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First, appointed date to get serious about this. All my life I have wanted to write. Now I feel as if this is a test. If I do this, I can do it! My life is extremely full at the moment, but any problems arising from that are probably due to me being very badly organized. So thatís where this comes in Ė discipline. Discipline in forcing me to write something each day, and discipline in prťcis ... which I was always lousy at in school. Discipline in forcing me to be better organized, and discipline in making me create priorities.
I decided to add to the discipline I will also add a rule of my own Ė there will be a new theme each month ( much easier it to say ďeach weekĒ, but I wonít! Anyway, this will be easier to keep track of!) Since I am on the cusp of moving house this month I will laud (or otherwise) my pueblo, Los Abrigos. Los Abrigos, situated on the South-West coast of the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands archipelago, means ďthe sheltersĒ....that would be shelter in a storm for the fishing boats from this village and those surrounding.
Summer is here, laziness permeates the air. The sense of urgency about all things is forgotten for a time, as we succomb to the heat. Something about this island though, however hot the previous day each morning dawns cool and fresh. I love that about this place. Summer is here, but there is always respite from the heat, time to breathe. When I wake I shove aside the patio door, step onto my tiny balcony, and take a deep, renewing breath to start my day. Sometimes during the day I need to return to that sensation, it keeps me going.
You might think a harbor would be busier by day than by night, but not this tiny one in Los Abrigos. Granted in the summertime there are kids diving into the water, and grandads fishing off the end of the harbor wall, but the real activity happens when the the light fades, and the little boats leave in pursuit of marckeral and tuna. One by one they chug out into the open sea, and as dawn breaks they return, often followed by a retinue of gulls, awaiting their share of the feast. The tourists and diners see none of this.
My bedroom window overlooks the harbor, and countless times I have been woken in the early hours of the morning by shouting or by clanking sounds. This is a boat coming in, lights blazing, chugging triumphantly home. All along the harbor side little, white vans are lined up, one or two if it is one boat, several if more boats are coming. Stacks of plastic crates await the unloading of the nightís catch. The construction of the harbor makes the slightest sound echo, so that a couple of guys shouting instructions to each other sounds like a fight going on.
When I step onto my early morning balcony, or at as the sky turns to a lavender dusk, I am level with the little colony of swallows darting about in the cool air, as they pick up breakfast or supper. They nest in a building at the end of the street, which was left half-finished years and years ago. It surprised me to see swallows here because I assumed this was a wintering place for them, but each year they return, an afirmation of the continuity of life. In a place where the seasonal changes are minimal this is reassuring.
When we came to live on Tenerife we lived for a few months in the fledgling golf resort, next door. We used to walk over here to the little supermarket, or drive a circuitous route of narrow track, where two cars could barely pass, some of it still original cobble stones. Now you have to take an equally circuitous route which trails right around the golf resort and then double back to get here. Thatís progress? The restaurants used to serve fresh fish, straight off the boats, now very few of them do that, but the tourists think they do!
When I stand on my little balcony I can choose my view. To my left there is the harbor, boats bobbing as boats should, sometimes tranquil, sometimes busy as boats come and go. At the harborís end are two restaurants, these two, as I understand it, have their own boats, which means they serve fresh catch of the day. Behind them higgledy, piggledy buildings, constructed with little thought for how they look, but not downright ugly. Sometimes at sunrise the sky behind these buildings is streaked with scarlet, or flush with pink or lavender, and the buildings fade into insignificance.
Maybe the best view from my balcony is at night. After dark the ugliness of the nearby golf resort is hidden, and appears only as hundreds of twinkling lights. The moon maybe laying its silver pathway over the ocean. Stars? Well, hard to make out, what with the light pollution from ďnext doorĒ and from the harbour lights and street lights of this village. Strung out across the ocean you may see lights from the local fishing boats, bright, scary lights if they are mackeral fishing, and the dark sky is often pierced by the blazing lights of incoming planes.
The view to my right makes me sad. Despite that in Winter I see impressive sunsets, the foreground is so ugly as to render them not worth snapping. Immediately to my right is a small, pebble beach and a rocky little outcrop, where the local grandads like to fish, but beyond lies the ugly cement of not one, but two, golf resorts. Some still forging ahead with buildings for which planning permission was given thirty years or so ago, not before the last recession, but the one before that. I hope that town halls know better now. Much too late.
As in many small villages, and this one was very small twenty years or more ago, when I first knew it, the community is curiously inward-looking and guarded, not friendly. I have lived here now for two, full years, but scarcely know my neighbours, despite having taken part in a couple of events here. One could feel rejected, but on the other hand, given their surly demeanour I donít really want to know them more than I do! As so often, I find the outsiders who live and work here much more open and friendly than the local Canarian population.
The local fiesta is in September, the feast day of San Blas, or at least the Sunday following. The rest of the year the statue of San Blas, patron saint of caves, amongst other things, resides in a tiny cave near the coast, but on this day he is paraded along the short promenade, along with the statues of Our Lady and Hermano Pedro (the only Canarian saint) from the church. When they reach the harbor a short mass is said, before the statues are loaded onto boats to be taken out to bless the waters for the coming year.
Summer days and nights hold a magic all their own in this little place. I remember this feeling when the boys were young. Summer being time to slack off. The local kids spend their days jumping into and splashing about in the harbor. Couples stroll up and down, day and night, sit on the wall and chat, lie on the little grassy knoll above the pocket-sized beach. Tonight in the square in front of the church there is open-air cinema. I can hear it through my wide-open window. It is as if the whole world moves outdoors for two months.
The airport is less than a mile inland from the village. The main runway runs parallel with the road which snakes its way into town and out the other side. Here, by my patio door, glancing to the right, over the concrete jungles of the golf resorts I see the planes gliding towards their goal. At night the lights shimmer, then glow, then dazzle as they get nearer. So long as the wind holds to its normal pattern there is little noise, but when it swings around, or drops to nothing, and landing becomes take off, the noise is deafening.
The boats which bob and sway in this little harbor are colorful reds and blues and greens and yellows. Sometimes you wonder where they have all gone Ė well, where do they go? Mostly, they are day boats. When you see them riding the swell as they leave it is as if they become part of the wave, but they are not built for long voyages. Rarely do you see more than three crew. Some of the boats look abandoned. Shallow-hulled boats which look more like canal boats, tenders which are never used and which swamp when the weather gets rough.
And----the ocean, the main contender, the star of any coastal community Ė the ocean beckons, fascinates, hypnotises and instills fear. At night, at peace, when the winds drop and the moon spreads its silver pathway over her ceaseless rhythm, she lures with her infinite beauty. When the wind changes and the swell rises she seems to rise up in her oneness and threaten to invade the land. Those who work with her respect her moods, the foolhardy tempt her at their peril. She isnít choosey about whom she takes, young, old, black or white, itís all the same to her.
If you find a sheltered spot, raise your arms to cut out the land-glare you can see the universe, gathered for your enjoyment. So many stars and planets shimmer in the black night that you canít make out the familiar constellations, which hide in the multitude. It must be like this when you are out there on the ocean. In the Fall the shooting stars arrive, and there are few places in the world better for sky gazing than by this North Atlantic ocean, maybe on the ocean or in a vast desert.....somewhere far from light pollution thatís for sure.
When I moved here from the British ghetto golf resort on which I had been living I was looking forward to being part of a community, you know, greeting the neighbours each day, knowing the local kids and the local dogs. But it just ainít like that. After weeks of greeting my neighbours with a smiley ďbuenos dŪasĒ I gave up. The curt nods or blank looks returned were depressing. Oh, sure, I know the dogs, but the kids Ė forget them racist, noisy, rude brats. Another illusion shattered I suppose. I hear tell that many small communities are like this.
Canít blame the locals for being that way. Maybe they are seeing so many foreigners, especially badly-educated Brits, move into this village that they are sick to death. Not that they are any better-educated, but they were born here werenít they, so you could make that an excuse. Of course, I refer to my Canarian neighbours, with the best, worst manners in the world I am civil, but otherwise ignore my English neighbours, so am I any different? It would just be nice to feel part of a real community. I was somewhere today which felt like that. I wonder?
The first restaurant in which I ate in Tenerife, years ago, was in Los Abrigos, hence, maybe, the dwindling affection which I feel for the place. I can see this restaurant from my balcony. It sits on the small headland which forms part of the protection for the harbor, and the views are wonderful. I am told it is one of the few who still serve fresh fish, bought from the boats when they arrive. The restaurant below me serves good food, no doubt, but it is all frozen. The deliveries arrive at night when the tourist are mostly gone.
Living over the top of one of these restaurants has its downside. Firstly, the restaurant is quite expensive, but not that special, so if I can afford to eat out, it is somewhere more interesting. I can make what they serve downstairs for at least a quarter of the price! Given that all the stuff is frozen, I could do better even. The staple, traditional menu here is fish and papas arrugadas with salad for a starter, and ice cream or flan for desert. Fine if these things are a novelty for you, but no treat if you live here
The fish is usually done on the griddle, lashed generously with olive oil, so, honestly, even the frozen stuff is good around eight times out of ten. Papas arrugadas or ďwrinkled potatoesĒ are boiled in lots of salt, and then dried out on the griddle so that their skins wrinkle, and are served with the local sauces, called mojos. There are various, made with chillis or with parsley and garlic or with cilantro, they all leave a slight tingling on the tongue, some more than others, and then, there is the utterly calorific, but delicious alioli, a rich garlic mayo.
Looking for an interesting salad? Forget Los Abrigos! The basic salad, served in every restaurant, is lettuce (usually Iceberg), beef tomatoes (these are exceptionally good usually, local grown for a change) and onion. They might add a splattering of sweet corn, or tinned asparagus, but otherwise nada. Just the oil and vinegar on the table to dress it yourself. Sometimes, how I long for a ranch dressing or blue cheese maybe, or some raspberry vinegar! A variety of lettuce would be nice too. Iceberg is practical I guess, healthy even, but, letís face it, a bit on the tasteless side!
Excellent wines are produced now in the Canary Islands, but few restaurants serve them, they seem to stick to the staple tourist favorites ViŮa Sol for white or Faustino V for red. The local wines have won praise and awards, even in France, so the restaurants do little to support their local culture or produce. All about the money ainít it!! Los Abrigos used to be somewhere you could get away from the main tourist hoards and sample a little Canarian life, but these days it caters to middleclasse/nouveau riche tourists, and the late night bars to the local addicts.
Last night as I parked up, tired, I heard the unmistakable sound of Senegalese drumming. Puzzled, I jumped out of the car and pottered over to the village square, and there on the small stage there was a Senegalese band, just starting up. This music is just so evocative, so rich and so comes from the soul. I've seen this band before, and I was annoyed that I didn't know about this performance so I could have invited friends over! They do the range of music from its origins to present day, with dancers enthusiastically demonstrating traditional and modern dances.
Every village here has its own fiesta or romeria, or both even. These being the annual occasion when the earth or the sea is blessed, and god is petitioned for a good harvest in the year ahead. The firework displays which end these celebrations rival almost anything Iíve seen anywhere, including Disney, which is the god of firework displays, especially on the 4th of July! The display in Los Abrigos is especially effective as it takes place by the ocean, which reflects the glory of the colorbursts, or even on the ocean itself, where the fireworks bounce across the waves.
My space within this community is my own space. It doesnít really reflect the community, although it does reflect the islands. I was talking with a friend last night who is married to a local guy, she feels the same. His family shut her out for a long time. I know itís not a specifically Canarian thing. It happens all over, but itís sad. The places I like best here, I realize are the ones which are international, apart from the beauty what I love is the variety. Itís what you get, normally, in big cities. Itís stimulating and inspiring.
At the time I moved here, two years ago, I could have been tempted to buy, had I had the money. Thank goodness I didnít! Not only is it not the place I expected it to be, but we are in a recession, and, of course, property is hit hardest, and I am bound to move within twelve months, to somewhere or other, so I would have lot out on several counts. If you rent, itís lost money anyway, but you can just up and go with less trouble. I would have to be very rich before I bought again.
Renting gives you freedom. Itís like being a traveller, even in your own land. Some people are mentally glued to their hometowns. They may like to vacation, but being away too long makes them nervous. Me, I get nervous if Iím in one place for too long, and Iíve already been too long here. Moving on is a new start, an escape from the hum drum and the overfamiliar. Of course, moving to another country or even another town would be preferable. My soul longs for the stimulation of new experiences, new adventures, new places, new people, for true freedom.
Itís not been easy, keeping up with this all month. So it has been a discipline, as I hoped. I have far too much on to do it next month, but I will return. It has been very interesting in teaching me how to cut down on my ramblings, and I do tend to ramble. I can now cut down a paragraph with the best of them, something my teachers despaired I would ever learn (no wonder they disuaded me from journalism!) Thing is I kind of like to ramble, so I suppose the secret is to ramble with purpose!
Came a certain journey with this little project. Iím glad I decided on my pueblo as my theme. I examined it, turned it over, missed out the grottier stuff, and even then found it wanting. It has been like a farewell in a way, even though I know Iím unlikely to move out in the short term. I am already gone in spirit. Iím glad of the experience though. It has been interesting at times, and the ocean has been a magnificent companion. To have the sea almost literally on my doorstep is probably something I will never enjoy again.
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