Those of you who have stayed at Tulipanes or Canal House know that, because of the excellent team we have in place from management to limpieza, I can afford to comfortably travel and not be concerned about things going awry.
And when I am abroad, it’s an amazing opportunity to draw connections between Casco Viejo and other worldly destinations: to understand how we compare – socially, culturally, historically – with the most interesting cities in the world.
We (I) give Panama a lot of grief for many of its strange, stubborn, and sometimes downright frustrating quirks. But most recently, I got inspired to identify the lifestyle compartments in which Casco thrives.
Here are 3 ways in which Casco Viejo really differs from most of the world’s most interesting towns:
Know thy neighbors: No longer is it common in the States (or many places elsewhere) to really truly know one’s neighbors. Sure you might see them getting their mail or taking their dog for a walk, but when was the last time you really interacted with them in a non-chance sort of way?
Long corridors of apartment buildings have all the liveliness of a hospital ward and suburban homes are spaced so far apart that sometimes a distant wave is all you get. Casco Viejo in this regard is completely different.
Everyone knows everyone. Whether you like it or not, you’re bound to bump into your neighbors anywhere from 20-100 times per day. This has a wonderful way of forcibly building community and I don’t know how I could live without it.
The art of saying Hola: Some might say this is a result of knowing thy neighbors (the fact that everyone says “Hola”) but I’d argue that even strangers in Casco Viejo are far more cordial – almost a throwback to the era of hat tipping and curtsies – than any American city. It’s safe to say that if you’re walking on a quiet street in Casco Viejo and you pass someone without giving some salutation, you’re probably not from here.
Panama itself is a smashing poster child for this folkway. And when I visit the states, the lack thereof is accentuated.
Saying Hi is just a simple, lovely little gesture that everyone in the states seems to relegate far below the priority of their mobile device. Casco Viejo forces you to interact. It forces you to chat.
Compactness: There is something to be said about the very concrete social benefit of having an entire neighborhood squashed into a couple square blocks. It’s what lends our district its diversity, pedestrian friendliness, entertainment, and most of all progress.
There is no sense of community when buildings are spread apart: so I’ve come to realize Casco Viejo’s tightly-wound small-scale nucleus is actually the de facto reason for its success. When you’re living above, below, and beside everyone else, in a place that’s manageable enough to feel homey, there’s no choice but to somehow work together.
I don’t often like to call Casco Viejo a world-class place because it drums up far too many expectations, especially in the realm of dining, nightlife, and general convenience…
But these three items certainly stand out, when I visit other parts of the world, as authentically important to a fulfilling neighborhood experience. Now if we could only get the people across the street to stop throwing glass bottles at one another at 4 AM…