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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​Britain’s Wartime Plan to Invade the Canary Islands

Britain’s Wartime Plan to Invade the Canary Islands

During the current worrying developments in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia, many forget that some years ago there was a large and vociferous movement demonstrating for independence for the Canary Islands. Although there are some on the islands that still share this long-term view, much of the debate is currently centred towards peaceful coexistence as a fully functioning autonomous community within Spain. Some may see Spain’s constitution and its wisdom in promoting and allowing autonomous communities to develop and flourish in a manner that reflects the individual and unique culture of its many diverse regions and complicated history as a success.

Spain has come a long way in the years since the repression during the time of the dictator Franco. Despite its problems, Spain has developed rapidly into a modern, welcoming and thriving democracy, currently in the lead with a gross domestic product that beats most other European countries, albeit with a high proportion of its prosperity generated within Catalonia. For many Spaniards, there is puzzlement over the Catalonia issue; after all, recent studies show that as far as autonomy and self-determination go, Catalonia’s rights and freedoms within Spain are far in excess of those allowed in Canada’s Quebec and in Scotland as a constituent part of the United Kingdom.

Fighting, the ‘grab for land’ and the desire for self-determination has always been part of the human psyche. Over the years, history shows us how this destructive aspect of human nature can manifest itself in violence, repression and war. Let us hope that common sense prevails in the current dispute and that talking, negotiation and compromise can reunite during these troubled times.

The British have always loved the Canary Islands, but sometimes for the wrong reasons. A brief wander around Las Palmas will reveal British businessmen honoured in the names of some of its streets, a thriving fruit and vegetable export business originally started by the British, and even a traditional British church for the early businessmen to worship in. Did you know that the British planned to occupy the Canary Islands, and Gran Canaria in particular, during the Second World War? A current exhibition organised by the Government of Gran Canaria reflects upon the crucial role of the Canary Islands during this period. It is a little known fact that heads of British military operations were convinced that the Canary Islands were a key factor in the strategic development of the war.

British military planners saw Gran Canaria as a serious alternative should Gibraltar be lost, given the islands’ strategic position in the Atlantic. ‘Operation Pilgrim’ was a military initiative in which the British considered bombing the main infrastructures within the island’s capital, Las Palmas, in circumstances when the enemy took Gibraltar, which thankfully never happened.

Moving on to present times, many feel uncomfortable with the name that refers to a popular beach in the south of Gran Canaria, which is currently called ‘Playa del Ingles’ (The English Beach). For many, it smacks far too much of the British Empire and is a reminder of the negativity and excesses that the Empire stood for. So, how about the locals and the government of the island coming up with a name that truly reflects this beautiful Canarian beach?

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​The Superstitious Expat

The Superstitious Expat

Here we go again, another Friday 13th. I really am fed up with reading what all the doom mongers have to say about the likelihood of disaster on this ‘unlucky’ day. It reminds me of an event a few weeks ago when a weird religious sect that takes the Book of Revelations literally, busily promoted the idea that the world was about to end on 21 September. How disappointed they must have been on 22 September. I just hope that they gave some serious thought to those unfortunate believers who committed suicide in order to avoid the big event, or those that had blown all their savings a few weeks before, as they couldn’t take their savings with them. Such foolish predictions are not only dangerous lies, but very cruel for many decent, trusting people.

What is it about the human psyche that loves the idea of disaster, terror and fear? Don’t we have enough real events to terrorise us already? Do we really need any more demons than The Trumper, Little Rocket Man, Global Warming, Islamic Terrorism and Harvey Weinstein to successfully chill us to the marrow? We will shortly have another fiesta, nowadays frantically celebrated in Spain, as well as in many parts of the world. This event is, of course, Halloween, which I personally detest. Gone are the days when it involved little more than drawing a few spooky pictures, hollowing out a pumpkin, and making masks with the kids, with a spot of apple bobbing thrown in for good measure. We now have an event that to many is little more than the celebration of evil, an opportunity to drink excess alcohol, as well putting kids in danger. A few years ago, the idea of Halloween, as opposed to the highly religiously significant All Saints Day, was hardly recognised, let alone celebrated in Spain and the Canary Islands. A commercial opportunity for shops to sell more imported rubbish? Yes, most certainly, but is this kind of celebration healthy, let alone desirable? It is a simple case of ‘each to their own’ I guess, but I’m having none of it.

In Spain and the Canary Islands, you won’t find locals drawing their blinds and running away from black cats. It is actually Tuesday the 13th that is considered to be unlucky, since Tuesday is said to be dominated by Ares, the Greek God of War, who gives his name to the Spanish word for Tuesday, which is Martes. The old Spanish proverb proclaims: ‘En martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes’ – or in English – “On Tuesday, don’t get married, embark on a journey, or move away.” There are also a few more Spanish superstitions that the cautious expats should be aware of, including putting a hat on a bed that will bring bad luck. This superstition is believed to have come from a time when people believed that evil spirits lived in people’s hair, which could be transferred from the hair to the hat and then to the bed, leaving unfortunate souls open to ghost attacks during the night.

As a cat lover, one superstition that I am not too keen on in Spain is that cats have only seven and not nine lives as in the UK. Sadly, cats in Spain and the Canary Islands have to be much more careful, since they are two lives short.

I now know never to give a knife as a gift. Spanish tradition states that buying knives or scissors symbolise the cutting of ties and relationships, so if you gift newlyweds with knives, they will break up. That’s a pity, since I had planned to give a set of kitchen knives to a lovely couple as a wedding gift. It will just have to be the toaster after all.

Many fans of amateur dramatics in the UK tell their actor friends to ‘break a leg’, but in Spain it’s a bit different. Instead you must wish that person ‘mucha mierda’, or ‘lots of shit’. I shudder to think what the origin of this one is, but I do have a very vivid imagination... If anyone knows the origin of this one, please do let me know.

Have you noticed that many homes in Spain and the Canary Islands have cactus on window sills or placed strategically in their homes? It is believed that spikey green cactus can ward away evil spirits, so a nice prickly cactus might make an appropriate house warming gift. Always be careful when brushing, because you must never sweep the feet of a single woman. If you do, she will never get married and hate you for ever.

Fancy getting your own back on someone? This is easy, just buy them yellow clothes. After all, yellow represents sulphur and the Devil, and it is sure to bring them lots of bad luck. Getting ready for Christmas and the New Year? Don’t forget to eat twelve grapes in rapid succession on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Spanish people reckon that wearing red underwear also helps to bring them good luck, so I must remember to pick up some red undies when next in Marks and Spencer. By the way, just a tip when eating grapes, please go seedless. I still recall a very unfortunate incident with someone who choked to death on the seventh grape. There really wasn’t too much luck involved for him, but maybe he wasn’t wearing red underwear.

I’ll let readers into a little secret, which may explain a little of my aversion to ‘disaster planning’ and days that are meant to be unlucky. I was born on Friday 13th at around 13.00. Thanks to my mother’s considerable efforts to destroy the myth of ‘Unlucky 13’, I was taught that Friday 13th is my special day when good things happen. With one or two notable exceptions, and I won’t bore you with the details, this has mostly been the case. Friday 13th is always a good day for me when good things usually happen. I guess it is a state of mind.

I adore black cats, I will happily walk under ladders and never throw spilled salt over my left, or is it right, shoulder. I have no time for superstition and the Book of Revelations. Come on, let’s do reality instead. Have a great Halloween!

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

© Barrie Mahoney

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A Beacon of Culture in the Canary Islands

A Beacon of Culture in the Canary Islands

As regular readers may remember, I started playing the violin again last year. In fact, I became so enthusiastic that I started teaching myself to play the viola and cello as well. Sometimes it is a painful and painstaking process, and I would not inflict my efforts upon any listener. However, I do enjoy listening to stringed instruments, and in particular, being played by those who really do know how to make their instruments sing.

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend a concert given by the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra. Most tourists, and indeed many residents, remain unaware that we have our own world class orchestra on this island. There are regular concerts advertised and I can highly recommend making the effort to travel to the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in Las Palmas for the evening; it is a delightful and impressive experience.

I particularly enjoy visiting the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in Las Palmas. It has often been described as “A Beacon of Culture”, which it is in so many symbolic ways. Looking at the impressive building as it stands on Las Canteras beach is just a start. For me, the true magic begins inside the building when looking at the orchestra seated in front of a huge picture window with an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean outside. Visitors to the concert can watch waves crashing and lights twinkling on the water outside, which creates an evocative and memorable experience when listening to the music being played by this exceptional orchestra. The Alfredo Kraus Auditorium was built as a beacon for opera, music and ballet in the Canary Islands. However, who was Alfredo Kraus?

Alfredo Kraus Trujillo was born in Las Palmas on 24 September 1927 - the son of a Spanish naturalised Austrian. Alfredo began piano lessons at the age of four and after completing secondary education he studied industrial engineering. Soon after graduation, Kraus began to concentrate more and more on singing, which he studied in Barcelona, Madrid and later Italy.

Alfredo Kraus made his operatic debut as the Duke of Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto in Cairo, in January 1956. He then appeared in La Traviata in Venice, Turin and London, and in 1958 made his first appearances in Rome and Lisbon. Kraus quickly developed into a world class tenor, starred in a movie based on the life of Gayarre, an early famous Spanish tenor, and became a frequent and well-respected performer at the world's most prestigious opera houses, singing with Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and other world-renowned sopranos.

The last two years of Kraus's life were darkened by the death of his wife in 1997, which affected him deeply. A proud and strong-willed man, he eventually returned to the stage and to teaching, making the comment, “Singing is a form of admitting that I'm alive.”

In 1991, Kraus was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award. In 1997, his home city of Las Palmas opened the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in his honour. Kraus died on September 10, 1999 in Madrid, at the age of 71, after a long illness.

The music of Strauss and Mahler soothed my ears and made me forget the world outside. I felt inspired by watching the professionals playing their violins, violas and cellos with such enthusiasm and grace. During my next practice sessions, I will try harder.

If you are visiting or live on the island, I strongly recommend a visit to the auditorium and, better still, to experience a concert given by the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra. Link this to a good meal in one of the many nearby restaurants, and I suspect that you too will have a most enjoyable evening that you will remember for a long time to come.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

© Barrie Mahoney

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​Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

When was the last time that you sent a postcard? I guess, if you are anything like most of the younger members of the population, it was some time ago; maybe several years. Thinking about this question recently, I realised that I haven’t sent any for several years, but with the exception of one of those fun and expensive 3D picture postcards that we thought our elderly aunt would enjoy receiving. Sadly, she didn’t even mention it when I spoke to her, so I doubt it made any impression, and we needn’t have bothered.

It came as no surprise to read that the UK’s foremost publisher of picture postcards, J Salmon is going to stop production in December. This family-owned company has been publishing calendars and postcards since 1880, but now sales have dried up. Charles and Harry Salmon, the fifth generation of the family of postcard publishers, recently commented that the popularity of social media has had such a negative impact upon their business that their production was now unsustainable. Many will remember the beautiful scenic shots, the comic ones, as well as those very ‘rude’ ones that were often so popular at seaside beach shops.

I still like to receive postcards and pin them to a display board. It is fascinating to receive a card from some faraway place that I have never visited. A postcard from somewhere that I remember is also welcome, since it brings back many happy memories and experiences. The closest that I get to this nowadays is sending a ‘virtual postcard’ to a few special people with one of my own photos, by using an app on my smartphone. It is quick, convenient and good value and takes away the need to try to find a post office in some foreign land to buy a stamp, only to find that it has closed for siesta.

Do you remember that well-worn phrase to quizzes in newspapers, magazines and radio shows? It was always “Answers on a postcard please”; now it is “send a text to…”, usually at a premium rate charge. The demise of the humble postcard seems to have gone almost unnoticed.

As a replacement for postcards, many people now post some of the more ecstatic moments of their holiday experience on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. This is fine for the sender, but how many of us are bored senseless with seeing endless platefuls of holiday food from some exotic holiday destination on Facebook, and the alcoholic “I’m all hung over” posts that seem to have replaced the humble postcard from the younger generation. Are today’s electronic offerings intended as merely a showcase for the sender, or for the enjoyment of the receiver, I wonder? Do we really need to see yet another pizza or giant plateful of a cooked English breakfast? A shot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or a pretty Venetian canal boat would be a nice alternative; just a thought.

A few years ago, I remember spending several enjoyable hours sorting through a battered suitcase belonging to a great aunt containing hundreds of sepia postcards with stamps bearing the head of long dead monarchs. Photographs of exotic destinations, such as Weymouth, Edinburgh, Yarmouth and Blackpool, peppered with occasional postcards from more adventurous destinations, such as Venice, Bruges and Paris. As well as the fascination of seeing how popular resorts have changed over the years, the comments on the back were often very revealing.

I remember some of the lengthy discussions that my parents had when selecting postcards for family members and friends when we were on a family holiday. Should we send a scenic shot of the beach to Aunt Joy, would Uncle Frank like something a little more cultured, or is that one just far too rude for cousin Paul? We had better be careful what we write on the back of that one to Brenda, because we know that her postman always reads them, and he is such a gossip...

I shall miss those photographic treasures from J Salmon and other publishers. I guess that the publishers are right to draw a halt to the production of this much loved remnant of the past. Like so many things in our lives, times change and maybe it is now time that the humble postcard be relegated to history.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

© Barrie Mahoney

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Expat in Spain
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