Front Columns Tiled And Much Ado About Zero

Today Armando and I finished grouting the tile on the electric service entry column and on the columns on either side of the front gate. It all looks good, but I think it can look better yet. But I am getting ahead of myself.

To start the project of tiling the columns, I planned the layout of the tiles by moving a sample tile around on the three columns and making a few marks. Then I set up the laser level and marked all three columns, front and back, with a level line that I could set the first tiles against.

I wanted to nail a board, right at the laser line, on to each of the wall sections to set the tiles on. But my scrap wood selection is getting thin and I couldn’t find a straight board in the bunch. So I spent a week designing an intricate tool that would hold each tile in place while the mortar set. The Tool had springs, calibrating levers and locking knobs, leveling bubbles, braces and counterweights, and wide feet to keep The Tool from settling into the mud. I figured that I would need a dozen of them, and estimated the cost at just under $500, plus another week or two to locate materials and fabricate them.

I showed my plan to Armando and he said, “Give me a few tiles and some mortar.” This is what he came up with to hold the tiles in place:

Okay, I made a joke. It is true that I didn’t have a straight board, but I came up with the stick idea myself. Living here in Panama, I have learned that a lot can be done with a little, and I don’t need to make nearly as many trips to hardware stores to buy as much stuff as I think I need to.

Here are some more of the first tiles in place. I’ve filed a patent application for the sticks Tile Placement and Holding Device:

Here’s a photo of the tile saw that I use. With the diamond blade, it slices through the porcelain tile like butter. Here I am making a cutout for one of the tiles to go around the light fixture wiring box:

With all the rain recently it has been a real challenge to get this project done. Even with the tarp overhead it has been tough slogging. But now and again up will pop a spectacular day. Like this one:

Here are the three columns, all tiled and grouted:

It was raining when I took the above photo, and the tiles look pale and flat in color. We really had to rush the grout due to impending rain; there is more cleaning to be done so that a lot more green can come out of the tiles. Additionally there is some mortar hard-stuck to the tiles here and there, so I plan to clean them with muriatic acid. I’ll do a test first to make sure that the acid doesn’t damage the tile, turn them sky-blue-pink or something. Ultimately I’d like them to look like the ones I showed you in an earlier post, and I think this can happen with a bit more polishing:

You may also have noticed that the front gate is no longer black. Rust was already breaking through the enamel paint, so Armando spent a couple days sanding and re-priming with the better quality polyurethane red oil primer.

House Paint Color: A while back I showed a picture of some blue house paint that didn’t look that blue on the paint chip. We decided that it was a no go from the get go:

Back at the paint store, I looked for a similar color only with more green. The one I chose turned out way too bright, way too yellow-green (left side of next photo). But I added some black to it (right side of the next photo) and darned if we don’t like it. We may have a winner.

Our house will be about 2,500 square feet when it is done. This is a big house for the neighborhood, and a light, bright color such as white or yellow or bright green would make the house just scream, “Huge!” But the subdued green will help the house nestle into its natural tropical surroundings. And kind of like the cloaking device on Star Trek, I like the idea that the house will be more and more revealed to visitors as they approach the house.

Now The Nonsense News ~ What’s A Zero Among Friends? It is time for me to renew my Panamanian driver’s license. One day last week I drove the hour-and-a-half to Penonome, the closest city with a licensing office. The pleasant attendant asked if I have a motor vehicle registered in my name. “Why yes,” I responded. She then checked the records and said there was a PROBLEM. A BIG PROBLEM. For expats living in Panama, your foreign passport number must match your motor vehicle identification number as well as your driver’s license number.

My passport number is 0123456789. Well not really, but close enough for demonstration purposes. The number on my driver’s license is the same, 0123456789. But the number on my motor vehicle registration is 0000123456789. Because a leading zero(s) has no numerical value, the numbers all look the same to me.

But no, they must match. Like a photograph. Someone might become confused and there might be a problem in the future. I said I’d chance it, but she gave me a piece of paper and explained that I would have to go to Panama City, three hours in the other direction, and have the numbers all made the same. In my mind I would be paying to change 123456789 to 123456789.


I explained that they were the same. One plus one equals two, just as zero-one and zero-one equals two. But no, a public functionarie’s duties are clear (even if the thinking isn’t). The zeros are vitally important when it comes to identifying me and my papers, and the paperwork mistake by the motor vehicle department must be corrected.


I hired Sven, our local errand guru, to make the run to Panama and sort this all out. It actually took him two days (a two-zero-per-day limit perhaps?). But now I have a brand spanking new title for the Honda, the proper 0123456789 clearly displayed. With filing fees and gas for Sven, the damage was $55.

Now with the new title in hand, I can again drive to Penonome and try this again.

Wish me luck.

I’m not really angry about all of this. Not any more, anyway. But I did want to illustrate one of the little ways that life is different here, and it is the expat’s job to adjust and to assimilate. “Resistance is futile” (short version) (long version). Some can’t adjust and go back “home.” But here is home for us and we try to adjust, even while shaking our heads. So much ado over a zero.

That’s all for now.


6 thoughts on “Front Columns Tiled And Much Ado About Zero

  1. I love the color. It’s very close to the color of my house, which lets me imagine that it’s on a hill overlooking the sea…instead of in suburbanland.

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