I am very fond of pizza; that is if I can find one that is vegetarian. Being vegetarian, I have sometimes found it very difficult to get across the message that a ‘pizza vegetal’ is pizza without the inclusion of flesh of any kind. I have been presented with supposedly vegetarian pizzas laced with generous dollops of tuna, a fried egg and even a generous sprinkling of ham, which I thought was red pepper, before my stomach started heaving and I headed like a bullet for the door.
No, it has not been easy being a vegetarian in Spain and the Canary Islands, but I have now found the perfect pizzeria, or cafe bar to be more accurate. Personally, I think that the pizzas produced there are some of the best on the island - a perfect combination of a thin, not too crisp base and a perfectly cooked range of seasonal vegetables. We often have a take away pizza ready for a night in front of the television with a good film.
A few days ago I telephoned to place our usual order. Instead of the usually cheery bar owner/chef answering the telephone, came a sleepy voice. “Er, can you call back later please? The ovens have still not heated up”. I thought this strange, as the cafe bar opened at 7.00pm and by now it was nearly 8.00pm, which I know is still very early for Canarians to eat. I hoped that this was not the beginning of the end for yet another cafe bar, forced to lay off staff and eventually close because of the effects of the recession.
When I finally arrived at the bar to collect my order, the chef gave me a cheeky grin and told me that he was thankful for my call, because he had overslept and my call had woken him! The bar was, by now, full of elderly and middle aged men, some with a beer in hand watching sport on the television, others playing on the gaming machine, whilst others simply propped themselves against the bar, no drink in hand, but obviously there just for the company. One younger man was cheerfully helping himself to a shot from behind the bar - after all, the bar owner was still cooking my pizzas, yet I noticed he carefully placed a number of coins by the till. It was a very Canarian scene.
Suddenly the door burst open and a small boy of about six or seven burst into the bar frantically waving a mobile phone above his head.
“Anyone here called Juan?” he yelled (in Spanish, of course).
Suddenly the noise stopped, all the men turned and faced the small boy and three quarters of them stood up and shouted back “I’m Juan”, before helpless laughter broke out in the bar. The small boy looked puzzled before he ran off followed by several of the men. I would love to have known what the urgent message was about.
Although I have not checked any surveys of the most popular names used in the Canary Islands, I would guess, without a doubt, that the most popular name for men of a certain age in my village is Juan, and the best place to find them is in our pizzeria.
© Barrie Mahoney
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living in Spain and the Canary Islands : ISBN 978-0995602724