Chariots of Fire

Thanks to a post from Simon Lever, I learned that Vangelis, the composer of many great pieces, among them the theme music from the movies 1492 and Chariots of Fire, had passed away.

Do you have a piece of music that, for you, is intensely connected to a time and place?  As Dianne Wyzga would say: “Now write that story.”

Chariots of Fire is such a piece to me.  And this is the story.

Back in my early career, I had a dear colleague who was a bunch of fun, became a good friend, and after leaving our mutual employer was hired by a travel agency that developed the timeshare market in Denmark.  Through her, I got over a number of years to travel to a fun place on the Canary Islands where almost any type of summer sport you could think of could be learned or practiced.  10 tennis courts, Olympic size pool, 100 bikes you could reserve to venture out on the island or have a race, track, squash, badminton, weight training center, windsurfer boards…

Every morning at 7 sharp, Chariots of Fire would blare out from the pool area where the early birds would gather for a 20 min morning warmup-stretch-yoga combination.  Some mornings you would find me there, standing on one leg.  Other mornings I wished our room was further from the pool and “all that noise”.

Many sports stars went there in the dreary European winter when training outdoors couldn’t happen back home.  I have had drinks with German decathlon champions, poured champagne bikers training for Tour de France, helped English track and field aces learn to windsurf, and watched Zola Budd run – with shoes on because running on lava was very hard on even her trained soles.

Vacationing there came with the added benefit that my friend knew almost everybody who worked at the place.  And as they lived there for months on end, they knew the island, had good contacts with the locals, and we had many experiences one normally wouldn’t have access to.

One morning, we sailed out with some of our colleagues on a yacht they had borrowed from a local boat owner.  It is a special thing to have dolphins swimming alongside your boat for miles.  Fortunately, we also got home safely.  As I am now much more aware – living on the west coast of another continent with a big sun-baked inland – when the land heats up, strong winds rise around 1-2 pm.  We almost stranded ourselves on a small island because we could hardly get back to the anchored boat in our little dinghy.  The American continent pulls in a lot of wind – as does Africa.

One of the local trainers was hang-gliding, which is a fun thing to do when you have good strong winds and a bluff that sends the wind upward. Unfortunately, if there is a crater behind the bluff, the upwind disappears and he had taken a dive into the local volcano. Luckily, not into the hot center, but volcanic rock is quite abrasive all the same.  Like always, news becomes different stories when you know the people involved.

The sports/hotel complex was built next to a big lagune.  One end was dammed by mother nature, and the other end had big pipes under a road where the water could slush in and out with the Atlantic tides.  To assure that sharks didn’t enter the lagune, these pipes had some netting that let small fish through but not bigger animals.  And that was a bummer for the poor octopus that had been hiding somewhere when they put in these pipes.  Now it was caught in the lagune.  It had made a home by the pipes, so it had easy access to whatever fish came in with the tide and had grown to a considerable size on this diet.

Because of the tide, there was a bit of current in and out of the lagune, and for people learning to windsurf, this often meant that their boards had a way of working themselves down towards the pipes as well.  Thus, it happened – fortunately not to yours truly – that a surfer fell into the lagune, onto the octopus, and brought it with her back up to the surface.  She had long lines of “hickeys” all over her before the trainers got the poor creature off her and back into the water.

Having learned to surf a bit myself on this protected lagune, I bought a surfboard back in Denmark. That gave my father the idea that he also wanted to learn to surf, and as my mother was not that keen on going skiing after she turned 60, my parents now enjoyed going south in the winter.  This switch happened about at the same time I introduced my husband-to-be to skiing, so I didn’t have more than a single introductory trip together with them to what became their new winter hideout.

My father did learn to windsurf on the lagune – he even bought me/us a new better board back home.  My parents would play tennis and go on trips, and right up until he was in his mid-80s, you could find my father doing jumping jacks and standing on one leg when Chariots of Fire blared out from the speakers by the pool.

Thank you, Simon, for giving me an excuse for another trip down memory lane – of all days on what would have been my father’s 94 years’ birthday.

I think I will let the music blare out once again in his honor.



Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. Phenomenal story telling Charlotte!
    You had me with the vision of you standing on one leg by the pool with Chariots of Fire playing loudly in the background.
    Thank you for sharing this chapter, this season, with such rich details.

    I am still contemplating on a piece of music that intensely connects me to a time and place….but for now I am sitting with Frankie Valli whispering in my ear.

    • So happy – I know you do yoga on the beach so now I have that in my head in return.

      I was a classical buff when I was a teenager, still am, but even I know of the Four Seasons. Enjoy.

  2. What a wonderful meandering through precious memories, Charlotte. I had Chariots of Fire echoing in my head the whole time. I was also saddened to hear of Vangelis’ passing. He was an icon in the music field. Thanks for sharing an amazing life and family relationship.

  3. Thank you for sparking if the memory regarding the accompanying music to ‘Chariots of Fire’. Vangelis was responsible for many iconic and memorable scores. I have a small number of special musical memories. One is the accompanying music to ‘Brief Encounter’ the late 1940s black and white movie staring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. The ultimate love story. Racmaninov was the composer. I think it was Opus 2, but I will check in line this afternoon. Glorious undulating music, sending you to the movie scenes. While writing this I can hear it. Also, Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.

    Thank you for the mention my friend.