The Spaniards who first colonised these islands in the 15th Century were so enamoured with their discovery that they named them The Fortunate Islands, spend some time here & you will understand why, in five months here I’ve not once felt the chill of inclement weather and those bones of mine that feel the years are thankful. The sensation of cold rain hitting my face in the street back home is a receding memory. Not once have I had to resort to burying myself in the folds of the duvet on my bed come night-time, these things I consider fortunate indeed.
I came here to weather out Covid back in March, to be honest it was a rush decision, it was clear that Corona was kicking in big time as one by one country after country began to shut borders, my plan to travel to India blown by their shut down I settled on the Canaries as a destination, mainly for the weather, for the sea & the idea that whilst technically closer to West Africa I was still in Europe, and that in a pandemic at least being in the same continent as home was just a little bit more sensible.
Arriving on the Island late in the day I saw little beyond the failing light through the window of the taxi that took me from the airport to Santa Cruz, a City of 200,000 that was to be home for my stay. By the following morning the Spanish government had imposed a lockdown and as I stepped out onto the streets of the city I felt as though I had touched down in a land under a spell, there were no cars on the city streets and people were few and far between. The shops were shuttered, school gates padlocked and so began my sojourn in Tenerife.
I quickly grew to enjoy morning strolls through the city, the feeling of the streets being empty & mine alone. The city a checkerboard of old and new, tumble down colonial houses that ooze character in peeling paint & shuttered windows, newer apartment blocks – neat boxed living but somehow lacking soul, and the streets bedecked with trees. The delicious Flamboyant trees, native I believe of Madagascar that thrive here, they radiate the most vivid red flowers that make me think of flamenco dancers.
Early each morning I open the big wooden shutters on my bedroom windows, they face what would in ‘normal’ times be a busy street, in pours the sunlight followed swiftly by a stream of bird song. With them both comes the idea of how quickly nature would reclaim these concrete citadels were we not here. Over the weeks and the months the quietness of this big city pulls me under its spell and I love to wander the empty streets, past closed businesses, shuttered apartments, the schoolyard with padlocked iron gates, imagining the sound of children voices which I realise I’ve not heard in a ages. Later in the day if I am out and about the occasional open window brings the sounds of human life, the clatter of plates, voices conversing, maybe the aroma of a family dinner coming from a kitchen and I am reminded that life, human life goes on.
These months separate & locked down have been a time to reflect and introspect, to weigh what was – what is – and what may be to come. I think this same process is one that many others have gone through. To weigh up what is important in our lives.
Knowing nobody when I arrived was a slice of freedom, no part to play, no history, nobody that I knew that could say they knew me. And yet beyond that I’ve felt the niggling absence of a small number of people who’s company I value or indeed love. I miss faraway friends.
With an easing of the lockdown there has been a gradual return to ‘normal’, the streets now have some traffic, more shops are open, soon the schools will be back.
Now the bird song is faint in the early morning, sometimes I can’t hear it at all, but the streets are full of pretty girls & beautiful women so it’s not all bad.
But something has changed, and I hope that we don’t go back to normal, If Corona has been good for anything it is as a messenger. We have not being doing so well as a species & its time to change directions, time to find new ways.
As if on queue these last few days the Calima has come, a wind from the Sahara that turns blue skies grey with desert sand and the air as dry as bleached bones. It’s a distinct change in the weather, but this also goes after a couple of days, the one thing on which we can rely in this life is that everything changes.
I could imagine myself living here, growing old just a little disgracefully, but then I could imagine that same me doing something similar in Athens or Italy or any number of other places.
In these next few weeks I need to make changes and find new ways, it’s time to move. Perhaps Coronavirus, unwanted as it has been is actually the perfect vehicle to help make those changes.
My thoughts turn towards home, back home where autumn will come quickly, the nights will draw in and winter will follow on its heels. Corona I suspect still has much to show us all, but life will go on & maybe collectively we will grow a little wiser for its coming.
I’ve not had a proper winter in ages, my summer has lasted for six years, that’s a pretty good run.
Maybe it’s time to dig out sweaters and coats from long sealed cardboard boxes, maybe its time to walk in autumn woods, to feel the crunch of frosty pavements in the morning, that will indeed be a change. When I leave the Island I will take with rich memories, of the people I’ve met, of the glimpse of a different life that I’ve shared for a while, I suspect these memories may keep me a little warmer in an English winter.
Satellite image of the Calima