Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fiesta in Tenerife - from a Story in "The Skipping Verger and Other Tales"

           It was the early 1970s when a middle-aged English couple wandered across from the new San Antonio Hotel to savour a touch of old colonialism at the British Games Club in Puerto de la Cruz. They ordered gin and tonics, to which they were not especially accustomed, and walked up the steps to the tennis courts from where they heard very enthusiastic applause. Acknowledging whispered greetings, the visitors sat down on immaculately painted, green benches to watch an entertaining game of mixed doubles alongside a number of club members.

Needless to say, one wore whites to play tennis at the British Games Club

          After a few minutes they began to hear what sounded like heavy gunfire in the distance. It was their first time in Tenerife and the couple looked at each other in a rather startled manner whilst the other spectators continued to enjoy the tennis and to applaud as if the thunder of exploding shells were quite normal. At the end of a game and whilst the players were changing ends, the visiting gentleman couldn’t bear it anymore and decided to enquire.
          “Excuse me, what are all those explosions about?” he asked the man wearing whites and a matching Panama hat who was sitting beside him on the bench.
          “Oh, nothing to worry about old chap…..just the natives attacking again!” replied the club member casually, in his best colonial accent, before promptly standing up and wandering off down the steps to the bar, leaving the visitor and his wife open mouthed and confused. 
          The colonial, who apparently always liked to watch some tennis after his game of bowls, returned a few minutes later. He wore a broad smile and the twinkle in his eye betrayed a mischievous sense of humour. He was followed by Manuel, the barman, carrying a tray with two more gin and tonics for the innocent English couple. He thought it had been long enough for them to digest the thought of the attacking natives and whether or not they should speak to their Thompson’s representative about shortening the holiday.
          He explained that it was not gunfire at all but fireworks high on the ridge at La Guancha. The low cloud hanging in the valley did indeed make them thud like distant, exploding shells. He had been in the war, don’t you know.
          “Fireworks...in the middle of the day?” asked the tourist in disbelief.
        “It’s a fiesta, old chap. They set off fireworks at all hours here, especially during a fiesta. They do it to make noise. They love noise. I’m afraid they can’t live without making noise. My wife loves a good fiesta. Personally, I hate them.”
          Sitting on the next bench, and unable to ignore the conversation, was the wife of another old resident and she began to chuckle. She remembered her first experience of a local fiesta twenty years earlier when they arrived in Tenerife after one of the coldest Dartmoor winters on record. One of the first things they decided to do was to go to the San Isidro fiesta in La Orotava on a very hot June day. They packed themselves, their daughter, the obedient black Labrador and provisions into the car before driving up into the old town centre.
          Just outside the upper part of the town anxious shepherds, goatherds and cowmen had begun to gather their oxen, goats, mules and donkeys on a country lane. The animals wore beautifully coloured rugs on their backs and whole families stood about dressed gaily in traditional Canary garments, mingling with all the livestock. Panniers full of fruit were being strapped to the donkeys whilst bullocks, thrashing their tails against stinging flies, were being harnessed to magnificently adorned carts. They were being made ready for the romería, a colourful procession through the streets representing agricultural and other scenes from island life.
          The family from Devon, who had made certain of learning an adequate amount of Spanish before settling on the island and Jan, their patient and understanding dog, found a good position from which to view the procession. In fact a very kind and proud lady let them share the raised position of her front door steps. They had already been invited by welcoming townsfolk to share wine, chick peas, cheese and balls of gofio when the proceedings began.

The Romería of San Isidro Labrador in La Orotava

          The swaying procession flowed down the cobbled streets like an undulating sea of colour and sound. Most of the men wore black fedora hats, white shirts, woollen breeches and scarlet cummerbunds. The girls also bloomed in rich scarlet waistcoats over their gypsy blouses, and their striped woven dresses covered exquisite petticoats.

The girls, in their  traditional "Maga" dress, were so pretty

          They were so pretty and they knew it and flaunted their beauty with a natural pride that is so much a part of the Canary Islander’s nature.

Massive bullocks lead the way

          There was much singing and even more laughter. Ripples of admiration greeted the beautifully adorned carts and strong men led their massive bullocks, leaning against their necks whenever they needed to stop or to slow them down. The lovely girls offered even more wine, fruit and delicious morsels of grilled meat prepared at the rear of carts which made their jerky way down the cobbles.
          The English family were feeling so much at ease, loving every second and totally absorbed by the charms of a real Spanish fiesta.

Canary Island charms at every corner

          As the wine flowed and morsels of food were shared out and exchanged for smiles, so the generosity of these people blossomed to even greater heights amongst themselves and towards total strangers.
          Even Jan, the Labrador, seemed to be enjoying the occasion. The scent of the huge, grilled chops filling the air and the pieces of meat being handed here and there on wooden spikes was just too exciting. There had never been anything so perfectly tempting. It was such tremendous fun.

The first giant firework exploded   
          But suddenly it happened. The first giant firework shot skywards and offered a deafening explosion immediately above their heads. They should have known better. Although he was well accustomed to the sound of shotguns during pheasant shoots on the moors, Jan objected, bolted across the merry procession and disappeared.
          “Jan, Jan, Jan” called the English lady cutting through the same colourful procession in hot pursuit after the dog. She was followed in the same direction, but much more discretely, by her husband and daughter.
           “I’ll bet he’s waiting for us at the car”, she shouted back, trying to be reassuring while shoving her way through the masses in what, to any onlooker, appeared to be a state of panic. People shrugged their shoulders and remarked, “Son ingléses” to explain the strange behaviour.
          The foreign lady was almost right. Like any well trained hunting dog, the black Labrador had gone straight to where they had parked the car. Unfortunately it was someone else’s car it had got into. It was a big, black saloon and all its doors were locked.
          How on earth did Jan get into it? Somebody said the car belonged to a man called Paco and that he was bound to be at the bar on the square. The Englishman and his daughter strode off in that direction, leaving the wife to talk nicely at her dog through a rear window.
          A short time later two smiling local gentlemen ambled up. They stared at the car for a moment with slightly bloodshot eyes and then gazed endlessly at the lady who was talking to the dog that was inside the car. She could feel how desperately they were trying to concentrate. After all it was an unusual situation for two drunks to deal with, but she was foolish enough to try to explain her predicament without being asked to. 
          “Never mind, señora, we will help you. You wait here. We will come back”, one of them offered just before another huge firework exploded.
          The English lady was just congratulating herself for their departure when they returned, one of them carrying a ghastly little brown dog with protruding teeth in his arms.
          “Here you are, we have found your dog”, he said, holding it out towards her.
          “I have not lost my dog. That is my dog in the car. I have lost the owner of the car and the car is locked with my dog inside it. Adios. Please, adios!” she begged, and looked around at the gathering crowd of amused spectators. A firework went off.
          “Why don’t you want this dog? We found it for you!” one of the two amigos said accusingly. They stood there swaying, for a minute or two thinking, and then one of them repeated, “You wait here. We will return. We know where to find you another dog!” They looked around them at the spectators with widening grins on their faces.
          “I don’t want a dog. My husband is finding the man who owns this car. Adios”, the English señora insisted very loudly. Bang went another firework and the two men wandered off to the bar again.

A policeman joined in the fun

          At that point a Guardia Civil policeman approached and enquired “Que pasa?
          She told him.
          “Ahhhhh!” he exclaimed.
          “That is Don Angel’s car. He has just been to the plaza with his wife, but how did your dog get into his car if it was locked?” he asked with a definite hint of suspicion in his eye.
          The English lady thought their troubles were over at last simply because a policeman had taken an interest, but she waited and waited.
          Half an hour later her husband and daughter returned. They both looked tired and very irritable, particularly the husband. They had been to the house of Paco but he was out. In any case Paco’s car was green. This one was black. She explained that the policeman had said it belonged to Don Angel, so her husband grunted and went off to look for Don Angel. Unfortunately Don Angel was also out and his servants said he might be anywhere. He was that kind of angel.
          A man in the crowd offered to smash the car window. Another said he would get a wire. Someone said he knew a man who was good with hinges. Another firework shook the proceedings just when the two amigos ambled up to the car again.
          “Does it wear a collar, señora?” the braver of the two asked kindly.
          “I have not lost my dog!” she retaliated, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “I have found my dog. I am waiting for my husband!” A very loud firework ended her sentence.
          “I told you,” said the other drunk, “La pobre mujer has lost her husband, not her dog. You wait señora!”
          They wandered off, determinedly this time, and were back before long. On this occasion they were accompanied by an extremely tall, blond man with a very red face.
          Señora. He is here. We have found your husband for you!”
          Bonjour, madame”, said the foreign stranger very courteously indeed. “These two men told me you are looking for me”. In fact the poor man, a Swiss resident, had merely been having a beer or two at a corner bar when the two local gentlemen stepped in. They had assumed by his foreign appearance that he must without a doubt have been the missing husband, and dragged him along.
          Another loud firework exploded as the English husband came around the corner. He took surprisingly little interest in the two drunks and in the foreigner his wife was talking to in a very animated manner and suggested he take his family home and return later to look for Don Angel.
          However, at that moment another man parked his car alongside the black saloon. Hearing about the predicament he invited the lady to sit in it, where the dog could see her, while her husband resumed the search for Don Angel. This gesture, which was accepted gratefully, and the sincere assistance offered by the two drunks, was typical of the kindness of Canary Islanders. Meanwhile, as the English husband continued looking for Don Angel and everyone waited for the tale to end happily, all sorts of rumours were being whispered about what the almost certainly innocent Don Angel was doing, where and with whom.
          The drunks became drunker and brought more dogs and one or two husbands for the English lady to inspect. The policeman came by again and shrugged his shoulders, and a number of fireworks made people jump every now and then.

Jan, the labrador, had given up hope

          Jan the Labrador had given up hope and curled himself up on the rear seat of Don Angel’s car.
          It was late evening when the English husband returned. His wife was about to accept the sensible alternative, which was to be driven home whilst he waited by the car. But a tall, thin looking man with a delightful face strolled up and surprised them in perfect English.
          “You are looking for me. My name is Angel López. I understand you think I have a dog for sale!”
          Before the English couple could reply, a volley of fireworks thundered in the sky marking a triumphant end to the fiesta.

By John Reid Young

This publication happens to coincide with this year's very special fiesta and 100th anniversary of the famous Corpus Christi "Sand Carpets" in La Orotava.

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES"  and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of his short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands.


John Reid is also owner of Tenerife Private Tours


  1. I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek style of this tale. Very amusing.

  2. Thank you very much for your kind comment. You'll be happy to hear that Jan, the labrador, never again got into someone else's car.

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