In a tiny mountain town in Panama, near the Costa Rican border, my wife and I found an orchid grower. He was the son of a refugee from Hitler, who sought escape from Nazism by disappearing into the backwoods of Central America. We had reached the village by taking a flight from Panama City to a regional town, then two buses. The region is known for growing much of the food eaten in the capitol city.
At the farm of the refugee’s son, we sat in a hot room surrounded by orchid plants, many of which were in bloom. The delicacy and flair of the flowers was in sharp contrast to the world of banners, guns, and death camps. Even though Hitler had been dead for more than a generation, the son had stayed in this agricultural village, speaking Spanish, but seeing villagers less than his assistants on the orchid farm.
Near a volcano, the village was not only a refuge from the horror of mid-twentieth century Europe, but also a home to technical marvels of the present. At the eco-hotel where we stayed, the manager, learning that my wife is a painter, called up her website on his laptop in the dining room, and looked at a whole gallery of her work. Similarly, when we stooped in the nearby town of Boquete, our first sight was a computer café. A family was clustered in front of a screen, with the keyboard being worked by the mother. The father had an orchid in a buttonhole