25 Mar 2020

58. Lockdown in El Pinar

The main street of El Pinar during Covid 19 lockdown. Not a soul to be seen. Normally there would be people
everywhere, maybe a double-parked van selling produce (we have no local police) and dogs sniffing ...
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the population of Spain, including El Hierro, has been in compulsory ‘confinement’ for ten days now. This means we have to stay at home and not congregate with people other than those who live with us, not even the nextdoor neighbour. We can go out (unaccompanied) only if it is absolutely necessary. In an appearance on national television, our Prime Minister (who likes to be referred to as President) explained to us what this means: we can go out to buy the bread, to the hairdresser (this possibility was dropped soon after), to the chemist’s or the supermarket, to take the dog for a walk etc. All bars and restaurants, cinemas, bingos, clubs, discotheques, associations and most shops not selling food are closed. So are beaches, parks and any venue or activity that congregates people (or smacks of fun, pleasure or sin). I know, this is the only way we can curb the expansion of Covid 19. What is surprising, though, is that the entire population of Spain, normally so gregarious, unruly and fun-loving, has accepted the restrictions with not so much as a whimper.

El Pinar is no exception. The road where I live was once known as ‘Cholesterol Walk’. A misnomer today. Gone are the sweaty runners, the groups of argumentative old ladies, figure-conscious young ones and dogwalkers. So are the discotheques-on-wheels that whizzed along on the occasional evening. Being on the edge of the village, at times we heard the siren of an ambulance on the main road or the reversing horn of heavy machinery somewhere far away, or, more agreeably, the cries of children in the playground of the village school. But not now. Just the voices of ravens, seagulls, mating kestrels, distant cockerels and tied-up dogs. The village high-street is deserted at all hours. And so is the village square.

On the island we are isolated more than confined. We are lucky in that we have a garden and vines to keep us outdoors much of the time. Likewise, most of the people that live right in the villages have gardens and plots nearby and, I suppose, can go and dig their potatoes despite the rather exaggerated stories we hear of fines and over-zealous policemen. I think the state of sanitary alarm has had little effect on employment here. Our largest single employer is the Cabildo, i.e. the island’s governing and administrative body, and our fledgling tourist industry is hardly out of the nest. Our agriculture and its derivatives  –  subtropical fruit, wine and cheese – must go on. So, we islanders have nothing to envy of the family of four confined to a small urban flat on one of the larger islands or the mainland. In many ways, but for TV and the internet, for us the pandemic has just temporarily wiped out the last forty or fifty noisy years.

On Saturday, I went to the supermarket, duly attired in mask and nitrile gloves.  Most of the other shoppers were, too, but I noticed that several men of around fifty or sixty, whom I did not recognize as being locals, were brazenly flouting the advice of our health authorities. They were, I suppose, what we call ‘Summer Islanders’, projecting the idea that they are a little above us, and the pandemic. Let’s hope they are!

16 Mar 2020

57. Street Art

Not so very long ago, El Pinar, where I live, woke up to a startling two storey high image squinting  at us on a previously blank wall just off the main road down to La Restinga. It represents José Padrón Machín, a journalist born in the village at the beginning of the twentieth century. Machín, as he was known, spent most of his life writing intensely about his island. I can vouch for that, for once he kept me awake the whole night bashing the hell out of his inseparable typewriter in the room below mine in a hostal in Valverde. It is with a vengeance that his portrait is on the wall of a building that stands where the Civil Guard once had their station. He spent years during the Civil War, and after, moving from one hiding place to another with them on his heels for his ideals were not always to the pleasure of the authorities.

In a recent post I said the sea around El Hierro is unpolluted. It is, relatively. Even so, a reminder of the ‘plastic menace’ in not out of place. The second mural to appear in El Pinar is again on the road to La Restinga, on the edge of the village. The portrayal of a fisherman and his boatload of plastic bottles is what nowadays we term ‘conceptual art’, a nice way of saying propaganda

Not so the third of our grandiose examples of street art. The story has it that a man from El Hierro went to herd sheep in the north of Spain. He hated the cold, the loneliness and being so far from his beloved island. His only solace was his dog, a German Shephard, that he called ‘Loba’ (she-wolf). The intelligent animal must have sensed something was about to change and, the night before their departure, went and got herself impregnated somewhere up in the Picos de Europa. Back on El Hierro she had her litter, undoubtedly fathered by a real wolf. And these pups were the start of our local Lobo Herreño (Wolfdog of El Hierro). The breed is lighter in colour and weight than an Alsatian. The Island breed differs also in that it has a straight topline and narrower muzzle. Its bright, playful eyes speak of the dog’s intelligence.

There was a strong breeze blowing the day I took this picture. Someone's lace curtain was trying to escape
through an open window upstairs near the Wolf-dog's right ear. I have no idea what the coloured lines are there for.

A bicycle lane running beside the road from Valverde to El Mocanal is enlivened – perhaps that’s not quite the word – with sheet-iron cutouts of figures, representing local peasants, and their negatives (two figures for the price of one blow of the oxyacetylene torch). I don’t recommend looking for them when driving along the road as their rusty colour makes them hard to distinguish and the traffic is often rather fast. There is one, though, that stands out from all the others. It is on the left going towards Frontera high on a ridge above the road, the silhouette of a Canary goatherd with his ‘lanza’ (lance), a pole with a metal point used for vaulting down the steep slopes behind stray animals. They’ve gone and spoilt it, in my opinion, by cutting the word ‘silba’ (he is whistling, or, he whistles) into the body of the cutout, probably in reference to the claim for recognition of the whistled language of El Hierro, like that of La Gomera.

2 Mar 2020

56. A Note on Climate Change

Today, the second of March, for the first time ever I saw swallows here where I live in El Pinar. I can't swear they haven't been up here before, but I've never seen them till now. Down in Frontera at sea level, yes, but never at this altitude of 850 plus metres. I don't think I was mistaken either. As they fluttered and scooped above the vineyard, I could clearly see their white teeshirts and two long tail feathers. Unfortunately, I couldn't take a photo. I didn't even have my mobile.

Swifts, on the other hand, are fairly common and on many summer days we have flocks of them, the dark ones and the lighter ones together, screaming away in the sky. But recently not only in summer. I suspect that at least some of them stay and winter on the Island.

That is if winter is the word. We haven't had one this year, not even one of our usual mild winters that were rather weak excuses for some fashion-conscious young ladies to dig out their boots and furry collars.