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


The Soul of Flamenco and Some Cheesy Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Culture

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

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

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

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

The Sport

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

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

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

Scene in the town square just before the start

Waiting for the start

Entering choppy water

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

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

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

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

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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