Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Away down south in...


For vacation, my wife and I went to Buenos Aires. We noticed immediately what a people, who are prisoners in their own country, do to demonstrate some kind of resistance. They graffiti. During much of the past 50 years, Argentina has been a military dictatorship. The few democratic governments have been corrupt to the point of farce. During the ’60 and ‘70s, many people who opposed the various military juntas ‘disappeared’ never to be seen again. People vented their feelings on the walls of virtually every building. I noticed one major difference between the U.S. and the third world through the content of graffiti. Almost all of it in BA was political in nature. In Philadelphia, it is essentially visual litter. Right there I saw how good we’ve got it at home. Also, every Friday, the mothers of those who ‘disappeared’ silently demonstrate outside the Presidential Residence, the Casa Rosa – the pink house.

There appears to be a good size middle class in Buenos Aires which is a hopeful sign for the future of Argentina. Sadly, intelligent economic policy – as in the U.S. – is often sacrificed on the altar of Politics.

One troubling thing that I’d not seen since Rome in 1984 was children, six or eight years old, begging aggressively in the streets. Not many, but it was disconcerting nonetheless.

Since politics caused the de-coupling of the Argentine Peso from the U.S. dollar in 2001, their economy tanked and is now rebounding. Fantastic deals on local merchandise are available. A twenty minute cab ride is $10.00 (Argentines use the dollar symbol for their peso – American prices are noted ‘U$S’) – roughly U$S3.00. One holdover from the old monetary system is that most ATMs dispense US dollars as well as the Argentine Peso. There were many banks that went under in 2001-2 and I saw something I’d not seen at home before, bank branches empty and shuttered on major streets.

I never fail to be amazed at how polite locals will be if you have even a rudimentary grasp of their language and try to speak to them in that language. If you apologize for not speaking it well and use lots of “please” and “thank you”, most people will go out of their way to help you. (Except the French)

We stayed at one hotel – The Faena – that was so cool, so hip that many of the waiters and waitresses, doormen and chambermaids simply sneered at dumpy American tourists even as we supported their livelihoods. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would have been welcome, but yours truly was an eyesore, apparently. A very European hotel, indeed. It's a shame really, because some of the staff were beyond delightful, they were actually friendly. Rather schizophrenic, but I suppose that is the nature of hip, trendy and cool these days.


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