I’ve been to quite a few shindigs since I moved to the Canary Islands and I don’t think two have ever been quite the same. The most bizarre was a barbecue in a museum in Puerto de la Cruz which was enjoyable in a surreal way, but my favourites are those held by my friend, Jo in Garajonay National Park on La Gomera.
I like these Gomeran parties in the hills partly because there are absolutely no pretensions connected with them and also because they’re very community oriented. Most of the food and drink has been made or distilled by someone present. That factor lends a quality that you would never find in a suburban Abigail’s Party affair.
The one I attended recently was a good example. The day started off with a sort of casual planning session over breakfast as we came round from a bout of ‘catching up’ with each other over a few glasses of vino the night before. Jo had very kindly given up her room to Andy and I whilst she shared the guest bedroom with Sri Lankan Sarah (visiting from Doncaster). Honorary northerner Keith (visiting from Exeter) was consigned to the second spare room which also happened to be the pantry where all the booze was stored, so no great hardship for him there.
The party was due to start at 3pm and throughout the day preparations came together in a slow casual manner between a series of outfit changes from the women present that would rival an episode of Sex and the City (one for breakfast, one for cleaning and cooking, one for a post cleaning beer and then one for the party itself). I’ve learnt from past soirées that the smartest plan of action is to offer to do something creative in the kitchen. As Jo’s cooker is an antique specimen with hobs that have a mind of their own and hardly produce enough heat to barbecue a fly, it keeps me out of the road and away from cleaning duties for most of the day.
The ‘something creative’ was to make a couple of trays of empanadas (little cresent shaped pies), spicing up the usual tuna, tomato, onion ingredients with a mix of spices, a splash of soy sauce and a few other ingredients from Jo’s kitchen cupboard as Taj Mahal provided a mellow soundtrack whilst the others bustled about prettying up the terrace and themselves (all except Keith…on both counts). To be honest when you’ve got a terrace overlooking an unspoilt valley, it doesn’t really need a lot of prettying up. The views distract from anything else.
After the empanadas were out of the road Andy got creative with some Serrano ham and olives whilst Sarah and I set up a production line to make mini two-cheeses montaditos topped with olives and sun dried tomatoes and then a bowl of tumaca (tomato, garlic, olive oil, pepper mixture for spreading on hit bread) to complement the Serrano that hadn’t been artistically arranged by Andy. A couple of shop bought tortillas and a mountain of fresh crusty bread finished off our contribution.
After that it was time for a beer as other guests began to arrive adding their own contributions including Berliners (little doughnuts with jam), home brewed red and white wines; a huge and quaffable carton of cider (also home brewed) that seemed bottomless, cumin flavoured cheese, guacamole, couscous and intriguing hibiscus flowers soaked in syrup which are supposed to be added to cava (they look pretty, but actually spoil the crispness of cava).
From then on it was just a matter of mingling, chatting with a load of interesting people and sampling each person’s goodies as the afternoon turned to evening, then night, then early morning. There’s no talk about who’s got the biggest house or the flashiest car. Material posessions that aren’t functional aren’t important on the edge of the rainforest. The only rivalry evident is related to who has made the most potent home brew and the only bullshit about is where it belongs…in the fields.
In the end not a lot happens at these parties. We eat, we drink, we chat, we laugh and we feel wonderfully relaxed. But most of all for a short time we feel part of a tiny close-knit community in a remote valley on a little island near Africa. And that alone is something very special.