Friday, May 29, 2009

A Great Day with the Gauchos

On our last day in Buenos Aires, we were taken by Princess Tours out to the Pampas area of Argentina for a barbecue and folkloric show. Pampa is actually Spanish for plain, prairie or grassland which was somehow not what I expected. I thought it would be far more tropical but I kept forgetting that this part of Argentina is approximately the same latitude south of the equator as Los Angeles is to the north—just over 34 degrees. So basically it is a temperate, humid climate perfect for farming and cattle raising.
After almost two hours of driving, we arrived at the beautiful family-owned estancia or ranch where we would spend the day. The lands of this area have been taken care of by the gauchos for centuries, and the region is the centre of their culture, including music and dance. As the bus drove into the parking area, we were met with friendly waves by both handsome gauchos and lovely ladies dressed in native costumes; while the inviting aroma of a variety of meats cooking permeated the air.
Of course, there were Argentina wines—white and red—freely offered to all takers. Argentina is fast becoming as well known as Chile for its excellent merlots and cabernets as well as its signature grape, the malbec; a wine from Mendoza with tones of cherries, plums, blackberries and raspberries, and marked by peppery spice and licorice undertones. They have bright acidity, ideal to cut through the richness of Argentina’s famous red meats and enhance their character.
While we drank our wine or soft drinks and ate tasty empanadas, the gauchos displayed some of their fine rope and horse riding skills. They also offered stage coach rides around part of the estate to view the charming hacienda where the family resides.
Soon we were taken to a roof covered dining area where our delicious meal of barbecued beef, pork, chicken and sausages was served and the folkloric show of a variety of regional music and dances was presented. As in Mexico, each district has its own special dance as well as costume.
After the dinner and show, it was another two hour drive through the flat green countryside, back to the magnificent Hyatt Regency where Princess has billeted us for the four nights. Tired from the fresh air and long drive, we were grateful for our luxurious and comfortable king room in this modern 5-star hotel.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. With its wide boulevards and gracious architecture, it reminded me a great deal of Paris. In our tour of the city we saw the pink palace with the balcony made famous by President Peron and his vivacious wife, Eva—the famous Evita. Later we were taken to Evita’s final resting place, a mausoleum in the Recoleta Cemetery also reminiscent of French graveyards.
I really enjoyed what I saw of Argentina and would not hesitate to travel back to this land of diversity at the bottom of the Americas.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last Tango for Marini

Just to prove that “nice guys don’t always finish last”, Kris Allen became America’s idol this week. As well, the countries newest sweetheart, seventeen-year-old gymnast, Shawn Johnson, won top prize on Dancing with the Stars.

I guess a lot of young people weren’t happy with the choice of Kris over Adam but from my perspective, being the old fashioned senior I am, I was totally happy that Kris won. He’s a little more “mainstream” and I much prefer his style of music.

To be honest with you, I’m not fussy about the term “idol” nor the adulation, bordering on worship that goes along with it. I just hope it doesn’t change Kris from the engaging and modest young man he appears to be. Of course, looking back I realize that our generation had our idols as well: Elvis Pressley and the Beetles were definitely in that category.

As far as “Dancing with the Stars” is concerned, I was rooting for the French actor, Giles Marini to win. So, of course, I was a little disappointed in the final outcome although Shawn is certainly a lovely young woman and has been dancing better as each week goes by.

But last Tuesday, Giles’ flawless performance of the Argentina Tango along with his dark, Latin good looks reminded me of our adventures in beautiful Buenos Aires. And a few weeks ago, I did promise to tell you about the time we spent in that elegant city prior to our South American cruise last year.

Argentina is the home of the tango which originated the back streets of Buenos Aires around 1870. It was created by the lower classes in response to upper class tyranny but many of the elite enjoyed it in private. At first it was only performed by men with men but later they would dance with prostitutes. At the time, it was considered much too sensuous for proper ladies.

However, around the turn of the twentieth century, the music of the Argentine Tango became popularized worldwide because of two idols of that time: Rudolph Valentino who made it a hit in 1921 in North America and Carlos Gardel, a French-born singer whose interpretation of the sensuality of the music was pivotal to it eventual success and acceptance.

Gardel travelled all over South America and the Caribbean making recordings of over 515 different tangos. He also made several films for Paramount Pictures which helped bring much attention to the dance. He probably would have become even more famous but he suffered an untimely death in an airplane crash on June 24, 1935. By then interest had become wide spread and the 1940s and ‘50s have been referred to as the Golden Age of the Tango.

Since then, tango has had periods of decline and resurgence but, in the past few years, it has been growing again, perhaps in part because of its popularity on Dancing with the Stars. Here in British Columbia, the Vancouver Argentine tango community has garnered such interest that in a four year period it doubled to its current size. I do feel it’s a little late for me to learn it but I never tire of watching it.

We especially enjoyed our evening at the historic El Viejo Almacen in Buenos Aires where we feasted on a juicy Argentine steak dinner in their fine restaurant, then crossed the street to the showroom for a fantastic evening of music and tango. In Argentina, along with Evita’s tomb, the tango has become a national treasure. Here’s a link to a variety of styles of the tango on youtube.

Next time we take you out to the Argentine pampas for a visit to an estancia complete with gauchos and a fantastic outdoor barbecue.

The above two pictures were taken in the tourist area of Buenos Aires where artists abound and you can get your own picture taken dancing the tango. That's me with the camera above.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Announcement for Writers

For all the winters among us, something exciting is happening on the QueryTracker blog.

It’s the second anniversary of this wonderful website that is so helpful to writers of all genres. Not only does it give us a data base of literary agents all over the world in the particular genre we’re trying to market, but it offers statistics about these agents and it helps us to organize and track our query letters.

For a new writer it’s a veritable gold mine and it’s listed on Writer’s Digests 101 Top Websites for writers. So click on the link below and learn how you can win a complete free website makeover.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Getting Real

Reality shows—you gotta love them. Many of them are so much more interesting than the sappy sitcoms and soap operas offered by the networks. It seems that May is the month when a lot of finals are held and winners proclaimed. Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, American Idol, The Amazing Race and Dancing with the Stars all come to an end this month.

My favourite is Dancing with the Stars. The energetic dancers, the colourful costumes and the fabulous band music—all take me back to the great movie musicals of the 40s and 50s when stars like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire ruled the silver screen.

I’ve been watching this program since I first saw Mario Lopez, the dimpled Mexican charmer strut his stuff in Season Three. This year’s semi finalists are probably three of the best contestants ever. French actor, Gilles Marini; gold medal winning Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson; and Mellissa Rycroft, the Texas beauty TV’s bachelor so cruelly dumped in front of the viewing audience this last March, are all vying for the top honour—the mirror ball. It’s going to be a very close race since they have all taken top marks at least once or twice.

Speaking of winners—the writing contest that I’m so interested in winds up this month. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition has been narrowed down to the three finalists. These books are: “Bill Warington’s Last Chance” by James King and “In Malice, Quite Close” by Brandi Lynn Ryder—both in General Literature and a fantasy novel by Ian Gibson entitled “Stuff of Legends.” There are excerpts on all three that anyone with an Amazon Account can read and vote for as their favourite. One vote per account.

Whichever book wins will be published by Penguin and sold on Amazon later this year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Idol Talk

I never really got interested in the latest American Idol contestants until the night they sang music from the Rat Pack era. That was fascinating for me because that’s the music I grew up on. I remember being twelve years old and sitting in front of the radio in our living room and squealing over one of Frank Sinatra’s songs because I thought it was a cool thing to do. My mother quickly put a stop to that and told me “not to be so ridiculous.” But it was what the bobby socks generation did and I wanted to be a part of it.

Later, of course, television brought the ‘rat pack’ right into our living rooms and many nights were spent watching both the Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra shows—in black and white, of course. Variety shows were the reality events of those days and they were a great diversion.
One of the most enjoyable evenings of entertainment I ever had was when my husband and I flew to Reno, Nevada for a 25th anniversary treat. We drove up to Lake Tahoe to see Sammy Davis Jr. at Harrah’s and he was totally amazing. My husband gave the bellman a twenty dollars tip so we would get seated as close to the front as possible. Even though Sammy’s lungs were already giving him trouble, he sang every song in his repertoire. I remember his big smile with porcelain white teeth in his expressive black face and, of course, the sparkling “bling” he wore on almost every finger. The teeth and the diamonds were equally blinding when the spotlights were turned on him.

Anyhow, since I don’t usually like the raucous singing of this younger generation, I was not only surprised, but completely blown away by how well each of the four contestants did with the songs they chose. I was torn to pick my favourite, although I have liked Kris Allen since the beginning. In spite of Simon’s comment, I loved his rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.”

But when Adam Lambert, came strolling down that staircase “a la Sinatra in the ‘40s and ‘50s”, it took my breath away. And it became extremely difficult for me to choose between the two of them. Now this week I note, Allison is gone—three are left—and what will happen to these talented young people after May 19th, we will have to wait and see. They’re all pretty deserving in my book.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vancouver -- My Favourite City Ever

Whether it’s to live in; or to work in; or to visit; when they make lists of the world’s best cities, my home town of Vancouver, B.C. is pretty much always near the top. It happened again this week.

This doesn’t really surprise me all that much. I was born in this amazing city and for most of my life lived in Richmond, less than eleven miles from Vancouver’s city center. Since retirement, we’ve moved further out in the Fraser Valley but it’s still only a 45 minute ride either by Sky Train or automobile to where the action is.

Vancouver really emerged into the vibrant city it is today after Expo ’86. That was the year we invited the world to come and discover what our city could offer and the world came. When people saw this beautifully clean metropolis nestled in its unparalleled setting of rugged mountains and sparkling blue water, Vancouver suddenly emerged into a world class cosmopolitan.

Next winter she will once again be the center of global attention when she hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics. Because of this, the area has gained a few new venues and a new transit line on the high speed rail system connecting downtown with both the airport and the City of Richmond. Of course, we’re all hoping that it doesn’t leave us with a high tax bill.

But that’s all almost a year away. Now that spring is really here, there is much to do within the city itself—as well as the outlying districts—so over the next few months, I’m going to concentrate on showing you some of these interesting spots, both in the city and in the beautiful Fraser Valley I now call home.

By the way, as of June 1st, 2009 travellers from the United States to Canada and vice versa will require either a regular passport or the new NEXUS card to cross the border. The NEXUS is a card that will allow Americans coming to Canada and Canadians travelling to the States to enter each country with a minimum of trouble. It’s fairly easy to obtain and I would suggest you look up either the Canadian Government or the U.S.A. on-line sites which tell you how to obtain the card. Here from the Nexus website are the benefits for having a card:

“If you are approved to participate in NEXUS, you will receive a membership identification card to use when entering Canada or the United States at all participating NEXUS air, land and marine ports of entry.

Membership will enable you to save time by:
· using automated self-serve kiosks in designated areas at participating international airports;
· using dedicated lanes at the land border; and
· reporting to border officers by phone in advance of your arrival in the marine mode of transportation.”

I do have a passport but I still think that this would be worth looking into for anyone who crosses the border more than once or twice a year. So warning: if you’re travelling from or to the U.S.A. after June 1st; don’t leave home without one or the other.