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La Gomera

Damien Enright on La Gomera

* It is one of the charms of La Gomera that vestiges of the early hippy days are left, and that many visitors choose this Canary Island especially because of it. I refer to one unique place, a fifty yard stretch of broken road outside Maria’s Bar, on the main beach, called La Playa. In the evenings, as many as one hundred holidaymakers may gather around Maria’s from about five thirty on, to buy beers and sit on the stones across the road which slope gently down to the black sand and the sea. Each evening, drummers arrive, hirsute hippies with congas, bongos and tablas, men and women with a variety of drums. As the huge orange sun sinks behind the island of El Hierro on the horizon, the ritual of the drumming down of the sun begins.

* Here comes the sun! At ten to nine each morning, it touches the peaks of bare rock two and a half thousand feet above the floor of our valley; the sky above them is peerless blue. As the clock hands move on, it seeps down the cliffs, down the un-climbable slopes, down the high, abandoned terraces; it lights up the orange dates on the hundred-foot-tall Canarian palms and, by nine twenty am, reaches the green of the highest cultivated land. Amongst the dark green avocados, the red-roofed white houses, on their shelves of terraces, shine in the sun.

* These days, returning from the sea, I carry a hat-full of wild tomatoes. It is the nature of fruit that the crop matures all at once and that today we have a feast, tomorrow a famine. As with apples in Irish orchards, so it is with the wild tomatoes which could presently be collected by the bushel on waste ground on the coastal lowlands, if anyone bothered. They don’t. I arrive home with my hat full or my shirt stuffed with tiny, bright red, cherry tomatoes, still on the vines. They are sweet, and free.

* The sunset yesterday evening was classic, plastered across the western sky from north to south, going from yellow to gold to scarlet and all the spectrum of reds between. What I liked most was the patches of ultramarine and duck-egg blue. There is no blue like sunset blue; the comparison with a duck-egg is inadequate, beautiful as is the egg. In the case of this blue, one might dare say that art can equal nature. The place I believe one can best see it – if anyone is interested – is in the skies of Goya’s early, pastoral paintings and, possibly, in Vermeer’s blues.

* It was great to be out on the blue ocean the other afternoon lifting glittering mackerel out of the sea into the boat. My son’s friend, Jonay, had taken us out. We stood about a mile offshore, hauling in fish until there were enough in the bucket to make two dinners; then we stopped. Not all the fish were mackerel; there were lovely pink ‘breca’ too, red sea bream, a meaty white fish, about ten inches long. The mackerel are smaller than ours, with a wavy blue pattern, and are a more delicate taste; they are less oily, perhaps.

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