Thursday, May 21, 2009

Barter Clubs are Back

Barter Clubs are back in Buenos Aires.

Last Saturday, I visited one in the gritty rustbelt town of Isidro Casanova, about 45 minutes west of downtown Buenos Aires. I filed a report about it for CNN International and for You can watch the video here and read the article here. I also filed a 'behind-the-scenes' report for the CNNI show "Backstory" which you can see here.

As I note in the story, barter clubs are not a new phenomenon in Argentina. The network of clubs was first established in 1995, but it wasn't until after Argentina's economic collapse in 2001 that they really became popular. The founder I interviewed, Ruben Ravera, told me that in 2002, more than 2 million people used to participate regularly. That's a lot for a country of just 40 million. In recent months, more clubs have popped up, especially in the rural northern provinces of Argentina, and participation in urban Buenos Aires is on the rise too.

During the shoot, we met Nelly Vasquez (above, with her 6-month-old daughter, Antonella), a 29-year-old mother of two who lost her job at a clothing factory last year. She said she comes to the barter club every week because it's her only way for her to put food on the table. She brought bunches of wool, clothes and shoes and fortunately had some takers that day, as I saw her sell a blouse that she then traded for vegetables. Nelly wasn't enthusiastic about speaking to us on-camera, but once we chatted for awhile, she agreed to speak, and she had some great things to say. Antonella was mostly cooperative while we were rolling, although she did rip the microphone off her mother's shirt at one point. We cut, pinned the mic again, and started over. It happens.

After we finished shooting, we were introduced to Alberto Censi (above) who brings baked goods and booze to the club every weekend. He insisted, and I mean insisted, that cameraman Eduardo Aragona and I sample his homemade Gancia, which is a popular Argentine spirit. It tasted what I imagine lighter fluid tastes like, but I grinned and beared it, and finished my glass. All in a day's work.

I met some very nice people that day, although not everyone was nice. In fact, one woman yelled at me, really yelled in my face, because she felt we were taking advantage of the club members by filming them. She also accused me of being a politician who was trying to exploit the club for money. I had to politely explain to her that our intention was to show Argentina's current economic reality, nothing more. Needless to say, we steered clear of her table the whole day.

I really enjoyed doing this story, and hopefully we shed some light of what's happening in Argentina, and gave viewers/readers around the world some insight into how people in Argentina (who are very accustomed to instability) are coping with the global economic crisis.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Buenos Aires Book Fair

I was invited by the U.S. Embassy to lead two chats at the Buenos Aires Book Fair about two books that I have worked on in recent years.

The first chat, which we called "Mixing Cocktails & Languages" was led by myself and Rodolfo Reich, author of "Cocteleria Argentina" - an awesome and informative book about the cocktail culture in Argentina. I did the English-language translation of the book, entitled "Mixology in Argentina."

The chat focused on the difficulty of translating Argentine expressions, as well as the names of liquors and ingredients used in popular local cocktails, from Spanish to English. I am not a translator, and had never done anything like this before, which is why we refer to the book as an "interpretation" not a "translation." I suppose I did something right because "Mixology" was recently nominated for a prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the "Best Translation" category.

You can read two reviews of the book here and here.

The second chat was about my experiences as a travel writer, specifically my work on the Fodor's Travel Guides to Argentina and Buenos Aires. I just completed Fodor's Buenos Aires 2nd edition, where I once again wrote the Hotels and Restaurant chapters, to be published in 2010. I still don't understand why it takes so long to publish a book. If a newspaper can be printed in one day, and a magazine in a week, why does a book need an entire year? It's endlessly frustrating because I know some of the places that I review will be completely different (or worse, closed) by the time the book is published. But I digress. The chats at the book fair went very well. Thanks to all who attended. Photos below by the talented Felix Busso.

Photos by Felix Busso.

Che Lives!

I filed a report this week that aired on the new CNN International show called "Connect the World" about a new book about Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The book, "Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image" by Michael Casey examines the iconic image of Che taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda in Havana on March 5, 1960 (see above). As I write in an accompanying article on, these days the image is used by "communists and capitalists, Marxists and marketers" to sell ideas. It's a fascinating premise, and the book is a good read. Check it out.

Photo courtesy of Alberto Korda.

Will Ornette Coleman Please Stand Up?

So I was watching local news last night and Canal Trece's "Telenoche" was reporting about jazz legend Ornette Coleman's Argentina premiere on Thursday night at the historic Teatro Gran Rex. Clearly, jazz fans (and there are many here) were ecstatic about his arrival.

The only problem was that until a few hours earlier, they couldn't find him.

Apparently, the 79-year-old sax player had disappeared at some point on Wednesday and had not been seen for 24 hours. Clearly, this was cause for concern, on several levels. According to Canal Trece, Coleman (which they repeatedly pronounced as "Col-ay-Mun") had eluded his bodyguards at the Panamericano Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires and was nowhere to be seen. It was not until early Thursday (the day of the gig) that he was found, passed out and alone on the street, in Tigre, a Buenos Aires suburb some 45 minutes from downtown. Let's just let that one sink in for a minute: He is 79-years-old, but apparently isn't too old to go on a bender and get himself lost somewhere in South America. I love jazz guys. They don't mess around. They get after it. Of course, maybe he just forgot to take his medicine and became disoriented and wandered off, but me thinks that if you are found sleeping on the street, well, then, it must have been a hell of a night. We've all been there, right?