by Jack Montgomery
The old woman nudged me and nodded toward the woman carrying a small child and then at a solemn fellow in velvet black robes a short distance in front.
“That’s her boyfriend,” she whispered conspiratorially, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, before she and her friends started giggling like a group of naughty schoolgirls.
I laughed and looked around nervously to make sure that no-one was about to accuse us of blasphemous behaviour, given that the couple the women was referring to were the revered figures of La Virgen del Carmen and San Telmo during the ‘embarcación de la Virgen del Carmen’. I needn’t have worried; the woman’s attitude reflected that of many Tinerfeños’ to fiestas with roots in religious ceremony; mostly reverence, but with a side serving of affectionate irreverence thrown in, just to lighten the mood.
It’s the highlight of the town’s main celebrations, the July fiestas, whose origins date from an age when the townspeople made their living from the sea and the land; a time when bad weather or pestilence could result in economic disaster. July represented the beginning of summer and was a signal for people to throw on their ‘glad rags and handbags’ (only the women on this occasion) and cut loose a little.
The fiesta is also known as the Fiesta del Gran Poder y La Virgen del Carmen, but the ‘Gran Poder de Dios’ doesn’t make an appearance during the big day, which takes place this year on 14th July. Instead he’s paraded through the streets prior to the embarcación. There’s good reason for this. In the middle of the 17th century, the figure of the Gran Poder was being shipped from
Fiesta virgins be warned, the ‘embarcación de la Virgen del Carmen’ can be overwhelming. It attracts thousands of people, it’s bold, boisterous, wet, noisy and chaotic as well as being good natured, great fun, an unforgettable experience and a spectacle for the senses. It’s such in-your-face WOW that it could easily have been choreographed by Baz Luhrmann.
Sensible dress is shorts and t-shirts, preferably over swimming togs. To really fit in, buy a t-shirt from one of the stalls around Plaza del Charco, most people wear one. There’s normally a choice between traditional images of the Virgen or, for the more fashion conscious, ones with contemporary artistic designs.
This is a fiesta with strong connections to the sea, so water figures highly throughout the day. As the afternoon heats up, the streets around the harbour become battlefields; chicos armed with water pistols that would have UN weapons inspectors making frantic phone calls to George Bush, chase chicas through the streets. Innocent bystanders get caught in crossfire, eliciting cries of outrage and scowls from the older townspeople. Outside buildings, revellers goad people enjoying the celebrations from the safety of their balconies until they get the reaction they’re after; buckets of water thrown over them; in the mid July heat, this is a welcome treat. In the harbour organised nonsense keeps the crowd amused; the most popular, a ‘jeux san frontières’- inspired event, involves a greasy pole jutting out over the harbour water and volunteers whose co-ordination skills probably haven’t benefited from the beer they’ve downed. You get the picture.
By late afternoon the area around the harbour becomes a thronging mass and the little beach disappears under a sea of people. Around an excited murmur spreads through the crowd announcing the arrival of San Telmo, followed by La Virgen del Carmen, both carried proudly on the shoulders of local fishermen. As they move with a rhythmic swaying motion which simulates being at sea, the mood of the crowd changes from one of frivolity to religious fervour and devotees clamour to touch the figures for luck. At the lovingly decorated shrine at the top of the harbour, La Virgen pauses to be serenaded by a rendition of ‘Ave
The strains of ‘Ave
Celebrations take place throughout July and include the obligatory crowning of the fiesta queen, traditional Canarian dances, Jazz and rock concerts, antique car rallies, sporting events and air displays.
The procession of the Gran Poder usually takes place on the two days prior to the ‘embarcación’ which takes place on Tuesday 10th July 2012.
Another highlight of the fiestas is the ‘Sardinada’ held on the seafront beside the Ermita de San Telmo the evening prior to the ‘embarcación’. The night air is pervaded with the aroma of grilled fish and a couple of euros will get you a plate of sardines and a beaker of country wine; simple and delicious fare to munch and quaff whilst listening to a live salsa band and watching ‘loco’ muchachos risk life and limb by leaping into tsunami sized Atlantic rollers, just to impress the chicas.
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