Visiting Buenos Aires
I went on a last minute visit to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, because Trump won. Let me explain. My longtime friend and fellow (much more) active Democrat is the current U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet. Ambassador Mamet had long invited me to stay at The Residence of the Ambassador as his guest. In this, I was not unique; Noah has a lot of friends and the Residence has many guest rooms.
I’ve been to Buenos Aires before. It takes 20 hours, at least one airline connection, and five time-zone changes from Laguna to get there if nothing goes wrong. Once there, the exhausting action begins: the locals are infectious entertainers, dinner does not start until 10 and the usual bedtime is between 2 and 4 a.m. Not just on weekends. Every night. But I had to go; it was a bucket list thing.
So I tarried until Hillary lost. Then I had to visit right away because Noah was resigning on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. And it had to be before Christmas because after that, Noah’s schedule would be too crammed with well-wishers.
Buenos Aires and its culture are quite European. The people are a mish-mash of immigrants from all over Western and Eastern Europe, Lebanon, Syria, other Arab states, China, Sweden, Finland, Japan, Korea, Sicily, Southern Europe and so on. That means the genetic mixture is intense, which results in a healthier, smarter and prettier population, which numbers about 13 million. Its GDP is not that big and it would be much larger except for generations of corruption and brutal juntas.
During the 1970s and ‘80s, under the U.S.-supported policy of “anti-communism,” tens of thousands of “dissidents” were murdered. The locals say they “were disappeared.” (Strange: when I visited Beijing during the ’08 Olympics, the locals said the same thing of the multiples who also had “disappeared.” Murder was so commonplace the name lost its meaning.). The ruling Argentinian presidents robbed the country, rewarded their followers, and did their best to destroy any productive, may I say capitalistic, behavior.
Their previous president, Cristina Kirchner, in office from 2007 to 2015, was a stone-cold disaster, with rampant corruption, high inflation and a national debt she defaulted. However, the current president, Mauricio Macri, runs a tight and honest ship, has honored the national debt and restored vibrancy to the naturally vibrant Argentineans. You can feel it: the country is buzzing with activity.
For me, despite my exhaustion, I enjoyed every minute, especially seeing Noah toasted over and over by the many businessmen and government officials he had helped with U.S.-Argentinean issues and the the embassy staff. Many openly wept at a going away barbecue at the Residence. Ambassador Mamet was in his natural element and it is sad he cannot continue.
But there was something else, too, something sinister: an oft-stated fear about the U.S. This did not come from Noah. It came from the many local businessmen I met. Just as Argentina is righting itself, America, the dream of everyone in South America, seems to be entering a period of arbitrary and corrupt behavior so common in South America. Trump has extreme conflicts of economic interest and a casual brutality so many junta leaders exhibit. They are worried that the United States of America, a shining beacon of stability and rule by law, is entering a period that will be just as corrupt and destabilizing as generations of Argentinean tin dictators.
The U.S. Ambassador’s residence is a 40,000 square foot palace. It was built in 1915 and is a stunning example of traditional French classicism. The U.S. originally bought it to serve as the U.S. Embassy, and then outgrew it and it became the Ambassador’s Residence. The only way to understand it is to think of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” with elegant public rooms and a maze of dingy hallways for the staff. Before Noah arrived, the Residence was often referred to as “the museum” because it was not used much. Ambassador Mamet saw instead a great opportunity and activated it with scores of on-site functions, retreats, speaking salons, and dinner parties. He also bought an old-fashioned pool table for one of the front salons. He said it was much more friendly than sitting in formal rooms and at the end of the evening, everyone always ended up there.
I left Buenos Aires after five nights. I had not seen nearly enough and had just gotten over my jet lag, but it was Christmas back home and I had to go. After that, it took me another week to re-adjust and catch up on my sleep.
During the inauguration, I will be in Mexico. I will be at a small surfer-fishing village called Sayulita. I will bring my boogie board and go with my girlfriend Kim Bowen, her two kids and some friends. We will not follow the news. We will be gone from the United States when that symbol of U.S. degeneration is inaugurated.
Fun fact: on New Year’s Eve, President-Elect Trump spent it at his Mar Del Lago club, where he appeared in person and charged extra bucks for admission to view him from across the room.
Yes, now it really does begin.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many non-profits.