Part DOS (NYC): Jazz, Russian Caviar and Argentine Tango

Continuing on my little NYC work/play adventure trip…

During traveling, I greatly treasure the random or completely different experiences or activities that come about spontaneously and do not fall under more classical “traveling to-do’s” such as sightseeing standard monuments (although of course those have their own merits but they are expected activities)

Spontaneous Random Experiences, scientifically known as a “SRE psychological state” (hehe I just made that up) create an excitement, an exhilarating rush as you undergo a heightened awareness of whats going on around you. I mean as you travel you are automatically already undergoing RE (random experience) psychological state (I will make this a real psychology phrase yet!)–but the best parts are when you do something completely unexpected/out of the blue/spontaneous! I’m not sure if its a universal thing, but for me, I find those moments the most fun, amusing, carefree and joyful. For example, it is like you are at a club dancing…and then someone decides to just randomly do jumping jacks–with great vigor and passion–to the beat nonetheless! I personally would be filled with great admiration and amusement of that said person..but alas, I cannot speak for those who have beared witness to my, heh, dancing jacks. BUT, I digress!

Blue Note Jazz Club

So after a lovely Sunday afternoon spent leisurely strolling Central Park, Lora suprised me with booked tickets to Blue Note Jazz club in SOHO, specifically to watch Michel Camillo–a jazz pianist. Now, I am totally unfamiliar with the world of jazz, but learned that the pianist is a world famous artist performing from Tokyo to NYC. Being a classically trained pianist myself (hah that sounds so hoighty-toighty–basically learned piano for 13 years), I was always in awe of those who could just improvise on the spot–which jazz seems to be all about!

During the performance, it was truly an amazing experience to witness Michel, the bass player and drummer communicating in an impassioned, raw and absolutely free language of music. Not restrained to the confines of say, the beat, but rather dancing around–expanding the measure or phrase until it becomes a pure expression of the artists’ emotions–a beautiful thing to behold. And despite my not being familiar with jazz or the music, I was swept up by the energy of the performance, left me practically teary-eyed at moments and at the edge of my seat at others.

Outside the Blue Note jazz club
Outside the Blue Note jazz club
We had great seats--near the front with full view of the stage.
We had great seats–near the front with full view of the stage.

Blue Note

 Michel Camillo playing away

Onward to Russia!

So the next evening I had returned to the hotel after day of physician meetings and also visiting the lovely architecturally unique Guggenheim Museum (heh again work + fun). Below are some shots of the museum (again I was blessed with a gorgeously sunny day)

As I'd mentioned--a refreshing curving structure after seeing so many right-angled rectangles
As I’d mentioned–a refreshing curving structure after seeing so many right-angled rectangles
Interior of the Guggenheim Museum
Interior of the Guggenheim Museum
They had these unique color liquid filled plastic bag material tube-esque things streaming across each floor. (I initially thought it was made out of glass or something but realized huh! Its just color liquid).
They had these unique color liquid filled plastic bag material tube-esque things streaming across each floor. (I initially thought it was made out of glass or something but realized huh! Its just color liquid).

I was fully set on just ordering room service and crashing early (the jet lag was catching up to me and I’d spent most of the day walking).  I ordered an actually very delicious version of Fried Chicken and Waffles (ohhh yeah comfort food) with a side of steamed vegetables (which of course negate all of the calories in the fried chicken). The room service arrived promptly, with white table cloth and all, and I settled down to some deliciously crispy skinned chicken (juicy and tender under the skin) pairing beautifully with subtle sweet waffles.

Upon finishing the meal, as I shall now dub “Dinner #1,” I receive a text from Lora. We had split up earlier that day since she was catching up with a friend of hers, Maria Blanco , a professional Argentinian tango dancer who is apparently well known in the tango world (as I would find out later).  She invited me to accompany them for dinner (since they hadn’t had anything yet) at a Russian restaurant, Russian Samovar.  To give some background, Lora is a full mother wonderful passionate Russian—complete with strong emphatic accent (i loff accents) and so when she herself says I must not miss an experience going to a real Russian place with vodka and caviar, I could not say no.

Thus begins Dinner #2.

So first to describe the ambiance of Russian Samovar–imagine that you are in Russia…never been? Either have I! But this is what Lora tells me heh—so dim lampshades, walls covered with black and white photographs of Russian either famous or not–and a large grand piano being played by a slightly drunken older man who was formerly a concert pianist (you can request anything from Russian love songs to Rachmoninoff etc. and he will play with passion and aplomb.) Since it was a weeknight, it was not packed (heh Lora was sharing that normally it is super packed, the bar especially with potential KGBs (j/k..kind of) and “Natashas” heheh…which I am sure you can deduce which category that lovely group of ladies fall under.

Ambiance of Russian Samovar
Ambiance of Russian Samovar

We started off with a “Nostraovia!” (cheers) with their house made cranberry-infused vodka (actually quite delicious! Unlike say, a cranberry vodka with its harsh acidic zing, this one had a more softer but rich cranberry flavor).

House-made cranberry infused vodka
House-made cranberry infused vodka

Then we had caviar, Russian style (instead of a blini–it is a big thinner one, like a pancake. And the waiter prepares it for you with flourish–adding a smear of rich sour cream, caviar, then finely chopped red onion and hard boiled egg. Sigh, i could get used to having caviar everyday…

More Caviar...
More Caviar…
Caviar Burrito hehe
Caviar Burrito hehe with chopped onion and egg

Then we had the absolutely best Beef Stroganoff I’ve ever had! The sauce and beef were cooked in a rich tangy sour cream sauce, in its own iron pot with buttery herbed egg noodles.

Best beef stroganoff
Best beef stroganoff

Then we concluded (my) Dinner #2 with traditional Russian tea—made in a Samovar (to me, it tasted like strong black tea–but the best part was that it was served with preserved cherries in a sweet syrup that actually super accentuated the fragrant flavors of the tea! Who knew that that combo would go together so well!

Classic Russian Tea with a side of sweetened cherry preserves
Classic Russian Tea with a side of sweetened cherry preserves

Tango in Argentina!

Then last but not least, we made our way to a Ukrainian restaurant (yesh, random I know–but cheers to that!) which was hosting the milonga (basically a dance hall event for tango dancers).

Now Lora had recommended that my friend Jenn and I go to one last year when we were in Istanbul, Turkey and to be honest, it was a bit boring when we last went. Firstly, we were totally out of place in our rainboots and totally not knowing any tango. But most importantly the dancers at the Istanbul milonga were well, not very good and thus not very fun to watch. So when Lora invited to me to go along with her and Maria, I was thinking ehhh well maybe it’ll be different this time and boy was I right!

So to describe it, you pay an entrance fee, and enter a large room with a dance floor occupying the majority of the space with tables are arranged on the perimeter of the floor. Maria, being in the tango world of NYC and recently just starting her own tango show with her dance partner Jorge Torres.

Here is a lovely photo of Maria and Jorge (we were marveling how in the photos or for her show she looks like a vavavoom WOMAN –perhaps in her mid 30s –and the night she hung with us sans stage makeup and done hair, she looked much younger than her mid-twenties age (more like 18 or something!).

Jorge Torres & Maria Blanco

Ph: Franco Meligene

Here is a link if you want to check out some legit tango (i am completely again unfamiliar with the tango world but it is a beautiful thing to watch): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQf6OjCODmc

All in all, it was a special glimpse into a completely different world–the life of a professional dancer–hearing Maria’s stories of traveling around the world to perform and then landing this show in NYC. Indeed it is such a different concept of “work” compared to the majority of us 9-5-ers or traditional ‘lawyer, doctor etc’ type professions. Though it was just a brief encounter, I find it fascinating to get a glimpse into yet another way of living life;) Salud to that*

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