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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stop Press: The World is Round!

Ferdinand Magellan
The Canary Islands have played their part in many important voyages of discovery, perhaps most famously when Columbus, stopped off in Gran Canaria and La Gomera in 1492. He also visited El Hierro on later voyages.

Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese maritime explorer who led the first successful attempt to circumnavigate the earth, is said to have visited Tenerife, arriving on September 26, 1519, near the start of that particular important three year voyage of discovery. Or did he?

In those days, legend had it that it never rained here and there were no rivers nor springs. There was also talk of a tree whose leaves distilled drops of water, which served to supply both humans and animals.

That tree, the Garoé, thought to have been an "Ocotea Foetens", a type of laurel endemic to Madeira and the Canary Islands, existed on the island of El Hierro. One example, commemorated with a plaza and six wells that collected the water, existed at about 1,000 meters above sea level near Tiñor. It's existence appeared to be mythical, because it was uprooted in a hurricane in 1610 and it's disappearance coincides with the extinction of the indigenous culture from the island, who had dedicated a cult to the tree.

However, Antonio Pigafetta apparently added a note to his account for that day of the voyage to the effect that, after not encountering a single drop of water to replenish their supplies, "at midday a cloud came down over the sky, surrounding an enormous tree that there was on that island, distilling water from it's leaves and branches." This would seem to suggest that they were, in fact, in El Hierro, not Tenerife.

The ships left the Canary Islands on October 3rd, 1519.

Ferdinand Magellan and the first circumnavigation of the globe

Magellan himself did not complete the circumnavigation; he was killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines.

Juan Sebastian Elcano, took over command of the expedition after Magellan's death - one of only 18 to return, of the 250 or so men who started the voyage - and became the first man to complete the circumnavigation of the - clearly circular - world.

Among the curiosities of their discoveries, was the need for an International date line. Of course, they were the first to notice that going round the earth westward resulted in winning one day: upon their return they observed a mismatch of one day between their calendars and those who did not travel. That made El Hierro, also known as The Meridian island, once the western-most point of the known world and used as the reference on maps, the ideal jumping off point for this voyage.

The Juan Sebastián Elcano is the name of the training ship of the Spanish Navy, launched on March 5, 1927. The ship has certainly visited Tenerife, in 2003 during her eighth circumnavigation of the world and again in March 2006, after a major refit.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Carnaval is Illegal?

THE most emblematic and important date on Tenerife's fiesta calendar, no, in the world (after Rio) - Santa Cruz Carnaval - is illegal, according to residents of eight neighborhoods of the island's capital, who, through their lawyer, have presented a claim in the courts aiming to prevent the carnaval from being celebrated in the zones in which they reside.

The matter also made the TV news today and, I have to say, that I just HOPE it is some kind of sick joke or a publicity stunt to create interest in the Carnaval itself. Well, that is more comfortable to contemplate than that it may be serious. (It was.)

Goodness, this is not the fun-loving image of Canarians that we have come to expect, is it? What a bunch of party poopers!

Now, I will be the first to admit that when there is a fiesta going on in your village and the salsa music is still making the legs of your bed dance in rhythm at 5 a.m., night after night, but you work in a job that doesn't respect the local holidays, then it can be a tad inconvenient, but you live with it.

Sure, the celebrations can be moved to another location, but there is always going to be someone within earshot ready to be disturbed, unless you move the party to mars!

Besides, it was my impression that most employers on the island understand that people will be late and not a lot gets done during carnival. Or is the island becoming more "efficient" and that such relaxed attitudes have become a thing of the past?

It is a VERY sad day, if that is the case.

A culture that knows how to enjoy itself is much healthier, both physically and mentally and, for that reason alone, I think it is extremely important to preserve these customs.

I wonder if the residents of Santa Cruz would prefer a carnival on the London model, where there is (or at least there was) a 7 p.m. curfew? On the surface, that may sound great to sleep-deprived residents, until you look at the balance.

Curfews and prohibitions - that require a large police presence to enforce - lead to just the sort of tensions between party-goers and the authorities that have been known to end in riots in the British capital, but that so far, have been avoided in Tenerife, despite the large numbers who attend each year.

It may be a case of "be careful what you ask for", because the solution may be more disruptive than the original problem.

Since I am no lawyer, I cannot say whether the legislation they are quoting applies to this particular event, however, my hope would be that carnival is too important from the economic point of view for the action to succeed.

From what I understand of carnival's history, the tradition originally came to the islands with the conquistadores 500 years ago, although it is true that neither the authorities nor the church approved and dances in the streets were prohibited.

But, such was the strength of the public desire to celebrate the fiestas, that even after the Civil War (1936-1939) and the prohibition in the time of Franco, people continued to celebrate carnival in their homes, until the 1960's when the party returned to the streets under the disguise of "Winter Festival".

It wasn't until 1976 that, finally, without the censorship that characterized the dictatorship that it was actually able to be called carnival again and the event reached it's zenith.

Surely, no one wants to turn back the clock?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fiestas of San Antonio Abad

Bandstand in Buenavista del Norte dressed for San Antonio Abad

The Fiestas of San Antonio Abad are held in January - Saint Anthony's Day is the 17th - each year and these fiestas can be found in various towns in Tenerife, such Arona, Los Silos, La Florida in La Orotava and in Buenavista del Norte.

Even though the actual Saints Day is only on one day, the fiesta is celebrated over the entire week. San Antonio Abad is the patron Saint of a diverse selection of subjects which range from animals all the way through to various skin diseases. It's the animal part that provides the focus of the fiesta.

People bring their animals, mostly livestock, but also a goodly number of pets these days, down from the villages in order to have them blessed. Hundreds of them first gather on open ground, then parade down the main streets of the town.

I have it on authority that if one registers one's animal(s) in advance with the Town Hall, then they get a number and after the parade, some sort of gift, such as a trophy or even money.

The most striking result of this event is that by mid-afternoon the streets are literally carpeted, knee deep in something that would probably be very good for the roses!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Travellers Chronicles Reveal Invisible History of Canary Islands Women

The chronicles of the travellers who visited the Canary Islands in the centuries XVIII and XIX have been helping investigators to uncover details of the daily life the women of the archipelago, who had surprised the foreigners with their beauty, but also by their ignorance, poverty and superstitions.

University professor and investigator in History of Education at the University of La Laguna, Teresa González, has investigated texts written by Elizabeth Murray, Piazzi Smyth, Olivia Stone, Verneau, Berthelot, Humboldt and others, to publish a book, "Las mujeres canarias en las crónicas de viajeros" (Canary Islands women in chronicles of travellers).

Outsiders' accounts have been an essential source of information about Canary Islands women in centuries past, about whom there are scarcely any historical accounts, because the past of the women of the islands is invisible: hidden.

González says it was interesting to observe how the travellers analysed Canarians from their European viewpoint. They value but also underestimate and, in some cases, ridicule the behavior of the islanders.

These travellers were mostly British, German and French and were of a "cultured class", with money, which made them look from a "position of superiority", analysing the island population as living in extreme poverty and intellectual misery.

The chroniclers described people who were rough, but because they had been kept far away from knowledge. They particularly noticed that better off women were kept inside, infrequently going out into the street, unless accompanied.

Many of the travellers visiting La Laguna, La Orotava and Garachico in Tenerife, as well as Gran Canaria and Lanzaorte, spoke of empty streets and silence.

They also described scenes with peasant women laden with fruit and milk who went to market in groups, engaged in animated conversations, accompanied by children.

English chronicler, Whitford's attention was drawn by the belief in witches, ghosts, apparitions and even curses, superstitions, which until recently pervaded among country women.

(From my personal experience, I'd counter that these beliefs and rituals still exist in various, mostly, rural pockets.)

Many also spoke of the moral order and in this respect, Brown confirmed that the morality of Canarian women was quite elevated, for instance if they were married they were almost always faithful, even when their husbands emigrated and they were left alone for a number of years. Single girls rarely had more than one boyfriend.

For Pegot-Ogier, the women of the Canary Islands were "uncultured, ignorant, had much less knowledge of the outside world than the men and were incapable of being the center of attention, despite their beauty".

Some travellers also spoke of how misery drove many island women to prostitute themselves in exchange for a few coins, mainly those who did not have a man to look after them. And there are stories of how women offered themselves to sailors or a group of thirty girls, accompanied by their old mothers, who begged insistently for "the favour of an intimate conversation".

La belleza y la miseria de las canarias sorprendía a los viajeros del siglo XVIII y XIX

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Canary Islands Count Their Sheep

A couple of sheep on La Gomera

We sincerely hope these statistics don't put you to sleep, but you may be interested to know what other activities go on in these islands to support the local economy, apart from tourism.

Canary Island wines have certainly been enjoying a renaissance in recent years and this is reflected by the fact that, in ten years, the area of the Canary Islands dedicated to the cultivation of vines grew by 7,648 hectares, from 11,277 in 1994 to 18,925 in 2004, which works out to an increase of around two-thirds, 68 percent.

In the same interval, the area designated for the cultivation of bananas increased by 1,138 hectares, while the area devoted to the cultivation of tomatoes decreased by the greatest amount, 1,898 hectares or 65 percent, from 4,830 in 1994 to 2,932 in 2004. Potato growing also dropped by more than a quarter in the ten years.

In 2004, the total cultivated area in the Canaries was 51,191 hectares, of which 37 percent (18,925) was utilized for vines, 19 percent for bananas, 11 percent for potatoes, 9 percent for fruit, 6 percent for tomatoes and 1 percent for ornamental plants and flowers. The remaining 17 percent had other types of crops.

The figures, from the regional government's department of Agriculture, Farming and Food, also reflect increases in the areas of land dedicated to raising ornamental plants (170 hectares) and flowers (72 hectares), between 1994 and 2004.

Casting an eye over the livestock, the numbers indicate an overall increase of 35.2 percent. In 1994 the total head count was 363,450, while in 2004, this had risen by 128,141 to reach 491,591.

By far, the greatest number are goats - all 326,807 of them - whose number increased by 42 percent, up from 228,723 in 1994.

A quite different reality exists in pig farming, where the numbers have decreased by 13 percent, down to 69,653. Meanwhile, the number of cattle showed a slight (3 percent) increase to 21,118.

How many sheep? Their number has risen by the greatest amount, a massive 108 percent rise, in the ten year period. There were 74,013 counted at the time of the study. What we would like to know though, is how did the civil servants stay awake to do it?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Media Attention on Icod Festival

Las Tablas de Icod de los Vinos

The unique and, some might say, slightly crazy custom of the Tablas de San Andrés held in Icod de los Viños in north Tenerife each 29 November, has been attracting a lot of media attention recently.

Whilst many of the official acts of this annual festival had to be suspended last year, owing to the passing of Tropical Storm Delta, the celebration of las tablas is so popular among the local people of Icod that they carried on anyway, self-propelled, as it were.

A team from Mediareport Producciones was despatched to Icod, therefore, to film one of the most peculiar fiestas in the country. However, the storm prevented news magazine program, España Directo, transmitted by TVE, from running the item. Images of the event were distributed, via satellite, to the principle TV channels and news agencies, reaching more than 152 television channels worldwide, among them SKY News in Britain, RTL in Germany and CBS in the United States. The Eurovisión network in Geneva also received the images via two satelite links.

National news agencies and television channels also recieved the images, which Euronews distributed to more than 50 European television networks. Icod Town Hall say there is considerable interest in providing special coverage of the event this year.

As well as this event, everything related to San Andrés, Icod wines and the environment around the town of Icod will be shown.

Owing to the great success of the images of las tablas at an international level and, as a result of requests for images from independent and national producers, Mediareport is currently working on a 30 minute report on the tradition, which will be transmitted on the International Channel of TV Canaria.

It is also the intention of the Town Hall that the fiesta of the Tablas de San Andrés will be declared as being of national cultural interest.

Las tablas de San Andrés obtienen una gran cobertura mediática

* The curious tradition of las tablas, which is unique in the Canary Islands, was born from the need to transport wood from the highest areas of the town down to the workshops where it was used in handicrafts and in naval construction. Youngsters make an annual suicidal slide down near vertical streets on boards with nothing but a pile of old tyres to break their fall at the bottom.

Image: Revista BienMeSabe Some rights reserved

Friday, January 06, 2006

Recipe for Roscón de Reyes (Crown of Kings)

Roscón de Reyes Here's one I made earlier from this recipe

This traditional confection is eaten on the day of Los Reyes - The Kings - January 6th.


For the dough:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 cup of plain yogurt

For the glaze:
1 cup of confectioners' sugar
a dash of milk or water
a few drops of vanilla essence

1 heat-resistant "surprise" (optional)
Glacé Fruits to decorate


In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dough. Stir it well. Kneed well for 10 minutes. Shape it into a ball. Place in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Leave to rise for a couple of hours. (Alternatively, chuck the ingredients in a bread making machine on the dough setting, then continue the instructions manually from here.)

Grease an oven tray. Take the dough, knead slightly and make it into the form of a crown by making a roll, twisting and joining the ends, then place it on the tray. Cover with a cloth and leave it to rise for another one to two hours.

Paint with beaten egg, adorn with the glacé fruits, place the surprise somewhere inside (if you wish) and bake in the oven, preheated to 350F / 180C, for about 25 minutes.

Drizzle with the sugary glaze and serve (it won't last long).

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings) Bearing Gifts

Arrival of the King

The real high-spot of the holiday season in Spain and the Canary Islands is when the gifts arrive with Los Reyes Magos - The Three Kings - (this seems logical, if you follow the original story) on their camels. In case you've forgotten the three are:

  • Melchor: An old man with a white beard. His gift to Jesus is gold, representing his royalty.
  • Gaspar: A swarthy skinned young man. His gift is incense, which represents Jesus' divinity.
  • Baltasar: A black man. His gift to Jesus is myrrh, which represents his suffering and future death.

On the night of January 5th, you should put water and straw out for the camels and leave your shoes in a prominent place in a main room before you go to bed, next to which The Kings will leave your gifts - if you've been good. If not, you may get coal instead!

(You can buy little sacks of black-dyed honeycomb candy for your little rogues.)

Their Majesties are received by Herod

Most towns have parades through the streets on the night of January 5, with the Three Wise Guys arriving from the Orient on their camels. They throw sweets into the crowd for the children of all ages. In Santa Cruz these popular characters can fill a football stadium, where these modern monarchs arrive by helicopter. In ports, such as Los Cristianos, the last leg of their journey from the Orient used to be on one of the inter-island ferries.

Their Cabalgata in Garachico, Tenerife, was slated to begin at 7 p.m. (yes, but where the "caravan" began, on foot, way up in the mountains) and carried on until after midnight. (Get there early for parking though.) Accompanied by the whole town's youth, many dressed as Roman soldiers - carrying out their duties VERY seriously indeed - Their Majesties are received by Herod at the entrance to the town by the Castle, before making progress along the main streets & culminating in a Regal Pageant in the town square.

Garachico Town Hall doubles as the Kings' Palace

Fireworks crackled, drummers drummed (loudly), a fanfare resounded to announce the arrival of the cavalcade ... As horses and camels speed into the arena - real close between the seating laid out for the audience! (Guess who had an aisle seat?)

After a live reenactment of the entire Christmas Story, complete with real live donkey, goats, sheep and even a human baby ... the Kings address the crowd from the palace Town Hall balcony, then take their thrones to begin dishing out gifts to a long list of kids, not just from Garachico, but from all over the island and even abroad.

Before that, the local children put on a show and, just to make sure this doesn't become an entirely spoilt "commercial venture", a film reminds us all of less fortunate kids in Africa, Asia, South America and other parts of the world. Us (so-called) grown-ups were way too tired to hang around right to the very end of the line.

The scene is set outside the Church of Los Angeles

Traditional to eat on January 6, is Roscón de Reyes, a "crown" or ring-shaped bread, decorated with "jewels" of glacé fruits, which contains surprise gifts and a supposedly unlucky bean somewhere inside.

The year's second largest Lottery, El Niño, is also drawn on this day. This creates a bit of excitement in the Canary Islands, because, historically, this draw has been more likely than the big Christmas Draw, El Gordo, to drop the odd decent prize on the islands.

With Epiphany being on January 6th, it seems that Spanish Christmas holidays go on forever, but this is THE BIG DAY when everyone will have time off to be with their family. Many in the tourist sector worked on Christmas Day.

Santa Claus, better known here as Papa Noel, is gaining popularity in Spain, appearing alongside Los Reyes Magos and he may bring a few presents on Christmas Eve - the justification is that it gives the kids more time to enjoy their new toys whilst they still have school holidays to amuse themselves in. The custom on the 6th is you get taken around to see what everyone got (with adults naturally feigning much surprise), which is great because you get to play with everyone's toys! Now I must go and get some straw ...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

King of Craft Fairs in Santa Cruz

Almost 60 artisans & crafters are taking part in the VIII Feria de Artesanía en Reyes in Tenerife's capital, Santa Cruz this week.

Textiles, footwear, pieces of jewellery, objects in wood, leather and ceramics, amongst others, can be purchased as unique and original gifts for Los Reyes - The Three Kings - in a marquee situated in front of the Cabildo building in the city's Plaza de España.

Hours are from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. daily, except the final day of the fair, Thursday, January 5th, when shoppers have right up until midnight to get those, literally, last minute items.

Casi 60 artesanos exponen desde hoy hasta el día 5 en la VIII Feria en Reyes de Santa Cruz de Tenerife