La Inglesa

La Inglesa

We don't use bars very often. Sometimes we'd shove the cleaning bag under the nearest table and sit down trying to look like rich Brits. Lizzie can do this well. The boy Carlos referred to her as "La Inglesa", pointing at our table. I just look like her regular minder. There are a few other friends who do their own cleaning, but we are a socially inconspicuous bunch compared with the rich ones who have been in the holiday business long enough and with sufficient capital to employ labour. But now we have our own phone and no longer need to use this one at "¿Que Pasa?", so we are rising up the business ladder. Some of the rich ones still haven't got phones, so we do like to swank it around a bit.

Young Carlos, the waiter, has gone; his replacement, Anton, who can also read and write, carries the banner of literacy forward, reading official notices, using the phone on behalf of others, telling the older generation where to put their marks on documents.

At first in 1985 the degree of illiteracy astounded us. The Banco de Bilbao had a long open desk totally without protection where great bundles of cash held together with elastic bands were passed over. And often a child, accompanying an elderly farmer in trilby hat white shirt and black trousers, would sit on the desk and show the man where to put his mark. Behind the desk were vast ledgers and clerks, for there were no computers here. Foreign visitors, standing in line, holding their numbered tickets, looked gravely on, as if grace were being performed.

Illiteracy may also explain their version of the town crier - a lorry with a loud speaker - for there are very few public notices pasted on walls. This everlasting picture has a devastating charm, a charm of simple innocence, a deeply private innocence that stifles any tendency to laugh aloud at such open invitation to ribaldry. This simplistic life-style will disappear - as the Guanches disappeared before them. Already there are men from the mainland in smart dress with hard hats and stylish industrial boots surveying and pegging out the wasteland, spelling death to simplicity and ignorance. According to their lights these island people have values that we sophisticated Brits have left behind, for here a simple handshake seals everything from street business to land purchase. And it is still possible to be nice to a child without suspicious looks from adults. Progress will unwind slowly but surely. Exact change will replace the customary nearest penny, Barclay's Bank will appear, the petrol pump will have a roof over it, saints will leave the calendar unmourned, Sunday trading will begin. For this, the south side of Tenerife, is totally committed to tourism. And we may be here long enough to see it happen.

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