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Black Girl on Mars

In Denmark you get a week off in February. It’s called winter vacation and should not be mistaken for Christmas vacation (the fact that it is in February is a good hint). It is a remnant of the days of farming, when supposedly the kids were needed at home to help harvest the potatoes. Danes love their potatoes. Isn’t it funny that the potato isn’t even European and wasn’t even brought here until 1536? I figure Columbus was trying to throw his sponsors off the fact that well, no, he didn’t make it to India, and no, he didn’t find all the gold they lusted so heavily after.

If you can afford it, the best plan is to escape the last of the winter gray into a sunny part of the world, where you can cheat your way into Spring, Summer even. Last February, I figured I too, would treat my son and myself to a little sun.

The problem with traveling without purpose is that you often end up somewhere that does not fit you.  I picked Lanzarote because it looked beautiful and it is.  I managed to get a pretty decent rate for tickets and hotel.

Lanzorote is beautiful. It’s a volcanic island in the Canary Islands, a group of islands I have always wanted to visit based on the fact that I knew I could get my Caribbean weather fix, hear Spanish, get out of Denmark and be close to the spot that played not a small part in Columbus launching the seeds of imperialism out into the world. I particularly became interested in the Canary Islands when once, during a bout of researching, I discovered that there was an indigenous group there and they too, were conquered, colonized, but now, no longer existed.

No one in Denmark seems to understand my preoccupation with colonization.  Many don’t even know what it is despite the fact that Denmark once had a slave colony in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands for almost 200 years[1]. In Danish school history books this curiously only occupies a page, whereas WW2 which spanned  six years, is granted 100s pages.

But anyway, I became intrigued by the Guanches[2] of the Canary Islands because throughout my travels around the world, one thing made itself particularly clear: We are actually not that far away from each other as we think we are. For example, something as simple as housing, whether you’re in Hawai’i, the Caribbean, the U.S. South, South America, Africa, you will see that there is a pattern there. In these places, you will find galvanized rooftops, verandahs, wooden louvers: all clues of the European adjusting to tropical climes.  If you come from a country that has once been colonized by a certain European country, well, chances are you have just as much in common with that European country and other colonies than you do with your ancestors.

So Lanzarote. I was excited. My son and I looked at pictures of it on the internet for days, commenting on its black, volcanic landscape.

When we landed a wall of heat hit us as we deplaned that took me back to the Caribbean. Ah, I am home, I think.

As we drive in the taxi to our hotel, my son’s smile is as large as the sky, and we can’t help but comment on the white-washed houses glittering like diamonds against its backdrop of black lava-covered landscape. The sky is blue and the hotel, once we arrived, sprawling.

It’s always a good time to travel when the economy is bust. Prices go down as the wise hold on tighter to their money. It is the fools who fuel the economy.

So for a very modest price my son and I were able to stay in a five star hotel, with an ocean-view and 3 resident swimming pools. After we enter the hotel room, we immediately raid the fridge for goodies. We bounce on the bed and contemplate the view.

Lanzarote is, indeed magical. The staff, gracious. We soon learn the grounds, the way to the small town and enjoy the fact that a. we are out of Denmark and b. the weather is fantastic.  There isn’t much to do the first day we arrive except discover our neighboring town. Fortunately for us, it is populated with a few good places to eat. That night, before we sleep and wake up to start the day with the breakfast buffett, my son and I look up at the sky and it is as if the stars are all bowing down to us.  The perspective of the night sky, from that location and time of year was spectacular. I showed my son the Pleiades star constellation[3] which resembles an arrow, and from that I was able to discover, for the first time Orion.

In an attempt to sustain whatever connection my son may still have to the Universe, I have begun taking an interest in all things nature. But this ends up being pathetic disparate attempts at gathering information from the internet in a life not able to contemplate its own existence. How can I catch him, while I am falling?

It should be apparent to you by now, in case I have not mentioned it, that one of the ways you can describe my current state of mind, if you want to avoid crazy, is by using the term mid-life crisis.[4]

I’m like what is going on? What are we all doing here? Why are people running around like they know what this is all about, but don’t? Nobody does! And then I start thinking, imagine if everybody in the whole world just kind of stopped. I kind of envision like every single human being stopping what they are doing, putting down their guns, getting off their computers, turning the tv off, putting that hoe down in the field kind of thing and come together. Come together and decide, we’re going to figure this life thing out. We’re not going to leave it to philosophers or other people of science, we’re not going to hand it over to religion, we’re going to look into ourselves and each other. We’ll make LIFE our focus. It’ll be like a world contemplate life day, except it won’t be just one day, it will be our priority, til we get it right.

I know what you’re thinking: in your dreams. And then I’ll tell you, you know what? I can only cry in my dreams, but one day, I really do hope to make those tears real.

But until then, I attempt to squeeze my contemplation of life in between teaching disgruntled students who want only to learn grammar, and a child who thinks what he sees on television is normal.  Why does everything have to be so alienated from the other?

So I endeavor to decode the skies and stars. I plot all the full moons into my calendar for the rest of the year. This I do in Lanzarote. My son admits that the constellations are magnificient. I do think he manages to get the enormity of it, just enough to snap him from the ipod stuper he seems to be in of late.

So that night we rest, my son and I, in Lanzarote, thinking, hey, we certainly beat the system this time! In the middle of the winter, we have escaped south…

 

One of the reasons I need to leave Denmark is because I find it suffocating.  I realized, while living here, how important it is for me to see difference.  But when you live in a country that was cited by the right-wing Norwegian suspected of recently blowing up Timothy McVeigh style some buildings in Oslo, Norway’s capital, as one of the only two European countries to have it right (read: anti-immigration policies firmly in place) then you get my drift when I tell you that difference is certainly not celebrated in a country like Denmark.

To put it mildly: I can’t even wear my hair out in this place.

So traveling has become a kind of cure for this.  I have used Copenhagen as my European base to see, well, more of Europe.  It is in this spirit that I traveled to London and experienced a multiculturalism I thought only existed in New York or Trinidad for that matter. It is in this spirit that I traveled to Madrid and experienced, well, how not culturally diverse that city was.  It was in this spirit that I traveled to Berlin, only to be flanked by the overpowering, opulent architecture that can only had been designed to make human beings feel, well, small.  It was in this spirit that I traveled to Amsterdam, and reveled in the First Annual Black Women in Europe Festival, and fell in love with the Surinamese people, recognizing my Caribbean roots in their food, their faces, their spirits.

But this time, although it belonged to Europe, it was not the mainland, and again, I was intrigued by the idea that the Canary Islands was once inhabited by a aboriginal people that were perhaps, related to the Berbers of Northern Africa. The Guanches are described as being tall, blue eyed and blond. Who spoke in a language of whistles.

The next day at the breakfast buffet, my son leaned in towards me and whispered, over the table, “Mom, we really stand out here.”  There we were, yet again, although far from Copenhagen, two rare birds sticking out amongst a sea of pigeons.  I vowed that I would never travel like that again. We wanted to escape the conformity of Denmark, but found ourselves entering the conformity of the world.

 


[1] 162 years in fact. It was sold to the U.S. in 1916 for 25 million U.S. dollars, which is equivalent to 428,000,000  2010 U.S. dollars.

[2] Strictly speaking, the Guanches were the indigenous peoples of Tenerife, where the population seems to have lived in relative isolation up to the time of the Castilian conquest, around the 14th century (though Genoese, Portuguese, and Castilians may have visited there from the second half of the 8th century onwards). The name came to be applied to the original populations of Tenerife island.

Many Guanches died resisting the new colonizers, while others died from infectious diseases that accompanied the invaders, diseases to which the Guanches, because of their long isolation, had little immunity.

What remains of their language, Guanche—a few expressions, vocabulary words and the proper names of ancient chieftains still borne by certain families—exhibits positive similarities with the Berber languages.[4][5] The first reliable account of Guanche language was provided by the Genoese explorer Nicoloso da Recco in 1341, with a translation of numbers used by the islanders.

Petroglyphs attributed to various Mediterranean civilizations have been found on some of the islands. In 1752, Domingo Vandewalle, a military governor of Las Palmas, attempted to investigate them, and Aquilino Padron, a priest at Las Palmas, catalogued inscriptions at El Julan, La Candía and La Caleta on El Hierro. In 1878 Dr. R. Verneau discovered rock carvings in the ravines of Las Balos that resemble Libyan or Numidic writing from the time of Roman occupation or earlier. In other locations, Libyco-Berber script has been identified. However, according to European chroniclers, the Guanches did not possess a system of writing at the time of conquest.

[3] is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. Pleiades has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.

[4] What’s a midlife crisis? It’s the stuff of jokes and stereotypes — the time in life when you do outrageous, impractical things like quit a job impulsively, buy a red sports car, or dump your spouse. For years, midlife crisis conjured those images. But these days, the old midlife crisis is more likely to be called a midlife transition — and it’s not all bad.The term crisis often doesn’t fit, mental health experts say, because while it can be accompanied by serious depression, it can also Mike a period of tremendous growth. The trick, of course, is to realize when the transition is developing into depression so you can get help. –Web MD: Better Information! Better Health! (I’m not making this name up)

Excerpt from Copenhagen, a novel-in-progress by Lesley-Ann Brown

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