Watch for a YouTube link to the Oct. 18 LIVECAST INTERVIEW WITH ZOOEY DESCHANEL & M. WARD, sponsored by Levi’s Shape What’s to Come, including questions from the producer of our Celebrities In Disgrace film, Mark McNutt…
Erin Enberg freelances in various film and television productions and has worked for HBO, NBC, The Travel Channel, A&E, MTV and many others. She currently resides in Portland, Maine and will be graduating in January with an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her work will appear in the second edition of Kerouac’s Dog Magazine and she is an editor for The New Guard, a forthcoming literary journal based in Portland. (author photo: Jonathan Grassi).
I am in love with Florencio Avalos.
I can’t get these 33 miners out of my mind–and heart. Thirty-two year old Florencio Avalos was the first one out, and what a looker he was! The dark complexion, the sunglasses, the bravery to be the first to ride up the escape tunnel–no one knew what would happen, only the first rescue worker had ridden down into the shaft, but not up it. Their vital signs were monitored–blood pressure, heart rate, and they had to wear oxygen masks, a girdle and compression socks to prevent blood clots. When they opened the capsule—an underwhelming 1960s-ish metal encasment designed in part by NASA—the world waited. Would he be able to walk? Would he be emotionally overwhelmed? The miners had been “coached” every day by doctors, psychologists and trainers, even having them read a book about how to deal with the media and coping with the difference in expectations between them and their families. Supposedly Florencio would be first because he was the healthiest and most emotionally stable. They didn’t want someone who might have a panic attack on the way up. When he stepped out from the capsule, his seven year old son let his head hang back and wailed into the cool desert air in the San Jose mine in Copiapo. Florencio, without even a smile or hesitation or any sign of muscular atrophy or emotional imbalance, embraced his wife and son. Oh Florencio, your strength of character and bravery! You won me over with your stoic temperament and endurance! And you’re really cute (Creo que eres guapo!). I would’ve chosen you first, too.
From that moment on, I watched the entire rescue mission live on CNN. My usual opinion of most media outlets is that they’re fear-mongering glorifiers of human pain and tragedy. But CNN’s coverage of this event was superb. Each hour or so, a new program with new hosts had running commentary as the event unfolded. With the exception of time fillers from random doctors and people like Mike Rowe from ‘Dirty Jobs’ and David Blaine (seriously, CNN?), they talked about each of the miners, their backgrounds and families and even held tributes on the way to commerical breaks by playing “Jailhouse Rock” to the self-proclaimed Elvis fan miner who led his comrades in sing-a-longs, and “Buffalo Soldier” to the Bob Marley-loving miner. I heard about the story of the two miners who had been driving in the mine when they saw a white butterfly. Wondering how a butterfly had gone that far inside the mine, they went over to investigate. Just as they did, the area where they had just been collapsed. One of the miners families claim the butterfly had been an angel leading them to safety. It’s been one miracle after another, and this is one theory I wouldn’t doubt.
I watched almost every miner leave that capsule, decorated in the Chilean National colors, with a crowd of two-thousand, along with the president Sebastian Pinera, greeting each one with encouragement and words of pure, brotherly love. As one of the miners lay on a stretcher to be examined and monitored, he burst into tears after the president repeatedly welcomed him back to life. I ran to bathroom breaks during commercials, only ate food that could be made in a matter of minutes and only slept four hours. I cheered the Chile chant “Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le!” I clapped when the second miner handed out rocks as souvenirs and ran to greet his friends and fans. I laughed a little at the miner who wanted both his wife and mistress to greet him and only the mistress showed up. “All that matters,” said the host of CNN, “Is that someone showed up.” Imagine this kind of attitude during regular, non-crisis business hours? It didn’t matter—life was being celebrated.
CNN even stopped talking whenever a miner emerged from the fifteen minute ride to the surface and we were able to just experience the moment in real-time. I could hear the sound of the pulley system, the siren as it went off to alert everyone he was almost to the top, the clapping, the cheering and the eloquent Spanish. I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying, but I could pick up some words here and there. Mainly it was the inflection, the body language, the expression in the onlookers’ eyes—except the miners’ eyes were covered in dark glasses to protect them from the lights, which made them all that more mysterious. It was like a red carpet event and the miners were rock stars—but the reason for their celebrity was for surviving and living. It kind of puts actual rock stars to shame, a bit, you know?
The most powerful moment was when we watched the capsule with the first rescue worker go down to the mine. The Chilean government provided excellent camera coverage at the surface, but suddenly, just as the capsule was about to reach the mine, they cut to a camera that was in the mine and we were able to witness live footage of the rescue from deep inside the earth! No one had ever lived that long underground and now we were able to see the cavern they had been living in. A Chilean flag had been placed on the rock wall and as the rescue worker stepped out of the capsule he was greeted with hugs from the trapped miners—the first outside person they had seen in 68 days! Even Anderson Cooper was in awe! No one knew about the underground camera! People have been comparing it to the live footage of the first walk on the moon.
And then we watched as Florencio got into the capsule. After hearing about how they had “dark times” where they thought they might not survive and fist fights broke out (not my sweet Florencio, of course), and had fungal infections, they still requested shaving cream and razors so they could look presentable when they emerged from their confinement. Mirroring this intention above-ground, the female family members had make-up and hair tents to look their best for their husbands.
For the first seventeen days of their ordeal, no one knew if they were alive, and thirty-three of them survived on only two days worth of food. Then they were told it would be until Christmas before rescue workers would be able to drill a hole deep enough to be able to rescue them. On the sixty-eighth day, when the capsule finally reached the surface and the door opened, welcoming Florencio “cool-as-a-cucumber” Alvalos to his freedom, my faith in humankind was renewed. The world knew this rescue would work because Florencio had made it to the top and he looked damn fine doing it. Dear Florencio, you Spanish-speaking testament of human will-power, you are my hero and a heartthrob. Thank you for being the first. Ain’t nothing finer then a Chilean miner.
(photos: AP, APTOPIX, presensalibre.com, mirror.co.uk)