Friday, February 29, 2008

Pick A Pocket Or Two

Do you recall the ad for "The Guardian" newspaper, the one in which it looks as though a skinhead is about to attack a businessman, but it turns out he is going to push him away from falling scaffolding? Things are not always as they seem. I thought initially that it wasn't as it seemed. There was only one of them after all. I had always thought there would be two. The exchange ended with smiles, a few seconds later the day had been turned upside down. How long does it take to make a perfectly normal day less than normal? Not long at all.

It was because there was only one that I thought maybe it was not what immediately came to mind, that it had, after all, been just the offer of two carnations for two Germans who appeared enchanted at the flowers. I only saw her walk off as I pulled up. It was not as though I saw the whole thing. Then a few seconds passed before the realisation. He ran after her, I ran after him, but where the Hell had she gone? I drove off along the carretera, into the sides roads by the lake. Disappeared. Into thin air. No trace. Disappeared with 300 euros.

It happened in front of the Eroski Syp supermarket in Puerto Alcúdia, opposite the Ivory Playa. That was the other thing. It seemed like an innocuous place for it to happen. I should know better.

Description: apologies but I cannot help saying Romany appearance, woman, quite tall, long black hair, mid 40s perhaps, wearing I think a kind of leopard-skin affair.

Carnation sellers. They are not what they seem. Avoid them or raise a hue and cry or perhaps use that scream and finger-point of identification that was in "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers".

Yesterday - Gene Hunt - "The Jean Genie" (Bowie). Today's title - what musical? Very, very easy.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

He's Outrageous, He Screams And He Bawls

Spanish television. It is increasingly difficult to comment on it as I hardly ever watch it. I used to, but gave up. Reality shows, pop-idol shows, worthy but dull documentaries and hours of ads in the middle of films. The best things are the bizarre "sports" like the human-tower contests. But there may be some salvation, well possibly. They are to do a Spanish "Life On Mars". God alone knows what they'll do to it. Unlike the original, the Spanish Sam is to be transported back to 1978. 1973 would have been Franco time, and they'd rather not portray the police as they were then. Apart from this, the stories are apparently going to be along the lines of the BBC series, which makes one wonder about whether they had test-card girls, how they might do the Camberwick Green take-off and do they turn City-United rivalry into Atletico and Real Madrid or perhaps Real vs. Barca?

But the biggest thing will be Gene. How could there be anyone else other than Gene? Sam's not so problematic. Any old pompous, wimpy actor could suffice. But Gene, that's a different story. The thing also is that "Life On Mars", the Bowie song was of 1973, not of 1978. How do they get round that, or maybe it doesn't matter. Perhaps they'll call it something else - "Stayin' Alive" perhaps or probably some ghastly Spanish thing.

The one Spanish programme that is even vaguely worth watching is something called "Cuentame Cómo Pasó" (tell me how it was), a long-running sort of drama-soap set in the Madrid of the latter years of Franco. So the Spanish TV viewer is used to this throwback kind of show, which suggests "Vida en Marte" might be successful.

Anyway, I am indebted to "The Times" website for running this story today and also for giving some Spanish versions of the best of Gene. For instance, "¡Alto, está rodeado de cabrones armados!" (don't move, you're surrounded by armed bastards).

Yesterday - The Style Council. Today's title - why?


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Favourite Shop

I'll be honest. I don't get the whole deal with shopping on holiday. Clearly it is a male-female thing. The WAGS and daughters wanna go shoppin'. The guys go to the bar. Lagerfeld or lager. Ne'er the twain do meet. Of course, sometimes needs must, like when you forget to pack your underpants or the luggage goes for its own fortnight vacation. Many years back at the time of Tito in the former Yugoslavia, a group of us went to this place in Croatia. Unfortunately the baggage handler who absconded with the suitcase took the one belonging to the guy who was a former basketball player with a by-now expanding girth line. 6 feet six in both directions. His greatest need was for some swimming trunks. Umag, that was the place. It had one clothes shop with no clothes, except - would you believe it - one outsize pair of swimming trunks. It was like Michael Palin coming across the bicycle repair shop in that old Python sketch. So, as I say, needs must on occasion.

But to come on holiday and shop. Fortunately for shops hereabouts, not everyone is either male or is disinterested, and - to be fair - there are some quite good shops in both Alcúdia and Pollensa. Clothes, perfumes, jewellery. All pretty much girlie stuff. The lads can wander off if they want though and find somewhere like Totymar in Puerto Alcúdia with its fishing and diving gear or, of course, go to the bar. Anyway, it so happens that I was in one of Puerto Pollensa's top perfumeries today - Stefanel. Not for shopping purposes I hasten to add. And so it gives me an excuse to post a photo of the shop (that was the reason for being there). Oddly though, there is something quite intoxicating about a perfume shop, though I do wonder do men ever actually buy the male perfumes and stuff for themselves? Whatever.

There are some favourite shops around. One that I have mentioned before is Llomgar in Alcúdia. Maybe it's the drills and those high-pressure water-jet things that will strip the paint off your car if you're not careful. But you can more or less buy anything there. Electrical goods, lights, garden furniture. Yea ok, one of them, one of them and one of them. Oh, and you deliver, too. Job's a good 'n. That's what I call shopping.

Yesterday - "She's The One", Robbie Williams. Today's title - who had an album with this title except that it was "our" and not "my"? (Have we had this before? Must keep a record, seems familiar.)


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Were One

What is the typical tourist? The typical tourist to the Balearics and therefore to Mallorca? This is not one of those paint-a-picture questions, to which the answer might comprise words such as lager and guzzle, this is one of those market-research age and status sort of questions. "The Bulletin" highlights a report issued by the Spanish National Tourist Board. Bear with me because I need to quote. Here it is: "A typical tourist profile emerged ... as a person aged between 25 and 64 who came to the islands as holidaymakers, staying in hotels or other tourist accommodation." I quote this because I wonder if someone can help. Am I missing something here? Generally speaking, where else do tourists stay other than in hotels or other tourist accommodation? As for the forty-year age range, it is like saying that the typical working person in, for example, the UK is aged between 25 and 64 and lives in a house or other domestic accommodation. In other words, it isn´t typical at all because it applies pretty much to the whole population.

What does typical mean? The Concise Oxford offers one definition as being: "characteristic of or serving to distinguish a type". The report is not distinguishing a type; it is saying, in effect, that a tourist is anyone.

You know something, I wouldn't mind the gig with the National Tourist Board. It is possible they spent months poring over this characterisation. I, or indeed you, could have dreamt it up in 30 seconds and put our feet up for a year or so and fed off the research grant, assuming there was one. The typical tourist - you, me, everyone.

Yesterday - Tears For Fears. Today's title - comes from a huge hit with "one" in its title.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Everybody Wants To Run The World

Sport again. And sports tourism. One thing you have to hand to Alcúdia town hall is that they do make an effort, more so than others. They have now got a brochure for various sporting events to take place over the spring and into the summer. The first, over the Easter weekend, is an international beach volleyball tournament that, not unsurprisingly, will take place on the beach. In April, there will be a Nordic walking what they call "meeting point". Not a competitive thing as such, more a gathering of all those with those damn sticks; Nordic skiing without the snow and also indeed without the skis. This is apparently going to take place in Alcúdia, which may mean in the streets. What a fine racket this is likely to create, all that tapping and clicking of the poles on the pavements. According to the brochure, Alcúdia is the "perfect place" for this singularly daft past-time as it "meets the required conditions for practicing (sic) this activity in terms of weather, location and environment". Hard though they try, they still manage - somehow - to torture the English language. But be that as it may. There will be a half marathon in May, something called "Island Fit" in June "in the incomparable setting of Alcúdia beach, creating a unique atmosphere of co-existence and a frenetic pace for participants" (whatever that means), rapid ball also in June, the night race around the city walls in August, the extreme swim to Formentor, the Balearman triathlon and "Copa Presidente" golf tournament in September, and then in October the first wheelchair tennis open and the frisbee contest on the beach.

The BBC once used to boast of "great summers of sport". Not now they can't, since Sky nicked all the best bits. This all sounds like the Beeb stripped of test matches and the rest. But hush my sarcasm. Hats off to the town hall for trying, especially in the quieter months of the year, and to that end, let us not forget the boat and cuttlefish extravaganzas at the end of March and let us pray that the weather this year is not as damn cold and miserable as it was last year - Nordic skiing, anyone?

Yesterday - The Rolling Stones. Today's title - they changed one word for a Geldof-influenced run? Who?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shine A Light

"The light. The light is magnificent." A friend who knows more about photography than I do once said this, on returning from a morning's camera work around the bay of Pollensa. Light is a medium for the photographer and for the artist. Many a visitor might remark that it is "very bright", without perhaps appreciating that it is the intensity of light that has illuminated a century of artistic endeavour and wonder in the north of Mallorca. The light is very bright, so much so that it is a mystery why not everyone wears cataract-preventing sunshades. Artists of bygone eras did not have the benefits of the technology of polarisation; Monet, it is reckoned, created his later impressionism because of a colour-blindness, the result of cataracts.

The tradition of art, especially in Pollensa, stretches back to the late nineteenth century and to the early years of the last century and to two non-Mallorcan artists - Anglada Camarasa (from Barcelona) and Tito Cittadini who was Argentinian. To return to a previous theme on this blog, Camarasa's memory has been preserved well by a street name - the main promenade in Puerto Pollensa bears the Camarasa eponym. Cittadini has fared less well, an undistinguished street in Pollensa and a road that gives way to a "camí" across the finca land between Barcares and Bonaire.

But both stand as equals in the art history of Pollensa. They were involved with the founding of a Pollensa "school", itself a form of artistic development based on post-impressionism and Fauvism which favoured more intense colour over lighter shades. Intensity and light, the visitor who remarks about brightness is maybe close to the truth. It is the combination of light intensity and the vividness caused by the brightness that has shone through the Pollensa school, successors including Dionís Bennàssar, after whom a museum is named, and Antoni Marquet Pasqual, both of them natives of Pollensa.

Landscape and the variety and richness of colours captured by the light are the stuff of much local painting. One can find these still in works by artists hanging in the various galleries in Pollensa and the port. Perhaps the single most photographed and painted piece of Pollensa is the promontory of the "Cavall Bernat" in Cala San Vicente, with its sharply defined shadow of a horse set against the blueness of sea and sky. Elsewhere, the primary pigments have been given expression on canvas, the shades of reds and yellows that have also decorated walls of houses. The neutrality of white and grey of some new architecture, for example in Puerto Pollensa, may bear the stamp of contemporariness but it is a betrayal of the palette and the brushstrokes that have recorded the essence of light and colour in and around Pollensa. The local textile craft of Marti Vicenç is a brilliance of these colours, the purples, reds and yellows the woven tribute to the differing vibrancies of bougainvillaea, save perhaps for the white blooms.

Light. And it is light at this time of the year that can be especially intense. In summer, certainly after around 11 or 12 in the morning, a haze can descend. If you have ever gone to the top of the mountain overlooking Puerto Alcúdia, as I have, to take photos, you have to go early. But in early spring, the light is fierce as the sky is so clear.

Light has been taken to create images and to market buildings, some quite inappropriate. With all due respect to Sunderland, a Stadium of Light is about the last thing one might have associated with the north-east. In and around Pollensa, by contrast, the natural environment requires no such artificial branding - it is its own stadium of light.

Yesterday - "Words", The Christians. Today's title - sort of right up to date, though the subjects of this yet to be released film are now in their '60s. Who?


Saturday, February 23, 2008

If I Could Only Find Words

So you go along to a new restaurant to say hello, and one of the first things you hear is - "oh, you're the guy that does the blog". Do you duck, run like crazy or what? No, none of these things. You get a free coffee. One of the satisfying aspects of doing the blog is that people seem to appreciate it. And so it was today. Oh and another thing that's satisfying is the free coffee.

I had bumped into Sam at Little Britain a while back, and said I'd pass by, which is what I did. It was Alison, his wife, who mentioned the blog. What do you call someone who likes a blog? Blogophile maybe. Blog-fancier? Not sure about that. A blogotee, a blogocrat? Who knows? Perhaps there exists somewhere a cyber world of blog lexicography, but I'm damned if I'm going looking for it.

But so who, you may well be asking, are Sam and Alison? They have opened up Cafeteria Mediterraneo in Puerto Alcúdia. These are no restaurant novices; they bring with them experience of similar ventures in the UK. They spent last season getting to know the area. This, if you can do it, is sound practice. One does sometimes rather fear for those who turn up with little knowledge of the place and even less of how to run a bar or restaurant. Anyway, here we go with the blog's irregular series of "of the weeks". Restaurant of the Week - Cafeteria Mediterraneo:

Where: C. Coral 11, opposite Mestizo in Puerto Alcúdia, so just up from the beach.

What: Home-made burgers and pizzas plus kebabs and sandwiches. The burger I had was very good and very fresh. And before you start thinking. I paid for it.

When: Every day. Exact hours to be determined as the season unfolds but certainly middays and evenings till around midnight.

Who: Have you not been paying attention? Sam and Alison.

Why: Genuinely nice folk, blogotees (I think I like this word best), so they have my total respect and admiration of course. Good location in the port especially for those staying at the likes of the Estrella, Coral, Maristany and out to the Viva Tropic.

Yesterday - Everything But The Girl. Today's title - recognising the search for the right word for blog appreciation, who came up with this lyric? Fabulous song with an Irish feel but they are/were not Irish.


Friday, February 22, 2008

I’ll Come Drivin’

… “Fast as wheels can turn”. The somewhat orgasmic lyric that introduces this piece might aptly apply to the climactic impetus of much of Mallorca’s driving. It is essentially wham bam, there is little by way of Taoist prolongation, just the arousal in getting from A to Z in as short a period of time as possible and in an aggressive manner as possible. Some like it rough and their cars are treated in a similar way.

“The Bulletin” reports on a recent demonstration of the art of “northern-style” driving. Commercial drivers in Mallorca, such as taxi drivers, have been shown that the apparently smoother way in which northern European drivers handle their cars saves fuel and keeps the cars in better nick to boot. The “latin” way guzzles gas, wrecks gearboxes and, one might add, puts mostly everyone in peril.

I once took my car out with the woman who ran the garage where it was serviced. I thought there might be a problem so we drove off so she could assess it. Whilst we were motoring along, she said to me that I drove “smoothly”. She made precisely the point that this demonstration has been attempting to get across. It had never occurred to me that I drove in a particular way.

One doubts whether the northern style would ever be adopted on a wider scale here, even with the message that it could save some euros of petrol. It is not as if the whole of northern Europe drives in the style that is being suggested. Ever driven in Germany at 200 kph on an autobahn? Ever driven around London (before the congestion charge)?

There is another way of changing driver habits, and that is road layout. The changes to the Carretera Arta in Alcúdia may have been designed with more accidents in mind, but – to everyone’s surprise (mine included) – they do seem to have worked, even if I still have my doubts about the roundabouts (largely because no one seems to know how to negotiate them). The central islands and the roundabouts are now emerging further along the road in Playa de Muro going towards Can Picafort. Whereas the new layout in Alcúdia seemed questionable, in Playa de Muro – on the stretch from the bridge to Can Picafort – it is not. This is a blackspot. Traffic goes way too fast. I have mentioned the flowers by the roadside before. So the introduction of speed-calming measures is a good thing. The problem is when you get a bit of extreme “latin” driving at 140 or so that doesn’t know about the new layout, and …

Yesterday – Junior Murvin recorded it originally and co-wrote it, though The Clash popularised it. Today’s title – and the first line of the piece. Which duo who went drum ‘n’ bass?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Police And Thieves

One of the myths about Mallorca is that it is a paradise of perfectly behaved humanity who would no more covet a neighbour’s oxen (and rustle them) than they would lift the neighbour’s handbag or wallet and break into his house. It is bullshit of course, though all things are relative. The Balearics have the highest crime rate in Spain. I was told today that the Guardia are anticipating a busy summer. The influx of visitors each year brings with it increased criminality by comparison with winter, and each year a call goes out for increased policing to combat it.

Much crime is low level – break-ins, car theft and the like – but to try and paint a picture, as some do, of a wholly virtuous society in which people leave their backdoors open and go out for the day would be quite wrong. By the same token, one stresses that all things are relative, and it is not exactly as if the island is sliding into a morass of criminality.

Perhaps the greatest problem the island suffers is drugs. Where isn’t it, one might well ask. The concentrated police activity in the Son Banya shanty in Palma, which has gained a certain notoriety for drugs, is mirrored – if less dramatically – by the road blocks and searches that have occurred around Calvia over the past few weeks. For a period this winter, barely a week seemed to pass without a launch of contraband being intercepted or found on a beach. A while ago, there was a raid on a villa in Alcúdia as part of an operation against drugs.

To a large extent, the problems of crime are centred around or near Palma. The city now has to contend with a gang culture, a latino gang culture. This is no West Side Story. In the north, the tensions are far lower, though here, such as in my urbanisation, the police and Guardia do a tour five times a day. There is no such thing as neighbourhood watch, but the chap who keeps the roads and pavements clean and clears the weeds is one of the best eyes and ears we have. He was one of the first to whom I spoke after a break-in.

Yesterday there was a ram-raid incident. Bar Mosquito by the horse roundabout in Puerto Alcúdia. Bang, straight through and off with the slot machines. Shit happens, I guess, and it happens anywhere. Not so long back in Puerto Pollensa, I was in one British bar. A policeman in the bar was called out. There had been a robbery at another (British) bar.

When people ask about crime here as a part of their information-gathering before a holiday, the response tends to be to warn them about things like the carnation sellers who cause a distraction while a purse is lifted. I’m not so sure this is so much of a problem now. But the advice all too easily represents an idyll of total safety. It is safe, but let’s not fool ourselves that Mallorca doesn’t have a crime problem because it does.

Yesterday – The missing word was “love” and it was Rose Royce. Today’s title – who wrote it?


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don´t Live Here Anymore

The title of the piece for 17 February could just as equally apply to today’s. Changes. Changes to bars and cafés, changes to the personnel. Don’t go somewhere for a few weeks, and – what do you know – there are new people running the gaff. So it is with Café La Sala in the old town of Alcúdia. Trevor and Stuart have gone, taking with them the almost howlin’ wolf Nanouk. When I was dishing out those awards at the start of the new year, there should have been one for “dog of the year”. She would have got it, hands – or paws – down. You don’t get too many dogs with husky genes knocking around Alcúdia. But change is a constant. When was it? Three years back probably. At La Sala one day were Trevor serving, Stuart in the kitchen, and on the terrace would have been Dave and Mel from Oxygen, Ben and Michelle from Jacks, Guy and Jo from Es Cantó. All of them gone. Transient is the word I think. Mallorca is impermanence.

La Sala is one of those cafés blessed by location. Opposite the town hall, it generates good passing trade as well as that from the “ayuntamiento” and local businesses. It also has sufficient terrace space for a double line of tables, something that some of the other cafés do not have. The new owners, Frederick and Emmi, were saying that here there is a security with a café that maybe is absent elsewhere in Alcúdia, The Mile most notably. Like Trevor and Stuart, they are very nice people, and they plan to go more into a bistro line that the guys themselves had been talking about. I wish them well. They’ll do just fine.

Also opposite La Sala is Sa Cisterna, one of Alcúdia’s best shops – if you like local sausages and meats and wines that is. Salvador, who has not changed, is sort of what you expect a purveyor of meats to be like. He has the broad-beamed presence of a butcher, the bib of a meat-handler and a huge knowledge of the produce he is only too happy to impart. We got around to talking about white wines that he stocks in his bodega, my bemoaning the lack of anything that decent in the supermarkets; it will be two to three weeks yet before the 2007 vintage starts to come in. He was talking also about the differences between island and mainland wines and particularly about price. A good bottle, be it white or red, from the mainland will generally always be two to three euros less than an island one. The reason lies, mainly, in costs and capacity of production. Mallorcan land is that much more expensive than that of much of the peninsula’s wine-growing areas where volume (economies of scale I guess) is achievable; much of Mallorca wine production is boutique by comparison, and carries a price tag that reflects this. He showed me a decentish bottle of white from Catalonia. Less than five euros. You would pay that for an uninspiring plonk in the supermarkets.

In parts of the island, it is possible to get wine from the “chap who comes round”. It’s like in England in the days when the Corona man used to turn up every Thursday and you would buy the week’s lemonade and exotic flavours such as cherryade and the Corona “cola”. My very old Mallorcan neighbours have another house in Sineu. Every week they take their flagon or whatever it is and get their “vino negro” (black equals red). Works out about 2 euros a litre they said. Another neighbour tried some. Like vinegar, she reckoned, which was perhaps a tad uncharitable as they had given her a bottle for free. I’ll stick with Salvador.

Café La Sala, C/. Major (opposite the town hall), Alcúdia.
Sa Cisterna, C/. Cisterna 1, (next to the town hall), Alcúdia.

Yesterday – “Help”, The Beatles. Today’s title – one word´s missing, but it was a big hit at the end of the ´70s for?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not Just Anybody

The first three years are the worst. Survive them and the rewards should start to flow. So entering a fifth year of existence, and growing, is a cause for some metaphorical uncorking of the champagne bottle; a metaphor for Metamorphosis and its perhaps better-known sister company Help Unlimited. And the “sister” description is not inappropriate. These are businesses owned and run by women, and British women at that, albeit one is now a Spanish citizen.

My association with Help Unlimited goes back to the time of its inauguration in early 2004. I had actually known one of the owners, Jenny Upton, for longer; indeed she was one of the first people I met on moving to Mallorca. Unlike the guy in the bar who reckons he knows the ropes in Mallorca but doesn’t, Jenny does, and it was that knowledge that was at the heart of the business. Four years on, and I’m still learning what that business – Jenny and Christine Brown’s business – is about; in accordance with the Metamorphosis name, it has been a transformational process. Four years ago, there was the basis of Help Unlimited, a business, as the name implies, that offered (and still does offer) help and assistance. But the evolution of the two strands has embraced the now core operations of property management and home design, some key contracts coming along the way.

When Jenny and Christine were starting out, they wanted, naturally enough, to promote the Help Unlimited concept. How long was I there that day in March 2004? I had this idea for a sort of wall shot of Jenny and Christine and their assistant Sonia (who still works for them). The three of them against a wall of the office, making as if they were talking and acting naturally. Sonia breaking out into fits of giggles all the time was just one of the problems with the shot. Jenny thought it too posed. I still have the photos somewhere, though my life would not be worth living were I to post any here. One or two, I thought, were really quite good. In the end, we settled (or rather they settled) for a shot looking at a PC screen. And as the business has changed, so has the marketing image, an entwined H and U for Help Unlimited becoming a motif, the by-line “for when it matters” still alluding to the essential assistance basis of the original business concept.

Jenny and Christine are opposites. This may explain why they are successful. One of the most over-used and therefore most meaningless words in management and business is “team”. Too often, all that team means is a group of people. An effective team requires different elements; contrasts in styles – of working, thinking and of personality – are all important. Countering Jenny’s direct style is Christine’s reflective; Christine’s background in finance might be said to be indicative of this. For every push there needs to be a pull. This is the stuff of real team composition with its theoretical roots in Jungian extrovert-introvert psychology.

Which is most certainly not to say that they cannot combine forces. It’s what I like about them in a vaguely masochistic sense. Remember the old Monty Python sketch about the five-minute argument. It has been known for me to ask if I am due the five minutes or full half-hour of mickey-taking.

Compiling this piece made me wonder how many businesses I know here that are female-run. There are plenty of husband-and-wife “teams” as well as daughters in a variety of businesses, but female ownership or senior management, now I think of it, does seem quite uncommon. The estate agencies, Vogue Properties, Going Direct and the northern franchise of Engel & Völkers, are owned and run by women. Otherwise, it is quite difficult to pinpoint too many. So in a male-dominated business society, Jenny and Christine have started to flourish. It has been hard work and not always easy. But that is where perseverance and sound ideas come in, and they are reaping dividends. The only drawback is that they are now too busy to give me the full half-hour.

Help Unlimited / Metamorphosis, C/. Llebeig 14, Puerto Pollensa.

Yesterday – it was of course Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”, and Mark Knopfler wrote it. Today’s title – where does this come from? Think “help”.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Your Private Chancer

Here we go again. Another attempt to purge Mallorca of illegal tourist lets. The Balearic Government, says “Ultima Hora”, is to introduce a campaign of inspection and control for ALL the residential tourist “offer”. The capitalisation of “all” is important. The last crackdown, not so long ago, was hampered by confusion and obfuscation. It was thought that apartments were included then, but they weren’t; the documentation made it clear (or rather unclear) that it applied to separate premises, such as villas and “viviendas unifamiliares” (which translates as single family homes). This could have been interpreted as including flats as well, but the bit about separateness suggested not. This time round, the intention would appear to tackle all forms of property. I wish them luck. It will be a huge task.

Under the previous campaign, owners had to register properties as being either for residential purposes (long-term lets) or for holidays; they had to be one or the other. The impetus behind that campaign, and this one will be no different, was three-fold: quality and safety, pressure from the hotels, and non-declaration of income. Whilst there is undoubtedly a degree of self-interest on behalf of the hotels, which might benefit from the volume of such lets being reduced as a result of the campaign, one has to have some sympathy. The hotels are subject to controls and to compliance. They have an argument when they point to unregistered properties that escape controls and taxes. There is another side to this, and that is that the growth of the independent tourist market is catered for, in part, by holiday lets; indeed, one could argue that they have helped to boost this aspect of tourism, bringing in additional wealth-generation and not only to the owners of the properties. The typical holiday-let client is a spender in other words; something not to be deterred at any time but especially not now.

One is tempted to ask whether the rise in the private-letting sector has necessarily deprived hotels of bookings. It has given them additional competition, and so be it, but the hotels claim that, while the number of tourists has been rising, the percentage increase in numbers booking hotels does not match this. There may be something in this. On 27 September last year, I pointed out that, while the number of visitors to the Balearics in August had gone up by 6%, hotel occupancy rates for the same month had gone down by 2%. Having said that, the hotels should not be given a clear run. They want a level playing-field in terms of compliance. Fair enough. But the holiday let offers an alternative; not everyone wants to stay in a hotel. There again, the latest campaign is not about stopping holiday letting (at least one sincerely hopes not and isn’t just kow-towing to hotel muscle), but about eradicating unlawful practices – also so be it. The spend that the private-let market brings in is no excuse to turn a blind eye to a dodgy boiler or a false income statement.

The Internet has been crucial in the expansion in the number of tourist lets. Accordingly, it is to be a key source for the inspectors. This, in itself, raises an issue. Click on a site and there may be hundreds of properties, many just with small photos and a general description. They don’t necessarily come with complete address information. So how do the inspectors know where the property is? Are they going to approach the sites themselves, many of whom share properties in any event? Would they have the right to demand information from the sites? And under which jurisdiction? With the tour operators and with certain agencies, it will be easier for them to identify the properties, but in many cases it will not be.

Yesterday – Love. Today’s title – adapted from what song, and who wrote it?


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Forever Changes

More on hotels. There are, from time to time, the bugles of the changing of the nationality guard at certain hotels. Three years ago, the restaurants of Can Picafort were ordering more cash registers in anticipation of increased Anglicisation of some of the vast hotel stock in the town. The Germans, they said, who had committed sunbedsraum in colonising Can Picafort some years previously, were retreating and taking their closed wallets with them. I don’t know that it made much difference to Can Picafort, though it is fair to say that the town is still host, in addition to more British, to a German market that might be characterised as being more Ostmark as opposed to D-mark, even if the current visitors don’t necessarily come from the eastern part. A front-line restaurant owner said to me last year that the general level of tourism in the town was “cheap”. I won’t mention the restaurant’s name.

Nationalities get branded according to their willingness to part with folded notes. The British, usually, are looked upon as being the most generous, the Germans as being tight and the Spaniards as letting one cup of coffee last for several hours. It’s a nonsensical generalisation of course, and has everything to do with differences in resorts and also hotels. In Alcúdia, the British are not always believed to be big spenders. Those in the all-inclusive Club Mac ghetto or in the all-inclusivised part of Bellevue have little incentive to spend, and, in many cases, they don’t have the money to spend either.

And then one comes to the Scandinavians. Last year, it was being said that it was Baltic euros and kroner that were keeping much of Alcúdia from penury. An exaggeration of course, but the Swedes and the rest tend to be good spenders. The mystery is that the Swedes are not drunk from the moment they leave the plane till the moment they leave, given that a night out on the booze in Stockholm or somewhere costs about the same as the annual GDP of a small African country. The nationality one tends to hear little of is the Dutch, who, apart from a reputation for being, well Dutch, rarely get mentioned when it comes to the European spending league. But they are all the size of rugby lock forwards, so one presumes that a fair amount of nosebag and watering is required to keep them sufficiently fuelled, which means goodly amounts of moolah.

But where was I? Ah yes, hotels. The Swedes and their neighbours have, over the years, turned the Sunwing Resort in Puerto Alcúdia into a Nordic zone of disgustingly healthy-looking blondness. In so doing, they nabbed for themselves one of the best locations for hotels and apartments in the area – slap bang on the beach, halfway from the port and halfway from the noise of The Mile. They couldn’t have planned it better. Some poor Brit, suitably impressed by the potential of a holiday there, contacted me last year, bemoaning the fact that the Sunwing website was not available in English. The reason why it was not was because they didn’t have any British clients. All sewn up by the Scanda tour operators. Well seemingly, this may be about to change as one of the two Sunwing hotels, the four-star Princesa, is due to go British following this winter’s major refurbishment, which will be good news for the British previously barred through the Scandinavian apartheid and will still be good news for the local hostelries as they should bring with them a minted tourism comparable to the Baltic spend.

While Sunwing becomes more cosmopolitan, another place is set to take, possibly, the dispossessed Scandinavians of the Princesa. I say possibly, as the Solecito Apartments, opposite the Club Mac, are hardly the same deal as Sunwing. But the apartments are, apparently, going Scandinavian and Dutch (quite how the Dutch get in on this I’m not sure, but be that as it may). This part of Alcúdia is pretty much solid Brit. Now the Solecito is not exactly huge, but for the bars there, used to serving up a diet of the full English and burgers, maybe they will have to invest in some raw herrings and smorgasbord. And my guess is that the new demographics might just mean higher spend, but perhaps I am over-generalising.

Yesterday – Carly Simon. Today’s title – one of the greatest albums of the ‘60s; American group and they were?


Saturday, February 16, 2008

You’re So Vain

More right-on environmentalism. German tour operator giant TUI, and I recall mentioning this on occasion before, has been in discussion with the Mallorcan environmental oberleutnant, and is now able to say that its hotels operate in accordance with the European environmental management standard. They are “sustainable” hotels, which indicates that they are more than just able to remain in one piece, they are also eco-sensitive in terms of emissions, energy and water recycling. Apparently there are now more such hotels in Mallorca than in the whole of Germany, which is saying something as there the enviro-polizei operate with a zeal that would make the Mallorcan environmental enforcement agencies seem like a “Dad’s Army” of inconsequential old buffery by comparison. So now guests, leaving their Air Berlin shuttles, can choose to feel self-righteous about their carbon footprints if they have booked in to a sustainable hotel. They’ll be giving them t-shirts with “I’m an eco-friendly tourist” next.

This is not to decry what is being done or to criticise TUI. I’m all in favour of them protecting the environment, but – unless there are hordes of tourists who place hotel sustainability as their first priority in a hierarchy of accommodation needs (which I rather doubt) – the whole thing is more a corporate marketing exercise than just being kind to the planet and to Mallorcan water supplies. The environmental management and environmental audit requirements of business came into vogue in the ‘80s. The audit aspect has become institutionalised. German companies are obliged to report on their environmental responsibility. This is shareholder and corporate governance driven as much as it is anything to do with selling hotel rooms.

Warming to the hotel theme, the Viva chain (viva can mean “long live”) has re-positioned one of its Puerto Alcúdia hotels – the Hotel Golf is dead, long live the Hotel Golf. It is now the Vanity Hotel Golf. What exactly are we supposed to make of a hotel that covers itself in “the conceit and desire for admiration of one’s personal attainments or attractions” (the Concise Oxford) as a name? I have this horrible vision of a Gideon and Jacinta of an image consultancy, armed with Power Point presentations and psychographics, conjuring up the “vanity” moniker as some form of aspirational branding exercise. Connotation there may be with “Vanity Fair”, and the hotel is very nice and no doubt will continue to be very nice, but what on Earth possessed them to come up with the name? I had a look at their website, check it out yourselves if you want – – and there are two hotels, the Alcúdia one and another along the coast in Cala Mesquida. The site is full of photography that looks like stock photography – shiny, happy, mature people having fun and, in a couple of photos, looking as they have met at a conference and are contemplating some legover. The hotel is meant to be all pampering, facials (of a cosmetic kind), pina coladas by the spa and not a baby buggy or an England football shirt attached to a bucket of San Miguel in sight. Fair enough, but if a degree of exclusivity is the aim, then why pick a hotel opposite which is a row of “locals” of a distinctly unremarkable style and fronted by an admittedly fine beach but one generally populated by those to whom the word “vain” could not be applied unless it were spelt differently and was accompanied by a “varicose”? Somewhere that really is exclusive, like Son Brull in Pollensa, is stuck in the middle of nowhere with an imposing remoteness that warns off the hoi polloi with an aura that shouts: “don’t even think about coming in here”. Now that’s vanity.

Yesterday – the song was by Powerstation of which Robert Palmer was a member. Today’s title – easy, easy.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Some Like It Hot

Congratulatory noises emanating from Alcúdia’s power station to drown out the roar of the furnaces. They are in the process of reducing both contaminants and the heat of gases escaping from the plant. Don’t want the temperature so hot, well they are trying not to artificially boost it. The environmental authorities are pleased, not least because of the proximity of the power station to Albufera.

One does wonder why the power station was ever sited where it is, given the eco-sensitivity of its neighbouring nature park. The answer is probably that it had to go somewhere, and in Alcúdia, away from the sight of the tourists and away from the coast (where the old one was), there would not have been many options; the land is too hilly otherwise. Of course it could have been located in another municipality, but that would have brought with it the problem of the transportation of coal that comes into the port in Alcúdia. The station is not the only one on the island – there is another in Palma – but it had to be near a port.

The power station runs on a mix of oil and coal. In the list of environmental villains, coal-fired stations are Category A offenders, so anything that gets the Alcúdia energy crim to rehabilitate itself is to be welcomed. Whatever contaminants are currently emitted, don't get the wrong impression - the air here is very clean, evidence of which is the amount of algae that grows on walls and in driveways.

While the power station, which resides on the road towards Sa Pobla is largely out of tourist sight and out of tourist mind, it isn’t always out of tourist earshot. A not uncommon complaint form those at, say, the Lagotel is the hum of the furnaces. Living three kilometres from the plant, the station can sometimes be heard, and heard loudly even at such a distance. And of course it isn’t always out of sight. Go to Albufera, line up some photos and there it is, brooding and mysterious. Not the most attractive of landmarks, but one we have to live with, as we cannot live without it.

Day before yesterday as it turned out – Robert Palmer. Today’s title – well, this is a follow-on to Robert Palmer, and it is …?


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Every Kind Of People – Part 2

Odd indeed for this blog to do a full-article day-after follow-up, but the immigration kerfuffle started by the Partido Popular’s presidential candidate Mariano Rajoy has brought forth more views ‘n’ news – it takes the spectre of a potential (but non-existent) threat to Brit interests to elevate Spanish politics from a state of almost total indifference in the lives of your average expat.

There was something I wanted to add to yesterday’s piece. Well, more than one thing. Firstly, the stink that Rajoy has caused with his talk of an “integration” policy for immigrants should really come as no surprise. Take this – “Interior Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said: ‘The hope must be that people integrate. If an immigrant wants to live here and claim his rights, he will have obligations like learning to speak the language we all speak here.’ ” This comes from the BBC’s website. It pre-dates the victory of Zapatero in 2004, when Rajoy was a member of the Aznar administration. In other words, he has form, so the charge of opportunism carries less weight.

Secondly, immigration is a difficult subject for politicians, or at least a difficult subject on which to create a balanced and unemotional debate. It is almost inevitable that certain opinions within that debate will arouse a charge of racism or discrimination. It is why many politicians choose to avoid or skirt round it. Unless a free-for-all policy is being proposed, by definition some group or other is liable to be subject to some form of discrimination. However, this is not to let Rajoy off the hook, as his target is pretty clear. He would have been wiser to have called for a nuanced debate on the subject, rather than pandering to electorate fears of Africanisation or some other cultural disruption.

Thirdly, there is the British and EU dimension. Rajoy does not include EU immigration in his proposed policy, whereby new arrivals would sign a form of contract which would oblige them to be good boys and girls and go to Spanish classes (or something like that). EU states are limited in terms of what they can demand or stipulate of incomers from other EU states. They are free, for example, to apply certain discriminatory practices in respect of worker rights if they so wish. Whether people from Britain learn the language is a matter of their choice not for the state to enforce.

It is all the more confusing, therefore, that the leader in this week’s “Euro Weekly” seeks to make some form of capital out of Rajoy’s proposals and their impact on Brits. On the one hand it says that his words are not “aimed at northern Europeans who can’t speak the language”, and then, on the other, asks who Rajoy’s plans are going to affect, answering that “loyal readers” (of his newspaper) should “look in the mirror”. What on Earth does this mean? On the facing page, a short article states that Rajoy’s “proposed measures do not apply to those who come from EU countries”.

Fourthly, one could argue that Rajoy is being consistent in following a line of “Spanishness” in his campaign. He has, after all, managed to upset a fair number of Catalans, Mallorcans and others by stating that his educational policy would see Spanish (Castilian) being used as THE language of education throughout the country.

Finally, local Balearic boss, Francesc Antich (who is PSOE, like the Zapatero government), has become embroiled in the whole immigration saga, with the PP accusing him of not having an immigration policy. Commenting on this, “The Bulletin” makes a very good point, namely that under Antich’s Partido Popular predecessor, Jaume Matas, immigration into the Balearics was positively encouraged in order to provide jobs, mainly in the then booming construction industry. When it suits, it suits; when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. ‘Twas ever thus in politics.

Rajoy may yet win the election. He may yet introduce his immigration policy. But for the British community, it will carry on in largely blissful and total ignorance, unaffected by and disinterested in national politics. The worry about Rajoy, in addition to the opprobrium he has attracted, is, as with his daft comments about climate change, that he is something of a loose cannon and a less than thoughtful one at that.

As it’s the same title, the answer is held over. Sorry about that, folks.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Every Kind Of People

Immigration. It has become an election issue. The PP’s Mariano Rajoy has sought to make it one, bringing forth condemnations of racism and xenophobia. But Rajoy is merely reflecting a widely held concern. Social surveys of matters of concern always feature immigration prominently, nowhere more so than in Mallorca. Along with employment, it is often the main concern.

Spain has a long history of immigration and of different cultures. Indeed it was, at one time, a multi-cultural land before the purges of the Jews and the Muslims at the end of the fifteenth century, a time when the notion of Spain became more of a reality through the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. While the ending of Moorish influence in 1492 is widely known, less well known perhaps is the often harsher treatment of the Jews who, made to become “conversos”, still suffered at the hands of zealous inquisitors. Despite the fears of some that the conversos, some of whom went on to hold positions of power, were not truly committed Christians, Spain began to become Spain – the nation of the Catholic Kings.

Through empire, the slave trade and Spain’s position as a maritime trading nation, immigration was common enough; indeed much of its early mercantile influence was the result of Genoese immigration. In more recent times, however, immigration has been less of an issue, though it is untrue to suggest that there was none during the Franco era. It is only though in the past couple of decades that immigration has made its contemporary mark. And it is the different strands of immigration that lie behind the condemnations of Rajoy. European Union migration and that from central and southern America are one thing, movement of people from other countries, in particular African countries is another thing entirely. You might recall my mentioning that Moroccans comprised the greatest number of foreigners who gained Spanish citizenship last year.

Rajoy wants all immigrants to learn Spanish, he will pursue deportation for law-breakers. It sounds vaguely familiar. In Britain, where multi-culturalism is deemed to have failed, not least by a race-issue mover and shaker like Trevor Philips, a form of assimilation-based monoculturalism is sought, despite what the Archbishop of Canterbury might think. Britain has its bonkers citizenship test; proficiency in the language is not just a political desire, it is socially desirable and desired. Many members of ethnic communities have embraced British culture with a passion that contrasts sharply with an embracing of Spain (and its language) by many British expatriates. Immigration does not have to be a threat to the societal norm, albeit that it might modify that norm to some degree, as it has – continuously – in Britain over centuries.

Immigration may have a history in Spain, but Rajoy is reacting to a relatively recent phenomenon, that of significant inward movement of new peoples. His language may sound sinister to some, but what is a politician to do? At least he is addressing an issue that the opposition would rather not, an issue that the surveys show is of concern. It is though the suggestion of discrimination against certain groups of immigrants that is the worry, and he needs to be more sensitive in this respect. It is also, potentially, just cheap electioneering in that the old canard of immigration equating to loss of employment opportunities is also being aired. But if Rajoy is hinting, through his deportation threat, that Spain would not countenance a form of Londonistan emerging in the country, I’m not sure many would disagree. He needs to be wary of the ease with which the racism charge can be levelled at him and of being charged with political opportunism, but he is not wrong to raise the subject of immigration.

Yesterday – Paul McCartney. Today’s title – no longer with us, but this was a cracking song by this British soul/rock artist.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We All Stand Together

You could have cut the excitement with a sledgehammer. Could you see the end of the third stage of the Tour of Mallorca cycle race in Puerto Alcúdia? Barely. Get a slightly wrong position a bit away from the actual finish line, and all the hanging around for half an hour was utterly pointless. To be honest, it was all pretty pointless. Except that is the presentations. These are by far the most entertaining part of the event, a photo opportunity for various worthies, the totty from Coke and the local town hall to get its name in the picture. Sadly, I had wandered off and was admiring some scrubland when Alcúdia’s mayor got onto the podium to have some flowers waved over his head. Disappointing not just for me, but also for you and no doubt him as he does not therefore feature on today’s photo montage. But he can always see himself in tomorrow’s newspapers which will devote a whole page similar to the two podium shots here, replete with happy winners, people you have never heard of and are even less interested in, adverts for Coca-Cola and Air Europa and most importantly the bags of the Coke girls.

Just what do they have in those bags? They seemed pretty weighty. A passing resident of many years suggested a clean pair of knickers, but it looked more like a couple of house-bricks. Don’t know why they would want those. Maybe they had six packs of Coke. Who knows? But guessing as to the contents was about as good as it got, unless you add the additional questions of what dance is one of the “winners” performing, how do you actually get to be a Coke girl, and why are cycling events like primary-school sports days – a prize for everyone? Everyone wins, it seems, or at least gets a bunch of flowers. The main sprint over, some guy gets his cup, you wander off and wonder why the Guardia need to look quite so unhappy, and, damn me, some other bloke’s getting his delivery from Interflora. Couldn’t be anything to do with all those photos with names of fizzy drinks and an airline present. Of course not. We all stand together and have our photos taken.

Yesterday – Spiritualized. Today’s title – who? Easy.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating

One of those coincidences that seem to follow this blog around. There I was on Saturday mentioning sports tourism, and today in “Ultima Hora” up pops an article about plans to make the Lago Esperanza in Puerto Alcúdia a canoeing centre. This seems like a pretty good idea.

The lake, for those who don’t know it, is the big one in Alcúdia that stretches from Bellevue and The Mile to the boundary with Playa de Muro. The smaller lakes, Lago Menor and Lago Las Gaviotas, are linked to it. It occupies a sizeable chunk of space and, while it may look quite pleasant, for functional purposes it has had limited use. Some years back, there was an attempt to get jet-skiing going on the lake, and that failed primarily because of objections to the noise. Canoeing and rowing, on the other hand, are pretty benign sports, environmentally and in terms of noise pollution, unless one counts perhaps the shout of a coach through a megaphone.

One of the attractions of Esperanza is that it is one of the few salt-water lakes in Spain. This is an attraction for canoeists and rowers because of the enhanced flotation. The plan for the lake includes a general tidying-up and the installation of footbridges. Make it that bit more attractive and it could be an area where people would come just to relax, and to watch those not relaxing. Sitting, for instance, next to the wide Vltava river in Prague on a sunny afternoon and watching the hundreds of rowers is not an entirely disagreeable experience. And were the lake to attract the sort of numbers that the Czech capital does, one could well imagine it would create a neat bit of extra tourist activity.

Another little coincidence is that near to the lake is a new bar on the block. This is called Bailey’s, and here’s the lowdown:

Where: Carretera Arta, Puerto Alcúdia, next to Eroski Syp and near to the Ivory Playa, Platja D’Or and Condesa de la Bahía hotels. It was Michel’s and before that La Belle.

What: Irish café-bar with an at-present snack menu but with, for example, menu of the evening with a British and Irish flavour anticipated.

When: Every day in the season, but hours for the season to be set.

Who: Derek and Trish, and yes they are Irish, so the Irish café-bar tag is deserved (it isn’t always).

Why: Welcome hostelry in the “middle-lands” between The Mile and Playa de Muro, and so away from the bustle of the former. And also, I reckon, a good name. Strong association.

Yesterday – George Michael. Today’s title – part of the title of a 1997 album, the band’s best-known.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Shoot The Dog

The streets have been alive with the sound of gunshot. The police have been accompanying the marksman. The crack of a rifle, and the birds clatter from the trees as though echoing the reverberation of the shot as it rips the quietness. A pause, and then another thunderous bang and more wings flapping in panic.

They have been shooting down the caterpillars, the processionary caterpillars that inhabit the pine trees, destroying the trees and then falling to earth to land on an unsuspecting passing piece of exposed skin. You can see the caterpillars’ larval sacs in the pines like large dew-dropped gossamer nests. The green general-purpose rubbish wheelies are their funeral parlour before burial at landfill.

The destruction of the caterpillar homes does, presumably, have a consensus of support. There are surely no rabid lepidopterists protesting at this elimination and taking cutesy propaganda photos of the little monsters. Which brings me to dogs, and the case of the dog refuge in Palma that is threatened with closure, with the animals being taken to a pound where their lives are likely to be cut short. This has caused a right old fuss, especially among the Brits. And the cause of the Centro Canino has been given an airing in the press, with outraged expats firing off letters to “The Bulletin”. Apparently, some Brits are calling for a boycott by tourists as a protest. If this is the case, it is as futile a gesture as it is preposterous.

Coming soon after the Hamilton incident, some manage to make a link in portraying Spaniards as bullfight-loving, dog-mistreating racists (incidentally, there was a Spanish-led anti-bullfighting protest last week). Of course it is not only the British who are engaged in fighting the closure of the refuge, but you might be forgiven for forming an impression that it was. I am as touched by the doe eyes of a dog being sized up for slaughter as anyone. I am as inclined to the anthropomorphizing of human feelings as animal senses as anyone. But one detects a certain missionary zeal in some sectors of the British expat community. Mistreatment and lack of care of animals are issues here, but they are issues for the Spaniards to sort out without the hectoring of a few expats demanding boycotts. That said, I hope the centre can remain open and continue its good work, as is the case with other such refuges on the island. The motive for the local authority seeking closure of the refuge is that a licence, applied for in September, has not been forthcoming. Quite why this should be seems open to question, but the feeling exists that Palma council would prefer to see the refuge shut. Why? To learn more about the refuge here is a link

Yesterday – Richard Harris. Today’s title – singer, famous, Greekish


Saturday, February 09, 2008

This Sporting Life

Cycling is one of those spectator sports I don’t quite get. If watching tortured faces as they climb an endless mountain is, like the similarly screwed and distressed countenance of an ailing marathon runner, appealing, well fine. Otherwise it is a rapid ride-past of various shades of luminous lycra or, on television, an interminable procession of the pelaton, fluctuating only as different team members assume the burden of leadership. For all that anyone pays any attention, the landscape may as well be as repetitious as Bedrock’s as Fred drives (runs) his car past the same scenes on the animation loop.

The Tour of Mallorca starts tomorrow. It is the seventeenth, and coincidentally there are seventeen teams participating. Spanish, Belgian, French, Dutch, German, and not a banned substance among them, perhaps. On Tuesday, the third stage starts in Pollensa, goes into the mountains (just over halfway up the Puig Mayor) and then descends back into Pollensa and finishes in Puerto Alcúdia. The whole thing climaxes in Palmanova on Thursday. The tour is a chance for Mallorca to put on its best bib ‘n’ tucker and parade itself and its countryside to a sports-channel-glued tourism market. Well that I suppose is the hope. The mayor of Pollensa, for one, believes so. Maybe he’s right, but where does the TV coverage exist for an international market? And even if it does exist, is it not a case of broadcasting to the two-wheeled converted as opposed to those who otherwise would press the handset for the likes of the Discovery and History channels. It sounds a bit optimistic. I fancy those who do watch are more concerned with muscled legs than mountainous vistas. The tour may help in bringing more cycling tourism, but that’s about it.

In a wider sports context, and in particular a wider sports tourism context, the tour has a place in promoting Mallorca. Cycling is the main element of the off-season sports tourism, but there are others, such as running. And then there are of course the sea-based sports. It was a shame that Valencia, and not Palma, got the America’s Cup. The niching of tourism by individual sport (cycling, golf, sailing) may be missing a wider picture, which is the promotion of the island as a sport destination. There is plenty of infrastructure to allow this. Just look at the number of empty tennis courts in winter. Nadal and Moya could surely be called on to lend their “faces” to not just tennis but sport in general. Mallorca may not have any particular sporting cachet, apart from the tennis players, but it has the facilities. Florida can attract a sports tourism. Its climate may be warmer, but I know where I would rather play tennis, and that’s in a mild Mallorca in February rather than a steamy and humid Florida for much of the year.

Yesterday – “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore”, James Morrison. Today’s title – a film, who starred?


Friday, February 08, 2008

Such A Beautiful Myth

Bellevue. The name has lent itself to an area. That is the mark of the significance of this hotel complex. Its 4000 plus places are also not without significance. Bellevue dominates to such an extent that for many it is Puerto Alcúdia. Its location along The Mile and its sheer volume grant it the power of the waxing and waning of the moon and the movement of the tide; it influences all around it, determining when businesses open and how successful they are. Talk to traders around The Mile as the season approaches, and Bellevue is the leitmotif, and it remains so throughout the season. One hotel, so much power; it giveth and it taketh away. It is like a town’s one-time colliery or steelworks. And talk of increased all-inclusivity threatens more of the taking away.

Bellevue has attained mythical status in that myths and rumours abound. A few years ago, it was meant to have been closing; that has been just one of the stories. It has also passed into folklore by becoming synonymous with Alcúdia or at least an Alcúdia many believe to be the only truth – more myth.

There is no halfway with Bellevue. Love or hate, heaven or hell, beauty or beast. You’re either with Bellevue or you’re against it. Opinion divides so evenly that last year I was able to point to twelve reviews, six glowing, six griping (18 June 2007). Everyone here has his or her Bellevue story, often one passed down several stages and embellished and exaggerated along the way. But when one talks to those who work there, whose stories are first-hand, there is perhaps a degree of authority. The rep who describes one of the groups of blocks as Alcatraz, the waiter who talks of the drunk teenagers and the half-hour wait for drinks at the understaffed all-inclusive bar and the resultant expletives of a disgruntled punter, while at the pay-for bar waiters are standing around twiddling their thumbs.

It is all too easy though to take these reports as gospel and the final word and to condemn Bellevue with a sneer of superciliousness. If it is that bad, why do people keep coming back? The truth is that for at least fifty per cent of visitors (if one takes those reviews as proving anything), there is no bad, only good. That those reviews could diverge so much says everything about Bellevue – it is polarity of opinion. Whether this is as a result of differing expectations, I can’t say, but for every “disgusting”, there’s an “excellent”. An issue is the extent to which the gripers are heard. The even spread of reviews does not of course mean that the pro and con camps are distributed that neatly, but there appear to be enough in the con lobby to make the management take note. Bellevue goes well beyond the perimeters of its complex; it is Alcúdia’s name that gets associated with the Bellevue experience. The hotel may dominate, but it also owes the town a responsibility of reputation.

Bellevue is hardcore holiday. It is full frontal and brazen. It is thousands of bodies and thousands of pints. Go there on a summer evening, and it is a giant fairground, a roller-coaster of noise spreading across its bars, lawns and show stage. And that is how plenty of people like it, even if it is not the only truth about Alcúdia.

Yesterday – Talk Talk. Today’s title – from a single by a contemporary English singer-songwriter.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Party’s Over?

The gloom that has descended upon the Spanish economy could be the shroud of potential defeat for Sr. Zapatero at next month’s election. The PSOE has enjoyed the sunshine and sangria of an economic summer for much of its administration; now it faces a winter of cloud and flat cava. It’s rotten timing if you happen to be a socialist politician. Record rises in monthly unemployment, the largest fall in production for some six years, the largest fall in service-sector activity since the end of the last century, inflation at its highest for 12 years and consumer confidence shuffling along the floors of shopping malls like an impecunious bag-woman. It doesn’t get much worse, unless you add in independent forecasts for growth, a percentage point less than that dreamt up by the Government. The credit squeeze has compounded the problems of debt in key sectors such as construction; mortgages have risen along with the costs of utilities and petrol; employment in the tourism sector cannot compensate for the loss of building jobs. And yet none of it should come as a great surprise.

The PSOE may still have a lead in the polls, but the economic indicators are a godsend to the PP, even if the Government can point, with some justification, to the effects of European Central Bank policy and US sub-prime imperialism. The electorate though, seeing deterioration in household budgets, may not be inclined to take such a sympathetic view.

Slowdown in the Spanish economy and the threat of recession hang malevolently over Mallorca’s 2008 tourist season. The “record numbers” of tourists of the past two years were skewed by a significant rise in mainland Spaniards. Perhaps the only good news is for the likes of Alcúdia and Pollensa in that most of these visitors congregate around Palma. The bad news is that Spain is far from alone in its economic woes.

Yesterday – The Doobie Brothers. Today’s title – take away the question mark, could be a number of things but I’m looking for an album by a great ‘80s band.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Listen To The Music

There is something there is too little of – that is live music. For the tourist in summer, there is all too often a barrenness, save for acts at the fiestas or the more formal (and usually classical) settings of the Pollensa Festival or Alcúdia’s Auditorium. This tourist, and many local people, are not well served by live music where they really want it, which is in cramped bars with the feel of music as it should be – in the raw and with the sweat, booze and vibrating acoustics reminiscent of a Marquee or Fiddler. What passes for live music is all too frequently sanitised and third-rate cabaret served in synthetic dollops by hotels and some larger restaurants.

Out of season, there is some live music. It is a way for bars to attract business that might not otherwise be there. There are bands who do the rounds here. One is “The Hustlers” who have been appearing at the Shamrock in Puerto Alcúdia, but they are a familiar name. More innovative in the selection of bands are Puerto Alcúdia’s Vamps (in summer as it happens) and Pollensa’s La Birreria, the latter having had a regular number of gigs this winter. Most of the live-music scene is otherwise confined to Palma, leaving the north a musical wasteland.

On Saturday, La Birreria is presenting Jose Domingo (of the group Psychoine), one of a string of Spanish or Mallorcan acts that the bar has taken to specialise in as opposed to the rather tired Brit rock and blues formula. Don’t know him? Here are some links: and

Coming back to Santa Margalida. I was saying that this is not a particularly wealthy authority, so there is something of a stink about the fact that the mayor has been taking a salary nearly 10,000 euros higher than his predecessor. This works out at 45,000 a year. I don’t know what other mayors earn. Indeed I had never given it a thought until now, but 45 grand does not sound like a massive amount to be running a municipality, despite protests to the contrary. There again, maybe that ten thousand makes the difference between policing Son Serra de Marina or not. I couldn’t possibly say.

Yesterday – Madness. Today’s title – pretty easy, I would guess.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You’re An Embarrassment

The racist abuse of Lewis Hamilton at testing for the Formula One season in Barcelona was regrettable. The hysteria surrounding it has used stronger adjectives, justifiably perhaps but in danger of over-revving the engine, in particular an anti-Spanish one with the throttle down on all Spaniards being racists.

There is racism here. Unquestionably there is. So there is everywhere. On occasions such as the Hamilton affair, the British scurry into their sanctimonious smugness of having “solved” the racism-in-sport issue. But things are never black and white, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Whereas Britain has been largely cleansed by political correctness, the same cannot be said for Spain, and for which – in certain ways – we should be grateful. Spanish racism in sport is not the vicious neo-Nazism of eastern Europe; it is more a jokey racism. It is the sort of “joke” that used to pervade British society, one that used to allow even someone as apparently right-on as John Cleese to associate himself with a radio-comedy show that featured a regular “how-de-do-dere-honey” whenever the word black or dark was in the script; one that used to allow something as monstrous as “The Black and White Minstrel Show” to pass as Saturday evening entertainment.

But the “joke” is itself unkind and unacceptable. In Spanish football, it has led to Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o threatening to leave the pitch, to the embarrassing abuse of England’s coloured players, and to the lack of censure of Luis Aragones, the national team coach, after his remarks about Thierry Henry. What has happened to Aragones? He is still the coach. Glenn Hoddle’s crackpot ideas about the disabled proved to be the final nail in his England managerial coffin. Offensive they may have been, but Hoddle was dismissed as being potty and went on to manage in the Premiership. Had he said what Aragones said, he would have been booted out of FA headquarters faster than you could say “Ron Atkinson” and would never have gone near the game again. Big Ron, shown the red card from the commentary box on the back of his Desailly remarks, had his own joke about the three black players at West Brom – “The Three Degrees”. The last I heard of him, he was involved in a celebrity dinner. Where? Yep, in Mallorca.

The incident involving Hamilton may have been inspired by his spat with local hero Fernando Alonso, but the blacking-up by a few spectators was not a joke, even if they might have believed it to be. It was not a joke, it was puerile. And that’s the thing with such racism, it is childish, stupid, embarrassing and demeaning; demeaning both to those who have their fingers in the face paint and to their “targets”– just like the minstrels used to be. The relevant Spanish authorities and elements of the Spanish media are complicit in giving succour to such childishness. Football clubs are treated with a woeful lack of sanction, the commentators on the England match managed to ignore mentioning the chants, a reporter from the “AS” sports newspaper was on radio saying that it was just a handful of people at the testing in Barcelona. The absence of righteous political correctness may be a positive in Spain, but it does not, or should not extend to the puerility of darkening the face and monkey chants. It does the country no favours and needs to be addressed more seriously, as it should have been with Aragones who should have been shown the door. It is time that some in Spain learnt to grow up.

Yesterday – Could only have been the wonderful Dusty Springfield. Today’s title – nutty boys?


Monday, February 04, 2008

In The Middle Of Nowhere

“Totally abandoned.” “Closed.” “Gives no service.”

Three descriptions of facets of life in the splendidly weird place that is Son Serra de Marina. I thought to say “weird town”, but can Son Serra be called a town? Indeed what can it be defined as? Perhaps I should start a competition.

The descriptions emanate from a spokesperson for the PSOE opposition in the municipality of Santa Margalida, in which it is Son Serra’s misfortune to find itself. They refer, respectively, to the attitude of the governing regime at the town hall, the library and the municipal office. All of this comes from today’s “Diario”, the main thrust of which is to highlight the lack of local policing in Son Serra.

There are different strands to policing here, one of which is the local service. This is organised via the town halls, and in the case of Santa Margalida it would appear that the police service it is meant to provide to Son Serra has been more or less absent for some eight months. That at least is the view of the opposition and of local residents; the ruling PP denies it.

One resident is quoted as saying that he (or she) has been subject to seven burglaries over ten years. With or without a local plod, you can kind of understand it. Son Serra’s location makes it something of an easy target, as does the fact that there never seems to be anyone there, especially in winter. It is some 7 kilometres from Can Picafort and 13 from Santa Margalida, stuck out on its own along the coast; it is nowhere town, and there are those who assume that it is not part of Santa Margalida at all. But it is, and Santa Margalida is not a rich authority, albeit that it could find the ackers to help fund a new church in Can Picafort but cannot dig into the coffers for effective policing for Son Serra, or effective anything come to that. Out of sight, out of mind is the saying that springs to mind, though the town hall says it is now looking at building a primary school there. According to the town hall, there are 60 or 70 children of infant and primary school age. So there are people living in Son Serra, not that you tend to see much of them.

My guess with Son Serra is that many of the houses and villas there are holiday lets or second homes, some of them owned by Germans who may well have been attracted by lower prices. There has to be some reason for its deadness. Not that an abundance of absentee owners is an excuse for no police. The sense of abandonment in Son Serra is real enough though. It lends the place a charm of strangeness, though whether one would want to actually live with oddness is another matter. Homes may have once been cheaper there, but prices I have seen suggest that they are no longer. But a representative of a leading estate agency here once told me that he (and his company) don’t really bother with Son Serra as it is hard to sell property. The lack of basics make it unappealing, one of those basics being – at present it would appear – a proper police presence.

Yesterday – Miles Davis (composed by Joe Zawinul). Today’s title – by one of the greats of the ‘60s.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

In A Silent Way

The end of January marked an anniversary. 28 January to be precise. Twenty years since S’Albufera was declared a protected nature park, the first in the Balearics. The “Diario” celebrates this fact. Its reporter waxes lyrically, referring to the “intense peace” and “silence”. This is not a unique experience, it is one I have also sensed as have others.

Having Albufera as one’s back garden may bring with it certain disadvantages, well one – mosquitoes – but it affords many positives, not least in its proximity. Albufera is somewhere to escape to and to find tranquillity, though this can be disturbed by groups whose noise breaks not just the silence but also scares the wildlife into hiding. But one should not complain. Albufera is somewhere to be enjoyed and explored. The shame is perhaps that it is not explored by more, though there is an element of contradiction here. The more Albufera is invaded by humans, the less attractive it is to the fauna. Humans, as much as the man-made threats of the industrial estate, the power station, the nitrates from Muro and Sa Pobla farming and the possible change of use of the neighbouring Son Bosc finca, can be a liability in such an eco-system. Were they all whispering Attenboroughs or Bellamys creeping around, this would not be so, but they are not.

But Albufera cannot be preserved as a vast no-go area to homo sapiens. It would lose part of its purpose were it to be so, and it is the sheer vastness of the park that limits the impact of migrant humans, wings clipped so as not to spread from the designated routes or to explore deeply in numbers its less accessible parts.

The success of Albufera lies in the numbers that it is home to, some 3,000 species now, a doubling of aquatic birds since the late ‘80s. It is an achievement on a natural scale every bit as impressive (if that is the correct word) as the artificial scale of tourism infrastructure. Though the silence within its hugeness can be agoraphobic, in truth it is never silent. It is constant movement and never rests, and soon the small-hours calls of night birds will be joined by the cacophony of the frogs’ choruses, and the migrating formations will swoop and chatter over the tall reeds in daytime. Albufera is reserved for a minority in summer, the majority gathering as flocks and seal colonies on the beaches and pool-side. But perhaps that is how it should be, and how the wildlife prefers it to be.

Yesterday – “Unwritten”, Natasha Bedingfield. Today’s title – was going to use “The Sound of Silence” but remembered the newspaper cutting in the Albufera reception with a “sonido del silencio” headline. Too obvious. The chosen title is a jazz classic. Who?


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sometimes My Tries

The Six Nations Rugby tournament may have kicked off today, and for those of a fifteen-man sport bent now residing in Mallorca, the bars will have been full for England and Wales. But there is other rugby in Mallorca, not least in Alcúdia which boasts its own team – Corsaris. Today saw the visit of Menorca in a match as part of the small Balearic league.

Rugby is not a major sport in Spain, but it has its place and the sport is growing in popularity. The national side is one that hovers on the periphery of the international game, trying and failing to make the World Cup finals and get a sound thrashing at the hands of the major sides – Portugal did make the last finals and there was concern that New Zealand would not only stuff them but put one or two players into hospital. In the end, no one suffered more than a loss of pride at the scoreline.

Local rugby is not the preserve of the expat, it is not an excuse for overweight British hoorays to wheeze and pant around a field in some embarrassing veterans game and then get bladdered afterwards. It is altogether more serious than that, and it is played by a mix of Mallorcans, Spaniards, Italians, south Americans and, yes, British. And they take it seriously. The standard on display today in the game between Alcúdia and Menorca was not high, but individually there are some good players, and the tackling was keen – all credit to them on a bone-hard pitch. The seven-team league has been running for some five years, and the developments, especially on the playing side, are already there to be seen. Alcúdia were thumped by Menorca last time around. Today it was a respectable loss by 22 to 3, Menorca a smaller but quicker side scoring four tries with one conversion to a penalty for Alcúdia. Menorca’s stand-out player was Martín the scrum-half who wouldn’t disgrace good junior club rugby in the UK. And I suppose I should also mention the Menorca number 8, Jake Boas, he of the El Laberinto maze. Well, he did make one good break!

Yesterday – The Seekers. Today’s title – a line that continues “are outside the lines”; brilliant gospel-influenced R&B song of recent vintage.


Friday, February 01, 2008

The Carnival Is Over

Carnival. A word and an event that resonate around the world. For the British, who have turned away from religiosity and its celebrations in ever-increasing degree since the Reformation, there is a collective forgetfulness to appreciate Shrove Tuesday as its remnant of Carnival. Elsewhere, where religiosity, or at least its social convention, has retained a hold, Carnival remains the party atmosphere of pre-Lent, a riot of gluttony before the fast. And as such it is total hokum of consequent non-observed abstinence. Carnival, subdued under Franco, has passed into current-day tradition as no more than another fiesta, another excuse for street celebrations and DJs in the squares. Let the good times roll. The more parties the merrier. But Carnival is now just one of the rest. When recently I spoke about time in winter being marked by the intervals between fiestas, I forgot about Carnival. How could I have? Easy. It is just another, and it comes at the fag-end of the winter fiesta season. We are all fiesta-ed out, but there’s one more to give an excuse to some parade dressing-up, some dancing giants and some free nosebag. I am not against Carnival, I am not against the celebrations, but I am against fiesta-fatigue and the ennui of ritualism and familiarity that surrounds much of the so-called spectacular.

Holidays, fiestas, call them as you like, what they need, what they deserve is their place, their special place. Caught in an endless chain of events, often sharing similar styles, they lose their specialness and their point. Only another thrash and an opportunity to wear some daft clothes.

In Britain, because the British have forgotten their traditions, holidays and days-off have to be invented. There is something callously opportunist about the idea of a bank holiday as a way of supporting British troops. Callously opportunist and ridiculous. The B&Q car parks packed, while a few worthies watch a march past. It is an absurdity. At least with Carnival there is some sense to it.

Mallorcan Carnival is not on a Brazilian scale; the scale is more Brazil nut than the nuttiness of Rio. It is groups of children wandering along streets, adults with “wacky” costumes and the inevitable scratch and turntable of an earnest technoist in the mix at the Carnival street rave. It could be worse though. In Germany they have got Carnival off to an art of self-ridicule and have the lunatic tie-cutting terror – of Bavaria’s “Fasching” at any rate. Males frantically removing their neck furniture in fear of a scissors-wielding fraulein.

Which is not to say that Carnival does not put on its best party frock and go to the ball in other parts of Spain. And here one has the potential alternative take on Mallorca Carnival; it is too spectacle-lite. Mallorca is missing a trick, but the message may be getting through. The keeper of the Palma Sant Sebastia keys has admitted that this celebration could be improved and marketed internationally. With so many fiestas, the danger is that individually they lose their significance, but not if they were perceived and promoted as a whole. Mallorca could be 24 hour party people, 365 day a year party people (with one more day added this year). “Mallorca, where the party never stops.” Carnival would recapture its specialness as one of the peaks of this endless bout of hedonism attracting the foreign throngs. They could even learn a lesson from the one street party that the British do which is any good – Notting Hill.

Yesterday – “Wish You Were Here”, Pink Floyd. Today’s title – well, it’s only really started, but whatever. Who?


Index for January 2008

Alcúdia like Blackpool – 24 January 2008
Alcúdia Pins – 5 January 2008
All-inclusives – 5 January 2008
Awards 2007 – 3 January 2008
Baby buggies – 29 January 2008
Balearic Government – 9 January 2008
Bars – 3 January 2008, 25 January 2008, 31 January 2008
Beaches – 28 January 2008
Bottled water – 6 January 2008
Britain – 4 January 2008
British Consul – 9 January 2008, 11 January 2008
Brochures – 5 January 2008
Building conversion – 26 January 2008
Café del Món – 31 January 2008
Cafés – 25 January 2008, 31 January 2008
Cars for sale – 19 January 2008
Catalan – 30 January 2008
Catholic Church – 15 January 2008
Characters, local – 16 January 2008
Clínica Juaneda – 8 January 2008
Credit squeeze – 10 January 2008
Cycling – 12 January 2008, 27 January 2008
Devils – 14 January 2008
Direct Holidays – 5 January 2008
Do-it-yourself holidays – 22 January 2008
Education – 30 January 2008
Eroski Syp – 16 January 2008
Estate agents – 18 January 2008
Expatriates – 20 January 2008
Fiestas – 14 January 2008
Fishing – 17 January 2008
Football – 18 January 2008
General election – 15 January 2008, 20 January 2008
Goats – 17 January 2008
Holiday prices – 5 January 2008
Hospital General de Muro – 8 January 2008
Hotels – 5 January 2008
Hunting – 17 January 2008
La Victoria – 17 January 2008
Language – 30 January 2008
Mallorquín – 30 January 2008
Mile, The – 24 January 2008
Mosquitoes – 21 January 2008
Moths – 7 January 2008
National anthems – 13 January 2008, 16 January 2008
Nit Bruixa – 14 January 2008
Patio heaters – 31 January 2008
Pine trees – 7 January 2008
Political parties – 15 January 2008, 30 January 2008
Playa de Muro – 5 January 2008, 6 January 2008
Processionary caterpillar – 7 January 2008
Property market – 18 January 2008
Rajoy, Mariano – 15 January 2008
Restaurant Boy – 27 January 2008
Restaurants – 3 January 2008, 27 January 2008
Sa Pobla – 14 January 2008
Sand – 28 January 2008
Sant Antoni – 14 January 2008
Sant Sebastia – 14 January 2008, 21 January 2008
Sewage – 26 January 2008
Share prices – 10 January 2008
Spanish economy – 15 January 2008
Supply and demand – 25 January 2008
Terrorism – 15 January 2008
Tour operators – 5 January 2008, 10 January 2008, 22 January 2008
Tourism economics – 10 January 2008
Tourism marketing – 23 January 2008
Tourism statistics – 5 January 2008
Voting rights – 20 January 2008
Water quality – 6 January 2008, 26 January 2008
Weather – 7 January 2008
Winter tourism – 9 January 2008, 11 January 2008
Zapatero, Jose Luis Rodriguez – 15 January 2008