I went to Lanzarote for my holidays. For a long weekend, actually. It was in the middle of that awfully severe weather we had earlier this year. I think we may well have been on one of the few planes to get off the ground on that particular Thursday. They spent what seemed like an age de-icing it, so much so that I was a little afraid that by the time they got to the end, they’d have to start over.
Now I confess that Lanzarote wasn’t on my top 10 list of places in the world that I was itching to visit. It has the benefit, of course, of being sunny and warm in early March but it also had, to me at least, a reputation as a package holiday destination, package holidays being one of my top 10 pet hates. The Boyfriend had had a very enjoyable few days there some years ago and so I was persuaded to relinquish my prejudices and give it a go. I am absolutely delighted that I did. There are those areas I think best avoided – one had, and I am not joking, we counted, 15 Irish pubs nearly all of which seemed to be called Hogan’s and (deep sigh) there was at least one Jinty McGinty. I do enjoy an Irish pub but am of the firm belief that they should actually be in Ireland, where of course they are the best in the world; and there they should stay.
Notwithstanding the odd Jinty McGinty, Lanzarote is really beautiful if in a slightly austere way. It’s volcanic so not surprisingly has a volcano and lots of other rather sharp pointy mountains. It was quite green when we were there as it had just rained but I can imagine it being very parched and brown at the height of summer. The earth is black, the cacti green and the houses white, a combination of colour that is forever elegant. Lanzarote’s acclaimed artist, architect and activist, César Manrique (1919-92) worked tirelessly to promote the “singularity” of the island and to ensure that any building there was sensitive, low rise and in keeping with the island’s vernacular architecture. He stipulated, I believe, that a house can be any colour as long as it’s white; that shutters inland must be green and those by the sea, blue. That he managed to persuade the authorities to adhere, mostly, to these “rules” means that the island has a coherence and beauty that I found totally unexpected. This, despite my initial reaction of, “och, I’d want to paint my house any colour I damn well please and won’t be dictated to by anybody, even if they are acclaimed artists, architects and activists.”
Given Lanzarote’s arid state to one side of Africa, cacti predominate. Aloe Vera is the major crop, and yes I know strictly speaking it’s not a cactus. Fittingly, Manrique’s wittily designed Jardin de Cactus was for me its crown jewel. Sited in what was originally an open cast mine, this wonderful garden is home to cacti from all around the world, in every shape you could possibly imagine and each with its own distinctive personality. I was entranced. I now understood the cactus mania that seems to have swept the world. I was not immune.
Folks had to look at a lot of pictures of cacti when I got home; I even brought some small ones back with me, plants I mean. I have managed not to kill them, yet, though one has inexplicably lost its baby. Which just goes to show how much fortitude and resilience they have, how much they can endure, and still look great.
After my return, I had been inspired to create three cactus related designs, mostly because I loved the shapes and was tickled by the idea of sitting on spikes. That would certainly give pause for thought and allow a statement chair to make its presence felt. Statement chairs like to do this. Also truthfully I think I was still caught up in their devilish spell of cuteness and wit. I had sketched out all three designs, but it was not until I had completed the first one, and it being ready to sample, needed a name. Googling ensued as I tried to find out which species of cactus or succulent it was. Of course, they were handily named in the garden but being as I was caught up in a fever of photography, that just sort of passed me by. I found it, I think. Attenuata was in the name and as I liked it, it stuck. I also seem to have read about endurance related to it or perhaps to cacti in general. In any case in my mind Attenuata and endurance became elided. How apt, given my propensity to cause most plants to curl up and die. I have, perhaps unfairly, been blaming the Flat for all these deaths but that’s a whole other Musing. I have a strong belief in the spirit of place and my Flat’s malign intent towards vegetation worries me slightly.
Having victoriously identified and named Attenuata, I was struck how the designs that I had sketched out and the colours I had chosen encapsulated Lanzarote: the dark ground and white shapes of Attenuata, the upward thrusting spikes of Konica and the explosive colour of Scriosa.
We humans think that we impose our will upon the Earth and shape it to ourselves, but it is in fact quite the reverse. I am truly humbled.