Friday, November 28, 2008

Let's Drink to Crime!

If you can’t laugh about your misfortunes, well then, what can you do?

That seems to be the prevailing sentiment of a automobile dealer in La Plata, Argentina, who has been robbed ten times (10 times!) in past months.

The most recent stick-up of his Renault dealership took place last week and involved a hooded thug, a Magnum revolver, and the loss of $900 USD, according to La Nacion.

So Ricardo Salome decided to do something about it: drink.

He took out an ad in the local newspaper and invited anyone and everyone in La Plata to a cocktail party to mark the unfortunate occasion.

Yesterday, with the red wine and orange Fanta flowing, Salome, along with employees and neighbors, made a tongue-in-cheek toast with hopes of calling attention to law enforcement's woefully inefficient efforts at stopping the rising rate of violent crime in the greater Buenos Aires region.

“We are very worried about this sad record that we reached. And for the lack of coherent answers from the national and provincial governments to stop this scourge of insecurity,” Salome said.

Sometimes a little humor is what it takes to change a situation. Let's hope that is the case here.

Photo courtesy of El Dia newspaper.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Argentine Novias

It appears that yet another Hollywood bigshot is attached to an Argentine woman.

Perfil newspaper reports that "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening is dating a 31-year-old Argentine artist named Agustina Picasso (great name for an artist!) and that they were seen snogging together recently at a London art gallery (see photo above).

Who knows how much truth there is to this rumor, but Groening now joins a distinguished list of American celebrities who have been entranced by the charms of Argentine women.

They include Robert Duvall, married to Luciana Pedraza, 41 years his junior (atta boy, Bobby).

Matt Damon, who is married to Luciana Barroso, with whom he has two daughters.

And Al Pacino, who's reportedly been dating actress Lucila Sola for the past two years.

In the big picture, this really isn't a big deal, but here in Argentina IT IS. This is the kind of stuff that makes the front page of the papers, and sparks countless hours of discussion and debate on daytime television.

You see, Argentines love to talk about themselves. To their credit, though, they do so in both a positive and negative manner. An Argentine will spend hours telling you what is wrong with their country, leaders, family, soccer team and body shape, but do so in a way that almost makes you envy their situation (and I've been here long enough to learn that this is by design, not coincidence). It's like their pain is a privilege.

So when Argentine women "conquer" powerful American men -- despite all the aforementioned problems -- well, then, that's cause for celebration in some circles here.

As a man who has also been "conquered" (seriously, that's the word they use here) by an Argentine women, I can only concur with an expression heard commonly in Buenos Aires (and apparently in Los Angeles too):

"Las mujeres Argentinas tienen algo especial, pero es dificil decir que."

Photos courtesy of Perfil, Stephen Lovekin, and AFP.

Palermo Polo Open

The Palermo Polo Open is underway in Buenos Aires right now. It's the most important polo tournament in the world, and the Palermo field is considered the sport's "cathedral."

It truly is an impressive gathering.

I took these photos on Saturday during the La Dolfina vs. Indios Chapaleufu II match.

Polo players are rugged. They get after it on the field: elbows, mallets and insults fly like the wind.

Three-time defending champs La Dolfina won the match 17-12, led by captain Adolfo Cambiaso, the world's #1 polo player. (He's in the photo below from Saturday, far left, hoisting the Fasano Cup, not to be confused with the Palermo Open tournament, which continues in its elimination format until the final on Dec. 6th.)

It's fascinating to watch Cambiaso play; he is truly on another level. The best ranking you can achieve in polo is a 10 Handicap, and all the players on La Dolfina are 10s, making them one of the few teams with a combined 40 Handicap. But they really should consider changing the handicap system because as good as Cambiaso's teammates are, they are nowhere nearly as talented as he is. One pro player told me he thought Cambiaso should have a 15 Handicap. He's that good.

I interviewed Cambiaso in 2006 for a documentary I produced about polo in Argentina (you can watch a clip of it here, although this doesn't include the Cambiaso interview.) He was a very cool guy. Shy, but well-spoken, and with an obvious determination to change the sport that he loves.

Cambiaso is widely credited with bringing polo to the masses in Argentina. One way he's done so is by encouraging fans from his favorite soccer team, Nueva Chicago, to come to the matches. Nowadays you can see and hear them chanting shirtless in the stands. Needless to say, not everyone in Argentina was pleased with this development. ("They hated me for it. But I don't care," he told me.) Moreover, his buddy Diego Maradona -- not the posterchild for properness --can often be seen cheering him on, and one of the sponsors of his team is Marcelo Tinelli, the king of low-brow nighttime television in Argentina.

The Palermo fields are about 10 blocks from my home, and I pass by them often. Thankfully, the promenade got a much-needed makeover last year, and now it's in even better shape to host the eclectic international mix of jet-setters, socialites, polo junkies, gauchos, corporate executives, models and horse lovers who populate it each November and December.

It's quite a scene.

Davis Cup - Part Dos

Well, Argentina really shit the bed on this one. They had everything going their way in the lead-up to the Davis Cup final against Spain this past weekend: two Top-20 players (including redhot Juan Martin del Potro), home advantage in the raucous indoor stadium in Mar del Plata AND the absence of the #1 player in the world (Rafael Nadal).

So how they managed to screw it up is beyond me.
As Argentines are prone to do, the players probably over-analyzed the situation and took too much solace in the fact that Nadal was a no-show.

David Nalbandian did his job on Friday, winning the first singles match, but then Del Potro choked in the second match, leaving the series tied 1-1 going into Saturday's doubles match.

Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri (who I've met; he's a tool) dropped the ball in a marathon doubles, and in my opinion, that sealed Argentina's fate. That left Jose Acasuso with the unenviable task of a must-win match on Sunday. I like Acasuso, I think he's a good technical player, but he doesn't seem to be mentally capable of finishing in big matches. He looks scared out there. (He also lost the deciding match in Argentina's 2006 Davis Cup final defeat to Russia. Ouch.)

Since Guillermo Vilas stopped playing in the 1980s, the top Argentine players have consistently failed at bringing home any of the major Grand Slam tournament trophies (with the exception of Gaston Gaudio at Roland-Garros in 2004, but he's since had a mental breakdown, and is not even ranked in the ATP Top 1000 right now) and as a result the people here have invested an emormous amount of energy supporting the increasingly competitive national squad. And they've rewarded them with some great performances in recent years.
But the fact that they blew it this year, at home, and with a stronger team, really makes it sting.
The mud-slinging has already begun in the local press. The coach is stepping down.
Who knows how this will play out.
I think it will be awhile before tennis fans in Argentina recover from this stunning defeat.
photo courtesy of Telam.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Argentina's Tennis Time Has Come ***

*** MAYBE NOT*** (see post above)

Argentina has a chance to finally grab tennis' most prestigious team trophy this weekend when they face Spain in the Davis Cup final. The championship is being played indoors and not on the dusty clay courts upon which Argentine players have always excelled. Argentine officials decided to host the final in an indoor stadium in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, because they feared facing the world's #1 player, Rafael Nadal, on clay, the surface on which he is most dominating.
They may now be regretting the move.
Nadal withdrew from the competition because of injury, but Argentina still needs to face the formidable Spanish squad on the fast indoor hardcourt.
I'm confident they can pull it off.
A Davis Cup victory would cap a unprecedented run of success for Argentine tennis over the past decade, which saw a French Open title (Gaston Gaudio, 2004), a French Open finalist (Mariano Puerta, 2005), a Wimbledon finalist (David Nalbandian, 2002), a Masters Cup champion (Nalbandian, 2005) and an array of other titles from players like Guillermo Coria, Guillermo Canas, Juan Ignacio Chela, and the emerging 20-year-old superstar Juan Martin del Potro, who just finished an incredible year ranked #9.
Argentina has a long and storied tennis history, whose players have done extraordinarily well despite their limited funds and the long distances and inflated costs they have to endure to compete in the world's top tournaments. It's a topic that I examined in a story I filed for National Public Radio (NPR) in 2004. This week, tennis writer Christopher Clarey also touched upon some of these same topics in the pages of the IHT and NYT.
Photo courtesy AFP.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jerry Garcia Pic

My colleague at The Hollywood Reporter reports today that a biopic of Jerry Garcia is in the works.

I don't know how I feel about this.

Of course, I'm thrilled that one of my favorite musicians will have his lifestory told on film, I'm just weary that it will be done in the right way.

According to THR, the yet-untitled film will focus on Jerry's early-life, before he became a household name. While I like this idea, and think it is chock-full of potentially intriguing film scenes (Jerry watched his father drown, had his finger chopped off by his older brother, and nearly died in a car crash - all before his 20th birthday) but I'm also hoping that someone, at some point, decides to tackle the colorful, chaotic and inspiring story of the Grateful Dead, the band I most admire for myriad reasons, and who I saw live in concert more than 25 times.

The movie will be produced by the guys responsible for "Election" and "Little Miss Sunshine" -- two very good films, so I am confident that they can tell a story, and well. But bio-pics, especially ones about rock stars, can easily fall into caricature, and portray their subjects as characters, not people (which I'm sure is how many of their fans view them, but still....) For every "Sid and Nancy" and "Walk the Line," there is also "Great Balls of Fire" and "La Bamba."

As far as rock bio-pics go, I think Oliver Stone's "The Doors" is probably the template most directors have followed since 1991. It was beautifully photographed, amazingly edited and mixed, and well-acted (let's face it, Val Kilmer was Jim Morrison, but he could also be accused of creating a character, not portraying a person). Regardless, as well-received as that movie was, it doesn't mean it was accurate. In fact, I interviewed Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek in 1999 and he told me he hated Stone's movie, and refused to have anything to do with it. I'd have to go back and review the tape for his exact quote, but I vividly recall him referring to the project as "a white-powder film" - which I took as a veiled reference to Stone's rumored coke habit.

Anyway, Jerry's life is hitting the big screen. What a story it will be. The guy was a genius. A lazy, morally lapsed and drug-addicted genius (aren't they all?) but truly an amazing musician.

It still bothers me that Jerry's legacy is unfailingly associated with the 1960s counter-culture era in which he thrived. Sure, hippies, acid, free was all a part of the scene, but listen to the music, man. Just incredible. Thank you, Jer, for a real good time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fodor's Choice

I received a pleasant surprise recently when I entered one of my favorite restaurants in Buenos Aires, Republica. As I was walking up the marble staircases to the 1st floor dining room, I saw a sticker in the window of the wooden door. It read: “Fodor’s Choice 2008: One of the world’s top establishments selected by the most discerning travel experts.” Well, I’m happy to say, that I’m the discerning dude who chose this restaurant as one of the city’s best in the recently published 1st edition of “Fodor’s Buenos Aires.”

I have worked on five edition of Fodor’s Guides, dating back to 2001. In every one, I have offered my favorite restaurants, hotels and sites in the “Fodor’s Choice” category, however, this is the first time I have ever seen a “Fodor’s Choice” sticker in Buenos Aires, which leads me to believe they are something new. I think it will provide a PR boost for the Fodor's brand in Argentina, where it is not well-known, despite the fact that they are the largest publisher of English-language travel guides in the world. I’ll have to check around town at my other top picks to see if they are displaying their stickers. If anyone sees one, let me know.

As for Republica, it is a wonderfully charming place for a fantastic meal. The relaxed atmosphere is provided by the constant presence of owner/chef Maria Jose Moretti (pictured above with her boyfriend and co-owner/chef Javier Hourquebie) whose shy sweetness and attention to detail are endearing.

What made my sticker discovery even more fun that night was meeting Gail and Daphne, two women from Chicago who were visiting Buenos Aires for the first time. We started chatting and I asked them how they had heard about Republica. Their answer: “Fodor’s. We live and die by its restaurant recommendations while on vacation.” Now, that’s what I like to hear.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Tuesday was an awesome day for the U.S., and the world. I am proud of Americans, and their wise judgement in choosing Barack Obama as our next president. Well done.

There were an bevy of activities on Election Night here in Buenos Aires. I was invited by the U.S. Embassy to the American Club of Buenos Aires to watch election coverage on CNN and CNN en Espanol.

It was a crowded affair that attracted politicians, businessmen, diplomats and lots of local and foreign press. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks (or, should I say, Argentine adaptations of these delicacies), and an open-bar. Jim Beam had a banner and bar set up, but I was told by a source they were charging for the Kentucky Bourbon; only rail booze was free.

We spent a few hours at the party, but then headed to a friend's house in Palermo to watch the real results start to pour in. It was nice to be surrounded by fellow Americans and Argentines on this historic night. It was clear to me that the outcome meant a lot to both.

Now the hard task is at hand. We need to restore America's faith in itself, as well as our image and relationships around the globe. I have no doubt that Obama is the right man to lead that charge.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Diego Be Thy Name

Diego Maradona is a living legend. The former soccer star is the most revered athlete in Argentina, and admired around the world. His prowess on the field was truly inspiring, especially his performace during the 1986 World Cup when he single-handedly led Argentina to the title. His off-field exploits have also garnered headlines for decades: drugs, booze, women, tax evasion, mafia buddies, arrests, heart attacks, illegitimate children, fist-fights.....Diego did it all.

But it now seems that Diego is getting a shot at redemption: last week he was named the new coach of the Argentine national soccer team, a move that he called "a dream come true." The news made headlines around the globe. Many have said that Diego is too unprepared, unexperienced, and unstable for the gig (and I agree entirely), but I also feel that the guy deserves a chance. He's lobbied hard for the position, and judging from his attitude at the AFA press conference on Tuesday, he seems determined to do a good job.

I did a story about Diego's new appointment for CNN International, and we filmed some of the segment at the Church of Maradona's annual celebration here in Buenos Aires. Yes, there is a Church of Maradona. It has some 120,000 members worldwide. Essentially, they believe that Diego is GOD, and live their lives as such. You can get married, baptized and blessed in this church. As a sports fan, I find this amusing. As a journalist, I find it amazing. We met some great people at the celebration that night, and filmed some great footage of the procession and prayers.

The party was attended by about 300 people, and it seemed like there were as many journalists there as there were revelers. It was a total clusterfu*k: Photographers and cameramen tripping over each other to get their shots. They came out of the woodwork for this event: journalists from Italy, UK, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Austria, Sweden, and the U.S. were there.

You can watch my CNN story here.

I was just alerted that it was also posted on DeadSpin, the popular U.S. sports blog.

Personal Fest: REM, Bloc Party, Mars Volta

Personal Fest was a great time again this year. A fantastic two-day line-up that (kind of) ran the rock gamut.

I went on Day 2 (Saturday) the day with the much stronger (imho) roster of bands. I had never seen R.E.M. before and was anxious to know if they could deliver the goods live. I’ve always admired their songwriting, command of differing genres, and lyrics, despite the fact that Michael Stipe takes himself waaay too seriously. He doesn’t strike me as a guy from Georgia. Seems more like a Connecticut Yankee to me. Anyway, they rocked. 30,000 people on a beautiful spring night. Stipe was doing his hip-shaking, intellectual Iggy Pop shtick, and the crowd loved it. Well done.

Bloc Party, one of my favorite bands to emerge in the past few years, also rocked. They have this nervous, frenetic energy on their albums, and thankfully that sound translated well to the stage. Although I have one critique, and it's aesthetic, not musical: These London boys need some fashion tips. The lead singer, Kele Okereke (above), was decked out in non-ironic jean cut-off shorts, and some sort of environmentally-conscious T-shirt of a crying wolf. Very 1991. And the drummer took his shirt off after two songs, and we had to look at his hairy beer gut every time the director cut to a close-up of him on the big-screen. Bro, if you’re fat, no one wants to watch you sweat and pound the skins; only Keith Moon was allowed to do that.
I also saw Mars Volta, the most bombastic, avant-guard prog-rock band to come around in a long while. Their albums and live shows are just one continuous jam; it’s not free-form, like jazz, but rather highly-structured, screeching, introspective noise. Their music is kind of like how people feel about cats: you either love it, or hate it; there’s absolutely no in-between. Personally, I think Mars Volta are amazing. They got a lower slot in the lineup this year, as opposed to last time I saw them at the same festival in 2005, which doesn't make sense to me. There was also a personel change: Drummer Jon Theodore (above) has left the band. Like me, Jon went to high school in Baltimore; I used to see him play in a Grateful Dead cover band at keg parties when we were teenagers. Those were the days....

Seeing a live rock show in Argentina is truly a special experience. The crowds here are super appreciative (sometimes unnecessarily so). It’s like they feel privileged just to have the artists in their country. But I think that attitude is a crock of shit; top-name international acts have been coming here for decades, and they are always blown-away by the reception (just ask Eddie Vedder), so I think the gratitude should come from the artists: they’re lucky to be able to play in Argentina.

Photos courtesy of Leo Liberman.

PBS Worldfocus - Story #2

Here's another story I helped produce for PBS' "Worldfocus" which examines Argentines views of the U.S. presidential election, and their impression of the U.S. as a whole.

To set up this shoot, I arranged for us to visit Radio La Boca 91.9 FM in the heart of the working-class La Boca neighborhood. This is roots-radio at its best: a small group of dedicated people who broadcast to their friends, neighbors and co-workers from a humble home studio. Host Hugo Mayo could not have been more gracious and welcoming. He seemed thrilled to have American journalists on his show, and used the opportunity to grill myself and Edie Magnus on an array of issues. I was translating for both sides, so it was a lot of work for me, but it was a mutually-beneficial encounter for all.

Later that day we went to Palermo and spoke with political scientist Carlos Gervasoni (right), a professor at the Universidad Catolica Argentina, and a graduate of both Stanford and Notre Dame, and Sergio Kiernan (left), a journalist with local daily Pagina 12. Both men offered insight and ideas (in English!) about U.S./Argentina relations, and other topics, all with the constant din of late-afternoon cafe revelers around us. The soundwoman, Celeste Palma, and the cameraman, Guillermo Ciampichini, did a great job of making it all come together.