The Best Little Shop in the World (Part II)

By William J. Furney

Issac, my massive (you’re not allowed to say “morbidly obese”, in case it upsets someone) taxi driver the last time I was here, got the boot, it seems. Perhaps he grew too large for the driver’s seat, because on the previous occasion, in August, he had to properly squeeze himself into position. 

Instead, on arrival at the airport on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, I got a young lad, Raúl, with an attitude — one that said, “I’m too good for this job”. 

Are you from here? I enquired.

“Yes, here,” he abruptly replied, meaning the volcanic island’s capital, Arrecife, which translates as “reef”, and there are several of the rocky structures fronting the coastal city not far from the airport.

Raúl took me to a main supermarket in the city, before we drove on to the remote, coastal, nudist village of Charco del Palo, and even though I was paying more for the privilege of him waiting, I gave Raúl a €20 tip. “Un regalo Navidad,” I said (“a Christmas present), because that’s the kind of generous mood I was in, having taken the brief and scenic flight from Gran Canaria, to escape the raucous festive season there and New Year’s Eve fireworks that absurdly go on until the early hours, rendering the place like Beirut in the bad old days and making sleep impossible.   

Four months on, and after a six-week tour of Europe that took in England, Cyprus, Mykonos and Athens, I was dropping out all over again, after a tumultuous year in which my father passed away and, now, my youngest sister was threatening to sue me over his will, in which he left his country house and land to me, and none of my other five siblings. She claims she was promised the property, in Ireland, and that she didn’t get anything; but she’s not mentioned in the will and managed to pressure my father into giving her a plot of land on the property that was signed over to her in December last year. She got land; now she wants the lot, and is currently squatting on the property and refusing to leave.

So I returned to the middle of nowhere, to take my mind off the increasingly nasty affair (and to get some quiet): a rugged place of sharp beauty beside a generally flat Atlantic Ocean; big, bony hills; deserted lands marked by crumbling rock-walls, ancient lava flows that spill into the sea; and arresting cactus fields that go on for miles. 

If you’re looking for diversity here, you can forget about it. Everyone is white (and well-fed — one of my neighbours is so enormous he can hardly move) — and mostly of a certain vintage. It is another little Canary Island zone of white privilege, a perennially hot place where wealth and excess coexist, a kind of exclusive club where the colour of your skin and size of your bank balance matter above all else. 

The people here are not shy. An elderly, portly man said to me as I was walking along the beach to the sole supermarket on New Year’s Eve, after I greeted him with a “buenos dias”: “I like your body — the shape.” Nothing creepy or sexual about it — just an appreciation of the human body and a desire to express it. These are the kind of people you get here. 

Business at the shop — subject of a previous dispatch; and “supermarket” really is a stretch — is booming, but the mouldy bread and decaying veg remain. The shopkeeper, a local man, seems happier, his shelves fuller, his opening hours longer — and he’s installing a new and larger vegetable-display rack. 

For my previous article on the shop, I snapped a mouldy loaf of artisan bread. It appeared to be still in place, only the mould had turned from green into a disturbing shade of yellow. Further down the shelf was now also a sliced loaf of white bread that had been sitting on a shelf for well over a week and was covered in green mould. Perhaps the shopkeeper was hoping someone, seeking additional ingredients (or poorly sighed, given the aged residents), might buy it. 

Enticing new products have, however, appeared, including one bottle of avocado oil, which costs more than double the €5 I pay for it elsewhere. Mine, which I bought at that big supermarket in Arrecife, is running out, as I also use it as a sunscreen (in addition to cooking tofu and seitan), so I may be forced to splash out. And they’ve even produced a business card with a 2022 calendar on the back — seemingly unaware that we carry calendars with us almost always, courtesy of our phones, and that it’s an environmentally destructive marketing method, what with all the planet-saving trees that were felled. 

Oil Business: Pricey avocado and other oils on sale at the only shop in Charco del Palo, Lanzarote. (Photo: William J. Furney)

And if you’re wondering what all the cacti are about — they’re not for the plants but insects that live on them. They’re called cochineals, and when they’re ground up, they turn into a purplish colour that’s used in foods and makeup — so not very vegan at all. Harvesting the tiny creatures is now mostly an activity that’s dying out, local resident Alexander Ott told me, and, he said, if residents want to clear their land of cacti, they can’t.  

“It’s forbidden to eliminate the plantations as they are protected … you can’t even take the plants away on your own property to build a house,” he said. 

“But since tourism started on Lanzarote at the beginning of the 70s, nearly all agriculture activities came to a standstill. This is, of course, not good, and we all here on the island noticed this during the last two years, when we had this covid crisis. It’s really a pity.” 

Beetle Juice: The white areas of these cactus plants are colonies of insects, a type of beetle, that are harvested to make a dye — but it’s a dying industry. (Photo: William J. Furney)

Local people can also forget about turning to finishing as a way to make a living, because that’s banned too. 

“Commercial fishing is forbidden as our former Spanish president José María Aznar changed the fishing rights for oil exploitation rights in front of our coast,” Alexander, a German with long, blond locks, said. “This happened in early 2000. So some 10 years ago, we had oil platforms — even if not visible as they were too far away from the coast.”

At least the shopkeeper in this remote village has a thriving business — mouldy bread and pricey oil and all.

  • Title photograph, of the only shop in Charco del Palo, Lanzarote, is by William J. Furney.

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