Monthly Archives: December 2010

Cheaping Out

It’s hard to imagine how many Kindle ebook readers were left under Christmas trees this year though I’m sure a little research could find the number. Confirmed Luddite and practicing contrarian that I am, I don’t have one or any of the others like the iPad, etc. And I’m probably not going to ever get one, either. I’m not a gadget fan and I laugh (HAH!) at the idiots that stay up all night in the freezing cold to be the first in line to get the newest digital toy to hit the market.

I’ve been quite content with listening to my books from Audible.com. Unfortunately there are several authors I enjoy whose books are available from that source with narrators I just can’t listen to. I’ve downloaded a bunch of books from the Gutenberg Project and have enjoyed them immensely recently having read Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” which I highly recommend.

Naturally the availability of English language books is limited here in Panama though there’s a very good second-hand bookstore, The Bookmark, in Dolega and you can special order new releases and wait for their arrival.

Now, I’m not saying the Kindle is a bad thing. In fact in a lot of ways I think their wonderful and I hope millions of people buy them because I plan on releasing my book in digital form and look forward to people actually buying it through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But, again, I’m not going to buy one myself.

However, I DO want to be able to read some of my favorite authors and so I downloaded a FREE program called Kindle for PC. It emulates the hand-held Kindle with all the features of the real thing. I’m not sure I’d want to read books sitting at a desk staring at the monitor of a desk top computer, but it’s not too bad doing it on my notebook. I can take it outside and sit on the porch and read, but, I grant you, it’s got to be a lot bulkier than the Kindle and though my notebook has pretty good battery life I bet it can’t compare with a dedicated ebook reader. I downloaded a couple of novels that I paid for and several free books from Amazon and was rather dazzled by how fast they were delivered. Almost instantaneous. So, now I have another way of wasting time when I should be doing something productive.

If you’re like me you can download Kindle for PC here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

And if you’re a Mac user you can do the same thing here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_mac_mkt_lnd?docId=1000464931

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Miss Me Lately?

People who visit this blog regularly have probably noticed that I haven’t posted since Christmas. There’s a reason, of course, and it has nothing to do with health, thank goodness. No, and while one of the basic mottos I follow is: Procrastinate NOW! That’s not it, either. I’ve been working to fill an old prophesy and a promise to myself. Let me explain.

Back in ’65 when I was going to college in Missouri I was very good friends with my English professor and his family and was one of his star students in his writing classes. One of those was a play writing class where each of us had to write a one-act play. These were later staged at the school. My play was entered in a contest among colleges in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois and my play took second place. Of all those plays submitted, however, mine was the only one that went live again, this time performed at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Sometime during that year the author Erskine Caldwell who wrote the infamous Tobacco Road came to give a lecture at the school. The professor, the late Joel Climenhaga, invited me, and I believe my good friend, Dennis, to dinner to meet Mr. Caldwell. Somewhere towards the bottom of the evening’s second bottle of Jim Beam Joel made the pronouncement to Caldwell that, “of all the students I’ve taught if one of them ever writes a book it will undoubtedly be Philbrick, here.”

People who go to sea are usually great readers. There’s damned little else to do between watches. I’ve been a reader all my life and worked for a number of years earning a living putting words to paper. I wrote numerous articles that were published in national magazines, none of which any of you have ever read, I’m sure. They weren’t big name magazines but what I earned from them helped pay the rent. I even wrote a novel once that no one wanted to buy but it did garner several hand-written rejection letters from publishers but most were simple printed-form “no thanks” rejections.
When I started working on boats I stopped writing. I kept a journal through the years, though, but that was about it except for my blogging.

Books and articles about writing advise prospective authors to “write what you know.” This is, in my opinion, pretty much bullshit. Admittedly authors like James Lee Burke “knows” about south Louisiana and writes about it so beautifully I can “see” those places he writes about because I’ve been there. Carl Hiassen and Tim Dorsey “know” that Florida is inhabited by one of the largest collection of loonies in the world and capture them well in their books. But what the hell does Rowling “know” about wizards or Rice “know” about vampires? I think a better admonition would be “write a book you’d want to read.”

There has been a book like that festering in the few functioning brain cells I have left and when I moved to Panama I started working on just such a book. It’s sort of like the narrator of the story was “channeling” through me and then for a couple of months the bastard clammed up. I couldn’t get him to say a damn word. Recently, though, I haven’t been able to get him to shut up. So that’s what I’ve been doing instead of posting lately.

The book’s time line is broken into three distinct segments. I’ve completed the first and am into the second part now. With the development of ebooks through such outlets as Amazon, Apple store and others I won’t be going through the regular old-style form of book publishing but will be going the developing “indie author” route. I’ll let you know when I get it done.

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The 2,010th Christmas Morning Sunrise in Potrerillos Arriba, Panama

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Nice To Be Remembered

I am spending Christmas up on the side of the mountain in Potrerillos Arriba. The owners of the house and a couple from Montana who have a house a little way up the road are taking a small vacation to an island about an hour drive and a half hour boat ride away and asked me if I’d come and take care of the dog while they’re gone.

I left Boquerón about three yesterday afternoon and rode into the terminal in David and missed the bus to Arriba by about two minutes. The bus to Abajo came shortly after and I decided to take that and bum a ride from the Montana couple who were also invited to a Christmas dinner prepared by the lady of the house.

As it happened my bus passed the Arriba bus just after we passed Dolega and we arrived at the stop where the road diverges to the two small pueblos well ahead of the bus I’d missed. I’d called ahead to the Montana couple when we left the terminal and they agreed to pick me up. Now I couldn’t back out on them and as I was waiting and the Arriba bus arrived the driver got out and came over to me and asked where I’d been since he hadn’t seen me in over a month. I thought that was very nice. Real small town stuff and it’s a good feeling to know that in some small way, just riding up and down the mountain I’d become an actual part of the community at large.

I said I’d be back in the middle of May, we wished each other a “Feliz Navidad” and he got back in his bus and continued on his way.

We had a great meal and I once again got to sit out on the front porch with my morning cup of coffee and enjoy the incredible view down to the Pacific Ocean below. Life has been good this past year here in Panama. I’m looking forward to 2011.

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Sarah Palin Explains The Reason For The Season

I doubt there’s anyone in Boquerón who ever heard of Sarah Palin which is probably a good thing. Wish nobody in the Lower 48 had, either.

But here the residents have decorated the town square.

The Pentecostal Church submitted this:

Don’t you love the snowmen in 90 degree weather?

Santa’s guaranteed to lose some weight sweating it out here.

Recycled drink cartons make interesting tree decorations and it’s nice to see them here instead of on the ground.

Have a Merry Christmas. I’m going to be spending it in Potrerillos. The owners of the house are taking a few days vacation to the beach and asked me to stay at the house and take care of the dog.

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What Retirement Is REALLY Like

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Info Plaza

Info Plaza

I’ve made plenty of references to the Info Plaza here in Boquerón that I visit on a nearly daily basis when I’m in need of an internet fix. A couple of days ago I brought my camera along so you can see it.

The sign says “Closing The Digital Gap” and they’re doing a pretty good job of it, too.

There are eight modern computers available to anyone who wants to use them and, as I’ve said, the fee is an extremely reasonable 35¢ an hour. A WiFi connection is also available which is what I use.

The girl on the right in the photo is Karina, one of the two who share the duties of running the place. She’s the one who never charges me more than 35¢ no matter how long I’m logged on.

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Mother’s Day In Boquerón

Here in Panama Mother’s Day is a REALLY big deal, not just a marketing gimmick dreamed up by greeting card manufacturers, restaurants and retail outlets to fill their coffers. In Panama Mother’s Day is on the 8th of December and it’s an official holiday with government offices and banks closed down for the day.

The 8th was on a Wednesday this year but the Saturday following, a big celebration was held here in Boquerón at the covered basketball court by the City Hall. It’s a good thing it was undercover since it rained most of the day. Not one of our aguacerro drenchers but a steady light rain. Still, over 1,400 people showed up for the entertainment.

There were bands, youngsters performing traditional folk dances in costume, the girls resplendent in their plain Pollera dresses and hair decorations.

The Polera the adults wear on special occasions are works of art.

On a stage at one end of the court was a treasure trove of blankets, clocks and other goodies that were given to the mothers in attendance.

There was also food, of course. Hundreds and hundreds of Panamanian tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos and after having been on my feet for nearly three hours my back was killing me and so I wandered down the hill to the house.

I thought the whole thing was great and in the wonderful tradition of what small-town life is really like whether here in Panama or around the world. It’s one of those touches of reality and humanity that are lost in the metropolitan areas. Okay, after writing that I realize there are often neighborhoods in the older cities like Boston, New York and Chicago that have their own traditions and localized fairs and celebrations, but these are primarily based on ethnic and national origins rather than encompassing the entire community as a whole.

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Shopping Options In Boqueron

As I’ve written before, the shopping options here in Boquerón are extremely limited. There are three small tiendas with a very limited inventory made up mainly of cold drinks, some very basic staples and junk food. There are also two larger establishments known generically as “Chinos.”

They have that name since most throughout Panama are owned by Chinese immigrants, some who have been in the Republic for generations having first migrated to work on the French-built railroad and later on the Canal.

All of the supermarkets have produce sections and the one at El Rey in David comes close in size and quality to anything found at most Publix and Winn-Dixie stores in Florida. Their prices are pretty similar, too.

Most people, at least here in the countryside, buy their produce at roadside stands and many have bargains unheard of in the States. For example, a large, wonderfully fragrant, juicy pineapple generally be had for a buck. While none of these stands can rival the splendor of the open-air markets in Antibes an Nice, France, the quality, if not the quantity, stands up to the comparison quite well.

Here in Boqueron there is another alternative and it comes to you and the prices are the envy of state-side residents. Twice a week a small pickup truck rolls down our street with its loudspeaker announcing its arrival and the prices he offers. Of course the selection is limited but how can you beat four pounds of spuds for a buck?

Today I made a score with another truck that came selling fresh seafood. Panama, being bordered to the north and south by the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean respectively has an abundance of fresh seafood. When I lived in Chalmette, just outside of New Orleans, I used to buy fresh, unsorted, heads still on, shrimp for a buck a pound. Naturally with the heads still on you’re paying for weight you can’t eat. In the supermarkets in Fort Lauderdale I used to think I was getting a good deal when I could pick up a pound of shrimp at less than seven dollars a pound and these were generally heads-on as well.

Today, off of the truck I was able to buy a whole pound of tails-only shrimp for the unheard of price of $2.75! Richard’s going to eat good tonight.

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Further Adventures In Cyberspace

I have another couple of days to go before I’ll be able to use my USB modem again. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my visits to the Info Plaza. I do. Since it’s a half a mile away from the house and UP a hill, I usually wait and take the bus to the plaza and walk home. DOWN is much easier to do.

There are two girls who supervise the Info Plaza. Nancy is a thin, almost anorexic waif and Karina could stand to lose about as much weight as Nancy has to look fit and trim. They are both very pleasant girls and we always chat a bit at each visit. In Spanish of course.

It’s always cheaper for me to connect to the wifi when Karina is running the show than when Nancy is there and the pricing reminds me, a bit, of a truck stop in Missouri where I went to college. Actually there were two truck stops at the south end of town at the edge of the corn fields. The closest was small and rather dark and a quarter mile or so away was a larger, brighter truck stop. They both displayed prominent signs advising that they “reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” but persons of color knew they had to order their food through a back window.

My friend Dennis and I, after a night of drinking or cramming for exams, though most often following the former rather than the latter, would go to the more distant of the two if we felt like having a breakfast type meal and we would almost always order ham and cheese omelets. We did this for a reason which was to see what we would be charged for them. The menu listed a ham omelet, a cheese omelet but NOT a ham and cheese omelet. Naturally the waitresses would take our orders, the cooks would prepare them but when it came time to tally up the bill they were at a loss. What did a ham and cheese omelet go for? They had no idea. Sometimes they’d charge us simply for a ham omelet or for a cheese omelet and sometimes they’d just make something up. It didn’t matter. We never quarreled about the bill. We simply paid what they asked for and it was never the same twice.

What I pay at each visit to the Info Plaza is sort of like that. I believe the official price is thirty five cents for each hour or part thereof. When Nancy’s manning the helm I pay between seventy cents to a dollar five a visit. On the obverse side, when Karina is running the show it’s a flat thirty five cents even if I should stay all day I think.

In the past week I discovered that someone nearby has a wireless network set up in their home since my computer will flash it receives a signal. I can’t get online when I’m inside the house even though the computer says it’s available. But if I sit in the front door I get a one-bar signal that allows me access to my email and other web sites. The signal is only available for a few hours a day, mainly in the evening but last Sunday it was on all afternoon. It gets shut off after a while probably when the person who has it goes to bed for the night.

I love being online, especially now without access to a television but it’s not easy to do as much as I’d like, but I’m adapting.

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