Bits & Pieces

October 5, 2010

The City of Panama in 1855

In the year of 1855, Mr. Roberto Tomes published a book titled "PANAMA IN 1855" based on his experiences while visiting the Isthmus.  This is an excerpt from that book as published in the Magazine "Loteria" in 1945 and reproduced in "Epocas" in March 1991.
The visiting Yankees separated into several groups in order to observe the city in the most effective manner.  Some of them chose to roam the narrow streets of the city, purchasing Panama hats in the small stores and looking at the young girls dressed in typical attire who looked down from wooden balconies that throw their shadows across the street.  Others chose to walk into old churches, almost in ruins, entering through arched gateways, some almost hidden by brushwood and weeds that grow in every crack  almost to the altars where the statues of Mary and Joseph still stand.  A young woman, kneeling, prays while a feeble old man, shakily stands praying next to one of the images carved from wood. 
Santo Domingo Church with the Flat Arch
The Yankee visitors, turn on their heels and quickly depart the church and head for one of the several "cantinas" located in the neighborhood.  There, the bartenders, dressed in white linen jackets prepare drinks for our brothers from the north, whose glassy eyes, pale faces and shaky hands tell the effects of the climate and the frequent visits to the saloons.  Two mulato boys are entertaining themselves playing pool while half a dozen Frenchmen and Spaniards play dominoes in the porch, refreshing themselves with beer.  The America feels at home here because he can hear his own language expressed in incomparable elegance.  He observes the many rows of crystal bottles arranged to make a kaleidoscope of colors and labels.
Narrow and unpaved streets in Panama. 
"Along the narrow alleys, some of us (the fore mentioned Yankees) walk out into the plaza which we find deserted except that here and there we might spot a mule laden down with a cargo of iron, a small group of black children, stark naked, playing on the church steps, a line of slaves being walked by a mulato guard toward the prison.  From the plaza, down one street, lined with large stone houses, we see the arch of the old gate of the walls that surround the city and we see the waters of the bay that shine under the rays of the sun.  We take that route, passing by buildings recently painted in white and at this burning hot Noon, we see the flag with the bars and stars, and in the balcony, the American Consul, who is doing his best to cool himself.  Recognizing us, he invites us to join him in a brandy and water at the Consulate.  In front of that building is the office of the Panama-Star, where the reporters that form a part of our group have announced our arrival.  Continuing our walk through the wall gate, we come to a building that looks as a prison from where, through the heavily barred windows, there must be an excellent view of the bay.  We have no doubt that the poor Nuns that are there, in recluse  -  because this building is a convent  -  enjoy this view which is probably the only exterior world that is left to them.
Abandoned Convent with a view to the bay.
Las Bobedas sea wall.
Las Bobedas are the best stroll in the city.  Its ruined walls, full of sentry boxes and holes caused by time and weather, its dismantled cannons, which were brought hundreds of years ago from Barcelona, Spain, to defend the city, offer a melancholic view of decadence.  But the foundations, placed some two hundred years ago on top of rocky shore have resisted the waves of the ocean.  Las Bobedas  rise from a point which projects towards the sea as an earthen tongue on which the city is situated.  In front of us we see groups of islands, covered in green, that extend along the bay.  There we find Taboga and Taboguilla, some ten miles away, with their coves full of  small fishing vessels.  Nearer by are the islands of Flamenco, Pericos and Naos with their coconut trees rising over the surface of their beaches."
Perico and Flamenco Islands

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas