JULY 2005: “Movin' On Up!”

June ended and July began with a bang, well, a tremor would be more accurate. We had an earthquake! Those who know me know I like earthquakes (I like the drama of most natural disasters, never having actually been in one...). Anyway, I was sitting in front of my Mac when the chair started gently swaying like a heavy freight train was passing on nearby tracks—but there are no trains in Altos. What's truly weird is the fact Dennis, my longest and strongest friend, and I had just been discussing temblors in an email conversation about catastrophes that might affect Panama. I had claimed that there were none: no hurricanes, no wild fires, no eruptions, no earthquakes...Whoops! Yet, it seems like I'm the only one in Altos who felt it, for no one else did, at least no one I talked to. Truly weird.
As for Casa Ingaso, our search-and-destroy errors method of construction continued: a wall built in front of windows...twice!, windows too small, four French doors where there should be three, and stuff like that. Every evening we inspected each day's work and, usually, the next day we pointed out whatever we found to Eleuterio, who fortunately received it good-naturedly and then corrected the problems. A good day was finding no trouble spots and enjoying the progress. A bad day left me depressed and not wanting to return to the site. It's a toss-up as to whether better plans might have averted most of the errors or not, but our advice still stands: have plans!
It was also in July that Casa Ingaso got something other than concrete and rebar: wood! Los muchachos erected the mangrove roof-support posts on the terrace, setting them in two feet of cement (click the image for a larger version). It was refreshing to see some color besides grey. Once they were set, crossbeams were placed on top of them, making the terrace look like something out of "Gunfight at the OK Corral"—we coulda lynched bandits by the dozen!
Not too long after the posts went up the "carriolas"—Spanish for the metal beams that would support the house proper's roof or "techo"—went up. They were quickly followed by the sheets of zinc, what I've always called corrugated tin. It assured a leak-proof techo—the used clay tiles on top and the tongue 'n groove ceiling underneath were purely for show. So, things were looking up!
(Click the image for a larger version...)
It was about the time that los muchachos started installing the "vigas" or wooden beams from the "lynching posts" to the house walls (click on image to the left) that I started noticing how Casa Ingaso was beginning to look like a stage coach station. (Mum's the word, TC gets upset when I mention it.) But, really, with all those rustic beams—lynching posts, OK Corral? John Wayne?—what else could it remind me of? We don't speak of it, however; our house is not a stage coach station. Maybe a train station, but no stage coaches. I'm sure by the time it's done all of my wayward impressions will have faded. Either that or TC will have beat them out of me...
vigas Meanwhile, our trips to Panama City continued on a weekly basis, with overnight stays at La Estancia with Tammy and Gustavo. We would pick Gustavo's vast brain, then go shopping for house fixtures: sinks, toilets, faucets, on and on—there's a lot of shit that goes in a house, 'scuse my French. And Gustavo tends to be pro-Chinese brands. He was especially insistent on going Chinese with toilets: "Could be good luck," he is fond of saying, after a Chinese fable about Mr. Choy. But, that's for some other time. One day, just as we were leaving for our next shopping soirée, he asked whether we were going to buy Chinese toilets.
"I don't think so," I said. "You go once, then half-an-hour later you have to go again." But, now there are three Chinese toilets—still in their boxes—stacked in the closet here at Lamelot. China's the wave of our future.
Mondongo? I'm like you, I thought that was the name of the character who punched out the horse in Blazing Saddles, not what it really is: cow intestines or tripe. Yuuuuuck. Why do I bring this up, you ask? It's a tradition, I say...well, I don't say that, but it's a tradition here in Panamá to throw a mondongada (cow tripe party) when the roof of a house under construction is completed. Whoop-ti-doo. Originally, I thought it was joke, like a tripe hunt at summer camp, but nooooooooo, it's a Panamanian tradition.
Mondongo Fake-out The day the roof is completed, los muchachos will stick a red flag—probably one of their own dirty, stinky, red T-shirts—on our new techo (roof). Then, the following Saturday, we're obligated to throw an all out party with a huge pot of mondongo.
Would you all care to join us? Somebody's got to eat that crap! But, you see, the secret is that, along with the cow guts, we also are supposed to supply mucho cervezas. And, I would imagine it must help tremendously with downing the mondongo. "Cow guts? Sure, pile 'em on. How bad can they be?" Urp...
(Now, I think I finally understand why there are so many empty buckets around the lot.) And everybody insists that I must eat it, tooooooooooo. Guess again! I'll have the cook we hire (we ain't preparing it!) throw in some pollo (translated: cluck, cluck) for me on the sly. Eh, eh...
But, as it turned out, a mondongada was not in our near future in July, just hints and fakes. No, in July they had just started welding-up the carriolas—the metal beams the techo would rest on (click the image). We had a long way to go.
Meanwhile, we visited the lot one afternoon and the sun shone bright through the carriolas and ventanas (windows)—we took several pictures of the shadows and patterns (go here to see some).
Now, up until that day, ladders in use by los muchachos were just jury-rigged, unevenly-spaced, awkwardly and inexpertly banged-together contraptions. I wouldn't climb one to escape a flood, even though they were the state-of-the-art at our site. But, after the way the sun revealed it, TC had to have it: "I want that ladder," she said. "Really?" I replied, perplexed. Then, suddenly, I saw it through her eyes, leaning on the wall with Panamanian rugs or Kuna Indian molas hanging over the rungs, and I came onboard: "We need to keep that ladder!"
Hey, to me art is whatever makes you stop and say, "Whoa, that's cool."
So, you can imagine our dismay the day it disappeared. We couldn't find it anywhere! "Hey, what happened to our ladder?" It was the same day new ladders, aluminum ladders appeared. What the heck!?!? Sure, they were lighter, safer and all that, but what happened to our "artsy-fartsy" ladder? No one knew—or maybe didn't understand? We were crushed; you can't just try to make a ladder like that. It had to happen on its own like all "art." Damn.
We looked at the remnants of the fire they'd built that day, the fire they used to burn old pine logs and any other trash around the lot that needed to be cleared. We looked, afeared we'd see a rung or two in the ashes, but nothing. No ladder. I don't know why, but it seemed such a crushing blow—the human psyche is weird. It wasn't until three or four days later that it miraculously re-appeared: "Our ladder!" Seems it had just been stuck somewhere out of the way, I don't know where, until they needed it again. Or, perhaps, they had taken it to another construction site, but then brought it back when they witnessed our unbridled discomposure—"Gringos muy loco."
No matter, we were delighted to have it back, and made it abundantly clear that we wanted it, that we wanted it, forever! It will be our memento of construction woes at Casa Ingaso. I guess we are a little crazy after all, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Hoohah!

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