Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buenos Aires for Hindus?

In the 1970s, when I started traveling through South America, nearly all my peers were Americans, Canadians, British and Northern European – Germans, Dutch and the occasional Frenchman. Once, in Ecuador, I was surprised - nearly shocked, in fact - to run into a Spanish backpacker on the so-called “Gringo Trail.” At that time, when Spain was an ill-regarded backwater whose authoritarian government set the tone for the dictatorships of its former colonies, it was almost unheard of to encounter a freewheeling Spaniard abroad.

That changed, of course, with expansion of the European Union and the fall of Communism, so that it’s become more common to meet travelers from all around the world, with some exceptions. Africans, Middle Easterners and South Asians are still rare as tourists, though some have immigrated to South America – many Nigerians, for instance, work at Buenos Aires hotels.

Still, as prosperity reaches the rest of the world – however unevenly – even that’s starting to change. It became more apparent this week when I received an email from the New Delhi-based newspaper The Sunday Indian, which asked whether I would write 500 words on Buenos Aires as one of the “five most vibrant cities in the world” for its Gypsies & Billionaires travel supplement. After a few more back-and-forths, I agreed to do so, but on reflection I realized I had overlooked a few details.

This was writing for a different audience. For instance, the assignment asked about “the most vibrant restaurants” in a city where the default choice is beef, and much of The Sunday Indian’s readership is Hindu - a religion that prohibits the consumption of Argentina’s signature dish. This was something that had never occurred to me before.

Likewise, would Indians take offense at being called hindúes (Hindus) – a common practice throughout Latin America - whatever their religion? Would they feel as conspicuous in Buenos Aires as an Argentine would feel in New Delhi? Should I mention the Argentine capital’s own small Indian community and restaurants such as Katmandu, where basmati rice and naan bread are on the menu, despite my own prejudice that we should not seek out the familiar when we travel?

Without revealing the outcome of my queries to editor – and without yet knowing what the final form of the article – I’ll just say that I’m comfortable with what I wrote. And despite the publicity about “outsourcing” to China and India, I’m satisfied with what they’re paying me to do so. When it finally appears, I will post a link in this space.

Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires in Millbrae (San Mateo County)

Thursday September 29 will mark the last of four digital slide presentations on the fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires, at various branches of the San Mateo Public Library. This event starts at 1 p.m. at the Millbrae Library (1 Library Avenue, Millbrae, CA 94030, tel. 650/697-7607). There will be ample time for questions and answers, and books (also including Moon Argentina and Moon Chile) will be on sale (at a discount).

Next month, I will be on the road promoting the new third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia. Most of the events will be in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I will also be appearing in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington; Vancouver BC; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Pasadena, California. Watch this space for details.

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