Tuesday, November 8, 2011

JDM in Panama (1977)

"We sat in the shelter of the [Hotel Panama] Pool Terrace and talked with others who had been milling around town that day, about what they had found and the attitude of the people. Because of the increasing agitation for a new canal treaty, we expected the same sort of obvious hostility we had once experienced in Caracas: people glaring, shaking fists, blocking the sidewalk, making audible comments.

"But no one experienced any of this. The Panamanians seemed pleasant and courteous, though not overtly warm. One cabdriver had told us his particular view of reality. He said the politicos and the students were the ones making the big fuss about the canal. and the general public did not really care that much. The thing they cared about was that the canal keep operating, because it brought in a lot of money in wages, and it brought tourists. He said he thought Panamanians could run it okay if they took over, but probably wages would go down and tolls would go up, because that is always what the politicos do, everywhere.

"In all Latin countries one sees, of course, those quick dark glances from the slender young men. Scorn, disdain, challenge? A look is only a look. Without accompanying word or gesture, it can be interpreted incorrectly. Instead of thinking about plastique and machine pistols and assaults on the embassy, he may be wondering where you bought the funny hat or pondering what he is going to wear to the evening disco. Many travelers have acute attacks of paranoia in foreign places. Drawing the most generous conclusions is the way to retain balance and sanity. Fear spoils the view."

-- from Nothing Can Go Wrong (1981)

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