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Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2011 5:00 pm
by garth cartwright
As London winters seem to go on forever I try and escape for a bit of sun. The Canaries are the nearest cheap holiday destination – I’m familiar with Tenerife (horrible), La Palma (lovely) and La Gomera (fascinating landscape for trekking but small and damp). This time I thought I’d give Lanzarote and Gran Canaria a go. Being self employed I often end up working every day of the week – if not on journalist assignments then on books that may or may not shape up into future projects. So going on holiday means being idle which is a lovely experience. For the first couple of days – and this happens almost every time I go away – I’m so tired I do little more than sleep. I get to read lots of books, watch DVDs and do stuff I never do in London – like viewing hours of crap TV. The Canaries are a good place to watch crap TV due to the huge number of Brits here. There are all kinds of channels offering all kinds of rubbish – one is called Movies4Men and this ultra butch station appears to specialise in old Roger Moore and Dolph Lundgren films. They even showed Wild Geese, perhaps the worst British film ever. Watching Richards Burton and Harris ham their way through this reactionary trash makes me think that of all the art forms actors are the biggest whores! Speaking of Wild Geese, Sky News keeps up a similar commentary with David Cameron and William Hague pretending they’re Burton and Harris and about to invade Lybia. Christ, to think Murdoch will soon own all UK media, how depressing!

Spanish TV is game shows, news, divine Latin American soaps and football. There are also German channels but let’s not go there. I get to catch up on my pop videos – most of which are dreadful tho I do like the Adele song tho the video is pants – she not fitting the “slim video babe” stereotype they film her almost entirely in shadow. The new Dr Dre/Eminen tune finds both rappers on autopilot but the rhythm track is great and nice to see old NWA footage but I don’t know why it ends at Eazy’s grave (considering the tune’s called Get Me A Doctor maybe it’s a hint ole Eazy should have seen one sooner). The new Gaga Born This Way is a great hi-NRG stomper tho the video shows her with a supermodel body that she didn’t used to possess – Andy, has she had radical surgery or is this a form of CGI? I also got see Justin Bieber and he sure is one cute muppet (is his music any good, Andy?). He’s certainly a lot more wholesome than the likes of Black Eyed Peas whose videos exist on some circle of hell even Dante never imagined existed. One new thing about this video channel (for me) is that you can text a message for a £1 and photo for £1.50. Messages are banal and often aggressive. Photos include stuff like “my tits”. Kids these days.

And I get to experience internet and newspaper detox. Actually, the only British papers available here are the Mail, Express, Sun and Star which gives you some idea of the class of visitor. I wonder what the locals think the UK is like if they use these papers as a guide? Then again, they get to view the British close up and what they see aint pretty – anyone heard about that recent report about UK ambulances and wheelchairs having to be reinforced due to the obesity epidemic? No lie. So many people – especially blokes over 40 – here are at the 12 months pregnant stage. Not a couple. Not a few. Many. And tons of Brits seem to be in wheelchairs. Maybe there was some kind of wheelchair user conference on? Honestly, it was like Little Britain – I was looking at the wine in a supermarket and this wheelchair comes towards me with a wildly grinning bloke in it and he’s holding his hand out towards me and shouting “I want to shake your hand.” I shook and then he kissed my hand! His daughter, pushing the wheelchair, said “no kissing, dad” in her best Essex accent. I should add that neither of them were obese and she was actually quite fit.

Pensioners’ rule here. Lanzarote is definitely not competing with Ibiza. No one comes here to party. Although they could well host Teddy Boy and Merseybeat reunion events. I’ve spent so much of my adult travelling life avoiding mass tourism destinations that now when I visit them I find ‘em infinitely stranger than, say, Albania. Anyway, being idle means I’m allowed to drink cheap wine from lunch onwards. I guess it’s kind of like being on the dole in the sun. What else? Lanzarote is bloody windy. But that’s alright, I’ve never been one for broiling on beaches all day. I love waking up to the sound of the sea and wind. In Peckham it’s police sirens or my neighbours screaming at one another (followed by police sirens). I love to swim in the sea even if only for a few minutes – the wind keeping dips short.

Deciding to escape the idle life at Puerto Del Carmen I went on a coach trip that took us around the island’s most spectacular spots – Timantaya National Park is the site of where a huge volcanic explosion occurred in 1730 so creating 25 square miles of lunar landscape. Such fierce beauty! The colours and contours of this lava land where rock and sand and very few plants and insects exist is magnificent and different from any comparable landscape I’ve been in. You’ve seen it in movies – the original Planet Of The Apes and 1 Million Years BC both employed it. While Tenerife has been ruined by mass tourism Lanzarote has been saved by the efforts of Cesar Manrique, a local Renaissance man whose efforts to preserve the environment and celebrate this natural wonderland have lead to several truly remarkable sites. One we visited was a cave labyrinth of extraordinary beauty with natural sea pools full of blind albino crabs (I kid you not) and a concert amphitheatre. Manrique created so much before his untimely death in a car crash in 1992 that I’d consider returning here just to visit his museum and cactus garden. Google Cesar, folks, he really was a visionary. We had a great guide who had a real enthusiasm for his island and explained that while it’s a windy island wind farms aren’t popular so solar power is being invested in (which makes sense as it hardly ever rains here).

I then took a ferry to Gran Canaria. I love ferries, such a fine way of travelling, and at one point we sailed along the North African coast – Mauritius in the distance. Arriving at Las Palmas I’m back in the urban groove – this city feels like a mini-Barcelona: urban beaches, Renaissance city centre, densely packed housing, all kinds of ethnicities. So good to be amongst the Spanish again – Lanzarote felt like an outpost of the UK and Ireland. The Carnaries celebrate Carnival in a big way and I arrived for the most frantic weekend of ‘em all. Friday night was the epic contest to see who would be this year’s Carnival Drag Queen –anyone unaware this was about to happen and arriving in town would have wondered why so many rough looking trannies were wandering the streets! The event was pure spectacle with crazy costumes and performances although the music was a tad predictable: Boney M, Gaga, Abba, Gloria Gaynor etc. This year’s winner looked like a leftover from Sigue Sigue Sputnick with insane platform boots, a metallic bikini and a peroxide Mohican. Saturday is the biggest day of Carnival when it seems everyone gets on a truck with a soundsystem and parties like crazy. Very noisy (loud Latin and Anglo dance tunes) and lots of rain that failed to dampen this parade. More fun than Nott Hill Cnvl but I’ve got to admit this gave me a headache. My hotel being very close to the main street and full of bars meant I got very little sleep. Headed south on Sunday where I met the lovely Elian – a friend of a friend – who drove me around a coast often disfigured by gargantuan timeshare and hotel complexes. The former fishing village of Playa de Mogan was gorgeous and just right for a fish supper. Then into the mountains – what wild beauty exists here! My final day was spent on La Palma’s beach – what a good city to live in, one where you can go for a swim in your lunch hour!

Being largely inactive in Lanzarote here’s what occupied my time:

TREME – being on holiday is the best way to watch a DVD box set, one never having to make excuses for spending hours on the sofa. Treme (pronounced “traayyy-meh”) reminds me of one of those Robert Altman films like Nashville or Short Cuts in the way it follows a diverse group of characters in a specific city, sometimes they overlap, mostly they simply continue with their own lives. There’s no plot to speak of – unlike The Wire – so I’m guessing it will only hold diehard lovers of New Orleans music. I say this as several of the main characters are initially pretty obnoxious – a trombone player who can’t keep his dick in his pants, a spoilt brat of a DJ who seems unable to see how annoying he is to those around him, a sullen coke head Dutch pianist and his beautiful, more talented and thus long suffering violinist girlfriend. That said, Treme comes close to emulating real life in the way few TV shows do – lots of banality and frustration, very little action. It’s superior to Altman, his films often tending to sneer (I say this from memory not having seen one for many years). The music and sense of place is excellent as is the pointed criticism of local and federal government. Would I watch this on TV on a weekly basis? I doubt it. But as a box set on holiday it’s a great alternative to Sky News and Movies4Men.

FERNANDO PESSOA – The Book Of Disquiet – when I was in Lisbon last October a friend took me to a café where a bronze statue of Pessoa sat outside. I was vaguely aware of his status as a pioneering Portuguese modernist in the early 20th Century but had never read him. Fortunately Serpents Tail had just reissued the Book Of Disquiet which collects his musings (it was gathered from his collected unpublished writings after his death in 1935 (he having published very little while alive). Pessoa essentially kept a diary where he mused on the banality and wonder of life and he’s a very entertaining muser. His humanity and tenderness make his quasi-existential philosophising very touching and a reminder of how interconnected we all are. This book is a great counter to our rotten celeb’ culture where only the famous appear to be of interest, have worth.

GEORGE MCDONALD FRASER – Flashman – I started reading this last year while travelling in NZ and lost it along the way. Finding another copy in a charity shop I started again at the beginning and it is a great, witty yarn. Fraser not only creates a fine anti-hero in Flashman but sets him in situations that found the British Empire in a mess. In this book it’s Afghanistan in the 1840s when the British found themselves routed from Kabul and slaughtered on the retreat towards Peshawar – the worst defeat ever inflicted on the Empire. Fraser obviously studied military history closely as he details the undercurrent of loathing towards the British and the mounting jihad and the obvious fact that they should never have been here. A pity Blair and those other idiots never read this book. As an anti-James Bond Flashman is hilarious – a coward always ready to claim someone else’s glory – and gloriously anti-PC. Kingsley Amis used to call Fraser the best living British writer – well, they’re both dead now but Fraser certainly was a very gifted writer with a maverick vision. He wrote lots of Flashman novels exploiting many 19th C events. Anyone know if any of the others match his debut?

STEPHEN KING – Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King’s talent is often dismissed due to his huge sales and preoccupation with supernatural. Also, he churns out the books so it pays to be selective. When King is on form he’s a great writer, delivering strong characters and fascinating stories – the equivalent of Charles Dickens if without the Victorian moralising. I like his shorter works – novellas – The Shawshank Redemption, The Body etc. Full Dark gathers four new novellas together and while there is nothing here as stunning as Shawshank/Body this is a good read. King is excellent on character, detail, plot, he obviously pays close attention to the everyday detail of American life as his stories are decorated with references to TV shows and local community events. The largest story here – 1922 – finds him pursuing an anti-True Grit: what happens when a farm boy gets involved in a murder. Very well done. There’s a satirical story worthy of Ambrose Bierce, a revenger’s story with a feminist slant and a meditation on how serial killers can lurk beneath the skin of ordinary suburban Americans. All the stories are indeed full dark – a pity no levity here as there was in Shawshank and The Body.

DAVE ZELTSERMAN – Killer – I like Jim Thompson’s brutal crime novels so picked up this after hearing it referred to as contemporary-JT noir. It follows a Mafia hitman released after serving 14 years jail. It’s a fast read, very much in the JT model and quite entertaining if noir pulp is your thing.

GRAHAM GREENE – The End Of The Affair – I’m unsure how I rate GG; I enjoy his intelligent thrillers (The Quiet American) and struggle with the more overly Catholic work (Brighton Rock). This book is definitely the latter – I’m guessing it’s an autobiographical novel as the main character is a successful novelist whose books are filmed and likes to sleep with other men’s wives (true of GG). It’s fluid and fluently written but bitter and cruel and ends up going on and on about Catholicism versus rationalism. A short book but it perhaps should have been a short story? Filmed twice but I’ve no desire now to see either version.

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2011 5:25 pm
by Des
garth cartwright wrote:blind albino crabs

Fab. I love that evolutionary jettisoning of unwanted senses and pigments in cave-dwelling organisms.

Great write-up (and Tom's piece on another thread was great too).

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2011 7:16 pm
by AndyM
Tenerife shouldn't be so dismissed. Smaller towns in the north are lovely - La Orotave & La Laguna especially.

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 11:05 am
by Des
I've got a soft spot for the equally underrated Majorca.

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 2:18 pm
by kas
A vivid description of Lanzarote, much as we discovered it on a family trip a few winters ago. Thank you for that, Garth.

Cesar Manrique's home museum is indeed worth of a visit. It was created in much the same style as the caves. A very groovy place. Manrique managed to do one more big service to his home island in addition to the one Garth mentioned: he lobbied very succesfully for landscape preservation and especially for saving the traditional indigenous architecture. The result: no buildings higher than three storeys (except in the capital Arrecife), and the building exteriors use mostly the traditional colours white and green.

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 2:26 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Thanks for that Garth, lots of stuff to digest there so I'll come back later when I have more time.

Just to say for now that I would recommend the film of The End of the Affair with Ranulph Fiennes (I think) which came out a couple of years ago.

Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:00 pm
by Philellinas
Sir Ranulph (however it is pronounced) Fiennes is the intrepid explorer. Ralph Fiennes is the thespian and the two may be related.
Has anybody been to Fuerteventura? Would they put in a good word for it or would it be dismissed Garthly as an extension of the Sahara desert? I have never been and have no plans to go but my brother lived and worked there for some years. If I were to go to the Canary Islands I would choose La Palma.

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:42 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Pardon the Fiennes confusion.

Lanzarote has always fascinated me since reading the book of the same name by Michel Houellebecq. Houellebecq is a bit of a grumpy/dirty old man though, Garth makes it sound a bit more appealing.

Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:16 pm
by Philellinas
Fuerteventura does have one ornithological claim to fame: its own endemic stonechat saxicola dacotiae. Not perhaps an overwhelming reason to visit the island but here is the male of the species:-

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:57 pm
by Des
Pah! Stonechats Schtonechats.


Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 10:17 pm
by Tom McPhillips
Fantastic piece Garth! You should take up writing for a living one of these days!

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:13 am
by Rob Hall
You want tits? Here's a couple I made earlier:Image
(OK, they're probably the wrong kind, but who's counting?)

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2011 9:59 am
by uiwangmike
garth cartwright wrote:Flashman – Anyone know if any of the others match his debut?

The short answer is yes, though I felt there was a slight falling off in the last books, where the historical research was as thorough as ever but the anti-hero's sneering Victorian voice was missing. I'd still be happy to re-read the whole lot (once Ulysees, War & Peace and À La Recherche are out of the way). Apart from the page-turnability factor, the books were a marvellous coward's-eye view of areas of 19th century history about which I thought I knew a bit (the charge of the Light Brigade, Custer's Last Stand) or nothing at all (the Taiping Rebellion, the Schleswig-Holstein Question, and many many more).

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 1:31 pm
by Martin Owen
One should not overlook the Laurel Pigeon
A shy bird unlike its Trafalgar Sq cousin.
Found amongst the Laurel Forests on the damp side of La Palma.
Public bus services serve people on wallking holidays quite well in Tenerife in particular especially if you make La Ortova your base.

I'm trying Menorca for the first time next month - hoping to brush up my Catalan ( Balear folk music always seems sad, minor key and a bit repetitive - and if you know where to go you can even find it in Majorca).

Re: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2011 10:43 am
by adriana252
I can only speak from my experinces when I have visited Gran Canaria - beautiful island with plenty to do. WE stayed away texas Hold Em Tex from the club scene of Playas De Ingles and we opted to stay near the fantastic sand dunes of Maspalomas.