Monthly Archives: August 2010

Remember: Pillage THEN burn…

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2,541 Reasons to Mourn This Day

Five years ago today  Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast of the United States leaving 1,836 dead and another 705 missing. New Orleans, of course, was the hardest hit and garnered the lion’s share of publicity from the people trapped in the Superdome.

While the people of New Orleans were about to be imprinted on the world’s stage this was going on 150 miles to the east…

In Mobile, Alabama

Almost immediately after the skies had cleared and images of the people stranded in the Dome and on rooftops started to hit the airwaves “compassionate conservatives” started to criticize the people who were trapped. But how do you evacuate when you’re in an ICU unit in Charity Hospital or Touro Infirmary? How do you evacuate when you’re bed ridden in a nursing home? How do you evacuate if you’re a doctor or nurse caring for those people?  How do you evacuate when you’re poor and don’t own a car? How do you evacuate when you’re an infant and your parents are poor and don’t have transportation? How do you evacuate if your owners don’t take you?

And the people who DID evacuate? Their lives, too, were forever changed because they had nothing left to come back to.

And  NEVER forget this idiot and his pal.

I loved New Orleans. I haven’t been there since Katrina and I never will. There are still large areas that haven’t recovered and I couldn’t bear to see that. It would break my heart.


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Best Of Luck, Frank!

When I first started investigating the possibility of moving to Panama a couple of years ago a mutual friend put me in touch with Frank Hilson and his wife Joyce. They live in Sebastian, Florida, but also own a house in Balboa. We met in Florida and they encouraged me to go through with the immigration process. Last year, just after I got my Pensionado, I spent nearly a week with Frank at his home at the foot of the Bridge of the Americas. At that time I’d only met Frank that one time in person but we’d kept up a long email correspondence. Joyce was in the States when I visited. I can honestly say that there is no more gracious host anywhere in the world than Frank Hilson.

This is Frank when he took me to the top of Ancon Hill last year.

Recently Frank underwent surgery for cancer. I don’t think any of his friends knew of this before it happened. I’d visited with Frank and Joyce back in May when I made my final move to the Republic. There wasn’t a hint of anything wrong.

They’ve been trying to sell their house here. Not to move away from Panama but to move on to something different here. After all, an eight-bedroom house IS a bit to take care of. I’ve written about it twice on this blog hoping someone might be interested. A few days ago Frank and Joyce were back in Balboa and it seems as though they are on the verge of actually finalizing a sale.

They returned to the States yesterday. Frank is about to start chemo treatments. YUCK! I wouldn’t wish those on my worst enemy, let alone a nice guy like Frank. I know it’s got to be done, but STILL.

I know you read this blog regularly, Frank, and though I’ve posted this before I’m doing it again hoping to put a smile on your face:

Good luck, buddy.


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New England Architecture

One of the most faithful followers of my contribution to the electronic detritus of cyberspace and certainly the most prolific commenter has her own blog that I follow. While One More Good Adventure is basically a collection of first drafts, checked quickly for spelling errors, Linda’s blog, subtitled A Writer’s On-Going Search For Just the Right Word, is a literary gem. Thoughtful, well crafted with references to great writers and accompanied with great visual images I am truly flattered that she takes the time to follow this, my humble output.

On my post about the Tenacity of Life she asked if the house I grew up in on Cape Cod, and pictured in the post, was a “Salt Box.”

No, it’s not.

Salt Boxes are, though, uniquely New England architecture. According to Wikipedia, the saltbox is an example of American colonial architecture popularized by Queen Anne’s taxation of houses greater than one storey. Since the rear of roof descended to the height of a single-storey building, the structure was exempt from the tax.

There were quite a few of these homes around rural New England when I was growing up and I always thought they were exceptionally ugly.

It’s worth noting that taxation also influenced Louisiana architecture, too. Time was when houses were taxed by the number of rooms they possessed and closets and stairways were considered to be “rooms” by the tax collectors. This led to the use of armoirs in lieu of closets and outside stairways to the second floor in uncounted antebellum houses.

The house I grew up in is what is known as a “Full Cape” also referred to as a “Double Cape” house. That is, the front door is in the middle of the house flanked by two windows on each side of the door. There are also houses known as “Three Quarter Capes” and “Half Capes.” Almost directly across the street from our house was a fine example of a “Half Cape. A door with two windows off to the side. I’ve seen modern houses that have a single window on either of a central door referred to as a “Cape” house, but they’re not. A true Cape must have two windows on either side.

As you can see, as was the case with our house, additions had been made over time to enlarge the original. The two additions have been added since I was a kid back in the mid-50s. Damn, that was a half century ago! The owner of the house when I was growing up was an old Portuguese lady named Netty Silva and she was as tiny as her house. A perfect fit.

Another common feature of the houses on the Cape is the use of cedar shingles. As you can see on my old house they were used on both the siding and the roof. They start off with that beautiful tawny red color when first applied, but they turn a soft silver after a year or two of exposure to the heavy salt content of the air on the Cape. Netty’s house is shingled sides and roof but another common touch is to paint the sides and leave the roof alone. My dad built a lot of houses in the winters when the restaurant was closed and I shingled four or five of them.

A Three-quarter Cape, as you have probably already figured out, has a door with one window on one side and two on the other.

This drawing, stolen from shows another feature of the old New England architecture found on the Cape: the “bow roof” which added slightly to the “headroom under the eaves. Our house had a bow roof.

My bedroom was on the top floor where the middle two windows are. Beneath it was a monstrous lilac bush intertwined with honeysuckle. It’s no longer there because the idiot who bought the house from my dad, and I don’t think it’s the current owner, chopped everything down not knowing what they were destroying. The back yard of the house was separated from the rear acreage by carefully thought-out plants such as lilacs, quince, forsythia, roses, Concord grapes and an enormous snowball bush that was easily 25 feet in diameter. Each bush would bloom in its time throughout the Spring and Summer. As one was dying off another was coming in to flower. The house was purchased in the dead of winter so all the new owner saw was dormant, naked bushes. What a pity.

One last thing. Philbrick’s Snack Shack at Nauset Beach in Orleans

sold the best fried clams, scallops and onion rings anywhere, bar none, for 35 years. When my brother Jeff was running the place he used to sell a ton to a ton and a half of onion rings a week! Not those thick greasy slabs of onion with a bread-crumb coating most of you are familiar with, but thin circles with a light, almost tempura-like coating.

The original Snack Shack was built by my dad around 1948 down at Skaket Beach on the bay side of the town. It was moved to the back yard of our house I don’t remember when, and it’s still there. When my brother Mark, his kids and I were invited to look around by the current owners of the house we went into the original shack and there, still stapled to one of the walls was an original, hand lettered menu. I wish I’d gotten a picture of that.

Well, that’s it, and don’t worry kids, none of this will be on the final exam.


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A Stroll Around Dolega, Panama

In a little more than two months I will have to leave this delightful location in Potrerillos Arriba.

The owners will be back and I have started to consider where to go next. I may try to find another house sitting gig but I might also just start renting somewhere. My original plan on moving to Panama was to build a houseboat and settle down in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. That’s still a possibility but that dream, for many reasons, is starting to fade.

I know I don’t want to move to Panama City. If I wanted to live somewhere with high rise buildings surrounded by people speaking Spanish I would have just stayed in southeast Florida. I sometimes think of trying one of the beach communities on the Pacific Ocean an hour or two west of Panama City.

But, quite frankly, I really like it here in Chiriqui province. I like the city of David. It has pretty much everything you could want in the commercial sense: banks, shopping, good transportation and, probably, the best hospitals outside of the capitol. Growing older and carrying around three stents that’s an unfortunate but important consideration.

One of the few advantages of living in Potrerillos Arriba is the climate. At 2,600 feet it’s constantly Spring time. Right now, at 9:00 a.m. it’s 76F. In Fort Lauderdale it’s 82 and predicted to top out in the low 90s whereas we’re predicted to hit a hair above 78. Down in David, though, you get the hot and sultry temperatures one would expect situated only a little more than eight degrees north of the equator. It’s 80 there now and expected to hit a heat-indexed high of nearly 90 degrees.

I am lucky to have had the opportunity to live here just as I had the good fortune to live on the French Riviera. But Potrerillos Arriba is a bit too isolated for me to want to stay. There’s not much to do here so I’m going to move. I DON’T want to go to Boquete which so many publications lately have been touting as one of the best places to retire in the world. I don’t want to move there precisely for that reason. I have an aversion to such hyped up places. I also don’t want to move down into David itself. It’s not the heat and humidity. I can deal with that having lived in Fort Lauderdale for the previous 17 years. One of the big downsides of David is they often have a real problem with water. Last week, for instance, more than half the city didn’t have any for several days which is a sad state of affairs for a city with a population of about 150,000. It seems that all the rain we’ve been having up here along with the collapse of a dam being built for hydroelectric production below the town of Dolega caused silting problems at the water plant which was shut down and the spare parts needed to repair it had to come from Germany. Not a good situation.

I’ve been thinking about the possibility of trying to find a place to rent in Dolega, which is about half way between where I am now and David.

It’s certainly not a major metropolitan area but it has a bit more to offer than Potrerillos. First of all, transportation is better which is a major concern for someone without a car. Up here a bus comes by about once an hour. I just missed one last week meaning I had to wait another hour. Fortunately I always bring my iPod along with me so I spent it sitting in the sun listening to a book I’d downloaded from In Dolega buses leave from the terminal about every ten minutes making getting back and forth much more convenient. There are several small grocery stores in the town as well as several hardware stores and at least three internet cafes.

Yesterday I took a stroll around Dolega and this is how it looked to me.

Off of the main road that leads down to David there is often a rural feeling.

Most of the houses are middle-class and would fit right in to many southeast Florida communities.

While there are McMansions to be found on the road up to Potrerillos Arriba and around Boguete, there are houses in Dolega that seem to subscribe to the tiny house philosophy taking root in the States.

Many houses here in Panama, especially those owned by the less affluent, not only are small in size but it’s common to only paint the side of the house facing the road.

And most people in Dolega still dry their laundry the old fashioned way.

It’s common for people to keep chickens around their homes. When I have my morning cup of coffee as the sun comes up I hear roosters crowing from all points of the compass.

The majority of houses here in Panama are built with concrete block since termites are a huge problem and wood houses are nothing more than food. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

This one seems to have been abandoned quite some time ago.

Because it’s only 900 feet above sea level Dolega is noticeably hotter than Potrerillos Arriba. Much more like David, but scattered around town are tiendas where you can stop and get a cold soft drink or a beer to go.

There were also shaded places alongside streams flowing through the town offering a nice respite from the heat.

Some have benches beside the water; a good place to sit and contemplate how wonderful life can be.

If you’re looking for something more active, Dolega features a very nice baseball stadium.

Baseball is extremely popular in Panama as it is wherever Americans have been an influential part of a country’s life: Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and here. There are several players from Panama playing in  major league teams in the U.S, Carlos Ruiz plays for the Phillies, Manano Rivera wears Yankee pinstripes, and Carlos Lee for the Astros just to name three. The big newspapers in Panama carry MLB stories, scores and standings and cities throughout the Republic have stadiums and very good teams. Panama’s own version of the World Series is as closely followed as any World Cup Soccer matches. This year the Panama City Metros whipped Bocas del Toro in four games.

There was a Little League game going on when I stopped by the stadium. The little guy at bat is the catcher for his team and made a world-class catch of a foul ball while on his back a few minutes earlier to end the inning. I wish I’d gotten a picture of that. Good stance, no?

Naturally, soccer is HUGE here. The reason it’s so popular around the world is that there really is only ONE piece of equipment needed…a ball. Lots of things can delineate the goal: a pair of rocks, a couple of wadded up tee shirts, whatever the mind can imagine. I’ve seen a lot of small courts around for pick-up soccer games like this one. And if they get tired of kicking the ball they can throw it through the hoops.

This play area is at the bottom end of a nice park with benches around the edge. There were several groups of older men gathered to solve the world’s problems in case the church at the other end of the park isn’t able to.

As I was heading back to the bus stop several of the men on the benches moved along with me and headed to the jardin as I did for a cold sixty cent bottle of Panama beer.

Though you can’t really tell what it is in this picture, just behind the car there is an arena for cock fighting. I asked one of the men at the bar when the fights were held and there was one last night. I seems they are a weekly occurrence here.

I finished my beer and then sat across from this bus stop to wait for my ride back home.

Avicola Athenas is a huge agricultural corporation that supplies much of the province’s poultry and beef. Their main headquarters is about two kilometers below me. There’s a very small market there with excellent prices for, surprise, chicken. On the outside wall of their restaurant for the workers is a sign stating that a blending of capitalism and socialism is the best combination for peace and prosperity.

Most of the bus shelters in the area are “sponsored” by one or another corporate entity such as Avicola, Citrico and large citrus grower or one or another of the cell phone providers like Digicel.

I quite like Dolega and in the next few weeks will be seeing what might be available to rent come November.


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The Tenacity Of Life

I have often marveled at how tenaciously trees cling to life. Not only are some species of trees the oldest living things on earth but they have an aversion to death that is enviable.

In my back yard in Fort Lauderdale there were two tree stumps just off the back porch. One was simply that. A stump. But on the other, two new branches were growing. The tree refused to succumb.

Here in Panama trees are commonly planted and used for fences. I’m not talking about grown, cut down and put in as posts, but actually planted in rows and then barbed wire, usually, is stapled into the trees.

This photo was shamelessly pirated from my neighbor Mary Farmer’s blog: If there’s anything you’d like to know about the flora of the Republic you’ll find it here and what she doesn’t know  probably isn’t worth knowing anyway.

Of course some small trees are cut down and used as posts. Like this along the drive leading into the house here in Potrerillos Arriba.

And sometimes sections of 4X4 are mixed in:

A couple of months ago a neighbor gave the house a couple of seedlings. I don’t know what they are, but I found a couple of good spots for them in the northwest corner of the yard. In a phone conversation with the owners of the house shortly afterward they asked if the saplings were doing okay. I said I think you could stick a 2X4 into the ground here and it would grow.

Well, I wasn’t too far off in that assessment. Yesterday evening when I walked down to lock the gate at the end of the drive I spotted this. I don’t know how I missed seeing it before since I pass it at least twice a day. But there was a post that had been hewed from a tree. Top and bottom lopped off and one side planed flat. And yet this piece of wood refused to die. It wouldn’t accept what should have been its inevitable fate. There, standing proud, was a new branch reaching for the sky. A piece of lumber stuck into the ground that took root and continues to cling to life. No, not clinging to life. Thriving.

I don’t know if they grow here in Panama but the leaves remind me of the locust trees that thrived in the sandy soil of Cape Cod where I grew up.

The wood of the locust tree is extremely hard and durable. The house I grew up in was built before the American Revolution.

The small section of the house, an addition, actually, was built sometime in the latter part of the 1700s and was our kitchen. The corners were made of large hand-hewn beams and, since nails were very expensive in those days, the whole thing was tied together with two-inch thick pegs made of locust. That house has withstood countless hurricanes and who knows how many n’or easters in it’s day. And it’s still standing as it approaches nearly two and a half centuries.


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Lower Standards In Panama?

I’m not much of a drinker of alcoholic beverages like I used to be, but I do enjoy a cold beer on a hot day. I also enjoy a good single-malt Irish Whiskey. Yes, there is such a thing, it isn’t just the Scots who do it. I also enjoy visiting micro-breweries and have had some wonderful concoctions. There was a micro in Fort Lauderdale years ago that made an oatmeal beer that was one of the best brews I’ve ever downed.

I’m a big supporter of locally-brewed beers, too. When I was cruising on my lamented Nancy Dawson I drank the local suds in Belize and Guatemala. In Belize you could get Belikan, Belikan Light and Belikan Stout. Guatemala had Gallo, Gallo Light and Gallo Stout. Fortunately they weren’t bad beers and on a sweltering day they were just the ticket.

I also like  imported beers. In the States when I would eat out at Japanese restaurants I’d always have a Kirin or an Ichi-ban and at my favorite greasy-spoon Mexican place in Fort Lauderdale, Jalisco, I’d have a Tecate with a little lime wedge on the side. Corona is much to watery for my taste.

Here in Panama the local beers are quite pleasing to my palate. In order of preference I drink Balboa, Panama, Atlas and as a last resort Soberana.

In the States the quality of the imported beers is quite high…Heineken (though a Heineken in Europe doesn’t taste like a Heineken in the States) Polar, Kilik from the Bahamas, you get my drift. Now, if you go to the fancy watering holes in Panama City you can get the finer imported beers and though I haven’t patronized any of the better establishments here in Chiriqui I suppose they’re available, too.

But while out walking the other day I saw THIS on the side of the road. An “imported” beer from the States that makes me wonder if the standards for imported beer are lower here in Panama than they are in the United States.


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Don’t Try Arguing With Right-Wing Idiots

They’ll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

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The Joy Of Not Understanding Panamanian Spanish

As I’ve said before, I often find it difficult understanding the Panamanian version of Spanish and sometimes it’s frustrating. Other times it has its advantages.

Yesterday when I boarded the bus to go on my photo expedition I sat down next to a tiny little man who could have been the inspiration for the Travelocity garden gnome. I chose to sit next to him because of his size and the fact that the seats on these buses weren’t made for people of normal size so sitting next to him I wouldn’t feel cramped. Not only are the seats designed for tiny butts but the aisle is so narrow that it can only be negotiated sideways. Only children can walk down one facing the direction they wish to travel.

As soon as I was seated the little man gave me a toothless grin and stuck out his hand for the customary dead fish handshake with a friendly “buenos” on his lips. “Buenos” is the customary greeting here, not “hola.” Sometimes  people will add a “dias” or “tarde” but for the majority a simple “buenos” is all encompassing. Even passing strangers in the street, if you catch their eye, will give you a “buenos.” I like that.

With the handshake over the old man proceeded on some kind of a rant. Not one that seemed to have any animosity attached to it; more of a protracted monologue. People in front of us turned to see what was going on. I had almost no idea of what he was saying. I caught a few words like “plata” (money) and “camino” which could either mean “I walk” or a route, or street or something, but understanding little else he was saying there was no way for me to put it into any context.

Even when the seats across the aisle emptied I remained where I was. He was harmless as far as I could tell and I knew if I moved a fat woman with two kids would get on at the next stop and sit next to me. The old man rambled on as we descended the mountain and on through Dolega. Eventually he trailed off and a few minutes later he was sound asleep.

At the bar of the “jardin” by the waterfall, however, I had a nice talk in Spanish with the young bartender, Fransisco, and understood at least 85% of what he was saying which is quite enough to follow the thread of a conversation. The few times I didn’t understand what he was trying to say he’d pause a moment and then approach his idea from another direction to make his point clear. It’s nice when people do that as it indicates a real desire to communicate with you. I don’t know how often the young man has an opportunity to talk to foreigners but I hope our little time together left him with a favorable impression of some of the gringos who have come to live in his country.

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Ovecoming Inertia

The Merriam-Webster definition of inertia is: a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force. I think the definition could also apply to ideas, too.

For the past couple of months as I ride the bus from Potrerillos Arriba down into David the route parallels and crosses several small rivers running at a pretty good clip. Those eight plus feet of rain have to go somewhere and that somewhere is the Pacific Ocean. About three-quarters of the way down the hill on the east side of the road is a small valley and a  rather scenic waterfall. Visible I pass it I always say I should stop off and take some pictures. But inertia establishes itself and I forget about it until the next time I pass by.

This morning was gloriously sunny, though now at 3:30 in the afternoon it’s clouded over and should be raining shortly, and I shook off the lethargy, gathered up my cameras and tripod and set out on an expedition.

The first stop was in the small town of Dolega. There, a concrete-channeled river flows under the road to end up in some waterfalls at what appears to be a Union Fenosa sub station. Union Fenosa is the local electric company. I suspect there is a small generating capacity located there.

It flows under the road and divides on the other side.

You can see the waterfalls in this picture which is off of the right fork. I don’t know what happens on the left fork though it’s probably similar.

But my ultimate destination was located farther down the road in a small valley and what is called, around here, a Jardin, a combination bar/dance hall.

It sits at the edge of the river and on the other bank is the waterfall. I learned a new Spanish word today… La Cascada (waterfall). Easy enough to remember. Almost the same as the English word cascade.

Certainly no threat to the grandeur of Angel, Victoria or Niagara Falls or I’m sure other falls here in Panama, but it still has it’s own appeal. I wonder how many of the local residents scurrying from David to Boquete and Potrerillos glance over at it and appreciate its beauty?

There were three young men washing some clothes in the river and simply relaxing on the bank. Two more men came later and went swimming a bit upstream.

After taking the photos I stopped at the bar for a beer. I was the sole patron and spent a pleasant half hour or so chatting with the young bartender, Francisco. He said it was a very popular spot on the weekends and during the summer months and that Saturday and Sunday evenings were crowded with people coming to dance the night away.

In the spirit of the television show Sunday Morning, I leave you with this bit of film.

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