Being an island a long way from Europe we attract more than our share of people evading the law, and that tends to colour our attitudes. A lot of drugs come from Columbia, so we are wary of Columbians. Many muggings are perpetrated by Rumanians, so they all get tarred with the same brush. The area around the Home for young unaccompanied illegal immigrants is plagued with robberies, so any black face up there is suspect. The Russian crime lords and Italian mafia have toe-holds here, so we mistrust those people, and cheered when we heard that a gang of 30 was flown to the mainland for trial recently..
And yet, at the last count, we had friends and neighbours from – in alphabetical order - Africa, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Venezuela and Wales. We have been to an Italian christening, a Spanish First Communion, a Scottish wedding, an Irish St Patrick’s Day bash, and our Venezuelan friends have invited us to several barbecues, more than one Christmas dinner, and a wedding.
There was a restaurant in our town that has had many tenants, none of whom lasted long. The owner was a crook who doubled the rent as soon as each hopeful began to show a profit. He also pocketed the tenants’ money for electricity while running an illegal wire from the community supply. He was notorious, and he was also from La Gomera. When his wife divorced him and took over the building, no-one was sorry – El Gomeron had got his comeuppance. He’d be just as crooked if he was local, but he gives all Gomerons a bad name, and they're regarded as backward anyway, just because their island is smaller than Tenerife.
We can all be racist in small ways without realizing. The one African watch seller who is too pushy puts you off them all. The table-cloth hawker whose nimble fingers steal cash out of your purse makes all of them robbers. The Spanish boys who ripped my friend’s handbag off her shoulder in broad daylight have made her wary of all such groups. A Canarian who hates all tourists and makes it obvious can spoil your impression of the entire population.
I was reading in a local paper that El Fraile, a village a few kilometres from us, has seventy different nationalities. Xenophobes there would expire of apoplexy.
And years ago we visited a Ugandan friend who had just had her second baby. “He’s lovely,” we said. “He’s the wrong colour,” she replied. “What do you expect – white babies?” I asked. “No – he’s too black, like his grandfather.”
It’s not only white people who are prejudiced.
XEROPHYTE refers to any plant that can reduce its water loss during dry periods and/or has a system of water storage – such as cacti and succulents, of which we have thousands in Tenerife.
The prickly pears that you see growing wild used to be cultivated for the cochineal beetle they support and many of them still belong to someone. The fruit is edible but be warned - you need thick gloves to pick it unless you want to be removing tiny spines for days. I find the taste insipid, but they’re full of vitamins and thirst-quenching in an emergency.
Another xerophyte that’s good for you is aloe vera, which the Cabildo often use to decorate the roadsides. The juice is good for the digestion and soothes sunburn instantly. It can be squeezed straight from a leaf – I’ve seen locals picking them from the town gardens. Of course you can save yourself the bother and buy refined aloe vera products – my daughter sells them in several hotels on the island.
The cacti that look like a set of organ pipes are protected in Tenerife – like trees might be in an English town. When our road was due to be up-graded the Cabildo sent a team of specialists to build a protective wall round one. It was a lovely wall – a real work of art. Pity the new road is several metres above it.
Cacti don’t flower very often but when they do they go all out. A twenty foot cactus dotted with huge flowers is quite a sight, and the last time there was a flower on our cactus the community cleaner called her friends to take photos. ¡Que bonita!