IN PRAISE OF THE POETS: Victor Fernandez Gopar


new statue
stands proudly against the storm

Victor Fernandez Gopar often celebrated the importance of salt to this island, writing wonderful poetry about it, and many of those poems have been adapted into glorious songs by Lanzarote Folk Lore Groups. Today, there was an unveiling of a statue of the poet with the working name, long ago adopted by the island´s biggest theatre, in Arrecife, of El Salinero. Some of his descendants had been invited to today´s ceremony that took place in the town square of Las Brenas, where he was born in 1844. The square looks down, over a distance of a couple of miles, to the section of coastline on which Salinas de Janubio salt fields stand. 

We have visited this working community many times, and have even undertaken guided tours by a young lady we call Sara Of The Salinas, who is keen to preserve the industry as it stands today and perhaps to steer it back towards some of its former glory. See our archives.

So why did four new residents (ie who have come over to retire from the UK or other parts of Europe) attend such a localised event as a statue being unveiled in a small town up in the mountains? There are several reasons. Three or four of those reasons might be beer tents, crepe caravans and paella platters and tapas.

Another reason might be to see the almost unique mixture of fun and reverence the islanders manage to bring to these events in equal measure. Even the worst calima (effectively a sandstorm) for decades could not get in the way, and about twenty of us simply rolled up our sleeves and relocated all the food, an array of tapas that would have fed the five thousand, and chairs out of the open air square and into the community hall. The bands quickly rewired all their instruments and the table microphones for the invited speakers were set up and sound check, checked one, two, three all over again.

This meant that by time an audience of about two hundred and fifty people had gathered, with all of the ladies still managing to look elegant even as the sky was the colour of poison and the palm trees were bending double to slap visitors in the face, we were all directed into the hall where the ceremonies would take place.

Sculptor Cintia Manchim
unveiling Gopar statue

The wonderful town of Las Brenas still made everyone welcome, even under an Armageddon sky and we were all sitting comfortably when the speeches began. I can´t tell you, I am afraid, who was the mistress of ceremonies, but she did a superb job in keeping everything light and informal as she introduced speakers that included family members and descendants of the feted poet, as well as The President Of The Island, the Minister of Culture and the Mayor of Yaiza Municipality of which Las Brenas is a part. The MC had things running like clockwork, too, as she first organised the presentation of a plaque and mementoes to the family. She then led us all outside into the tempest of one hundred miles per hour gusts of hot, sand filled air to see the official unveiling of the statue created by Cintia Machim and to then all partake in a photo shoot.

The statue remained dignified (and upright) throughout

There was also a reading (in Spanish admittedly) of some of Gopar´s pieces and there was a music group or two with timples and guitars playing the songs of the salt.

It was in some ways an event very redolent of the opening of the statue of Gracie Fields that has stood on The Butts in Rochdale town centre for the last four or five years.

To receptive and open minded English speaking new residents who have an interest in the arts on Lanzarate, this monument to Gopar might lead to an awakened interest in other poets and writers and artists.

These could include authors like Jose Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Cesar Manrique, the island´s most revered artist and even toother sculptors like Cyntia, (who has other statues decorating the island) or Rigoberto Camacho, who also has several statues situated around the island, and an exhibition of his work showing at Cic El Almacen in Arrecife.

Listening, even in a foreign language, to commemorative speeches and a brief history of the salt industry might lead some new residents down to take one of Sara´s guided walks of the glorious, peaceful and timeless, and strangely silent salt fields at Janubio. That would all seem fair reward for attending a free event, I think.

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