Monday, July 28

Learning Argentine Tango: The beginning

Something curious happened to me the spring of freshman year. While perusing the class catalog and planning my schedule for the coming fall, I discovered that Gonzaga offered a Dance minor. That is not the curious part. Unexpected, maybe, but not curious. The curious part is that I wanted it. There was absolutely nothing in my history to predict this choice. I am still amazed by it. For what little they count, I attended maybe six dances total in high school and stayed far from the dance floor during each of them. In physical education, the square dance units were far from my favorites. This was not some long process of a niggle of interest leading to full-blown desire following intense consideration of how this might benefit my future plans and impact my studies in college. Quite honestly, I thought This looks like fun. I should do it. and began making room in my schedule. Thus, having never before seen a ballet nor holding a clear conception of what sacred dance was (unless the movements to "Our God is an Awesome God" count), I took Ballet I and Sacred Dance in the fall of 2006.

Later that same semester, I realized it was impossible to complete a major in Journalism and minors in Philosophy and Religious Studies and study abroad and still have time for a Dance minor. Still, I discovered over that single semester an enjoyment of dance serious enough to keep up with it, both in and out of class. Last summer I came into contact with Argentine Tango through free Thursday night classes offered by a local club. By this time I had some familiarity with most social dances, but the Tango captured me in a way none of the others had. Not so flashy as Salsa or genteel as Waltz or sensual as Bachata, Tango (and not its bastard ballroom child) was intimate and smooth and did not require you to plan eight steps ahead to pull off a move.

I began to dabble in it outside of formal class. I bought a few compilation albums, listened to the Tango station on AccuRadio, and picked up The Basics of Tango, an iTunes Essentials. It was not long before I discovered Astor Piazzolla. That was the turning point. The man and his works were a revelation. The emotion of his music was palpable. Not so grand and overwhelming as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the like, Piazzolla's music was personal. It did not carry you away so much as give voice to your own feelings. No question, his compositions are beautiful. Perhaps more importantly still, they made me want to learn more about music, his and the art in general. I want the vocabulary to better express what I find in his music, to know his influences and descendants.

Thus I finally come to the point of this post. I want to learn more about Tango. This is a conscious decision. I also have no real idea of how to proceed. I am starting from almost nothing. I played the French Horn in the school band for four years and can read music well enough but have never studied musical theory. I can dance a little Argentine Tango, but that is it. The best advice I have received in this endeavor is to start with what you like and move out from there. For me, it is Piazzolla and the dance. I begin by ordering Leonard Bernstein's The Joy of Music, suggested to me by a professor I respect very much, for the basic music background, and Christine Denniston's The Meaning of Tango for the history of the dance. On iTunes, I buy Piazzolla's "Tango: Zero Hour," Hugo Díaz's "Tangos" and Gotan Project's "Lunático." And I go to the dance class on Thursday. I could do worse for a start.

This project is something new for me, and I want a record of it, to capture my earliest thoughts and impressions, to follow their development. Thus I begin the "Learning Argentine Tango" series. Posts to it will, obviously, focus on my growing relationship and understanding of the music and dance.

For a taste of what I have found so captivating, I offer three takes on Piazzolla's "Libertango." The first is a studio recording of Yo-Yo Ma and his band. The second is a music video with clips of dancing from the film The Tango Lesson cut with Yo-Yo Ma, again, playing the cello. Finally, set against a fan-generated slide show, Rodrigo and Gabriela take it on with their guitars.

Thursday, July 24


The subtitle of this blog is "An exploration of the philosophies, thoughts and artistic yearnings, both as creator and audience, of Christopher F. Heinrich by Christopher F. Heinrich." It was only a matter of time before that narcissism which impelled me to create this blog with the idea that other people might be interested in my ideas and experiences would also drive me to post a picture of myself and admire it. Seriously, I like this picture a lot. It is simple and has few elements, but there is a strength to it. The camera and sunglasses stand out and stare straight back at the viewer. They have an intensity that holds the attention. It looks as though the picture is being taken of the audience rather than the photographer, and the self-consciousness that often emerges with that idea is put in direct contrast to the photographer's apparent comfort with it. There is no playing for the camera. Just a simple shot of a subject who seems almost disinterested. No doubt, that appearance is aided by the highly reflective sunglasses.

I think this picture also excels in the basics. There is a strong contrast between the light of the shirt and darks of the sunglasses, camera, and background, none ever going so extreme that all texture and visual interest are lost. The composition, with the body off-set and head slightly cocked do a lot to elevate what is otherwise a very simple picture with few elements. The only thing that really bothers me is my right hand. I find its position and hold of the lens distracting.

It is a surprising picture, too, for how well it turned out. The light sensor was off, and I took this shot in a freaking bathroom. You can even see the curtain rod behind me. Still, this picture came of marvellously well. I like it when that happens.

For what it is worth, I took this picture for my photography class. My final portfolio needed to include a self-portrait. Pictures of myself really do not attract my interest, which may also explain why I prefer to be behind the camera.

Tuesday, July 22

A Month in Jakarta: The observations

I saw and experienced a lot in Jakarta. Of course not all of it made its way to this blog, some because I simply could not wrap my mind around them, some because I could not build a full-length post out of them. For the latter, this is their chance to come to the surface.
  • Forget football (soccer). Badminton is Indonesia's sport. Of course, football is big. There was good natured ribbing between the kids and I when FC-Bayern came to play the Indonesian national team, and there were pick-up games wherever there was an empty lot. Still, these do not compare to badminton. Rope was strung up across the fence to form a net, and when even that was not avaiable, boys and girls and parents and everyone would just hit the birdie back and forth. Badmiton's primacy became really apparent when one of the kids was actually able to name a professional badminton player.
  • In the absence of electric security systems and neighborhood watches, Indonesian homeowners take security into their own hands. They surround their homes with fences that have nasty points on top. Those looking for something sturdier or affording more privacy than bars with two inches of space between them, sunk broken glass into the setting cement. The defenses of both styles of fence could be and were bolstered by lying barbed wire atop the rest.
  • It is a gesture of respect from the young to their elders to hold their hand and briefly raise it to their forehead. Of course you will always different forms of respect in different cultures, but it freaks me out when I do not know the appropriate response or was just expecting a handshake. Should I stand up when they do this? How much attention should I pay to their hand? Can I talk to someone else while this is going on, or is that rude? Should I be doing it to the older volunteers?
  • I came to Indonesia knowing absolutely no Bahasa Indonesian except for a few greetings and "My name is ..." which a Timorese friend taught me. Most of it has slipped out of my mind by now, but that which I learned best revolved around food. It is easy since it is so nouns centric and opportunities for practice come up about three times a day. And they just kept trying to feed me. I do not think I will ever forget Saya suda mekan (I already ate).
  • Thrice the orphanage picked up a few boxes of individually plastic-wrapped pastries. Those things are the real-world Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. Normally the sweet ones were easy enough to pick out, sometimes glazed or covered in chopped nuts. Other times it was more difficult. Thought that was frosting coming out? Wrong. It was mayo. By the end, I was afraid of accidentally taking another cold chicken pot pie.
  • It was hot in Jakarta. No joke. The men dealt with it by sometimes rolling up the bottoms of their T-shirts to just below the ribs, making the top resemble something like those half-sweaters which enjoy some popularity over here.
  • An effective means of getting kids to like you, or at least pay attention, is to juggle and then teach them the same.
  • The most difficult transition in coming to Jakarta? Getting used to the sun setting at 6 p.m. in June. I have never lived farther south than 47 degrees north. A 6 o'clock sunset for me means it is early spring or late fall.
  • Despite the early timing of the first call to prayer and scratchy speakers, waking up to the layers of calling voices from all directions was beautiful.

Monday, July 21

A Month in Jakarta: The running

For a month abroad, I am fairly proud of how little I took. Everything fit comfortably in my day pack and a World War II Army duffel, never straining the seams. I managed this by cutting out all non-essentials. The only things which I considered luxury items among my luggage were my camera and film, devilsticks and juggling balls, and my running gear. It is with these last items this post revolves. I packed them with little hesitation and even some excitement. I had read earlier that running was a good way to explore a new city and had never really tried out urban running before since every other city I ever ran in had such easy access to trails and parks far away from traffic.

In all truth, the running gear may as well have stayed behind. I ran only four times before giving up. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the roads were a mess, the anti-Munich if you will. As straight and wide and reasonably designed as the roads outside of Munich's Innenstadt were, Jakarta's roads were narrow and curvy. I would even have taken the centuries of twisting Cadolzburg streets over those in Indonesia's capital. Literally, I do not think you could see more than 200 meters straight ahead in any direction because the road would already have to go around some houses. Or just end. Deads ends were an unmarked rule, and I would have to burn down alleys to escape them because backtracking was sure to get a few laughs from people who saw me go by the first time. I was very unwilling to try the main roads with how insane the traffic was and poor the sidewalks were. Breathing that deeply on the roads did not seem like that great of an idea either considering how many people on motorbikes wore masks and covered their mouths.

This was already enough to give me pause, but running had the bonus made me stick out all the more, too, not something I was terribly eager to emphasize any more. If it was not easy enough already to pick out the 6-foot bule, running in a bright yellow running shirt made it so obvious that they could be blind and looking entirely the wrong direction and still notice me.

But there was something more obvious than my height or glowing pale at these times: I was absolutely the only runner. I am used to other runners. It is a rare outing when I do not see muscle-bound guys trying to get some cardio in before the free weights or older people keeping active or even those few who are actually competent at running. It is something entirely different to be the only runner whatsoever. In America, this might inspire a feeling of superiority, healthier-than-thou or something like that, but it just made me uncomfortable in Jakarta. Many run in the States to keep the weight down and body in shape. In Jakarta though, despite the dearth of runners, I did not see many overweight people and absoluely none of those whom are so fat they give cause to marvel at the elasticity of human skin. I like to think that I run for the sheer enjoyment of movement and the release of energy, but being the only runner was enough to remind that America's running culture is one built on the privilege of plentiful food as much as anything else. And that was enough to cause me to quit running for the month.

The awareness of privilege by simple chance of birth and nationality is something any American who gets out of the Western world eventually has to deal with. Someday I hope to have a better answer to it than withdrawl, but recognition is a beginning. Maybe the eventual answer will find its way here.

Tuesday, July 8

A Month in Jakarta: The development

Early on I thought a blog post which imagined what Jakarta would look like as a fully developed First World nation might be worthwhile. But there is a problem with that. It assumes Indonesia is not already developed. Granted, once outside of Jakarta and Bali (an opportunity I never really took advantage of), one might discover more animals pressed into transportation roles and find Internet access a mite rarer, but that does not preclude the existence of neighborhoods which the cosmopolitan would be completely comfortable in within Jakarta. Internet cafés and the like do not look like some shiny refugee from the future but blend easily into their neighborhoods. Even the slums are dotted by TV antennas, at times resembling a porcupine with how thickly they cover the buildings. While basic services like sanitation and public transportation have a ways to come yet, the basic trappings of a material, Western life are all there. Digital cable is a long way off, but we certainly are not talking about grass huts with dirt floors and wood fires for heat.

While I became most clearly aware of this in my final week in Jakarta, another discovery ran parallel. By and large, these places were not for the Indonesians. They were not developed and implemented by the locals but dropped in wholesale by their Western owners. The clientele and staff at the Starbucks we visited was entirely of a northern Asian persuasion, and the menu was listed in all its faux-Italian English glamour. Besides the fact the prices were typically around 30 (and that is after the last three zeroes were dropped because, even with the dollar's recent economic troubles, it still trades for a little less than 1000 rupiah), there was little to distinguish it from a Starbucks anywhere in the United States.

Consider this second case. During the last week, I also visited Sarinah, the purported oldest mall in Jakarta. Even before entering, the sense of displacement was already severe. Jakarta's Hard Rock Cafe was in the same complex, and customers of a nearby French restaurant with a French name used the same parking lot. Coming in only heightened it. Yes, we were there for souvenirs and completely bypassed the Muslim fashion and bookstore floors, but the absence of any feeling of being in Indonesia was unsettling. Everything was English. The coffee listed its qualities as "rich and earthy," the clerks did not even try to speak Indonesian to me (understandable as I am so white), and the cash register read "Thank you" when the last of my postcards were slipped into their bag. In the statue section, they gave up entirely on any pretense of being an Indonesian place. Statues of a white golfer immediately post-stroke sat alongside laughing Buddhas which looked suspiciously similar to those I had seen in San Francisco years earlier. At least Indonesians worked in Sarihna, and some conceivably shopped there.

Maybe ethnic Indonesians are not Starbucks' core market because they prefer their own coffee, its Javan and Sumatran varieties so highly regarded by the rest of the world, Starbucks included. Probably native Jakartans have little interest in buying shirts and postcards with "Bali" on them, especially in their home city. Still, it is more than a little unnerving to find such unabashedly non-Indonesian environments in the capital city. Of course it is possible to find the same sort of thing in the United States. Ethnic restaurants try their hardest to recreate the feeling of being in another place, and America is home to Chinatown and Little Havanna. What I found in Jakarta felt different, though. Not introduced by immigrants trying to maintain their heritage, these came in packages from global corporations.

I make no predictions of an imminent, multi-national homogenity where we all eat at McDonald's and wear United Colors of Benetton and shop at Wal-Mart. It was no problem to avoid Starbucks and Sarihna, my late discovery of them convincing evidence. I came to Jakarta expecting something completely different. Far and away, I did, but this feeling of placelessness, even in a city so unlike those I have known, does depress me some.