¡Pobre Argentina!

María Cristina was visiting us from Tucumán. (She returned home last Friday.) One day last week she was on the sidewalk in front of the Empire State Building, looking into a store window full of tschatschkes -- ceramic miniature Empire State Buildings and the like. The store owner rushed out and drew her into the store to show her his merchandise. When he discovered she didn't speak any English, he broke out into New York shopkeeper Spanish (it's a dialect similar to Moroccan bazaar merchant's English -- lots of numbers and synonyms for "Gorgeous!"). He pulled out gaudy ceramics costing $70, $90 and so on, while María Cristina just stared. What she had been looking at in the store window was something else entirely, a work of stained glass that wasn't for sale. María Cristina teaches classes in making stained glass, and she was studying its construction.

The store owner, seeing he wasn't making a sale, switched to asking where she was from. "Argentina," she said. "Oh, Argentina! Then, look!" And he bent down to the bottom shelf of his display case and pulled out the cheapest of his merchandise, chintzy statuettes for two or three dollars.

When she told us this story, María Cristina had to laugh to keep from crying.

The nation's consumer reputation has plummeted, but at least one of its citizens is gonna go down in style. She taught us to tango, and for a change of pace, milonga. Muchas gracias, Cristina. ¡Qué vuelvas pronto!