Sometimes on Tenerife there are exquisite moments of surrealistic wonder that you couldn’t make up and having a piss-up in a museum fits snugly into that category.
Okay it wasn’t exactly a piss-up, it was a Christmassy get together, but the difference may have been lost on the visitors who wandered into the eclectically wonderful Casa Iriarte Naval Museum in Puerto de la Cruz on Thursday.
After a zillion rescheduled promises to meet for lunch with our former neighbour Tony, we managed to get it together for our annual Christmas soiree in the courtyard and entrance to the museum.
For anyone who doesn’t know Casa Iriarte, it’s much more than simply a museum; it’s also a magnet for free spirits – a sort of Hogwarts for the artistically inclined. Apart from us, Tony and his long time friend Chris there were also a sculptor/painter, a spiritual masseuse and a yogi practicing web designer.
We sat around a table under the auspicious gaze of a Guanche in skins standing guard at a mock cave entrance on one side and a Swiss gas meter on the other (told you it was eclectic) whilst Alan, the sculptor, kept the wine flowing.
Casa Iriarte is situated in a prime location in the old part of Puerto; there’s a supermarket a few steps away, bars all around (it’s a hive of activity at 3am on a Saturday morning) and best of all it’s almost directly opposite Puerto’s Indian club which provided lunch.
After a couple of glasses of vino, we wandered over to the Indian club to collect lunch which was waiting in three big clay pots. If you’re a curry lover, the smell inside the club is enough to drive you delirious and by the time I carried one of the pots back to Casa Iriarte, the saliva was almost running down my chin with anticipation.
Amongst the goodies was enough rice to feed a small army, a tower of golden parathas, a chicken curry, a cauliflower and potato curry and a bowl of green sauce which looked like mojo verde but tasted like someone had shoved a red hot poker into your mouth and then held your gums firmly clamped shut so that you couldn’t remove it. Coming from an Indian social club, this was the real McCoy and the best Indian food we’d tasted in years.
As we tucked in and outrageous tales were swapped as the wine flowed I noticed a couple of visitors come into the museum. At first they strolled in confidently, expecting to find a bog standard museum. But once inside I watched their confidence ebb away as they were confronted by a table of chattering miscreants, one of whom, Alan, was shouting out an endless stream of stories about his life with the tone and volume of a parade ground Sergeant Major.
It was clear that they didn’t know whether they’d wandered into a museum, bar or Indian restaurant. For a few moments they didn’t seem to know how to react. I mean what would you do if you wandered into a museum and found yourself in the middle of a party? Well, if you’re British the answer is to behave exactly the way you normally behave in a museum. So, as we carried on eating and drinking, they strolled around us looking with concerted interest everywhere except at the group of people in the middle of the courtyard. It was deliciously surreal and I just knew that they’d work their way back around to the entrance to make their escape as quickly as etiquette dictated without appearing too rude.
This must have happened three or four times during lunch and each visitor to the museum was completely ignored by Tony (he operates an honesty system for collecting entrance fees; a bowl for coins which on that day happened to be swimming with water).
It was a wonderful afternoon. Time spent in Casa Iriarte is always interesting; we don’t visit nearly enough and during the afternoon Alan told us how he’d come to meet Tony. The story describes the ambience of the place perfectly.
Just inside the entrance to the museum is what looks like a bamboo bar. Alan had spotted this and not surprisingly assumed it was a bar, especially as the cleaning lady had just placed a load of empty beer cans on it. He wandered inside and ordered a cerveza. The cleaning lady laughed and pointed out that he was actually in a museum at which point Tony’s voice boomed from the balcony above the courtyard:
“When a man needs a beer, he should be given a beer!”
Now, that’s my type of museum.