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Mama Clementina

The spirit of Las Clementinas

Posted on September 26, 2017 In Categories Blog Cultural Activities Las Clementinas Website Featured

You may be wondering where the name Las Clementinas (yes, in the plural) came from. They were a mother and a daughter, had the same name and lived in this house, the same that today still has apartments full of charm and history.

Both Clementinas were true pioneers in their time. Long before this house was built, at the end of the 19th century, there was an explosive economic boom thanks to the construction of the Panama Railroad, the Gold Rush and the prospect of building a canal. Then the city was full of visitors looking for prosperity and fortune. The original structure for Las Clementinas was built a few years later, in the 1930s. It housed six rental apartments. This kind housing was a bit unusual at the time. It was neither a tenement house, nor a home that housed a single family, nor your usual hotel. The guests of the original owner, Clementina Jaén, maintained great independence and we love to play with the idea that they all had amazing personalities, perhaps as eccentric as Clementina herself. Imagine these potential guests: an aspiring Carnival Queen with a rather ugly, which she always blamed for her failure to get the carnival crown; a Frenchman in love with creole food; a trumpeter able to enliven any celebration: from the most formal to the most popular; a lady who, at the same time loved and feared the jungle and spent countless hours in the enchanting gardens within the building; a German teacher saved from Nazi brutality thanks to a Panamanian passport granted by the government. The presence, imaginary or real, of these guests have not completely abandoned us. To this day we can find in the apartments of Las Clementinas various objects that may have belonged to their original guests, and we´d like to believe that they probably forgot them when leaving the cozy house of Clementina.

Today, we have tried to imprint in each of our apartments the personality and temperament of the original place, reproducing both the spirit of the original house and the particular character of its guests.

Clementina was unusual for her times: a free spirit that gained rapid notoriety for running her own business successfully in a time when women were so scarce. But it did not end there. Her independence extended to her way of life, and even was part of her look: in fact she was the first Panamanian woman to wear pants. Clementina was a keen businesswoman and worked with passion and enthusiasm, achieving a considerable fortune and total independence. It did not take long and her prosperity attracted competition. Soon, a Mr. Jaén, who also established a high-profile pawnshop, acquired the building next to hers. Contrary to what one would expect Clementina and her competitor got along very well, so well that they had a daughter whom they also called Clementina. And, true to their ways, the couple never married. The childhood of little Clementina Jaén Herrera was spent between the two houses of her parents and, as she became an adult, was sent to France to receive a formal education.

The sophisticated woman who returned from Europe attracted much attention. A dignified daughter, the young Clementina enjoyed and expressed great independence. Panama had hardly seen anything like it. Eventually she inherited the properties of her parents and settled in her mother’s house. She flaunted her radiant independence in a Cadillac that once belonged to President Eisenhower’s caravan. In addition, she had a particular predilection for luxurious objects and surrounded herself with beautiful treasures from all over the world: hand-painted mosaics, works of art, elaborate furniture, fine crystal and exquisite lamps.

Today, arguably, Casco Viejo is a living reflection of the visionary force of both Clementinas, two women very much ahead of their time, because of their immense joy of life, the creativity and originality in which they handled their business, because of their thirst for independence and for their ability to fraternize.

In a way, those of us who love the Casco vibe owe a lot to both Clementinas. A debt that, fortunately, continues to grow as their independent spirit thrives in the neighborhood.

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