God Is from Colón

Panama-superjumboPaula Kupfer at Harper's Magazine:

The drive from Panama City to Colón is a fast hour thanks to a new highway, completed in 2012, which provided a much-needed alternative to the congested old Transístmica road. The freeway runs more or less parallel to the Panama Canal and is flanked by thick rainforest until signs of the metropolis begin to appear the closer you get to the Pacific coast. Toward the historic center of Colón, the highway leads you past the enormous, pastel-hued shopping complex of Cuatro Altos onto an overpass that descends gently and merges into Colón’s main avenue. This thoroughfare, a wide two-way street with a tree-lined center path known as Avenida Bolívarand further along as Paseo del Centenario, is flanked by colorful buildings, cheap stores, and sidewalks dotted with street vendors. People walk in every direction; young men wash cars with water from dirty buckets on the side of the road; old men sell lottery tickets outside the market; local ladies offer manicures in makeshift outdoor setups. The once-elegant edifices lining the main road are still attractive, though more in the way of a sour ruin-porn fantasy. (In a 2008 James Bond film, Colón was used as a stand-in for Haiti).

One afternoon, Joel Ceras, a local architect and expert in restoring historical buildings, took us to see the rehabilitation of the Cinco de Noviembre park, where a group of young, tattooed men in reflective orange vests were at work with shovels in hand. Occupying a full block next to the city’s historic cathedral (itself on the last leg of a formidable renovation), the park is known locally as “La Concha” for its shell-shaped performance stage. During its renovation, workers discovered colorful tiles of the original fountain at the center of the park, dating to 1942. The young men at work were all part of the Barrios Seguros initiative.

more here.