Since I started writing this little blog many years ago, something big has changed. It's called Facebook. That thing is the blog to end all blogs. You post pictures and thoughts and musings and curses with the click of a button. It takes zero effort! So, by the time I get around to posting here about things, like say a trip to Panama, I've kind of already gotten it out of my system.
Lucky for you though, I am endlessly verbose. I'll find a way -- 112 photos, 1 video, and countless status messages, comments, likes, and super-pokes later -- to make it fresh. Besides, I haven't told Facebook a single word about what I ate in Panama. That's all for you, baby.
Now then. I can tell you what I didn't eat: Panamanian food. Oddly enough, my trip -- 4 wonderful nights spent between Panama City's romantically retro Casco Viejo area and a barely-walled hut on a Carribbean island that's a forty-minute boat ride out from the nearest town -- included more cases of gourmet European takes on the local bounty of seafood and produce than anything traditionally Panamanian. That tells a story of modern Panama though: laid carefully over the country's own rich heritage, international prospectors and expats are taking Panama in new directions (as in, shopping malls and bennigans. yikes.).
Let's start in the city. Here's the deal with Casco Viejo: beautiful colonial buildings now in ruins. Colorful, grand buildings, many are which are roofless, windowless, completely gutted, and overgrown with moss and grass (sad, but wonderful for an afternoon's exploring). In the last few years, though, the artists have figured out the area's potential, and cropping up among the ruins are stately restorations housing art spaces, jazz clubs, wine bars, and more.
We had the luckiest hookup in history, and stayed with friend-of-a-friend (and our new best friend) Kevin, a Chicagoan with a top-story apartment in the heart of Casco Viejo: rooftop balcony, midcentury furnishings, art and books strewn everywhere, a baby grand in the window (!), and air conditioning to boot. Kevin is in the process of restoring a delapidated 3-story building into an art space: gallery, studios, cafe, bar. Basically, Kevin is the coolest person in Panama. No, seriously.
Our first night there, we went to Manolo Caracol. Ten-course tasting menu, Andalusian owners (and thus, delicious Spanish house wine, of which we partook generously), focus on local, seasonal ingredients and lots of fresh seafood. Highlights: tiradito de dorado (freshness incarnate), shrimp with tamarind sauce, Kevin's velociraptor impression.
Then, we had a mojito in Plaza Bolivar. Plazas might be the best thing ever. Walk a couple blocks to a grassy public square, sit at one of the surrounding tables served by Ego Y Narciso restaurant, sip some minty goodness, enjoy a serenade by a sweet gentleman wandering among the tables with his guitar, take in the balmy summer night surrounded by others doing the same. We liked it so much we came back on our last night in the city -- for sangría at Casablanca restaurant on the other side of the plaza.
la Casona. La Casona de las Brujas is yet another building dedicated to art, music, culture, youth. We went to the bar. Dark and gritty, with weird things dangling from the super-high ceilings and strange images projected on one wall. Brought Kevin's friend Rafa home with us, stayed up until 4am on the balcony drinking wine and talking crazy (6am flight to Bocas the next morning notwithstanding. I'm not smart.).
A few days before leaving for this trip, I ran into Tai (owner of Scoops) at Golden State and mentioned to him that I was going to Panama. He told me to look out for a particular ice cream shop there: apparently one of Scoops' rotating art exhibits -- a set of photos of an impressive array of ice cream scoops -- was taken there. I remember these photos -- they really were great -- but no way was I going to search the country for this place. But lo and behold, seeking reprieve from a sudden thunderstorm, Rachel and I ducked right into it! Turns out it's a fancy French ice cream shop in Casco Viejo called Granclement, and the back wall is lined with a million ice cream scoops. Try the coconut sorbet (and avoid the fresh basil ice cream; it tastes like pizza).
We did make a quick stop in Cafe Coca Cola, purportedly the oldest cafe in the city. It's as close as we got to actual Panamanian food, not to mention cute old men in hats that looked like Buena Vista Social Club. All I had was a cafe con leche, but it was solid.
OK. That's enough for tonight. Island roundup to come in a subsequent post. In the the meantime, from my vantage point, Panama was incredibly picturesque, and I managed some gorgeous photos. Check them out.