Last Day in Panama

I like the Hotel Milan, which is where I’m staying in Panama City.  Clean, quiet, well equipped and at a very reasonable price for jubilados.  But the restaurant has to set some sort of new low for food, even for Panama.  One of the problems we’ve always had with the quality of food here is that almost everything tastes old, for whatever reason.  This morning, the hotel restaurant somehow managed to ruin toast with that flavor.  I think it was what passed for butter.  Whatever it was, the toast was inedible, the eggs barely so, the “ham” unspeakable.   I think that Life is saying to me, “Joyce, you made a really good choice and here’s the reason why you’re moving to Italy.”

Long day today.  I’ve arranged with a taxi driver to pick me up here at the hotel, take me to the US Embassy, and then to Tocumen.  I can’t check in for my KLM flight until 4:30, so I’ll be hours in the airport section outside security, which every airport in Panama  seems to have made as uncomfortable as possible.  Last time, with the kind of luck that strikes once in a lifetime, I just happened to be sitting next to a man from–Rome!  Of all places!  He was waiting for a flight to Spain that left about an hour earlier than mine, so we chatted for hours–in Spanish.  Neither his English nor my Italian was up to any extended conversation so we wound up speaking Spanish!

But we did talk a little in Italian.  Each region of the country, as you might expect, has an accent.  Milanese are famous for their slurred “rs”; I have yet to meet someone from that area so I can’t say what that sounds like.  But after a while, I thought I picked up a softening of some consonant diphthongs that I’ve never heard before.

Sicilians speak Italian with what I’ve read as being a lilting accent.  What I did notice is that they lower significantly the range of the last two syllables in a sentence, which is utterly lovely.  Fo instance, if you say “Vado a Roma” (I’m going to Rome) “Vado a” is spoken at one pitch and then you drop the last two syllables, Roma, about an octave.  I found myself doing it after about a week.

Of course, I’ve forgotten any Italian I’ve ever known by this time, but I know I’ll pick it up again.  Everything else aside, one of the main reasons we want to live in an all-Sicilian neighborhood is to do the immersion thing: speak only Italian, learn to fit in as best as we can as fast as we can.  We’ll never blend in totally–that’s impossible at our age.  But we sure can mix well.  

So far, I seem to be avoiding Mary’s cold, which is almost miraculous.  We’ll see what happens later on today when I finally sit down at the airport, and relax for the next two days.  Nothing much I can do inside an aluminum tube traveling 6 miles above the planet except watch the flight tracker, which I really enjoy.  Goes to show you how sensory deprived I’ve been.

There are two boxes with Mary, a small one of mostly US Civil War books that I can’t replace on Kindle (as well as an out-of-print hard cover edition of the diaries of Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy), and a larger box of things I can’t bear to give up: a frog candelabra that I’ve had for over 20 years, two “boys” singing away as they hold uyp candles, a Hopi kachina doll that I bought in AZ on a visit to my brother, two Met Museum of Art reprints of beautiful Japanese watercolor paintings of cats, and a few other things.  With me are two suitcases: one large, but not really large and one that can be carried on board.  Together, both weigh 22 kg.  The large one contains mostly winter clothes that I kept when we moved to Panama and that will come n handy during winter in Ragusa or wherever we are.  And that is the sum total of my belongings after 76 years of life that I’m taking with me.  Well, I’ve always secretly wanted to be a Buddhist monk (as well as a Formula I race car driver), so it seems fitting.

OK, so next stop is Ragusa.

Fruit stand in Ragusa

Fruit stand in Ragusa

My first photo:famous Baroque church? 18th century palazzi? No! A fruit stand!

‘Tis The Season

This promises to be one of the best, if not the best, Christmas season we have ever had.  It started out with our gratitude from both of us recovering from health problems–not major but annoying and limiting.  For about 2 months, I had been experiencing another round of sciatica, which wasn’t responding to my usual treatment.  I really was considering going back to the orthopedist and insisting on physical therapy (he’s a little too in love with surgery, as are they all).  Then a Panamanian acquaintance urged me to go to a massage therapist, who comes to David twice a month.  He does Swedish massage, which is not for the faint-hearted, but she went on about all the near-miracles he had performed with various people in the area.  I decided to give it a try.

So we went together to David, to a private house that the Maestro uses when he’s in David.  It’s a typical Panamanian setup–we sat outside along with 3-4 other people and chatted with each other and everyone else while waiting.  When it was my turn, the therapist had me walk a little–and then said both to my companion and to me that the problem was a tilted pelvis.  It flashed through my mind that that would explain some other things as well.  Both my internist and orthopedist had immediately focused on a slipped disc in my back, everyone agreeing that it was an old condition, but that’s where their attention was.

The session was painful.  BUT I had immediate relief–no question that I was feeling better.  He urged me to return the next day, which I did, and I went for still another session when he returned in a few weeks.  I’m greatly improved, and will see him next week for another session.

Mary has been doing a series of back exercises designed by Egoscue, highly recommended by acquaintances in Boquete.  They’ve been working well for her–she describes it as similar to the feeling after a chiropractic session.

Neither of us is completely recovered, but we both are far more functional than we have been.  I’ve been walking pain-free for the first time in months, and am able to do a surprising amount of work, which was good, since we had various emergencies, mostly having to do with broken water pipes, last week.

So when we lit our Advent candles on the first Sunday of Advent, we were correspondingly grateful for those among other blessings.

It took me a while to adjust to beautiful weather during Christmas, but this year, for the first time, it seems absolutely perfect!  Probably because of the contrast with the 9 months preceding, but for whatever reason, the weather, the fortunate lives we’ve had, and the season have all combined to bring a great deal of joy to this house.

We’ve had our Christmas lights up since the first week in December and have delighted in those.  They really are pretty and we enjoy seeing them from the inside of the house as well–they make a lovely pattern of colors seen through the windows.

I’ve been baking up a storm.  Yes, the fruit cake is brooding in its alcoholic haze for 4 weeks.  But I’ve also been baking seasonal cookies that I haven’t made in decades.  As my Christmas gift, I’m going to share a recipe that has been in my family for at least 60 years, and probably longer.  I remember my mother making it when I was a teenager, and I’m sure she made it beforehand, except what kid remembers exactly what the goodies were except that they were special and delicious?

Here it is:

Fruit Bars


Forgive the image–I scanned my original recipe into my recipe file.

A few differences–you might want to cut down on the sugar.  Surprise, surprise–I soak the candied fruits in rum for 2-3 hours before baking!  Also, I use a much smaller and deeper pan–an 8″ x 8″  baking dish in which case this makes 2 batches.  You can substitute some other dried fruit for the dates; I’ve used prunes, and that’s been just fine.

We love them and are having a terrible time rationing ourselves, since we’re both on diets (I’ve lost 12 lbs so far with 8 more to go), which we’re struggling to maintain until Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, when hey, those are my favorite days of the year, and let the good food make its welcome appearance!

We visited the Espinosas yesterday for the first time in weeks.  They’re almost over their latest round of colds and allergy problems, with most conditions clearing up with the weather (true for just about every Panamanian we know).  I’m going to make tamales again this year, only this time from maize nuevo–fresh corn.  I am not looking forward to getting the kernels off the cob, and grinding is a chore, but Ricardo showed us an ingenious setup he’s devised for turning the molino the easy way–with electricity.  He’s hooked up a motor to the mill via an old bicycle wheel, and both he and Maritza assured us that we’ll have all the masa we need in 15 minutes!  Maritza is also going to check to see if we can get fresh corn from local people–much cheaper.  We plan on going in together, she to make bollos, me to make the tamales for Christmas Eve.  We’re going to make the tamales at their place on Thursday.  It’ll be fun, working up there, and I will be making tamales under the guidance of that master chef, Maritza.

Meantime, we’ve had other visitors and will have more this coming week.

For Christmas Day dinner, we’re having a couple from Abajo who are in the latest agonizing throes of construction, which has gone on for 2 years.  They’re interested in plants and thoughtful, witty, fun company.  I’ve also picked up some tips and information, since they have done a good deal of what we want to do in the way of insulation.  They also have recommended a cabinet maker, an American couple who have set up in Abajo.  I have hesitated and hesitated to have cabinets made by a Panamanian because as wood becomes scarcer, the incidence of using green wood has skyrocketed.  This couple has a kiln, which no Panamanian I know of does.  They’ll be more expensive, but I have heard nothing but raves about the quality of the work.  After the New Year.

So, it promises to be a wonderful end to what has been a hard year, and we are truly grateful.

This is a long post, because it is my last on this blog.  I have posted irregularly for a while now, in part due to the sciatica, which made sitting dificult and painful.  But even after that problem went away, I realized that I was no longer looking forward to bloging.  I’ve always done this blog for my own enjoyment, really, and now it’s turned into an obligation, somehow–“Gee, I haven’t posted in X number of days, weeks…”.  Nope, not gonna do that.  I think that, in good part, when I started this blog I felt like an outsider looking in and commenting.  I’ve realized in about the past month that I no longer feel that way and therefore no longer care to comment about what I view as natural, everyday living.  So, fittingly, this is the end, at this wonderful time of year.

There are about 6-10 of you with whom I correspond regularly by email (in some cases, even see!) or in other venues, such as LT.  I trade jokes with some of you, and that has been fun.  With a few others I’ve shared in both the good things and the sorrow of losing a beloved animal friend (here’s to Mr. Ziggy, well-loved in this life and beyond).  That’s taken on a life of its own, I’m glad to say, and there is no reason why it can’t continue, since we almost never communicate via the blog any more.

For those who have enjoyed the weather reports–and there are quite a few–just bookmark our weather site, because Mary does all the work and will continue to keep that up.  You don’t need any reminders from me.

It’s been fun but it’s time to end this and start something different.

Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo!




Disaster In Eastern Panamá

I read La Prensa daily, and for nearly the past week, the news has been increasingly grave due to the heavy rains Panama City, Colón, and areas nearby have received.  At one point on Wednesday, traffic on the Canal was suspended for 17 hours.  What has been alarming in the extreme is that important reservoirs and lakes are at their maxima and dam spillways have had to be opened in order to relieve the pressure on the dams.  The most important has been the Bayano Dam on the Bayano River.

But it’s been hard to keep up with the story.  However, Eric Jackson has done a superb job of summarizing the situation and reporting what information there is that hasn’t made the papers.  Please make sure you watch the video–it’s mind-boggling.

I should mention that there has been damage to the access of the Centennial Bridge; only two of the four lanes can be used.  There’s a dramatic photo of it in this morning’s La Prensa.

On a much milder scale, our November weather report is in the archives.  Mary has a link to an excellent presentation that Lloyd Cripe has done on the climate–do check it out.

A Gorgeous Day

Yesterday was a beautiful day–partly cloudy but a mild, lovely day.  And continuing today.  When we got up this morning, for one of the very few times since we’ve been here, the sky was cloudless–and filled with stars.  Mary went outside first, and just oohed and aahed (I had to remind her that at 4:30 in the morning, other people were sleeping–sound carries around here).  But it was hard not to get carried away at the sight.  Venus is spectacular in the sky, as bright as the Moon if not so large.  The Big Dipper was so bright, so large as to be almost overwhelming (which is what got Mary in the first place).   Orion was starting to set; we could just see Taurus–Gemini was still high.  The Southern Cross, Corvus–all were breath-taking in the clear sky.

Walking the dogs just at sunrise was a joy.  Birds making a racket–they seemed to be louder than usual this morning.

We ate breakfast outside on the porch, enjoying the perfect weather.

As we remarked to one another, these are the days that make the rain worth enduring.

Thanksgiving Weekend

One of the best things that has happened around here was Thanksgiving Day/Weekend.  It’s not a big holiday for us, and last year I’m not certain we really did anything–can’t remember.  But this year, we decided to celebrate.  Usually we do at least part of the holidays with the Espinosas, but they have had a terrible health year, and the last time we had seen Maritza, she had been sick for nearly a month.  So we were by ourselves, and wound up very content with that.

We had the best turkey I can remember, and for food, I have a long memory!  Tender, juicy.   I’d like to take all the credit, but I roasted it the same way I’ve always done.  I sort of went all out with side dishes as well–did stuffed mushrooms, which I haven’t made in decades.  We’re still enjoying turkey sandwiches.

That Sunday being the First Sunday of Advent, we also lit our first Advent candle.  this year, we have Advent calendars on our desktops, and that has been fun.

But to make the weekend really special, we went to see Harry Potter y Las Reliquias de Muerte, A.  For this film, one cinema in David did have subtitled copies, so we were able to hear the voices of the actors.  We never saw the 6th film in the theater, because they only had doblada copies in David, so we waited for the DVD.  But for this film, they had subtitulada in one theater and the doblada in the other.

What a great film!  What fun it’s been to watch those kids (and they are kids no longer) grow up!  I thought it was the best adaptation of the books yet, and while I have a few quibbles with the editing, the movie itself was terrific.  No more school stuff, folks–straight action-adventure and you had better know what’s happened before.

When I read the 7th book, knowing that it would be filmed and having listened already to directors talk about problems with filming exposition, I wondered how they were going to handle all the exposition in the final book.  There’s a lot of it–it’s how Harry gets the information he needs.  But Steve Kloves, who has done all the screenplays but one, did an excellent job and while the movie does slow a bit, it picks up beautifully and the ending is perfect.

I have never understood why reviewers have had it in for Dan Radcliffe, who is a good actor.  I think all three of the “kids” were beautifully cast, and I have to say the same for the rest.  Alan Rickman is the embodiment of Snape, and I think not even Ralph Fiennes portrayal of Voldemort is as sinister as Jacob Israel’s  of Lucius Malfoy.

A great movie–beautifully photographed, nicely directed, excellent acting.  Bring on Parte B!


Roof Repair(ed)

I’m truly tired of talking about the rain, so I’ll just say that was I ever wrong about that proto-Tropical Cylcone system dissipating yesterday!  in less than 36 hours, we received over 7.5″ of rain.  However, it is moving east, and the rain has slacked off.  But Mary tells me that now there are TWO low pressure systems, one on either side of the isthmus.

One good thing about yesterday’s rain, though–at one point, it was a real aguacero with a rainfall rate of over 2.5″/hr.  And so we had a chance to test out the latest work Juan has done on the roof.  At this point, he has replaced the Alumband under all the cumbreros and put patches on many if not all of the screws.  Yesterday, we saw the fruits of his work–no leaks!!  Some of those leaks along that line have been bothering us for years–again,nothing serious but utterly annoying, especially when you have a line of them.  Gone!  He has some more work to do on the roof; eventually, I want all the screws patched.  But I’m starting to look forward to installing insulation on the ceiling.

Juan the Roof Repairer


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