Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Finding the Key to Paradise

Occasionally U.S. friends, especially women, express envy, imagining me in some Argentine Garden of Eden, lounging by the pool in gauzy summer dresses, accepting frozen strawberry daiquiris from my Latin lover.

Okay, some days are really are like that. Today could be one of them, in fact. Yes, the blooming orchids, roses, jacaranda, magnolias, bottle brush, and oleander punctuate the verdant ribbon below an endless azure sky . . . yes, it can be a Paradise, especially in Spring!

But just to keep things in perspective, let’s consider what goes wrong. . . Especially how things break. All the time. In fact, "repairs" is a regular item in my agenda book! Here's last week's repairs:

Auto: new windshield (broken by truck-launched flying rock) installed (the third in 18 months!). At the same time, the speaker cables were finally fixed correctly after a three attempts during various tune-ups over the course of a year. Meanwhile, we had tolerated a moving surround sound effect, with a different combo of the four speakers blasting into life as we hit the frequent bumps and dips in the road. Body shop said come back in two weeks for the small dent--caused by a nameless bad driver or cyclist?

House: I phoned the authorized repair for the two-year old gas range thrice, never any answer. Who knows what hours they work? And no one is listed in the Yellow Pages (which are completely useless here). For now we light the burners and oven with matches. Moreover, the door of this nationally made stove is slowly coming apart. Definitely not a chef’s stove--the oven regulator knob doesn’t even show temperatures. I’ve given up on getting the replacement part for the in-freezer icemaker, by the way.

Garden: After a week, we made contact with the pool repair guy, who was supposed to come Monday. After two days of waiting for him, I finally called his house and spoke to his son, then drove over and picked up the water pump myself. To keep the momentum, I then hired my part-time housekeeper's husband to empty the pool, clean it, and paint it. Roberto bought the best waterproof paint—which comes only in Knock-Your-Socks-Off cobalt blue that coordinates all too well with the screaming oranges and yellows and lime greens here. Roberto filled the pool this morning, and the first 20 gallons shot out of the pipe loaded with silt from faulty connections. Someone will be spending a pleasant afternoon vacuuming the pool bottom.

Office: The computer techs gave me back my coveted flat-screen monitor after a week in the shop, advising me that they could not get the real replacement part so put the closest thing they could find. “Just hit the power button three or four times, and it should come on,” they consoled me. After 200 tries, I gave up. I might capture one of the doves nesting outside and use some good Behavior Mod to teach it how to help out.

No point in getting mad or frustrated or wallowing in self pity, since things break here all the time due to faulty design, parts, assembly, or maintenance. Furthermore, replacement parts and repairpersons are notoriously unreliable. It’s a fact of life for EVERYONE here, yet, as surveys show, Argentines manage to be relatively happier than folks in countries with five-star, six sigma cars, washers, computers, etc. (“I would love to live in the US,” said one young exchange student who spent a year in Pennsylvania, “everything works!")

The key to being happy here is to accept the things that cannot be changed and savor the available pleasures.

And that’s the key to happiness anywhere, yes?

So, the sun is shining, it’s about 70 degrees F, and Roberto should be arriving home any minute with a crate or two of the sweetest, reddest strawberries, deliciously fresh from our farm. Definitely a day to make those strawberry daiquiris! (My inner Ben Franklin says clean that pool first, then reward ourselves with a drink!)

P.S. Worth noting what has NOT needed a single repair in two years: Our Carrier air conditioning units and our Whirlpool microwave oven and washer-dryer!!

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