Lesley Anne Rose

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Let Me Tell You a Strategy

Telling the story of the journey of change

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” 
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

A strategy is, in effect, a story of a journey. It details who you are, what’s important to you, the way things are right now, a vision of a new place you aspire to reach and the steps that need to be taken to get there. Like all good guidebooks, a strategy should inform and inspire, fulfilling joint roles as a practical reference, while also bringing life to the road ahead.  

Here are a few tricks of the travel writing trade that can be bought to the strategy writing table. 

Who are you writing for?

One of the most successful businessman, and the only billionaire, I know, once told me that he has never written a business plan or strategy in his life. So before starting to write one, be clear why you are writing it and who you are writing it for. In the travel trade we are given a clear brief on the market for our books before we write a word – families, off the beaten track travellers or those with luxury travel in mind. Who do you want to travel with you? Employees of your company? Your board? Potential funders? Or a wider public with a vested interest in the work you do? Write with them by your side. 

Who is telling the story of the place you are heading towards?  

Telling the story of a place is as much about letting it speak for itself as it is you sharing your views on it. Drawing on your research into who your strategy is for, consider whose voices can best represent the destination you are travelling towards. 

A travel writer is taught to open an article on a place they are writing about with a quote from someone who lives there. It’s also a favourite opener for journalists in programmes such as the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent. Quoting from someone who knows all about your destination brings the place you are writing about to life. If your strategy advocates change to your company, community group or organisation ask employees, group members, service users etc for their thoughts and opinions. They are experts in their own communities, sectors or places of work and inputting their ideas and expertise, will also validate what you have to say afterwards. Those voices also need personality and passion.  The BBC’s The Blue Planet, a documentary about the natural history of the oceans, had such a strong impact because viewers trust David Attenborough as an expert, but the passion in his voice inspired many to connect with climate change in a way they have never done so before. 

These voices bring life to what could otherwise be a dry document and facilitate a sense of ownership in a strategy whose success depends on the buy in of fellow travellers.  

It could be that some of the voices of those who will be affected by the impacts of your strategy can’t speak through it. If your strategy is related to climate change or the environment this could include wildlife, biodiversity and the next generation. So decide who can speak for them and make sure the invisible are also given voice.  

Make it personal 

An authentic, passionate voice is one way to engage and inspire action, another is making the story of your company or organisation relevant to the story of those your strategy is written for. To make your story relevant to theirs, get close to your reader. Present the story of place at different levels from the ground up, starting with the individual and, potentially, ending up at the global. 

If you set personal stories against global narratives readers understand how they fit into the bigger picture. So build a narrative of change from the starting point of an individual or community, explain how this fits with a wider sense of place such as a region or country and then make the wider case for the global context. 

Making it personal also enables further emotional investment from readers.  This is essential in strategies that address the impacts of climate change because to often scientists only articulate this story. Scientists work with facts and facts are dry, unemotional, impersonal and analytical. None of which are motivators for change. A strategy, like a story, should engage hearts as well as heads, inspiring us to leave where we are now, backed up with reasons why we should.

“The real act of discovery is not seeing new lands, but seeing with new eyes.” Proust

Frame your story 

In travel writing we call this ‘locate your reader’ and this is often a place of conflict within in a story and a strategy. To some the framing of their story of climate change will focus on job loss and threats to the economy with the destination depicted as a place of low employment, job insecurity and poverty. Another will set out a vision of a green economy rich with new jobs and an employed workforce saved from failing industries. With conflicts like this in mind, framing the story of your strategy and place could be an exercise in re-framing an existing narrative or opinions using new characters, alternative values and fresh perspectives – turning what some call a ‘crap town’ into urban chic. 

When framing your strategy consider the back story of your organisation, relevant background context on the sector you are working within and the bigger picture of the political, social and economic landscape your strategy sits within. This also chimes with the work of a travel writer as we seek to understand and explain place through its past, present and possible future.  

Lose nothing in translation 

All good travel writers and journalists grab the reader’s attention quickly and effectively. They use accurate, concise and accessible language, being clear why people should care. They also don’t assume that potential readers know everything already and are mindful to include or reference all essential information. If in doubt, ask someone to read your strategy who knows nothing about your company or organisation, to check what, if anything, is missing. 

“We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us.”

John Steinbeck: Travels With Charlie 

When preparation meets opportunity, change happens. Any trip worth taking requires planning, preparation and a clear vision of the road ahead. Not least of which because trips never go as planned. Putting time and effort into creating a well written strategy means you have a solid guidebook to take with you on the journey, helping you, your organisation, company or community group navigate the unexpected, take detours if you have to, but never lose sight of your destination.  

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Why a new approach to climate adaptation strategic development involving artists is needed

“If we can shift the story, we can change the world.”  Chris Jordon artist and photographer

Patrick Reinsborough co-founder of the Centre for Story-Based Strategy,  claims that the only thing to date that gives the story of climate change urgency is fear and that fear often leads to inertia rather than action. This story is rarely articulated by those at risk, is usually told through data rather than narratives and emphasizes consequences rather than solutions. All of which can lead to those who are seeking to be inspired to take action, feeling overwhelmed and disempowered instead.

Through inviting artists to work with them, non-arts institutions, national bodies and local authorities can introduce different ways of thinking and creative perspectives into strategic development. All of which can ensure that inspiration to take action is not lost translation when communicating the urgency of, and solutions to, climate change.

Embedded Artists

“My question is, how do you change the culture, and what do artists know that can contribute to this?” Frances Whitehead

Working with artists in this way is nothing new. Civic artist Frances Whitehead whose work integrates arts and sustainability, coined the term ‘Embedded Artist’. According to Frances’ manifesto What do Artists Know?  an artist is used to working with complexity and contradiction and naturally thinks laterally. Her work, and those of other ‘Embedded Artists’, traverse sector boundaries engaging artists with engineers, architects, designers and city officials. Examples include the work of David Harding in helping to build Glenrothes New Town and the Artist Placement Group in the 1960s to Mary’s Miss’s City as Living Laboratory.

Embedded Artist Climate Ready Clyde

“The Glasgow City Region faces numerous climate change challenges. Adapting to these challenges is easier, cheaper and more effective when we do it together.” Climate Ready Clyde

It’s a privilege and a challenge to be following in the footsteps of tried and tested Embedded Artists and to be working in this role with Climate Ready Clyde, a cross-sector initiative funded by the Scottish Government and member organistions (local authorities, energy and transport companies, higher education institutions) to create a shared vision, strategy and action plan for an adapting Glasgow City region. A region emerging from a history of heavy manufacturing and shipbuilding that covers a third of Scotland by population and economic output. The work of developing the vision, strategy and action plan for Climate Ready Clyde is implemented on behalf of the board by Sniffer  – knowledge brokers for a resilient Scotland and secretariat of Climate Ready Clyde. Although connected with the board, the Embedded Artist post is tasked with working closely with the secretariat.

Unusually there is no expectation of the Embedded Artist with Climate Ready Clyde to produce any creative work. The emphasis instead is on contributing to planning, decision-making and problem solving.  It’s first steps for this post. But, following a warm and engaged welcome from the Climate Ready Clyde board, positive ones. Working with Sniffer a plan of focus for the Embedded Artist is taking shape and includes contributing to:

  • refreshing the vision of Climate Ready Clyde
  • assisting with strategy development by working with Sniffer to undertake workshops with communities in flood disadvantaged areas
  • inputting into the look, feel, platform etc for the strategy and action plan
  • inputting into the development of an Exemplar Project for the Clyde Valley region that reflects the ambitions and vision of the strategy

The thinking behind focusing on these areas include an ambition to adopt a process of communication that is as much about listening as it is about sharing information. In doing so enable the voices of those at risk to have their say and be considered co-visionaries of alternatives and co-authors of the strategy and action plan to transform vision into reality. Also to draw on community and individual stories to bring life and a face to the wider narratives of the impacts of climate change in the region and the data that supports it.

Cultural Adaptions

“Gus Speth a leading environmental scientist and the first advisor to a US president on climate change, has reframed the top environmental problems as ‘selfishness, greed and apathy’ and goes on to say that in order to deal with these ‘we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that’” Lucy Neal

The Embedded Artist post within Climate Ready Clyde is facilitated by Creative Carbon Scotland  who connect arts with sustainability and believe that the practices of artists of all disciplines have a role to play in the transformation to a more sustainable Scotland. It forms one of four Embedded Artist posts each working with in a different EU country and part of a wider Cultural Adaptations project.

Lead by Creative Carbon Scotland, Cultural Adaptations seeks to find creative, innovative and place-based responses to climate change impacts, equipping cultural organisations and cites with the knowledge and skills they need.

Leading cultural organisations in the Glasgow, Ghent, Gothenburg and Dublin city regions are paired with municipal sustainability partners to drive change by embedding artists in strategic processes, co-create advice for adapting to climate predictions, host transnational knowledge-sharing, develop resources to widen the impact of the project and enable international replication. The project will culminate with an international conference hosted in Scotland in autumn 2020.

An integral part of Cultural Adaptations is four transnational meetings, one in each partner country, which include a workshop discussing and developing the local Embedded Artist projects. The first transnational meeting took place in Glasgow in March 2019 and a full report recently published.

The ability of an Embedded Artist to encourage creative approaches to thinking and communication beyond economic considerations was acknowledged during workshop sessions at the Glasgow transnational meeting. However, a wider role was also discussed as one that included witnessing, documenting and introducing people centered provocation to climate adaptation.

A good strategy presents hope and is one that the public, communities, individuals and companies buy into as agents of change. In a week in which the UK parliament declared a climate change emergency and the Scottish government committed to going greener, faster, the job of an artist, embedded or otherwise to, foster solidarity, contribute to and communicate visions of alternatives and the empowered steps we need to take to realise them, is more pressing and important than ever.

Sign up to receive updates in the progress of the Cultural Adaptations. 




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“We made the world we are living in and we have to make it over.”

We made the world we are living in and we have to make it over.”  James Baldwin

I was in Ballymun when the phone call came. Close the nursery, close the café, close the theatre.

Ballymun is a suburb in north Dublin, close to the city’s airport, which sprung up in high-rise glory in the 1960s. Then a solution to a housing crisis, now described by environmental journalist Frank McDonald as Dublin’s ‘worst planning disaster’. Axis Arts, where I was when the phone call came, is part of the area’s regeneration plan – a plan to reverse the ‘disaster’ which also brought to Ballymun a leisure centre, student accommodation and the hotel I was staying in.

Axis is an arts and community resource centre at the heart of the suburb. It’s a place where the residents of Ballymun are encouraged to come together. It had to close its doors and halt its work aimed at community cohesion, as the policy of social distancing aimed at slowing down the spread of COVID-19, required us all to step apart. And in doing so transforming the world and our lives into a place once unimaginable.

I’d travelled the slow way to Ballymun. Taking train and ferry from Edinburgh to Holyhead to Dublin. En route brilliant rainbows burst across stormy skies over Cowlyn Bay and through the crests of restless waves on the rough crossing over the Irish Sea. Both forms of transport uncharacteristically quiet. Even before lock down COVID-19 had persuaded many not to travel. To my climate change shame, the fear of not being able to get home forced an early return by flight from a near empty, subdued Dublin airport two days later and two days earlier than planned.

It was climate change shame. I’d travelled to Dublin with the Cultural Adaptations project and the third meeting of its transnational partners and embedded artists tasked with exploring the role of culture in the adaptation of wider society to climate change, as well as how the arts and cultural sector itself must adapt.

Those of us who had travelled to Ballymun, as well as our hosts from Axis, spent the one night we had together gathered around a long wooden table in a packed vegan restaurant in what was to be my last meal out for a long time. Over our bring your wine we tried to pack in the conversations that under non pandemic circumstances we would have had days to undertake, mull over, and undertake again.

 “we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”  Gus Speth environmental lawyer and advocate

We all agreed that with every crisis comes an opportunity to change – whether that change is incremental (doing things differently) or transformational (doing different things). And that everything society is experiencing with COVID-19 parallels what we need to go through with climate change. Although our focus is climate adaptation, and we know the arts and cultural sector can’t be at the forefront of critical care, we all acknowledged that the way we work has a role to play in the current crisis. And that the learning we take from it can inform us in the role we can play in helping society adapt to net-zero emissions by 2045  (see the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Policy) alongside the adaption of our sector.

Like climate change, COVID-19 is changing the system. Any process of recovery requires a vision that incorporates a revolution in understanding, finance, planning and delivery, alongside an increased ability to build resilience and a shift in our relationship with nature.

The enforced time many of us are currently spending at home is valuable time to imagine and plan new ways of living, working and being for ourselves, our communities, our organistions and sectors. And in doing so plan a recovery that also improves the long term health of the planet we call home.

Here’s some first thoughts on how to incorporate ways in which artists and cultural practitioners think, work and create into the planning process.

Creative Thinking

Artists do not think outside the box – there is no box.” Frances Whitehead

During our short time with Axis Arts we discussed the value of thinking differently and creatively, as well as the ability to manage complexity that characterises the way artists and cultural practitioners work. An ability undervalued in a system which emphasis the worth of end product above process.

As many of us now grapple with ‘non-productive’ time at home, it’s a perfect time to reflect on time and how our perception of it changed during the Industrial Era. The Industrial Age established a tremendous pressure on time to be ‘productive’. It revolved around ‘clocking in’ and ‘clocking off’. For city dwellers especially, time became measured in minutes, not the turn of the seasons. Since then we are constantly reminded that ‘time is precious’, ‘time is running out’, ‘use it wisely’, ‘time is money’. And many of us have lost the understanding of the passage of time in relation to the natural world.

None of which is intrinsically a bad thing. However, in the rush to plan our recovery and consider new ways of working that prioritize conserving above consuming, we can chose to take this moment of enforced ‘unproductive time’ to pause and acknowledge the value of time ‘spent’ creatively. As well re-connecting with the natural world as an environment we need to create a healthy working relationship with.


The power of community to create health, is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital”. Mark Hyman, physician and author

The arts and cultural sector understands the value of community – from the supportive communities we create for ourselves to work in, to our role within wider communities. As the inclusion of Axis Arts within the regeneration of Ballymun proves, arts and culture plays a valuable role in bringing communities together, and are a vital part of their health.

During our short time at Axis we shared thoughts on how healthy communities treat elders as experts and mine their expertise and experience on how the natural landscape has changed over the years. We reflected on re-greening the city and loss of knowledge in growing our own food, as well as the importance of learning across generations, nationalities and sectors.

The value of community has come into sharp focus as our ability to travel is curtailed and we are all required to ‘dig where we stand’. As a sector underpinned by a values based approach to the work we do, we understand the value of support and supporting those around us. We know the value of understanding and growing communities, asking not what they can do for us, by what can we do for the communities we work with and our part of our lives.

Paradoxically COVID-19 is highlighting that the community we belong to is global as well as local. Both in terms of who we connect with in person and online, as well as seeking solutions that will make the world a safe and healthy place to live. It’s proved what artists already know, that borders are artificial and that there is more that unites than divides.

Our processes of re-evaluation must include thinking locally, but acting globally for ourselves and our organistions, recognising we are citizens of the world as well as our own neighbourhoods.


Language is also a place of struggle.” Bell Hooks, author and social activist

Artists and the cultural sector understand shared language and the importance of dialogue and giving voice.

We bring both an insider and outsider perspective, creating and dedicating time for refection and sharing as well as talking. We know how to bridge gaps between statistics and lived experiences and in doing so communicate complexity through forms of language that include images, music and public art as well as the spoken and written word.

We create meaningful messages that challenge assumptions and encourage people to look and think differently. We take time to articulate the intangible, making room for feelings as well as facts and figures. In doing so we can communicate visions of the future as a place which people have an emotional connection with and desire to be there.

As we re-evaluate how and what we communicate about our plans for recovery, we encourage giving voice and listening as well as asking to be heard. Use multiple ‘languages’ and speak to the emotions as well as the intellect. Artists and cultural practitioners understand the importance of people, and place them at the heart of our work, strategies, project and business planning.


The new storytellers are writers, poets, musicians, documentarians, radio producers, and others who are reporting the story of a new world.”  Sarah van Gelder Co-Founder Yes! Magazine

Arguably the closest experience to the swift, traumatic change we are undertaking through COVID-19 are times of war and revolution. Historically arts and culture has played a crucial storytelling role during and in the aftermath of these times of abrupt and disruptive change.

One of the impacts of war can be to silence people. In contrast the arts and culture gives voice to individual stories as well as the story of a nation. In conflict situations artists as storytellers can help imagine alternative ways of being and transformation to a better future. The arts can safe guard stories and cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible – ensuring these aren’t lost or obliterated in the drive for change.

In the aftermath of conflict situations, reconciliation is essential. This involves restoring relationships torn apart and subject to psychological distancing. Stories of reconciliation can be between family members, individuals or communities and have a role to play in building new national identities when the times comes to come together again.

Reconciliation is essential when a way of life and living has been lost or needs to be let go of, if we are create a healthy relationship with the future. The work of theatre practitioners such as the Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts Group in Rwanda, DubbleJoint Theatre Company in Northern Ireland and the Centre for Children’s Theatre Developmentin Kosovo all illustrate the role that storytelling has to play in reconciling the past, as a crucial part of healing in the present and building towards a new future.

If you can change the narrative, you can change the world. Creating and holding space for stories old and new to be told and listened to has a crucial role to play in the transition to a new society. Storytelling helps us answer questions and when we do we are able to tackle problems with courage, risk-taking and creativity.

Stories must be told from multiple perspectives, articulated by those at risk, not just those in power.  They need to detail solutions, solidarity, action and hope, visualizing alternatives and the pathways to get there.

As we plan for re-building, narratives of empowerment and co-ownership of knowledge enable individuals, organisations and communities to be their own heroes, not someone else’s victims. They can articulate shared visions of a future that is not all about loss, but as a better place to be.


For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” Elie Wiesel, author, activist, holocaust survivor

One of the most powerful things writers, artists, everyone can do is witness and document. As a witness you have personally seen something happen. You have a version of events, knowledge of and a memory. To document it means no one take it away from you. At a time, like many in history, when powerful storytellers on world platforms take control of narratives, the act of witnessing, documenting and sharing what we witness is an act of re-claiming our lives, our version of events, our story. And not have it told, or mis-told for us. Our voices and what we have to say matters.

During this time record all of the good things that are happening to us, our organistions and in society, as well as the challenges. Use these to inform planning and recovery, so we can look to the future with optimism and not just to the past with pessimism.

Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.” Arundhati Roy

Making room for creativity, understanding and being part of our communities – local and global – taking time to communicate, tell and listen to stories and bearing witness in times of change, are all valuable skills and ways of working the arts and cultural sector can share, contribute and bring to the planning table at this time.

However, we too should reflect on own advice, re-think our practice, organisations and business models. We also can learn from other sectors who think and work differently to us and integrate new ideas into our recovery and re-building. In doing so we can take tangible, holistic, cross sector steps in understanding our role in the healing and re-creation of society during and in the aftermath of COVID-19, as well as undergo a Just Transition to a better, fairer, healthier and climate friendly future for all.






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Lockdown diary one

Monday 20 April 2020

The start of week four of COVID-19 lockdown in Scotland and the wider UK.

I’m luckier than most when it comes to lockdown. Although living in a city, I’m close to the sea and harbour. Walks along the sand have quickly become a staple of daily life. One of the many things I’m sure I’ll look back on and reminisce about when social distancing is a distant memory and we come together again to share our stories, experiences and the way we see the world.

Daily walks, a sea that looks cleaner, air that seems fresher, dolphins that swim closer to the shore are all part of a prolonged enforced moment to pause, remember, re-evaluate, re-assess and, when the time comes, re-build – individual lives, livelihoods, economies and the world in general.

LAR Slam copy

Me and Glenn Carmichael, Bristol Poetry Slams

In the spirit of remembrance, today I pulled out an old photo album of early poetry slams in Bristol – the start of a spoken word scene in the city over a quarter of a century ago. The old friend I started the scene with now dying in hospital – cancer not coronavirus. An old friend influential in me believing that I could be a writer, have a voice, that what I had to say mattered, that the written and spoken word could change the world and that there is a poet and artist in all of us. I believed then that days of living on poetry, coffee and in roof top bed-sits could, and should, last forever.

They didn’t of course. But in posting old images I remembered not only old friends and the days when poetry felt like rock ‘n’ roll, but also a part of me I’d lost touch with. A voice I’d let fall silent.

I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to re-evaluating life. In the sprit of remembering the voice of confidence and optimism that scene gave me and others, I’ve started to dust off old notebooks, re-thread creative thoughts and once again piece together words and sentences inspired by the past, informed by the present, but speaking to, and of, the future.

One of the most powerful things writers, artists, everyone can do is witness. As a witness you have personally seen something happen. You have a version of events, knowledge of and a memory. At a time, like any in history, when powerful storytellers on world platforms take control of narratives, the act of witnessing and sharing what we witness is an act of re-claiming our lives, our version of events, our story. And not have it told, or mis-told for us. Our voices and what we have to say matters.

At a time when many aspects of our lives we once had control over is taken from us, our story is one thing we can keep hold of. We can tell it as it is, as it was and how we’d like it to be. At a time of re-assessing and soon to be re-building, we have the potential to create narratives based on hope for making our lives, the communities  we live in, the climate we depend on and the world we call home a better place. As narratives of fear, the second pandemic to be sweeping across the world, threaten to take over the our stories, hope becomes our antidote, our empowerment and our resistance.  Hope is infectious and, like viruses, reminds us that there is more that unites than divides.

So this is where I am on Monday 20 April 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown and this is what I’m witnessing.


Aberdeen beach

A wide open sunrise. A beach, like every morning, washed clean by the North Sea. Light so strong it hurts the eyes. The retreating sea quiet and calm. The community I live in starting to clear space to grow our own vegetables. Clean white sheets blowing white against the ragged grass of the shared drying greens. Greens where generations have hung out laundry to blow dry in wind fresh from the North Sea and the tenacious sun that brings light to north east Scotland. A line of people standing two meters apart at the one take away van open on the water front. Pumping out fumes from a generator and the smell of fried breakfast into the cold, sharp, salty air. Walkers, runners, dogs and cyclists pounding the sea front. Patrolled from the road by parked and passing police cars. Patrolled from the sea by a police boat close to the shore.

Preoccupied by thoughts of an old friend near the end of life. Memories 25 years old.  How does time make the passage of a quarter of century seem so fast, and the three weeks at least left in lockdown feel like an eternity? I discover an old 35mm camera in with the old photos. And unlock another store of memories, people, places and events witnessed. ‘Good times’ is the story I tell myself about the past. ‘Strange times’ I reflect on the here and now. ‘Time to start planning’ I tell myself about the future.

The day rolls into evening. Indigo skies. Tides turning. The ferry to Shetland steams out of harbour and into open sea. Lives roll on. Just a day. Like, but very different, from any other.


Aberdeen harbour

The other stories of today

Oil prices slump. The first negative price for a barrel of oil recorded in the US. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52367052

Trump to suspend immigration to the US due to the coronavirus pandemic  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52363852

Facebook take down events that violate social distancing rules. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52352073

World risks biblical famine due to the coronavirus pandemic. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52373888

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Santa Fe: A Place for Dreamers

“Santa Fe, it’s a place for dreamers”

“Santa Fe, it’s a place for dreamers” a local artist told me as I bought one of her prints called ‘Beginnings’, its colours as vibrant and stark as the surrounding landscape that inspired it. She’s right, the centuries old high altitude city of Santa Fe is a place for dreamers, romantics, writers and outsiders of all kinds.  Founded by Spanish colonists in 1610, and rising from foundations rooted in former Pueblo Indian villages, Santa Fe defies time. And, although proud of the past it has never let go of, New Mexico’s capital also presents a flair for contemporary, off the beaten track chic.


Route 66, Santa Fe

Arriving from the east, you’ll follow the trail of Route 66, America’s Mother Road, which cuts an historic, pre 1937 path directly through Santa Fe’s equally historic downtown.  En-route travellers are greeted at the state’s border with a sign welcoming you to New Mexico – Land of Enchantment.  As you cross the border you also cross time zones into Mountain Time, and the more the dust of Texas settles behind you, the clearer the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which rise to the north of Santa Fe, becomes.

Known as the ‘heart of Santa Fe’, the city’s four hundred year old plaza, marks the centre of town. A gathering place for local street musicians and artists, the Plaza is a natural focal point for visitors gaining their bearings in a city that’s best explored on foot. The oldest public building in the US, the Palace of the Governors, lines the north side of the Plaza. Former home of the first Spanish governor of New Mexico in 1610, the Palace is now the state’s history museum and an ‘American Treasure’.  Today Pueblo Indians, who briefly occupied the Palace following a revolt in 1680, gather beneath its long portico to sell locally made jewellery, pottery and other crafts.


Santa Fe, New Mexico

However, the real charm of Santa Fe, which translates into ‘holy faith’ in Spanish, lies in the grid of side streets and narrow alleyways that scatter in multiple directions from the Plaza.  Take time to linger in the Romanesque St Francis Cathedral, built in the late 17thcentury from yellow limestone whose soft bells chime across Santa Fe’s low rise downtown. Then let go of all sense of time and get lost in the city’s independent bookstores, high end clothes shops, pavement cafés and artist galleries all tucked away in Santa Fe’s rambling side streets.

 “It takes courage to be a painter and I always felt I walked on the edge of life” Georgia O’Keefe

Santa Fe is one of the USA’s six UNESCO Creative Cities. A status acknowledging the central part culture, craft and folk art plays in the life of the city – past, present and future. Artists, their studios along with shops and stalls selling their work take centre stage in Santa Fe’s downtown, from its Plaza to its public art. Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, making it her permanent home 20 years later. You can experience the world’s largest collection of her work at the downtown Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. However, it’s well worth travelling 50 miles north to the artist’s former home and studio at the remote Abiquiu.  While the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts can both be found in the streets surrounding the Plaza.

“Get art to wear, that’s what I always say”

“Get art to wear, that’s what I always say”, I overheard a local lady who likes to lunch claim in Café Greco on Canyon Road. And there’s no better way to experience the sheer diversity of art to wear, or put on a wall, created by Santa Fe’s many talented artists than to stroll along this peaceful road. Here, a few blocks south east of downtown, around a hundred galleries, shops and restaurants line the first mile of Canyon Road, as it meanders its artistic way out of town and towards the mountains.


New Mexico mountains

The stark beauty of New Mexico’s deserts and mountains, famous for the natural light that enchants its artists, also has a dark side.  Built on the Pajarito Plateau, 35 miles north west of Santa Fe, the mountain town of Los Alamos, otherwise known as Atomic City, is home to the National Laboratory where in the 1940s Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist, developed the science behind the atomic bomb. A trip to Los Alamos is worth it for the sweeping mountain views alone. However, also make time to visit the Bradbury Science Museum to discover the history behind the National Laboratory and take a stroll along Bathtub Row where Oppenheimer’s secluded former house still stands.

Tucked up close to the border of Colorado, high in the Sangre de Christo Mountains sits the town of Taos, former home of frontier legend Kit Carson and a place for dreamers and artists of all kinds. Taos is the best place in New Mexico to visit a Native American Pueblo – a multi storied traditional building, containing numerous homes all created from earth and straw. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taos Pueblo has been continuously occupied for around 1000 years and it was here in 1925 that psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung first met a Native American community. Jung describes the profound influence this meeting had on him and his thinking in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, detailing the community’s ability to connect with the mythic world, a place lost to European rationalist thinking.Drive back to Santa Fe via NM68 ‘the low road’ which follows the path of the Rio Grande river as it cuts a dramatic narrow canyon path through north New Mexico on its journey south from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.  A route favoured by kayakers and river rafters, the path of the river is an ideal place to reconnect with the mythic world that so influenced Jung. Once there you’ll join the artists, dreamers, frontier legends and pioneering scientists all continually inspired by the light and the landscape of the Land of Enchantment.


Taos, New Mexico

Visiting Santa Fe and New Mexico

Tourism Santa Fe can tell you all you need to know about visiting the city https://santafe.org.  While New Mexico Travel and Tourism is the place to find out more about visiting the rest of the State www.newmexico.org.

Somewhere to stay 

The Hotel St Francis is an affordable boutique hotel in the historic heart of Santa Fe.  210 Don Gaspar Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501Tel: 505-983-5700, Toll-Free: 1-800-529-5700 rates $104 – $248 www.hotelstfrancis.com


Bad Ass Sandwich Co, Santa Fe

Somewhere to eat

The Tabla de Los Santos restaurant on the first floor of the Hotel St Francis creates frequently changing menus bursting with the best in local produce and seasonal flavours. Dinner entrees $26 – $37, lunch $10 – $15.

For less formal dining choose from either the restaurant menu ($9 – $18) or bar menu ($4 – $10) at the Blue Corn Café and Brewery. 113 Water Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501. Tel: 505 984 1800. http://bluecorncafe.com

The Palacio Café nestled in the side street shadows of St Francis Cathedral is an off the beaten track breakfast or lunch option. 209 East Palace Ave, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Tel: 505 989 3503. Lunch $9 – $11, breakfast $8 – $9. www.palaciosantafe.com

Or join the line up of locals for lunch to go from the Bad Ass Sandwich Co. on W. Palace Ave. Tel: 505 780 8318.

Somewhere to drink

The Hotel St Francis’s Secreto Lounge is celebrated for its award winning ‘garden-to-glass’ cocktails, shaken not stirred from local fruits and herbs.

Getting there

Santa Fe’s municipal airport receives domestic flights from Phoenix International Airport


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Paris 19 – 23 January 2017 : Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States 

I hadn’t intended to march.

In the weeks leading to Trump’s inauguration day I’d asked myself repeatedly how to mark a moment. A moment in time. A moment in history. A moment when before becomes after. A moment to be afraid, angry, excited, confused, empowered. Do you throw yourself into such a moment? Run and hide from it? Or simply stay still and watch?

I hadn’t intended to march. I’d intended to be alone.

Months before the news of the US election result hit the world hard, a friend sent me a link to the Wikipedia page for the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup – the mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police on 16 and 17 July 1942. A moment in history named after the Velodrome d’Hiver where the Jews were held after being rounded up, before being carted off to Auschwitz, most never to see the streets of Paris, or anywhere else, again. When I heard the news I recalled the email and decided to make a small, simple, peaceful, solitary gesture to history on inauguration day at the memorial for the 13,000 Jews, including over 4,000 children, who were rounded up because of the beliefs they put their faith in. I wanted nothing to do with mass protests or marches, preferring time alone to reflect, lay flowers on the past, come to terms with the present and make plans for a better future.

I hadn’t indented to march. I intended to walk.

Paris sign

On the morning of Friday 20 January 2017 I left my hotel in the 14th arrondissement and set off on foot for the memorial, walking aimlessly at first, getting lost numerous times. Well meaning Parisians tried to help, but still I ended up taking the long way round through St Germain, the stomping ground of preference for Satre, Simone de Beauvoir and Picasso, until eventfully I found my bearings and turned west towards the Eiffel Tower – looking like a painted stage set against a hazy ice blue winter sky.  I was aiming for an unassuming park, steps away from the Tower and Bik-Hakeim metro station.  A thin strip of landscaped concrete on the Quai de Grenelle, sandwiched between the busy main road and the Seine.

After two hours of walking I found the park and paused to draw a cold breath in a sub zero Paris before taking in the memorial and the moment. It was smaller than I expected, positioned at the far end of the park away from the Eiffel Tower and overlooked by many buildings yet to be built when those it’s dedicated to were alive. I perched on a cold stone ledge and contemplated the line of rigid lamp posts and bare winter trees that drew all eyes to a collection of small, life like statues arranged on a curve of stone recreating a strip of the long demolished cycling track of the Velodrome d’Hiver.  Despite negative temperatures, the low winter sun warmed my face and shone onto the tip of my pencil as I took down notes – adding a halo to blunt lead, blank page and my thoughts.

Noises of the busy main street – car horns, mopeds, police sirens – flooded in from one side, a jogger ran past on the other and a cold breeze rustled through bare branches and plastic rubbish bags. Underneath it all, the silence of the Seine and the smell of a city used to moments in time. The chill of the stone ledge seeped inside me and eventually I stood to walk the short distance to the memorial, too cold to contemplate any more.

I hadn’t intended to march. I intended to be still.

Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup memorial

Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup memorial

The statues – a pregnant woman, an old man, children – are small, but the emotion carved into them is vast.  I think of the moment their lives changed and try to understand how it happened and face inside of me the part of us that allows, stays silent and is sometimes complicit. I’m overwhelmed with a sadness that takes me by surprise. The horror, confusion, terror and fear of the past suddenly seem real, immediate and of the moment. I stoop to lay a bouquet of nine white roses at the base of the statue. Roses bought in a supermarket in the shadow of both UNESCO and the European Space Agency. I send love to the past that UNESCO protects and the desire to experience new horizons that propels us into space. I think of a man waiting to place his hands on two bibles held by his wife and make a promise to a country and the world.  A man who invests his faith in walls and who, a week later on Holocaust Memorial Day, would impose travel bans on those whose beliefs differed from his.

The wind is now bitter and I can stand still no longer.  I pay last respects, take last photographs and turn to face the sun and the Eiffel Tower. As I walk towards the 324 metre high symbol of France – the most visited paid for monument in the world – my shadow falls behind me and I see the promise of spring waiting inside the barren branches of the surrounding trees. The world has already changed and I turn back no more.

I hadn’t indented to march. I intended to watch.

Excuse me. Do you mind if I ask about Brexit?

A bookseller on the side of the Seine asked as I paused en route to Notre Dame to buy some prints from his stall. The bookseller, who is also the artist responsible for the prints of Paris landmarks lit by an impossibly large full moon which I’m about to buy, tells me of his travels to Scotland, his English wife and his children who have duel nationality. “Lucky them” I say. “You are always welcome here” he assures me as he hands me my prints. I believe him and in a warm moment on a bitterly cold day I believe there truly is more that unites than divides us.

Place St Michel

Place St Michel

I thank the bookseller for his pictures and sentiments then aim for the nearest Starbucks on Blvd Saint Michel – the central route through the Latin Quarter, synonymous with student uprisings, activism and massacres – to get warm, take my time over a large tea and make use of their free wi-fi to watch Trump being sworn in via a low res constantly buffering live video through my iPhone. I think of everyone I know and care about wherever they are in the world.  I think of the triumph of the American Dream witnessed in mile zero of a Europe defining nation that went forth and conquered, and all those who rose up, and continue to rise up, for their rights on the pavement beneath me.

I can hardly hear the words he speaks for the first time as the most powerful man in the world. I look around the top floor of the Starbucks I’m huddled in a street view corner of, to see if anyone else is marking the moment, but no one is. It’s dark by the time it’s over. I’ve seen and heard enough and decide to head back to my hotel, skirting the edge of the Jardin de Luxembourg, buying a hot baguette and half bottle of cheap white wine en route, both of which I consume in bed later that night while watching CNN, the only English speaking channel available on the TV in my small room. A room shaken every couple minutes by the metro as its trains rumble along tracks running beneath the building. I watch as the Trump family, now the first family, arrive at the White House for the first time. I write some late night, half drunken ramblings in a notebook before falling into a restless, dreamless sleep. The day and the moment both over.

I hadn’t indented to march. I intended to go underground.

Napoleon's Tomb

Napoleon’s Tomb

The next morning, after a self conscious solitary breakfast in the hotel dining room, I navigated a short cut through the back streets of the 14th arrondissement to the Paris Catacombs – a small part of the miles of underground tunnels buried beneath the city along with the remains around six million people. Underground was the only place I wanted to be. But when I arrived in good time at the Place Denfert-Rochereau and the entrance to the Catacombs, I’m met by a locked gate and notice declaring them closed until early February. I was thrown. My plans for the day in pieces. And all I could think of on the spur of a very cold moment was to visit Napoleon’s tomb instead which, although very much above ground, was still a reminder that no matter how big, rich and powerful we are in life, we take nothing with us at the end of it and leave only bones behind. I turned away from the Catacombs and descended into the Denfert-Rochereau metro station to head for the Hôtel des Invalides created by Louis XIV – the Sun King.

Amour, Musée de I’Armée

Amour, Musée de I’Armée

The golden dome of the Les Invalides complex is resplendent in the winter sun, but quiet. I’m asked to unzip my coat on entering to prove to the police, who are all smiles and au revior when I left, that I was not a suicide bomber. Only a cold tourist packed with layers of scarfs and a thick jumper not explosives. Once inside the historic weapons of mass destruction and countless suites of amour through the ages carefully displayed in the Musée de I’Armée soon bore me. As I gazed upon Napoleon’s gigantic tomb in pride of place in the Dôme church, contemplating what else I had time to do with the day, I remembered the last Facebook post I’d flicked past at breakfast that morning. A post calling for women across the world to join marches of protests.  I realised the start of the march in Paris, both in time and place, were close by and decided to take a quick look while working out what else to do with rest of the day.

I hadn’t intended to march. I intended to take photographs.

I caught the metro in the wrong direction and nearly didn’t turn back. Then a woman’s face reflected in the window next to me unexpectedly reminded me of an old friend I’d lost touch with years ago. We used to write together in cafes over strong coffee and share plans to change the world alongside stories of boyfriends and dreams that always seemed to backfire. For her sake, wherever she was in the world now, and who we were then, I decided to turn round. When I finally caught the right metro the train trundled slowly through Bik-Harkeim station en route to the Trocadero where the march was due to start. As it passed above the park of the memorial of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup before crossing the Seine, I saw the flowers I’d laid the day before, lying untouched as I’d left them.

Paris : Women's March

Paris : Women’s March

I knew it was busy before I reached the station exit. I could feel the growing number of people gathering against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. I heard English, French and American accents in the chants rose and fell declaring that “love trumps hate”. I emerged into a growing crowd of mainly women, but many men. Their mood confident, their banners both angry and funny.

Is this your first march?

It was, but the older man who asked the question was speaking to a young woman nearby, not to me. “You’ll never forget it,” he claimed. More gathered.  An old man selling brightly coloured whistles, which could be heard all around, stood solid in an ever shifting crowd. Car horns from passing traffic blare support, many cheer, are there hundreds or thousands? It’s hard to tell. People climb lamp posts to take pictures. The moment, the vista, the history in the making set against a bright winter Paris city scape too photogenic to be real.

I hadn’t intended to march. I intended to keep warm.

Paris Women's March crossing the Seine

Paris Women’s March crossing the Seine

I’d grown cold again by the time the march began. Slowly at first, the crowd became a line as protestors formed order out of chaos and began to march. The day was too late by now to do anything else so I walked on the edge of a river of people heading towards the Seine, hoping the movement would make me warm again. The marchers are happy, united, angry and colourful and, as we wind a slow carnivalesque way across the Pont d’Léna, a small group form a brass band and play as we cross the river, their instruments glittering in the winter sun along with Eiffel’s tower above us. I think I see the bookseller I bought prints from the day before in the crowd. But maybe I’m mistaken. He holds high a banner claiming he is there for his mother, his wife and his daughter. The march turns right, marshalled by the police along the Ave de la Bourdonnais and I lose sight of him.

By this time I’m very cold. I walk as fast as I can on the edge of the march, half in half out. Then suddenly everyone stops. I have no idea why and to my surprise I find myself at the front along with a hard core of protestors whose chants are loud, heartfelt and amplified through hand help microphones. Journalists swarm into the street to take head on photographs. I seize the moment and join them, unsure how I ended up there, but determined to make the most of the photo opportunity. Suddenly a young woman in cut off denim shorts, thick black tights and wild red hair chanting loudly appears in my peripheral vision and I see myself her age writing in cafes, swapping dreams with my long lost friend. Some part of my past wakes up and I step back into the crowd next to her and begin to chant. Sometimes in English, sometimes in French. Sometimes I understand the words, sometimes I don’t.

Men of quality you have nothing to fear from equality.

I’m glad in that moment that I turned away from an afternoon of contemplating history frozen in glass cabinets, to be part of it in the making on the streets of Paris.

Women's March

Women’s March

The march moves on again, turning right into the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet and the Jardin du Champ du Mars that lead to the foot of the Effiel Tower. I step aside preferring to be at the back now and to watch from a distance as the march pours into its final destination. I stand near the chaperoning police, whose modern day amour is destined in decades to come to stand upright and empty in the glass cabinets of the Musée de I’Armée, like the day becoming part of a stationary history. The temperature drops a notch. I’m too cold to stay any longer and like many others begin to drift away into a blinding low winter sun whose light bounces off a woman clad in amour fashioned from tin foil, styled after Louis XIV’s. I think of the Sun King and Napoleon, lonely in his tomb, and wonder what each of us who marched today are going to do next to make the world a more equal place.

I hadn’t intended to march. I’d intended time off.

Back at my hotel I huddled in front of a fake fire in the reception. Desperate to thaw out. I posted photos of the day onto Facebook and flickered through those of friends who had marched in other cities. I feel detached, yet part of something all at the same time and am not quite ready to retreat to the solitude of my room. As the ‘living flames’ of burning gas warm away the stubborn cold inside me, an article on quantum physics catches my eye in the endless stream of social media I’m ideally scrolling through.

Time as we measure it and know it, doesn’t really exist.

The article boldly claims before detailing how particles behave and how our choice in the moment affects what has already happened in the past. In a moment of reflection that only the bigger perspective of history and a warm fire on a cold winter evening can provide I contemplate the past two days and the past and the present of a city and a person. I wonder if any of my actions had made any kind of difference to any time, or lack of it, at all.

Women's March banner

Women’s March banner

In that moment I found myself forgiving those who did nothing in 1942 and those who thought they were doing the right thing then and now. And believe, if only for a moment, that the open hand of friendship can release the clenched fist of hatred and that inside all of us at any one moment we carry the past, present and future and the potential to live in, be part of and influence all three at once. The hotel rocks as a metro train passes beneath it and the world moves on again.  I stand to leave the warmth of the fire to head to warmth of my bed and all the possibilities of the next day and a future inside of me I was beginning to remember.

© Lesley Anne Rose 2017

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Nashville: 21 April 2016: the day Prince died

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of it. Don’t let history down
Sam Phillips, the man credited with inventing rock ‘n’ roll

I was waiting for a bus in the foyer of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville, making use of their free wifi, when the news came through to my phone. Push notification after push notification from various media channels confirmed each others’ announcements.

I turned to the woman next to me. I had to tell someone, it couldn’t be real until I’d spoken it out loud. ‘Prince is dead’ I announced. I’m not sure I believed it myself at that point. There was little conviction in my voice. Me and the woman, whose name I never found out, shared a moment of disbelief, before scanning our respective social media channels and favoured news apps to find out more.

“How are you today?” My question to the Customer Services Assistant at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“Blessed”. Her response.

Tour bus to RCA's Studio B

Tour bus to RCA’s Studio B

I love sharing moments like this with random strangers and the way big news connects lives that otherwise would pass each other by. The bus we, and a bunch of other visitors, were waiting for was a tour bus headed to RCA’s legendary Studio B, a short distance from the Museum, but part of the visitor experience on offer for those wanting to travel the whole Country Music nine yards. Who’d come this far and not want to stand on the sweet spot where Elvis recorded many of his iconic songs and the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and countless others made famous the ‘Nashville Sound’?

As we waited for the bus, and the tragic news confirmed itself to be true, the woman and I swapped stories and our respective reasons for being in Nashville on this fateful day. She’d driven from Ottawa in Canada travelling on her own ‘with her music’. I told her my tale of Elvis and my journey in the footsteps of his ancestor Andrew Presley who emigrated from Lonmay in north east Scotland to North Carolina in 1745. ‘I have ancestors from a tiny town in north east Scotland’ she declared. She had plans to travel there soon, to walk the land part of her once called home. Her mother had never been able to make the trip, so she was going for her. In the time it took for the bus to arrive we shared our plans and reasons for respective journeys across generations and geography, and the joys or otherwise of travelling alone, as well as the need for music to get you through the miles.

I wouldn’t want to drive it.” The woman standing beside me as I photographed Elvis’ gold Cadillac.

Elvis' gold Cadillac - the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville

Elvis’ gold Cadillac – the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville

We’d both just explored the main Museum and both wowed at Elvis’ gold Cadillac, one of over 100 Cadillacs he bought in his lifetime, which now travels nowhere and sits on display besides his equally famous gold piano. We’d both followed the story of the music the Museum celebrates, brought over the Atlantic by emigrating Scots such as Andrew Presley and the woman’s ancestor, along with countless others. Music that journeyed west with them, the road I was fresh from travelling. The one that lead from North Carolina’s wide windswept coast inland to the Great Smoky Mountains and into Tennessee. Their fiddles and folk songs meeting and merging with music from black communities and the church. Proving time and again that music has the power to unite, give voice to shared hopes, make sacred common ground and break through barriers of race, religion and hatred. This is a music that tells stories and, for those like me turning to the past to understand the present, it breaks open emotional pathways through time and space, keeping the spirits of the dead alive, as well as the living company through long dark nights and long distance journeys.

I have one real gift and that gift is to look another person in the eye and be able to tell if he has anything to contribute, and if he does, I have the additional gift to free him from whatever is restraining him.” Sam Phillips

As the Museum’s detailed displays illustrate, the music may constantly evolve, but its spirit remains unchanged and it was the belief that music, more specifically rock ‘n’ roll, had the power to unite that inspired legendary music producer Samuel Cornelius Phillips. And it was the temporary exhibition celebrating his life and work – Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: the Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips  – that inspired me the most. This exhibition was also my first encounter with flying saucers on this trip, but that’s for another blog post.

Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: the Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips souvenir mug

Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: the Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips souvenir mug

Maybe it’s because I’m also a producer that I was so moved by the exhibition, the life of the man behind it, the talent he gave voice to and all he hoped to and did achieve. As I write I’m nursing a cup of tea brewed in a starry mug, a souvenir of the exhibition bought in the Museum’s gift shop. I was so moved by what I experienced, I knew I needed to be reminded of it all when back home and working my way through everything I planned to create from the trip.

As the first to record Elvis, Phillips is famous for declaring to his wife Becky after he cut the would be king’s first record, that he felt “nothing would ever be quite the same again”. History’s confirmed his producer’s instinct to be spot on, an instinct that for him was constantly searching for everything he believed existed in the soul of mankind and that music could communicate.

They bought whatever musical skills they had learned, and they just let out all the emotion that they’d kept inside themselves. All the suffering, all the anger, all the dignity and passion that had beaten down in them, they bought it all to the music”.
Sam Phillips

The exhibition celebrating Phillips’ cosmic genius taught me on the day that Prince died that being a good producer is about seeking  ‘perfect imperfection’ and that our job is to be ‘the champion of something that could be. The champion of all artists’ I was reminded of what all good producers already know, that following your own dreams is integral to championing the dreams of others. A belief he proved time and again from recording black artists who, in his words, ‘had no place else to go’, to establishing WHER-AM in 1955, the first ‘all girl’ radio station staffed almost entirely by women from managers to DJs.

Despite his innate understanding that the world would never be the same again once Elvis was unleashed upon it, Phillips always claimed that his search for the ultimate ‘perfect imperfection’ wasn’t fulfilled by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. It was the impassioned voice of black blues singer Howlin’ Wolf, born Chester Arthur Burnet in 1910 in White Station Mississippi.  In Wolf he claimed he finally found the place ‘where the soul of a man never dies’. It was this sentiment, and the recent news of Prince’s untimely death that I held close to me when the tour bus to Studio B finally arrived and the journey through one of the most hallowed grounds of music began.

Sign to RCA's Studio B

Sign to RCA’s Studio B

Built in 1957, the Studio played an integral role in cementing Nashville’s identity and reputation and as a music city. It’s simply nothing short of a privilege to experience the space where the real people behind the legends recorded the work that made them and the city famous.

Elvis, our tour guide and local primary school teacher told us, always used to enter the Studio through the back door. As the rest of tour trundled past I hung back to sneak a look through into the small rear car park and imagined Elvis arriving, late at night like he always did, ready to record through the night and into the early hours of the following day. Elvis installed the studio lights himself in the pursuit of the perfect ambiance in which to work. I imagined their red, blue and green tones burning low or sometimes turned off completely, and his unmistakable voice signing into the darkness of the Studio and surrounding night.

Before our time in this small building, famous for its huge history, ended our tour guide come primary school teacher shared the story of its closure. In 1976 RCA decided to shut Studio B and picked the fateful date of August 17 1977, which, in one of those heart stopping  coincidences, turned out to be the day after Elvis died. We all paused after being shared this story and paid our silent respects to the building and the man whose lives were joined at the historical hip, and the sweet spot where the soul of a man never dies.

'x' marks the sweet spot at Studio B

‘x’ marks the sweet spot at Studio B

The tour ended where it began back at the Museum and as we disembarked the bus and the next round of tourists clambered on, the sky over downtown Nashville clouded over. The air became suddenly heavy with the metallic smell of warm rain as the weather front that had just drowned out Texas passed by Tennessee. I lost sight of the woman I’d talked with earlier and headed back into the heart of downtown, en route passing by the Museum’s Walk of Fame where Elvis’ plaque rests between Little Richard and Trace Adkins. On the bar lined blocks of central downtown a rendition of Purple Rain called out across the city from Jimmy Buffet’s. I stopped outside to listen and for the second time that afternoon pay my silent respects.

Superstition urges us never to start a journey on a full moon. But I was well into this one by now and felt safe enough later that night when a large golden full moon rose over the city as I sat by the window in my motel room typing up my notes from the day. I paused over a quote I’d written down while walking numerous times around the Sam Phillips exhibition, I’d underlined it twice in my notebook.

I did things that I didn’t know I could do. I felt I could do them, but didn’t know at the time. I just had faith I was doing the right thing.” Sam Phillips

Mural downtown Memphis - the next stop on the my trip.

Mural downtown Memphis – the next stop on my trip.

I stopped typing, held aloft the bottle of beer I was half way through and toasted Sam, Elvis and of course Prince for achieving all the things they thought they couldn’t do and leaving a trail of inspiration for us to follow. Then I finished typing up my notes, knocked back the rest of my beer, closed down my computer and packed my bags. The next day I was heading to Memphis. By now I was more than ready for Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Studios and Elvis’ more famous pink Cadillac – two of the many things waiting for me in their hallowed hometown and the next stop on my journey west.


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To Travel Write or Not to Travel Write

Crescent Beach, Bequia

Crescent Beach, Bequia

Perhaps the greatest social change since the Second World War is the way citizens from the free nations travel as never before in history.
Martha Gellhorn

When I was growing up I used to cycle past a complex of old people’s flats to get to the park. In one ground floor flat an old lady always sat in a cumbersome armchair in front of large French windows which overlooked the path that lead from my house, through the cemetery, past her flat, to the park. Every day she would wave as I cycled by, her face lit up and I always waved back.

Is this old age? I used to think. Is this what I have to look to forward to? Growing up in a small seaside town crammed with residential care homes, the future looked bleak and immobile and I believed from an early age that the only way to survive old age, and its cumbersome armchairs, was a supply of memories from a life lived to the full.

I came of age in the age of Thatcher, the age before yuppies disgraced themselves and rich pickings blinded those who worked hard, asked no questions and burnt out decades before their pensions matured. When the promises of the 80s turned into the broken dreams of the 90s, I took to the road in search of a different path.

Now, 21 years after cashing in my pension and buying a ticket out of town, I’m a fully fledged travel writer, committed to the unbeaten track. And, as a mark of respect for the old lady in the armchair and what she impressed upon me at an early age, I’m keen to encourage all would be travellers and potential travel writers, to stop planning and start travelling – whether this means walking a different route to work each day or taking time out to travel the world the long way round.

There are many reasons why we travel and many reasons why we write – but why write about our travels?

From a purely financial perspective, travel writing can fund your trips. And if this is your aim then options include writing or updating travel guidebooks. However, this is far from an easy ticket. You might get a fee and, if you’re lucky, some expenses paid, but it’s no free holiday. It’s hard, often painstaking work, which allows little time to chill and scant editorial space to wax lyrical about your impressions of a place.

Travel articles allow more creative freedom. They are also a good way to sell yourself to guidebook publishers who’ll often want to see something in print before trusting you to write for them. This often means writing for free in the first instance just to get published or even creating your own travel blog.

Also once you’ve written or updated an existing guidebook, there’s extra cash to be made by selling features to magazines and newspapers on the places you’ve just visited. Having written a guidebook you’ll have instant credibility when trying to sell your work and your information will be bang up to date. All the time taking into consideration that it’s often easier to sell travel to publications that are about anything but – such as food and drink magazines. Also remember you’re an expert on your own home town, so don’t think you have to travel the world to have something interesting to say about a place. Which leads to the importance of getting an angle and saying something new and different and interesting.

However, if facts bog you down, make it up and write fiction. Keep notes on your travels – your experiences, impressions, the people you meet, the things you see – recording all the bad as well as the good. Because often the tales most want read involve danger, disease, delay and discomfort. Record everything and transform your experiences into poetry, short stories, novels, radio plays and even film scripts and in doing so guide people’s imaginations to new places.

Having said all that, fame, fortune and freebies aren’t the only reason to travel write. The most valuable souvenir from any trip is often a personal journal that records an internal as well as an external journey. These are written purely for yourself – for those times when visiting the memories of all the places you’ve been is all the travelling you can do.

Whatever the reason you want to venture away from the well trodden path, and whatever the reasons are you want to write about your journey, do both. One day when I cycled to the park the old lady wasn’t there anymore. I knew she’d gone travelling and I knew she wasn’t coming back.

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Hellfire & the Heartbreakers: Gainesville, Florida, USA

Gainesville, an appealing city in Florida’s central north, set world headlines on fire in 2011 when Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre, a small nondenominational Christian church, threatened to burn copies of the Koran.

Charismatic Christians aside, a trip to Gainesville is not a trip into the heartland of the American right wing.  It is, however, an easy trip from Orlando and a city hailed by many of one of the best places to live in North America.  Those visitors who do travel the 112 miles north from Orlando will discover a city that offers a winning combination of inexpensive cultural attractions, easy opportunities to encounter Florida’s rich outdoors and a slice of the Sunshine State’s historical charm at its most authentic.

Gainesville is home to one of America’s largest universities – the University of Florida – and the city’s main cultural attractions focus around the university’s Cultural Plaza. At its heart stands the Florida Museum of Natural History whose first class permanent exhibits transport visitors on a journey through Neolithic history, diverse ecology and native species. The star exhibit is the Wall of Wings – a showcase of thousands of specimens of butterflies and moths. While the adjacent Harn Museum of Art is “dedicated to promoting the power of the arts to inspire and educate people and enrich their lives” and houses world class collections of African, Asian and contemporary art and photography.

Born and raised in Gainesville, Tom Petty once worked as a grounds man at the university and fans still gravitate towards the ogeechee lime near Phelps Laboratory – planted by the man himself and known today as the “Tom Petty Tree’.  The morbidly inclined also pay homage to Beaty Towers. According to a legend Petty denies, the suicide of a female student at this university residence was the inspiration behind the Heartbreaker’s classic American Girl.

Gainesville promotes itself as the city where nature and culture meet and the first stop for any nature seeking tourist has to be the Morningside Nature Center on the east side of town. Here deep, towering longleaf pine woodlands are home to the Living History Museum which faithfully recreates south Florida farming life late 19th century style, complete with historic breeds and freshly baked cookies.  For a walk on Florida’s wild side, head ten miles south to the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park a sweeping 21,000-acre nature preserve where wild horses, deer, bison and the ubiquitous alligator roam. Closer to downtown, the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens offer a labyrinth of exotic gardens, abundant wildlife and meandering trails alongside the unlikely highlight of giant lily pads.

Attractions aside, Gainesville’s sedate downtown oozes old fashioned charm and pristine restoration, which the student population enlivens with an upbeat vibe. This vibe has strong links back to the 1960s and East Coast hippy culture.   To indulge in a flavour of Gainesville’s hippy heart, which still faintly beats beneath its historic downtown, head to Satchel’s where “every pizza is a work of art”. More a way of life than a restaurant, Satchel’s invites visitors to explore Lightnin’ Salvage – the onsite junk museum – before savouring the best pizza in town inside an old camper van.

The Magnolia Plantation

The Magnolia Plantation

Or take time to chat with Joe and Cindy Montalto, owners of The Magnolia Plantation bed and breakfast, a rambling French Second Empire mansion nestled deep within Gainesville’s hushed back streets.  Twenty years ago the Montaltos painstakingly restored this dignified beauty to the prime that years of hippy habitation had stripped away.  According to the Montaltos, middle aged women with nostalgia in their eyes are known to come calling, all seeking a glimpse into one of the mansion’s many rooms where years ago they kissed their virginities goodbye.

It’s a genuine shame that many visitors to Florida never discover Gainesville.   Anyone who does take time to explore beyond the state’s theme parks and beaches will discover that Gainesville has far more to shout about than a headline grabbing pastor would have us believe.

Secret Tip
The mile-long Solar Walk on Gainesville’s NW 8th Avenue features monuments to the planets in the solar system. All are made from recycled materials and show the planets to scale both in size and distance from the sun.

More Information  
Visitor Information:  Visit Gainesville 
Where to eat: Satchel’s Pizza, 1800 NE 23rd Avenue, tel: 352 335 7272, www.satchelspizza.com 
Where to stay:  The Magnolia Plantation, 309 SE 7th Street, tel: 352 375 6653 www.magnoliabnb.com 

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Bequia – a whaler’s legacy

Princess Margaret beach, Bequia

Princess Margaret beach, Bequia

Bequia, the largest of St Vincent’s Grenadine islands, typifies tourist expectations of life in the Caribbean. Rather atypically, however, Bequia is also one of the few places in the world authorized by the International Whaling Commission to hunt humpback whales. But the question: “To whale or not to whale” is a contentious one.

Bequia, a Carib word meaning “Island of Clouds”, is an ideal Caribbean destination for independent travellers. Its size masks its richness; a mere seven square miles might not appear to warrant a long stay, yet the combination of breathtaking beaches, stunning scenery, friendly inhabitants, vibrant culture and a rich seafaring history make visitors reluctant to leave. Bequia is best approached from the sea, offering close-up views of the more inaccessible parts of the island. Between February and April ferries share the ocean with migrating humpback whales and all eyes turn seawards.

Image provided by Natural World Safaris

Image provided by Natural World Safaris

Bequia lies on the migration path of humpback whales and whaling was once big business on the island. Even as the sugar plantations were booming, American whaling ships were making regular trips to the waters around the island to harvest humpback and sperm whales. Many local men enlisted on these boats, in search of money and adventure. One such daring adventurer was William Thomas Wallace, a plantation owner who left Bequia in 1860 to become a whaler. On his return, Wallace bought two second-hand Yankee whaleboats and, in 1875, established the island’s first shore-based whaling station at Friendship Bay on Bequia’s north west coast.

Despite initial failings, and fierce rivalries between fisheries, whaling eventually thrived on the island and pumped essential funds into the economy as plantations dwindled after emancipation. By the mid 1920s, technologically advanced Norwegian whalers based in Grenada had initiated the large-scale slaughter of humpbacks, seriously depleting the whale population and causing the closure of many local fisheries.

Today, whaling on Bequia is preserved in recognition of its status as a subsistence fishery. Islanders are permitted to harvest two whales per year using time-honoured methods, such as handheld harpoons and wooden boats – which at 25ft long are less than half the size of an average humpback. Each February, the whaling season begins with the blessing of the boats in Friendship Bay and, while the fishermen are not successful every year, the landing of a whale is still cause for celebration.

old whaling boats, Bequia

old whaling boats, Bequia

However, not all islanders agree with continuing what many consider a cruel practice in the name of tradition. Handheld harpoons rarely kill instantly, with whales taking between half an hour and two hours to succumb to their wounds, all the time emitting a mournful cry.

The present debate notwithstanding, it’s worth taking time to explore the Athneal Petit Museum, on the north west tip of the island near the village of La Pompe. This celebration of Bequia’s whaling history is dedicated to local hero and whaler Athneal Olliverre, who once harpooned a whale directly in the heart, killing it instantly.

Now lovingly looked after by Athneal’s nephew Harold – a one time whaler himself – this small shrine-like museum contains a fascinating collection of artefacts, pictures, press cuttings and even a signed photograph of Clint Eastwood – one of Athneal’s biggest fans – all preserving this crucial part of Bequia’s history.

Harold at the Athneal Petit Museum, Bequia

Harold at the Athneal Petit Museum, Bequia

Yet, by far the best thing the museum offers is stunning views over the Grenadine waters which Harold, and many others, still scrutinize for signs of an animal that once put food on the islanders’ tables and today embodies a history that many Bequians are proud of.

A version of this article was published in Rough Guide’s Rough News in 2002.