Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bulletins From BA #25

Bulletins From BA #25
12 marzo 2014

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

Autumn has arrived in Buenos Aires and the weather is, as they say on the BBC, “dry and fine.” A.J. is on the road almost constantly for a few weeks, so when she has a weekend at home, we try to take advantage by picking out a local destination and setting forth. Recently, one of our modest peregrinations took us to the barrio once home to the most influential musician in Argentine history: Carlos Gardel.

We had previously visited Gardel’s resting place in el Cementerio de la Chacarita (Bulletins From BA #15). His home, Museo Casa Carlos Gardel, which he shared with his mother until his death in 1935, is now a museum. The building itself is a very nice, very typical home of its time; two stories with a narrow street front and a courtyard. Naturally, it is packed with recuerdos (memorabilia) de Gardel. Having read considerably about the man and learned to play several of his compositions, I was enchanted.

[Transportation Sidebar - Slightly less enchanting, but worthwhile nonetheless, was the ride from our barrio (Palermo Viejo) to Gardels’s (Abasto). Foregoing taxis, we elected to take the #41 colectivo (bus), utilizing our snappy SUBE cards, normally reserved for distinguished guests. It was a perfectly unremarkable ride, although - typically - the bus stop where we needed to embark was not where the map indicated.]

We then meandered along neighborhood streets (with images of “Carlito” everywhere) until we arrived at Abasto de Buenos Aires, an impossibly grand shopping mall. Opened in 1893, this magnificent structure served as the city’s central wholesale fruit and vegetable market until 1984, when it was abandoned. Fortunately, in 1997 George Soros bought it and invested two million bucks in restoration. The stores are the standard, mostly boring shoppes found in other large malls, but the building itself is wonderful and worth the trip.

[Culinary Sidebar - Abasto de Buenos Aires also houses the largest food court I have ever had the privilege/necessity to visit. We had pizza. It was surprisingly acceptable.]

Electing to stroll in the general direction of homeward, Anne and I stumbled upon a small gem: Museo Casa Ricardo Rojas. Señor Rojas (1882-1957) was a hugely influential writer, educator, journalist, and man of letters. The house, designed in the 1920s by architect Ángel Guido, is somewhat exotic when viewed from the street. But it reveals itself as, quite literally, something from another era when one enters.

Incorporating design elements both Spanish and northern Argentine (Rojas was born in Tucumán), la casa features courtyards and colonnades, a library and study both filled with books, and a functioning music salon. Buenos Aires is full of unexpected treasures and we were fortunate to have come upon this one.

All this serendipity had taken its toll and we found ourselves in need of an afternoon pick-me-up. And, unusually, we had an actual destination in mind: Un Café Con Perón, located in a restored building that was once part of the Presidential Residence of Juan and Eva Perón. This place is a shrine to Peronismo (the Argentine political movement based on Perón’s legacy) and features photographs, books, and recuerdos. Also noted: A life-size statue of Presidente Perón sitting at a table enjoying his café de la tarde.

And then, home. All in all, it was a fine day out. Not bad for a couple of Porteños temporalis.



Monday, March 3, 2014

Bulletins From BA #24

Bulletins From BA #24
03 marzo 2014

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

[Rant Alert - Opinions expressed herein are fully half-baked and entirely my own.]

The U.S. mission in Buenos Aires has been without an ambassador since the 4th of July - eight months. Considering that Argentina is one of the largest nations, both geographically and economically, in Latin America, this seems an immoderately long interval. To the surprise of approximately no one, the fault lies squarely with the U. S. Congress.

President Obama nominated David Mamet, a political appointee (and campaign fundraiser), to the position on 01 August 2013. But since Congress apparently (a) had more important work to attend to (e.g., shutting down the government), and (b) doesn’t give a culo de una rata about Argentina anyway, Mamet did not receive his hearing until 07 February 2014 - six months later. At the moment, no one seems to know when his nomination will finally come up for a Senate vote. Fortunately, in the interim, our dauntless Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) has assumed the duties of Chargé d'affaires, and matters of state continue to be dealt with in reasonable order.

There is no doubt an important discussion to be had concerning ambassadorial appointments and the appropriate balance between career Foreign Service Officers and political appointees. Anne and I have previously served with ambassadors from each category, women and men who filled their roles capably. And yet, at the recently concluded Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the principle objection advanced by Senators Menendez (D-Contrary) and Rubio (R-Lackey) was that Mr. Mamet has never actually visited Argentina.

What posturing nonsense. Visitation may well be a plus, but if it is to be a requisite criterion, the President might theoretically be better served by nominating one of the several Congresscritters who routinely engage in junkets here, conducting “official business” on the taxpayers’ dime. For although reactionary legislators and the courtier media seem inclined to portray Argentina as an authoritarian, anti-capitalist hellscape on the road to perdition in the company of Venezuela and Cuba, the fact is that, for all its frustrations, challenges, and shortcomings (admittedly considerable), Argentina is a perfectly decent place to visit and live.

[Sidebar - As long as we’re on the subject, I submit that it takes a lot of damned gall for members (especially GOP) of the most feckless, unproductive, and disrespected Congress in U.S. history to presume to lecture anyone concerning sound economic policy or good governance.]

But back to the matter at hand. My crackerjack opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the next ambassador to Argentina should meet these minimal qualifications:

- Speak at least tolerably fluent español
- Be a good listener and a quick study
- Evince an affinity for schmoozing

And if he/she has heretofore managed to visit the country, excelente. If not, no hay problema. We’ll be happy to show ‘em around.

Gracias por su indulgencia. ¡Adelante!