NYT Brazil Bureau Chief Among Cabot Prize Winners

Ahead of tonight's ceremony, Simon Romero outlines the heart of a foreign correspondent challenge.

SimonRomeroTwitterProfilePicTonight at Columbia University, the winners of the 2015 Maria Moors Cabot Prizes will officially accept their awards. Joining Lucas Mendes of GloboNews, Raúl Peñaranda of Bolivia’s Página Siete and AP’s Mark Stevenson will be New York Times Brazil bureau chief Simon Romero (pictured). Romero’s colleague Ernesto Londono is also receiving a special, separate citation.

Ahead of tonight’s ceremony, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas interviewed each recipient. When Teresa Mioli asked Romero to highlight the most interesting article he’s recently written, the journalist came up with an answer that blows the pants off most 2015 assignment calling cards:

“It was an incredible challenge to write about Shigeru Nakayama, the guardian of the Airao Velho, an abandoned city in the Brazilian Amazon. I had heard about the Japanese-born Nakayama and long thought about writing a profile of him, but it was no easy task to find him. He lives a hermit-like existence in an outpost of ruins enveloped by thick vegetation located on the Rio Negro.”

“Interviewing him was incredible as he guided me and Mauricio Lima, a photographer who works for The Times in Brazil and other countries around the world, around Airao Velho. Just getting there was a lesson in how grandiose plans often come undone – especially if they involve trading settlements in the heart of the Amazon rain forest.”

The resulting article was published in May under the headline ‘Hermit of the Jungle’ Guards a Brazilian City Rich in History. It is rich in human detail:

There is a lot of down time involved in being a hermit in the Amazon. An electric generator and antenna allow Mr. Nakayama to watch some television; he likes to follow the games of Flamengo, his soccer team. He hunts some game for his own consumption like paca, a tasty piglike rodent. He tends a small vegetable garden.

“I’ve never been to the hospital in my life,” said Mr. Nakayama, licking his lips after polishing off a plate of tracajá, or yellow-spotted sideneck turtle.

Taking a drag on a Euro cigarette, he amended that statement. “Well, there was that time when a pit viper bit my wrist and I went to the doctor in Novo Airão,” he added. “He told me I would have lost my arm if I hadn’t gone to see him.”

Romero operates out of his home in Rio de Janeiro. For the Times, he also covers Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, recognized for their coverage of the Western Hemisphere and furthering of inter-American understanding.

[Photo via: @viaSimonRomero]