The Panama Hat Trail

Where do Panama Hats come from?
One might sooner ask who was buried in Grant’s tomb,
except the answer is not so obvious.
Panama hats are made in Ecuador.

~ from introduction, The Panama Hat Trail 

Tom Miller, author of The Panama Hat Trail, traveled high and low in Ecuador to answer the question above; undoubtedly, you too have pondered and meditated on this mystery.

If you enjoy travel books, this book will appeal to you.  Through Miller’s eyes you see all strata of Ecuadoran society.  If you are interested in Fair Trade issues, I recommend you read this book.  Once again I bemoan my meager understanding of economics. 

“We should be there soon.”  Soon?
What does soon mean to someone who walks
barefoot three hours to work in the morning
and back again at night?  Soon?
Distance and time are two of life’s limitations
that take on surreal qualities in South America. p.54

One of the unacknowledged facts in the artesaniá trade
in much of Latin America is that without the admiration
and marketing skills of North Americans and Europeans,
many handicraft skills would be virtually lost to us now.
Indigenous products in Ecuador,
like the people who make them,
have generally been of little interest
to the rest of the country. p.197

Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline books, made a surprising appearance in this book.  [In a curious convergence, he was referenced in two very disparate books I read in one day – here and in Mimi Sheraton’s Eating My Words “I have never stopped collecting stuff, with a strong preference for what Ludwig Bemelmans once called “beautiful dreck.””  Dreck means trash, inferior goods or excrement.] 

Bemelmans wrote The Donkey Inside, a book which poked fun at Ecuador and her customs.  Some argue that it was good-natured fun, but many Ecuadorans took offense. 

Virtually unknown to Ecuadorans, however,
are two other books Bemelmans wrote about their country;
for childre, Quito Express, about a little Otavalan boy
who rides the train to Guayalquil; and
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,
a novel about a general living in European exile
who returns to his Ecuadoran hacienda. p.236

A Panama hat is a signature accessory of my favorite blues/folk/gospel singer, Eric Bibb.  He even wrote a finger picking ballad called Panama Hat.  

Breakin’ in a brand new Panama hat
bought in a valley just like that
best hat Yankee dollars can buy
Workin’ on the brim ’cause I like it real flat
 talkin’ bout my brand new Panama hat
 It’s gonna take some time
but I’m a patient guy.

1 thought on “The Panama Hat Trail

  1. Exquisite entry that brings up a myriad of topics, namely foreign trade.I recently read a review of Where Am I Wearing? a narrative which details the authors travels, touring of the factories/peoples who make his everyday clothing:  a mixture of political and social commentary.All that prompted me to ask at the dinnertable if anyone was familiar with *Most Favored Nation Status* – a topic which always set off my former employer/congressman.No one was

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