It is vacation time again in France. We are taking advantage of it.
Over the next two weeks, we will not be commenting on the markets (we’ll be out of touch with them). Instead, we will write when we are able, merely to tell you what we are doing.
First, we had not intended to come to Brazil. How did we get here?
Ah, dear reader, when you travel, you have to be prepared for anything. And you have to accept what comes your way, without grumbling too much about it. Or you’ll soon be an annoyance to everyone, including yourself. Better to relax and, like a drunken boat, let the currents take you where they wouldst.
We’re on our way to Argentina for our after-Easter holiday. We have a son who lives there. Besides, we’ve been developing an interest in the place. We figure that America is headed towards a financial reckoning of some sort — and what the Argentines don’t know about financial crises isn’t worth knowing…so we are trying to learn something from them.
Every time we go to Argentina, however, we suffer some sort of injury. This time, we haven’t even gotten there yet and we are already on the list of ‘invalids.’
The trip began badly, and has so far continued in the same direction. Our apartment in Paris is undergoing renovation. It is in a sorry state, with building materials stuffed in each corner and dust everywhere. So bad is the disorder, in fact, that we felt uneasy leaving it. It was as if we were trying to do a high-jump in the mud. There was nothing solid to push off from.
But the tickets had been bought, and the plans had been made. The trip was on.
But no sooner had we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport than the bad news was announced: The flight was ‘retarded.’ It turned out that the whole airline was retarded, but we didn’t find that out until later, after we had already flown to Madrid and arrived two hours late.
In Paris, we were assured that we would make our connection with Aerolineas Argentinas to Buenos Aires. Comet Air is owned by the same company and acts as a feeder line to the AA hub in Madrid. Surely, they would hold the flight to pick up a group coming from Paris.
The plane landed in Madrid at midnight. It was then that the BA-bound travelers discovered that the BA flight had already left. “What to do?” everyone wanted to know.
“Go up to the counter of Aerolineas Argentina. They have everything arranged,” said an agent.
A small crowd of tired wayfarers made its way to the AA counter. Alas, there was no one there. What to do now? A middle-aged Frenchman seemed to have become the group’s leader: “We’ll have to go back to Comet Air.”
At the Comet Air ticket counter, the agents saw us coming. They practically ducked under their desks. This was no ordinary group of vacationers. This was a mob.
“There’s no one at the Aerolineas Argentinas desk, what are we supposed to do?” said the mob’s spokesman in French. “We were scheduled to go to Buenos Aires tonight.”
“Your problem is not with us,” said the spokesman for Comet Air, in Spanish. “Your problem is with Aerolineas Argentinas,” as if he had barely met the company.
“What did he say?”
Another person took up the debate in Spanish, and it soon became a shouting match. “What do you mean…you take no responsibility? You’re the reason we missed the flight!”
“The Argentines should have waited…it’s not our fault.”
The dynamics of a mob are entertaining. We watched from a careful distance. One man made a legal case. Another pleaded pressing family business. One argued price while another argued quality. And a few were so outraged they began looking for a rope. But we didn’t see this shouting match getting us anywhere, so Elizabeth turned to another of the agents.
“What should we do if we just want to get where we’re supposed to be going?” she asked.
“Oh…go down to the Comet sales desk,” came the reply, in troubled English. “See the fat man down there?” he said, pointing. “Ask him…”
We left the mob. Over at the sales desk, the fat man had answers.
“Go to the Auditorium hotel. A bus will pick you up at gate 207, and will take you there. There is another flight at 3:15 tomorrow. It will take you. Your hotel will be paid for by us.”
He wasted not a single word. It was as if he had rehearsed it to be ready for the angry customers. But what was interesting was the way he delivered these words, without a trace of fear or doubt. He sounded like Sidney Greenstreet in the Maltese Falcon…sure of himself and slightly bored by the whole process.
We took the fat man at his word. He was right about everything. We spent the night in Europe’s biggest and least charming hotel. It also had he world’s heaviest windows. One came down on our fingers as we were trying to get some air; now, it is painful even to type.
We went back to the airport on Easter Sunday and signed in for the trip to South America. But the fat man had neglected a detail. The flight would take us to BA…but it would go to Natal, Brazil first. Altogether, the trip from our apartment to our final destination…a ranch in the Andes…will take almost 3 days — if all goes well from here.
Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.