Casco Viejo, Panama

I never feel more at home than when I’m surrounded by decaying grandeur. I’m drawn to it the way some women are attracted by shoe sales.

One of the best examples anywhere of the vestiges of one-time colonial grandeur is Casco Viejo, the old town on the little peninsula off to the side of today’s big-business Panama City.

I was introduced to this down-at-the-heels enclave about a dozen years ago. It was love at first sight. These brick-paved streets, palm-fringed plazas, open-air cafes, and crumbling three- and four-story French- and Spanish-colonial architectural masterpieces are made-to-order romantic. By day, grandmothers pass through the squares on their way to daily Mass…come nightfall, you never know who or what might cross your path…

It’s a cross between Old Havana and Old San Juan with a French twist.

It’s the kind of place I could settle into happily, and someday I just may do that. Meantime, I stop by to soak up the atmosphere as often as I can.

Last night, Lief and I sat with our young Marketing Manager Harry in Casco Viejo’s Plaza de Francia at a little round table out front of Las Bovedas, the old Spanish fort and prison-cum-trendy bar and French restaurant, sipping Abuelo rum and Coke and watching the sun set behind the skyline of modern Panama City across the bay.

“This is what you come to Panama for,” Harry remarked, as Lief called the waiter over to order another round…