Jach’s Travels (in PANAMA)
His fingers moved with precision across the keypad. Four digits and the thick battered metal door popped. Opening only a few inches, he pushed the door wide. A small room, an anti-room actually. Scared concrete floor, walls, and ceiling. Decades old dust covered the beams. But a shiny elevator and a well dressed young man with a broad smile welcomed us.
"Welcome to Caliope." The shiny door opened and we stepped in as he pushed the button. The 3 lit up. Moments later the rear door opened, and we stepped out into a chrome and glass world of a high tech restaurant. Live music. Elegantly dressed people, young and old. Bursts of laughter. "Let it Be" being sung in the distance. The name is pronounced (Collie-o-pee) — in English: Calliope, often called the first daughter of Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muse and the goddess of memory. Calliope as it said upon the menu: "The most powerful and distinguished of the nine muses from greek mythology who presides over eloquence and epic poetry" . . . the Muse with the heroic voice, the one voice. Beautiful.
What a delightful welcome to Panama City. Enrique and I, along with two friends, took advantage of a Colombian long weekend for a quick trip to Panama. We arrived Thursday evening, checked into our hotel in the old town — Casco Viejo — and went walking. Many buildings stand like ghosts of the past. Broken. Run down. Crumpled litter of the present discarded among the rotten wood and shattered bricks. All that remain are the facades covering deteriorating stone walls and hiding an overgrowth of weeds reaching through the litter for a bit of sun. Recently a project of renovation is underway and many of these ghosts are being restored and/or remodeled, and the old town is reemerging building by building. Slow. Arduous. Happening.
Friday we hired a guide, Clemente, and for seven hours we explored the city, learned of its past, and of its future. We visited the Canal and learned of its past and of its future expansion as well. Tired, we ended Friday early.
Saturday: We walked. Street by street we wandered about Casco Viejo stepping in and out of local shops and restaurants. Around 3:00, the heat and humidity having taken its toll on us, we stopped for Mojitos at an open air cafe by the sea. Sea breezes. Mojitos. Conversations in Spanish. Yes. I understood the story that Hemingway, while living in Key West, wrote only 350 words a day and then went to sit and talk at the cafe. Oh, and to drink, of course.
At 6:00 we wandered back to the hotel to rest and to get ready to explore a Panama night. Dinner from 9:00 to midnight, two clubs until 3:00, and back to the hotel. We had to ring and be met by the night clerk to gain entry. Even so, there was still music drifting across the plaza from a club in the far corner. Casco Viejo, and I image much of the city, is alive all night long.
Sunday: Lazy day and a return trip to Colombia.
Just a quick trip, and I was not overall impressed with Panama City. The old town holds some fascination, but it’s very small. The modern city is a phenomenon in growth and expansion, and the skyline is impressive. But in too many ways, for me, it’s just another big city. Perhaps two days are not enough time to get a feel for a city or at least not enough to get a feel for this city. However, this trip was an important one for me. We are no longer visiting Colombia as we have done over the past several years. Now we are living in Colombia, and we are taking short vacation trips like "normal people" do.
I am finding other evidences of normalcy: I am handling the wash and this last week, I set up the iron board and spent my early morning ironing shirts — 22 of them. (Doing the laundry and ironing are my therapy. I love doing each.) I grabbed the keys and ran some errands: pet store, grocery, bank. It all felt wonderful because it was normal. For me, it’s important to have a foundation of normal from which to leap into the mystery of being. I continue to find my ground. Now I am beginning to leap.