Monthly Archives: June 2010

Best World Cup Comment (So Far)

“I’d rather watch the sewer back up than watch a soccer game. . .Larry F on Yahoo Sports”

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Nature at the Front Door

In front of the house here in Potrerillos is a flower garden in which resides a single hummingbird. As far as I can figure out through Ridgely and Gwynne’s A Guide to the Birds of Panama and Glen Bartley’s Birds of Costa Rica web site (we’re only about 35 miles from the Costa Rican border here) this bird is a Rufous-tailed hummingbird.

It’s quite a feisty little beast. Nearly every morning when I go out with my cup of coffee to gaze down the mountain this little bird comes zipping out of nowhere to hover about 10 feet in front of me at eye level as if to say “okay, buster, stay right where you are. These flowers are MINE!”

And guard its patch it does. Every now an then another hummingbird will come to check out the flowers and is immediately put to flight by the resident monarch. And are these things ever fast. In only a couple of seconds they are off into the trees a couple of hundred yards away…ZOOM! You can almost hear the sonic boom in their wakes. So zealously does this little bird guard its domain that it often attacks the butterflies that come to savor the flowers.

There are a couple of kinds of birds that the monarch of the garden simply ignores probably since they present no competition for the food source. I haven’t been able to successfully figure out what they are. One has a vivid yellow breast and dark brown, almost black head, back and wings. Closest I can figure out is it’s some species of fly catcher. It’s about half the size of a robin. Towards the end of the first video you can see one fly in and land near the hummingbird. The other is a small, sparrow-sized bird that is only interested in the seeds of the weeds that grow around the garden.

My late Uncle Howard, my mom’s brother, was an avid bird watcher. In my walks around the area I have seen dozens of birds that you certainly don’t find back in the States and I know that Howard would have been thrilled to spend time here on the mountain.

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Could YOU?

Okay, I’m an old guy and I wear dentures. Partials. The other day getting ready for bed I noticed, when taking them out, that I had lost one of the lower teeth sometime during the day. Probably happened when I was eating one of my homemade tostadas for lunch.  I figured if I could find it I’d super glue it back in place so I searched all around the desk where I eat but couldn’t find it. I guess, since it’s a fairly small tooth, that I swallowed the damned thing. If I did I’m sure I would eventually pass it but I absolutely refuse to search for it, and if I did happen to find it no matter how well sterilized I might be able to make it I don’t think could deal with ever having it in my mouth again. Could YOU?

So now I’m in the process of trying to find someone who can make the repair while using my fractured Spanish. Living abroad can be a challenge some days.

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Filed under Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

Small World Connections

For some unknown reason I tuned in to The Early Show on television this morning. I usually don’t watch shows like that or Today at all, though I do get up early to watch Sunday Morning. A story today that I found interesting was about a couple, Alex and Donna Voutsinas http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/17/earlyshow/living/main6591229.shtml. (I don’t know how long that link will be live.) A few days before their wedding they were astonished to find a 1980 family photo of little Donna at Walt Disney World — and incredibly little Alex in a stroller being pushed by his dad in the background. Cue Twilight Zone music.

In my own family there is a similar coincidence, I think. My mom’s maiden name is Eaton. There were Eatons on the Mayflower. As far as we know our line doesn’t descend directly from them but from one of the Eatons who came shortly afterwards and who settled in Watertown, outside of Boston. My dad’s family, the Philbricks, arrived in the colonies in the early 1630s and also settled in Watertown before resettling in New Hampshire. In the 1630s the population of Watertown, second in size only to Boston at  the time, had to have been small enough that the Philbricks and the Eatons must have known each other. I find it serendipitous that 3oo years later descendants of the two families should meet and marry.

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Sunrise in Potrerillos Arriba, Panama

For some unknown reason I wake up earlier in Panama than I did in the States. It’s not like I have anything special to get accomplished. I am, after all, retired. But somewhere between 5:45 and 6:00 in the morning some alarm clock goes off in my brain and I wake up and it’s impossible to snooze back off.

So, I get up and make a cup of locally grown coffee. I’ve tried Duran, Flor de Chiriqui and two from Finca Ruiz, an espresso roast and an Italian roast. I think the Italian roast is the tastiest. Absolutely delicious. I miss my espresso machine but my single mug French press makes a good cup and a lot of coffee aficionados swear by the press.

With my steaming mug I go sit for a while out on the front steps of the house looking down the mountain towards the Pacific coast and the islands off shore. The clouds are beautiful. This is what it looked like this morning at 6:00 a.m.

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English Class At American School

One of the blogs I read without fail over my morning cup of coffee is Chiriqui Chatter. The city of David and Potrerillos are in the Province of Chiriqui in the western part of the country bordering Costa Rica. Several months ago Don Ray, the blog’s author, wrote about meeting with students at the American School in David who were studying English. Native English speakers would meet with the students once a month to help them train their ears to hear the English language. One of the hardest things to do when you’re studying a foreign language is to “hear” it. I find that I “speak” Spanish much better than I “hear” it.

I remember so well when I landed in France without speaking French, that I didn’t hear anyone speaking French. All I heard was noise. None of it made sense. It wasn’t even babble. It was simply static that I couldn’t comprehend. I remember quite well the day as I was walking back to my boat after visiting Antibe’s wonderful open air fruit and veggie market I HEARD A WORD! Out of all that noise there was a distinct WORD. Not only that, it was as if the entire town had held a meeting the night before and said, “tomorrow we’re going to teach Richard a word,” because everywhere I went I heard that word. I don’t remember what that word was, but it was the start of my immersion into the French language.

I thought these sessions were an excellent idea and got in touch with a young lady named Patricia and asked to be put on a mailing list if they had one so I could attend when I finally moved full-time to Panama. Yesterday I went to my first meeting. The instructor is a young man named Marvin who actually attended American School when he was a lad before living in the States and in London, England, for several years.

It was thought that there were going to be five or six gringos (by that I mean anyone foreigner whose first language isn’t Spanish) coming. I was the only one who showed up possibly saving the day’s agenda from total failure. I had a great time. Guess it’s the ham in me. My year teaching Nautical Science at West Jefferson High School in Gretna, LA, stood me in good stead. I was placed at the teachers desk and easily went around the room asking questions of each of the students, all adults I should say, making them tell me why it was they wanted to learn English. Everyone answered that it was, first, to advance in their jobs and secondly the challenge of learning something they thought was important to them. Several of the students are teachers, themselves, and apparently learning English has become a requirement for them.

In turn I answered their question to me. They were, I’m sure, those they ask all the gringos who come to their sessions. “Where do you come from?” “How do you like Panama?” And from the girls, “Are you married?” What do you think of Panamanian women?” “Do you think you will ever have another girlfriend?” Hmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder if they’re hinting at something? Of course I’m old enough to be grandfather to each of them.

The session lasted for about an hour and a half and didn’t seem that long at all. It whizzed past and I think everyone enjoyed it. I made sure everyone participated and the level of fluency was quite good for people who had only been attending classes once a week for the past six months. There was a real level of dedication here.

When the Q&As were over cake, snacks and sodas were brought into the classroom.

I didn’t bring my camera with me and in any event I rarely take pictures of people. Perhaps I believe, just a little bit like so many indigenous people do, that each photo takes a little of that person’s soul. But Don Ray has graciously given me permission to use photos from his blog of his previous visits to the class.

These two girls, whose names I don’t remember, are teachers  The gentleman, Guillermo, is a hair dresser. Many of his clients are foreigners who don’t speak Spanish but DO speak English, and he believes, rightly so, that if he can learn English and be able to talk to the women his income will increase. I don’t know the woman in the photo.

Most of the women who attended were teachers.

These girls teach at American School. Those smiles weren’t just for the camera, they were on the whole time the class was in session.

The lady in the center of the picture and the one on the right work for Super Baru, one of the supermarket chains in Chiriqui. They are studying English hoping to advance in their jobs. I don’t know who the woman on the left is though by the blouse she’s wearing I’d say she’s on the school staff. She wasn’t there yesterday.

The girl on the right is a lawyer and the other girl is an environmental engineer. I have to confess that while I was polite with the guys and made it a point to be sure they were included in the exercise with so many attractive women in attendance…well, you understand.

Finally there were these two. Though Don pegged her as a teacher in the post where I picked up the photo, she said she was a physicist. One with a winning smile. Oh, yeah, there’s a guy in the photo. He was a nice kid and had one of the better grasps on the language of the entire group.

I’m looking forward to next month’s get together.

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R.I.P. Gerry Glombecki

Back in 1966 when I was attending college in the small Missouri town of Canton on the banks of the Mississippi River there was a 19 year old blond kid from Chicago, Gerry Glombecki, who lived in my dorm and had what was probably the first skateboard the town had ever seen.

Gerry was a carefree sort who always sported a great smile. I knew him for a year before I left Canton and, of course lost contact with him. Withing the last year, through Facebook, we reestablished contact of sorts. Gerry had gone on from that small river town to become an accomplished musician and a fixture in the Tuscon, Arizona, music community. He was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame and was a founder of the Tucson Folk Festival.

This video shows Gerry playing slide guitar, and one of his sidelines was the making and distribution of authentic guitar slides: http://gerryglombecki.com/Sliders.html

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