Islandmomma

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


6 Comments

Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

And so I come to El Médano; by the ocean; a half hour from the mountains; a half hour from theaters and concerts in Santa Cruz; twenty minutes from the cinema; reasonably multi-cultural; good choice of eateries (sushi, great pizza, crepes, Chinese, fish, original-enough snackeries, bakeries, terrific farmers’ market); decent wi-fi and availability in bars and cafés; laid back lifestyle; not overly expensive; fantastic climate; excellent sports facilities.

El Médano sure ticks a lot of my boxes, but, and this is a huge but for me, my ideal place would have English as its first language. I love the English language. I love playing with words. I love to hear it spoken in all its many guises, whether it’s William Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin,  spoken by Patrick Stewart or Denzel Washington. The music of my soul is sung in the English language, Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll and even some Country. I miss the closeness of this. I miss sharing it.

And yet, as I sit here, street sounds drifting up, kids playing soccer on the street below, the clatter of someone stacking dishes coming from an open window somewhere above me, people laughing as they stroll home from the concert I know has taken place in the town square this evening, this feels strangely like home. Perhaps it is the familiarity – the fact that this is the 5th time I’ve gravitated back to this small town – that makes it feel this way. Perhaps it is that I simply accept that sufficient boxes are ticked at this moment, and that sooner or later the urge to get away will overcome me again. Perhaps if we stay too long in one place we see too much of the negative. Perhaps that’s why the urge to keep moving or seeking.

What I know for now is this. I need a base, somewhere which feels welcoming to return to, and for the rest, for now, there is the internet.

 


4 Comments

“Another Fork Stuck in the Road” (apologies to Greenday)

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s maybe been the longest between posts ever, I’m not sure. Not for want of trying, though, but my internet situation here in La Palma has been nigh impossible. Hence some decisions are being made. A change of plan is in the works, and that, possibly, because even travel can become predictable. Or simply, to quote one of my favorite songs, “to everything there is a season.”

It’s perhaps coincidence or it maybe a “thing” with me, but the last time I roamed off, at around the 8-month mark I became as restless with the travel as I had with the previous lack of it. As at the beginning of July, it’s been just a tad over 10 months on this trip, but I began to feel restless towards the end of May.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Perhaps if La Palma appealed to me more things would be different, but we got off to a bad start, the island and I, and although I have discovered some beautiful places, interesting stories and eaten some good (if not great) meals, since my last post, I think the bad start colored my perceptions too much, and I can’t, somehow, get over it. That happened to me with Nice in France years ago. I had no desire to return until a friend decided to celebrate her #@+%£ birthday there, some 20+ years later, and I went and fell utterly in love with it, so I know that sometimes we’re simply in the right place at the wrong time.

Continue reading


8 Comments

Gofio: A tale of Food and History for The Day of the Canaries

I firmly believe that no-one, ever, says, in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast, “Yum, yum. I can’t wait for my musesli this morning.” Although I am told I’m wrong in this.

Museli is something I tolerate, in the absence of a tastier, healthy alternative. However, having inherited a huge jarful, and finances being bleak a while back, I decided it was waste not, want not. Austin had also left a quarter packet of gofio, so I tossed that into the jar and gave it a good shake, also in the interests of waste not, want not. To my surprise, the gofio gave the dour museli that missing kick it needed, the je ne se quoi. I scoffed the lot, without a grimace, inside of a week.

What  is this miraculous stuff, that can transform something which tastes, essentially, like sawdust into a tasty treat? Gofio is best described as a type of flour, made from toasted grains and seeds. A simple bag of it may contain only wheat, or it may contain, these days, up to seven different components, such as barley, rye, chickpeas, maize or different local seeds.

But, more than foodstuff, it is, I’ve been discovering during my wanderings, a link between the islands of this chain, a constant, a comfort, a slice of island history. Local author, Marcos Brito wrote a book about it, “Sabers y Sabores: El Gofio” (Gofio: Wisdom and Flavor)* which reads like an ode to something loved, and which he describes as a tribute to “the men and women who live in harmony with nature.” Gofio is a tangible link to the past, and the story of the working man.

Its exact origin is lost in time, and we can only go as far back as when the conquering Spanish set foot on the islands in the 15th century. In Tenerife, the Conquistadors found  a people, the Guanche, living in caves, mummifying their dead, and living what is generally refered to as “a Stone Age existence.”  There are some variations from island to island. In Fuerteventura, where there were less caves, they created homes by digging holes into the ground and lining them with stone, creating a cave like dwelling. Guanche origins are still uncertain, but it is generally accepted now that they came from the north of Africa, that they were Berber, and possibly that there were different waves of emigration. There remain a lot of unanswered questions, but it has been fairly easy to work out their eating habits, and amongst the evidence of seafood, goat, fruits and even cacti, it is known that they ground seeds into a type of flour, using crude stone handmills.

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

The Guanches used all manner of wild seeds to make gofio. In Fuerteventura they say that the creeping red cosco (mesembryanthemum nodiflorum), which I never see without thinking of “War of the Worlds,” was used, but other versions say this plant was imported after the conquest. As usual here, consensus concerning history isn’t easy to find, but what does seem certain is that the ingredients now mostly commonly used, wheat, maize and barley were brought over by the Conquistadors, and the habit of toasting the grains continued. This was done to preserve the grain, and the custom spread from here to various South American countries with the various waves of Canarian emigration over the years, so that countries like Venezuela and Cuba also have traditional dishes made with toasted-grain flour.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

Continue reading


8 Comments

Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On

“I want to see something new and for it to ‘wow’ me, take my breath away.  I’m ready for that something new.  I’m beyond ready.” Me: sometime last year.

My whole being ached with the need for new experiences, new sights and places.  I may have written them on my Facebook page or profile. I may have written them in an email to a friend, or I may have just typed them out and kept the file, which I found just now,  to remind me. I don’t remember, but I do remember that feeling. I’m guessing that lots of you will have felt it too.

This time last year my life was very pleasant. I was living in El Médano in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, a town that I liked a lot. I was teaching ESL. I had a pleasant social life. I ran on the beach in the morning. I was writing pretty much as much as I am writing now. For the first time in a long time both of my sons had landed jobs they really loved, and were looking forward to exciting things in the months ahead.

I was 66, and my life could have gone on that way forever. But, pleasant as it was, did a lifetime of same old, same old really appeal to me? Of course it didn’t! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been able to travel, if you were born with wanderlust, as so many of us are, then you can never settle down. You actually need to keep moving around, to challenge yourself, both mentally and physically.

I've loved El Médano. I couldn't have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

I’ve loved El Médano. I couldn’t have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

“To Dream the Impossible Dream” Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (or at least lyricist Joe Darion!)

Continue reading


2 Comments

First of New Series: Expat Interviews: Chatting with Travelers: Val

Starting today I’m doing an occasional series of chats with people who choose to live, let’s say – not where they were born. They may be constant travelers, expats, snowbirds or maybe some combination, or even defy a label.

Living abroad, or traveling isn’t that unusual any longer. I’m interested in stories that are a bit different. If they are travelers: the reasons they chose an unconventional lifestyle, what they are learning from it, what they do along the way.  If they are expats: people who have begun a business they would never have dreamed of doing back home, launched themselves into new careers, or into relationships with challenges, or who have faced unexpected problems in their new country.

My friend, Val, falls into the latter category. I’ve known her since 2005 when we worked together. She’d been inviting me to come watch the choir in which she sings perform for, oh, must be a couple of years, but our timing only coincided for the first time last year. I was so impressed with their performance. I knew that Val had had to overcome health problems since living on the island, and it struck me how, despite that, she has carved out her own niche here.

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

I’ve had this post almost done for a while. Since it’s my first “interview” – although I think I like the word chat better – I’ve been editing it and hesitating but earlier today I found out that yesterday Val celebrated 10 years of living on the Canary Island of Tenerife ….. so it seemed like the perfect date to publish!

 

Continue reading


6 Comments

Playing Hooky to Celebrate the Sunshine!

This isn’t the piece I intended to post today. You could say this is spontaneous. Spontaneous is what I did today. Spontaneous is probably the biggest difference between a blog and, say, a magazine article, at least if one’s own blog. Sponteous probably describes my current lifestyle….at least it should do.

1-IMG_5156

I should be better-organized, but a glimpse of sunshine and I felt like a kid on vacation! After sitting at my dining table, which doubles as my desk, for two hours, watching the day brighten outside my window, I couldn’t take it any longer. Afterall, hadn’t I spent hours when I was tied to boring jobs wishing I could be outdoors and longing for the freedom to improvise my life?

So I bundled Trixy into the van and set off, with no plan whatsoever. My direction was dictated only by the need to put gas in the car. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I needed to seize this glorious day.

The sun doesn’t warm the valley until late these winter mornings. It highlights the hillsides, teases through the gaps between the mountains, but doesn’t rise high enough to reach all the nooks until mid-morning. As we left the gas station it seemed that the last chill was evaporating, and the day began to glow.

This post is simply the story of me playing hooky. There is no deep meaning to it. It’s a photo essay of a crystal clear, blue/green day.

Continue reading


11 Comments

A Toast to 2013: Postcards to Myself

I don’t usually go in for rambling, retrospective, year-end posts, mainly because I think the Web groans under the weight of them at this time of year. What I do is this…….a photo roundup of personal memories of my year.

IMG_6906IMG_8776IMG_9980  IMG_1461 IMG_2604 IMG_3344 IMG_0967 IMG_8802IMG_2046 IMG_4419

2013 was a delightful year for me – seeing both my sons enjoying their chosen paths and having some wonderful visits with them; catching up with dear friends, long overdue; memorable times with friends who were geographically closer ; a beginning to the  more nomadic existence I’ve been craving; an acceptable upswing in the amount of travel, compared to recent years….and a quality of travel which still takes my breath away when I think about it.  Key words for the year: spring flowers, cheese, France, Ireland, amazing food adventures, mountains, greenery, London, La Gomera, Asturias.

Continue reading


8 Comments

Winter Weather in the Canary Islands

View from my window Wednesday

View from my window Wednesday

There have been few times over the years that I’ve lived in the Canary Islands that I’ve done what I did Tuesday night – rummage through my belongings to find the flannel, Winnie the Pooh nightshirt that I bought years ago in DisneyWorld, and on waking snuggle deeper under the duvet, enjoying its comfort. It’s really not that chilly. I guess it’s a deep-rooted memory of rain = cold. Growing up in northwest England will do that to you.

Storms are surprisingly rare here, given our location in the North Atlantic. The occasional hurricane bounces back east and clips us, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen thunder and lightening. This past couple of weeks was one of those times.

A major reason that I, like the hurricanes, bounce back here is that you can never take the islands for granted. They will always surprise you. Truth is that, most of the islands have their own mini climate, and monsoon-style rain in one place can be countered by bright sunshine over the other side of an island. Tourists were sunning themselves around hotel pools a few years back, unaware that in Santa Cruz, less than an hour away, folk were losing their lives in flash flooding.

Continue reading


11 Comments

Summertime El Médano

It’s 1976. It’s been a heatwave year. Remarkable in my almost 30 years on this planet. I only remember one other summer, dimly, from my childhood, when it was this hot. It’s the year I learn to water ski. It’s the year I see my first shooting star. It’s a year etched clearly in my memory, because it’s also the year my mom dies. She is only 49 years old. She was my best friend as well as my mom, and the lazy summer which follows her May death is a time for recuperation. All summer I’m not thinking about anything in particular , just drifting. It’s September, early September, and I’m sitting on the end of a jetty on Lake Windermere, (where every, balmy weekend has been spent), with a guy, not a special someone or anything, just a guy who is in the extended group who hang out this summer. It’s dusk, and a light mist is beginning to eke its way across the water.

“Ugh. I hate the end of summer,” he says. He’s tall and blond, something in the surfer-dude mold. He should have been living on a beach. He loves driving his elegant, vintage boat around the Lake. He’s oblivious to the fanasties he stirs in female imaginations.

“Really,” I reply. “I kind of think of Autumn as a new beginning. I don’t mind it, so long as it’s not too wet!”

It was the first time I’d considered mourning the end of summer, but then, there had never been a summer quite like that one, and I guess that’s why the memory of that moment, that conversation sticks in my mind (even though the guy’s name escapes me).

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that seasons don’t exist here. Afterall, this is called “The Land of Eternal Spring,” and there is something in that.  Summer is hotter though. The Canary Islands are in the northern hemisphere, even though they are subtropical. School is out. There are still many folk who take their entire vacation time in August. There are offices which still close early, and it’s difficult to get paperwork done.

When dusk falls, life pretty much moves outdoors. The island is  on almost the same latitude as Orlando, give or take a couple of tenths of a degree, but where summer nights in Florida are hot and humid, summer nights in the Canary Islands are mild and cooled by the breeze – at least outdoors. There is nothing like sitting outside, feeling the breath of evening on your sun-warmed skin, ice clinking in the drink you’re nursing, even feeling a slight shiver as night draws on.

Last night's mojitos set me to musing

Last night’s mojitos set me to musing

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 215 other followers