Islandmomma

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


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Canary Island Easter

A friend, driving from south to north of the island last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the first day of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was held up no less than four times on her journey by processions. In a tourist paradise famous for nightlife and debauchery you might think that religion had died, but truth is that the nightlife and debauchery scene is by far the smaller part of island life, and traditional religious celebrations are by far the larger, even though some these days eschew the machinations of the Catholic Church.

Many fiestas have become crowd-pullers in recent years, especially those in villages close to the tourist hotspots of the south-west, it’s reported that over 20,000 watch the annual bathing and blessing of animals in La Caleta on the January fiesta of San Sebastian, and over 30,000 were expected to visit Adeje for this year’s PassionPlay. Islanders are, rightly, proud of their traditions, but it’s hard to guess whether the traditions would survive without the Church (most of them being based on some religious observance), or whether it’s the Church which benefits from the maintaining of the traditions.

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In the case of  Semana Santa it’s more clear-cut. This is a religious festival, and a surprising number of folk wholeheartedly believe in it. There remains, of course, the question of whether the lesson (which Jesus preached and to emphasise which he died)  is learned or whether it has become the very idolatry against which he railed.

Adeje’s Passion Play I find moving, and something resembling a genuine expression of remorse and sorrow, and a hope for renewal. But I’ve long-wondered, having lived many years in Spain now, how I would feel about the more traditional ways of marking the season, so this year I took myself to La Laguna on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday

I found it charming, and was surprised to find that it reminded me of the Salvation Army walks of witness to which my grandmother had taken me when I was a very young. I arrived early, and had a quiet shuffle around the always immaculate streets of this World Heritage Site. No fluffy bunnies and chocolate eggs in shop windows here, but figures showing members of the different brotherhoods, or cofradía, who would take pride of place in the week’s events.

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I took coffee in a pavement café opposite an entrance to the Church of the Conception. Folk in La Laguna, mostly, dress more formally than in the warmer south of the island, and groups and couples in Sunday best strolled around the area, many carrying elaborately woven decorations made from dried palm leaves (there had been a workshop in a town square the previous day on how to make them), and others carrying simply a branch or strip of palm. Dignatories arrived, and I understand that palms were blessed inside the church, people came and went, tourists stopped and snapped (the tower of this church set against a mountain backdrop is super-photogenic).

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I left the café and leaned against the church wall for a while, making myself invisible. I watched as folk both ordinary and elegant entered and exited the church. By the door sat an old lady, her hand out, begging. The only one to acknowledge her was a boy who looked to be about 12 years old. He asked his father for money, and went back to give it to her. Now, I’m reasonably confident that the woman was a professional beggar, probably not Spanish, and I too ignore them when I see them in Los Cristianos, where they are often found on the tourist streets. It’s the usual story, organized gangs, who shouldn’t be encouraged. Yet, I wondered, were all of these dozens and dozens of people aware of that? I thought it spoke volumes for the young man who gave, regardless of who or what the woman was. I hope he had a happy Easter because that was the one moment of the entire week when I witnessed anything approaching the meaning of Jesus’s teachings.

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The procession, when it left the church to wind its way around La Laguna’s lovely, old streets was ornate, and like an amalgamation of all the smaller processions I see around the island on a regular basis celebrating individual saint’s days. A few folk crossed themselves as the tableau depicting the arrival of Jesus on a donkey approached, but there was none of the weeping I’d sometimes seen, nor cries of “Viva.” It was fairly muted, and compared to La Laguna’s romeria far less well-attended. La Laguna is a city, but a country-fied city, sitting in the middle of super-fertile land, and I had expected something grander. Not that I was disappointed, ostentation and finery sit uneasily with me, and the gold-trimmed robes were quite sufficient to the occasion.

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Maundy Thursday

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On Thursday I cajoled some girlfriends into coming up to the village of Guia de Isora on the other side of the island to see its renowned displays of floral art. They were pretty, arty, or symbolic in turn; and most shouted “Spring” at me, rather than “Easter”. I guess that’s because they were flowers, and flowers have been on my mind a lot lately. We didn’t go to a service or procession but had a gentle amble around delightfully quiet, narrow streets (traffic had been banned for the duration.

Inspired by the Virgin Mary when she met Jesus after he rose from the dead.

Inspired by the Virgin Mary when she met Jesus after he rose from the dead.

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The area around the graceful church square had become an open-air art gallery…..this is, you see, the thing I love about this climate – that a place can with such certainty put on an outdoor display like this, knowing the chances of it being spoiled by bad weather are slight, even though Easter is early this year. I’m not saying it never happens, tragically, on an Easter some years ago, heavy rains and floods in Santa Cruz resulted in death and a lot of property damage, though, here, in the south, it remained quite balmy.

Crown of Thornes

Crown of Thorns

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We retired to a cosy bar at the end of our stroll and nibbled traditional tapas, pimientos padrón, churros de pescado, whitebait and fresh goat’s cheese. A tranquil afternoon which resembled a tour around an art gallery more than anything Easter-ified, although perhaps that was because of the hour we chose to visit, and that was fine in my book.

This floral art represents the Roman soldiers who were sent to arrest Jesus. Ironically it stands on the Street of the Jews.

This floral art represents the Roman soldiers who were sent to arrest Jesus. Ironically it stands on the Street of the Jews.

Good Friday

Good Friday was an event of a different hue entirely. As a child of the 60s, when I see those conical hats, masking the faces of the brotherhoods who dominate the day’s celebrations I feel a chill. Burning crosses and lynchings  immediately spring to mind, and that is sad, because I have repeatedly been told over the years (and even today searched the internet again) that there is no connection between these groups and the infamous Ku Klux Klan. The best guess seems to be that possibly the original Klan thought these garments were kind of cool and copied them. Of course, they wished to hide their identity for entirely different reasons.

The Catholic cofradías (brotherhoods) hid their faces so they can repent of sins without, in theory, public shame, each group has its own markings and color scheme. The origin goes back to the Inquisition. The Klan did it to escape prosecution. I doubt they felt shame. Even without that connection, though, I am not sure how I am going to feel. I have a strong dislike of secret societies of all kinds.

Procesión Magna

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I arrived, with friends, just as the long procession, the Procesión Magna was beginning something after 5pm. The streets which had been unadorned on Sunday now had religious hangings from almost every upper storey window and lamppost, and the area around La Iglesia de la Concepción was milling with people, both hooded and normal gawpers like ourselves. We found a place to watch quite comfortably on the first street along which it passes, which surprised me. With the sun getting low in the sky the narrow street was dappled, half in sunshine, half in shade. The mood, if not festive, wasn’t as sombre as I’d expected either, though voices were low, people were chatting and children fooling around. As the first group of cofradía approached the noise level dropped a tad, and one or two people crossed themselves as the first tableau began to pass our spot.

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As the minutes ticked by I became accustomed to the steady drum beat of the different bands as they passed, the swish of the robes, and the evocative smell of incense, which was waved, usually by children, very enthusiastically at the beginning (I noted the enthusiasm waned as the evening wore on), and I found nothing threatening or frightening in the appearance of the almost ghostly figures as they passed.

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The first statues were impressive but I’d “seen it all before,” and, yes, I find the opulence hard to take, so I switch into neutral, fly-on-the-wall mode. After a short time the statues changed from mere figures to tableau depicting different scenes from the Easter story, and whatever ones feelings about religion or the Catholic Church in particular one had to admit that some were beautiful works of art, and, of course, spare a thought for the poor costaleros who shoulder these massive masterpieces for the hours it takes this long procession to weave its way around the streets of Tenerife’s ancient capital. They have to be both fit and dedicated, and you have to figure that there is something in this dedication.

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Many of the penitents walk barefoot, and some with ankles chained. As some groups passed the silence was almost tangible.

This procession, although the longest of the day, hadn’t been the first, thinking about how my feet some times feel after a hike it occurred to me that perhaps barefoot was a better option! Looking along the street to the starting point by the church it looked as if this procession was endless. Pointed hats, candles and statues filled the horizon as dusk fell. At some point we ducked over to the next street to catch the parade on its return to the church, to find we had arrived at exactly the same point as the first time so long was it.

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La Procesión del Silencio

The most overwhelmingly atmospheric procession, however, begins around 9.30 La Procesión del Silencio. We just have time to grab a sandwich and a glass of wine in a very busy bar close to the church, but I imagine that some of the participants went directly from one to the other.

As the name suggests, the procession takes place in utter silence. The lights of the streets and side streets are extinguished so that it takes a while for your eyes to adjust as you pick your way back to find a place to watch in reasonable comfort. Maybe it’s the dark, but there seem to be more people. There is a low rumble of whispered conversation, and I think that perhaps it won’t live up to its name, but as the eerie column of figures approaches total silence falls over the street.

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There is no music. There are no tableau. The only light comes from the candles held by the walkers. The only sound is the sound of their feet as they pass; sometimes the grating of chains on the stone street; sometimes the heavy, rhythmic tramp a they mark time with each step. It makes them sway in stately unison. Now, yes, it does seem a little sinister. Not a child cries. It feels as if the world is holding its breath, waiting.  Only one cellphone rings, and it is rapidly stopped. A woman coughs from time to time. In the far distance a motorbike, but no other traffic sounds at all. I have the childish urge to laugh, and yet, at the same time I respect how the crowd is feeling. It is made up of all ages and types. This is by no means the province of the elderly.

Taking photos would be almost impossible, given the numbers of people and the darkness, so I don’t even try. I lean back against a wall, and try to absorb the atmosphere. In the dark it is impossible to tell how long it will take to pass, but fairly quickly there is the faintest hum from the direction of the church. It has passed there, and people are beginning to move quietly away. The only statue, the body of the fallen Jesus passes, and then 3 priests, one of whom I think is the Bishop of Tenerife, and the shadows disappear into the darkness, just the points of light of the candles they carry visible.

This group will now crowd into the small church at the end of the route, apparently packed like the proverbial sardines, and homage will be paid, and vigils will be kept until the Rising of Jesus from the dead is celebrated in three days time.

Treading carefully down an unlit side street, occasionally bumping into people, we make our way back to the church square, where the lights seem over-bright. Folk are chatting in the curbside bars, and a fine trade in cotton candy and nuts is going on. It isn’t exactly the jolly atmosphere of most fiestas, but it is cosy and friendly. The sense of community is palpable, and, in the end, I think, that is the function of a church, the keeping together of a community, the provision of a sense of belonging. It’s what most people need.

This is it for me, though. I’ve had enough of the pomp and the ritual without true meaning. I am told that each Easter a collection of food is made for those in need, and this year there are so many more in need. People are invited to leave suitable foods at a point near the church. This year the gifts were less than ever. Yet there was money for new robes for penitents, and hundreds of flowers to decorate those tableau tonight; money for brocade to drape around statues, money for candles and fresh, white gloves for band members. As my friend, Cristina, said, if every one of those participating in this theater had given just one euro, or one kilo of rice,  how much that would have helped those in need. How much more would that have reflected the Easter message?


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In Celebration of El Día de Canarias

Today I should have been out celebrating and enjoying myself, quaffing some local wine and no doubt stuffing myself with traditional foods, whilst listening to Canarian musicians and learning more about “my” island. However, I wasn’t, instead I am lying on my couch, amusing myself by writing this to distract myself from the constant urge to empty the contents my stomach. All is not perfect, you see, in paradise. I seem to have food poisoning.

In lieu of joining the celebrations I thought I might do one of those boring posts which really belongs in a tour operator’s webpage,  but which will relieve both my  boredom and my self pity by reminding me how much I enjoy being here.

Traditional Tenerife: You would be surprised at just how many folk possess and wear with pride their traditional dress. There is said to be a different variation for every municipality on the island.

El Día de Canarias

The first parliament of the autonomous region, Canary Islands, sat on May 30th 1983, after a long wait. The creation of autonomous regions had first been undertaken by the government of the Second Republic in 1931, but by the time the Civil War broke out in 1936 nothing had been implemented in the political bickerings which preceded the Civil War  – and of course everything then went on hold during the war and the consequent iron grip which Franco had on the country.

With his death in 1976 many of the reforms and projects which had been abandoned or iced began to resurface, and the new (and current) Constitution, drawn up in 1978, provided for the establishment of autonomous regions and some decentralization of government, and so the Autonomous Parliament of the Canary Islands was born.

May 30th was declared a fiesta (bank holiday) in celebration of its birth, and the day is marked throughout the islands with displays of traditional crafts, sports, costumes, foods and music.

Historical Tenerife:  The original capital of the island, La Laguna. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and seat of the province’s university, it is both charming restoration and vibrant hub of the island’s creativity.

Tenerife

Tenerife, for anyone who is new to my blog, is just one of the seven main islands which make up the Canarian archipelago. It’s been my home base now for over 20 years. It has an image in some European circles of being merely a mass-tourist destination, but it is so much more, and if you need proof then just check some previous posts.

Since I can’t give you a first-hand report on the festivities to which I didn’t go, I offer you, in honor of this day, a photo essay of this island of Tenerife, showing its different faces, its variety and perhaps an understanding of why it fascinates me so much.

Musical Tenerife: Two things come to mind when you combine the words Tenerife and music – folk music and the salsa of Carnaval, but there is so much more for lovers of all kinds of music. This photo was taken at the annual Santa Blues Blues Fest in June. July sees a prestigious jazz festival, autumn an opera season and year round classical music lovers can listen to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.

Coastal Tenerife: tanning addicts swarm to the resorts, but there are also plenty of quieter, more natural beaches to be found.

Gourmet Tenerife: In recent years the standards and aspirations of restaurants and hotels have simply soared. You can now find cuisine from almost anywhere in the world, and quality equal to big city eateries. This sushi at Restaurant 88 in La Caleta, Costa Adeje.

Mountainous Tenerife: The island’s mountains actually come in all shapes and sizes from lushly forested ones on the north east tip to the surreal volcanic landscapes of the Teide National Park, home to Spain’s highest mountain, El Teide.

Wine Lovers’ Tenerife: Canarian wines were famous as far back as the 17th century, and were famously (for we English-speakers) mentioned by Shakespeare on more than one occasion. Tenerife boasts no less than 5 regions. Oh, and I throw in here cheese too, because the goats’ cheeses are the perfect accompaniment!

Hiking Tenerife: Volcanic badlands, lush forest, coastal trails a walker’s heaven, in other words.

Tourist Tenerife: This is, believe it or not, the only Tenerife which some people know. I am a beach addict, but this is my least favorite face of the island, which is not to rubbish it. It’s just that sharing a beach on this scale is not my thing, but clearly it is for thousands, and the municipalities of the south, mainly Arona and Adeje cater for mass tourism, leveling rocky stony beaches, building hotels (the more recent ones of very high standard) and generally attempting to cater for every whim of the sunseekers. Tenerife does not have the prettiest beaches in the world, but they are some of the sunniest.

Agricultural Tenerife: OK the photo is just a bit of a stretch, and may have been more appropriate under the “traditional” heading, but it’s just that I love oxen. These days they are, so far as I can make out, brought out only for fiestas and other traditional events, but were an important part of the island’s history at one time. There are none of the huge farms of the US prairies or even the big farms I’ve seen in Scotland here, but thanks to co-operatives bananas, tomatoes and the famous Canarian potatoes are still exported, though not to the extent they were in history. Did you know that London’s Canary Wharf was named for the islands? So great was the volume of exports to England alone at that time.

Shop-till-you-drop Tenerife: Neither the Via Veneto nor the Champs Élysées, nevertheless shop shopaholics can have a ball in the swisher parts of the southern resorts and in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz, these days.

Sporty Tenerife: Surfing, windsurfing, hiking, cycling, paragliding, sport fishing, running, golf, kite surfing, climbing, trail running, triathlons, tennis…….that’s just off the top of my head, the sports which immediately come to mind.

Delicious Tenerife: Fine dining apart, Tenerife has a wealth of simple and traditional dining too, with fresh ingredients sourced locally from mineral-rich farmland, the variety of the ocean and locally raised goat and pork. Go inland to find small bars and restaurants, or to the kiosks at the fiestas.

Cultural Tenerife: Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent auditorium in Santa Cruz is symbolic of the wealth of island’s Cultural (with a capital C you note) events. An icon of modern architecture it is home to the symphony orchestra and scene of ballet, opera, jazz, world music, modern dance and many other events. In addition the capital has the historic Teatro Guimerá and La Laguna is home to Teatro Leal. Then there are museums, art exhibitions, photo exhibits and other events galore. Granted, you may need to speak some Spanish for some of these, but a little can take you a long way.

Romantic Tenerife: They tell me we have the best sunsets (and I would add sunrises) in the world. Since I haven’t been everywhere yet I can’t confirm that, but, well, they are pretty amazing.

Quirky Tenerife: I suppose everywhere has its quirky side, but I would put money on it I could snap a photo every day of something out-of-the-ordinary here!

Floral Tenerife: This was the hardest photo to decide, so in the end I chose two. Bouganvillea, hibiscus, geraniums, marigolds and heaps of other domesticated flora decorate the towns, villages and cities of the island, but only in the mountains will you find the tajinaste, indigenous to the island and found in the wild no where else on earth.

The almond trees, on the other hand, were brought by the Conquisadors, their flowering marks the beginning of a new season in January, and the nuts are the base of many artisan sweets.

Travelers’ Tenerife: Finally Tenerife as gateway to the archipelago, the launching point by ferry or by local airline to the other islands in the chain.


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Why I Don’t Believe in The Three Kings Anymore

As everyone in other lands (outside of the orthodox Christian communities of course) settled back into their daily routines Monday or Tuesday, España was girding its loins for the final round of seasonal festivities.

Thursday night the Three Kings arrived in Tenerife, and also in the rest of the Canary Islands, Andalucia, Cataluña and all points on the map of Spain. Los Reyes Magos are sprinkled with the same star-dust as Santa, and arrive laden with toys for the good kids and coal for the baddies. Known to the English as “The Three Kings,” they are based on the wise men, or kings, who supposedly visited the infant Jesus bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Although these days it seems that they are in a neck and neck race with Santa for kiddies’ affections, they seem to be ahead of the game, and most lucky Spanish kids get presents from both, a little something from Santa and the real booty from the Kings. My kids used to get it the other way around as we accustomed ourselves to different ways of doing things years back.

Guess this guy was left over from Chinese New Year!

Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar make an appearance in most towns, sometimes on camel, sometimes on horseback and sometimes by vintage car (the kings of El Médano I spied by the roadside as I left the town late yesterday afternoon atop the back seats of coupés). In Los Cristianos they arrive on the ferry …. it’s a bit non-specific where they come from, there is, apparently no equivalent of the North Pole in “Kingsland.” In both Santa Cruz and Adeje they have been known to zoom down by helicopter, so the variations are endless.

 

See the huge bag of confetti?

I hadn’t been to see a parade since my kids stopped believing, but in the wake of a difficult Christmas and a disrupted New Year I felt the urge to see them arrive in somewhere traditional, and I asked Austin if he wanted to go to La Laguna with me. The suggestion appealed because he’d found a new tapas bar, and was eager to eat there again.

Parking outside of the center, and strolling in, we sussed out the route, had a drink and found a decent spot to take photos, where no folk as yet had gathered, and we hung around and chatted. First hint that this was possibly not going to be the fun night I hoped for was when a podgy granny pushed past us and plonked herself stoutly in the front line. Happily for me, being fairly tall, she just about came up to my boobs, so zooming over her head was no problem. An “Excuse me,” would’ve been nice though.

The parade eventually (as all things here are) arrived. It was mostly colourful, there was some jolly marching-type music from various music groups, and onlookers were pelted with confetti and candies – that UFO in the picture below is an incoming caramel, which landed on my nose, much to the chagrin of  podgy granny, who was grabbing all she could and stuffing in her mouth.

What seemed to be missing was fun and jollity.  The folk on the floats who weren’t wearing giant heads looked cold and bored, barely a smile between them. The little kids around looked bewildered, and the older ones interested only in screeching for the caramelos.  It was all in contrast to the good-nature and bonhomie of the Romeria back in summer.

Before it ended, I lost interest, and we went in search of tapas, a fruitless endeavour because as we tried to worm our way through the crowds the procession seemed to wind its way back and forth and block our progress.  On the night of the 5th all the shops stay open, so folk were there not just for the parade, but for last-minute shopping too.  We plunged into dark, narrow streets, hoping to get ahead, only to hear the ominous thumping of the drums alerting us that the procession had turned our way. In the end we gave up trying to reach the bar and returned to Güimar for Chinese food – there is one thing you can rely on here, as in many other parts of the world (outside of China, that is) there will always be a Chinese restaurant open! Happily for us the one near toAustin’s house is most excellent, so no disappointment there!

Even the giant heads looked kind of sad or grumpy!

Maybe to really enjoy this, particular, parade you need to be with kid of just the right age – you know, old enough to have a willing suspension of disbelief, but young enough not be fuelled by greed.  At any rate, for me, it didn’t resonate.  I’ll just parcel it up with the tail-end of memories of 2011 and file it away. The thing I think I like about the English and US celebrations is that it’s a year-end blow out, and then the New Year dawns all bright and shiny. I don’t think I believe in the Kings any more.

My favorite picture from the evening.  This young lady looked as happy as you can playing the flute, and looked as if she was taking pride in her music.

And this was me, as I emerged from the fray – I’d already shaken off most of the confetti by the time Austin raised the camera!

 

 

 

 


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The Music of the Island

My friend, Jack, from BuzzTrips.co.uk remarked not so long ago that in Tenerife anything other than salsa was considered to be alternative music.  It definitely was that the only music I heard in Tenerife’s south 20+ years ago other than the cover bands/groups/performers of the bars in the tourist areas, but happily the times they are a-changing, and the other day I was thinking about the mixed-bag of music I’ve heard so far this summer, and also what’s to come in the near future.  As with so much here, the first word which springs to mind is, again, diversity. I’m partial to many types of music, but know more about some than others.  That said, I’m not sure it’s necessary to understand the technicalities of music to feel it in your soul.  Some touches my soul.  Some doesn’t.

The full moon shimmered over the Auditorio as we left in June – the eclipse was the following day I think.  Not an especially good photo, taken with my Blackberry, but maybe gives you an idea of the atmosphere.

The day before the lunar eclipse my soul was most definitely touched.  My musical summer began in Tenerife’s stunning Auditorio Adán Martin.  I’m privileged to know a young man called Patricio Gutiérrez Pérez, who is also a volunteer with Cruz Roja.  He’s professor of violin at the Conservatory of Salamanca, but he was born in Tenerife, and returned to perform in the Auditorio in June for their celebration of Spanish classics….a wonderful, emotional performance which included work by Joaquín Rodrigo.  I’m woefully ignorant about classical music, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because the whole genre has always seemed so huge and complicated to me, but I am a little familiar with Rodrigo, and this night was very special.

Just a few days later, a complete contrast – Santa Blues, the capital’s annual bluesfest. Last year I managed to get there all three nights of the festival, but this year only once. It was, as it always is, a thrill to know that artists of this calibre come to Tenerife.  End of the day, compared to other stuff, it really isn’t that well attended, other than on the Saturday night, when the drunks turn out for free stuff, so it really is a credit to the Town Hall that they continue.  If I were a cynic (who? me?) I would guess it profits the nearby bars and restaurants, and maybe brings people into the area (i.e. blues fans from other parts of the island) who might not otherwise know about it.  The Calle Noria district of Santa Cruz is a popular nightlife venue, with great eating and late night entertainment, and it’s a bit magical to stand there, under the branches of a flamboyant tree, swaying to music touching your soul, fanned by a cool breeze from the sea.

The Auditorio swathed in green light in honor of the Festival’s sponsors. 

July brought the annual Heineken Jazz Festival to Santa Cruz, and whilst most of the events were out of my price range the one I most wanted to see, in any event, was free – Yay!  A memorable and utterly spellbinding night of Afro-Jazz which utterly surpassed all my expectations. In truth I wasn’t sure about such a fusion, probably that’s because I don’t understand the technicalities, again.

I’ll risk wrath here, and say that jazz doesn’t always move me, when it gets too complicated I kind of tune out, but, like the fictitious art aficionada, “I know what I like”, and the energy which Naya Band brought to stage to open the concert was, simply,  infectious.  They fused more than just jazz and music from their native Senegal, they touched on blues and reggae too, but, then afterall, didn’t it all begin in Africa? At the end of the day, isn’t all – just – music?

Fatoumata Diawara strolled casually onto the open-air stage alongside the Auditorio. Slight but colorfully dressed, her entrance was almost shy.  For me she had a lot to live up to because I’d been watching her on YouTube, and it wouldn’t have been the first time a live performance disappointed me, but what she did was totally, totally blow my mind.  I go back to “feeling” the music because she sang in languages I couldn’t follow, most movingly in Bambara – specifically a song about female circumcision – not a topic for a song you may think, but then our western music has been dominated for so long by songs about unrequited love that we forget music as a message, as communication, as a release from pain or a celebration of happiness.  I couldn’t, of course, understand a word, but the music, and the voice as instrument, were laden with anguish and pleading.  They didn’t really need a translation.  Not that it was all anguish by any means, you can see the joy of music in the photos below.  In West African countries it’s a tradition that dancers from the audience join in, making events into a party.  This audience was mostly jazz lovers, sadly, there weren’t as many Africans in the audience as I expected from previous events, but a couple,including a friend, jumped onto the stage to groove with the tradition, and both would have brought down the house –  had it not been outdoors!

Problem for me is that so many of these great events are in Santa Cruz.  It isn’t that far, just under an hour, but it restricts the possibilities of a night’s enjoyment – only one beer for instance, when watching outdoor concerts, and having to leave early in the case of this concert.

Sunday afternoon jazz in Finca del Arte in Chayofa

However, there have been occasions closer to home.  Lavabar has had some great nights, most of which I couldn’t get to, but memorably a night of haunting folk and laid-back jazz numbers by  El Mar Origenes.  The only description I can think of is Eva Cassidy – and no exaggeration, this girl has the same purity of voice and the same gentle intensity.

Summer is also when the new Carmen Mota show opens in Las Americas.  Like last year, the show was much more concentrated on dance than on spectacle.   I much prefer it this way.  If it isn’t pure flamenco enough for some, then they are missing out on the sheer enjoyment.  It’s aimed at the general public, including foreigners, for one thing.  It’s beautifully presented and the dancing is breathtaking.  Think Spanish/flamenco “Riverdance”, and you’d be close.  The in the early years the shows were more of a combination of dance and carnival, but carnival is not something we are short on here!

 One warm Sunday afternoon I went to Finca del Arte to listen to the jazz.  I have mixed feelings about this venue, but certainly not about the music.  It’s just a shame that most people go to chatter and not listen, but I suppose that performers in eateries get used to that?  The other problem is that the tables closer to the band are in full sun, and obviously it’s much nicer to sit under the shade of trees.  Maybe the place depends on the day.  I’ve had some very pleasant afternoons there in the past, but I’m not in a hurry to go again after this day, but not the fault of the music!

Another phone photo, sorry about the quality.  More than an air of a young Joan Baez about El Mar Origenes.

Folk music takes many forms, of course, having grown up with English/US folk music I sometimes forget that the incredible music/dance I saw a couple of weeks ago is folk music in its own country.  The longer I live in Tenerife, the more I come to love the traditional music here.  Many of the old traditions have been revived in recent years.  In the groups parading at romerias there is, for instance,  almost always someone playing bones, like this guy.

Last, but no way least, one of the most memorable days of this summer for me ended with this impromptu performance by a local parranda (musical group/minstrels) which I’d lost when I first posted about them.  We were on the tram, returning to Santa Cruz, after they’d already sung all the way on the outward journey, and then sashayed the streets of La Laguna.  An unforgettable bunch of ladies!

Autumn is poking its way into our lives, not so far as weather goes here, but certainly life is changing.  Autumn means less outdoor events, more formal ones, the brief opera season in Santa Cruz, and the music of Christmas.  Lots to look forward to in Winter too, though for me a big plus in these summer events has been that the majority have been free, the price of a drink or very affordable. These are just my personal experiences this summer, there has been an awful lot more going on for those who could afford it. The island certainly has come a long way in the last 20 years.


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Trying to Live up to Expectations

Wow, but it was a thrill seeing my blog on the Freshly Pressed, front page of WordPress, but, after the happy dance was over, I got to fretting – what should I write next? How could I “live up to” the post which earned that distinction? So is it true that numbers of random strangers read my ramblings? Do I have a responsibility to them now to produce something similar to that post, or can I meander off chunnering on about the events in the Middle East or the state of Canarian education?

As you can see, I wimped out, and posted photos.  I would probably have done that anyway.  The weekend’s full moon was spectacular and a global event and a test (failed, clearly, in execution if not in composition) of my newly-acquired photographic skills.

The thing is, I’m not entirely sure where this blog is going, it’s a bit of a runaway train, and of course, I don’t want it to end up being a wreck.  It’s evolved, and it’s taken on a life of its own to some extent.  I often find myself sitting down to write one thing and ending up posting something entirely different – like now.

My life is, like Shirley Valentine’s, very ordinary at the moment, though I appreciate that its setting is extra-ordinary to many people. So I sit and wonder, having started up this train, what on earth I can write about.  It certainly doesn’t snow here every day, and I don’t go up into the mountains every day either, and yet I can see where the mundane for me might be something different for someone else, and so I ramble on.

I’m lucky that this ordinariness includes moments like today’s lunch of tapas including a salpicón de marisco (a mixture of prawns, mussels, crabsticks, peppers and onions in a light vinaigrette dressing), pimientos de padrón (small, green peppers, fried in olive oil until they are about to crisp and liberally sprinkled with salt) and churros de pescado (battered and fried chunks of white fish) washed down with chilled white wine, followed by the coffee I have christened the super barraquito, and all consumed under a sky and next to an ocean so blue that they defy description.

I’m lucky that a trip to sort out car taxes led to a breakfast of milky coffee and a slice of moist tortilla española under shady trees in a street cafe where the early morning breeze was balmy enough to be wearing only cotton cargoes and a T-shirt.

I’m lucky that driving to a class yesterday the road wound me through hills and vineyards for a while.

And I’m lucky that most days I can forget the frazzled traffic on the autopista and take the long way home, just so I can take in this view.

I’m fond of saying that everywhere is interesting, that you can find the interest and the beauty even in the midst of the ugly, and I firmly believe that. I also would prefer to be in any number of places rather than here, places I know and love more, and places I have yet to see that are calling me, sometimes so strongly I want to stamp my feet like a child and sulk that I can’t go right now.  Yet, if I have to be stuck somewhere I have to admit that this ain’t half bad.  The climate is nigh perfect; the landscapes, which range from lush to spectacular are unequalled; there are historical towns and cities, and there are modern resorts; there are fresh foods including “mango and papaya you can pick right off the tree”. (Okaaaaay hands up if you know which song in which musical that came from!); and there are wines, there are fruity reds and there are chilled,  floral whites which slide down so easily on a warm day like today.

In short, I suppose, I am counting my blessings, or some of them………for now.


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A Hearty Canarian Feast

Coming down from the mountains the other day with the outside temperature gradually rising to 16 to 17 degrees, we felt in need of something substantial to warm us up.  It was 12.15, and early to eat by standards here, where lunch isn’t really served until around 1.30, but outside  my first choice,  Rincon Gomero, just below the village of La Esperanza,  the sign said open at 1pm. and we were too cold and hungry to wait, so we crossed the autopista to the outskirts of La Laguna  in search of a guachinche which Cristina knew.  A guachinche is a family-run restaurant, many are open only as long as the produce of the last grape harvest lasts, being a way for a very small producer to sell his wine,  but others are more or less always open, or at least open as often as they can or want to be.  This one wasn’t because the owner had a doctor’s appointment, that’s the way it is.  So we went off in search of sustenance elsewhere, but not before we admired the view from the vacant lot next to the guachinche, where the sweeping panorama took in the Mercedes Mountains, and the villages of Tegueste and Tejina before meeting the ocean in the distance.

Though it was warmer down here (but still something just under 2,000 ft above sea level) it was a bit misty and threatening more drizzle, so the photos aren’t too clear, but they do show you the contrast between the crystal clear skies and the stark, volcanic landscape through which we’d driven (see previous post) and this luxuriantly green farmland, which, for me, is the heart of this island.

But admiring vistas, even as impressive as this one, wasn’t satisfying our hunger pangs, and it was then that Cristina remembered that we were just around the corner from Portezuelo and what I now know is a locally famous restaurant called Casa Tomás.  This restaurant, judging from the wording on their website, must have begun life as a guachinche, certainly it was not the full-time family business it now is, but you can read all about that on their website, which you will also find in English.  Now it is what is generally described as a tipico, a restaurant specializing in local dishes, no frills, but excellent value for money.

I left the ordering to Cristina, except for the glass of local red wine for me, as she was driving, and she did us proud!  Happily, we had arrived just before the lunchtime rush, so the word escaldón had no sooner been uttered than it was in a steaming bowl on the table between us, and we tucked in with vigor.  Escaldón is, well, hard to say what category of dish it falls into.  It’s made from gofio, which is the traditional flour here in the Canary Islands, made from toasted grains.  The grain can be either wheat or maize, but the toasting gives it a very distinctive flavor.  In making escaldón it’s mixed with stock, and in the one in front of us, it was also mixed with shredded chunks of meat and just a hint of mint.  The menu, translating it into English, actually calls it a soup, although it isn’t listed with the other soups, and it’s solid, like a porridge kind of consistency, but very warming like soup.  However you like to describe it, it was delicious and warming, and exactly what we needed to warm us up,  and I felt a bit like a child in a Dickensian poorhouse, gobbling as if I’d been starved for a week!

Had I realized just how generous the next platter was going to be I might have held back on the escaldón a bit, but thus I blew dessert.  Costillas y piñas is what you see in the photo above – salted pork spare ribs, which have been soaked to remove the excess salt, obviously, and simmered until the meat just falls off the bones…..I swear I can taste them now!  They are served with chunks of corn (the piñas) and green mojo on a bed of local potatoes – a hearty, traditional dish, which, as suspected left no room for dessert :=(  But not to worry, having found Casa Tomás there is no doubt I will be returning!   As we sat back, and I wondered if I could actually move, I glanced around, and every table had made the same choice.  Costillas y piñas is the house speciality, so hardly surprising then that they do it to perfection!  You can make out in the photo above that the tables around us were almost all empty when our dish arrived, by the time we were finished the place was full, and people were still arriving.

One of the things I Love (note the capital L) about living here is that you are never, ever rushed by waiters, no matter how busy a restaurant is.  You could linger over your coffee for an hour, and still feel totally welcome.  It’s part of the rhythm of island life.  The other pleasant thing is the price.  This particular feast cost us around €10 a head.


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Looking for the Beauty in Life

There was a comment from a friend on a recent post to the effect that I live in an especially beautiful place, which is true, but I do believe that everywhere is beautiful in its own way.  Yeah, yeah I can hear you say, “What about the Gaza Strip, for instance”…….I should have chosen an example I know, but it’s the first that came to mind, and I don’t doubt that there is beauty there of some sort.  By the same token, there is plenty of ugliness here, too.  It’s just that spending life concentrating on ugliness is kind of, well, depressing.

Sometimes the beauty of a place is contained on the faces of the people who live there, sometimes it’s in the simplicity of its form, like deserts in Namibia or Sahara, or in the charm of old buildings or the elegance of new ones.  The photo above was taken when I was living in Adeje a few years ago.  It’s an abandoned banana plantation, all tumble-down breeze blocks, not nice at all, but convenient for dog walking.  I tried to lighten the picture so you can see the rubble, but I don’t know if it’s worked.  See how it’s transformed by the sunset, though?  The crumbling pillars which are so hideous in the daylight, look mysterious against the sun’s final glow.

The thing about taking your camera everywhere is that you begin to tune out the ugly and seek out the beautiful, which is to say that in the heightened state of awareness in which you find yourself, you begin to notice things you’d never noticed before, a dandelion, a cracked door…..

The door above almost certainly looks more interesting and romantic in this state than when it was freshly painted. You can weave all sorts of stories about what it guards, who lived there.

Obviously, flowers are beautiful, and can transform a drab room or a dry landscape with their colors and the sense of vitality they lend, but how about cacti?  Here, they grown like weeds, all over the place, they cling to hillsides where nothing else will grow in the parched summertime, and we drive past and ignore them, but stop, and take a look at how many shades of green they can be, the shapes and lines, their tenaciousness in proclaiming life where little else survives.  It might not be cacti where you live, but there will be something – a tiny flower shooting up between paving stones of a city street, or a denuded winter tree against a stormy sky.

Old things have a special beauty, some are more attractive with age than when they were young. If the house above wasn’t falling apart, then the creeper wouldn’t be adorning it, and if you think that looks attractive, did you notice the telephone wire running over the building, or the aerial on the roof behind. I’m not going to tell you that cables and aerials can be attractive, even I have to draw the line somewhere, but what the eye so often does is tune them out, and sees only the beauty behind.

Some tired and worn buildings need a helping hand, like the one above, in La Laguna, which is colorful and fun. It had to vie with listed buildings for its place in the public attention, so someone decided to help it along, likewise this ugly wall in Tegueste, below. It’s not a great work of art, even by graffiti standards, but it’s full of life and color, and has a touching message, beauty, remember, isn’t only physical. It’s also how something makes you feel inside.

There is sometimes beauty where you least expect it. Earlier this year, in possibly the worst day of calima I ever remember, I stopped by the roadside, dust so thick in the air I could taste it, and took this picture of La Tejita Beach. I have dozens of pictures of La Tejita, but this, unexpected one, is one of my favorites.

City streets can be so busy, it’s a hard time just not bumping into every third person you meet, but if you do stop, sometimes you notice the most surprising things. The shot below was very random. I’d been to a museum, where I’d not taken one photo for one reason or another, but when I came out, this was what I saw.

You might be drawn by the elegance of a street light, or a railing, or door.

A colorful display in a shop might strike you. OK, this is in a resort, but, let me tell you, not in an area where the word beauty springs readily to mind!

As with the what you can see in the world around you, learn to tune out the other crap as well, the people who wind you up and spoil your sense of well-being, the sounds which grate on your nerves. You might not be able to avoid the people or the sounds, but letting them get to you is allowing them way too much importance in your life. What’s important is the beauty wherever you find it.  Of course, if you’re passing through wherever you are, then it may just be a sign that it’s time to move on when all around you seems uninviting.

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