Every year, at the time of the Los Dolores Pilgrimage, there is a craft fair at Mancha Blanca. Norman went along this year.
It is among the island’s most imposing, and impressive, mountains, rising alone as it does from one of the largest flat stretches of land on Lanzarote. So called because its surface seems almost white compared to the reds of the Timanfaya range and the lush greens of those hills around Haria, Mancha Blanca has none of the jagged edges and crater toppings we are more used to. It seems almost to be the upper part of a giant football someone has buried in the land, and although I am no geologist it seems to me to be the gullies etched into its sides, by who knows what ecological phenomenon, that lend the mountain its whiteness.
It is easily approachable, and pretty hard to miss, from wherever you are on the island but the nearer you get, the more surprises you discover in the area, with the most breath-taking of those being the emita de los Dolores (Lady Of Sorrows) church that stands at a road junction in seemingly in the middle of nowhere, causing you to wonder who on earth might worship at this impressive and proud building, that stands at an odd angle as if not built quite square on.
We know the region quite well by now and indeed when we made our visit in Mid September to the Feria De Artesania it was the third or fourth of these wonderful annual events we had seen. On previous occasions we have heard melodious folklore ringing out over the long stretches of ‘market stalls’ crowded by islanders all looking on proudly at marvellous arrays of intricately crafted art works, many of which serve, too, as useful items like garden tools and kitchen implements. There are also tourists joining the crowds at this third day of the event and any visitors to the island, and those of us who are new residents here, are made welcome.
In fact, there was a little information booth where young ladies were delighted to answer any queries and to hand out relevant literature about the event, including one especially well produced document. The Guia de artesanos de Lanzarote introduced the sixty stall holders and craftsmen working in the market area and even had a few words about their specialist skills.
And the stall holders love to talk proudly about their work and how they honed their traditional crafts at the feet of grandparents and mums and dads. The Lanzarote Crafts Fair is effectively the artists and artisans of the island displaying their wares and reminding each other of the breadth of skills available on Lanzarote and where to find them to commission them.
Tourists especially will purchase goods at the stalls, and residents like us, and so, too, will Lanzarotenos but for the islanders it is a mostly a case of collecting a business card from each stall and some of the countless, informative leaflets and storing them for the big family shopping days for birthdays, weddings and Christmas.
Don’t be afraid to engage, though. We bought a very simple, very effective small toy for our eight year old grand-daughter and the vendor seemed delighted to learn, when he could finally make some sense of my mangled Spanglish, that the perfectly hand crafted and hand painted ‘magic acrobat’ was to be sent tumbling further round the world to our son and his family, now living in South Korea. Call it ‘Coals to Newcastle’ or ‘Owls to Athens’ if you like, but it is another example of Lanzarote reminding the world that we are an island that might, like some of its toys, be small, but also like its toys, is perfectly formed.
My wife Dee makes more strenuous effort than I to speak in Spanish and so when we purchased some cake and biscuits to take home for tea the lovely lady at the other side of the ‘counter’ was happy to describe the ingredients of these homemade goodies.
However, just like the stall holders at Skipton or Bury markets, (those we most frequented in the UK) she was also happy to be unhappy about the weather.
It was already so hot, she said, and this really should be siesta time, but she would be here until at least nine o’clock at night, by which time things would become very busy because a lot of people would turn up at the end of their working day. Dee sympathised with her that at least then she might be able to go home and put her feet up, but was reminded in response that the poor lady would then have to begin baking new stock for tomorrow !
We were speaking with this lady on what was the third day of a programme that began on Wednesday 12th September and ran through until Sunday 16th. The advertising leaflets were promising that each of these days would hold ‘partying’ at live music events, a childrens’ play centre, gofio tasting sessions and live performances by music students.
On the Friday of our visit there were to be clay modelling and ceramics workshops and a live performance of folklore music. Nevertheless, there were fewer people there than would have been at the official opening two days earlier and, it being around 1.15 when we arrived there, we sensed a siesta like lull in proceedings.
This gave us the opportunity to walk the long, tented avenues of craft stalls that included work by, potters, painters, ceramicists and crocheters and carpenters, across a range of works in wool and wood. The hand carved wooden items included toys, model boats and planes and many stand alone art deco items for the home. There were Timples being made as well handmade hats and jewellery.
All this reminded me that when I worked in the UK as ‘a literary artist’ I was always struck, when talking to artists working in other fields, by how similar were our work processes.
I once worked with an international lettering artist called Stephen Raw, who wrote the maps showed burning on the Indiana Jones movies. For the project we were working on Stephen’s raw material was pottery and mine poetry. I noticed how if he could not make one his pots fit for purpose, Stephen would lock it in a trunk full of what he called his ‘broken pottery’. This chest was full of cracked or chipped first attempts, as was my drawer of failed rhymes or incomplete pieces that I called my ‘broken poetry.’ To conclude our project, Stephen took one of my half written rhymes and inscribed it on to one of his own damaged pieces, and hence we ended up with an item called Broken Poetry On Broken Pottery which each of us then used in our own workshops to generate thought and discussion among our students.
Imagine my amazement, then, to see a ceramics stall here on the island, twenty years later, holding examples of similar damaged goods turned into viable commodities.
The great joy in arriving in the middle of the middle day of the festival was that we had some time to stand and stare rather than just follow the flow of the crowds. We could see the different perspective lent to the landscape by the addition of what had become effectively a massive tented village.
Across the road and beyond the church were several refreshment stalls with shaded areas and a more then decent range of food and drink. We settled for a stew of pork and potato, not too far removed from the Lancashire Hot Pots of our former life in the UK, and a couple of cold beers. The area was full of local families, and the fact that tables were set out to accommodate six or eight people showed the tradition of this market being a family event. It was from the vantage point of our seats, though, that we could see how what at first seems like a little village fete actually takes on the aspect of the Woodstock Festival of the sixties.
There, at the foot of Mancha Blanca. was a vibrant fairground of wicked waltzers and dodgy dodgems and coils of coloured candy floss, all sited behind a huge stage arena for some of the major live concerts that would be performed at various times in the week.
As we left we stopped in at the church. As you approach it by road, and perhaps because it is built on an angle as I mentioned earlier, the church seems a massive monument, solitary and gleaming white, in an otherwise almost deserted area. However, unlike so many other churches we have visited on the island that seem, Tardis-like, to be bigger on the inside, this one seems huge on the outside but shrinks into a beautifully adorned, but small and spiritual, space.
As Dee lowered her head in prayer I sat beside her, reflecting on the fact that this market, with its music and fairgrounds, is actually surrounding the very special and reverent festival of Dolores, as described by Miguel in a recent Lanzarote Information newsletter. He spoke of how families of islanders annually make a walking pilgrimage, often in national costume, from anywhere on the island to pay their respects and offer their thanks to Dolores, and to then join in the procession that takes the statue of her around the area.
We left in the early evening and meandered back to Playa Blanca, taking every previously ignored turning we could, and finding some amazing new vistas along the way. By the time we arrived home we were both ready for a nice cup of Horlicks, (though other beverages are available) and a few of the biscuits we had bought earlier. There were some lemon flavoured types and some that were of coconut taste and we buttered the slices of cake. As we cleared our plates and emptied our cups I remarked to Dee that the food had been lovely. She looked at the clock, showing half ten, and said ‘yes, and to think that poor lady will be starting to bake all over again as soon as she gets home!’
Read about Romeria los Dolores.