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Zaruma letter # 1

Zaruma letter # 1

Hello from Zaruma!                                                                  June 20, 2001

We are perched on the side of a mountain in this colonial mining town in southern Ecuador, where John’s grandfather worked for thirty years between the world wars and his father was born, and where we will be spending the summer shooting a documentary.  The subject?  Well, we’re still not sure.  But today’s subject was the alumni reunion celebration of a local high school, where half the town watched the other half parade through the narrow colonial streets to the central plaza, and where they danced to a brass band until noon (in fact, they’re still dancing now at 10 pm).  In an era when we spend so much effort “building community,” it’s heartening to be in a place where the web of life is out on the street, not on the internet.

We found a furnished apartment our second day here, with breathtaking views out the back balcony.  The mornings are sunny and warm but not hot, and mist rolls down the mountainsides in the afternoon, sometimes filling the valley below and cooling the evenings.   We have been more or less adopted by two local families and are meeting more folks every day.   Paige has a new girlfriend and is starting to make out bricks in the wall of Spanish that confronted her when we landed.  Marcus is still sizing up from a distance the crew of boys who play on the packed earth outside our apartment, which is actually a flat in a tall San Francisco-style house on, surprise, la Calle San Francisco.  Inspired by the local boys, Marcus has begun to work on his marble-shooting skills.   I (this is John talking) have been communing with the older generation, with the help of photos my grandparents took in the thirties of the nearby mining camp (now mostly destroyed), and am cheerfully butchering the Spanish language in all directions.

I’ll turn the laptop over to Beret for her own report. For my part, now that we have gone through the time-and space warp of leaving Colorado and arriving here, I am seized with an urge to crow at our amazing fortune (and I suppose I have just done so).   To avoid further irritating those of you who are reading this from your desks at work, I will just keep my s— eating grin to myself.


I find this town utterly charming — it’s not just that it’s beautiful here and vibrantly alive (no thanks to tourists — we’re the only foreigners in town as far as we can tell), but the people have a great sense of community, with components of pride, honor, friendship and togetherness.   Children as young as four are allowed to navigate the narrow streets by themselves.

Paige is on the way to having more freedom than she has in the U.S.   Paige and Marcus are clearly homesick at times and blissfully engaged at others (we have begun daily pilgrimages to the town swimming pool), and John and I are having a great time, having dreamed this summer for a long time before it arrived.  The U.S. seems like a parallel universe and I can barely conjure it up.  We are writing this email without yet knowing how we’ll send it, though there is one “internet cafe” in Zaruma, less than a year old, and some talk of cell phones that connect to computers.  The phone system is analogue and antiquated and I’m not sure how often we’ll be able to get on line.

The film project is underway already in the sense that the whole town is connected to gold mining, which is done by many with picks and dynamite and prayers for safe return at the end of the day.   The people of Zaruma are friendlier and kinder than I expected and they all seem to know one another.   The streets are incredibly steep and we practically tumble down to the market and main street below.  The long arm of multinationals reaches here — one can buy Fruit Loops, Coke Light, and Doritos, surely expensive by local standards, but we can’t find any pasteurized cheese and Marcus is going through grilled cheese sandwich withdrawal.  The mountains surround us, steep and layered as in Bali, and a sea of clouds some days pours down drom the high valleys near dusk, blanketing the land below.  I am, in a word (well, two), blissed out.   We hope all is well with  you wherever you are (that would include Saipan, Nigeria, Quito, Boulder, the Philippines, and various other parts west, north and east of here).

Yours from afar,
John and Beret (and Paige and Marcus)

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