SHAKESPEARE LIKED THE WINE
AND DANCED THE CANARIO
By Norman Warwick
We have written on these pages of the annual Fiesta De Los Dolores which commemorates the cessation of the lava flow in the most recent volcanic eruptions on Lanzarote of a couple of hundred years ago. Dance and the drinking of wine each play a major part in the Fiesta and Shakespeare’s works frequently make reference to Canarian dance and wine.
It was in 1402 that the Normans (that is the Norman-French not the Norman-Warwick!) first arrived on Lanzarote, with several Britons (Anglo Normans) among their number.
Just over one hundred years later British merchants began importing wine (and dye; check our archives for That Little Red Dress Came From 29th April 2020) from the Canary islands with sixteenth century historical documents recording this.
Simultaneously, an island dance known as the Canario became popular throughout Europe and records show it was danced at court for French King, Charles 1X, by performers ‘dressed as natives of The Canary Islands.’ Merchants in the middle-ages would regale their monarchs with tales and demonstrations from their visits to new world places with stories of strange customs and ‘exotic’ dances.
If the court liked a particular dance they would adapt it and with such approval its popularity would see it sweep the country, as did the Tango from Argentina, for instance, only a hundred years ago. Other traditional Canarian dances known throughout Europe today include the isa and a version of the malageuna.
Less than fifty years later Shakespeare texts were referring to ‘dancing the canary’ (as also were writings of Cervantes) and recommending canary wine as ‘good and searching’. According to Lancelot, The Lanzarote Touring Guide, Shakespeare was entitled, as Poet Laureate, to 100 gold guineas a year and 242 gallons of alcohol, specified to be Canary Wine.
This link attached by Shakespeare between Lanzarote and the UK is retailed in a book published a year or two ago that is now in libraries and bookshops in the UK and all across the Canary Islands. Check our archives for the several times featured news, previews, interviews and reviews with its author Larry Yaskiel.
A former mover and shaker in the music business, Larry settled here on the island almost thirty yeas ago and became a ubiquitous and influential figure, launching the Lancelot magazine that is now part of the landscape and the first reading material most holiday-makers seek out when arriving here. A recording of his mellifluous voice narrates a recorded history of our volcanoes, too, and is surely a calming influence for those English passengers on the roller coaster bus tours of the lava fields.
His book, The British Connection To Lanzarote And The Canaries, explores the mentions of Canarian wine, including a grape for Lanzarote, in the works of Shakespeare in a collection of over a hundred historical connections between The Canary Islands and Britain.
I am not sure how many gallons of wine the current Poet Laureate and friend of Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival is entitled to, but I can promise you that even a good quality table wine over here can be had for less than the equivalent of £2.00 per bottle.
It would be worth a visit by laureate Simon Armitage to Lanzarote to sample the options and to spread the word. The vineyards stretch for miles along the spine of the island and are known as La Geria with dozens of bodegas dotted over the landscape. Most of these are tiny, almost shed-like examples of cottage industry but the larger Bodegas are part of a multi million pound industry here. Some of them take hundreds of visitors a day around their vineyards, offering tasting sessions and even live ´folk music and dance´ performances as further entertainment.
Wine, and dance have been integral accompaniment to the Lanzarote lifestyle for hundreds of years and since the middle of the twentieth century they have contributed massively to the tourist trade. The Bodegas now will be keen to ensure that the disruption of trade during the last three months and more of lockdown become seen as only a hiatus rather than any permanent set-back, and it will be interesting to see whether the whispers we hear on the grapevine come true, and Lanzarote can even expand its export of its own wines whilst also reducing the imports of wines from elsewhere.