Saturday, January 26, 2008
Today was our friend Rudy's birthday and a Saturday as well, so we took him down to Santa Clara for a day at the beach. It was a beautiful summer day, with a clear blue sky and a steady breeze. The water was wonderfully calm and shone turquoise in places and azure in others. Less than a dozen yards out a "banana boat" owner dropped anchor and dozed on his water ski while he waited for customers. Later a second ride seller cruised up and down in a fishing boat, towing his inflated banana (yes, this is still a G-rated blog - I'm talking about an inflatable boat) up and down the beach just a few yards past the many swimmers. A tall three-masted sailing ship crossed in front of a small island just off the coast and headed out to sea.
We took Salma out into the water and she enjoyed being held by me or her Mama as we played and bobbed in the calm, cool sea.
Later we lazed in a palm-thatched bohio that we rented for the day for $5. There are a score of these all up and down the beach. In the bohio next to ours, two young American girls were playing in the sand as their parents relaxed in hammocks. We could see that Salma was curious about the girls, so we took her over and introduced ourselves.
The couple told us that they were with the American embassy. They had previously been posted to Madrid, and had arrived in Panama only a week ago. They were aloof and not terribly friendly.
"So," I said, "You probably speak Spanish already."
"I speak real Spanish," the husband replied. "I don't know what this is they speak here. It's like the difference between an Ivy League graduate and an Alabama redneck."
The Spanish of Spain is accented differently than that of Panama. The Spaniards enunciate more crisply than Panamanians, but they lisp their c's and s's in a way that Latin Americans do not. Presumably this is what the embassy fellow was referring to.
Later on, however, we heard him on the phone talking to his driver, and his Spanish was not in fact very good.
Rudy, who has traveled extensively, later commented that this behavior was typical of U.S. embassy staff everywhere. "They're cliquish," he said. "They stick to other embassy people."
I suspect that since they go where they are posted and are often moved from country to country, they don't develop deep attachments or friendships.
I found the comment about "real Spanish" to be very off-putting, so I returned to our bohio to lay in the shade and read, but Salma continued to play with the two girls and with just about every other neighbor. She's so amiable and trusting of everyone, even adults she doesn't know, which I think is great, but also worries me a little. When she's old enough to understand we'll have to have a talk about the difference between friends and strangers.
Later we enjoyed a good lunch of grilled corvina and french fries at the seafood grill on the beach, and then we dug into the chocolate cake that Laura made for Rudy's birthday. Instead of the usual sugary frosting, Laura created a gourmet frosting out of melted dark chocolate mixed with honey. It was so rich that I had to have two pieces and then I felt a little sick, maybe because I haven't been eating sweets much lately and I'm not used to it.
We discussed what to do with the rest of the cake. "I thought I'd share it with the other restaurant patrons," Laura said.
"These people can buy their own cakes," I said. Let's give it to Rosa (our maid) to take home to her kids.
"Or I could give it to Ani," Laura said (Ani is Salma's nanny).
"Since tomorrow's Sunday," I said, "Why don't we give it to the Kunas at the market."
Finally Rudy interrupted. "It's my birthday cake," he said. "Why don't you give it to me?"
So we did.