Sunset of an Epoch
Tenerife, February 21, 2020
In the dying days of the empire, in the second decade of the century, we sit each night on the balcony of Edificio Altagay and watch the sun as it sets over our European citizenship.
There are no tears shed, those have long since evaporated in the stark reality of life as we cross off the days into 2020. But with each red twilight we drown our regrets, fears and anger in cheap vino Tinto and cold Dorada cerveza and count our blessings that we ourselves are sufficiently old and have lived in a different, more naive world, unlike the one that will confront our grandchildren as they grow up.
Contemplating the fate of our island, Britain, while sitting in the sun on another island, feels like a mournful act. Once it would have been a pleasure we took for granted, safe in the knowledge that although we lived somewhere else we shared a kind of 'equity of commonwealth' with the people who live here. Now that equity is but a memory and a distant sparkle in our minds’ eye, like the light of a long dead star twinkling in the heavens above; a galactical anachronism reaching across time and space reminding us that we all must obey the Laws of Entropy as we ride the Arrow of Time.
Rhythm of Life
The 'Geography of Time'
The Atlantic rollers crashing on the black rocks of the pre-Cambrian lava flow upon which Punta del Hidalgo is built, reminds us too of the impermanence of man and our fragile constructs. The lights of the town of Bajamar across the bay, drape over the slopes of magma that once oozed down from the steaming caldera that created the island incalculable eons ago. They sparkle like a blanket of stars, each light radiates from a home, a family, a community, each sharing a slice of time on this volcanic rock in the Atlantic.
That’s what we are, temporary visitors on this island and on our planet. Why are we here? Other than to procreate, ‘why’ is anyones guess, and this temporal thought is particularly relevant when you are a visitor, here on holidays with time on your hands to think beyond the next beer, or to swim in the piscina, or salivate over a lunchtime plate of calamari, or to stroll along the promenade amongst the stylish and relaxed locals with their well groomed and impeccably behaved perros and their deep, walking conversations with each other. To inhale the occasional waft of drowsy marijuana as you amble slowly past post-prandial surfers, lounging louchly against the seawall, watching their compardres paddling through the white water to ride the endless rollers peeling off the lava reef near the Puerta de Pescadores.
The Internationalists' Dilemma: Divided Loyalties
Our British countrymen are nowhere to be seen at Punta del Hidalgo, apart from the odd couple with their walking poles, gortex shorts and Tilly hats, striding purposefully towards the challenging walking trails in the crown of mountains that tower above the Point. We are pretty well the only Anglos staying on this part of the island.
Our accommodation is bi-lingual – both Spanish and German are spoken here, and both languages appear on all the signage. English feels wrong here now, even though most of the service and waiting staff in the restaurants speak it, as do all the Germans. We now feel ever so slightly ill at ease in a place that barely three weeks ago we were still be citizens of.
Like Peter falling asleep in Gesthemane, I find myself denying my British citizenship when communicating with locals, automatically reverting to my native nationality. “Soy Australiano.” I say in my halting Spanish, to excuse my monolingualism. It’s a cop out in lieu of an apology I guess, on behalf of our great British public opting to refute our right to live, love and be part of the wider family of the nations of Europe. Our Brexit penance if you like. “I’m Australian and this is my missus, Sheila.”
The UK officially left the EU - committed Brexit - just three weeks ago, after three years of political upheaval that has shaken not only Britain and the EU, but the world in general. Brexit was sold with the brazen arrogance of thinking Brits are somehow better than them and thus we don’t need them, the Europeans, other than as a place to come and work on our tans and drink their cheap, cold beer. But It’s a deeper conflict that goes back centuries. Don't forget, it was off the coast of this very island, Tenerife, that Lord Horatio Nelson, son of Norfolk, Hero of Trafalgar, icon of a nation, lost his bloody arm in a failed attempt to conquer yet another corner of the world in our never-ending battle for supremacy. The irony is not lost on me. He failed to capture Tenerife from the Spanish. In compensation Britain has at least managed to cling onto Gibraltar, that cold dark chunk of granite, home to rock apes and Gibraltarians, more British than the British. But irony again - even those Patriots on The Rock saw where their bread is buttered and voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the European Union. Everywhere is divided now.
Across the bay, beyond the sweeping slopes that taper down to black, wave pounded cliffs, looms the mammarian mass of Teide, the highest mountain in Spain, and thus the highest in the Canarian Archipelago too. From our distant vantage point on the second floor of Edificio Altagay, it resembles a pert and wholesome breast, its final conical 'pico', the nipple. It is indeed a sexy mountain, soaring above the lunar landscape of it’s caldera and no doubt visible from space. On the ridge of the Corona that surrounds the pico sits a complex of astronomical observatories from where, in the thin atmosphere at 3000 metres, the heavens are studied.
The Lighthouse and the Altagay
At various viewpoints or miradors on the journey up to the base of the Pico, through gaps in the pine and eucalyptus forests, you can easily see the Faro at Punto del Hidalgo over 40 kilometres away. This 50 metre tall white concrete tower was built in 1994, but architecturally influenced, I think, by Spanish Neo-Art Deco, a brutalist style that dominates landscapes. A kilometre away and equally visible from any vantage point on the north coast of the island is the Edificio Altagay, another brutalist landscape dominator and our home for three weeks.
On first viewing it we thought it an eyesore, and if I owned one of the colourful Canarian terraces on the slope behind it, I would want it torn down. But after a few days we warmed to the structure. It’s consists of about 200 individual apartment modules piled 10 stories high in a V-formation, each entered from a lift-serviced functional walkway and the back and each with a totally private, sun-drenched balcony, with the endless surf, the milky way of lights from the towns of Bajamar, Tajina and Tacaronte across the bay, and that amazing dormant volcano, the Madre of Tenerife, Teide, resting in the distance.
I met a German man who speaks perfect Spanish while waiting for the elevator. I had inadvertently left our hire car's headlights on overnight and had a flat battery. My new acquaintance, Fred, spoke to the concierge of Altagay and arranged for a mechanic to come and jump start us. I owed him one, and when he asked me to accompany him on a hike from Cruz de Carmen in the Agana mountains, along precarious mountain trails back down to Punta del Hidalgo, I jumped at the chance. Our hike the following day was a killer for me, considering I was only just recovering from a terrible flu that I had contracted over the Christmas just past. The hike about 10 kilometres along a rugged, descending path through some of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever seen, and I've been around. The four hour hike gave me more time to think and pain of Brexit was not lost on me as I pondered myself, a naturalised British citizen of Australian birth, trekking through mountains with a German friend, on a Spanish island 100 kilometres off the coast of Africa.
On the edge of the precipice
I must make it clear, despite my opposition to Brexit, I believe in democracy and thus accept the Referendum result of 2016. There is nothing else for it. I would have preferred that it didn't happen, and my fear now is that it opens the door for some weird nationalism with fascistic tendencies, something the Germans faced back in 1933, and consequently found themselves burdened, for half a century or more with the shame of that era. To add further irony to the thought, Edificio Altagay, I was reliably informed by the very fit, knowledgable and confident 70 year old Fred, was built during Spain's own Fascist era, in the early 1970s during General Franco's reign. Perhaps it's a right of passage that every country must go through - to misuse democracy, economic hardship, propaganda and pumped up nationalistic pride to take hold of power and wield the fasces to cement that power for as long as possible. As both Germany and Spain both came to realise, this is a political system doomed to failure, only after much pain has been inflicted, usually on the same part of the population that thought it was a good idea at the time.
The Mindfulness of Surfing
Time to Face the Future
As I put these thought down on my digital notepad, we have five more days remaining of our recuperation holiday here at Punta del Hidalgo - Gentlemans' Point. The mild climate, balmy sunshine, fresh ocean air, seafood diet and invigorating swims in the huge private, saltwater piscina of Franco's Edificio Altagay has, I feel, rejuvenated me enough to face the rigours of a busy working summer. But I have to ask myself - can I face the uncertain future that our new breakaway Kingdom of Britain, led by a bloke who fills all the criteria of a dictator, now offers?
Time and its bedfellow Entropy plays hard and fast with nature. We Europeans, and that's fundamentally and geographically what we are, whether we are English, British, Germans, or even Australians, are mere toys in history's playpen. Those are the thoughts that flit through my head as the sun sets over Gentleman's Point.
Punta del Hidalgo, Tenerife February 2020
At the time of writing this piece, we had been following the emergence of COVID-19 in Northern Italy but Brexit was dominating our thoughts. A few days after this, a case of coronavirus was reported in a tourist hotel on the other side of Tenerife, causing ripples of fear. The end of our stay was also marred by the apocalyptic appearance of the Calima, a Sahara dust storm which blew in from Africa and forced the entire Archipelago into lockdown for two full days. We do indeed live in Interesting Times.
© 2020 saltymick
saltymick (author) on October 12, 2020:
Thanks for your comments. At the time of writing who had any idea where we'd be eight months later. Equally uncertain as to where we'll be eight months from now. Interesting times indeed.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 11, 2020:
This is a very interesting article. I used to live in Britain and was born there. Though I left the country long ago, I still think about it and feel a connection to it. I hope things work out as well as possible. I enjoyed reading about Tenerife and your experiences there.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 11, 2020:
This is a fascinating piece of writing. I think we share common views on Brexit and democracy. Who knows what the future holds as trade talks appear to have stalled. I appreciated the Tenerife backdrop. I have visited once and would like to return to explore more, hopefully in a post-COVID world of the future.