Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Panama City is totally crazy.

I wrote these notes more or less for myself, but figure I'll post them here anyway, as I hope to share my thoughts on this awesome piece with everyone who happens to read this blog. I like Panama City. Notes commence here:

Panama City appears to be entirely composed of interstitial zones. It sweeps around the bay from the Canal and the Bridge of the Americas east and ends rather suddenly approx. 5 miles from where it starts. The buildings tend to climb in height as one goes to the east, with slums abutting some of the nicest buildings in the town.
The sections of the city that we have so far been in are Casco Viejo, which is the old city, and contains some of the nicer/older churches, the President’s house, and other fun things. Fun parts of Casco Viejo:
Many buildings which have either burned or rotted out have been turned into parking garages. The architectural style which is mostly concrete construction and tends to large, wooden doors and frames set into the concrete means that where doorways have been removed, leaving wide concrete arches, there’s good spots for cars to drive through and park on the tiled floors.
Most floors are tiled concrete.
The older houses tend towards having quasi-French quarter construction; each floor has a long balcony covered in windows which open side-to-side and are mostly the height of the rooms inside. There’s little air conditioning, and most of the units are new (and manufactured by LG); most people seem to use the wind off the ocean to cool their homes.
Most of the balconies have laundry hanging from them.
There’s a hotel near the president’s house called the “Antigua Club” or something like that which is in ruins. Again, with the construction in question, ruins means that there’s nothing inside, and it is just a burned-out shell of concrete, with a tree growing from the chimney. The Antigua Club was destroyed in the 1989 US invasion and has not been rebuilt. The nice writer/artist from Argentina whom we met at the community art gallery (!) says that they’re planning on having some sort of art parties in the hotel, at least until the cops drive them out.
Casco Viejo is about 1/6-1/5 restored. These restorations are in no particular order; one building on a block is fixed and everything around it is crumbling. Paint peels in weird ways in the tropics; buildings look leprosied. Most of the concrete is intact but there are places where the concrete needs repair, usually in the center of large patches of missing paint. There are unrestored buildings on the same block as the president’s house; this is totally foreign to me.
The method of restoration of choice appears to be to remove everything that isn’t concrete from a building, and then redo it entirely. There’s a certain lack of subtlety to this approach that I appreciate. Restoration as scorched earth policy?
Houses are apparently cleaned by dumping soapy water on the floors and brooming said water out to the street. For serious.
The streets are narrow and the sidewalks narrower. The sidewalks are also part step; somewhere in the evolution of the city multi-layer tiered sidewalks were decided to be the way to go. Often the upper tiers are cracked tile.
Many businesses are unmarked, even though they appear to be open to the public. The doors open wide when they’re open and shut when they’re not. Yet more places have doors that are split in half top/bottom, apparently for street-level ventilation with added privacy. I’m not sure how you tell which buildings are businesses and which aren’t; perhaps you have to know before you get there.
Within sight of the President’s home is what appears to be a local ship terminal. Small boats (smugglers?) which are powered either by poles or by outboard motors (sometimes two) and are less than 1m wide and very long are parked outside it (see pics); it’s hard to tell which are still in use and which aren’t but I think it’s safe to say that if the boat isn’t actually flooded it’s in use. The shipyard itself is falling apart, hardcore. It’s beautiful in its own way.
Casco Viejo abuts the slums in many places. We were told by two nice ladies from an upstairs balcony not to walk the way we were going; this was probably good. It’s hard to tell which sections are acceptable to go into and which aren’t; this is part of the whole interstitial community thing I’m talking about. Nothing is clear cut, everything is jumbled. Possibly comparative to Roman towns like Pompeii? Must learn more.
Taxi service is weird. Everything from the hotel costs 3x as much as the ride back to the hotel. You don’t tip cabbies which is truly strange.
My favorite form of transit that I haven’t yet taken are the rojos diablos, or red devils. These are former US schoolbuses that are used instead for passenger transit. Apparently a ride is 25 cents, and the buses are amazing. They’re all painted red, white, and green, and then on top of this is painted anything. Really anything. Dragons. The Pope. Jesus. Wrestlers. Rock stars. Barbarian w/ axe. Bikinied girl. Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Someone who might have been Lao-Tzu. Trees. Oceans. Boats. Recursively, another bus. These things belch diesel fumes like they’ve just been drinking huge amounts of beer, and some have modified chrome exhaust pipes that go up over the emergency exit (blocking it) and vent over the top. Many have missing windows, all are loud, and none of them look like any other. They’re among the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Other notes: the Bridge of the Americas turns off its lights at approx 11:15. Good conservationists.
The water around the canal is gross. Thanks large amounts of boats coming through.
There’s a size of boat called “HandyMax,” which is smaller than the size “Panamax.” Panamax boats, meanwhile, are smaller than “Suezmax.” I want to know where the Handy canal is.


Blogger "I Love you, Catmother!" said...

"Recursively, another bus" LOL

I can't to have time to actually do more than skim this.

b/c you are now in south america pray to the virgin mary for me that i finish this goddamn thesis and that it is the bomb.

also, you basement sprouts are doing fine.



2:37 PM  
Blogger "I Love you, Catmother!" said...

that should have read:

"Recursively, another bus" LOL

I can't wait to have time to actually do more than skim this.



2:38 PM  

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