the phone and on-line google searching maps of areas of Hungary, prior to their trip. I was happy to be useful in remembering names of villages and streets, as well as useful architectural memories which might enable them to orient themselves once they were actually in the country and searching out the various sites. It was satisfying to vicariously experience what they encountered on this trip.

Margaret kept in daily e-mail touch, and her commentary made me feel included in their wonder and delight with their discoveries. Margaret is a great photographer, and her pictures enrich and add concrete detail to some of my now faded memories. Of course, much has changed in the 55+ years of my being out of the country – for example, the village roads in Oros are now paved over, whereas when I was there as a child they were compacted dirt. The village church is now painted yellow, whereas, then, it was simply whitewashed. Still, the iconostasis glows with a remembered rich beauty that makes my heart soar.

Our paternal grandfather was a cantor/teacher hired by the diocese, and had previously served in that capacity in a town in Eastern Slovakia, and also in a small town in Romania. Unfortunately, his grave, and the grave of our grandmother were no longer extant, since there was a practice to allow graves a certain time before giving the space to more recently deceased person. However, the parish records and the now-serving priest’s wife helped them locate the exact positioning of those graves.

In Buda, they searched behind the large cathedral to find the childhood home of our mother, and in Pest found the apartment building where our maternal grandmother lived out her life in Communist Hungary.

It was a labour of love for Margaret and Wise Psychologist, as well as an unquenchable curiosity about the places where our family have earlier lived and moved about. Margaret speaks only rudimentary Hungarian, our brother, none at all. So considering this fact, it is a testament to their tenacity that they found so much to share with us here in our home now.

Daily, Margaret calls me to share her latest findings, and the information base grows apace. We can hardly wait until Old Forester comes to stay with me, because then we will be able to plumb his remarkable rich trove of family lore. We plan to lay in the good Hungarian wine and foods he so loves and then prevail upon him to share his memories with which to help somewhat answer those three questions for us. We can hardly wait!

Carlos, the Tango master…

April 6, 2011

Kamil and Louisette who are on their fourth year of learning beginning Tango, smiled slightly when i told them last Fall of my long-burning ambition to learn to dance the Tango before I die.
“God, we have been at this for years,” said Louisette. “We are known as the ‘Fighters’, by the other diehards who are also struggling to master this dance.”
“Luisette just won’t shut up and let me concentrate on doing the steps correctly,” retorted Kamil, a twinkle in his eyes. “She is forever correcting what I am doing. Leading is real man’s work and she should just let me go on about the whole business.”
“G, Carlos, our Dance master is constantly picking on us in class, and Kamil refuses to listen to him. Take my advice and start out learning the Tango with Robin. She’ll gently introduce you to this sport. Having Carlos as your first teacher might totally discourage you.”
Thus, from January to end of March I signed up for introductory lessons of Quickstep and Argentine Tango with Robin and sans dancing partner. My young gay man was busy taking a Museum Management course on the nights of that class and sent his regrets re: partnering creaky old me. No biggie, as there were skilled rent-a-man dancers on hand during class, each one of whom I thoroughly threw into confusion whenever they danced with me, mostly as a sort of last resort and pity.Often, I ghosted after couples dancing while trying to follow the woman partner’s step sequences. Frequently I ended up dancing into walls because of my intent concentration, and even tripped up couples to whom I had to profusely apologize for disrupting. The other students put up with me as the dotty older and hapless dancing student who might be better off leaving the dance scene and retire to a park bench to feed the birdies.
The Quickstep is fun and rhythmic, if a trifle athletic when a fast tempo of music must be followed. Skipping is not something I do these days of habit. The activity a bit short of the decorum required of a woman on the cusp of accepted seniority. The Tango on the other hand requires one to move with stealthy, slinky grace and some fancy footwork – definitely not my strong suit as I have balance issues and a fear of falling. Any poor man who parnered me I clung onto like a baby Lemur death gripped it’s mother. One fellow kept insisting i grab hold of his upper arm on the underside – really firmly – and he would prop me up withhout difficulty. I often wondered if he went home after class to treat arm bruises with some unguent while drinking a needed glass of good Scotch, or Grappa, or whatever it is they drink in Argentina to decompress after a sweaty bout of partnering a dotty zaftig “Dancing with the Dogs” wannabe. One crafty rent-a-man partner, a good friend’s boyfriend, patiently put me through the paces while Robin looked on fondly with a goofy grin on her face. She is the style of teacher who utilizes humour to correct students’ effort to master basics. On last Tango lesson, she drew me aside and said – “G, it is time for you to move onto Carlos L. as student. I think you have got the hang of the basics well.” Huge surpise to me!!!
So, over a week ago i darkened Carlos’ doorway at the P.P. Dance Studio, along with Kamil, Luisette, Annouschka and others from our beginners class with Robin. This was Kamil and Luisette’s 6th repeat of Level 1 -2 Tango, and they do dance it with great elegance, and in relative silence, except for when they tangle their feet.
Luisette whispered in my ear as we were lined up against a mirrored wall looking very much like prisoners about to be mowed down by a firing squad. “God, G, I’m so glad you’re here with us. maybe now Carlos will have someone else to pick on besides Kamil and me.”
Just like in any first dance class, the protocol is to scrawl our names onto a hunk of sticky label so the teacher can call us by a name other than ” Hey you!” when he is picking on us. Carlos walked by each of us and shook our hands, repeated our names, made welcoming noises in his cute Argentine accent. He squinted at my name tag and started to laugh. “You’re called Baby?” he sputtered.
“No, Gaby”, I said, offering by way of explanation, ” Kamil made up my nametag, he has awful printing skills.”
Carlos went up to the front and centre of our lineup and faced the opposite wall. “Warmup” he called tersely, and led us through a series of ballet warmup exercises, from head, neck, fingers, wrists, elbows shoulders, core, hip, knee, andkle and foot manouverings. We did plies, slink walks backward and forward in series, jazz walks, step combinations while facing Carlos’ eagle eye in the wall of mirrors in front of us. Let me tell you, this was not a pretty picture! Imagine if you will a scene from “Chorus Line” with professional dancers going through their paces in unison and with grace. Now, imagine a motley group of variously aged, dressed and physically conformed men and women, trying to keep pace with the drill, and doing so very badly. I can only guess this was also for Carlos’ benefit, as well as one of warm-up for us “dancers”. His keen eye was able to swiftly assess who had two left feet, or inability to follow instructions, or having strength or flexibility problems. Never mind our musicality, this he would soon find out when he had us try to move with music later.
Pity, the poor professional dancer of thirty some years, most of them as a ballet dancer, and then when he grew too old at 40 something to loft etherial women into the air without giving himself repeated injuries, only to then have to make his living patiently passing on his love of movement to adults, none of whom had a long standing dance background. And he is a very nice teacher, proper old-fashioned Argentine gentleman of about 50, with a soft bark, kindly black eyes and an almost boyish mien. He has a ‘fuzzy doorknob’ haircut of thick black stick straight hair – sort of like those little boys who have been taken to the barber’s by their dad to get their first, not too close military haircut, and which little heads I have hard time not fondling, being such a tactile sort as i am.
And, Don Carlos has the most amazing agile feet and slinky moves for a barrel chested middle aged man. And he is a dream to dance with, while he demonstrates in pair how to do things in correct form.

Move over Armando, my imaginary Latin Lover, with whom I dance the Tango solo on my carpeted Living room floor. You are toast, Querido! As long as Carlos refrains from barking at me during class, he has been co-opted as my imaginary Tango Dance partner.

Psst! I’ll never admit this to anyone else! I mean what would Carlos’ opera singing wife think of this depraved use of her husband?

Moving to the Gal Pad…

April 6, 2011

When I made the decision to separate from Rumpole, last August, he moved into our recently completed basement suite which we called his Man Pad. There he had already moved his office, and I had decorated the space as he desired, with images framed that he enjoyed regularly viewing. Mousey, when she came to visit always insited on visiting the Man Pad, to get fresh looks at what I had labelled Grandpa’s Gummy Dragon, a really cheesy Chinese plastic dragon one of Rumpole’s clients had brough back from China. It smelled like recently imported Chinese plastic goods in the Loonie stores smell, a nasty, virulent rotten vegetable odour. Rumpole was wierdly attached to this artifact, and Mousey also. She did say it smelled strange – sort of like dragons smell, she said.
Like a somnambulist, I moved through the paces of finding a lawyer who practiced matrimonial law, severed our joint bank accounts, set up my own bank account and began the process of trying to figure out where I would land in order to begin to piece a solitary life together. By the end of September, I had engaged a realtor to assess the saleability of our house and to advise as to what needed to be done to it for us to get the maximum amount of money for selling it. Rumpole merely had to rubber stamp all the documents that had to be signed by both of us. This he did readily for the necessary real estate documents, but negotiated fiercely for the legal separation agreement, as he would,being a lawyer himself.
While we haggled over the terms of separating assets, I prepared the house for showings and open houses, did the necessities to maintain things in ship shape, started divesting myself of hundreds of drawings, teaching aids and studio supplies and also gave away objects and equipment I realized would not be able to be accommodated in the size of space I knew I could afford to live within. Having to make these decisions helped me to focus on practicalities and not make any hasty and panicking moves.
Within four days of the first showing of the house, we had recieved an offer, conditional on the purchasers selling their own place. It was a reasonable offer, and within a week we had a back up offer to buttress it. Must hand it to Rumpole – he bargained up the offering bid like the most skillful Persian rug purveyor – although at times during the bargaining procees with buyers he came close to losing the offer – but he is experienced in knowing just how to pressure during a deal and restrained his capacity for flaring up in anger and frustration.
As we waited for the buyers to show their place and in turn recieve an offer on it, I began the process of finding myself an apartment in the centre of town. I had absolutely no idea what was available, but knew that whatever place I could rent had to be walking distance to all necessities since I no longer can drive. I must have looked at 10 or so different apartments and was ready to give up when I found just the right apartment. And, lo and behold, our buyers recieved a firm offer for their place and we had a closing date for the sale of our house – December 4.
Meanwhile I was having lawyer problems on the separation agreement front. The lawyer I had engaged was a mother to three children, one of whom had special needs – so she was often unavailable to deal with amendments that cropped up during my bargaining with Rumpole. But, I must have had a collection of horseshoes and shamrocks gathering dust somewhere in the deeper recesses of my midden of a studio, because the house sale completed on the same day as Rumpole signed our separation agreement.
I took a risk in November in putting down a deposit and month’s rent on the apartment that best suited me, and had organized a move and clearing up of the house that proceeded like clockwork. Many friends came to my aid in effecting the move. I had enough time to move my stuff to the new apartment and then spend a week getting rid of our spoor and making the place clean for the new family of mom,dad, grandma, three kids under ten and one on the way about to take possession of my old digs.
Margaret, my sister, Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis, her two sons, Ron and Rosalie, a young painter friend helped move my stuff into the new Gal Pad with a rented U-haul which caused us a bit of grief – otherwise the move went smoothly and after rolling out the rug and assembling my bed, placing the boxes of stuff into the apportioned places, we repaired to the Kingfisher and ate a celebratory dinner, en masse.
It took me a month to shake out the disposition of my possessions, as I was also house-sitting for LookingforBeauty who was basking in the Mexican sunshine.
Since end of January I have familiarized myself with my new surroundings, set up a studio in the bedroom and generally have been busy and quite content.
Mousey loves coming over to the Gal Pad to do overnights, or for lunch. She knows where everything is, particularly the treasures I have stashed in different places for her to find and be delighted with.
Friends and family come by for coffee, tea, to drag me out to outings, to come and eat a meal with me.
I have a beautiful view of a ravine, and these spring days delight in the early morning bird repartee, the subtle sunrises and my new life, in general.
And yes, this old dog is learning new tricks – Flamenco dancing with the castanuelas, the tango, reviewing ballet core exercises, Spanish, and is carrying on…carrying on…

Surfacing…

April 5, 2011

Much like one deliberately walking into a river, basking, striving, and being caught up in an eddy which became an uncontrollable torrent and caught one up in its terrible embrace only to regain temporary footing from time to time, I have finally made it to shore and breathless, wet and exhausted I sit drying out, gathering strength to resume my way onto a journey with still unknown unfolding experiences.

You see, I have severed my marriage with Rumpole, have subdivided our assets we had amassed over 35 years of journeying together. I have cast off a great learned helplessness and have once again begun to take responsibility for my own contentment. Hard going some days, but not without its compensations. Alone, yes, but not as lonely as I was in our marriage.

So, I am embarking on my solo flight as an older woman. What lies ahead will be an adventure!