Meet German Vargas: From the bright lights of Colombia to the quiet of the Berkshires
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GREAT BARRINGTON — German Vargas does not like to hear people say bad things about Colombia.
“No, Colombia is not dangerous at all,” he says emphatically. “Let me tell you, the best answer to get if you want to know if my country is dangerous or not is to see for yourself.”
Vargas moved from Colombia’s capital Bogotá to the Berkshires in 1991. Now 53, he is a barber in Great Barrington and lives in Lee with his wife Betty and their 12-year-old son Renzo.
He is very clear in explaining that he did not leave Colombia because of any problems there. He is aware of the image some hold of his country: the recently ended guerrilla war, the drug cartels. He just really wants people to know the image is wrong.
“You hear people say about the United States that it’s dangerous,” he says. “And if you don’t know the right places to go, yes, there are places that are dangerous. That is the case everywhere.
“Some people do wrong business, dirty business. That’s the life they choose, but that isn’t dangerous for everybody.”
Colombia is a friendly place for visiting foreigners, he says. The best way for foreigners to explore the country, he suggests, is to book a tour or have native Colombians show you the best places.
“If you want to meet my country, welcome to my country, my country is very nice!”
His reason for moving to America was Betty. She was pregnant with their daughter Silvina when she first went to Miami and then joined a friend in the Berkshires. Vargas followed her. He admits that at first he found it hard to get used to the different pace of life here.
“All my life in Colombia I spent in the city,” he says. “Here, I looked around the County and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can be around here because this is totally different. Too quiet…’”
But he stayed.
“For Betty whom I love a lot and our daughter who is now in college in New York City,” he says. “I decided to start a new life. It was very much like being born again in America.”
Before leaving Colombia, Vargas worked office jobs for the country’s largest beer brewing company, Bavaria. His father, Salomon, was a lifelong Bavaria employee.
German describes his dad as “very strict”. A few years in military training school also gave him discipline, he says, as well as a sense of wanting his surroundings to be neat and tidied up.
The Vargas’s house on St. James Street in Lee looks just that. Vargas keeps an eye out for paintings he likes in local antique stores to hang on his walls. He asks to be photographed in front of one he found while rummaging in a store on Tyler Street in Pittsfield.
His first Berkshire jobs were in the kitchens of Canyon Ranch and Cranwell, the luxury hotel resorts in Lenox. He speaks highly of former Cranwell General-Manager Lew Kiesler – “a mentor” – and calls Cranwell’s former Executive Chef Carl Deluce, “Like a second father.”
“From them, I learned what you have to do for great service in the service industry,” he says. “If you do it right you will always have customers and they will be great friends.”
That’s what he provides as a barber as well, he says. He gained his master barber license in both New York and Massachusetts. He is now an employee, but hopes to be able to open his own shop, “When the right space comes along”.
Vargas is proud of the life he’s built in the Berkshires.
“You have to do the jobs for your family,” he says. “That’s exactly what I did. I started from the floor, and I don’t want to say I am at the top now, but every day I try to be better.”
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