The Canary Islands were not named after canaries, the exotic birds, but dogs. The original Latin name means Island of the Dogs. The dog islands were my home for Christmas this year.
The flight was delayed by 30 minutes. We spent another half an hour stuck on the runway, waiting for our slot. The weather was grim as it could be and it didn’t seem to change for the day. But nobody cared about it. Nobody ran back and forth through the airport hall; no curses no complaints. It was going to be only better after this – nothing could spoil the expectation.
We’re going to canaries. It’s clear to all of us that this is not a business trip. It’s not a family trip either. It’s sun holiday. We are going to sunbathe on Christmas.
The cheerful atmosphere dominated streets of Las Palmas. Little squares filled with spectators of evening concerts. Choirs took turns in catholic churches. Fireworks entertained families in the streets. And yet, the city gave little sign of getting ready for Christmas. Decorations were sparse and advertisements kept to minimum. The horrors of western-type consumerist brainwashing spared the small town. Christmas were coming, but slowly and quietly… mostly showing in the faces of happy people.
Our second lodging, on the Tenerife island, was cheap – a pension located on the ground floor of an outskirts apartment complex. As we were checking in, a young girl stood by the glass front door. She waited there for a while with a sponge cake in her hands and a soft orange sweater over her shoulders. Her clothes didn’t give away much, but her face and hands looked strangely familiar. I’ve seen many of those in my previous job, as a needle exchange worker.
Our host didn’t hurry to open the door. She waited. When he finally got to answer the door, she asked something in Spanish. He said no quietly. He was a very polite man. When he finished his talk about local attractions, we went out for a cup of tea. There they were. The orange woman and her companion – boyfriend perhaps – noticed us.
I didn’t know what he asked. My wife answered in English, “No we just came”.
He sat back to his girl and they both looked sad. What bothered them? Perhaps this pension was their last chance to get a bed for tonight. The invisible barrier that separated our worlds felt close. I was on the good side today, but I could’ve been on their side tomorrow.
Speak Spanish, we’re in Canaries
German was the norm in Tenerife. Hikers on the Teide volcano greeted us with “Hallo” instead of the local “Ola”. Volcanic dust was everywhere. The monotonous, dry country brought back old folk song titles, ashes to ashes – dust to dust. All we are is dust in the wind. Pondering these sad truths couldn’t be easier than here. Admiring the mountainous landscape lifted all my heavy feelings away. “Traum” – a fellow hiker said. She’s right; the mountains looked like dreams to me too.
Back on the Gran Canaria Island, we bicycled on the last day of our holidays. Starved by the physical exercise, we looked at the Spanish menu card in a Santa Catalinian restaurant. Unlike most places, they didn’t have English translation and when we tried to order, we found out why. We asked about the first option on the list – Pechuga. The waiter answered in Spanish which we didn’t understand. A nearby customer tried to help in French with no success. Noticing his efforts, the waiter demanded Spanish:
“Speak Spanish, we’re in Canaries” to which we responded with confused looks and growing impatience.
Unable to find an easier equivalent for Pechuga, the waiter gripped her breasts and said again:
We didn’t get it, until she brought the chicken breast dish to our table, but Pechuga has now a prominent place in my small Spanish vocabulary.