La Laguna is widely considered to be the most beautiful town in Tenerife, with its narrow streets flanked by historic mansions, inviting bars, and chic small shops.
“The layout of the city provided the model for many colonial towns in the Americas and, in 1999, La Laguna was added to the Unesco list of World Heritage sites. The town has a youthful energy and possibly the island’s most determined marcha (nightlife)” says Lonely Planet. And there’s one more detail: La Laguna wants its curious ‘Verres’ language to be recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
“Nasbue chesno neragula, chesno de lohie y de ofri” is their version for “Buenas noches lagunera, noches de hielo y frío” – “Good evening people from La Laguna, nights of ice and cold.”
From local press, we find the story of this original language. A barber by the name of Francisco Fariña was the first person to use Verres (revés is backwards, in Spanish) at his barbershop in Juan de Vera Street in La Laguna, Tenerife, back in the 1930s. Something of a practical joker, he was said to have invented this way of talking, in which he scrambled the letters and syllables of words to confuse his customers – particularly those coming from rural areas – while he cut their hair. More than 80 years later, La Laguna locals are making a bid to have Verres recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In Fariña’s days, La Laguna was a quiet place with no TV or other forms of entertainment in the home. Instead of TV, barbershops or pharmacies became places to socialize.
As the official chronicler of the town’s history, Eliseo Izquierdo, says, “People went there to kill time and read the paper and each barbershop – authentic schools of invention, of sharp and implied language – had its parishioners.” Thanks to his caustic sense of humor, Fariña popularized Verres to the point where students from La Laguna University would come to study it with him in his ‘academy.’ Verres has never been peculiar to a specific area of La Laguna nor has it ever been spoken by everyone. It’s simply an amusing way of talking between friends and acquaintances. And although it has survived the passage of time, it is now almost the exclusive preserve of people over 60.
“La Laguna is the only place in the world where they speak back to front”, states Juan Oliva, member of La Laguna Casco Association. The neighborhood association of Casco de La Laguna is now advocating extending the use of Verres, targeting young people with talks in schools. Still it won’t be easy to get Verres the recognition Oliva and his companions are seeking. Professor of Spanish Language at La Laguna University and Vice President of the Language Academy of the Canaries, Humberto Hernández, say the study of Verres has never occurred to them “since it is little more than a linguistic game”.