Islandmomma

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


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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.

Almond Blossom El Hierro

I went to a talk about wine pairing (topical because it paired wines with almonds) and that was the subject of my murdered post. I learned nothing new about wine, but a lot about almonds. It was amusing but hardly life changing, but that was it, the year’s first bookmark passed.

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I guess we need our bookmarks to reassure us, that life goes on, that we are till rooted. That we are still here, even.

On this island, after the almond blossom comes Carnival. The main event in Santa Cruz, and the minor ones around the island in the following weeks. Personally, I prefer the smaller ones, they are much more fun that the extravaganza in the capital….as you can see in the faces of the folk below (one of whom is my hairdresser….pity her!) Watching the “big” carnival on tv you gotta wonder sometimes why they bother, so bored or serious the faces are.

Scenes From the Carnival in El Médano This Year

Carnival El Médano

Murgas Carnival El Médano

Carnaval El Médano

Murgas Carnaval El Médano

I have come to realize, now is a kind of dead zone on the island calendar. Of course it is! The foundations of so many festivals are religious, the churches, of course, have cleverly high-jacked pre-Christian ones to help convert. Thus – Carnival – the eating and drinking of anything vaguely hedonistic, packing six weeks of fun into a few days & nights,  before the rigors of Lent. It’s Lent right now, the season of abstinence, and so fun events are thin on the ground. There is no tradition of celebrating at this time of year.

Easter is almost here though, with all its solemnity, which will segue into sunshine and happiness for believers, but at least the fiestas will start up again! It’s possible that nowhere outside Vatican City does the Catholic Church still have such sway with a country’s cultural life.

Easter La Laguna

There are exceptions to the rule (Arona in the south of the island, for instance) but most fiestas and romerias are summer events. Throughout summer and into Fall, each town and village will dust down the statue of its patron/ness and parade it around the streets. Bunting will flutter. Kiosks selling beer and hotdogs will set up around town squares. In any village big enough, the traveling fair will set up. Older women will weep. Children will be bored. Young folk will get drunk. Fireworks will fill the night skies. If the village is on the coast, boats will be decked with bunting. The faithful and the local politicians will crowd on board tighter than sardines and risk their  lives, putting to sea, so that the likeness of the patron can bless the waters ….. as if an ornate piece of plaster can turn back years of overfishing. Inland, the hauntingly bland faces of the statues will survey the rich soils of the north or the barren deserts of the south. People will celebrate arriving again at this, particular, point in the year, will take comfort from the predictability and the familiarity. Tourists will go to some of these, in Los Cristianos or Puerto de la Cruz, and will, on the other hand, find them strange and exotic.

Fiesta decor church in Amparo

La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Gomera, Canary islands

Perhaps it’s because I’m a non-believer (of this version of religion), I find much of this alien, that I never feel totally at home, though everyone is always made thoroughly welcome, so mea culpa. When I go to other festivals, like the wonderful Mueca in Puerto de la Cruz, or El Día de la Trilla in El Tanque, or El Día de las Canarias anywhere in May, I feel much more comfortable and relaxed. Not that there isn’t plenty to do or admire outside of the religious aspect of most festivals – flowers, animals, costumes, music, food and wine.

As we turn back our clocks, as the chestnut trees in the north deliver their goodies, as we scurry from the beach at 4pm instead of 7, and begin to wonder if it might rain, the new wines arrive. Harvested in the heat of late summer, graded and fussed over in early Autumn, the wines are presented and hyped by the vineyards. Reviews are eagerly awaited, and young folk do crazy things to celebrate this increasingly important part of island economy. Once there was a time when Canarian wines were famous all over the world, and island wine makers are working hard these days to recover that fame. Needless to say, as a fan, I love this time of year, especially the traditions in Icod de los Vinos.

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And so to Christmas, which is, by the standards with which I grew up, something of a non-event. Although now commercialized beyond recognition, it remains, basically a festival which resembles Thanksgiving more than Christmas in the rest of the western world. The family gathers on Christmas Eve but there is no exchanging of gifts, making the commercialization a bit of a mystery. Followed by getting drunk on New Year’s Eve and the kids fighting over presents on The Day of the 3 Kings……which means that all that commercialization was directed at kids….. and it’s Almond Blossom Time again.

Perhaps it’s the unaccustomed number of cloudy days, perhaps it’s the tales of corruption and back-handers, which are making me skeptical today. Perhaps tomorrow I will be eagerly researching the times for the Easter Parades (do NOT think Judy Garland!). Or perhaps it’s too long since I salved my itchy feet.


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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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