By: Ana Teresa Benjamín
Photos: Carlos Gómez / Eduardo Guillén
The centennial celebration of the Panama Canal will be the main focus of the Panamanian delegation when it travels to the International Book Fair of Santo Domingo, scheduled to take place April 24–May 5 at the Plaza de la Cultura Juan Pablo Duarte (Juan Pablo Duarte Cultural Plaza).
Following the Fair’s internationalization in 1998, guests of honor have included Chile, Spain, Mexico, and France; this year Panama caught the organizers’ attention, given the concurrent centennial of the opening of transoceanic operations through the Canal and the expansion work currently underway.
Priscilla Delgado, leader of the Panamanian delegation, explained that although the Canal will be the commission’s main focus, additional topics are on the agenda, including Afro-descendant culture, music, poetry, and literature as well as the voices of Kayra Harding, Mario García Hudson, and Rosa María Britton. Roberto Quintero, part of the Panorama of the Americas team, will also be at the Book Fair to talk about theater.
Writer/Communicator Consuelo Tomás, Chef Rolando González, cultural researcher Emma Gómez, and lawyer and former Panamanian President Aristides Royo have also been invited to take part in discussions regarding the historical, political, and literary effects that that construction and operation of the Canal have had on Panamanian society.
This slender, fine-fingered writer is known for her love of irony. She enjoys poking fun at the current obsession with referring to Panama and Panamanians as “the national brand” instead of “the nation” or “the people.” A poet, storyteller, and producer of several radio programs —Letra y Música (exploring the way different topics are treated in literature), La Hora Simpática (salsa and poetry), and Memoria Colectiva (featuring lost or little-known stories of Panama from a single perspective)— Consuelo once claimed that her heart was located more to the left and now had hope for the future because of the country’s awakening social movement. “We had grown too lethargic,” she claims.
Consuelo will be in Santo Domingo to talk about Lágrimas de Dragón, her first novel, which won the Ricardo Miró Prize in 2009. The book deals with human behavior in the face of trying circumstances, touching on subjects like destitution, animosity, common destinies, and multiculturalism. “I knew how to tell a story and express myself through poetry,” she explains, but it took years for her to finish the novel’s 150 pages.
She also hopes to present a book of poetry currently in production called Escrito en piedra (Written in Stone), which the writer says “is filled with poetic epitaphs.” She would additionally like to look back at her book Pa’na’má quererte (Just to Love You, Panama) and talk about women’s bodies and the concepts attached to them (prisons, products for sale)…In other words, a sample of the good and the bad.
González began to take cooking seriously after finally tiring of instant soups. “I had lived in fifteen countries…when I got tired of eating soup and decided to take a class. After a year, I realized I’d spent more than the price of a university degree,” he said, and he decided to turn his hobby into a profession.
As the Panamanian delegation’s chef, Rolando plans to demonstrate not only what Panamanians eat, but also “how to use the same products in the Dominican Republic –where to find them– and how to prepare them differently.” For example, he’ll prepare a saus, but make it easier to eat by deboning the pig’s foot before dicing it with onions and chombo chilies. Likewise, he’ll present the typical carimañola both in its original form and as croquettes with a seafood instead of meat filling.
While in Santo Domingo, Rolando will offer a public presentation, a presentation for the President and assorted diplomats, and a third presentation in a restaurant. His current plans include opening a restaurant specializing in Indian, Thai, and Arab cuisines called La Ruta de la Seda (Silk Road) in Panama City’s Casco Viejo. He will also begin writing a column called “Sabores y Sentidos” (“Flavors and Senses”) for a Panamanian daily.
Lawyer and former President of Panama Aristides Royo will be presenting a master seminar on the Canal’s place in the nation’s history, from colonial times through December 1999, when Panama assumed complete administrative control of the interoceanic route.
Royo will present and analyze historical events such as the French administration and its bankruptcy, the construction of the Canal in the early-20th century, which took more than ten years, the Hay-Buneau Varilla Treaty, the struggles of many Panamanians to counter the injustices this treaty brought, the impact of the January 9, 1964 riots, and the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in September 1977.
In addition to his career as a lawyer, acting as an ambassador on several occasions, and being a demonstrated lover of language, Royo was part of the delegation that negotiated the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in the 1970s. Perhaps this explains why he has trouble hiding his irritation with the Ministry of Education’s decision (Royo, in fact, was Minister of Education in the 1970s when the educational reforms were not approved) to eliminate the subject of US-Panamanian Relations from the national curriculum. “They’re trying to form professionals with no background in philosophy, humanities, or literature,” he complains.
As a cultural researcher who is continually amazed by the new knowledge her profession has to offer, and as part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries’ Project to Save the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Gómez recently visited San Miguel Centro and was extremely pleased to discover the inhabitants’ attempts to preserve and plant the tree they use to make the Cucuá devil costumes. “It’s a community project, a way of life worth preserving. Their culture and their community is their business,” she explains.
In her travels through Darien, she and her team discovered that, aside from the Emberá Chami people living in Panama (with whom all Panamanians are familiar), there are also Emberá Katíos living in the mountains that speak a separate language and wear different clothing. The Katío people, says Gómez, live on the banks of the Tuira River, in the communities of Subiaquirú, Kahuaquirú, and Bajo Lepe.
Given her specialized knowledge of the fields of Latin American literature and lexicography, her offerings to the International Book Fair of Santo Domingo will focus on the contributions made by the Ricardo Miró Prize throughout its 70-year history, and how the works submitted to the contest, in a variety of genres, allow for an examination of subjects such as identity and the controversies surrounding the Canal.
“Our history, and the history of our national heroes, has been told in a variety of genres. I hope to communicate the ways in which our most important novelists and writers have passionately told our history.”