I’ve always been fond of the saying: “Tomorrow never comes, because when it does it’s always today.” It gives me goose bumps if I really think about it. I’ve always thought of it as a warning to not ‘live for tomorrow’ because of the pitfalls. Life’s too short, ‘ya know? It seems now that I should revise. The present moment is a fiction. The present is always in the past because when we apply our senses to that event, it’s already happened. Poof!
In the many mirrors we hold up to ourselves from “out there”, our blue and green watery planet has only one brown spot. The driest place on earth is the Atacama Desert of Chile. Astronomers have discovered it as the perfect environment in which to peer at the galaxies – and to study our origins, our history. The sky is “translucent” there in the words of Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzmán.
I read yesterday that in these depressed economic times, gold is at (nearly) an all-time high. Five hundred miles north of Santiago, there are 33 miners trapped in a mine. They slaved for a company that mines for gold and copper. The mine is in the Atacama desert (A).
The desert is also the perfect environment for archaeologists because the extreme dryness naturally mummifies bodies found there. A cluster of telescopes in the desert look out into the past of our universe, to the very beginnings. Very near these telescopes, a group of mothers whose children were “disappeared” under the Pinochet regime, trudge out into the desert every day to sift through the vast dryness of the Atacana for the remains of their loved ones: The determination and the persistence of Memory.
The astronomers mission holds a fascination for us. The very idea of an event that we can look at that took place millions of light years ago is almost eerie. For Guzman, the irony is that we’d like to forget the recent past. It’s too messy and has too many ‘implications’. It’s no accident that the current President of Chile is a political descendant of Pinochet. President Sebastian Piñera’s brother (Jose) served as Pinochet’s Minister of Labor and Mining.
Besides Chile’s Disappeared, that country has it’s own historic record of exploitation and extermination. The indigenous people’s of Chile lie somewhere in the Altacana as well. In the desert, the Pinochet regime built concentration camps using old mining camps as the sight. At least 30,000 people were tortured there, and how many miners bones and indigenous bones lie in the desert below those? The desert is the burial place of our recent past as the skies are the open mausoleum of our origins – the very distant past.
Joni Mitchell once wrote these lyrics:
We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden
Patricio Guzmán’s lyrical, stunning and unforgettable documentary, after countless rejections from European television, has just won a distribution deal for his exquisite film to open in the US some time next year.