MONTEVIDEO -- To get here from New York, you almost have to fly first to Buenos Aires. How different Argentina feels from my previous visits! How much better and more optimistic! Or is it only me? And my last visit was only two years ago. First, Aerolíneas Argentinas, which had all but disappeared as a functioning business, gave us a comfortable, efficient and very friendly flight. The stewards and stewardesses seemed to be happy with their jobs.

Stewardesses always smile, of course, even when unhappy, because that's part of the job. But it's easy to sense from body language and unconscious gestures or expressions, from the spirit of movement, when somebody hates the job, hates the boss and sees no future in what s/he's doing, and that was the way everybody looked in Buenos Aires two years ago -- the lucky ones, that is, the ones who still had a job to hate.

Problems continue to be very, very serious in Argentina. Kidnappings, sometimes carried out with large forces and military precision and sometimes involving mutilation -- sending a little finger of the victim to the parents, to encourage payment of ransom -- filled two pages of yesterday's Clarín. But the big front page story was of a rebound in manufacturing, and two full inside pages had the dramatic stories of reopening the cases against the torturers and murderers of the "dirty war" of 1976-83.

But we couldn't tarry in Buenos Aires. We'll be back there in a couple of days, and I'll be able to get a fuller impression. Now we're in Uruguay, but is the same only different -- a little like Toronto feels to people from the U.S. Same language, even the same accent, most of the same habits as Argentines, but a different (generally slower) pace, maybe a gentler humor. More later. I have to run to a meeting. We're here for the 10th reunion of the Seminario de Arquitectura Latinoamericana, with urbanists and architects from all over América Latina. So, as we say in Montevideo (or in Buenos Aires), ciao ciao.

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