Lunch at Lissy’s and local culture in Anton

Here on the main bus stop for public transportation headed eastbound — toward the city — some popular art. I think it’s unfinished. The image has the name of the town and a depiction of the most noteworthy local religious symbol, Jesucristo de Esquipulas. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Back to routine — sort of — on the Monday after Carnival Week

by Eric Jackson

It’s a habit that could be dangerous if that guy who threatened me in the 2021 home invasion was and is serious. It would probably be even more life-threatening if I am so frantic about it that I can’t sleep or lead some semblance — for me — or a “normal” life.

What I do is shut the dogs in the house — the cats can come and go through the windows, lock the doors and gate and walk almost a kilometer to my usual bus stop in barrio El Bajito in the corregimiento of Juan Diaz, then head into town. Sometimes the town is Penonome, occasionally it’s into Panama City, but usually it’s Anton. As it was this day.

Turning east onto the Pan-American Highway, I looked to the sky over the city dump. Fewer vultures circling than usual on this day, so my bird photography mission will have to wait.

Approaching the town center, these blue hearts painted on the highway where there was a bus accident that killed 19 people a few years back. Then, what was a few months ago in 2023’s abbreviated rainy season a duck pond, now dried up and fitted with irrigation pipes and crop recently planted.

Then comes the regular people-watching stop, the Ministry of Health’s local birthing and infant and maternal health center. A large man, beaming with pride and carrying a tiny newborn, a bedraggled-looking new mother and a grandmother looking very satisfied got on. Panamanian family values that seemed to be working on this day.

Next stop? I wasn’t the only person to call “puente,” for the caseta just before the town’s western pedestrian overpass. Paid my 75¢, got off, went into the supermarked behind me and bought the usual — a bottle of Powerade and a copy each of La Prensa and La Estrella. Hold the necro-porn this time, but the day before I also bought El Siglo, as it had the tale of a double murder near where I grew up.

Coming out of the store, I noticed some new street art in progress and took out my camera, which I almost always carry, to get a picture. Then, without having to go much out of my way lunch decisions. I could go a couple of door west to Sabores and read my newspapers and drink my concoction while eating empanadas or pastelitos — the REAL kind that are baked instead of fried. In the other direction Doña Eva’s was closed. Beyond that, what did the fruit and veggie stands have? Ah, yes, a big Spanish onion to go a contemplated future pasta meal.

Then across the side street, past some more vendors — some selling fruit, some lottery tickets and some with bollos.

That little squeeze is what military tacticians call a defile, a place to get pickpocketed. The game usually gets played with someone creating a brief obstruction and a confederate slipping a hand in from behind. The cops know all about that, too.

Dogs hanging out at the entrance to Lissy’s bakery and chafing table restaurant in hope of a treat add to the potential stumbles for this senior citizen. The little yellow mama dog wasn’t there this time. Whenever she is, she knows that the gringo with the white hair and beard is usually a soft touch to give her chicken bone and maybe part of a carimañola or something.

No chicken on display, baked or fried, and only the fried wheat empanadas. None of the corn meal ones. SO, a rather common Plan B — a couple of hampao and four hsiu mai. That and Powerade as I perused the tales of infamy and opinions about all sorts of things in the newspapers. La Prensa leans oligarchic liberal, La Estrella is more PRD-oriented and also more or less dedicated to neoliberal economic thinking.

What’s a democratic socialist to do? What Karl Marx did all those years at the Royal Library in London — read the bourgeois papers, look askance at the things that seem obviously wrong, assimilate the information that’s almost surely true, synthesize it all into a world view different from that of the people who own those media. Adjust opinions when the facts demand it.

But if Carnival is over, Chinese New Year was not entirely.

Dragon dancers approached. They could be heard easily enough by this hard-of-hearing old buzzard. Ah, Chinese culture — lots of firecrackers. One of the two cops standing just inside the entrance gave a startled look. Little explosions and the training and experiences of THAT job would probably prompt such a reaction.

Dogs? They HATE firecrackers, which physically hurt their ears. The fled in several directions, some of them into Lissy’s.

The dragon dancers also set off another common Panamanian cultural reaction — anti-Chinese racism. A white-haired cholo, not old enough to remember when all Panamanians of Chinese ancestry were stripped of their citizenship for a few months back in 1941, but likely to have heard defenses of that infamous move from elders way back when — started shouting some ugly stereotypes about chinos.

The cops went out and warned the guy to cut out that disturbance. He did not challenge them.

And this fulo went back to reading the mainstream newspapers.


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