It is always doubly delicious when you meet a delightful stranger somewhere distant and then discover that he or she is actually from your home town. It happened to me in the Canary Islands. At lunch the day of my lecture I had started talking to Luis Salazar, a distinguished film maker, who was in the process of making a film in Spain. It turned out he was from Los Angeles and had attended Cal State Northridge (from which my son Fred had recently graduated) and UCLA (my own alma mater). One of his films was about the sad re-location of some 200 Navajo families from land claimed by the Hopi tribe. We started talking and he invited me to join him and his Spanish veterinarian wife and absolutely adorable 3-year old daughter, Sophie, the next day on a trip to the north coast of the island (Gran Canaria) to see the museum which exhibits the aboriginal painted cave found in the nineteenth century. This cave has a series of painted triangles and geometric forms that were probably used by the aboriginal people for calender calculations, very important for horticultural people without writing.
We visited the museum on a guided tour. The videos were outstanding and the government had done an excellent job in preserving the very large site which included not only the painted cave but also a village with house floors as well as four re-constructed huts. As Luis said: all one needed was an internet connection and one could live very well in one of these furniture-less huts with platforms for beds.
Unfortunately, one couldn’t take photographs in the museum but it was terrific: very well done and modern. The conquest of the Canary Islands was presented as was a sympathetic view of the conquered people themselves. Very few of the aborigines escaped the slavery and slaughter but the few who did rapidly became Spaniards – just to survive as individuals. There were also many courageous warriors who, in the hundreds, jumped off cliffs to avoid being taken as slaves.
Luis muttered, almost under his breath, when I emerged from the museum wiping a tear from my eyes, “It’s just the same old story from all over the world.” It was as if to say “And why are you still surprised?”
I was pleased by the sympathy and respect shown to the now long-gone people of the Canary Islands in this museum. I think, like many people, the Spanish can now look back at their past from five hundred years ago and admit the terrible wrong that they once inflicted on the Canary Islands. ( Armenians, I hope you don’t have to wait another five hundred years for the apology due you. No, obviously not from the Spaniards!)
We drove to the coast and ate lunch near one of the beaches where the co-owner of the restaurant came out to serve us. When I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly realized, to my surprise, that she must be of Chinese heritage. She was. Her two young daughters, sitting nearby, were as cute as cute could be and played with Sophie in the gentle manner of (some) girls.
The meal was delicious and we drove off, looking for some forest or foliage to relieve us of all the dry brown and bare rock that we had seen. We found some wooded slopes, got out of the car, and walked for about an hour. The delightful Sophie picked some flowers and handed them to her father. As he bent over to receive them, it became one of those one in a million moments you treasure forever.
Luis, who is of Mexican heritage (not all that surprising for a native Angeleno) and his Basque wife, were very gracious hosts, pulling out fresh avocadoes, tomatoes, and crustless bread, making sandwiches for us while I sat with Sophie in the back seat of the car. Sophie had a jar of olives which she was eating like candy. She offered me some and I took about a dozen. She didn’t even pull back the jar but continued holding it with great equanimity. Many other toddlers would have protested the big stranger taking a dozen of their candy equivalent. She continued eating and finished off the jar. She must have eaten 40 olives! They start early with the olives in Spain and it probably helps keep them healthy for a long time!
Luis and his family drove me back to my hotel shortly before dusk. It was my last full day in the Canary Islands. It had been a perfect day with wonderful new friends, a blue sky, beautiful beaches, a slight breeze, great food, and the green foliage of Gran Canaria’s mountain slopes.
And what will I remember most about the Canary Islands? The terrible tragedy of the distant past? NO! One must remember the past but one can’t live there. Of course, I will remember the friendship and warmth of the people I met in the Canary Islands, especially the animal activists who had dedicated their lives and labors to helping animals!
But, ironically, it is the avacadoes and especially the tomatoes that I will remember best. (Probably because I tasted them!) The avocadoes have insinuated themselves into Canary Island cuisine and are served everywhere. And the tomatoes! The tomatoes are grown on the islands in greenhouses and plucked when ripe. They are probably the best tomatoes I have eaten since I did archaeology in the former Yugoslavia over forty years ago!
My one regret is that I don’t even have a picture of a Canary Island tomato!