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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Soda Train!

"I only drink to celebrate, commiserate, or to make something happen."
Unknown

It's been a hell of a week. For whatever reasons, one or two turned into three or four after work, and it happened almost every night. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun. Canada Day, a post-softball party with work, an old friend visiting town - three excellent reasons to sink a couple. Last night, we finally opened our outdoor bar at work, and it was the perfect spot to sit with others who had finished for the day.

At the end of it all, though, I'm the guy that brought up the fact that Whistler citizens in the hospitality industry imbibe too much. Jesus, I was even on the news.

Well, here I am, eating my words.

It has to stop.  But consider: I don't bike, I don't drive, I don't skateboard... How the hell am I supposed to meet strangers apart from at a bar?

So I'm on the 2 week soda train. A fellow bartender recently did this, and it's a great idea. I can drink soda water anyway, and more often than not, it's free. 

I guess that's it for now. I'm forcing myself to get more writing done. Maybe some of it will make it to this site.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Scent Trunk Review

I'm so glad I'm a guy.

That may as well be my mantra. Women have to do so much to get ready before facing the public - make-up, hair straightened or curled (the grass is always greener, it seems), some semblance of fashion sense, heels that sacrifice comfort for shape, and so on. Never mind pregnancy, periods and pay.
Guys (guys like me anyway), all we have to do is clean up and smell good. Even shaving is up to me! I thank James Dean every day I can go for the white T-shirt/blue jeans option. Simple, and effective.

Which is why smelling good is important. It's a first impression, a powerful memory trigger, and it's one of the only ways a man can really make a personal touch to his overall personality. But there are so many kinds out there, and as a guy that shops based on need vs want, I don't have the energy to look for something that smells nice. For years I was using Calvin Klein's Be, something simple, not sweet, kind of spicy. The last few years, I've had, through an astounding coincidence, the same aftershave as the very first bottle I got for Christmas - Stetson's Preferred Stock (I'm not a fancy man).

This, though, is intriguing. Scent Trunk lets you fill out a survey of your preferred smells - grass over flowers, citrus over ocean, etc. It then logs your results, and sends you some sample size bottles in the mail.



There are a few parameters that Scent Trunk goes by - my high scores were "green", "citrus", "woods", and to a certain extent "oriental". When my 3 showed up - Note Fragrances' "White Pepper Mandarin", Costume National's "Scent Intense", and Billy Jealousy's "Illicit" - they came with a card each that displayed a brief overview, a break down of top, middle, and bass notes (the scents you smell at first, midway, and longest lasting), whether they're a day and/or night smell, how long they last, and sillage (how strongly the scent diffuses around the wearer). It gives you a good idea of what you're getting yourself into - apart from the actual smell of course.


With the help of a couple of female friends, I was able to find out that while all 3 are great, my personal favourite was Costume National, despite the trepidation I felt when seeing one of the descriptors was "patchouli", a hippie red flag. Meanwhile, the girls seemed to all like Billy Jealousy - bergamot, sandalwood, and tea.

But the best part of the site is the options for boxes. Not only is there a his and hers, but also a monthly vs seasonal. $15 per month gets you 3 scents per month, while the $20 Seasonal gets you 4 scents every 3 months - perfect for switching up your style along with your clothing (if you're into that sort of thing...).

This is a great service because it gives you a wider range to find out exactly what it is you like without having to shell out the money for a full bottle. Here's a fun fact: you know I talked about "notes" earlier? Well, when you're sampling the cologne in the store, you really only ever smell the "top notes", the smells that evaporate first.  So you could be buying an entire bottle of something that you don't even like after an hour of wear! With the sample bottles, you get an idea of what to buy. Incidentally, Scent trunk has just opened their online store where all of the colognes you could possibly receive in the mail are available to buy full-sized. There's a broad range, from $30 to $300, and you can check out additional info on each scent that catches your eye/nose. Yet another reason to try out small sizes - you could be getting a deal!

We don't have to do much as guys. The trick is to do those few necessary things, and do them well. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: The Final Days, and What I Learned

NOTE: I apologise for the massive delay in the update. Between getting things ready to pack up to leave, and hitting the ground running back home, it's been on the back burner for a while. This is a long post, but it's the rest of my stay in Panama.

Sunday, not a lot happened. Let's ignore it. I wandered. I searched for restaurants I had not yet found. Tried calling mom for Mother's Day, no answer. Monday is where the fun stuff begins. Plus, I think I deserve a day off. 

Monday, it hit me that this adventure is almost over. I was determined to take some pictures of the day to day life here. It was great looking at the city not through the eyes of a tourist, but as a man who could give directions confidently, both through Spanish and knowing the neighbourhood. I saw beautiful things in places I had walked past a dozen times or more.

I picked up a couple of souvenirs - not the things that just say PANAMA on them, gaudily. I got a small painting, and a mug from the coffee shop I had frequented so often. As I bought the art, the painter said he was having a rain sale, (3 paintings for $10) and pointed across the bay. Sure enough, the clouds loomed over the cityscape across the water, and he guessed the rain was about 5 minutes away. Well, I was too far away from the house to make it back in 5 but Finca del Mar was right around the corner. 
The first spots of rain began to fall as I stepped under their umbrellas, and I'm telling you - 5 minutes and maybe 10 seconds after his prediction, before the bartender had even greeted me, a storm came down of biblical proportions. Raindrops the size of bullets were ricocheting off every top surface and drowned out the conversation of the couple next to me. Soon, the outdoor patio floor was soaking, puddles making their way across even the floor under my feet. 20 minutes later, I ordered my second, and it was as if someone had turned the shower tap off and turned the light on. It seems I planned my visit perfectly, as the rain gets either longer or heavier with the passing of every day. 

I made my way back to the studio, the streets already steaming in the afternoon sun. Hot bricks and warm rain means within the hour, apart from the errant puddle, you'd never guess the plants had been watered. 

It was my father's birthday, so I skyped him and struggled through the patchy wifi. Promised to have a beer for him - I went and bought 6! 
On the way back, I saw Casco Bikes Peter. 

"You're still here! How have you been?"
"Yep, I leave Wednesday morning. It's been good man, I feel like this town has accepted me a little. I know way more Spanish than when I got here, I've written like crazy, and I feel like this has been the best holiday I've had in a while."
"That's great, I hope to see you again!"

"I hope so too bud."

*          *          *

My last full day in town. I decided to hunt down a final couple of places in my list. 
I grew up with ice cream. It was a big part of our town's history. Some of the best ice cream in Canada was made in our town, and my grandparents or my dad would take us regularly enough that, in this day and age, might be considered child endangerment. (I'm not complaining!) So when I heard that Casco had its own French style gelato, I knew I had to check it out. 
Trouble was, I couldn't find it. I had the address, but it seemed to elude me.
Then I walked across the street. Turns out I had walked past it almost every day, but you don't see the sign when you're walking literally right next to the wall - these sidewalks make it impossible to pass someone without stepping into the street. 


So yeah, I had ice cream for breakfast. Technically it was sorbet: mango and passionfruit, because you can't be in the tropics and order strawberry.  In a way, I'm glad I found this place on my last day. I was hooked. I'd be a fat kid for sure by the end of the trip. 
Next, Las Clementinas - finally! A surprisingly classy place, considering it's right on the line of sketchy el chorrillo.  A final ceviche and it was worth the wait. With a passionfruit sauce, it was so tart. Incredible. And yes I had a blended drink - in my defence the menu didn't say it was blended. 

Ginger mint lemonade with Citrus vodka. Fuck it. Holiday! 

Back to Granclement - I told you I like ice cream, motherfucker - for their After 8 scoop. Good lord, so minty I'd swear I brushed my teeth. My breath was still cold 4 blocks after I finished.



As the heat of the afternoon got into full tilt, I drifted off. Awoke around 5 and took in the town for the last time from my balcony. I would certainly miss this little world of insanity, and I was just getting used to the heat. Pro tip: don't wear underwear. As if to underline my reflection, a funeral march passed right down my street. There had to have been 500 people - and a full marching band. 

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By the time I was ready to head out, it was cool enough to sit outside for dinner. The air conditioning seems to always be cranked, and it's almost a shock every time you step into a building. On the way out, it's like suddenly breathing through a blanket. Puerte del Tierra has a patio right in plaza Herrera, and my last dinner in town should be more than a pizza and a beer. Steak and a pisco sour on a calm night was a great way to say goodbye to this town. 



I had found a copy of Mountain Life in my bag so I gave it to the guys at Mojitos, and met two American guys. It's amazing that, despite heavy Spanish populations in their original places, Miami and Texas, one of them didn't know a word of Spanish; the other had learned as a child but forgotten almost all of it. I knew way more Spanish than them, so I was the frigging translator!
They wanted to party, and they wanted hot bartenders. So I took them to Finca. Both of the women were working, and after only a couple of drinks, one guy went from happy drunk to "I want this pineapple" drunk. Seriously, he took the pineapple. The owner said it was ok, but I feel like that was just to keep the tourists happy. They got a taxi, I made it very clear that it didn't know them, and went back to Mojitos. It wasn't even 10pm! To be fair, they said they had been drinking all evening.
A few drinks later, and knowing I had an early morning the next day, I said my goodbyes. That's what I love about being a bartender: you have brothers and sisters all over the world. I would love to come back, and Mauricio has some big plans for the place in the next couple of years. So if I can save up, I told him I'd invest in whatever his next project is. I can't do this forever.

*          *          *

I called Alexis, my driver from the weekend, and he picked me up at the American Trade Hotel to take me to the airport. It was different this time - he asked about my family, I asked about his (he's a 49 year old grandfather!). It was like a friend was driving me to the airport, and my biggest regret of the trip was that I forgot to get a picture with him when he dropped me off until he was long gone. 

Travelling home was an experience all unto itself. My modus operandi when I fly is to fall asleep before the safety announcements come on. That way, I'm vaguely aware of us taking off but it doesn't phase me, and when I wake we're already a portion into the flight. So I took my nap, and awoke... on the tarmac still.  A mechanical failure had kept us grounded for over 90 minutes. We landed in Houston, literally at the same moment my connecting flight was taking off to Vancouver.

By this time I had made casual friends with another Canadian, headed to Victoria after Vancouver. We waited for each other at the various fuckeries of airports - baggage, customs, etc. - and they put us up in the same hotel for the night, as the next Vancouver flight was 9.15am the following morning. That was the one good thing about the delay: up until then, I was scheduled to arrive at 12.30am, with the bus leaving to Whistler at 9am. This holdup in Houston meant I at least had a safe place to sleep and shower, instead of the relatively hostile floor of an international arrivals lounge. 

The following morning was an early one - the airport shuttle was at 7am. The hotel had a "breakfast" that consisted of waffles, bananas, coffee and juice. I wasn't in the mood for pastry at 6.30 so I had the "I'm late for work Special". As we're eating, a woman who had been staying there some nights started to cause a commotion at the front desk, then turned to the tired folk (who clearly didn't want to be there in the first place) and told us all that she had been bitten by bed bugs every night since she arrived.  *shudder* I'm just saying, if you find yourself in Houston, and are forced to stay at the America's Best Value near the airport, maybe sleep in the tub.  

We finally arrive in Vancouver, and all of our delays are made up for in YVR. From landing to walking through final customs took under 45 minutes - in fact, not much more than half an hour. I said goodbye to Josh, my travelling friend (a bartender who had to work that same night), and sat out by the terminal awaiting my bus to Whistler.

What is your favourite journey?
Going home.
William F. Buckley 

It's such a shame that all world adventures have to begin and end in airports. No matter how hard they try to be individual, it's just straight lines, white walls, and ugly carpets. It's like they're trying to actively stifle inspiration. Looking through my notebook, I began to read some of my earlier entries, the first being in the summer of 2011. I remember i got this book for my birthday from a woman who no longer speaks to me, the bliss of engagement to her current partner drowning out even the wake of any memories of her ski bum experience.
What I did find was the entry just before my first holiday writings. I don't know exactly when I wrote it, because  I am never sure whether to timestamp these things, but I'd estimate it at about 2 months ago.

I realised something today. I left the house really before I had to today, thanks to my brother and his girlfriend booking a romantic trip to Hawaii and being sickening with each other. I'm all for romance, but take it down a notch, you know?
I arrive in the village, and walk past dozens of vacant-eyed people, licking their ice cream cones and absentmindedly so. Walk past somewhere that is playing moronically sugar-sweet pop music - who pays bills and listens to that crap? And who wants to listen to it on their vacation?  Everything rubbed me in exactly the way I didn't want it to. The Universe was pissing me off. 
Suddenly, I wanted to be AWAY. Away from civilisation, squeaking automatic doors and status updates on weather reports. I wanted to be miles away from everything, and I had to settle for a small island of trees between a playground, a road, and a hospital.  I couldn't not look at one of these things. In my mind, I began to identify with the old dog, who, one morning and completely out of character, bites his owner. I wanted to harm these chewing cows. Call of the Wild, I suppose. 
Of course I didn't do anything, but the desire to break out of the spoon-fed lifestyle is still there. Call me ungrateful if you want, but when even your "nature" is manmade and contrived, it doesn't scratch the itch that makes you want to start a fire and dance around it. Not without getting a ticket from an officer.

You can't go through life and not learn anything - that would be an impressive feat. Learning is important all the way through your life, and not just finding out what you want out of it - what you don't want out of it as well. When I moved to Whistler almost 10 years ago, I didn't know what was next, but I knew I didn't want an office and Casual Fridays to be "next". 

So, what have I learned on this trip?

I've learned that it doesn't matter where I live, I'm far more physically and creatively productive when I 'm not there.  I don't yet know why, but that just means I have to find more "homes.

I've learned to be truly alone for far longer than before, and that "being alone" is vastly different from "being lonely". (I've also learned that I talk to myself if I go for too long without speaking to others, but that's a story for another time.)

I've learned that sometimes, fortune and serendipity can exist from time to time. Sitting down at a bar next to amazing conversation, or choosing just the right cab at the right time.

I've learned that the brain (my brain anyway) craves conversation, in whatever form. I won't presume to say I'm trilingual but my brain has sponged up enough Spanish and retained enough French that I can speak for a short time with people from literally all over the world.

I've learned that good people can show up when you need them the most. 

I've learned (or rather, it has been confirmed to me) that travel is important, and I've been sacrificing it for too long because of my comfort in existing. I aim to change that.

I've learned that, while bricks and cobbles are nice, nothing can compare to grass, dirt, and sand under my feet. 

Most importantly, I've learned that shifting away your comforts, be they physical or geographical, forces you to look at what in life makes you happy, and what brings you down. Not to act on these things is doing a great disservice - but only to yourself.   It's true that while I was away, I found something in my life that is lacking. Unearthing this Great Sadness may take some more work, but it's important that I now know that it's there. 

*          *          *

And that's that. I hope you enjoyed reading this collection. Thanks to everyone that kept up with this craziness.  I started a few projects while I was in Panama City, so if any of them come to fruition, I assure you I'll post about them.





Monday, May 11, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: Out On the Water, Into the Jungle

I was up and out the door before 8am - the first time it has happened in a long time, much less on this trip. It was the perfect day to get out of the city - Saturday morning means little to no traffic on the way up to the boat launch, and the heat in the city is anywhere from 5-10 degrees hotter. Great day to get into the trees.

The bus was picking me up for the day trip out to the man made islands in the Gamboa area. These islands were created not as piles of dirt dropped into the lake, but rather they are the highlands of the area that remained when the canal and Gatun Lake were created.  

Our guide, Ross, was a Zimbabwean that moved to Panama three years ago. After travelling all of central america, this was his favourite spot.  With a dozen people or so in our group, it was going to be an interesting day. With more than one Canadian in the bus, the talk almost immediately turned to hockey. Some stereotypes exist for a reason. 

To get to the islands, we had to use the Canal as transport - specifically, the “middle bit” that is the highest part of the canal. It was cool to see the huge cargo ships up close.


The Titan, a former German U-Boat crane, now retired and lifting shipping containers once in a while.


A rare sight - two ships passing. For 12 hours the ships move from the Pacific to the Atlantic, then the reverse for the other 12 hours.
I can't put a caption on videos, but here's Mike Mulligan dredging the lake.

video




Hard to tell from this photo, but I swear this tanker is the Ernest Hemingway.



Close boat is close.
The boat was essentially a tin flat bottom. Not a complaint at all, as it allowed us to get right up close to the trees. Egyptian geese, a ton of snail kites, egrets, baby crocodiles, basilisk lizards, capuchins, howler monkeys, and Geoffrey’s tamarin. We may have lost out to the heat in terms of seeing more animals, but we wouldn’t have known otherwise: life was everywhere. In fact, one of the islands in the lake has a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute - the only Smithsonian institute bureau outside of the United States. The island was chosen because this one island has 250 species of ants, and more flora diversity than all of America.

Photo dump warning.

Baby crocodile, centre of the shot.





Fun fact: you can make howler monkeys get ornery by revving an outboard motor.


I'm just now realising how terrible this camera is.

After the islands, it was the Indigenous Village of the Wounaan people. These people are a semi-nomadic group that signed an agreement with the Americans in the 1950s. Essentially, it was “We’ll teach you how to hunt, fish, and identify medicinal and toxic plants, if you let us live here.” Here being the Soberania National Park. With around 40-50 inhabitants in this village, it really is an experience. They speak their own language, with Spanish as a second language. They can no longer hunt (it is still a national park) so their main protein is the Peacock Bass, an invasive species with no natural predators. You can fish as much of them as you like - one of Ross’ favourite pastimes is fishing in the canal. An average day brings in 30-35 fish, and you can take home as much as you want. So, the Wounaan use that for protein.  We did a quick 10-15 minute wander into the rainforest. The actual rainforest. Leaf cutter ants, a leaf frog, the national butterfly of Panama, the Blue Morpho, a brilliantly blue insect. The plants were almost more interesting because they can’t run away from our group of 15 making noise in the jungle. Craig, a fellow Canadian, had just finished his residency, with a special part of the exam in poisonous plants, so he was able to enlighten us specifically HOW the Candle plant kills you. It was awesome.




Stairs...



Ross, our guide, translating life in the village.






This is the same tree.

After a brief lunch, we were taken back to our drop off point. I was the last picked up, so I was the last dropped off. It was cool to shoot the shit about politics and oppression of minority with a guy from Zimbabwe. He also explained (when I noticed that there didn't seem to be any teenagers at the Wounaan village) that there was a lack of interest by that generation, and a real worry from the elders that their culture might be gone within 50 years. Makes sense - teenagers all over the world are bound to rebel, especially in this case with the western influences all around them. The children go to school in the city, so the opportunities they might feel like they're missing out on are right in their faces. We agreed to meet up that night because Casco Viejo is the place to be on a Saturday night.

Holy hell, it was nap time. 

I had a couple of beers in the fridge, so after I slept, I sat on the balcony and watched the night unfold. I’m 95% certain I watched the most ingenious drug deal, when my neighbour across the street descended a basket from a long piece of twine to the street from his 5th story window, and a man on the street put something into it. It wasn’t down there 2 seconds. I toasted the man from my balcony, and he laughed. This really is a different place.


Unfortunately I didn’t find Ross or his friends, but I coasted around the neighbourhood for a while. I finally found Relic and honestly I wish I hadn’t. It's entirely because I'm a career bartender, but it rubs me the wrong way when I see a bar being run like shit. Relic originally wowed me: a hidden courtyard that I never expected to be there inside Luna hostel. The club inside is that little bit grimy to make it feel like you're part of the secret. But when I wait for 10 minutes with 3 bartenders "working", I feel like something's fucked. I can see my beer, I know how much it costs. Why should i tip when I can run that bar by myself? And it wouldn't be the busiest I've been, either. I saw one cocktail shaken in that 10 minutes. Thankfully there was a patio bar, but the two female bartenders saw me and finished their conversation before one of then took my order. It's like they didn't get that I was trying to give them money. I stayed for one there, and realized - Saturday night! Miles Davis! Danilo’s had a $5 late night special instead of their usual $15 charge, so I went and checked that out before I went home.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: The Kindness of Strangers

I awoke early so that I might get a jump on the day and be back before the afternoon rains. I found a taxi, and headed to Miraflores Visitor’s centre, the first of three docks in the Panama canal. 

Guys, I found the taxi.

Alexis Zamorano owns a special taxi service, that runs on the premise of tour guiding. The man himself, and I happened to flag down his car.  This guy gave me a verbal tour all of his own volition. He not only drove me to the Visitor’s centre, he also arranged with me to drive me home again. Thinking it was just a nice thing to do, to take the 15 minute drive to help out a stranger, of course I agreed. On the way there we stopped at the administration building so he could take my picture. This dude is awesome.


I do the tourist thing, it was interesting. History, economy, business, and just the sheer “holy shit” factor of what the human race can do.

A ship was just completing the Miraflores lock as I got there. See that locomotive on the other side of the canal, above the people? $2mil each. The canal has 16 of them.


The difference in water level - 54m.
Sure enough, Alexis is there just as I get to the taxi loop. Instead of driving me straight home, he brought me to the next set of locks, Pedro Miguel.  He tells me that the Canal is the only place in the world where a shop's captain recids control of their vessel to a Panama Canal specialist, who steers the boat through the passage. It can take up to 10 years to complete this schooling - and the average salary is 3 million dollars per year.

I saw the barracks where the Americans were set up while they built the bridge, now a university I believe. And over the Centennial bridge to see El Corte de Culebra (Snake Cut). I even saw the cemetery where the French buried their workers while they held the contract for the Panama Canal before they ran out of money.


The bridge. Not my photo obviously.

Excuse the fuzziness: it was a moving car on bad asphalt.



Then it was time for a tour of the surrounding American houses - where all the money is. This one lane road that's decrepit and on either side - rainforest. Through the American expat zone. Martyrs avenue, where in 1964 a student protest turned bloody when Panamanian students protested against American control of the area.

This is all out of the goodness of his heart. His passion is evident, and all in I gave him just 25 for over 2 hours of his day. He gave me his card, and he will be picking me up for the airport on Wednesday morning. 

The best part? His entire commentary was in Spanish. I understood about 75%. 
You guys, I think I understand Spanish.


I take the afternoon - generally the hottest part - to organise any writing, usually this blog. Then I tried round 2 of zaza. Success this time, although I notice every table around me had a reserved sign on it - this place must be good. Whatever, I ate around four and it was 8ish so I only needed an app or two. Beef carpaccio and a mushroom gnocchi, both excellent, and an old fashioned as advertised in their menu. Stellar drink; I made sure to tell the bartender on the way out. Another early morning tomorrow so I headed home to get some sleep.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: Barefoot and Bill Evans

Thursday - Enough is enough; I have to get some history and culture in here beyond the Old City. I passed by Barefoot Panama's office multiple times, so I investigated as to any rainforest tours - as it happens they had a monkey island and indian village (their words, not mine). A 7 hour trip all in, with an English speaking guide. There are 4 others on the tour, so it stands to reason that, unless they're 2 couples, it'll be some new friends. 
I tried to get a taxi for near half an hour, but I must be doing something wrong, because there doesn't seem to be anywhere suitable to be picked up. Any driver I wave to just waves me off. I figured any taxi without a passenger is fair game, but that doesn't seem to be the case. 
I chalk it up to bad timing, and grab some lunch from Casco’s first deli, Super Gourmet. A great lunch spot that has the menu on the walls, so as you eat your (admittedly) delicious sandwich (Grilled Chicken fillets, Gouda cheese, avocado, roasted bell peppers, lettuce, tomato, onion, balsamic vinaigrette, mayo and Dijon mustard), you have all kinds of food envy and regret. Just a good reason to come back I suppose. 

By the way - I don’t have a photographic memory; I just found their menu online. Only $8 for quality lunch. 

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Harp in a park. Sure.

I was supposed to meet up with a girl after she finished work, so while I waited I headed over to ZAZA - a little more on the pricy side for dinner, but to hell with it - I’m on holiday, and it’s only me that I’m paying for. I arrived shortly after 7, a time I remember from my days at Alta Bistro as prime dinner rush time. 

(Insider tip: never make a reservation for 7pm. It’s the sweet spot of “not too early, not too late”, and it’s a pain in the ass to try and secure a table. Shoot for 6.30 or 7.30. Your service will probably be a little better because the server won't be slammed all at once, and it's always nice to be nice.) 

The door was shut, there were staff at the door inside, and a group of 4 French people were confused. That may as well have been a sign on the door saying "Closed for a private function". I pulled the cord straight after that, and headed back the way I came.  
As I walked through the alley, I noticed a man wheeling a double bass into Damilo’s jazz club. Boom. There’s my night. The band played from 8-9, and played tribute to piano jazz hero Bill Evans to a mostly empty room, save some impressively drunk Americans, a family of 4, and myself. And holy shit - it’s a Miles Davis night on Saturday. 

Juan Carlos de Léon on piano. Trust me: watch the video below.
The waiter recommended essentially the same thing I had at Tantalo the first night - pulled pork on fried cornbread - so I gave it a shot. Well, Jesus, it was amazing. (I don’t take pictures of food. Sorry.) I had finished eating by the time the band came on, so it was time for a Maker’s Mark, and to bury myself in the music. 


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To me, this is Panama.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: True to Form, One Week In

I woke up early, almost too early - just past 6am local time. It was nice to sit on the balcony and enjoy the sunrise, and by the time I had written my Mountain Life post it wasn't even 10. So I showered briefly (it's amazing how quickly it takes to freshen up when all you really need to do is lower your core body temperature and soap up a little) and walked over to the Mercado Marisco (fish market). It's infamous, and I'm glad I went, but it was too early for my stomach to eat fish, especially when the smell was everywhere. It's a shame I didn't have a plan, because I would have loved to cook up some fresh shrimp or clams. 



On the way back I stopped at La Cafe Sucre, a coffee shop on the way home. They were the friendliest group of guys, they suggested the tamale for breakfast (a Panamanian traditional dish, served on banana leaves) and their homemade juice made with carrot, orange, and pineapple. God damn, I could have drank that all day - and they even offered rum with it! Not before noon. Not today anyway.

I continued to wander, found the cultural centre again (though it may have been the city council building) and went in - a ton of local art, much of it dark. It was fascinating. 



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I stopped in at the Church of San Jose. I'm not religious in the least, but the beauty of churches, particularly the Spanish and Latin American churches, is something you can't ignore. This one in particular has a baroque golden altar (mahogany with a gold veneer). Legend says that it was ignored by Henry Morgan's raid in 1671 because it was painted black to disguise its actual value. 
 


A coffee at UNIDO again, where I got chatting to some students from USA (I'm not sure where from, but one had a Whitefish Montana ski sticker on her laptop). Returned home with an EIGHT DOLLAR BOTTLE OF PANAMA RUM (it’s like it’s trying to get me in trouble) and set to work.

I’m one week in. I’m in a strange headspace - on the one hand, this city becomes more and more comfortable as the days - even the hours - go by. On the other… well, today is the first day I’ve felt a little homesick. I’m crippled by my driving, or lack thereof, so I can’t really explore anywhere without taking a taxi (cash only). It’s probably a good thing in a way, otherwise I’d be tempted to buy an old beater of a car and take this adventure on the road. Any other holiday, you hear people say that one week isn’t long enough - you just begin to hit your stride with your knowledge of the area, and you begin to recognize faces of people, even in passing. When it comes time to pack, you wish you could stay longer. Well, I won’t lie - there is a part of me that wants to head back to the clean tap water, the temperate climate, and my friends. 
But I’m not about to change my flight, and the rest of the time is for getting into the guts of the place. Now that I know the scheduling of the city (sort of) I can head out to the Canal (for example) and be back before the afternoon rain (though today it was just huge rolls of thunder - that’s 100% humidity for you). I just have to make an effort to talk to strangers, to grab hold of any conversational rope that is cast out as I sit and write.
I’m also adrift in the sense of m “regular” bar. I’m happy to be a barfly and write, but it seems nowhere is open 7 days per week that isn’t Italian food. Don’t get me wrong - pizza is one of my favourite foods, but I can have pizza any night. Shit, I can even get it delivered to my front door!
Maybe it’s just the listlessness of the days, the structure. If I had some friends here as well, I’m sure these 2 weeks would have flown by. Work keeps invading my dreams too - both the GLC and La Bocca before it. Not so much the location, more the social side. I thought it was Wednesday yesterday until I realized I had written but not yet posted my Mountain Life Article - fortunately it was before 11am local time (9am PST).

This kind of turned into a downer of an entry, I apologize. Just know that if you’re reading this, I probably miss you.