The Chile Media Tour

Last Thursday I was on NPR’s Tell Me More and Mediaite Office Hours (beggining at 40:00) to talk about the incredible rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners and its impact on Chilean politics and national pride.

(And yes, that’s me on the picture feeling proud after cracking a joke at the expense of Eliot Spitzer and Rick Sanchez.)

Barcelona / Linguamón

DURING THE LAST DAYS OF APRIL, I visited Barcelona invited by Fundación Linguamón, an organization of the Generalitat de Catalunya devoted to the promotion of multilingualism. There I learned of their House of Languages project, and produced packages on languages and immigration for NY1 Noticias.

Interviewing Joan Ubeda, of Media 3.14, for NY1 Noticias. Photo by Fernando Bague.
Interviewing Joan Ubeda, of Media 3.14, for NY1 Noticias. Photo by Fernando Bague.

At the offices of Benedetta Tagliabue, architect of House of Languages. Photo by Fernando Bague.

Brooklyn Inn

[Published on Pie Derecho, May 2010]

A VECES PIENSO que el mejor bar del mundo está en mi barrio. Ahí, en una cuadra en la que los locales comerciales de la calle Smith parecen haberse acabado y el barrio se transforma en los brownstones de Boerum Hill, en un edificio residencial se asoma titilando el letrero de neón verde y blanco de la cerveza Brooklyn Lager. Unos pasos más allá flotan sobre la puerta esas once maravillosas letras: BROOKLYN INN.

Para ser perfecto, un bar tiene que ser solamente eso: la única comida que se ofrece aquí son los pocillos gratuitos y sin fondo de manís y otros snacks (aunque se permite ordenar de una larga lista de locales del barrio). Aquí se viene a beber, a conversar y a olvidarse del mundo que avanza obstinadamente allá afuera, lo que sucede apenas uno pone los pies sobre el tablado de madera, la vista en el cielo de lata y los codos sobre el largo mesón de madera traído de Alemania a fines del siglo XIX. Una vez que uno se ha reconocido en el gigantesco espejo que se alza tras las botellas del frente, se pueden ver, escondidas tras la barra, las otras joyas del local: las antiguas heladeras de madera que ahora se utilizan para alojar botellas

En el jukebox se suceden Johnny Cash, jazz y rock clásico. Se pide una cerveza de las ocho que se ofrecen en barril ($5-$6 la pinta), el tiempo comienza a pasar más lento, y esta tarde puede transcurrir en cualquiera de los cerca de 140 años que el Brooklyn Inn lleva operando. Aquí se conversa sin apuro, allá se lee y en la sala del fondo alguien prueba suerte sobre la pequeña mesa de pool; y mientras mezcla un Martini, el cantinero habla con los vecinos que siguen viniendo a despejar la mente día tras día al final de la jornada de trabajo, apenas salidos de la estación Bergen del subway.

 Los bebedores que padezcan también del vicio de la literatura podrán reconocer el Brooklyn Inn camuflado en las páginas de Motherless Brooklyn, la premiada novela de detectives de Jonathan Lethem, uno de los escritores más famosos del condado. (De hecho, Lethem,  que vive y trabaja a un par de cuadras, suele aparecerse por el Brooklyn Inn). Pero no hay mejor ficción que la realidad de un lugar donde se puede beber mientras se mira las hojas caer de los árboles tras los ventanales enrejados, y se espera con ansiedad infantil que no llegue el momento de pagar y tener que cruzar en dirección opuesta bajo esas once letras mágicas para volver al mundo real. Pero cuando eso sucede, si la jornada ha sido buena, uno nunca es el mismo que entró.

Ojalá todos los barrios tuvieran un lugar así.

After the Earthquake

At 3:34 a.m. on Saturday, February 27, when the fifth-strongest earthquake ever recorded hit a large area of Chile, I was sleeping with my wife in a hostel of Pucón, a beautiful town in the Lake District of the country. Even when Pucón didn’t receive the strongest impact of the earthquake and we suffered no damages (as a matter of fact, I went back to sleep a few minutes later), when I woke up the next morning, I realized three things: how lucky we had been; that returning to the north of the country that day as planned would be a great adventure; and that I should report to my TV station as soon as I could.

A few hours we made it to Ruta 5 Sur, the country’s main highway, we managed to connect to the Internet via a mobile broadband connection. Most of the telephone lines of the country were not working, so we didn’t find out that our 2 year old son and the rest of my family were alright until we talked to my brother, who lives in Switzerland, via Skype. He had been following the events of the earthquake since the European morning,

and had learned about our parents through a cousin who lives in Australia, and had somehow managed to talked to her parents, who were vacationing next to ours.

Then came work. Somewhere in a long detour from the destroyed highway, in the middle of a long line of cars that slowly crossed through Angol, I managed to make a phone dispatch (via Skype) to NY1 Noticias. In the next days, I combined meetings with family and friends with a series of phoners for Noticias and its sister station, NY1 News.

Here is a video dispatch I made for the show of my friend Juan Manuel Benítez, Pura Política:

Back in New York, I was invited to participate in NPR’s Tell Me More to talk about the earthquake and the undergoing inauguration of President Sebastián Piñera. [Listen  here.]

New Blog: Tinta Idiota

Just as if I had unlimited free time on my hands instead of none, I have decided to start a new blog on media. Tinta Idiota is a blog in Spanish about the digital revolution and journalists I admire and loath.

Why “idiot ink”? Because, paraphrasing Hölderlin, we are geniuses when we think, but idiots when we write. (Particularly if we are journalists, you might add.) Additionally, because of the volatile state of media, the printed word looks at times sad and stupid, while digital ink looks presumptuos, unstable and stupid. And, last but not least, because of those first verses in Dylan’s “Idiot Wind.”

As journalists, we are idiots, babe. It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

Pie Derecho and the Mutant Latino

My friend Norberto Bogard, editor of monthly Latino-culture-in-NY magazine Pie Derecho, came to NY1 Noticias’ Pura Política to talk with Angelo Falcón (another person I admire in the Latino politics/media scene of New York) to discuss the state of Hispanic affairs and national politics.

Norberto —with whom I collaborate in Pie Derecho— had the kindness of quoting my notion of Latinos as a culturally mutant demographic because of assimilation and mutual influence among Latino groups, which makes us hard to catch by media and politicians.

The reference is at the very end of this video.

From the Pages of El Mercurio


[Translation of text published by Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, as part of an article on Chileans living in New York. For the Spanish version, click on the image above.]


We all came to New York to try our luck, attracted to the myth of the city: the spell of its skyscrapers, the scenes from our favorite films, the shine of artistic talents that first exploded here, the never ending clink of their imaginary Martini glasses. Inevitably —as someone whose name escapes me wrote— New Yorkers are divided among those who succeeded and those who ruminate their failure.

We are all passing through New York. One of the first things you notice when you start growing roots here is that almost everyone came from somewhere else. (Getting to know native New Yorkers is normally a lengthy task for newcomers, a new layer of belonging.) Yet, it could be argued that we are all native New Yorkers after approving the arduous exam of settling here. There are those, however, that insist 6 to 10 years is the minimum time committment necessary to earn the title. (And after becoming a real New Yorker, you will suddenly find it impossible to leave, they always add.)

In contrast to the cliché that New York is the capital of the world, E.B. White offered a less glamorous view: New York is nothing but an infinity of self-sufficient unities, struggling for identity from one block to the next. The vertiginous quality of New York does not prevent the creation of feelings of attachment to your neighbors, of belonging to a corner, something that progress has destroyed elsewhere. 

New Yorkers are always looking to discover new worlds within the boundaries of the city. Restaurants that are opening or closing their doors, festivals held once a year in a remote corner of a borough far from your own, a journey to an unknown neighborhood looking for a unique dish.  Everything is a good excuse to jump on the subway and travel through a different world for a couple of hours.

Few things infuriate me more that when a visiting friend or relative says that New Yorkers are not nice. True, some people walk down the street, tension and anxiety written all over their faces. But usually New Yorkers are just trying to get where they are going as quickly as they can.  And, yes, getting into a fight with a New Yorker —millionaire or homeless, it doesn’t matter— means tempting fate. But when you need directions, a place to eat, a practical favor from your neighbor, or want to start a conversation in a bar or a square, New Yorkers are accustomed to debating, sharing and helping each other.

We all came to New York in search of that unnatainable fantasy, but stayed because we fell in love with reality: an afternoon crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by bike, a concert that couldn’t happen anywhere else, the smell of coffee in the mornings, the light rain on your face when leaving a bar, the unlikely mix of people in the subway coming home on a Saturday night.

The five boroughs as an infinite map that may well lead to happiness.