Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Come To The Sabbat


The roots of Hallowe’en lie in Celtic legend. Its “celebration” used to be observed mainly in countries influenced by this Celtic tradition - the popularity of Hallowe’en in the United States can, arguably, be attributed to migrant Irish and Scots. That Hallowe’en has now become a more global occasion smacks more of commercialism than tradition.

In Mallorca, Hallowe’en is observed as it is elsewhere. There are special events. To take one example this year, La Birreria in Pollensa is holding a “Nit de Terror”. But though Hallowe’en has its specific origin, there is a strong tradition within Mallorcan and Catalan culture that affords Hallowe’en its own local flavour.

At a general level, demons and devils are familiar themes in Mallorcan folklore. Many fiestas have them as a part of their celebrations. There is the “Nit Bruixa” (witch night) in January that is perhaps the strongest expression of local demonic tradition. Yet 31 October has its own Catalan history linked to All Saints and All Souls Days. Specifically, witches are supposed, on 31 October, to pass beans they have eaten which are then buried for later consumption as a deathly potion. Trick or treat, anyone?

Tomorrow is All Saints (Hallows) Day, a public holiday, and a day of celebration that can be traced back to Pope Gregory III in the eighth century. All Saints Day is a kind of job-lot celebration - all the saints and martyrs at one go, a bit like buying a compilation album rather than getting the individual singles.

Have a ghoulish evening.

Yesterday - Saint Etienne, “I Was Born On Christmas Day”, which also contains this line: “Getting groovy after Hallowe’en”. Hmm, well, never said they were poets. Today - the title is a song from? Clue: think Black Sabbath, but it wasn’t them.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Did You Know They’d Pulled The Town Hall Down

Who would be a local councillor or mayor, charged with balancing the local-authority’s financial books. This is hardly a problem unique to Mallorca’s town halls, but the ongoing parlous state of Pollensa’s finances shows little sign of being reversed. On 30 September last year I noted that the town hall was in the red to the tune of some 800,000 euros. Perhaps it is a device of public-sector accounting, but that loss merely seems to have been shifted a year, with unpaid bills and service deficits for 2006 dragging the town hall ever more into debt. And the solution? As you would expect - rises in taxes, for instance a whacking increase in the local business tax. But Pollensa is not alone in exacting ever more from the local taxpayer. Around the island, taxes for rubbish collection are increasing steeply, not least in Muro.

Some owners of coastal properties may not be faced with such a tax demand. Rather, some owners of coastal properties may be faced with nowhere to live. From “The Times” today one learns of the Spanish Government’s intention to pull down dwellings and hotels along the Spanish coastline, including the Balearics, where the building of these is deemed to have been illegal. Alarming though this may sound, it is unlikely to involve mass demolitions.

Under Spanish law, construction within 100 metres of the coastline is outlawed. That’s the theory, and has been for 20 years. But the law has been flouted - massively. This new drive by the Zapatero administration is being seen by some as a sop to the environmental lobby as a means of securing re-election next year. Perhaps. The obverse of this would be that, were there to be mass demolitions the repercussions would be extremely harmful to the Government. The negative publicity in respect of homeowners would be one thing; the opposition from the powerful hotel sector would be quite another.

The season is as good as over, save for some diehards faced with what is distinctly wintry weather (by Mallorca’s standards that is). A fierce wind blew up last night and, while it has abated, it has brought a blast of chill from the north. The comparison with this time last year is profound. The heat then took the edge off the depressing nature of the season’s end, and served as a means of showing how unpredictable the weather can be at this time. Three years ago I was in Barcelona towards the end of the month. It was wet and cold, and there was snow on the tops of the mainland mountains; Mallorca was not much warmer.

Yesterday - Primal Scream, “Star”. Today’s title - a line from? (The group has featured here before, not that long ago - no apologies, they are one of the all-time great pop acts.)


Monday, October 29, 2007

Every Brother Is A Star, Every Sister Is A Star

From Sa Pobla, Lluc, Soller, Petra, Vilafranca de Bonany and Mancor de la Vall - “Els màrtirs del Coll”. Male and female - Brothers and Sisters. They were among those beatified yesterday. They were shot in the Coll district of Barcelona. There were Mallorcan flags in St. Peter’s Square, and Mallorcan relatives.

Today is another day to be celebrated. This is not a religious day, but a political one. 29 October 2007 marks 30 years since a vast demonstration that called for a statute of autonomy for Mallorca (and the Balearics) in the immediate post-Franco era. That statute was granted in 1983.

So much for that Civil War and Franco-period amnesia.

To other matters ... Here’s a surprise. The “Diario” is quoting industry representatives who reckon that the bar/café/restaurant market is reaching saturation point. Well, who would have thought it!? There is a belief that this saturation is being brought about partly by those who open up for the tourist season with the sole intention of making a fast buck, who offer low quality and high prices in pursuit of that goal, and then look to sell on the traspaso having achieved it. Depending on how the figures are arrived at, there has been - at most - an average increase of 7% in the total number of various types of establishment.

There is turnover of bars and restaurants. This is undoubtedly the case, but I am not aware of hordes of fly-by-nights acting in the way suggested, which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. The fact is though that it takes a hefty financial commitment to stump up for a traspaso in the first place. A resultant swift sale is usually more because the place has flopped rather than because a fast buck has been attained. I could give you plenty of examples of this.

Saturation is an issue. I have referred to it several times before. The growth of the all-inclusive (AI) only compounds the problem of saturation - too many places chasing too little demand. The flops are largely the result of the double-whammy of too much competition and too much AI offer. Rather than cynically chasing wads of cash, perhaps it is more a case that people take on establishments without full appreciation of the market and then have to adjust quality (down) and prices (up) because it is the only way to survive until they can sell on the traspaso - and that is becoming quite a big if.

On the Balearic property scene, it is being widely reported that, while the prices of new properties have risen (by around 4%), prices for other properties are down by as much as 10% - and this only over the past few months. There is an adjustment occurring in the market, and mortgage lenders are becoming a lot tighter. Though this may put a block on overall growth, the adjustment is overdue.

And weather ... no, yesterday was a blip. Rain again.

Yesterday - Jethro Tull. Today’s title - who? (I’m not making a statement; like many of the titles, it just came to me.)


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Living In The Past

The beatification of Roman Catholic clergy killed by the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War has raised unpleasant memories and no little controversy. One might ask quite why the Vatican has chosen to potentially open old wounds.

The Spanish Civil War and indeed its aftermath (Franco’s rule) are not things you hear widely discussed here. The Spanish have been accused of an amnesia in respect of the war. One can sympathise up to a point: the atrocities of both the Republicans and the Nationalists are hardly subjects many wish to ponder over a coffee at a sea-front café.

The church suffered enormously at the hands of the Republicans. Thousands of priests were slaughtered and churches were burned down. The ultimate victory of the Nationalists saw also a reaffirmation of traditional Catholic values; the church and Francoism stood side by side.

Speak to locals who are willing to remember, and there is frequently a dichotomy between distancing themselves from Franco and the importance that the church still has in contemporary society. The Vatican, though reasonably enough saying that the beatification is an act of reconciliation, risks dredging up the old association of church and dictator that many would rather forget. It also risks polarising opinion by honouring the dead of just one side.

This comes at a time when the Spanish parliament is due to pass legislation which will not only acknowledge the victims of the Civil War but also require the church to change any pro-Franco monuments.

However much many Spaniards may prefer to remain amnesic, they are having their memories stimulated. Some may not like it, but to be able to confront the past in a reconciliatory fashion (to borrow from the Vatican) is a sign, or should be, of the country’s maturity. It was 70 years ago, after all.

(Source for some of this from the BBC website.)

On a lighter note, the grim weather that the British half-termers have had to contend with has finally given way to some sun. It is remarkable that one forgets, so quickly, how hot the sun is (even at the end of October). Problem is there has been so little sign of it for days. So as the season pulls up its duvet for winter hibernation, maybe a belated burst of late “summer”.

Yesterday - The Decemberists. Today’s title - well,yesterday’s was tough, so this is dead easy.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect

Alcúdia is not to get a Millennium Dome.

Of course it never was going to, but the architect of that unloved folly, Lord Rogers, was one of those on the short-list to redesign the old power station next to the commercial port.

A Pamplona-based firm, Alonso Hernández y Asociados, has won the pitch for the design of the conversion into what will be an arts and science museum. The firm’s proposal, entitled “El claro en el bosque” (the clearing in the forest), envisages the maintenance of most of the existing site, the chimneys included.

Contemporary architectural visions are suffused with the colour of an artist’s brush and a splattering of spiritual enigma. No project is defined in functional Bauhaus or Brutalist terms. The design philosophy for the power station is no different, with its invocation of nature and mystery as though it were a “majestic ruin” one comes across in a forest.

Seemingly, the inspiration for the re-working of the power station was the Tate Modern, formerly the Bankside Power Station, a building originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the consultant for the Battersea Power Station.

Scott was essentially an architect of the modern school tinged with Gothic. Bankside was an example. As a reference point for the Alcúdia redevelopment, there is some sense to use it as a type of model. But, whereas the chimneys of both Bankside and especially Battersea (necessary functional elements) were the results of Scott’s design improvisation, the chimneys of the Alcúdia station can boast no architectural inspiration other than pure functionality. And as for the chimneys, so also for the whole edifice.

The Alcúdia station offers little expression of important industrial architecture, nor does it resonate with an industrial heritage which both the London power stations did and which it has been seen fit to preserve. Chimneys alongside the Thames are memorials to an industrial vigour, however much that may have dwindled over the years.

Stand, say, in Playa de Muro and scan your eyes along the bay of Alcúdia and you see a certain symmetry of low-rise hotel modernity, punctuated as the eyes look towards Alcanada by the towers of the station. For the looker, they are things to make the eyes sore. Yet, in that they break up that symmetry, they might be said to be of consequence. They serve both as landmarks on the landscape and as a visual shock. I am in favour of such shocks; I am also in favour of the preservation of industrial architecture (though I have previously questioned the point of preserving the Alcúdia station). The redesigned site will doubtless look splendid, close-up, but that visual shock on the landscape is not one that most want. The tourist on the beach wants serenity of view. Industrial images are, therefore, an affront. A tourist to London will happily admire such preservation, but in Alcúdia? Context is everything in architecture. A dome, now that might be ok.

From architecture to archaeology. “Ultima Hora” reports that work on a projected new residential development in Puerto Alcúdia is to be suspended for 20 days while an investigation is made into pottery remains found at the site (at the corner of Coral and Mar i Estany close by the Coral de Mar hotel). The investigation will seek to establish if there are grounds for excavation, as it is possible that the site corresponds to the port of the old Roman town. The discovery throws up a theory that, apparently, had not been tested, namely that remains of the Pollentia port could be in this part of Alcúdia.

This makes one wonder why it had not been considered. Furthermore, if these remains prove to be of importance, then one also wonders about other sites in the port area not already built on. Could parts of Puerto Alcúdia become vast excavation sites rather than places to build “thousands of dwellings” on?

Yesterday - Thomas Dolby, “Hyperactive”. Today’s title - a song by one of the best contemporary US bands.


Friday, October 26, 2007

And They’re Messing With My Heart

Francesc Antich, leader of the Balearic Government, was yesterday asking for more dosh for the Balearics and was also railing against over-development which places at risk quality of life and which is also incompatible with quality tourism. According to a report in Diario de Mallorca, what Sr. Antich wants to see is a new model of tourism which, whilst maintaining the beach and sun aspect, will embrace also cultural and sports tourism. He then goes to say that he intends to make an agreement with developers for “thousands of dwellings” accessible to the general public.

Now, one cannot help but feel that there is perhaps a bit of a contradiction here. Admittedly, he appears to wish to see an end to development that destroys too much territory, so one has to presume that these thousands of dwellings will somehow arise from currently developed areas - a bit like the urban versus green-belt argument perhaps.

The problem with this is that, as I noted a few days ago, there has been “orgiastic construction” in centres such as Puerto Pollensa. These are not so much ripping the heart out of the town as blocking its arteries. Does the crowding of ever more apartment blocks into confined areas really add to quality of life?

Antich describes the tourism industry with his own heart metaphor; it is what pumps the social and economic body. Quite right. A question is, would the cessation of further tourist expansion and therefore developments harm the desire for quality of life which, by implication, he sees as linked to property for the public?

A while ago, the Balearic Government announced its Plan Turismo 2020 with its aim of greater added value and a stated goal of “fewer tourists and higher income”. But would this be compatible with Antich’s heart-beat motif? Cut numbers of tourists - cut jobs, cut ancillary services, cut suppliers? I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t, but I would take some convincing. Would such a model be able to underpin quality of life in its wider economic sense as in, for example, generating sufficient employment and income to support the affordability of thousands of dwellings?

Mallorca (and the Balearics) economy is based on tourism, more than any other sector. Construction may also be vital to the economy, but it is tourism that helps to spawn it, not the other way round. Despite the talk of innovation and development, to which Antich also referred again yesterday, there is not, and is unlikely to ever be, a Silicon Valley or some such equivalent. It is tourism which drives Mallorca and which drives quality of life. This does not have to mean unchecked development, but further development is almost certainly a consequence.

But then one runs into another issue. As so often on this blog, there is a coincidence. Also in the Diario is a report about the ongoing battle as to the construction (or not) of a golf course on the Son Bosc finca that abuts the Albufera nature park on its Muro wing. The environmental lobby group, GOB, and some local politicians are against this, but is it not this sort of development that Antich is alluding to when he talks about quality and sports tourism? Only a few weeks back, the proposal for a golf course and hotel at nearby Son Real was turned down, and the chances are that Son Bosc will never be developed, or it might even if takes several years. Let it not be ignored that, on the other side of Albufera, after some fifteen years of wrangling, they have started to develop an industrial estate. Though strong environmental standards are to be imposed on the industrial estate, is it really the case that a golf course is in some way more of an environmental threat?

Mallorca is a small island with an increasing population and an increasing demand for infrastructure, be it transport, housing or other. Tourism is a rapacious beast that grabs for itself whole chunks of this infrastructure and land. But it is the beast that beats the heart of Mallorca. The challenge is to increase this heart-rate or rather perhaps to relieve it of the tourism strain, and only increased economic diversification and competitiveness can help to achieve this. Whether it can be achieved is an entirely different matter.

Yesterday - Robert Louis Stevenson, “Treasure Island”. Today’s title - this is a line from a frantic record by?


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Black Spot

A familiar theme - road accidents. The Council of Mallorca is apparently going to prioritise the elimination of accident blackspots on the island’s main roads. Quite how is not exactly clear, but the public works chaps are involved and there is a possibility that speed radars will be installed. What is interesting, from a map produced in Ultima Hora, is where the main concentrations of accident occur. The stretch from Sa Pobla alongside Albufera to the roundabout by the new industrial estate in Alcúdia is one of the worst. Not that far behind is the road between Muro and Can Picafort. (The highest concentration, not surprisingly, is on the roads immediately in and out of Palma).

I have mentioned my own blackspots before now, such as the road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa, and I confess I had not considered either of the two above-mentioned as being that bad; not, that is, until the report made me think. One thing both these roads has in common is that there are sharp hairpins, neither is that wide for most of its length, neither has lighting. In the case of the road past Albufera, there is also a one-lane bridge and the height of the grass at the edge of Albufera which obscures vision. They are both roads, furthermore, where you do get drivers hacking along at tremendous speed.

We wait with interest for plans that are not, as yet, concrete.

Yesterday, I noted the discovery of Sara Cooper’s body. This information actually went onto the blog before, for instance, it was reported on BBC radio or on the BBC website. Not that I am claiming any sort of one-upmanship (especially not in what is a tragic case). What it does highlight is the speed with which news moves and can be spread; the internet being especially important. What it also highlights is how difficult it is for traditional printed media to keep up. This is brought home by the fact that today’s “Euro Weekly” (which, as the title suggests, is only a weekly) had only the story of her disappearance as front-page news. By the time of distribution, it was already yesterday’s news. In the face of 24-hour news coverage on the internet, television and radio, it is hard enough for the dailies to keep up, but for a weekly to follow a dynamically shifting news story ... not possible.

Yesterday - Yes, it was Lesley Gore (no relation as far as I know). Today’s title - ok, a different sort of question: which author came up with The Black Spot and in which novel?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's My Party

If it’s Monday it must be Palma, or rather it was. Ah, the life of a world figure bringing his gospel to the masses with the help of a fair-sized wad of folding notes. Al Gore duly pitched up at a conference for family businesses in Palma and gave his views to a select group of the worthy. Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, there is something that worries me about Al Gore, but that is not for here. More importantly, his evangelistic climate-change message has not met with universal agreement. Notably, the leader of the Partido Popular nationally, Mariano Rajoy, questioned the whole problem of climate change. Seemingly, he bases his opposition on the opinion of his cousin who works as a physicist at the University of Seville. Now, I am sure there is more to it (at least I would hope there would be), and I have no reason to query the cousin’s qualifications, but for a politician (who could be Spain’s leader this time next year) to use this opinion strikes me as a tad thin. It is stronger than quoting the opinon of a bloke he met in the pub, but one does expect a little more from leading politicos.

Anyway, back to Al Gore. The former US vice-president came, he spoke and he went. Like many of his fellow (tourist) countrypeople, it was a case of ticking off another place, albeit that he didn’t hang around to get a few snaps. I wonder if Al really knew who he was talking to. I say this as I have a Henry Kissinger story that is similar. Some years ago in my then publishing role, I attended a management conference in New Orleans. Kissinger was the keynote speaker. It became clear as he was speaking that he didn’t know what the conference was all about; just gave us his speech on whatever it was and was off, save for a short press conference which I attended. The members of the press were thin on the ground - a handful of local hacks and a TV crew, myself and a journalist colleague from the UK. The conference stuttered along, so I stood up to ask what I doubtless thought was some searching question (I cannot remember what it was). When I announced who I was and where I was from, Kissinger interrupted me, asking: “What are you doing HERE?” I wanted to reply: “Well, I might ask what YOU are doing here?”, but thought better of it. I bring this up because, big splash though Gore’s visit has made, it would have probably meant little to him. Just another day, just another speech.

To other matters. Another disappearance, this the curious case of Sara Cooper who has gone missing from her hotel in Cales de Mallorca following the fall from a fifth-floor balcony of her daughter Gianna. The little girl is out of danger, but the mother ... her body has now been found at Cala Domingo.

And tourist figures ... Mallorca registered over 83% hotel occupancy in September, the highest in Spain. Intriguingly (though we are talking percentages here), the two parts of the island that did the best were not Calvia nor Alcúdia nor Pollensa, but Santanyí in the south-east and Capdepera in the north-east. Whatever.

Yesterday - The Zombies. Today’s title - what connection does this have with Al Gore? The answer is not the Democratic Party, but a singer.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time Of The Season

The end of the season.

“Season” is a multifaceted word though solely temporal in its variety of applications. A play has a season, an artist can have a season, sports’ leagues have seasons. Some seasons’ ends have climaxes of excitement, such as football’s finals or final-day joy or despair. Some seasons’ ends have excitement and poignancy, like the last games of the cricket season when the conclusion of a championship coincides with the coming of autumnal mists and the loss of another summer. Some seasons’ ends have just poignancy, as in holiday seasons.

The last few days of the season are anti-climactic. They are relief or sadness. There is almost a sense of pitiableness to be in a restaurant with its plastic sheeting firmly in place, the waiters and waitresses going through the motions of affability as much as possible, knowing that in a week’s time they will be standing in queues for the “paro”. There is no occasion to the season’s end. This is a mistake.

The season’s end deserves more than waiting for and waiting on the last dying tourism embers. All those parties and fiestas of high summer are forgotten. Yet, much as there is Hallowe’en to perhaps enliven the season’s end, there is no ceremony comparable to high-summer’s flirtatiousness. The season’s end should be a harvest festival, a celebration of the summer’s vibrancy and romance, barely imaginable as this particularly sullen October comes to a close. The season’s end deserves a party, an uproarious completion. What it gets instead is a gradual taping up of facades, of parting, of a lingering end.

Until next year.

Yesterday - The Christians. Today’s title - which group? Easy.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Forgotten Town

What goes around, comes around. It was 8 September (“Finding Nothing But Warmth At Fig Tree Bay”) that I mentioned the fact that there has been talk of Puerto Alcúdia becoming a cruise stop. Well maybe a step has been taken in realising this, though one stresses the maybe. After many years of debate, the dosh is finally to be handed out to construct a new passenger terminal at the commercial port. Though the port is already of course used for passengers, it has primarily been a port for goods, but the terminal project - coming in at a tad under 16 million euros - will increase inter-island passenger movement as well as transport to the mainland ports of Barcelona and Valencia. So no talk of cruises as such. Forget that one then.

The port itself is now more accessible by foot since the extension of the promenade. Like Puerto Pollensa, therefore, Puerto Alcúdia has a functional unit at the end of its promenade: in Puerto Pollensa, it is the military area; in Puerto Alcúdia, the port. But here the similarities stop. Does anyone ever eulogise about the walk along the extended promenade in the way that many do about the pinewalk that leads to the Illa d’Or and then onward - as far as is permitted - towards the military base? No. Not that this extension is unattractive, it just doesn’t have anything much going for it. One might have felt that when it was completed, there would be people strolling along, but generally speaking they don’t. Despite the access, there is a sort of mental block that excludes going past Bodega d’es Port: a block that says ”oh, there isn’t much down there”, so people don’t go, which is a shame as there are restaurants along there well worth checking out. This bit of Puerto Alcúdia is the forgotten part, by visitors at any rate. To go to one of the restaurants along the road heading out towards Alcanada and the port is to be rendered somehow insecure; it is the reverse of the herd instinct or the security in numbers, a phenomenon one can witness elsewhere - the packed church square and promenade of Puerto Pollensa, for instance, and the relative quietness of other parts. Human nature - odd thing.

And a note about the charity day held outside the Little Britain supermarket for Victoria’s Animal Refuge (3 October: “Protection”). A success. Over 650 euros were raised. Thanks to Steve at Little Britain for mailing the report of the day, from which I quote Jim Murchie from the refuge: “This is a great help for the many abandoned dogs we have to deal with. We will use the money raised to waterproof our kennels and cages - all the more essential after the recent heavy rains and flash floods". Personal note: sorry, sorry, I just could not make it.

Yesterday - “Stormy Weather”. Today’s title - which group? Clue: they did a cover of The Isleys’ “Harvest For The World”.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Don't Know Why There's No Sun Up In The Sky

Following on from Friday and talk of storms and tornadoes, there is a piece in today’s “Ultima Hora” that quotes meteorology experts from the UIB university. The good news is that tornadoes of the type which have occurred on two occasions this month are not necessarily evidence of a changing climate in the Balearics. They also say, however, that, though such freaks of weather are difficult to predict, a rising sea temperature and an increase in water vapour in the atmosphere make it possible that there will be more. That’s where the less good news kicks in - the temperature in the Balearics has risen by 1.5 degrees in the past 30 years and, while there has been a colossal amount of rain these past weeks, there has actually been a decrease in the level of rain in parts of the islands, notably the north of Mallorca and Menorca. Above all this is the fact that, as the islands lie at latitude 40 degrees, they are apparently subject to the influence of sub-tropical anti-cyclones and are part of a region that is the most affected by climate change.

Yesterday I was at a barbecue given by neighbours near to the beach here in Playa de Muro. The partner of the owner told me that he wants to persuade her to sell. He is rather more pessimistic than I am about the rapidity of the effects of change, putting it at 15-20 years before we can start worrying that barbecues then would be taking place with us all sitting on lilos. I had thought more like 40 years. As for the experts - they say that the level of the Mediterranean has risen in the last 20 years but that the greatest variations are not forecast till towards the end of the century. I might say, we shall see, but of course we won’t, so maybe we should stop worrying about it. It’s just ... on 12 March I summarised arguments about the effects of increases in temperatures of one to two degrees. Maybe these were overstated, but if there has already been a 1.5 degree increase here in the past 30 years, it should be worrying us all what could happen if that were to be repeated in the next 30.

I wish you a nice and cold autumn and winter.

Yesterday - Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Today’s title - is a line from what very famous song?


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Swing Low

Ooh-ooh, come on, push them, that’s good, ooh-ooh, what’s happened, he’s good, who’s he, Tait, ooh-ooh, come on guys, what was that for, too many tackles, no that’s League, I am trying you know, ooh-ooh, that was good, who’s he, Robinson, I like him, that was good, what’s happening now, did you breast feed, that was a try, who was that, ooh-ooh, Steyn, he’s good, but he’s not one of ours, isn’t he, oh no, come on guys, well, George got this allergic reaction to eggs, what’s happened now, who’s this referee, he’s Argentinian, ooh-ooh, push him, oh look he’s pushed him into that camera, England are better, ooh-ooh, oh, is it over?

England 6, South Africa 15, Playa de Muro, a ladies’ view. Congratulations, South Africa. Hope that makes you feel better, John, wish you were here.

Yesterday - Black Eyed Peas, “Karma”. Today’s title - which South African group had a hit with this anthem?


Friday, October 19, 2007

The Wild Tail Of The Tornado

Weather - always strange. There was I saying that Wednesday’s storm had left my immediate area relatively unscathed, save for the incredible deluge and the thunder and lightning. The only indication here that there might have been more tornadoes around was when there was a sudden burst of fierce wind towards the end of the storm that lasted only seconds. Otherwise, I had no reason to believe that Wednesday had been as bad as 4 October. As it turns out, it was possibly worse. There were, it seems, at least three separate tornadoes that hit different parts of the island (or at least three tornadoes that precipitated monster storms), and it’s this which seems so strange (in that there was no tornado here), except I guess it isn’t when one considers the nature of a tornado. Whatever, but I also guess that the chances of two such extreme weather events in the space of two weeks would have seemed pretty low. The weather boys were caught napping again, but this isn’t all that surprising as they are yet to install adequate radar to monitor such occurrences.

Inevitably, I suppose, there will be those who attribute these tornadoes to global warming. Some while ago, there was a report that spoke of the possibility of hurricanes in the Mediterranean (as a consequence of climate change), and, while I am personally convinced of the climate-change argument, to make the leap and suggest that these recent events are evidence strikes me as contentious to say the least. Were this pattern to be repeated in successive years, this might be more conclusive, though I sincerely hope it isn’t. A repeat though of this year’s tornadoes would destroy more than just property; it could kill the late-season tourism trade. That said, the contrast this year with last October couldn’t be greater; then it was calm and hot. Just one of those things maybe.

The flooding that accompanied this week’s storms was significant, and of course the metro in Palma bought it again. An audit of the situation with the metro has, meantime, concluded that there is a fault with the drainage system. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious.

Unrelated to the storms, the search continues for Jacqui Tennant, the rep from the Viva Holiday Village in Can Picafort who disappeared while in the mountains of Artà a week or so back. Her sister is now on the island to help and try and find Jacqui or at least find out what has happened to her.

Yesterday - R.E.M. Today's title is a line from a song by? (Unlike many a question here, this is from a far more contemporary outfit.)


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Radio Free Europe

“The Labour government must take sole responsibility for this disastrous chosen path which has resulted in the UK falling into its morass of lowered standards, lawlessness and social disarray.”

Who? I’m afraid it’s Leapy Lee in the current “Euro Weekly”. This comes from his latest rant, this one about multi-culturalism in Britain and unchecked immigration. I know some people who get seriously angry with this guy. I don’t. It’s just not worth it.

But this new assault on the state of Britain intrigues me, as does the English-speaking media here. Why, if people no longer live in Britain, why, if people are effectively disenfranchised, do they feel the need or the right to comment?

I set these questions against the current background of politicians chewing over the EU Treaty, a development - it might be argued - to help make us feel ever more European. But that’s very doubtful. Does living in a different country make one feel less British, more European or a bit - in the case of Spain or Mallorca - Spanish or Mallorquín? Generally speaking, I don’t think so. You can take the boy out of Britain, but you can’t take Britain out of the boy.

I say this as someone who, some years ago, held discussions with a founder of a group to lobby for greater European integration. That group was looking for a type of director, especially a communications director. That was me, or might have been had the discussions gone beyond a pleasant coffee in a London club. You might say that I am a good European, or was - I have cooled on the idea - but I am certainly no nearer to knowing what European, or even a bit Spanish or Mallorquín, might mean.

Plenty of expatriates here have Spanish friends, some have Spanish partners or children, some speak Spanish well, some watch Spanish television or read Spanish newspapers. But there are many who fall into this category only partially or not at all. Is this really that surprising? Among the more assimilated of the expats, there is a despair of their fellow countrypeople who remain solidly “British”. Again though I ask - is this so surprising?

Expats read “The Sun” or other British newspapers, even the local ones; expats go to British bars; expats have dinner parties for fellow expats; expats have Sky. They are no more European or a bit Spanish or Mallorquín than were they sitting on the seafront at Eastbourne.

The ease of access to the media, in its various forms, only serves to reinforce this exported Britishness and to neutralise greater assimilation or to take, for instance, a greater interest in local politics as opposed to events in Britain. The media feeds this and reflects this. Leapy Lee is just one example of this; his column is market-driven in the sense that he is talking to an audience with an enduring interest in the old country. Accordingly, I defend fully Leapy Lee’s right to talk about those “events” even if his chosen subject “multi-culturalism” is outmoded and even if immigration to Britain, which he bemoans, is a phenomenon of human mobility shared by other countries - such as Spain, and such as by Britons moving to and living in Spain. We’re all Europeans now, or maybe we’re not.

Apropos yesterday’s weather. It must have been a near miss right here in Playa de Muro. There were more tornadoes after all. Severe ones. One person dead. People were being evacuated in some places. Heavy weather.

Yesterday - “Homburg”. Todays’ title - who?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Whiter Shades Of Pale

I wouldn’t exactly define myself as “cool” but I am an habitual wearer of shades, though I never use the word - except here. Sunglasses. The mystery to me is that not everyone wears sunglasses all the time here, like I do. Not indoors, I’m not Bono, but outdoors, where the light is bright - though not today admittedly - and to not wear sunglasses means screwing up your face so that you end up looking like Adrian Chiles: all squinting and hoods over the eyebrows. It can also mean, given the bright light that normally assaults you here, but not today (did I mention not today already?), that you will end up with cataracts like Monet. There has been research into the fact that Monet’s cataracts blurred his colour sense to such an extent that he came up with impressionism, which was presumably also the reason why Pollensa’s art tradition, founded in the early twentieth century (Anglada Camarasa and Tito Cittadini - so now you know who these geezers were and why there are streets named after them) was impressionist.

I do also wear sunglasses on my head, which probably means that I am cool, but it also means that I won’t get cancer of the hair*. I am convinced that there are some, not me of course, who get sunglasses solely for the purpose of plonking them on the nut; a bit like some buy a windsurfer only to put it on the 4x4 roof in order to hang out at the beach and look cool.

But there is a point to all this. Some months ago, I reckoned I needed an eye-test; it had been some years. So, I went to a shop of a chain here. This was in Puerto Alcúdia. When I asked about a test, the bloke looked at me as if I had made a proposition from Wittgenstein, as John Cleese once put it (how is it he has got into this blog two days running?). Anyway, the test involved me having to ring up a day or so later in order to make an appointment, so I gave that up as a bad job. A few days later, I went into the same chain’s shop in Puerto Pollensa - you can imagine it - huge amounts of totally redundant floor space with spectacles hanging off the glass-lined walls. This was a bit more promising. They said they’d call me. They didn’t. So the months rolled by, and the other day I was lurking with intent, waiting to see José at Bony in Puerto Pollensa, and thought - why not go into Bellavista next door. Want an appointment? No problem. There and then. Want a new set of prescription sunglasses? No problem. There and then. That’s the point of all this - if you want an eye-test here, go to Bellavista.

And did I mention that sunglasses weren’t needed today. Not half, they weren’t. Another mother and father of a storm. Not in the tornado category, but there were animals entering two-by-two along the road outside my house.

Oh, and the sunglasses are bloody cool. White trim on black frames. Look great on the head.

(*I cannot claim this as my gag; it comes from “Broken News”.)

Yesterday - Mad Max 2. Today’s title - a slight corruption of the Procol Harum classic, but what was Procol’s only other top-ten hit?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Tribes

Alcúdia and Pollensa. Puerto Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. Old towns and their resort towns. Tribes within two tribes.

A consensus may be, at least among those from Pollensa, that the old town of Pollensa and the resort of Puerto Pollensa are “superior” to their neighbours some few kilometres along the coast. Remember the old sketch from “The Frost Report”; John Cleese in his bowler looking down on Ronnie Barker in his trilby. The Puerto Pollensa-Puerto Alcúdia relationship has long been of a Cleese-Barker nature, even if it has tended to be one-sided (quite where Ronnie Corbett fits into this analogy I’m not sure - Can Picafort possibly - but be that is as it may). Puerto Pollensa has been the Cleese of this relationship, the object of this attitude being more The Mile than the port of Alcúdia itself. Much as I would always defend The Mile (13 September: Grease Is The Word), I understand it is not everyone’s cup of tea - it is brackish Tetley’s rather than best-china-poured Earl Grey.

But The Mile is just one part of Puerto Alcúdia. Ignore it, or create of it a ghetto, and the respective ports of Alcúdia and Pollensa have a certain homogeneity founded on a balance of competing aspects that one does “better” than the other. The main promenade and marina of Puerto Alcúdia are more splendid than those of Puerto Pollensa; the end-of-promenade walk of Puerto Pollensa (the pinewalk) is prettier than that of Puerto Alcúdia; there are hotels that are aesthetically pleasing along Puerto Pollensa’s promenade, whereas there are none in Puerto Alcúdia. Of the leafier adjoining parts of the ports, Puerto Pollensa may seem to hold sway (Llenaire, Pinaret, Gotmar), but only because Alcúdia’s “suburbs” are more split-up (Alcanada, Mal Pas, Bonaire). It is the church square of Puerto Pollensa that tips the balance.

Yet even among the loftier citizens of Puerto Pollensa, there has been and is a degree of disquiet. One might attribute it to the coming of Burger King a few years back. Puerto Pollensa has, in the view of some, been proletarianized; in other words, it has become more like Puerto Alcúdia. It has also been and remains a victim of orgiastic construction, which is not to say that Puerto Alcúdia is not also. But Puerto Pollensa’s centre is more enclosed; the new apartment blocks add to a sense of claustrophobia. The war-zone state of the roads in that centre hints at a neglect, subservient to the grab of residential-property developers.

As for the old towns, Alcúdia does not have the Calvari and the inspiring view from the summit. Alcúdia also does not have a square that juxtaposes café society with religiosity and antiquity in the way that Pollensa’s Plaça Major does. Yet it does have its greater Roman-ness, its walls and a more enchanting series of narrow avenues of bougainvillaea-adorned back streets. There was a time, not so long ago, that comparisons between the old towns would have tended to always favour Pollensa, but that is less clear-cut now. The appeal of Alcúdia is now such that a recent visitor wondered why there was the Can Ramis project, which will see a new edifice arise that will house the tourist office, an exhibition room and a café. Why build anything was this visitor’s question. But the construction obsession is strong.

I live in neither Alcúdia nor Pollensa; neither Puerto Alcúdia nor Puerto Pollensa. I do not have a tribal territorialism that places me in one or other camp. I have never subscribed to the Pollensa “superiority” tag; rather, I have felt that Alcúdia is possessed of a greater egalitarianism. But ultimately it is a question of “feel”. Physical elements are one thing, but it is the intangibility of places that also informs our impressions - their soul, if you will.

One might ask why does this all matter. At one level, it is an absurdity until, that is, one appreciates the power of tribalism and of competition. Alcúdia and Pollensa compete in the same way that Mallorca might be said to compete with other parts of Spain or Europe. Two towns, two tribes. But nowadays they are both wearing the same hats - whether they are bowlers or trilbies who can tell.

Yesterday - Oasis “Stand By Me”. Today - no prizes for the title - but from which film does the title of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song come?


Monday, October 15, 2007

Nobody Knows, Yeah Nobody Knows

So there I was yesterday compiling this list of places where you can nose-bag some jamón serrano, and it suddenly hit me. Even I didn’t know some of the bars on the list. The tourist office had supplied the list, but had not added any addresses. I can only but assume that they would have assumed I would know. There is good reason for this.

One might imagine that, in my day-job as all-round good-egg promoter for all things Alcúdia, Can Picafort and Pollensa, I would have intimate knowledge of every bar to be found on the bays of Alcúdia and Pollensa and all points inland. Strange to report, but I don’t.

I did once start this project to actually map all bars and restaurants in northern Mallorca - a sort of life’s work of utterly no consequence. But I gave up when I got bored, or was it because it was raining or because there was something better to do like lying down. I can’t remember exactly.

But, better things to do like having a kip on the sofa notwithstanding, I do get interrupted periodically by the likes of the tourist office who wish to tap into my apparent vast repository of knowledge. If not the sofa, then the beach. I can be lying back, admiring Scandinavian femininity, and the mobile goes off. It’s the Alcudia TO. Do I know where Bar X is? Well, usually I do, and can supply the information that the TO will pass onto some sap who wants to get bladdered with half-a-dozen plus large drinks, thus filling Bar X’s coffers by some 20 euros or more, and for which I get precisely nothing save for a disturbance in my viewing.

Now usually the tourist office would also know, but sometimes it will not, for a similar sort of reason as to why I also wondered about the merit of my great bar census. For, one year Bar X will be Bar X, but then along come, say, Don and Donna from Doncaster and re-name the place - something like “The Dog’s Bollocks” - and the whole thing’s to cock, as it were.

This whole trail of thought does, however, lead me to believe that a rich service can be provided by my creating a different form of bar census: bars no-one has ever heard of. So the search is now on for those who know of unknown bars; a bit of a contradictio in terminis admittedly and very Rumsfeldian (“known unknowns” and all that malarkey). But they must be out there. This is your latest challenge - bars no-one knows of.

Yesterday - pride of place goes to today’s winner, Steve from Little Britain, who, under an email entitled “Puntastic!”, informs me that when he was a schoolkid, there was a joke doing the rounds - “How does Bob Marley like his sandwich? “Wi’ jam in.” “And The Wailers?” “We hope they like jam in too!”. Brilliant, but probably right, Steve, it works best with a Scottish accent.
Today’s title - they’re back; who are they?


Sunday, October 14, 2007

And I Hope You Like Jamón Too

Hams. A common sight in restaurants, supermarkets and delis here (and elsewhere in Spain) is to see large hams hanging from walls or ceilings. They take ham seriously here, and so common are the legs that one sees that the ham could almost be defined as a local emblem. Like wine, there are controls for ham quality, and there are various categories of ham depending on the type of pig and the pig’s diet.

Whereas the British palate and visual eating sense are generally programmed to ham that is pink and often shrink-wrapped, there is a diversity of local ham in terms of its visual presentation, taste and colour. The British visitor will often retreat to the security of pinkness that comes as jamón york, but the more revered Spanish hams are jamón serrano or jamón ibérico which possess a more exotic depth of colour. The purpleness of these hams hints at a wilder taste, curing and preservation. And wilder is an apt description, jamón serrano literally meaning mountain ham.

In Alcúdia, there is currently a series of jamón serrano events. This is in keeping with the demonstrations and promotions of local cuisine that is a feature of fairs such as Alcúdia’s. Various bars, cafés and restaurants are participating in these serrano events, which started last week and continue into November. This coming week, for instance, one can sample jamón serrano at S’Esclat on the 18th and Corró on the 19th. A full listing has been posted on the WHAT’S ON BLOG.

Yesterday - Funkadelic. Today’s title - well ok, a bit of play on words, but I was struggling. Where does this amended line come from?


Saturday, October 13, 2007

One Nation Under A Groove

This Spanishness thing of yesterday.

What is Spanishness? There is a curiosity in celebrating an abstract nationalism. It can be variously interpreted as a statement of a confident state, as a statement of a lack of confidence or as a statement of nostalgia. It is perhaps all these things, though currently one senses it is less a statement of confidence. There are frictions in the nation of Spain, as I have noted before: the ETA-Basque issue has flared up badly again; the monarchy is under attack; the Catalonians are constantly seeking greater autonomy.

In historical terms, Spanishness, represented by the unified entity that is Spain, is centuries old, a creation of the Catholic Kings in the fifteenth century. It was the various disruptions of the mid to late nineteenth century and then on into the Franco period that saw the erosion of Spanishness, or at least a unifying totem of Spain. The unravelling of the empire in the late nineteenth century also saw the if not elimination of Spanishness internationally then certainly its diminution.

The face of Spanishness that yesterday’s celebrations would have been designed to show would be a democratic, economically and politically stable state with a greater voice in the international arena. That would be the statement of confidence. But it is also the statement of lack of confidence. Spanishness, in a democratic guise, is still a child. The hundred years or so prior to the restoration of the monarchy (Juan-Carlos) and the establishment of democracy after Franco’s death were years of turmoil. Twice the monarchy was replaced by short-lived republics, the second of which was a response to the monarch of the time (Alfonso XIII) and his accommodation of the dictator Primo de Rivera and which ended with Franco. The voice in the international arena has been dumb for many, many years, or rather had been. The Spanishness of empire was replaced by isolationism - two world wars of non-participation - and economic basket-case-ness that was relieved by becoming a European player. The rare occasion that Spanishness spoke on the international arena was when Aznar held the coat-tails of George Bush and Tony Blair; a Spanishness that did not play well in Madrid, Barcelona or the Balearics, even less so after the bombings.

One senses an unease. The monarchy, and specifically King Juan-Carlos, is totemic in current-day Spanishness. Yet this also raises that idea of lack of confidence as well as the nostalgia. The lack of confidence stems from the possibility - remote perhaps - that there could be another collapse of this totem and another period of factionalism that might be described as the Spanishness of much of the hundred years before 1975. The nostalgia is that of the Golden Age and empire; a nostalgia and a struggle for confidence that is the burden shared with those who cannot yet define Britishness in anything other than pre-1939 terms.

Spanishness. One nation under a groove? Smoothly performing or spinning off? Basque-ness, Catalonian-ness. Separation? Whither Spanishness?

Yesterday - Madonna, “Holiday”. Today’s title ...?


Friday, October 12, 2007

Took Some Time To Celebrate

Another day, another holiday. What’s this one? Día de la Hispanidad - day of Spanishness, or something like that. A national day, though there are some factions none too keen on the whole deal, like some of the Catalonians, a bunch of whom are using today to declare that the Catalan countries are the last colony of the Spanish monarchy. Whatever.

In actual fact today is a sort of three-in-one day as it is also Columbus’s day and the day for the Virgen del Pilar. How about that, three “holidays” and they go and put them all on the same day, but given that holidays come thick and fast here, we should be grateful, or ungrateful, depending on your view. One chap in “Ultima Hora”, asked about the meaning of today, reckons it is of no consequence except for the fact that he doesn’t have to work. Like public holidays everywhere, in other words.

And just a footnote to yesterday’s history lesson. There was something else that bugged me about that article. Couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it registered. The article says that “a man named Pedro de Córdoba wrote to King Ferdinand (Fernando) in 1517 and told the monarch ...” What this “man” (actually a quite important figure of the times) told the king is of little consequence as, and this was what had been concerning me, Fernando died in 1516.

And as I looked at this article again, I noticed something else very strange. It says that Columbus could have merged two cultures, one of them (the Spanish presumably) being a culture that “had grown with the teachings of Aristotle, Galileo and Newton.” Eh!? Galileo was born in 1564, Newton in 1663. Given that Columbus died in 1506 ... Enough, enough. Where do they get this rubbish from?

Yesterday - Chick Corea. Today’s title is the second line from ...?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Enchantment

It just goes to show. One of the good things about this blog is when someone picks me up on something, offers a different slant. It’s as it should be. So following on from the piece about Barcares, Anne Marie says that it is her “favourite place in the whole world” and that it has a “calm enchantment”.

On reflection, yesterday’s piece was probably a bit of a disservice, an observation made at the fag-end of the season when the weather is not at its best. But also one of the things about Barcares and that whole stretch of coast to Manresa, Mal Pas, Bonaire and then up to La Victoria is that it exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to what most people experience of Alcúdia - which is The Mile. Chalk and cheese.

In a way, you wish more visitors would go to this part of Alcúdia. I can quite understand a sense of “calm enchantment” that, for sure, one would never feel along The Mile. Having stopped off at Barcares yesterday, I then drove up to the hermitage at La Victoria, one of those hairy drives on a narrow hillside road, but not in the real-hairy category of the road to Formentor or, more so, to Soller. And when you get to La Victoria, it’s all peace and total tranquility, mountain goats appearing out of the woods and munching away, the view across the bay to Pollensa one of the finest views the island has to offer.

Anyway, here is a touch of the enchantment and also a scene from the hermitage.

Columbus. Tomorrow, 12 October, is the anniversary of his “discovery” of America. “Euro Weekly” runs an unattributed piece on Columbus this week, noting the anti-Columbus protests aimed at his misdeeds. I take an interest in this because of his iconic status in Spanish history and also because of the ongoing claim that he was from Mallorca (for which there is little more than wishful thinking).

I have had cause to correct the history of Columbus in the past, and the EW article gives similar cause. The implication of the article is that Columbus first landed at Hispaniola or La Española; itself a common claim. He did not. On 12 October 1492, Columbus landed at an island in the Bahamas he was to call San Salvador. He then went to Cuba before La Española. According to the article, Columbus discovered the Dominican Republic, travelling on his way from the island of Hispaniola, today called Haiti. This gives a wholly wrong impression. The island of Hispaniola (La Española) comprised both modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic; they are not separate islands.

The article goes on by implying that Columbus, on his first trip, discovered a “little patch of land that later came to be called America”. He did not. It was on his third voyage in 1498 that he found the mainland (it was Venezuela); and it was only then that he realised that there was a large mainland. On his fourth voyage, he found central America of the modern-day Honduras and Panama. The article continues by saying that at the end of his return journey (by which one assumes the article to mean his second voyage), the Spanish left with 1600 prisoners. They did not. Columbus did order the seizure of 1600 or so Indians in response to a “rebellion”, but only 550 were sent back to Spain (Castile).

I’m sorry if this sounds a tad picky, but it galls me when such inaccuracies are presented as fact.
Where the article is a bit surer is in looking at Columbus’s role in the treatment of the indigenous Taino Indians, which is the basis for much of the anti-Columbus protest. But it is too simplistic to suggest that he was responsible for “wiping out a people”.

Columbus may have been a great discoverer, but he was a lousy administrator who wielded too much power in a generally incompetent fashion. The brutality of which he, and also his brother Bartolomeo, are accused, was partly a result of a failure (or unwillingness) to distinguish between peaceable Tainos and the cannibal Caribes, who were judged fair game even by supporters of the Indians such as Las Casas; it was also a result of some Tainos not being prepared to commit submissively to Christianity; it was also a result of being unable to control the various factions and other adventurers who came to the Caribbean in Columbus’s wake; it was also a result of greed in seeking gold and slaves (a crime committed by many others); it was also a result of the period in history.

The Taino population did decline dramatically, but this is only partly explained by extermination. Many were deported as slaves; many died of various causes, not least the diseases that the Europeans brought with them; many (well women) were taken by Spanish men, and the resultant cross-bred offspring added significantly to the fall in the pure population.

Tomorrow is the day to celebrate Columbus. Good or bad, let’s at least judge him on the whole story and let’s at least try and get the facts straight.

(As before, I would acknowledge Hugh Thomas “Rivers Of Gold” as source for some of this.)

Yesterday - Meat Loaf “Bat Out Of Hell”. Today’s title. Well, bit of a long-shot this I guess, but it’s the title of one heck of an album by which jazz pianist who also once performed a great track called “Spain”.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When The Day Is Done, And The Sun Goes Down

You can get this sensation in October; it’s a sensation of summer just saying - “that’s it; had enough.” Nothing as dramatic as the tornado, just showers and chill when it rains. It’s that feeling of twilight summer again; a constant sense of the sun going down. And if you go to some of the quieter places, it feels distinctly odd. Take Morer Vermell/Barcares. I happened to be there this afternoon. For those who don’t know, this is the area north of the old town. It’s quiet at the busiest of times. Now... .

I find it a strange area of Alcúdia. While there are those who swear by the place, if it were me I think I would be swearing. Oh, maybe that’s a bit strong. It’s pleasant enough, but there isn’t a lot by way of beach and just a couple of bars, like Red Rum. And what there is by way of beach is clogged up with seaweed, at least the bit in front of the one-time Grand National winner.

If you want to go walking, it’s not a bad base, as you can wander along to Manresa, Mal Pas and then onto La Victoria, but if not you just have to be someone who wants quiet and an unremarkable bit of beach. But it’s not somewhere you’d exactly call “quaint”. The two hotels - More and Panoramic - are modern blocks of no great architectural merit, though the More has something of a quaint feel of old English seaside hotel as it always smells of cooking. (I remember hotels in places like Hastings always smelling this way when I was a kid.) More positively though, I know that many families like the place as the kids can go looking for things around the rocks, and there is always the great view across the bay of Pollensa. Horses for courses as always, which is appropriate given the name of one of the bars.

Excitement is mounting as the number of protected-species figures given away with “Ultima Hora” grows. Meantime, something of a development in the world of local fauna - a particular type of bat (“Pipistrellus nathusii”) has been found in the Albufera nature park. Apparently it has never been sighted before on the Balearics. How does it get here? Bats don’t exactly fly great distances. Must have thumbed a ride.

Yesterday - Homer Simpson. Today’s title - it’s a line from? Think bat. Easy.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It’s Raining Men

At the risk of being tasteless, the title is a reference to the unfortunate fact that this season, as others have before, has seen a number of people - men by and large (in fact very large) fall off of balconies. Now this is something not to be made light of (it should be made heavy of), as the consequences have been fatal on several occasions. The latest incident occurred in the south-east in Santanyi where a balustrade gave way when a bunch of German tourists were taking a photo. An excessive amount of weight was believed to have caused the accident. An excessive amount of weight was also a factor when one Brit fell in Magaluf some weeks back.

The thing is that holiday brains kick in. Let’s go climb from one balcony to a next; let’s go take a photo on the railings; let’s go fall off and smash ourselves to pieces. I once bumped into some total jerk in a bank in Puerto Alcúdia who was nursing a broken limb. He had been lucky, though quite why he was so boastful of the fact that the injury had occurred when clambering from one balcony to the next at five in the morning on a full tank beats me.

Anyone who has stayed in Can Picafort will know that the tourist office there is poorly sited. There may be many who have stayed there who were unaware of its location or even of its existence. Wouldn’t surprise me. It is in fact in a building shared with the Guardia and the local police on the road going towards the second roundabout in Can Pic (after which you head off towards Son Serra). In other words, it is in no-man’s-land or rather in no-tourist’s-land, stuck between the main part of Can Pic and Son Bauló. It is also often shut; as far as I’m aware there is only the one person.

Well, the council seems finally to have woken up to the fact that it’s not much use where it is, so they are looking for a site on the front more in the midst of where tourists are to be found and looking at more personnel. About time, too.

Yesterday - Courtney Pine. Today’s title. Again, it’s very easy, so which cartoon character’s favourite song is this?


Monday, October 08, 2007

Just A Perfect Day


From the first encounter you know it will be good. A welcoming smile, a handshake, a sir, a madam; not a simple and often disinterested “hi there” or worse still a “hello, mate”, but a greeting that smacks of client care and professionalism. That client care and professionalism last the whole of the trip, and it is a long trip, a day tour of the island with No Frills Excursions.

What is it that makes for a good excursion? For a tour into the Tramuntana mountains, a catamaran to Port de Soller, the tram to the old town of Soller and then the train to Palma, it is easy to identify the essential components - a comfortable ride, terrific scenery, a stop here and there, a walk here and there. These are the basics. But one asks again - what makes for a good excursion?

Some visitors prefer the freedom of touring the island independently, but many want the organisation of an excursion. They pay for that scenery of course, but they also pay - or rather have the right to expect that they are paying - for something a bit extra. It’s that old management and marketing motto of “added value”. It’s also attention to detail and the notion of putting the customer (sorry, client) first. And client it is. Not customers, not “people”, not “some folk”, but clients.

That question again - what makes for a good excursion? In terms of the island tour, the scenery from the coach, the catamaran, the train is vital, as are the tranquility and sheer awe of the mountains. They all make for a magical experience, a day quite like no other. As does coming across a horse and trap on the hairy mountain road, seeing the mountain goats on their pinnacles of rock, taking in the sheer-faced sleepiness of the cove at Sa Calobra, seeing the new chic of Port de Soller, hearing the rattle of the tram to the town of Soller. All of these things.

But there is far more to it. An excursion, much like a bar or restaurant, is highly intangible. There are the physical elements - the view, the drink, the meal - but it is the rest that makes the difference. That difference lies with a history of the road that runs from Alcúdia to Puerto Pollensa; lies with giving a geological explanation for the different colours of sand in response to a client question; lies with stating and then re-stating important information (times of meeting for instance); lies with the called-ahead orders for a restaurant; lies with the organisation of clients within good time for the tram journey; lies with the touches of humour and all the additional information; lies with being available all the time. It was Toni on this occasion, but it could have been someone else at No Frills. And all this carried off with patience and courtesy; all carried off in October during a long day trip at the end of a long season.

Just in case you are wondering. A friend went on the No Frills island tour. This is an interpretation of his day and his impressions. This is no article in exchange for. The trip was paid for. This is an independent opinion. “Brilliant” was the word; that summed up a perfect day.

Yesterday - Jan and Dean. The Carpenters only as a last resort. Today’s title? Way too easy, so on the BBC version who played the sax solo?


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dead Man’s Curve

Over the months, now years of this blog, there have been several regular themes, not least that of road accidents and of the floral tributes that are left and then updated on anniversaries; floral tributes like the one opposite the Delfin Azul in Puerto Alcúdia. Yet that particular accident, awful though it was, was not one associated with potentially lethal road conditions. Today in the “Diario de Mallorca” there is a feature on these floral tributes, one in particular being highlighted - that at the curve by Albufereta on the road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. As part of the report, it is pointed out that the speed limit is meant to be 70 around the curve (too fast in my opinion) whilst there is also a further warning of pedestrians. The tribute there is to a 17 year-old killed by a drunk driver when walking by the bridge of Albufereta. The reporter adds that in the time they were by the curve not one vehicle went past at 70 or less (I’m not sure how that was verified, but I can imagine it to be accurate).

Walking or driving, this is one of the worst local blackspots; indeed most of the road is a nightmare. Lack of lighting, the turns into the Club Pollentia, the additional hazards (yes hazards) of pedestrians and cyclists; I’ve mentioned all this before, but it’s worth repeating. There are two other really bad spots in the area - the turn into Cala San Vicente and the exit from the bypass at the back of Bellevue into the road between the horse roundabout and the main roundabout coming into Alcúdia. This is pretty frightening. Even with years of using this junction, one still approaches it with trepidation, the speed calmers having done little to allay such a feeling. That’s because the speed calmers are not on the road between the roundabouts. I am of the opinion that putting another roundabout in - at that junction - could be a benefit.

The thing is mostly everyone knows that these are blackspots, and yet little is done. As Diario de Mallorca ask, in respect of the non-observance of the 70 limit, what’s going on? What indeed? The answer is - nothing.

Turns out it was actually a tornado. Whatever.

Yesterday - Spirit from the outstanding “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”. Today’s title?


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nature’s Way

And now the recriminations. The meteorologists say that they could not have predicted the intensity of the hurricane, wind speeds of which are now said to have been higher - at up to 135kph. But the same meteorologists admit that they were caught out. Echoes of other major wind events, it sounds. Twenty years ago, to the month, in England. Ah well.

A disaster zone has been declared in Palma, and it looks it. The industrial estate of Can Valero was especially badly affected with roofs torn off. Of course Palma is more likely to be badly affected as it is the only really dense centre of population and commerce on the island. There again, it is something of a reverse of the situation with the storm of 2001 when Palma, comparatively speaking, got off lightly, and the north really got it in the neck.

This time around, here in the north, things just returned to normal very quickly. It seemed odd to see people sprawled out on beaches where only some 18 hours earlier there had been this massive deluge and those winds. This morning, wandering around the fair in Alcúdia, it occurred to me - what would have happened had that storm hit two days later? What a mess that would have been. It just serves to remind that, even in a place with so much emphasis on outdoor events, if nature decides to turn nasty, boy are you in trouble.

Anyway, here is a shot of some chaps playing jazz this morning at the fair.

But weather ... what the heck, England have beaten Australia at rugby. “Skippy, Rolf Harris, Dame Nellie Melba, your boys took a hell of a beating.”

The Farm one day, Bob Dylan the next - Geoff’s on a roll. Today’s title? My profile might give a clue, there again it might not.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Here Comes The Story Of The Hurricane

Well some debate as to whether it was a hurricane or not. The winds were of hurricane strength at over 100 kilometres per hour and lasted for a good 15 minutes. The storm tracked across the island, making landfall around Palma and then more or less following the line of the motorway before leaving at Alcúdia Bay.

At a round half five yesterday afternoon, it was an OMG moment. You could see it coming. The sky was a mix of almost jet black with grey and whiter splashes, tumbling and rolling. There was a mad rush to close the shutters, remove anything dangerous from the terraces, and then it hit. If it wasn’t a hurricane, it certainly seemed like one. The rain came in horizontal on that 100kph wind, finding its way under a set of two doors and cascading down the stairs. The pines next door, normally bent away from the sea, were thrown bolt upright and one couldn’t take it. You could hear the snap. The power went; someone slipped on the wet marble of the stairs bringing more towels; through a window mostly all you could see was a grey wash of rain travelling at huge speed and the barely discernible branches of palms being whipped and hurled around. For some 15 minutes it lasted.

The kerbstones are quite high. Thankfully. The water was lapping onto the pavement. A neighbour was trying, in vain, to unblock the drains. It took us a while to even locate them. But then the water started to subside, despite being added to by the pumps from underground garages. The power was back, the mains water was back. It was over.

And today, in the aftermath, everyone has a hurricane story. A fallen tree, torn-down cables, trapped in cars, trapped in Al Campo (where security were not letting people leave). And some start to take the air of myth. There was apparently a tsunami in Alcúdia. There wasn’t. But that’s how it goes. A bit of a story, then a bit of exaggeration, then a bit more. And in years to come the hurricane of October 2007 will have taken on its own mythical proportions, unless, that is, there is worse to come.

Yesterday - yes of course it was The Farm. Today’s title?


Thursday, October 04, 2007

All Together Now

National anthems. Musical patriotism, eyes-bulging rugby players belting them out and pumping themselves up or footballers mumbling embarrassedly, searching for words they don’t know. In the case of Spanish footballers, there is good reason. There are no official words to the national anthem, so Torres and the rest just hum the tune. They were talking about all this on Five Live yesterday. Seemingly, there is a drive to get some official words, but that’s where the problem starts. The Spanish anthem is known as the “marcha real” - royal march. As a result, this doesn’t sit that well with certain areas of Spain and certain groups, notably the Catalonians and the Basques. So try getting an anthem that satisfies all these disparate factions and tie it up with the royal tag. Not easy. This all comes at a difficult time for the Spanish royal family. The Catalonians are getting uppity again, a certain ire being directed at the royals, the Basques want independence, there is a case involving a cartoonist who poked fun at Felipe and Letizia (for which there could be a jail sentence; you cannot take the rip out of the Spanish royals). Juan-Carlos retains a lot of support; he is still remembered for his role in quelling the 1981 coup attempt, but the rest of the family - tricky. A bit like the Windsors, I guess.

To compound the problem, most of the regions of Spain have their own anthems, with certain exceptions, e.g. the Balearics. The semi-federalism of Spain does not lend itself easily to unified symbols of nationhood. The Germans manage it well enough, but the history of “Über Alles” is strong. Imposing an anthem seems artificial. Anthems need some substance, which only history truly lends them. And in an era of localisation and regional autonomy, as one has in Spain, it seems an almost impossible task. Maybe they should just let the footballers carry on humming; they’ll never remember the words anyway.

The localisation of politics in Spain does have one big thing going for it, in that it brings politics that much closer to the people. Simon Jenkins in “The Sunday Times” at the weekend observed that the smallest unit of democratic administration in Britain covers an average 118,000 people. He contrasted this with similar units in France, Germany and the USA. Here in Mallorca, Alcúdia, for instance, has a registered population of just over 16,000, Pollensa similar, Muro nearly 7,000, Santa Margalida a bit more than 10,000. Even these are quite large compared to, say, the smallest French communes, but they are manageable. Each municipality has its own mayor, and these mayors are highly visible. Go to Café La Sala in Alcúdia and it is quite possible that Miquel Ferrer will be having a coffee.

Whether one supports or not these mayors or other politicians or indeed whether one even likes them or not is not the point. Localisation of politics aids sense of community, something that Mallorca has in spades. And one hears all too often that, in Britain, community is dead, but, there again, Britain is a centralised political entity.

Top of the class for Anne Marie who got both Right Said Fred and Massive Attack. Today’s title - it is a kind of an anthem anyway (with strong football links). Who? And don’t say The Beatles.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007


And in response to a request ...

Here is a list of the scientific names of the protected species on and around the Balearics that I referred to on 1 October:

Amphibian -
Alytes muletensis (frog)

Birds / fowl -
Aegypius monachus (vulture)
Falco eleonorae (falcon)
Fulica cristata (duck)
Larus audouinii (seagull)
Merops apiaster (the long-beaked budgie type bird)
Milvus milvus (falcon family)
Neophron percnopterus (falcon family)
Oxyura leucocephala (duck)
Pandion haliaetus (eagle)
Phalacrocorax aristotelis (pelican family)
Puffinus mauretanicus

Gastropod mollusc -
Charonia lampas

Mammals -
Miniopterus schreibersii (bat)
Monachus monachus (seal)
Tursiops truncatus (dolphin)

Reptiles -
Caretta caretta (turtle)
Podarcis lilfordi (lizard)

As a sort of footnote to what I did on street names (17 September: Where The Streets Have No Shame), I could also have mentioned that streets take the names of birds. By Albufera, there are, for instance, Corb Marí, Falcó, Gavines (to use their local names) - all of them represented in the above list.

Continuing the animal protection theme. It is the case here that, whilst care for and treatment of animals have improved, there is still a lot to be desired. I recall the time a puppy was retrieved from a rubbish container, having been tied up in a plastic bag and dumped. Just an example. Anyway, this is by way of highlighting the charitable work performed by Victoria’s Animal Refuge in Alcúdia. On Saturday, 20 October, there will be a charity day at the Little Britain supermarket in Puerto Alcúdia for Victoria’s, and if one needs proof of the need for this charity’s work (one aim being to fight pet abandonment), there was a short piece in “Ultima Hora” yesterday. It concerned a dog left on the industrial estate in Santa Ponsa; left without food and water and in an “estado deplorable” - I think the translation is straightforward. More info on the charity day on the WHAT’S ON BLOG.

Also on animals. This weekend sees the annual Alcúdia Fair which, because of its wider-interest factor, is one of the area’s best events. Animals are a feature of the event, the animal fair actually being on the Sunday as are demonstrations with police dogs and horses. Info for the fair is also to be found on the WHAT’S ON BLOG.

Yesterday - Bernard Cribbins. A follow-up to this is - what pop group took its name from another of the Cribster’s classics? And today’s title. Tracey Thorn sang the vocal. But the group was?


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Where A Hole Don’t Belong

Holes. Holes that we have known and loved and, in certain cases, still do. Puerto Pollensa would not be the same without its annual hole-making competition that rips the place up. Fine sport. But sadly of course Puerto Pollensa no longer has the gloriously holed strip that used to be the splendid Calle Bot, now reduced to a smooth thoroughfare, or the magnificent Garbi hole of fond remembrance - raw sewage and filthy water now removed and filled in as Taylor Woodrow build, as they have built (or rather build in their own words) since 1958.

So one searches for other fine examples of the hole-making art. Eroski Syp in Puerto Alcúdia (the one opposite the Campsa garage) has been trying hard for some weeks now. As one exits the car park, the pavement has collapsed, the stonework undone and broken. Water floods in of course allowing the unwary driver to drop a back wheel into the unseen void. Small beer though this hole. Needs some work on it. A rather finer example of a hole with danger is on a pavement near to the Eden Center in Playa de Muro. As the street lights are not working in its vicinity, it is superbly positioned (and concealed unless one has the eyes of a cat) to trap someone wandering home after dark. Well done!

And I speak with some authority on this second one, though I managed to avoid spraining an ankle when returning from the Pins i Mates restaurant. Now this is not pins and mates, mate, it is pines and bushes - all very confusing - but, albeit in a roundabout way, this lets me report on what is not a bad and economic place for some nosh. Brilliant it ain’t, but it’s ok. A whopping great bit of breaded cod with chips and salad, and for two of us with various drinks etc and an enormous shared additional salad - 26 euros. Not bad, and the service was top-notch.

Yesterday - The Steve Miller Band, which finally allows me to use a gag that Alastair sent. Who is the rock-musician sibling of the two brothers in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, David and Ed? Answer: Steve Miliband. It’s how you tell it. Today’s title? It’s a line from a great novelty song of the early ‘60s.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Fly Like An Eagle

Following on from the piece about Son Real, more in the way of ecological soundness, this time in the form of little plastic figurines. The “Ultima Hora” newspaper is giving these away, their being representations of eighteen protected species to be found in and around the Balearics. So now I am already the proud owner of a little plastic fish-catching eagle which, in its moulded form, doesn’t look anything as vicious as the one in their booklet; indeed it looks quite cuddly, if plastic can ever be described as cuddly. Among the rest of these protected species are a number of birds such as the multi-coloured abellerol (whatever that is in English, but it’s like a long-beaked budgie), a falcon, a red-beaked seagull, one distinctly odd thing that’s like a cross between a chicken and an eagle, a type of puffin, and an unpleasant-looking vulture. All quite interesting, at least I think so, and it just goes to show that Mallorca and the Balearics are more than just your sand and sun.

And weather. Really humid. There is a feel to the weather in October when it is hot that it is like an oven. That’s a very simple and obvious description, but it’s apt in that there is an almost electrical feel to the heat; more kitchen, more artificial than natural.

Last time - Dire Straits. Today’s title ...?


Index for September 2007

Aerodrome Puerto Pollensa - 5 September 2007
Agriculture - 6 September 2007
Air Berlin - 27 September 2007
Andratx - 12 September 2007
Animals - 15 September 2007, 26 September 2007
Autumn - 22 September 2007
Balearic economy - 6 September 2007
Balearic Government - 7 September 2007, 20 September 2007
Bars - 23 September 2007
Beach umbrellas - 1 September 2007, 20 September 2007
Beaches - 1 September 2007, 9 September 2007, 20 September 2007
Bullfighting - 15 September 2007
Can Picafort - 15 September 2007, 29 September 2007
Carretera Arta -25 September 2007
Coffee - 28 September 2007
Competitiveness - 6 September 2007
Construction - 6 September 2007
Crocs - 5 September 2007, 7 September 2007, 12 September 2007
Cruises - 9 September 2007
Diet - 9 September 2007
Dogs - 1 September 2007
Dunes - 1 September 2007
Fiestas - 15 September 2007, 28 September 2007
Figs - 9 September 2007
Floods - 23 September 2007, 24 September 2007
Fruit - 9 September 2007
Golf - 29 September 2007
Hospitals - 5 September 2007, 7 September 2007, 12 September 2007
Hotel occupancy - 25 September 2007
Innovation - 6 September 2007, 7 September 2007
Mallorca Day -12 September 2007
Mallorcan economy - 6 September 2007, 7 September 2007
Medical staff - 5 September 2007, 7 September 2007, 12 September 2007
Mile, The - 13 September 2007
National cultures - 4 September 2007
Pedestrian crossings - 4 September 2007
Palma metro - 23 September 2007, 24 September 2007, 27 September 2007
Playa de Muro - 1 September 2007, 20 September 2007, 22 September 2007
Police - 11 September 2007
Pollensa - 11 September 2007
Productivity - 6 September 2007
Property market - 11 September 2007
Public toilets - 23 September 2007
Puerto Alcúdia beach - 9 September 2007, 13 September 2007
Puerto Pollensa bypass - 5 September 2007
Restaurants - 1 September 2007, 23 September 2007
Road accidents - 16 September 2007
Roads - 5 September 2007, 7 September 2007, 25 September 2007
Royal Family - 2 September 2007
Russian tourism - 28 September 2007
Santa Margalida - 29 September 2007
School - 15 September 2007
September - 3 September 2007
Smells - 11 September 2007
Son Real - 29 September 2007
Storms - 15 September 2007, 16 September 2007
Street names - 17 September 2007
Sunbeds - 1 September 2007, 20 September 2007
Toilets - 23 September 2007
Tourism statistics - 25 September 2007, 27 September 2007, 28 September 2007
Tourism strategy - 18 September 2007, 20 September 2007
Tourist spend - 1 September 2007, 2 September 2007
Tourists - 22 September 2007
Unemployment - 6 September 2007
Vermar - 28 September 2007
Weather - 15 September 2007, 16 September 2007, 23 September 2007, 27 September 2007, 29 September 2007