Condescension Slides South

Letter From Bogota

I'd forgotten that a Barnes and Noble bookstore had opened in the old department store building. As I walked back to my car in the Baltimore suburb of Towson, I remembered what I'd seen in the other bookstore closer to home, so I changed my path a little, pushed open the heavy door, and headed for the international travel section.

An entire wall of alphabetized guidebooks rose above me. In the Latin American section, I found Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba. Thirty million people, beaches, mountains, wild orchids, rain forests, a lively and varied musical tradition —it wasn't there. I started over and searched again, more slowly this time. They had Antigua, Argentina, Belize, Ecuador—the book covers always mention the Galapagos, to pull in the tourist with a scientific bent—Jamaica, Venezuela. One book, entitled "Latin American Beaches," had a brief chapter on Cartagena. Beyond that, nothing.

If I told my friends I was going to France, Spain, Italy, or even India, they would smile; they would understand; they wouldn't ask why. When I returned, they would want to hear about my escapades and see the pictures. We would swap stories about that quaint, inexpensive little place in the fifth Arrondissement, the new exhibition at the Reina Sofia museum, or the food on British Airways. I would have a reputation as a charming, sophisticated man of the world. Instead, they think...

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