Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Christmas, Blogging’s Over

Sorry, folks, no more till the new year – January 4th probably. Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Meanwhile, here is the index for December. Quiz returns in January, together with the answer to yesterday – as if you need it.

Bon Nadal, Frohes Fest, Felices Navidades, etc.


Index for December 2007

Albufera – 11 December 2007
All-inclusives – 14 December 2007
Apartments – 18 December 2007
Architecture – 18 December 2007
Balearic Government – 14 December 2007
Bar ownership – 7 December 2007
Bars – 5 December 2007, 7 December 2007
Beaches – 10 December 2007
Building work – 3 December 2007
Butane gas – 11 December 2007
Casinos – 15 December 2007
Christmas – 21 December 2007
Climate change – 10 December 2007
Clínica Juaneda – 5 December 2007, 12 December 2007
Condohotels – 17 December 2007
Constitution Day – 6 December 2007
Dubbing – 13 December 2007
Eurorregion – 4 December 2007
Films – 13 December 2007
Fire – 11 December 2007
GOB – 2 December 2007, 8 December 2007, 17 December 2007
Golf – 2 December 2007, 8 December 2007
Gotmar – 9 December 2007
Gran Escala – 15 December 2007
Hospital d’Alcúdia – 5 December 2007, 12 December 2007
Hotels – 2 December 2007, 8 December 2007, 14 December 2007
Housing – 19 December 2007
Internet – 1 December 2007
Language – 6 December 2007
Luxury tourism – 4 December 2007
Playa de Muro – 2 December 2007, 8 December 2007, 9 December 2007
Political parties – 1 December 2007
Population – 19 December 2007
Property market – 12 December 2007
PRs – 5 December 2007
Public holidays – 6 December 2007
Puerto Alcúdia – 3 December 2007
Puerto Pollensa – 18 December 2007
Quality standards – 14 December 2007
Recommendations – 1 December 2007
Resorts – 1 December 2007
Russian property buyers – 12 December 2007
Son Banya – 9 December 2007
Son Bosc – 2 December 2007, 8 December 2007
Spanish constitution – 6 December 2007
Spanish Government – 10 December 2007, 17 December 2007
Subtitles – 13 December 2007
Taylor Woodrow – 18 December 2007
Television – 13 December 2007
Theme parks – 15 December 2007
Tipping – 16 December 2007
Tourism strategy – 4 December 2007, 15 December 2007, 17 December 2007
Unió Mallorquina – 1 December 2007
Urbanisations – 9 December 2007
Zaragoza – 15 December 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

So Here It Is Merry Christmas

The Mallorcan Christmas. Like other fiestas, there is not just one day, there is a whole series of days, nearly two weeks in the case of Christmas. The Mallorcan Christmas is, in effect, from 24 December to 6 January.

But what of this Mallorcan Christmas? There is a fascination among those from the UK who don’t live here as to what it is like. And because the UK Christmas is a festival of gluttony and goodwill to all men so long as they come bearing gifts with a sizeable price tag, there is no more fascination than in how that aspect compares.

The impression one may have is of a wholly more low-key affair in which the religious aspect, the true meaning of Christmas if you will, far outweighs the commercialism. Even I have had that impression, but I’m not sure it obtains. Go to the hypermarkets such as Al Campo and see the trolley-loads of toys and gifts being wheeled out. Observe the “cestas” (hampers) for sale in the supermarkets, the shelves of specially brought in chocolates, nut-and-biscuit selections – could just as easily be Manchester as Mallorca.

By way of appreciating the “meaning” of a Mallorcan Christmas, there is a good indication in the form of a supplement to a recent “Ultima Hora” – a 64-page pull-out Christmas special; traditional Christmas yes, but far from only. Fashion for men and women; funky hairstyles for the festive season; perfumes; decorations; crackers and designer wrapping; exclusive gifts and gift ideas; CDs and books; how to keep fit having gorged on Christmas pastries, croquettes, cheese and cold-cut collections, Balearic sausages, herb liqueurs, wines and other produce, gourmet delights, fresh seafood, special recipes to try at home. And then those traditions, one of them being the celebrated “Gordo” that can be traced back to the start of the nineteenth century. Gordo is? The mega lottery just before Christmas. Yes there is also more tradition besides, but let’s adjust this rather sanctimonious notion that at Christmas Mallorca (and Spain) is in some way less in thrall to the shopping mall and supermarket shelf than Britain. I’m not so sure it is.

And with this, I am going to sign off for the festive period. No more blogging till the new year, probably around the 4th of January. So let me wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. When I return, hopefully I will have had time to put together the annual awards and annual turkeys, but don’t bank on it. I might just have spent the intervening period gorging, visiting shopping malls, pushing a heavily-laden trolley around a supermarket …

Yesterday – Bob James wrote the theme. Danny de Vito was the connection. Today’s title – every shopping mall plays it.


Thursday, December 20, 2007


Public transport. Better public transport is needed for tourists travelling in the Alcúdia-Pollensa area; that, at any rate, is the desire of hotel chiefs in the north, according to “Euro Weekly”. This would also, so these same hotel chiefs believe, attract more visitors to the north. Really? How many more visitors would come to, say, Playa de Muro on top of those who represented 100% hotel occupancy for a time during the past summer? Is public transport, or the lack thereof, a deal-maker or deal-breaker when it comes to deciding on a holiday? I doubt it somewhat. More likely is the expectation that there will be buses but there will also be a squeeze, in which case no one is going to be too upset as the expectation will be met.

Better or more public transport will make little difference to the numbers of visitors, but there may well be a case for saying that it could help those visitors to move around more. I say could because for a fair proportion it probably wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference; indeed there is a fair argument for saying that some of the larded obese to be found waddling around in summer would benefit from the absence of any form of transport except a push-bike. But be that as it may.

Where do people go though? On a typical hot summer’s day in Puerto Alcúdia for instance, people are going nowhere except to the beach, and even for those in the more far-flung all-inclusives or Bellevue the walk is not exactly onerous, and if you want, you can get a boat much of the way from Bellevue in any case. The only days when there is any change to this pattern is on market days when, yes, there is a good argument for there being more buses. Otherwise, the greatest demand is in the evenings, and here there is a need, especially later on. Want a bus after 11 o’clock from the port? Forget it. Want a taxi? Try finding one. There are only so many taxis, which is why, on market days, Alcúdia Taxis have to call in the cavalry from Playa de Muro to assist (the Playa de Muro taxi drivers are not meant to pick up outside of their own territory).

The projected extension to the train line as far as Alcúdia and the proposed trams going from the terminus may be of benefit, but the one really useful addition to the public transport network would be a good train service to the airport. So useful that it will probably never be done.

And on the airport, also in “EW”, it is now the twelfth busiest in Europe. 22 million people used the airport last year, the paper says. That’s last year as in 2007. Hmm, whatever. Being at number 12 in the charts may not sound like much to brag about, but if you consider that Palma does not handle transatlantic and long-haul traffic, then it is fairly astonishing.

Yesterday – Sly And The Family Stone. Today’s title – remember the American comedy series? Who wrote the theme tune? And what is the connection between Taxi and the blog entry for 13 December, “Girls On Film”?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Everyday People

The population of the Balearics rose by some three per cent last year. In total, the population stood – as of 1 January this year – at 1,030,650, much of the increase being down to immigration, with the Germans and the British leading the way in terms of the numbers of foreigners resident on the islands. The increase translates as a net gain of some 80 people per day.

How sustainable would such an annual increase be? It is a matter that taxes the politicians, not least the Unió Mallorquina (the Mallorcan national party) which believes that there is only so much of Mallorca to go round, even if this perfectly legitimate stance may be influenced by a touch of xenophobia (though they would doubtless deny that).

A report earlier this year suggested a drop in the level of foreign property purchasing. Though this perhaps conflicts with the actual population growth, Mallorca remains an attractive target, and new markets keep emerging, as with the Russians. It is the overseas purchaser who, in part, helps to keep property prices high, and it is the overseas purchaser who is important at a time when the credit squeeze has hit in Spain.

Yet there is a point at which even Mallorca’s improved infrastructure will begin to creak. I mentioned a while ago that Mallorca is roughly equivalent in size to Essex, but its population is less than two-thirds of the county, nearly a half of it in Palma. Plenty of space you might think, except Mallorca has mountains that do not readily lend themselves to vast urbanisations. Over 40% of Spain’s whole population lives by the coast; in Mallorca it is more like 70%, probably higher. Despite the environmental worry (and the threat to coastal areas is a similar issue in Essex, perhaps more so because of the Thames flood plain), there is no sign of a reverse in residential-construction policy that would inhabit the interior to a far greater extent. Indeed, one of the current political footballs is the extent to which rural areas might be built on or not (to which I have referred before).

Much as I might find displeasure in the new architecture of a small urban area such as Puerto Pollensa (or at least the context of that architecture), there is of course sense in exploiting this area rather than the “green belt”. But there again, a town like Puerto Pollensa can only itself take so much. Yet, like the UK and therefore no doubt Essex, there is a not insignificant amount of housing stock that is under-utilised. How many of those new apartments in the “Pollentia” development, I wonder, will be lived in all year? Take a walk around my area in Playa de Muro, and perhaps as much as a third of the dwellings are unoccupied at this time of the year.

The population growth is a sign of the attractiveness of Mallorca (and the Balearics) as a place of residence; the growth is thus a potential negative of the island’s success. Housing is by no means the only issue related to population growth, but if it really is such an issue (and there must be still some doubt as to that), then all new house or apartment purchases should be unequivocally – and legally – either first homes or residential lets: no second, third or however many homes, and no holiday lets. Fine in theory. Wouldn’t work in practice.

Yesterday – Donovan. Today’s title – which American outfit?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yellow Is The Colour

We build in Spain since 1958. This is still one of my favourite pieces of grammatical deconstruction. And what do we, or they, build in Spain? They build the Taylor Woodrow “Pollentia”, a curious title of Roman allusion separated from its actual site and town by some seven kilometres and from all historical context by its symmetrical quadratic apartment shapes formed from a colour that shifts with the sunlight and clouds from grey to silver to white. In isolation, it is not unattractive – that part of it close to completion that is. Placed in a futuristic or now contemporary Metropolis, it would be just one apartment block of steel and non-colorific neutrality. In Puerto Pollensa, it is a further clash of competing shouts of modernity that are being echoed around the town and most notably along one street – Metge Llopis. The street itself is becoming a cluttered selection of flat-living, a set of galleries for advanced-architecture showrooms determined to strip out the soul and demonstrate how most to deal with limited space and advance the balances of developers.

Take one street, and it is an advert for towns such as Puerto Pollensa as now conceived. This advert is, in part, a function of architectural updating, the shiny new beast of we build in Spain conflicting with the utilitarian drabness of apartment facades opposite. In part, it is a counterpoint to the realities of economic life separate from the cupidity of the construction industry: the emptiness of the old Golo Golo aka Valnou store, the conversion of the one-time Olivers Restaurant from what was Lee’s grandiosity and Mick’s improbability into some sort of centre for old people. And then further down the road, the locked-up Jack Frost British supermarket for rent for months, or is it years, the never-worked Kudos aka La Bara up for sale, and on a corner another expression of newness, yet more apartments without colour.

Underlying this is the inevitable organic change of any community – of failure and bright new optimism. Yet the optimistic lack of colour, shielding the new anonymity of residential life, is suffused with its very absence of vibrancy, both ocular and atmospheric. It is habitation-chic without the charm that one has come to associate with Puerto Pollensa. The white and silver fascism is the new grey, or maybe it is also grey, it just depends how the light falls. But wherever on the neutral end of the spectrum, absent are the yellows, oranges or terracottas that hold the warmth of sunlight and can be found elsewhere. New Pollentia, Puerto Pollensa New Town.

Yesterday – Unit Four Plus Two. Today’s title – who?


Monday, December 17, 2007

Concrete And Clay

The condohotel concept seems to be the latest “big idea” (see previous – 22 November). Already operating in southern Spain, it looks set to be a feature in the Balearics as well. In today’s “Ultima Hora”, there is an interview with the central government’s tourism secretary-general. One never gets much information form these interviews, only ever headlines and rather vague ideas, but the condohotel does seem to be one on the agenda, and it could give a boost in the winter. Say could.

Otherwise, the secretary-general reckons that it would not be a bad idea if the “oferta complementaria” were to make an effort to stay open in the winter. By “oferta complementaria”, what is meant is, essentially, the bar-restaurant sector. The problem is she does not identify why except as part of some notion of market leadership. Responding to the fact that, although tourist number are up, the tourist spend is not, she believes that alternative and new niche markets that add value should be sought and that a tourist marketing vision is required as the competition is going to get stronger.

It would be harsh to be too harsh on her; the interview is hardly in-depth. But it would be instructive to ever get beyond the obvious and the nebulous. The condohotel idea seems potentially sound, though how widespread it would be and where it would be are other questions. When I hear that term “add value”, I always get somewhat twitchy. What and how much value being added to what precisely, and again where?

If the condohotels go ahead, I trust that their winter clientele can be assured of good heating. It is distinctly cold here at present.

Meanwhile, our old friends GOB, the environmental pressure group, has been handing out its annual gongs. A British naturalist, Nick Riddoford, has collected one for his work in Albufera, while among the recipients of the equivalent of the rotten tomatoes is – no surprises – the mayor of Muro in recognition of Son Bosc. This prize is actually named premio “Ciment”, which I take to be ciment as in the Catalan for cement. What jolly fun.

Yesterday – Dennis Brown. Today’s title – concrete may not be the same as cement, but with the condo angle, it’s as good as you’ll get. Who from the ‘60s?


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Money In My Pocket

“How much should I tip?” Along with other questions from the first-time visitor such as “where’s the loo?”, this is one of the most standard, especially for the Brit used to a pound norm of 10%. Without some guidance, that 10% becomes euro norm as well.

There is no rule of thumb to tipping here. But, according to “The Bulletin”, too much is being given in tips; too much by the Spanish themselves who still haven’t quite adjusted to coinage conventions since the days of the peseta. If the Spanish are tipping too much, one can take it as granted that the British are tipping too much on top.

This is not to advise against tipping; never let it be said. When Alwyn at Foxes Arms mooted his National Tipping League, I was quite willing to give 1.20 euros on top of the 3.80 for a small English and coffee if only to try and ensure that England were not relegated in his league table. (The League never did see the light of day, but had it then Wales would have walked off with the championship.) 1.20 on 3.80, that’s not far off a third again – outrageous. But for national honour it was money well worth wasted. There again, handing over a crumpled grey five euro note and leaving, say, just 20 centimos and pocketing the gold and silver euro seems somehow churlish.

Conveniently, much seems to cost something and 80 centimos. At Kroxan, one of the only bar-cafés in Puerto Alcúdia actually open that isn’t in the port, a coffee and croissant is 2.80. Simple. Leave 20 centimos. It’s more a case of can’t be arsed picking up the change and bulking out the wallet than giving a tip. Similarly, the chap who delivers the butane. Now this is 12.30 a bottle (actually, I think it’s 12.29 but that’s hardly worth worrying about). Give him 12.50. Percentage-wise it’s not much. There again, I don’t know that it is normal to tip the butane bloke. I always have but mainly because I can’t be bothered him hassling to get 20 centimos out of his pocket.

With Christmas nigh, the annual tipping season would be under way in the UK. No such an issue here. For a kick-off, my post is kept in a post office box, so I tip myself. The rubbish collectors (who do actually deserve something compared to their British colleagues as they come every day) do not tip the contents of your bin all over the garden in face of a tip refusal; they don’t come near your garden as it’s all collected from the communal wheelie. Unless you fancy racing after the rubbish wagon with a jangle of loose change in a pocket making you sound like jingle-bells then forget it. Just believe that merely having thought of tipping them is good enough, especially as the rubbish-collection taxes have soared.

The tipping rule is there is no tipping rule. What guides it is more a case of will the waiter think I’m a tight-fisted git. That at least is the main British motivation. There is a way out of all of this. It is quite common to leave payment and just walk out. This is quite alien for most Brits, and the British insistence on waving frantically to get the waiter’s attention, giving the payment there and then and waiting for the change and then making a point of giving a tip is quite alien to many bar or restaurant staff (Spaniards at any rate). But if the bill comes to, say, 9.90, just leave a tenner and get out quickly, safe in the knowledge that, yes, you are a cheapskate and you will probably never go back anyway. I, of course, would never do such a thing, certainly not if Alwyn’s anywhere in the vicinity.

Yesterday – Simon and Garfunkel. Today’s title – reggae artist: which one?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Keep The Customer Satisfied

More on the “Gran Escala” project near Zaragoza (25 November: Bond Themes). “The Times” confirms what its Sunday sister paper had spoken of before; indeed it fleshes out what this complex will comprise – 32 themed casinos, 70 hotels, five theme parks, pyramids, sphinxes and golf courses. 25 million visitors are anticipated each year by 2015. And for those 25 million, there will doubtless be innumerable bars and also shops that stay open when people want them to be open, unlike in Palma for example. 25 million is well over double Mallorca’s current annual tourism intake. 25 million people heading to a piece of reclaimed desert, modelled as the new Las Vegas, more or less on Mallorca’s doorstep and only the same flying-time from the UK.

But why is it that this news is coming from “The Times”? Where is the local reporting? This development is something of huge interest to Mallorca in different ways. Firstly, it poses a potential threat, especially to what there is of winter tourism. One waits to see what the theme parks will be, but they are sure to be of a variety that attracts family tourism as well as any short-breakers wanting to risk their money in a casino; they will not get 25 million visitors just for casinos and a round of golf.

Secondly, the Gran Escala highlights the muddled thinking regarding Mallorca’s tourism. To digress a little: In the late ’70s, Jan Carlsson, the boss of the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), transformed the airline’s culture and performance by creating a structure with the customer at the top of the organisational pyramid; everything else was subordinate to or supported the customer. SAS was one of the first organisations to have a recognisable customer-driven philosophy.

SAS was representative of a wholly different approach to management and organisations. Take this approach and place it in the context of tourism strategy, Mallorca’s tourism strategy, and where is the customer – the tourist – in the structure? Place it in the context of the whole economic model of Mallorca and where is the customer? It is the tourist, the customer, to whom the island is beholden. What fraction of Mallorca’s wealth would exist without that customer?

To continue the business analogy: Mallorca is at the mature stage of its life cycle. A business faced with the same situation has different choices – carrying on the same but with improvements, diversification, acquisition or sale of the business, progressive decline. Mallorca has three of these choices, unless those German businessmen who wanted to buy the island were really for real! To an extent, the first two of these choices are being pursued: hotel stock being upgraded, infrastructure improved, new products (and, yes, that includes all-inclusives). Otherwise, the diversification is clouded with ambiguity and irrelevance: the vagueness of “quality” tourism, the offer of tourism served with a gastronomy of culture and history – what culture, what history? These are minority niches of tiny portions for an island business grown fat on the mass market. As ever, where is the beef?

The thinking is too defined by an insular (inevitably perhaps) and romantic view of what tourists might want, as opposed to what tourists really want. The tourist, the customer, is not at the top of the pyramid. Much of the thinking is couched in terms of “sustainable tourism” with the environmental overtones this implies. This is the wrong adjective. Meaningful tourism is more accurate. Much as it may offend, for every one “cultural” tourist there are a hundred more who have mainly hedonistic pursuits at the top of their list of priorities. The tourist wants entertaining. This means attractions, this means fun. And this is where Gran Escala comes in.

A similar project was never going to be created in Mallorca and never will be. Land is too scarce and too expensive. The environmental lobby would not permit it. But more fundamentally, the building of some giant fun palace in Mallorca would conflict with the current group-think that can conceive of only culture and gastronomy. It is this group-think which denies the tourist, the customer, his or her place at the top of the pyramid.

Yesterday, I defended the Balearic Government. But I also said that things could be done differently. No, there would never be a Gran Escala in Mallorca, but the thinking behind it is precisely the sort of thinking that is required in Mallorca to shake the island out of its winter torpor and to sustain, yes sustain, meaningful tourism in the summer as well. The customer comes first – on a grand scale.

Yesterday – The Jackson Five. Today’s title – which duo?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Blame It On (The B.G.)

“Jack Frost nipping at your toes.” Ah yes, the cosy chill of Christmas that calls from every mall and supermarket. But not only from the shops. There was a frost this morning. Strange thing you might think for Mallorca at sea level, but you’d be wrong. Beautiful clear skies at this time of the year mean really cold nights and mornings. The sun doesn’t get to work until about ten; it’s bitter until it does.

Here we go again. “Euro Weekly” cites an unattributed source (as always in Magaluf) as believing that the good news figures for 2007’s tourism and those projected for 2008 mask the (Balearic) Government’s own shortcomings. As always, the causes of bars’ summer problems are all here – lower spend, too many all-inclusives, too little quality, in addition to those government shortcomings – as are the causes of the winter malaise, or rather cause, as that seems firmly to be one of the Government’s making.

The Government takes the rap. Always someone or something to blame, and who better than the Government. This is not to say that the Government and the tourism authorities could not do better or could not do things differently, but it is a convenience of untruth to heap the blame onto the Government.

Theoretically, the Government could stop all-inclusives. Hotels’ activities are licensed, so it is within the Government’s gift, via its agencies and the local authorities, to determine those activities. But this is anti-market. Any limitation might also be deemed a restraint of trade under European law. Any attempt at enforcement by governments nationally or in the autonomous regions, i.e. Madrid or Palma in Mallorca’s case, could create conflict with the town halls. Besides, the legality of the all-inclusive offer has been accepted by the Government, and the national ombudsman has decreed that there are no grounds for any action against all-inclusives. It – the banning or whatever of all-inclusives – will not happen, so forget it. Stop blaming the Government; it is the wrong target. It is the tour operator, some hotels and the tourist him or herself who are to blame for all-inclusives, if one is to play the blame game at all. The Government is most unlikely to antagonise the source of so much economic wealth (the tour operators) by telling them what sort of offer they can or cannot make. Equally, the Government is most unlikely to tell hotel owners to quit offering all-inclusive packages. Let it not be forgotten that the boss of Iberostar was glad-handing with Government ministers at the recent World Travel Market. Were the ministers telling Miquel Flaxa to stop all-inclusive holidays? I don’t think so somehow. Let it also not be forgotten that Iberostar brings in the sort of “quality” the “fuming bar boss” of this week’s Euro Weekly longs for, albeit that some of that “quality” is going all-inclusive.

But, you know, there is something the Government can do, and something the Government plans to do, so we are led to believe. That is to impose quality standards on hotels. Now this would most certainly affect some all-inclusives quite significantly. One of the reasons for the success of some of the big all-inclusives is because they are relatively cheap, and they are relatively cheap because the standards are not always high. Cost of quality compliance will alter the business model of some hotels. This may not put a stop to some all-inclusives but it for sure will change their markets and may well make them think about the mix of board that they can offer. And this is not a Government involvement that does necessarily conflict with the tour operators. TUI wants 4-star, TUI wants eco-friendly establishments, whatever they are. What TUI wants, TUI often gets. And it comes at a price.

Yesterday – Duran Duran. Today’s title – well the B.G. (for Balearic Government) is a sort of play on words or initials if you prefer. Who?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Girls On Film

I watched a film the other evening, a good film – by all accounts. I was about to say a good film in any language, but that’s the problem; it is no longer a good film because it is no longer THE film. Give it another language and a drama becomes a comedy of dodgy lip-sync and ill-cast linguistic impersonation. Dubbing. Mostly all international films and TV shows are dubbed here. In the case of “The Queen” – or “La Reina” to give it its Spanish title – the only subtitling was for documentary footage such as Earl Spencer’s oration. Otherwise, Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen and the rest became people other than themselves not just because they were acting but because someone else was acting them – after a fashion.

While I quite understand the desire to dub, it is utterly absurd. When I was in Germany, I was once listening to a radio show that previewed forthcoming films. Showcased was a film with Meryl Streep and Danny de Vito. What was truly surreal was to listen to two German “actors” and to then be told by the presenter that I had been listening to Streep and de Vito. I had not had been. I had in fact been listening to Waltraud and Kurt from Bielefeld and Chemnitz, one of them, for all I could have known, with a wooden leg. In Germany, there used to be a kid who was the German Daniel Radcliffe; probably still is. In all seriousness, this adolescent, the German voice of Harry Potter, used to get wheeled out on TV shows, masquerading as the boy wizard – Heinzi from Hogvorts. I know someone who couldn’t believe Eddie Murphy was Eddie Murphy when he finally heard him speaking without a Germano-Black American voiceover. God alone knows what they do with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But just think about it. What do these “actors” do? Are they living the roles? Are they using their facial expressions, their body actions? Are they on a set in front of a camera? Can Helen Mirren’s Spanish voice really appreciate the interpretation that Mirren brought to the role? Of course she can’t. Basically, a good piece of art is taken and thoroughly mangled by the dubbing.

This is not a plea for using subtitles simply because I can then hear a film in English. I no more want, say, the French families of François Truffaut’s charming “L’Argent de Poche” to be talking with home-counties accents than I want Helen Mirren to be inhabited by a Spanish bint who keeps on referring to some chaps called Felipe and Carlos.

And then there is advertising. “The Queen” appeared on one of the main national channels. Both take advertising. Fifteen minutes into the film there was an interlude that lasted … fifteen minutes. Adverts. They then have the gall to announce “estamos viendo” (we are watching) La Reina. No, we are not watching; we had been until a completely different programme comprising sketches for perfumes and kitchen units had been inserted. All was then fine until the end of the scene with Earl Spencer. Now, I had not seen the film. Had I, I would have switched off at that point. Some fifteen or twenty minutes more of advertising, and then – what – five minutes remaining with Mirren and Sheen walking in the gardens at Buck House. I only took note of the adverts so that I could remind myself never to buy a Volkswagen, to change my mobile account from Vodafone and to give Jane Fonda, and her Spanish voiceover, a good slap when I next see them with a L’Oreal cream.

Yesterday – “My Old Man Said Follow The Van”. Today’s title – which group? Easy.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dallied And Dillied

You wonder what all the fuss was about. I still hold with the accusation that the Juaneda group could have handled the closure of the Hospital d’Alcúdia better, but the fact that it plans to open a new facility in Alcúdia softens the blow. This new centre will be located in two buildings on the Camí del Mal Pas (this is the road leaving Alcúdia in the direction of Bonaire, La Victoria and also of course Mal Pas). As such, it won’t be that far from the closed-down hospital and will offer pretty much all that was available at the hospital save for in-patients and presumably also intensive care (which ceased at the hospital some months ago).

But why did Juaneda not just say what they had planned rather than letting the rumours drag on? Had they envisaged, all along, a new facility and shifting actual hospitalisation to Muro, and had said so, they could have saved a lot of headache, confusion and ill will. That patients will be assigned a bed down the road in Playa de Muro is hardly an inconvenience, and it was never going to be an inconvenience: Juaneda’s obfuscation allowed it to be presented as such.

The front page of the current “Mallorca Zeitung”, the German weekly, flags up the promise of riches for estate agents in the form of Russian buyers. I knew there was a reason why Anna Kournikova was a “face” of Mallorca. What better for some oligarch, pockets bulging with roubles and various other denominations, than to offshore the wonga into a Mallorcan dacha with its own helipad, beetroot plantation, vodka distillery, and lodgings for the bodyguards? Should be fun for someone trying to sort out that money trail. Should be fun for some of the estate agents with their translations as well. Russian? There are those that struggle with English, some of them run by the English. Comprises of, anyone?

Yesterday – “Fire”, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Today’s title – in honour of Juaneda, where does this line come from?


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I’ll Take You To Burn

Well it’s one way of getting around some of the environmental problems, I suppose. Set fire to stuff. Not that I am suggesting that there was any malicious intent, but part of Albufera was smoking yesterday, flames fanned by the fierce winds that caused a fair amount of havoc across the island: 72 kilometres per hour was registered in Puerto Pollensa. Whatever the strength, it was strong enough, especially taking to the exposed coast road from Alcúdia.

Fire. For a place with a fair amount of wood, Mallorca seems to fare reasonably well in the fire stakes. Compared with other Mediterranean islands, Corsica for example, it gets away quite lightly. There again, Corsica is one great big inland forest and mountain range: an obliging and inviting target for some pyromaniac. Frightening as well, as was the time when staying on the south of the island and the flames were to be seen on the hills above the town. At least, unlike in other places, we were not evacuated to the only really safe place – the beach.

It was in Corsica that I first became aware of the Canadair water-bombing planes, and also of the hero status the local people grant the pilots. Familiar though the Canadair planes are that fly from the Puerto Pollensa base, there is not the same cult attached to the pilots as there is in Corsica. Nevertheless, it can be a seriously dangerous job.

Fire of another sort is that of bars and restaurants, houses and hotels. Every season some restaurant goes up. All that sizzling oil flying around it’s not really surprising. And in houses and flats one of the more likely causes of fire is the butane installation, or a faulty one at least. I have a cooker that runs off butane: it must be coming up for its periodic check. These checks though can be the source of a scam and/or rip-off. Back in the summer this chap pitched up at the gate. Went through the whole spiel. I knew exactly where he was coming from. He would do an inspection and, irrespective of whether any work was needed, would set about doing it and then trouser a goodly sum. It has happened to people I know. Anyway, as he was kind enough to speak in English, I told him kindly enough in English to piss off, which he did, only to come back the next day when I told him the same. No deterring some folk.

Yesterday – “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, Queen. Today’s title – line from which crazy ‘60s record?


Monday, December 10, 2007

You Can’t Turn Back The Tide

And so, climate change once more. At a time when the Spanish Government is planning its recovery of the coasts, and the BBC has recently picked up on this with headline-grabbing “Brits lose dream investment” stuff, it seems no coincidence that the Government’s own commissioned report into climate change has just been published. With only a few months before the national elections, the findings are a sort of nightmare dream for Zapatero’s PSOE as it seeks the eco-vote and positions itself against Rajoy’s PP – Rajoy, let it not be forgotten, does not buy the whole climate change argument.

The Government’s report, as outlined in the “Diario”, has seven main themes, their most headline-grabbing one being one that doubtless the BBC or any other news organisation would love for its scary effect. Try this on for size: 70 metres. While the average sea rise level is given as 15 centimetres by the middle of the century, the direction of sea swells could cause the retreat of as much as 70 metres on Balearic beaches. 70!? It sounds gravely worrying: it also sounds quite close to the 100-metre area that is not supposed to be built upon and is the subject of potential demolitions around Spanish coasts under the Government’s plan.

The report goes on by recommending the abandonment of the most vulnerable areas and the relocation of infrastructures. I might remind you that some of these most vulnerable areas are said to be in the north of the island. A 15-centimetre increase in sea level and a loss of 70 metres of beach, and Can Picafort, for sure, will be partially and permanently inundated: those dunes were there for a reason.

But where on Earth would relocation occur? It would need to be quite distant from the new sea-line. Unless it has become a golf course by then, some displaced hotels could be erected on Son Bosc. Oh no they couldn’t. There will be a 101 reasons for not building inland, or 121 in Son Bosc’s case.

As for tourism, rising temperatures and rising seas are clear threats, even if the current (summer) seasonality of most tourism might be smoothed in favour of other times of the year. Maybe, but I suspect it would be a big maybe.

This is all startling stuff, even if it is not exactly new. Whether it will be taken as a serious blueprint by the Government or whether it is a political bat with which to hit the PP and with which to play with the environmental lobby, only time will tell. Trouble is, does anyone really know how much time there is?

Yesterday – The Go-Betweens. Today’s title – the whole line goes “you can’t turn back the clock and you can’t turn back the tide”. Which mega group?


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Streets Of Your Town

Neighbourhoods. In the ‘hood. Some of us live in neighbourhoods, uncharmingly known as urbanisations. My own was started by the people who built the Esperanza hotel in Playa de Muro. I was on the upper terrace of one house in my neighbourhood earlier today. In all directions there were villas and chalets, each with a story, some of them not repeatable. Germans, French, Mallorcan, Spanish, British, a small enclave of part European Union, even though most keep themselves to themselves. Like anywhere.

Some live in neighbourhoods where the neighbours do not just keep to themselves and kick up a fuss about poor service from the local town hall. In the villa-graced residential area of Gotmar in Puerto Pollensa, with a similar demographic to my own, but bigger and partly built into a hillside, the neighbourhood group has taken cash-strapped Pollensa town hall to task over deficiencies such as collapsed pavements, lack of lighting and flooding when it rains heavily. And it looks as though they might be getting somewhere, which all goes to show what some co-operation and determined action can achieve.

Then there are some who live in ‘hoods that are far more in keeping with the gangsta implication of the ‘hood term. Take Son Banya in Palma, not much more than a shanty town, and the scene of a heavy police presence each weekend for the past three weeks. Drugs. Road blocks, tear-gas and Molotov cocktails, hardly the normal stuff of Mallorcan life, and a world away from my neighbourhood. The determined action there is now to try and secure a truce.

I first came to Mallorca in 1969. From the balcony of our hotel, I could see what was a shanty town, a small one, just a few ramshackle lean-tos or corrugated-roofed huts. These “dwellings” backed onto the neighbouring hotel. And now the shanties still exist with all the added problems handed down over a generation and a half.

Mallorca – one place, different worlds. Like anywhere. From the Mercedes and Audis of Playa de Muro and Gotmar to the burnt-out shell of an old Escort somewhere in Palma.

Yesterday – Bing Crosby. Today’s title – probably a few that might apply, but this is the title of a song by a great Australian group, which seems appropriate given the neighbours bit.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Straight Down The Middle

Yet more on the Son Bosc golf development in Muro. A spokesperson for the GOB environmental pressure group is quoted in the “Diario” as saying that 99.9% of local people do not know what they have: it falls to “many foreigners” to come and enjoy the natural world of the Son Bosc finca. He goes on to say that the finca is home to 121 species of bird, while a naturalist from Albufera speaks of the plants, insects and animals to be found there. From the battleground of one particular orchid, the artillery of the environmentalists is now lined up behind a whole battalion of flora and fauna.

That local people may be unaware of what Son Bosc has to offer (they surely cannot be now) would not be a justification for creating a golf course instead, but when GOB refer to “many” foreigners, just how many is many? Knowledge, lack of knowledge, and some overseas naturalists, none of these is especially relevant. What is, is whether Son Bosc is a protected area of natural importance, which it would seem to be. End of story, one would think. It would be were it not for the interests of the developers, some politicians and some hotels.

The Albufera representative talks also about the number of golf courses that already exist on the island, some of them quite close by. This is not an invalid argument. What has been lost in the debate, or at least is not being widely discussed, is the economic argument in favour of the Son Bosc development: that, and the exact nature of the planned course. Both Alcúdia and Pollensa have golf courses. Alcanada is thought to be the more challenging because of its links nature. Pollensa’s course is – I am told as I don’t play – a bit easy, a park course but set in superb countryside and with undulations. A course in Son Bosc would be a park course, on the flat, without the sea and cliffs of Alcanada or the scenic splendour of Pollensa.

But more fundamentally, what is the reality of golf tourism to Mallorca and specifically to the north? Golf tourism is a concept bandied about as part of the solution to winter tourism and as an element of the vaguely defined “quality” tourism. There may be figures which show the numbers of golf tourists, but I am not aware of them. Are there great numbers coming to play at Alcanada? Maybe there are, but were there then perhaps more hotels might be open to accommodate a mass of Titleist-tagged and Wilson-wielding chippers and pitchers. The hotel and the apartments in Alcanada are not exactly thronged with winter golfers: they are not exactly open either.

To what extent are these courses sustained by their local populations? The total population of Muro (Playa de Muro) and Santa Margalida (Can Picafort) combined equates to that of either Alcúdia or Pollensa alone. The expat “market” is widely perceived as being a strong golfing one. The percentages of British-German expatriates for Alcúdia and Pollensa are 7 and 9 per cent respectively: for Muro and Santa Margalida together, the figure is less than 6%. Of course, not only expats play golf and by no means all expats play golf, but however you look at the figures, they are not that great. The total number of British-German expats in the four towns together is a bit over 3,500, and how many actually play golf? Consequently, would another golf course be justifiable, one that might not enjoy, ironically, the natural benefits of Alcanada and Pollensa? Would current Muro or Can Picafort golfers with memberships for the nearby courses stop those in favour of a course merely because it happens to be closer? I have not heard of the Son Bosc development being positioned as satisfying a local need or demand. If it were, then the support of the hotels would be irrelevant.

The Playa de Muro hoteliers may be backing Son Bosc, but where is the evidence that they would get significant business? Neither Alcúdia nor Pollensa have many hotel beds in winter, and what is open is either very small (such as the interior hotels) or smallish (like the Estrella de Mar). Playa de Muro’s hotels are mostly all medium to big. Is it not the case that winter golf tourism to Mallorca is rather overplayed? There are not the complexes of Portugal or mainland Spain, to say nothing of other golfing destinations, including Florida.

The environmental (and legal) case against the Son Bosc development is strong. Although I think that the likes of GOB are making something of a meal out of it, it might help the cause of the pro-course lobby if an equally strong economic and business case could be presented. So … ?

Yesterday – “Dreams”, Fleetwood Mac (The Corrs did the cover). Today’s title – old, old song by a golfing crooner. His good mate had a classic named after him: indeed I think he did too.


Friday, December 07, 2007

And Have You Any Dreams?

Don’t let it be said I can’t offer a compliment or two, even to Leapy Lee. As some of you might know, I have had occasion to refer to the odd (in more than one sense of the word) utterances from the long-ago one-hit wonder. But in this week’s “Euro Weekly”, Leapy has penned something quite good: indeed it should serve as a warning to anyone contemplating coming here and taking a bar on.

The gist of what he says will be of no surprise to many who live here. Or you would think that, except that his “buyer-beware” advice could also apply to some who have lived and worked here for some years, Spanish and Mallorcan as well as Brits.

This is all the old rose-tinted spectacles dream of a bar in the sun, and the reality of what it can actually entail. The worst case is someone or some couple sink their money into coughing up for a “traspaso” only to find they cannot keep up the rent or other payments and are turfed out on their ears. Dream shattered.

Bars fail or succeed for different reasons, but a fundamental aspect of running one successfully is good cash flow. This is Business Studies 101, or should be. The entrepreneurs of “Dragon’s Den” may want to see good profits, but you bet that they pore over the cash-flow statements and projections as well.

I have spoken before on this blog about what makes for a successful bar or not. Location is pretty damn important, but it is not always the most important. Having run a bar before may be advantageous, but it too is not always the most important. Having a good marketing mix in addition to location (the place of the 4Ps together with promotion, price and product) is also important. But perhaps above all, there is no substitute for personality and sheer hard work. It is these two factors that are sometimes a bar’s downfall. Unfortunately, there are those who should never be let near a bar, let alone run one, either because they have some personality by-pass or are work-shy, or both.

You have to ask yourself – why do some bars under different ownership succeed where previously they did not? If Harvard Business School were to ever use this as a case-study exercise, they would do worse than look at the case of JK’s in Puerto Pollensa. Jane and Kevin had not run a bar before, but they took what was a failed bar (or premises at any rate) and turned it into the successful place it now is. They don’t necessarily enjoy the best location either. The bar is neither in the main square nor on the frontline, but it works.

Like most people here, I know of a number of bar failures: of people unsuited for whatever reason, of those who have done a runner, of those who would be hauled through the courts had they not done a runner. Leapy Lee advises being in the area for 12 months prior to committing. It is good advice, but it is not necessarily practical, and if a prospective new owner happens to be a complete dork, having observed a successful operation for a whole year doesn’t mean it won’t go belly-up. I also know of people who have lived in these parts for many years, some Spanish, some British, and they have failed, and not because they had non-personalities or preferred to pig out on a beach or prop up a competitor’s bar. Sometimes it is a question of luck, or rather its absence. Fire or flood perhaps, that big hotel over the road suddenly going exclusive all-inclusive, an economic downturn, a new, more sparkly place opening up next door. But even then it is not all down to bad luck. A bit of research can ascertain the nature of that big hotel, a bit of reading the newspapers can hint at what might be happening economically. Judging the nature of competition is probably an aspect that most fail to appreciate more than any.

Taking on a bar is not for the faint-hearted. It can seem like a dream, and sometimes it turns out that way, but sometimes it can be your worst nightmare. Put it this way, if there were to be a job ad, such as the following, how many would apply?

“Wanted. Bar Owner. Must have strong and likeable personality, the stamina of a National winner, the ability to stand for long periods (those with varicose veins should think twice about applying) and the patience of a saint (for dealing with Spanish bureaucracy and many other things Spanish as well as putting up with crashing bores and those to whom you wouldn’t out of choice give houseroom). Qualifications: electrician, plumber, carpenter, cleaner, business studies, chef (optional but helpful when the one you hired walks out at short notice), Spanish (not essential but useful), basic mathematics (ability to add, subtract, multiply and even divide), basic English (ability to spell). Financial commitment: take the asking price and double it just to be on the safe side. Own car and driving licence and own accommodation. Must pay all social security, tax and pension. Hours: typically 09:00 to 01:00 daily April to October (additional months optional).”

Yesterday – James. Today’s title – the line continues “you’d like to sell?”. Which Anglo-American outfit? At a pinch, I’ll take the Irish cover, which was better in my opinion.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

One Of The Three

December is the month for holidays. No really, even more so than most other months. Today and Saturday are both public holidays: one political, one religious – Constitution Day and Immaculate Conception. Today’s celebration relates to the fact that a referendum on the constitution for the post-Franco democratic Spain was held on the 6th December 1978. Under the constitution, in addition to statements of democracy and law, there are provisions for regional self-government and the exercise of languages. These were things negated during the Franco era. Regional autonomy and the variety of languages are two of the most profound elements of both the constitution and today’s Spain. But both lead to their tensions, not least in respect of the degree to which a local language takes precedence over the national language of Castilian or vice versa. That is no more so the case than in Mallorca and within the local educational sector, a battleground for the competing requirements of the national language and of Catalan and Mallorquín. For many, it is an absurdity that Castilian, a world language of greater practical benefit, might be subjugated not just by Catalan but also by the more obscure local version. The language issue is not one about to go away. The leader of the Partido Popular nationally, Mariano Rajoy, seems to have a particular thing about the dominance of Castilian: the national elections are only a few months away.

But while on the absurd, the fact that there are two public holidays over three days means that the intervening day, the 7th December, becomes a de facto holiday as well – the bridge or in local terms “puente” (Castilian, that is). If the intention had been, back in 1978, that subsequent anniversaries of the referendum were to be public holidays, why wasn’t it held on the 7th or the 9th or at some other time? Immaculate Conception has long been a holiday in the Catholic calendar. Might it not have made more sense had …? (Could an answer as to why there is a day’s gap be that otherwise there would be occasions when the two days would coincide with a weekend.)

Anyway, just coming back to the constitution, “Ultima Hora” presents the findings of a survey within the Balearics as to people’s satisfaction or not with the constitution as it stands. Not that surprisingly, a strong majority (78%) say that they are satisfied. I say not surprisingly as, is the constitution something people really pay much attention to, except when a pollster comes along and asks?

And after this spate of days off, we have Christmas. It is coming, the goose is getting fat, all that. The lights are being put up, though with energy-saving in mind. The shops are playing naff music. The papers have special recipes. Pretty much like anywhere, even if Christmas is less of an orgy of credit-card busting here than it is in the UK. Still, for those locally who need their anglo-Christmas fill, as always pleased to put in a word for my chums at Little Britain supermarket in Puerto Alcúdia: turkeys and all the trimmings, mince pies, brandy sauce, Christmas puddings, chocolates, cards … . To Steve and Urbano at Little Britain, God rest ye merry gentlemen. Well from the 25th at any rate.

Yesterday – “Going Underground”, The Jam. Today’s title – song by Manchester-ish group, think jam and add two.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Public Gets What The Public Wants?

Overhearing a confused conversation in a newsagents as to what was going on at the Hospital d’Alcúdia and what it all meant, I went into the hospital to see what information was available. Looked around, expected some notice or perhaps some sheets of a “dear patient, it is with regret that we have to inform you” variety. Nothing.

This has been a PR disaster for the hospital managers. The denials were one thing, but now that the decision has been taken to close the hospital, they should have set in motion a communications plan. Perhaps they yet will, but to this point the handling of the affair has demonstrated a disregard for the local community, and not just in Alcúdia but also in Pollensa, Sa Pobla, Can Picafort and other towns which have relied on the hospital.

The Juaneda group will doubtless point to the advantages of shifting everything to Muro. Fair enough. However, it is neglecting not only the “hearts and minds” psychology of the consumer but also its own role in the community. For most businesses, there is a degree of social and community responsibility in what they do, no more so than in the provision of heath care. Must do better.

PR of a different sort. “Euro Weekly” leads on the crackdown in Calvia on the work of those who tout for bars etc.: they are comically referred to as PRs. In Magaluf and other parts of Calvia, bars will be liable to hefty fines if they use them. In a way, this is good. The PRs, sometimes quite aggressive, jack-the-lad Brits looking for an excuse for a summer in the sun, can be a real nuisance. They operate mainly or exclusively on a commission basis, and can be found in many resorts. In Alcúdia, the actions of the PRs can be a source of irritation. They are to be found along The Mile, but do also pop up in the port and in Playa de Muro.

But to damn all PRs would be unfair. There are some I know who are in a sense “professionals”. They have been at the PR game for years, are good at what they do, have amusing lines in banter and form a part, if you like, of the “local colour”. Not all are as they are portrayed, the female PRs in particular who for the most part are cheerful and charming. The problem lies with the occasional aggression and with the numbers of PRs – it is the cumulative effect that irritates as much anything else. It is seemingly inevitable that if one bar has a PR, the next bar will want one, and so it goes on. But not always. In at least one part of The Mile, the bar operators have agreed amongst themselves that none of them will operate PRs. Self-regulation in other words. Perhaps this, or a code of practice amongst bar and restaurant owners is the solution, though this would fail if the likely-lad PRs have to drag tourists kicking and screaming into a bar to secure their only source of income, i.e. a commission. If the PRs were to be outlawed, I wonder what difference it would really make. In some cases they must surely be counter-productive if they hack tourists off so much. Were there to be none, then all the bars would be on a level playing-field and have to look to more subtle forms of promotion than hassling some poor visitor and his family.

I don’t wish to see the PRs banned, but I suspect it will occur on a wider scale than just in Calvia. Because of some bad apples, the whole PR produce is likely to fail.

Yesterday – Bonnie Tyler. Today’s title – I’ve made a question out of this line from which song? Huge English act of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lost In France

Bet you didn’t realise that Balearic president, Francesc Antich, yesterday also became a “European” president: you wouldn’t be alone. Antich has assumed the presidency of the so-called “Eurorregion”, a political grouping that obscure that many here couldn’t tell you what it was. To explain: the Eurorregion comprises parts of south-eastern France, north-eastern Spain and the Balearics. Its general objective is to defend the interests of the regions within the European Union: it met yesterday in Toulouse. This may well be its objective, but in truth what on Earth is the point of it? I am not alone in wondering. The president of one of the participating regions, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, reckons that the group signifies nothing and that unless something positive happens over the next twelve months it will drop out, joining Aragon which has already taken its bat home following a disagreement with Catalonia. This particular “Eurorregion” is just one of many across Europe. As established by the Council of Europe, they are meant not to have political power.

Antich, according to “Ultima Hora”, wants the Eurorregion to become an area of co-operation with its own legal status to lobby for EU grants. But, other than neighbourliness, what common ground is there within this group? It is not a Catalan-speaking coalition, even though there are some Catalan speakers in southern France. Were it so, with the politico-linguistic overtones that would have, then one could see some logic, but – at the political level – the Balearics have their own beef with Catalonia over the latter’s drive for greater autonomy which could see less money from rich Catalonia entering the Spanish pot for divvying up to other parts, e.g. the Balearics. Moreover, there are already collective groupings for these regions – they are known as France and Spain – which compete for Brussels money. The Balearics make up an autonomous region of Spain with representatives in Madrid for the precise purpose of securing adequate funding, be it national or European. What can a cross-national grouping of neighbours hope to achieve in terms of climbing the Brussels cash mountain that a national government cannot? There is some reference to tourism, but again where is the common ground? It might be remembered that the tourist centres of the Languedoc, such as Cap d’Agde, were created partly because the French were hacked off with Germans and others driving past them into Spain.

Some of the euro regions have a logic. The Benelux grouping is one with a history, the one that joins Kent to France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel has a clear rationale. But the Balearics one? The whole thing smacks of being little more than a talking-shop, an opportunity for local politicians to play on an international stage, albeit one stripped of lighting, curtains, a coherent plot and with an empty auditorium. Sorry, I don’t get it, nor it seems does the president of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Still in France. Another tourism/travel fair. In Cannes. This is unashamedly pitched at the luxury-tourism market, its name International Luxury Travel: you can’t get much clearer than that. Thirteen Mallorcan businesses, mainly top-notch hotels, have joined the Mallorca council’s stand at the fair. Unlike the often misleading term quality tourism, luxury tourism is unequivocal: it stands for money and lots of it. The council is right to promote the luxurious nature of some of the island’s hotels. Here it is on firm ground. Where it is less so is on the cultural and gastronomic delights to support such luxury tourism. Which is not to deny these exist, just – as I have said before – they are largely hidden and do not enjoy a strong perception in the global tourist market. But, they are pushing the boat out at Cannes, so good luck to them.

Yesterday – Van Morrison, “And The Healing Has Begun”. Today’s title – song by?


Monday, December 03, 2007

And We’ll Walk Down The Avenue Again

And back to what I was saying about building work that needs to be done during the winter. It is the turn of another part of Puerto Alcúdia this winter – the part along the main road coming from the port as far as the Palm Garden apartments, sometimes known as the Avenida Reina Sofia. The work being carried out is intended to “beautify” this strip, the inside road being paved over to make way for a tree-lined avenue. Well it’s something, though it will not remove the generally ordinary-looking units that exist there. Along this stretch, the beach side holds more charm – the Carabelas, the Viva hotel, a couple of shops, a bank and one restaurant (Don Vito). Opposite there is a mish-mash, the units below the admittedly pleasing pastel walls of the Alcúdia Garden being unremarkable at best, though the new pizzeria looks ok. But there again, they are typical of many a resort, even Puerto Pollensa has a row of less than attractive units on one part of its frontline. There is not much that can be done about these: functionality has dominated over aesthetics.

But the facelift reminds us that things can be done to raise the general level of attractiveness. Compare what is being undertaken in Puerto Alcúdia to the strip I have referred to in Playa de Muro, which also suffers from a number of empty units – something that is not a problem in Puerto Alcúdia. If the Mallorca council can stump up a million euros for the Alcúdia makeover, then perhaps Muro town hall could go with its begging-bowl and seek some similar facelift.

Making the Avenida Reina Sofia “prettier” should benefit everyone, though perhaps the ultimate benefit would be derived from pedestrianising the main road, something I assume is not happening (the bus stops for example will remain where they are) and is unlikely to happen.

Yesterday – Captain Beefheart (and The Magic Band). Today’s title – huge artist, northern Irish.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Those Little Golden Birdies, Look At Them

And now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been caught up in the ongoing saga that is the projected golf course on the Son Bosc finca in Muro next to the Albufera wetlands.

Do not expect militant twitchers to be marching on Muro town hall, but if you happen to run a hotel in Playa de Muro that normally hosts bird-watchers in the spring, then there may be fewer sets of binoculars standing on bedside tables. The environmental group GOB, which has undertaken an international campaign against the golf development, is calling on RSPB members to boycott Muro hotels that open for the spring intake of nature-lovers and cyclists.

As an alliance of representatives of a wider flora-and-fauna movement, there is some logic to GOB’s call, but where exactly should the ornithologists stay, or should they simply stay in the UK and head for Minsmere or some other English location? And what has all this to do with the hotels anyway? The answer lies in the fact that the Playa de Muro hotel association supports the development. No great surprise there.

Hitting the local economy, even by dissuading a relatively small number of visitors, is not necessarily a way of winning friends, but it is a stock-in-trade of pressure groups, and highlights the polarity of positions in respect of the economy and the environment that is hard to reconcile.

Despite the apparent legal protection that Son Bosc has (and there are always ways around that), I wonder whether GOB is not miscalculating this particular fight. It must surely be within the wit of designers to ensure that the rare orchid that grows in Son Bosc is not affected: this is a golf course after all, not a hypermarket or an urbanisation. The only trouble is, I suppose, that some high-handicapper hooks into some rough, and belts an orchid into fairway oblivion with an iron: either that or shanks a tee-shot straight onto the head of a passing twitcher.

Yesterday – “I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe” from our old friends Genesis. Today’s title - John Peel described him as a genius. American blues-rock artist who has appeared on this blog before.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

I Know What I Like

The internet’s strength is its weakness. This is no more apparent than when it comes to recommendations. They are available for everything, a cyber extension of the traditional testimonial of the printed advert and media: worldwide web word of mouth. A personal recommendation is every bit as powerful as an advert alone or the superlatives of a brochure. Which brings me to holidays. Planning a holiday nowadays has taken on the guise of researching for a degree. Source material, be it recommendation or other, is to be sifted and interpreted. Which bar, which restaurant, which excursion, which hotel, which resort, which country?

The bar or restaurant recommendation is hardly critical. It is also generally very useful, even if it is subjective: it facilitates decision-making once in the resort. If it turns out not to be to one’s taste, the investment has not been great. A resort on the other hand. As with all recommendations, the resort recommendation can be both for or against: it has the power to persuade a purchase or to deter.

Recommendations are subjective, an expression of personal taste, attitude or experience. They can also be prejudicial. Recently I read a remark in response to an enquirer who was looking for advice on resort choice in Mallorca. The remark concerned Alcudia. It went something like this: Alcudia is a single long street with a bridge, and bars few are far between. It misrepresented not only The Mile (to which the description applied) but also the whole of Alcudia. The enquirer seemed to take the non-recommendation at face value. I thought about correcting this impression, but I stopped when I realised I would have been responding to something which had offended me. It was as though my territory had been invaded. And herein lies the rub. Take a different example. Magaluf. Nowhere in Mallorca arouses a greater divide of opinion. There is no grey with Magaluf. Get a negative comment about Magaluf, and there is a howl of protest, defending the place. Territorialism and defence. It is as though one’s territory or choice has been attacked – the choice of where one lives, works or chooses to go on holiday. The leap to defence is a basic instinct.

In the case of some recommendations, there is a sense of “I know what you’ll like”, despite the fact that the one doing the recommending has little clue as to what the other person really likes or dislikes. It can stem from the same mindset as the need to defend: it is essentially the same side of the coin.

A holiday is a hefty investment. The recommendation is very useful, no question about that, but the choice cannot or should not be based on one opinion or on limited information. The strength of the internet lies in the breadth of opinion, the weakness – if it is allowed – lies in the subjectivity and prejudice that can inform opinion.

To matters political for those of who have been following the Unio Mallorquina succession issue. Surprise, surprise, Miquel Nadal, having dropped out of the running, complaining that he could not work with other runners, has been named the new president, and his rivals, including Alcudia’s mayor, Miquel Ferrer, have secured senior roles, Ferrer as secretary-general. Politics: the same anywhere.

Yesterday – David Cassidy, and the original was by The Young Rascals. Today’s title – the line continues “and I know what I like”. Who?


Friday, November 30, 2007

How Can I Be Sure?

The local papers all go with the news that, after the months of rumour and denial, the hospital in Alcúdia is to close: at the end of December. (See previous: 4 November: And When I Woke Up In My Hospital Bed). The managing director, who had until recently been saying that rumours of closure were just that, rumours, has now come clean. The reasons for closure centre on the fall in the number of patients since the opening of the Inca public health hospital, a lack of specialists and the obsolete nature of some of the hospital’s equipment, the latter being something - one would have thought - that the Juaneda group who run the hospital would have been aware of for some while. Most of the hospital’s employees and its operations - in the general sense of the word - will transfer to Juaneda’s Hospital General de Muro. Alcúdia’s mayor still hopes that there might be a reconsideration, but this is no sudden consideration for closure; it has been on the cards for ages. The hospital will become a home for geriatric care.

Part of me says I don’t know what the fuss is all about. At a personal level, the Muro hospital is closer, and so long as it honours my health-insurance company, it really makes little difference; indeed it is better. But for many who use Alcúdia, they will want to be sure as to which insurance companies apply. I was in the hospital in Alcúdia the other day. I met a Mallorcan couple who I know well (there is another aspect to the hospital; though private, it is very much part of the community, and one invariably meets at least one person one knows, but be that as it may). I mentioned to this couple the fact that the hospital might be closing. It was the first they had heard of it (they live in Can Picafort, and maybe news doesn’t really travel that far here), and they were taken aback as their insurance company - the same as mine - does not list Muro in its annual brochure of centres. It’s ok, I said, Muro hospital has it (the insurance company) listed on its website. These are not people who would ever look at the internet, let alone a computer. So Juaneda face a PR issue, one of letting people know how it affects them. I can well imagine people beating a path to the Hospital d’Alcúdia looking for assurance that they will be able to use Muro.

Although the Inca hospital is not that far, I do wonder how the closure might impact on tourists. Go to the Hospital d’Alcúdia in summer and there are no small number of tourist casualties of varying sorts. The Muro hospital doubtless has the same; now it will likely to have to cater for all of them. I hope they’ve thought about that.

How sure can one be on the local beaches? For once, this is not an environmental issue, but a safety one. Apparently there are 42 beaches around the islands that fall into the high-risk category when it comes to drowning; the “Diario” has a map - there are four in Pollensa, one in Alcúdia, two in Muro (Playa de Muro) and three in Santa Margalida (Can Picafort and maybe Son Serra). It does not itemise the beaches, but it is not difficult to know which ones they are talking about. For instance in the case of Muro, the “two” must be the beaches either side of where the “torrent” exits into the sea by the Esperanza complex; for two, read THE beach. The at-risk beaches are not therefore necessarily tucked-away coves. Quite the contrary, they are some of the most populated, which is part of the problem; that, a lack of appreciation of sea conditions and the work of the lifeguards (which needs to be made easier).

I know of at least three drownings near me in Playa de Muro this summer. Yet you would hardly think of the sea there as risky; it is shallow, there are no rocks. But there are, as always, currents, and - in parts - a lot of people. I wrote briefly about the dangers in August when the sea was particularly turbulent (6 August: This Is The Sea). The sea - we adore it, but we should always fear it.

Yesterday - “Refugees”, Van Der Graaf Generator. Today’s title - one point for the singer who had the number one, but a big bonus for knowing who did it originally.


Index for November 2007

Albufera - 12 November 2007
Alcúdia’s old power station - 23 November 2007
Alcúdia’s power station - 6 November 2007, 7 November 2007, 10 November 2007
All-inclusives - 9 November 2007, 28 November 2007
Archaeology - 10 November 2007
Architecture - 21 November 2007
Autumn fairs - 5 November 2007, 12 November 2007, 14 November 2007
Balearic economy - 5 November 2007
Balearic Government - 1 November 2007
Beach-bars - 3 November 2007
Beaches - 3 November 2007, 6 November 2007, 7 November 2007, 30 November 2007
Blog second anniversary - 1 November 2007
Boats - 27 November 2007
Building - 10 November 2007, 20 November 2007
Cala San Vicente - 10 November 2007
Can Picafort - 15 November 2007
Cartoons - 14 November 2007
Casinos - 25 November 2007
Ceuta - 5 November 2007
City breaks - 14 November 2007
Climate change - 3 November 2007, 10 November 2007
Clínica Juaneda - 4 November 2007, 30 November 2007
Coastline - 6 November 2007, 15 November 2007, 21 November 2007
Condohotels - 22 November 2007
Culture - 24 November 2007, 26 November 2007
Demolition - 6 November 2007, 21 November 2007
Dijous Bo - 12 November 2007
Don Pedro hotel - 6 November 2007
Drownings - 30 November 2007
“El Jueves” - 14 November 2007
Energy - 11 November 2007
Environment - 1 November 2007, 3 November 2007, 6 November 2007, 10 November 2007, 21 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Euro 2008 - 22 November 2007, 24 November 2007
Expatriates - 24 November 2007
Ferrer, Miquel - 13 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Film - 18 November 2007
Football - 22 November 2007, 24 November 2007
Gatamoix - 12 November 2007
GOB - 1 November 2007, 10 November 2007
Golf - 1 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Gran Escala, Zaragoza - 25 November 2007
Grupo Femenía - 4 November 2007
History - 12 November 2007, 15 November 2007, 18 November 2007, 26 November 2007
Hospital d’Alcúdia - 4 November 2007, 30 November 2007
Hospital General de Muro - 4 November 2007, 30 November 2007
Hotels - 6 November 2007, 9 November 2007, 13 November 2007, 17 November 2007, 20 November 2007, 21 November 2007, 22 November 2007, 29 November 2007
House of Katmandu - 8 November 2007
Housing - 1 November 2007, 11 November 2007
Iberostar - 13 November 2007
Illegal building - 3 November 2007, 6 November 2007
Inca - 12 November 2007
King Jaime 1 - 18 November 2007
King Juan-Carlos - 11 November 2007
Language - 24 November 2007
Llull, Ramón - 25 November 2007, 26 November 2007
Marinas - 27 November 2007
Melilla - 5 November 2007
Moorings - 27 November 2007
Mountains - 19 November 2007
Nationalism - 13 November 2007
Nautical tourism - 27 November 2007
Paco de Lucía - 16 November 2007
Palma - 14 November 2007
Playa de Muro - 15 November 2007, 28 November 2007, 30 November 2007
Political parties - 13 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Pollensa fair - 14 November 2007
Pollentia - 10 November 2007
Promotion - 16 November 2007
Roman remains - 10 November 2007
Royal Family - 14 November 2007
Sa Pobla fair - 14 November 2007
Satire - 14 November 2007
Snow - 19 November 2007
Son Bosc - 1 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Theme parks - 25 November 2007
Thomson - 20 November 2007, 22 November 2007
Tour operators - 17 November 2007, 20 November 2007, 22 November 2007
Tourism statistics - 9 November 2007
Tourism strategy - 14 November 2007, 16 November 2007, 17 November 2007
Tourist spend - 8 November 2007, 28 November 2007
Tramuntana - 19 November 2007
TUI - 20 November 2007
Unemployment - 7 November 2007
Unió Mallorquina - 13 November 2007, 23 November 2007
Water supply - 13 November 2007
Winter in Mallorca - 7 November 2007, 11 November 2007
Winter tourism - 2 November 2007, 8 November 2007, 17 November 2007, 19 November 2007, 20 November 2007, 22 November 2007, 29 November 2007
World Travel Market - 12 November 2007, 13 November 2007, 14 November 2007
Yachting - 27 November 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

East Was Dawn

One can praise the editor of “The Bulletin” for keeping awareness of Mallorca’s winter-tourism difficulties to the front of people’s minds. He speaks about it again today, comparing the closed nature of Mallorca’s resorts and its hotels and shops with eastern England where hotels and shops stay open through the winter, the hotels bolstered by offers such as mystery weekends.

This is not really comparing like with like. It would help to know exactly where in eastern England he is referring to, but - for a kick-off - East Anglia has things of appeal: “Constable country” (to echo what I mentioned before about Shakespeare and the Brontës); the Broads and the Fens; historic cities and towns such as Cambridge, Ely, Thetford, Bury St Edmunds; the coastal walks at Dunwich and Southwold; birdwatching at Minsmere; Sutton Hoo; Orford Ness; castles, abbeys, houses and grounds. It is an area of appeal to both the national and the international visitor. The weather may not amount to much in winter, but at least the visitor knows not to expect very much in that respect. There is also a major promotional source for areas of England that is often unrecognised - it is the work of the National Trust and English Heritage. The National Trust has 3.5 million members. Visit its website and see how many sites it has in East Anglia.

Mallorca just does not have the profile that an area such as East Anglia does, certainly when it comes to off-season tourism.

Hotels in England may find things tough in winter, but it is not the norm for them to close; nor do coastal towns and their shops shut down. Take somewhere like the borough of Great Yarmouth. Population of 92,000. These people need shops; they probably also need hotels for the likes of wedding receptions and other celebrations. Many of these hotels tend to be quite small; 50 beds might be typical, just over one-tenth the average size of a hotel in Alcúdia. That they may offer special events such as mystery weekends is just part of a mix for businesses who operate with a different set of criteria to a large Mallorcan hotel with just one - summer sun. They do not operate at the kind of scale of most Mallorcan hotels that makes opening the latter in winter economically unviable.

Where I would agree with the editor is when he says that he believes it is not “in many people’s interests that hotels and shops remain open”. The ease by which fixed-contract employees can obtain benefit in winter, the money that can be generated in the summer months both militate against staying open. There are other factors, most importantly perhaps the tour operators, but maybe there is also the fact that people in the UK might just prefer a weekend break without having to get on a plane and to enjoy the “scenic countryside” (of a previous editorial) that Britain has in abundance - just a thought.

Yesterday - “Hello Goodbye”, The Beatles. Today’s title - a very lyrical lyric that continues "coming alive in the golden sun”; it’s a line from a hauntingly wonderful song by? Clue, ‘cos you will need it - they did the original theme tune for Radio One.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Say High, You Say Low

Good or bad, bad or good. You pays your money, and you takes your choice. Or rather you may not take a choice if you happen to be a small trader. The summer season: successful or not successful? “Ultima Hora” does run interesting series. Like its studies of the beaches of Mallorca, it is now asking around the resorts how well the season went. Today is the turn of Playa de Muro. The results are not difficult to predict - the town hall and the hoteliers thought it was good or at least acceptable; the traders thought it normal or bad. Two sides, one coin.

In the high season of July and August, there was more or less total occupation in the hotels, of which there are a significant number - 32 to be precise. Attaining 100% occupation is a cause for celebration. The mayor of Muro is duly happy, the head of Grupotel (with four hotels) is similarly happy; only the head of Muro’s tourism sounds a negative - he concedes that there appears to have been a reduction in tourist spend. And that, of course, is what the traders are saying; one also reckons that the quality of the tourist has fallen. These are familiar themes, and could apply to most resorts in Mallorca.

As ever, it is the all-inclusive which takes the blame; and equally as ever, no-one really knows the full story as to the actual number of all-inclusive places - it is anecdote rather than hard information that takes precedence. The traders in the article are not exactly representative, neither is a bar nor restaurant owner, and a sample of two hardly makes for scientific certainty. But it is an indication, as was my piece at the end of July (29 July: 10:15 Saturday Night), which mentioned the fact that on one evening at the height of the season a restaurant in Playa de Muro had only two tables occupied.

The quality of tourist angle is one hears more and more. I find this insulting. Let’s call a spade a cash cow, quality tourism is a euphemism for moneyed tourism. Don’t spend or can’t spend, and the tourist is branded with a low-quality stamp: made in China and not in Germany. I don’t recognise this qualitative affront in Playa de Muro. There are, as a proportion, significantly more four-star hotels in Muro than in Alcúdia; there are no vast all-inclusive ghettoes such as the Mac complex with its unquestionable segment of economy class; the only five-star hotels along the coast in the north are in Playa de Muro. Opting for all-inclusive at an Iberostar four-star is hardly a sign of lack of spend (on the holiday accommodation at any rate).

There is another issue, and one I have referred to before. Playa de Muro has neither a promenade nor a centre; it lacks a focus. That it basically straddles a main road has created a by-pass of ambience. For many, it is looked upon as being the “quiet part” of Alcúdia, despite the fact that it is not Alcúdia. The road hints at something else, and there is a something else - the port and The Mile in Alcúdia. People do not come to Playa de Muro in the evenings, they leave it.

I wonder if there is not another dynamic at play - the growing discernment of the tourist. I once read a comment by someone staying at the fine Playa de Muro Village. They took a look around, didn’t much care for what they saw, so opted to eat in the hotel. That implies the restaurants are no good, which is not the case, but the strip on the Albufera side from the Esperanza roundabout up to the Alcudi-Mar and Las Gaviotas hotels does not look that inviting. Even someone from the town hall told me it was “feo” (ugly). One of the traders refers to Playa de Muro as a “beautiful area”. It is. There are the natural advantages of beach, forest, wetlands together with the artificial ones of often splendidly attractive hotel stock. Then there are other bits - like that strip. It is something that badly needs some attention, something that perhaps the town hall should be addressing. But while they can boast of 100% occupancy, I wouldn’t bank on it. Even without 100% occupancy, I wouldn’t bank on it either.

Yesterday - Chris de Burgh. Today’s title - line from...?


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ship To Shore

Just not enough space. Familiar problem, but this is not a land issue, rather a sea one. Moorings. The Balearic Government, as reported in “Ultima Hora", recognises that there needs to be a doubling in the number of moorings around the Balearics to cope with demand.

Nautical tourism is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. This seems rather odd. In the immediate northern area, each of the main centres - Can Picafort, Puerto Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa - has a marina, and there are others in Bonaire and Son Serra. Sailing is no small minority leisure activity. According to research for the Royal Yachting Association, some 2.5 million people took part in some sailing activity in 2006. (“The Times”, January 2007.)

Boat and yacht ownership is a rich man’s game. The cost of buying the vessel is one thing; the costs of mooring and maintenance are others. The high demand for moorings places them at a premium and at a price. Of course you don’t necessarily need a Bavaria 37 yacht, a small second-hand speedboat could be enough, but there are still those add-on costs.

The use of the boat is another thing entirely. There are few boatowners who actually use their boat for any longer than a few weeks a year, if that. I know people here with boats who complain that they have not been able to get out at all during the summer. What’s the point of having one then?

A growth area is that of co-ownership. In Puerto Alcúdia, for instance, both Challenger and Slice allow groups of owners to share a boat and to be able to use it for a set number of weeks. This spreads the cost of ownership and gets rid of many of the attendant hassles, not least of which are those dealing with the local port authorities and marina operators. Even so, it is not exactly cheap, but it does overcome the faintly absurd situation by which an expensive boat is tied up for weeks on end unused.

Nautical tourism has another side to it. The typical boatowner or yachtie and his chums are seen as, and often are, high net worth consumers. The higher the net worth, the higher the tourist spend; or so the theory goes. And the actual numbers are far from insignificant. At present, the annual value of Balearic nautical tourism is estimated to be 544 million euros; the number of nautical tourists nearly 300,000. The expansion of marina facilities, the increase in the number of moorings and the need for more dry-dock maintenance areas all come with an environmental price attached. What doesn’t? But my guess is that the government will find a way around this. Just think - 2.5 million people, or even a fraction of that number - loadsamoney.

Yesterday - The Who. Today’s title - song by an Irish chap; had one really big hit.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Are You?

Ramón Llull. I referred to him yesterday and have before on this blog. It is not just Herr Link, to whom I also referred yesterday, who would like to promote Llull, the Mallorcan council is keen to do likewise - as an iconic figure in Mallorcan history in attracting quality and cultural tourism. Well maybe. The problem is obvious: outside of some intellectual circles in other countries, the name of Llull would mean nothing. Llull does deserve greater recognition, if only for the fact that he developed that early system of computing theory, but his writings in Catalan, his philosophy and science remain largely unknown - to an audience outside of Mallorca or Spain. Nevertheless, within those intellectual circles, he has been branded “a great European”; arguably he wrote the first European novel - “Blanquerna” (1283); he wanted more emphasis on the study of Arabic (which he spoke) as a means of converting Muslims to Christianity, while also seeking a unification of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Llull is no minor figure in European history - quite the contrary - but his reputation is minor in the minds of the majority in other European countries; to be more accurate, it is negligible. Ask non-Spaniards here who Llull was, and most would not have a clue, other than as a name given to streets (17 September: Where The Streets Have No Shame).

In seeking to promote Llull as a figure for attracting tourism, the council is starting from a point of almost total lack of awareness. Think of Llull as a brand, and the recall would be more or less non-existent. Compare Llull to historical and cultural figures in other countries and elsewhere in Spain, and the challenge is obvious. Shakespeare has massive international brand awareness, for example, and has lent his name to a “country”, as have the Brontës. In Spain, which names spring to mind? Dali, Picasso, Gaudi; for the visitor to Barcelona, Gaudi’s architecture is a visible presence in the same way as Wren’s is in London, or Michelangelo’s artistic and architectural work is on show in Rome. Llull, in his polymathic way, is comparable to few - da Vinci would most certainly be one, but da Vinci would register right at the top of this brand awareness, and not just because of Dan Brown.

There is an unfortunate aspect to Llull; how he met his end. That he succeeded in persuading some major universities of the time, e.g. Oxford, to undertake Arabic learning, did not prevent him from being stoned in Algeria and dying from his injuries. In current sensitive times, one wonders how well his Christian martyrdom might play in the eyes of some.

The brand awareness of historical figures is something gathered over years; over centuries, in some cases. Llull may have died 700 years ago, but he does not have the benefit of those centuries of awareness. The Mallorcan council can try, but it will have to be something spectacular to induce tourism; not just some museum to a largely obscure figure in history.

Yesterday - Shirley Bassey. Today’s title - song by? They have featured here only very recently.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bond Themes

“Me llamo Bond, Jaime Bond, zero-zero-siete.”

Bond looks into the mirror in the room of one of the 32 hotels, adjusts his bow-tie and white jacket, sips his Martini and then slips away, intending to make for the Casino Royale, one of five casinos that comprise “Gran Escala”, somewhere in northern Mallorca. As he makes his way around the vast complex, he is taken aback. Is that John Wayne - “truly he was the son of God”? And that shady KGB agent, he looks remarkably like Vladimir Putin. “What are they doing in these casinos?” thinks Bond. Wayne he could count on, but Putin? What threat could be lurking for the numbers of innocent people here at Gran Escala, a proportion of the 12 million that come each year? But then he realises that they are not real; they are just actors, one from the Roman casino, the other from “Spyland”.

12 million visitors a year, a site that will eclipse EuroDisney, a couple of hours flying from England, huge numbers of jobs, a new version of Las Vegas, a haven for gamblers from the UK and Spain alike, with five theme parks and those 32 hotels to boot.

In your dreams, Mallorca, in your dreams. Or maybe in your nightmares, Mallorca. The Gran Escala is the working name for a complex planned near Zaragoza on the mainland. The environmentalists don’t like the idea, but a number of politicians, attracted by the injection of money and the employment, do. The article in today’s “Sunday Times” makes it clear that it is not, as yet, a done deal, but were it to be then it could be a nightmare of another sort for Mallorca, certainly where the limited winter season is concerned.

This theme park idea. Where have I heard of this before? I know. Right here. On this blog. It has actually been mooted in the past. And it has of course been turned down. Why? The environment. The environment and an abstract retention of the past - a Mallorcan equivalent of John Major’s old maids, cricket and warm beer.

So the mainland maybe gets the gig, while meantime Mallorca struggles on in winter with its closed hotels, rejected golf-course applications, some brave attempts like the Aquarium in Palma, handfuls of walkers, and groups of cyclists who enrage many and mean precious little in terms of real business. And then there are the other ideas that only nibble at the edges of the winter-season biscuit. Here’s another one. In yesterday’s “Brisas” magazine, there was an interview with a German (Jörg Link) who has lived in Mallorca since 1975; his father had bought a house in Son Serra de Marina two years before. He is an enthusiast for the works and thoughts of Ramón Llull, one of Mallorca’s most prominent historical figures. He is planning a centre devoted to Llull. It is a fine idea. I would go. Llull deserves far more attention than he has. But it won’t bring in a load of people. Now a Llull theme park with a heavy techno element in recognition of his role as a founder of computing theory; a theme park combined with the history of King Jaime I, more or less Llull’s contemporary. Maybe we would be getting somewhere. Meantime, the projected complex on the mainland will both shake and stir.

Yesterday - Big Country, “In A Big Country”. Today - not related to the title as such; the question is which artist or artists, apart from John Barry, has/have performed more than one main Bond film song?


Saturday, November 24, 2007

In A Big Country Dreams Stay With You

With no British teams qualifying for Euro 2008, what option of support is there for the expat? Spain is the simple answer, but for the great majority I doubt that it would be an option. Why not? People live here; why not support its national team? It’s a bit of a variant on the Tebbit cricket test, and most would fail it. No matter what the degree of the expat’s assimilation into Mallorcan (Spanish) life, the home-country bond and sense of nationhood endure. This is no condemnatory forever-Englander or “we’re British” stereotyping; it is human nature, something that crosses national divides and is therefore common to those originally from other nations.

The degree to which expatriates throw off the baggage of “home” intrigues me. To an extent it can be determined by social circumstances, e.g. by marriage, but even then it is tempered. I have a friend who has lived in Spain for almost 30 years, has a daughter in Spain, speaks the language fluently and yet is still very much English, reads English newspapers, supports his old football team from England and wouldn’t dream of lending his support to a Spanish side.

One encounters a certain holier-than-thouness among expats when it comes to their assimilation; it is marked by factors such as assertions of numbers of Spanish acquaintances and as to the frequenting of non-British establishments. Yet some of these can barely speak the language after several years of residing here. And even when patronising a “local” bar for a coffee or a beer, there is still usually a British newspaper in front of them.

True assimilation only occurs with a full understanding of language and an embrace of a different culture. If it happens at all, it is rare. Learning the language is not easy for many, while for many working expats their lives often revolve around English-speaking environments: the British bar-owner has mainly English-speaking clientele; he has little time to attend lessons and then little time or opportunity to practise the language. What language that is learned is piecemeal, fragmented and without a grammatical framework or an appreciation of linguistic nuance. Without language there is no culture.

Convenience is another huge influence. It is convenience of communication and association. Mallorca is “convenient” as the expat is never far from another one. There is the convenience of the “printed-in-Spain” newspaper available every morning, the convenience of satellite and of British news, sport, soaps and reality TV in the living-room or bar, the convenience of the internet and of web radio, the convenience of conducting a common and shared experience with a peer group that is the stuff of social intercourse - be it a chat over a coffee or supporting the England football team.

This is no criticism. I go to British bars. I speak English probably the majority of the time. I read English papers on the internet. That I also read Spanish papers is part of what I do. I suspect, like many expats, I cherry-pick what I want to from local life and culture. I live in a different and big country but I still have dreams of England winning something. That said, I do want Spain to win Euro 2008 - if only because, like England, the national side is a bunch of serial losers and because it would be one heck of a party; sorry, make that fiesta.

Yesterday - Cream, “Politician”. Today’s title? Another Scottish outfit.