El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba (Nobody writes to the Colonel)


I took a major in Spanish Lit in college and wangled my way onto a study abroad in Ecuador in 95. I could safely say that those 4 months were among the most transformative I have experienced yet.

Largely it was due to a whitewater rafting trip in the Ecuadoran jungle. The water in the river was running much higher than our guide was used to and in the course of the 6 hour trek that was supposed to be 2 hours, we all fell out of the raft at least twice. We (about 6 girls, all between 19 and 22) went hurtling down crazy white rapids, over rocks and into holes without paddles or helmets. We were all newbie rafters. So after nearly dying, everything looked more interesting.

Our guide, a sort of uber-macho, pot-smokin’, tooth-around-his-neck and always shirtless latino jungle man of nature (for whom most of the girls had the screaming thigh sweats), cursed his clueless gringas for losing the paddles (at least 40 bucks each!) I, in my sheltered suburban existance, thought for once that there was an outside chance that I might perish on that river. Thankyou Kenny for plunging me out not once, but twice.

On that trip I made two friends. Laura and Sarah. Laura we referred to as El Coronel.

As Spanish Lit majors, our worlds revolved mainly around Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Don Quijote de la Mancha, with a little Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, San Manuel Bueno and Lazarillo de Tormes for good measure. Never once in any interview yet has anyone asked me about my extensive knowledge of these authors and works, but never mind that, let’s get back to Laura.

After class, if we wanted to go to the office where our program was located in order to get mail or communicate with the lady in charge, we simply walked to the building where the office was located on the tenth floor. No biggie, until you connect the rolling brownouts that were constant all day every day in the fall in Quito in 1995. No electricity meant no elevator. Okay, well, 10 floors, we’re young let’s hit it. Until the remembrance that an elevation of nearly 10,000 leaves one depleted of oxygen far more rapidly than in our Oregon home. Still we are young, and I had daily letters from boyfriends as did Sarah.

If we were really lucky, and there was electricity, the elevator functioned. That is, it functioned if it wasn’t broken. Then we would get to ride in the elevator with at least 2 people who smoked in the elevator and each person took their chance at pressing the button of their floor not once, not twice, but at least 273 times. Apparently in Ecuador this makes the elevators work faster.

Laura, who was by far the prettiest of us three, and also of Mexican heritage lending her the capital of looking if not native, at least a whole lot less gringa, got the nickname El Coronel. Everyday she came and looked for a letter, and never did she get any mail.

edit: In this story, an old military man, El Coronel, near starving living in a small town, in a humble shack waits everyday for a letter that is (if I recall correctly) either money, or a pension of some sort or perhaps a recognition (?). The mail never comes and the story takes the reader through their poverty, their scraping by in this economically depressed state. Throughout he maintains hope and certainty that this thing will come in the mail, and the thing that is supposed to arrive will save him (and his wife) from their starvation subsistence.

We laughed quite a bit about El Coronel, not in a mean way, but probably because all the lit we were studying sometimes seemed so obscure and to refer to things that we had no connection with–it was nice to finally make a connection.

But after we gave her the nickname, whenever I feel like I am waiting for a message or a piece of mail that never comes, I think of El Coronel. Marquez was the master of solitude, and maybe that is why his stuff is so deep…even philosphical and so dry.

At this point I feel I am supposed to make some sort of deep philosophical purpose for having written all this out. About as close as I can get is to recommend Marques for his exquisite imagery of our solitude as humans. The Spanish galleon, the families and the idiosyncrasies. But how he carves out so beautifully the lives of his characters, with all their experiences which all seem to point to solitude. Even now, ten years later, I still feel like I knew them, like they were daily characters in my life at one time.

Maybe it is because I did my undergraduate thesis on this that I think of this.

Anyway, sometimes with this blog I feel like El Coronel. Anyone else ever felt that way?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Megan says:

    I love posts like this. Helps give me a glimpse of what you’re really like. I think we all feel like the Coronel sometimes. Life is isolating; it takes work to build connections. It takes work to build relations with people who will write.

  2. Adeline says:

    Yeah Megan, I tend not to tell my stories. I have enough of them. People always take stuff the wrong way. I flat refuse to explain what I meant, when it seems clear as (insert cliche here). thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Virginia says:

    Life is short…share your stories…live your life…”Gin”Spain: 1973-1978/1987-1992Ukraine 2005-2007www.pulverpages.com

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