nostalgia for the light


last night i went to see the documentary film 'nostalgia for the light' by patricio guzman. set in chile's atacama desert-- it is a gorgeous film that brings together astronomers of international origin who work in huge observatories located in the desert-- searching the skies for clues of the origins of our universe, the archeologists who research ancient peoples who lived in and around the atacama, and the relatives of 'the disappeared'-- people who went missing under pinochet's regime (1973-1990)-- who still sift through the desert for signs of their loved ones' remains.

the film is about history-- human and universal.

but what struck me is that what makes the atacama a temporary home to all these people who are seeking such diversity of answers is that the desert is so dry--so devoid of water and therefore of the mess of biological life.  the air is clear and easy to see the light of stars through, and the sand is clear of moisture which therefore means that human leavings-- from ancient rock carvings to body parts-- do not decay and become part of the desert.  all these sets of people are dependent on this place-- that is so totally lacking in water-- for finding what they are seeking.

i was especially moved by footage of a huge compound-- a set of buildings that were originally built in the 19th century to house workers mining for copper, gold, silver, iron, and coal.  the footage of the compound was taken recently, but this compound was also used in the 1970's and 1980's as a concentration camp-- a place for pinochet to store people he felt were dangerous to his regime.

the buildings are still standing, dried out and wind blown-- reminders of chile's different pasts-- but unable to rot--to pass into dust-- because they are in the desert where there is no water to support the life that would cause them to decay.

how's that for a juxtaposition?

-mary moore.  

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