Sunday, March 9, 2008

Back to Panama.... and Curaçao?

I am going back to Panama this week....plans for a trip to Curaçao with a friend are on ice at the moment. My mother needs to be moved, and soon. We are getting the house we bought this week, so there is not turning back; and that means another three weeks away!

It is going to be a hectic trip this time, but in a strange way I am looking forward to it. Not because of the work....moving my mother to her new home is going to be far from easy. After forty years living in her parents' house, she is not going to leave without letting us know how hard this is for her!! And I do understand, really; but the house is too big and old....and charming too!! But having been the family home for over one hundred years, additions not always followed architectural rules. There are ups and downs, steps everywhere, narrow doorways, old fashioned kitchen... you get the picture.

The neighborhood is typical of Latin countries: neighbors still watch for each other, everyone knows everyone and cares. She'll miss that and we are aware of this. On the other hand, since her stroke, she needs a spacious house, with easy access to and from the street, wide doorways, a modern and convenient kitchen and bathrooms that can accommodate a wheelchair. She'll have that and more: an airy terrace, a small garden and a secure community. The property is outside of town and there is a constant breeze.

Now back to why I am looking forward to this trip...after complaining of all the others I took last year and in January..... I am trying to look at Panama as a possible retirement place; not for right now, but for the future....that will come sooner than we want! My small, Third World country has changed so much in the last few years. Hardly recognize some places and there is a building boom that rivals the one Miami have had in the last few years.

BUT with enormous differences.... Even though in Panama City things are as hectic and chaotic as in Miami at anytime of the day, the pace of life is slower even if it sounds like a contradiction! Any home you purchase will have all the latest conveniences, all the modern amenities of a place in Miami, even ocean views. Still, there manners still matter and people take time to get to know their neighbors. There is time for socializing, weekends at the beach (you can afford a second home!!!); there are great restaurants and fabulous shopping!

World class health care, including a brand new hospital run by John Hopkins University, is cheap and doctors still make house calls. How is that for service? I should know. When my mother had her stroke eighteen months ago, the care she received was superb...they safe her life and got her out of the hospital in nine days! Her therapy has been excellent and she is walking and talking and.....driving my sisters and me crazy! There are other incentives: low or non-existent taxes.

Now, what of Curaçao? Have I forgotten the island that means so much to me? NEEEEE!!! It is still very much on my mind (and Frankie's!) and that makes this trip difficult too. First of all, there's the familiar rhythm that our lives take when we are on the island; in no small measure because of our friends and some of Frankie's extended family that still live there. That would be very hard to replace....harder to give up.

On a more mundane plane, beaches like the ones in the Caribbean are not easily found in Panama's Pacific Coast. Frankie and I love the beach! Thanks to that building boom I was talking about, there are few properties on the water that are affordable anymore. Unless you decide to buy a home in a gated community right on a beach...but is this what we want? AND...could be get used to the dark sands and rough waters of the Pacific Ocean? Could we get used to the heat and humidity of this tropical country...remember the rainforest?

Still, I am going this time with an open mind. Trying to see the good and the bad of this country I left so long ago; talk to friends and family, gathering information, taking pictures and looking at everything with a new purpose......and we'll see!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shopping in Miami

I am exhausted! My sister Laura is in town. She can enter a shopping competition and win hands down!......that sort of rhymes...... mmmmmmm!!! but it is an absolute truth and she is very good at it. Never one to pay full price if she can avoid it, she will go the distance looking for what she wants and always finds it. Not only that, but she'll get the best quality and the best price.

Early yesterday, well early for me!, I picked her up at our sister Ana's place and off we went. Of course, Florida weather had to play tricks on us rained! What is with this weather pattern this year? Laura was very organized and had everything written down. A girl after my own heart, I still do longhand lists for everything. Give me the chance to cross out what I did...and the opportunity to feel I have accomplished something because I see it in black and white! Here I go again, digressing....

We drove towards the NW and did some shopping at a vintage store. The things people give away! absolutely, someone's trash is someone else's treasure... It was already getting to be time for lunch, but there was no time to stop now, or in that neighborhood! So we drove down 27th Ave and on to Old Cuttler Road, one of the most beautiful roads in South Florida; pass Coconut Grove, into the Gables and finally out near The Falls Shopping Mall. True to her form, she wanted to continue, but I was starving. I treated her to a light lunch, of course it was already raining and the wind was blowing. Maybe not a bad day to be inside a store, I thought.

With lunch out of the way, we crossed the parking lot to the car.....getting wet in the process never mind the umbrella. On to TJMax.....another place where you can find everything like in a department store. We browse and talked, laughed and tried clothes on and waited for the sun to shine again. Did you know that you can find things from all over the world at this store? It's fabulous, especially for me that try very hard NOT to buy anything Made in China. My sister got linen blouses made in India and The Philippines, coffee mugs from England, four wooden spoons and a mortar from Italy, sandals made in Spain, silver bracelets from Thailand and cotton bedding made in the USA (didn't know that was still happening!)

Out into the sunny afternoon, we headed for.......more shopping! Laura is an exercise fanatic since she was a child. She used to walk around the table and the house several times after each meal. My mother thought her crazy! but time has proven my sister right, you need to exercise your calories away. Exercise clothes were next on the list and after that we did kitchen stuff. The sun hung in there and we finally started our way back home, again through Old Cuttler Road. The traffic going out of the city was unbelievable, I couldn't do this commuter thing in Miami.....or anywhere else for that matter!

The rain started again and we were still not finished. There were things to get at the drugstore, so that was our next stop. Fortunately we didn't stay too long, I was getting a tired and wanted to get home. I drove to my sister's home and helped her getting all the packages out and we said goodbye......not so soon.. I tried to start the car...and it didn't!!! The battery was dead and I had to call a special service we have, then wait for someone to come and start the car..... I was so mad! What a way to end the day! I can tell you, shopping is not my thing. One day like this and I have enough of shopping for a long while.....or until my sister comes back to visit. She always is so much fun, I can go out shopping again!!