Thursday, March 31, 2011

CLEANING UP A LIFE

Back in Baltimore after arriving last Sunday
Exhausted from the hiatus to break out of Panama
Spending this week in the detritus of my life
Selling books left behind
Burning CDs to laptop
Discarding various remnants of a life once lived

On what I thought would be a joyous occasion
A profound sadness has filled my heart
Listening to old favorite music
Seeing friends I may never see again
Facing the reality of leaving this behind
Filled with regret about what might have been

My son is Army-bound
This may be my last glimpse of him
His dog knew it was time to let go
Now it is my turn, but it is so hard
After all these years of smothering
To send him on his way

One must have faith that the best is yet to come

-bjd

Friday, March 25, 2011

PASSING TIME IN PANAMA CITY

A fire at the Miami International Airport has caused cancellation of many flights over the past few days, including mine that was scheduled for today.  After a thirty-minute wait to talk with an American Airlines reservation agent, the best I can do is get to Philadelphia on Sunday.  [Update:  The second flight was also cancelled today - Saturday.  After spending some time totally freaking out, I insisted that the American Airlines agent book me on Continental through Houston, which he did.  Travelers make note of this - you don't have to fly the same airline when your flight is cancelled.]

This created a two-day block of time to pass in Panama City. 

One should not be upset about such things. Fortunately I am still at the hotel.

So I'm using this new-found time to:
  • Explore the neighborhood;
  • Rest;
  • Write;
  • Work on digital photographs;
  • Get caught up on e-mails;
  • Cultivate a calm mind (which I really needed after the second cancellation)
There is a flock of about ten green parrots in the trees outside my hotel window.  This is the first time I have seen wild parrots. If I had left this morning, I would not have seen them.  Now I have the time to watch their silhouettes in the setting sun.

And they have filled my heart with joy.

Two Green Parrots Outside My Window

Two More Parrots - Members of a Flock of Ten or So

Parrot Close-Up.
Thanks for posing, little guy.
-bjd

Thursday, March 24, 2011

YO SOY UNA PENSIONADA

It is impossible to understand the process of becoming a Panamanian pensionada (retired permanent resident) without experiencing it.

Today was the last two step of a process that began nearly a year ago:  getting my photo ID card at the "new" immigration office in Panama City, then getting my multi-entry visa at the "old" immigration office across town.

My attorney's husband got up at 4:00 am to get a place in line at the "new" office, which opens at 8:00.  He was number 5. They can process only 35 a day. Then his wife, my attorney, called me at the hotel at about 9:30 to come on over in a taxi. We finished there at about 11:00 am, after having to get my ID card twice because they made a mistake on the first one.

Then we went over to the "old" office to get my passport stamped with the multi-entry visa. There were about 5 people ahead of me in line. After about an hour my attorney sat down to rest while I held our place in line. Then after another hour I got to sit down while she held my place. Then she found out she had to go somewhere else to sign a paper on another case, so her poor beleaguered husband showed up to take both of our places in line while my lawyer took me back to my hotel. I gave my passport to him, hoping that I would see it again by tomorrow afternoon for my flight to BWI to visit with my son and to finish cleaning out my "stuff" from the house.

The lawyer's husband called me at about 3:30 to say he had the stamp and was on his way to deliver my passport to me.

And these were just the last two steps. There were several steps before that, but today's experience is enough to give you an idea.

But now I can say I have my Temporary Pensionada, which entitles me to many deep discounts. I also don't need to leave the country every 90 or 180 days (no one is sure which applies - the 180 days is a new policy but is up to the individual immigration officer's discretion evidently).

 And I will need to repeat the process in a year to get my permanent visa.

Was it worth it?

Yes.


-bjd

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

OUT AND ABOUT IN THE CITY

Here are a few sights in the El Congrejo district of Panama City.  It's an interesting mix:

"Through the Roof"
Thanks for saving those trees.

Iglisia del Carmen
in  Panamanian Filigree Gothic

Colors

"Diablo Rojo" (Red Devil)
Colorful, Polluting, Dangerous
Being phased out with modern buses

Looking at kitchen equipment with my friend Cora

New Finisterre Hotel - Beautiful!

Sign of Environmental Activism
(Stop - Don't drink water with cyanide.)
Don't know the story behind this.
-bjd

Friday, March 18, 2011

WEEKLY SPECIAL

Today my favorite grocery store - El Mandarin - had a large display of Chinese toilet paper.  At $.39 a roll, it was one of the least expensive. Of course I had to buy some out of curiosity. Note that the label says it is made from all wood pulp:

Chinese Toilet Paper from El Mandarin -
Is There a Chinese Connection?
This immediately created a moral dilemma:  should I support the large-scale destruction of forests in China, which is rapidly destroying its environment for the sake of "economic progress"? Or should I use a more expensive product made from recycled paper?

I decided to make this decision after checking out the quality of the Chinese product...

Turn out it is very well made, and very soft, unlike the other Panamanian products.

Darn.  Maybe I could plant a tree for each case I use?

Please don't let this be the butt of any jokes.

-bjd

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CHANGES IN LATITUDE, CHANGES IN ATTITUDE

(With thanks to Jimmy Buffett)

I have now been in Boquete nine weeks.  In that time I have:

  • Not eaten a single hamburger;
  • Not visited McDonald's once (the closest one is an hour away);
  • Eaten French fries only once (and they made me sick all night);
  • Eaten pizza three times (and it also made me sick - are you seeing a pattern?);
  • Learned to cook Panamanian style (chicken, rice, beans/lentils, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and of course the basic staple of Goya Adobo all-purpose seasoning);
  • Eaten fried chicken twice that I can remember (see previous blog on Milquiburger vs. Nelvis);
  • Not watched any television (but then I didn't watch it before, so this one is cheating a bit);
  • Not seen any movies;
  • Not bought any clothes;
  • Been sleeping under two blankets at night at 9° latitude and 3500 feet elevation with the windows wide open for the cool, soothing breeze;
  • Made friends with my Panamanian farmer neighbors, who keep chickens, dogs, and a goose next door;
  • Wave a blessing to everyone I pass in vehicles and on foot, like we used to do in Texas (they wave back, except for Señor Lara who stands silently out front of his house all day with his cane, but I bet he will be waving by the end of next month);
  • Made great progress on re-doing the yard, thanks to my gardener who lives in the extended family compound up the hill;
  • Given thanks each time I drive into town and see the surrounding green mountains that could be straight out of Shangri-La;
  • Volunteered as a planner, photographer, and visiting band host for the Boquete Jazz Festival;
  • Been elected President of Boquete ArtWorks, a new artists group;
  • Planted the seed with the local movers and shakers to develop Boquete into a worldwide destination for the arts (music, visual, literary and culinary);
  • Photographed several of Cora Kent's cooking classes at her beautiful house (www.boquetegourmet.com - see previous posting); 
  • Made countless new friends - ex-pat, Panamanian, and indigenous;
  • Bought a Suzuki Jimny 4-wheel-drive vehicle, which is serving me well on these rocky unpaved roads and paved ones pock-marked with potholes;
  • Published an article in the Chiriqui Times newspaper (http://chiriquitimes.weebly.com/);
  • Resurrected an unfinished moralistic murder mystery novel that had been on the shelf for several years, and which I hope to finish by summer;
  • Seen hundreds and photographed many species of birds in my yard, who will eventually be on the blog, including some that come right up to me;
  • Obtained work for my wonderful gardener with my Chica friends, so he is now employed every workday;
  • Learned to live in two rooms plus a bathroom and not feel crowded;
  • Enjoyed a regular evening cocktail of sugar, fresh lime (from the tree in my yard), and smooth dark Abuelo Añejo Panamanian rum - yum;
  • Bought a fruit picker cage, which attaches to the end of a long stick, so I can easily harvest the sweet oranges and grapefruit (and - you guessed it - more of those limes);
  • Wondered why limes here are orange and oranges are green;
  • Left the numerous bananas for the birds, because I can buy perfectly ripe, super-sweet ones in town at 2 for $.15;
  • Missed my washer and dryer more than you can imagine;
  • Found a wonderful lady named Lourdes to do my laundry in town;
  • Received my first Social Security direct deposit, which is helping immensely;
  • Been covered in no-see-um (chitras) bites from the tiny midges that live on the coffee finca (farm) across the road and slathered down with triple antibiotic and belladonna ointment as well as with Gruber's Jungle Oil, a natural plant extract made by a retired botanist in El Valle and which everyone uses here;
  • Not developed any immunity to the chitras bites so far, but have learned not to scratch them so they don't get so big anymore;
  • Learned to pick fruit flies out of my coffee because my house has no window screens, resuscitating one semi-drowned one today;
  • Killed one snake on my back porch (with a machete), one scorpion in the kitchen, and several spiders. Regret killing the snake after learning that it was harmless and have asked the snake for forgiveness. The large spiders (2-3 inches across in legspan) I have learned to capture and release away from the house. In this manner I have overcome my longstanding fear of spiders.  I suspect the same spiders keep returning, however;
  • Not yet tried the hammock on my back porch;
  • Fed spaghetti with a nice meat sauce to my gardener, along with a man I didn't even know after he had spent all morning clearing the lot next door with a machete so that his horse could have more grass to eat;
  • Experienced one episode of rain that lasted two days straight (more to come);
  • Made much progress in being satisfied with what I have;
  • And in doing so, have found true happiness.
You can too - wherever you are.  But it helps to be in such a beautiful place.

-bjd

Saturday, March 12, 2011

CORA'S GARDEN

My friend Cora Kent has many cooking classes and dinners at her beautiful house:  www.boquetegourmet.com. She has an infectious cheerful spirit, and has given me memorable meals and enabled me to make many new friends among her fellow guests. Her husband David is another kind soul, and graciously helps with the dinners and many other things. The grounds of their house are some of the loveliest I've ever seen - including a quaint Spanish chapel filled with religious art, a large Koi pond with a waterfall, huge pine trees under-planted with clumps of amaryllis, and many other interesting features.

I wanted to give a present to Cora, so I've made these pictures of some of the many plants in her garden.  I call this series "Cora's Garden".  When I see her next week I will give her a set of note cards with these images.

Shh - don't tell!  Cora hasn't seen them yet!

To Cora Kent, with grateful thanks for all she has done for me and for our community:

Coleus

Amaryllis, One of Many Under the Pines

A. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)


Hellebore

Heliconia

Ganzania 

Allium

Hydrangea

Salvia
For Cora, with thanks in my heart for doing what you do, and for being what you are.

-bjd

COLORS OF THE MORNING

Yesterday morning the sunlight was hitting my table just right. The grain of the wood was glowing in incredible depth, much more than this flat picture could show:

Colors of My Table

I reflected a moment on the irony that this tree had to be killed and cut and made into a table in order for the pattern to be seen. And I was thankful for this tree.

A blue hummingbird hovered just outside the window for some time. It seemed to be saying, "Good morning!" I had to get up and walk over to the window to discourage it from coming inside, but even then it didn't fly away for a while. This was the first time I'd ever made real eye contact with a hummingbird.

Then I walked out back to see where the hummingbird had gone, but it was nowhere to be seen. Instead I saw a large insect hovering just beyond the porch, catching the same angle of the light. It was a type of insect I'd never seen, with a oval, bottle-green iridescent body. I could see the extent of the blurring of its wings. Then, in an instant, it was gone.

And thus began another peaceful morning.  I am so thankful to be here.

-bjd

Monday, March 7, 2011

THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN IN BOQUETE

Some of my new friends here are true gourmets, and they uniformly agree that the best place to get fried chicken in Boquete is at KCO Milquiburger (pronounced "Milky-Burger").

Milquiburger is next door to a general store in Las Naranjas, a "suburb" of Boquete. They don't open until 5:00 pm. You can tell when they're open because they have taken down the board that covers the front, and also from the crowd of people gathered outside.

Milquiburger - Before 5:00 p.m.

Today was the first time it was convenient to stop by and give it a try. I had to gingerly make my way past a row of Panamanian men sitting on barstools in the front, munching on fried wings.

It was somewhat embarrassing having to order "Dos Pachugas" (Two Breasts) in front of them.

But I'm home now, happily munching away on the Milquiburger chicken. Am not sure if it's the best here -  Nelvis Restaurante, my usual place for local food, has some darn good chicken too:

Restaurante Nelvis - Open Only for Lunch
Was probably someone's house once.

Either way, the price is right - two breasts and two wings at Milqui cost $3.20.  At Nelvis the whole chicken lunch - with one breast, rice, beans or lentils and salad - is $2.75.

Life is good...la vida es buena en Boquete.

-bjd

Sunday, March 6, 2011

SOMEONE ASKED ME TO DANCE LAST NIGHT

Last night at a party to celebrate the successful Jazz Festival, someone asked me to dance.  So I did, for the first time in about twenty years.

Thank you, Mr. Someone.  You made me feel like Somebody.

-bjd