Everything feels different or disjointed: the air oppressively warm; my knowledge of Spanish buried too many years ago to find the words I need; and it should be afternoon, but I’m the first to order breakfast. Eggs with tomatoes and onion, fruit, black coffee to shake off a six-hour time difference.
Last week an overnight flight took me to Cartagena de Indias, a city of around 1 million on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where men push carts piled high with mangoes through busy streets, where horse-drawn carts join traffic jams, where friends pose for selfies amid flags or pink umbrellas or street art. A dark history – a one-time slave trade hub, and one of three seats of the Catholic Inquisition in the Americas — but the city has since become a UNESCO heritage site, and tourists come nowadays for the colour, the nightlife, the nearby islands, the easy stroll along thick fortress walls.
Lisa Taddeo’s 2019 book Three Women is widely described as a “bestselling phenomenon”. Columnist Caitlin Moran is quoted saying she would “probably re-read it every year of my life”. Now that I’ve read it, her praise doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
As much as I was swept up in the real lives that Taddeo portrays – lives of complicated desire, sadness, sexuality, rejection, power, loyalty – I am fascinated by her process as a writer. She spent eight years on research (during which time she also had a baby). Twice, she moved to the town where the women lived to spend time with them; her husband moved with her. She was present at some of the events described in the book; she would meet one of the women immediately after her encounters with a secret lover to hear her recount the experience. Taddeo describes her role, in an interview on the Happy Place podcast, as a sort of “non-judgmental ghost”, present as lives unfolded. Each of the three women finds her decisions judged harshly by those around them; in giving them the full range to tell their stories, the author aims to challenge the quickfire dismissal most of us unleash on people we barely know. “I wanted people to feel unalone,” Taddeo says.
Four years ago today I had a nerve-wracking morning in a Brussels hotel room, as news emerged of a first, then a second explosion in the city. It was a relief to be able to instantly contact family and friends back home, but the hours of uncertainty were frightening, and unclear information and people’s conflicting advice paralysed me. Stay in my room? Try to leave the city before they shut down transport? Wait in case something else happens?Continue reading “Hold on”→
I recently did a phone interview with a fairly big cheese at a multinational firm. When I thanked him at the end for his time, he returned the sentiment, saying it had been ‘a bit like therapy’.
Not that he’d divulged anything particularly personal or difficult (I’m not that good). We’d been talking about how others see his role, what motivated him, his thoughts about the wider sustainability movement. All work-related topics but, I suppose, ones closely connected to his personal identity.
I think/hope the comment was meant positively. Either way, it suggested that the experience of talking about himself for 40 minutes wasn’t an everyday one.Continue reading “Like therapy”→
I discovered solutions journalism (or constructive journalism) about two years ago – though as it turned out, I was already doing it to some extent. Writing for Devex, my editor had often reminded me to dig for more detail: how exactly were NGOs doing something, and what could others learn from it?
We recently recruited 14 young people from six countries for a reporting programme, and before they’d even met, the WhatsApp group was buzzing. When we did get them together for an intense five days in London, they seemed to form a tight-knit group within 24 hours. By departure day, the WhatsApp group was filling with heart-eyed emojis, group selfies and emotional farewells as they prepared to return to four different continents.
Apart from the emojis, it was similar to an experience I had 10 years ago, when 30 of us from different European countries got flown to Berlin for an EU-funded youth journalism scheme. That short trip led to some of us creating our own joint project the following year – planning it over multiple Skype calls from our respective countries – and a few lasting friendships. (Plus, apparently, at least one romantic encounter.)Continue reading “Group chat”→
Here’s my new more-or-less monthly update: sharing three things – a person, idea, story, event or something else – that have grabbed me and that I think people should know about.
Not exactly brain surgery
Another day, another phone interview. This one stood out though: over a fairly crackly phone line – from an echoing meeting room in central London to a Bangalore hospital – Devi Shetty told me he’d just finished a heart operation and seen around 60 patients that day. “It’s energising”, the 60-something year-old told me. “Where else do you get to interact with that many people?”Continue reading “Surgery, personal obsessions, and artist dates: three things this month”→
One of the social media groups I use is for freelance women journalists. For all Facebook’s flaws, the group is brilliant: like an open-plan office with none of the irritations and all the companionship of 4000+ colleagues who’ll always deliver on requests for advice, feedback, sympathy, or last-minute contacts. Those shout-outs for contacts appear every day. “Looking for local post offices that still have a resident cat”, writes one. “Does anyone know a media-friendly volcanologist?” “I’m looking for a woman aged 30+ who showers at least twice a day. The more the better.” (These were all real requests. They all got multiple responses.) Continue reading “Cats and volcanologists”→