Panama, Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo
At Arco, we love books. The minute you get into our office, you´ll see them all around. Some people use books as conversation pieces, or as part of the decor. For us, it is far more, as each one has a story behind and a reason on why they are there. Many of them were written and produced by friends who live or lived in Casco, or are truly important references for Panama´s or Casco´s history and culture. To feature them all would be too long, but here are some of our favorites:
The Casco Viejo “must haves”: UNESCO´s books on the architectural patrimony. The orange one was the first one. The green one refers more to the structure of the houses per se.
The Blue Book: Panama´s historic “phone directory”. It is fantastic, we are lucky enough to have an original. Back when banks had a total capital of $700K and the add was personally signed by the (usually small) group of owners. Back when pharmacies would sell you some alcoholic drink you trusted as medicine, side by side with soap and gun powder.
Eadweard Muybridge: early photos of Panama, 1886, just in case we get too far with the “nostalgia for old times”. Older doesn´t mean better! but it is a very graphic reminder of how far we´ve come as a country. Really interesting before the before photos of buildings in Casco.
Art history and art interventions:
The first one is about the history of dance and ballet in Panama, which happened to be born in San Felipe. The first national dance school was right next to Clementinas. The second book, Patrimonio Humano, was based on an important art project done years ago to highlight the importance of Casco´s mixed community. A group of artists put together life size posters with all sorts of people and scenes, and they “lived” hanging on balconies, doors and windows for a whole month, connecting people, architecture, history, and opening a space to discuss the future.
From our Casco neighbors:
Photographer Andrew Kaufman, artist Gemma Moore, and beloved neighbor and photographer Ken Milburn (R.I.P.)
Writers: Carolijn Visser and Alberto Gualde (newest kid on our block!)
One of the many reasons I like Alberto´s book on Guillermo Sanchez Borbóns memories is because Tristán Solarte (as he used to sign his works) used to live in Casco. He has vivid memories of Bocas (where he was born) and Casco, specially Santa Ana. But he lived in San Felipe, near Calle 4ta (not on Casco´s side, but way on the other side). My personal story here is that my grandmother and her sister, when they first came to Panama as kids to study (back then, they would send you quite young), they ended up renting a room in his house. My grandmother loved poetry and herself was a very artistic lady. Guillermo Sánchez Borbón ended up being one of the most important writers in Panama. His most famous book, El Ahogado (The Drowned) is part of the readings you have to go through in school nowadays.
So imagine my surprise (I was completely unaware at that time of this particular part of my family history) when I come home, asking my family to buy the book because I needed it for school. The next day my aunt shows up with an old original, signed by the author himself. My jaw dropped. I later learned the story.
To re read his memories of his life in this small town is, in a way, to imagine my aunt and grandmother roaming around Plaza Catedral in roller skates. Just as kids do today. Now they know to wear helmets, though!