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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Some aromas just make you smile.

For me it’s the scent of hot pine needles which remind me of hiking through sun dappled forests; freshly mown grass which conjures up camping trips to Cornwall, the Lake District and Wales; candyfloss and toffee apples which transport me back to childhood fairgrounds and …toasted grass seeds. No, not the sort you smoke (though come to think of it that should be on the list too), but the sort that the Alfombristas (carpet makers) of La Orotava use to outline, silhouette, create shadow and background to their floral masterpieces during the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Yesterday we arrived in the Baroque town of La Orotava which lies in the valley of the same name above the northwest coast of Tenerife at about 11am.
Sweating in the already hot sun as we laboured up the cartoon-sized incline of the cobbled streets, the aroma of toasted grass seeds assailed my nostrils and a broad smile crossed my lips.

I remembered spending last year here with Pamela from Secret Tenerife and her friend José ‘Mataparda’; wandering endlessly around the burgeoning carpets, drinking beer outside a Guachinche and eating carne machada arepas at an arepera near the bus station…happy days.

As we made our way towards the Ayuntamiento where the main sand and soil tapestry occupies the plaza, some of the flower carpets in the surrounding streets were already well underway whereas others had barely begun. It’s one of the great joys of the day, wandering in a continuous circuit of the carpets watching as they take shape and form, transforming before your very eyes from ‘do you know what it is yet?’ status to ‘ah! It’s the La Orotava skyline at sunset’.

It took us almost two hours to do one circuit and to go up to the balcony of the Ayuntamiento from where we could photograph the main tapestry. While there, we noticed that there were people on the roof of the church of La Concepción and we headed that way to try our luck.

Eagle eyed Jack spotted ‘Mataparda’at a small balcony half way up the tower and we went inside to meet him. José took us up the narrow winding staircase of the tower to the window we’d seen him from and Jack took some photos before we continued towards the roof.

Just as it seemed we were about to have La Orotava at our feet we were stopped in our tracks by a trainee jobsworth who insisted that no-one else could go onto the roof as last night’s rain had left the surface too slippery and dangerous. We retreated back to ground level where we were joined by Colin (easy to spot with his blonde hair and ubiquitous CD Tenerife football top).
By the time we got back out into the sun it was definitely lunch time and we headed to the little Gauchinche by the side of the Town Hall where José treated us to beer and pinchos. Another perfect day and one which ought to be on the ‘must see’ list of every respectable traveller.

I’ll let the carpets speak for themselves and I’ll consign the smell of toasted grass seeds to memory for another year.

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Dressed cross in Los Realejos Alto on 3rd May 2008The opening shot across the bow comes with an ear-splitting explosion out of which a magnificent glistening gold crucifix forms and hangs in the firmament above the church square. The crowd draws its breath in a gasp and the fading crucifix is replaced by a fiery row of red and silver fountains above which barrages of colour explode across the night sky in rapid fire. Vivid sunbursts spread like blossoming stains; tiny whorls race around the firmament like tadpoles released into a stream; shooting stars run amok in psychedelic rain and scatter gun air bombs rip through our ears and vibrate the windows of the houses.

Last weekend was Fiesta of the Cross; a traditional fiesta dating back to the conquest in 1496, during which every cross on the island, from the humblest wooden crucifix placed in the open window of a small cottage to ornate gilded processional crosses carried on the shoulders of devotees, is decorated with flowers, candles and incense.

In Los Realejos Alto in Northern Tenerife, the day is traditionally rounded off by Europe’s largest firework display. Originating from the rivalry between two firework factories in the municipality, one aligned to Calle del Sol, the other to Calle del Medio, the 3rd of May displays take the form of pyrotechnic aerial skirmishes between the two streets and the still, black, night sky provides the battleground on which the factory armies of Los Realejos wage war with their gunpowder cannons.

Europe's biggest firework display in Los Realejos on 3rd May 2008When the first display finally subsides the rival street retaliates. But the still night air contrives to hold the smoke pall hostage and much of the display is lost within its murky mass; it’s a dastardly ploy, perfectly executed. Though the sky blazes red and pulsates with the beat of the strobe-lit explosions, all that can be seen from the little church square are fiery comets which thunder from behind the veil and hurtle towards the earth; tantalising glimpses of clouds of gentle fairy dust twinkling behind the haze and slender ribbons of jewelled lights suspended above the valley for what seems like an eternity.

Silence falls and the smoke cloud drifts painfully slowly across the plaza where we’re standing and where crowds are now converging to watch the finale. With all eyes trained on the football stadium, we wait, and wait…and wait. After an hour of silent skies, the cold night air of Los Realejos Alto in early May starts to diminish enthusiasm for the contest and people begin to drift away, unsure of what has happened to the final battle. I head back to the car and join the queue for the motorway, the air conditioning turned to warm for only the second time in the car’s four year life.

All the way home I’m accompanied by the air raid soundtrack of the delayed final denouement and in the rear view mirror I can see the night’s bloodstained front line.
In Tenerife it seems, even a war succumbs to the ‘mañana culture’.

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It’s been a fleeting week for me. I don’t just mean in the way that time spent on Tenerife has a habit of running away like water down a drain, I mean because I’ve been involved in things that fleet.
Can you tell what it is yet? Firstly, we’ve been working on a feature about the flower carpets of La Orotava. On the feast of Corpus Christi, which falls in May this year, the residents of the beautiful Renaissance town of La Orotava decorate their streets in the most incredible detailed carpets fashioned entirely in flower petals and seeds.

At the crack of sunlight on Corpus Christi, materials are gathered, outlines are drawn, frames are placed and the intensive work can begin. None of the petals are cut until the day to ensure maximum freshness and so the first job is for the women to painstakingly snip thousands of petals from flowering branches into buckets which slowly fill with crimson, cornflower blue, primrose, white, lavender and pink.

On hands and knees, whole generations of families meticulously place the petals row upon row until the image begins to form. With every passing hour the ranks of bystanders swell and everyone files slowly down the streets watching each illustration take more form with every circuit of the route.

By late afternoon the carpets are complete. Cameras flash and TV crews film to capture the beauty of the artistry. In a few short hours it will all be gone and only digital images will remain as the Corpus Christi procession walks over the carpets, scattering petals to the breeze and the street cleaners.

A Monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoonThen today , I went to the butterfly farm of Mariposario del Drago in Icod de los Vinos where, in the beautiful setting of a tropical garden I witnessed eggs turn to caterpillars, then to chrysalids and finally to butterflies as they split their cocoons and unfurled their beautiful wings.
After such a complex metamorphosis, the butterflies have only a short time to live, their entire life cycle lasting on average between 1 and 3 weeks.

Resting quietly on the bark of a tree was a giant night butterfly (as moths are apparently known), Attacus Atlas, the largest butterfly in the world. It remains in its cocoon for between 7 months and a year and then emerges, to live only for 5 or 6 days.

Beauty and transience, I found myself musing on this subject on my way home and just as I was sure I was about to reach a profound conclusion on the fleeting nature of life, I was pulled over by the Guardia Civil and slapped with a speeding ticket and a fine… bloody perfect.

If you’re planning to rent a car on Tenerife, it’s best to know the dos and don’ts of driving…

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I kept wishing I’d worn the scarf Aunty Barbara bought me for Christmas.

Less than a week ago I’d been stretched out on Playa Jardín, turning intermittently like a chicken on a spit. Now I had my collar turned as high as it would go and my ears hadn’t been this cold since I spent an October night at the Alta Vista Refuge 2,500 metres above sea level.

But that’s La Laguna for you. Even at the height of summer you think twice about coming here without socks and a sweater for insurance. This was 9 pm on Good Friday and even a rollneck sweater and jacket were no match for the cold wind that was coming in from the north and racing down the narrow streets between tall buildings creating mini tornadoes of litter that danced along the cobbles.

La Laguna's Silent ProcessionThere were considerably more people here than I’d expected. Last Easter at the Magna Procession there were no more than a dozen people at any one point along the route. The Silent Procession wasn’t due to start until 9.30pm and already the route was reaching capacity. Like me, most people had opted for the relative shelter of the narrow streets rather than the open space of Plaza del Adelantado where the wind had nothing else to do but seek out the gaps in people’s collars.

I made my way along the route looking for somewhere to squeeze into and settled on an intersection where a group of schoolgirls were gathered, all of them at least 2 foot smaller than me and so no object to visibility. I moved in behind them and waited. Around me people shuffled their feet and re-arranged their scarves, chatting and greeting friends in the usual holiday atmosphere.
Amber lanterns cast a flaxen glow over the seventeenth century buildings and the cobbles, lending the scene a Dickensian aura. Above the end of the street the full moon hung like a Chinese lantern, the last wisps of clouds scudding across its face in their haste to vacate the firmament and abandon it to the cold.

Suddenly the lamps went black and darkness fell like a blow across the street. Everyone stopped talking, as if their voices had been light-activated. In the silence, the bells of La Concepción rang out and heads turned to watch the top of the street.
First came the sound; a soft, rhythmic beat like an army marching in slippers. Then came the torches, swaying in the wind high above the heads of the Brotherhood torch-bearers. The rhythmic beat grew more audible as the group drew closer and I could see that the noise was coming from the way they were walking; each foot brushing the ground before creating an arc and returning to repeat the manoeuvre.
In the torchlight, the tall conical hoods cast two storey high, menacing shadows that crept along the walls of the buildings opposite. The noise changed. The steady beat was replaced by a grating of metal on stone as the shackled ankles of the barefoot Brotherhood dragged their chains behind them.

For forty minutes I stood in that cold street in La Laguna along with hundreds of others while Brotherhood after Brotherhood filed past in the dim torchlight and no-one broke the silence.

With the whole of the old quarter blacked out and barely a Policia to be seen, no-one tried to pick a pocket or steal a car.

When the Procession had passed, the murmur of conversation resumed and shutters and doors were thrown open to allow the warm glow of lights from bars and restaurants to spill onto the street in invitation.
In the absence of Aunty Barbara’s scarf, they didn’t have to ask me twice; a shot of rum was just what I needed to bring the feeling back to my fingers and ears.

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On Good Friday I decided to watch the Holy Processions that take place in the old capital of La Laguna.
On an unseasonably hot afternoon, I arrived in time to see the first Brotherhood emerge from the Church of La Concepción and was immediately taken aback by the site of their robes which included pointed full-face hoods with eye holes rudely cut into them; the sort of garb usually associated with the Ku-Klux-Klan.Semana Santa

The Holy Processions in La Laguna are not on ‘the tourist trail’ and very few of the island’s annual visitors witness them. As a result there were no crowds and I was able to stand right alongside as each Brotherhood slowly walked past, their robes sometimes in rich hues of blue, red or purple and sometimes in plain white or black. Between them they carried heavy processional crosses, torches ready to be flamed once darkness began to fall and incense burners which they swung from side to side filling the air with a musky scent. The local people who gathered to watch, watched in silence.
Towards the end of the procession, three of the most devout Orders walked barefoot, one of their number carrying a full size crucifix on his shoulder and all of them were chained at the wrists and ankles, the heavy links scraping along the ground behind them, rhythmically breaking the silence.

Worn as a way of concealing their identity in order to avoid praise for their piety and devotion, the robes evoked strong emotion in me; not the anger that rises in me when confronted with images of the Ku-Klux-Klan, but of equal force and opposite nature; I felt a lump in my throat which was hard to dislodge.
Hatred and love – one symbol with the power to evoke them both in equal measure

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