A brief business trip to Argentina opens this Americans eyes
I actually had a little trepidation when considering this trip not knowing what the political climate was or what the situation was where I was traveling. Ian my associate on this trip reassured me that everything would be taken care of. He reassured me that we would be treated well. There again who really trusts a salesman.
I was fortunate on the flight down to be sitting next to an Argentinean that was married to an American. He was returning home for his 50th high school reunion. We ended up talking most of the way down and I didn’t get much sleep, however I was enlightened by the time we touched down in Buenos Aries.
I had pictured somewhere between, Romancing the stone, and the movie Missing, the movie where the oil and gas contractor was kidnapped and held for ransom. I was hoping for the first, sliding down a long mud bank and ending up with my faced placed somewhere between Kathleen Turners knees sounded much better than being held in a small cage and beaten and starved.
I do realize these all took place in Venezuela. But to the poorly schooled American we learned little about South America in school. A jungle with a big river about covers it. I assume this was because most of our ancestors came from Europe or Asia there was little reason to study the continent to the South.
My seatmate was a retired crop duster, he told me a very interesting story which I don’t recall ever hearing in our press and when you hear it you will see why. According to him many years ago the US offered Argentina a low interest loan for an undisclosed amount that was way beyond what the country could ever pretend to pay. As all loans do the interest kept building and building until the country of Argentina owed the US about a gazzilion dollar a month on interest. Then the US in its infinite wisdom decided to collect on the loan all at once.
The Argentinean government was forced to empty it’s central bank and every other bank to pay this debt. In a week the middle class was wiped out. No retirement, no savings, no college fund, no money. Checking accounts were emptied. The common man was broke, and wondering how to support a government that would steal his money.
This helped me to understand the cool welcome for George Bush a couple of weeks before I arrived. I assumed the riots and uprising was because our involvement in Iraq. I can tell you now if George W. came to my bank and stole my savings I would be rioting in the street too.
After learning this, I have to say I was nervous about meeting the people here and facing them. When I travel I take on the responsibility of being the representative of my country. Here I was not very proud of who I was representing. I did find like all my other travels that the people like Americans, just not our government. I have to add I am not all that pleased with it either. I think it must be Hollywood that has done the most to propagate a love for our country. Yes we blow up and shoot anything that moves but in general we are pretty nice folks.
I was met at the airport by one of the representatives from the customer we were coming to see. Soon afterwards Ian showed up, it was great to see him again, it had been over 2 years since we worked together last. We did a little catching up over a cup of coffee. I had expected this to be more like a third world country than the modern glass and steel structures I witnessed on the way into town. Yes there are broken down brick and concrete building on the way to downtown Buenos Aries, it’s not any different then, NY, LA Chicago or Atlanta.
When we showed up at the hotel it was marble and brass and polished clean. I am sure it must have been at least a 4 star because of the service we received. After a quick freshen up we walked to the customer’s site just around the corner from the hotel. I could not describe the interior of this place in a dream. I am sure in my literary background there would be a word but to me it was disorganized organization, eclectic and modern, as Hooters puts it “Tacky Yet Unrefined”. Plastic hung from the florescent lights to imitate clouds and the beautiful butterfly chairs of the 50’s were everywhere. Along with some strange wooden dog looking things that were tied to every desk to keep track of paper and other office supplies.
We met Marcello the main partner in charge of craziness and went for a walk. He gave me the impression of the Travolta type tough guy with a Vinnie Barbarina lopsided grin. We stopped for a meal and a coffee, which is served mixed with hot milk. Café con Leche. We ordered our own little Pizza’s the first of many that we would eat over the next 10 days. It was good and mild. With more of an Italian influence than Spanish with green olives pits in. We were accompanied by the two Javier’s. One Salizarr an one Guvarra. I found these two very professional and very fun. There broken English was to improve over the next week I assume from spending time with Ian and I. I will describe some of the situations later. Javier Salazar was one of the larger Argentineans I met, he had long hair and a very sweet disposition, a big teddy bear of a guy. He played the part of a tough footballer and biker but was too kind for either. He had just returned from Florida where he had meant to spend a long honeymoon if it wasn’t for the intrusion of Wilma, the Hurricane. No, that’s not the name of his new wife. The Other Javier was young with bright, piercing eyes that you could tell would do nothing but tell you the truth. He looked more of what I imagined the people would look like here. He was related to the revolutionary Guvarra from the 60’s. You could tell these two were more like brothers than friends. The little Javier would continually pester the big one with small punches and playful wrestling. This went on all week. It was all done in good fun.
What the Javier’s were doing physically, Ian and I were doing verbally, just seemed to be the thing to do. I am sure there were times I exasperated Ian with my constant picking on the English. It was done with good humor and most often a response for some dig at the Americans. What I have always had a hard time figuring out is why the British think the way they do about Americans when most of us can trace our heritage back to Briton. I think in our banter we both learned a little about each other. To me that was a good thing, the jury is still out, if Ian felt the same way.
After a short lunch which by the way was the only short meal we had during the trip. Marcello jumped up a couple of times to answer the phone and ran in and out of the restaurant. One time returning with CD’s for Ian and myself on the Tango he had purchased from a street vendor. The cover showed little but skin and fishnet stalking. He said it was Argentinean Porno. I was thankful for those four miserable years of Spanish I took. I will explain the importance of the Tango in Buenos Aries later.
After lunch we walked to the Central Bank of Argentina. This would be comparable to the Federal Reserve in the US. With little security other than Marcello’s presence we walked past the guards, and into the depths of the bank. I asked if it would be OK to take pictures and always received the same answer, “No Problemo”. Have these guys hung out in Jamaica or something.
We took off on a walk through many doors and a few elevator rides until we ended up in a large conference room at the back of the bank. It took me a moment to realize it but this was Marcello’s office in the bank. How connected he was surprised me. I could tell it was his office by the neo-eclectic college dorm look. I saw to my surprise, shelves made from concrete blocks and boards. Can’t say much for the look of it but it was economical.
After that meeting Ian and I returned to the hotel for a short break and out for dinner.
Ian and I walked through one of the more prominent shopping centers that catered to tourists. Lots of names you would know like Dior and YSL and many others. Many of there own brands specializing in leather goods and jewelry. Beautiful high class malls, and street merchants in the front.
The more interesting part of the walk was the street performers. Couples Tango dancing in the streets in traditional costumes or lack thereof. The men wore starched white shirts some ruffled, black slacks and a prominent black hat. Which I should have caught on to, don’t go out at night in black slacks and starched white shirts. Someone got the idea I could dance. The women wore very small costumes with lots of sexy slits and sparkles. They would dance then pass the hat. It was beautiful to watch and almost obscene. I felt a little like a voyeur. They danced on uneven broken brick streets, . The tango is all about footwork fast and furious. I was mesmerized like watching a car race, just waiting to see the wrecks. I never saw a missed step or a stumble.
This city exudes an aura of sensuality, sexiness and romance. It seems to leak from every pore of the people and every brick in the street. Everywhere in the streets, in the parks, in little hiding places and sometimes in the middle of a busy intersection you would see couples embracing, young and old and everywhere in between. What a romantic place. The smell in the streets was of sweet smelling flowers, lightly tinted with wood smoke with a slight tinge of sausage. I know that doesn’t sound right or do justice to the real feel of the place but I am merely stuck with words to describe something that you have to experience yourself.
If you hadn’t noticed by the end of the trip my fear of being in Buenos Aries had faded away. It took all week but I finally figured out the most dangerous thing about Argentina, beautiful woman and uneven sidewalks. This was the first day and like always there is much more to tell than time or words will allow.