Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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La Gomera : Two Months In

Hermigua ValleyYesterday I fell down the rabbit hole. As I fell, I turned and twisted in slow motion, so that the world became unreal, and I wondered about White Rabbits and Mad Hatters at the end of my plunge. Of course, it was my over-active imagination, returning from the south of the island, leaving behind blue skies and sunshine, the final tunnel of the five which scythe through the mountains felt like the rabbit hole, but when I emerged it was to a changed world; it was to ghostly brume wandering the perpendicular landscape. Again I had the feeling that I’d arrived in an alternative universe.

Two months have gone by already. Whilst I am aware of the slower pace, the relaxed mindset, the tranquillity, it still seems impossible that I’ve been here for two months.

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The Floral and Sand Carpets of La Orotava, Tenerife

La Orotava smells different. This isn’t the wild fennel and rosemary of Arona, it’s heather and roses, coffee and cakes. It’s 9am and though my stomach is rumbling and I am coffee-less, I want to head straight for the town hall. On this one day the building becomes a roosting place for amateur photographers. It’s open to the public so that we can snap the breathtaking carpet of volcanic sand, which covers the square in front of its elegant façade. In any event, a quick detour confirms that the café where we’re going to breakfast  isn’t open until 10, so no eating yet anyway. The aromas are tantalizing, however, clearly there is much activity going on inside.

Front of Orotava's distinguished town hall

Front of Orotava’s distinguished town hall

The streets are no less active, local groups and families, who come together once a year for this celebration of religious art, and lesson in life (see my previous post), are hard at it already. Boxes of petals, sand, wood chippings and flowers are piled all around. Some of the floral carpets already have form, but most are still plain canvases, covered with wood and metal moulds, which are used to lay out the intricate designs. Religious, but pleasant, music wafts up from the church. The breeze flaps at tapestries and banners draped from windows and rooftops, and rainbow ribbons stream over the streets.

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Crates of petals wait to be used

Crates of petals wait to be used

Crates of petals and grass

As we mount the town hall steps we can see that there are already quite a few people on the balconies above, cameras extended or at the eye. I love this building. In fact, though I don’t know it that well, I have a crush on this town. It somehow takes me back to how I felt as a child watching westerns on T.V. Why is obvious. Its elegant center was built around the same time. It has a bandstand, and cobbled streets and it’s easy to slip into a daydream of pioneer times.

Snaps come out a bit lopsided, elbow room being at a premium.

Snaps come out a bit lopsided, elbow room being at a premium.

That feeling is enhanced by the Scarlett O’Hara staircase which floats me to the second floor. There are already groups of people around the smallish windows, and signs request politely we don’t hog our space for more than five minutes once we’ve staked a claim. Of course five minutes isn’t enough to absorb the magnificence of this, particular work of art, nor does it allow for waiting for a cloud to clear, or the person who’s jogging your elbow to move on, but we have to make do. It’s an impressive sight, quite unlike any other on the island, even without the famous sand carpet, with the vivid reds and yellows of the cupola and bell towers of the church on the horizon, and the ochre-colored roof tiles in the middle contrasting with the blues of sea and sky beyond. I used to see photographs of this and think they’d been touched up, but, no, even on a not totally clear early morning, those colors are real.

In the foreground, of course, this massive masterpiece, created from sand and rock culled from the volcanic crater above.** The palette, as it therefore must be, is earth tones, from deepest brown to palest beige, to olive, and even grey. I’d like to stay and contemplate, but it wouldn’t be fair. We linger a tad longer than our allotted five, but this is why I wanted to come early, later it becomes almost impossible to do more than snap and glance. Appropriate to my sentiments, church bells peal, as they will do on every quarter, a happy, musical peeling, not a sombre clanging.

Emerging through the back door of the town hall we see the local TV station already broadcasting from a rear patio, and trucks from other stations at the end of the passageway. This is a big event island-wise.

View from balcony of Town Hall La Orotava

 

Street outside town hall Orotava

Breakfast calls, however, and we meander, against the tide of arrivals heading for the town hall as the day warms up, towards Casa Egón, a place which merits its own post one day, and which reinforces this feeling inside of me of having stepped back in time. Typical of old houses, it’s deceptive. The entrance is straight from the narrow street, and on this festive day a clutch of folk are ordering cakes to take away, filling the small space. We wait, order, are given our chosen cakes and proceed to the interior. The place unfolds like a time-lapse of a flower blooming, from functional but pulsing-with-history dining room to interior patios, and glimpses of the kitchen as you pass through a storage passage. The cakes are bites of heaven, and the coffee excellent. I sit and fantasize. I see a young girl in an empire-line dress, graceful hand on the bannister as she descends the dark-wood staircase. I shake myself.

We squeeze through the tiny shop and onto the sunlit street, almost shocked at how the crowds have grown since we arrived. We stroll, now with the tide of humanity, the streets around the church and town hall. Some of the carpets are completed, some only just beginning, and most still under construction. The scent of heather is strong now as a man sifts it through his hands.

flower carpet la orotava

 

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flower carpets la orotava

It is heartening to see people of all ages lending a hand. I almost wince in empathy as a guy who looks to be my dad’s age stretches to fill a gap with petals. Not sure that even my knees would be up to that. Kids are always happy to do this stuff, of course, the looks of concentration on their faces would light up the face of any schoolteacher! It’s really good to see teenagers and twenty-somethings tackling the task with such enthusiasm though. Nice to know that Tradition’s future is in safe hands.

floral carpets la orotava

 

floral carpets la orotava

There is time to chat quickly with a guy who tells me that the one he’s working on is a family effort. The wife is the designer, and she submits her artwork to her husband who then makes the appropriate moulds to transfer her ideas onto the ground. These moulds all have a wooden frame, and the curving lines are laid out with aluminium, not an easy task I think.

frame for flower carpets la orotava

flower carpets Corpus Christi la Orotava

That heather scent is stronger now, and it mixes with floral tones, mostly roses. The music from the church is getting lost amid the chatter of the crowds. Looking up a steep street I see a crush of folk, either side the carpets, hands on the crush barriers. It reminds me, for all the world, of looking up as you travel the escalator of a the London Tube station. It’s the same slow progress, but  in this case no-one wants to hurry, and almost everyone waits patiently to get the best view they can. The workers toil on seemingly oblivious.

la orotava corpus christi

 

street decor corpus christi la orotava

One guy tends the patch of finished design with a long stick with a couple of nails on the end, stabbing and pushing at any stray foliage. Another calmly tries, time after time, to spear a single wandering petal with the hose from the watering apparatus he carries on his back. When he succeeds onlookers break into spontaneous applause, and he blushes. Further along, on a corner which allows the breeze to flow a boy faces an uphill task, watering the completed patches of his group’s work with one of those hand sprays  used for houseplants…..not sufficient as the unwatered petals flutter tauntingly across the street…..pretty but not the effect desired.

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The bunting and decor get more elaborate as we near La Casa de los Balcones, which, sadly, is where we have to peel away – I have work down south this afternoon, and the time has flown. Having absorbed a little of the ethos of this festival the other day in Arona, I’m reluctant to leave.

street decor corpus chrisit la orotava

 

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Perhaps you don’t need religion to feel our connectedness, and perhaps we do. Perhaps we need a nudge, a reminder, an inspiration. Afterall, motivational speakers are in big demand, aren’t they? Perhaps this is what works for some people. Religious leaders are always telling us that we can’t cherry pick with religion. It’s all or nothing. But why can’t we? Can’t it be possible that there is a universal truth hidden behind all the dogma and ritual?

**  (The Teide National Park is a World Heritage Site, and no-one else is permitted take anything away from the area.)


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What this Agnostic learned from Corpus Christi in South Tenerife

My senses are completely overpowered by the mix of perfumes as I step outside the church in Arona. Incense is familiar. In the cooling evening air of Tenerife’s foothills it mixes with woody rosemary and the sharp, musky scent of wild fennel. It’s a potent combination and it attacks my eyes and nose. The altar boy was a tad over-enthusiastic in swinging the thurible.

The advantage of coming to Arona, the pretty village at the heart of the island’s third largest municipality, this Sunday evening to witness the Corpus Christi procession, as opposed to going to the more famous towns, like Orotava or La Laguna, is that it’s small and local and it feels more friendly and less spectacular….. personal opinion – big religious occasions are too much theater ….. speaking as both a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Protestant. It’s the type of Catholic festival which makes me twitchy in its reverence of ritual and dogma, as opposed to anything which Jesus Christ actually instructed his followers to do. Perhaps that’s a reflection of my childhood. I used to think about things like that a lot once. I don’t any longer. So it’s as easy to stand back and observe a Christian celebration as a cultural event now, as it is to observe something much more foreign to my personal experience.

 

Flower carpet Arona

Corpus Christi’s origins are dubious to say the least. First off, you have to believe in transubstantiation. I found that a stretch even when I was receiving instruction to become a Catholic in my late teens, but I thought the belief might come with time, so I went along with it. It didn’t. Second, even if you do believe in it, would Christ have been ok with the construction of all these elaborate and costly “homes” made for “him” (and that is not an opening for Catholic vs Protestant debate!)? Lastly, even if  you can get over the first two points you have to admit that the whole notion of visions and mystics is questionable, no? A 12th century nun, Juliana of Liège claimed to have had visions for twenty years……without telling anybody!…..visions of Jesus telling her that he needed another feast day- to celebrate his body. Or could it have been that the Church needed another gimmick to bind an ignorant congregation closer?

floral carpet corpus christi

Ah, so you see, I come to this festival skeptical – but admiring of the art work involved. The custom of creating beautiful carpets from flowers, sand, salt and plants seems to have thrived in the Canary Islands like nowhere else. There are various claims that it actually began here in Tenerife, but often those claims also say “in the Middle Ages,” and since the island wasn’t conquered until 1496 (and the other islands not that long before) that can’t be true. The festival was first celebrated in 1246 – in Belgium – so perhaps that’s where the confusion arises. There are famous versions in Sitges on the mainland, throughout South and Central America (although not always for Corpus Christi, but other religious dates) and even, I just found out, in Arundel in England, but the Canarian ones are often refered to as the originals.

floral carpet corpus chrisit arona

corpus christi Arona Tenerife

Whatever the global truth, the tradition in Tenerife did begin in La Orotava, but many municipalities also decorate the streets around their parish church, notably La Laguna, the island’s original capital city, and, in the South,  Arona and Adeje . They use flowers and petals bought from commercial growers, flowers and plants culled from the local countryside, and colored salts and sand. Conservation laws protect rock and sand in most places, but more of that tomorrow.

Narrow streets and floral carpets Arona

So, Sunday night, I wander Arona’s  hilly streets admiring the creativity and passion which has gone into making these works of art, and there is no doubt that’s what they are. I arrive around 6pm when the work is all finished and the air scented only with the wild fennel which had been used as background in many of the displays, and so I am able to stroll peacefully.  My favorite, below, is remarkable  in the way it catches the light and shadow on the faces of Mary and Jesus, just as any artist using oils or watercolors would have done.

sand carpet arona corpus christi

After taking dozens of snaps on the quiet streets, I meet up with my friend, Pilar, and as luck would have it, she kn0ws the artists who have made this gorgeous display, and so we are able to congratulate them in person. Stupidly I don’t write down their names, but this is the team of four it took to produce this, and, yes, those cotton-candy clouds in the background are reflecting a stunning sunset this night.

Team who made floral carpet arona corpus christi

We talk about the planning of it, and they show me photos of the creation at different stages. I’m surprised that it had been only a few weeks in the planning and not months, but the thing which intrigues me most is how they feel about the ephemerality of their work. After all, it’s back-breaking, bending over a pavement for an entire day, sculpting salt and sand, and by sunset it’s destroyed, as the procession of Corpus Christi passes over it. It is, it occurred to me,  the same thing Buddhists do in creating mandalas. All four of them have broad smiles when they tell me that, well, that’s the tradition, and they accept it. The enjoyment is in the creation and its longevity isn’t important.

Arona casco alfombra corpus christi

It’s a curious thing, isn’t it? I understood that about mandalas, but never really thought about these carpets in the same way. The other difference would be that a mandala is deliberate and educational, whereas this, so far as I know, isn’t intentionally instructional. The lesson is the same though – life is transient, nothing lasts forever. We have to learn to let go, to move on, to understand impermanence. It’s a hard one, especially because most artists (whether of brush, camera, pen or whatever) are hoping to create something lasting.

church arona corpus chrisit

We stroll back around to the church after chatting, and meet up briefly with my friend Val, who is singing in a choir which will acknowledge the return of the body to the church after the procession. Arona’s church square is a charming place even on a workday. The town hall sits at right angles to the church, and this night both are decorated befitting the celebration. Small children run around, narrowly missing spoiling the main carpets, as their parents chat in groups, waiting for the beginning of the procession.  Little girls in first communion dresses  emerge shyly from the church, and the town band shuffles into place, and we move over to the door to watch, and then follow its slow amble along the streets. You’ll find it odd, after all I just said, that I hesitate to take photos. No-one else is doing at that point, and whilst I don’t share the beliefs of the villagers, I do respect their right to follow whatever they believe, and extend that respect to not intruding.

Arona Town Hall

Old Buildings church by church sq Arona

And so we watch as the priest stops to pray at particular spots, as the altar boy chokes us all in his enthusiasm, as neighbors shower petals from upstairs windows, and as dozens of feet shuffle over the stunning blue and white carpet I’d admired so much.

OK I get the symbolism of this, its brief life has reached its climax and is over,  but why do the brats of the village have to follow on, kicking at designs, scratching up branches and flowers and larking about? Why is no-one stopping them? I glance at the group who’d made my favorite design. They are laughing at the boys’ antics. Me, I want to cry. Their efforts seem worth so much more. Then as the sweet notes of the choir filter down from the church square I think I understand.

flower carpet arona corpus christi

All  that creativity, and passion, and talent isn’t ephemeral at all. All of that can be encompassed in one word – love. In making their masterpiece they launched all of that out into the universe, they didn’t hoard it selfishly, and now a little of that lives in me too, and in everyone who saw and admired their work, and perhaps even in folk who weren’t even there. We can’t see or touch these things, but we can express them in our lives and work. This is why we should do whatever we do with passion, and do the best we can do in everything,  and be the best we can be.

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Island Morning Rituals

We all have them, don’t we. Those rituals which ease us into each new day, the daily habits which confirm the structure of our life without which, facing the world, we are a bit more vulnerable. There were times in a colder climate when a part of mine was to huddle down under the bed covers for an extra ten minutes before getting up. Living on the coast of a sub-tropical island is a different kettle of fish. My feet find the cool, tiled floor eagerly, hungry for the new day.

My dog knows my morning ritual well. Shuffle to bathroom. Brush teeth and splash cold water on my face. Do the exercises I have to do to keep my cervical arthrosis at bay. Throw on old clothes. When I get to the old shoes, she knows it’s ok to disturb me, and we stagger out the door so she can to that which she has also to do.

Trixy enjoying the first rays whilst I take snaps

Trixy enjoying the first rays whilst I take snaps

The sun rises at the end of our street. We’re lucky in that. It’s still dark. Dawn is seeping along the horizon. The sun will follow soon. Part of my morning ritual is to take a snap. Often it’s the sunrise. It’s always different: golden and serene, purple and threatening, rosy and hopeful, fiery red or shimmery blue.

Other dog owners hover around waiting for their pets to poop, we greet the nice ones and pull faces behind the backs of the grumpy ones. It’s hard to figure why some folk have pets, when they clearly don’t like the morning ritual. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beaches here any more, and I don’t disagree with the new by-law because far too many people don’t clear up after their dogs, the walkways are a disgrace, despite a hardworking cleaning crew around here. We get a cheery “Buenos días” from the lady who sweeps our section. I miss being able to let Trix off to run a while, though. Not that she’s up for much running now that she’s an old lady.

The view which greets me at the end of my street

The view which greets me at the end of my street

Once she’s done the necessary we walk on, observing the rituals of other early risers, as the light changes.There is a small headland just before Montaña Pelada at one end of town, and a hotel and spa blots the view, their first floor lights are on, and the reflections shimmer across the wet beach. The tide is retreating. I imagine the workers in the hotel about their morning rituals, setting tables for breakfast, polishing the floors, cleaning the pool. I’m lucky my day begins in this more gentle way.

Blot on the landscape hotel

Blot on the landscape hotel

My favorite thing about El Médano is its energy. Its setting is quite dramatic with volcanic cones at either end of a series of bays, dunes, rocky beaches and a long stretch of sandy beach, boats pulled up on the tiny Playa Chica, but the town itself is not so pretty. Too much unrestricted development in fact, has left it ugly, and yet, the ugliness is the last thing you notice. People in El Médano do stuff.

Boats pulled up Playa Chica at first light

Boats pulled up Playa Chica at first light

Despite the quiet, there is a  subtle ripple of energy. We pass several runners, from young girls in lycra to older guys who trudge a bit, but, hey, they’re doing it!

Atop the abandoned bunker on the shore, the person I think of a “Zen man” sits. In truth I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman. The figure sits cross-legged and statue-like, facing the direction from which the sun will soon peek. He or she wears a hoodie with the hood up, so gender is moot. In all my morning walks by this beach I’ve never seen him move. As the sun rises he is silhouetted against the brightness. We stand, as always, in awe, until the brightness fades the fabulous colors, and there is only blue and incandescence.

"Zen Man" contemplating an especially gorgeous sunrise

“Zen Man” contemplating an especially gorgeous sunrise

At this point it is our habit to turn. As we do so “homeless man” emerges from the scrabble of plant life in the dunes. I guess he sleeps around here somewhere. For all I know he may be a famous scientist studying insect life in the scrub or something, but with his dreadlocks and deeply tanned face, I’ll go with the homeless assessment. He has long conversations with himself or with an imaginary friend. A few years back when I first saw him, I thought he was talking on a cellphone, but no. He sets off along the road into town, lanky, almost jaunty. I might envy the air of contentment he emits, or is it merely that nothing in life can shock him any longer?

On the street corner an elderly couple greet each other, and turn to stroll with their dogs towards us. She always wears a hat which  looks like an upturned flowerpot, perched upright, probably so as not to crush the perm beneath it. They always nod tentatively, not quite friendly, but not unfriendly either. I used to bump into them around the point where we made our turn, further along the path, and I thought they were a married couple, but recently I’ve observed this morning greeting as they meet, and now I think of them as  a winter romance chanced upon through their morning dog walking.

We turn the corner, as “brave morning bather” draws up and parks his car. His morning ritual is a swim, whatever the state of the ocean. Dressed in a towelling robe and flip-flops, which he will leave on the rocks, his greeting is always cheery, but I can never, quite, catch his accent. My bet is he’s German, though. He picks his way across the rocks, because at this point the beach is sharp. Perhaps from respect or from past experience he ignores “yoga man” who is stretching in the sun’s first warmth.

I  groan inwardly, but outwardly smile as I spot “the mad woman” ahead. In flapping house coat and slippers she talks constantly to her two, mangy dogs – unless she can pinhole another passing dog walker, and looks like it might be our turn today. She’s harmless, and not entirely stupid, but is impossible to get away from once she’s in full flow. Our luck is in. She scoops up one dog and trots across the road, waving with her free hand. I wave back.

As we turn to cross the road I notice a bright tent amongst the juniper by the picnic area. In summertime there is a great tradition of sleeping on the beaches of Tenerife, not so much a morning ritual as a summer one, even though it’s not quite here yet.

Home. Food for Trixy. Coffee for me. Exercise of some sort. After the ritual the awakening. I consider going out again with the camera.

Heron at daybreak

Heron at daybreak

I know that along the main beach, which is in the other direction from that in which we walked, stout old ladies in flowery swimsuits will be plodding into the waves, or floating and chatting for all the world as if they were in the coffee shop. Along its much smoother length folk will be running, power walking or just strolling. Wee plovers and maybe a heron will be darting amongst the rocky parts in search of breakfast, and at the end of the harbor wall the good old boys, and some young ones too in these days of unemployment, will be casting their fishing lines into the sea. The tractor which furrows and tidies up the sand will have finished and will be moving to the other end of town, and the boy who puts out the sunbeds will soon be putting them into orderly rows. The bars near the oceanfront will be putting out their tables and chairs and perking the first coffee of the day.

Early-ish morning El Médano main beach

Early-ish morning El Médano main beach

It’s tempting. I like to photograph these moments, how folk approach the day, prepare themselves, greet it. We all have our ways of grooming mind and body for the  chaos of the day ahead.


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Mueca: The Funny Faces Festival in Puerto de la Cruz: Reliving My Past for the Third Time!

When I stop, occasionally, to wonder at what fuels travel addiction the answer I usually come up with is something like “variety” or “stimulation,” the antithesis of “same old, same old.” Despite my fascination with Tenerife, I sometimes drift into a rut, and then, knowing that the cure, travel, is momentarily unavailable, I mutter and curse to myself and Trixy (who is very tolerant of my mutterings).

I was at such an impasse earlier this week. Of course it was my own fault.  I doubt that there is anywhere in the world with Tenerife’s diversification of scenery and culture packed into less than 800 square miles. Yet, yes, it is possible to tire of breathtaking sunsets, fiestas and blue skies. And, yes, I know I’m a spoiled b*tch, but I was overdue for something novel and new, and everything on offer seemed too expensive!

You know how it is when you feel that way, I was looking forward to seeing the Mueca Festival in Puerto de la Cruz, but not expecting too much. I had the blahs.

El Teide, island guardian, seen from the pretty church square in Puerto de la Cruz

El Teide, island guardian, seen from the pretty church square in Puerto de la Cruz

There is no English word for Mueca. It means “pulling faces” or “funny faces.” It’s a street arts/performance festival, which, of course, includes clowns, but I suspect a nuance to the word which I haven’t caught, because it turned out to be so much more than clowns and face paint.

Maria and I set off early, but not at the crack of dawn. The drive was pleasant, the conversation excellent, and there was, as ever, that little inward sigh when we switched autopistas, and the roadsides were green. The drive between, say, Los Cristianos and Santa Cruz is without doubt the un-prettiest scenery on the island, and we were heading north, away from it.

A Living statue

A Living statue

We were a trifle early, artists and performers were still setting up. This is not an island for early risers. We consoled ourselves with coffee and cake in a café which felt more like Vienna than Tenerife, (What is it about the South which reduces interiors to plastic or over-the-top?) and then we wandered back, and the atmosphere began to filter through the clutter in my head. People were strolling not aimlessly, but not purposefully either, bent on seeing and enjoying.

The streets and plazas of the town center had been designated specific areas, so that there was “the dance street,” “the music street,” “the magic street” and so on. We let ourselves drift with the tide of people. It was busy, but not crowded, so that moving around, changing direction, skirting small children wasn’t difficult. We snapped silly pictures of each other with a “work of art,” and met up with Maria’s son and family.

Maria & me at Mueca

It was all so much nicer than I’d expected, but also more or less what I’d expected…..that was until we discovered the clowns. By that time we’d pretty much stopped trying to figure out exactly where each event was, and we stumbled across them by accident. Hard to imagine that, when they were in what was probably the largest stage area, down by the harbor. We managed to sneak into second row seats and decided that if it got too warm we would just sneak out again.

I need to explain something here. When I was a kid I went to the circus at least once every year. My hometown, Blackpool, on England’s north-west coast has a permanent circus ring, which nestles under the four, arched legs of its famous Tower, a structure inspired by the Eiffel Tower, which opened in 1894. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower’s legs are encased in a building, which also housed, at that time, an aquarium, a small zoo and a rather magnificent ballroom. But the circus ring was at its core, and my annual visit was the high point of my summer. One day I’ll write something about it, today that’s just  background.

Clowns Sandalio and Margarito doing their opening sketch

Clowns Sandalio and Margarito doing their opening sketch

When my older son was two, the ex and I took him to the circus for the first time.  As we settled into our seats, I was drawn back to childhood, as my spirit absorbed the familiar, forgotten smells and sounds. I was captivated again, a kid again, singing with and shouting to the clowns, just the way we’d always done. I was so immersed that I wasn’t even aware of it, until my partner remarked afterwards that I’d behaved like a child myself. So that was my second bite of the cherry.

Sandalio & Margarito

Saturday was my third. The clowns emerged from an improvised backdrop, which the wind constantly tried to rip free, and within a couple of minutes I was time traveling again. Sandalio and Margarito gave a classic clown performance, so that, even though it was updated, I knew seconds before each movement or glance what was going to happen next.The red-nosed loveable clown who always gets it wrong; the apparent demise of a clown who has to be revived by his partner; the dragging members of the audience onto the stage to aid and abet their silliness – it was all there.  I remembered how each clown has his own face, his own name and way of dressing came back, and I remembered that I’d even once dreamed of running away to join a traveling circus …… was that what inspired my wanderlust, I wonder?

Sandalio and Margarito

By the end of a very happy hour every muscle in my body felt relaxed and happy, except perhaps for my cheeks, which ached from laughing so much. Beers, tapas, more cake, iced coffees and we plunged back onto the lively streets. This time to catch a ska fusion band called Big Band Boom Fire, joyously singing, playing and strutting atop an articulated truck, to an adoring audience, surrounding the truck, and swaying to the beat. Then on to catch a balancing act, with an Angus Young lookalike performer – more laughter, more engagement with the willing audience.

big band boom fire mueca

Circovito

Circovito

Folk perched wherever they could to catch an act

Folk perched wherever they could to catch an act

At that point I had to leave, Maria was staying with her family for the night, and I had a faithful mouth to feed waiting patiently at home. I wish I’d stayed. I wish I’d stayed in Puerto de la Cruz for the entire weekend in fact. Sitting here now looking at the program I realize I saw only a small part of what was there.

I don’t remember a better atmosphere in a crowd, a time when nothing about the crowd irritated me (I’m an only child, I don’t do crowds that well!). With none of the religious overtones of a fiesta or the excesses or competition of Carnival this was only about enjoyment and laughter and spreading happiness. The only other place I can think of is Disney World and for the same reasons. Plus they both necessitate that childlike suspension of disbelief, which we scorn as adults. A journey back in time is just as good as a journey across the miles.  I adored it, returned home feeling as I’d been on vacation, so stimulating had it been.

Right now the wanderlust is back under control, for how long I have no idea, but I’m quite happy to be on this ever-surprising island.


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The legend at the Heart of a Canarian Village: Vi la Flor de Chasna

Vilaflor is a village usually overlooked by tourists as their  buses hurtle past in search of the dramatic landscapes of the Teide National Park, and whilst I have no desire to rob the 2,000 or so inhabitants of the village of potential revenue, I breathe a sigh of relief as I type that. If the pueblo does cross the consciousness of the average visitor to Tenerife, it’s because it boasts the title of “Spain’s highest village.” That is disputed, and, hard to get into my skull, having stood on the slopes of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada. Even in chill mid-Winter the snow doesn’t come down this far.

poppies vilaflor

Today I am in search of spring, yet again. You must excuse my excessive enthusiasm. You see I’ve never been too much of a fan of the season, and certainly have never seen it throw such an extravagant display on this island as it has done this year.

Driving up to Vilaflor I take the snaps you saw in the previous post; appropriately canary-yellow wild fennel, delicate, mauve poppies, and sunny California poppies.

Flor is Spanish for flower, and it’s understandable that you would think the village  is named for the glorious displays we’re seeing. Not so, and the story of its rebirth, if not its founding, is sad, and romantic, and to put it in modern terms, it’s a story of culture clash.

flowers vilaflor

Tenerife was the last of the Canary Islands to fall to the Spanish conquistadors in 1496. The indigenous Guanche, described later by their conquerors as noble and brave, had fought fiercely, but in the end succumbed to the superior weaponry and equipment of their foes.

Although the dimensions of Tenerife couldn’t be more different from those of the Americas, the stories of what happened to the Guanche often have a ring of what happened to the natives of those continents. A people who lived in harmony with the earth, whose gods represented the universal order of things – the earth, sun, moon – were beaten, humiliated, enslaved, exhibited in the Spanish court and probably died of diseases brought by their captors. Some were converted to “Christianity” (ever the excuse for conquest and colonization), and absorbed into “civilized” society, leaving their inheritance to whither. Only in fairly recent times have historians begun to really try to piece together what information remains to form a more complete picture.

This then, is the background to our story, and into this scenario rides one Pedro Bracamonte, a captain in the conquering forces of Alonso Fernández de Lugo. Pedro is dispatched by his commander to explore the verdant hillsides around Chasna, a Guanche settlement. With the arrogance typical of tyrants, seeing a beautiful, young Guanche maiden, he holds her against her will for several days, before she is able to make her escape into the surrounding forest.

His arrogance, however, is his undoing. In those brief days he falls deeply in love with the girl. He pursues her desperately through territory which is her friend and his foe, with its deep valleys, caves and thickly wooded slopes, but he can find no trace. Within three months our conquering “hero” dies from a broken heart. With his last breath he indicates that at least he dies having seen the flower of Chasna – Vi la flor de Chasna.

purple poppies and california poppies vilaflor

wildflowers on steps vilaflor

As with many so-called “love stories” my first reaction is a long sigh, and then “serves him right” cuts in. As Guanche culture clashed with Castellano, so my modern perception of history clashes with this charming tale. Still, it’s a story, and stories make the world go around.

Today’s Vilaflor de Chasna truly is a contrast to “el cemento” on the tourist coast of Tenerife. It is sleepy (except for fiesta days!). It fairly twinkles with well-kept pride, its streets clean but not sterile. And despite the legend, its name seems apt, as flowers fill every nook, cranny and corner.  A lovely, 90-year-old lady I meet in the village square tells me that  the delightful juxtaposition of modern water feature with beds of wildflowers, the renovations of the carved-wood, Canarian balconies, and the general loveliness of the tiny town is all down to the mayor, who always has her vote “even though he’s a socialist”……..a true democrat! Perhaps it’s that sense of truly shared civic pride which is reflected in the atmosphere, and makes this place special. I certainly don’t know anywhere else quite like it on this island.

water feature vilaflor

wildflower beds square vilaflor

Carved wood Canarian balcony and tajinaste vilaflor

Today seems quite busy for a weekday. The little tourist information kiosk in the pretty and peaceful square has something of a queue – three groups of people, including me, and another dozen or so sip coffee outside the bar nearby. All dressed in walking gear, they are mainly German and Scandinavian, save for one middle-aged lady in a pretty red and white dress and a sun hat. I can’t help hoping that her husband is going to take a photo of her in one of the glorious fields of California poppies we passed, the colors would be so good.

Tajinaste close up

tajinaste church square vilaflor

 

california poppies

When Flor de Chasna fled her captors there were no California poppies in the Canary Islands. They arrived, intentionally or not, on the trade ships which crossed the Atlantic with treasures from North America, but, these flowers which seem to capture the very sunshine – I like to think she would have liked them.


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Springtime in Tenerife: Beyond Words


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Someone (forget who) said to me recently, “Don’t you hate it when someone says, ‘There just aren’t words to describe something,’ and then proceeds to ramble on for page after page to try to do that which they just claimed to be impossible?”

With that foremost in my mind I will be brief, and let the photographs do the talking for me.  Truth is that I don’t have the time to conjure the words to tell you how utterly delightful this spring has been here, and I am still of the old-fashioned view that I want my blog to be a timeline, more or less in cronological order….so photos it is.

Poppies and mountains

I’ve lived in the Canary Islands for almost 26 years, but I have never, ever seen a profusion of spring flowers like this year. Without any professional confirmation (I’m sure someone will put me right!) the feeling is that after two years with precious little rain, seeds have lain in the ground, waiting for the winter rains which finally came this year, and the spring sunshine. Hence three years’ worth of flowers in one go, tumbling down mountain sides, scrambling along roadsides, peeking from rocks and walls, or swaying in the breeze,  some in abundant tangles of color, others gracefully alone……it’s been a spring to remember, and one to share.

Enjoy:

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spring blossoms

 

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and another take on the previous one

and another take on the previous one

And a third take on that poppy

And a third take on that poppy

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Had to include the dandelion ' cos it was lonely :)

Had to include the dandelion ‘ cos it was lonely :)

field of wildflowers

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The thing neither photo nor words can convey is the perfume, stepping out of the car the scent from this orchard of orange trees filled the air with sweetness

The thing neither photo nor words can convey is the perfume, stepping out of the car the scent from this orchard of orange trees filled the air with sweetness

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And the obligatory shot of a bee gathering pollen :)

And the obligatory shot of a bee gathering pollen :)

tangle of wildflowers

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fields of wildflowers

ok this one's a cheat - not flowers, but it was so pretty it was a shame not to share it!

ok this one’s a cheat – not flowers, but it was so pretty it was a shame not to share it!

 

 

poppies

poppies and wildflowers

These photos were taken in Valle de Arriba, Santiago del Teide, Teno, Esperanza, Escalona and Vilaflor. And, finally a very bad, wee video:


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I Love the Smell of Dawn….

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I love the smell of dawn on the Tenerife coast. The air bears scents you don’t smell during day nor during  night – a mixture of ozone, the scrub of the dunes, and a freshness, which melts under the warmth of the sun. The silence, as the first light seeps along the horizon, is vast and exquisite. It surrounds you as the landscape stands on tiptoe, waiting for the new day’ s first sounds, and you hope it be the cry of a bird, or the whispering of ocean to earth,  and not the ugly sounds of men.

It has to have been an awfully good drop of wine which has made me sleep in and not want to get down to the beach.

I am ridiculously happy with this photo, because it’s taken me 3 years to achieve it!  I knew that sooner or later the sun would be rising in line with this pathway down to Playa Cabezo. I’ve taken snaps here before, but never managed to get it quite so framed as this morning. I must have taken about a dozen, but this is also the only one where that wave is trickling in just that way.


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Capture the Color Competition Entry

I’d read about TravelSupermarket’s Capture the Color travel photo competition, but I really felt to shy to send in anything, with some really prestigious travel photographers and bloggers entering,   I didn’t want to make a fool of myself! But, then, Elaine from RunawayBrit nominated me, and I thought, “Well, why not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and it sounded like fun.

The idea is that there are five categories, each one being a color – red, blue, white, yellow and green, and each category has its own judge, and each category winner will receive an iPad3, and the overall winner will receive £2,000 to be spent on travel……not bad, eh?

Entries are due by the end of this month, and I was tempted to wait & see if I can do better, but then I’d probably just procrastinate until it was too late (who? me? oh, yeah!), so I’ve just spent a very pleasant few hours travelling a bit down memory lane via my photos. It’s been a jolly nice trip, so I should thank TravelSupermarket and RunawayBrit for that too. I have to write a little about each photo so you can come down memory lane with me.

Er …. I think that’s it, so here are my photos:

Red

In photos you usually see of surfers, the sea is incredibly blue, but Canary Island locals  go out early, before the tourists get out of bed. Before the day has warmed up, the sea can appear quite grey. My son, Guy, had just returned to the island after years of living in the US, and we walked down to the beach as dawn was breaking. It was a treat for me, not only because Guy was back home after his US adventures,  but also because back when my sons were in their teens the last thing they wanted was mom hanging around when they were surfing! Hence I didn’t actually have any photos of them on the water. There was little surf this day, as it turned out, but this was my favorite picture, taken with my little point & shoot too. Guy’s board was the only point of color at this time of day.

Blue

My friend, Cristina, was showing us around her family’s home in the hills just above Icod de los Vinos (one of my favorite parts of Tenerife), the house is set in the forest, surrounded by aromatic pine and rich chestnut trees. It was cool and tranquil, and so very different from the south of the island. We wandered around the land surrounding the house and came across this beautifully decrepit old door, just by the orchard. I’m a sucker for peeling paintwork, especially if it’s blue. The hydrangea were past their best too. It was October, but blue is kind of an everlasting color……

White

Coincidentally, my “white” pictures comes from that same stroll with my friends when we saw the blue door. I really didn’t think this wee butterfly would stay still long enough, but I got a two or three shots before he moved on. It wasn’t until after I saw in on screen that it struck me how very white he was. Although the Canary Island is often called “The Land of Eternal Spring”  seasons do exist here, especially in these woodlands of the north, where tourists rarely roam. It was late October, the chestnut trees were heavy with their spiky fruit, and there was the scent of woodsmoke in the air as neighboring houses lit fires and barbeques, and this fellow seemed almost like a ghost of the failing summer.

Green

It’s a common misconception among visitors to Tenerife, those who stray no further than their sun-lounger on a beach on the south coast, that the island has no greenery. They couldn’t be further from the truth, the peaks and slopes of the north (and the south higher up) are home to mainly pine forests, and the north east tip of the island is lush variegated forest. However, when I thought about green I thought about cacti, oddly, perhaps.  Cacti grow just about everywhere n the Canary Islands, so much so that we take them for granted, but often they are the only hint of color in a harsh landscape. I have loads of pictures of cacti, but this task made me realize that most are pre-digital and I need to get out there & take some more. However, here is one of my favorites.

Yellow

I racked my brains over yellow, because I couldn’t remember nor find a photograph which I thought of as “yellow.” Then I remembered going up to Granadilla de Abona at the beginning of May to see the traditional floral crosses made for the Day of the Holy Cross (El Día de la Cruz), and how there was a lonely sunflower in one of the small crosses by someone’s door. The Day of the Holy Cross celebrates the finding of the original cross by Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, and any town, village, island or city in the Latino world with the word cruz in its name celebrates the day. The main festivities in Tenerife are in capital city, Santa Cruz, but since the name of the entire province is Santa Cruz de Tenerife, communities all over the province display these beautiful floral tributes. Outside the churches they are huge and abundant, but private houses like this one often display them too.

Nominations

Now to nominate five other travel bloggers to participate in the competition if they want. The problem is now that this has been around for a few weeks, and I really don’t know who has or has not already been nominated, but here we go:

Katrina from Tourabsurd.com  ……. who should have no problem with the “green” part since she just arrived in Ireland! And I have to wonder (if she has time to do this!) if some of her colors might involve food – since there have been some mouth-watering photos on her blog in recent months!

Marianne from EastofMalaga who has some gorgeous photos of Andalucia on her blog which express a deep love of her adopted home.

Jack from BuzzTrips  because I LOVE his photos and because he must have some stunners for the “blue” category having been in Morocco not too long ago!

Barbara from HoleintheDonut  Barbara’s photos are breathtaking, recently returned from Nepal, they just pulse with local color, both real and metaphorical.

Mariana from TravelThirst   …..whose photos totally succeed in her desire to stimulate our senses! Beautiful, virtual travel :=)

It might well be that some, or all, of you guys have already been nominated, and apologies if so, or if this nomination catches you in a moment when you are too busy or traveling too fast to do it!

 


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To Mess or Not to Mess? That is the Question…..Photographically Speaking.

I may have indigestion later…….. I just ate my hat…….. Ok, it was an imaginary hat, but there is imaginary indigestion, no? An imaginary hat as in the statement, “I think photos should be natural and not tampered with, and I’ll eat my hat if I ever do that!” You get it, no? In other words, I was a photography purist and I am converted.

I blame the Guanches. It was on a thundery-looking afternoon I went with RunawayBrit to see the pretty, little town of Candelaria. We’d been enveloped by chilling mists most of the day in the Teide National Park and descending the northern coast of the island,  I’d abandoned plans, and turned south, but when we reached Candelaria, the clouds had risen so that they hovered, thick and menacing above, but least we could see stuff! So we changed plans again, and stopped there.  My photos of those imposing statues of Guanche kings were disappointing when I came to look at them on the screen, though…..which is when I began to mess with them, and this was the result.

And in the time it takes to click a couple of times, there I was – hooked! In my defense I state that I always said that what I wanted my photos to do was convey a message, and the truth is that the camera doesn’t see what the eye sees, let alone what the heart sees. And for me Pelicar towering into the stormy sky was threatening the Spanish invaders, and preparing to fight to the death, and enhancing the photo conveyed that message. Or am I trying to justify my conversion?

I went out to capture the sunrise a couple of weeks later. Now, I know – I’m lucky to live somewhere where scenes like the one below are, well, quite common, really, which means that by my standards the photos weren’t that special, yet when I “messed” with one of them and put it on Facebook I got more comments than usual. Vindication? Well, no, because now I was feeling the guilt. Were my photos more  “some tart with too much make-up” than “a natural beauty?” I wasn’t at all comfortable with the messing.

Still feeling the guilt, visiting Icod de los Vinos on a very dull day (dull as in overcast skies that is….which is not to say overcast in the UK sense, but that the sky was an utter white-out, and the sun hidden), I snapped the dragon tree because it was in full flower, a noteworthy event, I couldn’t wait for the possibility of a blue sky. More disappointing photos, but would they look ok if I messed with them? What do you think?

Hmmm. Maybe? I began choosing random photos from my files.

Am I a total convert? Well, probably, so much so that I’m making a whole, new page just for photographs, ones, that is, that a more than just snapshots to illustrate text.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally happy with any of the above photos, and I know I’m still experimenting. Wishing I’d had the extra money for the third part of that photographic course I did a couple of years back, which dealt with this sort of thing – perhaps I would have had a different perspective a while back. I only use Picasa right now, there just isn’t money for anything I actually have to pay for, and I appreciate that with a more sophisticated program I would get better results, and I assume that if I was using something more advanced I would, yes, be a convert…….so excuse me while I go look for the imaginary Rennies.

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