Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Had To Chase The Sun

"Living abroad is a constant strain, because you don't know how the little things work."

This comes from a feature in "The Guardian". It is written by Alistair Fraser about his and his family's experience of moving to France. It has not been a happy time; it could just as easily have been written about Mallorca.

How the little things work. Where does one start? What are little things exactly? Registering at the town hall; registering at the foreign affairs office; getting an NIE number without which nothing much can be done; finding a gestor to help you; registering for a doctor; getting the kids into school; sorting the telephone line out (at least Telefonica have an English helpline); getting an internet account; re-registering the car if it has foreign plates; changing the driving licence; knowing that the car has to have certain things in it ... I could go on. And this all besides the buying or renting of property. How the little things work. or maybe don't. And without the language it can be hard-going.

But of course plenty of people manage to do all this. The little things can be an inconvenience and they may seem daunting, but they're not really, though the forms can make them so. And you have to accumulate so much damn documentation to do anything. Once it's done though ... . Part of the problem, especially for those from Anglo-Saxon regimes, can be that things seem inefficient. Well they are, and some things are deliberately so, or at least that is an opinion held by some. Take the registration for residency. It's a trial by queue, heat (or rain and cold) and time as locally they don't want to make it easy. It's a stupid attitude, if this indeed is the case. People have made the decision to move here. Making the registration process a hassle does not deter immigration, so why not just accept the fact and simplify it.

The little things are the nuisances of everyday living. In themselves, they are not important. What is, is the adaptation to change in lifestyle, culture and language. One has to want to adapt. Fraser refers to the initial move being like an "extended holiday". For some expats, that extended holiday extends indefinitely. Take it from me, living in Mallorca is not one great long holiday, and nor should it be. But from the poolside, the dream of moving here is very different from the reality of actually doing so.

In the past I have spoken about the transience of the local expat population. While there is obvious transience in respect of seasonal workers, it exists also where permanent incomers are concerned. That word - transience - was used the other day by an expat I know well. He said that there seems to be a time limit on much immigration - five, six, seven years perhaps. He and his family want to sell the house and the business and go to England; he's been here seven years. It's not a seven-year itch necessarily. Fraser makes the point that it can take five years to really settle in - or to find that you cannot. The holiday can extend that long maybe.

Five years should not really be necessary though to start understanding some realities. For those who have retired, it is one thing; for those who work it's a different matter. Remember that "bloody country" remark of three days ago; that came from someone who runs a successful bar. The little things can come and hit you any time. You chase the sun and then discover that it isn't all sun or indeed warmth. Here's Fraser again:

"When the weather turned in November, the house turned against us, too. Those features that had kept us cool in the hot summer - the thick walls and flagstones - made it feel like we were living in a fridge."

Once more, this could apply to Mallorca. Even with outside temperatures towards the 20 degree mark, interiors can be cold. Can be? Are. Unless there is very good heating. Those charming stone-walled houses with their stone floors. Freezing. And the same goes for much of the housing stock. And it can be cold in other respects - not much to do, not a lot of work. Relationships can be strained, budgets squeezed, and some seek solace on a bar stool or from powders. And above all else is the language. There comes a point where reliance on those who can speak the native or on professionals gets too much. It takes five, six, seven years to perhaps really speak the language. Or it takes this long to discover that you have never bothered to really try or cannot. Chasing the sun, living the dream, and suddenly the miserable British climate may not seem so bad after all.

*For the article in "The Guardian", go to

Incidentally, the same newspaper ran a competition for readers' travel writing. The winner wrote about the Tramuntana mountains. Here it is -

Water closets this time. Toilets in other words. They've put up some public loos on the seafront. Where before was a desert of privies there is now an oasis of water closetry, in both ports of Alcúdia and Pollensa. Everyone's coming out of the closet; and everyone's going into it. Well, oasis is maybe stretching it. And you really must have had a dodgy curry the night before to dream of using the lavs on Alcúdia's promenade. Which leads to the fuss about the Pollensa bogs. According to the "Diario", the local neighbourhood association has the concession for the toilets. Perhaps they have had a look in the Alcúdia loos, as they're charging 50 centimos a go. Unreasonable? Not at all I would have said, especially if that 50 centimos go towards keeping them clean, which is what the association is arguing. However, along comes the virtuous, anti-profit brigade of the local political opposition - the Partido Popular (not a party naturally disinclined to the pursuit of moolah) - to allege that a "fraud" is being perpetrated through this charge.

Now the fact is that the charge has not been approved by the town hall; the bloke with overall responsibility for the environment admits that there is an "illegality", but has explained why the charge exists - for keeping the toilets in decent order. This all seems fair enough, but this isn't good enough for the PP who want to know if the 50 centimos - only 50 centimos don't forget - is "symbolic" or "lucrative". In which case then, why don't they enquire of the bars that make a charge to non-guests for using the toilets? The bars have long offered a public service in this respect. 50 cents for God's sake. Knickers in a twist; knickers in a twist sitting on a piece of public porcelain.

Yesterday's title - Bon Jovi, "Wanted Dead Or Alive" ( Today's title - a line from a current song by one of the few geniuses of popular music. A clue may be found in the recent piece about the Elvises.


Index for August 2008

Airlines - 21 August 2008
All-inclusives - 2 August 2008, 7 August 2008
Bars - 4 August 2008, 6 August 2008
Basketball - 18 August 2008
Beaches - 7 August 2008, 8 August 2008
Burglary - 30 August 2008
Café del Mar - 3 August 2008
Can Picafort - 1 August 2008, 17 August 2008
Canals - 19 August 2008, 20 August 2008
Chefs - 6 August 2008
Cheques - 22 August 2008
Chill-out - 3 August 2008, 7 August 2008, 8 August 2008
China shops - 27 August 2008
Community relations - 5 August 2008
Dakota Tex-Mex - 25 August 2008
Dogs - 28 August 2008, 29 August 2008
Ducks - 17 August 2008
Electricity bills - 28 August 2008
Expatriates - 6 August 2008, 15 August 2008, 31 August 2008
Fiestas - 1 August 2008, 17 August 2008
Fireworks - 17 August 2008
Grupo Boulevard - 25 August 2008
Holidays - 14 August 2008
Hotels - 2 August 2008, 5 August 2008, 20 August 2008
Integration - 15 August 2008
Kissing - 10 August 2008
Kitesurfing - 26 August 2008, 28 August 2008
La Villa Chinese restaurant - 8 August 2008
Language - 15 August 2008
Luxury properties - 16 August 2008
Mare de Déu d'Agost 2008 - 1 August 2008, 17 August 2008
Markets - 11 August 2008, 12 August 2008, 21 August 2008
Music - 3 August 2008
Olympics - 18 August 2008
Ones, Can Picafort - 27 August 2008
Playa de Muro - 21 August 2008
Poblat GESA - 23 August 2008
Property market - 16 August 2008, 29 August 2008
Railways - 9 August 2008
Rancho Grande - 30 August 2008
Recycling - 23 August 2008
Restaurants - 4 August 2008, 8 August 2008, 25 August 2008
Roads - 25 August 2008, 26 August 2008
Rubbish - 23 August 2008, 27 August 2008
September - 27 August 2008
Spanair - 21 August 2008
Street cleaning - 28 August 2008
Summer - 12 August 2008
Toilets, public - 31 August 2008
Tourist spend - 4 August 2008
Trains - 9 August 2008
Tribute acts - 24 August 2008
Wind - 13 August 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm A Cowboy, On A Steel Horse I Ride

It's not Southfork but it is a ranch. I was there the other day. Rancho Grande. Big ranch in a small country, well island. There is though a touch of the wild west even if we are heading to the east of Mallorca. Wild, as this is just land, dust, mountains to the back, dunes away towards the beach at Son Serra. Otherwise there's the house, in which one might anticipate Ben and the boys pondering the Ponderosa - Hoss and Little Joe, the two least likely of television brothers until Coronation Street tried to claim that Steve and Andy McDonald were twins. But of course there are no Cartwrights, only Pepe and the rest. And past the house is the terrace and the vast barbecue before one gets to the little zoo, the wagons, the swans, the peacocks and parrots and all those horses. The land, the ranch stretches away, and one awaits the arrival of an imaginary posse or Wyatt, Wild Bill or Jessie. I'm a cowboy; I'm wanted dead or alive.

Take the entrance track and there's a cowgirl on horseback to greet the visitors and to usher them towards the photo shoot. One of the first times I went to the ranch, a group turned up and one of its members started belittling the head and shoulders photos with a cowboy hat. Forget your cynicism. And maybe you'll forget a lot more as the sangria flows, the barbecue is stoked and the music starts. There used to be the single worst act I have ever seen in Mallorca at the ranch, and that is saying something. But he was that bad he was brilliant. And keep forgetting that cynicism and stomp with the line-dancing. There is music, much of it cowboy-themed; Natasha Bedingfield seemed somewhat incongruous the other day. In this vast open space there is not too much worry about neighbours and limiters, the music drifts out towards the darkness where somewhere is the sea and the moonlight riders.

This is the most friendly of places. I'm standing by the queue for the photos and a quad bike comes bumping across the raw-sienna earth. "Hombre." It's the Spanish learnt from Westerns. Hombre, amigo. On the straight stretch of road heading out of Can Picafort towards Son Serra is a sign off to the left which bears the words "El Paso". It's not John Wayne but Pepe on the quad; I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride. Another time I was standing at the same spot and this boy asked me if he could stroke a horse. Sometimes you detect a sadness, and it was touching as the horse blew gently. Animal therapy.

Some things come and go, but there has been a Martorell family horse business since the early '60s; it used to be in Puerto Pollensa. Forty-five years and they issued a photo souvenir to celebrate. Grainy photos of Pepe and his father, a shot in the streets of Muro in from 1966 and from 1973 by the Molins bay at Cala San Vicente, and then to today and the animals, the dancing and the cowboys.

I bumped into John-Michael this morning. A lot of folk know Michael; one-time Bar Bamboo, then he ran Dreams for a period and was at Epcot after that. How is it all going? Ok, but shit. Why's that? Break-in. First-floor flat around the Magic area of Alcúdia. A couple of grand swiped off a credit card plus DVD player, PC ... .

You kind of expect tourist places to be more of a target in summer, but by no means exclusively. One neighbour had a break-in two Augusts ago; another, kitted out with state-of-the-art security (well now anyway), woke up to find an uninvited guest in the early hours. My place was done in February; more like you might anticipate as there's no one much about. I have a cricket bat, my old Gunn and Moore. It has a fine sweet spot. For one with a reputation as a Chris Tavaré dogged opener, the time I got in one good stride to an opening quick and with not much effort watched the ball sail far and far over his head into some Cambridgeshire woodlands was testimony to its good middle. It's heavy as well, a 3-pounder. It stands in a convenient position in the house.

There was that politician recently who said that the "crisis" might result in more crime. Could be, I guess. One thing is that there are going to be more this winter who have not done the required number of months to qualify for unemployment benefit. Michael was saying that it's not as if this is the first time there has been recession; it will be about the fourth in four decades. In the past people have just struggled through as best they can. But people change and the number of people increases, and so the temptations and the opportunities change and increase. It's not though that it's a case of robbing from the rich. The million-euro and much more villas have tended to be the magnets; not only them now, according to the Guardia. Anything will do.

Yesterday's title - "Jump Around" ( The Robin Williams connection? Among the schmaltz of Mrs Doubtfire was a funny scene of a kids' party with this as the music. Today's title - I never got it with this band, but this was damn good.


Friday, August 29, 2008

House Of Pain

Spanish property developers may have been going belly-up, but obviously it is not only Spanish builders suffering during "the crisis". Remember what I said a while ago about Taylor Woodrow in Puerto Pollensa having failed to yet sell all the apartments at its Pollentia Mar development? Things aren't too great for the company, Taylor Wimpey as it is now. An 85% drop in the profit of its Spanish division.

The property market is in a state of stasis. The Balearics registered the greatest decline in mortgages of all the Spanish regions during June. Even the luxury end, that luxury end which "The Bulletin" would have us believe is some form of über-wedged salvation, is not necessarily enjoying the benefit of those bulging pockets. There is an agency hereabouts that wants, needs, to offload one of its offices; high overhead is a killer even at the luxury end in the current circumstances. The British market, even for those for whom high property prices may not be too challenging, has run aground, courtesy of the poor exchange rate.

There is something of a myth that the British, and other foreigners, were largely to blame (or to praise, depending on your point of view) for rises in property prices. To an extent, this was the case, but it is far from the whole story. There was one major and artificial factor in the historic elevation of property prices, and that was the introduction of the euro. I seem to have mentioned this before, but it bears repetition. It all had to do with pesetas that were never banked and which to have done so in order to obtain euros would have made those pesetas "visible". The way out of this dilemma was to buy property.

The boom in housing did clearly contribute to an overall appreciation in values, though here again one cannot be certain that all was as it seemed. The declared prices of property have increased in a land where traditionally there has been a sizeable chunk of undeclared price. Mathematics, as much as real values, fuelled the property boom. And then there were all the estate agents. That many have been the victim of the property crash may be no bad thing. So many agencies and so much desire to make healthy commissions. One fancies that the agencies were, in part at any rate, a factor in driving up prices. The director of a branch of one agency once told me that he had to curb the "enthusiasm" of his sales team for excessively high prices, but admitted that this was difficult given the equal enthusiasm amongst sellers, especially Mallorcan sellers, to extract as much as possible. The foreign purchaser did indeed contribute to upping property values, but it took and takes four to do the property tango - buyer, seller, agency and bank. Buyers were only too happy to join them on the dance floor, seduced by impressions of good investment opportunities that may not have been as they seemed. And of course the banks were only too happy to go along with it all.

A mark of the present nature of the market is that not only have agencies gone to the wall most have retrenched in terms of marketing spend. Gone, or so it would appear as one doesn't see them around, are most of the property magazines, of which there were four or five prominent ones. In spring last year, one of them approached me with regard to developing more sales in the north. It proved to be a pretty forlorn task, and that was in June of last year when the word already was of "crisis", a word that only really came into everyone's consciousness this year. The internet has become the default medium for promotion, but this is only as good as sites' optimisation can make it.

Yet there persist lunatic prices. Take this example. Friends of mine are renting a house in Puerto Alcúdia. The owner has offered it for sale at 400,000. This offer is a mere 50,000 more than a previous "valuation". How can this possibly be? The Mallorcan propensity to grab for cash is legion (and I have spoken before about the apparent "greed" that is an accusation levelled at Mallorcans), but a 14% increase at a time of extreme difficulty in the market is an obscenity of avarice; it would be even in good times. I know the property. I also know properties close by that are for sale at similar prices. The new price is totally unrealistic by comparison.

And continuing a theme ... It should not be overlooked that much of the canine output to be encountered on the local pavements is there courtesy of dogs without chaperon. There was me thinking that Mallorca's dogs are meant to be on the lead at all times; how stupid to think that a regulation here might be applied assiduously. Down the road lives this dog. It's a very nice dog. Pretty clever, too; either that or it has a key. Two or three times a day it goes for a trot around the neighbourhood, indulges in some prolonged and non-specific barking, finds a convenient spot as its convenience and has a good old dump. Who does let the dogs out? Not only do they have scant regard for lavatorial decorum, man's best friends have little idea when it comes to the highway or pedestrian code either. Main road? That'll do nicely. Side road? Just as good. This morning, I was about to pull away in a street in Can Picafort. Where's that damn dog gone? I saw it coming, and then couldn't see it. Had to get out to make sure I wasn't about to turn it into a dog's dinner for the local ant population.

Yesterday's title - Little Feat ( The video is an overlong recent-ish live version, but still captures the essence of what was a great piece of music. Today's title - what's the connection with their big hit and Robin Williams?


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day At The Dog Races

So I happen to pass by the Lluna leather shop in Puerto Pollensa, and Joana is busy swabbing the street. Yes, the street. There ensues a touch of small talk during which I comment, jokingly, that it's good for business to keep the shop front clean. Only thing is, this isn't a joke. What's with the town hall and the rubbish and the streets, asks I. The chap with the street-cleaning machine used to come by three or four times a summer. Not now he doesn't. I look down at the pavement that has yet to be treated with Joana's liquid. And afterwards I walk the streets, my head bowed.

I suppose the thing is that years of Greece, France and Spain have maybe inured me to the pavements or at least to what is on them. I observe much, but the walkways tend to pass me by, or I pass them by and over without much in the way of a glance or more detailed study. Until today. It's only when you really scrutinise what you're walking on that you realise that, yes, it is actually pretty filthy. Dog shit is one thing; the other is the regularity of stains of all sorts. And then I think again of all those nutters who take to the pavements without anything on their feet. You hope to God they don't go jumping into pools straight after without having been treated with industrial disinfectant.

There was this thing today in the press about a push to improve ever more the quality of hotels as part of a drive to attract more tourism. Which is all very fine. But you worry that there is an ever widening gap between the splendrous facades of tourism and the untreated splatters on the streets and sidewalks. And they want more pedestrianisation. Let's hope they find someone to clean it. Personally, it doesn't really bother me; it's that inurement, though I am as hacked off as anyone by crap or chewing-gum on the soles. But that's only me. There are plenty who are far more sensitive, and not without reason.

Maybe it's just all this "bloody country". Those aren't my words. They are the words of a bar-owner in Puerto Pollensa. The bar in question was closed today. Very unusual. Want to know why? They'd had the electricity cut off. Not that they hadn't paid bills; they had. It was just that they'd paid the wrong bills; someone else's. It was all a bit of an electricity company admin mistake - cock-up in other words. And so they were left with a day's loss of revenue and having to pay their bills before being credited for the ones that they had paid. I mention this because it's not the first time these particular people have had an issue with electricity bills. They used to rent a villa; quite a nice villa. Quiet area, with just a smaller place neighbouring; a smaller place belonging to the owner. Except that smaller place shouldn't, strictly speaking, have been there. The questionable legality of its presence didn't appear to deter the owner too much; not when it came to some jiggery-pokery with the electricity metering. They, it came to pass, discovered that they were paying for the other place's electricity consumption as well.

So having seen the street swabbing and heard the saga of the bills, I wandered off, examining the paths of Puerto Pollensa and mulling over lines about who let the dogs out or having gone to the dogs being quite literally the case what with the on-street dog powdering of the nose; lines about dog day afternoon as it is now past noon, or day at the dog races because of perambulation but with obstacles of a canine faecal variety. And then there's this noise as I'm staring down at the physical representation of the name Carrer Metge Llopis. I look up and it's this apartments development. Why are they working on this? Is this a tourist area or what? Is this August or have I been transported to November? What happened to suspension of works? So I'm looking up and I walk away and it's a sixth sense that makes me focus again on the pavement. It would have completely ruined my afternoon, had I stood in it.

Following on from the piece of 26 August, comes news, as noted in the "Diario", that kitesurfers who act with "imprudence" could cop fines of up to 3000 euros. Essentially what this refers to is if kitesurfing is practised in areas that are strictly for swimming. One of the reasons for the concentration of kitesurfers at La Marina in Pollensa bay is that the beach there is "free" in that there is no demarcation of a swim zone.

The kities are asking for an increase in the number of beaches that are designated for what is a fast-growing sport. They are also saying that their own diligence, when it comes to safety and training, reduces the risk of accidents. And one does detect a definite increase in responsibility, whether this has been out of personal choice or enforced. As an example, back of me in Playa de Muro there used to be kitesurfers in what is a swim area. Not now there aren't. I did wonder last year why the Guardia used to turn up now and then. Perhaps this was the reason. There was once an almighty set-to when a kite came down close to some kids in the water.

But kitesurfing is not the only thing that is banned from the beaches. Boats are also forbidden. Yet there is a guy here who these past couple of weeks has turned up every afternoon with his Laser and launched it off the local beach. The beach sign is quite clear. No boats. One wonders why the lifeguards don't say anything; they patrol up and down the beach regularly. It's not a case of spoiling people's fun, just that the beach and the sea have become potentially more dangerous since the advent of all the various bits of kit that nowadays manifest themselves. This is why there are "sports areas" off beaches. Let the sea be a free-for-all, and it would be chaos.

Yesterday's title - "Nightswimming" ( Today's title - one of the great American bands, though you'd be doing well to get this.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

September's Coming Soon

September. It lends alliteration. The sad season. September's coming soon. September is the saddest month of the year. The season starts to feel as though it is running down. All that optimism of spring, and September gives a backdrop of storms to pessimism and even despair. So many bars and restaurants for sale, or so we are told. The heavy dews will start to return and there will be mists; the lawns are at their happiest while others are not. But sleep can also return. The nights are less oppressive and the darkness already extends for longer till seven in the morning and from nine in the evenings. Sleeplessness though for some; how will the winter be and what will the next season bring? September's coming soon, but it can also be the best of months. The economy-class families of August go back to school and the couples come back and linger longer and more regularly at the tables. And the football's back, and the bars can be packed even for the misery of an England international. September's coming soon - sad but happy; all depends how the summer's been, for autumn's coming soon.

September though should be a good month for the souvenir and china shops. August has seen a drop of some 50% in sales for this type of store in centres such as Puerto Alcúdia. It can be attributed, in large part, to the nature of the August tourist, that economy-class family. The last thing on their list of must-dos, it would appear, is to go on a shopping binge and load the suitcases with Lladró and Majorica. September brings the couples, the families with very small children and the senior citizens, the latter just the ones for the china. While some of the souvenirs are basically crap, the porcelain, ceramics and glass are not - well some, but mostly not. A problem for these shops, however, is, like bars, there tend to be too many of them, and the brands are the same. It is hard to differentiate in such a homogeneous market. Yet there are stores that seem to manage it by presenting themselves in a stylish fashion. One such is Ones on the frontline in Can Picafort. Ignore the bikinis and stuff to the left of the store; the rest is filled with displays that are quite captivating. Porcelain brands are collectibles, and there are those who come here with at least one acquisitive eye on adding to their collections, while - say it ever so quietly - Christmas is not that far away; so all that gift-buying back home can be made less onerous through the purchase of some NAO and Elisa.

Well it seems that not a day passes without some complaint or controversy. The latest - rubbish. I had actually received an email from Colin about precisely this issue. Today's "Diario" highlights the problem, and quotes critics of the town hall administration and its "inactivity". For a council that managed to up its rubbish tax so much, it does seem to be in a bit of a mess - quite literally. Unlike other recent reports of matters in Puerto Pollensa, the beleaguered mayor has not been hauled out to issue a denial; presumably as there is nothing to deny. With rubbish, smells from the torrent, criticism of the swimming-pool, to say nothing of the ongoing dissatisfaction of the local police, maybe now is not really quite the right time to be adding to the sense of chaos at the town hall by going ahead with the pedestrianisation trial, the wisdom of which, at best, is questionable.

For a nice photo of the rubbish, go here:

Yesterday's title - Donovan ( Today's title - it's REM week on the blog; where does this line come from?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Catch The Wind

"Charlie Browner", "chicken bone", "donkey dick". At some point in the future, an Olympics will doubtless will be treated to an expanded lexicography as the games add yet another sport. Kitesurfing.

Windsurfing, which is an Olympics sport, is in retreat against the onslaught of the kite variety; at least that is so here. The gathering of kities (Charlie Browners) at La Marina beach on Pollensa bay has grown significantly over the years. Whereas once there were only a dozen or so kites, now the air over the sea seems to be filled with hundreds of inflatables of reds, yellows, blues, blacks, whites - a collage of multi-coloured technology grasped by those in pursuit of air time and the demonstration of "mobes", the tricks of the kitesurfing trade.

The La Marina kitesurfing exhibitions have reached the stage of the spectacular. They have become a tourist attraction in their own right. Drive along the coast road and see the cars stopped and the passengers disgorged with their cameras. Kitesurfing can be a dangerous sport and watching it is not without danger on what is a notorious stretch of road.

Surfing of all varieties has had its roots in communities of thrill-seekers. It is not so long ago that surfing was an obscure pastime; you can argue that the Californian early '60s saw the real birth of sea riding, when the local college kids would care whether they had enough money to fill the tank of a Chevvy in order to get to the beach and catch the wave. And from all this grew catch the wind, which brings us up to date and to the kitesurfing off the shores of Mallorca.

The communities of kities that take to the water and to the air are populated by those in constant search of the right conditions. It's as if everything else is put on hold when the wind is right and the kit can be hauled onto a beach in anticipation of a good cross-wind. Onshore and offshore winds are not the right conditions. Too fierce and the wind can be "nuking".

This is not a cheap or an uncomplicated sport. It can cost up to 1500 euros for all the kit, while the safety measures and the actual art of kitesurfing make for something more complex than may appear to those watching through camera lenses. The focus on safety is important. I had always understood that instruction in kitesurfing was banned here, but today's "Diario" points out that lessons cost 30 euros and quotes a guy from a shop called Pipe Line who offers such lessons. Perhaps the responsibility towards safety has persuaded the authorities to grant licences. Someone has to have been engaged in instruction; the growth in the sport locally hasn't happened just by chance.

Well the mayor has diverted his attention away from normal matters to do with water in order to tackle, if that isn't exaggerating things, the unrest surrounding the trial closure of the frontline. Not everyone is happy, which will come as no surprise. So the mayor's going to have a meeting with the unhappies, which begs the question - shouldn't he have done so before now? Whilst pedestrianisation has much to commend it (and one should remember that this is only as yet a trial), there is a point at which it becomes an inconvenience, whilst the exceptions, e.g. for buses, taxis, police and emergency and deliveries, make it questionable in the first place. "The Bulletin" today points out that the new road remains virtually unused, while the coast road remains the key thoroughfare. It's a fair comment, but only up to a point. Not only does the sign at the roundabout as one joins the new road point along the coast road to the "centre", thus obviously directing traffic away from the new road, the coast road is more direct. The new road is a bypass, not a means of access, even if roads off do create some of this access.

People are also whingeing about a lack of information. I drove along the coast road today and saw nary a sign saying anything. Maybe there was and I missed it, but what I did see were numerous no-parking signs taped up with bin-liners ready to be unveiled to an unsuspecting motoring public. The thing is, if you take away all the parking that is currently available, where on Earth are people going to park? And this includes not only residents but also those with hire cars staying at seaview hotels such as the Uyal. Presumably, it gets pushed into the side roads. And that is going to piss the residents off even more. Trial by road closure. Yep, reckon it will be.

Yesterday's title - this great film with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek was set in South Dakota; the badlands refer to the terrain to be found there and in North Dakota. Today's title - hippy-dippy, British Dylan.


Monday, August 25, 2008


I was reminded recently that the antagonism towards Grupo Boulevard and specifically the company's Dakota Tex-Mex restaurants rumbles on, especially in Puerto Pollensa.

Let me explain for those who may as yet not be up to speed on this one. Boulevard is one of the most significant players locally; it is HQ-ed in the dark glass-fronted building in Playa de Muro. Its operations cover: in Puerto Pollensa, three Dakota Tex-Mex restaurants, Café L'Algar, Gran Café 1919, a tabacos, O'Hara's pub and the curious Australia Boulevard place; in Puerto Alcúdia, a Dakota and a supermarket/tabacos; in Playa de Muro, the Shopping Centre in Las Gaviotas, another Dakota, a Gran Café-ette, a shop, a tabacos and a supermarket (misleadingly termed a hypermarket). Perhaps there are more. Doubtless you'll tell me if there are.

It is the Dakotas that have caused most of the opprobrium to be levelled at Boulevard, much of it emanating from the expat community. There are, it seems, plenty with an "agenda" against the company. A while back there was an anonymous comment sent for a piece I did ages ago about the Dakotas; it was unflattering to say the least. I ignored it. Someone had to have gone to some trouble to have unearthed an old blog item in order to indulge in some slagging-off.

Quite what is the problem? Much of it, one fancies, stems from the conversion of the old fisherman's cottage at the start of the pinewalk and its reincarnation as a Dakota. The tex-mex "chain" has become, for some, the Devil incarnate. And it is in Puerto Pollensa that the Boulevard and Dakota horns have reached out more obviously than anywhere else, thus generating reactions of takeover and perhaps not even a little envy. One is not sure whether it is the strength of Boulevard that is objected to or its brashness; both probably. Boulevard is a successful business, or at least it would appear to be. Success is not always greeted with acclaim, especially if it seems to in some way undermine a particular image of a place; in this case Puerto Pollensa.

Boulevard probably doesn't help itself. Rather like the hotels, as I spoke about in a previous piece, one doesn't really know a great deal about the company. It doesn't engage in community or public relations, or at least none that I am aware of. That HQ building with its dark glass perhaps says something; it wants awareness but to be unknown and unseen. Boulevard is, one concludes, a hard-nosed business, doing what hard-nosed businesses do, making money, hence the Dakota-isation of Puerto Pollensa where few can understand the sense of three of the same restaurants being in close proximity. But as I pointed out some time before, the model is hardly unique; McDonald's perfected it.

The Dakotas, however, say an awful lot about shifts in local "Spanish" attitudes as well as about matching tourist demand and wants and about some expats. To take the Spanish angle first. Recently, there was an article in "The Bulletin" which highlighted the closure or sale of the more typical Mallorcan restaurant in Palma. It pointed out that the new types of restaurants - pizza joints for instance, to which one could add the likes of tex-mex establishments - were doing well by comparison. There are different reasons for this, of which one is the growth in popularity of fast-food and the newer style of restaurant among the indigenous population. Some while back there was a report that pointed to the decline in the consumption of typical local cuisine in favour of what one might term imported dining experiences. The Mallorcan is, therefore, the beneficiary of greater consumer choice; thus is the nature of free (or free-ish) markets anywhere. Don't think that it is only tourists who frequent the Dakotas, because it isn't, though clearly the restaurants fulfil, if not a tourist requirement, then at least the creation of tourist demand. Not all tourists want the quaint Mallorcan restaurant, especially those tourists with demanding kids' mouths to fill. And don't underestimate the power of the child dining-out lobby; the kids are frequently the fulcrum of the family purchasing process. Someone said to me not so long ago that the Dakotas don't go far enough and that there is scope for more razzamatazz of an Americana style; this could well be right.

There exists among some of the expat community and also visitors a sort of reactionary militant tendency that would have places like Puerto Pollensa stuck in a timewarp of what might be dubbed "Mallorcana". They want it both ways. The influx of expats is a facet of change; they are a facet of change. Yet they wish all around to remain unaltered. The Dakotas reflect a change that does not fit with the romantic image of Puerto Pollensa. But the place has undergone a change in its tourist demographic alongside the change in its physical appearance. Tourism is business, Puerto Pollensa is tourism business, and the Dakotas are business.

There has been a plan to pedestrianise more of Puerto Pollensa's frontline for some while. How sensible this would be is another matter. But with the new road open, along comes this plan or at least a trial. And trial may well be what it is if one wants access. In the next ten days or so, the road will be closed to non-essential traffic or so I am led to believe. This will be, apparently, from the Galéon down into the port. Which raises the question - what will happen to all that parking by the beach? Chaos beckons.

Yesterday's title - "Man On The Moon", REM ( Today's title - this was a film; what's the connection with today's piece?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Andy, Are You Goofing On Elvis?

"Uh-huh-huh, I'm all shook up." No, I'm not. Me, definitely not. But many are. Take Mulligans in Puerto Pollensa. Three nights a week, Elvis live. One hell of an achievement after 31 years of being un-live. It must be all those heartbreak hotels with less than full occupancy. Call for Elvis, Robbie, Rod, Freddie, Abba, The Beatles. There are whole armies of Elvises. Or maybe armies is not the right collective noun; perhaps a Saturday-at-the-Lord's-test of Elvises or an in-ghetto of Elvises. Who knows. However the Elvises are collectivised, they have taken over. The pharmacies and Burger Kings are the graced lands of their plentifulness. So many bars, so many lonesome tonight. So many bars hoping Elvises will make them less lonesome tonight.

The bars are seeking solace in tribute acts to keep the tills rolling. All this retro, but amongst it nothing that even resembles summertime. 'Twas ever thus. The tribute act is the contemporary local manifestation of the Winter Gardens and pier shows. Tribute acts work well only insofar as they are recognisable and have a large body of work to draw upon which is also recognisable. You don't get too many Edison Lighthouse tributes for the simple reason that they only had one hit and are utterly unmemorable. The Elvis tribute is a kind of group bonding session. Anyone and everyone can do an Elvis because, like the Elvises themselves, they can impersonate someone impersonating Elvis. The Elvises may be little more than parodic stars in their eyes effectively goofing on Elvis, but chalk an Elvis appearance on the terrace board and in comes an audience of wannabes or really reckontheycouldbes. Familiarity breeds conceit; "I can do that - uh-huh-huh, I'm all shook up". The power of the tribute act stems from the security of mob karaoke.

But amongst the tributes there is no sense of summer. They fit with recognition but are misfits of the spirit of summer. There is only one act, that is not to be found, which would make for an appropriate summer tribute. Where are The Beach Boys? A whole body of work that even after the transformation of "Pet Sounds" continued to embody beach and sun, as typified by later stuff such as "Do It Again" and even the elegiac "Surf's Up". Perhaps those close harmonies are beyond the balladeering mechanicalness of Westlifes.

Am I goofing on Elvis? Nope. I'm surfing safari. Wouldn't it be nice? But if not a summer feel, then how about those of today's title? Tribute act. Imitation of life.

There is a bullfight this afternoon starting at 18:00 in Alcúdia, a special one apparently, featuring one Juan Duque. No, I've never heard of him either. Depending where one sits, it costs up to 50 euros. I can't go, but I would like to as I mentioned some while ago in a piece about the bullfight. I've known about this event for some while. I thought long and hard about listing it on the WHAT'S ON BLOG but decided against doing so. Why? Perhaps I didn't wish to offend any sensibilities. If this was the case, it was a bad case of censorship. It was a mistake. People should have the option to go or not to go, whatever they may think of bullfighting. In future I shall be less sensitive.

Yesterday's title - "Love Don't Live Here Anymore", Rose Royce ( Today's title - something lunar.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

You Abandoned Me

In the water-borne wake of the floating bottles and cups of Alcúdia's canals comes another load of old rubbish, a substantially greater load of old rubbish than anything of the channels around The Mile. By the commercial port there has been and is an accumulation of old garbage that would have an alternative contemporary sculptor salivating at the potential for symbolic end-product. Want rubbish; here it is. Cars, plastic bottles, wood adorn the port' area. 15 metres in height and 60 in length; a voluminous square meterage of the discarded and unwanted.

Eyesore for even the blind, but it is not what it might sound. This is not some large-scale fly-tipping but the final resting place but one for material destined for recycling on the mainland. It comes from all over the island and waits to be shipped. It is the wait that causes the blight on the landscape, though we are assured it is all decontaminated and therefore blight-less. The reason for the wait is that everyone's gone on holiday, including, most importantly, the companies that do the recycling. Everything stops in August and consequently it just piles up until the chaps have got back and unpacked their vacation suitcases. So it's something that is tolerated for a short period, but for how much longer can it be repeated?

The commercial port abuts the site of the old power station, the one that at some point is meant to be the shiny new edifice of questionable arts and science tourism. As importantly, the commercial port is in the process of development and enlargement so that it can accommodate cruise ships. Welcome to Alcúdia, welcome to the island's recycling mountain. One doubts that they mention that in the brochure. Why can't they erect some form of warehouse to conceal it? Perhaps they will.

Then there are the neighbours. What neighbours, you might ask? In fact it is difficult to see the rubbish if you are a neighbour, but these neighbours are a story in their own right. Did you know that there is a small enclave of dwellings that was established for workers to serve the old power station? Head away from the roundabout by the commercial port and one can anticipate the villas and smart residences of Alcanada, but before one gets far there is, tucked away off the main road, the Poblat GESA.

This small urbanisation has been there for 50 years. It is a dismal collection of whitewalled cottages with green shutters, an open space that once had a small school and roads suffering inattention. It looks abandoned, and the people who live in the cottages that are still occupied, are complaining about just that - abandonment by GESA. And there are suspicions as to what GESA might have in mind for these tenants. If one goes along the road to the neighbouring butane factory, there is open space to the right with a large estate-agency sign saying for sale. Behind this land is the poblat.

Whatever the situation, the poblat is a curio of local housing and planning. It is not the only one. Nearby is the Poblat del Marquès de Suances. It too is a bizarre relic of what looks like little more than prefab housing. Like the Poblat GESA, it is not something one would normally see; there is no reason to go there. Yet these small urbanisations are a reminder of histories and stories that lie hidden from the normal tourist and real-estate brochurisation of the area.

* Acknowledgement to the "Diario" over the past two days for some of the information above.

Yesterday's title - "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?", Pete Seeger ( Today's title - first line from what?


Friday, August 22, 2008

Long Time Passing

Think that the way of doing business in Mallorca is just like... like the real world. Quite often it is, but there are times ... Let me tell you about a restaurant, a restaurant that comes under the orbit of a company in Santa Ponsa. The restaurant is in Puerto Pollensa; first time I've dealt with them. So, I hand an invoice in at the restaurant. It was sent to Santa Ponsa, complete with all details - address, bank account number etc. Anyway, a month goes by and I ring the company. Now this is not some insignificant outfit; it has, for instance, half a dozen numbers in the Santa Ponsa listings. I speak eventually to the "office". The payment is not ready yet. Ok, fine. When do you think so? Don't know. Have to speak to the boss. Ok, but tell me, do you send the cheque by post or make a bank transfer? Er, well, could you pass by? You what? Let me get this right. You want me to make a round trip of some 130 kilometres that will take a couple of hours of my time in order to collect a cheque.

Basically, that was the size of it. She did say that they might make a transfer, but I am not that hopeful. Perhaps I should be grateful that a "simple" passing-by might actually extract the booty. And at times that's the impression you get; that one should be grateful that payment might actually be made.

Let me tell you about one of the more significant "attractions" on the island. The invoice had been left a month or so ago, so I rang and agreed that I would "pass by" (only a 20 kilometre round-trip this one) the following afternoon. When I get there, the boss is not about. Palma. There's often an urgent visit to Palma, I have discovered. There ensues a bit of a search to see if any payment might have been left. Not as such. Indeed the invoice cannot be located. Sensibly, and with the benefit of several years experience, I have brought a copy. Can I leave my number? Well I can and do, although it is of course on the invoice. Will I get a call? I very much doubt it. This particular attraction is run by some of the nicest people you can meet. Everyone is hugely friendly. It is a pretty big concern nowadays, but the boss is still the one who makes the payments. And maybe makes them by bank transfer. Or maybe by cheque for which I will need - again - to "pass by".

In many cases, bars, restaurants, shops, whatever, there is nothing unusual in passing by and having the boss pay you. You would expect this to be the case in many instances, but not in all, especially those that involve distance or a business that is slightly more than a one-man band operating out of a sweaty kitchen. Delegation of things like writing out cheques is one thing, the other is the means of their delivery. To an extent one can understand the wish for recipients to "pass by", and this stems from a reluctance to use a postal service which can be somewhat erratic. One has heard anecdotes of post going missing, especially items that might appear to include some form of monetary transaction. In the case of cheques, the strange custom here of writing out a cheque "al portador" (to the bearer) could I guess, if the cheque were to be intercepted, result in someone else pocketing the cash; in which case, make it out properly.

But mistrust of the postal service is widespread and so there is the other mechanism, that of bank transfer. Neither it nor putting the cheque in the post is exactly a taxing or troublesome operation, but it can often appear that it is just too much trouble. Could you pass by therefore. The fact though that it might even be considered that a personal visit is the preferred mode of effecting a transaction highlights the inefficiency of much business life here. All these people running around in endless acts of passing by in order to pick up a payment. You wonder how business ever gets done at times.

Note: One of the more common bits of Spanish one encounters therefore is ¿puedes pasar? Can you come or pass by?

And more on matters of a watery nature down Pollensa way. And more denials from the mayor. Today's episode involves the pool in Puerto Pollensa which has been criticised for being too cold and for not being disinfected. The mayor says that heating the water is not necessary in summer and that the machinery is checked twice a day. Well, that's all good to know.

Yesterday's title - C+C Music Factory ( Today's title - from a famous folk song.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmm ...

Or. Things that make you wonder why they bother. Number One: Playa de Muro's market.

Well a whole new series beckons. Maybe. But anyway to kick-off, we're back to the market. As you may have previously appreciated, I can kind of give markets a miss especially in summer. However, there are those who can't get enough of them, though in the case of Playa de Muro's market they may make an exception. I happened to take a wander along its length on Monday. One can wander freely and unmolested in Playa de Muro's market. No crowds getting in your way. No obvious signs of anyone about to steal your valuables. No, thank God, South American Indian pipe-players. Even they seem to have stopped bothering. Presumably there are more suckers at some other market who might be willing to hand over hard cash for a CD with Andean interpretations of John Denver classics (sic).

There were, let's just say, not that many people about. There were plenty of traders sitting around looking bored and eager to pounce on the odd stray tourist, but otherwise ... . The clue to all this may lie in the name - Playa de Muro. What you read is what you get. Playa. Beach. That's the whole point of Playa de Muro. The only point to be honest. The market is an artificiality. Whereas people actually go out of their way to attend markets in Alcúdia and Pollensa, does anyone actually make the trip to Playa de Muro from, say, the port of Alcúdia in order to buy some cheap shorts or some luggage? No, I don't imagine that they do.

Being Playa de Muro, the market is linear. Like everything else in Playa de Muro it exists in a straight line for the simple reason that Playa de Muro is a straight line - of main road and beach. There are no streets weaving into an old town interior and littered with stalls; no architectural antiquity to lend an air of authenticity to the tradition of the market as a place of historical commerce. There is just the contemporary commerce of the hotels and the Boulevard Group's glassy facade. It's not as if it is a market for local socialising and provisions, as are those for instance in Alcúdia or Pollensa; it is purely a tourist invention minus the fruit and veg, plants and produce of the markets to which people do go. The old-established markets have character because of the character of their locations. A market that takes place parallel to a main road has little or none, save for that wrought by the wrecker's-yard of the numerous ancient vans and cars of the stallholders lining the main road that could have been parked up by Del Boy and Rodders. And it's also not as if hard-pressed bars and restaurants are necessarily deriving any benefit from the market's presence; well certainly not those that have closed down. Wonder though I frequently do quite why people would wish to hack around a market under a boiling sun, there is the fact that, for many a Joe-tourist, the market is the most intimate he is likely to be or wish to be with what is simplistically described as a "real" Mallorca; so long, that is, as it is a market in a traditional setting, which is not the case with Playa de Muro's.

The market was, until a couple of years ago, held on a Saturday when someone realised that Saturday, being a big transfer day, might not be the the best day. So it was switched to Monday in the hope that it would prove more profitable. Not from what I can make out. The thing is that when the sun's a-blazing and the playa is right opposite offering its watery delights, a market of almost uniformly similar wares is unlikely to attract the masses away from those delights. And it doesn't. Why do they bother? Makes you go hmm ... . Don't know.

The Madrid crash could hardly have come at a worse time for the Mallorca-based airline Spanair. The airline's owners, SAS, had wanted to offload it but were unable to, resulting in major cutbacks in jobs. Pilots had been threatening strike action because of the apparent disorganisation at the airline. While it might suit some to present the tragedy in Madrid as indicative of a malaise at the company, such a conclusion would be harsh unless investigations unearth anything that might suggest so. It should be noted that Spanair had a very good safety record. Yet it has not exactly enjoyed a great reputation. A common nickname for the airline is "Spanner"; for some, it was an airline to be avoided. And now, following the crash, one wonders how many more might think twice or three times about flying Spanair. Again, such a conclusion would be harsh, but it is almost inevitable. What was a problem largely of economic difficulties will now be one of even greater and emotional negative perception. In 2006 Spanair had the "highest sales figures for a single company" (27 July: With Good Company) in Mallorca; it has been a significant force on the island. But that significance was dwindling even before the crash; the question now is whether it can recover or whether the flames of Barajas will come to engulf one of the island's major companies.

Yesterday's title - Jimmy Helms who was also in Londonbeat ( Today's title - industrial-named dance music duo from the '90s.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gonna Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse

"Make them an offer they can't refuse." Some hope perhaps. It's probably all too easy to decline the offer, the special offer. Under current circumstances, that is. And those circumstances will be why there has been an advert in the "Diario". What's the offer? Hotel rooms; hotel rooms in August. Want to know which ones? Try these: Uyal and Daina in Puerto Pollensa; Platja Daurada and Yate in Can Picafort; Cala San Vicente and Molins in Cala San Vicente. I daresay there are other offers circulating. It's not as if these are lousy hotels; they're not. Quite the contrary. As so often I was asked how I thought the season was going the other day. It was by Maria who runs Cas Capella and other places in Alcúdia. I mentioned the advert. "Daina!?" Yes, the Daina. I guess there are places you would just always expect to be full. Offers in early season or after August, but during August ...

While there were no offers in the ad for Alcúdia hotels, it isn't the case that everything is hunky-dory. It was the tourist office that had pointed out the ad to me, so I asked about occupancy. Two per cent down in July apparently. Ok, may not sound a lot, but it's still a couple of points less. For July. And that comes from the figures the town hall receives. One kind of suspects they may not be the whole picture, but that's only a suspicion. While the larger resorts may just be able to absorb lower numbers (though even that is obviously questionable), a place like Cala San Vicente is going to be struggling if two of its better hotels are having to offer specials. The all-inclusive Simar and Don Pedro may have the bodies but those bodies are unlikely to be the spenders of a Cala San Vicente or Molins hotel.

Clean. In fact as I was going past the grand canal and then up to the Sea Club entrance, the fountains were in full shower, and all seemed perfectly agreeable. And it was. You see some of what goes into this blog is in response to mutterings, such as "oh the state of the canals"; hence I go look and find what appeared yesterday. Then it's all fine again. I guess there's always going to be something that isn't just right, but hats off presumably to the costas as there were no bottles, no cups and certainly no dead fish.

But just to prove that not all is right and well in the world of waterways, there comes the little local difficulty in Pollensa regarding the obnoxious smells at night from the torrent Sant Jordi. In the "Diario" neighbours close to the torrent in the port area are quoted as saying that at times they can hardly breathe because of the smell. The town hall - in the form of the mayor - denies that there any nasties floating along its length and that water-treatment is functioning correctly. The government environment ministry (them again) also says that it is functioning correctly and adds that it isn't actually their problem anyway, it's the town hall's, who in turn say everything's ok. Well fine, except it isn't, as the neighbours can apparently testify to. Why do I have the impression that the division of responsibility may not be functioning as well as the water treatment is allegedly meant to be?

Yesterday's title - Simon and Garfunkel ( Today's title - soul singer who was also a part of what really was a rather good R&B/dance group of the '90s?


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bridge Over Troubled Water

"Miles and miles of unbroken golden sands, shimmering turquoise sea, deep-azure skies of endless summer sun, and canals attractively landscaped with the contents of a rubbish container." Knew it. Should have been a brochure-writer after all.

One thing that does exercise the minds of internet-forum critics of Alcúdia is the state of the canals and the occasional bridge as well. Not without some justification. The canals, in theory, lend the resort a flavour of Venetian-lite aquatic ambience. The fountains that spring on and off assist in water circulation, but they only do so much. They cannot contain the mosquito larvae and the litter, merely help to push it to the edges. The photo above is not untypical. Where was it taken? Opposite the reception to Sea Club. Nice vista for those pulling up in the coaches. The other day I watched the rather unedifying sight of some young boys attempting to hook a large and very dead fish out of the canal between the two parts of Sea Club. Sort of thing kids get a kick out of, and maybe get something else out of if they come into physical contact.

Perhaps we shouldn't get too precious. Canals everywhere were designed for people to chuck things into them. Though this may well be one of their main raison d'êtres, it doesn't mean they shouldn't get cleaned. Well they do - sometimes. But by whom? Now I always thought, as I imagine others would as well, that this was all down to the local town hall. Apparently it isn't. Alcúdia council, like others, has its own environment division, but one wonders quite what they do with themselves all day, as - so I am told - the canals are the responsibility of the mythical "costas". For many the word "costas" will summon up images of the Spanish del Sols and Blancas etc., but it is also a word that strikes fear into many. The "costas", as the name suggests, are the government's beach police, but have engaged in some inland acquisition as well. From what I can make out they are actually part of the government environment ministry, presumably the local Mallorcan one in this instance. This is the same environment ministry that would happily clear the beaches of any semblance of human development in pursuit of the protection of nature but seemingly can't get round to regularly removing empty bottles of Saint Mick or Pepsi cups from the canals. And the bridges over the canals? Same deal it would appear. Alcúdia town hall? Not my job, mate.

Yesterday's title - Green Day ( Today's title - er, is there anyone who doesn't know this?


Monday, August 18, 2008

Basket Case

You may have noticed that this blog has been an Olympics-free zone, though yesterday's finishing offer might have given a clue that today we would be wandering a bit further than the local Chinese. Of course I could say that I had intended that the blog would remain five rings short of an Olympic logo if only as a personal minor crusade against the whole pompous farce that the games have become especially in the hands of the Chinese who have elevated their political dimension beyond anything Hitler had in mind or also the Stasi with its steroid-fed East German athletes. By the way, if any of you are interested, I can relate the story of one such athlete who told me the whole tale of the discovery of steroids in his food, the consequent heart problems and the period during which his father "disappeared", but it's probably not for this blog.

Well I could say all that, but I won't.

Unlike other major events, notably the international footy championships and of course Eurovision, which have adorned the blog in the past, the Olympics in truth seemed to offer little in the way of a Mallorcan or even Spanish dimension, apart from the odd cyclist being caught in a doping scandal or some such or Rafa Christmas winning the tennis; nothing new there. But then, damn me, along come both "The Bulletin" and those old scoundrels of Spanish basketball to spoil the silence. In the case of the first-mentioned, they have been making play of the fact that the entire British Olympic squad (Team GB if one must), or at least that's how it seems, has in some way been trained in Mallorca, thus meaning ... er, well that they have trained in Mallorca. Actually to be fair I think it was just that girl who can swim a bit and that Bilbo Baggins bloke who rides a bike and who has presumably been one causing potential traffic flashpoints in and around Pollensa. Anyway, this was not really the point of bowing to pressure and finally raising the Olympic flame over the blog. Oh no; it was and is of course the Spanish basketball teams and Sid Lowe of "The Guardian".

In case you have missed all this, Lowe, who lives in Madrid and works not just for "The Guardian" but also Spanish media such as the La Sexta TV channel, unearthed an advert featuring the Spanish basketball teams and penned a short piece that appeared in the newspaper. Just goes to show that even small items in the press can cause one hell of a fuss. Now Lowe, who knows a fair bit about Spanish culture as well as its sport, is nevertheless not one to necessarily stint in taking the piss, especially out of football, or to keeping schtum when it comes to more sensitive issues. This despite his taking the Spanish media shilling.

The advert that has caused the rumpus shows the men's and women's basketball teams doing a slitty-eyed gesture. Personally I don't find this offensive. Puerile yes, but I can see why some might find it offensive, the Chinese for instance. So Sid duly pointed out that although no offence was intended it might have been taken and that the advert should be considered in the context not just of Madrid's desire to stage the 2016 Olympics but also Spain's recent well-publicised racism in sport allegations - Lewis Hamilton, the England football team and the Aragones Thierry Henry remark. At this point the "mierda" started to hit the fan. I won't bother to go into detail as you can read the link for yourselves, but Lowe was right to defend himself by saying that nowhere had he accused anyone of racism. One does suspect, as so often with these things, that no one bothered to actually read the original or if they did to understand its tone.

The story has been interesting to follow on the blogs, no more so than one from "The New York Times" which has offered some further insight into the whole matter. While it reports that the Spanish basketball team was booed in Beijing, it also points out that the team has a long-standing sponsorship arrangement with a Chinese footwear company (Li-Ning) and that the ad was a sort of gesture that was "appropriate and affectionate" - "a wink of the sponsor", as it is described.

Appropriate or not, one suspects that the matter has been blown up out of all proportion. As Lowe admits, it partly reflects the hyper-PCness of the British, something that the Spanish don't quite get, and for which - quite frankly - we should be grateful. But how many Brits can say they've never done a slitty-eyed gesture? I know I have. There again, apparently the Chinese have not taken offence, or they hadn't until up popped Rod Liddle in "The Sunday Times" to say that the advert has not gone down well in Beijing. He did rather steal my thunder as I had been lining up this piece with a conclusion about the fact that Spain and its basketball teams have form - i.e. the 2000 Paralympics gold-medal winners being found to have ten out of twelve players who were fully mentally able. Well that's how I've still decided to conclude it. And that was a disgrace. This little carry-on? I leave it up to you to decide.

(The original article with the advert.)
(Lowe's response to the rumpus.)
(New York Times blog.)

Yesterday's title - The Marx Brothers. Here is the first part of the film; others are available as links - Today's title - American rock group, partly a colour.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Duck Soup

"Light up the sky with Standard fireworks." Remember that old advert. It was from the days when everyone bought fireworks and set about incinerating their back gardens and sometimes themselves on Guy Fawkes Night. Let's be honest the Standard or Pain's selections weren't much good - a handful of sparklers, Catherine wheels, Roman candles and a few rather apologetic rockets. There was as much fun to be had the next morning going in search of the burnt-out casings among the damp grass and flower beds. But that all became history, and fireworks went organizational and corporate - and high-tech, very expensive and the preserve of professionals. I once attended an extravagant birthday party in the garden of some stinking rich insurance chap in the depths of the Surrey stockbroker belt. What intrigued me more than the fireworks were the logistics of the display; it was though an Army explosives unit had been seconded for the evening.

I was thinking all this on Playa de Muro beach a couple of nights ago. No need to go to Can Picafort itself, just haul a comfortable garden chair down on to the sand, arm yourself with a chilled foamy and watch the fireworks let rip over the sea just down the coast. The fireworks finale to the marathon Can Pic fiesta season was its own mini-festival of flash and burn, lighting up the sky with more than a standard firework. The fiestas mostly all climax with these displays, and one has the impression that each year they want to go ever one better. Nothing wrong with that; nothing wrong with the booms, the bangs, the oohs, the ahs, the reds, whites, greens, golds and silvers cascading against the backdrop of darkness and then dropping into the reflections on the sea. But what do they all cost? Most of the town halls are strapped for cash; Santa Margalida more than most. Yet its display in Can Picafort is as extravagant as any others, and it has just staged two weeks of fiesta and has another one - Beata - to get through early next month. While the fiestas attract "collaborators", to translate literally the local usage, these sponsors are not necessarily funding stuff like the fireworks. The town halls often end up footing much or most of the bills. What do the whole fiesta seasons cost? It would be a damn shame were there to be cutbacks, but especially during these impecunious times one has to wonder at the priorities. In Santa Margalida, they can launch a solid half-an-hour's worth of going up in smoke but find it seemingly impossible to adequately provide the forgotten town of Son Serra with a police presence, and let's not forget that damning criticism of the beach area in Can Picafort which came from the German "Bild" newspaper. One does have to wonder.

Still, there were plenty of folk in attendance, notably for the duck event. Shows what a bit of notoriety can do; they flocked in, and not just the rubber ducks. Despite the watchful gaze of plod, some reprobate still managed to let a live duck or two go, which was the cue for some pressure group to go and file a "denuncia" with the Guardia - as if they haven't got better things to worry about. Sorry, I just don't get it. They're ducks for Daffy's sake. Only some normally hang around on sea water, but maybe they would all quite like a day out at the seaside and have a bit of a quack; they should take to it like ducks to water. Also, had the rains of early Friday continued through till midday, it would have been good weather for them - ducks that is. Though not an expert in matters of the Anatidae family, If some were "borrowed" from Albufera my guess is they would have sufficient wing-flapping capacity and homing instinct to be back at Albufera in time for tea. Sounds like water off a duck's back to me. Just so long as they're not still hanging about by the time they let off the ground-to-air missiles at midnight. Duck soup or crispy duck, anyone?

Yesterday's title - Texas. Today's title - very famous film; who were they?


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Careful What You Wish For

Sardinia may seem an unlikely starting-point for a piece on this blog, but bear with me. The island of Sardinia, which is not named by the way after sardines (they were named after it), lies some 260 or so miles to the east of Mallorca. It is quite a bit bigger than Mallorca, but it has some similarities - a Catalan dialect (and an obscure language of its own); it was once under Aragonese dominance; it witnessed a major battle against the Moorish Turks; it is an autonomous region; and it is also a tourism centre and a place for the rich to flaunt themselves, their money and their properties. Maybe you can start to see where I'm coming from.

Some days ago there was en editorial in "The Bulletin" which spoke about the property market in Mallorca. It enthused that the luxury end of the market is holding strong. And this at a time when the market for the ordinary man and woman is floating adrift. Good for the luxury market. The fact that individuals are willing to part with seven figure sums or more was evidence that the island was in grand shape despite other problems. Loadsamoney, fine investment prospects, blah-blah; it was similar to the notion that Freddy Shepherd's one-time interest in Real Mallorca was in some way indicative of wider British confidence to invest in the island. Pass me those straws and let me clutch them; but not for long, they're going in the bin with the rest of the rubbish.

Be careful what you wish for. That wealthy people may wish to line the pockets of estate agents, existing landowners and some professionals is evidence of no more than a desire to purchase a luxury pile. It is not, by some vague implication, the creation of some form of Thatcherite distribution of wealth through entrepreneurialism for the good of all. Some builders, some gardeners, some pool-maintenance firms and a scattering of menials may also benefit but that's it. If I can come back to yesterday's piece, are the wealthy purchasers like to be integrating with Mallorcan society? They take but what do they give back? Are they going to establish high-tech new businesses with high employment opportunities? No they are not. At least Paul Davidson, the likely new owner of Real Mallorca, seems to have the right attitudes. And let us certainly not decry the benevolence and humility of some of the wealthy. I once bumped into the German rock star Peter Maffay as he was getting off his push bike to unlock the gates to the Trencadora in Pollensa; his foundation is lauded for its good works and one only hears good things of the man.

Be careful what you wish for. And who are these wealthy people? Perhaps some warning bells should have been ringing when Matthias Kühn of Kühn & Partner, purveyors of property to the filthy rich, spoke about the opportunities afforded by the new wave of the industrial-scale-minted foreign buyer. Russians, in a word. And Heaven forbid that there is some high-rent, high-security gated villa on the go or perhaps Mark Thatcher will pitch up, giving the luckies the possibility of diversifying into a bit of bounty-hunting in the form of kidnapping on behalf of some God-forsaken African basket case of a nation. Mallorca has a long reputation as a millionaire's playground. There are plenty of wealthy Mallorcans. And now there's this new wave.

Be careful what you wish for. A while back a local politician expressed a concern that the current economic difficulties could lead to increased crime. It was over-blown scare-mongering perhaps, but civil disobedience ...? Which brings me back to Sardinia. What's happening there? "Arrogant ostentation of the super-rich." "These people think they rule the world." Hugely expensive properties, Russian oligarchs and celebrity Italians such as Flavio Briatore who recently was greeted as his motorised dinghies were making shore with cries of "louts, go home" and a barrage of wet sand.

Economic difficulties can create strong reactions. The mega rich are not necessarily the solution to these difficulties; in fact far from it. The Sardinians have had enough of those who show off their wealth. Be careful what you wish for Mallorca.

* The quotes and some Sardinian references are from an article by Alexander Chancellor in "The Guardian" -

Yesterday's title - Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder ( Today's title - album by a Scottish band.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Living Together In Perfect Harmony

Integration. "The intermixing of persons previously segregated." "(Psychological) the combination of the diverse elements of perception etc. in a personality." The Concise Oxford.

Integration. There is a letter in this week's "Euro Weekly" which takes to task columnist Leapy Lee's assertion that Mallorca "has not been taken over by expatriates". The author of the letter bemoans the fact that Mallorca has lost its "traditional Spanish way of life" and has in effect been colonised by those (and he's referring to the Brits) who don't bother to learn the language.

Integration. It's an old theme, one tossed around without, one senses, a great deal of appreciation as to its meaning or its subtleties. The first of the Oxford definitions is questionable in its accuracy, in a Mallorcan context at any rate. Segregation suggests a form of apartheid or separate development; this has never been the reality save for some unofficial and occasionally official discrimination. The second definition is the more meaningful as it alludes to the degree to which mentally the incomer, the expatriate, embraces his new society as opposed to purely physically in terms, for instance, of location. But to return to segregation, this ties in with what the letter-writer says about colonisation - as he sees it.

If I recall correctly, the piece by Mr. Graham (to give Leapy Lee his name; I find it somewhat absurd using "leapy" when referring to someone close on being a septuagenarian, but be that as it may) referred to his urbanisation - in Santa Ponsa I think. There was an enclave of different nationalities living in peace and harmony, or something like that. My own urbanisation is perhaps similar: British, Germans, Mallorcans. It would be stretching the imagination to say that we're all best mates. Most keep themselves to themselves, especially the Mallorcans; pretty much like many places I would suggest. But colonies? Where are these colonies exactly? It is not as if certain roads or districts in towns can be said to be "British". That Brits may live in reasonable proximity to each other is a fact of the places not being that big, not that they have actively sought to re-create parts of Mallorca that are forever England. If the writer is referring to bars, then he may be on firmer ground but even then anyone with an ounce of knowledge of bars in for example Alcúdia's Mile will know that many of these, whilst proclaiming "Britishness", are well and truly not British. Colonisation by cultural import perhaps, but not by any means all by British-owned businesses. If there is any source of colonisation it has been the tour operators.

Physically, therefore, there is integration in the sense of lack of segregation when it comes to where people live. In Puerto Pollensa, a resort of almost total British tourism dominance, there are also plenty of Brit residents, but no one could say that it looks or feels British, because it doesn't. The town may have lost some of its charm (its "Spanish way of life" perhaps to use the letter-writer's words) but that's the fault of developers responding not only to British or overseas demand but also local. There is "intermixing" of the races. The only sense in which one might agree that colonisation has been undertaken lies with the fact that towns such as Puerto Pollensa have an attraction to the new-coming British expatriate because there is already a strong British community, but this does not translate into the equivalent of ghettoes or anything approaching them.

Then there is intermixing at a social level. Here the author has a stronger case. Freedom of movement and of property rights have caused the growth in immigration and the inexorable rise of the British expatriate group and of other nationalities. Ally these to the existence of British establishments and to the sheer convenience of Britishness abroad, courtesy of daily newspapers now printed locally, Sky, the internet, cheap flights back home, and the motivation to move out of a predominantly British way of life is greatly reduced. There is not the same imperative to mix with the local population as might have been the case decades ago when to have not done so would have meant virtual isolation.

There are plenty of people who will say that they have any number of Spanish friends. Some seem to wish to boast of this in a notching-up manner; it's trophy friendship-making - I've got more Spanish friends than you have sort of thing. It's tacky and ultimately patronising to those Spaniards who might be included among their ranks. Of course there are expats who spend most of their existence with and around Mallorcans or Spaniards; many of them have married a local, a few have gone native. But for the most part, the "Spanish friends" are really acquaintances; the expat still exists within his own community. There is the reverse side of the coin. How many Mallorcans actually want to "intermix" with the expats? They can be very friendly but that does not make them friends; the Mallorcan is not typically antagonistic but nor is he totally accommodating.

The British and the Germans form the largest expatriate groups in Mallorca among the "old" Europe countries. But they are not the largest groups. The Argentinians, for instance, outstrip them both by some distance. The difference of course lies with language. The Argentinian may have a discernible accent and some different usages but his language is that of Spain. He intermixes far more readily as he shares a cultural birthright. Language is the greatest obstacle to integration. Can one really create friendships without communicating properly? Moreover, without good language understanding it is impossible to fully come to terms with the society one lives in. For the Brit who struggles with a bit of the lingo, it is so much easier to simply fall back onto his community. Even for those who speak Spanish reasonably fluently, there is a gap. Spanish is not the language of the Mallorcan. Oh yes, Mallorcans speak Spanish, but it is not their language and nor, in many ways, is Spain their culture. When the letter-writer talks of a "Spanish way of life", he's missing the point.

Recently I said to an old lag of many years British expatriatism that I wished to learn Mallorquín (I may have explained before that while I can understand much of it in written form I can't speak it). Why did I want to do that? They all speak Spanish. My motivation is not so that I can say I have integrated. To be honest I never give the subject much thought except when compiling pieces such as this. But I do want to understand and to be able to converse. Guy de Forestier's "Beloved Majorcans" is quite clear on the nuances of both the Mallorquín language and non-verbal communication. These are signficantly different not obviously just to Spanish but also mainland Catalan. The Mallorquín language is the culture and vice versa; the two are indivisible. Integration - "the combination of the diverse elements of perception" - begins and ends with language. To this end, only a minority of British expatriates, and probably quite a small one, can be said to have integrated. The letter-writer is correct in this regard, but I suspect he's also wrong as he's talking in a different language - as it were.

This claim of an erosion of the "Spanish way of life" in Mallorca is tenuous as well as it is fallacious in failing to allude to a "Mallorcan way of life". What erosion may have occurred is the result only in part because of immigration. Mallorca's societal shift in the later part of the last century was down to its equivalent of an industrial revolution - tourism. The expat is a consequence of a change in Mallorcan society not the cause of it; a change brought about by Europeanisation and legislation. Mallorca comprises many different nationalities now; it is cosmopolitan. But this has not meant an undermining of traditions. The language has been rediscovered following the period of proscription and if anything, as I wrote about in a previous piece, there has been a rediscovery of traditions, partly perhaps as a buffer to the changes in the wider society. The expat, far from eroding that way of life, has probably, inadvertently, helped to strengthen it.

Yesterday's title - Johnny Hates Jazz ( Today's title - a lyric from a well-intentioned but ultimately yucky allegoric duet by?


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shattered Dreams

The holiday blues. Someone was talking about this on the forum the other day. Holidays, I thought. I remember them. They did start to fade into irrelevance when it occurred to me that what is virtually my back garden is what holidays largely meant - the beach. But I still do remember them. And the blues. One time sticks firmly in the mind. Returning from France in a state of terminal misery, putting the television on and being transported to the reassuringly unreal world of Mulder and Scully - suspension of reality; more suspension of reality, because holidays are just that, and the blues are the result of realising they were all a dream. The theme music for "The X-Files" will always be associated with holiday end rather than the "want to believe", or maybe it is the latter - belief in something else, a different state of being.

Holiday blues, for some, start before the holiday. The holiday is after all, or so we are told, one of the more stressful events in our lives. I've never bought that argument, but there is the potential stress for some who, as the plane is taxiing, feel the urge to dismantle the emergency exit door as they realise they are about to be spending two weeks in close proximity with those they spend the other 50 weeks of the year avoiding. Then there is the pre-holiday stress of all those calculations - how many weeks to go and then how many days. But stress is not the same as the blues; the holiday blues are a state of dissatisfied mind as, in essence, the holiday is also a state of mind. It is a state of mind of suspended reality and the blues are the return-to-reality dissonance; how can one reconcile that unreality with the grinding normality of everyday life? The response is to shrug the shoulders, say cheerily but unconvincingly that there is always next year and then head off to Tesco and search for the bottle of wine that had been a holiday companion, as though some form of memento can keep alive the holiday. It is like a bereavement; the aching sensation of loss. We can't get it out of our minds, however hard we try, and so we start counting the weeks - 50, 49, 48. The year becomes determined by the pinnacle of the fortnight, and so we wish our lives away in order to get to that pinnacle as swiftly as possible, undeterred by the fact that the holiday is but one twenty-sixth of the year; the other 25 are those of unending normality. Maybe it would be better if we didn't go on holidays.

What it all really means, and most won't admit it as they would end up going crazy is surely there is something rather better than the drudgery of back home. And so the holiday blues continue because holiday is something better. The holiday destination takes on an almost spiritual dimension; it provides a stopping-off point on the search for whatever "it" is, like Kerouac's "On The Road". As with many other things, such as sitting all day in front of a computer, humans weren't made for holidays; they weren't in the initial grand design brochure of a bit of hunting and gathering and a mere survival instinct. Unfortunately someone overlooked the power of reason. Blame who you will - philosophers such as Descartes or Sartre or the peddlers of holiday from Mr. Thomas Cook to Billy Butlin to Cliff Michelmore and Judith Chalmers and to Stelios - but holiday has become a kind of leitmotif of the human capacity to conceptualise existentialist escapism: I think therefore I'll go on holiday. Someone also overlooked the power of dreams and the striving to actualise these dreams. The brochures tell us that they are attainable - dream islands, dream beaches and so on - but they are all too fleetingly within our grasp before the transfer coach to the airport pulls up outside the hotel and the dreams are shattered. Then the tears start. And so the holiday blues kick in and another form of reasoning begins - what if the holiday destination, the one with which such a strong bond has been formed, became the reality? There are those who have come to Alcúdia and to Pollensa on holiday and have returned to live the dream. The only problem is that, for some, the dream is not what the brochure of the imagination said it was.

Just a note to say to check out the listings on the WHAT'S ON BLOG for the AMA Festival for women's awareness happening in Pollensa this weekend and the complementary chill-out sessions on the Cala Carbó beach in Cala San Vicente from tomorrow through till Sunday. Loads of DJs and live music in the evenings for the Pollensa events and the Cala stuff sounds very very worth going to.

Yesterday's title - Jimi Hendrix ( Today's title - someone hated something - who were they?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And The Wind Cries ...

The wind. It is the constant and constant change. The wind is capricious and borne on different flight paths. I am but 200 metres from the sea. The wind can be blowing the dropped and dead bougainvillaea bracts straight into the living-room through the door opened to the south so that they scrape across the bare tiles; it can be clacking the weights that hold the terrace tablecloth in place against the table legs; it can be rattling the persiennes and demand that their metal bolts are pulled tighter into the sockets. And then 200 metres away, as the seagull flies, it is calm; there is barely a breeze (a "brisa" of the local language). The sea is flat and it feels stinking hot. You must escape the beach where often you can hope for the relief of the freshness of the wind. And as you prepare to go, the sea starts to roll, the sand whips up and suddenly the wind is coming in from the north or maybe the east, whereas only moments before it had raced in from the south. Back on the terrace the bracts have piled up into a corner and now lie still, and it is stinking hot.

This is the wind. And it brings with it the sulphurous smells of the wetlands, the sounds of the cabaret at the hotels or the throb of the power station. It all depends; the wind never settles, it only shifts. The wind is part of everyone, it is to be found in everyone's lives. Because there is more than one wind. The names of the winds are names of streets, of bars, of restaurants - tramuntana, gregal, llevant, xaloc, migjorn, llebeig (or garbi), ponent and mestral: the Catalan winds of the Mediterranean from the compass point of due north (tramuntana) to due south (migjorn) and then back to north-west (mestral). Puerto Pollensa has streets of the eight winds; Alcúdia as well, where the winds have collided and been blown together by the force of town planning. The mountain range of the Tramuntana forms the mountains of the north wind.

The wind can be seen and heard all around. The trees angled, pointing towards the south, bent by the tramuntana or perhaps the gregal or mestral; the windsurfers but especially the kitesurfers of La Marina beach in Pollensa bay; the lashing of palm fronds and the shush of sand as it is buffeted into scurrying across concrete and tarmac. The wind, as much as the sea, courses through us, but we barely recognise it as exceptional, so constant and constantly changing as it is.

Yesterday's title - Kid Rock ( Today's title - it cries a girl's name; who?