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


A Little Cockney Warmth on a Cold Day

Chestnut season is approaching here in Tenerife. It’s a time which usually makes me nostalgic, remembering the sellers on the streets of London and Manchester in the England of my youth.

This year, however, my nostalgia is sated, and in all of London’s hustle and bustle I have a lovely memory of Gus, who is acclaimed by non other than Antonio Carluccio as the city’s best chestnut seller!

Gus’s stand was outside the Excel Center during WTM, but on the first two days I was rushing around like everyone else. On the third day I stopped to ask him if he would be there tomorrow – I wanted to take a snap for friends in Tenerife, but my camera was buried deep in my backpack and I didn’t want to mess about looking for it.

“Sure I will,” he said. “I’m here every day. Here, take a bag and you can pay me tomorrow.”

I protested that it wasn’t lack of money which had prompted my question, but he insisted so cheerfully that I accepted, and rushed off to nurse my sore throat. I was disappointed to arrive on Thursday and see he wasn’t there, but, sure enough, when I emerged mid-afternoon there he was on his usual corner.

I reminded him that I owed him money, though he clearly had forgotten, and we bantered for a while. He told me that he sold chestnuts at most big events, including movie premieres at Leicester Square, and that I should Google “The best chestnut seller in London” and I would find him. No Facebook page, but coming! When I bought a second bag of chestnuts, he pressed a third one on me “for my honesty in coming back to pay”……..I wonder how many folk don’t respect his kindness or forget to go back when he gives his goods away?

It was a bleak kind of afternoon, warmed by both his delicious chestnuts and his cheerfulness… only regret is that I didn’t chat for longer – when I checked out that Google link it made me think he would have had a whole host of stories to tell!

For my visit to WTM I stayed in a delightful apartment in Hackney supplied by HomeAwayUK. My thanks to them for making my stay so much better :=)



Of Blue Doors & Butterflies: A Short Stroll in the Countryside

The year is rapidly running out. Stupid, in a way, to move house on the cusp of the festive season, but it’s the way leases work here, and, of course, needs must, the pension being on hold for now I needed to downsize some more. The natural inclination is to get this new apartment straight for the new year, and so there isn’t much to report so far as day to day life goes. It’s unpacking, Christmas shopping and planning (albeit everything will be late this year!), and my other goal is to edit and archive all my photos from the year too. New beginnings – I love ’em!

So, naturally, in the course of sorting the photos there are masses I’ve never used, and I thought I’d do a few photo essays by way of keeping in touch and using the photos. Expect to see more photos next year, but more of intentions and resolutions for 2012 a bit later, at the appropriate time.

For now, this set of photos comes from a short stroll I took with Pilar & Cristina in October, when, as you can see, the chestnuts were still on the trees and not in the braziers! We were visiting Cristina’s sister, (who was about to depart for pastures new on the other side of the world – jealous, not much!) in the woodland just above Icod de los Vinos, and it was one of those cool and clear Autumn days when you wonder at the perfection of the natural world.  In the land around the family home there is an orchard and buildings now abandoned, which I lapped up!

There are very few places on this island where you can’t catch at least a glimpse of the ocean, even here in the pine forest.

In the early days of the island’s conquest by Spain the main crop around here was sugar cane, and you still find remnants.


Of Chestnuts and Childhood

So, I was trotting back to my car late yesterday afternoon, when my nostrils began to twitch.  There, on the warm sub-tropical air wafted an aroma which hurtled me right back to my childhood.

Fall is my favorite time of year. I’ve said that ad nauseam, haven’t I! It’s definitely the only time I ever feel homesick – that is, homesick for England, as opposed to a more or less constant desire to be elsewhere,  anywhere.

In the beginning, I think, I was one of those weird kids who enjoyed school (until the dreaded teen years of course). I always had a great summer break because of where I lived, but by September I looked forward to getting back to chums I didn’t see over the vacation and the smell of newly-varnished desks, the distribution of new books and the games of conkers in the playground.

Ah, conkers…….back to yesterday afternoon.  I was in Puerto de la Cruz, and down by the harbor the chestnut vendors were setting up shop (yep, I know conkers and edible chestnuts are not exactly the same thing, but the memories are all mixed up in my head).  There is nothing like smells, I think, to transport you back in time.  I was suddenly five years old again, sitting cross-legged in front of my grandparents fireplace, feeling the warmth of the jumping flames, and eagerly waiting for the first chestnuts, which were sitting in rows on an iron grate over the fire, to be ready, and me ready to jump backwards if one popped. It was a childhood ritual, like the way the family “did” Santa or my grandmother’s parkin and treacle toffee for Bonfire Night.

Last night I waited, equally patiently. The first castañas were in the brazier, but not quite ready.  I wandered off around the harbor, watched the scene as folk began their evening strolls, and lights flickered on in the surrounding shops, all the while the smell of roasting chestnuts teasing me.

To my shame, it was only about five years ago that I realized that chestnuts even grew on the island.  I was attending an evening course in Puerto de la Cruz, and as we left one night we spied the vendors.  The north is a long way to go for chestnuts, my friends, in case you wonder why it’s been so long.  They simply don’t grow in the south, which accounts for my ignorance. Then, last year I discovered the delights of chestnut honey! Of course, this isn’t that plentiful, the season is short and there aren’t that many trees here, but it was love at first taste! This year, for the first time, I actually saw chestnuts growing in the forest areas of the north of the island.

“Ten minutes,” he’d said.  I’d given him fifteen, because this was, after all, a Tenerife ten minutes. He gave me one to taste and of course I almost burned my mouth in my eagerness.  It was perfect, and the memories tumbled back, not only of those childhood chestnuts but of marrons glacés, which are, without a shadow of doubt, my favorite type of candy….not that I can indulge that much.  They are in short supply here happily.

He carried the container over to the bar and poured the contents into the pot, off to roast more, and I happily handed over my euros for a fragrant, hot paper cone, and some indulgent memories.

Now, I wonder if I have Nana’s recipe for parkin anywhere!


Farewell to August

August has been hot. August is always hot here. The south is now arid and parched, but that thought crosses my mind every year, and it goes without saying that it’s nothing compared to some regions of the world.  It’s only around six months since it rained.  It does tend to make you realize how devastating prolonged droughts are.

On the wee hike up Montaña Roja the other day I met a perfectly nice, young, Russian guy, who lives in London.  He wouldn’t be convinced that the north of the island is a different world, where there are mountains where mists constantly seep through the trees, colorful cities full of colonial history, or lush valleys where bananas and vines cover the landscape.  He preferred his own version of Tenerife, which was the one before him at that moment.

It was a shame I’d deleted these photos from my camera.  I could have shown them to him to prove that just 3 days before I’d been in fragrant pine forests, shivering after sundown, and admiring this season’s crop of chestnuts.  I’m no expert – except on eating them, that is! – but it looked like rich pickings to me.  I adore chestnuts whether freshly roasted from a street vendor, mixed with onions and spices and crammed into a turkey, or the best sweet ever invented marrons glacés!  Yet another reason why Fall is my favorite season!

I wasn’t there for fun.  I was earning a crust, but since, as you guys know, I always have my camera with me, this is what I came up with.

I was just above Las Raices.  I’d driven slowly (because I could and because that’s how my little car likes to drive) through roadsides lined with the sharp scent of eucalyptus, and pine forests smelling evocatively of Christmas.  I’d trundled down a dirt track and emerged in the surrounds of a rural hotel.

Though the trees were green and shady you can see that even here the ground is dry and the grasses withered. The day was as hot as any on the coast.  The hotel was in a clearing.  But when the sun began to dip beyond the tops of the trees the mountain air freshened and a slight chill set in.  It’s the beauty of this climate, none of those choking-hot and humid nights you find in other sub-tropical places.

And the chestnuts, as you can see, are ripening nicely.  It will a while yet, barring some really bad weather, the heat will decline slowly over the next three months or so, until we awake one morning with cold toes and realize it’s time to put the duvet back on the bed.


A Post Mostly About Food – Again!

I don’t know about you, but I am kind of addicted to new beginnings, new ideas, anything new and novel, in fact, hence the penchant for travel, of course, but I also get really excited about discovering a “new” author, a new flavor, a new singer or type of music.  Probably, it’s a sign of immaturity.  I labored for years under the impression it was a bad thing, and that I should work hard, accumulate “stuff”, buy the best I could afford of whatever (cars, houses, clothes etc), kind of take root and grow.  I stifled my natural curiosity and buried it under the novelty of acquisition of material possessions (still novelties, you see).

This is why, following my “discovery” of a local supplier of the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted during the week, I reached heights of ecstasy yesterday when I sampled chestnut honey, because I adore chestnuts, so this marvel combined two flavors which turn me on.  It was like coming home!

Me, there somewhere, buying my chestnut honey!  But more important – just look at the setting!

I’d gone up to El Sauzal, after pulling information belatedly off the internet about a Feria de la Miel at the Casa de la Miel.  I hadn’t seen the information until Saturday afternoon, and Saturday was the main day, with instruction and displays of beekeeping and honey production.  El Sauzal is a good hour’s drive in weekend traffic, so I’d no chance of getting there until Sunday.  I should explain that when I make a new discovery I kind of get obsessed for a while, finding out all about it, until I reach some saturation point or other.  Now, of course, I’ve been eating honey all my life.  It isn’t something new, but I’ve never given too much thought as to how it is collected or produced until the other day.

Here’s some information which will tickle the girls: the queen bee flies high, really high so that only the strongest and fittest males can follow her to mate, and she mates with LOTS of them, because she has thousands of eggs, more than just one or two could fertilize!  Also, at the end of the season, when the flowers are dying and there is less pollen about, the males are kicked out of the hive to bum around until they die, and the whole cycle begins again the following springtime.  The downside is that ONLY the queen gets to mate, so……not much fun unless you’re royalty :=(

Since before records, back when we were in loin-cloth-clad nomads, wandering from place to place as food supply and weather dictated, we’ve been eating honey.  The harvesting of honey is actually shown in pre-historic rock paintings.  Oh, just had a thought, all that sweet stuff and no toothbrushes, I wonder if eating honey was the beginning of tooth decay too?!  Back then, of course, wild bee colonies were plundered, and consequences to the bees weren’t even thought about.  We simply moved on to new supplies.

Even when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and began to settle down and cultivate land, bee keeping was still a tale of annihilation and slaughter, because extracting the honey combs inevitably meant destroying the hive.  The evolution of movable combs was gradual, it seems, but nowadays in most countries these are what are used, so that the comb can be removed without loss of the hive, and the bees can move on to the next frame.

Ever wonder how the beekeepers, or apiarists, don’t get stung to death when removing the combs?  Well, we know they wear  those funny suits and veils which make them look like spacemen, but also the bees are subdued with smoke first.  This alerts them to danger and sends them into a feeding frenzy in preparation for having to abandon the hive, which, in turn calms them down – all that honey.  Clever, eh?

The other product for which we should thank bees, of course, is beeswax, which used to be a word heard on the telly every day once advertising was introduced, since it seemed to be in just about every type of furniture polish back when.  It was originally used for making candles though, which is why you hear so many references historically to monks being apiarists.  It was the wax rather than the honey they were after.  Earlier in the year, I’d visited a fiesta in Chirche, where the lady below was demonstrating the ancient way of making candles from beeswax.

Here the wax is drizzled down the string used as a wick, time and time again, until the candle is thick enough to use, and looks like the ones hanging in the other picture, a time-consuming (and, let’s be honest, boring) process!

Told you I get obsessed so to complete your list of useless facts to pull out at the next boring dinner party, I’ll just say that a sealed pot of honey was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb…..told you it was food of the gods!

Back to the chestnut variety then – it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  The friend with whom I went had the exact opposite reaction to me, and hated it.  Of course, you have to like chestnuts first (OMG now I have my annual craving for marrons glacés – at least we can buy them here these days!), and if you do, you’ll find this honey richer, huskier and a tad less sweet than most, and can only be bought from the producer, Miel de Flores de Tenerife in La Victoria….Tel 922580905.

Lovingly preserved old wine press

La Casa de la Miel is somewhere I’d planned to visit when cloudy, winter days came around.  It is a part of La Casa del Vino in El Sauzal, a small wine museum and information center, based in an old and beautifully restored farmhouse, with the added attraction of breathtaking views over the northern coast of the island.  As well as learning about the old ways of making both wine and honey, you can sample the current offerings (so try to find a friend who doesn’t drink wine to drive, so you can taste!!!).

Samples from every island vineyard

A visit was most definitely a pleasant way to while away a cloudy afternoon.  The restaurant, with terrace taking advantage of that stunning view, has an excellent reputation, for serving traditional, high-quality local cuisine, but sadly we didn’t get to sample it yesterday.

By the time I took this, the clouds and haze were moving in, but if you look closely you can see the curve of the quite spectacular coastline

The other exciting discovery of the week was parma violet ice cream from my favorite, and unhappily too-local, ice cream parlor, Demaestri, just around the corner from my apartment in Plaza Roja.  It tastes just like the little parma violet sweets I used to love when I was little, and it’s subtle and light, and not the least bit guilt-inducing.  The only problem, as I’ve mentioned before is chosing between the best chocolate brownie ever, mango sorbet, passion fruit, fig and cinnamon or the more usual flavors, like English trifle, Ferrero Rocher or strawberry.  And, standing there in agonies of decision-making it occurred to be how great the cinnamon would go with pumpkin pie!  My god I can almost smell it!

In other culinary news, it was great to re-acquaint with Beaujolais Noveau the other night.  A French friend had acquired some, and it slid down most pleasantly along with local and English cheeses (I took Stilton and Wensleydale with Cranberries), and lively conversation.

The warmth of the friendship of that night stood me in good stead the following day, when I discovered that my departure must be delayed.  If I leave in the next 12 months I will lose money, which I can’t afford to do, so Plan B is forming in my brain, now that the disappointment is wearing off.  The very worst thing about leaving a place is the friends you leave behind, and the worst thing about a new place is the lack of friendships with depth.  Making new friends can be easy, but people who know how you feel and think have to be folk who’ve know you for a while.  I’m well aware that there are still a whole lot of places and things to discover about this island, not to mention other islands in the archipelago, so the journey continues, just not picking up the pace yet.