The Buenos Aires managers of a multi-national advertising agency were speaking candidly about the superfluous nature of their business – and I was only a factitious journalist.
Blake teaches English to a few Argentine business professionals. When Pessa and I tagged along to classes one day, he told the small groups we were reporters for some advertising magazine. We would make up questions; they would answer in their already fluent English. (Since it was a “classroom activity,” I will leave the sources and companies anonymous.)
This well-known advertising agency has clients that make products that everyone has consumed – cigarettes in every convenience store, fast food joints on every other corner and cars dealerships in every other city.
“There are three Cs we represent: cancer, cholesterol, contamination,” a top manager joked.
The three other students in the first class laughed, albeit kind of apprehensively.
But these English students, who get paid to advertise, understand the importance of image.
“We have a ton of cancer; that’s why we work for the Red Cross,” another director quipped in reference to the pro-bono work the agency does for the worldwide humanitarian organization.
In the second class, Pessa and I pushed to how they could morally work for a company that tries to get people to smoke harmful cancer sticks.
The creative director for the tobacco ads said flatly, “I don’t think about it.”
His more talkative colleague said, “It’s evil but … look at the harms of alcohol, and they get praised for their ads. They get good press, but they have many social problems. People get drunk, drive. Then there are the problems for women [when they are around the drunken men].”
At that point, their other colleague, an account manager for the automobile ads, cuts them short and says, “It’s not the same given the health concerns and addictiveness of cigarettes.”
The advertisers for tobacco then tried to justify their work by talking about the addictiveness of alcohol. They, however, didn’t speak with much conviction. Then they mentioned how they never advertise about the cigarettes themselves, but rather the relationships people have, the moments they share.
From there, the conversation began to meander to other subjects.
…And now, from people who try to get you to buy things you don’t need to people who don’t have many things they need…
Rich and poor
BUENOS AIRES PROVINCIA, Argentina
Suzie, the farm lady from El Bolson, warned us about the startling disparity between rich and poor in this metropolis.
In our first 10 days here, we didn’t leave the city center, and didn’t see what she was talking about. For our second weekend, Blake, Pessa, Laura and I rented a Volkswagen and drove to the Argentina’s Atlantic coast.
On the highway a few kilometers outside the city center, we saw startling slums.
Our red car zoomed by at about 100 kilometers per hour, but the scene wasn’t a blur.
A layer of garbage and debris covered the ground, street and ditch like a February snowstorm in Minnesota. Shacks about the size of your small guest bedroom — or office cubicle — were crammed next to each other.
A woman sat on a stump at the edge of the slum looking out as traffic passed her by. What was she thinking about?
A boy ran across the garbage-strewn street and into the dry ditch. He brought his hands to his head as if he were engulfed in his imagination.
These images stuck with me as we arrived at the high-class, sea-side resort community of Carilo. This manufactured village is an array of wooden condos, steel suites and outdoor malls with ice cream stands, leather shops and an Audi dealership amid soaring pine trees.
We found a nice resort for a cheap price because it was the off-season. Our suite had starched sheets, fluffy pillows, a large bathroom, a complete kitchen, a living room with TV and a patio with a wood-burning stove.
Looking out at the pool, I couldn’t help but think about the images I saw on the roadside. I felt guilt.
From another mouth
Criticizing your our country is required, I believe. But when an outsider criticizes, it’s natural to say, “What? Wait a second!”
One night here, Pessa genuinely asked Blake’s roommate, Lolly, what she thought were the best and the worst things about the U.S.
Lolly, a friendly 20-something who had welcomed us into her home, said without hesitation that she does not like the U.S. because of its immigration policy.
“I don’t like it,” she said, with Blake interpreting and me paraphrasing. “We are not welcome. It’s very difficult for people to get in. It costs a lot to get a U.S. visa and a lot of people are denied.”
Lolly gave an example of how her philosophy professor was accosted with questions when he went to Philadelphia for an academic conference.
Now, in a move to reciprocate the unwelcoming measures, fellow U.S. travelers told us they were charged $130 dollars when they arrive at a Buenos Aires airport.
The travelers who had to fork over the cash were quick to bitch about the charge.
However, the fee doesn’t seem to compare to the denials and costs of visas and the interrogations Argentines receive before and when they arrive on U.S. soil.
About the beard
I last shaved on February 27; I don’t plan on shaving again until late August.
This barba is blazing red, can get granola and other food stuck in it and can tickle the upper lip when left untrimmed.
It, a living thing, as drawn some comments from readers and Pessa. The best have come from the woman who is supposed to love me the most.
I was kidding Pessa about her height, and she retorts, “I’m short, but at least I don’t have a cat attached to my face.”