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


And We Have Sunsets Too

I’ve notice sometimes with sunrises and sunsets, that whilst we’re focused on the scarlet ball on the horizon, sometimes amazing reflections happen elsewhere, like the grass the other week.  Thursday morning it was the mountains which were basking in the early glow.  I have no doubt I missed the best, and didn’t have a good enough lens to get a nice snap, but just to give you an idea of the environment.  Yep – know the “little boxes” spoil it…..that said, how about living there??? ………..did skip home with Pete Seeger ringing in my ears, though!

And just to prove that this isn’t paradise, these cute little birds (which I think are sanderlings, but I’m hopeless at identifying birds, so would be grateful for a proper id if anyone knows, please?) were breakfasting along the shoreline, and I crept slowly and silently as close as I could, when some great, clod-hopping iggit clumping along scattered them.  No thought for the birds, or for me who was clearly trying to photograph them…….see we have our share of numbskulls here too!

One of the reasons I love El Médano is  that people watching (numbskulls apart) is so much more fun than it is in the resorts.  Here people are, actually, doing something, and not just shuffling along the promenade, or letting it all hang out on a sunbed.  Even early there were quite a few runners and joggers around, as well as the usual variety of dog walkers, and I sat for several minutes watching a skin diver as he backed himself into the waves, and then disappeared, long fins waving in his wake.  Every morning I see a guy I call Tai Chi guy,  gracefully greeting the new day from the rocky outcrop overlooking the beach, and I pass cyclists, and several elderly couples who do their own version of power walking.

Out there, on the ocean, and only specks on the photos there was a tall ship to stir the imagination and dream about, and a small fishing skiff, hauling up cages to check if they’d caught any pulpo overnight, as well as one or two yachts.

Full of good humor (despite the clod-hopper) I scooted down to Los Cristianos to collect my mail before all the parking spaces within reasonable walking distance of the Post Office were taken.  At the back of my mind was a breakfast of croissant and coffee at the French Bakery to prolong my mellow mood, and, indeed, I sat and ordered as I gleefully tore open packages  (a jiffy bag of Kendal Mint Cake from my dad, and a book from a friend :=)).  Then the choking, acrid smell of cigarettes wafted across. Even outdoors it was revolting, so I changed my order to to go, and trotted across to the little park place where I used to eat my lunch when I worked in Los Cristianos.  There I was greeted by the yucky smell of dog poo, so I carried on back to my car.  It’s a tribute to the bakery, that even sulking, not-that-comfortable, and glowering in my car,  the croissant, which melted in my mouth all buttery and light, brightened my mood again.  Paradise lost.  Paradise regained – kind of.

I was out on the roof terrace again around 5 pm when it occurred to me that maybe the sunset might equal the sunrise, and how nice it would be to bookend my day that way, so I took myself down to Los Cristianos again, to where I remembered my great sunsets from last year, and settled down amongst the pebbles to wait.  In coastal areas we were on yellow alert (and on high ground on orange) as a huge weather system was closing in on us.  You can see the storm clouds hugging the horizon and spiralling over the harbor of Los Cristianos as dusk fell in the last picture.

It turned out to be not so bad.  Clearly some rain had fallen here overnight, and the wind rattled my blinds and woke me once, but nothing major, neither did the tv, nor reports from friends on other parts of the island, indicate anything much overnight.  Worse is predicted for Sunday, so we may see a white Christmas on the mountain peaks.  Living near the airport, even if you don’t listen to weather reports, you know when bad weather is on its way.  First, you get the clear views of Gran Canaria, like yesterday morning; then you notice the planes as they glide effortlessly in to land instead of roaring up and away on take off, that means the prevalent winds have changed;  if you have a dog like Trixy you notice her sniffing the air when you go out in the morning, sensing a change in the wind-bourne scents only she can smell.  Few people really mind the storms here in the south, so long as no major damage or fatalities occur, as they bring a respite from heat and dust.  A good downpour and the hillsides which are now desert scrub after a long summer’s heat, spring to green life, as dormant seeds and roots are nourished.  So, we wait to see what the weekend brings.


Yesterday’s Sunset

There are days which are just a mess of rage and frustration and fear.  Such a day was mine yesterday (more about that another time), but then, again, there are times when it was all worthwhile because fate brought you, however briefly, to just the right place at the right time, as you can see.  This was the sun setting on a hopeless kind of day, and somehow making it all right.

Dusk falls over Los Cristianos.  Taken from outside El Mojon Health Center

I love that reflection of clouds on the ocean.

The sun begins to emerge from the first layer of clouds, before slipping behind the lower layer.

As the sun returns, briefly, the grass at my feet is caught in its final glow.

The island of La Gomera shimmers on the horizon.

And if you look closely, you can see that the setting sun brings the island of El Hierro into focus too.


Strange Weather

This was how it began.  I have no view from this apartment, but I took this from the roof terrace a few evenings back.  The clouds are beginning to pile up, and they reflect the setting sun – just a hint of what was to come, which is:

This was Las Vistas Beach when I passed this evening around 7.30.  Thunder-grey, storm clouds pass thickly over neighboring island, La Gomera, and yachts sit it out just outside the bay.  This time of year you see yachts in all the bays on this coast.  Most are waiting.  Soon the hurricane season will be over, and they will be heading out, across the Atlantic on their adventures…..

Usually, when we have heavy clouds and storm warnings the weather roars in from the Atlantic.  Here, in El Médano, where we are almost always buffetted by north east winds we are becalmed, and the sunniest, west coast takes the brunt of the elements.  At the moment, though, there is apparently a mysterious calm everywhere in the south.  I went into Los Cristianos tonight to eat, expecting wind and maybe rain, but I found the same conditions I’d left behind.  Like the yachts we wait.

Clearly it was nice enough earlier in the day for kids to play on the beach :=)


Tidbits from an Ordinary Week

It’s Saturday night, well, it’s actually Sunday morning, a long afternoon siesta has left me wide-awake this madrugada, even though my apartment is just sufficiently far enough away from the hum of fiesta, which is in full swing in the town square, and all is tranquil.   So I was wondering on what about my very pleasant week I want to muse.

Should I write about the lovely morning I whiled away in interesting conversation, overlooking little harbour, whilst the tenders to the fishing boats, which were out working, waited and bobbed on the swell that was rushing in from the Atlantic and breaking dramatically on the rocks further down the coast?

Should I write about the casual stroll around Los Cristianos I enjoyed with a good friend one balmy evening, sampling some great chocolate cake, and joking with a couple of the Senegalese street sellers, and that one of them gave me a pretty bracelet?

Should I write about the way the brilliant white waves creamed in from the gunmetal grey seas, while the sun shot pale, imitation rays into the murky sky from its hiding place behind the blackest cloud of all one morning walk?

Should I write about the afternoon I spent with a good friend chatting, teaching her a bit of English whilst she taught me Spanish, over mellow lattes in the pretty and tranquil courtyard of a small rural hotel, about ten minutes up into the hills?

Should I write about how one, chained-to-desk day emails, and Facebook notes, and Tweets and other peoples’ blogs kept me laughing away?  How great is this thing called internet, that even in my solitude it brings me jokes and smiles and funnies from friends and strangers alike?

Should I write about how good Trix was when I took her to the vet for her annual check up and vaccinations?  How she’s put on 5 kilos since her last weigh-in — ouch, and needs some expensive dentistry, but otherwise seems to be still the puppy in body that she is in spirit!   What a nice, new vet we have too.  I generally find that vets are nice people, actually, come to think of it, but that’s not always true of doctors – hmmm.  Food for thought there!

Should I write about Friday evening, about following la Ruta de Tapas in Los Cristianos?   Another balmy evening mixing good food and wine, mellow weather and great company. Yes, maybe I’ll write about that.

Should I write about the fiesta in my home town?  The fireworks?  The street performers?  The food? Yeah, maybe that’s worth a word or two as well, but you know what?   This has been a perfectly ordinary week……..and the sad thing is, I’ve been feeling a bit jaded, so I needed to remind myself just how good it’s been in its own quiet way……..and  **yawn** I think this glass of smooth, rich El Lomo might be just what the sandman ordered.


Blogging a Very Ordinary Week

I see this blog as a kind of diary more than anything else, especially now that I’ve studied lots of other blogs, and have a better idea of what I do or don’t want to do with it.  It’s read by some very old friends of very long standing (who’ve known me longer than anyone),who are probably the only people who are interested in my ramblings.

A lot of what I write is about life on Tenerife, “my” island home, but this isn’t a piece of journalism, nor is it a guide to the island (see my links for some excellent examples of those if you need them). So, I logged on this morning thinking I had nothing to write about. Last week was a very ordinary week, other than the Blues night in Lavabar, I didn’t take in any shows, or feasts or fiestas, (I’ve been a bit lazy, to be honest, it wasn’t that there was nothing on offer),  but then, I thought, “……but isn’t that the essence of what I want to do here? Simply record an ordinary (to me) life, which isn’t, necessarily, ordinary to others who live in cultures and climates and continents far removed. Even good friends with whom I share a past or mutual interests or a common language, live lives very different to mine. I suppose that’s why blogging appeals to us so much. We really are fascinated by different lives, and places, and cultures, and by what connects and what separates us, and I suppose this is one reason for me, personally, that I don’t live in the country in which I was born and raised.

The trend is for travel blogs to become more like travel guides or books. I love both, my favorite reading without a doubt, but I like blogs because I’ve been able to follow the journeys of people to whom I’ve been drawn. A blog for me is a journey (life or literally), and being able to travel with the person who writes.  This is one reason for liking this travel blog and also this one so much!  OK – it’s also because the writing and the photos are great, but I like the feel of logging on, and wondering if the authors have posted about where they are now, and what it’s like, sharing thier adventure a bit.

So, for the record, here is my ordinary, unexciting week, which, possibly, someone living  on another planet might find some interest in.

The default weather condition here in El Médano, as anyone who knows me knows, is W-I-N-D-Y, as in, always a stiff breeze, and often, just where I live here, meeting the wind head on and having to lean into it to walk without being blown backwards.  I am sure the corner of this road is the windiest place in a windy town.  So when Monday dawned as calm as the calmest day in the Doldrums it must have been really bad news for the international kiteboarders who had gathered for the Tenerife leg of the circuit, and when it continued into Tuesday it must have been downright depressing.  I imagine this happens, though.  I imagine the whole kiteboarding circus rolls into a town and the winds drop, and they say “sod’s law” , “here we go again”, or something, and break open the beers, take the chance to chill and mull over past triumphs and adventures (and, my god, must they have plenty!)

After a really boring and unsociable Monday the plan for Tuesday was to meet a friend on the beach in Los Cristianos and then have an early dinner.   However, dinner turned into lunch, and we never actually made it onto the beach, although we did sit and watch other people on the beach, whilst eating huge ice creams……Puh-leeze do not ask about the diet!

The main beach in Los Cristianos seems very drab these days after living in El Médano.  The users seem lethargic in comparison, and it lacks color somehow – could be all those superdrab sand-colored sunbeds?  There was a time, years ago,  when I used to love going down there in the summer, the beach was full of people doing things, beach volley was huge for instance, now there is only one court (is that the right word?) , and the place seems full of elderly people who just want to stroll or bake.

There is one seriously good reason for going to Los Cristianos beach, though, and that is the bar El Ciné, which, although it is hidden away behind the Bahia Bar/Restaurant which fronts the beach, remains the place to eat, as all locals know.  Literally, the queues both lunchtimes and evenings stretch a long way, if you don’t get there early. Other nearby bars and restaurants are almost empty…….Don’t ya think, duh, that they’d try to figure out how Carlos, the owner, does it???   He has, in fact, been there as long as any of us can remember, and his secret is that everything is very, very basic and simple, but fresh, fresh, fresh.  The tables and chairs are bog-standard plastic, the menu is very limited (I arrived early and there wasn’t even anything on the menu I could pick at whilst waiting), there is nothing fancy, the only alternative to fish or basic seafoods is chicken wings, the sauces (mojos) come in plastic bottles on the tables, instead of being served in little dishes.  Ann and I both had sardines and salad.  The salad was the simplest imaginable, just tomatoes and onion, but so tasty anything else would have spoiled it, and the sardines, were fresh and sweet and wonderful.    Had you seen the queue Tuesday lunchtime at around 2pm when we left you would have felt compelled to give it a try.  Why, on earth when there are so many empty tables at other restaurants, would people queue to eat at El Ciné you would wonder. Your average tourist, passing by, would maybe miss it, hidden as it is, but it is a magnet for local workers (including fishermen, so how much of a recommendation is that??), and people “in the know”, as well as the odd tourist who stumbles upon it and is looking for genuine, local fare – they usually come back night after night.

I took this snap last time Ann and I had an afternoon like this.  Tuesday I had no camera with me, and we forwent the pulpo, in favor of papas arrugadas.

After lunch we sat, in best old-lady tourist tradition,  and licked at ice creams from Via Via, an heladeria a bit further down the main part of the beach, their single cones for €1.60 are larger than the doubles in most places, and their chocolate mousse is to DIE for!  So now you understand why we didn’t swim – we would, most definitely have sunk!……..could have done with a dip to get the sticky sardine smell and ice cream sweetness off my fingers though!

Sometime Wednesday the winds blew up and the kiteboarding began in ernest, which was fine for them, for the rest of us it was a glimpse of hell, the winds were hot, calima clouded mountains and horizons, and we sizzled until Friday evening they began to tail off and leave us with our quite normal, glorious, sunny August weather :=)

Thursday, I had something towards the other end of the dining experience, the marvellous Japanese/Chinese inspired dishes from Dim Sum in La Caleta.  This is the latest venture from the Teppanyaki/Bianco chain, it opened only a few months ago and has been an instant hit, so much so, that one of the owners, and locally-well-known frontman, Rob, tells us that no advertising has been necessary!  And this in the midst of the worst recession the world has ever known.  Doesn’t that speak volumes for the quality of the place??

Here I go again – variety, you see, whether it’s culture, food or people, this place is a genuine melting pot.  Strolling into the town center in the evening last week became even more fascinating than usual. You could sense the excitment in the air the competitors and their fans had brought, mixing with the the hoards of people down from the north for the week, kids building sandcastles, even in the dark, and El Médano’s own amateur talent show going on in the the town square, quite unlike the sedate strolling or feet-scrapping slopping about which had been the vibe in Los Cristianos earlier.

Other “average” kind of things?  Well,  Friday around 1 am night I spent an hour lying on a sunbed on the roof terrace, sheilding my eyes from the light pollution, which was more than I thought it was, hoping for a glimpse of a shooting star.  I saw one, and it wasn’t as thrilling as some I’ve seen here, where the night skies are quite extraordinary.  For one thing you can almost always actually see the sky, and despite the pollution there was, I could still make out millions and millions of pinpricks that were stars, as well as seeing the closest stars and planets shining like beacons.  The place to have gone, really, would have been up into the mountains away from the pollution, but, as mentioned, I’ve been in lazy mood.  Even so, it was a wonderfully calming and spiritual experience, but for sure, I won’t be so lazy next time, lesson learned.


Singing the Blues in Los Cristianos

Do you ever wonder why we are attracted to certain things?  Music?  Places? People?  Why do I like pasta and you like curry, for instance?  I’ve mulled over why Blues means so much to me thousands of times since I heard that first, plaintiff riff almost 50 years ago.  I like jazz, but it doesn’t make my heart skip a beat.  I’m learning to like opera, and there is the odd time when the purity of a note makes me want to cry.  There are some pieces of classical music, and there are some pieces of rock music which thrill me, but nothing else comes close to the mixture of happiness and soul searching and intense emotion which Blues brings out in me.  When I listen to Blues I feel at home.  Goodness knows why that should be, my background couldn’t be more WASP, but I’ve stopped asking myself now.

For years, the only Blues I heard was on discs, despite the Santa Blues festival, it truly isn’t that popular here.  Then, one night in 2003 or 2004 I went to an open air concert in El Fraile, which is where I first heard local band Cotton Blues, belting out Stevie Ray Vaughn like they were born to play the Blues.  I distinctly remember being on cloud nine, logging on and telling friends the minute I got home.  Since then there has been a bit more, mainly at the annual festival in Santa Cruz, but I still had no idea where to go to hear Blues played on a regular basis in the south of the island at least.  Now I know!

Let me tell you a bit about the venue first.  LavaBar opened last year, and for the brief time I had left in Los Cristianos then it was my local.  It’s situated close to the International School of Languages in Los Cristianos, and that site was chosen carefully by owner, Geert Huylebroeck.   Geert, who is Belgian by birth, but international by inclination,   is a lover of languages (he speaks five that I know of, maybe more), art, and especially music, and I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing him for several years now.  The subtitle of the bar is “Language Variety”, and daytime, it  is a place for cultural exchange via language.  If you’re learning Spanish, for instance, you can stick a note on the wall saying that you would like to practice speaking with a native speaker who, in return, is learning English, so you help each other out.  Hence the site near the language school.  If you call in during the day for a cup of one of the amazing choices of teas and infusions Geert offers, or a lush cappuchino and pastry, the tables are full of people chatting in what seems like every language under the sun.

If you pop in in the evening however, there is no telling what cultural delight might await you.  Every weekend is a feast for eyes or ears or both.  Other than music events I’ve been to poetry readings, photography exhibitions, dance demonstrations and art exhibits, all aimed at encouraging local talent.  You can see the latest exhibit on the walls in the background of the photos here.  This one was due to change today.

So, last night’s performance was by local Blues aficianodos Marcelo y Marcelo, and all I can tell you is that, at the end of the night my comment was that I didn’t think, had we been in Texas, we could have heard better Blues.  These guys don’t just sing and play, they live each set as if it is their last.  There were times when I got a lump in my throat, which is the way good Blues affects me.  They played from around 8.30 to just after 11pm, with a very short break, but for me they could have gone on all night!  Because this is a venue one can accurately call “intimate” the full passion of their playing so close-up was electrifying, and because they could laugh and joke with their listeners between numbers, it had the air of jam session, but with the quality of highly polished performance.  Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

The bar is welcoming and attractive, as you can see, but not too big, so there are times when it’s standing room only.  Happily it was just short of that last night, but from the thunderous applause from the Blues lovers present, you would have thought there were ten times as many. It’s the sort of place where, once you’ve been, you are remembered, and have no hesitation in calling again on your own.  One young man wandering by last night heard the music and stopped, and was made really welcome.  He stood shyly outside on the terrace, listening, to begin with, but when a place became vacant at the bar he took it with alacrity.  It has to be the best place in Los Cristianos to meet up with people if you are travelling alone.  OK lone travellers would usually not find themselves in Los Cristianos, a tourist trap, but if it’s well worth a visit to come to LavaBar, and it’s a handy base for travelling about the island too.

Usually performances are Sundays and Fridays.  It’s the sort of bar you find usually in bigger towns and cities, most often university towns, aimed at promoting art in all its forms.  You won’t find your Elvis or Bon Jovi impersonators and the music is music for listening, not for background music.  Frankly, I write with reluctance, it’s one of those places you really would like to keep just for yourself, but it deserves to be applauded and recognized so hence my ramblings.

If it’s Blues specifically you’re looking for, you can check out the Web site for up and coming events, or if you find yourself in the area, just drop in and give it a try……..I hasten to add that I write here, as my friend, Leslie, says, “from my heart”.  I know I might sound like an ad, but I can assure you nothing has, nor will, cross my palm :=)


Island Sunrises

Surfing the Web the other day ……. ok, I admit it, procrastinating about doing anything remotely useful …….. I came across a fabulous set of photos on some travel blog or other, showing sunsets all over the world.  Oh, they set my feet to itching and my mouth to salivating.  Then reality set in.  I just can’t travel at the moment.  I can’t take off and see all these wonderful sights first hand :=(    I wanted to cry.  My feet felt like lead.  My heart hit the floor.  I cursed myself for allowing this to happen.  I raged against an unfair fate. THEN……..I remembered photos I’d taken of sunrises and sunsets here………….. and I thought, as one friend recently pointed out to me, if you have to be grounded there ARE worse places!

So I thought I would share these scenes with you.  First the sunrises, sunsets to follow the next time I feel like this!

The emblematic Montaña Roja, snapped from the yukky Amarilla Golf a few years back.

La Playa de las Vistas, Los Cristianos.  You’d expect sunsets from here, because I am facing west, but sometimes the sunrise is reflected around the horizon of the island.

I know this is not a great photo.  I knew the colors would change and the moment would be lost, so I snapped before I was in the position I would have liked to have been in.  The colors are exactly as they were.  Simply, stunning. Montaña Roja again.

La Tejita is the favorite beach of many of us who prefer to be away from crowds.  Me, I like it even better at sunrise when there is hardly another soul around.

El Cabezo Playa.  Almost on my doorstep.  This snapped two minutes from where I am living.

A sight I was well accumstomed to a couple of years back.  The sun rising over Montaña Guaza, and bathing the harbor of Los Cristianos in early morning light.

Apart from guarding La Tejita, Montaña Roja is the last thing which registers on leaving the island, and sighting it again symbolizes one’s return, and at sunrise witnesses the hope of a new day.

At the time I caught this sunrise, some years ago, I was stuck in a bad place, but on the cusp of change for a much better time in life.  My morning walk, these sunrises kept me going during the rest of horrible days!

Sometimes there isn’t a riot of color, just a slow rising of brilliance from the grey dawn.  Playa El Cabezo.

El Cabazo again, on a more colorful morning.

Montaña Roja/La Tejita again.  The sun rises from a slightly different perspective, depending on the time of year.

Trixy enjoying our early morning romp on La Tejita  :=)

Yep – worse places to be stuck, I guess!


The Soul of Flamenco and Some Cheesy Architecture

What!  Two theater visits within a couple of weeks of each other?  This can’t be here and me.  But it was.  I had an invite from some friends last night to join them for the Carmen Mota flamenco/ballet production “Alma” at Piramide de Arona in Playa de las Americas, and that wasn’t something I was going to miss if I could help it, despite the ongoing neck problem.

Playa de las Americas, just in case you don’t already know, is the heart of grockle land, conjoined at one end by Los Cristianos, it rambles through the original resort, where the teens love to party, and on up the coast to the more upmarket areas of Fañabe and Costa Adeje, where local, island and autonomous governments are promoting their current fad – luxury travel.    I’m not really sure where one place ends and the other begins, it’s all just tourist territory, and living here you don’t go down there unless it’s for work or some other, specific purpose.

La Piramide de Arona sits almost squarely on the Los Cristianos/Las Americas border. The  name refers to the conference hall/ theater which belongs to the prestigious Mare Nostrum Resort complex.  If I tell you that some of the hotels within this complex rejoice in the names of Cleopatra Palace, Julius Caesar Palace and Marc Anthony Palace you will get the picture – a kind of mini Las Vegas.

The “architecture” speaks for itself, doesn’t it?!  No comment from me required.

Just to illustrate the “other” side of the island, the one with which the majority of tourists are familiar.  There are four hotels, or more, in the complex.  This one I snapped last year when I was looking for photos with the theme ‘color’ – it certainly has plenty of that!

On the back of the success of this resort the surrounding area has taken on that same vibe, with year-round Christmas lights, Gaudi-inspired external décor and shops like Escada and Zara – a bit posher than average.  It’s at night that the area really comes into its own, though.

As the natural light fades and street lights twinkle on, glowing, sun-burned skins emerge from their warrens, and head out to eat in one of eateries in the Safari Center, Parque Santiago lV or lll complexes.  There is a wide choice, and because it isn’t an area which appeals to me much I haven’t sampled more than a handful, well, 3, to be exact, now that I come to think of it – an excellent Chinese, whose name escapes me, in Parque Santiago lll, and Bianco and Teppanyaki  in the Safari Center.  The latter two belong to the same owners, and they both deliver excellent value for money, but aren’t nearly in the same price bracket as inland.   Teppanyaki is first class Japanese – sushi, sashimi, dumplings etc, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone.  OK, it’s not the cheapest in the world, but this is not an area where you expect things to be cheap, like I said, it’s the heart of grockle land, and it’s worth every cent.

Bianco, where my friends had chosen to eat last night, has a cuisine somewhere between “international” and Italian.  Their popular menu hasn’t changed in years, but they have it all off to a T. I suppose I eat there about twice a year, over the last 4 years, and standards have always been the same.   The service is very good, and Rob, one of the owners, is always attentive if he knows you, as he did my friends.  It reminds me of one of those better US chains, like Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but without all the cheese!  In fact they have dough balls and brownies on their menu.

It had the advantage last night of being right across the road from the theater too, so we could linger over our wine until the last minute.

The Piramides opened in 1996 and has a conference hall which seats 1,874 according to their website. The truth is that despite the ample stage area it really has the vibe of a conference hall rather than a theater, though a better ambience than Magma did a couple of weeks back.  I understand that they do a roaring trade conference-wise, so staging this show 6 nights a week, I think, is something of a kind of after-thought, the icing on the cake.  Apart from the opening night, I’ve never seen it more than around a third full, which is a huge shame, because the show is without a doubt world class standard.  The circle, which would be a great place to watch dance, I’ve only seen open once.  They pack the seats from the front, but that’s only fair to the dancers.  If the audience was spread all around the place then their interaction would be a bit fragmented too.

However, enough of the negative things, which did not spoil my enjoyment of this terrific show.  In fact, I use the word “show” with hesitation, because the format has changed slightly.  One of these production runs for roughly a year, sometimes they’ve run longer, there have been 10 since the place opened.   I’ve not been every year, but certainly have seen a lot, and the format was always a first half with different interpretations of dance, and the second half telling a story, like Romeo and Juliet, maybe, but this year the accent was much more on the dance itself, and there was a continuing motif,  rather than a story with beginning and end.

Carmen Mota, the choreographer (together her son, Joaquin Marcelo), is a distinguished dancer, much revered in Spain.  She ended her dancing career in 1977 to concentrate on choreography, costume and lighting for the company she set up, according to the company’s website , and I can only say “Grácias a Señora Mota”.

I will never forget the opening production: The costumes as lavish as those of carnival queens, and spectacular special effects, such as I’d never seen on stage before, they seemed to belong more in the world of movies, but above all the dance, which fused flamenco and ballet and modern dance to a polished perfection, which left me breathless.  That hasn’t changed, in fact, over the years it seems that the concentration became focused more on the dance, and less on the special effects.  Whether this is a result of the recession or intentional I don’t know.

Last night, yes, there were special effects – at one point it looked, amazingly,  as if  the solitary ballerina’s lonely mood was being matched by a fine drizzle descending from above  – but scenery is minimal, and effects rely now on spectacular lighting – for me much more atmospheric and dramatic.  At one point I almost gasped as the mood changed in an instant from sombre to lively, simply by use of lighting.

The costumes have changed from that first performance too. Gone is the elaborate Carmen Miranda style, extravagance.   Now the dresses are rich and lavish, yards and yards of material from the knee down,  giving a life of its own to a skirt which swirls and floats with each step taken, and above the knee the dress caresses the dancer’s perfect figure with a sensual grace, making the costumes an intrinsic part of the dance.

I’ve heard criticism of the authenticity of the flamenco, but this performance doesn’t pretend not to be geared to spectacle and theater.  True flamenco, it has to be said, isn’t for everyone, but this was of sufficient quality to satisfy all but the absolute purists.  It’s absolutely worth splurging to see this show if you are visiting Tenerife.  It’s even worth venturing into grockleland!

The evening was a celebration of the dance and the music and their influences on the music of all the Latina community, a legend and a way of life rather than a story. The choreography drew on classic ballet, too, with more than a nod to Jermone Robbins, and just a touch of salsa. The music saluted jazz, as well as music from Mexico and Cuba, and throughout the second half the haunting voices of Andalucia, which even when you don’t fully understand the words seem to stir your soul…….and, of course, Alma is soul in Spanish.

As a footnote: Reason there are no pix of the performance?  I was caught fiddling with my camera, and very politely told that it was forbidden :=)  Always worth a try, isn’t it :=)  Clearly people have managed it from time to time, because on YouTube you can find various bits and pieces which people have filmed over the years.  This was the best one I found…….just to give you an idea of what a memorable performance this was.  It isn’t the current production, but one from a couple of years ago.

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Er…..Trying toThink of a New Way of Saying Cultural Variety!

Trying to think of a new way of saying it because it happened again. This weekend the choices were excruciating, and a bit of bad luck (or was it bad planning?) didn’t really help.  Imagine this:

Friday night? Well, the choice was going to Santa Cruz to watch the beginning of the re-enactment of the Battle of Santa Cruz, music in a local bar or going to see The Moscow City Ballet performing “Swan Lake”. Of course “Swan Lake” won. I was going to say, “because I’ve seen the re-enactment before”, but then I haven’t seen it nearly as many times as I’ve seen “Swan Lake”!! The exciting thing about this, particular performance was that it was in the South of Tenerife, in the aforementioned Magma Center, so it was also being a small part of a little bit of local history.  The South of the island has always felt like something of a Cultural desert.  Oh, sure there has been the odd oasis, and I emphasize I speak of Culture with a capital C, (of culture with a small C there has always been an abundance) so it’s the first time I didn’t face an hour’s drive after an event.

The Culture

I’d never entered Magma through the huge, front entrance before, and pretty impressive it looked as we approached, pretty lights – and a stage hand spray painting props (now, that didn’t give us a smile when we saw them on stage!) Amusing variety of dress, one or two looking as if they were going to the beach (which is pretty standard attire for just about anything here), and one or two looking as if they were expecting to bump into the King and Queen i.e. dressed up to the nines – which is not normal for the South of the island. Still, I wasn’t there to conduct a fashion survey!

I’d intended to have a siesta to ready myself for the late start (10pm) but the screeching from the pool, almost below my window, reached epic levels Friday afternoon, and sleep was impossible , so I read through the little program which came with the tickets.  Anticipation shivered down my spine a little as I recalled the story, and remembered the video I used to have of Fonteyn and Nureyev performing this ballet, so I set off in good mood and refreshed in any event.

The production was excellent, if a little theatrical sometimes – “Ah”, you say, “but it is theater!”……good point! The sets and the costumes were both stunning. The Corps du Ballet was absolutely superb, in fact, though it’s a very long time (12 years, in fact) since I saw classic ballet I don’t think I’ve ever seen better. The leads were very good, Odette/Odile especially, and despite it being a version unfamiliar to me I settled down to it quite nicely very quickly. 9 out of 10 for the production definitely. That said, I will make the effort to go up to the theater in the North next time. Impressive though Magma is, it isn’t a theater. The seating was, basically, office chairs…..and remember this is long ballet….so there was a lot of squirming going on at the end, and because it isn’t a theater the floor wasn’t on a gradient, so even though we were quite close to the front, there were several people spoiling my view. In fact, for a lot of the time, I couldn’t see center stage at all. The acoustics, however, were a marvel, given the circumstances. The salon was huge and high ceilinged, but the music filled it with passion and grace, not a note was lost. So, overall verdict on the night will only rate a 6/10 from me. I know that sounds picky, but this isn’t a theater review either, and the performance made it more than worthwhile for me, but because of the discomfort I couldn’t surrender myself to the story the way I wanted to.    It’s just a word of advice – the next time Magma offer theater – make the effort to go to Teatro Leal, Teatro Guimerá or the Auditorio if whatever is playing there too.

So taken with the magic of it was I, though, that I couldn’t sleep when I got home, which didn’t signal well for the next day, when I woke to strains of Tchaikovsky flitting through my head.

The Sport

The choice for Saturday was a no brainer, because Austin was participating in the local triathlon, here in El Médano, so I passed on the chance to go to the World Music Event in Santa Cruz, and the main day of the re-enactment, amongst other things. I thought I might make the World Music Concert in the evening though, and if I didn’t, I had an invite to join some friends on a “tapas crawl”, so all looked rosy.

The triathlon is annual, well-organized and looks both fun and serious at the same time. Last year they had to battle fierce winds, and the day dawned that way this year too, but calmed down in time for the 4.30 start. The town was fit to burst, so I guess it is also good for stimulating business, and, of course, motherly pride beating intensely I was there to take snaps.

Other than the London Marathon, which I didn’t really get snaps of due to the circumstances and the way it’s organized, this was the first time I’ve ever really tried to photograph a sports event….and it ain’t easy! I knew it wouldn’t be, but I was ok with the results for a first timer. I thought it didn’t interest me as a genre, but could be wrong there, although I think I’ll always prefer landscapes.  I did discover a new talent, though, …. I can dig an elbow as well as the next person, duck under official tape which is there to stop me, and squeeze in between people to get where I want to be.  Now, that might all sound quite normal to you, and you can blame my mom for bringing me up right, but I’ve always been too darned polite -so this is a new me!  ’bout time some pals will say.

Scene in the town square just before the start

Waiting for the start

Entering choppy water

And coming out of the water.  That’s Austin in the middle in the black suit with white stripe on the arms, and the white goggles on his head.

My favorite snap of the day.  He was going very, very fast at this point, so I am really happy with it, even though I missed out the bottom of one of the wheels!

And the home stretch.  He has about five minutes left to run here, of an event which took him 1 hour 17 minutes, which knocked 8 minutes off his previous time for this event.

I arrived home pleasantly sun-kissed, but not burned, footsore (“Wow”, my friend said, “Who’s running this race, you or him?!”) from running from one vantage point to another to try to catch him as he passed, and tired in that tired but happy way.  Reluctantly,  I decided to give the concert a miss. I was on a high from the afternoon, but I didn’t trust myself to drive home after midnight, so I opted for the tapas crawl, intending to just have a couple and then call it an early night.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

La Ruta de Tapas is something I only discovered a couple of years ago, and I don’t think it goes back much further back than that, at least in the South.  Local restaurants in a town are invited to join in providing patrons who are walking the route with a tapa and a drink (wine, beer or water usually, although sodas are offered in La Laguna) for €3 (in La Laguna €2.50) for the period of the event.  If you want to join the route you can get a map of participating establishments from the internet or the local town hall.  Just in case anyone doesn’t know a tapa is, it’s  a small portion of food, a snack or a taster might be a good translation.  In big cities like Madrid or Barcelona great nights are to be had, walking from bar to bar and sampling the local brew and a tapa or two in each, but it’s not so much of a tradition here.

My last experience in Los Cristianos had been really good, so I showered and changed eagerly, and wasn’t more than five minutes late to meet my friends.  The first place we tried, in fact, ended up being so enjoyable that we didn’t move!!  Given that we had a small child and a little dog with us, it was probably a wise choice, it isn’t always that easy to accommodate either, though children are accepted almost everywhere here at just about any time of day or night, and Leo is a stunningly well-behaved one year old :=)

One of the ideas of this promotion, other than stimulating business, is to promote local products, everything used in the making of the tapas has to be of local origin.   We began with a mousse of sea bass drizzled with a mustardy mayonnaise, and I mean, drizzled, so it complimented the fish, didn’t drown it, and served with gofio crisps.  Then,  two tapas of tuna and vegetables bound into a rough kind of paté and drizzled with a maracuya coulis. All washed down with local wines.

By then, we were cozy under a canopy of bamboo, on a balmy evening, child and dog happily comfortable, the urge to move on deserted us, and we ordered more food.  That might have been a mistake, depends on which way you look at it.  For some reason I never fathomed there was a long, long delay in bringing the main course.  On the one hand, the conversation was great, varied, funny and intelligent, so it wasn’t that important, but it put an end to my intention to have an early night.   I have to say it was worth it, though.  The fresh goats’ cheese salad I ordered was out-of-this-world, and well worth the wait.  Shame that driving meant I couldn’t have another glass of that lovely wine, but you can’t have it all ways, as we English say.   It was a mellow, relaxing night, but way later than I intended!

One of the delights of living here is the standard and diversity of restaurants, and within that a further delight is how you find a little place like this, very unpretentious and welcoming, but serving food as good as you can get anywhere.

If you’re holidaying in Tenerife in July check out which towns are offering la Ruta de Tapas.  We were in Costa del Silencio last night, but as well as there and Los Cristianos it happens in Valle San Lorenzo and Las Galletas too, that I know of.  It’s a fun and sociable way to try new foods, and you will also feel more in tune with the locals  as you wend your way around.  If you’re staying in Los Cristianos then no worries on the drink driving thing either!   although you’ll meet mainly other visitors.  What I really want to do is try the route in La Laguna if I can make it this year.

So, to today.  Today, the choice was going to the Lido in Santa Cruz, where I heard they have a Dixieland jazz band in the restaurant on a Sunday, taking in the British “surrender” at the Battle of Santa Cruz, and a movie about the Japanese invasion of China (yes, I know that might sound boring, but I know nothing about that bit of history, and I want to know, and it’s won awards), or all three, or any one or two plus a visit to the Sunday street market.  Which one do you think I chose?  I hit the alarm, turned over and had a rare lie in.  Bad decisions maybe, but, like I said, there is just so much going on here, you just cannot do it all!


Of Wine and History and Tenerife

One of the pleasanter aspects of living here over the last 20 years or so has been watching the rebirth of the Canarian wine industry, and whilst, yes, before you say it, I do drink my full share :=)   I can’t really claim more than the tiniest smidgen of credit for this revival……as in most things – I do my best  :=)

Back in Shakespeare’s time Canarian wines were world-famous.  Did it ever occur to you, by the way, that things could have been “world-famous” before the internet, even before tv or radio?  Well, let’s not take the phrase too literally, they were famous all over the world which western man had “discovered”, how’s that?………and …….back on topic ……..

Well chilled, slight sweet Malvasia, the perfect Summer wine

Who remembers in what kind of wine the Duke of Clarence was drowned in Shakespeare’s “Richard lll”?  Right anyone who muttered , “Malmsey, of course”.  I have seen it claimed that that, particular vat of Malmsey was Canarian, but, of course, it probably was an early urban myth that the duke was executed thus in any event, so that claim is highly unlikely to be true.  Malmsey is more readily associated with the Atlantic island of Madeira, to the North of the Canary Islands, and belonging to Portugal, but the Malvasia grapes were grown then on these “Fortunate Islands” too.  The opinions about whether Malmsey and Malvasia are the same thing abound on the web, but for sure the Bard did mention Canarian wine specifically.  Note this exchange between the flamboyant Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek early in “Twelfth Night”:

Sir Toby:  ” O knight!  thou lackest a cup of canary: when did I see thee so put down?”

Sir Andrew: “Never in your life, I think; unless you see canary put me down.  Methinks sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has; but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.”

Oh, we have to let slide that reference to beef, not to mention the rich source for a religious debate,  because this post is about Canarian wines!   Someone or other (who probably really needs to get a life) has counted, if memory serves me, 134 references to “canary” or “canaries” in Shakespeare’s works.  The Canary refered to is probably not Malmsey, which was like sherry, but a sweet, wine table wine, made from the Malvasia grapes, which still grow on the islands.

Vineyards in the Abona Region

Remember, these are volcanic islands, the soil is rich in nutrients, and the climate is unbelievably kind.  It’s almost a Garden of Eden.

Ask why the industry declined and you get contradictory results on the web, some say that the grape blight of 1853 wiped out crops, other sites will tell you that unlike Madeira or the Spanish mainland, the Canary Islands were spared the blight, and just sank under the weight of competition and trade agreements over the centuries which favored other locations, and even the destruction of Garachico in the volcanic eruption of 1706 gets mentioned.  It was the island’s main port at the time, so obviously trade was affected.

Whatever the reasons for the decline, the rise has been nothing short of spectacular.  When I first arrived here local wine was the stuff you drank in the inland bars, usually from a small, dirty tumbler, when you feasted on gigantic pork chops or roast suckling pig.  It was white and on the rough side, but left a pleasant hum on the tongue after quaffing.  That was in the mid Eighties, and little did I know it but it was about then that the revival of the industry was beginning.

The first time I remember being really impressed with Canarian wine was on a visit to Lanzarote.  It was one of those delightful, hazy, lazy afternoons, a little inland bar, a bottle of Malvasia, and I was a convert.  I will never desert my beloved, but very-unfashionable-now Chardonnay, but it’s a fine balance with the Malvasia these days.  Sweet enough and cold as ice so on a hot Summer’s day it’s heaven in a glass!

Nutrient-rich, volcanic soils impart wonderful flavors

Tenerife now has no less than five denominacion de Origen on this small island – Abona, Tacaronte-Acentejo, Valle de Güimar, Valle de la Oratava and Ycoden-Daute-Isora, and as well as the famed, sweet whites, smooth and fruity reds are produced.  As the 20th century faded out the quality and fame of wines from Tenerife soared, and they began to win prizes at international level, putting the islands back on the map after more than a couple of centuries in the doldrums.

That’s the short version of the story, and now you are wondering why I am rambling on about them.  Well, apart from the fact that I obviously have a fondeness for them!  Last Friday there was a wine tasting promotion in Los Cristianos, which sorely tested my drink-drive resolve.  I think I might have been somewhat over the limit, but it was early when I cruised home, windows down, soft breeze….you know the kind of thing, so I was ok.

The event was held down by the harbor, and attracted a nice mix of locals and tourists.  I was, actually, surprised at the numbers.  I’d see the information online, but nowhere else around, but it was smack-bang in the middle of the tourist track, as they wander the seafront in search of somewhere to eat.  All five regions were represented, and the choice was huge, far too many, and also far too many elbows in the ribs to make a really informed choice or opinion, but I did discover a couple of new wines which I can’t wait to be able to afford and stock up on.

Since Viña Norte began to be marketed in a sensible way some years ago it’s easily been my favorite red.  It’s varied from year to year, of course, and some years has been quite outstanding, but I found  one from Valle de la Orotava, Tajinaste Tinto 4 M Barrica, according to the catalogue, which was rich with lots more body than Canarian reds usually have, and at €8 per bottle it was well worth it.  That’s one I shall be keeping an eye out for from now on.

My favorite whites are Brumas from Tenerife, and wines from the El Grifo winery on neighboring Lanzarote, but a friend introduced me Friday night to a sensational, sweet Malvasia from Abona, Testamento Malvasia Dulce 2009, which I shall positively go in search of (should I thank the lord that the ATM wouldn’t process my card that night???).  It is very sweet, but for a dessert wine for a special occasion there really won’t be many to compare.  At €12 it was expensive for a wine from this neck of the woods.  Lastly, a sweet young man recommended a rosé, a Marba Rosado 2009 from Tacoronte-Acentejo.  Now, I am not a huge fan of rosé, though I associate it with happy memories of Summer nights in the South of France on vacation, it absolutely has to be chilled to death and the weather has to match, so it is a measure of how much I liked it that although the weather was as ordered, the amount of chilling, given the open air setting, was lacking.

I didn’t intend to chose one red, one white and one rosé, that’s just the way it turned out, but I can’t begin to tell you how good this island’s wines are these days.  On the night the only disappointment was the food, which has been advertised as samples of typical Canarian cuisine.  The only thing on offer when we approached the food tent was some sorry-looking gofio and chunks of stale bread.  Meat had been flung onto barbeques, but it was clearly going to be ages and ages before it was ready.  This would have been because they had flung on a whole side of, presumably, pork, instead of cutting into more easily cookable chunks. Obviously the event had been more successful than anticipated, which is good, and they had woefully under-catered, but hey, we weren’t there for the food, we were there for the wine, and it did not disappoint.

I leave you with a couple more quotes attesting to the former glories of the stuff:

“But that which most doth take my muse and me,

Is a pure cup of rich Canary wine,

Which is the mermaid’s now, but shall be mine.”

Ben Jonson, English playwright, (1573-1637)……and no, he wasn’t so drunk he was seeing mermaids, the Mermaid was a famous tavern where Johnson used to sharpen his wits against that of Will Shakespeare.  Around two hundred years later Keats was moved to celebrate the tavern further, and again mention my favorite tipple thus:

“Souls of poets dead and gone

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

Have ye tippled drink more fine”

Than mine host’s Canary wine?”

What more can one add to that?


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