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Letters Blog Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Just Nuts About Almonds

We know that Spring has arrived in the Canary Islands when we see the first flush of flowers on the many magnificent almond trees that embrace the islands. These beautiful flowers, which begin to open after Christmas, create a magnificent and rich landscape of colour. At the end of January and the beginning of February, almond trees demonstrate their full glory, encouraging celebrations in many towns and villages. Canarians never need much of an excuse to have a party, so this spectacle of natural beauty to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, doesn’t need much encouragement.

The Canary Islands were the crossroads between Europe and the Americas for many years. As a result, the islands can boast a rich and varied cuisine, offering a unique blend of flavours that is influenced by Africa, Europe and America. Without going into too much detail here, there is accumulating genetic evidence which suggests that much of the material used for horticulture in the Americas came directly from the Canary Islands. These islands had centuries of trade with Berbers, Phoenicians, and other ethnicities in Morocco, but were only under Spanish control for about 50 years before Columbus. Many believe that the booming almond trade in the United States originates from the Canary Islands.

Many people do not give much thought to almonds, but they have always been a most important part of the cuisine of the Canary Islands. Almond products are many and varied, and used in biscuits and cakes. Almonds can also be mashed into a paste that can be spread on bread - a bit like peanut butter, but without the butter. Almond milk, almond drinks, almond wine and marzipan, as well as almond cakes can easily be found in shops and markets on the islands for most of the year.

Almond trees are found on the greener parts of the Canary Islands. In Puntagorda, on the island of La Palma, a beautiful festival is held at the end of January or beginning of February each year. Parts of Gran Canaria and Tenerife become spectacular gardens of pink and white blossom, particularly around Santiago del Teide and the slopes of Vilaflor in Tenerife.

In Gran Canaria, a visit to the Almond Flower Festival in the village of Tejeda is always a must-visit destination at this time of the year. The festival has been celebrated in this beautiful village since 1972, which acts as a reminder of the importance of almonds to the baking industry of the islands. Dancing and songs against the spectacular and colourful backdrop of the almond trees can be an unforgettable experience.

Crowds of people make their way singing and dancing to native guitar music on the narrow road leading to the church. Many dress in national costume for the event and there are opportunities to sample the local wine and almond based products. There are also opportunities to watch the almonds being cracked and maybe hear almond pickers speaking about their trade.

Spain is the world’s second largest almond producer after the United States, and with a large proportion produced in the Canary Islands. It is no wonder that these nuts are so highly prized, and well worth having a party to celebrate. It is also worth remembering where the nuts come from.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

A Traitor in Paradise

Some time ago, I visited a memorial sculpture to ten sincere and brave men, which was a very moving experience. These were ten Canarian men who were tortured and put to death for their beliefs during the Spanish Civil War. These ten men defied Franco’s fascist government and were put to death by being tied in sacks filled with heavy rocks and tossed alive into the Atlantic Ocean. Almost 80 years have passed since those dark days, but now, at the point where they were deliberately drowned, a sculpture has been placed, so that the memory of these ten men and the atrocities that took place during the Spanish Civil War are not lost. Their crime was treason against the state.

In Gran Canaria’s capital city, Las Palmas, excavations are currently taking place to exhume the bodies from mass graves of those killed by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. The repression of civilian opponents by the Franco Regime was cruel for any person or institution thought to challenge the Republic, with any workers’ movement or any political party described as being on the left of politics committing a treasonable offence.

Eighty years on, it is hoped that exhumation of bodies from a mass grave will begin to repair the nightmares suffered by families and friends of those buried, and paid with their lives for the repression imposed by the Franco regime. Memories of the Civil War continue to be powerful reminders of the evils of a fascist dictator that ignored the rules of basic humanity.

I was suddenly reminded of Spain’s horrific and bloodthirsty past perpetrated on these beautiful islands when I remembered reading a proposal from a Conservative councillor in the UK stating that opposing Brexit should be made an act of treason, and punishable by life in prison. To further strengthen the argument for ‘treason’, a statement from a UK Brexiteer, David Bannerman, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, suggested that the revision of the 1351 Treason Act should also apply to EU loyalists; those who undermine the UK through “extreme EU loyalty”.

As far as I am aware, in law, treason is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s country or monarch. History gives us many examples of treason, including Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, and Henry VIII who had two of his six wives executed for alleged adultery on the grounds that such infidelity was ‘treason’. The previous US President, Donald Trump, is accused of ‘treason’ because of his alleged links with Russia, as well as a variety of other alleged, more recent charges. Other examples of so-called ‘treason’ are often little more than action by dissidents, which may happen to upset or offend others who are, or wish to be, in power.

One thing is clear, the definition of ‘traitor’ needs extreme care in its application. To describe those who disagree or are opposed to the foolishness of Brexit as ‘treacherous’ is inaccurate and does no credit to those who imply treason. There are many British citizens living and working in Europe, as well as many Europeans living and working in the UK, who are passionate about wanting the UK to remain in the European Union; they are vocal about it and support and donate to causes that are attempting to promote an alternative point of view. This does not make them traitors; indeed, one could make an argument to the contrary.

History is supposed to help us to avoid the mistakes of the past. If we look at the history of Spain’s Civil War, and how it divided and ruined a prosperous country, together with the hurt that continues to this day, we all need to be more careful about the language that is used to challenge opponents.

Many, who were previously unfamiliar with Bannerman’s usual deliberate, headline grabbing rhetoric, were surprised to hear his foolish proposals. Some asked what he would suggest as an appropriate punishment to be applied to ‘extreme’ EU loyalists, currently known as ‘Remainers’. It should be remembered that 63 per cent of the UK population did not vote for the nonsense that is Brexit; we are still allowed to hold alternative views to those expressed by Bannerman, Rees-Mogg, Gove, Johnson and others. Thankfully, we are still allowed to protest, demonstrate and articulate views that may be contrary to the views of the Brexiteers; it is not treachery. Fortunately, the new proposals do not call for the death penalty to be applied, but encourages prison sentences for those found guilty. Well, that’s all right then; I rather like the idea of a few months free accommodation in the Tower of London at His Majesty’s pleasure.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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Single, Married or Divorced?

Divorce is the most stressful experience that most people will ever encounter. Over the years, studies have shown that the stress of divorce, together with resulting implications for any children from the marriage, property and finance, compromises the immune system and puts anyone dissolving a marriage at risk of illness and disease.

Current UK divorce law is about to be reviewed and overhauled to enable couples to divorce faster and in a less aggressive manner through a ‘no blame split’. Currently in England and Wales, in order for divorce to begin, one spouse has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other. In future, couples will only have to state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The new laws will also prevent one partner from refusing a divorce if the other wants one.

It was disturbing to read this week that the Canary Islands is second highest region in all of Spain for the number of marital breakdowns. In 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice registered 15 separations per day. It is only Valencia that surpassed these shocking statistics, whilst the community of Castilla y León appears to be the area with the highest rate of wedded bliss, recorded at the bottom of this troubling league table. In total, in 2018, the Canary Islands recorded 5686 claims for marriage nullity, separation and both consensual and non-consensual divorce.

These bland figures disguise a range of reasons for marital breakdowns. Despite many observers and holiday makers looking enviously at the Canarian lifestyle, all is not what it seems for local people. These islands suffer from one of the worst unemployment figures in Spain, with around 38 per cent of those aged between 20 and 29 years old out of work. Temporary contracts for those who are employed blight the islands’ labour market, particularly among the young, women, immigrants and low skilled workers, which all adds to the stress within any long-term relationship.

Levels of poverty remain high in the islands too, and many young couples continue to live with their parents, since they are unable to buy or rent a home of their own. Current data show that over 53 per cent of people between the ages of 25 and 29 in Spain are still living with their parents, and this figure is even higher in the Canary Islands. There is a low proportion of rented property available in the islands and, as elsewhere in Spain, there has been a sharp rise in housing prices, which has placed most properties out of the reach of young couples.

It should also be remembered that in Spain and the Canary Islands, it is often regarded as traditional for young couples to live with their parents and, indeed grandparents, in order to provide the care that older family members need as they get older. It used to be seen as an obligation, but now this tradition often clashes with the desire for independence from parents, and some claim that this is one of the many reasons behind the high levels of divorce and separation.

Looking more closely at the statistics, it is interesting to also note that despite Castilla y León being the community that offers the highest rate of wedded bliss, it is also the area with the highest percentage of single person households in Spain…

© Barrie Mahoney 2018

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