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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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A Beacon of Culture in the Canary Islands

A Beacon of Culture in the Canary Islands

As regular readers may remember, I started playing the violin again last year. In fact, I became so enthusiastic that I started teaching myself to play the viola and cello as well. Sometimes it is a painful and painstaking process, and I would not inflict my efforts upon any listener. However, I do enjoy listening to stringed instruments, and in particular, being played by those who really do know how to make their instruments sing.

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend a concert given by the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra. Most tourists, and indeed many residents, remain unaware that we have our own world class orchestra on this island. There are regular concerts advertised and I can highly recommend making the effort to travel to the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in Las Palmas for the evening; it is a delightful and impressive experience.

I particularly enjoy visiting the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in Las Palmas. It has often been described as “A Beacon of Culture”, which it is in so many symbolic ways. Looking at the impressive building as it stands on Las Canteras beach is just a start. For me, the true magic begins inside the building when looking at the orchestra seated in front of a huge picture window with an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean outside. Visitors to the concert can watch waves crashing and lights twinkling on the water outside, which creates an evocative and memorable experience when listening to the music being played by this exceptional orchestra. The Alfredo Kraus Auditorium was built as a beacon for opera, music and ballet in the Canary Islands. However, who was Alfredo Kraus?

Alfredo Kraus Trujillo was born in Las Palmas on 24 September 1927 - the son of a Spanish naturalised Austrian. Alfredo began piano lessons at the age of four and after completing secondary education he studied industrial engineering. Soon after graduation, Kraus began to concentrate more and more on singing, which he studied in Barcelona, Madrid and later Italy.

Alfredo Kraus made his operatic debut as the Duke of Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto in Cairo, in January 1956. He then appeared in La Traviata in Venice, Turin and London, and in 1958 made his first appearances in Rome and Lisbon. Kraus quickly developed into a world class tenor, starred in a movie based on the life of Gayarre, an early famous Spanish tenor, and became a frequent and well-respected performer at the world's most prestigious opera houses, singing with Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and other world-renowned sopranos.

The last two years of Kraus's life were darkened by the death of his wife in 1997, which affected him deeply. A proud and strong-willed man, he eventually returned to the stage and to teaching, making the comment, “Singing is a form of admitting that I'm alive.”

In 1991, Kraus was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award. In 1997, his home city of Las Palmas opened the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium in his honour. Kraus died on September 10, 1999 in Madrid, at the age of 71, after a long illness.

The music of Strauss and Mahler soothed my ears and made me forget the world outside. I felt inspired by watching the professionals playing their violins, violas and cellos with such enthusiasm and grace. During my next practice sessions, I will try harder.

If you are visiting or live on the island, I strongly recommend a visit to the auditorium and, better still, to experience a concert given by the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra. Link this to a good meal in one of the many nearby restaurants, and I suspect that you too will have a most enjoyable evening that you will remember for a long time to come.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney


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© Barrie Mahoney

​​​Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

When was the last time that you sent a postcard? I guess, if you are anything like most of the younger members of the population, it was some time ago; maybe several years. Thinking about this question recently, I realised that I haven’t sent any for several years, but with the exception of one of those fun and expensive 3D picture postcards that we thought our elderly aunt would enjoy receiving. Sadly, she didn’t even mention it when I spoke to her, so I doubt it made any impression, and we needn’t have bothered.

It came as no surprise to read that the UK’s foremost publisher of picture postcards, J Salmon is going to stop production in December. This family-owned company has been publishing calendars and postcards since 1880, but now sales have dried up. Charles and Harry Salmon, the fifth generation of the family of postcard publishers, recently commented that the popularity of social media has had such a negative impact upon their business that their production was now unsustainable. Many will remember the beautiful scenic shots, the comic ones, as well as those very ‘rude’ ones that were often so popular at seaside beach shops.

I still like to receive postcards and pin them to a display board. It is fascinating to receive a card from some faraway place that I have never visited. A postcard from somewhere that I remember is also welcome, since it brings back many happy memories and experiences. The closest that I get to this nowadays is sending a ‘virtual postcard’ to a few special people with one of my own photos, by using an app on my smartphone. It is quick, convenient and good value and takes away the need to try to find a post office in some foreign land to buy a stamp, only to find that it has closed for siesta.

Do you remember that well-worn phrase to quizzes in newspapers, magazines and radio shows? It was always “Answers on a postcard please”; now it is “send a text to…”, usually at a premium rate charge. The demise of the humble postcard seems to have gone almost unnoticed.

As a replacement for postcards, many people now post some of the more ecstatic moments of their holiday experience on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. This is fine for the sender, but how many of us are bored senseless with seeing endless platefuls of holiday food from some exotic holiday destination on Facebook, and the alcoholic “I’m all hung over” posts that seem to have replaced the humble postcard from the younger generation. Are today’s electronic offerings intended as merely a showcase for the sender, or for the enjoyment of the receiver, I wonder? Do we really need to see yet another pizza or giant plateful of a cooked English breakfast? A shot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or a pretty Venetian canal boat would be a nice alternative; just a thought.

A few years ago, I remember spending several enjoyable hours sorting through a battered suitcase belonging to a great aunt containing hundreds of sepia postcards with stamps bearing the head of long dead monarchs. Photographs of exotic destinations, such as Weymouth, Edinburgh, Yarmouth and Blackpool, peppered with occasional postcards from more adventurous destinations, such as Venice, Bruges and Paris. As well as the fascination of seeing how popular resorts have changed over the years, the comments on the back were often very revealing.

I remember some of the lengthy discussions that my parents had when selecting postcards for family members and friends when we were on a family holiday. Should we send a scenic shot of the beach to Aunt Joy, would Uncle Frank like something a little more cultured, or is that one just far too rude for cousin Paul? We had better be careful what we write on the back of that one to Brenda, because we know that her postman always reads them, and he is such a gossip...

I shall miss those photographic treasures from J Salmon and other publishers. I guess that the publishers are right to draw a halt to the production of this much loved remnant of the past. Like so many things in our lives, times change and maybe it is now time that the humble postcard be relegated to history.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

© Barrie Mahoney

​Animals Need Our Help Too

Animals Need Our Help Too

It has been a distressing week in Gran Canaria. A major fire broke out in the heavily forested centre of the island, which is in an area that we often visit. It is a region that few tourists can be bothered to visit, for which residents are grateful, since not only is it an area of spectacular natural beauty, but an area of peace and tranquillity. It is well away from the pressures of the modern world, the sun beds, fast food restaurants and bars in the busy tourist area in the south of the island.

Not only the Gran Canaria fire, but many other news stories have been particularly distressing over the last few weeks. Tragedies, such as the Grenfell Tower fire, flooding in Bangladesh, horrendous hurricanes in the Caribbean, volcanic eruptions in Italy and the horrors of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar, have made an impact upon all but the most cold and detached personalities. As we watch these horrors unfold in faraway places in the comfort of our own living rooms, it is often difficult to identify with the pain and suffering that ordinary people experience when faced with such disasters.

Although, I understand that the suffering and welfare of people come first, I know that I am not the only one to be distressed about animals caught up in such disasters. There is rarely any mention of animals caught up in flooding, fire and other tragedies that appear on our television screens, and little is ever reported. It seems that animals suddenly become invisible during times of crisis, yet as all animal lovers will know, they have become part of our lives and highly important. Dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, birds and reptiles, as well as farm animals often perish in horrendous circumstances during these periods of exceptional tragedy, and it seems that they are forgotten and left behind during the pressure of rescue efforts.

This point was brought home to me this week whilst reporting on the forest fire, which quickly got out of control on the island where I live. The fire spread quickly and destroyed many hectares of land, involving five municipalities. A number of villages and many people were evacuated. Thanks to the brave and selfless efforts of the emergency services, it appears that only one life was lost. The woman who died was an expat, originally from Sweden, who had made her life on our beautiful island. She refused to leave her home, preferring to stay and look after her animals. Her charred body was later discovered outside her home. One can only imagine her terror, as she was consumed by the flames.

It is often difficult to identify with the hundreds and thousands of people in distress that appear on our television screens, but it is the distress of small groups and individuals that help us to understand their pain and suffering. For me, it was the dying moments of this terrified woman that has stayed in my mind. I did not know her, but the fact that she bothered to stay behind to care for her animals tells me a lot about her compassion and humanity, and I suspect that she is someone who I would have liked.

Spain and the Canary Islands are often rightly criticised for attitudes to animals, which can often appear casual, uncaring and exploitative. Over the years that I have lived in Spain and the Canary Islands, there have been many times when I have wished that we had the equivalent of the UK’s RSPCA, PDSA and many other dedicated animal charities helping to protect animals in Spain. Sadly, this is not the case, and much is left to hard-stretched police, as well as dedicated individuals, to help to relieve the plight of animals suffering in this country.

There is some good news to help to soothe the rawness of this latest tragedy on the island for animals that need veterinary help. The Veterinary Department of the University of Las Palmas is currently helping animals that have suffered, but escaped from the fire at a centre in the town of San Mateo. Volunteers from the College of Vets at the University of Las Palmas are offering a 24-hour service to help these animals. Dogs and cats can be taken directly to a central animal point for care and attention.

It is often said that a society can be judged by its attitude towards animals. I have always believed this to be true, and in these polarised and often selfish times, it is heart-warming that the needs of animals are also being considered following a tragedy that has affected all precious life.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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© Barrie Mahoney

Typewriter Terror

Typewriter Terror

The phone rang; it was a colleague in Las Palmas telling me that the police were in the middle of a response to a potential terrorist incident in the city. A suspect package had been placed in front of the door to the garage of the central offices of the National Police on the island. The building was sealed off, traffic was prevented from entering the road, and anti-terrorist officers arrived to assess the potential danger of the package. These officers quickly discovered that this was a false alarm, and since the suspicious package turned out to contain nothing more lethal than an antique typewriter, the panic was over.

Two days later I found myself browsing in a charity shop that I occasionally visit. I always find it fascinating to browse through old books, records and maybe find a technological treasure from the past, such as an old radio or ancient camera. This time, I spotted a typewriter, an old Olympia, sitting proudly on an antique desk. It looked in remarkably good condition, and one that I guessed was made in the mid 1960s. This machine brought back a flood of memories of my father bringing his portable typewriter home from work each day and patiently teaching me to type when I was still at primary school. In more recent times, I have been thankful for computers, tablets and all the other gadgetry that make life so much simpler. Did I really want to use a typewriter again?

Later that morning, I returned to the shop and asked for a sheet of paper to test the typewriter. Amazingly, all the keys worked, and the type was clear and aligned. It felt smooth and accurate to the touch, which was surprising for a 50-year-old machine; it had clearly been well looked after. It also came with a very smart protective case. As I handed over the ten euros asking price, I asked the man looking after the shop to tell more about where it had come from. He told me that it had come to the shop as part of a house clearance following the death of “an important man” several years ago. The typewriter had been forgotten and only recently put on display. He wouldn't tell me any more about the original owner of the typewriter, and seemed pleased when I stopped asking questions and left. I returned to my car, pleased with my purchase, although it was much heavier than I remembered. I was also intrigued by the response to my questions, and felt that there was much more to discover.

It was when cleaning the machine that I found an old sticker in the case with the name of the shop that had originally supplied it. The sticker included a phone number, which was in a different pattern of numbers currently used. It was not too hard to track down the modern version of the number and I decided to call it. Although it was doubtful that the shop would still be in business, I remembered that many businesses in the Canary Islands are passed through many generations, even though the original trade may have changed. To my surprise, the telephone number worked, and a man answered.

The man listened patiently to my story about the typewriter and told me that his father had owned the shop, but had died some years ago. As well as selling typewriters, his father had also serviced them. Although the current business no longer sold typewriters, the son had kept some records; did I know the serial number of the machine? Fortunately, I had already predicted that I would be asked this question and had written it down. The son took a note of the number and promised that he would call me back “manaña”. My heart sank when he said this, since “manaña’ is often a polite way of saying ‘never’.

Two days later, I received a telephone call. True to his word, the son had checked his father’s records, and found the serial number of my typewriter, the date of sale and the servicing that it had received. This time, the son was quite animated and told me that the machine had belonged to someone important, who had died. As I was British, he doubted that I would appreciate the significance, and asked if I would like to sell the typewriter back to him. He wouldn't tell me who it had belonged to, and I began to imagine that he would be quoting the words “data protection”, which is the current way of denying reasonable information requests. I thanked him for his trouble, but declined the offer, as I wanted to keep the typewriter.

Even more intriguing was when I tried to buy a new ribbon for the typewriter. When the ribbon arrived from the UK, it would not fit. I contacted the supplier, who assured me that it was the correct ribbon for an Olympia. He was puzzled as to why it would not fit and asked me to send him photos of the typewriter and the old ribbon spools. His reply was even more puzzling, since it seems that my Olympia typewriter is in fact an Olivetti. He is a typewriter expert and had not come across this issue before and suggested that the labels had been switched at some stage in its life, but could not explain the serial number that related to an Olympia. My imagination began to work overtime; was it all part of a complicated plot, with a switched identity of both its owner and the typewriter? It certainty left me wondering even more about its history and that of its previous owner.

I always appreciate a good mystery, and I also now have a rather splendid typewriter that I will use from time to time. I will always be fascinated by the story behind it, even though I have yet to discover who the “important person” was and why the identity of my typewriter was changed.

As far as the original news story that started my week is concerned, I am still wondering why an antique typewriter was left outside the central police office. After all, does anyone use a typewriter nowadays?

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

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© Barrie Mahoney

​The Korean Factor

The Korean Factor

It was a pleasant surprise this week to read that the Mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is visiting South Korea to exchange ideas and experiences about policies on public transport, and a range of other issues. It makes a pleasant change to read positive news about South Korea, rather than depressing and unpleasant rhetoric, sabre rattling and threats between their neighbour, North Korea, and the United States.

Transport has been a major challenge to authorities in Seoul for the last 40 years, because of the rapid increase in its population. Bus and subway systems have required massive investment and improvements, which are some of the issues also being faced in Las Palmas. The sharing of information, including the new Metro Guagua transport system in La Palmas, could also be of significant help to Seoul. Representatives from Seoul have been invited to visit Las Palmas when the Metro Guagua is in operation.

The possibility of Canarian and South Korean Municipalities working together on a number of strategic projects has also been discussed, as well as investment from South Korea for projects in Gran Canaria. Cooperation and sharing of ideas between countries should always be welcomed.

Links between South Korea and the Canary Islands are not accidental. Many residents and tourists are simply unaware that there is a significant Korean population living in the Canary Islands, and particularly in Gran Canaria. This has developed since the collapse of the Korean whaling industry that took place off the Canary Islands in the 1960s and 1970s. Hundreds of Korean workers and their families became stranded on the island, which quickly became their home. In the 1970s, statistics show that there were around 7000 Koreans living in Las Palmas, which became a significant proportion of the total population. As delighted as I am that the whaling industry has ended off the Canary Islands, the Korean community has thrived and become interwoven with the multi-cultural, multinational and religious mix that Gran Canaria has represented so successfully for many years.

Korean families have also maintained their strong religious and cultural identity. I recall being invited and welcomed to a service held at the spectacular Full Gospel Korean Church in Las Palmas several years ago, where the service was simultaneously broadcast in several languages. Rarely have I witnessed such enthusiasm and fervour within a church.

As well as representation through the Korean Consulate in Las Palmas, which is one of several in Spain, many Koreans run successful businesses on the island. Taking into account the close links that the island has had with Korea over the years, and the significant positive contribution that Koreans have upon both the city of Las Palmas, as well as Gran Canaria, it is entirely appropriate that these links both support and extend the current transportation projects for the benefit of both communities

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

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© Barrie Mahoney

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