The spectacular annual event that is Fiestas de Nuestras Senora Del Carmen hasn´t been quite itself for the past couple of years. A celebration that sees all the boats, pleasure, commercial and fishing, of Puerto Del Carmen take to the ocean to participate in an at-sea mass to give thanks to Carmen, the patron saint of fishermen, has had to be cut into smaller slices for public consumption. We have been able to witness the statue of Carmen being taken from the local church and walked around the harbour town, but this has been accompanied only by an official presence rather than the hundreds of members of the public who usually join the procession. There have been services held inside the church but to restricted congregations and the mass at sea was not lined by a shoreline of waving and cheering hordes as has been the case in the past. Still, at least the priest was spared his annual ´accidental´ ducking as the ceremony has been a little more sombre during covid. There are signs, though, that the world is fumbling and stumbling along the right road to recovery and we recently witnessed a celebratory concert on a big, temporary stage on the harbour square.
This is a story of a religious procession of sombre mass, boats in bunting, laughter and music and a priest getting soaking wet. What´s not to enjoy?
Fiesta Del Carmen is described on many web sites on-line but these often focus on Spanish mainland versions of the event such as those in Madrid. Nowhere is the Lanzarote event in Puerto Del Carman better described than in an article by my fellow contributor, Susana Fondon, in the archives at Miguel´s Lanzarote Information on-line.
´Despite the official Saint’s Day being the 16th of July, Puerto del Carmen celebrates Fiesta del Carmen later on than most other towns and villages in Lanzarote´, says Susana, before adding that ´the town hall releases the official programme almost later than that!´
Nuestra Señora Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen, and therefore of Puerto del Carmen, so the celebration is a big one. It all culminates in a very moving procession of an effigy of the saint from the little church, and she is then placed in a boat festooned with colourful decorations. The main boat, surrounded by a huge flotilla of smaller boats, then sails out into the ocean, where the priests aboard carry out a blessing for a good fishing season.
As well as loads of events centred at the harbour in Puerto del Carmen, there is always a fantastic fun fair at Fiesta del Carmen for everyone to enjoy. Most of the actions take place at Plaza del Varadero, which is the big square in the old town harbour, but there are other locations, like Playa Grande for the volleyball, Playa Chica for fishing and the local school football ground´.
The events of Fiestas de Nuestra Señora del Carmen 2021 took place in Puerto del Carmen from the 29th of July to the 8th of August this year. The majority of the events had to be booked in advance so the organizers could ensure the safety measures and keep an eye on the number of attendees. Bookings had to be made online.
The event we caught was a free of charge concert at 9.00pm, just as the sun was sinking behind the mountains. It was held in a cordoned off square within a square on Plaza Del Varadero, which usually serves as a free car park but tonight had a significantly reduced number of spaces. We arrived about three hours before the concert and even at that time could identify only one, slightly illegal, parking place. We parked there and we set off to find somewhere to eat, determined not to be lured inside a restaurant by any of the young siren-like boys and girls who wave menus and point fingers outside their establishments.
However at the top of a hill overlooking the harbour and the old town, we turned to look at the sun over the mountains and there she was, my siren, waving and pointing and I surrendered my heart. My wife and I followed her directions to a table for two with incredible views, outside on the terrace.
A jug of sangria preceded and accompanied our meals. Dee had a filleted sea bass and I had a well done steak, that looked by its colour as if it could have been better well-done, but which was absolutely beautiful in taste and texture.
The mixed ice cream dessert was so good that I was licking my lips as it was brought to the table and it delivered on its promise.
We could see that, down in the harbour below, the lights had come on around the arena and as our meal had been accompanied throughout by the music (and false starts) of the exciting sound-check., we were really forward to the actual concert.
With around twenty minutes to spare before the start of the concert Dee and I enjoyed watching the last throes (throws, geddit?) of a semi final of the boules tournament that had been held throughout the festival. This gentile little game we watch ex pats and retirees play here on the island is a very different beast in competitive form. Players snarl like lions at each other, and when rolling a boule won´t get the job done they instead launch it like a hand-grenade to blast apart a defence they had been unable to roll their way around.
With the match still in the balance, though, and a tournament waiting to be won, we were being ushered in to the concert arena. Stewards, police and the orange-banded civil protection workers did a fantastic job in getting us all in and safely to our seats. However, Dee and I had only been able to book the last two, very separated, seats available and so she was at the back of the seating plan and I was very near the front. A kindly and thoughtful steward saw our predicament, and re-planned a little bit of seating, still according to protocol outlines, in a way that enabled us to sit together.
Suddenly, the lights went down, an announcement was made in Spanish and ten musicians with brass instruments, guitars, bass, piano and percussion and vocals took to the stage to deliver a performance called Contra las Cuerdas, which translates roughly as ´against the ropes´, presumably as a comment on the covid fight.
They may have been ´against the ropes´ but like Mohammed Ali did when he ´roped a dope´, these players came out swinging and punching for their lives. It should be noted that these were excellent musicians, and the musical work from each and all of them was spirited and dynamic. There were two lead vocalists, male and female. Gaucecitra Montelongo had a strong yet plaintive voice and her male colleague Isreal Lopez had massive stage presence and delivered great vocals.
The opening number had these two in tandem as their vocals rose over a really full musical accompaniment. We were immediately then alerted to the kind of light and shade we would enjoy throughout the concert as the next song was opened by the sensitive playing of a lone Spanish guitar.
The third offering brought Spanish guitar-style and rock guitar together, before Isreal placed his powerful tones over a strong bass line in the fourth number.
Un Monton de Estreles had another strong vocal over a powerful beat that brought in trumpet, a defining bass line and intricate hand-percussion from those in the audience who knew how to clap in time. I don´t so I didn´t !
There were certain echoes of calypso in this music that were really enjoyable but the revelation of the show was still to come.
Introduced to the stage was a young guest vocalist, Eleiser Betancort. The slow ballad that was performed was enhanced by a pitch-perfect voice, almost operatic in range, but that carried what I call the ´cracked edge´ of a blues singer. Once or twice during the song I could have sworn I was listening to Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith !
Our lead female vocalist returned to lay her voice over rhythmic percussion with great maturity.
There was prominent piano and trumpet on Problemento, which I thought was perhaps the stand-out song of the evening, until our lead female vocalist took the reins again, this time accompanied by acoustic guitar on another lovely song.
I should add that there was an intriguing cinematic backdrop to complement each song, some showing the religious events of past festivals and others celebrating the Lanzarote landscape.
The swirling organ on the next song put me in mind of The Band, but in rhythm and guitar work and shared vocals it reminded me most of the work of former Fleetwood Mac players Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and I can offer no greater praise.
Elieser Betancort returned to deliver another glorious vocal on top of a slow and sad piano track, before our lead vocalists resumed their duties with Montelongo giving us a great version of Aón No Te Has Ido and then allowing Isreal Lopez to take lead vocals again
Esto Que Tu Me Das might not have been my favourite number of the evening but it certainly captured the energy and uniqueness of this band as we approached the conclusion of the concert.
And so, the concert climaxed with one final up-beat performance and it was done.
Although there had been a name check for each member of the ´orchestra´ it was of the rapid lingo I could never catch, and so individuals, in this report anyway, must remain anonymous, but be assured, please that each and every one and their guests deserved great plaudits for their individual and collective performances in what had been the penultimate event of the festival. The curtain would be drawn the following evening with a performance by the wonderful Tonin Corujo Quartet, which we only learned from an overheard conversation as we left the performance area. Alas, we already knew in our hearts that of tickets there would be none, and we were subsequently proved right.
There were four blue uniformed policemen ´surrounding´ our slightly illegally parked car when we finally got back to the vehicle bay that wasn´t ! Oh dear, in England this would have become a breathalyser and a parking fine, and maybe even a towed away and redeem situation, so all we could do was brazen it out, but in a serious and respectful manner. Ignoring all the ´good, constanoon afterble, I´m not as thunk as some people drink I am´ jokes I know, I instead approached the officer nearest the driving door, expecting him to hammer me with some accusation of illicit parking.
´Are you leaving now, sir?´ he asked in English. When I only nodded, slowly and worriedly, he suggested I allow him to guide me out. I reversed out to his directions and left the car park at a gentle pace, and he waved us goodbye as headed for home.
There may be a fine already in the post, I suppose, but no questions were asked and for the millionth time since we came here six years ago I thanked the prevailing gods of common sense who seem to live here under the volcanoes.
Speaking of common sense, though, I was left wondering about why 300 people in designated socially distanced seating in the open air to hear a concert were obliged to do so and even wear makes when in fact we were all surrounded at only six or seven feet distance by thousands of tourists wandering around in groups, eating and drinking in full restaurants and only a tiny percentage of whom were wearing masks. Its very complicated and I am certainly no scientific or medical boffin. Nevertheless, I am struggling to see the logic?