Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​Making Money in the Canary Islands

Making Money in the Canary Islands

Some time ago, I received publicity material for the Canary Islands’ edition of the board game, Monopoly. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, I can assure you that it is a very pleasant all-islands version of the popular board game, but relevant to the delights of the Canary Islands, rather than the smog and stresses of London, which most British players will be familiar with.

Have you ever played Monopoly? Some of you may well groan at the memory of bitter squabbles and arguments when losing, whilst for others it may bring happy memories of playing with family and friends, whilst setting you on a path to be a successful entrepreneur. I used to play it, but it was not a game that I was very keen on, or really understood. I do remember being unhappy unless I managed to get the little dog as a playing piece, as well as being teased, because I was never interested in buying the ‘posh’ London estates in Mayfair and Park Lane, because I much preferred the cosier properties in Old Kent Road. Needless to say, I never did become a successful businessman and much preferred the game of Scrabble instead.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the game, it has been remarkably successful over the years. For those who are more used to playing video games, I should explain that Monopoly is a game of chance; a board game whereby players roll two six-sided dice to move around the board, buying and selling properties. Players collect rent from their opponents, with the charming aim of trying to drive opponents into bankruptcy.

The game was invented by an American woman, an anti-monopolist called Elizabeth Magie, in 1903 as a way to demonstrate a capitalist economy. It was intended to demonstrate that an economy that rewards the creation of wealth is better than one in which monopolists operate under less constraints. There is also a more sinister underpinning to the game in that it is designed to promote the work of Henry George and his theories of taxation.

One story about the game that I particularly like, is that in 1941, the British Secret Service approached the British manufacturer of the game, John Waddington, to create a special edition for World War 2 prisoners captured by the Nazis. Compasses, maps, real money and other items that might come in useful for escaping were hidden inside these games. These ‘special editions’ were distributed to prisoners of war by British secret service agents disguised as charity workers.

In 1991, Hasbro bought Parker Brothers and its interests in Monopoly and happily went on to allow multiple licensing of the game across the world. As well as board games, a variety of spin offs appeared including a live TV game show, computer and video games, gambling versions for slot machines, on line versions, films, tournaments, and even a World championship event.

There are already a number of published local Spanish editions for Ibiza, Granada, the Basque Country and Cantabria, as well as special editions celebrating sports teams such as Barcelona Football Club or Real Madrid, among others. According to the company, this special edition was selected because of the Canary Islands’ “incredible natural environment, its enormous wealth and cultural variety and its international relevance at a tourist level”.

The Canary Islands edition of the game is published by a British company, Winning Moves, and is produced as a bilingual Spanish-English version. It has the support of three large companies that operate throughout the archipelago: Fred Olsen Express, Lopesan Group and Cajasiete. The game maintains the aesthetics and rules of the traditional game, so should be enjoyed by tourists and residents alike.

Over the years, the game has been vastly improved, but maybe the new Canary Islands’ edition could include the handsome Canary Mastiff dog as one of its playing pieces? Monopoly is still going from strength to strength. Anyone for a game? Protection Status

© Barrie Mahoney

Forget Turkey, Eat Tapas!

Forget Turkey, Eat Tapas!

I remember once being told by an American professor, “History is never taught in American schools”. I was puzzled by the comment, since I have always believed that it is history that informs both our present and our future. There is much that we don’t understand about the United States; Brits are often puzzled by the phrase “our American cousins”, which is a meaningless phrase at the best of times, and particularly when it is over used by UK politicians busily looking for trade deals post Brexit. Although we speak the same language, cultural differences and values abound, and there are often stark differences, which may be difficult for Europeans to understand. Let me take one example, Thanksgiving, where the Spanish dimension seems to be mostly ignored in favour of a more comfortable version of history.

Very soon people all over the United States will celebrate what they believe to be the first ever Thanksgiving in 1621, gathering together with family and friends and celebrating with traditional turkey and pumpkin pie. I really don’t want to spoil this very special day, but it seems that the wrong date and event is being celebrated. It really is time that we had a close look at the facts, as they appear to many historians.

According to American tradition, and not necessarily historical fact, most American school pupils are taught that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by English pilgrims who found refuge in America on the Mayflower. Archaeologists at Florida’s Museum of Natural History contradict this statement, and claim that the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in San Augustin, La Florida in 1565, which is 50 years earlier. It was the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and a motley collection of 800 soldiers, sailors and assorted settlers, which would have included many conscripts from the Canary Islands who were despatched to help populate the new Spanish colonies. It was they who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, and not English pilgrims in their wide-brimmed hats as often pictured. It was these new arrivals from Spain who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, which began with a special thanksgiving mass, before enjoying a shared feast with local Native Americans.

Forget traditional turkey and pumpkin pie, because that first Thanksgiving feast included salted pork and typical Spanish food, such as chickpeas and olives, washed down with red wine. It was unlikely that there would be any cranberries, although it is thought that typical Caribbean foods would have been enjoyed, which Menéndez would have thoughtfully collected during his visit to Puerto Rico, as well as a probable stopover in the Canary Islands, before arriving in La Florida.

According to historians, it is thought that the local Timucuan people would also have joined in with the celebrations, adding fresh fish, berries, beans and corn to the feast. The bank of the Matanzas River was the site of the first Spanish colony in the United States, which is where the first Thanksgiving feast took place.

So, why is it that this essential piece of American history appears to have been forgotten or massaged in a way that ignores the natives? Well, as usual, it is thought to be the fault of the British, because the history of the United States has been heavily Anglicised over the centuries, with America’s origins seen primarily as British. This is not the case, since the first colony in the New World was a melting pot that included cultural contributions and interactions with many groups of people, which was totally unlike any other British colony.

The real history of the first Thanksgiving is particularly important in the current political climate, since the Hispanic population in the United States is growing fast. The importance of the Spanish colony in La Florida to American history is rarely taught in schools, let alone understood by the wider population. The current community of St Augustine founded by Menédez de Avilés on September 8th 1565 has the honour to be the oldest European settlement that has been continually occupied in the country, which in 2015 celebrated its 450th anniversary.

I wish “our American cousins” a happy and peaceful thanksgiving, but urge them to revisit those history books and museum records; forgo turkey and pumpkin pie and instead enjoy tapas and a few glasses of fine Rioja instead. Salud! Protection Status © Barrie Mahoney 

​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? Protection Status © Barrie Mahoney 

​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: and 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

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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: and 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 Protection Status © Barrie Mahoney 

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