Mendoza starred in last Sunday’s New York Times travel section, nicknamed Argentina´s Napa Valley http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/travel/21Mendoza.html?ref=travel . The article recounts the typical tourist experience one encounters in Mendoza; bouncing around wineries, dabbeling in gourment cuisine, trying out various extreme sport activities. The journalist closes his account with an interview from the cofounder of a wine bar and American entrepreneur extrordinare, listed as an ex-washington campaign strategist. Señor son of a bitch Evans declares, “Mendoza is Napa 30 or 40 years ago.” The goal of his business efforts is to ¨create an experience that is a little closer to what you might experience in Napa, but with an Argentine flair.” Evans’ statements become the critical metaphor on which the article is hinged: Mendoza—Napa valley, but cheaper, and thirty years in the past.
Argentine culture, in Evan’s warped vision, becomes an accessory to the more essential idea, which is NAPA. His ideal tourists, instead of having an interest in exploring local idiosyncrasies, culture or language, will be served a more palatable plate of culturally understandable Napa Valley; a dish they can digest, only seasoned with a flair of Argentina. Instead of attempting to see a place, a culture, and a people on their own terms, these elements are forced into a damaging comparison—a sluggish and underveloped version of Napa valley, one in dire need of creative American/European entrepreneurs who can straighten it out, and/or set it in the right direction.
My frustration with this worldview is perhaps tripled by my current experiences waiting tables at one of Mendoza’s poshest restaurants that caters to high brow tourists of all nationalities. I’ve found that Americans of the social echelon who dine in cede restaurant have the most backward things to say about their globetrotting experiences in Latina America. One woman who had spent a considerable amount of time in Europe confessed to me that she disagreed with the stereotypes that Buenos Aires was like Paris. “Apart from Recoleta and Puerto Madero (two of the swankiest neighborhoods in the city) I found it to be really run down.” Surprise surprise! Who would guess that a country, which only a few years back suffered an entire economic collapse, would show signs of poverty or disrepair.
Another couple recounted their stay in Santiago, Chile, and then further north in a small residential town, home to Chilean billionaires. They had been unimpressed with Santiago, but had fallen in love with the small town. The woman with googely eyes recounted to me how excited she had been at the sight of helicopter pads on top of mansions. “It was just like Carmel” she exclaimed… Carmel being the California beachfront home to famous actors and artists.
These comments reflect the same kind of mindset Evans reveals in the New York Times article; comparative thinking that due to radically different histories, cultures, racial makeups, languages etc, has no grounds in reality. If you want to visit Europe, go to Europe; if you want to visit Carmel, go to Carmel; if you want to visit Napa Valley, then go to goddam Napa Valley. Don’t come here.