Founded in 1949 by the New York–based public relations department of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), Aramco World is the oldest English-language arts and culture publication in the Middle East. Rechristened Saudi Aramco World some years after the oil company was nationalized, the magazine today boasts several hundred thousand readers. Based over the years in New York, Beirut, The Hague, and Houston, Texas, it has been a curiously indispensable “intercultural resource” for six decades and counting.
In the India of my growing up, Red Russians were our white people. They booked up our five-star hotels (both of them), they sold us their boxy little imitation Leica cameras and stale Zodiak cigarettes, and they gave us the Premier 118NE, a knockoff of that triumph of Soviet design, the Lada — impossibly recast as a luxury good in India, and my parents’ automobile for the better part of the 1990s. They lent us their circus, their books, and their Bolshoi Ballet; we sent them our classical dancers, our traditional handicrafts, and one Sharon Prabhakar, a disoriented Bombay chanteuse who opened the matching Festival of India in the USSR in black lingerie, chained to a rotating bed, belting out Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Or so we heard.
One of the oddest chapters in the annals of the Cold War was its proxy war by magazine, and the oddest Cold War magazine was undoubtedly Tricontinental. Based in Havana and art-directed by legendary poster designer Alfredo Rostgaard, Tricontinental was the official publication of OSPAAAL, one of the many revolutionary acronyms liberated by Fidel’s triumph in 1959. OSPAAAL stood for Organization in Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and its magazine was available in each of the New World’s great colonial languages: English, French, and Spanish. Some issues were even available in Arabic and Italian.