Last week was European Union Sustainable Energy Week. Certainly one of the three events I went to was an intentional part of that initiative, but I’m not sure if the other two were just co-incidental timing. The Caja Canarias is running another of its social projects, making me wish again that I lived in Santa Cruz, or at least closer, to be able to go to all the events! This one is entitled Enciende la Tierra (I think this would best translate as Spotlight Planet Earth), this follows the season of photojournalism-related events connected to the Robert Capa retrospective, and the award-winning Enciende Africa in 2008 (plus loads more which I couldn’t attend, or weren’t specifically of interest to me). Sustainable energy is just one of the subjects which will be discussed, and portrayed on film and in photographs, in recognizing man as a part of the planet, and not apart from it, and how we are destroying ourselves as we destroy it.
The first event was the opening of the exhibition of photos by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting. I missed the opening night because………I didn’t know about it……….I suppose the onus is on me to find out in one way. I know that Caja Canarias mount these marvellous events, and I should have been checking their website to see what was coming up. It’s necessary here because publicizing and promoting events is sadly lacking. Sometimes there is clever and well-designed publicity, but it invariably arrives in one’s inbox or Twitter or FB feed too late (like a day or two before), when you’ve already got commitments for the date in question. It’s very frustrating, and must be even worse for press professionals. I think it would drive me up the wall.
Still, I caught up with it a week late, and it was still all there. The exhibition represents Lanting’s work Life: A Journey through Time, and is nothing short of stunning. When I walked in and saw the effect of all the colors there was a sharp intake of breath, and when I understood the concept of the work, evolution and our connection to the earth, it took on even more meaning. Just one thing, and I hate to be critical of such an impressive enterprise, I liked the photos better on his website than on the walls of the gallery. The colors are better, and I am a bit fanatical about reality in photos! Even so, anyone local reading this do go and check it out. It’s on until June 30th.
Second event was a drama/doc, The Age of Stupid, featuring the late and wonderful Peter Postlethwaite, as curator of a facility where the world’s art treasures have been taken for storage to protect them from the effects of global warming which is destroying the world. It’s ostensibly set in 2055, with Postlethwaite’s character looking back to try to understand why something wasn’t done to prevent the tragedy which has overtaken the earth. All the rest of the movie, directed by Fanny Armstrong, is news coverage and interviews with real people and featuring real events. My take is that movies like this often tend to be too preachy and one-sided, but this movie was sympathetic to other points of view. The guy who lost everything in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina also worked for an oil company, he could see both sides of the debate. The guy who was starting a low-cost airline in India wasn’t unaware of environmental issues, and who is to deny emerging nations the same lifestyles we enjoy in the west?………. which is all the girl in Kenya wanted – what we would consider an ordinary life. It’s a very, very complex issue, often over-simplified, and whilst the movie didn’t deal with every point it might have (how could it? Then it would have been five hours long!), it brought up was effective, although nothing new for me. I had to laugh, though, at the supercilious bitch you will see in the trailer, who purports to be concerned about the environment…..so long as she doesn’t have to do her bit. Her face is a picture, it really does say it all.
So – a celebration of life, a warning that we may destroy it, and now some hope for the future -
the village of bioclimatic houses situated on the ITER site in Granadilla de Abona. They had open days last week in conjunction with the EUSEW. The initials stand for Instituto Tecnológico y de Energías Renovables, which doesn’t really need a translation, does it? It is an initiative of and largely funded by the island’s government, although its aims and ambitions are much more wide-reaching. It has to be remembered that this island, like others, has energy needs which make sourcing alternatives to fossil fuels perhaps more urgent than elsewhere – the fact that fuels have to be imported by sea, and that space for power stations and oil refineries is limited. It’s an interesting place to visit at any time, as well as the experimental wind farm there, a guided tour will take you through the world of alternative energies, show you how those windmills work and there is also a small cinema. The first time I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” was there. The last time I did it we had a marvellously passionate guide, who had endless patience with all the questions fired at him.
This weekend’s tour was specifically to view the houses, which are not a part of the normal tour. After seeing the first couple, trying to make notes, take snaps and keep up with the language, as well as sidestep other people in the fairly large group, I gave up. It was clearly going to be too much in the circumstances, and our guide was already urging us to hurry if we wanted to see everything. She was extremely pleasant, but it seemed as if we had deadlines to meet, which was a shame because it was an interested group, as you might expect on a tour like this. If I try to sum it up: there are 25 houses all designed by different architects, or teams of architects. They are all very different, and they are situated on a stretch of coast which is pretty windy (not far from El Médano), and which would be pretty desolate were it not for this initiative and the power station nearby, in fact a desert landscape. My first reaction was that I was reminded of those houses in the deserts of Arizona or Colorado and New Mexico which you see in glossy magazines. It would be fair to say that every one we saw might qualify as glamorous. Others reminded me of the sort of beach homes you see in those same magazines, but without the picket fence on the beachside.
Each house is totally self-sufficient energy-wise, and if excess is produced it is fed back into the system. Every architect achieved energy efficiency in different ways, using air and water flows, careful siting of the windows and walls to take advantage of sun or lack of it (living rooms always faced the sun and bedrooms were on the opposite sides for instance). There were some unusual window arrangements, as you can see;
The requirements in this climate would, needless to say, be quite different from a colder one, where heating is needed. Here it’s the opposite, our interiors on the coastal areas need to be kept cool, and even higher up, summer is a much longer season than in northern Europe. The aim is to NOT have air conditioning, which requires a lot of energy. Given that, I expected that the houses might be on the dark side, but on the contrary every one we saw was light and airy, like the one below, which incorporated an interior patio, with these gallery landings. This one might have been my favorite, except for a suspicious siting of the loo!
My favorite bathroom was this one:
For some reason I like the idea of a sunken bath, although I would probably have like a bigger one! It was notable that all the bathrooms were fairly small, so I am presuming this was intentional in each case. You might think you wouldn’t want to bathe next to the window like that, but that wall keeps out prying eyes as well as protecting the house from the elements.
The one above was the most futurist from the external view, but we didn’t get to see inside. Our guide was anxious to point out that Canarians had this keeping cool business nailed hundreds of years ago. Traditional cottages here are built with thick walls, which keep winter warmth in, and summer heat out, they also have very small windows, which means that they are invariably dark. When Europeans come to live here, and I am definitely no exception to this, we like light. We come and fling open all the doors and windows to let in the light and the breezes. We’ve spent too long in the dark, northern winters, whereas Canarians will close shutters and curtains to keep out the sun and the heat.
All the houses are available to rent, and you can see details of photos of all of them on the website if you click on the link at the beginning of this section.
This water feature isn’t just to look pretty. It is also a part of the cooling system of the property. It runs from outside to in and underneath, but it does look pretty effective too.
One of them had its own vegetable garden. Gardens here often look parched but are producing perfectly healthy crops, as this seems to be doing.
All the interiors were cool and modern IKEA-ish sort of, stylish but practical and I could have moved into almost any of them tomorrow! There was a worrying lack of wardrobe space in some, which I never did get to the bottom of, except that these were designed to rent rather than as permanent homes.
If you fancy trying one out, they don’t come cheap compared to the tourist traps. They vary between €200 and €280 per day according to their website, and you have to remember that they are situated a fair way from conveniences. That said I’d love to try one out. Lack of buses or supermarkets wouldn’t bother me at all, and lack of bars would be an advantage, so long as I had my own supply of course! Fact is, heck, yes, I could live there. Question is could I afford to?