Canada Slim and the Road to Utopia

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 27 August 2019

Sometimes a place defines a person.

Sometimes a person defines a place.

 

 

Take the eminent Canarian author Alberto Vásquez-Figueroa as an example of the first.

 

Álberto Vázquez-Figueroa in Barcelona in 2009

 

Alberto’s grandfather was an architect.

Alberto’s father was born in Guadalajara while Alberto’s grandmother was there.

Alberto’s mother, the daughter of a local farmer, was born on Isla de Lobos, one of the Canary Islands.

 

 

Alberto himself was born on 11 October 1936 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, although he had not yet reached one year old when his family was exiled for political reasons to Spanish Africa, since his father was a Socialist Republican during the Spanish Civil War.

There Alberto spent his childhood.

His father was released, but he was admitted to hospital for several years because of tuberculosis.

While Alberto was in Africa, his mother died.

 

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Alberto’s care was picked up by his uncle, the civil administrator of the military fort in the Spanish Sahara where they lived.

His uncle provided Alberto books to read, especially beloved adventure novels, by authors such as Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days), which would later become Alberto’s preferred genre.

Since his youth, Alberto visited the Sahara and would later describe the culture of the desert region in his writing.

 

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At 16 Alberto returned to Tenerife to study, working as a scuba instructor in the Cruz del Sur Diving School, along with Jacques Cousteau, where he would remain for two years.

Alberto worked on the rescue of bodies in Lake Sanabria after the Vega de Tera Dam burst, destroying the town of Ribadelago.

 

Monumento a las víctimas de la catástrofe de Ribadelago.

Above: Monument to the victims of Ribadelago

 

He attended the studios of the Escuela Oficial de Periodismo de Madrid in a 1962 and worked in the Destino specials.

He was a war correspondent in La Vanguardia, for TVE (Televisión Española) and for the program A toda plana with de la Cuadra Salcedo and Silva.

As a correspondent, he documented revolutionary wars in countries such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

 

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He later wrote his first novel, Arena y viento (Sand and Wind) and in 1975, he published as many as 14 to 15 novellas such as Ébano.

His other works include Tuareg and El perro as well as the sagas Cienfuegos, Bora Bora, Manaos and Piratas.

 

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Ébano was cinematized in 1979 by director Richard Fleischer and renamed Ashanti.

Ashanti (also called Ashanti, Land of No Mercy) is a 1979 action adventure film.

Despite its impressive cast and setting (on location in the Sahara and in Kenya, Israel and Sicily), it was widely panned by critics upon release.

Michael Caine was reportedly very disappointed with the project and claims it was his third worst film.

Ashanti is an action adventure film, set against the background of modern-day slave trading, with a man who determinedly takes on a perilous journey in order to find his beautiful wife, who has been kidnapped by brutal slave traders.

David and Anansa Linderby (Caine and supermodel Beverley Johnson respectively) are doctors with the World Health Organization (WHO).

On a medical mission carrying out an inoculation programme, they visit a West African village.

While David takes photographs of tribal dancers, Anansa goes swimming alone.

She is attacked and abducted by slave traders led by Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), who mistake her for an Ashanti tribeswoman.

The police can do nothing to find her and David has almost given up hope when he hears rumours that Anansa has been kidnapped by Suleiman to be sold to Arab Prince Hassan (Omar Sharif).

The African authorities deny that the slave trade even exists.

So David must find help in a shadowy world where the rescuers of slaves are just as ruthless as the traders themselves.

As David tracks her across Africa and the Sahara desert, he is helped by a member of the Anti-Slavery League (Rex Harrison), a mercenary helicopter pilot (William Holden) and Malik (Kabir Bedi) a tribesman who is seeking revenge on Suleiman.

 

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Alberto’s novel Tuareg was cinematized in 1984 by director Enzo G. Castellari.

Tuareg is a thriller novel that was his most critically and commercially successful, with global sales in excess of 5,000,000 copies.

It was adapted into a 1984 movie starring Mark Harmon, Tuareg – The Desert Warrior.

This is the first book in the Tuareg trilogy, followed by Los Ojos del Tuareg and El Último Tuareg.

 

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One day, two old men and a boy appear in Gacel Shayah’s camp in the Sahara.

He, a noble inmouchar observing the millennial tradition of the desert, shelters travelers.

But he fails to protect them.

People in dusty military uniforms violate the ancient hospitality law.

They kill the boy and take one old man away.

Gasel Shayah remembers the great commandment of the Tuareg people:

Your guest is under your protection.

Therefore, he must seek vengeance.

 

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Alberto’s novel Iguana was cinematized in 1988 by Monte Hellman.

Iguana is a 1988 American adventure drama/thriller film starring Everett McGill in the main role.

The movie is based on the life of a real Irish sailor called Patrick Watkins.

The movie was mainly shot on location in Lanzarote.

 

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The film takes place at the beginning of the 19th century.

Oberlus (Everett McGill), a harpooner on a whaling ship, is regularly subjected to ridicule and abuse by other sailors.

The right half of his face is bizarrely disfigured and covered with hummocky outgrowths, which leads him to being nicknamed Iguana.

One night, after a brutal beating, Oberlus escapes to the uninhabited Hood Island.

He is soon discovered by a team led by Captain Gamboa (Fabio Testi).

Gamboa brutally tortures Oberlus and ties him up for further punishment, but Iguana manages to escape and hides himself in a cave.

The ship leaves the island and Gamboa orders that sailor Sebastian (Michael Madsen) be tied to a post on the coast as punishment for letting Iguana escape.

Oberlus finds Sebastian and proclaims himself “King of Hood Island” and Sebastian his first slave, forcing him to cook his food.

Declaring revenge upon the world, Oberlus enslaves two other sailors thrown ashore after the shipwreck.

He keeps his captives in a cave with a disguised entrance.

After some time, a ship holding Carmen (Maru Valdivieso) and her fiancé Diego (Fernando De Huang), is moored near the island.

Oberlus takes them prisoner.

Oberlus kills Diego and makes Carmen his concubine.

The captain of the ship, assuming Carmen and Diego to have died in the storm, does not look for them, but sails away.

One day, Oberlus notices the arrival of his former whaling ship.

At night, he climbs on board, kills two sailors on the deck, takes Gamboa prisoner, and sets the ship alight, having previously locked the hull.

Gamboa fights Oberlus, but is killed by him.

Resigned to her fate, Carmen tells Oberlus that she is pregnant with his child.

Months later, the captain of the ship Carmen and Diego arrived on, returns with a group of armed sailors.

They begin their search and Oberlus has to flee to the other end of the island with pregnant Carmen and his surviving prisoners.

Oberlus plans to sail away with Carmen on the boat.

Carmen gives birth, but Oberlus takes the child, claiming that he will allow him to suffer.

With the child in his arms, he enters the sea, intending to drown himself and the child.

 

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Alberto’s novel Garoé (the name of a sacred tree in the Canary Islands) won the 2010 Historical Novel Prize Alfonso X El Sabio, valued at €100,000.

He has also published an autobiography entitled Anaconda.

He is also a screenwriter and film director and has made such films as Oro rojo (Red Gold).

 

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Alberto currently resides between an attic apartment in the Madrid neighbourhood of Argüelles and a home on Lanzarote.

I am not sure if that home is in the village of Haría in the north of the island of Lanzarote, but I suspect it might be, for Alberto once described Haría as the most beautiful village in the world.

Although this description is a tad exaggerated, Haría really does have a pretty bucolic setting, in a palm-filled valley punctuated by splashes of brilliant colour from bougainvillea and poinsetta plants.

 

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But we were not searching for Alberto and had we passed him on the streets we would not have recognized him.

Instead we were looking for a local legend, Lanzarote’s favourite son, César Manrique.

My wife and I spent our mini-vacation tracking down buildings across the Island of Lanzarote that César designed.

We hoped to understand why this place and this man remain inseparably intertwined in the hearts and minds of those who come here and those who knew him.

César Manrique defined Lanzarote.

To understand César Manrique is to understand Lanzarote.

We came to learn.

We began in Haría where his story ends.

 

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Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain,  Monday 2 December 2018

Much like César, our first discovery of Lanzarote was Arrecife.

For us it was the international airport north of Arrecife the day previously.

 

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On this day we drove our rented car, from our hotel in Costa Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.), past an aquapark and golf grounds, through the town of Tahiche (more on this town in a future post), through Nazaret and Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise of this blog.), through Los Valles and past a windpark to arrive at Haría.

 

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(Los Valles, a quiet agricultural hamlet between Teguise and Haría, is situated in a valley at the foot of the Famara Massif.

Los Valles was founded by refugees from the village of Santa Catalina, which has been destroyed during the eruptions of 1730 – 1736 of Mount Timanfaya.

 

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The pretty, white village church of Ermita de Santa Cantalina stands at the bottom of the valley on the side of the highway.

 

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Immediately after you pass the restored Casa de los Perazas, one of the oldest buildings on Lanzarote.

 

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The road begins to climb steeply passing the Mirador Los Valles.)

 

César Manrique Cabrera was born in Arrecife on 24 April 1919, the son of Francisca and Gumersindo Manrique.

César’s father was a food merchant and his grandfather a notary public.

César preceded his twin sister Ampara by just a few minutes.

He had another sister and a brother.

Gumersindo came from Fuerteventura and emigrated to Lanzarote.

The Manriques were a typical middle class family, without financial burdens.

In 1934, Gumersindo bought property in Caleta de Famara and built a house next to the ocean.

This house left a visible impression on César that lasted his lifetime.

 

 

Ute and I on our first day spent a few hours on Famara Beach and like César did we remember it with joy:

My greatest happiness is to recall a happy childhood, five-month summer vacations in Caleta and Famara Beach with its eight kilometres of clean and fine sand framed by cliffs of more than 400 metres high that reflected on the beach like a mirror.

That image has been engraved in my soul as something of extraordinary beauty that I will never forget in all of my life.

 

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César would fight in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer on dictator Franco’s side.

His experience of the War was atrocious and he refused to talk about it.

In the summer of 1939, once the War was over, César returned to Arrecife, still wearing his military uniform.

After greeting his family, he went up on the flat roof, took off his clothes, angrily stepped over them, sprayed them with petroleum and burned them.

 

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César attended the University of La Laguna to study technical architecture, which he would abandon after two years.

In 1945 he moved to Madrid and studied art at the Academia de Bellas Artas de San Fernando where he graduated as a teacher of art.

 

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In 1953, César began painting abstracts, which in Franco’s Spain was tantamount to treason, and one year later he exhibited his works alongside those of his friends Manuel Manpaso and Luis Féito.

By the late fifties César had made a name for himself in Madrid.

There followed exhibitions in major cities of Europe, Japan and America, which gave him international renown.

 

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In the fall of 1964, following the advice of his cousin Manuel Manrique, a New York psychoanalyst and writer, César lived in New York City until 1966.

He was the guest of Waldo Diaz-Balart, a Cuban painter, who lived in the Lower East Side, at a time when this was a neighbourhood of artists, journalists and bohemians.

Through César’s cousin Manuel’s friendship with the Director of the Institute of International Education, which was sponsored by Nelson Rockefeller, a generous grant allowed César to rent his own studio and produce a number of paintings which he exhibited with success in the prestigious New York gallery of Catherine Viviano.

 

Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty

 

While in New York, he wrote his friend Pepe Dámaso:

More than ever I feel true nostalgia for the real meaning of things.

For the pureness of the people.

For the bareness of my landscape and for my friends.

My last conclusion is that Man in New York is like a rat.

Man was not created for this artificiality.

There is an imperative need to go back to the soil.

Feel it.

Smell it.

That’s what I feel.”

 

 

In his unpublished diary, César wrote of his homesickness for Lanzarote.

At the time he was still undecided as to where to set up his permanent studio.

In 1968, César travelled straight from New York City to Lanzarote, which he found exactly as he had left it in 1945.

He felt Lanzarote needed him.

He made himself the Island’s champion.

 

 

When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the most beautiful places on the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer.

 

 

The Canarian Island was then just beginning to develop a tourism industry, but César promoted a model of sustainability in an attempt to protect Lanzarote’s natural and cultural heritage.

This Manrique model was a determining factor in Lanzarote being declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

 

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In parallel with his commitment to the Island, César opened his creative work up to other forms of artistic expression.

He developed a new aesthetic ideology, dominated by art-nature / nature-art.

He began a dialogue of respect for the natural surroundings in which  values of local traditions blended harmoniously with modern designs.

Well versed in many forms of creative expression, a very real desire for integration with the surrounding natural landscape underlies César’s body of artistic work as a whole.

 

 

One of the fundamental preoccupations which has guided my artistic work has been to try to achieve harmonious integration of the forms and ideas of painting, sculpture and spaces into nature.

I believe that this way, of integrating the greatest possible number of artistic elements – colour, texture, dimension, ambience, proportion – leads to a greater aesthetic enjoyment and quality of life.

It is necessary to create and act in freedom, to break with formulae and extend the concept of art to everyday human life, to create non-hostile spaces modelled on the integration of art into nature and nature into art.

 

 

That César’s ideas were carried out on Lanzarote is all thanks to the man’s tireless energy, persistence, immense abilities and international fame.

Without César Manrique, Lanzarote would scarcely be what it is today.

It is his influence and his work that have shaped the Island.

César shaped planning policy on the whole island and his influence can be seen everywhere.

He began with a campaign to preserve traditional building methods and a ban on roadside hoardings.

He convinced the authorities to impose a universal ban on advertising and ensure that telephone and high voltage cables were laid underground.

A multifaceted artist, César turned his flair and vision to a broad range of projects, with the whole of Lanzarote becoming his canvas.

César was a painter, sculptor, architect, ecologist, monument preserver, construction advisor, urban development planner, landscape and garden designer.

 

 

César’s work is full of vitality, colour and light.

There is nothing gloomy in either his paintings or sculptures or in the buildings he designed.

 

 

Together with his friend from his youth, José Ramirez Cerdá, who was president of the Cabildo Insular (island government), César skillfully put his architectural projects into operation.

Luis Morales, an employee of the Cabildo, was a sympathetic partner in all this.

As a practical builder, Morales had the skills to execute Manrique’s plans.

 

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Above: Flag of Lanzarote

 

César encouraged the traditional cubic form of architecture.

A house is capable of growth.

The Lanzarotenos start with one or two rooms.

As a family grows, they add cubes of one or two storeys, arranged around a central courtyard and the water tank.

 

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César’s idea was harmony with nature and the continuation of natural processes.

He wanted to preserve Lanzarote tradition and achieve a landscape-related architecture in proportion to the natural surroundings.

He believed in a humane architecture where nature should be spared and not choked with buildings.

Tourism threatened to sweep away everything before it, but César’s ceaseless opposition to such unchecked urban sprawl touched a nerve with Lanzarote locals and led to the creation of an environmental group known as El Guincho, which has had some success in revealing – and at times reversing – abuses by developers.

 

 

As we drove through villages across the Island, we could see how traditional stylistic features still remain.

The standard whitewashed houses are adorned with green-painted doors, window shutters and strange onion-shaped chimney pots.

The entire Island is a testimony to César’s influence and ever-enduring spirit.

 

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The awareness of the miracle of life and its brevity have made me see clearly that we are impoverished by the tragic sentiment of our existence.

The only important reality is the great mystery of life and of man with his inexhaustible imagination and his infinite ways of acting.

We must observe and learn from the energies of life.

 

 

Those who knew César only superficially ignored the streak of puritanism that ruled his conduct.

He was a frugal man.

He didn’t drink or smoke or allow others to smoke next to him.

He regularly went to bed very early and got up at dawn and began work in his studio very early.

 

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In all César carried out seven major projects on the Island and numerous others elsewhere in the archipelago and beyond.

At the time of his death, he had several more in the works.

It was the buildings that my wife and I were determined to visit on our five-day sojourn on Lanzarote.

We wanted to see how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape.

We were confused by descriptions that suggested that César’s buildings were generous but at the same time deeply modest.

Guidebooks wrote that César, with great aesthetic powers and unerring taste, had created places for the muses, of contemplation, of meditation, which radiate joy and tranquillity, places endowed with humanity.

It was written that César had striven to discover the beautiful and make it visible to everyone, but not simply beauty for beauty’s sake, but a unity of truth and intrinsic originality.

We wanted to see this for ourselves.

 

180° panorama photo taken from Mirador del Río showing La Graciosa

 

To speak of harmony with nature we need to speak of the landscape of Lanzarote.

On arriving in Lanzarote one feels transported in time, whisked back to the beginnings of the world, a fresh, clean world, in which the Traveller himself is the hero of discovery.

Here are seas of lava, enchanted grottos, columns of steam seeping from the bowels of the planet, magnificent multicoloured stone walls, threatening volcanoes, waves that furiously smash upon tortured cliffs that loom like giants frozen for all time in their march to the sea and eternally punished for such audacity, lurking lagoons that appear suddenly among the rocks, pockets scooped from deadly lava where livelihood-sustaining vines thrive to produce unsurpassable wine, golden beaches of skin-caressing sands, transparent blue waters….

Another world, another time, a unique place.

Here are peaceful, flower-bedecked whitewashed villages and a heritage of hardy people who overcame, will always overcome, the desolation that civilization commits and the fury of nature defied.

From lava and ash, drops of dew defiantly defended have been clawed from nature’s clutches and cultivated.

Yet these sturdy island warriors are kind, hospitable people who shelter guests in comfort and compassion.

Civilization’s constants are also found on Lanzarote, but they blend rather than blind the visitor to the natural delights of the Island.

 

 

By far the most beautiful place in the archipelago, Haíra lies within a sea of palm trees and has the charm of a small sheltered oasis.

Haría is a place to relax, a Utopia where the locals set the tone.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, locals traditionally planted a palm tree to celebrate a birth (two for a boy, one for a girl), thus resulting in today’s tourist viewing a palm-filled valley upon a barren Island.

 

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Haría has many positive qualities: magnificent flora, an abundance of trees.

The mind can manage this place so peaceful, so tranquil, as the body sits comfortably under wide spreading canopies of leaves.

No one, except children in haste, runs in Haría.

One strolls here.

The soul quietly smiles at the serenity.

 

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The central pedestrian avenue, Plaza León y Castillo, is shaded by lush leafy laurel and eucalyptus trees and cast-iron lanterns above benches where children play and seniors meet watching tourists gorge themselves at the Plaza’s open-air restaurant.

This is also the site of a superb Satuday morning craft and produce market.

 

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From the town hall up the street about 100 metres, the Traveller comes to the municipal arts and crafts centre, the Taller de Artesania Municipal.

Handicrafts are available throughout the week at the Taller de Artesania Reinaldo Dorta Déniz (to give its full name) on Calle Barranco de Tenesia, a town hall-backed craft workshop where local artists produce macramé, silverware, ceramics, dollmaking, embroidery and some charming pieces made of palm leaves and reeds, where one can watch the crafters at work before buying.

It is open Tuesday to Sunday 1000 – 1330 and 1600 – 1900, Monday only 1000 to 1330.

 

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The Mercado Municipal de Abastos, adjacent to the arts and crafts centre, is a small market here with a health-conscious attitude, with fruit, vegetable, meat and fish counters.

There is also a food stall here where the locals are tempted with tapas.

It is open Monday to Saturday 0900 – 1400.

 

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Haría does not boast any monuments of particular historical or architectural importance, for the history of this municipality is of little relevance.

Theirs is a past marked by poverty, foreign invasions and mass emigrations.

A 1587 account of the neighbourhood mentions a fountain and 100 people, a time when it was the only village on the Island besides the capital of Teguise.

In 1590, there were no more than 1,000 people on the Island, of which 250 were military, as well as 40 horses.

Population scarcity was due to three raids carried out for 16 years by Moorish and Turkish pirates.

One of the most devasting pirate attacks was that of the troops of Morato Arráez, who, in August 1586, burned down all the palm trees.

Fortunately they grew back again.

 

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What is immediately outstanding is the good taste of the town’s buildings and the way they blend into the landscape.

Some stately Andalusian-style houses date back to the 19th century when Haría at times played an important role in island politics.

 

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At the far end of the Plaza Leon y Castillo stands the modern parish church of Our Lady of the Incarnation.

The church was built in 1619 although it has suffered numerous setbacks over time.

The most significant was the storm of 1956, which left only the tower standing.

Inside the church five fine lovingly-carved arches support the ceiling.

 

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In front of the church is the La Tegala Cultural Centre, a more than 100-year-old house which has already served as a barracks, a shop and a workshop.

 

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A visit to the Diocese of the Canaries’ Museum of Popular Sacred Art in Plaza León y Castillo is recommended for the abundance of wonderful works springing from the imagination of the people of Lanzarote.

 

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At the Plaza de la Constitución, the small square next to the Plaza Leon y Castillo, stands the classical town hall also containing the local police station.

 

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Around the corner is the beautiful city library with its rich selection of Canarian historical and cultural materials.

 

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On the square there is a small rest area with benches, above the large cistern Aljibe which has been converted into a meeting and exhibition hall.

 

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Since the advent of tourism in the early 1980s Haría has flourished, but the tourists come not  only for the celebrated beauty of the town or for the Sacred Art Museum or for the handicraft workshops, but they come to see the Casa Museo César Manrique on Calle Elvira Sanchez.

 

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But before we remember the dead, let us honour the living while we can.

 

Behind the Museum one can, if lucky, witness an artist at work in a garage.

That craftsman is Don Eulogio Concepción Perdomo, signposted as “Cesteria“.

This man, the only and last basket weaver on the Island, is now over 80.

In patient manual labour Perdomo makes, from the strong fronds of Canarian date palms, stable baskets of various sizes and the famous Lanzarote conical-shaped hats.

We witness him making a small fruit basket, which takes more than an hour to produce, costs about €20.

I call his name and shake his hand.

Does he know of his fame?

Does he understand just how important he is?

 

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A palm-fringed property was the final home of Lanzarote’s favourite son and has been opened as a shrine to his memory.

This is a house frozen in time, complete with César’s clothes in the closet and personal art collection adorning the walls.

It is an intimate and personal view of César in his domestic surroundings.

It is a strikingly beautiful home situated in a lush palm grove in a charming village that is itself a showcase of Lanzarote’s traditional lifestyle.

This relatively new attraction of Haría, César’s last home, was opened in the summer of 2013.

 

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Surrounded by date palms and tucked away and back from the street, César’s home is a pleasure to stroll through.

The entrance fee is steep but the Museum is well laid out.

Rarely does one experience such harmonious living space with such a feel-good factor.

Within this spacious property, within the context of the comfortable and tasteful decor are many personal items, including painting items and incomplete works.

 

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The living room with a large fireplace and heavy wooden ceiling, the light-flooded dining room, the bedroom with high panelled ceiling, and, as always with César, an extravagant bathroom that opens with glass fronts to the outside, César designed his home with much love, a house that was far from completion when he died.

The Casa Museo César Manrique is open every day from 1030 to 1800 (last entry 1730).

 

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It is in Haría where César was lain to rest, when at the age of 73, still in good health and full of vitality and the joy of living, he was killed in an automobile accident on 25 September 1992, next to the present site of his Fundacion.

The irony of fate that he would meet his death in a car accident is rich as he loathed the massive amount of vehicles.

 

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Above: Painted BMW from 1990 Art Basel exhibition, Casa Museo César Manrique, Haría, Lanzarote

 

César’s final resting place in Haría’s cemetery is located at the exit to Arrieta atop a low hill.

His simple grave is located on the left in front of the small chapel.

César’s differs fundamentally from the other graves which are made of stone slabs and crosses.

His is a flat oval bordered by lava stones under a palm tree and adorned with succulents and cacti.

The carving “C. Manrique 1919 – 92” testifies that here lies Lanzarote’s loyal son.

From the forecourt of the cemetery there is a beautiful view of the valley below.

 

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In retracing his life in reverse chronology, I am reminded of a text he wrote to describe himself and his view of life:

I have never followed the signs indicating the road to Utopia.

Utopia, I do presently believe, is an inner path.

My enthusiasm, in any case, is the sole force that can guide me approximately.

 

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Starting from César’s endpoint is appropriate.

For it is in Haría we view not the celebrity César, not the artist César, but the man César, a man as common as we all are, mortal and preoccupied with all the minutae that comprise a life lived daily.

 

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To fully appreciate César’s impact on the Island one must journey out of Haría, away from a traditional Lanzarote, to a Lanzarote of the future built upon five volcanic bubbles of a lava flow 6km north of Arrecife, César’s birthplace.

The Taro de Tahíche is a dormant remnant of the 1730 eruption of the volcano Timanfaya on the northwest corner of the Island, and it is upon this that the Fundación César Manrique sits.

 

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From the Fundación and the overview of all that César Manrique was and did, the Traveller is encouraged to explore Lanzarote through César’s eyes and creations:

  • the Jameos del Agua

  • the Monumento al Campesino

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  • the Restaurante El Diablo

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  • the Mirador del Río

  • the Castillo San José

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  • the Jardín de Cactus

Jardin de cactus de Lanzarote.JPG

 

It is at the Fundación and at the aforementioned half-dozen Manrique creations that the Traveller senses how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape:

Generous and yet deeply modest.

With great aesthic imagination and impeccable taste César created monuments for muses, cathedrals of contemplation, monoliths of meditation, jubilees of joy, temples of tranquillity, havens of humanity.

He sought what was beautiful and brought to this beauty his strength of purpose and crystalline originality.

In Lanzarote posts to come his creations and the Island that inspired them will be patiently revealed.

I hope that you will enjoy learning of them as I shall enjoy the experience of sharing them with you.

 

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Above: Undiscovered Planets, César Manrique

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Fernando Gómez Aguilera, César Manrique in His Own Words / Wolfgang Borsich, Lanzarote and César Manrique: Seven Buildings / Lucy Corne and Josephine Quintero, Lonely Planet Canary Islands / Jorge Echenique and Andrés Murillo, Lanzarote / Eberhard Fohrer, Müller Lanzarote / Raimundo Rodriguez, Lanzarote

 

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Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 5 May 2019

Imagine the perfect holiday.

Perhaps it is an active one spent hiking and windsurfing.

Perhaps you are a culture vulture mesmerized by museums and attracted to artefacts of days gone by.

Or perhaps you long for a lengthy siesta where your hardest decision is how much sunscreen to wear today.

 

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The Canary Islands have what you want, however you want it, but being all things to all people means this is a place of contradictions.

 

The Islands lie off the coast of Africa yet they are European.

 

The Canary Islands form a Spanish archipelago and the southernmost autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco at the closest point.

The Canary Islands, which are also known informally as the Canaries, are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper.

It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government.

The Canary Islands belong to the African Plate, like the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the African mainland.

 

Location of the Canary Islands within Spain

 

The seven main islands are (from largest to smallest in area) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

The archipelago includes much smaller islands and islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

It also includes a series of adjacent roques (those of Salmor, Fasnia, Bonanza, Garachico and Anaga).

 

In ancient times, the island chain was often referred to as “the Fortunate Isles“.

But delving into Canarian history the casual observer has to ponder the question:

Fortunate for whom?

 

Historically, the Canary Islands have been considered a bridge between four continents: Africa, North America, South America and Europe.

And it has been their strategic location that has been both a blessing and a curse to those who have chosen to make the Islands their home.

 

Flag of Canary Islands

Above: Flag of the Canary Islands

 

The archipelago’s beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

 

 

Imagine living on an island where more people around you are tourists than residents.

 

Tourists are, by their very nature, selfish in that the pleasure principle dominates their every thought.

Most care nothing about those who reside there except in how the locals cater to their needs.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

 

The islands have a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderately warm winters.

The precipitation levels and the level of maritime moderation vary depending on location and elevation.

Green areas as well as desert exist on the archipelago.

Rain seems rare and snow something never seen.

 

Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation.

For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.

 

The day sky is cloudless.

The night sky stretches to infinity and beyond.

The horizon beckons with promise.

 

 

So it may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce.

 

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties.

Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates.

Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

 

 

Due to the strategic situation of this Spanish archipelago as a crossroads of maritime routes and commercial bridge between Europe, Africa and America, this was one of the places on the planet with the greatest pirate presence.

In the Canary Islands, the following stand out:

  • The attacks and continuous looting of Berber, English, French and Dutch corsairs
  • The presence of pirates from this archipelago who made their incursions into the Caribbean.
  • Pirates and corsairs, such as François Le Clerc, Jacques de Sores, Francis Drake, Pieter van der Does, Murat Reis and Horacio Nelson, attacked the islands.
  • Among those born in the archipelago who stands out above all is Amaro Pargo, whom the monarch Felipe V of Spain frequently benefited from his commercial incursions.

 

During the time of the Spanish Empire, the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons – galleons seeking to be laiden with treasure – on their way to the Americas, which came south to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.

 

 

Sailing off the coast of Africa the closest of the Canaries to be reached is the Island of Lanzerote and thus it became the first Canary Island to be settled.

 

Lanzerote is the northernmost and easternmost of the autonomous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is located approximately only 125 kilometres (78 miles) off the north coast of Africa and 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from the Iberian Peninsula.

Covering 845.94 square kilometres (326.62 square miles), Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the islands in the archipelago.

With 149,183 inhabitants, it is the third most populous Canary Island, after Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

Located in the centre-west of the island is Timanfaya National Park, one of its main attractions.

The island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

The island’s capital is Arrecife.

 

Spain Canary Islands location map Lanzarote.svg

 

The Phoenicians may have visited or settled there, though no material evidence survives.

The first known record came from Roman author Pliny the Elder in the encyclopaedia Naturalis Historia on an expedition to the Canary Islands.

The names of the islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae or the “Fortunate Isles“) were recorded as Junonia (Fuerteventura), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Pluvialia (El Hierro), and Capraria (La Gomera).

Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the “purple islands“.

The Roman poet Lucan and the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy gave their precise locations.

 

 

Several archaeological expeditions have uncovered the prehistoric settlement at the archaeologic site of El Bebedero in the village of Teguise.

In one of those expeditions, by a team from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the University of Zaragoza, yielded about 100 Roman potsherds, nine pieces of metal, and one piece of glass.

The artefacts were found in strata dated between the 1st and 4th centuries.

They show that Romans did trade with the Canarians, though there is no evidence of settlements.

Lanzarote was previously settled by the Majos tribe of the Guanches, though the Romans did not mention them.

 

 

Guanches were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.

In 2017, the first genome-wide data from the Guanches confirmed a North African origin and that they were genetically most similar to modern North African Berber peoples of the nearby North African mainland.

It is believed that they migrated to the archipelago around 1000 BC or perhaps earlier.

The Guanches were the only native people known to have lived in the  region before the arrival of Europeans, as there is no evidence that the other archipelagos (Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira) were inhabited before Europeans arrived.

After the Spanish conquest of the Canaries they were ethnically and culturally absorbed by Spanish settlers, although elements of their culture survive to this day, intermixed within Canarian customs and traditions such as Silbo (the whistled language of La Gomera Island).

 

 

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were ignored until 999, when the Arabs arrived at the island which they dubbed al-Djezir al-Khalida (among other names).

An account of the Guanche population may have been made around AD 1150 by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in the Nuzhatul Mushtaq, a book he wrote for King Roger II of Sicily, in which al-Idrisi reports a journey in the Atlantic Ocean made by the Mugharrarin (“the adventurers“), a family of Andalusian seafarers from Lisbon.

The only surviving version of this book, kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and first translated by Pierre Amédée Jaubert, reports that, after having reached an area of “sticky and stinking waters“, the Mugharrarin moved back and first reached an uninhabited island (Madeira or Hierro), where they found “a huge quantity of sheep, which its meat was bitter and inedible” and, then, “continued southward” and reached another island where they were soon surrounded by barks and brought to “a village whose inhabitants were often fair haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty“.

Among the villagers, one did speak Arabic and asked them where they came from.

Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.

Apart from the marvelous and fanciful content of this history, this account would suggest that Guanches had sporadic contacts with populations from the mainland.

Al-Idrisi also described the Guanche men as tall and of a reddish-brown complexion.

During the 14th century, the Guanches are presumed to have had other contacts with Balearic seafarers from Spain, suggested by the presence of Balearic artifacts found on several of the Canary Islands.

 

Map of the Balearic Islands

Above: (in red) The Balearic Islands

 

In 1336, a ship arrived from Lisbon under the guidance of Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello, who used the alias “Lanzarote da Framqua“.

A fort was later built in the area of Montaña de Guanapay near today’s Teguise.

 

 

Castilian slaving expeditions in 1385 and 1393 seized hundreds of Guanches and sold them in Spain, initiating the slave trade in the islands.

 

Where there is profit to be found on the open seas there will be those who will seek to claim it.

Slavery and piracy differ only in that the plunder of the former is the lives of human beings.

The violence used by both is indistinguishable from the other.

 

French explorer Jean de Béthencourt arrived in 1402, heading a private expedition under Castilian auspices.

Bethencourt first visited the south of Lanzarote at Playa de Papagayo, and the French overran the island within a matter of months.

 

Above: Jean de Béthencourt (1362 – 1425)

 

The island lacked mountains and gorges to serve as hideouts for the remaining Guanche population and so many Guanches were taken away as slaves.

Only 300 Guanche men were said to have remained.

 

The Castilian conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402, with the expedition of Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle (1340 – 1415) to the island of Lanzarote.

Gadifer would invade Lanzarote and Fuerteventura with ease since many of the aboriginals, faced with issues of starvation and poor agriculture, would surrender to Spanish rule.

 

 

At the southern end of the Yaiza municipality, the first European settlement in the Canary Islands appeared in 1402 in the area known as El Rubicón, where the conquest of the Archipelago began.

In this place, the Cathedral of Saint Martial of Limoges was built.

The cathedral was destroyed by English pirates in the 16th century.

The diocese was moved in 1483 to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Roman Catholic Diocese of Canarias).

 

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In 1404, the Castilians (with the support of the King of Castile) came and fought the local Guanches who were further decimated.

The islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro were later similarly conquered.

 

In 1477, a decision by the royal council of Castile confirmed a grant of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with the smaller islands of Ferro and Gomera to the Castilian nobles Herrera, who held their fief until the end of the 18th century.

In 1585, the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis temporarily seized Lanzarote.

In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants into slavery in Cueva de los Verdes.

 

From 1730 to 1736, the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 kilometres (11 miles).

The priest of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, documented the eruption in detail until 1731.

Lava covered a quarter of the island’s surface, including the most fertile soil and 11 villages.

100 smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the “Mountains of Fire“.

 

 

In 1768, drought affected the deforested island and winter rains did not fall.

Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas, including a group which formed a significant addition to the Spanish settlers in Texas at San Antonio de Bexar in 1731.

 

 

Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824, which was less violent than the major eruption between 1730 and 1736.

Thus the island has become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protected site.

 

According to a report in the Financial Times, this status was endangered by a local corruption scandal.

Since May 2009, police have arrested the former president of Lanzarote, the former mayor of Arrecife and more than 20 politicians and businessmen in connection with illegal building permits along Lanzarote’s coastline.

UNESCO has threatened to revoke Lanzarote’s Biosphere Reserve status, “if the developments are not respecting local needs and are impacting on the environment“.

The President of the Cabildo of Lanzarote denied “any threat to Lanzarote’s UNESCO status“.

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

Piracy upon the open sea beside the shores of Lanzarote may be a thing of the past but greed remains eternal.

 

 

Teguise, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Sunday 1 December 2018

As described in a previous post of this blog, my wife and I arrived on the island and drove from the airport near the island capital of Arrecife to the resort town of Costa Teguise where we overnighted for the entirety of our stay on Lanzarote.

(Please see Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.)

 

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Above: Lanzarote Airport

 

Our previous research gleaned that Sunday was market day in Teguise so soon after we checked into our hotel we quickly headed here.

 

Teguise, also known as La Villa de Teguise, is a village in the Municipality of Teguise in the north central part of the Island, 12 km north of Arrecife.

Here North Africa meets Spanish pueblo.

Like no other place on Lanzarote, it has preserved its historic appearance to this day.

It is an intriguing mini-oasis of low buildings set around a central plaza and surrounded by the bare plains of central Lanzarote.

The small old town forms a compact whole that impresses in its uniformity.

The Andalusian style of southern Spain sets the tone.

 

Plaza Mayor

 

The outwardly simple, white houses have high, carved wooden portals and large shutters in front of the windows.

The former capital was built in the 15th century for fear of pirate raids in the middle of the island, right at the foot of the striking Montana de Guanapay.

Built in the Spanish colonial style, it presents a magnificent ensemble of stylish churches and monasteries, harmonious squares, magnificent old houses and quiet streets.

Old town Teguise has been a listed heritage site for over twenty years and is the jewel of Lanzarote.

It is considered one of the best preserved settlement centers of the Canaries.

As of 1 January 2018 the village’s population was 1,776.

 

The town was founded in 1418 and served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands from 1425 to 1448 and as capital of Lanzarote until the capital was moved to Arrecife in 1852.

Teguise is said to have been founded by Maciot – the successor of the aforementioned Jean de Béthencourt – who is rumoured to have lived here with Princess Teguise, the daughter of the Guanche King Guadarfia.

 

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Various convents were founded and the town prospered.

But with prosperity came other problems, including pirates who plundered the town several times.

 

Although the strategic location of the city was favorable – protected to the north by the Famara reef, in addition to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara enthroned above the city, a broad overview in all directions, the following centuries were marked by numerous bloody pirate attacks, undoubtedly reactions to the brutal raids of Teguise’s feudal lords, who had previously deported thousands of Berbers to slavery on the African coasts.

Teguise went through hard times and was said to be no more than a miserable village with thatched huts.

 

In 1586, Algerian pirates stormed the city under their infamous leader Morato Arráez and put down everything that stood in their way.

The Callejon de Sangre (Blood Alley) behind the parish church recalls this terrible tragedy.

 

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In 1618, plundering Berber hordes burnt down the city completely, enslaving much of the island’s population.

As a result, Teguise’s historic buildings were increasingly economically unattractive for most of the late 17th and 18th centuries.

 

And this is why, in 1852, the up-and-coming port city of Arrecife was named the new capital of the island, while Teguise evolved into the open-air museum that it still represents today.

 

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Firmly on the tourist trail, there are several shops here selling flowing garments and handmade jewellery, plus restaurants, bars and a handful of monuments testifying to the fact that the town once was the capital.

This is a town of spacious squares and well-kept cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored houses that testify to Teguise’s former glory.

For a stroll, however, you should choose a really sunny day, because Teguise is located in a relatively uncomfortable island corner, namely on a cold and draughty plateau.

During the week, Teguise is a quiet place, ideal for a leisurely stroll through the streets.

 

Sunday is all about the huge folksy market that takes place here every week.

It is a day of flourishing handicrafts in the market with throngs of tourists shopping and gorging themselves into a satiated stupor and locals lounging beneath a gentle breeze and a warm sun.

Throughout the entire old town, stands are close to one other, in between streams of visitors from the whole island crowded here for this one moment in time, the bars and restaurants bursting in an exuberant mood.

A day for dancing, if being leisurely was not so tempting.

 

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What strikes the visitor to Teguise Market the most is the foreign feel of the artists, the arts and crafts, the ecological and esoteric scene.

Various shops around the two central squares offer natural products, jewelery, antiques and so on – certainly not only because Teguise is so “beautiful“, but above all for tangible commercial reasons, because during the big Sunday market, the city is always very well attended.

 

But as well Canarian culture has a focus in Teguise.

Thus, the former capital of the island is considered the place of origin of the timples, the traditional guitar-like string instruments of Canarios, of which an exhibition in the Palacio Spinola proudly praises in the central square of Teguise.

 

 

The timple is a traditional 5-string plucked string instrument of the Canary Islands.

On La Palma Island and in the north of the island of Tenerife, many timple players omit the fifth (D) string, in order to play the timple as a four-string ukulele, though this is considered less traditional by players and advocates of the five-string version.

The players of the four-string style, in return, say that they are simply playing the timple in the old-fashioned way from before the time when a fifth string was introduced in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Timple players (timplistas) of note are Benito Cabrera from Lanzarote, José Antonio Ramos, Totoyo Millares, and Germán López from Gran Canaria, and Pedro Izquierdo from Tenerife.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, at Calle Flores 8, is one of the last to build the famous Canarian guitars.

He also supplies many music groups in other Canary Islands.

Various sizes are produced, from the mini-model to the contratimple.

The Cabildo de Lanzarote, through its Departments of Culture and Industry, has recognized Antonio Lemes Hernández for his involvement of more than half a century in the production of timples.

Lemes, a craftsman from Teguise, has been building timples since he was very small.

He himself recognizes that:

“I have not done anything else, all my life making timples.
I made them out of cardboard as a child.

We brushed them and made them from that material, but of course, I made them and broke them, I did not have a teacher.” 

So he perfected his technique.

And to transform the wood….
I used to make them from polisandro, moral, mahogany, and the lid, which is always made of pine.

The important thing is that it is good wood so that they can tune well.

 

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Sixty years after his first contact with the timple, Antonio’s hands continue to mold, giving life to the sound camel .

To play what is the treasure of Lanzerote music.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, popularly known as Lolo, was born in the stately Villa de Teguise.

As a child he learned the technique of woodworking in the School of Crafts of Teguise, although it was his carpenter companion, Antonio de León Bonilla, who had some knowledge of the timple, who taught him to shape the sound camel.

Little by little, Antonio became fond of this instrument, so today his works are highly valued and requested, some to make sound alone or at parties and others are conservative and wish to possess a timble like a real jewel in private storage.

 

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Antonio Lemes has always been linked to the world of music.

In his youth he was part of the famous orchestra of Teguise known as Lira and Lido and he was also a part of cultural institutions such as Rancho de Pascuas de Teguise.

 

At present, Antonio Lemes enjoys his retirement, although as he can not stand idly by, so every day he goes to his workshop located on Flores Street, where he continues to practice the work that made him fall in love as a child, the construction of the timple.

 

In 2016, the Guagime Folkloric Association of Tahíche showed him public recognition by giving him their highest award, the ‘Silver Insignia‘, for his dedication to the development of the timple.

 

 

The eclectic church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe skulks in the town square.

Constructed in the mid-15th century, it has been rebuilt many times that it feels like the divine is in a perpetual state of confusion

Inside neo-Gothic furnishings surround a statue of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, but it was afternoon when we arrived in Teguise, so we were forced to imagine the scene rather than witness it for ourselves.

 

Teguise.jpg

 

On the opposite side of the square stands the Palacio Spinola.

The light of God facing the darkness of man.

 

The Palacio, completed after half a century in 1780, is beautiful with a small patio and a well.

It now doubles as both a museum and the official residence of the Canary Islands government.

It too was closed by the time we decided we wanted to visit it.

 

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This impressive edifice is host to the Casa del Timple – a museum dedicated to the small guitar like instrument which plays a big role in local folklore and tradtional music.

 

The building was renovated during the 1970´s by the ubiquitous César Manrique- and provides the perfect opportunity to step back in time and sample the lifestyle of an affluent nobleman in 18th century Lanzarote, whilst also learning more about the role of the timple in island life.

 

César Manrique

Above: César Manrique (1919 – 1992)

(“For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place on Earth, so I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world.“)

(More on this amazing man in a future post….)

 

Today, echoes of the glorious past still resonate through Teguise´s cobbled streets – which are home to some fantastic old buildings and a wealth of colonial architecture that cannot be found anywhere else on Lanzarote.

Making La Villa, as it is known locally, one of the best-preserved historic centers in the whole of the Canary Islands.

Many of these buildings are now private residences and are therefore hidden away from public gaze behind green wooden shutters.

But the house-museum at the Palacio Spinola is open to the public.

 

The Palacio Spinola is located in the heart of Teguise in the Plaza de San Miguel – also known locally as the Plaza de Leones because of the two statues of lions that stand guard opposite the entrance to the Palace.

Construction on the building started in 1730 – the same year that the south of the island was subjected to a six-year volcanic eruption that forged the national park at Timanfaya.

These eruptions obviously disrupted life on Lanzarote and the building of the Palacio took another fifty years to complete.

The Palacio was originally known as the Inquisitors House – as it was once the HQ of the Holy Inquisition.

From the middle of the 18th Century it became home to the Feo Peraza family, the best known of whom was the policitican Jose Feo Armas.

But by 1895 the Palacio had passed into the hands of the wealthy Spinola family.

The impressive frontage of the building with its six huge windows enclosed by intricately carved wooden shutters is a clear indication of the prosperity of the original owners.

 

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You needed serious money to afford this sort of opulence in the early 18th century.

 

Visitors walk through a formal entrance way, tiled with volcanic stone – where a small admission charge of €3 is made (free for children under 12 years) – and they are then free to explore the passageways and patios of the Palacio with the help of a basic printed guide which outlines the function of each room.

Amongst the most fascinating of these are the kitchens, with a chimney arrangement that is open to the elements in order to carry away cooking smoke, a latticed viewing gallery that overlooks the two main salons, or living rooms, a massive dining room with seating for thirty two guests and a small private family chapel, featuring an intricately carved wooden altar.

Throughout the Palacio, modern paintings by local artists, such as Aguilar, are juxtaposed with antique and reproduction furniture.

The exterior of the building is equally impressive, as long passageways lead visitors out into a delightful courtyard area that houses two stately old Canarian palm trees as well as a variety of flowering plants such as hibiscus and strelitza as well as an array of colourful succulents.

Here, visitors can observe the giant wooden door guarding the entranceway – built to a height that would allow both a horse and rider to enter unhindered.

 

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The Palacio Spinola isn’t huge – comprising eleven rooms in total, so it will probably only occupy an hour or so of your time at best, but it is an extremely well preserved example of 18th century architecture.

And who knows – you might even bump into a modern day grandee.

As the Palacio Spinola is also now the official residence of the President of the Canary Islands when he is visiting Lanzarote.

 

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Above: Fernando Clavijo Batlle, current President of the Canary Islands

 

 

Towering over the town is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, built in the early 16th century on top of the 452-metre (1,480 foot) high Guanapay Peak and provides a view almost over the entire island.

Visible from afar, the fortress Santa Bárbara perches on a bare crater ridge above Teguise.

A real mini “knight’s castle” with massive masonry, drawbridge and small round towers awaits the visitor.

Inside, a pirate museum has been housed here for several years.

 

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The Museo de la Pirateria (Pirate Museum) has an exhibition that deals with an almost existential theme for Teguise and is also good for children.

With cartoon figures, picture stories, dioramas, historical signs and museum relics, the city’s hard times come to life again.

Excerpts from pirate films with six galleys from 1586 under Morato Arráez who conquers the castle and leaves Teguise with 200 prisoners, including the wife and daughter of the city commander Marquis Agustin Herrera y Rojas, for which Arráez finally receives 20,000 ducats for their ransom.

 

For me, Teguise, and most especially the Pirate Museum of Castle Bárbara, struck me as incongruous and felt somehow wrong.

 

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Teguise had made a fortune from the slave trade until it was punished by Africans from whose populations these slaves had come.

The mercantile nature of the town, exhibited on a Christian day that is supposed to be free of commerce and labour, though less barbaric than former times, still resonates in the overpriced restaurants with substandard food and at the overvalued merchandise stalls where the buyer need be aware of deals done deceptively.

 

The Pirate Museum bothers me intensely, for it seems inherently callous to make profit from all the pain and violence committed by these bandits of the sea, celebrated and packaged glamourously for children’s consumption.

Pirates have always been and shall always be bloodthirsty bastards unable and unwilling to earn a honest day’s labour for the bread on the table.

How many hardworking families lost all that they had, including their lives, at the gory bloody hands of murderous, torturing and raping pirates?

And yet we have given pirates a mythical mystique of free men thirsting for liberty outside the confines of society.

We have made legends out of murderers, rapists and thievies and have given them colourful sobriquets like Blackbeard and Calico Jack.

 

Above: Pirate Cemetery, Île Sainte Marie, Madagascar

 

Beginning with Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, piracy has become a celebrated cause since 1724.

 

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Since then we have had Long John Silver of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Captain Hook as Peter Pan‘s aristocratic villain of J.M. Barrie’s play, and the sea stories of Rafael Sabatini.

These have led to films like Captain Blood, The Black Swan, and, of course, the immensely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

 

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Somehow we have brainwashed ourselves with glamourous images of men walking the plank, being marooned, buried treasure, wooden legs and black eye patches, Jolly Roger flags and parrots squawking “pieces of eight, pieces of eight“.

Somehow we have come to warmly embrace and bring to life a seagoing world, befuddled twixt fact and fantasy, favouring felons of murderous, greedy, untrustworthy character, addicted to violence, crime committed casually, consciousness lacking conscience.

Somehow we don’t see unarmed fathers and sons viciously attacked, but instead we see elegant choreographed duels and sword fights, and not the bloody encounters where merciless men hack innocents down with axe and cutlass.

Real pirates bore little resemblance to Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp.

 

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Above: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

 

And women aboard ship were rarer than chocolate truffles at a homeless shelter despite what Hollywood would have you believe with their lovely heroines playing a key role in the outcomes of their films.

 

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Pirates are a frequent topic in fiction and, in their Caribbean incarnation, are associated with certain stereotypical manners of speaking and dress, most of them wholly fictional:

Nearly all our notions of their behavior come from the golden age of fictional piracy, which reached its zenith in 1881 with the appearance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

 

 

Hugely influential in shaping the popular conception of pirates, Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates, published in London in 1724, is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age.

The book gives a mythical status to pirates, with naval historian David Cordingly writing:

It has been said, and there seems no reason to question this, that Captain Johnson created the modern conception of pirates.

Such as a person costumed like the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s lead role in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

 

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Some inventions of pirate culture such as “walking the plank“–in which a bound captive is forced to walk off a board extending over the sea–were popularized by J. M. Barrie’s novel, Peter Pan, where the fictional pirate Captain Hook and his crew helped define the fictional pirate archetype.

 

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English actor Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island also helped define the modern rendition of a pirate, including the stereotypical West Country “pirate accent“.

 

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Other influences include Sinbad the Sailor and the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films have helped rekindle modern interest in piracy and have performed well at the box office.

 

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The video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also revolves around pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.

 

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The classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance focuses on The Pirate King and his hapless band of pirates.

 

 

Many sports teams use “pirate” or a related term such as “raider” or “buccaneer” as their nickname, based on these popular stereotypes of pirates.

 

Such teams include the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired their nickname in 1891 after “pirating” a player from another team.

 

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The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both in the National Football League, also use pirate-related nicknames.

 

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo

 

In the early 21st century, seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$16 billion per year in 2004), particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.

 

Today, pirates armed with automatic weapons, such as assault rifles, and machine guns, grenades and rocket propelled grenades use small motorboats to attack and board ships, a tactic that takes advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels and transport ships.

They also use larger vessels, known as “mother ships“, to supply the smaller motorboats.

 

Above: Somalian pirates

 

The international community is facing many challenges in bringing modern pirates to justice, as these attacks often occur in international waters.

Some nations have used their naval forces to protect private ships from pirate attacks and to pursue pirates, and some private vessels use armed security guards, high-pressure water cannons, or sound cannons to repel boarders, and use radar to avoid potential threats.

 

Piracy in the 21st century has taken place in a number of waters around the world, including the Gulf of Guinea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, and Falcon Lake.

 

Due to the crisis in Venezuela, issues of piracy returned to the Caribbean in the 2010s, with the increase of pirates being compared to piracy off the coast of Somalia due to the similar socioeconomic origins.

In 2016, former fishermen became pirates, appearing in the state of Sucre, with attacks happening almost daily and multiple killings occurring.

By 2018 as Venezuelans became more desperate, fears arose that Venezuelan pirates would spread throughout Caribbean waters.

 

Above: Gasoline smugglers, Limon River, Zulia State, Venezuela

 

Piracy on Falcon Lake involves crime at the border between the United States and Mexico on Falcon Lake.

The lake is a 100-kilometre-long (60 mi) reservoir constructed in 1954 and is a known drug smuggling route.

A turf war between rival drug cartels for control of the lake began in March 2010 and has led to a series of armed robberies and shooting incidents.

All of the attacks were credited to the Los Zetas cartel and occurred primarily on the Mexican side of the reservoir but within sight of the Texas coast.

The so-called pirates operate “fleets” of small boats designed to seize fishermen and smuggle drugs.

While the events have been referred to colloquially as piracy, all the waters of Falcon Lake are considered either US or Mexican territorial waters and therefore are not technically piracy under Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 

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Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community.

By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.

In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.

 

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over the first decade of the century.

For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria.

Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.

 

Above: The Gulf of Guinea

 

As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas.

This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces.

 

Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks.

They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks.

The local pirates’ overall aim is to steal oil cargo.

As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom.

 

Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen.

The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious “business model” adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.

 

By 2010, 45, and, by 2011, 64 incidents were reported to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (UN – IMO).

 

However, many events go unreported.

 

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Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As an example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70%.

The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion.

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.

 

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the civil war in Somalia in the early 21st century.

Since 2005, many international organizations have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.

Piracy impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).

 

 

According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers also arose around the piracy.

Insurance companies significantly increased their profits from the pirate attacks as insurance companies hiked rate premiums in response.

 

Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel.

By September 2012, the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean was reportedly over.

 

 

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only one ship attacked in the third quarter compared to thirty-six during the same period in 2011

 

By December 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that only 9 vessels had been attacked during the year by the pirates, with zero successful hijackings.

 

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Control Risks attributed this 90% decline in pirate activity from the corresponding period in 2012 to the adoption of best management practices by vessel owners and crews, armed private security onboard ships, a significant naval presence and the development of onshore security forces.

 

Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Indonesia are normally armed with guns, knives, or machetes.

Many reports on attacks could have gone unreported because the companies are scared of the pirates attacking them more often because the company told the authorities.

The pirates in this area also attack ships during the night.

If vessels sound an alarm, the pirates usually leave without confronting the crew.

Pirates in the Singapore Straits attack at night, while ships are underway or anchored.

 

 

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca had by mid-November 2013 reached a world high, surpassing those in the Gulf of Guinea.

 

 

I am all for generating income to feed a family and I realize that Teguise is highly dependent on tourism to feed theirs.

But a community that claims to be Christian should not be making a market day out of a day of rest and religious reflection.

 

I am all for having a museum that portrays reality historically accurate, but I find it objectionable to package criminal barbarity as a fun day out with the kids.

Piracy in all of its horror is not something that should be forgotten, but neither should it be glamorized nor sanitizied as entertainment for children.

 

Perhaps being a tourist is all about ignoring the realities of life, escaping from life.

But nothing is learned from life or travel if all we choose to see is only pleasureable.

 

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Teguise is a beautiful town worth visiting but it has forgotten what value truly is.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of faith.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of truth.

 

When houses of worship are ignored on a day of faith to increase a merchant’s profits….

When violent crime is packaged to sell tickets to children….

Then a community has sold its soul for filthy lucre.

 

I liked the streets of the town and the warm sunshine after the cold and damp of Switzerland, but I longed for real people uninterested in garnering money or attention from visitors.

Real folks content with living life on their own terms rather than that dictated by others.

 

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The aforementioned timple maker Antonio Lemes Hernandez is one.

Don Pillimpo is another.

 

On the access road from Mozaga, diagonally across from the petrol station, there is a house with a garden full of original sculptures, everyday and art objects, children’s toys, teddy bears and dolls.

 

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Pillimpo, who is actually known as José Garcia Martin, is constantly expanding and changing his unusual collection, the children of Teguise bring him their discarded toys, new color paintings enliven the large sculptures, unusual compositions call out for the viewer to notice.

 

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This strange collection of statues frequently stops passers by in their tracks.

Cars pause in the road whilst their passengers stare.

Pedestrians stop to browse the chaotic display of figurines.

The colour of the statues change frequently, shades of grey, green and pale pink.

 

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The house is referred to as the Casa Museo Mara Mao after the statue holding this name up.

The front door is generally open, although it is said the artist is shy about being photographed and doesn’t like people entering his garden.

Rogue dolls’ heads daubed with paint and teddy bears chained to the tree  have been embraced into this artist’s eclectic display.

In his 60’s Don Pillimpo is free to use his quirky imagination for everyone to wonder at.

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, pass the Pillimpo figurine park every year, but few people know the name of this artist.

 

Speechlessness, astonishment, amusement and helplessness is felt by those who pass by Pillimpos’s garden, as well as rejection, a sad shaking of the head, indifference, even fear.

But if you ask someone about these characters, who makes them, if they have any meaning, why Pillimpo dresses them in new colors over and over again, you only hear shrugs.

Maybe because it is not easy to approach the creator of this chaotic world?

 

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Because the God of this Garden, of these saint sculptures, dolls, teddy bears, plush moose, Santa Clauses and action toy monsters with names like “Cloverfield” or “Zombie Spawn” does not show his world to the audience?

Pillimpo does not want to explain his world.

This world is dominated by larger than life figures of sand and cement, and the iconography reminds all those who grew up in the Christian context of saints that in the midst of society children have become disposable victims.

 

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I never saw a greater balance between order and chaos, kitsch and authenticity.“, wrote a Spanish admirer of Pillimpos art on his blog.

Horrible.  I do not like it.  It’s just too heavy for me.“, an island-renowned German artist described his feelings about Pillimpo’s work.

Another artist looks at Pillimpos’s work from his own perspective of usual order and harmony:

So if my garden should look like this then you can instruct me!

 

So, is this art?

 

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Art is a human cultural product, the result of a creative process.

The artwork is usually at the end of this process, but can also be the process itself.

Admiration, as such, is essential to art, but this does not have to be immediate in time and can only be the result of gaining knowledge.” is one definition of art according to Wikipedia.

 

Perception, imagination and intuition are some of the requirements for the artistic process.

Pillimpo’s creativity and imagination are innate to him, he says.

A gift from God that he believes in, for which he is grateful.

He emphasizes this again and again.

He knows his art is not universally loved.

In their opinion, I disturb the cityscape.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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But they can not easily get rid of the man.

Thank God.

 

The land is his property.

The house in which he lives, and which is also inhabited by his creatures inside him, belongs to him.

He built it with his own hands.

No problem for the skilled bricklayer, who was born over half a century ago in his grandfather’s house near Teguise.

 

A hard time was the time of his youth, he recalls, and speaks of his mother, who gave birth to five more children, three girls and two boys.

Even as a young boy, Pillimpo had a thriving imagination.

Every morning, as he gazed at the sunbeams that filtered through the holes and cracks in the meagerly plastered walls, he was fascinated by the play of light and shadow and the forms his imagination accepted.

Too high reaching dreams for a boy from poverty, on Lanzarote, where at times, water was valuable, food scarce and schooling almost impossible.

Although little José could go to school, it was not fun for him.

When you come into the world, God has already given you all the skills you should have.

He gave me imagination.

 

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Pillimpo leaves the subject quickly behind, almost as fast as the questions – about the meaning of his characters, whether he gives them names, why he always wraps them in new colors and how often he does that, where do the toys come from and why does his art matter – come flying at him.

It’s as if he does not hear these questions right.

He mentions that he gets the toys from local children.

He is happy when they look into his garden as they hold their parents’ hands and proudly point to their old teddy bear.

A special meaning?

Do his characters have names?

Names?  What names ?  No, they have no names.

As for the colours, I change, because I just enjoy it.

I love colors and I love all these things.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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And, with that, the explanation is done for him.

Pillimpo goes into the house.

When he comes back, he has a magazine in his hand.

He leafs a bit until he finds what he’s looking for and then proudly shows an article about himself with many photos of his sculpture park and a poem.

He reads it aloud.

The interviewers are silent.

They go home but their thoughts remain in this other world for a long time.

In Pillimpos’s world.

 

In Pillimpos’s world, toys cast out of children’s rooms find a new home, new appreciation and attention.

A new place where they are admired or pitied.

Here, childlike feelings return to the adult.

No viewer can escape the power of this mixture of chaos and order, kitsch and originality.

 

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Who is this man and why does he do what he does?

It is futile to ask others.

Nobody really knows anything about him.

There are only stories, rumours, now and then a grin.

 

Pillimpo began to scrape drawings in the sand with a stick and form figures out of loam, sand and water.

He often sits for hours, giving free rein to his imagination.

 

Not everyone likes that, but his mother had understood.

She had protected him, even defended his “quirks” from others, and did not laugh when he started to make music and dreamed of becoming an actor.

 

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Pillimpo speaks of his dreams only to those able to exchange views with a true philosopher.

I would like to speak with a great thinker, so maybe I can know if I’m right in my views or if I’m a bit of a fool.“, he says seriously.

 

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Pirate Museum with the garden of Don Pillimpo.

 

The former forms the fantastic from facts best forgotten in the frentic thirst for profits.

The latter at no cost leaves a legacy of nostalgia for the children we once were.

 

The Museum claims to be history but it is not.

The garden makes no claims about being art but it is.

 

Teguise, for me, will never be about El Mercadillo (the name of this Sunday market) or the Castillo Santa Bárbara, despite how both dominate the attention.

Teguise is instead quiet humble pride whispered from a timple workshop and an eclectic sculpture garden.

 

And this is something no pirate could ever take from me.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Canary Islands / DK Eyewitness Canary Islands / Eberhard Fohrer, Lanzarote / http://www.lanzarote37.net / https://lanzaroteinfomration.co.uk

Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 December 2018

There is an old saying by which I try to live by:

A promise made is a debt unpaid.

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On 4 December I made a promise on Facebook:

Greetings from Lanzarote.

Life not bad.

Weather warm.

Will write blogs upon return home giving juicy details and fabulous photos.

Have experienced piracy, hiked around an island, became an artist’s groupie, have eaten too much, have drunk too much.

Hotel filled with Brit seniors, odd Russians and German drunkards.

Whitewashed houses and black volcanic soil.

Clear skies and spontaneous activities.

Early mornings and late nights.

Tomorrow a camel ride across a volcano.

Although vacation only five days long, much happening in this short time.

Sometimes a break away does a body good.”

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It is now time to keep that promise, so this blog will see, interspersed with other stories from past travels in Italy, London, Porto, Serbia and Switzerland, sagas from the Spanish Canary Island of Lanzarote where the wife and I holidayed on 2 – 6 December.

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I will try to make this account as exciting as possible, and, no, there won’t be slides!

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Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, 2 December 2018

We needed a vacation, a retreat from the regular rigors of our jobs.

I am not quite certain how my wife / my queen came to be curious about Lanzarote.

Perhaps it was random Internet surfing or discussions with her friends or colleagues but the end result was that my wife offered Lanzarote as one of three possible options for a week’s escape.

(The other two were the French city of Lyon with its Festival of Lights or a German spa in Bavaria.)

Given options, I will always choose the most distant destination, so too-damn-early Sunday morning found us driving to Zürich and flying Edelweiss Air to the Aeropuerto de Lanzarote (also named the Aeropuerto César Manrique).

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Above: Aeropuerto de Lanzarote

 

En route I read the recently purchased Lonely Planet Canary Islands:

A UNESCO biosphere reserve, Lanzarote is an intriguing island with an extraordinary geology of 300 volcanic cones.

There are great beaches, interesting sights and plenty of restaurants and hotels.

The landscape has a stark and otherworldly appearance, with the occasionally bucolic, palm-filled valley juxtaposed with surreal, crinkly black lava fields.

Canary Islands - Planet Lonely

 

On arriving in Lanzarote, the visitor feels himself transported in time, whisked back to the beginnings of the world, a fresh, clean world in which he himself is the hero of discovery and the king of conquest.

The Aeropuerto de Lanzarote is the sole airport on the island and is located in San Bartolomé, 5 km / 3.1 miles southwest of the town of Arrecife.

It handles flights to many European airports and serves 41 airlines with their hundreds of thousands of tourists each year from 84 destinations along 183 routes.

In 2017, the Aeropuerto handled 7,389,025 passengers in its two terminals, Guacimeta (inter-island travel) and Gaucimeta (international travel).

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Above: César Manrique mural, Gaucimeta Terminal, Aeropuerto Lanzarote

 

To say that we were excited when we arrived would be an understatement, for our research had revealed that there was so much for us to explore:

  • Seas of lava and enchanted grottos
  • Columns of steam emerging from the bowels of the Earth
  • Amazing multicoloured walls of stone
  • Enigmatic and threatening volcanoes
  • Waves beating furiously on tortured cliffs that loom like giants frozen for all time in their march to the sea
  • Mysterious lagoons that suddenly appear amongst the rocks
  • Pockets scooped in the lava that protect wild malvasía vines
  • Acres of unsurpassed wine
  • Golden beaches and transparent blue waters
  • Peaceful, flower-bedecked white villages

Another world, another time.

We learned that the best way to travel around Lanzarote is by rental car, for the roads are well-maintained and the island is small.

(Certainly the independent traveller can get around the island by bus, but one needs to plan carefully as services to some island destinations can be infrequent.

There are four buslines that serve the airport: buslines 22 and 23 bring the visitor to Arrecife, buslines 161 and 261 travel to the resort towns of Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen.)

 

After a few fear-fraught moments of wondering whether our luggage arrived, finding our assigned rental car and then figuring out how to make the damn thing behave in the way we wished it, we drove around and above the town of Arrecife heading ever northwest to the stretch of shore known as Costa Teguise where we would spend four evenings as guests at the Hotel Grand Teguise Playa.

 

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The Hotel is in a perfectly central location, right on the beautiful Playa del Jablillo.

At the heart of the hotel is the huge hall, from whose galleries meter-long hanging plants descend.

Two staircases lead down to the service area where an elegant bar is set amidst lush water and greenery and a stage extends out amongst all of this from which guests are entertained, whether they wish to be or not, every night.

There is also a large outdoor area with two pools and a pool bar, directly in front of the sandy beach.

For the stubbornly active there are sports facilities for tennis, table tennis and squash along with a fitness centre and a sauna.

We checked in and were immediately compelled to don plastic wristbands that identified us as guests and classified us as to what services we are entitled.

It was a decent hotel and we were impressed with the cafeteria’s gluten free and vegetarian options.

Our room was fairly basic and was kept tidy and clean, though it was lacking tea, coffee and kettle, it had air conditioning and a balcony for voyeurism and ventilation.

Our gold wristbands identified us as having purchased the all-inclusive option and for the most part we were glad that we had done so, for this meant free drinks at the bar as well as breakfast and dinner.

Though charging guests for extras like the room safe, WiFi and water in the cafeteria was a bit offputting.

We felt that we rarely wanted to be back in Costa Teguise for lunch as we would be away exploring the Island.

(And we would indeed explore.)

The staff were friendly but the place was clearly understaffed, making me wonder if I should quit working in Switzerland and try to find work in a hotel or private school on Lanzarote!

There is no disputing that the hotel (and Costa Teguise itself) felt like a retirement home for snowbird Canadians in south Florida, but having spent a month in Klinik Mammern rehabilitating from two broken arms where I, age 53, was one of the youngest patients there, I wasn’t so bothered by age discrepancies as I once might have been.

What did bother me somewhat, and perhaps this is a reflection of my four years at Starbucks, was how little appreciation and respect was shown to the staff by the guests.

They were oh so quick to criticize and condemn, but oh so slow to thank and interact with them.

I made a point of being as charming with everyone as I could, though the socialist within me seethed.

 

Costa Teguise is one of Lanzarote’s most important concentrations of tourist installations: 5-star hotels and apartments, bungalows and chalet complexes alongside shops, restaurants, bars, pubs and a wide variety of sports facilities where the traveller may indulge in whatever individual or group sports he/she prefers.

Costa Teguise begins a few kilometres from Arrecife and is dotted with coves of golden sand separated by headlands of black lava spotted with luxurious residential developments surrounded by a sea of green.

The town is encircled by a rosary of splendid beaches, bathed by warm crystalline waters that boast a rich treasure of marine life and swept by waves and winds that entrall the boys of summer, sailors and surfers.

Forty years ago there was nothing here except the bare black lava coast.

Today this city constructed on a drawing board already stretches for miles with 10 square kilometres already built and still some roads leading to nowhere.

Costa Teguise was originally planned as a sophisticated holiday resort in which the hustle and bustle that mars Puerto del Carmen would be left out.

The master planner César Manrique was in charge.

Above: César Manrique (1919 – 1992)

 

César Manrique is Lanzarote’s most famous native son and his influence is everywhere and was often felt throughout our stay on the Island.

Manrique reminders range from the blatantly obvious, like his giant mobile sculptures adorning roundabouts across Lanzarote, to the subtle and unseen lack of highrise buildings and advertising billboards that scar most tourist destinations.

It was primarily thanks to Manrique’s tireless, persistent lobbying for maintaining traditional architecture and protecting the natural environment that prompted the cabildo (island government) to pass laws restricting urban development.

The growing tsunami of tourism, beginning in the late 1970s, threatened to sweep away everything before it, but Manrique’s ceaseless opposition to such unchecked urban sprawl touched a nerve with many locals and led to the creation of the environmental group El Guincho which has had some success in revealing and reversing abuses by developers.

 

Manrique was involved in the construction of the luxury hotel Meliá Salinas and designed the prototype of the Pueblo Marinero.

Our hotel is in many ways a copy of the Meliá Salinas.

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At first it seemed as if Manrique’s project would succeed, but the rapid development of tourism quickly overtook all well-intentioned concepts.

At the start of the 1980s big construction started and Costa Teguise expanded in all directions.

The continual demand promised rich profits and soon the planners began to turn the original holiday village of manageable size into a giant retirement city.

 

40,000 guests are able to be accommodated at any one time, so the dimensions of Costa Teguise reflect this, though, at first glance, this place is not particularly inviting.

Long, empty streets, widely spaced hotel and apartment complexes, the lack of any urban centre and a virtually nonexistent homestead culture make Costa Teguise an emotionally chilly holiday resort.

 

Despite this, Costa Teguise remains popular for families with children and the elderly and some accommodation facilities have been created for these special needs.

 

Thanks to the optimal wind conditions, Costa Teguise (aka “Breezy Teguise“) is considered the surf spot of the Canary Islands and, in fact, the Playa de las Cucharas has reserved an entire beach section exclusively for surfers.

There is almost always a stiff breeze blowing in from the northeast and there are many days throughout the year when the churned-up sea is speckled with colourful sails and wetwear surfers.

Image result for playa de las cucharas lanzarote

 

Nonetheless there remains an unfilled longing that Costa Teguise fails to fill.

There is no old town, no grand church, no mighty castle.

Only the truly determined and the desperately bored find something worth seeing in this pure seaside resort.

Related image

 

Somehow visiting a hotel seems like a natural choice in a city teeming with them.

The aforementioned Hotel Meliá Salinas is located on the eastern outskirts of the Playa de las Cucharas, not far from the city’s former salt works.

It was built in the early 1970s as the first hotel in town and was considered a trendsetter for the noble future of the planned vacation city.

None other than César Manrique was involved in the design and even today the Salinas is one of the most beautiful and distinctive hotels in Lanzarote, with its green overgrown courtyards and magnificent garden and thus was once included in the list of artistic and cultural legacies of Lanzarote that the visitor mustn’t miss.

(And, happily, one does not have to be a staying guest to look in at the Salinas and the beautiful vegetation with which it is adorned.)

Though our hotel does a grand job of imitating the Salinas, the Playa Teguise still fails to equal its splendour and originality of design.

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Manrique also had his hand in the design of the Pueblo Marinero, this central courtyard building on the Avenida de las Islas Canarias.

In the style of Lanzarote’s traditional architecture, Manrique, in the late 1970s, conceived of a holiday village that he hoped would be exemplary for the further development of the island.

Built in a wide quadrangle around an open interior, the houses are no taller than two floors, are all in white with green windows, doors and wooden balconies, and they all contain the typical fireplaces, pavilion and other decorative details typical of Lanzarote tradition.

This planned structure however had little effect on the future, because as tourism boomed in the following years almost explosively, the Pueblo Marinero sunk beneath a flood of sombre apartment complexes.

Today, in the courtyard with its many restaurants and cocktail bars around a central pavilion, the Pueblo plays a major role in tourist life and several times a week the Pueblo hosts a small market.

Image result for pueblo marinero costa teguise images

 

If you are truly at loose ends and at the end of your wits, the Lanzarote Aquarium is an OK wet weather option, though the high entrance fees and the gloomy dark interior are intimidating.

Lanzarote Aquarium

The Aquarium in the Centro Comercial El Treból on Avenida las Acacias shows in rather tiny tanks the underwater world to be found on the Canarian coasts, in the open sea and on tropical reefs.

The visitor is allowed to physically handle sea cucumbers and starfish.

A final basin displays civilization’s waste that washes up on Lanzarote’s shores.

 

But what grabs the casual attention is the Palacio Real La Mareta.

 

Just outside town, in the direction of Arrecife, this former holiday villa of the Jordanian King Hussein is hermetically sealed off directly on the coast.

 

Hussein of Jordan in 1997.jpg

Above: King Hussain bin Talal of Jordan (1935 – 1999)

 

La Mareta is a small palace surrounded by subtropical gardens designed by the Madrid architect Higueras in collaboration with (surprise, surprise) César Manrique.

Image result for kings house lanzarote

 

Hussein was often found here in Lanzarote, but the Jordanian royal donated the palace to his Spanish counterpart Juan Carlos I in 1991 when the skyline of the nearby desalination plant became larger and more massive.

 

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Above: Juan Carlos I of Spain (b. 1938)(reign: 1975 – 2014)

 

Juan Carlos has since used it for himself and his extensive family and for foreign state visits by Russian President Gorbachev, Spanish President Zapatero, Czech President Havel, German Chancellors Köhl and Schröder.

Also known as the King’s House, La Mareta is managed by Spain’s Patrimono Nacional (similar to Britain’s National Trust) and remains a vacation retreat for the Spanish Royal Family.

Image result for patrimonio nacional

 

Costa Teguise lies on a flat stony coast, which consists almost exclusively of black lava crust.

In order to get to know the most beautiful corners of Costa Teguise, a long walk along the beaches (Playa del Ancla / Playa Bastián / Playa del Jablillo / Playa de las Cucharas / Playa de los Charcos) is recommended, as the four latter of the five beaches are linked by a footpath.

You can start either from Playa Bastián to the west or from Playa de los Charcos to the east, an altogether charming walk, but somewhat windy as there is often a violent breeze, especially on the unsheltered Jablillo peninsula.

The sporadically positioned wind turbines point to the past when Costa Teguise was a desalination area, when, with the help of wind power, seawater was pumped into evaporation basins.

Image result for wind turbines costa teguise

 

If you still want to explore the surroundings of Costa Teguise, you can hike north along the uncrowded coast or explore the region by mountain bike – depending on your personal desire and condition – to the next settlement Los Cocoteros or even further to the Salinas de los Agujeros (one of only two working salt works on Lanzarote) to the village of Arrieta or in the opposite direction to Arrecife.

A Hiking Guide Lanzarote

 

When we were not travelling around the Island my queen and I did most of what her Müller guide recommended:

  • A visit to the Meliá Salinas
  • A wander through the Pueblo Marinero
  • A glance at the Palacio
  • A walk along the Promenade

(We were never so desperate that we considered the Aquarium.)

Lanzarote Reiseführer

 

I thought a lot about how we travelled and wondered how it must be for royalty to do the same.

 

Can the present King of Spain Felipe VI freely stroll into the lobby of the Meliá Salinas, wander casually in the market of the Pueblo Marinero and walk without worrying about security upon the Promenade?

 

(Felipe de Borbón) Inauguración de FITUR 2018 (39840659951) (cropped).jpg

Above: King Felipe VI of Spain

 

Certainly he would have people to do his laundry and buy his groceries and arrange his excursions.

And I have little doubt that the English, German and Russian tourists that invade Costa Teguise every year would probably not recognize him.

Still can one really say that Felipe’s life is superior to my own?

 

I don’t want to retire to Costa Teguise (or to Landschlacht either) but as a place to visit, as a place to observe, that strangest of creatures, the package deal tourist, this Lanzarote tourist trap town is worthy of attention.

Imagine a group of badly dressed, badly behaved seniors, half dead, half alive, grumbling and complaining to spite their continued involuntary existence and then smile that you are not yet one of them.

 

One day I too will be old.

One day I too will die.

Perhaps one day I will return to Costa Teguise.

But not yet.

Not yet.

 

Flag of Lanzarote.svg

Above: Flag of Lanzarote

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Canary Islands / Eberhard Fohrer, Lanzarote (Michael Müller Verlag) / Jorge Echenique & Andrés Murillo, Lanzarote (Ediciones Andrés Murillo) / Ignacio Romero, Lanzarote: A Hiking Guide

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

Back a few days ago from my third trip to Portugal, my first to Porto and the north of the country.

The most western nation of continental Europe, Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, but this land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests has a quarter of Spain’s population, is less than a fifth of Spain’s geographical size and in Portugal they don’t speak Spanish, they speak Portuguese.

Flag of Portugal

Above: Flag of Portugal

 

Loud, exuberent Spain is paella and bullfights.

Reserved Portugal is the mournful wailing of fado and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

The Spanish are fiercely proud of their past accomplishments.

The Portuguese are quietly proud of their future potential.

Disregard the critics who will gleefully tell you that Portugal is the graveyard of ambition, a kingdom of mediocrity where the national hobby is complaining and the ambitious leave.

Instead….

Picture Portugal as a land of resilience.

An earthquake may have cost them an empire, but Portugal still stands.

Dictators may have halted their progress for decades, but Portugal still stands.

Imagine a land that was economically isolated and politically smothered now striving to overcome an international reputation that suggests that the Portuguese are unproductive, unfit, unhealthy and unattractive.

Spend time with them and realize that though there are some that fit these negative descriptions, the vast majority of the people are simply and quietly going about their business.

They don’t lack self-esteem.

They simply haven’t practiced self-marketing as successfully as their European counterparts, for why tout your superiority when you know who you are and what you can do?

 

To be fair, judging Portugal by one’s impressions of Porto is a lot like judging America from only a visit to Chicago or England from time spent exclusively in Birmingham.

Just as New York and London overshadow hard-working Chicago and Birmingham so does Lisboa (Lisbon) dominate people’s minds over Porto.

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Above: Images of Porto

 

Traditionally Portugal’s wine distribution centre, the scenic city of Porto – Portugal’s second biggest city – straddles the Douro River and is a lively transport hub, in part due to its famous export, port.

If the adage “Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays” can be believed, then Porto is the hardest working place in Portugal.

Historically (and practically) Porto puts the Portu in Portugal as the name dates from Roman times, when Lusitanian settlements straddled both sides of the Rio Douro.

The area was briefly in the hands of Moors but was reconquered by the year 1000 and reorganized as the County of Portucale with Porto as its capital.

Henri of Burgundy was granted the land in 1095 and it was from here that Henri’s son and Portuguese hero Afonso Henriques launched the Reconquista (Christian reconquest), ultimately winning Portugal the status of an independent kingdom….part of the Iberian Peninsula, but not part of Spain.

Above: King Afonso I Henriques of Portugal (1106 – 1185)

 

The Portuguese are akin to Canadians, Swiss and New Zealanders in that they do not care to be mistaken for being a countryman of their more powerful and prominent neighbour.

When addressed in Spanish by a foreigner, a Portuguese would rather answer in English or French.

Spain is the loud neighbour with the big house and the trees that block out the light.

To get to Portugal the rest of Europe passes through Spain, leaving tourist revenues and business investment on Spanish shores.

The Spanish are not the neighbours from Hell, but they are neighbours the Portuguese resent.

Neither good winds nor good marriages come from Spain.” goes the well-known Portuguese saying.

Over 400 years ago Spain relinquished occupation of Portugal, but distrust runs deep after a bloody history of wars and border skirmishes.

Even now, many Portuguese claim the town of Olivenca in Spanish Extremadura as their own invoking a treaty of 1815 which Spain continues to conveniently forget.

LocalDistritoEvoraComOlivença.svg

Portugal’s economy hangs on the coat tails of Spain much as Canada’s economy is dependent on American trade and Switzerland’s upon trade with Germany.

We all look with alarm when German companies take over slices of Switzerland’s economy or Americans financially invade Canada or the Spanish seize Portuguese banks or real estate.

Yet for the Swiss to go to Germany or Canadians to go to America or  Portuguese to go to Spain is a certain sign that you’ve entered the Big Time.

Big time.  I’m on my way. I’m making it….big time.” (Peter Gabriel)

Many of Portugal’s top footballers leap at the chance to play for Real Madrid, much like Canadian hockey players jump for joy when recruited by American teams.

Real Madrid CF.svg

Above: Real Madrid Football Club logo

 

(The world is strange.

How are hockey teams in two nations considered part of one National Hockey League?

Why is the finale in North American baseball called the World Series when only (with rare exception, Canada’s Toronto Blue Jays) American teams compete?

I am so confused.)

 

Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago (The History of the Siege of Lisbon / Blindness) left Portugal to live in Spanish Tenerife, much like Wayne Gretzky and Jim Carrey left Canada to live in LA.

JSJoseSaramago.jpg

Above: José Saramago (1922 – 2010)

 

Like the British and Canadians are cynical about Americans, like Austrians and Swiss are cynical about Germans, the Portuguese too are cynical about the Spanish.

And like Anglos with America and Swiss with Germany, the Portuguese secretly hanker to be like the Spanish.

The first day of my third Portuguese adventure was a reminder of this problematic relationship with Spain.

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Above: The Iberian Peninsula

 

Porto, Portugal, 24 July 2018

I have nothing against the Spanish.

Flag of Spain

Above: Flag of Spain

I enjoyed my two previous visits to Spain’s San Sebastian (let’s leave questions of Basque independence aside at this time) and Barcelona (ditto for Catalona).

I am emotionally unaffected by the planning that resulted in flying two Spanish airlines (Iberia and Vueling) from Zürich to Porto and return.

The flights booked through the Internet, which might not have been the least expensive method, was at least the most efficient way to go.

 

(Most Internet travel agencies work by connecting a website to a computerized reservation service (CRS) that in turn is linked to the airlines.

Because the airlines and the CRSs only list official, published fares in their databases, most Internet travel agencies only sell tickets at published fares and have no discounts.

Most international air ticket prices are not shown in any CRS, are not available directly from the airline, and are not available from any Internet site that depends on airlines and/or CRSs as a source of fares.)

 

Still I may not have had a choice as TAP, Portugal’s national airline, flies only to the western Swiss city of Genève rather than that most convenient airport of Zürich in eastern Switzerland.

Logo tap air portugal preto.png

So, can Spanish airlines be blamed too harshly for taking up the Portuguese slack?

Iberia flight 1077, Zürich (ZUR) to Porto (POR) with a stopover in Madrid (MAD), is aboard an Airbus A319 plane named the Ciudad de Baiez.

Logotipo de Iberia.svg

Intercom announcements and seat pocket literature are in English and Spanish.

Unlike Swiss teacher Raimund Gregorius of Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon, (begun to be read during this flight) there were no chance encounters with mysterious suicidal Portuguese bridge jumpers or tomes of philosophical enigmatic aristocrats found in dusty corners of antiquarian bookshops to inspire this trip to Portugal.

Night Train to Lisbon.jpg

A vacation was needed and Porto had not yet been explored.

I did not impulsively leave Switzerland as Gregorius left his job.

Flag of Switzerland

There was a plan, organization, flight and hotel reservations.

Like Gregorius, I would have preferred to travel to Portugal slower than flying, but like most tourists I am limited by constraints of time, money and responsibility.

The Ronda, Iberia’s seat pocket magazine, distracts me from the haunted journey of Gregorius.

I read about the Bloop Festival of Ibiza, Brunch in the Park in Barcelona, and recommended explorations of Japan with their 40 sumo wrestling training gyms, 3,000 public thermal baths and 21 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

I read of Barcelona and the Lavender Road of Provence, of the paradise that is Patagonia and the temptations of Tenerife, of summer flights to Croatia and of “somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember“.

I am flying to Portugal, but there is no whisper about the place aboard the flight.

The gluten-free muffins, the Linda limonada, the MIOS patatas are all Spanish.

Aeroporto Porto 17.jpg

Above: Aeroporto Porto

After touchdown at Porto Airport, taxi into town and check-in at the Casa de Cativo in the Batalha district of central Porto, we find ourselves drawn to explore.

My eyes are immediately drawn to the Sé – Porto’s Cathedral.

Porto July 2014-32a.jpg

This Roman Catholic Cathedral is one of the most relevant and oldest monuments of the city.

Located in the heart of the historical centre the Sé rises from the landscape as an eye-catching icon atop a rocky outcrop a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station and commands a fine view over the rooftops of Porto.

In front of the Cathedral, a lone sentinel on horseback, Vimara Peres (d. 873), the first King of the County of Portugal, stands watch over the city in stone silence.

The Sé is flanked by two square towers that stretch like arms reaching for Heaven.

Each tower is supported by two buttresses and crowned with a cupola.

On the North Tower (the one with the bell) look for the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a coca – a reminder of the earliest days of Portugal’s maritime epic when sailors inched tentatively down the west Saharan coastline in fear of monsters.

Image result for porto cathedral north tower pictures

The facade lacks decoration and yet is not lacking in beauty.

The Baroque porch and the delicate Romanesque rose window under the crenellated arch lend the Sé the impression of a fort, a sort of setting suited for the commencement of some holy quest or mighty crusade.

Inside, the blend of Baroque, original Romanesque and Gothic architecture – a kind of structural bouillabaisse – is a strange marriage of prevading gloom.

But maybe gloom – an uneasy spectre of death – was what was sought after when the Sé was being designed.

Around 1333 the Gothic funerary chapel of Joao Gordo was added – his tomb decorated with his recumbent figure and reliefs of the Apostles – the Beatles of the New Testament in regards to their creativity.

Image result for porto cathedral joao gordo chapel

Gordo was a Knight Hospitalier who worked for King Dinis I (1261 – 1325).

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Above: Flag of the Knights Hospitaller

(The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers, was a medieval Catholic military order, headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the island of Rhodes, in Malta and St Petersburg.)

(King Dinis I, also called the Farmer King and the Poet King, was King of Portugal (1279 – 1325) for over 46 years and is remembered by the Portuguese as a major contributor to the formation of a sense of national identity and an awareness of Portugal as a nation-state.

He worked to organize his country’s economy and gave an impetus to Portuguese agriculture.

He ordered the planting of a large pine forest (that still exists today) near Leiria to prevent soil degradation that threatened the region and as a source of raw materials for the construction of the royal ships.

Above: Leiria Castle

Dinis was known for his poetry, which constitutes a major contribution to the development of Portuguese as a literary language.)

(More on Dinis in a future post….)

 

In 1387, the Cathedral was embellished to celebrate the wedding of Portuguese King Jaoa I with the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster (reinforcing the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance).

Above: Wedding of Portuguese King Joao I and English Princess Philippa of Lancaster, Porto Cathedral, 11 February 1387

It was this matrimonial bond of man and wife, this Alliance of Portugal and England within this Sé that would witness within those same walls that which was a celebration of the newly-wed would become a commiseration of the bloody dead.

 

On 29 January 1801, an ultimatum from Spain and France forces Portugal to decide between France and Britain, even as its government has tried to negotiate favorable relations with the two powers rather than abrogate the Treaty of Windsor (1386).

The French sent a five-point statement to Lisbon demanding that Portugal:

  • Abandon its traditional alliance with Great Britain and close its ports to British shipping;
  • Open its ports to French and Spanish shipping;
  • Surrender one or more of its provinces, equal to one fourth part of her total area, as a guarantee for the recovery of Trinidad, Port Mahon (Menorca) and Malta;
  • Pay a war indemnity to France and Spain;
  • Review border limits with Spain.

If Portugal failed to accomplish the five conditions of this ultimatum, it would be invaded by Spain, supported by 15,000 French soldiers.

The British could not promise any effective relief, even as Prince Joao VI appealed to Hookham Frere, who arrived in November 1800.

Domingos Sequeira - D. João VI.jpg

Above: Joao VI “the Clement” (1767 – 1826)

In February, the terms were delivered to the Prince-Regent.

Although he sent a negotiator to Madrid, war was declared.

At the time, Portugal had a poorly trained army, with less than 8,000 cavalry and 46,000 infantry troops.

Its military commander, João Carlos de Bragança e Ligne (2nd Duke of Lafões), had barely raised 2,000 horse and 16,000 troops and was compelled to contract the services of a Prussian colonel, Count Karl Alexander von der Goltz, to assume command as field marshal.

The Spanish Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, Manuel de Godoy, had some 30,000 troops at his disposal, while the French troops under General Charles Leclerc (Napoleon’s brother-in-law) arrived in Spain too late to assist Godoy, as it was a short military campaign.

On May 20, Godoy finally entered Portugal.

This incursion was a precursor of the Peninsular War that would engulf the Iberian Peninsula.

The Spanish army quickly penetrated the Alentejo region in southern Portugal and occupied Olivença, Juromenha, Arronches, Portalegre, Castelo de Vide, Barbacena and Ouguela without resistance.

Campo Maior resisted for 18 days before falling to the Spanish army, but Elvas successfully resisted a siege by the invaders.

An episode which occurred during the siege of Elvas accounts for the name, “War of the Oranges“:

Godoy, celebrating his first experience of generalship, plucked two oranges from a tree and immediately sent them to Queen Maria Luisa of Spain, mother of Carlota Joaquina and supposedly his lover, with the message:

I lack everything, but with nothing I will go to Lisbon.

Manuel de Godoy

The conflict ended quickly when the defeated and demoralized Portuguese were forced to negotiate and accept the stipulations of the Treaty of Badajoz, signed on 6 June 1801.

As part of the peace settlement, Portugal recovered all of the strongholds previously conquered by the Spanish, with the exception of Olivença and other territories on the eastern margin of the Guadiana and a prohibition of contraband was enforced near the border between the two countries.

The treaty was ratified by the Prince-Regent on 14 June, while the King of Spain promulgated the treaty on 21 June.

A special convention (the Treaty of Madrid) on 29 September 1801 made additions to that of Badajoz whereby Portugal was forced to pay France an indemnity of 20 million francs.

This treaty was initially rejected by Napoleon, who wanted the partition of Portugal, but he accepted once he concluded a peace with Great Britain at Amiens.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoléon (1769 – 1821)

 

Portugal divides itself into 18 districts.

Porto is the capital city of the Porto District, which is itself divided into 18 municipalities.

Of these municipalities the close-by city of Amarante lies to the northeast of Porto.

 

During this War of the Oranges (20 May – 9 June 1801) while a battle raged in Amarante, a group of Spanish soldiers briefly took control of the Porto Cathedral before being overcome by the locals of the town.

A marble plaque hangs behind the altar in memory of those who lost their lives regaining control of the chapel.

The plaque has a magnetic backing that was chosen to order to remind those travelling near the Cathedral to orient themselves in the direction their compasses have been altered towards.

Image result for porto cathedral interior

I can´t help but wonder what Hollywood would have done with a story like this:

Soldiers seize a church.

Locals battle to regain it.

But details are hard to come by here in distant Landschlacht and there is a tragic lack of ability in my reading Portuguese.

But I can imagine it.

 

Sunday 31 May 1801, Porto, Portugal

It was the perfect opportunity.

A full moon week meant the soldiers could ride in the Saturday night moonlight and lie in wait inside the Cathedral until the faithful showed up the following morning.

The Cathedral would have gold and the parishioners – faithful tithe-givers to the last – would have money.

The soldiers simply sought profits but they would be ignored if the parishioners didn’t believe that the soldiers would slay them if they did not obey.

The locals outside the church would be half-mad with grief and worry and would do anything to ensure the safety of their loved ones within.

The Bishop would be outraged at the sacreligious nature and audacity of the soldiers’ act.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

At this point of planning the plot of this historical drama I would require the aforementioned details that language and long distance deny me.

Was blood shed?

By whom upon whom?

History records the soldiers were unsuccessful, but what was their fate?

Who were these people: the Bishop, the faithful, the townsfolk, the soldiers?

Do I actually need historical facts and actual accuracy to tell their story?

Take the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace.

Braveheart imp.jpg

Many liberties were taken and the plot is filled with historical inaccuracies but is it a damn good movie?

Absolutely.

 

I am reminded again of Portuguese author José Saramago – a writer damnably difficult to read for his deliberate determination not to use punctuation or paragraphs but a fine storyteller nonetheless.

In his The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Saramago asks:

What happens when the facts of history are replaced by the mysteries of love?

“When Raimundo Silva, a lowly proofreader for a Lisbon publishing house, inserts a negative into a sentence of a historical text, he alters the whole course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon.

Fearing censure he is met instead with admiration:  Dr. Maria Sara, his voluptuous new editor, encourages him to pen his own alternative history.

As his retelling draws on all his imaginative powers, Silva finds – to his nervous delight – that if the facts of the past can be rewritten as a romance then so can the details of his own dusty bachelor present.”

Saramago suggests so many scenarios one could use and have been used by other authors in the past:

What if you had the power to change the past? (time travel)(Time Cop)

What if you had the power to enter the world of literature? (fantasy)(Inkheart)

What if you deliberately altered the record of the past to better reflect and justify the present? (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

 

Telling the tale of the taking of Porto Cathedral also carries with it some responsibility.

I don’t wish to glorify the Portuguese, for their history is not a bloodless nor innocent one in regards to their colonialism or dark dictatorship days.

I don’t wish to increase the innate antagonism between the Portuguese and the Spanish, for, in my humble opinion, writing should seek to unite humanity rather than divide it, even if history is truly horrific.

 

Still I smell a story just begging to be written, replete with drama and suspense – a kind of Die Hard meets Braveheart scenario, maybe mixed with a dash of Timeline and Timecop.

 

Maybe this is all just idle musings, for my mind is much like the late comedian Robin Williams’ observations of former US President George W. Bush’s span of attention:

“My fellow Americans….

Oh! Look at the baby!

Squirrel!”

Above: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

 

What I am left with when I consider the taking of Porto Cathedral is not so much that an extraordinarily beautiful house of worship was seized or a symbol of a religious affliation defiled.

Rather I find it interesting that the very church where the English-Portuguese Alliance came into being would become a battlefield in maintaining that alliance.

The whole story has the feel of witnessing a bully at a wedding seize one of the guests and threaten to kill him if the couple continues on with the nuptial ceremony.

Couples may not always co-exist harmoniously but nothing unites a couple more than someone else trying to separate them.

Though Portugal may have lost the War of the Oranges, Portugal’s defiance of bullying Spain ensured Britain’s assistance a few years later and strengthened Portuguese resolve to maintain their own alliances on their own terms.

I don’t see prevailing gloom within the Sé of Porto but rather my mind escapes up from the shadows and into the cloisters of magnificent azulejos and ascends the grand staircase to the dazzling chapterhouse with its sweeping views from the windows.

It is all a matter of perspective.

The Spanish seized a Cathedral and lost it.

The French and the Spanish defeated Portugal and later were defeated by the very alliance they tried to destroy.

Red may have spilled from soldier wounds and the faithful injured, but red is also half the colour of the Portuguese flag: combative, hot, virile.

A singing, ardent, joyful colour ever reminding of victory despite the high cost.

I don’t hear the lamentations of the frightened nor the murmuring of prayers and exhortations to God, but rather the fever and fervour of the resilient and determined.

As the words ring out strong and clear the Portuguese national anthem proudly proclaims:

“Unfurl the unconquerable flag in the bright light of your sky!

Cry out all Europe and the whole world that Portugal has not perished.

Your happy land is kissed by the ocean that murmurs with love.

And your conquering arm has given new worlds to the world!”

Two centuries, four months and a matter of weeks later, America would on 11 September 2001, suffer an attack far more devastating and tragic than the now-and-long forgotten taking of Porto Cathedral, but nothing strengthens a nation more than adversity or unites it into determined defiance against those who would seek to diminish it.

Like the United States, no one bothers or bullies Portugal any more.

Of the trials and tribulations Portugal, like the United States, has endured, much has been created by itself and resolved by itself.

To be blunt, the Sé, this Cathedral of Porto, to this world weary traveller is quite forgettable.

What Porto Cathedral represents, isn’t.

Image result for porto cathedral

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Portugal / Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories

Canada Slim and the Borders

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 11 November 2017

As one travels around the world a person discovers that there are arbitrary lines drawn across landscapes and charts and maps that define what is Here and what is to be considered There, and there are arbitrary lines drawn between classes and positions in our everyday societies.

Mankind has done this lineal division with matters large and small for millennia, whether it has been defining the limits of a landowner´s property demarcated by some creek or stone fence to the determination of a border being a river or a mountain range or some parallel of latitude or longitude that is only visible on a political map or geographer´s globe.

Mankind has even extended such boundaries upon the oceans beyond our shorelines and in the skies above our heads.

And soldiers and civilians have died to defend these lines in the sand.

This definition of what is ours versus what is not ours determines where we live, where we work, where we fish and hunt, and where we sail and fly.

And those with power determine the location of those without it, and they determine the extent of what territory they shall possess and dominate.

Those that call themselves our governments consider the land upon which we reside theirs to do with as they see fit, taking it from us if they so desire.

Taxes are considered rent for the privilege of being allowed to live upon the territory.

And what the government giveth, it can surely taketh away.

All that a person possesses can be taken away if justification warrants it, regardless of the justification´s validity.

In turn, we expect our governments to provide for our needs or at least enable us to have the illusion of taking care of our own needs.

We as humans think of ourselves as superior to the animal kingdom, yet what we mark as our territories is differently assessed by the instincts of the beasts and birds.

A bird does not care if a wall divides one human settlement from another.

It simply flies where it will.

A bear does not care if it was you who planted cabbages in a piece of ground claiming the cabbage patch as your own, for when it is hungry it sees no boundaries between your piece of civilization and the wild.

Polar Bear - Alaska (cropped).jpg

So we will kill those who take without asking, be they beast or fellow human beings.

Those with power will, if they can, take what they will, regardless of your needs or wishes in the matter.

This may cause some to defend what they regard as theirs and who believe that they and they alone have the right to this.

Such is how war began and, though modern times may be couched in different mannerisms of speech and behaviour, this is how wars begin and continue.

Where a country draws the line between what belongs to it and what belongs to others has been the source of much of what defines its history and its heritage.

The lines we define, define us.

The separation, for example, of Canada from the United States makes the almost insignificant Detroit River that separates Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from Detroit, Michigan, USA, a river of great importance that not only defines territory, but, in the minds of both Americans and Canadians, this wee stream also separates American culture from Canadian culture.

Do the trout that navigate the polluted waters know or care at what point in the river mankind has decided what is American and what is Canadian?

This definition of what is each country´s territory versus what is not, has created odd borders that make little sense but for various reasons continue in the fashion that they do, resulting in strange segregated territories such as enclaves and exclaves, no man´s land and disputed territories.

Ordinary places become extraordinary in No Man´s Land.

Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders: that somehow our sense of order and certainty would be lost without them.

I don´t have an easy relationship with borders, geographical or psychological.

I have been searched, prodded, poked, delayed, detained, denied, again and again and again, for having the temerity, the colossal nerve, to cross a few feet, mere metres of land.

I have been devalued, disrespected and discredited when I have suggested that the freedom of self expression must not be limited to whatever limits others have determined it must be.

What right do I have to determine what my place in society is?

Who the hell do I think I am?

Borders are bureaucratic faultlines, imperious and unwelcoming.

Their existence is a hostile act of exclusion.

Borders are far more than lines of exclusion – their profusion reflects the varied nature of people´s political and cultural choices.

By the restriction of free movement, by the refusal of self expression, we are denied a world of choices and possibilities.

Borders often make no sense, except to the ones that have defined the borders.

An enclave is a territory, or a part of a territory, that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state.

Territorial waters have the same sovereign attributes as land, and enclaves may therefore exist within territorial waters.

File:Flag of the Vatican City.svg

Above: Flag of the Vatican City

So, for example, Vatican City and San Marino could be considered enclaves.

Flag of San Marino

Above: The flag of San Marino

An exclave is a portion of a state or territory geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory (of one or more states).

So, for example, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland, are an exclave.

Location of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

For simplicity´s sake, an enclave is closer to its national territory than an exclave is.

Geographically speaking, there are 22 bits of Belgium scattered in odd profusion within the Netherlands and eight bits of the Netherlands scattered within Belgium.

These hodge-podge areas are called Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog.

Travel to Asia.

Along the India-Bangladesh frontier there are over 200 enclaves of either Bangladeshi territory surrounded by India or Indian territory surrounded by Bangladesh.

The Hindi name for these enclaves is chitmahals (paper palaces).

To further make a silly situation an act of pure folly, Upan Chowki Bhaini, at 53 square metres one of the smallest enclaves in the world, is an enclave inside another enclave, what geographers call a counter-enclave.

Above: The India – Bangladesh border. Indian territory is pink, Bangladeshi territory is blue.

Switzerland and its neighbours are also not immune from such complexity.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I just need to follow the Rhine River from my home in Landschlacht towards the town of Schaffhausen to find the closest enclave, Büsingen am Hochrhein, a German town completely surrounded by Switzerland.

Location of Büsingen in detail.svg

Or I can travel south into Canton Ticino and find myself in the town of Campione d´Italia, Italian territory surrounded by Switzerland.

(I have visited both.)

To add further confusion, as an example, the Canadian Embassy in Bern is not on Swiss territory but is Canadian.

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

US military bases are American territory regardless of where they happen to be, so to visit the United States Naval Base in Guantanomo, Cuba, I would need permission from the US not Cuba even though it is located there.

Seal of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.svg

Embassies, consulates and military bases are considered extraterritorial property of the countries that maintain them.

This can also be extended to memorials, such as the Vimy Memorial in France is Canadian territory, the land underneath the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Runnymede, England, is American territory, or the Suvorov Memorial near Göschenen, Switzerland isn´t Swiss but Russian.

Bildergebnis für suvorov monument switzerland

Where the borders of a territory should be has been a subject of controversy and conflict for millennia.

Historically speaking, our trip to Como, Italy, this past summer could have been a trip to Como, Switzerland….

 

Como, Italy, 2 August 2017

In 2010, a motion in Switzerland´s Parliament by members of the nationalist Swiss People´s Party (SVP) requested the admission of adjacent territories to the Swiss Confederation: the German state of Baden-Württemberg (Population: 10 Million); the Austrian state of Vorarlberg (Population: 360,000); the Italian provinces of Bolzano, Como, Varese and Aosta (Population: 500,000; 580,000; 860,000; 125,000) and the French departments of Savoie, Haut Savoie, Ain, Jura and Alsace (Population: 405,000, 705,000; 405,000; 570,000; 250,000).

Bildergebnis für proposal for a greater switzerland by the swiss people’s party

The motion proposed to offer these territories the “Swiss model of sovereignty” as an alternative to a “creeping accession” of Switzerland to the “centralist” European Union.

Now, at first glance this proposal might appear ridiculous, but we need to consider a number of things before we outrightly dismiss this notion.

There are a number of territories within the European Union member states who wish to leave the EU in view of the ongoing European debt crisis.

Switzerland, with some exceptions, has generally formed its federation through alliance with neighbouring cantons who broke away from countries that had formerly dominated them, voted to join the Confederation and through agreements between the Confederation and the dominant nations, these territories became Swiss.

When Ticino chose to become part of the Swiss Confederation in 1798, the people of Campione d´Italia chose to remain part of the Italian province of Lombardy.

Map of Switzerland, location of Ticino highlighted

Above: Ticino (multicoloured), in Switzerland

In 1848, during the wars of Italian reunification, Campione petitioned Switzerland for annexation, but this was rejected due to the Swiss desire to maintain neutrality (a stance the Swiss have maintained since 1815).

Campione has remained Italian territory ever since.

In 1918 after the First World War, a referendum was held in Büsingen in which 96% of voters chose to become part of Switzerland.

However it never happened as Switzerland could not offer anything suitable that Germany desired.

Büsingen remains German.

File:Flag of Germany.svg

Above: The flag of Germany

In a 1919 referendum, 81% of the people of Vorarlberg voted to join Switzerland, but the effort failed because of the ambivalent position of the Swiss government and the opposition of the Allied powers.

In 1967, the German enclave of Verenahof, consisting of just three houses and fewer than a dozen people became part of Switzerland (Canton Schaffhausen) in exchange for an equal amount of Swiss territory ceded over to Germany.

Above: Today, Verenahof is nothing more than a street name.

A poll by ORF Radio in 2008 reported that half the population of Vorarlberg would be in favour of joining Switzerland.

ORF logo.svg

The 2010 Greater Switzerland Motion was widely seen as anti-EU rheotric rather than a serious proposal.

In a following statement, the Swiss Federal Council (the executive heads of government and state in Switzerland) recommended the motion´s rejection, describing the motion as a “provocation”.

The Council argued that adoption of this motion would be considered an unfriendly act by the countries surrounding Switzerland, and that it would also be at odds with international law, which in the government´s view did not provide for a right to secession except in exceptional circumstances.

(This latter argument is the crux of the problem between Spain and Catalonia at present.)

Senyera

Above: The flag of Catalonia

(See Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation of this blog for discussion of the Catalonian desire for independence from Spain.)

Understandably, the topic attracted the attention of the European media.

The media went on to report a high level of apparent popular support for joining Switzerland in the proposed territories.

In Como, an online poll in June 2010 by the La Provincia di Como newspapers found 74% of the 2,500 respondents in favour of accession to Switzerland, which the local regionalist party Lega Lombarda has long been advocating.

Another online poll by the south German Südkurier newspaper found that almost 70% of respondents replied “Yes, the Swiss are closer to us in outlook.” to a question whether the state of Baden-Württemberg should join Switzerland.

The Südkurier noted that seldom had a topic generated so much activity by its readership.

The Lombard eco-nationalist party Domá Nunch proposed an integration between Switzerland and the Italian-border area of Insubria (the former Duchy of Milano) in order to join into a new confederation.

In Sardinia, the Associazione Sardegna Canton Maritimo was formed in April 2014 with the aim of advocating Sardinia´s secession from Italy and becoming a maritime canton of Switzerland.

Die Welt in June 2014, based on an OECD study, published an article arguing that southern Germany is more similar to Switzerland than to northern or eastern Germany.

(My wife would agree with this assessment.

We have lived in both southern and northern Germany before relocating to the Swiss Canton of Thurgau.

Map of Switzerland, location of Thurgau highlighted

Above: Thurgau (multicoloured) in Switzerland

As a Canadian I did not feel the differences as keenly as she, a south German, did.

She feels more at home in Canton Thurgau in northern Switzerland than she did when we lived in the state of Niedersachsen in northern Germany)

In the wake of the Die Welt article, there were once again reports of high levels of support for accession to Switzerland in southern Germany.

Schwäbische Zeitung reported that 86% of respondents in an online survey expressed approval for accession.

Also in 2014, there were reports of a movement in Südtirol / Trentino-Alto Adige proposing annexation by Switzerland.

The 6th Global Forum Südtirol, held that year in Bolzen / Bolzano, was dedicated to the question.

As alien residents of Switzerland travelling in Italy, seeking to discover what makes Italy Italia, we are feeling rather conflicted, for we have directly experienced both the advantages and disadvantages of living in the Swiss Confederation.

To be fair to those in favour of accession into Switzerland, I understand the attractiveness of the idea, for Switzerland is unique in that its Cantons enjoy a large amount of autonomy as individual parts of an allied federation than do German states or Italian provinces do as part of their federal systems.

Otherwise Switzerland would not have remained a united confederation considering how it is comprised of Swiss German speakers, French speakers, Italian speakers and Rumansch speakers.

Though the languages of Switzerland are not quite as equally respected or universally spoken as they should be, still one retains the feeling that one can speak French and still be Swiss or speak Italian and still be Swiss, despite Swiss German dominating the nation.

So Ticino is Swiss though the Ticinese speak Italian.

Romandie, the French name for the French-speaking Cantons of Switzerland (Suisse), is Swiss though they speak French.

(For a discussion of the languages of Switzerland, please see Sympathy for the dialect of this blog.)

Perhaps the Province of Como might be better off joining the Swiss Confederation than remaining in the Italian Republic, but I have to ask….

It is clear there are certainly gains to this proposal, but what would be lost?

Do the residents of Büsingen, surrounded by Switzerland, feel German?

Do the residents of Campione, surrounded by Switzerland, feel Italian?

Can a person feel a nationality?

I grew up as an Anglophone Canadian in Francophone Québec.

File:Flag of Quebec.svg

Above: The flag of Québec

Should my allegiance be for the province that raised me or for the country where English is geographically dominant?

By moving to Switzerland, have I become less Canadian?

Would Como be less Italian if it joined Switzerland?

The attraction for us as Swiss residents in visiting Como is that it isn´t Switzerland.

In Switzerland we live by Swiss expectations.

We travel outside Switzerland because we need places that allow our thoughts and feelings to roam unimpeded by Swiss expectations.

We don´t live in Italy, so, as long as we don´t violate Italian laws, we are free to express ourselves as individually as we wish, for we know we aren´t Italian nor necessarily wish to be Italian.

File:Flag of Italy.svg

Above: The flag of Italy

Which poses other questions….

Does living in Switzerland make me Swiss?

Does not living in Canada make me less Canadian?

Or is Switzerland too set in its ways to acknowledge those not born in Switzerland as being Swiss?

Am I too set in my ways to be anything else but Canadian in spite of where I may live?

There is an illusionary idea that life outside our borders must be different because it is outside our borders, thus we create for ourselves the desire for a world that is not totally known or understood, that has the capacity to surprise us, disregarding a common humanity that shouldn´t require borders to organise itself.

My fear is that if a place like Como sweeps away its Italian past than the world may be deprived of what makes Como Italian.

Above: The lakefront of Como

Or is identity determined more by regional culture as opposed to federal territory?

Would the Comaschi become less Comaschi if Como left Italy?

Are nations only bordered divisions?

Are they linguistic collectives?

Or are they something more?

Would life be better for Como if it joined Switzerland?

Imagine how different history might have been had Como already been part of Switzerland.

We wandered the streets of Como thinking how Italian everything was.

But is Como Italian or something unique of itself?

Is New York City American?

Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere in Queens, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty

Is London English?

London montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article.

Is Landschlacht Swiss?

We wandered, much walking in very hot and humid conditions, to the Educational Silk Museum of Como, which manages to simultaneously be exhaustive and incomprehensible.

The Museum is “dedicated to the production of silk….the one industry that has held the centre of this historic city in a productive embrace since the 1800s”.

The visitor sees all stages of silk production: silkworm rearing, reeling (the unwinding of silk coccoons into threads), silk throwing (the twisting of the silk to make it more amenable to design), weaving (the design pattern), measurement and testing, dyeing (colour application to the design), printing and finishing.

Those of a technical bent might enjoy the various mechanisms on display, as might those deeply into the mechanics of fashion production, but the Museum lacks a universal appeal.

It took us an hour of hard walking to reach the Museum.

We were finished our tour of the Museum in 15 minutes.

It remains, despite its best efforts, a local industrial Museum.

The Museum is too focused on what makes it Comaschi rather than what is universally appealing to everyone.

We are told that the mulberry tree – the silkworm diet – can be found widespread among the foothills of the Alps.

Above: Mulberry Tree, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

We are informed that after diseases devastated Italian silkworm breeding in the 1800s silkworm eggs were needed to be imported once again from Asian countries (Japan, in particular), and carefully selected to guarantee resistance to disease.

Above: Silkworm egg, Micrographica, 1665

We are reassured that silkworm production is now quite scientific and that today´s producing countries (China, India, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam) are able to rear silkworms all year round.

But what is lacking is an explanation of what makes Como silk production unique and an exploration of the fascinating history of silk production.

As long ago as Roman times the West has coveted silk from the East.

For centuries, the first great trade route, from out of the heart of China into the mountains of central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey to the shores of the Mediterranean, has brought silk from the Orient to Europe.

The Great Silk Road, stretching over 7,000 miles, requiring many months of hard travelling, crossing many borders, has always been a journey of great adventure, filled with drama and spectacle, whether it has been accomplished by bus or donkey cart, train or plane, jeep or camel.

The visitor, if afforded glimpses of what makes silk production so universal, could then be led to the understanding of what makes silk production so special an endeavour.

The Museum could stand as a testament to the glory of Como silk production if it were made clearer as to what makes Como silk production so unique besides just having been done in Como.

The Museum could be a perfect testimony of the wisdom of the adage “Think globally. Act locally.”, if it somehow would show both the diversity of silk production origins along with the uniqueness of producing it in Como.

The Museum could transcend borders while highlighting what makes Como special.

It does not.

Instead the visitor is left with a collection of machinery to decipher and extract, with difficulty, some sort of personal meaning.

Perhaps this is what I am feeling when I consider Como.

I don´t want Como to become just one part of a collection of Cantons.

Neither do I want its uniqueness to go unappreciated by the rest of Italy.

But rather I think that the Italian government needs to remind its varied regions of how appreciated their regional differences are while reminding those regions that Italy would not be truly a united Italy without this variety.

(This failure to do just what I have described is the seed of further conflict that will arise between Spain and its reluctant province of Catalonia.)

Borders divide people, but wisely used, borders could also tie places and people together in a common humanity.

I like dreaming.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places, and What They Tell Us about the World / Museo didattico della Seta, Guide to the Educational Silk Museum of Como / Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road

(For another perspective on borders, please see Borderline Obsessive of this blog.)

Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 October 2017

I was 24 and living in Ottawa, Canada, in 1989, when I read the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated West Germany from East Germany for a generation.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada

I would see remnants of this wall in subsequent visits to Berlin with my wife and my cousin in 2007 and 2008.

Berlinermauer.jpg

In 1999, I visited the De-militarised Zone (the DMZ) that still separates North Korea from South Korea.

Korea DMZ sentry.jpg

In 2000, I saw the Green Line that separates North Cyprus from Cyprus.

I am a little over a half century old and in the past 50 or so years I have witnessed the independence of 18 African nations, 10 Caribbean nations, 14 Middle East or Asian nations, 11 European nations and 11 South Pacific nations.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

I have watched dictatorships change into democracies and I have sadly seen some democracies devolve into dictatorships.

So I guess it feels quite normal to watch with growing fascination the growing movements of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iran and Iraq and the Catalonian people of Spain.

As a man who has seen his fair share of historical events, though like most men of my socio-economic class living in the West mostly indirectly, I find it compelling to watch how nations develop from ideas to actual sovereign states.

And having grown up as an Anglophone in Francophone Québec, a province that has itself toyed with the idea of independence from Canada, I can´t say that I am unemotional in regards to this topic of sovereign states and what it is exactly that constitutes a nation.

Flag of Quebec

I have always felt that it is more to the advantage of both Canada and Québec to remain together, as Canada, for all its faults has acknowledged that Québec is a distinct society whose language and culture must be respected within the framework that is Canada.

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

Québec, both economically and culturally, would be weakened should it attempt total self-reliance surrounded as they are by an Anglo North America, especially when considering the economic and military clout of the United States.

In regards to the desire of the Kurdish people to determine their own destiny, I cannot deny that I am partially sympathetic to their cause, for as reprehensible as the violence that has been used by some Kurdish factions has been (and it has been reprehensible indeed), the determination by the dominant powers that rule them to eliminate their culture and deny them their language and, in some dark chapters of the past, attempt their extermination, leaves me hopeful that through wiser leadership and true diplomacy the Kurds may one day create their free Kurdistan.

Roj emblem.svg

Above: One of the symbols used to represent Kurdish nationalism

(See The Sick Man of Europe 1: The Sons of Karbala and The Sick Man of Europe 2: The Sorrow of Batman of this blog for greater explanation and background of the Kurdish situation.)

But in regards to Catalonian independence I am on more insecure footing…

The Principality of Catalonia was a territory of the Crown of Aragon at the time of the Union of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in the late 15th century, which led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain.

Above: L´Estelada Brava, the pro-independence flag of Catalonia

Initially, Catalonia kept their own fueros (laws and customs) and political institutions.

Catalans revolted against the Spanish monarchy in the Reaper´s War of 1640 – 1652, which ended in Catalan defeat.

The end of the War of Spanish Succession was followed by the loss of the fueros and the imposition of the Nueva Planta decrees which centralised Spanish rule.

The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid-19th century.

The Renaixenca (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence.

Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.

The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Catala, founded in 1922 by Colonel Francesc Macia.

Macia 2a tongada scans 003 editora 8 44 1.jpg

Above: Francesc Macía (1859 – 1933), 122nd President of Catalonia

Estat Catala went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930).

Following the overthrow of Rivera, Estat Catala joined the Parti Republica Catala and the political group L´Opinió to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, with Macia as its first leader.

Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, which lasted until the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco´s death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy.

File:Flag of Spain.svg

Above: The flag of Spain

A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, but acknowledged “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and  regions which form it”.

Independence parties objected to the constitution on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination and formed the Comité Catala Contra la Constitució Espanyola to oppose it.

The constitution was nevertheless approved both in Spain and in Catalonia.

In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of a published letter, Crida a la Solidarität en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalones, which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona, out of which a popular movement arose.

Logotip UB.svg

Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence.

In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to “harmonise” the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the powers of Catalonia and the Basque region of northwest Spain and southwest France.

There was a surge of popular support against LOAPA.

During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action, among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only and targeting big companies.

Following elections in 2003, the Spanish government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy.

The Spanish parliament made changes to the Statute, by removing clauses on finance and language and the article stating that Catalonia was a nation.

The Partido Popular, which had opposed the Statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice.

The case lasted four years.

In 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional.

In 2015 the Catalan parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process.

In response Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said the state might “use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.”, hinting that he would not stop at military intervention.

Mariano Rajoy 2017c (cropped).jpg

Above: Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain since 2011

In 2016, Carles Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office of President of Catalonia, omitted the oath of loyalty to the King and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan President to do so.

Carles Puigdemont Casamajó

Above: Carles Puigdemont i Casamojó, President of Catalonia since 2016

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the Spanish parliament that a binding referendum on Catalan Independence would be held in 2017.

The question on 1 October 2017 was:

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

The Spanish government said that the referendum could not take place because it was illegal.

The Spanish government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down websites and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store.

Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to keep them open during the vote.

Some election organisers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.

The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout.

The Yes side won, with over 2 million people / 91% voting for independence.

The government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region.

The Catalan parliament passed a law declaring it would only follow Catalan law.

The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.

On 3 October 2017 Carles Puigdemont said that his government intends to act on the result of the referendum “at the end of this week or the beginning of next” and declare independence from Spain.

Puigdemont went before the Catalan Parliament to address them on Monday 9 October 2017, pending agreement of other political parties.

On 4 October 2017, Mireia Boya, a lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), announced that a declaration of independence would likely come after the parliamentary session on 9 October.

Felipe VI, the King of Spain, called the Catalan referendum “illegal” and appealed to the union of Spain and called the situation in Catalonia “extremely serious.”

Felipe de Borbón en Ecuador.jpg

Above: Felipe de Borbón, aka Felipe VI, King of Spain since 2014

According to Swiss national radio, the Foreign Ministry of Switzerland has offered to mediate between the two sides in the crisis.

Flag of Switzerland

So, here are the questions that remain….

Could Catalonia survive without Spain?

Map of Catalonia in Spain

Above: Map of Spain, with Catalonia in red

What damage would the loss of Catalonia do to Spain?

Will a declaration of independence, which seems likely, lead to bloodshed?

It can be argued that a justifiable reason for a region to declare itself independent of a dominant government over it, is if the dominant force threatens the region´s domestic affairs in regards to how it determines its identity through race, religion, language or cultural traditions, and especially if the region´s economic or humanitarian needs are not being met.

I have insufficient information to decide whether or not the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan language, culture or traditions.

I do believe that Catalonia is strong economically as it stands now, but whether it is in Catalonia´s best interests economically to break free of Spanish rule…..

I am not so certain.

The irony of a people wishing to be free of a monarchy (although Spain is a constitutional monarchy much like Canada) on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and on the 150th anniversary of Canada´s own sovereignity as a confederation, is not lost on me.

 

Petrograd, (present day St. Petersburg) Russia, Monday, 27 February 1917

(Please read Canada Slim and….the Bloodthristy Redhead, the Zimmerwald Movement, the Forces of Darkness, the Dawn of a Revolution, the Bloodstained Ground, and the High Road to Anarchy of this blog for the background to the events below….)

With so much rampant anarchy unleashed on the streets of Petrograd, Duma (Russia´s parliament) President Mikhail Rodzinko and the other Duma members were at a loss as to how to deal with events that had taken them totally by surprise.

MijaílRodizianko--russiainrevolut00jone.jpg

Above: Mikhail Rodzinko (1859 – 1924)

With Russia plunged into political uncertainty, the Duma at the Tauride Palace was a magnet for Petrograders all day.

Above: The Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg

By 1300 hours a crowd of thousands massing around the doors to the Duma was thick with “green uniformed and green capped students, many waving red flags and red bunting and listening to revolutionary speeches”, all anxious to offer their support to the formation of a new government and seeking instructions on what they should do.

What once was a graceful Palladian building of white colonnades, grand reception rooms and columned galleries, the Tauride Palace was now a rackety military camp of political hustling, where urgent meetings were held to establish a provisional government to take charge of the extremely volatile situation.

The Palace was full of troops.

“Everybody seemed to be hungry.

Bread, dried herrings and tea were being endlessly handed around.”

The mental confusion within the Palace was more bewildering than the Revolution outside.

The Palace seethed with tension and excitement, as regiment after regiment arrived and was “drawn up in ranks, four deep, down the length of Catherine Hall” (the main lobby and promenade of the Duma) to swear its allegiance to the new government.

Rodzianko addressed each of them in turn, urging them to “remain a disciplined force”, to stay faithful to their officers and return quietly to barracks and be ready when called.

 

1430 hours

In the semicircular main hall an enormous, mixed assembly of moderate and liberal members of the Duma met to organise themselves, under Rodzianko´s leadership, in the hopes that a reformed, constitutional government could yet be salvaged from the wreckage.

A twelve-man Provisional Executive Committee was eventually elected that evening to take control.

One of its first acts was to order the arrest of the members of the Council of Ministers – the Upper House of the Duma, the Tsar´s men – who met at Mariinsky Palace.

Above: The Mariinsky Palace

Some had already tendered their resignations, including Prime Minister Nikolay Golitsyn.

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Above: Nikolai Golitsyn (1850 – 1925), 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)

Others had gone into hiding, and revolutionary patrols were now searching for them.

Even as the Duma members were establishing their own committee, elsewhere in Tauride Palace, a large group of soldiers and workers intent on nothing else than the declaration of a socialist republic and Russia´s withdrawl from the War (WW1) were meeting with the moderate Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries, with the objective of electing their own Petrograd Soviet of Workers´ and Soldiers´ Deputies.

Their most immediate call was an appeal to citizens to help feed the hungry soldiers who had taken their side, until their supplies could be properly organised.

Petrograders responded quickly, welcoming men into their homes to warm themselves and be fed.

Restaurants offered free meals.

Old men were seen in the street “with large boxes of cigarettes, which they handed out to the soldiers.”

 

2100 hours

An unknown American encountered a very well dressed intelligent man, running breathlessly up Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, “stopping a few moments every block to tell the great news….

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Above: Present day Kamennoostrovky Prospekt, St. Petersburg

“The Duma had formed a temporary government.”

It was astonishing, colossal, not to be grasped at once or even half understood.

 

Tuesday 28 February 1917

Midnight

A “tremendous mass of people in the square surrounding a truck packed with soldiers from which a Second Lieutenant was telling the crowd the news:

“Now it´s all right.

There´ll be a new government.

Do you understand?

A new government, and there´ll be bread for everybody.”

“I don´t think any man´s mind that night, except the very leaders in the Duma, could stretch fast enough and far enough to do more than struggle with the realisation of the simplest and most elementary fact of the Revolution – with the plain fact that there actually was a Revolution.”

“On the whole, it may be truthfully said that, so far as Petrograd was concerned, by Tuesday evening the Revolution was over.”

 

0200 hours

The train carrying the Tsar back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.

On the train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Russia no longer had a government, and over the next crucial 27 hours or more, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.

Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the rebellion.

He could sleep easily.

His train was on schedule.

In consequence, with no government and a nomadic Tsar lost in a train, power in Petrograd passed to the Revolution, with the Tauride Palace home of a Duma that was no more.

The tsarist government was finished.

The Arsenal – the last rallying point of the old regime – had finally surrendered by 1600 hours when the rebels threatened to turn the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress onto it.

The whole of the army in Petrograd had now thrown in its lot with the revolutionaries.

The Tauride Palace now housed a noisy mass of workers, soldiers and students, joined together in a Soviet.

The few hundred respectable deputies who backed the Duma Committee now jostled for places in rooms and hallways packed with excited street orators, mutineers and strike leaders.

It was chaos and would remain so for days to come.

Grave anxiety remained as to the future, with the struggle between the new Soviet and the Executive Committee of the Duma intensifying.

It was already abundantly clear that any power-sharing between the Duma and the Soviet would be extremely fraught.

In the midst of all this chaos, the young man beginning to stand out as the dominant figure was Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma Committee but also vice-chairman of the Soviet.

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Above: Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970)

Bestriding both camps, Kerensky´s power was enormous.

The Committee had the better claim to government, but the members knew that in this Revolution they could only lead where Kerensky was willing to follow.

For the members of the Soviet, the Executive Committee represented the enemy: the old order of capitalists, the bourgeoise and the aristocracy.

At the same time, the Soviet had the sense to know that they were in no position to form a “people´s government” as their authority did not extend beyond the capital.

They had few if any among them the experience to act as Ministers.

There had to be a deal.

For the Duma men that meant securing the Tsar´s abdication while preserving the monarchy itself.

Nicholas would be replaced by his lawful successor, his son Alexis, with Nicholas´ younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as regent.

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Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878 – 1918)

Michael was a war hero, a cavalry commander holding Russia´s two highest battlefield awards, and he was known to be sympathetic to constitutional monarchy on the British lines.

The army held him in high regard and he would also be a popular choice in the Duma where he was widely trusted and respected.

But Nicholas had first to be compelled to give up the throne.

Trundling across Russia in his train, Nicholas had, as yet, no idea what would be demanded of him.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

When I view recent events regarding the Kurds and the Catalonians, I realise that here too, a century after the Russian Revolution…..

There has to be a deal.

But much like Nicholas on the train….

I have, as yet, no idea what will be demanded.

Above: Gathering in Zarautz, Basque Country, in support of Catalonian independence

Sources: Wikipedia / Steve Bloomfield (editor), How to Make a Nation / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917