This is an island born of volcanoes and ruled by volcanoes; its people destined ever to be subject their dictatorial tyranny. It is an island constructed of lava, illuminated by lava and then laminated in lava. Like a burning candle which decorates itself in its own molten wax before it too hardens. Like a chocolate cake drenched in chocolate sauce. There are no fields of grass or grain, no trees, no flowers, no sheep or cattle. Just endless fields smothered with black lumpy lava, as if badly ploughed by a giant tractor.
And yet, even confined to this single colourless material, the Great Sculptor has fashioned a million shapes in a thousand shades of very dark grey. The most memorable artists contain themselves to a single medium; to watercolours or oils, to wood or stone, to verse or prose. And within the pressure and shackles of these self-enforced limitations, their creativity is forced to erupt. Yes, like lava from a volcano. And here on this island, He has fashioned his art; at first glance sterile, random and colourless, but rich and beautiful to the more attentive eye.
Yesterday we left the safety of the shore and drove into the birthplace and nerve centre of the Volcanic Empire, Timanfaya. We abandoned our car and climbed aboard an old bus to circumnavigate the half-dozen or so ancient volcanic peaks. Our driver expertly swung us around the tiny road at impossible angles and gradients, like some twisted rollercoaster. Our lives were literally in his hands as he edged us along the sheer sloping sides of the mother volcanoes.
As he did so, we were treated to a wonderful array of chasms and craters. We feasted our eyes on fissures fashioned by fire. We marvelled at the myriad of textures and forms – sculptured in rock and decorated in the glitter of ash. Everything emulsioned in only the very darkest paints from a monochromatic paint box. The bus stopped so that we could study the lasagne layers of lava on either side, dripping with tiny stalactites, frozen in an instance of time as if it were yesterday.
And standing majestically behind, against the white sky, those magnificent volcanic mountains. Like queens, their perfect maternal curves crowned by caldera. Inside each open mouth, an oesophagus leading down into the bowels of the earth, where the molten rock simmers for century upon century.
And then suddenly, with scant warning, the mothers start to spit – before projectile vomiting their next offering of lava all over their creation. A present of little practical purpose for the people of this island. One they cannot feed from, only contend with. Another suffocating layer.
Fortunately it has been 300 years since the last deposit. And yet in all of this time, the resistance has shown few signs of progress. The impenetrable shadows of grey linger. Only here and there have small shrubs found an atom or two of water to grow phoenix-like from the ashes.
Along one valley, man in his boundless optimism has planted vineyards. These are no ordinary vineyards. Each individual vine is planted in the infertile ash behind its own protective semi-circular wall. A wall inevitably made out of lava. So delicate is the so-called soil that the slightest wind would blow the fledgling plant away. There are thousands of these ebony bracelets on the dark earth. As if a battalion of regimented horses has galloped across the black sand, imprinting their giant horseshoes in straight lines.
Meanwhile, on the shores, as far away from the giant Empresses as possible, defiant white buildings continue to be erected. Slowly spreading out. Like some enormous game of Othello, the white pieces fighting back on a board completely dominated by black. Into these new white buildings come heat-seeking men and women from many nations – re-enforcements, bringing their money and their wealth. Slowly civilisation gains ground by stealth, inch by inch. The white counters are claiming the corners at least.
And yet is it futile. The volcanoes will sit silently for now, unperturbed and undisturbed. Their bowels will rumble from time to time. Three centuries is a reasonable interval.Too many more of those pathetic vineyards or flimsy white buildings, too many more foreign invaders scarring their dark landscape, and they may feel inclined to do something about it.
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