Aug '08 - Jun '10
I'm here in Panama at the beginning of my Branner fellowship, looking at the decommissioned US bases. Our military left in 99, and since then Fort Amador at the mouth of the canal has been growing as a tourist destination. Lots of restaurants have popped up along the causeway which leads out from the mainland to several islands. A number of military buildings are just rotting away. Oddly, there were bags of leaves that someone had collected in the yard around but the inside of the buildings was a nightmare. Broken glass, torn off doors, shattered wash basins… The decay of the military buildings is being manicured, it seems.
I was walking past this big construction site with a bunch of steel flying in every which direction and I thought--wow, who is this Panama Frank Gehry? Lo and behold, it is a Gehry building under construction! They are building a "musuem of biodiversity" on a corner of the old military base.
Panama is very interesting in terms of being a poor cousin to the States. They use the same currency, even down to the penny, though they do mint their own coins which have heads of natives instead of presidents. Both are accepted. Aside from the usual McD's, KFC and whatnot, you can get Bennigan's, TGI Fridays, Shell Oil with V-power. We aren´t alone in feasting upon this country. For example the Chinese have a big presence here. Where else do you get chow mein and pollo asada on the same menu?
The country is getting richer. The canal continues to expand and apparently US citizens can buy citizenship for a $30,000 bond. After all, Panama can afford a Gehry.