|Teide in the snow.|
Writing about the Canary Isles has brought the place back to me with almost heartrending immediacy. I want to be there right now although it doesn't look as though that will be possible for a little while at least. Luis, my hero in the novel, is a 'Gomero' born and bred, fiercely proud of his heritage, a guitarist and a chef. A slightly quirky combination, I know, but that's the way he turned out and whom am I to challenge him? Every writer knows that there is a stage in any novel when a character decides to be what he or she wants to be and there will be little you can do to change it. It's one reason why writers react so badly to other people saying 'can't you make him do this or that?' Many of us don't feel as if we're 'making' anyone do anything. We can shape the story, of course, change the structure, polish and prune and even change what happens, but there's a sense in which the characters make themselves, and that's an uncanny feeling. So, Luis is who he is. And good looking with it.
Earlier this year, when I was in the middle of doing some additional research for this trilogy, I discovered two fat volumes about the Canaries written by one Olivia M Stone, an Englishwoman who had visited the islands back in 1884. This was wholly thanks to Amazon. I didn't know about these books at all. A Canarian academic friend, who had helped me with the translation of some traditional poems, confessed that she didn't know about them either, but then they had been written in English, published in England in 1887 and had long been out of print. The re-emergence of facsimile editions on Amazon was only very recent. I typed 'Canary Islands History' into Amazon and these two volumes instantly popped up, with a long, engaging and informative review by a previous reader. I ordered them and was enchanted by them. Olivia had obviously fallen in love with the Canaries too.
Back when we were living there for that short time, it had struck me what good looking people the locals were. Olivia thought so too. She found the men handsome, especially their guide, the divine Lorenzo, and was not afraid to say as much. Even though she seems to have been a happily married woman, accompanied by her photographer husband, she was also quite a young woman and her obvious appreciation of a handsome and mildly flirtatious man seems curiously modern. She also noted several times that the island girls too were unselfconciously beautiful.
All of this is still true. Spaniards are a handsome people, but there is a fair mixture of the DNA of the original inhabitants of these islands - as recent tests have proved - especially on La Gomera. This isn't too surprising. Historians used to posit the idea that the Spanish invaders had massacred all the original inhabitants, but wholesale genocide is (mercifully) rare. Youth, life, sexual attraction tends to have its way. Like the early Scandinavian invaders of Scotland and Northern England, it seems as though those Spanish invaders - as well as shedding a lot of blood - did a lot of what we had better call intermarrying, although initially at any rate I doubt if it was as benevolent as that term suggests. But these were young Spanish settlers on a fertile land with a kindly climate and the surviving Guanche women were a handsome people of Berber ancestry. And sooner or later, men grow tired of war. The DNA evidence suggests that a great many of those incoming Spaniards must have taken Guanche wives, settled down and raised families, becoming Canary Islanders themselves.
This seems to have resulted in a happy combination in more ways than one. The Canarians are still a handsome, sunny natured people. It's as though the fierce energy of the incomers - but one which could all too easily tip over into cruelty - was tempered by the more peaceful qualities of the indigenous people. This is to oversimplify, of course. The Guanches were as capable of brutality in a brutal age as their conquerers. But it doesn't seem to have been their natural inclination. Whatever the truth of it, it does seem as though a partiality for artistry, cultivation, music, courtesy, peacefulness and a natural appreciation of beauty have to a large extent prevailed on these islands so that the old perception of them as 'blest' - as the garden of the Gods - is not too far from the truth.