The Calima: I knew it would happen if I stayed here long enough. Maybe that is why I choose to be here for a whole month. I wanted to test how I would handle it.
Periodically, the Canary Islands get choked in Saharan dust that wafts over the ocean from Morocco. Hot dry winds tend to come with it, although today there is a temperature inversion, the dust acting as a shield from the sun. There is little wind at present. And the dust is thick, although not so thick as to blacken the sky. I watched the calima approach from the east this morning. In a few hours it had smothered the island. This is one of the worst I have experienced. You can feel it in your mouth. Can I endure it? Yes, but only by staying inside and closing the windows. It doesn’t sting the nose like bushfire smoke. But it isn’t healthy. Traditionally, I guess this is why those living in desert climes wear scarves over their faces. I would do the same, living here on days like this.
I knew the calima was coming as I have taken to watching Canarian news in an effort to drench myself in Spanish.
About mid-morning, I decided I had to go out, even though I didn’t feel like it. After depositing my recycling in the communal bin on the corner of my street, I wandered back towards the park I can see from my apartment. I found Calle Lanzarote and thought it was quite lovely, even though the photo does not reveal its charm. You can see the haze making the sky dull.
Determined to explore more of the city – I have an awful habit of finding preferred routes and sticking to them, a habit I am determined to break – I stumbled on the island’s main bookstore, Tagaror. Downstairs was filled with children’s books and all sorts of items for school. Stairs led to another floor but there was no sign and I wasn’t that sure if it was private. I was about to leave when I summoned the courage to ask and was directed up to the main bookstore. I entered a large room that Oxford itself would be proud of, one half given over to fiction. I went to the non-fiction section and browsed the shelves. There was an Esoteric section, appropriately named for what it is, and not New Age or some other euphemism.
No Alice Bailey.
I did find probably the only book written in the English language in the store.
I felt embarrassed paying for it, especially when the assistant spoke to me in English. I have become awfully shy speaking Spanish. I need to take a bold pill. When I do summon the courage, the response is very positive, especially when I announce I am Australian.
While in the bookstore I made an important assessment. Tagoror is a bookstore for the local Spanish-speaking population. The two tables containing books of the Canary Islands featured two fiction authors, one who lives in Lanzarote and another who used to live in Fuerteventura and is now based in Gran Canaria. I doubt either sell many copies, but what was obvious was my books, written in English, would have no place there in that bookstore. Few English browsers would venture up the stairs. If my books were translated into Spanish and published locally then they might stand a chance of doing okay, but only if I lived here. And even then, I would have to find a way of gaining acceptance as a British-Australian, when culturally, the islands will rightly champion their own. I would have to navigate the terrain of cultural appropriation, not in the content of my fiction, but in my very presence as a non-Canarian author on the island. It seems an awful lot of effort to sell a few books. But is that what my role here, if I had a role here, would really be about?
My stay in Puerto del Rosario, as distinct from any of the many tourist towns on the island, has left me in no doubt that there are two Fuerteventuras. One comprises the tourism and the migrants (perhaps including the Spanish from the mainland), the other is made up of the local population, those born in the Canary Islands, and they live a life as much as possible entirely separate from the tourism they can scarcely avoid. It is as though, in Puerto del Rosario, through their determination not to cater for tourists, especially in the way they fashion their shops and cafes for themselves, they are making it clear they do not want to invite in outsiders. It’s a silent statement and it is very obvious. They don’t want to make it all that easy, not because they are hostile, but rather because they are holding on to their own cultural identity. And if Tagoror is anything to go by, there is a large educated reading public in this town. With that middle class, will come an intellectually strengthened cultural pride.
Of course, these are only my observations and speculations. I am going on brief impressions. But I am observant. And I am trying to imagine myself living here. How would I fit in?
Australia shares with the Canary Islands a love affair with all things local and as an author, I have come up against this many times. Local sells, because people love to read about their own place and tourists love to read about places they’ve visited. Hence travel fiction. Local also sells in cultures that feel invaded or vulnerable in some way, which applies to both the Canary Islands and Australia.
My problem is the only place that inspires me to write over and again is this island Fuerteventura, and it feels weird continuing in this vein when I live in Australia. I am caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should I relocate? I have been considering the possibility for three years. I only have a few months to make up my mind thanks to Brexit.
Alas my walk about town was curtailed by the thickening dust. I can still feel it in my mouth writing this. Normally, you can see the ocean in the first photo below.
Making a life-changing choice is never easy. Right now, my mind is as dusty as the horizon.
Incidentally, while in Tagoror I browsed a glossy hardback explaining how climate change would affect the Canary Islands. From what I could gather examining the various charts, the average temperatures here should remain reasonably stable. But the prevailing wind is shifting to the east and bringing with it more calima days, more days of Saharan dust.
Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of two novels set in Fuerteventura: Clarissa’s Warning and A Prison in the Sun.