Panama 2020 – Last Show On Earth Ep 3

It was a tense moment, realising we were quarantined in, and there were serious implications for the festival as well. Around 500 guests and crew, on a site designed for a two week event, were now locked in seemingly indefinitely. At a considerable extra cost the festival took care of everyone on site, and began trying to navigate the ever changing landscape of red tape to attempt to get people out and to their flights in time. There was an air of panic to it all, the uncertainty and confusion didn’t help and it had a movie-like quality at times. Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash became my go-to outro tune, every time we did the last show, again!

The parameters were changing constantly, day by day, hour by hour, checkpoint to checkpoint, of which there were around 8 or 10 between us and Panama City. The gist was anyone who hadn’t been on site more than two weeks definitely couldn’t leave until they had, which was many of the artists as well as visitors, so they would be quarantined 14 days to know if there were any cases on site. This was of course flawed in so many ways, and people who had been here longer and had flights were able to leave to take them, with varying degrees of success depending how things went at the checkpoint lucky dip. 

Long we have dreamed of the day the traffic would stop, the streets would fall silent and we breathe in the sweet winds of change. Long have I imagined that sweet solace, that frozen moment of restless peace. A dark portent or an awakening dream? A city cast asunder, or finally able to breathe? To sing its long awaited sigh, through the smog of indifference to the free blue sky. And always wondering if it was the beginning or the end, the beginning of the end, or just the end of the beginning? A faded haunting vision, or the spark and flash of a new dream being born. 

After a few days there didn’t seem anything else to do but put the show back up, which we did to much praise and with a lot of love from all participating, be they performers or audience. Timings are vague now in memory, things unravelled so slowly after this point, with these surges of uncertainty eating days, like waves crashing slow motion onto shore. We carried on creating and making shows for a time, but this became harder as things rolled on and once a large amount of people had left. The big day of departure weighed heavy and disorientating. Embassies had got involved to repatriate people, most providing flights cheap if not free at least, all except the UK embassy. They sent a bus to take people to the airport and after that, they were on their own. It was too much when all the crew were at the gate, the vibe was too weird, I had to just go back to what I was doing and pretend it wasn’t happening. Bless Luke playing all the greats over the sound system, No Regrets by Piaf, We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn, you name it, he played it. 

The dark Caribbean sky is ominous and foreboding, Calypso is brooding as Neptune does battle with her sirens that guard Pacha Mama’s golden shore, but even their sweet song cannot stop our world breaking through, in a million multi-coloured eternal fragments of all shapes and sizes. Our world now fallen silent and deserted, abandoned by our masters to be prisoners in our homes. 

But the day has come, and so it is done, yet still I have not really seen as to the workings of this global prison camp. As seeing would require me to make a fugitive, or even a prisoner of myself, to step out of Eden and back into the inferno. But I know I will return, though the moment has stretched out long, and finally we pause, close up the factories, turn off the machines, lock doors that have never been closed for decades. Proving beyond doubt that everything our masters say cannot be done to address the climate crisis, can in fact absolutely be done, and is being done; aeroplanes grounded, industries closed, trillions being poured in to support the crooked economy, everybody stays at home! And so a vast and deafening silence did prevail. 

The day we were told to bring our passports to the gate was probably the heaviest moment. It felt like a scene from one of those ‘based on a true story’ films, that ended in a mass shooting at worst or incarceration at best. Baz was muttering “This is not fucking good”, and I was with him. People had left and been held up seemingly randomly at checkpoints, some ending up in Mexico, Cuba, and Jamaica having paid small fortunes trying to re-route back to Europe, Australia or the UK. They wanted to talk to everyone individually, but our instinct just said walk away, so we went for a swim. There were so many lists and so much info taken, it became clear it was just bureaucratic treading water in the face of chaos, that said fair play to Panama for containing things better than many. But the last thing I was going to do was volunteer more time and energy to get hassled by officialdom, that seemed only more likely to end in some state facility or stuck in transit, which I had no desire to experience. 

It’s a strange sensation. I had always wondered where I would be if some kind of slow motion apocalyptic moment occurred. I felt like I was in the perfect place in many ways, a natural haven, surrounded by friends (and coconuts) well away and contained from the danger zone. But I could sense people thought it was a crazy plan. In many ways they have a point, being a stranger in a strange land, though that has always worked out well for me. Everywhere I ever went people took care of me, the world took care of me. So far it has been no different here.