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The View From Joel's Roof

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 26 April 2010 13:59
It was about five PM as the sun was setting over the Bridge of the Americas that I watched four squatters smoke a massive blunt in an abandoned building in Casco Viejo. This may sound dangerous should I have been down there with him, remedy like standing behind a big rock or interviewing them for some sort of documentary.

But as things were, I observed the scene from about a hundred feet up atop my friend Joel’s roof. Watching them, I thought of my season ticket in the Bernabeu Stadium, where Real Madrid plays all its home games. My seat was the very furthest possible from the field, which is to say my back was up against the stadium’s outside wall. I remember looking down on the players from our way up there. We felt like little astronauts looking down at the earth.

From Joel’s roof you can also see a giant banana tree, with large droopy leaves that has sprouted from a neglected building. In its shade, someone has set up a makeshift sleeping area with umbrellas, plastic shower curtains for privacy, and, of all things, a dining room table.

Just as I was trying to see whether the man lying there was sleeping or dead, a gorgeous yellow bird landed on the railing several feet next to me. About the size of a teenage hawk, the brilliant yellow bird chirped a bit then went on to eat the small worm that hung from the side of its mouth. I admired his ability to eat on the go, as even something as simple as a burrito in the car tends to stifel my appetite.

Downtown Panama City is about a mile from Joel’s roof and it is the sort of place that people in Casco Viejo sometimes feel guilty for liking, the sort that offers innumerable options of things to do when you’re bored. It has movie theaters, malls, driving ranges and hotel pools to sneak in to. People in Casco Viejo speak of the city as if it were another land as in, “we need to make a trek into the City this week,” or “the city? Man, it’s dangerous out there.”

Infrastructurally, downtown is built upon elevated highways, lots of stoplights, and massive clanking construction sites. It’s not just downtown that’s like this. It’s most developing cities in Panama outside of Casco Viejo. The arrangement of everything is cramped and Hi-Tec. Like a Sim game jacked up on steroids.

Just the other day I read an article in Wired Magazine about a place called New Songdo City, located some 60 kilometers east of Seoul in Korea. The city was built from scratch by a development and investment firm and is considered by technology experts as the ultimate digital age city of the future. If I didn’t know any better, I’d see very much the same thing on vacation in Songdo as I do across the bay from Joel’s roof right now: this chaotic example of the future, heavy on marvels but sadly devoid of charm. No crackheads or golden birds, no hidden marijuana enclaves, and it is this emotionless abyss that carries on, for what seems like, forever.

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Last Updated on Monday, 26 April 2010 14:06