Tuesday, April 24, 2012
When Caliban Met Ariel: Tales of the Ugly Gringo
Latin America is a sexy, exotic place, from Mexico all the way to the southern tip.
In a drunken stretch of the imagination (or a Picasso-esque one), Latin America even looks like a sexy woman, twisting perhaps to a samba or merengue beat. From busty Mexico down through her slender waist of Central America, where moving south her hips blossom and enclose the steamy, verdant tropicalia before tapering down to a sexy pair of legs terminating at the tip of the Southern Cone.
I've seen many a man dash himself upon the rocks of lust in Latin America. It's never a pretty site. You have the best of intentions, but the devil lurks around every corner. The young woman cheated by the dumb and cheap Secret Service agent (never a good combination, especially in a strange place) is a saucy little firecracker. I've known a few like her, and it always ended badly...
Every now and then, something will hit the news and it will transport me back to another time and place. It's part of the curse of having lived many lives.
Mark Sanford's Argentinian Adventure
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's slow, sad human car wreck over his Argentinian lover was gut-wrenching. Some held out hope he would snap out of it, but I knew he was a goner. Done. I had been there, mentally and physically, and I thank God I came back to reality and didn't wreck my marriage. Prior training as a young bachelor living for years in Central America is probably all that steeled me against falling into a snare.
Sanford had been transported half a world away, in a swirl of exotic mystery and romance. He may have been standing in the harsh reality of South Carolina, complete with the blinding TV lights, clicking cameras and shouting reporters, but his heart and mind were captured and held prisoner at the other end of the world, a completely different world of sultry, sexy exotica.
A famous actress, can't remember who, talked about filming in Brazil, I think, and how the tropical atmosphere amped up your libido. She made some reference about it going straight to your groin, or something like that. All of Latin America is not tropical--in the crisp Andean air of Quito or La Paz, women wearing luxuriously feminine capes and tall leather boots is also very sexy--so it's not just the hot, moist climate.
Not So Secret Service
I've never been to Cartagena, but I was a young single man temporarily assigned just up the coast in Maracaibo, Venezuela, back before the Chavez regime. I imagine it's about the same, complete with the humidity sinking into your loins and clouding your brain...
... A steamy tropical beach, stripped down to swimwear, sweatily dancing to salsa and merengue, afternoon "naps" when the rain comes, dancing and dining, air conditioned rooms and crisp cold sheets a luxuriant night refuge from the heat of the day, until the unforgiving sun starts it all over again...
I wasn't there, but I can describe that morning in Cartagena, when the Secret Service sex party came to a crashing end. It was dead still as only a Caribbean party town can be at that early hour of breaking dawn. An indignant female voice pierced the silence, echoing down the cool marble hall scrubbed pristine with that peculiarly-scented cleaning agent you only smell in northern South America. The crowd in the hallway grows, curious faces, hotel staff, later policia. The other gringo partiers, still dreamily in the arms of their paramours, feel their guts drop. One guy just blew it for everybody, and the jig is up. A sharp descent from heaven to hell. Bad stuff happens fast down there.
So I wasn't really surprised by any of the news, but I was struck by the stupid, stunning arrogance of the agents. If just one of them had understood the culture and displayed more than a passing facility with the local language, it would not have blown up in their faces. If you're going to be venal and break the rules, at least be smart about it. Some prearrangements with the bar and with the hotel staff, some exchanged cash, so nothing shows up on the bill you have to submit with your travel voucher, and none of that gringo arrogance, inflated to pompous proportions by official diplomatic credentials and badges.
This did not do any damage to our country or our image. It just reinforced the stereotype. Everyone down there is laughing their asses off at us, and some marriages here in the states are probably in peril.
* - Caliban and Ariel are two metaphorical characters in Jose Enrique Rodo's classic essay, Ariel. If a Latin American "expert" hasn't heard of it, then beware, he is not an expert and probably got his Latin American Studies degree at the University of Taco Bell.