With Miles Davis in mind, I went with family and friends to the Canary Islands and Spain for the Christmas break. A quick reconnaissance of the islands’ turbulent history and present (from Columbus’s journey to the sad destinies of modern illegal immigrants from Africa) have yielded many scattered observations (some courtesy of Calin Medianu).
The Canarians apparently have no docks between their boats in the marinas.
Their cars are short (hatchbacks are pervasive) and SUVs are rare. Because parking is tough. In Europe, car brands that are struggling in the U.S. (Kia, Hyundai, Isuzu, etc.) flourish. Toyotas are widely used as taxi cabs. Volkswagens show a varied product mix.
The Canarians believe gyms for adults are like playgrounds for children. They should be placed next to each other.
And in their Carrefours they sell shoes next to dairy products.
Some lawyers in Las Palmas who are conscious of their female gender introduced a grammatical innovation into the Spanish language – plural ABOGADAS is now as possible as traditional ABOGADOS.
Germans have colonized the southern part of Gran Canaria to the point of making the German language an inofficial second language next to Spanish (the natives complain that they ship sand from Sahara for their nudist beaches and refuse to support local economy by bringing food from home).
Whoever put together the exhibit of Guanche skulls at the Canarian Museum of Las Palmas confuses brachycephals with dolichocephals.
The Guanches went extinct in the 14th century as a result of Castillian conquest but their personal names, family names and place names (e.g., Tamaraceite) are still in vogue among modern Canarians. Guanches were Afroasiatic-speakers, hence relatives of the Berbers. Well, somehow my local Canarian friend looks like Zinedine Zidane and proudly displays an occipital ridge said to be a marker of North African populations. (Possibly a local racial legend.)
Sustainability is everywhere in practice: from the cave dwellings of the Guanches to early modern Catholic cathedrals built of local stone to modern wind turbines. No Priuses, though. And the aforementioned Germans are frowned upon.
Zara is pervasive – they invest their marketing budget not into advertising but into the building of new retail locations.
One of the tourist attractions in Mogan is … “The Sioux City” featuring cowboys and Indians. Why not Castillian rancheros and vanishing Guanches? Apparently authentic racial dramaturgy has to come from America, although Germans seem flood the Canary Islands and Indian reservations with equal enthusiasm.
In the summer of 2007, Gran Canaria suffered from the worst forest fire in its history (instigated by a forest ranger in protest against the decision not to renew his work contract). In late December we observed a peculiar fundraiser sitting in the middle of pedestrian Calle Mayor of Triana (the main shopping district in Las Palmas). Head-to-toe covered in ashes, he was leaning on a faux tree and was displaying photos of the damage (human homes and the unique Canarian flora was wiped off on 20,000 hectares) and inviting passer-bys to visit his website. Representing the family of a single mother Paloma with two small boys, he was protesting against bureaucratic redtape in distributing aide that the victims of the fire have been subjected to. The government seems to have used long-term environmental damage as a pretext not to deal with urgent human problems – the downside of any environmentalism.
A powerful scene – a combination of primordial and futuristic forms of semiotic expression: taking the role of a street pauper, the artist symbolically alluded to the fear of unemployment that forced the culprit to set the island in flames and to a uncanny kinship between the perpetrator and the victims; camping out on a street iconically depicted the actual refugees driven out of their permanent homes into public spaces such as sport pavillions; ashes masked the artist’s individuality and made him look like a generic human being; the artist used his own body as a billboard reinforcing the pedestrian (pre- and anti-automotive) cobblestone nature of the street; the fundraiser’s self-positioning in the middle of a shopping effervescence cast a dual perspective on consumption: on the one hand, it was a critique of commodity fetishism and bureaucratic management from the point of view of the “wretched of the earth”; on the other hand, it contained a hope that capitalism generates enough wealth to safeguard humans against their traditional enemies, natural disasters. The web address (http://www.palomademontemayor.blogspot.com) scribbled on a sheet of paper and duct taped to a trash can invited visitors into the personal stories of displacement. Poverty has now all the power of the world wide web to spread the word, share knowledge, aggregate money and transcend local communities.
The Sephardic Museum in Toledo (the third museum of Jewish culture after Amsterdam and Miami ones that I chanced upon) has an archaeological dig on-site. I thought it was an interesting case of combing production (dig) and comsumption (museum) in a single location, a kind of reversal to domestic production, very appropriate for a representation of a medieval culture.
I grabbed a museum newsletter Noticias Museo Sefardi carefully reporting on all the nitty-gritty Jewish sightings and activities in Europe (including a Fredian exhibit in Vienna; interestingly enough, Freud once fearful of having psychoanalysis stigmatized as “Jewish science” is now being increasingly re-appropriated by the Jews as a Jewish scholar). Its format and content reminded me strongly of the European Review of Native American Studies (published by Christian Feest in Vienna). American Indians and Jews form two types of European diasporas – the former virtual, romantic and celebrated, the latter – physical and tormented.
The narrow streets of Toledo, another medieval legacy, are very suitable for Segways and the ubiquitous Japanese tourists who in this case were a group of young female students.