Dominic Hamilton, journalist, guidebook writer, writer, TV production, photographer, latin america TV production, TV producer, television production, photography, images, photos, image library, stock library, latin america travel, south america TV production, south america travel, venezuela travel, venezuela articles, ecuador travel, ecuador articles, peru travel, peru articles, peru photos, images, guatemala, belize, russia articles, russia photos, mongolia, photos, journalism, writing, articles, traveler's companion, traveler's venezuela companion, traveler's ecuador companion
I was born in Chiswick, west London, 1972. I've had a funny education. I can remember All Things Bright and Beautiful, and then it all went French.
I grew up on trantrums, swings and skateboards, my sister separating my boisterous brother and me in Volvos which changed colour every three or four years.
I learnt to read and write in French before English. When I was six, my siblings and I were sent to summer camp near Grenoble. My room-mates dunked the rosbif's teddy in a basin full of water and pipi, I got stuck in a toilet cubicle for two hours, caught a bug and wrote frantic franglais letters to my worried and guilty parents.
Saturdays and Sundays were judo and rugby, white cotton smells and muddy knees. Bicycles too, my white-wheeled wonder. My brother helped me spray it metallic green and cherry red. Down to the river, round and round and round the block. Gokarts made from prams. Skating on the pond when it froze over and the ducks skidded. Sledding down Richmond Hill, puffing smoke in a woolly balaclava. Leather-patched corduroy trousers weigh a ton when they're wet.
I've got a pot belly and a cheeky grin in my first Lycée photo. I think I forget the name of another classmate with every year.
My summer holidays are all packed into one house, crumbling at the sea-side in Spain, where I was woken one night aged ten to witness the harvest moon burn the horizon yellow.
We used to torture ants with a magnifying glass on the back terrace during siesta time and fish for days on the rocks, sticklebacks yuk to give to the cats. One birthday I woke my mother up in the dead of night, worried about cuddling two teddies equally at once.
From ten too I remember the tube and Travelcards in leather holders strung round our necks, and scribbling on satchels and a paper round, Blue Peter, Jackanory, and Wednesday afternoons free. Everything at school had to be done with a ruler and recited back to front and back again, and I slipped further down the class.
I started to stay at friends' houses, go to parties and get night buses home, or end up walking. I had my first kiss, giggles and giddiness, my first cigarette not inhaling, my first beer and whisky, and my first drunken card games daring to walk around the block in a coat and boxers in mid-winter.
At fifteen I became a non-virgin, shaved for the first time and put gel and brylcreem in my hair. My studies turned English. There were Filofaxes, sports days, detentions, getting off with girls and Monday morning gossip. We were finally allowed to leave the school grounds to get lunch, and sit for one-tea-stretched-hours in the nearest cafe, Floris. I wrote poems in elegant script and copied down lyrics to Pink Floyd songs.
I took my first 'E' a month before my Oxford exam, lost it tripping in Glastonbury before the second part of my Spanish A Levels and wondered where my friends and I were going, dancing the nights away, smiling inanely and thinking we were part of some big secret.
I went to Leeds and fog and friends, doing all the things you'll never be able to again, or deeds to that effect.
Off to Spain, Granada and the Moor's last sigh, cobbled streets and limed-white walls, soap-operas after lunch in shaded cool-tiled rooms. Bar hopping, chupito shots, beach weekends. Coiling up into the Sierra Nevada in my car whenever I could.
A year teaching conversation English in Toulouse in France, where I think I learnt more about myself than I taught my pupils, lived on my own and accumulated back-rent and bouncing cheques.
My father died. All of a sudden he was gone. His timing was impeccable -- they said you could set your watch by when he walked into the pub -- and all my family was together which is rare.
I left France, and later went chasing a French girl in South America, or running away, I'm not sure which.
Back to Leeds to finish in a hurry, alright in the end, library coffee breaks and cigarettes, and a pretty, astral girlfriend.
I started a Master's course in Latin American studies in London, and doggy-paddled my way through a sea of knowledge to emerge in the mines of Venezuela, and its rivers, forests and people. I came back and served cocktails, flirted and floated in a bar in Soho a while, before returning to Venezuela where I've been working and writing for most of the last year.
I'm giving it up altogether,
I will not succumb anymore,
And when I am tempted at parties,
I'll answer, No thanks, I am sure.
It'll make me a much better person,
To prove that I can do without.
It'll make my life freer and purer;
Of that I've no shadow of doubt.
It'll prove that I've got inner resources;
It'll show that my will-power's immense.
I'll become a bit of a byword
For restraint and sound common sense.
I won't be the least bit self-righteous
In my role as secular saint.
My forbearance will earn admiration,
My fortitude make others faint.
I've had the odd moment of panic.
Can I really resist and not crack ?
But now that I've said that I'll do it,
I'm convinced there'll be no going back.
I know if you look at the record
I've made such commitments before.
But this time I really am certain
I won't be doing that any more.
THE FIELD OF LIES
But it was death he looked for in the field of lies,
Naming it love.
His thoughts reached down
Below the roots of the convolvulus.
Now, I suppose, the nettles breed and wave
Over his cenotaph, the bank they lay on.
A child that blows a dandelion-head
Knows more of time
Than any lovers murmuring "For ever".
Every seed entombs a shattered flower,
In every word a lie:
There is the truth of it.
The dew is cold,
And the moon quits the sky she does not love,
There is no metaphor for her indifference.
NO FAULT OF OURS James Reeves
No fault of yours; it is the enchanter time.
Your look of love that pierced me once
But found me blind and dumb --
No fault of yours, but the enchanter time
Transformed into a puff of smoke
Lost in the common air.
What fault was mine, that I should feel the stroke
Long after it has spent its force
And aimed no more at me ?
No fault of ours, but the enchanter time
Conspired that you should love me then,
And I should love you now.
Don't know title (my father had it scribbled in his diary...) by James Reeves
There is always the storm behind the hill
You must appease with insincere oblations,
But smile at the forced smile required of you,
The tawdry presents and congratulations.
This is the price of an unclouded sky
The guarantee of peace upon the hill:
Not to despise the petulant deities
Who haven't grown up yet and never will.
"Nous vivons dans le monde de l’abstraction, celui des bureaux et des machines, des idées absolues et du messianisme sans nuances. Nous étouffons parmi les gens qui croient avoir absolument raison, que ce soit dans leurs machines ou dans leurs idées. Et pour tout ceux qui ne peuvent vivre que dans le dialogue et dans l’amitié des hommes, ce silence est la fin du monde."
Albert Camus, Nov 1946, dans Combat.
The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.
The group disembarked from the air-conditioned cocoon of the bus into the blazing midday heat. One by one they limbered down the steps, some holding hands to steady themselves. They had travelled for three hours through the rush-hour traffic to get to the ruins. After the tribulations of the morning, their expectations most probably exceeded the reality that they had come to if not see, then at least get a feel for. This was to be one of the highlights of their trip, a chance to step back into the past and experience an ancient civilisation.
The plan had been to arrive by ten o'clock, but one of the party had gone astray in the vastness of the hotel. The others had waited with surprising patience -- this type of thing happened a lot -- in the chandeliered lobby, and they'd even got a game of cards going to pass the time. They had had to delay the departure further in order to finish the game.
The guide for the day was a chubby, grumpy man who used the anglicised version of his name. He was in his early thirties, balding too fast for his wife's liking, and nearly always short of breath, beads of sweat speckling his tanned brow. He disliked intensely having to shepherd tours of shadeless ruins of smouldering rock in the midday heat. He could think of few worse ways to pass his day, and many much better. Although he would admit grudgingly to his friends that the money was good, on days like today he'd rather have let one of the younger guides do the job. But one was off sick and the other refused point blank to swap his tour of the city's sights.
He'd waited slumped in the hotel's bar, sipping at his cafe con leche, each sip seeming to add another degree to the plastic coconut palm-thermometer on the wall by the counter. And this group of gringos of all the groups of gringos, he'd muttered under his caffeine breath.
After what seemed like an eternity of shuffling and bumping and prodding, the whole bus-load stood in the car park, hardly drawing a shadow. Some had had the foresight to bring hats and caps, but the others began to feel the rays of heat burrowing under their scalps.
They set off for the ruins, Johnny at the head, holding-up his multi-coloured stick to which, upon the recommendation of the leader of the group, a man it had taken little for him to nurture a disliking for, he had added little tinkling bells in the morning. They passed through the entrance, and started the long walk towards the towering pyramids in the distance.
Johnny had walked this path more times than he cared to remember. He knew he was supposed to feel humble and awe-struck or something, but all he felt was the pounding of the heat in his ears, the stickiness of his part-acrylic white shirt on his back, and the dry, arid sensation that had overwhelmed his mouth and throat.
He could just about recall his first visit to the site, his father leading him by the hand, intent on instilling the same admiration in his son as warmed his own heart. But his father had been an architect, and Johnny had studied business. About the only similarity in their lives was that they were both poor and had both gone bald prematurely.
The group tagged along behind him, their sticks scraping on the stone underfoot, occasionally screeching like nails on a blackboard where the rubber had worn away. Now and again one of them would stumble on a protruding rock, setting-off a chain reaction as each tightened his grip on the other.
They finally reached the Avenue of the Dead, a causeway fifty metres wide and nearly a kilometre long, from which ran other roads smaller and less significant. Along the main avenue tumbled various ruined structures, with stairways, remains of pillars and stucco walls, and weeds pushing through the cracks in the stone. At the end of the road stood the Pyramid of the Sun, its vast bulk and white majesty made all the more resplendent by the dark hills that embraced the valley. To its right rose another yet greater pyramid, its twin the Moon.
The group gathered on the ancient stony causeway, the heat shimmering at the foot of the pyramids off in the distance. This was the usual spot where tourists liked to take some photos, an obsession Johnny had only truly understood after his brief holiday in Florida a few years ago. He'd taken hundreds of photos in the three weeks he was there, much to the annoyance of his little boy, who had been given the camera as a birthday present.
He called the leader of the tour over, but realised that he'd have to go over to him himself and ask him whether he thought it was a good idea at this point. The leader smiled and, without a word, produced an expensive-looking camera from his bag, holding it out for Johnny to take.
It took an age for the tourists to shuffle into line, herded by Johnny, who, five cameras in hand, was standing the statutory metres in front of them all, barking orders.
"No, no, more to the left. To the left I said, that's the right..."
"Are you sure there's enough light?" enquired one of them.
"Are you joking! Of course I'm sure. I do know how to work these things. Just smile for the birdie, please."
He had to repeat the whole process with each whirring apparatus, zooming in, zooming out, zip, whirr, zip, -- wind -- zoom in, zoom out, zip, click, zip.
The photo-session finally concluded, the leader, with a clap of his hands to get their attention, embarked on his prepared speech.
Johnny breathed a sigh of relief, spared the torture of repeating for the umpteenth time the same old spiel. "And in front we have one the greatest constructions of ancient times, erected by the Aztecs. It is thought..." He knew it back to front, top to bottom, inside out.
The leader's voice droned on in the background as Johnny distanced himself from the huddle on the causeway and went to sit on a stone in the shade. Mopping his brow with his already sodden handkerchief, he wondered what he had done to deserve taking a group of blind people round these ruins in the midday heat. He had the nagging feeling that it had something to do with secretly spending the entirety of his and his wife's savings on a camera for himself. How else was he going to impress his friends after his next trip to the States? He couldn't just tell them about it, they might not believe him.