I had no idea that live auctions could be so fun. I’ve been to a few in my life but I was always either part of the wait staff serving the champagne or I got a free ride and ate & drank to my heart’s content, sure not to lift my hands above my head for ANY reason. Never have I been in the running to actually sit around nonchalantly flapping a numbered paddle around in the air. I always wanted to try it, but I never had the guts to fool around. Recently, I had my first go ’round and I’ve got to say, I think I’ve found my calling. What a rush! It’s a heart-pounding, nerve-wracking, laughter-inducing, sweaty-palmed romp and I’m happy to say I came out a winner. Maybe it was all the more exciting because I really have no business whatsoever spending money on art, or more likely, it was an unforgettable experience because I was so emotionally invested.
Juan and I were invited by a close friend, Max, to a neighborhood Parilla and Art Show. We went happily because Max was master of the grill and he serves Chilean parilla magic like nobody’s business. Max’s grill was parked in the driveway of his dear friend Ruiz Uhia who was also the featured artist. They had transformed Ruiz’s living room into an open, auction hall. Paintings adorned the walls, and stood propped on easels, highlighted with clamp lights. The makeshift podium was an old, wooden bookcase stood upright. The gavel which was single-handedly operated by Max’s daughter, was a wooden mallet meat tenderizer. The auctioneer, the artist’s wife. After everyone was buttered up on the heavenly food and wine served on the patio, we all made our way to the auction room. The mood shifted slightly as chatty friends and neighbors became quiet competitors.
The auction started, and piece by piece, paintings were mounted onto a large main easel. Each was given a short introduction and back story, and then the bidding was open. I noticed that as they got closer to the first of the two paintings I loved, my heart began beating hard in my chest. My hands were actually shaking. I pulled on Juan’s shirt and told him I was going to bid on both of them, and he flashed a confused smile, unsure of whether I was being serious or not. Sure enough, favorite painting number one (the smaller, muted-toned painting of Plaza Francia) was mounted onto the auction easel and everything went a little blurry. It came down to one woman in the back who I could not see, and me. She would bid, and then I would follow. Slowly but surely we climbed our way higher and higher. I have no idea who I became but I was all business and I wanted that painting. I had images of walking in that exact plaza at dusk every night with Joaquin in his baby carrier. But then the gavel hit, loud and sharp and everyone was clapping for that annoying lady in the back. The painting was gone and I felt like time and memories of Casco were slipping through my fingers. But quickly, favorite piece number two (the long, peninsula silhouette of Casco Viejo) was mounted on the auction easel, and this time, I could not be stopped. Images of walking home at sunset from the Fish Market with Juan and Joaquin flooded my mind. This time, when the gavel hit, it had a brighter ring to it and the auctioneer was clapping in my direction. Everyone was laughing, including me, and I literally felt liked I’d just jumped out of a plane. Call me crazy or dramatic, but I’m pretty sure I was crying.
You see, this painting is lovely and it is no argument that the artist is very talented – I am very happy to be a rightful owner of one of his pieces. But something bigger was happening that night when I felt that if I didn’t have one of those two paintings, something would be lost. When I felt like time was slipping through my fingers, it was not just a figure of speech. In 5 weeks Juan, Joaquin and I will close the door to our home in Casco Viejo for the last time and by late November, we will be gone. Our next home will become Antigua, Guatemala. The reality of leaving Panama became very REAL the night of this incredibly creative, communal, and celebratory art auction. The cold, hard fact that we would be leaving all of our incredible friends and experiences here, hit me hard and I was flooded with emotion. Without a pause to consider finances or logistics or any of the other things that I’ll never remember when I am an old lady gazing lovingly at my painting, I decided that I must have one of these pieces as a symbol of the last incredible three and a half years of my life.
This painting will always be a reminder of the best neighborhood I’ve ever known: Casco Viejo.