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Archive for September, 2008

It was reading Khaled Hossein’s compelling novel, ‘The Kite Runner’ that finally sent me over the edge. Even with the aid of a torch to supplement the bedside lamp, I was finding it nigh on impossible to read the small print.
“I’m going to have to get some new glasses” I said to Jack, who was holding his book so far away from his eyes that for a moment I’d thought he’d fallen asleep and dropped it. “In fact, I think we both need to get our eyes tested.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my eyes”, he retorted “I just need longer arms.”

As luck would have it, MultiOpticas is currently having one of its ‘Two pairs of glasses for €98’ offers and so I headed up to their La Villa branch and made an appointment.
“I don’t suppose the two pairs could be for two different people?” I asked, tentatively. A raised eyebrow was sufficient by way of a response and I laughed nervously and pretended it had only been a joke.

Thursday afternoon found me sitting in a large leather Mastermind-type chair in front of a pair of robotic spectacles trying to give my date of birth in Spanish and thinking how much easier that would have been had I been born in the last 8 years (a joke that only Spanish speakers will get). But the worst was yet to come.
After the robotic specs had shown me a little house on the horizon and had clicked and whirred several times bringing the picture into and out of focus, the assistant asked me to read the letters on the last row of the chart being flashed up on the wall behind her.

As I struggled to firstly see the chart, then the letters, she made adjustments to robo-specs to bring the row into focus so I could see it. But I suddenly realised that I didn’t know how to pronounce all the letters of the alphabet in Spanish and she took my continued hesitation to mean that I still couldn’t see and made further adjustments that were threatening to send the thing out of focus again.

They look great from this side!

They look great from this side!

Beginning to sweat, I started to recite the letters, stopping when I got to H and suddenly blurting out “aitch!” followed swiftly by ‘lo siento’ and an embarrassed, apologetic glance that was hidden by robo-specs in any case.
More charts flashed before my eyes and I stuttered through them, not because I couldn’t see them, but because I didn’t know how to pronounce them. The letter ‘G’ was one that constantly failed to lodge itself in my brain and kept appearing in those damn charts, followed closely by the letter ‘H’ which I still don’t know how to pronounce in Spanish.
We continued painstakingly through charts and clusters of dots with my faltering vocabulary until eventually the tests were completed and I thanked her for her forbearance. She shrugged and said it was ‘no problem’ and that she’d understood me perfectly well.

Yesterday I went to collect my shiny new glasses; one pair for near-sightedness for reading and working at the pc, and one for long-sightedness which I can’t put on without feeling slightly dizzy. And now, as I sit at this keyboard, wearing the ones for near-sightedness and looking at letters the size of a child’s alphabet and a screen that looks like it’s been made for the sight impaired, if I move an inch too far back or too far forward, I can’t see a bloody thing.

It turns out my Spanish was worse than my eyes.

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Only for Bravehearts

Only for Bravehearts

As it was Bryan’s last night, we felt that it would have been mean to dump him in Playa de Las Américas whilst we joined the smart set at Siam Park’s inauguration. So whilst I noseyed around ‘The Water Kingdom’ amongst the designer suits and Audrey Hepburn print dresses of the invited guests, Andy showed Bryan the sights and bright lights of the ‘revamped’ face of Tenerife’s tourist Mecca.

Siam Park has had its detractors, but transforming the bland desert-like landscape into a lush Thai paradise is no mean feat and, in my opinion, an improvement. Like the resorts below it, Siam Park is designed with the pleasure of its visitors in mind; its white knuckle ride attractions are meant to be brought alive with excited screams and the sound of laughter. Whilst the Thai themed water park looked splendid in the golden twilight, the perfectly attired guests seemed strangely out of place below the menacing ‘Dragon’ or the gaudy features of the ‘Giant’ water rides; maybe the invitations should have advised ‘bikini’s and Speedos’ as the preferred dress mode.

The mighty Palace of the Waves

The mighty 'Palace of the Waves'

Once I’d listened to the speeches and decided I’d seen enough for the moment, I headed into Playa de las Américas (PDLA) to meet up with Andy and Bryan in a pleasant, but unremarkable pavement bar/restaurant on the ‘Patch’. After I’d baulked at the prices (I’d forgotten how much more expensive restaurants were in the ‘upmarket’ tourist areas of PDLA and Costa Adeje) and I told Andy and Bryan all about Siam Park, they told me all about their impressions.

Bryan had been to PDLA some years ago and had stayed around the infamous or famous, depending on your point of view, ‘Veronicas’ area. He hadn’t been impressed. The area around the ‘Patch’ with its smart restaurants, stylish bars, designer shops and Las Vegas type hotels was not the PDLA he remembered. The mock Roman pillars and statues of the ‘Palacio de Congresos’ had apparently elicited a “What’s that all about?”
Around us, visitors from a host of countries were stylishly dressed in expensive looking clothes; not the cheap and cheerful image of Tenerife that is too often portrayed in the UK.

PDLA or Las Vegas?

PDLA or Las Vegas?

And then Bryan said something that we initially laughed at, but then it occurred to us that it might not be as far fetched as it first sounded.
“Do you think that people in places like Benijos have ever visited PDLA, or do you think that they talk about it like some mythical land which may or may not exist on the other side of the island,” he pondered. “Like that M. Night Shyamalan movie, ‘The Village’.”

It was an interesting thought. Most of the people around us certainly never knew Benijos, or places like it, existed. To many of them this was Tenerife and the idea of a little village surrounded by vines and pines where people play imaginary ‘timples’ and you’re as likely to see horses on the roads as cars might seem a ridiculous notion, so why not the other way around? I’m pretty positive that if you told some of the older folk in Benijos, that in PDLA people pay over €7 for a hamburger, they’d run you out of town for being a fanciful fool.

And that is one of the beauties of Tenerife; you can find your Benijos if you want, or you can wallow in the amenities of a modern tourist resort if that’s your preference. Tenerife is nothing if not diverse.

Guest Blogger – Jack M

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The cloud had descended to just above our heads; so close that it felt if you stretched out an arm it would disappear into grey cotton wool. The man in front of us swayed to the music as he played an imaginary timple; tears rolled down his creased cheeks in response to the emotional ballad booming out over the loudspeakers; his watery eyes already glazed and slightly unfocussed; a consequence of the previous day’s fiesta. A toothless woman in gaily coloured traditional costume cackled (she was, what in bygone days would have been called, an old crone) and flashed a gaping grin at our friend Bryan as she invited him to join her at the fiesta.
Bryan reacted to this a bit like Patsy in the episode of Absolutely Fabulous set in France and scowled at us with an expression which said; ‘Why don’t I have friends who do normal things like go to the beach on a Sunday instead of dragging me to the land that time forgot where the chances are I’ll end up as the meat in the puchero.’

Boy Racer - Benijos Style

Boy Racer - Benijos Style

We’re used to processions at fiestas on Tenerife running a bit late, but the romería at the tiny hamlet of Benijos in the hills above La Orotava was taking unpunctuality to new levels. Due to start at 3pm, by 5pm townsfolk in traditional costume were still making their way to the romería’s starting point a couple of kilometres along the road. I suspected that the previous days festivities, which our imaginary guitar playing friend slurringly informed us had gone on till 7am, had taken their toll on attempts to stick to any sort of organised timetable. It didn’t matter to the people of Benijos, they were the parade; this was their party and the longer it was drawn out the better. And it didn’t really matter to Andy and me; there were wonderful images all around. Two teenage fiesta queens in tiaras were made up like seventies beauty queens, except instead of gowns they were wearing denims and T-shirts; chavette queens perhaps. A seriously drunken caballero swaying precariously on his thankfully sober steed, Tenerife’s Cat Ballou, sparked a discussion as to whether you could be charged with drunk driving on a horse.

The procession finally got underway around 6pm, but it moved at such an interminably slow pace, the palm

Isnt that Robbie Williams on the right?

Isn't that Robbie Williams on the right?

frond bedecked floats stopping at every house along the road, that we calculated that it would be 9pm before it reached us. We decided to speed things up by leaving our vantage point and meeting it halfway, dragging a grumbling Bryan “once you’ve seen one harvest float, you’ve seen them all” for whom the slow pace of life in Benijos was rapidly losing its charm.

When we reached the procession Bryan’s mood changed. Whilst I wandered around taking photographs, being stopped by every other person in the procession who shouted “Saque un foto, saque un foto,” (“take a photograph”) buxom matrons bombarded Andy and Bryan with eggs, pork fillets, gofio, chorizo paste montaditos, plastic glasses of country wine and, bizarrely, popcorn. By the time I rejoined them Bryan was beaming.
“This is great,” he mumbled through a mouthful of pork tenderloin; the previous four hours apparently compensated for by the mountain of free food and wine in his arms.

As a fiesta it was a disorganised shambling rough and ready affair, but as always the incredibly friendly and generous Canarios were full of the joie de vivre at doing what they do best – havin’ a party and their enthusiasm was infectious.

Twenty four hours later I might as well have been on the other side of the world as the other side of the island when I went to the biggest event on Tenerife this year; the opening of the island’s spectacular newest tourist attraction, Siam Park in the hills behind Costa Adeje, or is that Playa de Las Américas?

Guest Blogger: Jack M

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Friday night is usually movie night; a second hand DVD and a bottle of wine in front of the telly. But this Friday the action moved from the small screen to the Plaza de San Marcos in Tegueste where previously unseen footage of Pirates of the Caribbean was played out before our very eyes.

Wonderful 19th Century costumes; I particularly like the hats

Wonderful 19th Century costumes

Tegueste is a small, picturesque town in the northeast of Tenerife with a fanatical commitment to preserving its heritage and a definite bent towards the bizarre.

Many towns and villages on Tenerife hold a Romería during the summer, which coincides with the celebration of their particular Saint’s day and often has a history of some special favours bestowed by the Saint on the community. Tegueste is no exception. Except that, when in the 17th Century San Marcos ‘saved’ the town from the bubonic plague which raged all around them, where other towns offered the fruits of the earth in thanks, Tegueste built small galleons with white sails and, being entirely landlocked, ‘sailed’ them on wheels pulled by oxen. I rest my case.

The Teguest boats feature in the town’s annual Romería, and once every 3 years, play a central role in the its Librea (salvation), which was where we were on Friday night.

Arriving at 9 pm for a 9.30 pm start, the stands placed on three sides and in front of the church in the small plaza were packed to capacity and the square that circumnavigates the church was inches deep in sand. We made our way to the far side of the plaza where we had a reasonable view of the full scale castle that had been erected as a façade to the Town Hall, complete with turrets, battlements and cannon.
At 9.30 prompt (I told you Tegueste had a penchant for the bizarre) the action began.

Wandering along the sandy streets from three sides of the plaza came Tegueste townsfolk, attired splendidly

Looking like a ghostly apparition, Prebendado Pachero narrates

Looking like a ghostly apparition, Prebendado Pachero narrates

in 18th Century costumes, the women carrying large bouquets of cut flowers in their arms as they ambled into the plaza where herds of goats, oxen and soldiers were gathered. Narrated by the town’s minister; Prebendado Pachero, who was a key figure in its development at that time, a beautiful pageant unfolded of life in the sleepy agricultural town.
Until, that is, a ‘boat’ arrived on the horizon (the street at the side of the church) and sailed (on wheels, pulled by oxen) towards the castle, followed by another, and another; the first manned by pirates, the second by Moors and the third by the English. All hell broke loose as the corsairs tried to take the castle and a mighty, heroic defence by the Teguesteros began.

Unfortunately, as the ships sailed into the plaza, the Pirates of the Caribbean theme music blasted out from speakers and, with a Johnny Depp lookalike posing, sabre in hand, on the mast of the first galleon, I found myself resolutely on the side of the pirates; not I’m sure, where my allegiance was supposed to lie.

The battle raged for about half an hour during which cannon fired on the ships, artillery railed from the battlements and the ships retaliated, all accompanied by laser beams frantically panning the sky, billowing smoke underlit by red beams, air bombs, rockets, stirring music and frequent casualties who were dragged unceremoniously from the scene of the battle only to miraculously resurrect and get straight back into the thick of the action.
It was brilliant.

The battle for the defence of Tenerifes realm; all those in favour of the pirates, say Aye!

The battle for the defence of Tenerife's realm; all those in favour of the pirates, say "Aye"!

When the pirates, the Moors and the English were finally driven away, there was a three lap retreat around the plaza by the ships at breakneck speed (one vessel nearly coming a cropper at the corner, being led by a young Teguestero who clearly has Ben Hur aspirations), a moving rendition of Ave Maria and a spectacular firework display set to stirring classical music, strangely, including Land of Hope and Glory; err, who won? And everyone wandered off into the balmy night with a head full of heroic deeds and not much idea of where and when they actually took place.

Tegueste, a bizarrely lovely place.

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