Life of Hardin in Paraguay

Laugh as you travel through life with Josh Hardin.

Location: Spring Hill, TN, United States

Josh Hardin began writing in high school and published his first novel when he was twenty-two. He won an EPPIE award for his mystery novel "The Pride of Peacock." His non-fiction work includes "The Prayer of Faith", a book aimed at making personal prayers both powerful and effective. He has traveled widely and taught a summer philosophy course at the International University in Vienna. Hardin grew up in Tennessee and moved to Paraguay in 2006. He moved back to Tennessee in 2008.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Life of Hardin Vol. III, No. 10

Beautiful Downtown Asuncion

I feel that I have been remiss in traveloguing the historical and touristic highlights of the city of Asuncion and have instead drifted toward reporting the minutiae of daily life. The Editors are afraid that this will leave travelers in the dark as to "What to Do" or "What to See" on an excursion to Paraguay . That will here be rectified, starting with a detailed description of the downtown area.

A large park sits in the center of town, an oasis of green amidst the forest of concrete buildings. On the corner of this park, which covers about four blocks, is the Plaza de los Heroes, or Heroes Plaza . It is a --

But wait. Before you are sent out as sheep among the wolves of downtown, I must issue a warning. The streets of downtown Asuncion are not the same as the streets of, say, Reagan , Tennessee , or Florence , Alabama , or fill in the name of your favorite southern town. There you are expected to actually enter a store before being harassed by a salesman. Here, however, the salesmen meet you halfway. They are at you the moment you step out of the taxi. They are at you the moment you finish your meal and leave the restaurant. At times, they are at you WHILE you eat your meal.

Most of the sidewalks are lined with permanently temporary stands that sell fruit, t-shirts, Cokes, hats, tablecloths, Rey-Bin and Oakey sunglasses, wooden carvings, etc. And there are other vendors without stands who simply walk up and down and will sell anything and everything.

Here is a typical interchange:

A person, you, steps out of a car. Three vendors swarm, throwing punches at the other for the right to be first. A boy with a tray full of watches sneaks in while the other three are fighting. He shoves the watches in your face.

"No. Thank you." You shake your head, wave a hand, and keep walking.

Mistake No. 1: You have recognized his existence.

He trails you and periodically waves a new watch at you. You turn, pierce him with your eyes, and say, "Thank you, but no!" then turn and walk more quickly.

Mistake No. 2: You have made eye contact.

He is glued to your side. He jabs a watch under your nose, points at it and says, in broken English, "Au-to-ma-tic. Au-to-ma-tic." (This means nothing. It is akin to when Crisco used to be advertised as "Fully hydrogenated.")

"I don't want a watch," you say as you search for something to rid yourself of the nuisance. "I want . . . binoculars."

Mistake No. 3: You have disclosed your desire. This is the same as signing a contract.

"Si! Si!" he waves frantically at his friend on the next corner. The friend sprints up, out of breath, with a pair of binoculars.

"50 dollars! 40 dollars! 35! 35!"

"No, I want green."

"Wait! Wait!." Away he goes, as fast as he can run, to the other side of Goshen to find green binoculars while you wait so you can politely tell him, "No, thank you," and start all over again. This is the same with anything. Tell someone you wanted a French poodle and he would run away and half an hour later bring back an 80's model cell phone. You shake your head and he runs away again and brings back a backscratcher. This continues until the Judgement.

However, this can also be great fun. Enoch, Perry and I went to Mercado Quatro one day. This is something like an enormous flea market spanning dozens of city blocks. We walked up and down looking for running shorts. We took turns talking to the vendors and looking at their wares. If one of us became trapped by a vendor who, despite repeated rejection, showed pair after pair of black market Hanes underwear, that one would point at one of the other two of us and say, "I don't need any, but that's just what my friend is looking for, in that very color." And we would start all over again.

So it went. Perry went so far as to attract women vendors to us by pointing at me and saying, "Look at my brother? Isn't he pretty?" He said this to one white haired hag who would have enjoyed herself perfectly watching the guillotine during the Reign of Terror.

"Pretty!" she croaked. Then she threw her head back and cackled, "Wha, wha, wha, whaaaa!"

I also wanted a pair of cleats, to go along with my shorts, and somehow this information slipped out to a man with a table full of bras for sale. He disappeared like the White Rabbit down the alleys and showed back up five minutes later with two pieces of rubber with canvas sewn on top, sure to shred my feet to pieces. He wanted six dollars.

That is the thing about the soccer playing countries. They know you are not very good, and know you will look foolish playing against them, but they would also like you to be in pain while doing so. They are a bloodthirsty lot. I believe it is a holdover from when the Mayans would play a sport and then kill the losers. If I were the vengeful type I would organize a baseball game and make every person with a foot that had scored a soccer goal play third base for an inning. It would go a long way to putting the fear of God into their souls and humility in their hearts.

But I have forgotten again about the downtown area. I apologize to anyone planning on a trip to the city in the next few days. I can only say to eat at the Lido Bar. They have good French fries. I'll try again next week.