Brian Byrnes

Stories by Brian Byrnes

  • An Argentine Director Even Argentines Can Love

    In director Juan José Campanella's 2001 film, El Hijo de la Novia (Son of the Bride), Ricardo Darín's character, a short-tempered restaurateur, bluntly tells his actor friend during a heated discussion: "I don't watch Argentine films!" The line draws knowing laughter from Argentines, most of whom don't watch their compatriots' movies, either. This inherent distrust in their own cultural offerings is a topic of constant analysis in Freud-obsessed Buenos Aires, and when Campanella wrote it he knew it would sting. "In Argentina, a Hollywood movie is innocent until proven guilty. An Argentine movie is the other way around," says Campanella, 50. "I have to work really hard to break down that barrier."He has already succeeded more than any Argentine director in history. His keen, often comedic eye and ability to coax stellar performances from his actors has endeared him to Argentines of all persuasions. His six feature-length films include the Oscar-nominated El Hijo de la Novia; his...
  • Pablo Escobar's Son Tells His Story

    What's most striking at first is the resemblance: a beefy frame and puffy cheeks. Deep-set black eyes. A double chin. In fact, if Sebastián Marroquín grew a mustache, he would be the spitting image of the most famous drug dealer in history: his father, Pablo Escobar. I met Marroquín—he changed his name from Juan Pablo Escobar after he fled Colombia following his father's death—in Buenos Aires minutes before a private screening of Pecados de Mi Padre (Sins of My Father), a documentary that traces his journey of reconciliation with the sons of some of Escobar's most famous victims. It was the first time anyone—including Marroquín and director Nicolas Entel—would see the final cut of the film onscreen before its premiere last week at Argentina's Mar del Plata International Film Festival. Sitting beside Marroquín in the empty theater, I could sense his apprehension. After spending the past 16 years trying to distance himself from his father's brutal legacy, he was about to bring it all...
  • Is the Kirchner Era Over?

    The Kirchners have reigned supreme as Latin America's most glamorous power couple for six years, but Argentina is turning on them now. Polls show Cristina will likely lose her congressional majority in the June 28 elections, even though her husband and popular predecessor as president, Nestor, is stumping as a lower-house candidate. The Kirchners have been among the region's sharpest critics of Washington and Wall Street, but that's not the trouble. Argentines are fed up with their bullying at home: pushing a pliable legislature into ceding control over the pension system, the national airline, utilities and media. Last year Cristina's popularity plunged after a failed standoff with farmers over export taxes, and her confrontational tactics are widely blamed for stalled growth, rising crime and unemployment. Some say Cristina would step down rather than govern by consensus. Argentine presidents rarely complete their mandates—so if history is any indicator, the Kirchner era may end...
  • Owning a Vineyard of One's Own

    Any host can pour a great vintage at a dinner party. But how many can say, "Try this 2007 Cabernet-Syrah blend from my private estate in Argentina"? A growing number of dabblers are buying pieces of vineyards and making their own wines. Private Vineyard Estates, a 265-hectare project in Mendoza's Uco Valley, allows wannabe winemakers to fulfill their dreams by capitalizing on the region's low-cost, high-quality production infrastructure. "The response has been phenomenal," says Michael Evans, a former U.S. tech executive who founded the company in 2006. "You can create better-tasting and better-priced wines in Argentina than in any part of the world."For $145,000 per hectare—a bargain compared with the $720,000-per-hectare starting price in Napa—an amateur vintner can choose the grapes, formulate irrigation and growing techniques, and even create the artwork for the bottles' label. Evans's company, The Vines of Mendoza, handles the harvest, production, bottling and shipping. More...
  • Wine Tourists Find Plenty to Enjoy in Argentina

    Every time I visit the vineyards of Mendoza—a two-hour flight from my home in Buenos Aires—I end up spending hours chatting with the winery owners. It's not that these guys aren't busy. Argentina is the world's fifth-largest wine producer, and exports have tripled over the last decade; 70 percent of the country's wine comes out of Mendoza. But the vintners always make time for a quick hello or—better yet—an impromptu barrel tasting. I've sipped a Malbec-Cabernet-Merlot blend with the gregarious Walter Bressia in the cluttered cellar of his eponymous winery and chatted with Jose Manuel Ortega of O. Fournier over Frisbee-size rib-eye steaks prepared by his lovely wife, Nadia. And I have to be honest: these experiences make me like their wines that much more.I am convinced it is this personal attention—and the breathtaking views of the surrounding snowcapped Andes—that has made Mendoza the world's hottest wine destination, 2008's "Wine Region of the Year," according to Wine Enthusiast...
  • Even Teetotalers Will Find Plenty to Do in Mendoza

    Even those who don't like wine can find plenty to do in Mendoza. Local vineyards have created a wealth of special activities and events to coincide with the grape-harvesting season in February and March. The Masters of Food & Wine South America (February 10–15) is a bacchanalian gathering of some of the world's top chefs at the Park Hyatt in Mendoza, who venture out to prepare meals in various vineyards throughout the province. Foodies can mingle with some of the globe's top gastronomic gurus and try cuisine not normally available in Argentina. Held the first weekend of March, the national grape-harvest festival, known as the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, features parades, parties and a pageant held in a massive Greek-style amphitheater outside the city of Mendoza.The Familia Zuccardi, which produces excellent wine and olive oil, offers an imaginative array of activities at their estate in the Maipu region. Among them: hot-air-balloon rides, antique-car tours of the vineyards...
  • Developers Discover the St-Tropez of South America

    Long a haven for the Latin American elite, Punta del Este, Uruguay, has emerged as a major destination for savvy jetsetters—the St-Tropez of South America. Punta's pristine Atlantic beaches, vibrant cultural offerings and nonstop nightlife are attracting developers and investors from the United States, Europe and beyond who've been seduced by the area's rustic—and relatively cheap—charms.Actor Michael Caine is an investor in Villalagos, a tranquil private nature reserve with sleek three- and four-bedroom homes surrounded by lakes, horse fields and organic orchards (from $2.5 million to $3.7 million). Brazil's first family of hospitality, the Fasanos, are hard at work on the massive resort Las Piedras, which will include villas ($350,000 to $2 million), a hotel, polo fields, a gourmet restaurant and a spa on a stunning 480-hectare property atop Punta's highest hill. The Laguna Escondida property, being developed by south Florida real-estate king Jorge M. Pérez, offers lagoonfront...
  • An Oasis of Calm in Downtown Buenos Aires

    This boutique hotel in the heart of the Argentine capital has taken the concept of an in-house spa to a whole new level, equipping each of the 18 rooms with its own private spa. The city's first "wellness hotel," it provides a much-needed urban refuge for weary travelers. ...
  • Global Inflation Woes, From Argentina to China

    As economists try to get an accurate picture of global inflation, many suspect certain governments of fudging numbers—but only one has been fingered by insiders. For more than a year, consumer and investor groups have accused Argentina's official statistics agency, INDEC, of deliberately underestimating inflation (officially 9.1 percent) by at least a factor of three, in order to prolong the illusion of rapid growth that the country enjoyed following its 2001 economic crisis. Last month INDEC employees launched an online petition, demanding that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stop pressuring them to produce rosy numbers. And this after she publicly denied meddling.While Argentina is the only offender seemingly caught red-handed, the problem of bad bookkeeping goes much wider. China's numbers are notoriously unreliable, due in part to under- and overreported performance numbers that the provinces feed Beijing. In fact, Goldman Sachs recently developed a system that rates...
  • Argentina Artisans Send Their Wares Abroad

    Argentina's 2001–02 economic crisis was devastating, but the devalued Peso has attracted millions of tourists and made it easier for Argentine artisans to export their goods. Now more and more distinctly Argentine furniture, fashions, footwear and flavors are available around the world.The luxury serving trays, cutlery and belts from Marcelo Lucini's Aire del Sur line are shaped from alpaca, silver, onyx and deer horns found in Patagonia and Argentina's rugged northern region. Oprah, Tom Cruise and Queen Rania are fans (www.airedelsur.com). Qara hand-crafts stylish men's messenger bags and women's purses from high-quality Argentine leather in its Buenos Aires studio (qara.com).Argentina is the world capital of polo, so it's no surprise that the best equipment is manufactured there. La Martina's new custom-made combination boot/knee pad has changed the sport of kings by offering players more protection and comfort ($2,150; lamartina.com). The Familia Zuccardi are among Argentina's...
  • Against The Grain

    Amid a global commodities boom, Argentina should be one of the big winners, but it's not.
  • Hot Spot: Francesca, Buenos Aires

    Owned by the Argentine entrepreneur turned restaurateur turned fashion model Federico Rivero, this elegant eatery—named after Rivero's 7-year-old daughter—is one of the best restaurants to open in B.A. in years. It smartly combines world-class cuisine with impeccable style and service. ...
  • Hot Spot: Casa Cruz, Buenos Aires

    Since opening its imposing bronze doors in 2005, this Palermo Soho eatery has established itself as the key spot in the Argentine capital for local fashionistas and jet-setters to see and be seen. Owned by Chile-born Juan Santa Cruz, a former investment banker, it slyly blends pretentiousness with world-class fusion cuisine. ...
  • Four Hours In Montevideo

    Often overshadowed by neighboring behemoth Buenos Aires, the Uruguayan capital is a bustling port and financial center that mixes modern culture with historic charm. It's also becoming a popular spot for Hollywood film shoots. ...
  • The Capital Of Cool

    The cobblestone streets of Buenos Aires's historic San Telmo district don't sing only with the seductive sounds of tango music anymore. A local band called Los Alamos plays country-roots rock in rowdy beer bars, featuring the mandolin-picking and harmonica-ripping riffs of former New Jersey high-school teacher Jonah Schwartz. "Nobody here even knows what a mandolin is!" marvels Schwartz, 26.An invasion of foreign artists is transforming Buenos Aires into an emerging international capital of cultural cool. Like Prague in the 1990s, Buenos Aires offers chic on the cheap and is attracting scores of musicians, filmmakers, journalists, designers and even sitcom writers from abroad. Hundreds, if not thousands, have spilled in from the United States, England, Spain and beyond, helping to bring the capital out of a period of deep cultural isolation after an economic collapse five years ago. Champagne-fueled fashion shows and gallery openings keep the city's glitterati on a 24/7 social...
  • Making Room

    The fire that swept through a Buenos Aires textile plant on March 30, killing six Bolivian immigrants, left behind more than wreckage. The victims of the sweatshop blaze had no permits to work in Argentina, and their deaths pushed the government of President Néstor Kirchner to start up an innovative program that encourages illegal immigrants to register with local authorities. Known as Patria Grande (Greater Fatherland), the scheme offers a two-year residence visa to foreigners who have no criminal record and can prove they are citizens of countries affiliated with the Mercosur trading bloc. The response has been overwhelming: more than 200,000 applications have been processed since Patria Grande was unveiled on April 17, and each weekday morning hundreds and even thousands of undocumented immigrants queue up outside consulates and other government-approved offices to fill out the requisite paperwork. "Overall, this is a step in the right direction," says Juan Carlos Acero, a 26...
  • 'Subtropical' Paradise

    Alaskans invariably have to venture far and wide to seek fame and fortune beyond the Great White North. In Kevin Johansen's case, he traveled nearly as far south as possible to make his musical dreams come true. The Alaskan-born singer-songwriter now makes his home in Argentina, where he has garnered serious air time and racked up record sales. His sly combination of Spanish and English lyrics has helped him wow crowds from Buenos Aires to Birmingham. Now the United States is taking note: Johansen's third album, "City Zen," was nominated for a best Latin pop album Grammy, losing out to Laura Pausini's "Escucha." "My name is totally Anglo, so it gave me a chuckle to be the first Alaskan nominated for a Latin-pop Grammy," he says.Reminiscent of Manu Chao and David Byrne, Johansen blends styles from all over the globe. His lyrics are full of references and double entendres that both English and Spanish speakers will appreciate, and the music itself--which mixes guitars and glockenspiel...
  • Two Views of a Firing

    It's not necessarily about you. Global investors would do well to remember that as they watch the unfolding melodrama in Argentina. When quixotic President Nestor Kirchner fired his Finance minister, Roberto Lavagna, last week, the immediate fear from New York to Tokyo was that Kirchner was out to stick it to Argentina's international creditors once again. Poised and polyglot, Lavagna had put out the fires set by Kirchner in confrontations with the IMF and other creditors in the aftermath of Argentina's record $103 billion default in 2001. Now Kirchner, newly emboldened by an October victory in local elections, was replacing Lavagna with an unknown banker. Quite a way to thumb his nose at Wall Street.This story line ignores a few salient points, however. Lavagna's successor, Felisa Miceli, is also his onetime protegee, and is said to share his policy views, if not his political muscle. True, she recently described herself as "a soldier for Kirchner," and as president of Banco de la...