From La Clementina to La Mama Grande

During the last blue moon in August, fifteen foot flames ate up our home.  What is left of the hundred-year-old hacienda house named La Clementina, still sits on the edge of the Cañón del Chiche. At the bottom of it, the river with the same name snakes through muscular Andean mountains. Two months after the fire, I finally find the courage to write about it, my heart beating at the level of my throat.

I miss it. I probably always will.

The natives of America call it grandfather fire, because it’s wise and older than humanity itself.  The grandfather filled up its lungs with air and decided to ignite with one blazing blow all of our physical memories. In twenty minutes, it all turned to dust. Years of collecting masks, cups, heart shaped rocks, postcards, spears, sea shells, journals, drawings, movies, magnets, poison darts, feathers, ponchos, blow guns, photo books, coins, skulls, dead insects, saints, devils, photos…  I guess we liked collecting. All of a sudden, you become clean of everything. You feel like you were given a blank canvas, like a new born baby. And you feel sad and glad.

You would think the worse part about the fire was losing your “stuff.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t. There was deeper damage that went beyond what is replaceable with a trip to the mall. It started creeping on us slowly.  We ignored it and went on with life. We found a new home, bought new clothes and logged into our facebook accounts. But it just wasn’t the same. We were pissed and depressed. To the point of wanting to scream, escape, break up, or sleep… just sleep.  I lost a lot of my archive.. so I didn’t feel like shooting.. ever. We were living inside a dark, burnt-down dimension. The foundations of our relationship had been shaken. And we didn’t feel like asking for help, we just mourned in silence.

Recently, I went to La Clementina to visit my ex neighbors who have become like family to us. The house was clean of all our stuff, no debris, just house again. I walked through all the familiar rooms trying to find our smell. It wasn’t there anymore. Just cold empty rooms. There was a huge hole were our bed had been. The wind sang to me of old times that were no more. As the night fell, we built our own fire in the garden and sat under the avatar-looking tree. I looked across the garden at the dark and silent house. Through the broken windows you could see the ghosts of all times sliding from one room to another. I decided I didn’t want to live inside the burnt house with them anymore. I asked the moon for clarity.

I feel like I can finally move forward. Our new home was named after a grandmother, La Mama Grande. Its small and cozy and reminds me of a womb. Its a good place to heal and with it new neighbors have come and the bonds are getting strong. Our cats are finally home with us again (they went wild and almost left us for the canyon) and they seem peacefully content in their space. Today we leave to shoot a story we have been working on for some time. It feels good. A day at a time as they say. Good thing your house only burns down once in a blue moon.

Text by Karla Gachet, photographs by Ivan Kashinsky.