Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Dawn Chorus Of Bellevue

Dawn. There is a riotous chatter of birdsong, one that seems peculiarly alien to the tourism mini-megalopolis of Bellevue, where the chatter is typically of a different style - human and loud. The abundance of alert avifauna is a reminder of Bellevue's roots - those that it stands on. Albufera. To the side of the nature park, some way in the distance, is the tower of Es Murterar, the Kraftwerk craftily located so that the top of the turret invades most views. Its red markings are uncannily reminiscent of the post-Civil War towers along the bay of Alcúdia, its grey smoke merging into morning cloud that is broken by the vivid fire appearing well out to sea and setting ablaze with orangey-red the perfectly shaped forty-five degree incline of the rugged habitat of mountain goats, the Sant Martí mount, the guardian of Alcúdia, an ancient anachronism that abuts the outer limits of modern Bellevue.

At dawn, the evenly dispersed lights along the outdoor corridors at the back of the Fedra block glint as though on a giant electronic scoreboard. The street lights reveal the source of the watery whishing noise, the whirling sprinklers, Joni Mitchell's hissing of summer lawns, giving vehicles fortunately parked right by a partial car wash. At six, they go off. All is not dark, as dawn has brought its early light, but their disappearance is abrupt, taking aback and disorientating the makers of the other dawn chorus: the sound of luggage wheels on tarmac. Departing tourists are wending their way to reception.  

Avoiding a sprinkling from sprinklers, they wheel their suitcase barrows through a road broad and a bougainvillea-topped alleyway narrow, bumping over broken surfaces and humps that have risen from something unseen. Their journey is not long but it is long enough. At six in the morning, they trek like refugees to where they will be de-processed, deposited on a coach and driven to their place of deportation.

This happens in reverse. The coaches disgorge their human loads, who line up for their processing, sometimes in queues that tumble backwards out of reception. All their worldly touristic possessions packed inside their cases, they create the clatter and rumble of plastic rolling stock with a metallic syncopation as they go in search of the promised land. Which way? This way? That way? Is this the block? Is that the block? Excuse me, can you help me? Somehow, the maps don't always seem to be readily interpreted.

There are other Bellevues, tourist towns within towns, resorts within resorts. They don't just exist in Spain. France has them, too. They were products of the need to accommodate mass which, on the one hand, begat hotels built to order with standardised designs and standardised room sizes - the prefab sprouting of accommodation - and which, on the other hand, produced the holiday complex, an urban development that owed much to the philosophy of the campsite. From immediate post-war roots in Corsica's Club Olympique site and Gerard Blitz's original Club Med in Alcúdia and through the expansion of the Oltras' camping zone into the bizarre saucer spaceship architecture of Heliopolis amidst the naturist resort of Cap d'Agde, the early complex was one founded on notions of mucking-in and of no-frills before the term had even been invented. And also of the notion of sheer scale.

What happened in the process of constructing the standardised hotel and the complex was that intimacy was lost. Tourism went from being personal to impersonal. Mallorca, prior to the onset of mass tourism, had specialised in small, family, often quite up-market hotels. They remained but were mostly superseded in the dash for mass by the de-personalised edifice. This was holidaying with a feel of the comprehensive school movement. One day I was at a grammar school of 500 where I and teachers knew many people. The next day I was at a comprehensive of over 2,000, the largest anywhere in Britain. The personal disappeared overnight.

Scale combined with egalitarianism created monsters. Forty years or so ago, no one could have foreseen the levels of sophistication that tourism and tourists were to acquire. Marketing attempts to portray the personal and the customer focus, but it is mostly puffery, a disconnection from - in the case of a vast complex like Bellevue - the reality of the logistical impossibility of internally transporting guests in a dignified fashion.  

Mallorca, we are told, has embarked on a journey of modernisation, one that will transform resorts and accommodation. It is a journey towards a new standardised model, one of higher stars and spas. Yet, how can this journey be completed when there is such contrast between old and new, between resort mature and resort contemporary youth? When vast scale persists to the detriment of service? When the dawn chorus remains the rumble of little plastic wheels on tarmac?

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