The parade started in the street in front of the National Treasury winding up two blocks on what is Avenida Peru today. A left turn and we were on the familiar Avenida Central marching down the section known as Perejil. Before I knew it we were marching by my old primary school of Pedro J. Sosa in the neighborhood that had become so familiar to me, San Miguel, with Magnolia Building at its center. This is the neighborhood where I had started my adolescent life in the renowned National Institute.
The parade route seemed sparsely populated with spectators on both sides of the street. Like a real Calidonia Spanish boy my eyes didn’t have to scan too long or too far to discover that I had been recognized by the people who knew me or my parents; some even knew me from birth.
Some of my mates from my old primary school, both Westindian and Spanish, beamed at me with recognition that early morning, although I hadn’t touched a drum as yet. The exhilaration I felt is hard to describe as I felt I was in my right place at the right moment in life. This is only possible to feel in the place in which you are rooted. This is something that I would forever miss when I migrated to the United States.
Soon our National Institute contingent found itself in the old section of Calidonia known as “La Cuchilla” of Calidonia, with the big Lucky Strike Cigarette sign and its familiar big clock standing sentinel over its roof at the corner. A touch of nostalgia swept over me as I noticed some of the boys and girls who had grown up with me, who had also attended Spanish School with me, waved at me from balconies of the old board buildings along the parade route. I couldn’t wave back for the sake of uniformity but it was nice to know that they appreciated me.
I mention these landmarks and my old stomping grounds of Calidonia and Bella Vista because we are living in a very different Panama City today, one that has traded a cultural landscape for an unsustainable, hot, towering “modern architecture.” Many of the traditional characteristics of this once more West Indian oriented area have been dismantled. The Spanish architects call it arquitectura típicamente antillana and it was more in tune to our culture, climate, ecology and sense of aesthetic beauty.
We then progressed to the corner of Q Street facing the “Imperial Cantina” Bar, where I had made the pact with the veteran drummer boy to take over his drum. I still worried he would renege on his promise but, as the thought occurred to me, I spied him waving, cuing me to get up there and take the drum.
This story continues.