Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Social graces

By the way, people from Bueños Aires are called "porteños" (like, people from the port).  And there is little a porteño likes more than a firm "no."  This is often delivered with a slightly pursed lip and briskly wagged finger.  For example, you go into a store and ask if they sell a certain thing: "NO."

I actually find this helpful, since the alternative is often a burst of rapid-fire information most of which I don't catch.  But I think the best example of the porteño "no" is in the local "you're welcome."  You occasionally hear "de nada" when you say "gracias" here, but it's much more likely that you'll hear "No, por favor" ("no, please.")  And not inflected like "Oh gosh, I was delighted to do it!"  Inflected a bit like "Oh for heaven's sake don't be a ninny."  So you think you really made a mistake in saying "gracias" in that situation, until you figure out that's the way this exchange is supposed to happen.  This is not a city of cuddly interactions.  I love it.

A second social thing it was good to figure out: the basic jocular greeting from a taxi driver or empanada guy is "¿Qué tal?"  Which even though it means (I think) "What's goin' on?" you are allowed to respond with a generic "Fine, and you?"  Big relief.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Teatro 4

This was a great one.  (Almost two weeks ago, sorry.)  I found the ideal way to do it: first read the play in English, then in Spanish side-by-side, then in Spanish on its own.  Then watch.  This is obviously very time-consuming and won't always be possible, but my comprehension (not surprisingly) goes way up.

It was Final de Partida de Samuel Beckett (Endgame).  Weirdly I had never gotten to know the play til then.  A great production at the Teatro San Martín, like the Lincoln Center of BA.  Directed by Alfredo Alcón, the guy who played Hamm (the old one in the chair).  He's apparently an icon of BsAs theatre, and it showed.  The long rehearsal process showed too: an amazing level of detail and humanity in a play that I imagine could come off as pretty chilly and abstract.  I just googled him, holy crap, he's 83.  That's insane.  You had to see his level of energy (even in a chair.)  I liked his direction as well as his performance: played up the kind of vaudeville-clowniness of the Clov/Hamm pair, an element that hadn't leapt off the page when I read it.  They really seemed like cousins to Didi and Gogo.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

my lap

The techniques of selling things on the subway are many and ever expanding.  Here's a new one on me that's quite common here: as you ride, reading the paper or whatever, people put things in your lap.  Yes, it's weird.  I can't say I didn't jump the first time.  You aren't meant to do anything with the things, just let them sit there while the salesperson goes around the while car depositing items in laps.  (It's possible to hold up your hand and decline the lap-gift, bit few people do.)  Then the depositor/salesperson goes back around the car, picking the items back up.  Occasionally someone likes the item and a sale is made.  Interesting.  I've come to kind of appreciate the ritual. It's like being given an opportunity to test drive the item. "Look how that little sewing kit looks on my lap. Niice. If it owned that sewing kit, I could take it out and put it on my lap just like that whenever I wanted. Oh yeah. Gotta have it." 

And a sale is made.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Teatro 3a

Not really theatre, but performance, so what the hey.  Went to the grand Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires' version of the Paris Opéra Garnier, and not too far off, either) on the theory that whatever was happening there would be glamorous.  And it was, in a kind of astringent intellectual way.  It was a piano recital, not in the grand theatre but in the austere grey brick centro de experimentación in the basement.  One of two evenings devoted to the complete works for solo piano of the American composer Elliott Carter. I thought I kind of knew what Carter's music was like, kind of like Philip Glass, right?  WRONG. His stuff is completely atonal, arrhythmic, exactly the completely random-sounding stuff about which people say, my two-year-old could make more musical sounds than that.

But I was there, and I have to say it wasn't half bad. I admit that 90 min was about 30 more than I really had in me to focus on.  It did take a lot of focus.  But in fact there was lots of fascinating stuff to listen to, when you let go of the idea that any of it was really going to sound like "music."

In fact at a certain point, listening to that atonal work made me think of the way I see, for example, a TV show here-- like, OK-- now we're in a sweet sensitive part.. now we're doing an intense angry thing... now we're being fast and intellectual... not quite sure what we're up to now... annnnd big finish!  I could get the shapes; only the specifics were alien to me.

The final thing to know about Elliott Carter is that he just died at the age of 104. His most prolific years were after his 90th birthday. So that's something to think about.

Teatro 3

Another English play in translation: Traición de Harold Pinter. 10pm curtain.  Didn't get a chance to read it in avance and regretted that a bit, even though I thought I knew it pretty well. Unlike the Rebeck this had not been turned into a sex farce (can't win'em all).  On the contrary, as far as I could tell the translation was very responsible (by Rafael Spregelburd, a prolific Argentine playwright I've been told many times I should meet). The production was solid-- amazing video titles explaining the backwards chronology of the play (I'm not positive that's the best call, but having made it, it did look like a million bucks.)  Some great director work with the actors on non-verbal moments that really delivered.  Overall the acting felt a bit casual for my taste on this text-- there were some laughs I think one wants to not get. Not the first time I've seen that happen with this play it must be said.  Maybe the lesson here is that wherever it may roam, Betrayal is an easier play to love on the page than it is to pull off.  Would love to have a crack at it some day.

It is becoming impossible not to notice an Argentine fixation on putting women on stage in INSANE platform high heels.  Like disco clown shoes.  I mean, Emma (below) is a brittle intellectual art gallery curator!  I have to say the look has a drag queen appeal that I can't deny.

Nick is here!

Upping the funs.

This happened:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Teatro: 2

Caligula the musical.  Yes I'm serious.  I was tired and thought it would be fun and easy.  (Pattern forming here…)  And I had read that when the piece was first performed in 1983, it was a coded protest of Argentina's decade of military rule.  Maybe that would be interesting?

Well, Calígula was the glammest, gayest, Vegas-est, 80's synth-power-pop-est ode to the sculpturally lit male torso that I expect to see for quite some time.  Somewhat unfortunately though, none of this was tongue-in-cheek: there were epic quantities of dramatic weeping, raging, and (yes) maniacal laughing.  One felt powerfully for the actors who were so fully committing themselves to the over-the-topness of it all.  Which made it a bit tough to just gleefully wallow in the camp.   

But by no means an evening to regret.  And the Ciudad Cultural KONEX is a very neato venue.

Teatro: 1

I admit my first play here was a bit of an odd choice.  But I wanted to let myself in gently, and this was a play whose original version (for reasons it doesn't bear going into) I'd just happened to read and had right there on the Kindle.  I felt like the rituals around seeing a big commercial play might be easier to navigate than the ones around a little interesting off-off- number.  And finally, this production had been directed by Daniel Veronese, a guy I know of as a playwright (there's a lot of crossover like that here)-- I read and saw his Women Dreamt Horses in NYC (in Jean Graham-Jones' terrific translation.)

So this was interesting: Women Dreamt Horses is as odd and challenging as the title would indicate, and this play Veronese directed for the commercial theatre is a pretty straightforward little number.  I was curious to see what experiments he might have performed on it in that setting.

So off I went to see Los Elegidos, by Teresa Rebeck.  (Seminar, in English).  To put it mildly I was startled.  I'd say that Seminar in VO aims to be a comedy of ideas, an exploration of the brutalities-- emotional, political, psychosexual, etc-- of the artist's life.  Funny but tough and heartfelt.  In BsAs, it was an insanely frothy sex farce.  Like, Three's Company level.  The changes weren't only tonal, either: I reread the script in English that afternoon, and was naïvely expecting to track it almost line for line.  Naïvely not only because from the first second they talked ten miles a minute on top of each other, but also, I came to realize, because whole aspects of the story had been rewritten!