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


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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Burial of the Sardine – One of Spain’s weird festivals!

OK, so I implied a few posts back that I was a bit jaded on the subject of Carnaval.  Sunday’s parade in Los Cristianos had been impressive, and I enjoyed it, but there isn’t that tingle of excitement there any more for me.  Monday, however, was a whole other kettle of fish (***sorry about that***)!

In all the years of living here I’d never been to the Burial of the Sardine before,  maybe because the following day was a school day, and by the time the kids were older the shine had worn off.  So perhaps I enjoyed Monday so much because it was a novelty, or perhaps it was because it was more spontaneous and fun and more informal than the big parade.

Spain is known for its weird and wonderful ways of celebrating certain events, and often there is only the flimsiest idea of how some of these traditions began.  The Burial of the Sardine is no exception.  Why would a bunch of perfectly straight, often macho, guys dress up in fishnets, high heels and widow’s weeds, and parade themselves through town, bewailing (and take the “wailing” part of that literally!) the “death” of a giant, papier mache fish?

This year’s sardine, attended by a couple of “widows”.

So far as I can make out, putting together the different stories so that they make sense, this is what I came up with.  First off, you have to know that Carnaval represents the last blow out before Lent begins.  Lent being the 40 day period when Christians used to forgo meat.  These days it’s generally beer or chocolate people give up, if anything, but back when, they used to become pescatarian until Easter.  Tradition was that a side of pork was buried symbolically marking the beginning of Lent.  So, one year not on record, probably in the 18th Century in Madrid, due to the heat and the fact that Madrid is a fair distance from the coast, sardines which had been taken by the crowds attending the burial of the pork for their lunch, began to go very off, and had to be buried, before the stink got to be too much!

Twilight and the Fish prepares for the journey to meet its fate.

Fast forward a hundred years or so and a group of merry-making Madrileños decide to re-enact the Burial of the Sardines……. and the rest is history, these days it is tradition all over Spain to mark the end of Carnaval by burying a mock sardine.  That’s about as much as I knew Monday evening when I met my friends outside the Cultural Center of Los Cristianos.

The funeral procession was schedule to begin at 8, but when I arrived there were just a few curious tourists, and the odd “widow” hanging around.  I figured someone had forgotten about changing to daylight saving the day before, because clearly this was going to be  more fun in the dark.  Then again, remember, we are on “island time” here. As people began to turn up, it was clear that the fancy dress was more fun than professional – mostly guys, mostly wearing stockings and mini skirts and wigs, and each one funnier than the last, and many with what I will just describe as false phallic symbols!

Tradition has it that these “widows” dress in black with a touch of red, but some I guess were recycling last year’s carnaval costumes.  Miss Piggy, as you can see above, was attired in her traditional pink, and what you can’t see in this photo is the “thing” which dangled between her legs and touched the floor!  The guy below in glam mode looks as if he has borrowed his girlfriend’s dance costume …. nice contrast  with his hairy chest.

As darkness began to descend, the procession, headed by a “priest,” set off.  I thought that the “priest” was to give last rites to the sardine, but apparently he is also to “pardon” the sins of the masses committed during Carnaval…..and you can believe that  they are plenty!  Following the priest, a vehicle draped in red and black blared not so much the salsaof Carnaval, as disco music,  more wake than funeral.  Some maneuvering to get the giant fish onto the street and we were off, dodging between some very puzzled tourists as we tried to follow and take snaps, and stopping to buy beers en route.

We stayed with the fish, and it wasn’t long before a long gap appeared between the dance music and the “hearse”.  This was due to the frequent and loud mourning wails of the accompanying windows, who also lay in front of the catafalque from time to time waving their legs in the air, to the astonishment of the already bemused onlookers, and also due in no small measure to constant stops to hand out booze to soften their pain.  Basically, if you can lower your natural reserve enough to imagine being the midst of a bunch of seriously good-natured drunks intent on being really, really silly, that’s how it was.  It was a pain that I had a 20 minute drive home which meant I couldn’t drink that much, but it was fun to have a ringside seat!

It felt much more like being a part of the local community than simply standing, watching and admiring the Sunday Parade.  People often say that local carnavals don’t compare with Santa Cruz, claiming that they are staged largely for tourists, which is partly true, and there isn’t a problem with that, as I’ve said about different things before, we need the tourist euros, but Monday was just a real, let-your-hair-down, anything-goes occasion.  Of course, from the religious angle, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent were long-gone, but the spirit was still here!

Eventually, steering of the hearse having gotten much more erratic along the route through the main street of town, as the “widows” became more intoxicated, the merry cortege arrived at the beach, where an area had been set aside for the funeral pyre.  The quantity of tourists lining the promenade surprised me, because not too many had followed the procession, but they watched as the sardine was maneuvered into position in the center of the area, and, under the watchful eye of the Protección Civil, the last rites were pronounced, in the form of a good dousing with something  inflammable to provoke combustion when the torch was applied.  Suddenly flames burst from the sardine’s back, and I felt a bit sad that his jolly presence was soon going to give a whole new meaning to my idea of grilled sardines!

Once established that the fire was under control, the “widows” were allowed their final farewells, dancing around the fire, wailing and a last salute of waving legs.  It wasn’t long before all that remained was the skeleton……..and sins were forgiven, fasting became order of the day, and Carnaval was over for another year.


Where I go to Carnival afterall

The good thing about the Los Cristianos Carnaval not being on Shrove Tuesday (as it should be to really qualify being described as a carnaval) is that it’s later and so the weather is invariably good. So it was yesterday, warm and sunny but not too hot. Perfect! And an opportunity to practice photography which is hard to pass up if you really have nothing better to do. Well, I did, but I went anyway – hang the ironing and the filing!

Of course, the Sunday Parade is the tip of the iceberg. There has been much singing and dancing and judging going on, so that the participants and winners can display their talents in the parade, and much sewing and painting and rehearsing too, not to mention designing some of the fabulous costumes you will see in the photos to follow. Designers, once recovered from this year´s efforts will already be dreaming up ideas for next year, as you can imagine. The details on some of these are ingenious and just breathtaking!

Murgas are musical groups, who perform what are best described as satirical songs, usually aimed at local or national politicians or events which are asking for some criticism, much like the comics of Comedy Central, really, well, the same kind of targets anyway. Their costumes are often very outlandish, other times just amusing, and there is a category for children’s groups too.

For me the group above really represent the spirit of Carnaval – they were having so much fun it was catching! But most people think of the Queen and her Ladies of Honor, and those fantastic costumes when they think of this fiesta. This year’s costumes were stunning. So glad I wasn’t a judge! There is an infant queen too, but she was having running repairs to her headgear at the time she passed by our spot, so I didn’t get a snap! The first picture is the Queen of the Carnival, and others of the runners-up.

The other image which sticks is of the comparsas, the dance troupes in their sexy outfits…..who all deserved medals for tripping along the streets of town in their high heels yesterday!

And some people are here just for the fun!

And other people just seem to find it a chore, mind you, this group was well towards the end of the Parade, so they’d been waiting around for some time by the time I snapped them……and they had a long way to go. It all slows down as you get nearer to the end, because the beginning becomes gridlocked as people get to the end of the route, and peel off in different directions.

These guys looked as if they could have gone on walking and clowning around all night though!

As the last float passed we walked up with the stragglers towards the fairground and that gridlock. This guy jumped onto the rail of his float and serenaded the crowd with “Chicharrero de Corazón”, the anthem of the carnival goers.

“Chicharrero, chicharrero,
chicharrero de corazón.
Salta a la calle y dale al tambor
que el carnaval ya empezó.”

which means, more or less:

“Chicharrero, chicharrero,
chicharrero of my heart.
Pour into the streets and pick up the drum,
the carnival has already started”

A Chicharrero/a is a local word for a native of Tenerife, and for sure at Carnival time you kind of wish that’s what you were.  I don’t take back what I said before, nothing will be the same as actually taking part, but this year the town did itself proud, and the fun was infectious!  We headed off for hot dogs and beer, and churros and chocolate …….. and I’m pleased to report they were so enjoyable I don’t feel in the least bit guilty today!


Carnaval : Is it Better Late or Never?

It’s Lent now.  Carnavals the world over are done and dusted.  Costumes are stored away, and the Lenten fasting has begun (Carnaval is supposed the time to be  using up  the fats and goodies before Lent).  Or has it?

Not in Los Cristianos it hasn’t.  The fun only began a few days back.  The travelling fair, of course, was way too busy up in Santa Cruz, at the Carnaval described by some as second only to Rio de Janeiro’s, to have been here for Shrove Tuesday, but last weekend it began to arrive, and the town was buzzing with preparations.

The truth is that many people, having exhausted themselves up in Santa Cruz over the weeks of the “real” carnaval, can’t be bothered with the local one.  I’ve been told frequently over the years that this Carnaval is just for the tourists and the children.  It certainly seems to be smaller than it used to be.  They changed the route some years back, so that the procession is now over with more quickly, and doesn’t weave through the heart of town, which detracts from it somehow.

I had to go to Los Cristianos a couple of times during the week (It’s a place I do my best to avoid these days. My favorite way to describe it is to say that it sold its soul. To compare how it was when I first arrived and how it is now is a whole other post), so it was a quick dash, because the parking is nigh impossible when the fair’s in town, and the car parks are prohibitively expensive for my financial situation. Even so, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

Fairgrounds, even when they are in the course of being erected, fascinate me. They are so full of color.  To be sure it’s the screams and laughter, and the smell of hotdogs and churros which complete the picture, but with a sky so clear and a mountain backdrop like this, the vibrancy is there even at this stage.

The fair takes over a large site on the edge of town, which one day will be built on, and where it will go after that heaven only knows.  You have to wonder if the day of the travelling fair is past, as towns expand, and these vacant lots and spaces are gobbled up by developments.  It takes days to get everything up and running.  You can see the difference between the first photo and the next, two, which were taken about 3 days apart, from the second floor of an apartment/commercial complex.  Given that the festivities go on into the wee, small hours for the best part of a week, I can’t begin to imagine how residents sleep at night.

Around the corner kiosks were arriving and lining up in the street, which is closed to traffic for the duration.

“Duck” shoots and candy floss, baked potatoes, bars and bingo will echo and waft their ways through the night as the celebrations gather momentum.  At the end of the street is a stage, where bands will salsa for the nightly verbenas, and folk can dance off the beer and wine.  This Carnaval isn’t so much about dressing up as the bigger ones in the north, but it will not lack merriment.  A few yards further on, outside the Cultural Center, is another stage, where the Queen of the Carnaval will be chosen. If you’re here on vacation, for sure, you won’t be disappointed. Despite it being in this tourist resort, it is still very much a local event, and not aimed directly at foreigners. It’s authentic.

As you can see from the picture on the left, there are other residential blocks cheek by jowl with what is really an outdoor disco. I imagine that the only way to deal with it if you live so close is to join in!

Me, I haven’t bother too much with Carnaval for a long time now. I wrote about why here. It is, basically, that after that experience nothing can top it. You have to know when something’s time is past because going back can be very disappointing. Still, that was as a participant, and standing on the sidelines as a spectator could never cut it, but in my “new incarnation” (**tongue in cheek there**, people) as a blogger maybe I will see things from a different perspective, and so inshall’ah I shall be standing on the sidelines tomorrow for the big parade…….and I can’t help wondering what photos from the top of this would look like!