Casco Life

Casco Viejo Panama: My early memories

For many, the Casco is love at first sight. Everyone has his or her own first memory, or a turning point where they decided to live, work or invest here… Don’t be shy! Take a moment and post your story!

For me, early memories of the Casco are profoundly linked with my family and my childhood. I hope you enjoy the opening of this blog!



November 10th, 2007.

It’s a strange experience, to sit here and organize my memories of Casco, trying to remember how it all started for me. Memories are filling the room quickly, running from one corner to the other, clashing and crashing between themselves, competing to be the very first one. It’s all a mix. But I’m pretty sure it started on a Sunday, at an age where my size was the same as the park bench. I can recall this because my favorite thing was to get a “raspado” near Las Bóvedas, and I could barely make it to the top of the pushcart. Raspado Flavor: red with 10 cents of extra condensed milk. I don’t know how I survived to so much sugar. Those family trips were not only fun but fascinating, the Casco was completely in ruins but it was a charmer for any 5 year old, a discovery at every corner. The best of those Sunday trips were the stories. The reason: almost all my family on my father side was either born or raised in Casco back in the 50´s. Walking through the Casco was a window to my father’s childhood, to my grandparent’s youth. I could sense there was a connection, a root I liked and was part of.

My “nonnos” (we always called them in the Italian fashion because of my mother who was Italian and because “abuelo” in Spanish sounds like an old person…not my grandparents!!!) lived in the Casco back when it was all Panama had. Remember Panama only turned into a Republic in 1903, my grandparents were born around 1910 (my grandfather), so they lived in the Casco in the 40´s and 50´s. At that time, the Casco was the entire city of Panama, period. They both lived at a side of the current Canal Museum on 6th Street and A Avenue, former “Correos y Telégrafos” (Mail and Telegraphy Office, back then the only way to communicate with the rest of Panama and the world) and both worked as Director and Manager at this important office. My father and aunt (Adolfo and tía Isis) where raised in an apartment on the first floor, playing on Plaza Catedral and many other corners of the Casco. So every Sunday visit, my father would point out the house and remember: “and this is the balcony where we lived, and right beside it is the apartment of Doña Laura, the teacher. She used to have a big apartment full of books where we sneaked in to do our homework.” Incredibly enough, Doña Laura is still living there, on the same apartment. She is almost 90 years old now. I met her early this year. When I introduced myself as the daughter of Adolfito, the son of Fina, her eyes glowed and started asking for my aunt, my nonna and everybody.

One of the best anecdotes was the shot-on-the-balcony story. It was during one of the three presidencies of Arnulfo Arias Madrid. The military had just carried out their famous coup (1951) and my father must have been 5 years old. At that time my grandmother was actually working at the Presidencial Palace as a secretary (back when there were only six people in the entire Presidential Compound, counting the President) and because of the political unrest she had just quit and was home with the family. There were shooting on the streets and in Calle 6ta were some “rebels” were shooting from the roofs. My grandfather went to the balcony to close the doors and someone shot in his direction. Luckily, the balcony received the bullet. The mark is still there today, as we noticed this past weekend during our Sunday stroll with him.

My next clear childhood memory is at the National Theatre. We were at a ballet performance from the National Ballet Company. Later on, at age 9, I started studying ballet with the National School, but this memory seems to be prior. The theatre vault and its great surreal painting (by master painter Roberto Lewis) always impressed me. That night I remember clearly it was Gloria Barrios and Andrés Nieto (later on I had the honor to dance on the same stage with them) on a piano piece I later on learned it was Chopin. Andrés was playing the musician while Gloria was his ethereal muse. Going to the Theatre was a fantastic treat and my parents always took my brother and me whenever they had an opportunity. I would return to this theatre later over and over as a dancer with the National Ballet. For a while it was the headquarters of the company, so I got to be in the Casco every day. So in more than one way, the Casco is full of personal landmarks, some made even before I was born!

I hope you had enjoyed my first blog attempt and had encouraged you to write a bit of your own experiences!

Here are some pictures for you:
My grandaunt and grandmother, doña Laura, the building they lived in, the ceiling painting at the theatre.

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