Friday, October 15, 2010

The comeback of Juan Martin Del Potro

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Pale Blue Door

I enjoyed an delightfully unusual dining experience last evening. British artist Tony Hornecker (above) invited me to the opening night of his Pale Blue Door exhibition, a vagabond restaurant slash art installation that he’s set up in an abandoned old home in the heart of San Telmo.

Hornecker -- who has worked with Stella McCartney, Bat for Lashes and the late Alexander McQueen -- has already conquered London and Santiago, Chile with this show, and plans to be here in Buenos Aires for the next three weeks.
Upon arrival, we worked our way through a dark corridor until we were greeted by the eponymous Pale Blue Door which opened onto a courtyard of tables, stages and stairs made of plywood and pulleys and flanked by antique bicycles. Our small, candlelight table was tucked away in a side room, and set with vintage dishware and cutlery. Despite the derelict surroundings, it all worked to create a, dare-I-say, romantic setting. That was until a drag queen appeared on-stage and began lip-syncing Tina Turner tunes.

The food was surprisingly good, considering it wasn’t even prepared in a real kitchen. Greek salad followed by a rare-as-hell Roast Beef with horseradish sauce, potatoes and red cabbage. It’s a meal I ate countless times as a kid at my Irish grandmother’s house, and this was nearly as good. A superb peach cobbler finished things off nicely.

The Pale Blue Door is a truly multi-national operation: Tony is a Brit, the chef is from Austria, the waiters are from Chile, and the aforementioned transvestite hails from Greece.

A weird, entertaining and enlightening evening for sure. I’d recommend it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Covering the Chile Quake

I was the first reporter on the scene in Chile for CNN following the Feb. 27th earthquake and one of the first international correspondents to report live from near the quake’s epicenter in Concepción. Here's an account of my journey to the quake zone.

When the phone rang at 5:30am on Saturday, I was still slumbering with the sounds of the Coldplay concert I had attended a few hours earlier, so it was a quick change of gears when the CNN International Desk in Atlanta alerted me that there had been a major earthquake in Chile, and that I was to begin reporting on the story immediately.

I quickly learned that an 8.8 magnitude quake had hit south central Chile and that tremors had rattled cities as far away as Buenos Aires, where I live, although I didn’t feel any. I soon began monitoring Chilean media online and did a few live phone reports for CNN International about the developing situation. I then started making plans to get into Chile. It wouldn’t be easy. The Santiago airport was closed, so I considered my quickest bet would be to fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, the wine-growing city in western Argentina that lays 180 kms east of Santiago. That option would require an overnight odyssey crossing the rugged Andes Mountains on a high-altitude road full of switchbacks. A few hours later, I was on a plane, and by midnight I had made my way through the Cristo Redentor tunnel and to the border crossing at 3,500 meters. The air was cold, and the road was curvy, but fortunately a full moon helped guide our way and at 2am on Sunday morning -- less than 24 hours after the quake -- cameraman Juan Pablo Lanciotti and I were in Santiago, where darkness blanketed neighborhoods for miles and where we saw people camping in tents in front of roaring fires.

Highway overpasses had collapsed and it was nearly impossible to drive on certain sections. In the posh neighborhood of Providencia, the steeple of a 120-year-old church tethered precariously over a main thoroughfare. We made our way to a budget hotel to meet up with CNN en Espanol’s Guillermo Fontana and cameraman Ivan Slodky, whom had arrived a few hours earlier. Dozens of guests were sleeping in the hotel lobby; too terrified to sleep in their rooms, as aftershocks were still rampant. We immediately got to work sending the video that we had shot on our trip, but a glacier-slow internet connection meant it took us three hours to upload the material to Atlanta, and before we had time to even close our eyes for a minute’s sleep, the sun was up, and we were outside again, preparing for what would be the first of some two-dozen live reports I would do in the coming days.

We were then on the road again, heading south towards the epicenter in Concepción. As we drove down the Pan-American Highway (Rt. 5) we quickly realized that the damage was severe to the road. Much of the highway was cracked, with deep, fault-line crevices in the asphalt. We had to take detours onto rural routes and into small villages. In a town called Hospital, I saw scores of one-story adobe homes that had been flattened like pancakes. One woman grabbed me to show me the damage to her neighbor’s home, saying that the family had fled on foot and not been seen since. I spotted two nuns searching unsuccessfully for water at a small market. When we reached the Rio Claro in the Maule region, we saw that a huge section of the Rt. 5 bridge had crashed into the water below. An overturned passenger bus sat on the side of the highway, close to mangled power lines. Nearby, a 3-story metal silo looked like a crushed beer can. Lines at roadside gas stations stretched for half-a-mile. We passed a funeral procession; the battered hearse glided cautiously over the damaged road; I still wonder if the deceased was a victim of the quake.

About four hours from our destination, our luck started to sour too. Our two-car convoy became one when the engine of our van ceased up. We had to abandon it and scramble to consolidate all our gear and pack five tired, sweaty and anxious men into a small sedan for the final stretch into Concepción. When we arrived around 8pm, what I saw truly shocked me. Thousands of people were running in the streets, looting stores and scavenging for water inside a dirty public fountain. At gas stations, people were dipping long tubes into tanks below, siphoning fuel to power their cars, water pumps and generators. Dusk was setting in and the 9pm curfew was just minutes away. It was clear that authorities had zero control over the city. As we approached the Rio Alto Building, I quickly recognized it from the cover of the morning’s papers; it was a 15-story apartment building that collapsed with more than 100 people inside. I knew that CNN Chile had their satellite truck stationed nearby and I was anxious to get on the air as soon as possible to report all that I had seen. With the wrecked building and busy rescue workers as a backdrop, I went on the air on CNN International in the 7pm ET hour on Sunday night and described the destruction that I had been witnessing all day. I reported live throughout the night and into the morning and following afternoon, speaking to CNN U.S., CNN International and CNN affiliate stations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Early Monday morning, other CNN crews began showing up, all of whom had also had long and difficult journeys arriving to Concepción. Everyone looked ragged, but they soon set out to tell the story of the earthquake’s devastation, traveling to neighborhoods in Concepción city and to coastal villages wiped out by the ensuing tsunamis.

In downtown Concepción, the street fronting the collapsed Rio Alto building quickly turned into a makeshift media center, with journalists from around the globe descending there to do live reports and get updates from Chilean officials. The CNN team has had to live exactly like the residents of Concepcion, without electricity, running water or heat. No toilets or showers has meant that hygiene has taken a hit, and we’ve had to subside on granola bars, tuna and water.

As Chile continues to dig out from the wreckage, more sad and also inspiring stories are being revealed. Many media outlets have insisted on comparing Chile’s earthquake to the one that occurred in Haiti the month before. I don’t think this is necessary or fair. Each tragedy deserves its own reporting, analysis and response. Chile is a strong country, but it needs the world’s help to respond to this crisis; I think CNN is doing its part to let the world know just that and I am proud to be a part of it.

All photos by Brian Byrnes. Copyright 2010.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Argentine Novias, Pt. 2

As previously noted here, Argentine women possess a certain charm that has seduced even the most eligible of bachelors, many of them from the world of entertainment. Now add to the list two guys from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but both of whom are are known around the globe.

First, Canadian crooner Michael Buble, who just announced his engagement to bubbly Argentine actress/model/former teen starlet/purveyor of products Luisana Lopilato, who he met during a tour stop in Buenos Aires, then picked to star in one of his videos, and then asked to be his wife. Apparently, neither of them speaks the other’s language very well (yet, at least) but I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Congrats.

The second in James Hetfield of Metallica, who I just found out is married to an Argentine women. (I’m surprised I didn’t know this earlier; it’s exactly the kind of useless information that I have a knack for retaining). Hetfield is married to Francesca, a former wardrobe designer for the band, whom he married in 1997 and is the mother of his three kids. Los Hetfield spent the holidays in Punta del Este, Uruguay in December before Metallica embarked on the first leg of their Latin American tour, which ended Sunday in Sao Paulo. Metallica played two shows here in Buenos Aires (I didn't attend, but I have seen Metallica live before) and in this clip you can hear Hetfield getting the crowd fired-up during “Seek and Destroy” with an impressive locals-only pronunciation of Buenos Aires ("Let's make some history Bwanoss Ayress!"); clearly he’s had plenty of practice.

Sex Sells (Duh)

As someone who reports on Latin America for international media outlets, I can attest to the fact that it is often a struggle to get people interested in the happenings of this region. Ask any of my colleagues and they’ll tell you the same. Thankfully, I think we succeed more than we fail in getting the good stories out there. However, I’m starting to get a bit f-ing tired of stupid stories from this region generating more headlines than ones of substance. This is a global news trend these days, as people seem to be getting stupider, and worse, reveling in their increased apathy. In my own experience, there have been several instances recently where important stories that I covered had to compete with more salacious ones for headlines.

The most recent example occurred last week when President Cristina Kirchner grossed out the world when she announced that “eating pork can make your sex life better.” I don’t really know what to say to that (and many others have already commented) but if Argentines often wonder why their country is not taken seriously in some circles, the fact that their head of state gushes publicly about bacon and boffing could be a possible explanation.

Anyway, in the same days that that pork story was making its way through the news cycle and blogosphere, there were at least two other important stories happening in Argentina that actually did have international relevance. First, the ongoing saga of the Argentine Central Bank and second, the plight of Argentine families trying to get their adopted Haitian children out of Haiti, without the assistance of the Argentine government. I reported on the latter for CNN. Did my story get good feedback and response? Yes. Did it help bring those orphans home? That remains to be seen. Did the Haiti story garner as many headlines as Cristina’s pork posturing? No, of course not. And therein lies the problem. Dumb and sex sells. And that really sucks.

The same thing happened back in December when two gay Argentine men were planning their wedding in Buenos Aires, which would have made them the first same-sex married couple in Latin America. Again, an important story. What happened? A 38-year-old former Miss Argentina, Solange Mognano (above), died from complications from ass-enhancement surgery the same week. Guess which one got more attention on Google News?

And then of course, there is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his tryst with Argentine Maria Belen Chapur. Yes, it was newsworthy because a state governor disappeared for several days and then admitted he was having an affair. But did it deserve the all-out media frenzy that it received (and is still receiving) in the U.S. and worldwide? Definitely not. I got more damn phone calls from American media outlets asking me to work for them on that story than any other story in years. Crazy. I did one day of work reporting on Ms. Chapur and then essentially made myself scarce as the stakeout for her continued. I’m not a paparazzi.

I think the real issue here is that many U.S. and European-centric media have a hard time distinguishing between the varied cultures and politics of Latin America, and therefore when a story breaks that eliminates the need to explain these differences (read:sex), then hey, let’s just cover that. I find it insulting and infuriating. And I’m sure it’s only gonna get worse.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sandro has left the building....

Roberto Sanchez, better known as "Sandro" died on Jan. 4th from complications from heart and lung transplant surgery. He was one of Latin America's most beloved singers, known for his hip-shaking moves, black hair and love ballads, all of which earned him the title the "Elvis of Argentina."
Sandro's passing was big news in the region, and I'm happy to say that CNN deemed it worthy of international coverage. I reported live from outside the Argentine National Congress, where Sandro's body lay in repose the day after his death and where tens of thousands of people lined up to pay their final respects to him. It was a hot, chaotic day, made more challenging by technical difficulties with our equipment. During the first live shot, I had no audio, which means the anchor could hear me, but I couldn't hear the anchor. So after some scrambling and unsuccessful attempts at fixing the problem, we did it the old-fashioned way: a CNN en Espanol producer listened to the on-air audio over a cell phone and when the anchor "tossed" the story to me, he pointed his finger and I just started talking. Much to my surprise, it turned out well, with only a 1-second delay. You can watch that report here.
So as not to push my luck, I decided to retreat to the CNN bureau and do the second live shot from there, which went off without a hitch. Later, I wrote a tracked a package report about Sandro, using interviews we had conducted that day (including with some Sandro inpersonators) and archive footage. That report is here.
I'm definitely not a big fan of Sandro's music, but his impact on popular music in the Spanish-speaking world is undeniable, and by all accounts, he was a good guy too.
RIP, Sandro.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Exclusive: Interview with Ricardo Darin

I wrote an article for this week's Newsweek International about the fantastic Argentine film "El Secreto de sus Ojos" (The Secret in Their Eyes), one of the most successful Spanish-language films in recent memory. For the article, I interviewed director Juan Jose Campanella (above left) as well as actor Ricardo Darin (above right). Both men were endlessly gracious and generous with their time. I admire both of them tremendously. You can read the article here.

Scoring the interview with Darin took a long time. He is one of the most in-demand actors in Latin America. But it was well worth the wait. I was only able to use one quote from Darin in the Newsweek article, but I wanted to publish the whole interview here, because he is such a smart, honest and funny guy. So below is our chat almost in its entirety, translated from Spanish to English. Enjoy.

Why do you work with Juan Jose Campanella so often?

I work with him for two reasons: one, he always invited me to work with him on his projects and two, I always enjoy working with him. Every time he invites me I know I am guaranteed to have a good time, and express myself as an artist. Plus, it’s great to spend time with him. We are good friends, but we don’t get to see each other that often, normally just when we work.

Campanella told me he thinks you are the best actor to fill his roles, primarily because they are often reflections of himself. Do you agree?

He is very generous when he speaks about me, and in general. He seems to be more concentrated on my career than I am! I owe a lot of my career to the fact that he always thinks about me. And I try to return the favor when I work with him. He is a pleasure to work with always, because he enjoys the interaction with actors, which is not common. As an actor, this is the ideal situation to try and create a new character. When I work with Campanella it’s an easy process because, as he told you, he often thinks about me when he writes. If it is a writer always writing different characters, it would be different, but I know with Campanella his point of view will almost always be from someone who is a common Argentine citizen. In each story and each film, he tries to present a different point of view, but it will always be coming from his experiences and knowledge, which are similar to mine. But with other directors, like Fabian Bielinsky -- who was a great director and a dear friend with whom I worked with several times and who unfortunately died a few years ago -- I now realize since he is gone that the things he wanted me to do as an actor are completely different from the road that I take with Juan Campanella. Bielinsky always looked for my dark side. Campanella looks for my bright side. So working with these two great directors always forced me to look into different aspects of myself.

Why do you think “The Secret in Their Eyes” is such a big hit?

I think it is for a variety of reasons. It is an interesting story, well-written, with very good characters. The second is that it is well-directed and well-produced. Third, and this has to do with the audience, but I think there are social ideas and issues that the film deals with, both directly and indirectly, that are very important to all Argentines, and are a part of our social climate, and our recent past. So these factors have made it successful, and made all Argentines, myself included, proud that a movie of this quality could be made here in Argentina by Argentines.

Forgive my need to compare you to an American, but in many ways you remind me of Tom Hanks. What do you think of that comparison?

First, thank you for the comparison, because Tom Hanks is one of the actors that I most admire. In addition, I think your observation is very intelligent and I agree. But I don’t want to sound like a jerk when I say this, but I am just looking for a technical way to explain why I agree with you. For me, Hanks is an actor that I admire a lot for his sense of humor and intelligence. I have always liked his subtlety. He can do anything as an actor. He can do a drama or comedy just as much as an action film. There are good actors, and bad actors. And then there are comedians! They can do anything. Tom Hanks is one of those. You made my day with that compliment. Thank you, Brian.

What did you think of “Criminal,” the U.S. remake of “Nueve Reinas?”

I don’t have a good opinion of it. And I’ll tell you the reasons why. We were very anxious and excited to see the film. We really wanted to see how they interpreted our film. The first problem is where they choose to set the film. The story takes place in a chaotic urban city, and when they chose Los Angeles, I think they were wrong. It’s a urban story about people who get around on foot, who walk the streets, not who drive around in cars and, as we all know, Los Angeles is a car city. It would have been better in New York or Chicago. The two main characters are not the brightest guys, they are just street thieves. So this was the first error. The second is the casting. I admire John C. Reilly a lot and also Diego Luna. But in this particular case, my character needed to have more of a shady face, and the other character needed to have an angel face, and I don’t think with these actors they chose well. So there were complications. And we really had high hopes for this big American production.

Another thing that called my attention was that after Bielinsky sold the right to “Nueve Reinas” to make “Criminal” -- even though he didn’t gain hardly any money from it because he had already sold the rights to the producer -- he didn’t have any rights as the writer. But one detail that called my attention was that he wasn’t allowed to go visit the set in Los Angeles. He wanted to go and help collaborate with the crew. He spoke and wrote English very well, so he wanted to offer his help with the project. But the response he got from the producers was no. Not only did they not authorize him to visit the set, but they also told him not to even go near it! He couldn’t believe it! So I think after everything I just told you, you can understand why my opinion of the film isn’t very good.

Photos courtesy of 100 Bares.