25 Nov 2010

Suck My Napa

Mendoza starred in last Sunday’s New York Times travel section, nicknamed Argentina´s Napa Valley http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/travel/21Mendoza.html?ref=travel . The article recounts the typical tourist experience one encounters in Mendoza; bouncing around wineries, dabbeling in gourment cuisine, trying out various extreme sport activities. The journalist closes his account with an interview from the cofounder of a wine bar and American entrepreneur extrordinare, listed as an ex-washington campaign strategist. Señor son of a bitch Evans declares, “Mendoza is Napa 30 or 40 years ago.” The goal of his business efforts is to ¨create an experience that is a little closer to what you might experience in Napa, but with an Argentine flair.” Evans’ statements become the critical metaphor on which the article is hinged: Mendoza—Napa valley, but cheaper, and thirty years in the past.

Argentine culture, in Evan’s warped vision, becomes an accessory to the more essential idea, which is NAPA. His ideal tourists, instead of having an interest in exploring local idiosyncrasies, culture or language, will be served a more palatable plate of culturally understandable Napa Valley; a dish they can digest, only seasoned with a flair of Argentina. Instead of attempting to see a place, a culture, and a people on their own terms, these elements are forced into a damaging comparison—a sluggish and underveloped version of Napa valley, one in dire need of creative American/European entrepreneurs who can straighten it out, and/or set it in the right direction.

My frustration with this worldview is perhaps tripled by my current experiences waiting tables at one of Mendoza’s poshest restaurants that caters to high brow tourists of all nationalities. I’ve found that Americans of the social echelon who dine in cede restaurant have the most backward things to say about their globetrotting experiences in Latina America. One woman who had spent a considerable amount of time in Europe confessed to me that she disagreed with the stereotypes that Buenos Aires was like Paris. “Apart from Recoleta and Puerto Madero (two of the swankiest neighborhoods in the city) I found it to be really run down.” Surprise surprise! Who would guess that a country, which only a few years back suffered an entire economic collapse, would show signs of poverty or disrepair.

Another couple recounted their stay in Santiago, Chile, and then further north in a small residential town, home to Chilean billionaires. They had been unimpressed with Santiago, but had fallen in love with the small town. The woman with googely eyes recounted to me how excited she had been at the sight of helicopter pads on top of mansions. “It was just like Carmel” she exclaimed… Carmel being the California beachfront home to famous actors and artists.

These comments reflect the same kind of mindset Evans reveals in the New York Times article; comparative thinking that due to radically different histories, cultures, racial makeups, languages etc, has no grounds in reality. If you want to visit Europe, go to Europe; if you want to visit Carmel, go to Carmel; if you want to visit Napa Valley, then go to goddam Napa Valley. Don’t come here.

5 Nov 2010


My first experience with private Argentine health care came early on this morning when I was obliged to, as a prospective employee of the bodega Alta Vista, undergo some kind of physical in order to secure that I was in conditions to work like a dog for them. Mariela, human resources director, had called me the day before, letting me know that I was to present myself bright and early at the clinic PerBac with my passport, a urine sample, and an empty stomach. Having had several encounters with the decaying and understaffed public hospital in Lujan, I expected this private clinic to gleam with newly purchased equipment, freshly painted rooms, and the welcoming smiles of a well-compensated staff. These assumptions, however, proved sadly incorrect.
PerBac was situated in an old stone house, set back a nudge from the main road that runs through Lujan. I rattled a rusty doorknocker and was ushered into a waiting room. The first tip off I received, that this was not the kind of doctor’s office I had anticipated, was the thick scent of stale cigarette smoke that invaded my nostrils. The waiting room was dimly lit, and a few sticky and lopsided plastic stools lined its periphery; I plopped myself in one of them. A urine shade of yellow stained the walls, while a putrid brown tiled the floors.  An old man, whose disgruntled mannerisms and decrepit outlook on life matched the dismal candor of his surroundings, asked me to follow him into an adjacent room. This second room was a lifeless violet, smudged with dark finger and handprints, grease stains, rub marks. We sat on opposite sides of a thick brown desk and he began taking my information: age, address, birthplace etc… His face, eyes and hair were a dull shade of grey, his voice as lifeless and dry as sandpaper. Transpiring skin shone through the thin layer of hair that coated his skull like peach fuzz. Interspersed throughout the questions of my medical and personal history, came the stale and sarcastic comments of this discontented man’s opinion on my decision to live and work in his country.
“Age, date of birth…Why did you decide to come this godforsaken place?”
“Any operations or allergies… Argentina’s a country without a solution”
“Blood type?… I don’t care what they say about Obama, or the economy, you’d have to be crazy to come live here.”
His fishlike, down-turned mouth completed the face of a man more embittered and disillusioned than a fallen solider. I didn’t say anything to his comments, and was relieved when I was sent on to the next of a series of rooms I would visit within my stay at PerBac.
            The second room was for “Electrosis,” a procedure as frightening as the word itself. Perhaps I am a novice when dealing with doctors in general, even in my own country, but this strange machine to which I was hooked, was something I could only imagine in nightmares about archaic medical practices like electric shock therapy or lobotomy. Although, electrosis proved for the most part painless, the process of being strapped in was traumatic enough. It involved four metal clamps, one tightened to each of my appendages, and then an octopus-like collection of tentacles, which were suctioned to various places across my stomach and chest. A needle attached to a pen drew squiggly lines across some graph paper each time I was electrified.
            I was finally ushered into a third room where my x-ray was to be taken. Once again, this process entailed the use of a machine that could have been a prop in a 1980’s sci-fi thriller. A huge metal crane like object hovered above the cot on which I was told to recline. The precipice of the crane was complete with an ominous black lens, without any kind of shield preventing the condemned from staring into its depths. As I lay, awkwardly on a thick piece of metal which contained the photographic paper, I was encouraged to form various strange positions, each more uncomfortable than the next. In the most curious of these, the metal sheet pressed coldly up against my breasts, while I had to extend my arms back grasping my butt cheeks, my face smushed violently up against a raised cushion. Thankfully, the miniature size of the facility let me know that this was the third and final room in my sequence of tests, and it was time to return to the waiting room.
            This time around a dyed-blonde secretary sat clicking on a keyboard, and the gentleman who had given me electrosis, rested on one of the plastic stools. The grey man entered and began to mumble to the other two about how bat-crazy I was, and that I should never have come to this horrible, terrible, hopeless and forgettable country. Luckily the other two didn’t seem to give him much clout, and merely smiled and nodded. After being permitted to leave, I emerged into the dazzling morning light, relieved.

3 Nov 2010