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.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 13

Looking Out My Back Door

When you look out my back door--two panes of sliding glass panels, five floors up an apartment building in Asunción, Paraguay--you will see the downtown skyline of South America’s oldest surviving city. If you catch it at the right time, you can watch a rose-golden sun blaze down through the open windows of the Wilson Building. The rest of the time you just see a light haze.

Somewhere over amongst the edifices is the presidential palace, where he doesn’t live but only works. There’s South America’s first train station, built sometime in the 1850’s. It’s empty except for the rats and an old freight car. Behind it all the Bay of Asunción where at times is harbored the Paraguayan navy--twelve patrol boats and a battleship. (Still not too shabby for a landlocked country.)

Over the bay a ways is Argentina. I’m not sure where. They haven’t marked it very well. One day I will teach myself to survey. Then I will find the border and mark it off with chalk or a picket fence. That way when I host tourists I no longer have to stand on my balcony, wave my arm and say vaguely, “Somewhere there you are looking at Argentina.” It is impossible to impress someone with that sort of thing. What good is it to live where you can peer into another country and not impress someone with the fact of it?

Smack in the middle of my view is a sky-rise which was unfinished when I arrived and will remain unfinished as long as I am here. At times ant-sized workers swing from the rooftop crane in defiance of gravity like characters in a Disney cartoon. But most of the time they sit very still and gaze over the bay, trying to find Argentina. This building is not the only one in such a state. About half of them here are half-done.

The main feature you see, however, is trees. The city seen from above is an ocean of green dotted with the occasional island of a red tile roof. Once in a while you spot a lapacho tree, similar to a dogwood except exclusively pink and in bloom most of the year.

One of the most outstanding and admirable characteristics of the Paraguayan mentality is an innate love for trees. In other South American cities concrete has taken over everything except for the wood and tin huts of the favelas. These are packed so close that nothing grows between. In Asunción a person is hard pressed to find a city beneath the canopy of foliage.

“Only God can make a tree,”* and a Paraguayan believes it. If just anyone could zap out a tree at will, then Paraguayans might deal with them with more frivolity. But a Paraguayan will not, will not, will not chop down a tree for any reason under heaven. All construction is done with concrete, not wood. All furniture, picture frames, wooden vases, etc., are made from imported wood. Let other heathen countries remove the forests.

Even roads give right of way to the tree. If a road is planned, and a tree is nearby, the road is paved around, and a curb is erected to encircle the tree. No matter that the curb takes up three feet of road, half a lane or two lanes, the tree is untouched. While driving I spend as much time dodging trees as I do dodging pedestrians or other vehicles. Other drivers get out of your way. Paraguayan trees do not. They have grown accustomed to their special treatment and are snooty about it. They now refuse to move, I doubt they will break the habit any time soon.

I admire the Paraguayans for their concern and conservation, but even a virtue taken too far is just a dirty nuisance.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 12

Hardin’s Guide to Fine Dining

If you have ever wanted to dine at four star restaurants--but balked at paying the 70 and 80 dollar per person price for a dollop of paté and a few sprigs of decorative parsley--then Asunción is the place for you. Here the paté and parsley sprigs cost a fraction of the cost. For those who care not for fine dining but only want tasty fare that can actually satisfy an appetite, then this city will suite you as well.

**** Fabio Rolandi

$$$ - $$$$ With four star Italian elegance in both cuisine and décor, Fabio Rolandi is the stop for pasta lovers who want a taste of high society. Dishes range from wood-fired pizzas to cannelloni and seafood. Each meal is accompanied by a plate of puffy pita bread (it is quite disappointing to see such a large loaf placed before you, only to have it deflate at first bite). Beware the chicken liver pasta. They think it delectable, and will not warn you beforehand what you have ordered.

*** Paulista

$$$$ This Brazilian-style churrasqueria is a must stop for any visitor. For a set fee, you get all the beef and chicken you can stand. A never-ending train of obsequious waiters brings the meat to you skewered on the points of swords. If you ask a waiter for anything, he quickly replies, “Como no, señor?” for which the best translation is, “Why not, mister?” He then gives a slight bow and runs off to slaughter another cow.

** Lido Bar

$$ During the dictatorship of Stroessner, the Lido Bar was the only place in Paraguay where a body was allowed to be out after curfew. The military police hovered outside to arrest people as soon as they stepped foot outside. The food covers a range of traditional Paraguayan fare including empanadas, medialunas, and a number of fresh squeezed fruit juices. They serve two types of soup: fish soup, and sopa Paraguaya, which is no soup at all but is more like cornbread. There’s a story behind that from colonial days, but it makes no sense and doesn’t deserve to be related.


* Punto 10

$ My wife refuses to eat here. The plaster crumbles from the walls, the chairs are sticky, and dance music blares from ancient speakers despite the absence of a dance floor. A large blow-up trampoline castle sits off the exterior dining area. The sandwiches, however, are the best in town. You can choose chicken, steak, or pork loin and dress them yourself. You then pay by weight. The owner is a personal friend of mine. She always rounds down any change I owe.

The less adventurous may want to stay in and cook for themselves. My only recommendation is to avoid the frozen pizzas from the grocery. I often have a hankering for a Totino’s frozen pizza, despite their cardboardy taste. They are unavailable in Paraguay. So I tried a type of frozen pizza here one night. It tasted fine as I ate it. Five minutes later a taste possessed my mouth and would not leave. I had it next morning on awakening. I can only identify it as Artificial Funk flavor #3, but it was not listed in the ingredients. I am unwilling to try any other frozen pizzas.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A few weeks ago (Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 10) I mentioned a girl who once held my heart in her hand. I have received more comment on this than any other, mainly from girls who might or might not have once held my heart in their hand. Each one asked, “Is it I?” To which I reply that yes, it is as you say.