Archive for June, 2010

One of the blogs I’m enjoying reading at the moment is Islandmomma’s take on life on Tenerife and in general – it’s full of interesting thoughts and experiences.

A recent blog I enjoyed a lot was about different alcoholic drinks being associated with special memories. It really rang a bell with me and I hope she doesn’t mind, but it set me off down a nostalgic and alcohol fuelled trail thinking about what memories various drinks conjured up in my head.

Unlike Islandmomma’s roots, my family were no strangers to alcohol, being very typical of the working class West of Scotland – nearly every night of my dad’s life was spent in the pub. A heavy drinking culture was the norm where I grew up and nobody really considered people to have a drink problem even though they might be bladdered every night. Ironically, it was those who enjoyed a drink at home instead of the pub who were treated with suspicion and considered alcoholics as drinking was all about the social life. Even now my mum still looks a bit uncomfortable when we uncork the wine.

Probably because of this, alcohol has been my preferred drug and since about the age of seventeen I’ve been a loyal worshipper in the church of the Reverend D. Wayne Love (anyone who gets that reference is automatically a soul brother, or sister). Whilst my drinking patterns have changed throughout my life – cutting down as I moved from a heavy drinking culture (Scotland) to a drinking culture (England) to a culture where drinking is far more moderate (here) – I still enjoy the demon drink. I particularly enjoy trying local brews when we travel and much of my own memories of various drinks are connected with different places.

Lanzarote – Red Wine
Of all the places we have visited, Lanzarote was my least favourite. We went there the year we were married and stayed near the harbour in Puerto del Carmen. The harbour was pleasant enough, but we couldn’t walk anywhere without being hassled by time-share touts. But Lanzarote is the place responsible for a liking for red wine. We were in a fish restaurant overlooking the harbour when I noticed two men lounging on the wall below us, a terracotta jug full of red wine between them. It just looked like the most sophisticated way to drink that I’d ever seen and immediately ordered a carafe even though I thought I didn’t like red wine.

Sri Lanka – Arrack
One of the reasons that Lanzarote might have been a disappointment was that we’d not long previously been to Sri Lanka which completely blew us away and which still remains our favourite location. We struggled to get any decent vodka, our preferred drink at that time, so had to settle for the local stuff, arrack. It turned out to be surprisingly quaffable; smooth and not overly sweet or harsh. A long, iced glass with ginger ale was perfect when served with stunning sunsets, palm trees wafting in the breeze and strange haunting calls emanating from the jungle.

Greece- Retsina
I love ouzo and we’ve had some great times in its company on various Greek Islands, but it’s retsina that conjures up special memories, particularly of the island of Symi. We’d catch a water taxi from the town – usually a glass of ouzo and water came with the price of the ticket – to the most beautiful crescent shaped beach where there was only one vine covered shack of a taverna. After a morning’s sunbathing, interrupted only by cooling swims and fending off curious goats, we’d head to the taverna, order mezes of whatever they brought us and a bottled of chilled retsina…then snore our heads off on the beach until it was time to catch the water taxi back to town. Bliss.

Jamaica – Red Stripe
So many memories, so many bottles of Red Stripe consumed watching cliff divers from LTU (a poor man’s version of Rick’s Cafe) and people like Toots and the Maytals and Yellowman in venues where the air was thick with ganja and we usually ended up having to rescue our blonde-haired friend from over-amorous Rastas –  normally as a result of her behaviour. You can’t sing along with Yellowman’s Vagina Song at the top of your voice and not expect the local Lotharios to think you’re game.

New York – Champagne
New York on the eve of the Millennium and the signs were there that the Americans were expecting some sort of an attack. We had to sign a form saying who our next of kin was when we boarded the plane to NY, not a comforting thing to have to do. The manhole covers in the street were sealed shut and we were surrounded by a police cordon in Times Square. It was the most alcohol free New Year  we’ve ever experienced. Not a drop passed our lips as we watched the world welcome in the new millenium over a period of 12 hours or so. Sometime after it was New York’s turn and the crowds began to disperse we headed back to out hotel and, due to a mix of being thirsty and relief at not being blown up, immediately ordered two bottles of champagne which we downed in record time in the packed lobby. I don’t really remember what happened after that.

India – Feni
I’ve got to add this one because it is one of the most disgusting drinks I’ve ever tasted, or more accurately, two of the most disgusting drinks as there are two varieties; palm feni and cashew feni. One of them is revolting and one is just unpleasant, but I can’t remember which is which. It’s the popular hard drink in Goa and therefore deserved to be tried. It’s serious stuff. We were told that two glasses would get you drunk; we had three each. Two to try the different flavours and the third to mask the taste of the second. Did it get us drunk? Well one us hallucinated a giant moth after the second feni and the resulting panic caused a knocking over of what was left of the third drink. But I can’t remember who did what, so I suppose that says it all.

France – Wine (of course)
One of my favourite alcoholic fuelled memories is of two weeks we spent with Andy’s dad and his wife at a wonderful old gîte near Dinan which had gardens the size of a public park. Whenever we were out and about exploring, we’d pop into a local shop and stock up on red wines, the more local the better.

Each night one of us would announce at some point early on ‘time to test the wine’. A bottle would be uncorked, glasses poured and a rating would be agreed. Being France even the most modest bottle was given four stars. The result, plus a brief description, was recorded in a notebook so that we’d know which wines to buy again. Wonderful summer nights were spent in the sun-kissed garden as hot air balloons drifted lazily overhead whilst we quaffed the day’s booty. We got through an awful lot of testing on that holiday and by the end of each night I’m sure our judgement wasn’t to be trusted. It was a very special holiday.

The thing with this blog is that I could go on and on and on and I can’t decide whether writing it is making me want to go and pour a long cool one or give it up forever. Still thanks Islandmomma for triggering my boozy trip down memory lane…slangevar!

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We all have different views, likes and opinions. Life would be very boring otherwise. However, sometimes I struggle to understand what makes people tick.

Take el baño de las cabras in Puerto de la Cruz this week. This midsummer tradition dates back to the times of the original inhabitants and involves giving the livestock a dunk in the magical midsummer waters to ensure fertility and good health – something that the humans do the previous night. It fascinates me and I love witnessing it, but not everyone feels the same.

Not Interested
When I first heard of the ‘bathing of the goats’ it went straight on to my list of things on Tenerife that I had to experience. But a couple of people have commented to me recently that they wouldn’t get up early to watch a load of goats. I can relate to that view up to a point. After a night celebrating San Jan at a beach party, it isn’t easy to drag yourself out of bed and the crowd that gathers at the harbour in Puerto de la Cruz tends to be quite mature, the younger people having partied till dawn. Still pushing out the Zs no doubt.

But you ain’t going to find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow if you don’t make the effort to look for it. Many times, on the basis of an intriguing sentence on a Spanish web page or something similar, we’ve headed off to events with no idea of what to expect. Nine times out of ten we are rewarded with something special. Like this week at La Caleta de Interian when they lit up the beach with small torches.

It’s Cruel
Then there are the people who don’t like it because they think that it’s cruel to the animals. Our footage of the bathing of the goats probably doesn’t help. These goats bitch when they’re dragged and carried to the sea. Boy do they bitch. Anyone who heard them would think that they were having their throats slit instead of being dunked in the water. But that’s animals for you. They don’t want to go in the water and they let anyone who cares to listen know this…loudly.

But thinking it’s cruel is a misinformed view. I’d make a guess and say probably from people who don’t have any knowledge of what farming involves. Farmers can be firm handed with their livestock, but to think for a second that they’d deliberately hurt, or damage them is way off base. The goats are their livelihood and healthy, happy animals are vital to them. Sometimes we Brits can have too soppy a view of how we treat animals – Andy will tell you I’m the biggest culprit, the cat runs rings around me. But I did spend my summers on a farm when I was growing up and know the difference between being cruel and handling animals firmly.

And Finally ‘It’s a Silly and Pointless Tradition’
This was a comment on a forum and it wound me up no end. What a ridiculous thing to say. Presumably the person who said this doesn’t give Easter eggs, presents at Christmas, light fireworks on Bonfire Night, dress up for Halloween, or possibly even go to church on a Sunday. All might be viewed as silly and pointless traditions.

Let’s look at it another way. Are farmer’s in Britain who dip their sheep every year to rid their animals of parasites and pests indulging in a silly and pointless tradition? Because that is what it’s really all about. The Guanche might have believed the midsummer waters had magical healing powers and local goatherds are happy to go along with that, but clearly salt water is a cleanser. El  baño de las cabras might be a tradition and a fascinating spectacle, but it also serves a purpose.

And anyway even if it was a silly and pointless tradition, so chuffing what? I love silly and pointless traditions – Tenerife has loads of them. They add colour and imagination to the world and life in general.

What a terribly dull and dreary existence it would be without them.

We love the Noche de San Juan in Puerto de la Cruz; it is the place to bring in Midsummer’s Day on Tenerife, but we do it every year and subsequently don’t get to see first hand what’s happening elsewhere. Yesterday we decided to rectify that.

Detailed information about what’s happening in various places around Tenerife can be sketchy and a bit vague, so with no real timings except a knowledge that things tend to get going after dark, we headed west on a magical mystery tour of the night of San Juan.

First stop was La Caleta de Interian beyond Garachico, but to get there we had to drive through a pall of smoke around Icod de los Vinos as half the valley seemed to take the opportunity to barbeque their rubbish. As we drove past fires burning dangerously close to dry scrub land I realised why the Cabildo had announced last week instead of this how well they’d contained forest fires so far this year.

Lighting up the beach

Fiesta 1 –  La Caleta de Interian
La Caleta might seem a strange choice and Andy was dubious, but I’d chosen it because it actually did have a programme of timed events…sort of.
We parked up easily – it’s not a big place – and wandered down to the smart promenade where a couple of hundred residents and, bizarrely, a Chinese film crew were queuing up for sardines and papas arrugadas. The sun was setting fast and although it had been a cloudy day along the coast (typical San Juan weather) the sun had dipped below the cloud to cast a golden glow on the hills behind the town. As darkness fell, so did the temperature. As more people arrived at the seafront and a small parranda group tried to out-sing campers on the beach who were enjoying a mini rave, the beach was warmed up by a bit of Midsummer magic. Small torches placed right along the beach were lit as soon as darkness descended creating a fiery crescent. It was a wonderful little touch and a reminder to us that nothing can match seeing something first hand.

Warming up Garachico

Fiesta 2 – Garachico
Next stop was Garachico. A fire had been built on the cliffs beside the town’s small bay which was full of tents. It was much warmer in Garachico, especially as we had to walk within a few feet of the fire to get to the beach. This was something that was made a tad more exciting as a firework display beside the fire started just as we passed and glowing ash and sparks reined down on us. Not a lot was happening, but it had a seductively relaxed vibe.

The Wind Section

Fiesta 3 – San Juan de la Rambla
We’d read that fireballs were launched down the hill in San Juan de la Rambla, but by the time we arrived, everyone had converged on the picturesque plaza beside the church where a batucada group were giving it laldy, adding a bohemian beat to the town. Some people carried torches whilst others, with a touch that was pure Guanche, accompanied the drummers by blowing through conch shells.

The Main Event on the Night of San Juan

Fiesta 4 – The Big One; Puerto de la Cruz
As we drove back along the coast not long before midnight, a spectacular firework display lit up the Orotava Valley. Puerto’s party was in full swing. It was absolute chaos as we drove towards the beach with cars parked anywhere there was the slightest opening – crossings, pavements, anywhere. Cars were  streaming into town and groups of youngsters were still heading to the beach with carrier bags full of rum and coke. By a minor miracle we got lucky and found a space right near the beach. Compared to the smaller fiestas around Tenerife’s coast, Puerto’s party is in-yer-face larging it up. Tens of thousands of people packed the beach from Castillo San Felipe all the way to Punta Brava. As a band belted out 80s rock anthems we threw ourselves into the throng and headed to the sea for the obligatory Midsummer dip to the strains of  With or Without You and I Want to Break Free. The Noche de San Juan just wouldn’t be the same without some time at Playa Jardín.

If anyone out there wants to know what Midsummer’s Eve is like on Tenerife, there’s a very simple answer – it’s magical.

Two easy ways for a quick insight into a country you’re unfamiliar with are to visit the local supermarket and to watch its national TV.

I know I bitch and moan a lot about Spanish TV, but: –

  1. I believe I’m performing an important public service for anyone thinking of moving to Tenerife or Spain and…
  2. It really deserves all the bitchin’ it gets.

The World Cup is an ideal example and national TV coverage is quite illuminating.

Firstly, whilst most of Europe is able to watch every game on free-to-air TV, Spanish TV are only screening 24 matches. 16 on Cuatro and 8 on Telecinco.

During the qualifying groups Telecinco are only screening football matches which involve Spain.

For football lovers like me and Andy, the internet is a gift from a technologically advanced god. But as well as actually being able to see all the games we want to see, comparing coverage between British and Spanish TV has been fascinating.

For a start, until Spain kicked a ball in the tournament, Spanish TV’s coverage had consisted of broadcasting the game just as it was about to kick-off and stopping within seconds of the final whistle.

When the first game of the tournament was about to kick-off and the host country’s national anthem was being played, Spanish TV in a display of rudeness, ignorance, disrespect or stupidity, switched to the adverts.

Yesterday was Spain’s first match and the World Cup started for Spanish TV. Suddenly, nearly a week into the competition, there were World Cup programmes featuring third rate celebrities wearing the Spanish strip and even highlight shows.

As I watched a group of eejits pretending they were interested in football just to get their mugs on the telly, I turned up the sound on the computer to listen to the British coverage at half time.

I was quite overcome with emotion as I listened to black South Africans recount stories about Soweta and the atrocities carried out under apartheid, and watched footballers visiting orphanages they’d help sponsor. In the studio, groups of ex footballers mainly from Britain, but also from France, Holland, Germany and Africa spoke not only about football, but about what hosting the World Cup meant to South Africa. Other former footballers reported on games from poor townships, bantering with local children who clearly were delighted to be visited by their heroes.

And therein lies a difference which speaks volumes.

The coverage I’ve watched on the BBC is about more than just a game, it’s about an event which captures the imagination of the World and is evidence of the realisation of a nation’s dream. It makes you realise that the World Cup is something very, very special.

On Spanish TV, the World Cup is simply about Spain.

I’ve got a message for Spanish TV programmers nicked from Bono, Geldoff et al:

“There’s a world outside your window…”

Go look at it from time to time.

The Day Before Corpus Christi

The mist was so low you could almost reach out and touch it. It covered the valley in a grey shroud, obscuring La Orotava only a couple of kilometres away, and the air was filled with a light drizzle of the sort which penetrated clothes on touch.

I felt sympathy for anyone who had made the trip from the south to experience one of the most uplifting days in the fiesta calendar, Corpus Christi and the flower covered streets of La Orotava. But most of all my heart went out to the alfombristas (flower carpet layers) and their families who plan for this day for months.

24 hours previously I’d watched them put the finishing touches to the main tapestry outside of the town hall in sweltering sunshine with nary a cloud in the sky. It was shaping up to be one of the most impressive carpets that I’ve seen since moving here and I looked forward to the buzz and the spectacle of the day of the flowers.

But then Mother Nature threw a spanner in the works. The alfombristas may pray that the wind is kind, but rain isn’t something that anyone is unduly concerned with…not in June. There hasn’t been rain on Corpus Christi in La Orotava since 1942.

All day we kept up to date with what was happening. The alfombristas waited until midday, hoping that the weather would clear, and when the stubborn mist showed no sign of abating, went ahead with laying their floral works of arts on the wet streets whilst a hardy few looked on under the protection of umbrellas.

We kept a check on the weather in La Orotava. Fortunately for us, one step outside of the house and we can see the town or, because of the low cloud in this case, not.  We waited and waited, but it was obvious that the cloud was here to stay. So late afternoon we decided that if the alfombristas were determined enough to continue in this dreary weather, the least we could do was support their efforts by going to see them.

Despite the weather the alfombristas had done an incredible job. Some designs had clearly been simplified to enable the carpet layers to finish then after a late start, but their colour added brightness to the grey day. And the people who’d made the effort to turn up smiled at their beauty from beneath their umbrellas and the hoods of rain macs. The main sand tapestry had stood up to the rain and if anything looked even more poignant, glistening defiantly against the elements.

What a Difference a Day Makes

I have to admit that from a selfish point of view that I was gutted about the weather. It’s always an opportunity to get great photos, meet friends and enjoy a fantastic day out.
There was none of that yesterday; instead the people who turned up will have witnessed something quite unique. Something that has far more value than a month of cloudless days. Something that would have given them an insight into what makes Tenerife a very special place.

Under grey skies and incessant drizzle; young and old alfombristas alike ignored the moody weather and displayed a humbling sense of pride, community and determination by doing what they always do at this time of year and filling the cobbled streets with glorious, if slightly mushy, floral carpets. If they felt sorry for themselves they didn’t show it and once the carpets were completed, retired to the nearest hostelry for some well deserved refreshments. Despite the disastrous weather there was no sense of self pity, or doom and gloom on La Orotava’s streets; only a display of a proud community spirit held together with a bond that was unbreakable.  And that was something very, very special to witness.

On a blisteringly hot day on the eve of the Corpus Christi celebrations in La Orotava on Tenerife, a handful of alfombristas (master carpet makers) put the finishing touches to this year’s tapestry made from the sands and soil from Teide National Park. Here are a couple of shots to give you a preview of the almost completed work of art.

The theme this year is The Last Supper and the three main designs feature traditional religious imagery with a Dali influence in the centrepiece. As always the detail in the images is breathtaking, with clever little transparent touches – look at the detail even in the bricks behind the figures.

The overall carpet is livened up this year by the presence of butterflies of varying sizes fluttering around the edges of the giant sand picture.

Once again these maestros of sand art have come up with a masterpiece.

A comment on Andy’s Real Tenerife blog made me stop and think for a moment. It was a very honest comment about development on the island which concluded with the statement ‘I hate Brits who live here and then just criticize everything.’

I found myself nodding in agreement one second and the next, remembering the blog I’d just written moaning about Spanish TV scheduling, wondered in horror if I’d become one of those Brits.

When we first moved here there was one paper in particular which regularly pissed me off. Most editions usually included a moan about one fiesta or another – they were too loud and too boisterous. Sometimes it was suggested that even the Canarians didn’t like them.
You don’t have to spend much time here to realise that a suggestion like this is nonsense – fiestas are put on by Canarios for Canarios (everybody is welcome of course).
Every time I read these pieces which basically wanted to change the culture, I had an overwhelming urge to shout ‘Why on earth do you live here if you don’t like it?’

I regularly read threads on various forums  from people moaning about aspects of Tenerife, most of which are flavoured by personal experiences of the area that they are familiar with rather than Tenerife as a whole.

When I read ones which say things like ‘Tenerife doesn’t have any decent restaurants’ I think ‘why do you say Tenerife when you obviously don’t really mean Tenerife; you clearly mean in the geographically limited area that you happen to frequent?’ and wonder why they live here or, if they’re a visitor, return for their jollies year after year.

And then I think of this blog – I moan here…a lot. I criticise politics, business practices, roadworks, lack of environmental awareness, insularity and all sorts. Anyone reading it could easily think of me as one of those Brits who criticises everything and wonder why I continue to live here.

But I’m not…honest.  At least I don’t think I am. I love the island and the culture – I’ll be the last to call for fiesta fun to be curtailed. Seventy five percent of the time I write about the things which I believe make Tenerife a very special place to stay and visit.

On the other hand, Tenerife is my home, the place where I live and work and just like I did in Britain, I take an active interest in politics and business practices. And also like living in Britain, there are some aspects of living in Tenerife that I think could be improved. This blog is an outlet to vent my frustrations about those.

But the comment did make me think about perceptions, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to tone down the moaning because I really don’t want to become one of those Brits who criticises everything.

So it’ll be all sweetness and light from now on…until something really winds me up…that’ll probably be tomorrow then.