Islandmomma

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


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When Home Isn’t Quite the Right Word: The Seeds of my Wanderlust

The pilot warns us to buckle up because we are on final approach, and I glance out of the window. This view, this is why I bagged a window seat. Ascending from the ripples of the Atlantic, swathed around its midriff by a drift of white clouds is Tenerife. My island. My home. From its core rises El Teide, darkly against ocean and clouds, guarding its terrain, chiding me for my absence.

I have to wonder sometimes why I roam. This island fulfils so many of my needs, not all, but then, I’ve come to the conclusion that nowhere ever can; or at least that my chances of finding my personal Shangri-La are diminishing with time. Yet the need to roam is in my blood, because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel this way. Another month and my feet will itch again. I know it.

Wanderlust fulfilled in the 70s in the South of France

Wanderlust fulfilled in the 70s in the South of France

I’ve tried to trace my longing back. Is it something I acquired or something with which I was born? I’m inclined to think the latter. There was a time when I blamed television. We got our first television set in 1953 for two reasons. One: Blackpool Football Club was playing in the FA Cup Final and Two: Queen Elizabeth ll’s Coronation was in June. That June I was six and a half years old, and long after the fun of dressing up as a princess, pretending to ride in a golden carriage had worn off, another image was still imprinted on my brain, a picture of a huge, snow-covered mountain towering into the blue heavens, and I wanted to see it in real life. The Coronation coincided with the first summit of Everest, and my imagination was on fire.

Over the next few years television fuelled the fire, Cisco Kid galloping free across the US west, David Attenborough in search of dragons, Flipper apparently happily surfing the warm waters of Florida, the team from Sea Quest exploring the ocean, Armand and Michaela Dennis getting up close with the exotic animals of Africa. I acted out scenes and invented more amongst the long grasses of the half of my granddad’s market garden that he didn’t cultivate. I think I ran just a little bit wild.

First coin in the fountain in 1967

First coin in the fountain in 1967

Third coin tossed to the gods of Trevi in 2004

Third coin tossed to the gods of Trevi in 2004

Not only TV but books egged me on Anne of Green Gables called me to Canada, the Swiss Family Robinson to live on a desert island in a tree house (still a dream that one!), Little Women hinted at life in the US (and left me with an undying curiosity about the American Civil War). At one point I decided to become a missionary, and have no doubt that had more to do with wanting to see Africa than any deep religious convictions; at another time, by contrast and inspired by our annual visit to Blackpool Tower Circus, I decided to run away and join a travelling show –the gypsy lifestyle had lots of appeal.

Dream come true carriage ride in Rome in 1967

Dream come true carriage ride in Rome in 1967

Into my teen years I watched TV and movies as much for the locations as for the plots or stars. In my mind I traveled to Paris and Rome with Audrey Hepburn, to the mountains of Austria with Julie Andrews, to Russia with Omar Sharif and to just about every state in the US. When my first chance to step onto foreign soil came I was ready.

Me and my several petticoats on the left

Me and my several petticoats on the left

That opportunity came by way of a school exchange to Solingen in the north of Germany. My parents must have scrimped and saved to let me go, and there was no money for a new suitcase, so I traveled with a heavy, old, brown leather one, which had been my dad’s. Strapped to the outside was my tennis racket. This girl was going to seize every opportunity that presented itself on this trip, and wasn’t going to miss a game of tennis because she didn’t have a racket! A little under an hour into the journey I realized my folly as I struggled over the bridge which connected platforms on Preston station, but happily this was back in the day when gentlemen still came to the rescue of a girl in distress, and it happened again as I plodded along the platform of a Tube station to change stations for the Dover train and the exotic. The time in Germany passed in a swirl of new tastes, scents, customs and sights. Travel was everything I dreamed it would be, despite turning green apparently (I have that on good authority and I certainly felt it!) on the Ostend ferry, and feeling gauche in my layered petticoats (all the rage in England, but not so much in Germany).

Solo to Germany at 18 and rocking the Jackie Kennedy look

Solo to Germany at 18 and rocking the Jackie Kennedy look

When it came to my first solo trip at 18 I was more than ready, I’d already lived it in my head over and over again. I was just on the cusp of when we used to “dress” to travel, so I bought a Jackie Kennedy hat and a neat suit, and thought I was the bee’s knees. I also missed my first opportunity to get bumped to first class because the flight was overbooked, and I was offered a flight to Cologne instead of Düsseldorf to where I was booked. What was I thinking???’

Emigrating came naturally to me. I read blogs about the pitfalls and the angsting and I don’t get it. It was simply long, long-term travel. Something I’ve learned about myself of late though it this. I am not a nomad. I can travel for months without feeling homesick, but there comes a point when I crave the familiar. I’m not sure that homesick is the right word, it’s a need for tranquillity and for people, rather than for place, but one has to store ones possession somewhere, and so I come back to the Canary Islands, and when I see the mountain rising from the seas it feels something like home.

The ultimate dream come true, riding the Orient Express which remains one of my best travel memories

The ultimate dream come true, riding the Orient Express which remains one of my best travel memories

Travel has changed one heck of a lot in the intervening years, even in the years since I became an “expat.” Now we dress for comfort, travel like sardines, at least on short haul and if we can’t afford better. I’ve stayed in five star hotels and grotty hostels. I’ve traveled light and I’ve traveled with the “kitchen sink.” I have yet to do a long boat trip, but I’ve done a couple in small Cessna. I’ve traveled with my family, with friends and solo. I’ve seen so much more of the world than my mom ever did, but already my sons have been to places I still yearn to see. Eating lunch in a sunny square in France the other day with a dear friend, one with whom I’d shared that first trip years ago, we mused about how we’d seen ourselves evolving back then. Would we have predicted how this moment in time would find us – both expats, and her journey having been even more exotic than mine? I realized then that the journey will never be done. There are so very many places still to see, experiences to share, tales to tell. I still haven’t seen Everest for a start.

The Orient Express took us to Venice. A never-to-be-forgotten trip.

The Orient Express took us to Venice. A never-to-be-forgotten trip 


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Things I Learned from My Islands Trip: No.3 My Need to be Near the Ocean!

 

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.

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Home for Now

The morning air is utterly neutral on my skin. Those Atlantic breezes do their thing overnight, and bring down temperatures, so we don’t suffer the way, say, Florida does (Orlando is on almost the same latitude as Tenerife).

Outside the main door of the apartment block the delivery guys are sitting on the low wall that surrounds the grassed, center part of the walkway, waiting for the supermarket to open its back doors for their deliveries. They chat quietly and smoke. Soda cans and plastic bottles have been tossed onto the grass overnight, and, mysteriously, yoghurt cartons and a handful of curtain rings.

This is a barrio, a ‘hood – even in a town so small there are divisions. It’s the sort of place where people hang out of their ground floor windows and chat with friends on the street. Sometimes I’ve passed one of these conversations on my way out to walk Trixy, and it’s still going on when we return.

Conversation is a serious business around here. Already in the couple of weeks I’ve lived here I’ve hurried to the window thinking a big argument was taking place outside, but it was only the delivery men flirting with the supermarket girls, or women hanging around outside the hairdressers a little way down to smoke their cigarettes.

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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

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“Another Fork Stuck in the Road” (apologies to Greenday)

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s maybe been the longest between posts ever, I’m not sure. Not for want of trying, though, but my internet situation here in La Palma has been nigh impossible. Hence some decisions are being made. A change of plan is in the works, and that, possibly, because even travel can become predictable. Or simply, to quote one of my favorite songs, “to everything there is a season.”

It’s perhaps coincidence or it maybe a “thing” with me, but the last time I roamed off, at around the 8-month mark I became as restless with the travel as I had with the previous lack of it. As at the beginning of July, it’s been just a tad over 10 months on this trip, but I began to feel restless towards the end of May.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Perhaps if La Palma appealed to me more things would be different, but we got off to a bad start, the island and I, and although I have discovered some beautiful places, interesting stories and eaten some good (if not great) meals, since my last post, I think the bad start colored my perceptions too much, and I can’t, somehow, get over it. That happened to me with Nice in France years ago. I had no desire to return until a friend decided to celebrate her #@+%£ birthday there, some 20+ years later, and I went and fell utterly in love with it, so I know that sometimes we’re simply in the right place at the wrong time.

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Gofio: A tale of Food and History for The Day of the Canaries

I firmly believe that no-one, ever, says, in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast, “Yum, yum. I can’t wait for my musesli this morning.” Although I am told I’m wrong in this.

Museli is something I tolerate, in the absence of a tastier, healthy alternative. However, having inherited a huge jarful, and finances being bleak a while back, I decided it was waste not, want not. Austin had also left a quarter packet of gofio, so I tossed that into the jar and gave it a good shake, also in the interests of waste not, want not. To my surprise, the gofio gave the dour museli that missing kick it needed, the je ne se quoi. I scoffed the lot, without a grimace, inside of a week.

What  is this miraculous stuff, that can transform something which tastes, essentially, like sawdust into a tasty treat? Gofio is best described as a type of flour, made from toasted grains and seeds. A simple bag of it may contain only wheat, or it may contain, these days, up to seven different components, such as barley, rye, chickpeas, maize or different local seeds.

But, more than foodstuff, it is, I’ve been discovering during my wanderings, a link between the islands of this chain, a constant, a comfort, a slice of island history. Local author, Marcos Brito wrote a book about it, “Sabers y Sabores: El Gofio” (Gofio: Wisdom and Flavor)* which reads like an ode to something loved, and which he describes as a tribute to “the men and women who live in harmony with nature.” Gofio is a tangible link to the past, and the story of the working man.

Its exact origin is lost in time, and we can only go as far back as when the conquering Spanish set foot on the islands in the 15th century. In Tenerife, the Conquistadors found  a people, the Guanche, living in caves, mummifying their dead, and living what is generally refered to as “a Stone Age existence.”  There are some variations from island to island. In Fuerteventura, where there were less caves, they created homes by digging holes into the ground and lining them with stone, creating a cave like dwelling. Guanche origins are still uncertain, but it is generally accepted now that they came from the north of Africa, that they were Berber, and possibly that there were different waves of emigration. There remain a lot of unanswered questions, but it has been fairly easy to work out their eating habits, and amongst the evidence of seafood, goat, fruits and even cacti, it is known that they ground seeds into a type of flour, using crude stone handmills.

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

The Guanches used all manner of wild seeds to make gofio. In Fuerteventura they say that the creeping red cosco (mesembryanthemum nodiflorum), which I never see without thinking of “War of the Worlds,” was used, but other versions say this plant was imported after the conquest. As usual here, consensus concerning history isn’t easy to find, but what does seem certain is that the ingredients now mostly commonly used, wheat, maize and barley were brought over by the Conquistadors, and the habit of toasting the grains continued. This was done to preserve the grain, and the custom spread from here to various South American countries with the various waves of Canarian emigration over the years, so that countries like Venezuela and Cuba also have traditional dishes made with toasted-grain flour.

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Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

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