Mancor de la Vall is a small village which nestles in the lower region of the Tramuntana mountains (note: villages always nestle; it is obligatory). It has a population of something over 1,300 and is one of those Mallorcan villages which offers little of any great note. It is there, it is quite pretty and that's about it. But for a small village it does manage to generate its fair share of disputes. This isn't smalltown controversy of rival business or political interests, it is small village controversy and it all has to do with traditions: specifically, mushrooms and demons.
Last November, there was a row about the staging of the annual fair: Esclata-sang, the blood-bursting mushroom fair. One should explain that no blood is spilled and nor has it been in arguments surrounding the fair; the name of the mushroom describes its reddish juice. In autumn, these mushrooms grow in abundance in the area. They are prized delicacies and central to a local cuisine. So they are important, but are they important enough for there to be rows?
Well they are if the organisers arrive at loggerheads with the town hall over the holding of the fair, which is precisely what happened last year. The organisation responsible is Arrels, a local cultural association. Because of "discrepancies" involving the town hall, Arrels said they wouldn't go ahead with the fair. In the end they did. Residents and village restaurants were desperate that they should.
These discrepancies surrounded the association's property, i.e. a sort of culture room. The town hall, now ruled by Més, had decided that Arrels could not hold concerts for the fair at the room. Paid for by the town hall, it had no actual licence for such an activity. Arrels, which had experienced an at times difficult relationship with the town hall, thought that with Més in charge, things would get easier. The opposite happened.
Finally, there was a "sorting-out" that allowed the fair to proceed. In the meantime, the mayor, Guillem Villalonga, had been placed in an awkward position. He was and is a member of Arrels. It might have been thought that this would smooth out any issues regarding the concerts, but these are new times in village politics. Member or not a member, the licensing arrangements couldn't just be granted a "favour".
Villalonga's involvement with Arrels is such that he was once the "grand demon" of the association's demons' gang. Which brings us to events (or rather the lack of them) last week. The patron of the village's parish church is Sant Joan, John the Baptist. Naturally, therefore, the village's summer fiestas are based around Sant Joan, and one of the most anticipated events is the demons' fire-run, the "correfoc", organised and staged by Arrels.
The correfoc didn't take place. Unlike with the mushrooms, there was no "sorting-out". Partly, this was because the mayor couldn't intervene. It was all an issue between the demons and the church. The rector said they couldn't mount a pyrotechnic display on the belltower, as they have in the past. New tiles had been placed. It was costing the church money because of the pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, Arrels went ahead and started having their fire display mounted. The rector was furious and insisted that Arrels leave the belltower out of the correfoc show.
The role of the church building itself is central to other correfoc displays. In Muro, also with a John the Baptist church, the Sant Antoni correfoc wouldn't be the same without the fire cascading down the church and belltower as part of its climax. So, one could understand Arrels wish to include the belltower. But because the rector was so insistent, rather than leave it out, they decided to cancel the whole thing. The locals were far from happy. The mayor said it was nothing to do with the town hall.
Local reaction was not what Arrels might have hoped for. They were accused of believing that the world revolves around them. There was a degree of arrogance with their stance. Nevertheless, it was suggested that the town hall might be rather more proactive and get involved in the future by issuing clear guidelines. Once more, the mayor was in an awkward position.
What do these stories tell us? A great deal about how small village traditions, intertwined with bureaucracy and the roles of institutions (the church and town hall), take on lives way beyond their relative lack of importance. They are elevated to matters of great import and become so because, in small villages, they are all that matter.