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Recreation for the masses

Follow E&M author James Rothwell on his trip to Tenerife where he is exploring the wonders of European hedonism. Get ready for a thrilling ride through the island's nightlife.

BRIGHT LIGHTS ON THE STRIP

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Cartoon: Joseph Heaton
A nightclub in Tenerife

The Veronica Strip, Las Américas. Down amongst the vomit-soaked pavements, the perpetual haze of beer and the quivering walls of flesh, everything is for sale. As the sunlight decays and leaves its reluctant shadow convulsing across the streets of the Veronicas strip, an artificial light, a garish wink of neon, consumes the Bright Young Things. They are the throbbing human mass of all nationalities, swarming around the clubs in their endless pursuit of pleasure. Such is the impression carved upon my hideously intoxicated brain as I gyrate, limbs flailing wildly out of control, in a smoky nightclub in this famous den of hedonism.

A legion of tabloid journalists, the armchair warriors and ageing pedants of the industry, have strived to condemn the 'moral decay, depravity and decadence' of European tourists and their behaviour in the infamous resorts of Kavos, Magaluf and Las Americas. They point and leer as the younger generations embrace physical pleasures to escape from fiendishly dull lifestyles. For a long time I doubted that any of these reporters flew close enough to the flames of the resorts to capture that devious little creature known as The Truth – close enough, that is, to get burnt. It's for this reason that my drunken companions and I step off the plane in Tenerife with the searching eyes of young, naive pleasure-seekers. The result: hundreds of hours of craziness and a completely enjoyable and shamelessly sordid roller coaster ride through hell.

THE MELTING EURO-POT

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Photo: James Rothwell
A strip club in Tenerife

There is a wild misconception, ignited by caustic articles in The Sun and Bild, that some young European tourists on holiday cannot integrate in any meaningful way. This cultural tension, an insidious xenophobia bubbling under the surface of common courtesy, is the catalyst for the brawling and vomiting one discovers in the resorts, they say. But such a statement does a great injustice to the partygoers and pleasure-seekers of Tenerife. The rich mixture of Senegalese traders, German holiday makers and English sun-worshippers is a fascinating melting pot. Contrary to the tabloid reports, my experience of Tenerife is one in which young European hedonists are able to merge silently and peacefully into a single group-consciousness. Their curious souls are dependent upon one thing only: a moment of refuge from the fever of the brain, assisted by copious amounts of alcohol and the latest anthems vomited up from that Tarterean pit known as the music industry.

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Photo: James Rothwell
Consumption

One night in Veronicas we stagger, more than a little disorientated, into a strip joint just off the end of the 'red zone' where the clubs are packed tight enough to smother everybody inside. Through the curtains of cigarette smoke I can make out the vague shapes of various tourists, huddled in groups as they stare in awe at the semi-naked bodies contorting themselves gracefully in each corner. Language becomes irrelevant as all brains – mostly male brains, which are less perceptive and baser than their female counterparts – are focused on these mysterious figures. Paradoxically, the discovery of a mental state free of the white collar worker's stress and anxiety is right here. To exist, it must be enveloped in the broiling heat of the dance, the clattering of high heels in the night and the haunting murmurs of foreign voices.

Claire, who became a stripper to save funds for university, is cynical about the cultural dissonance which these resorts apparently embody. 'People come here to have a good time,' she tells me, sucking pensively on a cigarette, 'they really feel the other tourists and they all have fun together. Just look at this club – I work with the English, the Spanish, even some Estonians,' she points to the blonde girl wrapped around the centre pole, 'but we all get along fine. The strip's a very diverse place. And the tourists all treat us fine,'

THE PRIVILeGED PERSPECTIVE

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Cartoon: Joseph Heaton
Stereotype of a holidaymaker

But although Europeans merge seamlessly in establishments which serve beer, play deafening music and furnish themselves with strippers, that certainly isn't the case everywhere. There is more than a whiff of what I can only call 'neo-colonialism' in Tenerife – tourists bring their culture with them, force the locals to imbibe it, and leave it there in the form of mutated businesses or establishments. Bizarre derivatives of English supermarkets, Italian restaurants and Turkish takeaways spring up from the dust on every street corner. It could be perceived as the harmless delivery of creature comforts to the paying customer, but not everyone is as hopeful and welcoming to the throngs of outsiders as Claire. In another bar across town, we stumble across some English and Belgian students who view the armies of pleasure-seeking tourists with a jaundiced eye.

'It makes me so angry,' one of them says in a crisp yet husky accent betraying the privileges of a fee-paying education, 'all these tourists come over here and think they can get, like, roaring drunk. It kills the culture.' Her disdain is targeted mainly towards the British population, and asking her about other nationalities only reveals an almost religious admiration for the continent. She says many other wise things but, alas, it's already four am and I am too drunk and her words are swallowed whole by the cacophony of pop music.

THE AFTERMATH

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Photo: James Rothwell
On top of everything

So the Veronicas Strip can be heaven or hell for Europhiles – it depends almost entirely on which group you believe. Personally, all I have truly experienced is the sense of community which inevitably ensues when young Europeans with money and frustrations gather in nightclubs and seek to forget. On the plane back from Tenerife I try to figure out exactly what my drunken companions and I had consumed: over five hundred units of alcohol, over two hundred and ten cigarettes, two balloons of laughing gas and (for no apparent reason) sixty-five caffeine tablets. We had also broken two chairs, six glasses of vodka, one jug of rum, two electric fans and two hearts. As the turbulence hits me hard, along with the extortionately expensive wine I've swindled from a weary air hostess, I feel the effects of the excessive debauchery kick me in the head. There is nothing left to consume; please fasten your seatbelts and return to an upright and correct position.

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