If ever a city was built for the sun, Las Palmas was. The locals will tell you that it only rains 10 days a year on the island of Gran Canaria and whether this is true or not is neither here nor there. Buildings which, to my mind, would be eyesores anywhere else, seem to blend in beautifully – or perhaps are made beautiful – because they reflect the sun. It’s a little like what I imagine a mirage to be – shaky images so real that you think they’re a design feature until you look across the road and see the real thing, alive and well, made of bricks and mortar. There’s no holding back with the colour palette, either.
Images of the beautiful island of Burano near Venice and holiday cottages in the West of Ireland come to mind. In the former, the colour is quirky; in the latter, it’s plain gaudy. Yet here in Las Palmas, it seems so natural. It has to be the sun.
I don’t have the jargon to talk sensibly about the architecture but I know enough to realise that the city planners have been on holiday for a long time. Old and new sit side by side and perfect harmony is noticeable by its absence. And yet even that isn’t as upsetting for me as it has been in other cities I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s the audacity of the colours – the statements the bright greens and yellows and purples make. Given that Las Palmas is just a mere 500 years old, it might well be still enjoying its teenage rebellion.
While everyone here seems to smoke and cigarettes are ridiculously priced at €1.20 a pack, I’ve not had a whiff of anything more toxic. Perhaps just as well really. I can’t imagine being on LSD or some other mind-altering substance when, clean and sober, it takes me a few minutes to decide if what I’m seeing is real or just a reflection of reality. And it’s happened more than once or twice. It could well be the caffeine though, as I can’t resist a cafe con leche. Even the drabbest bus terminal’s coffee rates. [As a not so complete aside, the local name for a bus is a guagua – what a great word!]
There’s no shortage of greenery in this, Spain’s seventh-largest city. The most popular trees are laurel and palm and the green is picked up in a lot of building design. Skate parks abound and every flat open square is teeming with young and old on skate boards and roller blades trying to outdo each other or master that one set of steps they keep tripping on. I saw one chap (not all that much younger than I am) take three falls before he managed to leap a set of four steps and stay upright. Each to their own, I say. Whatever blings your blade. That and the myriad exercise machines lined up along the prom must deliver quite an active set of a locals and a fitter set of tourists than your average package resort. I even saw a chap reading the odometer on a city running machine last night. Either the city is doing a usage survey or Las Palmas has taken train spotting one step further.