Authors: Siobhan Darrow
“Siobhan Darrow finally awards us with the one story which we haven’t yet read:
Flirting with Danger
is not another tale told by a gutsy female war correspondent set out to impress us and make us feel like wimps, but the disarmingly honest story of a woman who manages to keep her set of values and priorities straight, while wading through warfare, stormy love affairs and a glamorous career in journalism … without ever leaving her humor behind.”
—Francesca Marciano, author
of Rules of the Wild
“A brave and exciting piece of writing.”
“As one of CNN’s star reporters, Darrow’s seen more hot spots … The Russian uprising, civil wars in Georgia and Chechnya, Princess Di’s funeral, Northern Ireland—she covered them all.”
“Siobhan Darrow grew up on food stamps, became a war reporter and covered the globe, always in love (she dumped Ted Turner!), bearing witness to the last decade’s defining moments. She writes of Georgian rebels serving a eight-course feast in the middle of battle, of Chechen soldiers and spitting roosters, with equal warmth. This is a lovely book.”
—Matt Klam, author of
Sam the Cat
“Terrific … An instructive story of one woman’s rise to a dream job in a tough profession, a revealing insider’s view of modern warfare and the one-sided video journalism that brings it to our living rooms, and the candid account of a woman intensely living, working, and loving in a post-feminist world of choice—inventing and reinventing her life. Brave, smart, wry, and deeply thoughtful, Siobhan Darrow is a woman to read and reckon with.”
—Ann Jones, author of
Looking for Lovedu
“Everyone knows about Christiane Amanpour, but fellow CNN reporter Siobhan Darrow has also had her moments.
Flirting with Danger
takes us from Belfast (where she was born) to Russia (where she became a ‘Cold War bride’) and the dangerous places she visited as a top TV jounalist.”
Condé Nast Traveller
Siobhan Darrow has worked for CNN for nearly fifteen years, serving as a correspondent in Russia, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Israel, Chechnya, and Albania.
AN ANCHOR ORIGINAL, JANUARY
Copyright © 2000 by Siobhan Darrow
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in paperback in slightly different form in Great Britain by Virago Press, a division of Little, Brown and Company, London, in 2000.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flirting with danger : confessions of a reluctant war reporter / Siobhan Darrow.
1. Darrow, Siobhan. 2. War correspondents—United States—Biography. 3. Foreign correspondents—United States—Biography.
PN4874.D354 A3 2002
To Shep, for finding me
oy usually entered our house on four legs, sometimes on two webbed feet or a pair of wings. When I was growing up, no matter how little money we had, there always seemed to be enough to feed another tiny amphibian, canine, or feline mouth. My mother loved animals, and I think having them around helped keep her sane. There was Lion Face, the big orange tomcat who fathered innumerable kittens. There were the African frogs, who accidentally froze on the windowsill one sudden winter’s day, their limbs captured midstroke, trapped in an icy grave. And there were the gerbils I won at school by guessing how many beans were in a jar. My cat ate them and left their carcasses on my pillow—her pillow. Perhaps it was an innocent offering, or maybe a warning not to betray her with other animals. I accepted the violence in my animal world. It had rumbled around my human world ever since I can remember.
I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I lived with my grandparents,
my older sister, Alexandra, and my mother during one of our many separations from my American father. My grandfather always sat in his wheelchair by the fireplace; one of his legs had been shot off in the First World War. In our bedroom, an old grenade lay on the mantel piece, a daily reminder of the danger lurking outside. The “Troubles,” as people in Northern Ireland called their bloodshed, were still brewing but had not fully erupted yet. It was 1963. When we crossed the ocean to America, turmoil came with us and took root in our home in New Jersey. I found sanctuary with the animals.
When we got a dark Siamese cat, my mother said I could name her. I was paralyzed with indecision. “How about Lap Sang or Soo Chong?” my mother offered, referring to the names of Oriental teas. I was too excited to choose, so we combined them into Lap Sue. I hoped that since I had named her, she would be mine. As it turned out, nobody else could stand her. She could be vicious, clawing and scratching anyone who went near her, but I loved her. I tried to stay on her good side, giving her my pillow each night, and when her long feline limbs sprawled across it as if it were her throne, I craned and twisted my neck to the side so as not to disturb her. Once Lap Sue savaged the leg of a visiting child so badly the girl needed stitches, and I was terrified her mother would demand the cat be put to death and I would lose her. My mother defended Lap Sue valiantly. I wished that she would defend me the same way. When my mother had something to express to me, she directed it at Lap Sue. In our house, humans were discouraged from showing emotions. Instead, we learned to show our feelings with the animals.
I relied on Lap Sue. She purred so loudly that when I curled up and laid my head against the soft fur of her belly, her inner motor drowned out the yelling. It would start when my father came home.
It was usually late and we would be in our bunk beds. Alexandra was on the bottom; Lap Sue and I were on the top. I’d stroke her silky body and stare into her pale blue eyes. She’d stare back, half squinting, her eyes reassuring me. I would lie quietly, my body tensed, hearing but not wanting to hear, knowing I had to listen to make sure nothing bad happened, to make sure my mother was OK. I would creep out of bed and crack open the door. “Go back to your room,” she’d say. “I’m fine.”
One of my clearest early memories is of a summer’s day when a whale washed ashore at the beach. It was my first contact with the world that would one day dominate my life: television. I was six, Alexandra was seven, and our baby sister, Francesca, was two. We were in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was a treat to trade New Jersey’s sweltering summer heat for the cooler New England beach. Even rarer, we were all together, a mother and father and three little girls with sand pails and bathing suits, staying in a motel room with a kitchenette, on a real family vacation. Some nights we got to eat dinner out, with the thrill of grilled cheese and French fries, which we never had at home. Other nights my mother cooked fresh seafood, including lobsters. We made friends with the crustaceans en route from the fish market, and when they were lowered into their liquid graves, the cauldron of boiling water on the stove, it broke our hearts. During the days, we frolicked in the giant waves of the Atlantic. My parents were born on either side of this ocean, and by now the gulf between them had grown as wide and as deep. The beach was my father’s domain; my mother’s fair skin kept her out of the sun, so it was my father who played with us by the sea. Out in the waves, he held us tight so we wouldn’t go under. We squealed in delight.
One morning the tranquil scene was spoiled. Surrounded by a gathering crowd, an enormous gray blob was lying on the beach. At first I could not figure out what it was. I had never seen anything like it. It was giant and smelled sickly, choking the freshness of the sea air. A moat of gooey oil streaked with blood surrounded it. Finally I understood that it was a baby whale that had been hit by a boat, its big blubbery corpse now washed up on the beach. Soon a local TV reporter arrived. It was the first time I had ever seen a TV camera. The crew filmed the giant ocean casualty and then turned their camera on me. Now I realize what a perfect television image it was, a small girl weeping at the sight of this huge, wasteful death. Later, viewing the world’s pain through a TV lens became my way of life.
My mother was Scots-Irish, from a well-to-do Protestant family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the daughter of a barrister with a houseful of servants. My father was the son of an overbearing immigrant Jewish mother who landed in New Jersey and burdened her children with all the pain and paranoia of the small Russian village she grew up in. When my parents met at medical school in Belfast, their romance spoiled each other’s plans to be a doctor. Years later I came to see what an act of rebellion their union was for each of them. For my father, my mother’s proper British ways were a distinct step outside the insular family life of Jewish immigrants whose ambition—to turn their son into a doctor—was more important than love or happiness. For my mother, befriending a clever and charming American was an escape from the cloistered life of postwar Northern Ireland. They married quickly, and Alexandra and I were born within a couple of years. My mother quit medical school to take care of us. My father was unable to finish either, and was reduced to taking odd jobs.