Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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It’s Different Here In Panama…

Back in 1991 when we moved Jolie Aire, the boat I was running, from France to Spain we moved from one culture to another. It’s a fact that the French are different from a lot of other countries, but I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of that here. But in Spain we ran into a lot of people who would go out of their way to help each other, and strangers, too. One of my French girlfriend’s favorite expressions when someone would help us with a problems was, “This wouldn’t happen in France.” My stock response was, “You’re right. This is the real world out here. People do things like this.”

One of the big complaints one hears from the expat community here is that customer service is non-existent in Panama. There’s a little bit of truth in that, though it’s not as pervasive as many would like you to think it is. Take this morning, for example. . .

I needed to go into David to pay my insurance bill at Hospital Chiriguí. I was 75 yards of so away from the bus stop when a bus passed my street. No big deal. I always leave the house with my iPod and rather enjoy sitting at the bus shelter listening to a book and watching the passing scene. There’d be another bus along in 20 minutes or so.

But then, at the edge of the tree line, the back of the bus appeared. The driver had spotted me as he passed. (They all know me now after two and a half years living here.) Not only did he back up the main road he then proceeded to turn, backwards, into my little street and back to where I was so I could catch a ride into town. I could hear Florence say, “This wouldn’t happen in France.” I replied, “I know, Florence, it wouldn’t happen in the States, either.” And the amazing thing is, folks, the driver did this for a 60 cent fare. No, it wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived but its happened to me several times here and I’ve seen it done for others, too, over the time I’ve been here. It’s what customer service is all about. It’s what Panama’s about.


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It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Boquerón. I haven’t been up to the park at the town hall this year to see if they’ve decorated things. It was pretty scanty last year but there were lots of decorations the previous two years.

Some of the houses here in the barrio have put up their Christmas lights…

Saturday night a group of youngsters from one of the local churches gathered at a neighbor’s house to sing Christmas Carols. You might recognize the song.


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The roots of my family tree, both sides, the Philbricks and the Eatons, are deeply embedded in the colonial soil of what is now the United States. There was an Eaton who came over on the Mayflower, but as I remember it, my mom said it wasn’t one of our family, directly. I do know, though, that the Eaton we come from was settled in Watertown, Mass., by the mid 1630s.

The Philbricks were also there in Watertown, probably a couple of years earlier than the Eatons when Thomas Philbrick, known as “Thomas the Emigrant” came to New England’s shores around 1630.

I don’t know too much about the Eaton side, more’s the pity, but a lot of people put a lot of time into exploring the Philbrick lineage. There’s a group called “The Philbrick/Philbrook Family Association.” I discovered them while bored at work one day many years ago. I wrote to them and discovered that I’m a direct descendant of Thomas. The association sent me a very detailed genealogy tracing the family all the way back to the 11oos!

Naturally, with roots so deep, it was inevitable that quite a few famous people who were descendants of Thomas evolved. There’s the notable author, Nathaniel Philbrick who wrote: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, and a host of others. Herbert Philbrick was a famous counterspy during the “Red Scare” of the 40s and 50s and had a T.V. series I Led Three Lives.

It seems that a lot of the descendants of Thomas have a way with words. Besides Nathaniel, there’s Rodman Philbrick who is an award-winning author of books for both adult and young-adult readers. He wrote Freak the Mighty, which was made into the movie The Mighty, starring Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gillian Anderson.

Poet Laureate Robert Frost was the 7th great-grandson of Thomas the Emigrant, and, therefore directly related to me.

Another 7th great grandson of Thomas is Sir Winston Churchill! Besides his political career, Sir Winston was also a Nobel Prize winner for literature.

But of all my famous relatives, the one I hold in highest esteem is Frank Randolph Cady, an 8th great-grandchild of Thomas. That name might not ring any bells for you, but if you ever watched Petticoat Junction or Green Acres you’d certainly recognize the general store owner, Sam Drucker.





     We seem to linger in manhood to tell the dreams of our childhood, and they vanish out of memory ere we learn the language.





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I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted something someone else has written. This was done by Kris Cunningham, another expat to the area. I met Kris and her husband, Joel, a year or so ago when I had my motorcycle up for sale, and have spent some time talking to the two of them at some functions held by a Yahoo Group called “Gringos in David.”

Kris and Joel are having WAY too much fun down here. Recently they visited a remote hostel deep in the rainforest in Costa Rica, Rambala Jungle Lodge. I thought my readers would find her post interesting, so click on this to see how some people live down here.

There are a lot of people here in Panama that live in the same conditions that Javier does. It’s true that most people in the States wouldn’t choose to live like this, and most would look at Javier’s living conditions with a bit of horror. And while I wouldn’t choose to live like this, I also feel that he’s a lot better off than the homeless in the States. He has a place of his own.

It has a touch of Thoreau’s Walden Pond abode to it. It instantly reminded me of a quote by Sterling Hayden from his book, Wanderer:

“‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can’t afford it.’  What these men can’t afford is not to go.  They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’  And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine–and before we know it our lives are gone.

“What does a man need–really need?  A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in–and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.  That’s all–in the material sense. And we know it.  But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

“The years thunder by.  The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience.  Before we know it the tomb is sealed.”


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Why? How?

Of all the possible utensils that could be used to eat rice, how did two sticks win?


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Intelligence vs Smart

Sometimes it takes a bird brain to pull a post together.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been mulling over an incident that got me to thinking about the difference between being smart and being intelligent.

What sparked that idea happened as I was walking to the bus stop one morning. A group of five or six little neighborhood kids, ages from four and a half to ten were playing. When they saw me they started yelling “Hello, hello, hello.” One of the few English words they know. Naturally I was saying “Hello, hello, hello” right back. We do this all the time. But the youngest of the group, my next door neighbor’s daughter, separated herself from the group and came over to me and said, “¿Cómo se dice, ‘adios’ en Inglés?” (“How do you say ‘goodbye’ in English?”)

That impressed me. It was a leap of intellectual curiosity that the others didn’t have. She knows what “hello” means and how it relates to an event but she wanted to extend her knowledge beyond that. A person has to have some level of “smartness” to be able to pick up another language. It takes “intelligence” to delve into how it all works.

But that’s a single, isolated incident. What really brought the theme together happened this morning with a rufus-tailed hummingbird.

I took this video of a rufus-tailed hummingbird when I was house-sitting in Potrerillos Arriba…


I was sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch enjoying my morning cup of locally-grown coffee when the hummingbird stationed itself less than three feet in front of me clicking away in humingbirdese. It stayed like that for at least half a minute and flew off. A few minutes later it repeated its performance. It took me a while to figure out why it was doing this. Then I looked up at the hummingbird feeder that hangs nearby. It was empty.

Now, the bird knows that the little flowers on the feeder aren’t real. That’s smart. Knowing it’s empty is smart. Knowing that I’m the one who mixes up the juice for the feeder is intelligence! Hovering in front of me and making a racket so I’d notice that the feeder needed to be refilled is also intelligence. It’s thinking “outside the box.”

Just because something can’t talk doesn’t mean it’s stupid.


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