Dr Luque’s Remedy
I remember that, many years ago, the late Annette Reid told me about a famous English authoress, who lived in Tenerife for a few years in the early 1950’s. Her name was Marguerite Steen. No, I hadn’t heard of her either. Well, the name must have stuck in the depths of my memory as one Wednesday morning last month when I was changing my books in the library I spotted a volume in the biography section, entitled Pier Glass: More autobiography by Marguerite Steen. The date stamp showed it had last been taken out in 2003. A quick flick through the pages showed that it covered her years in Puerto de la Cruz.
Marguerite Steen transported us to the days when Tenerife was a winter resort which for fifty years had welcomed the sick in body and mind and Puerto de la Cruz with its impressive Hotel Taoro, was the jewel in the crown. Agatha Christie came in 1927 to escape the ignominy of her divorce and Marguerite came in 1950 to mourn the death of her lover, the celebrated artist Sir William Nicholson who had died in 1949.
Here she became a member of a group of creative people, writers and artists who were on the verge of fame. Marguerite already had the fame. In fact, in the 1930s and 40s, her historical novels had sold as many as 65,000 copies on the first day of publication. She had brought to Tenerife two problems: – writer’s block and a nervous illness which made her face swell and turn red at the slightest shock, such as a car back-firing. Previous visits to Harley Street searching for a remedy had come to nothing. During an attack which lasted a few days, she wore a veil hiding the problem she called “The Face”. In the book she wrote – “This went on until, by heaven’s grace, nearly three years later, the cure was found in Orotava” – her first mention of Tenerife. The man who performed this miracle was Dr.Emilio Luque Moreno but the nature of his treatment was never disclosed although it involved regular appointments.
After she’d thrown away the veil, Marguerite was inducted further into the local community by a lady who she referred to as her second cousin Anthea, a daughter of Sir William and Lady Goodenough. Lady Goodenough had settled on the island with two of her four children at the end of the First World War. Anthea was a stalwart of the English Library, one of the very few who kept the library open during the dark years of the Spanish Civil War and World War 2.
In spite of her immersion into the local culture, Marguerite said that at no time during her four years on Tenerife did she feel like working. Thankfully, her later biography, published in 1968, was full of delightful tit-bits such as begging being limited to Saturdays and carried out by the women whilst the men sat around smoking.
Anthea took Marguerite to all the local fiestas and cele-brations. Dr Luque invited them to his balcony in La Orotava to watch the procession of the Romeria de San Isidro. She had begun to work a little by scribbling some fine poetry capturing the essence, a single snapshot, of something that had intrigued her.
Marguerite left the island in the mid-fifties. Like many of us who fall in love with Tenerife she had to return and made what was to be her last visit to the island in 1957. Things were changing rapidly and her stay was not as long as first planned.
I knew instinctively that I would not see the island again, but it did not grieve me: I had memories and experiences to last a lifetime, thanks to Emilio Luque I had recovered my health, and thanks to many kind people , I had begun to remake the pattern of my life.
The will to work was stirring in me like rising sap and I was even eager to get home and settle to a new book.
Perhaps she was disappoint-ed that her doctor was at this time working in Liberia.
Emilio Luque Moreno (1913 – 1967) was a well loved doctor who died tragically young of a brain tumour at the age of 54. He had married in 1941 and was the father of seven children. Emilio was 19 years younger than Marguerite who was 56 when they first met in 1950. His photos show a handsome man equal to any cinema heart-throb of the day. His patients adored him and a main thoroughfare in the town of La Orotava carries his name.
I’m sure that Marguerite’s heart skipped a beat each time they met.