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Icod de los Vinos through the eyes of René Verneau 

How an anthropologist recorded irony and beauty.

A history graduate from the University of La Laguna, anthropoligist René Verneau René was born in 1852 in France but has a strong link with the Canaries.

He studied natural sciences in Paris and other European cities. In 1856, he was commissioned to conduct a scientific mission in the Canary Islands by the Ministry of Education.

After his arrival in 1884, he remained on the islands for four years.

He made important studies in the Museo Canario and returned to the archipelago again in 1899 and again in1925 to continue his research in the same museum.

His last visits took place in 1932 and 1935. He died in Paris in 1938 at the age of 85.

His work “Five years in the Canary Islands” (later translated Jose Luis A. Delgado), is, undoubtedly, a study of considerable importance for anyone who wants learn about a vision of the Canary Islands told in the first person by a Frenchman with an adventurous spirit who did not hesitate to write down everything he saw before his eyes, shamelessly showing the reality as he saw it.

Subjectivity, then, is a common and consistent element in the work of this Frenchman, who dedvotes space to Icod de los Vinos, using irony and also criticism of many aspects.

Verneau describes a poor Icod compared to what it had been centuries before.

He described the state of many houses that were important in the past, not hesitating to highlight the presence of gargoyles carved in wood in buildings that gave a certain image of prestige in a property that had been losing some of its charm.

His surprise at finding a hotel in Icod was enormous. With his usual irony, he notes the dedication of the devoted owners of such property. Apparently, it was run by a man, his wife and daughter, who attempted to provide both a good deal, with such bad luck that “ended up not putting a knife and spilling wine on the plates”.

Of course, he did not hesitate to mention the dragon tree of Icod, describing it as a remarkable example of antiquity. Verneau said he had seen many other examples during his life but none of those could compare with this one.

He recalls one episode of a visit to Icod in which he was surprised by “an old witch tattered, covered with a thick layer of dirt”. In exchange for a glass of rum, the woman offered a healing method, transmitting a new recipe for the healing of scroful (a form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes).

Verneau recorded this strange meeting and recalled that a pastor later remarked that had it not been for the tattered clothes on the woman, he might have believed he had encountered an old Guanche who had never before met any European.

After a stint in Icod, Verneau continued visiting other villages on the island, generating further irony and criticism but also scenes which captivated the Frenchman because of their natural beauty. Such scenes seduced him but still seemed strange in the contect of island marked by poverty which much of the Canary population suffered from.