Islandmomma

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


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Putting down roots

Grafitti El Médano

Beatriz is “my” estate agent. I’ve moved so often within this municipality, gone away, returned, left stuff with her to store, that she knows my tastes and habits better than I do. She knows that when I say “minimum one year” that may run into two or more, or less. What I haven’t said, because she probably wouldn’t believe me, is that I am looking for somewhere truthfully, long-term this time. She opens the door of the apartment. That first glance, absorbing the vibe, is important to me. I am an intuitive renter/purchaser.

If you’d asked the younger me what continents I would have visited by the time I was pushing 70 I would have unhesitatingly answered, “All of them.” I’ve only visited three – so far. Yet for years now, even when I’ve lived in the same place for months on end I haven’t felt settled, nor have I felt the need to feel settled. But something’s changed. After living with most of my stuff in storage or in boxes, for 3 years, I dream of leafing through my books (and not just the ones I keep handy for reference); of experimenting in the kitchen again; of lying down at night in a bed which is actually comfortable, and of enjoying the familiar.

Playa Chica El Médano

I came back to El Médano last July to get the cure for me and for Trixy. She, it turns out, will never really be cured, much of her problems are down, simply to old age. I am more thankful than you can imagine that we took the trip we did last year, shared the greenery of La Gomera, the beaches of Fuerteventura, the ferries rides and everything in between. Trix is without a doubt the best dog of my life, and I owe a placid and happy retirement to her.

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For my part, I am improving at long, long last, and no thanks to the medical treatment. I don’t recommend self diagnosis for anyone, but in the end, that’s what’s made the difference for me. A strategic call to a friend who is a doctor (and who has a great blog about health and travel by the way: www.travelthy.com), years of experience + knowledge acquired from my sports-fanatic sons, and Voilà! I seem, after over a year, to be on the mend. I’d been anticipating an operation, so El Médano made sense. I was still registered with the doctors here, and familiar is best when you’re feeling less than best. It turned out to be a fortuitious move because faced with an emergency last December, treatment was swift and efficient.

Something else. The one thing which made me feel homesick when I was away was remembering my early morning runs along the beaches here. Ironically, there haven’t yet been that any of those on account of the knee. Curiously, I have never, in 28 years, ever really felt homesick for England.

El Cabezo El Médano

Over the last few months in this temporary apartment (arriving here in July I was lucky to find anything at all), between doctor’s consultations, struggling with writer’s block, visits to the vet, not to mention septicemia and respiratory problems, I’ve tried to figure out which road to take next. I unreservedly adore the stimulation of change, but perhaps I need a bolt hole too. Perhaps if I have that, I can concentrate better on the more stimulating stuff! I get more serious and better organized when I am settled. On the road, or being perched for imminent flight, it is far too easy to play my default game – procrastination.

Finally, I have sorted out in my own head the difference between the buzz of travel and that need for a nomadic existence, the urge to keep on moving. I don’t have the latter, at least I only have it up to a certain point, after a few months (usually, it turns out about 8) I become weary. So packing, unpacking, storing, downsizing and then rebuying no longer make sense.

Final word: this has nothing to with “age,” NO WAY do I intend to sit around and vegetate as I see so many folk of my age doing. It’s simply a rethink. I have no idea how it is going to work yet, so it’s a new adventure.

Playa principal El Médano

Next decision is where. La Gomera’s pull has been very strong. I was very happy there last year, and I adored the forests and valleys, the greenness and the magic, but my needs and whims are diverse. England? There is a certain attraction, a happiness in the collective memory, the having no need to explain things at times. There is having entertainment and the telephone company in my native language, but, let’s be honest, I’ve become a wimp when it comes to weather! Other places fulfill different needs. If only there was somewhere which could cater for them all!

End of the day I decide it’s El Médano. Here I can indulge most whims with very little disruption. Forests? An hour away. City? 40 minutes away. Beaches? On my doorstep. Good food? On my doorstep. Friends? Within easy reach. Where my sons feel at home? Here. Airport for emergencies? 10 minutes. Roads to connect to the rest of the island? 5 minutes. Ferries to the other islands? 15 minutes or 40 minutes. Places to run and walk, a doggie beach down the road. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Then there is the instinct. I like El Médano instinctively, without burdening my brain with the logic of it. So, as Beatriz turns the key I wait for the instinct to kick in – or not. Stay tuned!

Ice cream El Médano


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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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On Being a Marathon Mom: A Flying Visit to El Hierro

Really, don’t get excited, when I say “marathon mom,” that’s as in “soccer mom,” not as in a mom who runs marathons (at least not yet but more of that another time!). I’ve shivered on the streets of London, and got soaked in Snowdonia watching Guy run marathons. I’ve also fried watching both my sons run the Half Marathon in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Austin take part in triathlons here in Tenerife. Of course the soaking, and the chilling, and the frying mean nothing, because watching my sons achieve is the very best thing in my life :)

Thus, rising at 6am, being on the road by 6.30 and eating a peanut butter wrap on a misty hillside for breakfast is all a part of the scene. But hang on, this adventure begins before that…….

It’s a while since I was on one of these inter island ferries, eight months to be precise. A year ago, as I crisscrossed the archipelago,  rumbling into the black hole of one of these boats was as normal as taking a train is for many folk. Since last July I’ve been kind of grounded. It’s good to be on the move again.

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The Canary Islands’ Best Kept Secret

There is a part of me, a BIG part, which doesn’t want to write this post. When something is termed a “best kept secret” it usually should stay that way, and that’s exactly how I feel about what I am going to write, but knowing full well that others have written about it, and knowing that it cannot stay a secret forever, here I go.

Apart from some precious family time, a huge highlight of 2014 for me was crossing something of my bucket list.

More than 20 years ago I put my eye to the telescope in the Mirador del Rio, the impressive viewing spot on a mountainside in Lanzarote, created by local architect and hero Cesar Manrique. The Mirador over looks the channel (“rio” or “river”) between that island and the smallest, inhabited Canary Island, La Graciosa. Graciosa captured my imagination immediately, as it lazed alongside its big sister in a turquoise sea. I’ve wanted to go there ever since.

La Graciosa from Lanzarote

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Good Riddance to 2014 and the Lessons Learned

2014: not my favorite year, although I think it may have looked otherwise here. I was happy to hide under the duvet, bedsocked and pyjama’d in my dad’s rather chilly bungalow New Year’s Eve, and wake up to a shiny new year. Not that, hey presto, everything will change, but, you know, it kind of gives you a lift, knowing that it’s a new beginning. I am quite into new beginnings, which is very likely why I move around so much, even when sometimes I stay in the same town. Still, 2014 was instructive, if nothing else. I learned a lot, and one of the keystones of my life is that we should never stop learning!

Lesson One: Back Up Regularly!

This year, for instance, there will be no “postcards from 2014″ post, which is how I’ve marked the end of each blogging year, since, I think, 2008. The reason for this being that my hard drive thoughtlessly died and I just hadn’t backed up that many photos……and yes, it very likely was the Chardonnay what killed it.  I do, at least, back up, but clearly not nearly as much as I should. Huge, huge lesson, especially in regard to photos. Worst is the loss of the personal photos, those moments which will never come around again with family & friends.

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Downtime in Languedoc-Roussillon, France

There are some times travel bloggers don’t want to write about, the personal parts, even in a new and exciting place, we may only post a few photos, or even none at all. We make brief references to family and friends, but want to hold them closer than the written page, which is not criticism of those who write about their family life, it’s just the way we are or they are. Both ways are fine.

This is, however, why, although you may have seen photos scattered over my Facebook page from France a couple of weeks back, there was little detail, same with London, really. This is because these times are very special for me, and I tune out thinking about places in quite the same way as when I am in “writing mode.” However, having now visited Nimes two years running, and loving the region, I feel guilty about saying nothing at all. That said, what I tell you will be very general, the sightseeing was gentle, and accompanied by much talking (the way you do when you have years to catch up on) so loads of details escaped me, and I made no notes, so this is all from memory.

For me this was like the epitome of France : washing co-ordinated to window color!!

For me this was like the epitome of France : washing coordinated to window color!!

As with so many places where I’ve felt good, I left a wee bit of me behind in Languedoc-Roussillon, mainly because dear friends are there, but also because it’s a region with such a fascinating history, for the English as well as for the French. I have a mental list of things to do/places to see in more depth in the future.

On the recommendation of my friends at The Spain Scoop I took the train from Barcelona to Nimes, and it proved a successful decision. Flying from the Canary Islands to Marseille, last year, meant changing in Barcelona, and overnighting on the steely airport benches, which doesn’t especially bother me, but I’d prefer not, if there is a better way, and so I flew to Barcelona and took the train to France. This had the added advantage of being a national flight, and so I had residents’ discount, which made it a cheaper option too. At least, it would have been had I not stayed overnight. It seems that it’s impossible to get to Nimes on the same day one leaves Tenerife.

My accommodation, which I found via Booking.com is worth a mention. I searched for somewhere reasonably priced close to the station, a little hesitantly it has to be said, aware that areas close to train stations are not always that salubrious, but no worries at Barcelona Sants, at least not on the side I stayed in. Barcelona Station, named for its location is an apartment building, and apartments can be rented by the day. It was only a ten minute walk, even with my suitcase and my bad knee, the next morning. Really, it was everything I needed, immaculately clean, with tv, wi-fi and cooking facilities if I’d wanted. Of course, this was Barcelona, so I went for tapas in one of the many nearby bars. It costs around 69 pounds for one night, so shared that would have been excellent value – the solo traveler, as always pays more. Even so, it wasn’t bad for city accommodation, and I note now – they take pets, yay! That’s worth remembering!

The Ave which runs from Barcelona to Paris is the same train I took from Nimes to Paris last year, so now I’ve covered the route, though at different times. The Nimes to Paris bit is much faster, whizzing through the French countryside, panting to be in the City of Lights, but the bit from Barcelona to Nimes is slower, and I was thrilled to catch long glimpses of the Camargue – a place I’ve longed to visit since seeing a documentary about the wildlife years and years ago. It’s an almost surreal landscape, wetlands which are home to flamingos and wild horses, amongst a plethora of other fauna, and my eyes were so glued to the window I forgot to check out the refreshment car, though people were coming back with delicious-smelling coffee from time to time. I had the quickest sighting of flamingos, but lots of egrets and herons (I think – not expert enough to identify so quickly!).

Aigues Mortes

I had a closer look the next day as we drove to the ancient town of Aigues Mortes, which perches on the edge of the Petite Camargue. The amazingly preserved outer walls of this medieval city look forbidding as you approach, but they hide a network of cobbled streets, turned into tourist delights with typical French style. The city-fort has a long and intriguing history; if I mention religious persecution, crusades, economic recession and immigration, you may think plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Add to that soil erosion and reclaiming land and you have today’s world in one, small, walled community. It would be nice to think that the rest of the world, after surviving all of that, might end up as picturesque as Aigues Mortes.

Ginnel in Uzes

Ginnel in Uzes

Former telephone exchange, even this functional building is pretty!

Former telephone exchange, even this functional building is pretty!

Uzes

Uzes

It isn’t, of course, the only fascinating and well-preserved community in this region of France. On other days we visited a marvelous market in Sommieres, a real market, with antiques as well as delicious food, textiles and other goodies; my favorite town of Uzes, whose delightful, cobbled streets I’d glimpsed only covered by the sprawling market on my last visit; and  the twin towns of Beaucaire and Tarascon, sitting on opposite sides of River Rhône, a picturesque ruin of a castle on the Beaucaire side and a fearsome fortress on the Tarascon side, under whose stern walls we enjoyed a delightful lunch in a very ordinary-looking café.

Goat's Cheese parcel

Goat’s Cheese parcel

Soupe de poisson Nothing much more French than this!

Soupe de poisson Nothing much more French than this!

I had to get around to food sooner or later, didn’t I? Aside from the fact that I ate like a queen at my friends’ house, the meals we ate out were, every one, exceptional in comparison to anything similar here at “home.” The restaurant in Tarascon was half-empty, and we feared we might be too late for France’s very constructed eating hours, but no, a three course lunch appeared as if by magic. Every course was prepared with imagination and care, and this was typical of everywhere we went, including tourist places, where one might expect a certain amount of the blasé…..in one case they were closing a few days later as the season ended and winter approached, but still the food and service showed no signs of winding down, except that they had run out of Coca Cola. The French attitude to food remains reverential and respectful.

Simple salad lunch in Nimes, but so beautifully presented

Simple salad lunch in Nimes, but so beautifully presented

Again with the presentation. the menu read something like "Fish of Day with Vegetables", but what arrived was fish in a delightful sauce and a mini tower of veggies .... it's the little things sometimes!

Again with the presentation. the menu read something like “Fish of Day with Vegetables”, but what arrived was fish in a delightful sauce and a mini tower of veggies …. it’s the little things sometimes!

I was based in Nimes for my stay. I’m so lucky to have friends there, but imagine it’s an excellent choice of base for touring this very French countryside, outside of the Camargue, characterized by vineyards and roads lined by arching planes trees. Of course, as in so many places in Europe, the Romans were here, and left much evidence of their 500 year dominance. I remember reading about the amphitheater in Nimes back in French lessons in school, but this was the first time I had the chance to see it up close. It’s impressive to wander along a modern street and come face-to-face with something so, well, old. This was, after all, probably well over a thousand years older than the petroglyphs I’d delighted in touching in La Palma back in June. I take a special delight in places which have such amazing history, and yet are still used today. The amphitheater evolved in the 19th century to become a bullring (although I am assured that the bulls are not killed in France, as in other countries, excepting Spain), and today is also a venue for music concerts and, seemingly oddly, but not when you think about its original use, a setting for rock and heavy metal recordings!  Even older than the famous amphitheater, however, is Maison Carrée, a Roman temple, and one of the best preserved examples of such anywhere in the world.

Roman amphitheater Nimes

Roman amphitheater Nimes

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

Me by the Augustine Gate in Nimes

Me by the Augustine Gate in Nimes

Not hard to see why I need to return to Nimes, is it! Friendships aside, this is an utterly fascinating part of Europe, wild wetlands, Roman history, nougat (and at this time of year marrons glacés!), olives, wine, and oodles of history from other epochs, good roads, excellent rail links, of course the River Rhône and canals, and could probably spend the rest of the morning counting off reasons. What I had was a fascinating taster. My friend, Wendy, is passionate about medieval history, so she was the best guide too, so that what I saw meant more to me that it would otherwise have done, but I have no doubt that next time it will be with notebook and camera in hand!

In finally, for anyone who thinks the French are maybe a tad too sophisticated or serious I present: Atelier de Ours ….. The Teddy Bear Workshop :)

teddy bear shop

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