You Never Know Who You’ll Meet In This Melting Pot Of Opportunity
After more than eight years at home in the melting pot that is Panama City, Lief and I have been really fortunate. We’ve developed an always-expanding and eclectic (we think of it as nutty and random) circle of friends. Folks from all over the world, who, like Lief and me, have sought out Panama City at this point in their lives for different reasons.
As in Waterford, Ireland, when we arrived on the scene nearly two decades ago and, seven years later, when we then moved to Paris, our first friends in Panama City were the parents of friends and classmates of our children… and architects.
Lief and I do two things first anywhere we’re planning to spend an extended time—we locate schools for our children… and then we find something old and interesting to restore into a place to live.
In Ireland it was Newtown School for Kaitlin (Jack was but a twinkle in his father’s eye when we settled in Waterford) and the tumbledown Georgian country home called Lahardan House.
In Paris it was École Active Bilingue for Kaitlin and the maternelle (nursery school) down the street for Jack… and a 300-year-old apartment a couple of blocks off the river and just behind the Musée d’Orsay…
In Panama it was the Paul Gauguin French school for Jack (Kaitlin was off at university in New York by the time we made the move to Panama City). And, here, instead of something old and crumbling to renovate, we took a different, longer-term approach to housing. We bought a wide-open expanse of oceanfront property, with beautiful, extended, and dramatic views of the Pacific, called Los Islotes, where we are building a house that figures as part of our eventual retirement plan.
As in Waterford and Paris, these decisions led to our first local friendships.
Loic and Muriel are the parents of Valerian, Jackson’s best friend at school. This French family arrived in Panama the year before we did with, like us, entrepreneurial intentions. We’ve watched over the past eight years as Loic and Muriel have grown their authentic French concern in the heart of downtown Panama City. Their Petit Paris is a bakery, a restaurant, and a café, with small tables and wicker chairs on the sidewalk out front, a bar where you can have a coffee or a glass of champagne, and an imported French chef who bakes authentic croissant and baguette fresh every morning and serves quiche and salad specialties for lunch and dinner.
Klaus and Mirty are the parents of Jackson’s other best friend in Panama, Marcus. Mirty is American, Klaus German. They met and were married in Guatemala, where Marcus and his sister later were born. Eventually this charmingly culturally confused family made their way to Panama, thanks to Klaus’ employer, Nestle.
Thanks to Jack, Loic, Muriel, Klaus, and Mirty are now regular parts of our lives.
Other of our first friends in Panama we owe to Los Islotes. Ricardo Arosemena is the Panamanian architect Lief and I have worked with to design both the colonial town center and many of the houses (including our own) that will be built as part of the Pacific-coast community we are developing at Los Islotes.
Ricardo came to our first Los Islotes team meeting carrying a stack of books on the history of Spanish-colonial architecture in the region, including a picture book of colonial-style structures in old-town Antigua, Guatemala, maybe the finest existing example of the best the Spanish built during their adventures in this part of the world.
Richardo sat down next to me at the meeting table and offered the book to me, saying that he wanted me to have it for a while, to enjoy it… if I’d promise to take good care of it. With that, I knew Ricardo was our kind of guy.
It’s also thanks to Los Islotes that we now have Alonso Piedra in our lives in Panama. Alonso is a Costa Rican builder introduced to us by Ricardo.
“I think you guys should see what Alonso is doing on the coast of Costa Rica,” Ricardo suggested earlier this year. “Go to Guanacaste and take a look…”
We did… and, in a word, we were wowed. What Alonso is building in Costa Rica is right in line with Lief and my vision for what we’re building at Los Islotes. Alonso shares our love of classic and Spanish-colonial architectural styles and our respect for traditional craftsmanship. The community he’s creating in Costa Rica is five-star and luxury standard.
Now, eight months later, he’s building in the same style and to the same standard at Los Islotes.
Who else have we found here in the Hub of the Americas?
Sebastian, the renovations pro from Holland… Jean-Luc, the banker from Switzerland… Hildegard, our other Panamanian architect friend…
We’ve even been surprised to rediscover a long lost friend from Paris. We worked with Jocelyn Carnegie (originally from the U.K.) for several years when we had an office in France, then lost touch with him when he left to be married and move to Nicaragua. Alas, the marriage didn’t take, but Jocelyn, now established on this side of the Atlantic, moved on from Nicaragua to Panama, where we were delighted to run into him recently standing in line at Multimax one day, waiting to buy a new laptop computer…