Archive for February, 2009

¿No se puede hablar español? ỊSi, pero a veces yo creo que no puedo entender Canario!

Sometimes it has to be said we can be a bit late off the starting block. Although we’ve been paying national insurance stamps for years, we’ve never actually had anything back in return. By this I mean reduced prescriptions, or reduced travel etc.

It’s our own fault; to get these involves a few more hurdles which, in true ‘mañana’ fashion, we’ve never gotten around to vaulting.

The other day we decided to take the bull by the horns and apply for a ‘tarjeta sanitaria’ (national health card) and, as Andy tackled the Correos, I headed to the health centre in Puerto de la Cruz armed with every document issued to me in the last 40 years (I’m not sure that the Duke of Edinburgh award was going to be helpful, but I thought that a certificate showing that, amongst other things, I was a marksman might come in handy…just in case anybody really pissed me off).

The first surprise was that the reception was almost completely empty. I began to think that maybe it was my lucky day, but as I approached the counter and asked the receptionist if I was in the right place, he told me that that a new centre had opened in a different part of Puerto de la Cruz and I’d have to go there. Or at least that’s my take on what he said. What he actually said was:

“Blah, Blah centro nuevo blah blah blah La Dehesas blah blah blah. Blah blah llegando blah blah arriba blah blah…entiende?”

Actually that’s not 100% accurate, because there are far more consonants in blah blah than this guy used. I don’t know if he was practising ventriloquism or something cos I swear, his mouth didn’t move a muscle.

My Spanish is nowhere near as good as it should be; I’m only too painfully aware of that. On the other hand how can anyone understand people who don’t P-R-O-N-O-U-N-C-E their words? I know I’m going to struggle with the old guys up in the hills, but I sort of expect someone whose job is to man an information desk to maybe speak a bit clearer.

If someone dropped you in the Gorbals in Glasgow, the chances are that you would find it difficult to understand some of the locals – but that wouldn’t mean you couldn’t speak English. Same can apply here. I was reading on a forum recently about a guy who had a Spanish girlfriend from Malaga who struggled to understand some Tinerfeños.

There are signs in some government buildings which say that if you don’t speak Spanish you should bring an interpreter. I’ve always believed that it was aimed at the punters…maybe I was mistaken.

With the rains affecting the election of the Carnaval Queen, the postponement of the opening parade till Sunday evening was a godsend, giving us time to regroup and re-energise slightly before going back into Puerto de la Cruz to battle for a prime spot to watch the opening parade. Every year we’ve tried different areas, but have never really quite got it right. The lighting is usually too dim – it’s commendable that street lighting is dim on Tenerife in an attempt to cut down on light pollution, but it does make photography, unless you’ve got super-dooper equipment, difficult. Then there’s the ubiquitous little Canarian woman who turns up at the last minute and we let her shuffle in front of us because she’s hobbit sized and not going to spoil the view; only to find that two minutes later she spots her Shrek sized family, overfed on gofio until they’re big enough to blot out the sun, and shouts them over to join her, completely blocking any view we had.

Youd never know it was a winters night

You'd never know it was a winter's night

So finding the perfect spot can take a bit of planning. On Sunday we decided to try the Ranilla district. The streets are narrow there which has two plus points. They’re not wide enough for any doe-eyed old Canarian woman to squeeze in front of you and it means that the dancers in the parade are right beside you – good for close ups with an ordinary flash.

Surprisingly, the streets in the Ranilla district weren’t that busy and we were able to find a good spot easily and sat on the pavement’s edge to await the parade (our legs not able to support us for too long after the demands of the previous night).

In what must have been a first for Carnaval, the parade actually started on time. Actually it was about twenty minutes late, but on Tenerife that’s akin to being seriously punctual. Maybe it was because the parade had been postponed and some of the groups had commitments at other Carnavals around the island, but there weren’t as many flamboyant dance groups as in previous years (See Photo of the Day #3). That’s not to say it wasn’t great fun. The Canarian abuela (granny) next to us howled with laughter at some of the costumes – the biggest shrieks came when someone carrying a huge inflatable penis and testicles passed. They might not like spice in their food here, but they don’t mind it served up in other ways.

It only took just over an hour for the exotically dressed troupes of dancers (the kids’ ones being escorted by proud beaming mums) and floats with the Carnaval Queens – infant, adult and third age – to pass by and despite the theme this year being ‘Africa – Land of Tribes’, and many groups having a tribal theme to their dress, there wasn’t much of the ‘blacked up’ black and white minstrel element that I’d been expecting. No doubt that’ll be saved for the High Heels Marathon on Friday (anyone offended by political incorrectness should maybe think about giving that one a miss – or at least putting away their principles for a night).

I’m glad we made the effort to go and see the parade, but I have to admit to being secretly pleased when it finished early and we were able to head for home and slob out on the sofa a couple of hours earlier than I’d expected.

Now we’ve got a rest until the Burial of the Sardine on Wednesday and a decision about whether to tranny up or not this year. Not that I’ve got any qualms about slipping into a little black number, but I was gutted when I saw how much like an old slapper I looked like last time I did it.

I think your ties slipped Cleo

I think your tie's slipped Cleo

The trouble with simply enjoying yourself at one of Carnaval’s street parties is that there’s too much going on and for people watchers like us, it’s a voyeuristic overdose. We continually circuit the Carnaval area to make sure we’re not missing the best music and to spot what the best costumes are on show this year. Between 01.00 and 02.00, the streets were relatively easy to negotiate, but by 03.00. Plaza del Charco was a seething mass of colour (see Carnaval Photo of the Day #2) and progress along Calle Perdomo involved simply surrendering ourselves to the beast and letting it play with us for a while before spitting us out at the other end of the street about forty minutes later. It was a bit like a Russian roulette version of dancing and progress was unpredictable as we were bumped and squeezed between masked strangers, sometimes bodily contact was such that, had this been on my home island of Bute, a marriage proposal would have been expected afterwards.

Electric blue and fibre optic purple wigs were popular on Saturday night. Personally I reckon there was a design flaw when humans were evolving (or being created depending on your religious stance). I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t look fantastic in a blue or purple wig.

Somehow I suspect these nurses dont have warm hands!

Somehow I suspect these nurses don't have warm hands!

But for me, the best costumes were the ones with wit and originality and on Saturday night my favourites were a Rubik’s cube, some fluffy dice and, as always, the serious trannies. The trannies always stand out at Carnaval and not just because they’re wearing 6 inch heels. Their costumes are usually elaborate, sometimes risqué, but are always eye-catching, but it’s their faces I love. Exaggerated makeup masked faces etched with world weary lines which conjure up memories of Terence Stamp in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Some look fearsome creatures, but happily strike a pose whenever a camera appears. These are the true veteran showgirls of Carnaval.
On Saturday we managed to dance and sway our way around the circuit until sometime after 4 a.m. when a tiny shard of common sense (when common sense makes an appearance at Carnaval it proves we must be getting old) suggested it was time to leave the party if we wanted to last the week.  And so at around 5 a.m., after a forty minute walk home and a marathon face paint removing session we collapsed into bed having survived day one of Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz.

A truly beautiful Carnaval Queen

A truly beautiful Carnaval Queen

With the pressure on our ‘schedule’ eased a little because of the rearranged election of the Carnaval Queen, we were able to enjoy Man U beating Blackburn and actually have time to eat some dinner, before slapping on the face paint and setting off on the trek into town at around 23.00.

For those who don’t know Tenerife, there are two Tenerife’s. There’s the one built predominately to cater for people looking for a sun and fun holiday and then there’s the rest of Tenerife; what we call the ‘Real Tenerife’. In the former, Carnaval is little more than a footnote which can pass by almost unnoticed. In the latter it’s the biggest event of the year and you might as well write off trying to do anything other than selling your soul to the gods of fun for a week. Even in Puerto de la Cruz, which is first and foremost a Canarian working town, the differences between these two Tenerife’s can be illustrated depending on which side of town you happen to be in.

The approach into town passes the La Paz area and Avenida Generalisimo where there are a clutch of hotels. On these streets nobody is wearing fancy dress, so Andy, kitted out as Cleopatra, and me as Willie Wallace (Braveheart) stood out like sore thumbs, attracting strange looks from visitors sitting at the bars and restaurants we passed. It’s only when you get near to the older part of town that you enter the magic kingdom that is Carnaval and the streets fill with belly dancers and vampires, so many batmen that the bat mobile would have to be traded in for a bat bus (but strangely no jokers), smurfs, sexy nurses, nuns with slits in their habits up to their armpits, cavemen, clowns, witches, zombie nurses, cowboys, Indians and assorted superheroes enjoying a well deserved night off. In this surreal land, it’s the ‘civilians’ which look out of place and we learned very early on that to be part of Carnaval, rather than to watch Carnaval requires simply throwing on some sort of fancy dress costume, even if it’s only a false wig, or a hat from one of the stalls surrounding Plaza del Charco.

And an almost equally pretty runner up

And an almost equally pretty runner up

By midnight, when we reached the plaza, it was filling up nicely with revellers in costume, but it was strangely silent. There was no live band, no pumping dance music from the stall in Calle Perdomo, just hordes of people in fancy dress milling about looking as though they were waiting for something to happen.  The only music was provided by a gang of mime artists, all lads of about 16 – 17 years old, who were circuiting the plaza, stopping at anyone not in fancy dress to jump up and down and hum loudly something that sounded suspiciously like a riff from ‘I will Survive’. This is the things I love about Carnaval, the bits which are slightly trippy and surreal.

The lack of music was because the Gala involving the election of the Carnaval Queen was still taking place beside the harbour, so we wandered through a new addition, a ‘Dance’ tent (so in terms of dance area that makes it, the plaza for live music; Calle Perdomo for dance music, the square beside the harbour for dance music for teens and now a dance tent – isn’t it great?) to the main Carnaval stage where the Carnaval Queen was just being announced to the accompaniment of a barrage of fireworks. The judges chose well; this year’s Carnaval Queen, Elsa Eichner is a beautiful girl with a smile which would light up a dark room with no windows.  (see our CARNAVAL PHOTO OF THE DAY)

The fireworks were also the sign for Carnaval to really let loose and no sooner had the explosion died down when the boom of the fireworks were replaced by thumping drums and a Latino dance beat which announced Carnaval 2009 was underway at last and the assorted trannies, monsters, angels and creatures of the night could begin their week long party.

Its Party Time!

It's Party Time!

Carnaval is like an insatiable lover; she’s never satisfied until she’s sucked the last spark of energy from you and even then, when your body is an exhausted shell, she demands more and like a love struck fool you have to answer her call; just for that one last taste of pleasure.

I know this only too well from previous Carnavals and with equal mixture of excitement and dread at the pounding my ‘getting too old for this’ body was about to take, I awaited Carnaval’s hedonistic holler.

Only superman or somebody running purely on Billy Whizz could manage to take in the whole of Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz, so we’d set out a game plan of ‘must do’s’.

Attend the opening parade, first Saturday night street party, Burial of the Sardine, High Heels drag marathon, closing parade and round it all off with the closing night street party a week later…then head to the cemetery and collapse into the nearest grave.

However looking at the first night’s events, I could see us stumbling at the first hurdle, mainly because TV programmers in Britain had pulled a cruel trick. They’d scheduled Man U to play at 17.30 on the opening day of Carnaval. This meant that we’d have to watch the game at the Beehive, then head straight to the opening parade at 20.00. The parade usually starts late and lasts for a couple of hours, meaning it would be about 22.30 by the time we headed for home where it would be a mad rush to get into costume and head back down to Puerto for the street party; knackered before we’d even started.

Then the gods played a blinder. A decent downpour of rain on Thursday afternoon was enough to cause council chiefs to postpone the election of the Carnaval Queen till Friday…when the heavens opened and a deluge of water from the heavens of monsoon proportions resulted in the election being moved to Saturday. Okay this isn’t good news for the people organizing Carnaval, but it did mean that the opening parade was pushed to Sunday night (you can’t have an opening parade when the Carnaval Queen ain’t been picked yet) and we were able to enjoy planning for an opening night which was going to be less about endurance and more about having shedloads of fun.

It has been part of the islander’s staple diet since guys and gals in furry, but by all accounts fetching, little numbers cavorted around campfires in the hills (I’m sure you can see the faintest trace of it at the corner of Raquel Welch’s mouth in the poster for 1 Million Years BC); it’s handed out at every romería on Tenerife (where I’ve noticed veteran romería goers ignore it in favour of more choice pickings) and it’s used to thicken stews and as a cheap version of a power drink. It’s primitive, but it’s still as popular as ever with Tinerfeños. It’s that Guanche favourite – gofio.

I’ve had a bag of this toasted flour for ages and, apart from trying it mixed with soya milk (the power drink version – which was okay) and adding it to porridge to try to improve the flavour (didn’t work) haven’t done a lot with it.

This week I decided to have an attempt at making gofio amasado. Couldn’t be simpler. Add water to gofio and ingredients of your choice until it reaches a doughy consistency, roll it out into a long sausage like shape and simply slice it into medallions. Almost literally, a piece of cake.

I’ve tried gofio amasado on numerous occasions and most times felt it lacked a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ so my version included crushed nuts, chopped dates and grated padano cheese. But I did forget to add honey. Here’s how it turned out…

Admit it, youre positively salivating.

Admit it, you're positively salivating.

‘How did it taste?’ I hear you cry. I quite like it, but let’s put it this way: Gordon Ramsay isn’t going to be offering me a fortune for my secret recipe.

Come on – what did you think it was going to taste like? This is what cavemen and women ate sitting around their campfires of a night, it was never going to be sophisticated. However, I do have a couple of ideas to improve on the flavour for next time. Watch this space.

Saturday night – 3 weeks ago

Andy: “You know, carnaval isn’t that far away. We should start to think about what costumes we’re going to wear this year and not wait until the last minute like normal.”
Me: “Good idea, let’s come up with some ideas now.”
Both of us take a sip of wine and stroke our chins a la Bob and Vic’s ‘ponderers’.
“Hmmmmm”

Saturday night – 2 weeks ago

Andy: “We’ve really got to give some serious thoughts to carnaval costumes.”
Me: “Absolutely; any ideas?”
Andy: “I thought Amy Winehouse for one of them; she must be easy to do. I’ll Google some images of her tomorrow. What about you?”
I take a sip of my wine and stroke my chin.
“Hmmmmm…”

Saturday night – 1 week ago

Andy: “I can’t do Amy Winehouse,”
Me: “Why?”
Andy: “Well, I’ve got the nose, but I don’t have the bust and she has hers up and out there.”
Me: “Shame,” I think for a second. “We could always do the cowboy thing like last year.”
Andy: “No way, my attempts to look like a man were too realistic and your attempts to look like a mean gunslinger failed completely.”
I though back to the embarrassing photographic evidence.
Me: “You’re right, instead of looking like Brad Pitt in Jesse James I looked more like Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles.”
Both of us: “Hmmmmm…”

Will the real Slim Pickens stand up

Will the real Slim Pickens stand up

Last Night

Romes Cleopatra - Andys costume for Caranaval? Well See...

Rome's Cleopatra - Andy's costume for Carnaval? We'll See...

Andy: “That’s it I’ve decided. I’m going to dress up as Cleopatra. She’s got a distinctive look; can’t be difficult – lot’s of eye make up.”
Me: “What would you wear though?”
Andy thinks for a second.
Andy: “We’ll have to watch the last series of Rome again to see what she wore in that.”
Me: “As I remember she didn’t actually wear much of anything…which should certainly attract some attention at carnaval.”
There’s a slight pattering of rain on the window reminding us that it’s still on the cool and occasionally wet side.
Andy: “…Maybe not then.”
Me: “We’ve still got a couple of days to get ourselves sorted. Fancy watching an episode of The West Wing?”

As sure as night follows day, you can bet that come the opening night of Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz, we’ll be scrabbling about with face paints and old clothes desperately trying to come up with something that doesn’t make us look like complete geeks…and probably failing miserably.

I realise that there’s going to be an awful lot of people who are disappointed when they read this blog. There isn’t going to be a new fiesta held for naturists at the foot of Montaña Roja or anything like that. It’s the start of the cock fighting season on Tenerife.
I’d known that there had been cockfighting on the island, but had thought that it must have been an underground scene until I read this report in La Opinion on Monday.

Cockfighting in Tenerife

Cockfighting in Tenerife

Not only does it still take place, it’s legal. The official programme of activities for the celebrations to mark the Dia de Canarias on 30th May in Santa Cruz even includes cockfighting competitions. Apparently the Canary Islands are one of the two regions in Europe where this practice still takes place; Andalusia being the other.

The main centres for these ‘riñas de gallos’ on Tenerife are in Güímar and in the capital Santa Cruz where crowds of mainly older men gather around a small cage, waving their bets as two ‘gallos’ fight it out to the death.

Opinion about the ‘sport’ is divided on Tenerife. Its defenders say it’s not like bullfighting, which never caught on on Tenerife, because it involves a fair fight between evenly matched cockerels. Its detractors point out that the ‘gallos’ are imprisoned in a cage; there’s no escape for the loser, only death.

I don’t approve of sports which involve cruelty to animals and I know that the title of this blog might seem to trivialise what, in many people’s views, is a barbaric custom. Admittedly it was designed to catch people’s attention, but with the continuing intent of  highlighting that the Real Tenerife is considerably different from the one that many people believe they know.

I’m not being judgemental about ‘riñas de gallos‘; I’m not a hypocrite – Britain is no innocent when it comes to sports which involve a less than ‘happy ever after’ outcome for the animals involved.

I’ve chosen to live in a culture which, despite its popular image, is different in many ways from the one I’m used to and the tradition of ‘riñas de gallos’ is simply another example of that fact, shocking though this particular tradition may be.

It is part and parcel of the Tenerife which lies beyond the brochures.

A retro treat for the mouth

A retro treat for the mouth

Yesterday at the Correos we collected a Christmas pressie from my sister. A bit late you might think, but as we unwrapped the goodies she’d sent us, it soon became clear that it was quite appropriate receiving a parcel when Christmas was long gone as the treasure trove of goodies inside were themselves a blast from the past.

Okay, Mamma Mia – the Movie is new, but clearly the songs within aren’t. Along with the DVD was a straw basket full of rainbow coloured retro sweets (parma violets, blackjacks, flying saucers, lovehearts, sherbet dips…etc see how many you can spot in the piccie) which caused great excitement between myself and Andy (and will probably lead to a lot of squabbling over who gets what later on).

Fandabbydosey (I can’t believe I’ve just written that – see what a retro parcel can do to you) so far, but the belated birthday present which came with the Xmas pressies was the real showstopper.

From a long time ago, in a galaxy far away

From a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

It was a framed drawing of a caricature of me which, for nearly 30 years, had hung in a pub which I was never out of during my formative years.

Back in the early 80s a Canadian girl was on Bute (where I hail from) working on a feature for National Geographic. She spent some of her free time hanging out in the Struan Bar, where my mates and I spent most nights drinking far too much lager and impersonating Minnesota Fats. In exchange for free ale, she offered to draw caricatures of all the locals. A smart arrangement on her part as it kept her in beer for most of the summer.
By the time she was finished; one of the bar’s walls was completely filled with drawings of a motley collection of characters – aka the pub’s clientele.

I’d forgotten about the drawing until I unwrapped it. I’ve never though that it looked particularly like me…far more prominent jaw line than I’ve ever had, but it was possibly quite the most surprising and personal present I’ve ever received and I was completely blown away by it. God knows how my nephew, Ross got hold of it (he did explain it in a poem, but I’m not sure what was beer fuelled fantasy and what was real), but it’s a wonderful memento to own and I’ll treasure it.

So last night was spent munching on flying saucers and beaming our way through Meryl and Pierce belting out tunes I hadn’t heard for years whilst an 18 year old version of myself looked down on us from its position on the wine island.

It was an unexpected trip to retroland and I have to say that it was a most pleasurable journey and as for Mamma Mia – I’m still smiling. Sometimes you can’t beat just simple feelgood fun.

What do you mean there are no fiestas here

"Are you 100% sure that's the famous Millenium Drago Tree?"

Ayuntamiento (council) websites on Tenerife can vary enormously in quality…those that actually exist that is.

One that I would have expected to be on the ball, especially in relation to content which would be of interest to visitors, is Arona’s; the municipality which is home to Playa de las Américas, Los Cristianos, Costa del Silencio and Las Galletas.

And sure enough they recently launched a new website aimed specifically at visitors. It’s bright and simple enough to navigate around.

However, I think they could have left out the ‘And Don’t Miss’ page of the Cultural section. When I think of ‘Must See’ locations on Tenerife, Masca, the rock pools of Garachico, the Casas de los Balcones in La Orotava, the Millenium Drago Tree in Icod, Mount Teide and the old town of La Laguna all spring to mind; the Almácigo de Arona – a nine metre mastic tree – doesn’t. And the picture of it didn’t convince me that this was a ‘must see’ that, until this point, I’d never heard about.

Then I noticed the entry titled ‘museums’ which intrigued me, because I couldn’t really think of any museums in Arona offhand. When I had a look through the list, I understood why; none of the museums included were actually located in Arona. They were all in either Santa Cruz, or the north of Tenerife.

These are just me being picky, Andy will eagerly confirm to anyone that’s willing to listen that it’s a bad habit I have, but what did really get me started on my moan about the website was the picture that went with the Corpus Christi entry in ‘Events to Remember’ under the ‘Get to know Arona!’ section. The text is about the flower carpets in Arona Casco and the picture is…from La Orotava.

Now the municipalty of Arona has many ingredients which make it a very attractive destination for holidaymakers, but depth of historic culture isn’t at the top of the list, that’s the north’s domain…stop trying to nick it!