Islandmomma

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


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Exploring the Surprising History of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“Rule, Britannia,

Britannia rule the waves.

Britons never, never, never

Shall be slaves!”

The stirring words echo tunelessly around the walls of Tenerife’s Military Museum, and I glance around in embarrassment. I can’t help but wonder if someone is going to come thundering out of an office to whisk me away as an enemy collaborator or some such. (The chorus is pretty tame … check out the full lyrics for the arrogance of the time!)

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The captured British flag from the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797

Our group has had a brief tour of the museum as a final stop in the inaugural Living Tenerife Tours excursion around island capital, Santa Cruz, and I have been cajoled into my rendering by our host Jorge Ballesteros, creator of this excellent outing.

Jorge is a fascinating and gracious guide. Insights into those points where Tenerife’s history intersects with that of Great Britain flow like Canarian wine. These links have long-fascinated him, and now, retired from full-time work, he is realizing his dream of creating this excursion, aimed directly at this common history.

But I am already “ahead of myself.” Let’s begin at the beginning. We met with Jorge in the city’s remodelled Plaza de España. Early morning here is my favorite time of day. If I were you, I would arrive early, grab a coffee, watch city life begin to unfold, as the waters of the pool reflect the skyline. If you arrive by car there is ample parking in the car park under the plaza.

Living Tfe Tours luxury travel

When our transport arrived, it was a good indication of how the day was to go. A sleek, Mercedes mini bus drew up, and we clambered happily into the air conditioned comfort, as the day began to warm up. I am a great fan of city walking tours, but to combine the best of both worlds, some walking with retreats into this kind of luxury, complete with a fridge and coffee, was perfect.

The car purred through busy city streets to our first destination. Recent visits to Santa Cruz have revived my curiosity about the period of history this tour covers, so I had been delighted to accept this invitation from Living Tenerife Tours. The city boasts some beautiful, colonial-era architecture, and I’ve been wondering about the people who built and lived in these grand houses, and the gap between what was clearly enormous wealth and the agricultural life, whose history is more familiar to me. I was about to learn the history of one such house, built by an “expat,” one Henry Wolfson.

casa de henry wolfson santa cuz

Wolfson arrived in Tenerife in 1886 on a stopover on his way to South Africa, where, at the age of 29, he was intending to make his fortune. The stopover proved to be his destiny. He stayed, and he made an enormous fortune, investing in the cultivation of tomatoes and potatoes, purchasing land in the south of Tenerife, and establishing The Tenerife Gas & Coke Company. He was a shining example of the type of entrepreneur today associated with tech, and he built a magnificent house on a hillside overlooking the city capital. The impressive building, now almost hidden, unless you are quite close, resembles a castle, with turrets, and an ornate façade. Over time, the house became a hotel, and popular stopover spot for world travellers and visiting merchants. Now it is a private school, and as such we were able to visit the exterior, where Jorge, an old-boy, pointed out features, including the expansive view over the modern city, and regaled us with other interesting facts about the original owner.

iglesia san jorge santa cruz

Jorge kept up the flow of information and pointed out other points of interest as our car glided to our next stop, the pretty Church of St George in the “Plaza de los Patos.” Originally built in the late 19th century as an Anglican church, it was sold to the Catholic Church a little less than 100 years later, as numbers of Anglican faithful declined. Jorge’s description of its history and that of its surroundings was comprehensive, but I am not going to tell you more ….. you will need to take the tour to discover all of that.

canon military museum santa cruz

After a brief stop at Calatrava’s magnificent Auditorium on the seafront, we arrived at the Military Museum and my pitiful rendition of Rule Britannia …. bleeding-heart liberal that I am, yet those words still send a little shiver down my spine. They take me back to a childhood steeped in the sort of chauvinistic version of history that the British education system taught in the 1950s. Horatio Nelson has been a hero of mine from that time, so some years back when I learned that there was an important connection between the Admiral and my chosen home, the island of Tenerife, there was that little thrill again. Sadly for my English teachers the Battle of Santa Cruz was the only defeat in his glorious career. The museum has an extensive exhibit about the battle, including captured, British flags and a model with audio describing how the battle unfolded. We concentrated on this aspect of the museum’s collection, because this was the theme of our jaunt, but I noted that there are plenty of other interesting exhibits. This was the only museum on the island I hadn’t visited before, and I will be returning to explore it fully.

And so we returned to the Plaza de España where Jorge fed us more fascinating, historical tidbits, and we posed for the now-obligatory photo op next to the newest piece of street art next to the pool. Here I have to confess that a sloppy wave of huge affection for my adopted island almost overcame me, but in true stiff upper-lip fashion I took a deep breath and posed for the photo.

I love Santa Cruz

Thanks to Canary PR for allowing me to use their photo, because, of course, I am not in the ones I took!

I loved this tour. History has always been a passion for me, and moving to the Canary Islands, and discovering the things which unite us, rather than things which divide us, has been a delight over the years. Living Tenerife Tours taught me new things, and confirmed my passion ….. and it was about to cater to another – the island’s food and wine.

Santa Cruz skyline

Santa Cruz skyline and harbor

Jorge steered us in the direction of the prestigious Real Casino de Tenerife, which occupies an appropriate position overlooking the Plaza de España on one side, and the Plaza de Candelaria on another. Built in the early 19th century, it isn’t actually a casino, but the type of gentlemen’s club where you might expect to find the likes of James Bond, except that it is very much now for both men and women. Entering, you are immediately struck by two imposing murals by Canarian artists Néstor Martin Fernández and José Aguiar, and I gather that other gems of local art are housed here. We were able to have a brief look around, including a spectacular view over the Plaza de España, where Jorge revealed a little-known fact about the pool below us (No, not going to tell you …. you need to take the tour!).

Plaza de Espana Santa Cruz

Plaza de España

mural tfe real casino

Detail from one of the beautiful murals at the entrance to the Real Casino de Tenerife

Afterwards we were ushered to the library where Jorge outlined his plans and hopes for his new venture, before having lunch in the exclusive restaurant.

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Jorge fills us in on all the details of his plans for this new venture

This was a great privilege, being open only to members and their guests, and it showcased the very best of modern and traditional Canarian cuisine, presented in beautiful style. We feasted on award-winning goat cheese from neighboring Fuerteventura, gofio mixed with honey and almonds, the famous black potatoes with a texture like satin, a fusion dish combining local tuna with seaweed in Japanese style, and, a special treat, cochinillo negro, a breed of pig which dates back to pre-Hispanic times on the islands, but which was in danger of dying out until a big effort was made to revive it in recent years. Other delights were too many to name, and all washed down with perfect Canarian wines. My love for Canarian wines is, I believe, well documented on my social media, so I will just say that I sampled both white and red and both lived up to my high expectations!

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First course – delicious tasters of Canarian Cuisine

Lunch Real Casino Tfe

Another thanks to Canary PR for the photo … I was much too busy enjoying the food and wine to take as many photos as I should have!

So – now for the full disclosure. As you will have gathered already, I was invited on this excellent excursion by Living Tenerife Tours but I promise you, hand on heart, that I was asked only to write my personal impressions – which you have here. I’ve always loved history, and since immigrating these links which bind UK and Tenerife have fascinated me. It’s partly the history of trade, and how it binds us …. hmmm, topical.

The tour I did was designed for six of us, although the bus would have seated more quite comfortably. Jorge’s idea is to tailor-make tours to fit clients, so a party of two, for instance, would have a smaller vehicle. Clients with specific dietary needs will be catered for. That will also be a part of the booking process. There are also tours to La Laguna, Puerto de la Cruz and Orotava planned, all with the same attention to details and respect for personal tastes. Take a look at the Website or Facebook Page for full details, or follow them on Instagram. I am very grateful to both Living Tenerife Tours and Canary PR for inviting me on this trip, which revealed much I didn’t already know about Anglo-Tinerfenian history, and which I will long remember.

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Why Tenerife?

In a country renown for its crazy festivals, on an island known for its love of fiestas, Las Tablas de San Andres is surely one of the wackiest. Don’t let the name fool you – it might take place on St Andrew’s Day, but it’s not at all religious, unlike many of Tenerife’s celebrations, which are based loosely on Catholic philosophy………

That was how I began this post,  back in December. The trouble with being “away” for so long is that you forget “how to do it,” write that is. Oh, not the tapping of keys or the putting together of words, but the train of thought, the remembrance of things said before, even the enthusiasm for a place or an event. I wrote a couple of paragraphs back in December, and then it occurred to me to check what I had written the last time, because I knew I’d written about this festival a few years back, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. When I looked, I realized that I had nothing new to say. I knew that I could say it better now (note to self: tidy up that post!), but the information, my feelings, my reactions were pretty much the same.

The beginning of my blogging hiatus perhaps began with this one in 2015. I was already out of love with the perennial round of fiestas which punctuates island life. My relationship with Tenerife, like a stale marriage, lacked sparkle and curiosity, and even love. Predictably, festivals come around, and I enjoy them, but they have all fudged together in my mind. They follow the traditional paths they have taken for decades, and  I needed variety. I was finding it difficult to raise enough enthusiasm to go, let alone write about them, which is not to say that you shouldn’t go to them, especially if you are here on vacation. The island does fiestas superbly, they are colourful, friendly, fun and a tribute to island heritage.

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Days on Tenerife don’t always end up the way you expect

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In Defense of Hating to Shiver

My friend, Mike Sowden, wrote this marvellous piece in his blog, Fevered Mutterings, last week. A few years back I might have agreed, but, sitting here, blanket wrapped around my shoulders, sneakers and thick socks on my feet, reading it, I can’t help but take issue with him!

Dear Mike,

I’m sorry. I love your writing. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with anything you’ve written before. But … you see, I hate to shiver.

In 40 years of North-of-England weather, and 30 years of sub-tropical living, I have never felt as teeth-chatteringly chilly as I have over the last five weeks or so.

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Island Autumn

I probably wouldn’t be living where I am right now if I was as hooked on Autumn as I think I am. I could choose to live up in the mountains, where chestnuts grow, mists swirl, and the season looks more …… familiar. But I don’t. I live on the coast, not the warmest part, but warm enough to remind me each day that these islands are nicknamed “The Islands of Eternal Spring.”

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Even sand dunes are parched in October, as early-morning swimmers paddle into the ocean.

Autumn here is often marked by a return to greenery, rather than the loss of it in a fiery display of gold and orange. Some time in Autumn the rains come, and days afterwards, as the sun warms the earth again, even the most barren-looking tracts of land turn grassy. Within days, tiny, green shoots flourish like triffids, and the landscape is much  ……..kinder than before.

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A New Base, a Trip and Ensuing Chaos!

………(see previous post) Beatriz turned the key and gut instinct kicked in almost immediately. The apartment was sunny at midday. I don’t do dark very well. It’s top floor (no noises from above – important when you are looking to stay somewhere for a while); there are places nearby for Trixy’s now frequent walks; it’s the right price; it’s a five-minute walk to the ocean; it has the required number of rooms, but no garage, which is a bit of a disappointment, but all else makes up for it. I can see the other downsides, although high enough it almost overlooks the swimming pool, and that will be full of kids all summer. Most apartment blocks in the south of Tenerife have pools, albeit not huge, but all in all the pros outweighed the cons, and I took it.

How many sunrises did Maria witness in her long sojourn on the shore?

A week later I was installed, and a couple of days after that I left for a road trip to Florida. Now I am back, trying hard (in spurts) not to wish I was back in the Florida Keys – colorful, lush, quirky, original.

However, the trip kind of put into perspective why I chose El Médano, despite the pull of La Gomera or even Ireland. It has that same kind of quirky, adventurous feel to it…..or at least, as close as I think I can get, given my need for eternal summer and which countries will actually allow me to spend more than a brief spell there. The town attracts sports enthusiasts, hippies, retirees, arty types in equal number, and whilst it also hangs on to its roots, I can get sushi or homemade gelato or the best pizza ever, as well as gofio and fresh fish and also a pretty darned good mojito. So here, I am – for the foreseeable future.

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren't confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren’t confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

Despite all my theories about setting up a base, it’s been slow work. There has been a lack of enthusiasm. Only a half of me wants to do this, and I need to focus more on the half of me which knows this is the right move for now. Fact is, everywhere and anywhere is a trade-off………perhaps that’s why those of us addicted to travel (however much or little we are able to indulge our cravings) keep on. Perhaps we are looking for the one place which isn’t a trade off, which has it all – our own version of that, because it isn’t the same for everyone. Meantime, if we concentrate on the negative, then that’s all the Universe will reward us with in return, negative vibes. Like everyone I need to seek out the positive.

So, here I go. Carpe Diem. The blog is resurrected. Stay tuned.


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Blooming Easter in Guia de Isora

For years, like many non-natives, I drove straight through Guia de Isora. It’s main street is a part of the main highway from the west of Tenerife to the north, at least until, sometime in the mist of a long-promised future, the autopista circling the island is completed. Guia was just another mile marker along the way; nondescript, modern blocks of shops and apartments; the old folk sitting on the plastic chairs of roadside bars; glimpses of mountains above and ocean below. The town curves busily along the hillside, bland and unremarkable, en route to prettier destinations, Arguayo or Santiago del Teide and points north.

Over time, years, in fact, I got to know the town behind the concrete façade. It was slow, the grasping that this little community is not what it appears to be at a hurried glance. A visit to the high school revealed a vibrant, enquiring environment, far from the sleepy village school I’d imagined. A friend worked temporarily with the town hall on a special project, a documentary, which turned out to be a very professional testament to a facet of island history, capturing its essence whilst there were still folk alive to remember it. And then, of course, there is the MiradasDoc documentary film festival, an event which has been going on every Fall since 2006. Who would have thought – a full-blown international, intellectual festival, full of lively debates and workshops as well as the movies themselves in this quiet backwater? The place is a hotbed of creativity and communal artistic endeavor!

There is a splendid auditorium where the films are shown, and a shiny, modern town hall and civic buildings. Then there is the old heart of the village, which spirals out around the church square, an utter contrast. Doors, walls and windows cheerfully bright, and narrow roads so you can always walk on the shady side of the street.

Come Easter these historic thoroughfares blossom with a distinctive kind of art, dramatic pieces (because what is more dramatic than the Easter story, after all?) made from plants, flowers and natural materials, like wood and moss. According to the town hall it’s the only one of its kind in Spain, though there are other flower festivals, none revolve around the Easter story. It’s ambition and success seems typical of this surprising community.

easter guia de isora

And so, seeking, and finding, escape from the crowds on the beaches, at the passion play of Adeje or the sombre processions in La Laguna, I meandered my way up to Guia on Friday. Previously I’d been on Maundy Thursday, and I expected to meet more tourists this time, but it was as quiet as before, no problems in lingering around a favorite piece or taking snaps without folk photobombing, perhaps because they have extended the length of the exhibit from two days to four this year.

easter in guia de isora

semana santa guia de isora

Although the pieces are designed by prestigious names in this world of floral artistry, unknown to those of us outside the sphere, groups of volunteers and civic staff help in the creation, making it a real community effort. Like the mandala of Buddhism or the flower carpets of the Catholic Corpus Christi, this art is a lesson in life as well as a celebration of beauty and a sharing of ideas. Come Monday it is gone, leaving behind the lesson that nothing lasts long in this world.

This is what I discovered as I ambled around, dodging the hot sun, but cursing the shadows on Friday.

I begin with my two favorites:

The inscription reads: " It has not changed anything, currently people still (sell) themselves out for a few coins."

The inscription reads: ” It has not changed anything, currently people still (sell) themselves out for a few coins.”

I like this for the design, for the beauty and simplicity, and because, try as you might, you can always see yourself in those mirrors. This is a powerful message, which haunted me the rest of the day.

Jordi Abelló is a teacher  at the Catalan School of Floral Art.

Jordi Abelló is a teacher at the Catalan School of Floral Art.

The inscription reads:

“Pain is sometimes necessary to find inner peace in each one.

But if we see life with light and color, it is easier to find.

Inscription on this work by Carlos Curbelo of the Catalan School of Floral Art " Coins of betrayal that ended up scattered on the ground after Judas' betrayal."

Inscription on this work by Carlos Curbelo of the Catalan School of Floral Art ” Coins of betrayal that ended up scattered on the ground after Judas’ betrayal.”

I love the originality of this exhibit.  This was one of the first pieces I saw and it struck me as apt, in a time when Spain is reeling from corruption scandal after corruption scandal. From the king (that is the father of the current king) down, the country is examining its collective conscience.

"While others slept Judas left the group with intent on betray(ing) him for a few gold coins."

“While others slept Judas left the group with intent on betray(ing) him for a few gold coins.”

Third piece with more or less the same message – surely this can’t be a coincidence.

The mount of olives by carlos curbelo

This minimalist piece is by Carlos Curbelo, who is municipal designer and expert from the Catalan School of Floral Art, and was responsible for the larger part of the exhibition. The plaque describes it as inspired by the Mount of Olives, where Jesus went to pray before his arrest.

Another piece by Carlos Curbelo representing, "Flagellation: His first torture was received tied to a column where the scourge tore his skin."

Another piece by Carlos Curbelo representing, “Flagellation: His first torture was received tied to a column where the scourge tore his skin.”

The Resurecction "Why do you look among the dead (for) the living?" Carlo Curbelo

The Resurrection “Why do you look among the dead (for) the living?” Carlo Curbelo

This sombre and effective work is by Ángela Batitsta of Tacoronte in the north of Tenerife. The inscription reads: "The time of Christ death on the cross the sky turned dark there were thunder and lightning announcing that he left us and is no longer among the living, leaving a large gap and shame to those that loved him and bewildered to those that guarded him."

This sombre and effective work is by Ángela Batitsta of Tacaronte in the north of Tenerife. The inscription reads: “The time of Christ death on the cross the sky turned dark there were thunder and lightning announcing that he left us and is no longer among the living, leaving a large gap and shame to those that loved him and bewildered to those that guarded him.”

I had intended to correct the English (old habits die hard!), but typing out these inscriptions now, I find the mistakes kind of charming, so I’m leaving them alone.

"During the via crucis Veronica tended to Christ a veil to wipe away the sweat and blood. On the clothing redemptive factions were miraculously printed."  This work by Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“During the via crucis Veronica tended to Christ a veil to wipe away the sweat and blood. On the clothing redemptive factions were miraculously printed.” This work by Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

"In heaven the angels announced Jesus´victory over death."

“In heaven the angels announced Jesus´victory over death.”

This was the only one with which I had a problem. Were those really chicken wings?

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By Carlos Curbelo: " A crown of thorny branches surrounded his head, reflecting a mockery which became a glory."

By Carlos Curbelo: ” A crown of thorny branches surrounded his head, reflecting a mockery which became a glory.”

Lovely translation there.

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This was the prettiest, though I know it's not about the pretty. Tribute to the brotherhoods of pentients who parade during Holy Week by Carlos Curbelo

This was the prettiest, though I know it’s not about the pretty. Tribute to the brotherhoods of penitents who parade during Holy Week by Carlos Curbelo

Hole by Carlos Curbeo  "A broken heart at the end of the cross harbours the hope of resurrection."

Hole by Carlos Curbeo
“A broken heart at the end of the cross harbours the hope of resurrection.”

Carlos Curbelo has a brilliant translator who conveys the meaning as well as the words.

Ecce Homo by local artist Hugo Pitti. "His clothes were distributed by lot (dicing), scourged and crowned with thorns, by giving a fishing rod as a joke because they said that he itself was said 'King of the Jews.'

Ecce Homo by local artist Hugo Pitti.
“His clothes were distributed by lot (dicing), scourged and crowned with thorns, by giving a fishing rod as a joke because they said that he itself was said ‘King of the Jews.’

"The repentant tears dried Christ's feet with her long, messy locks. With so much love Jesus forgive her sins and left her free from the 7 devils that tormented her to the astonishment of all present." Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“The repentant tears dried Christ’s feet with her long, messy locks. With so much love Jesus forgive her sins and left her free from the 7 devils that tormented her to the astonishment of all present.” Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The temple by Zona Verde, who, I believe are the gardening contractors to the municipality. " A temple of prayer became a market. Jesus ejected the merchants from the temple."

The temple by Zona Verde, who, I believe are the gardening contractors to the municipality. ” A temple of prayer became a market. Jesus ejected the merchants from the temple.”

Sitting now, writing this and editing the photos, it occurs to me that, although not Christian, I “get” the messages of Easter, and these works of art made me dwell on them far more than, well, other Easter manifestations I’ve attended in the past.


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Almond Blossom Time Is Over: A Slightly Cynical Look at Tenerife Island Festivals

This post began, a couple of weeks back, in a totally different form. Technology killed it. I clicked something I shouldn’t have, and three-quarters of what I’d written was lost in the ether of cyberspace. I had no heart to try to recall lost words. Its time was past.

All of which set me thinking about how we tell time by the revolving customs as well as the seasons.

 

almond blossom el hierro

As soon as the Kings have hiked on back to Fairyland, I begin to think about almond blossom.  The first ones were spotted this year very early in January, and I missed my usual jaunt over to Santiago del Teide to see them , so I was surprised and happy to spot on orchard in El Hierro, still groaning with blossoms.

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