|In succeeding weeks we heard intimations that there might be anti-US demonstrations again this year on 4 November. Not over the flag issue, but because we were closing our Colon Consulate. My new ambassador made clear to Washington that he did not think that was a good reason to have demonstrations. We should keep the Consulate open. Sorry, said the State Department, but we have transferred the consul and vice consul and there are no replacements... but if you think it important, we do not mind if you send an Embassy staff member to Colon to maintain an official presence. |
The next week I began commuting across a continent, perhaps the only member of the American Foreign Service ever to do so. The Panama Railroad train left Panama City at 0700, four old coaches and a diesel locomotive, and after a pleasant hours trip through the forest and along Gatun Lake I would reach Colon where Victor Lambert, the Consulates only remaining Panamanian employee, would meet me in the consulate Ford and we would driveto the Consulate and raise the flag. Our premises consisted of two buildings which had once been the residences of senior army officers, with an acre of gardens bordered by a former 16-inch gun emplacement. The gun emplacement was now inhabited by large parasol ants which periodically invaded the garden and were in turn attacked by Victor with chlordane.
I enjoyed having my own post, although it was a little one, as a vice consul aged 28. I traveled up and down the Caribbean coast of the Republic, once even traveling with Mr. Farland on a navy minesweeperthere was no roadto the ancient town of Nombre de Dios, named by Columbus on his last voyage. Soon 1 had made friends with Colons business and politicalleaders, including Jose Dominador Bazan, a colonense who was Second Vice President of the Republic. Most evenings I took the train home, but occasionally my wife would leave our children with the maid in Panama City and join me for an evening in Colon. When the November holidays camethe fourth was the national holiday, but Colon also celebrated the fifth as Colon DayI left my family at home and moved into the Consulate for three days. The holidays would be special this year. The Canal Company had softened its stand on flags, and had agreed that on the fifth, after a ceremony at Colon's city ball, Colons officialdom could march into the Canal Zone behind the Panamanian flag.
On the fourth I wore my best Haspel suit to an official reception and luncheon in Colon. But formal dress in Panama was a white suit, and that was indicated for the fifth. Soon after we had come to Panama my wife had found me some good linen, found a Hindu tailor, and for $40 the tailor made me a handsome white suit. I wore it once, the maid washed it and it shrank a little, I wore it again and the maid washed it and put it away. White-suit occasions were not frequent.
On the morning of the fifth I woke up early in Colon, had coffee and a mango, shaved, showered, and put on my white suit. Incredibly, awfully, it had shrunk again, and drastically, at its last washing. The jacket sleeves ended unacceptably far above my wrists, the trousers above my ankles. I was due at City Hall at 10.00 and the invitation said white suit. The Second Vice President would be there; everyone who counted would be there. The Cuban Consul would certainly be wearing his white suit; all the consuls would. I found that by pulling the trousers down below my waist I could almost achieve a respectable trouser length. If I kept my arms somewhat retracted in the sleeves, I would not look exactly like a teenager who had sprouted Out of his clothes. I dressed, and drove to City Hall.
I made a quick entrance on arrivingthe Second Vice President inquired politely if I had hurt my shoulder, as I tried to retract my arm after shaking his handand took my seat with the other consuls. After long oratory we went down to the street. The notables began arranging themselves for the march, behind the Colon firemens band and the honour guard with the flag. I stood on the curb watching. The Second Vice President came over to me and said But youre going with us! No, Vice President, this is your day. But you are; we would feel insulted if our friend the Vice Consul didnt come. This is an historic occasion! Yes, but it's your occasion, not mine. Bridges, you wouldn't want to insult us? No, Vice President, Ill come.
The band began to play a march. Maneuvering the waist of my trousers down below my navel again, I joined the other white-suited gentlemen. The Vice President was on my right, the Provincial Governor on my left. Off we stepped. The Cuban Consul was in the row just behind me, and I wondered if I heard him say something about gringo tailors. That no longer bothered me. What bothered me now was what the Canal Company people, a jingoistic lot, would say if they saw the American Vice Consul marching into the Canal Zone behind the flag of Panama. We rounded the corner of Front Street and the Zone was just ahead of us. Standing on the corner was the head of the Atlantic Division of the Canal Company, looking straight at me. I winked at him as we passed. He did not wink back.
An hour later I got back to the Consulate and quickly phoned Ambassador Farland to tell him, before Tom CaIdwell could, about my forced march. Well, he said, CaIdwell had already phoned him, pretty angry, but he had told CaIdwell that he shouldnt be upset. Sometimes in diplomacy people might be forced to do things that others might find funny. I sat looking at my white trouser cuffs up near my knees arid thought, Funny is the word.