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Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: Coffee and Culture

Waking up “in the ghetto” is just as you would expect. The smell of some unknown meat from some unknown’s breakfast, as well as some kind of chemical. Bleach, maybe, or mothballs. The symphony of traffic, in all its glory. Motors and honking horns, the bass from an exorbitant sound system from a comically substandard car. Dogs bark when they aren’t wandering like lost children or sulky teenagers, and children squeal and play. Shouted conversations across the street - or even across the street - in a foreign tongue. And music, all day, all night - that happy Latin sound with accordions or trumpets. Every morning I have awoken to this, and while most of it is disorienting, it’s the music that comforts me. I am in a town full of people, and this is an adventure.

I may have found the best espresso I’ve ever had. Undo Coffee House roasts their beans in-house, which are bought ethically and sustainably. Their house espresso is deep but not heavy, with hints of caramel and cocoa. 




The cafe itself is sharp and clean, with just enough character to let you know that it’s an old building. I’d be interested in finding out its history, because I feel like it was built to be a coffee shop. Adding to the intrigue is the silence - with no music being pumped out of low-profile speakers that look like plant pots or something, it’s somehow much more immersive. This is the longest post I’ve had in a long time, AND I even started a new story arc with the book I’m writing. (Teaser…)  I can hear the couple talking on the next table (though I still can’t understand what they’re saying) and it’s a beautiful contrast to the cacophony that I wake up to every morning.  

Peter (the Good Samaritan from Casco Bikes) explained that the wealth is slowly growing out from the centre of town - in two or three years, I may not even recognize my apartment building. It’s exciting to see the area in the middle of this transformation, but also a little sad. While I’ve only spent 4 nights at Calle 13, never once have I felt the need to watch my back. Of course, I stay in the “gentrified” zone, but the couple of blocks nearby are still pretty rough around the edges (that’s real estate speak for “dodgy as fuck”). And for the most part, people keep themselves to themselves: a “buenos” on the stairs, or a nod from one man to another from their respective balconies. The 10 percent that cause trouble ruin the reputation for the other 90, same as anywhere else. Run down as it is, I love the simplicity: my lawn furniture dinner table/office, the gas oven connected to an actual propane tank under the sink. Even (to an extent) the ants that wander around the studio, so small that you have to look right at them to see them (I have bleached the kitchen floor and moved the garbage outside). No distractions, and no hurry to get out the door.

In other news, I got talking to a girl on Tinder and she has invited me to a friend’s birthday party tonight. I was unsure at first, but now I’m really looking forward to meeting some local people that are around my age.  I don’t intend to sleep with her at all - though she is pretty, otherwise we wouldn’t have matched - it’s certainly not my driving reason to go.

As I look out the window it strikes me how easily I can spot the tourists - and it’s more than just the colour of the skin, because I’ve seen both locals and tourists of all shades. Maybe it’s the years of training in Whistler, but the ones that walk with no purpose, looking up at the architecture - I hope I don’t look like that. I guess because I have 2 weeks (10 days left!) a little longer than the average tourist, I’m taking my time, spreading out the “looking up” so as not to appear too conspicuous. I have to memorize how to say “Can I take your picture?” so that I can capture some of these people in pictures. It doesn’t matter their age or body type: never have I seen a population that knows how to wear clothes. Their innate knowledge of their own personal style is enviable; I saw a 200b woman in a beautiful green dress, and she was wearing it. I’m glad I brought more collared shirts than T-shirts (although my studio sadly has no iron, and there’s no hot water in the tap so I can’t even steam it while I shower.)


One thing I do notice about this place is the more relaxed attitude. Obviously this isn’t unique to Panama - I live in Whistler after all. I did a little more wandering off my usual couple of streets and found a place on a restaurant patio right by “the beach”. After watching some local kids play in the surf (which: holy shit) a man from the restaurant, La Rosa de Los Vientos, asked if I would like to drink, to which I of course said yes. He explained that the restaurant was actually closed from 3pm to 6pm, but he was happy to serve me as long as I paid straight away. Can you imagine anything like that in North America? The overall attitude here seems to be “Well, it’s four more bucks in the till”. I ordered my 507 Premium Red Lager, maybe my favourite local beer so far. 

But the best part? When he first approached the table, he asked if I would like service in English or Spanish. I guess I’m fitting in just fine!


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