Jul 17, 2011

An Evening with Friends in Santiago

Spent two days in Santiago with a friend who was celebrating her birthday last Friday night.   It was a small, intimate gathering of Panamanian professionals associated with the university in Santiago.    We were entertained by two accomplished musicians who were instructors there, --a guitarist and a violinist.  They played traditional Panamanian folk songs, which developed into a great sing and dance-a-long.  The percussionists were incidental musicians who came with their wives or girlfriends and later joined in.   The violinist has a radio show on Saturday mornings, which he dedicated to my friend for her birthday.   It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening---not half as sedate as it appears!

Children's Day

This Sunday is Children's Day in Panama.  I learned the holiday used to take place in November, but was recently changed to July 17th,  because there were already a lot of holidays in November, and July didn't have so many....Panamanian's are so practical when it comes to partying !!

Yesterday, Saturday afternoon,  I went to a child's birthday in La Colorada, a small town about 15 minutes outside Santiago.   There are two significant celebratory events in a Panamanian child's life--their first birthday,  and the 15th  birthday for girls or the 18th for boys.   This party was a first birthday party.   It was a very special event.  Half the town was there, a hall was rented, a sound system installed, and snacks, candy, toys, ice cream, cake and gifts galore were handed out for all the attendees.  Just about the time I thought things were wrapping up and it would be time to go, out came huge pots of food and we were all served full dinners.   The party lasted about 8 hours total and we arrived back in Santiago tired and ready to crash for the evening. 

The deafening noise didn't  record on the videos below, but I think these silent movies reflect the energy and good times, just the same. 

Jul 11, 2011

Day Hike in Caldera and then indigestion @ Papa Ricco's

A friend and I took a short day trip to Portrerillos and Caldera.  Ever since making that lost jaunt through the Caldera countryside several months ago,  I get frequent urges to go back, sit on the rocks, decompress, and contemplate.  That's how the day started out , and the photos below can illustrate the zen-like mood I had melded into by the time we headed back to Alto Boquete. 

By the time we got back into town, both of us were hungry and my friend was craving pizza.  So we stopped off at Papa Ricco's, close to my house.   Ricco was in rare form today and turned what should have been a pleasant dining experience into a gut wrenching, ulcer clutching, final patronage visit. 

The two of us arrived cheerful, mellow, friendly and chatty. The owner glared back at us from his kitchen. He asked a few unrelated questions about my friend's property, which was up for sale.  Unlike most pizza places, there were no hot pizzas in the oven, and no sliced pizza for purchase by in the warming racks.   My friend ordered pizza to go to take to her family, and we both ordered lasagna  served at the restaurant to whet our hearty appetites while the pizza baked.  We waited for a long time, and finished our sodas without sight of the pasta meals, nor salad or bread.  We were both beginning to tap our feet and wonder how much longer the food would take.  Finally, at my friend's urging, I got up and walked back to the order area to timidly ask precisely that.   Instead of a reassuring answer, I got a very aggressive, unpleasant, screaming, and inappropriate tirade from  the cook.   I was so upset and felt so put-down by some of his remarks that I actually wanted to leave immediately, without the meals we ordered.  My friend, having not heard his tirade from the next room, wanted to stay and get the pizza she ordered to go.  We stayed, but I did let Ricco know when he brought the food, that I felt his attitude & behavior were inconsistent with the situtation that prompted it, and that he made me feel upset enough to want to leave.  I spoke softly, but he again screamed at me,  this time with others present,   "Well just leave, then,  I don't give a damn!"    I stood up to go, but then considered my friend might get stuck with the entire bill.  I fought the urge and calmly repeated to him that asking how much longer the dish required to cook was not justification for being given sarcastic remarks about ""Shut up or eat it cold" nor being told he didn't give a damn if we stayed or left.  He eventually apologized, and I remained for my friend's benefit. The lasagna was overcooked and dry, and so were the garlic rolls.   I don't know if I will ever return.    Ricco is Boquete's  version of the  "Soup Nazi" characterized in Seinfeld.    If the food were good enough, as Seinfeld portrays with the show's character,  it might be different.  But in my mind it isn't the case and Ricco's cooking doesn't cancel out his caustic nature .  I've heard other people relate similar experiences with Ricco, but this was a first for me.  I wish him well with his temper.  Whew!    Go forewarned and speak at your own risk!

Jul 2, 2011

Raining Bathtubs and Garbage

I wish there were a way to capture the  intensity and noise of Boquete rainfalls during “invierno”. 
Invierno means winter, but in Panama there are actually only two seasons, the dry season and the wet season.  The dry season is what they call summer, and the wet season is called winter.   Winter lasts eight months, and is actually the warmer of the two seasons.   Summer lasts (allegedly) four months.  It’s all relative, though, and summer often is only 2-3 months in Boquete.  It’s typified by fierce winds and cold nights. 
But back to the rainfalls.  They are really impressive.  They come on suddenly, like most monsoons, and quickly build to a crescendo that can last 30 minutes or more, frequently accompanied by lightning and thunder, then gradually fade into a typical California type rain for several hours.   The force of the rain as it builds and beats on the roofs  is deafening.  It’s impossible to hear the television, the stereo, a person on the other end of a telephone call, or at times even a person in the same room.    I used to hate rainy days in California, but I enjoy them here.    At least this year I do… I must be acclimatizing.   They haven’t been as unrelenting this year, and are starting to feel like routine visits from a good friend.  I love the way the native plants in the garden perk up and go through growth spurts.  A lesson learned from last year, though---don’t plant fruit, vegetables or flowers during this time.  They are better started in the “summer” and are then able to survive subsequent “winters”.
The only other relevant local news is that the restaurants that cater to the expat community are all vying for the gringo dollar over July 4th, and are advertising specials that sound absolutely artery clogging and brain bashing.  What in the world are “jello shots” anyway?    Lemongrass Martinis? Lots of rum tastings and 2 for 1 beer specials, too.  Entrees include BBQ Baby Back Ribs, Burgers, Fish & Chips, Real Buffalo Chicken Wings, Corn Dogs, Beef on Fried Corn Tostadas, Fried Calamari, Steak with Potatoes and Gravy, and on and on.   Yuck---count me out.  Have to admit, I have a weakness for Coconut Fried Shrimp at Las Ruinas, but I limit myself to once every 3 months or so.   What Boquete needs is a good health food restaurant.  But then, it would probably never survive.  
Lastly,  garbage.  There’s been no garbage pickup in my neighborhood for two weeks.  The bags are piling up along the streets and it doesn’t look so nice.   It may be endemic to my area of town, however, because I don’t see expats griping and fussing their heads off about the matter on the local forums.  If they were affected, undoubtedly it would be fussed about.    Interestingly enough, there’s no garbage worker’s strike, or other labor-related matter creating the problem.  No one I’ve asked seems to know with certainty what the problem is, but speculation has it the garbage truck is broken down again.  Boquete only has two trucks, and when one breaks down, the areas affected just have to wait until things get repaired.  Guess I’m living on the wrong side of the river.   Should I start another fundraiser?  Absolutely not!  There are lessons to be gained here.  Patience, prioritization, tolerance,  and temperance to name a few.