The Woman in the Painting

Happy news!

My memoir, At the Narrow Waist of the World, will be published in August of next year! I’ve known this for many months and have been holding back just a little bit.  Happy is a funny word. Here it means that I’m pleased to my very soul because something I’ve worked for very hard will be out there. The me closest to me will be out there for others to see (a little bit scary). There are new adventures up ahead!

In honor of your support, now and in the past—and the wonderful December holidays—let me give you a small gift by way of introduction to the book.  

Painting by Alfredo Sinclair, Panama

Painting by Alfredo Sinclair, Panama

A man stands on either side of the painting holding the wood frame that sticks out deeply from the wall. They lift up in unison, and the painting is released. They lay it gently on the thick cloth they have prepared. 

"Esto esta bonito!" one of the men exclaims. The woman in the painting fills the canvas. Her skin is the color of warm toast, same as their own. She is looking at her fingers intertwined on top of the black of her skirt, keeping her own counsel. Satisfied to be held inside the wood. 

Her bare shoulders and back are angled slightly, directing the aim of her gaze. There are two large pillows at her back. The black of the skirt and the hair, the turquoise and red in the pillows, the gold in her shawl are glazed with the amber of her skin. The hues lock onto one another. They travel on the same journey, altered by the other’s presence.  

"Esos ricos tienen suerte,"the second man tastes the green juice of envy before folding the cloth over the woman in the painting. They carry the painting to the van already half filled with possessions.   

The woman in the painting who witnessed my life from the brick wall in the house of my childhood moves with my brother and me into mami's new life with her American husband. One of my uncles places the painting on the single wall with no windows in the always-matching bungalow of the American army post.

The woman in the painting is the keeper of my story. 


 

 


 


 

One Week in Transit

When I return to my childhood home—Panama—things POP in a new way.  Back in New York: Husband, wife, and cat.

 
Panamanian pollera and montuno in Casco Antiguo, the old city

Panamanian pollera and montuno in Casco Antiguo, the old city

 

PANAMA DIARY

Day 1: fruit have seeds

I bite into a small red grape. No surprise when I cut a small papaya.

Day 2: ice water

Even before coffee, I pour cooled water from a jar in the refrigerator. Though I top my glass with ice, the ice melts in minutes.

Day 3: phone calls

Calls to loving family. This begins on Day 1 and continues until we leave. First, las tres tías, matriarchs who together add up to almost-300 years of living. Call brothers. Sister. Cousins. Nieces, husbands.

Day 4: thanksgiving

No absence of turkeys in a foreign city. My brother hosts a mini Thanksgiving for my children and their children who've traveled to Panama for my niece's wedding. Pool party. Slices of blue sky between buildings. Splashing kids. Fish ceviche. Turkey and stuffing. Waldorf Salad.

Day 5: broken sidewalks

Progress and chaos. Construction of new buildings in the capital city happen with no respect for regulations. Between two-story houses and new, very tall towers the sidewalks twist and pop. Careful!

Day 6: tranque

Traffic paralysis at rush hour--horas pico. We travel in small taxis from one neighborhood to another visiting family. Every street has been designated una via. You drive A to C to B to get from A to B.

Day 7: on foot

At the old colonial city, cars thread in and out of narrow streets. Shutters, moldings, interior patios, balconies. Shaved ice cones topped with maracuyá syrup and leche condensada. A welcome relief to the modern canyons in the new city. We travel on foot.

Day 8: la murga

The children practice their steps for the wedding event. The boys lead the procession into the sanctuary in tiny tuxedos and black-and-white Converse sneakers. The little girls in pink cast rose petals and the bride arrives. A sheer white mantilla trails behind, tiny pearls sewn into the lace. Tallit over the couple's heads. The violin sings. There will be a DJ. People will dance. The children will leave at midnight before la murga arrives with a Bombo--an enormous drum--one trombone, a trumpet, and two saxes. Guests will dance to the pounding rhythm of Carnaval.

NEW YORK DIARY

Day 1: big

The Newark Airport is big compared to Tocumen in Panama City. View from the car is deep and wide. Distant buildings, highways leading to highways. Meaningless space. I like it.

Day 2: comfort

Home to my single-shot coffee machine. Re-heating tea at the microwave. At the market I load up on raspberries, blueberries, heirloom tomatoes, any olive oil you can imagine.

Day 3: hooked on FB

I cannot escape my I-Phone. My computer. Life settles in. Work. Husband, wife, and cat.

 

Viva Panama!

November Third. Today is the day Panama celebrates its independence from Colombia. From province to small republic.  It happened 113 years ago in 1903 just before Panama sealed a deal with Teddy Roosevelt to build a canal 50 miles across the narrow waist of the country. Panama has come a long way since then.

Viva Pa-na-má! There's grace in the three simple syllables (with an accent in Spanish).

The word of indigenous origin means abundance of fishes and butterflies.

To the film director Norman Foster Panama is slow moving fans in the ceiling of a murky bar with Sydney Toler in make-up--

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