Nativity Scenes in the Canaries

Christmas trees are a newish thing here, although probably most houses have one now. The main traditional decoration is nativity scenes. Some just show the stable, but some public ones are so elaborate that they include the whole village, and it’s always a Canarian village. Obviously that’s historically inaccurate, but no more so than all the English nativity scenes where Mary and Jesus are blond.

This one was on display in Santa Cruz de la Palma last year. As you can see, it came complete with moving figures and running water. In fact the lights at the back are on a timer, and simulate sunset, night, and morning too. I didn’t include that on the video, because it took too long and I didn’t think the camera would film the low light levels anyway.

Usually a large nativity scene (belen in Spanish) includes at least one person squatting behind the bushes. If there’s one here, I missed it.

The Dodo Dragon and other stories.

I am the last and I am lonely.

Last night I saw three of the large moons hanging together, with the sea sparkling and dancing below.

It gave me no pleasure. There was no-one to share it.


For a full year before my first mating, the males gave me no peace. I miss them now. They thronged the air round me, begging me to fly with them, until the air shimmered.

They were all surprised when I chose Uao for my mate. True, he was rather small, even for a male. He wasn’t properly transparent either; he looked more like smoke than water, so that he cast a faint shadow and his lunch sometimes saw him coming.

“It’s not really a problem,” he said. “I hunt with the sun in my eyes, so my shadow’s behind me. I have to squint a bit, that’s all.”

Uao’s slight smokiness dimmed the brilliant tracery of his veins, but it set off the pale rainbow sheen on his skin to perfection. To me he was even more beautiful than a perfectly transparent dragon.

Besides, he made me laugh. Often I came back to my perch to find that he had left me some fish, and arranged them into the shape of one giant fish, or a dragon, or a heart. He did that sort of thing all year round, not just a few days before mating. And he looked into my eyes not under my tail all the time.

Oh there was no-one like Uao! I knew he’d make a wonderful father too. I could hardly wait for spring and the mating flight.


One winter’s night, a ball of fire streaked across the sky. It caused a great deal of comment. Some said that it was a very large shooting star, others that one of the mountains must be spitting fire again. I wanted to see for myself, so a group of us set off in great excitement. We visited twenty or so islands, but four days later we returned disappointed. Every island was boringly normal.

One of the elders called a meeting, and said he’d seen one of these fireballs before. It was only a shooting star, and it happened perhaps once in a dragon’s lifetime, if the dragon was lucky. He had seen one himself, many years ago. Nothing for us youngsters to worry about.

“Pompous old ass!” said Uao that night. We were lying side by side as usual, with our tails entwined, and Uao’s wing over my back. It was too small to keep out the cold, but it gave me a cosy feeling anyway.

“Who?” I asked.

“Eo the Elder,” said Uao. “He doesn’t know any more about that fireball than we do.”

“But he said he’d seen one,” I objected sleepily.

“Only after we went and found there were no fire mountains. If he’d really seen one before, you’d think he’d remember straight away. It was pretty memorable.”

“True.” Uao had a way of being right.

“One thing,” Uao continued. “If we ever do find out what it was, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of dragons pretending that they knew all along, or at least that they had a feeling about it.”

He was right about that too. Eventually almost everyone claimed to have known that it was an omen. They just didn’t feel the need to mention it for the first three years, that’s all.

Perhaps forty nights later we saw another twelve fireballs, all in V formation like migrating dragons.

“Once in a lifetime?” murmured Uao. “My, my. Aren’t we doing well.”

There were no more fireballs, or at least we saw no more, and the memory began to fade.

We never did find out whether the fire balls had anything to do with the disaster.

To continue reading, click here to buy the book for only 1.99€ and get another 8 stories too.

Cancajos Salt Pans

The wind pumps that lifted seawater into the salt pans at Cancajos, Brena Baja, La Palma
The wind pumps that lifted seawater into the salt pans

You can visit a working salt factory on the southern tip of La Palma, but if you’re staying in Cancajos, in Breña Baja, it’s worth taking a peak at the ruined salt factory.

The sea front promenade runs south from the main beach along the top of a low cliff, and it’s a very pleasant walk. It’s smooth and flat enough for push chairs.

A couple of stone towers stand towards the southern end of the promenade. The one nearer the path looks as though it might have been a castle, or a watch-tower for whatever was behind the long stone wall on the landward side.

Actually, it’s a salt factory.

The old water channel at Cancajos, Brena Baja, La Palma
The tower nearest the sea used to have a windmill on top. This lifted the water up into the channel so that it ran to the tank in the second tower, and a second wind pump sent it further inland to the building on the other side of the modern path. There, it was poured
into shallow pools, where the sun evaporated the water, leaving salt.

The factory was built in the early 19th century, but I haven’t been able to find out when it stopped working. If anybody finds out, please let me know.

The shallow pans for drying out the sea water at Cancajos, Brena Baja, La Palma The shallow pans for drying out the sea water

A Breathtaking Window on the Universe

A Breathtaking Window cover

“A Breathtaking Window on the Universe: A guide to the observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos SECOND EDITION”
By Sheila M. Crosby
(Non-Fiction Paperback)
164 pages (16 more than the first edition)

Welcome to the Roque de Los Muchachos, where 15 telescopes from 19 nations use the best night sky in Europe to explore the cosmos. Find out what it’s like to work in this strange world above the clouds. Learn about each telescope, how they’re run, and a little of what they’ve discovered.

This book is written for the general public rather than professional astronomers, with over 120 photos and diagrams, and a full glossary of all the technical terms for non-geeks.

To see more detailsor to buy the book online, go to Dragon Tree Publishing. To see the list of places on LA Palma which stock it, go here.

Canary Bell Flower

Canarina canariensis the Canary bell flower in Los Tilos, San Andres y Sauces

Canarina canariensis the Canary bell flower in Los Tilos, San Andres y Sauces

This is the Canary bellflower, Canarina canariensis, which has no close living relatives. It scrambles over things, like bindweed, with a stem up to 3 m long, and produces these lovely flowers in December. All the examples I’ve found so far this year are in Los Tilos, on the road up to the visitor centre.

Canarina canariensis the Canary bell flower in Los Tilos, San Andres y Sauces

Canarina canariensis the Canary bell flower in Los Tilos, San Andres y Sauces

Book extract: Mr Pock-Pock

Illustration and first page of Mr Pock-Pock. Click on the image to see a bigger version

Illustration and first page of Mr Pock-Pock
Click on the image to see a larger version

This is the first page of “Mr Pock-Pock”, one of the stories in my anthology, “The Seer’s Stone”. Click on the link for a larger version. It makes a great Christmas present for a child aged between 10 and 12. You can get more information about the book (and how to buy it) here.

La Palma’s Embroidery Museum

The table cloth on the stairs of the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaThe table cloth on the stairs

La Palma has a long tradition of gorgeous embroidery. As I mentioned in my previous post, the embroidery museum is upstairs in the Red House, in Mazo. This gorgeous tablecloth in broderie anglaise is halfway up the stairs.

Assisi embroidery in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaAssisi embroidery, a form of cross stitch. About the only thing in the museum I could see myself making.

Now I’m fairly good at cross stitch, but the stuff in here is waaaaaaaaaaay out of my league. For one thing, it’s not done on aida cloth, which makes it obvious where the stitches go. This is all on fine cotton or silk, or occasionally linen.

Broderie anglaise in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaBroderie Anglaise

The commonest kinds of embroidery here are satin stich (bordado indefinido) , and a variation of broderie anglaise called rechi or richelieu.

A fish in satin stitch in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaA fish in satin stitch

In the days before modern embroidery kits, pattens were copied onto tissue paper, and the lines marked out with lots of tiny pinholes. Then the tissue paper was laid onto the cloth, and blue dye ironed over it, so that the dye went through the pinhole and onto the fabric.

Materials to transfer a pattern to the cloth in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaHow to transfer a pattern to the cloth

A lot of the embroidery is so fine, I think you’d need young eyes and daylight to do it. So you’d spend years learning to work to that amazing standard, and then you’d have to give up by the age of forty.

Fine satin stitch on a cuff in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaFine satin stitch on a cuff

You know, I have mixed feeling about it. These are real works of art, and I’m always glad to see beauty created. But the vast majority of it was only created because some people could afford to buy a year of someone else’s time. For example, these embroidered sheets and pillow case for a cradle are absolutely beautiful, but it’s really not practical. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but 19th century nappies can’t have been leak-proof, and babies’ cute little faces aren’t leak-proof either. Much as I coo over tiny people, I wouldn’t put one down on embroidered silk.

A cradle full of embroidered silk in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaA cradle full of embroidered silk.

And this towel is far too lovely to dry your behind on, unless you were fairly contemptuous of the person who made it.

Satin stitch towel in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaSatin stitch towel. Imagine drying your bum on that!

The museum is signposted from the main road through Mazo, and in any case, it’s a pretty distinctive building. It costs 2€ to get in (1.50€ for residents) for both the embroidery museum and the Corpus Christi museum. It’s open from 10 am to 2 pm Monday to Friday, and 11 am – 6 pm on Saturdays. Phone 922 428 587

Satin stitch on a priest's vestments in the embroidery museum, Mazo, La PalmaSatin stitch on a priest’s vestments

The Red House in Mazo

The Red House, Mazo, La PalmaThe Red House, Mazo

La Palma’s embroidery museum is upstairs in the Red House in Mazo. (I’ll write about that in my next post.) Downstairs is a museum about the fiesta of Corpus Christi in Mazo. If you’re on La Palma for June 4th next year, for goodness’ sake go and see the archways. If not, I strongly recommend the museum.

Some of the things used to make the Corpus Christi archwaysSome of the things used to make the Corpus Christi archways, and a block for chopping them up.

The fiesta is in honour of the Eucharist — the body of Christ. Every year since the 1950s, they’ve decorate the streets with spectacular archways and carpets covered with flowers, seeds and leaves, and small parts of these archways are in the museum. Well, when I say “small”, they’re a small percentage of the whole. The cross below is about four feet high, but the biggest archway is about ten metres (33ft) high.

Corpus Christi CrossCorpus Christi Cross

And below, you can see the details of the cross. It makes me wonder how many hours it took to do the whole thing.

Detail of the crossDetail of the cross

The museum is signposted from the main road through Mazo, and in any case, it’s a pretty distinctive building. It costs 2€ to get in (1.50€ for residents) and it’s open from 10 am to 2 pm Monday to Friday, and 11 am – 6 pm on Saturdays. Phone 922 428 587

A fish used to decorate an archwayA fish used to decorate an archway.

An anthology of Children’s stories about La Palma

Front cover for The Seer’s Stone

Front cover for The Seer’s Stone

This is an anthology of children’s stories set on La Palma, all over the island and at times from 1493 to the near future. The paperback book is available in English and Spanish. (148 pages, A5)

Take a journey through La Palma’s turbulent past, into its present and out into the exciting future. Chedey will tell you how his world collapsed when the Spanish conquered the Island in 1493, Althay will explain what happened when the volcano erupted, Daida shares her visit from an extraterrestrial and Leyre will take you out into space.

As you travel you’ll learn what happens when:

  • Everyone expects you to tell the future but you don’t know how,
  • You don’t know when you have to save your friend, or how,
  • Most people think the world will end on Wednesday night,
  • There’s no more exploring left to do,
  • You find the lost island of San Borondón,
  • His Lordship decides you’d make good dragon-food,
  • Pirates want to sell you as a slave,
  • The volcano erupts,
  • Aliens kidnap you, or try to save the world, or get lost on their way to Las Palmas,
  • You get lots of weird birthday presents from people who don’t normally give you anything.

Cover painting and 14 B&W illustrations by Jorge Beda and Mercedes Martín.

Cover for La piedra ocular

Cover for La piedra ocular

Sheila Crosby is originally from Leeds, but she lives in the Canary Islands, just off the North West coast of Africa. She caught the writing bug at high school, and she still hasn’t found a cure. Over the years, she’s sold over fifty stories, plus a handful of articles. “The Seer’s Stone” is her second anthology of fiction.

You can buy either book direct from the author at Dragon Tree Publishing or at bookshops and tourist shops around the island. (Although the Spanish books have only just arrived, and may take a while to distribute.)

Jorge Beda exhibition

Two of Jorge Beda's big paintings

Two of Jorge Beda’s big paintings

The current art exhibition in the Calle Real is “Comida de Ballena” (Whale Food) by the painter and sculptor Jorge Beda who produced many of the public statues around the island. The exhibition features large expensive paintings, small ones for just 50€ and everything in between. It will be up until the end of the month.

A selection of Jorge Beda's small paintings

A selection of Jorge Beda’s small paintings