A Writer in Panamá
When I retired, I moved to France. But I found France had become – not the political entity “The United States of America”, and not part of either of the two continents by the name, but rather America – the occidental culture (or lack thereof) of hucksterism. The one that has each person pulling what he or she can out of as many other people’s pockets as possible while trying to outyell those others in a quest for attention – the culture of multinational firms that have far more power in the world than presidents and kings – the anticulture that has blanketed much of the world in strip malls, superhighways and fast-food restaurants, and infected billions with the economics-based æsthetic of everpresent cacophony of garbage television, mind-rotting electronic foolishness, and talentless little singers who all sound, look, and behave alike: badly.
Something within me drew me to Latin America – partly my great delight with a visit a few years previous to the Yucatán. Mexico was a little too costly for my limited budget -- other countries don’t usually make it easy for foreigners to work, so I had to find a place where I could live within my small pension. I considered English-speaking Belize, because my Spanish at the time was poor and my Portuguese nonexistent, but Belize didn’t appeal to me.
An inner voice kept telling me to look at Panamá, even though I knew nothing about the country other than that it was famous for hats (actually made in Ecuador) and a canal (made by the United States). Yet I did, and things quickly fell into place – the decision was made to go thither when I found out about a casita (small house) that was just coming available. Panamá seemed, and still seems, to be a well-kept secret, and I hope it stays that way so it isn’t overrun with expatriate Americans. What I found in my researches has been borne out: the people are very friendly, crime is rare, things don’t cost much in the U.S.-dollar-based economy, and the upland climate is like spring throughout the year.
A couple of years or so before my arrival I had dreamed I was in Heaven, and yet at the same time in the dream I knew I was in Panama. I was standing with my arm around my beloved (whom I did not look at in the dream, so her identity was not revealed to my waking self). We were in a field of brightly colored wildflowers looking at high mountains in the distance – and, when I arrived in my little village in the Tierras Altas of Panama, and for the first time observed the giants standing over this village, I immediately exclaimed to myself, “These are the mountains of my dream!” In the days and weeks that followed I often felt that Heaven would be hard-pressed to surpass this incredible place.
And why not? “The mind is its own place,” Milton reminds us, “and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” And Borges, who said that his place was in Hell and therefore would not know about Heaven, opined that those who live in the latter believe that the wonders of that locale are overstated by theologians who obviously have never been there. But I live there, and there can be no exaggerating.
Selections from "A Writer in Panama", copyright © 2012 by James David Audlin. All rights reserved.