Panama Diary...Chapter 3, Part One

What's a Nice Girl Like You 
Doing in a Place Like This?

Panama is a Cheshire Cat. A smile in a tree. 

To me, Panama feels perched and waiting. But whether it waits to pounce or merely purr seductive conversation is unclear. It can be extremely charming, yet having had cats, I know a thing or two about them. And every time I see the split of its wide, clever grin, I am reminded that in addition to the smile and the fast talk, Panama almost certainly has teeth.

Once again, the moment I'm off the plane, I know I'm here. It's the smell, first. It may not seem kind to classify a place as smelly, but if I am honest, Panama is. It's fruit so ripe, it's forever on the cusp of turning. Or piles of steaming garbage brought in by the tide, a gift dropped on the doorstep of even the finest neighborhoods. It's thick air and grass cut daily. It's sweat and exhaust and mud and bananas spilled from a truck, peels and pulp squished all over the freeway. It's rain just fallen and rain about to start, all at once. And it lives its life on a warm stovetop, never hot enough to boil but just warm enough that you can tell what's cooking from the next room. Yes, I know Panama by smell.

The next thing I notice is the sounds. It's almost as if Panama likes to hear itself make noise. But as the soundtrack has become familiar, I'm beginning to hear it as a welcome each time I return.

It's a dozen skyscrapers being built 
right outside my window:

a metallic rhythm -- 

cough of jackhammer -- 

underlying current of machinery -- 

forever backing up to do it again -- 
beep beep beep beep beep

and now and then, the BOOM of something dropped from a great height.

In our building, there's the chime announcing the elevator, 
a cheery triad outside our door: 
bing bing bing!

The swsh swsh swsh 
of the mop in the hallway

The thunk...thunk 
we can't identify that goes on somewhere above our heads, day and night

The whisperwhisperwhisper 
of the air conditioner on the wall of each room.

On my run, it's birds and birds and birds I hear but rarely see: 
flutter, wheep, squawk, tweet, twitter...wheep, squawk, twitter, tweet

The traffic jam's looping 
rush, honk, beep, squeal...rush, honk, beep, squeal

The motorbikes' small 

And a voice in my head that warns 
look out! look out! look out!

My ears are happy to be back. I want to sing along. 

There is Old Town (Casco Viejo - see previous post) and then there is Old Old Town (Casco Antiguo). Casco Antiguo is comprised of ruins from the 1500-1600's, and is very close to where we live. If I'd had a better camera, you could see parrots perched on these buildings. 

And then there's the beauty. The daytime is every kind of green, and a pile of grey clouds pushed up against distant hills. The birds wear feathers in picture-book colors. Nighttime wears a necklace of lights across dark water. Ships blink a bright line along the horizon, waiting patiently for passage. For eyes accustomed to desert starkness, there is almost too much to see. I sit at my desk high above it all, looking out the window in every direction and filling my eyes, bit by sparkling jeweled bit. I've not spent enough time here to stop noticing the beauty yet, and for that I am grateful. 

This is where we live, in what is definitely a new part of town called Costa del Este. Those windows on the top floor? Those are ours. If I were home instead of across the street taking this picture, I'd wave to you from my desk.

bing bing bing!
flutter wheep twitter tweet


Hola, mi Panama.