Islandmomma

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


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In Celebration of El Día de Canarias

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

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

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

El Día de Canarias

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

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

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

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

Tenerife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Of Early Morning Rides, Craft Fairs and Local Foods

The forecast for Sunday was possibility of rain – which usually means for the north of the island – and that was exactly where we were headed.  There was no way it would be really cold, but I pushed my “winter”  (beret – fairly showerproof) hat and my “summer” (straw) hat into my daypack to be on the safe side, and one of those things you don’t know whether to call a scarf or a shawl or a pashmina – just in case, but not neglecting to smear some Factor 15 on my nose either.  What I forgot to do was take or take with me the anti-inflamatory medication for this annoying neck problem…….and that was a huge mistake.  I’ve procrastinated about writing because I know that the neck pain, which intensified to ‘orrible levels during the day, meant that I missed so much.  For one thing, I couldn’t turn my head left nor right to look all around me as I would have liked to, and I didn’t even get out my camera until lunch time, and that only because we had the cutest one-year-old in the world with us!  But it was a day worth recording – as best I can!

The day began well, with a clarity and freshness, which we hadn’t seen in the south for a while.  It seems as if we’ve had this summer clagg around forever.  We were five, plus the baby, so we took two cars.  One took the high road (over the mountains) and one took the low road (the autopista, which snakes along the coast until it climbs as you make a sharpish left turn to head north).  We’d debated which way was quickest, and they turned out to be exactly equal – but the mountain route is by far prettier and more interesting!

It was quieter too.  We barely passed another car until we were dropping down the northern slopes towards the Orotava valley, even in the Parque Naciónal, there was a distinct lack of tourists about, maybe it was the weekend before the mass return to school or maybe it was a bit early in the day at 9.30ish.  Whatever, it was very pleasant to have the roads to ourselves.

Well – the roads, yes, the landscape no.  The Park was swarming with hunters.  I’ve never seen so many vehicles parked up.  The transport of choice for hunters here is a Toyota pickup, almost always with a small cage in back where they carry four or five dogs, and there were plenty of those, plus suvs and vans and other practical vehicles.  I’m not your average anti-hunting type person.  So long as food is being hunted (mostly rabbits here) and it is consumed  and not tortured (e.g. fox hunting in UK) I don’t object.  What I loathe, however, is the way they treat their dogs.  I know they have this in common with hunters in both France (Peter Mayle mentions this in “A Year in Provence”), and the UK – I’ve heard plenty of tales about dogs being shot or abandoned.  Any of the dog rescue centers here will tell you tales about the number of abandoned dogs which are found every year during the season (August to December, Sundays and Thursdays), and it disgusts me.  The other thing I found perturbing was that there should be such an abundance of guns around in the National Park, which is not only a national treasure, but a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Apart from any damage they might do to the landscape, what happens if an innocent hiker gets in their way?

We hadn’t planned to make a stop, but that would have detered me anyway!  So we  cruised across the caldera and exchanged the rugged panorama for the gentler vistas of field and forest on the lusher northern face of the island.

We were headed for a small village named Pinolere, whose name is, these days, synonymous with the annual craft fair which it hosts.  This was more like the traditional village I had expected Tejina to be the previous week, clinging to the hillside, winding streets not really fit for modern transportation and a population of only around 700.  We were arriving only about a half hour after the  fair opened for the day, but already there was a parking problem and a queue for entry.  Now, the parking problem is, simply, inevitable.  The place wasn’t made for modern traffic of any description, let alone the hundreds and hundreds of extra cars which the festival brings……that’s something they may need to address in the future.  The queuing was efficient and good natured – the only sour note?  An enterprising young lady was handing out flyers for a local business, and people, instead of pocketing them or waiting until they found a trash can, were sticking them into the dry stone wall of the exhibition site……. what an insult to a beautiful village, which is trying to highlight the good and the traditional things about the community!

OK – that’s my gripes for the day done with, the litterbugs and the hunters, from here on I have only praise :=)

I wanted to get the real sense of how this tiny shrine was squeezed into the space it occupies between buildings, but there were too many ugly cables in the way.  *Sigh* – I know they are a necessary part of modern life, but such a shame!

Once inside I was amazed by the size of the fair, even from the photographs of previous years I’d seen I hadn’t imagined anything so big, and here’s where I let the neck pain get the better of me.  I didn’t even attempt to estimate how many exhibitors there were, but the range of goods on display was enormous, from wicker baskets to bread, from beautifully crafted knives to wine, and from carved furniture to jewellery,  it was amazing and now I heartily kick myself for not taking any real photos.

Exquisite, traditional wicker items on the stall above (IKEA eat your heart out!)……….if I was nesting instead of shedding I could have spent a small fortune here.  This fair began back in 1985 as a way of maintaining and showcasing crafts local to the village itself.  As their super website points out, back in time the community, at around 800 meters above sea level,  was quite isolated, and they relied on each other and shared tasks in order to survive.  Remember, living in an agricultural community wasn’t only about planting and tending crops or feeding and raising animals, there was much work to be done first in order for those tasks to be done.  There was wood to be collected for firewood, charcoal to be prepared for cooking, and  carving and weaving skills were needed to make furniture, tools and containers, just to name a few.  The site is a permanent ethnographical museum, so I am a bit hazy on what is there permanently and what was just for the day.  There were photographic exhibits showing past life and demonstations of wood carving  and other skills, including thatching, which I’m hoping to go back and linger over before too long.

Since those early days in 1985 the fair has grown and grown.  First it transformed from being just a celebration of the village’s crafts to displaying crafts from all over the island.  Next, it became a showcase for the region, that is the Canary Islands – one of my favorite stalls showed knives which are made exclusively in Gran Canaria, whose handles are stunningly layered with different colored metals.  Favorite because those items really are unique to Gran Canaria, they have never been copied for mass tourism, so far as I know, and because craft fairs like this one will keep the tradition alive.

By 1995 the organizers had realized that the event had transcended being a simple village fair and that the size and scope of future events was going to require very precise and efficient organization, and the Cultural Association of El Día de las Tradiciones Canarias was formed.  It’s their webpage I mentioned above, and to demonstrate their efficiency, today they were on tv, not only to review this weekend’s event, but to promote next year’s.  The theme is decided and the poster designed already.  This I mention because it’s not exactly normal in the Canary Islands to be so forward-looking.  Indeed for those of you who read Spanish, you will see that they state on the site that they are not adverse to promoting newer things, new ways of looking at things, so long as they conform to the ethos of the word “craft.”  Very impressive attitude from some dudes from a little village in the hills.

Because the village is so high up, apparently, they aren’t always blessed with such warm weather for this three-day event, and indeed around mid-afternoon mists began to cap the surroundings hills, but never wandered as far down as Pinolere.  It’s the first weekend in September for anyone who is thinking of coming to the island next year and wants to come look.  There were very few foreign tourists there, although clearly people come from all over Tenerife.

I leave the best to the last ;=)………well, I leave one of my favorite topics to last, anyway, and that’s food.  The stalls showcasing local cheeses, honey, jam, sauces, breads, cakes and wine were almost too much to bear!  We are, in the south, so focused on tourism that we often forget about the riches the islands offer in other ways.  Canarian cheeses win international awards, and in the 2008 World Cheese Awards won no less than five gold medals, amongst a total of fifteen awards, the most prestigious of which was the “Best World Cheese”.  The only problem for this cheese-lover (happily my cholesterol test was two days previously!) was choosing.  The island cheeses come usually in small rounds, and I was worried about their shelf-life, but in the end I couldn’t resist the three for the price of two offer!  Two of them pictured below – one covered with black  pepper and the other with a picante or spicy flavoring something like paprika……eer, the third one is gone already!  It was a new one for me with a taste and texture something like a mature, white cheddar.

You can also see from the photo that I also tracked down another bottle of Tajinaste, much to my delight!!!  Although, I received a message from Colleen today to say that they now have it in a Canarian supermarket chain, together with Lomo and Testamento.  Yay!  I really deplore this, particular chain for lots of reasons, but happy to see that local wineries are, at last, being supported!

I should, at this point, confess that my haul would have been larger, had I not been to a food and wine promotion (yes, again!) in the town square in El Médano the previous evening.   I absolutely forgive you if you now despair of me, and label me a glutton!  From that I came away with fig jam and local honey (and the directions to the finca where it is produced!) plus a flyer from a new, local restaurant.  As usual, the square was heaving with the rich variety of souls who make up this interesting little town.  In addition to the produce stalls, restaurants and bodegas displaying there was local music to aid the digestion :=)

But, back to Sunday, and another foodie note, and one to make you jealous – at lunchtime, because of the baby, we opted not to eat at the huge stall/bar on site, but we got a pass out and went to a local bar where we feasted (to bursting in my case!) on chickpea stew, meat, salad and tripe (yes, tripe, but in a rich, wonderful sauce!), accompanied by fresh bread (all the better to sop up that wonderful sauce) and washed down with red wine and water………..and……..wait for it………all for the vast price of…………€5 a head!

Yeah I think you could call it a gastronomically satisfying weekend, not of the sophisticated variety, but of the fresh, wholesome food variety.  Despite my neck screaming at every bump and turn of the road home (and there are plenty of both!) I think it was well worth it!


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Sunday Strolls

The roads, and especially the autopistas, of Tenerife, like roads the world over,  are a cross between race tracks for the young and senseless and arteries of the island, carrying goods and tourists up and down, but, curiously for such a mecca of tourism, very quiet on Sundays – at least if you are going in the right direction – that would be, for instance, not north to south in summer, when people from the cities head for the beaches of the south, and not south to north when CD Tenerife are playing.  Happily, last Sunday Colleen and I were headed in the right direction at 9.30, from the hot and dusty south to the village of  Tegueste, just a click from La Laguna.

Alerted by a tweet we’d decided to find out what was so special about batatas, or sweet potatoes.  This is a vegetable, which, for me, reaches the heights of ambrosia in the sweet potato pie they make in the southern states of the US, but otherwise, I’ve not been able to get excited about……could it be that Jack Daniels is missing from other recipes???

In any event it was an excuse to do something I’d been meaning to do for a few years and visit Tegueste, which I’d really only passed through before, but which had very much appealed to me.

It turned out to be very much the way I’d remembered and imagined it to be, quiet (at least on a Sunday), almost sleepy, and very pretty.  Sitting outside a small bar close to the church square felt almost like stepping back in time, watching the world awake to a day which was  more “pleasantly warm” than the hot south…….not to mention two cups of coffee for €1.70!!!!!!!!!!! ………I started to write there:  “I’ll give friends in the south time to pick themselves up from the floor,”  but I’m thinking that, actually, would be friends the world over.  Question : can any of you buy a cup of coffee for  85 cents? And not only coffee, but really good coffee??  Still, it would have been a long way to go just to save a couple of euros on cups of coffee alone.

After enjoying our caffeinated and bucolic fix we made our way to the Farmers’ Market where local chef Javier Mora was due to instruct  in innovative uses of the sweet potato.  Mora is chef at a large hotel in the Costa Adeje area, and since, living here, I don’t, actually, know that much about hotels I tried to find out more about him.  Sadly, he shares a name with a Mexican boxer, an Ecuadorian  photographer/mountain climber, a well-known Spanish actor and some people in the technology industry, so I gave up.  He seemed quite impressive and dedicated though.

After short (yay!) speeches from the mayor and market officials he set to work stirring pans from which delicious aromas were drifting, and in true “here is one I made earlier” tradition, samples were passed around.  Nice touch here, the dishes were made from banana leaves fastened together with wooden sticks, which made them about the size of a large egg cup, just perfect for a tasty nibble, and others were made from an ultra thin bark which made them all biodegradable….. 10 out of 10 to whoever was reponsible for that :=)

The mayor tries his hand at cooking – for the cameras at least!

Joking apart, the dishes we tried were both delicious, especially the one with the serrano ham, but I can’t tell you how he described them or what he said, because his patter was lost amidst the chatter and slurping of his gathered fans……….note to anyone who reads this who might know whom to tell — give the man a mike next time!  I really would have like to have heard what he had to say.  This is the first of 12, monthly demonstrations, organized by the island government, and the next one will be in a different municipality, so maybe it will be better luck next time.

There was also a free wine tasting to go with the food, which was a very nice touch – and a good PR move, we both liked the El Lomo, and will definitely buy if we see it on sale in the future.  10 out of 10 to the young man and the young woman on that stall, who were very pleasant too.

The Farmers’ Market itself was quite a surprise for me.  Used to the bustle of the markets in San Isidro (my local one) or Las Chafiras, or the iconic Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa in Santa Cruz, I was surprised at how tranquilo it seemed to be, and also by the fact that it is, essentially, an outdoor market, whilst the southern ones are indoor.  Of course, my northern perception still perfectly in tact, even after all these years, I assumed that markets are covered against inclement weather, but perhaps it’s the hot sun, and not the rain they protect customers from!  Although winters in Tegueste are much fresher than in the south, compared to northern Europe they are mild.  It is also laid out with wide aisles, so it’s easy to get around without bumping into fellow shoppers.

In addition to local produce there was also a variety of other stalls which we don’t find in the Farmers’ Markets down south.  There were a couple of jewellery stalls, with lovely bits and pieces which were quite unique, but my favorite was a kind of “toys of the past” stand, with brightly painted spinning tops and puppets carved from wood and decorated by the stallholder, but there was also a truly original stall with all sorts of things made from recycled materials, again by the stallholder.  I admit to guilt about not buying from  her!  Her ideas were so clever and colorful, and she so deserved encouragement, that it took me all my determination to remind myself that I’m downsizing, not adding to my possessions unnecessarily!  My determination failed on the bakery stall, though, where I gave in to a mushroom quiche, which turned out to be quite out of this world when I had it for supper later that night.  The bakery is named Flor de Azafran, but Google turned up nothing.  I must assume it’s small and in Tegueste or maybe only cooks for the market.  Whatever, if you go to the market make sure to taste something from them!

I couldn’t help thinking that there were probably tourists on the island that day who would have loved to have visited this touch of true, local life and color.  It has so much more to offer that the sweaty, boob-crushing markets of the south.  Sure, they have their place, just as the southern beaches do, but for anyone who maybe woke in a hotel bedroom Sunday morning wishing they’d gone somewhere a bit more adventurous, it was all there waiting, had they only known.

Having set off early, we still had time left to stop off for a stroll around World Heritage Site, La Laguna afterwards, where I achieved another minor ambition and climbed to the top of the tower of  the church of La Concepción, from which the promised view of this beautiful, little city nestled in the hills was not disappointing – well, except for some calima which seems to have been hanging around all summer, so that backgrounds to photos become white-outs.  We’d been warned we might not want to be up there when the bells rang out, but we were, and despite Colleen’s pose in the photo below (which she patiently recreated for me!) it wasn’t that bad, only being on the quarter hour!

I snapped away far too much to be able to put them all in this post.  This place never fails to delight me – this, for instance, is the tourist information office!

So, someday soon I’ll get them all organized, and there will be more, as we came away with information about the walking tours and museum nights we’d been hearing so much about, and, mind you, with criticism as well from me, at least.  The lady in the tourist office was helpful, but there was a woeful lack of information, considering this city is so important to the cultural life of the island, and the desired cultural tourism Tenerife wants.  My local tourism office in El Médano has lots more information about events on the island as well as in the town or municipality themselves.  I am staggered that La Laguna doesn’t do more to promote itself.  Whilst it is an absolute dream of colorfully renovated, historical buildings, there is still work to be done, and surely tourism will help provide the funds?

And just to end on a happy/sad note – I found a shop which was selling some of the wines I’ve been trying this summer, but didn’t want to carry them around with me, so since they didn’t close until 8.30, and it was quite close to where we had parked, I intended to go back to buy a couple of bottles……..and completely forgot!!!  ……. ah well, just another reason to go back!



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Of Wine and Noches de Sansofé

So, it turns out that wine tasting in El Médano is a totally different concept from wine tasting in Los Cristianos!

Apt because I’ve been singing the praises of my “home” town of late, that last night’s Fiesta del Vino here turned out to be as “alternative” as the resort itself!

When I saw the banner at the entrance to the town proclaiming the event, I jumped to the conclusion that an exhibition by a consortium of local wineries was travelling the island, and that this fiesta would be the same as the one in Los Cristianos a few weeks ago. Not so.

Firstly, it was only the Abona and Güimar denominaciónes, the “local” ones, from this windswept and desert-like landscape. Hah, hah my new-found knowledge told me that meant great,white wines. Secondly, the catering was done by local restaurants, which meant no slinging a side of beef on the barbie, but tasty tapas of various sorts. To be honest, most were predictible (shame coming from a restaurant of the quality of El Jable in San Isidro, for one, that they weren’t more inventive – as I found out last week local ingredients can be used in new, delicious ways!), but nice. Thirdly – it was crowded, it was very crowded – it really was elbow room only (and we arrived around 7.30, very early by local standards), and fourthly, there was music – a group of youngsters belting out salsa-ish pop.  Now someone is going to tell me they are a famous, local band, but I didn’t get their name, so I can’t say, sorry.  Very pleasant and party-mood-enhancing though, if a tad limiting on conversation.

Set up on the oceanside edge of the main plaza the event was attracting the usual-for-El Médano, mixed crowd; people straight from the beach, still in pareos and flip flops; the local youth out for the night; people on their way home from work; surfer dudes; the weekend crowd down from the north of the island; some unnervingly cute dogs for some reason, and the odd foreign tourist. Talk about eclectic! Colleen remarked that it had the air of one of those cocktail parties where you don’t know anyone. Mind you, after a while you wouldn’t have been able to find anyone anyway!

The set up was the same, buy the glass and 5 tickets for €5, only you could exchange a ticket for a tapa as well as for wine. The rations, I must say, were more generous than they had been in Los Cristianos too, and we valiently shoved our way through the throng in attempts to track down a wine from the list we picked up at the entrance, but had to give up in some cases. It just wasn’t worth the bruised shins and pokes in the ribs. Los Cristianos had had the air of a wine “tasting” (not that there was any sniffing, swilling and spitting mind!), people seemed to be sampling, discussing and buying the wines. Here in El Médano, it was much more like a fiesta , and if there was anywhere to buy I didn’t spot it.

I sampled one red out of curiosity, and it was very bland. We asked a guy on one of the stalls about why white were more successful in the south and reds in the north, and, as you would imagine, it’s the weather and soil conditions which favor the types of grapes which thrive in the respective conditons. I didn’t sample the Testamento this time (which at €11 was €1 cheaper than before) mainly because it was just too darn crowded at their stand. My favorite of the evening was a sweetish, floral, fruity Vega Las Cañas. One of those wines I could have drunk all night, with or without food, and wouldn’t you know it, looks like it was the one stand where I didn’t pick up a brochure. Prize for the best brochure (partly because it is written not only in Spanish, but also English, French and German) was Bodega Viñaflor, where, by appointment, you can go to taste, so guess where I will be heading the next time I have visitors! The couple at the Viñaflor stand were also the most welcoming, charming and helpful. Just a pity it was so busy or we might have found out more about their wines!

In the end we took our final glass outside, and sat on the steps leading down to the beach, where we could breath the warm night air and watch the passing parade, and not for the first time this Summer, I wondered what I would have been doing at that moment  had I stayed in England all those years ago.  Since I lived in Los Abrigos (which is part of the same municipality as El Médano, Granadilla de Abona) 4 years ago, every Summer I’ve seen events labelled as “Noches de Sansofé”, but have never been able to discover just what that meant.  I’ve trawled the internet, and I’ve asked just about everyone I thought might know, and come up with a blank every time.  The other day I called into the tourist information office (dark glasses and headscraf of course, so no-one would spot me entering!) and the lovely lady who works there told me that it’s a Guanche word.  She didn’t know the meaning, but told me to google “palabras Guanche” to find it.  So I did.

Guanches, by the way, were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island before its conquest by Spain in 1494, and it seems agreed now that they were of Berber origin, reaching the island from the shores of North Africa at some point not documented.  Sansofé appears to mean “you are welcome”.  Welcome nights didn’t sound right, though I understood the context, and consulting the trusty online thesaurus I came up with “Mellow Nights” or “Harmonious Nights”.  I like Mellow Nights best, so that’s how I shall translate it for people next time someone asks.  It’s apt.  The wine, the music, the hum of conversation, and the mild breeze were very mellow-making.

It’s the same with all these Summer events, outdoor cinema, folklore concerts, fiestas de vino, pop or salsa concerts, it’s the real Spirit of Summer, and it leaves me in the same mug-wumping state as Carnaval.  One half of me deplores the early closing of the post office, the way Fridays dissolve into part of the weekend, the way lawyers and civil servants take the entire month of August off.  Surely, this is no way for a community who wants to be successful and attract more tourists/business to the island to behave?  The other half of me applauds that there is a community that places importance on leisure and relaxing, that doesn’t allow itself to stress out the way we do in countries like the UK or the US.

The town is really buzzing. Los Cristianos this summer has an air of waiting about it, waiting for the summer season to begin, waiting for the people who likely aren’t coming? It seems quiet and drab. On the other hand, people appear to be flocking to El Médano. I can’t remember ever seeing it so busy.

After escaping the crush we didn’t have the heart to push back for more tapas, and we headed down the road for some delicious sushi to finish off the night – not very Canarian, no, but quite in keeping with the genuinely diverse vibe in El Médano.


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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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Recalling Boozy Summers

There is a very old and worn joke, which visiting British comedians drag out, about Tenerife being 20,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock – they are talking about ex-pats, by the way, not the locals,  and they make the same joke about Ibiza,  Gibraltar and other appropriately geographic places.  So what I am going to say next might come off sounding like a lush, but the other day I was thinking about how certain drinks remind me of certain years.

I was brought up in an almost teetotal household.  That might have had more to do with lack of money than an abhorrence of alcohol, but my grandmother was a regular worshipper at the local Salvation Army Citadel, and I do remember an incident in my late teens when she allowed me a small glass of sherry one Christmas.  I was kind of chuffed that she considered me old enough to handle it, and I waited in anticipation as she poured her annual glass of advocate for herself, so we could clink glasses and toast the Season.  I had the glass halfway to my lips when the doorbell rang, and I found the glass disappearing from my fingers quicker than you could say “Hallelujah” (who knew Nana could move so quickly?!).  By the time I blinked, she was hiding our glasses  behind the Westminster Chimes clock on the sideboard, to be restored to me as soon as she discovered that the visitor was not a Salvation Army friend, but a neighbour come with Christmas greetings.

So you can see, I might have had a confusing view of alcohol, not aided by taking the pledge at the Salvation Army Sunday School at the age of 10, so that feelings of guilt accompanied every sip for years and years.  Eventually, I think it was curiosity that put me on the slippery road, plus reading the entire works of Ernest Hemingway one summer…..no need to tell you about him……

Is it my imagination that things always happened in the Summertime?  Looking back, there were several Summers I remember by what I was drinking.

In the early 70s I discovered cuba libres one warm Summer of houseboats and wending our lazy way  down canals, with nothing more in mind than chilling out and watching the sunlight play between the branches of the willows as we drifted underneath.   That came to an abrupt end in November of the year, when a party of us visited Mallorca, and I got very, very, very drunk one night. In fact, I think it might have been the first time I’d ever been drunk – so drunk I couldn’t bear the smell of Bacardi for more than thirty years afterwards!

Bacardi takes me to another summer though , those thirty years on, when I broke the non-white-rum habit, that was the year Bacardi Breezers were introduced.  By then, of course, I was living here, and I have pleasant memories of watching sunsets, friendly banter and trying to figure out which flavor I liked best…..it turned out to be watermelon.  There used to be a fabulous series of concerts and events in Los Cristianos called Son Latinos, a week of music and music-related events.  It was held the last weekend of August, so it seemed to mark the end of Summer.  Over the years Jose Feliciano, Manu Chao, Chayanne, members of the Buena Vista Social Club, the Vargas Blues Band, headlined, and the Summer I am thinking of – Maná.  A huge stage was erected on Las Vistas beach, and we sat crossed legged to watch the smaller concerts.  Came the big night, we picnicked on the warm sand  as we watched the concert, and tried to conduct our own survey on which flavour was best. Strangely, I’ve never drunk them since that year.  Winter is red wine for me, so as the season changed so did my habits, and the next summer there was something else.

It might have been the margarita summer, the next one.  That summer I was living where I am living again now, in El Médano, and right on the corner two steps from the beach there was a Mexican restaurant which made the best margaritas you can imagine….. and can you imagine just how delicious and refreshing an ice-cold lemon margarita is when you have been messing about on a hot beach all afternoon?  The next year I moved away, and although I have the odd margarita when I go to a Mexican restaurant, the drink/driving thing kind of curtails the enjoyment, and they seem so messy to make at home.  Anyway, I like to keep the memories of lazing on the beach, cooling down with those frosty drinks and then shuffling, slowly, home.

I passed  two summers in total abstinence, 2006 and 2007, when I was working with the Cruz Roja humanitarian aid emergency response team, and call outs would come at all and any hour of the night or day, as the boats arrived from Africa, and we had to be ready to up and go on two minutes’ notice.  That I found it so easy to refuse a drink,  kind of reassures me that, despite this post, I am not an addict!

Addiction is, in my perception, far more common than statistics prove.  Most people don’t consider themselves addicted.  I once saw an interview with Betty Ford, where she gave her own guideline as being that you are addicted if you need just one drink a day i.e. you don’t need to be stumbling around blind drunk all the time, which is how many of us perceive alcoholics to be.  Truth is alcoholics can quietly pack them away and build up a kind of tolerance, or a way of being which hides their problem.  Anyway, few of us would be giving out many signals of addiction on one drink a day.

When you are young it’s hard to resist peer pressure when so much social life revolves around the pub, in England at least, which is where I was when I was young.  I wasted one entire summer trying to fit in with “the group” by drinking Boddingtons Beer on the lawns of Lake District pubs or the streetside tables of our local.  I never, ever developed a liking for it, and the next summer I’d moved on to gin and tonics – when friends complained about my expensive taste I simply cut down, and tried to stick to ordering it only when it was our round.

There was my kind of “Great Gatsby summer” back in those years too, when we discovered the delights, as well as the snob value, of Pimms.  I learned to make them properly, what’s more, none of the readymade stuff, if you don’t mind.  It seemed like a summer when everyone was elegant and the days were hazy and mellow, we went to York Races on Ladies’ Day, and point to points and country race meets, and played at being toffs……at least that’s the way I saw it.  I am sure that no-one else did.  Probably no-one else in that group had read “The Great Gatsby”.

There came the summer here I discovered bourbon and cola.  There was to be a firework display in town and we gathered with some friends on the beach in eager anticipation.  These days, being more safety conscious, they rope off the beach, but then you could go drag a couple of sunbeds together to watch, and someone plied back and forth to the nearest bar on the promenade to keep the supply of drinks going.  It’s not unusual for firework displays to be late in starting, but for some reason that summer it was exceptionally late……which meant that we drank more than our fair share whilst waiting.  It was the year I’d begun to drink this made-in-heaven combination, and that night I discovered that it didn’t seem to make me drunk.  Of course it did, it couldn’t not have done, but it left me feeling happy and not in the least hungover the next day, and so after much searching I found “my” drink.

Maybe alcohol does feature too much in our daily lives these days.  One of my sons doesn’t drink at all, and the other rarely.  They both prefer the rush they get from fitness to the one they get from booze.  It’s probably wrong that I classify my memories by what I was drinking that year, and my generation, we baby boomers, being the first to be exposed to just so much choice, probably were the beginning of today’s youngsters’ binge drinking.  My social life changed, my status changed, and drink driving laws got tougher (quite rightly, of course), so drink is no longer as “normal”  a part of my daily life.  That’s good for me, but I kind of feel sorry for kids today.  While they are getting blotto every weekend, they are losing their memories too, all that remains from being that sloshed is the hangover, so I’m kind of glad I have the cool memories I do.

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