Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The roof of the world

Darjeeling, India. The gateway to the Himalayas. The roof of the world.

To all my friends and readers. I have been appointed Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Journal for Colombia, the sixty year old English-language daily newspaper published in Caracas, Venezuela, and soon to be launched in Bogotá, Colombia and Lima, Peru.

Thanks everyone for being so patient with me, and look forward to all your regular contributions, in the newspaper.

Richard Emblin

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The subway poems: Sulphur Moon

Sulphur Moon

I can tell that you're not crazy
when you howl at the sulphur moon,
and your wily eyes go dancing around
the fleshy room.

I can tell you're not crazy
in the way you pour the tea,
and wrestle with the silent words
of the poet, painter, prophet, he.

I can tell that you're not crazy
when you tap the glowing day
extinguishing ambition in a silver
ash tray.

And no, no, no, you're not what
the psychologist said: out of your head,
because its only when you're drowning
in this empty bed, that you can see the
shimmering sea, and even when you're stammering,
do I know how you long to be free.

The Number 93 Bus, Islington. London 1989

A seat with a view

Final approach into Guatemala City at dusk, inbound from Miami on an AA, 727 flight. In the distance, El Volcán del Fuego. The Volcano of Fire.

Amman, Jordan

Stone carver with his afternoon tea in a workshop in downtown Amman, Jordan.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Heading up the inland waterways, near Mangalore in southern India. I visited India for ten days whilst writing and documenting two stories during my whirlwind ten-day stay: the Bollywood boom, and the rise of India's silicon valley, Bangalore.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pilgrim: Colombia

Religious procession during Lent, in the Colombian village of Mongui, in the central highlands of Boyacá.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A shot from the past

Doning a bullet-proof vest and my photo gear, I waited out the morning rain with the Colombian Anti-Narcotics police in the base of San José Guaviare in eastern Colombia, before embarking on a anti-drug operation in the region near the Macarena, a remote, yet beautiful National Park, which is dotted with cocaine laboratories and guerillas from the FARC.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The School of Fine Arts in Bogotá, Colombia was the setting for this picture, in which a model posed for me with the morning light and a sheet of canvas.

See more work at Emblin Images

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pilgrim: Spain

A wall mosaic in Sevilla, Spain where during the next thirty days, this country begins to prepare for Holy Week, with its grand processions and religious rituals of processions.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pilgrim: The Festival of Colours

It's called Holi. An ancient Hindu festival, which begins in March, and welcomes the arrival of Spring and its season of life, joy and happiness. Also known as The Festival of Colours, Hindus celebrate the season by painting themselves with coloured dyes and powders. Here an assortment of dyes on the Mumbai seashore.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A seat with a view

Nothing more beautiful and inspiring than the view from a wooden bench at the Taj Mahal, at sunrise. Normally this section has to do with great views. Today, the Taj takes center stage for its magnificence and grandeur.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Frontline Colombia

Heading up the Atrato river on Colombia's pacific coast with the National Army. A Colombian soldier keeps alook out for any suspicious activity from rebel groups along the shore, and maintains a high alert.

Friday, March 10, 2006

portraits from the Frontline

Two faces from the Colombian conflict. A man and a woman. A brother. A sister. Husband. Wife. Friends. Bitter enemies. The pity of war rages on.

On the right, a female fighter for the leftist FARC guerilla group, and on the left, a member of the right-wing United Self-Defense (AUC) paramilitary group.

Op Ed: The Big Lie.

I went to a political rally the other night, and it's not something I usually do, as I am not a political hack and as a foreigner in this country, I can't participate in the electoral process. But on Sunday, Colombians will go to the polls to elect House of Representative leaders, as well as, Senators. It has to be the most uneventful election in the last fifteeen years. There's no fanfare, folklore or debate. There's no solution on the horizon to resolve this country's fourty year-old civil war.

The reason I went to the rally, was to listen to the speach of a Colombian journalist called Fernando Garavito, who is on the ticket of the Liberal Party for House of Representatives, and has criticized the incursion of the paramilitaries in every aspect of Colombian life, especially their current status of handing-over weapons for 'fast track' pardons. The truth be told, Garavito wasn't at his own rally. He's in exile. Exiled from Colombia, like hundreds of other journalists and thinkers who have had to flee this country for their beliefs and convictions. The diaspora of Colombians continues to grow. Colombians have left their homeland continuously for the last two decades because of a conflict that has no end in sight. Uribe's military strategy with the two main guerrilla groups, Farc and ELN, operating in the country, hasn't forced a sit down for dialogue. Quite the opposite. It has hardened the resolve of both contenders in this bloody civil war.

The last time there was a real peace treaty with a guerilla group was almost twenty years ago, when then, President Barco accepted the capitulation of the much feared M-19. Twenty years with no progress. Instead, Colombia has lost thousands of professionals to foreign states and countries. The search for the 'American dream' hasn't abated, its surging again.

Meanwhile the Colombian media splashes on its front pages and covers, almost on a weekly basis, pictures and exclusive interviews with smiling paramilitary commanders. Men who earned their reputations for killing thousands of civilians, with such brutal instruments as chainsaws. There are mass graves scattered all over this country. Thousands of disappeared. Thousands who have no clue or answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. And the responsability of the local media ? . Nothing. The focus of Colombia's largest radio stations, Tv channels and print media is to generate ratings and scandals with 'reality' shows and journalistic fiction. The Colombian media is magic realism at its worst. The big lie.

Colombia is a country of the displaced, the persecuted and the disappeared. A country that only an elite few can enjoy. Garavito's plight is real. One million Colombians have been displaced in the last four years, within their own country. Millions have fled to the US, Canada and Spain. The cities are bursting at the seams with slums and poverty. Insecurity is rampant, yet the streets of Bogota are flooded with expensive cars and fashionable boutiques. But who's buying?. By the look of the cars and the characters, its not the honest, hard-working Colombians, who can count themselves lucky, to maintain a job. Drug money continues to pour into this country at alarming rates. Yet the media says nothing. The focus on front page is Carnival, but for many Colombians, the 'reality' is Kosovo.

Everyone turns a blind eye towards Colombia's plight. Expect Bruce Willis, who had the guts to question Colombia's role in stemming the drug trade. For that he was called 'arrogant' by the Colombian commander-in-chief and President Mr. Alvaro Uribe. Arrogant, maybe. But Mr. Willis has a right to his opinions, without having to face a personal attack from the Colombian Presidency. This is the attitude Colombia takes when dealing with outside criticism. Had Bruce been born Colombian, he too might, have been forced into exile.

reproduced in The Colombia Review

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Varanasi, one of India's holy cities was shaken this week by a series of tragic bombings. This ancient city perched on the banks of the Ganges river, is home to the country's important Universities dedicated to the study of sanskrit. Its painted houses and narrow alleyways, its temples and burning 'ghats' for cremation rituals, make Varanasi a magical place. Every year thousands of sadhus -holy men- perigrinate to this city to prepare themselves for the afterlife. In the picture, a sadhu on his morning walk to the Ganges, to watch the majestic sunrise over the timeless river.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Frontline Colombia : The Apolos Men

Several years ago, Bogota had a new sensation, and hundreds took to the front seats for the launch of 'The Apolos Men' adult cabaret and nightclub, with exotic dancers. The Apolos Men, took the city by storm with its Colombian cowboy theme in a rather jovial and entertaining manner. This was an entertaining frontline I covered on the war of sexual liberation and new found freedoms in this catholic and rather restrictive country.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The subway poems : I have spent the sun

I have spent the sun
wisely, seeking nothing in particular
among treasures in an antique barn.
And yet, I am sure I would have
found her among the trinkets glistening
in the sun, that I am
spending wisely.

And if I had her, I too
would trade her in for gold
in an old man's bag.
I would barter my dull redemption for a
chance to paint a Caravaggio on a chalk-stained

I have spent the sun wisely
hunting for polished words
among the craggy shelves of an antique
bookstore. Then, I brankrupt
the night, selling love
in a box of chocolates
, in black-out bars
and chrome cars to some Mary
with angry tears who stumbles through

midnight's door, into the arms of her young
messiah on Hemingford Road.

I have spent the sun wisely,
stumbling down the wet lanes of
our this our new Jerusalem, to the place
where I lost her
and although
she will never return,
I have
resurrected her on this,
the third
day and I will find her
again, among
the morning merchants
spending the
sun so, wisely.

Richard Emblin. Islington, London 1989.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Letter from French Guiane: In Space Country

There are two things you should know about French Guiane. First of all it’s flat, and secondly, everyone is spaced out. No, I’m not talking about drug culture in this tiny, piece of France in South America. It didn’t even cross my mind, honestly, despite the fact that I am writing this piece from Colombia, where in actual fact, many people really are, spaced out.

No, French Guiane is a peaceful place. So laid back in fact, that thousands of French military personnel are based there to look after this tiny outpost of French civility in the Amazonian outback. Here you have all the amenities of France, because in actual fact, you are in France. Image that. Traveling 8000 miles southwest of Paris, across North Africa, over the Atlantic ocean, to finally land in South America and find that you can walk into any shop, or the local Carrefour and place a phone call, and someone will pick up the receiver on the other end and respond to your heavy breathing with a cordial ‘Bonjour’ or a grunting mierde in French, back in the land of ‘Metropole’. It took me several weeks in Cayenne, the provincial capital of French Guiane to understand, that Metropole is the term used by locals when referring to the center of their universe ‘Metropolitan’ Paris.

As I don’t have any friends currently living in the ‘City of light’ or Metropole, I couldn’t find any excuse to try this out, but I decided to take a look at the local yellow pages back in my dimly lit lit - hotel room - at the Hotel Amazonia to see what interesting things I could find. And voila! it was true. I had the Paris telephone Directory in its abridged ‘outback’ version on my wooden night table, inviting me to carouse its advertisements for fine lingerie, as yet another torrential downpour slashed its way through this city of painted wood siding and weathered tin roofs.

Now, French Guiane does not leave you many choices on a rainy day. You can while away your time, looking for the nearest Peugeot dealership in Paris, thanks to the enlightened phone book or switch on the local television channel and watch - Space TV.

Therefore, when I mean everyone is spaced out, in French Guiane, it is because the country is addicted to Space. Essentially the entire territory belongs to the European Space Agency, the ESA, and the other half belongs to the French Foreign Legion with its regimental battalions scattered throughout the rainforest, training to overthrow corrupt, African regimes.

And you have to be very much out of luck to miss a rocket launch when visiting French Guiane. It is the country’s main tourist attraction and source of income. Like football in Brazil, when a rocket blasts off into space from the Guiane, everyone is there to cheer it on.

So, I decided to head over to Kourou, the hub of the ESA/Arianespace, space programme in this overseas province and buy tickets for Thursday’s launch. In my rented silver Citroen, I drove down a beautifully paved highway towards Kourou and the Surinamese border. I could have been cruising the Autoroute from Metropole to Lyon, except for the snake-infested grasslands on either side of the road.

I didn’t need my Michelin map to realize that I had landed in an alien territory, after the two hour journey, when satelite dishes started sprouting up like mushrooms across the landscape and I found myself pulling into a sprawling car park, only Wall-Mart users could appreciate. I had arrived at the ESA Space center and Museum, with an Ariane 4 rocket pointing towards the heavens, at the gate. I toured the air-conditioned museum, with pictures of space and its surrounding galaxies, and watched several hours of videos dedicated to the adventures in ‘L’espace’ of the Arianespace rocket programme. The jewel in France’s technological crown.

Kourou is a seaside resort with few tourists. It’s shark-infested waters were a deterrent to the prisoners who for centuries perished in one of the most notorious penal colonies on the Ile Royale, a small archipelago of islands scattered several miles off shore and home to convicts, such as Henri Carriere, author of the best selling novel, Papillon, who was banished to these windswept islands from the Metropole. Carriere made a daring escape from Devils’ island - as described in his book- bypassed Kourou to a life of freedom in Venezuela. Alfred Dreyfuss, the esteemed nineteenth century French General who was accused of treason and framed for being Jewish, met his end on the islands near Kourou, in solitary confinement. His legacy is a small stone hut, where he spent his final days writing letters home and staring at the star studded sky.

So stargazing has been a pastime in French Guiana for centuries. It’s formidable weather and wind patterns; make this territory ideal for rocket scientists and aerospace engineers to try out their latest gadgets. The Hotel Cosmos or the ‘Auberge du Galaxy’ where I was staying for the much anticipated launch of ‘Spot 4’ was a small corner of France exiled to the new world. ‘Punctualite’ was rewarded at meals with bottles of vintage Cote du Rhone and a generous portion of steak aux frites (steak and fries). Guests were guaranteed 24-hour live feed of Space TV, with its grainy images of ‘real time’ satellite assembly operations inside the ESA. Images so static that Space Tv must be France’s secret weapon in psychological warfare, and the modern day equivalent of life in solitary confinement.

As dusk arrived, it was time to get the show on the road and see ‘Spot’ fly. We boarded air-conditioned buses and were once again put through another episode of the award winning ESA - Space Tv programming, with a special feature on ‘non-geostationary satellites’. Spot 4, was one of those. A multi- million dollar satellite that would photograph every corner of the world and send the images back home - to Google. Thanks to Spot 4 –if he hasn’t burned out by now on his non-geostationary path- we can map our favorite restaurants and landmarks in cyberspace.

After half an hour on the tour bus, we disembarked in a clearing of shrub, deep in the Amazon. Fireflies glowed in the dark as we fumbled for our plastic chairs, under the night sky, avoiding stepping on snakes and being mauled by howling monkeys, howling nearby. We were set for ‘lift-off’.

Then came the music. French of course. Jean Michel Jarre’s epic, electronic new age ensemble blasted from towers erected in the distance. ‘Spot 4’ was leaving us to the rhythm of Oxygene. Then a deep voice emanated from the jungle and the monkeys stopped howling.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen’ began the slow drone of a voice. ‘In a few minutes from now you will witness lift-off of our Ariane 4 rocket with spot mapping satellite technology. Welcome to flight 107’. I felt I had stepped into ‘Contact' meets 'Apocalypse Now’ .

The crowd was transfixed by a glowing speck of light on the horizon, when all of a sudden a giant-sized movie screen lit up in the distance, to give us a closer view of Araine rocket's final seconds on earth. We were twenty miles away, and until then, Ariane and the fireflies were the same thing.

Then the man with a voice like Charles Aznavour, began the final count. Trois. (three), Deux (two), Un (one)….silence everyone… DECOLLLLAGGEEEEE!. Ariane had lift off. A streak of light raced up into the night sky, passing over Dreyfuss’ cottage, Casablanca, Milan and Moscow. In less than it took Mr. Aznavour to say the word ‘decollage’, Spot had left our lives and was busy snapping away. The Google money-counting machine had begun, and I was still stranded out, in the middle of this space country.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Frontline Colombia

Soldiers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -FARC- guerrilla group go on patrol through the grassy fields of central Colombia, near Los Pozos. The FARC have maintained during the last several days an 'armed siege' over the southern province of Putumayo, near the Ecuadorian border.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A shot from the past : Diana

Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, walks to Westminster Cathedral in central London, for the memorial service of the victims and families of the Marchioness boat disaster, which killed fifty one passengers on 20th of August, 1989.

The Marchioness was a Thames river boat that struck a dredger under Cannon Street Bridge and sank.
The tragedy is considered one of
England's worst maritime accidents.