Monday, 22 February 2010

The Carnaval in Tenerife is Over…Thank Goodness

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who moan and groan about noise, drunkenness, rowdy revellers and all sorts every time carnaval is mentioned. I love carnaval, but by the end of carnaval week I’m shattered.

When we first moved to Puerto de la Cruz a bank teller told us carnaval was for the young. At the time I thought she was an old sourpuss; however, I’m starting to come around to her point of view. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak and late night parties combined with standing for hours waiting for and watching parades takes its toll much more than it used to.

Carnaval didn’t start well, the new mayor (really an old mayor rehashed) decided in his infinite wisdom that Puerto wasn’t going to have an opening parade, so carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz got off to a damp squib of a start. However, we did get to eat doorstopper sized catalanas at the best food stall in the universe.

 By Monday night, usually one of the best party nights, carnaval fever had picked up and Andy and I ‘costumed up’ and headed into town for an overdose of partying and people watching.  If you want to get a real insight into the Tinerfeño character then you should experience a carnaval street party. Booze is consumed like there’s no tomorrow, yet in six years of attending these all night parties I’ve never seen a hint of trouble – only seas of slightly vacant, smiling faces.

An orange weather alert for high winds and rain put a bit of a dampener on the Burial of the Sardine which was postponed in both Santa Cruz and Puerto, but by Friday night, the worst of the weather had passed and the highlight of Puerto’s carnaval, the high heels drag marathon, was able to take place without threat of the contestants' skirts being blown over their heads – not that they would have been worried by that – flashing your drawers, or better (or worse depending on your position), fake genitals is almost compulsory. This year there were over 300 entries into the race and watching them all get introduced by the compere was a marathon in itself. My favourite outfit was a Shiva who had beer cans in some of her many arms.
 By the time of the closing parade on Saturday, I was flagging. However, being one of the most photogenic events of the year it’s too good an opportunity to get some real stand out photos. The big decision is always where to position myself. I normally never get it completely right – the perfect quiet spot becomes flooded with people as soon as the parade starts; last year it was too sunny, creating dark, dark shadows – but this year I got lucky. It wasn’t full sunshine, but it was bright and I found a spot which remained remarkably people free allowing me to crouch, stand, kneel, stand on my head etc to get the angle I wanted.
 By the end of Saturday night I was both relieved and saddened that carnaval was over for another year. Of course to say it’s over is a bit misleading as it spreads out to other towns now, but although still fun they’re not quite in the same league as Santa Cruz and Puerto’s.

Anyone arriving in town this week will find a very different and subdued Puerto – that’s because everyone is exhausted. Come back in a month and we’ll all be desperate for the next fiesta.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Living in Another Culture – Living on Tenerife is Different… Honest #2

A couple of days after the British Guild of Travel Writer’s dinner we met up with travel writer and TV director, John Bell in Puerto de la Cruz and took him to one of our favourite places in the town, Cha Paula, an authentic Canarian restaurant in an old mansion.

Apart from experiencing the visually surreal ‘Chorizo de Teror’, John also discovered that the Canarian accent can have as much in common with Madrid Spanish, where John has spent quite a bit of time, as Rab C Nesbitt’s English has with the Queen’s.

“The accent’s a bit different isn’t it?” John commented after the owner, an intimidating-looking, but actually very friendly, shaven head Canario with an accent as thick as palm honey, had explained to us why pimientos de padrón grown on Tenerife weren’t spicy.
His Canarian Spanish led to a discovery of a way to serve coffee that I certainly had never seen before.

As John tried to order a type of coffee he’d seen people drinking in cafes, but wasn’t sure what it was called, the owner thought for a second and then suggested something that sounded like 'cafayconwello'.

“That’s it!”
declared John and then turning to us, asked. “What did he say?”
“Café con hielo,” Andy answered. “Coffee with ice.”

Sure enough, Cha Paula’s owner returned with an espresso sized cup of coffee and a huge tumbler filled with ice. Clearly the ice couldn’t fit into the cup, so John poured the coffee over the ice.

“What does it taste like?”
I asked, intrigued by this unusual method of serving coffee.
“Slightly cold coffee,” was the amused and probably obvious reply.

When the owner came back to the table we asked if this was a popular way to serve coffee.

“For Canarios, no,” he shrugged, then added. “But maybe for peninsulares...sometimes.” With an expression which said, ‘the mainland Spanish are probably strange enough to try something like this’.

It was one of those delicious little moments which illustrated that everyday life in the real Tenerife can be different even if you’re familiar with the ways of mainland Spain.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Living in Another Culture – Living on Tenerife is Different… Honest #1

One of the funny things about Tenerife is that its modern image has been shaped more by tourism over the last 40 years than the reality of what life on most of Tenerife is really like and has been like for 500 years.

The British Guild of Travel Writers held their annual general meeting on Tenerife recently and Andy and I attended their gala dinner where we got chatting to a number of the members.

I found that when I was asked ‘why did you move to Tenerife?’ and I answered ‘to experience living in a different culture’ (that was the pretentious answer – the lure of warm weather also figured highly) that I also felt obliged to explain that living anywhere outside of the main, purpose built resorts can be like living a million miles from the Tenerife that many had an image of in their minds.

I sat next to a charming lady at the BGTW dinner who spent 4 months of the year on the island of Zante in Greece. We swapped stories about the quirks of life in another culture – good and bad. She told me of the mayor who used the police as his personal heavies; arresting people who he didn’t like and arranging when holes in roads were repaired that the ones in front of the house of people who didn’t vote for him were left unfilled. I countered with the Tenerife mayor who posted a policeman outside of the butterfly gardens to deter visitors because of a personal dispute and another mayor who recently had three young journalists physically removed by the police from a public session of the council because they were posting news straight onto the web – clearly he’s not quite up to scratch with this new-fangled internet thingy.

Mostly though, our stories were about the positive quirks – and thank god these outweigh the ones that have you turning all Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther movies. It’s been what we call a frustrating TIT of a week (This Is Tenerife). But it was nice to share tales with someone from outside of the island who confirmed my suspicions that getting to grips with a different culture wherever you are usually involves a willingness to accept that things may not be quite as organised, or work as smoothly as you've been used to. But then that's part of the charm...most of the time.