Get the latest updates as we post them Ч right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Room of One's Own, Facing South

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

It was 3 a.m. in Dagestan, and my boyfriend was bouncing angrily on the tiny bed in our hotel room and cursing through his teeth. He had been trying to send a story to his newspaper editors for two hours now.

But the satellite phone wouldnТt give him a decent connection Ч actually, it wouldnТt give him any connection at all. The phone refused to locate a satellite that hovers somewhere above the Indian Ocean.

I slumbered through the agitated bouncing, even though much of it took place on my legs. But I woke up when he announced that the Indian Ocean Уseemed to be moving away.Ф

УUmm, is that because the Earth turns around all the time?Ф I muttered and fell asleep again.

Some ask for a room with the mountain view. Some want the sea view. Some want the quietest room. Or the cheapest one. Or one with a bathtub.

We always ask for the room that faces south.

УActually, uh, we would like a room that faces south.Ф

УBut,Ф a hotel clerk protests, УMount Ararat (Kazbek, Elbrus, the Caspian Sea, the North Pole) is actually to the west (north, east)!Ф

Strangely, the room that faces south usually has the least spectacular view. In a hotel that had rooms facing the Caspian Sea, I ended up sleeping in a room that faced a mosquito-infested swamp. In a hotel in Nagorny-Karabakh, the only window in our room faced someone elseТs room. The photographer, blissfully unburdened by the need of a satellite linkup, ended up with a three-room suite overlooking the white-capped Caucasus peaks.

But it is to the south of every hotel in the former Soviet Union that the satellite that helps us send our stories to the editorsТ desks floats silently above the Indian Ocean. A laptop-sized phone helps us get a connection from the most remote locations. The only drawback of this modern technology is the under-researched radiation that the phoneТs antenna unfortunately emits in unknown amounts.

Except how do I explain all this to a benevolent hotel clerk?

УThatТs great, but we, uh, need a room that faces south.Ф

УOK.Ф Weirdos. The clerk shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and hands over the keys.

This is how the newspaper business works: You find a story, report it and then write it up.

Then you have to send it to the editors.

Need to send your story from a dacha outside St. Petersburg? Find yourself stranded in bombed-out, telephone-deprived Nagorny-Karabakh when a big news story breaks? No cell phone coverage in Dagestan? No fiber-optic cables in the Tver region?

Your satellite phone will take your story and deliver it to your editorТs desk. Supposedly.

I was having dinner with a United Nations official after an exhausting day in Azerbaijan. My boyfriend was finishing his story at the local hotel. The hotel had no telephone line. Our room was on the southern side, but the window opened into a tall stone wall. There was no way the satellite phone was going to work.

As the UN officer poured himself another glass of bad local wine, I pictured my boyfriend Ч crouched against a whitewashed wall, hugging a laptop and balancing the phone on his knee, shivering in the dark, trying to find the satellite. I pictured the satellite Ч an ephemeral white spot of light, dancing in the dark faraway sky, teasing him, and me, and every other reporter in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Anna Badken is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.