Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age

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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.

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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!)

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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!


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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Never Rule Out the Tourist Stuff

The crunching sound you hear is me – eating my hat, as in “I’ll eat my hat if I ever step foot inside ******* (insert appropriate name) because it’s only for tourists.

This week I did that twice – in the same day, and, guess what – fun and giggles all day! One of the negative things about having a blog is that everything is viewed as fodder. “Hmmm what can I write about this?” “Will so-and-so mind if I use this embarrassing but charming picture of her/him?” “Do I need to take an extra lens?” and, most importantly, “Is there wi-fi here?”  Whilst I love doing it (NO reason to do so if I don’t!) it becomes, at some point, a kind of responsibility rather than pure enjoyment.

Is there Wi-Fi here?

Is there Wi-Fi here?

I don’t write about tourist stuff, at least not the promoted stuff. That’s because a) I tend to stay away from busy and over-hyped places and b) Scads have already been written about these places, and I never intended this blog to be a “Guide to the Islands” more a personal memoir of places, people and events. There are several excellent blogs and pages about Tenerife, for instance, which I listed on my links page.

Soooooo…….  for a day out with the girls last Friday, to two very touristic places,  I was there to enjoy, and didn’t have any intentions of writing anything. In fact, I took hardly any photos. Most of the ones on this post were taken by my friend, Colleen.

Exploring a mini jungle?

Exploring a mini jungle?

That said, I feel moved to say “Never rule out the tourist stuff!”

Our day began not too early, 9.30 to be exact. Driving south to the much busier north we missed the Santa Cruz/La Laguna rush hour (although on TF5 – the autopista which links Santa Cruz with places north folk weren’t so lucky) .

Tip number one:  Be early or be late to miss the gridlock around the cities.

We arrived at our brunch destination, El Monasterio in the Orotava Valley with perfect timing around 10.30. It opens at 10, so, you know. not so early they’re not properly organized, but not so late that it’s full.

El Monasterio is a bit of a curiosity. The original building was, as you probably guessed, a monastery, which was acquired and renovated by the present owners in the early 1990s. Additions have been made, but very much in keeping with the look and ambience of the historical part of the complex. Their website doesn’t do them any favors and there isn’t enough information around the place describing its history for me (ack ….. I have to be so picky!), but its atmosphere is delightful, even on a busy day (and the previous  time I was there was a Sunday and busy!). Friday, having been chosen very deliberately, was quiet.

Tip number two: Friday is a good day for personal excursions. It’s changeover day for both Russians and Brits (probably other nationalities too, but those form the bulk of excusion-istas) which means less buses on the roads, less crowds at the eateries and places where the excursion buses and jeep safaris stop.

El Monasterio serves brunch in one of its four restaurants, El Mirador. Mirador means a vantage point or viewing platform (doesn’t sound nearly as nice in English, does it?) What that means is that, as we ate, a huge swathe of the Orotava Valley, down to the blue Atlantic, lay before us. It’s a much-vaunted fact that Alexander von Humboldt heaped high praise on a this landscape during his stop on the island en route to the Americas in the late 18th century, and back then they didn’t come any more traveled than he! I would give a fair amount to be able to travel back in time to see the view as it was then, minus the hundreds of buildings which now inhabit its hillsides. Even with them, it’s spectacular. Add to this white cane furniture and crisp, check cloths and you have a feeling of the elegance of the 30s.

Colleen, Linda and Val and that amazing view

Colleen, Linda and Val and that amazing view

El Mon

The brunch menu is limited but good, and has an unusual star – the bread basket! In the best tradition of monasteries as self-sufficient complexes the restaurant serves its own bread, which you can also buy in their shop (if this is beginning to sound a bit like a theme park, well, you’re not far wrong). There is variety, something for everyone I think, so long as you can tolerate gluten! The rest of the food, including a glass of cava (and how better to start a day out?) is nice, not to rave over, but, you know, nice.

This has to be entitled, "Will that be one egg or two, ma'am" or "How fresh can lunch be?"

This has to be entitled, “Will that be one egg or two, ma’am” or “How fresh can lunch be?”

Afterwards you amble off your indulgence around the sloping grounds which are a mixture of farmyard and gardens, and where peacocks and chickens stalk your progress. Actually, even before our stroll on Friday, a bold fowl strutted into the restaurant and went around the tables begging. I had seen this before, when I lunched in the restaurant in the central patio (luscious sausages and meats btw), but never in El Mirador. Quite what the EU inspectors would make of it I don’t know, but it’s fun, and I presume that they use countless eggs for those brunches so they aren’t there just for entertainment.

Not what you expect to find roosting in your trees!

Not what you expect to find roosting in your trees!

Can you stand the cuteness???

Can you stand the cuteness???

There is a section of the grounds closed off by a small, wooden gate, where ducks (Muscovy, Mallard and Pekin to the best of my knowledge – which is not very vast), ponies and other animals run around….something like a petting zoo, except you can’t get near enough to pet the ponies, and right now the ducks and chickens all have young, so they are not exactly….er…..friendly!

See what I mean?!

Full of brunchy goodness, trunk stashed with a mile-long loaf (which they kindly divided into 3 for us, honestly it was that big, and I still wasn’t thinking of taking snaps really!) and wine, we departed for Pueblo Chico, about five minutes away. The place we found efficiently, the parking was another matter.

Tip Number Three: Always question the signs – they are put up by folk who already know where they are and how they got there, who don’t stop to realize that others don’t!

Next month will mark 26 years of living on this island for me, and all this time I have resisted visiting Pueblo Chico. I think my kids may have had a school trip once, so I saw myself as being spared the traipse around a miniature village – I mean, didn’t they disappear some time in the Swinging 60s? With all the bounty of this island I wondered why I would want to visit a manmade kiddies’ attraction?

Well, as you can see from the snaps below……many thanks, Colleen!…….wrong!  Hence the hat eating. It’s a tribute to Tenerife and other Canary Islands in miniature. It’s been there a long time now, and is showing its age a bit. It could do with a lick of paint or just a good clean up, but it was loads of fun! It made me feel like a kid again, in the same way Disney does (and I am a HUGE Disney World fan!) I wasn’t so much taken with the miniatures themselves (but that’s just me) as with the odd fun things, like those mirrors which make you look stretched out or like a Telly Tubby – hmmm……ok, so that wasn’t the mirror, that was just me :( , or the giant chair so that when you sit in it you look shrunken.








I’d already gotten that Alice in Wonderland feeling from the enormous plants around the place. It’s a feeling I first had when I visited the Botanical Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz years ago. Remember how Alice drank the bottle which shrank her? That’s how it sometimes feels when you walk through a garden here, composed of plants you used to keep on the window sill back in UK! And then how about all the lizards who whipped in and out of “houses” and rocks…..if they were to scale they would definitely have been Gozilla!


So, of course, now I am feeling that I deprived my kids of this silly/happy experience when they were little!

To top off the day, Val knew a  restaurant which is almost opposite to Pueblo Chico, named Tito’s Bodegita, one of those marvelous old properties with courtyards which have been turned into clever nooks for eating. Not so much with the tourists here, it was early for dinner, late for lunch, and the other tables seemed to be occupied by locals. It was the sort of place you want to wander around and ask questions about, but they were busy preparing for a wedding reception, and, wow, but what a gorgeous place to do that! After the large brunch we weren’t exactly starving but we managed to force down a plate of their special chicken (secret recipe, darn it!).


You guys know I often say that Tenerife never ceases to amaze me, and I might say that even more of this wee excursion. It was almost pure tourism and a very lazy day, but really was a barrel of laughs……for which, of course, my gratitude goes to the lovely company I had….thanks, girls!


The Floral and Sand Carpets of La Orotava, Tenerife

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

Front of Orotava's distinguished town hall

Front of Orotava’s distinguished town hall

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


Crates of petals wait to be used

Crates of petals wait to be used

Crates of petals and grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from balcony of Town Hall La Orotava


Street outside town hall Orotava

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

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

flower carpet la orotava




flower carpets la orotava

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

floral carpets la orotava


floral carpets la orotava

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

frame for flower carpets la orotava

flower carpets Corpus Christi la Orotava

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

la orotava corpus christi


street decor corpus christi la orotava

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




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

street decor corpus chrisit la orotava



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

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


What this Agnostic learned from Corpus Christi in South Tenerife

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

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


Flower carpet Arona

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

floral carpet corpus christi

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

floral carpet corpus chrisit arona

corpus christi Arona Tenerife

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

Narrow streets and floral carpets Arona

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

sand carpet arona corpus christi

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

Team who made floral carpet arona corpus christi

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

Arona casco alfombra corpus christi

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

church arona corpus chrisit

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

Arona Town Hall

Old Buildings church by church sq Arona

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

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

flower carpet arona corpus christi

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



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