Some time after 9/11 CNN’s Aaron Brown, who was anchor that unforgettable morning, was interviewed about how he’d coped, watching from the roof of the CNN building as the towers fell , knowing he had to keep on talking to keep the world informed. One of the things he said in that interview was that, although he had lived in New York for some years, it was on that day that he truly felt like a New Yorker. That notion stuck with me. I kind of know how he felt. I’ve lived on Tenerife on and off for a tad over 25 years now, but only the last couple of weeks have I realized just how deep my connections are.
There have been fires before, but never a year like this one. This year has been like a “perfect storm” for fires – a countryside which is tinder-dry from two years with insufficient rains, a summer of heatwave after unforgiving heatwave, and a topography which often makes fighting the fires almost impossible. The western islands are steep and riven by dramatic fissures called barrancos, often too steep for fire-fighting equipment to access. This is one reason why some fires are brought under control so much more quickly than others. Those barrancos sometimes act like wind tunnels, channeling the draft to fan fires, creating what they call the chimney effect. Fire travels faster uphill, with all that implies.
Now summer ekes out its days. We’ll be lucky if there is rain before October. It’s an indication, in fact, of how at home I feel that I say that as a matter of fact, without giving a thought to the alternative climate which was my norm in England for so many years. So far fires have scorched La Palma, Tenerife and La Gomera. The devastation in La Gomera is utterly tragic, both in terms of what people are suffering and what has been lost environmentally. It’s still early to have firm statistics on the destruction, but the talk is that around 50 homes were destroyed, and many folk, in this time of financial crisis, had no insurance cover. Countless more, of course, have been damaged.
Whilst there are numerous personal tragedies, and even more knock-on effects for businesses, the irreparable effect is the loss of forests which have survived for millions of years, and are one of the last surviving examples of humid, subtropical forest in a Europe which was once covered in such woodland. That this is sounding each day more and more like arson is something I can’t get my head around. There are crimes I can understand, though obviously don’t approve of, but arson of this type isn’t one of them. For me it defies logic. I can’t even begin to understand what drives anyone to do this. I can understand the reasons for some evil-doings, even if I don’t condone them. I can understand what might drive someone to kill or steal, but what on earth makes someone want to do this?
There was a time when I knew, more or less, only the south west coast, where all the resorts are. My days were filled with motherly concerns and wifely duties and a fair amount of nonsense, and although I’d marveled at the mighty Teide, and shopped in some of the inland villages of the south, barbecued in the mountains and swam constantly in the ocean I didn’t feel the pull in the same way I do now. That came later, after the day-to-day preoccupations of motherhood had eased, and the wifely concerns had disappeared, and, in all honesty, I found myself fairly broke (that’s somewhat of a joke, because I had so much more then than I now do, however…) my life became open to the alternatives around me, because there were no funds for travel, and so I played “what if…..” What if I were seeing this place for the first time, what if I were eating this food for the first time, what new experiences can I find in this place?
That was something over two years ago, and what I found were traditions, landscapes, food, wines, music and culture I’d known little about in the preceding years. As an ex-pat it’s petty easy to live like a tourist, in fact. I didn’t think was doing that, but evidently I was, perhaps not to the degree that some do, but nevertheless I’d built my own comfort zone, a kind of halfway house between the culture of my birth and the culture in which I was living. It would be wrong to say that I no longer do that. I was born English and I’m proud of being British, and I lived in that culture for far too many years to lose or want to lose the ties I have, but this, my second home, and the emotions it arouses in me are pretty strong right now. I grieve for the land and the folk who have lost precious possessions; I rejoice that no lives were lost; I admire and respect those involved in any way in containing and helping to extinguish the fires; and I am intensely angry at those who might have provoked them. In other words, I feel like a part of this community.
It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and even longer since I updated with any up-to-date content. This hot summer has been tiring, the calima has affected me for the first time (slight respiratory problems) and perhaps I have become a little jaded. Perhaps that’s inevitable for someone with wanderlust. I’ve found myself turning down opportunities to revisit fiestas, markets and events which I was lapping up a couple of years back. Sorry to say, I’ve been feeling “been there, done that”, which is not to say that these happenings are in any way not enjoyable if you are the sort of person who likes stability, or that they aren’t marvelous if you’re experiencing them for the first time. I’ve admired the mindset that plans for a carnival or a fiesta, that is reassured by the date coming around again, and just maybe somewhere in my future there is that feeling, but it’s not a part of my make-up right now . I have plans churning in my mind and perhaps I have been thinking more about them than about the present, and that’s always a mistake. One misses so much that way, and I’m afraid I may have done that this summer.
I looked up Aaron Brown on the web the other day. He doesn’t live in New York any longer. I will never, ever stop wanting to see and experience new places, and perhaps I might move on sooner rather than later, but there is no doubt that Tenerife has a very secure hold on my heart.