Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Heavenly Stars, The Heavenly Stars

Three days before Christmas, and you might expect that bars, restaurants and shops would be alive with Yuletide muzak. Some are, but yesterday there was another form of song - if song is the right word. Singing by numbers. Small children, trussed up as though at a wedding or communion or junior Strictly Come Dancing, hold numbers and chant them as they cross the stage with almost reverential and quasi-religious but flat Gregorianism. This is "El Gordo", the annual lottery - the fat or big one - and its marathon presentation; fatuous and bloated might be more accurate. Tuneless and monotonous, how can noventa cinco or cuarenta tres be made melodic. The answer is that they cannot. Only if Leonard Cohen had penned a song of the times tables and found it Cowell-ised as a number one might numbers be the stuff of popular song; and even then it would be doubtful. Wherever one went yesterday, there, in a corner, was a TV set with these mini adults and their grating alleged singing. Even my bank manager(ess) was following it on the internet. It does perhaps come to something when senior bank staff are hanging on the very number of the lottery. There is not a lot of business, she admitted to me. Someone, or some people, will have had their prayers answered yesterday. The tickets cost that much that syndicates in local neighbourhoods comprise the majority of the gamblers. I was not one to have had any prayers answered, as I hadn't offered any; I didn't have a ticket. Mallorca and Spain came to a stop for some of yesterday. The efforts of the national football team may have done similarly at the end of June this year, but that achievement and expression of national pride was nothing compared with the prospect of millions of euros. Hark the herald lottery sings.

It shouldn't surprise me, but it does. The people who contact me and where they are from. By definition of course, the internet is world-wide, and so are those who follow the blog or come to it. The other day I had another contact from Australia. A chap called Stephen who had come across what I had done about the "politics of language" and tourism. He is doing a PhD in just that subject. Fascinating stuff, at least I thought so, and no doubt so does he and his academic supervisor. So, in the spirit of this global reach, may I take the opportunity to wish all those of you, from whichever country, who come to this blog and support it with your comments and feedback and just your reading, a very happy Christmas. And maybe even one of you has won a local lottery. A few days off; I shall be back on 27 December unless something major happens in the meantime.

The forecast suggests a change for Christmas Day, but at present it is clear. And at night the sky is a magician's show. The heavenly stars glow and vibrate. It is close to freezing, and one can almost imagine snow, the saw-teeth of holly and a choir of all is calm, all is bright. As the evening becomes tomorrow, the road is silent. The pines at the edge of Albufera appear as genial fluffy clouded puff-monsters silhouetted in the darkness. A night bird calls. And the power station throbs, a lowing cow by a distant manger. There goes a late plane across the speckled blackness and now a shooting star. It races from nowhere and disappears as quickly as it arrived. And once again it is silent, a silent night, and the heavenly stars twinkle on, and maybe that shooting star was something, someone, else. Who knows? Maybe it was him, a bearded man with large boots. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Yesterday's title - Bruce Hornsby (And The Range). Today's title - a line from what was this blog's song of the year in 2007.


Monday, December 22, 2008

That's Just The Way It Is

There was a very revealing report in "The Diario" yesterday. The paper had spoken with mayors around the island and discovered a universal admission that works related to hotel renovations occur without licences having been granted. The typical period of time needed to go through the licensing process is six months - at least. The mayor of Alcúdia was one who admitted that this happened. The reasons for this revolve around the lack of qualified personnel to hurry along the process and the necessity of dealing with other agencies, most notably the ministries for the environment and the coasts. Miquel Ferrer, Alcúdia's mayor, emphasised that, regardless of the licence situation, works had to be undertaken with the correct levels of safety.

This is the context, therefore, of the Son Moll hotel collapse in Cala Ratjada. The town hall of Capdepera, that under which Cala Ratjada falls, is by no means the only administration that "allows" (inverted commas stressed) these works to go ahead. The admission by the mayors, which will come as absolutely no surprise but is nevertheless extremely significant, throws into relief the background to the tragedy of the deaths of the workers at Son Moll. The point is that it is pretty much accepted practice that work happens without licences being in place. It may not be right, but virtually it is the de facto state of affairs - the way it is. The Son Moll case has merely acted to highlight what has been going on and does go on.

One has to ask the question. Was the absence of a licence the cause of the accident? This is obviously one for the investigators. But if all other procedures were in order, as is being claimed, can the lack of a licence really be held as a contributory or crucial factor, especially when such a lack is known to be a fact of building works for hotels? The general workers union has been arguing that the mayor of Capdepera should be indicted for not preventing the renovation at Son Moll. Maybe it has a point, but the union will know, as well as anyone else, what the system is.

We're getting into deep legal water, so I don't intend to go far, but the licence issue may just be, if not an irrelevance, then a less-than-crucial factor. I said the other day that the case reflects a societal failure - one of accepting that certain rules have to be, how can I put it, massaged. But it demonstrates also an administrative failure. When the Balearic Government announced that it would seek to reduce bureaucracy in order to facilitate the zero- or low-interest-financed modernisations of hotels, one hotelier expressed his doubts that the town halls would be quite so amenable. Yet, it isn't just the town halls. This appears to be a multi-agency failure, and one possibly with a degree of turf wars amongst the various bodies and their organisational cultures.

If one takes Alcúdia as an example - and remember that it was in Alcúdia that Sunwing went ahead with a modernisation and received a hefty fine for doing so - imagine what would happen if all the hotels applied for a licence to undertake works? Total logjam. Consider just how many hotels there are, not just in Alcúdia, but across the island. Their renovations are a part of the wider construction industry, one upon which the island's economy is so dependent. Yet, the administrative system behind the industry cannot cope. It's small wonder that work goes ahead without all the relevant permissions. And everyone appears to know that this is so. How many other modernisations are currently in progress across the island that are similar to Son Moll? If indeed it is the case that the owners filed their application in August, one might say that they should have waited till the end of the 2009 season before proceeding - by which time, one presumes, the licence would have been effected. But that would lengthen even further an already drawn-out process. Businesses and indeed the whole economy cannot be stalled or held hostage by the inadequacy of the administrative system.

It has taken the deaths of the men at Son Moll to bring the whole licence issue to the fore. It should now be down to the Balearic Government to resolve how the system of licensing can be made more efficient. I wish them luck.

Yesterday was a day for revealing stories. "The Diario" has also turned up something in respect of the projected golf development on the Son Bosc finca in Muro. And that is ... The mayor of Muro, who has supported the development, has a business association with the head of the Garden hotels group, which in turn is one of the companies that has a major shareholding in another company - Golf Playa de Muro. Another local hotel chain - Grupotel - is also a shareholder.

The mayor says that he has "no relation to or direct interest in the golf course". The exact business association is that he is a member of a further company, one in the name of the head of Garden hotels, with the same Inca address, but one established for activities on the mainland. In this respect, he doesn't. The connection to the golf development is, therefore, rather distant in terms of the companies involved, but the mere fact of any association is bound to raise questions. And that is what the paper has done. No-one is suggesting anything untoward, but the mayor's independence when it comes to what is a controversial development may appear to have been compromised.

Yesterday's title - Madonna, "La Isla Bonita". Today's title - American best known, well only really known, for this.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Your Spanish Lullaby


"Well, I'm looking forward to some really good Spanish music."

Amongst the wish-lists brandished about by expectant EasyJet embarkers, attached to Leona Lewis via an MP3 player at Luton Airport, sun and crates of Saint Mick would loom large at number one and two spots, but music - Spanish music - would not even enter the top ten, pop-pickers. Earlier in this series, I listed - rather foolishly - music as an element which goes to forge an impression of being Spanish. So having done so, I challenge myself to come up with a good reason why I did list it ...

No. I'm struggling.

There are certain popular cultural images that the holidaymaker may hold prior to jetting off: Premier League football, Coronation Street and a full English - oh, hang on, what am I saying? - that should be sangria, sombreros and straw donkeys. But music, except in the smooth and swivel of the Iglesias family, would register as strongly as curling up with Dostoevsky on a Saturday evening rather than watching "X Factor", i.e. it wouldn't. At least with Julio and Enrique there are two acts, which is one more than when it used only to be Los Bravos. Some might argue the case for Sylvia ("Y Viva España") except, of course, she was in fact Swedish. There is Spanish music, but for the most part - and quite understandably - most holidaymakers would rather not subject themselves to the miserabilist caterwauling of classical flamenco singing. What they're likely to get served up, and X Factor is not irrelevant in this respect, is the Spanish equivalent wannabe-ing, factotum-impersonation everyone's a star, or not, but with a swarthy look (the males) and a sultry demeanour (the females). What it isn't, except by association through Iglesias (Enrique, normally) and some Latino beat, is particularly Spanish. What it is, and the same applies to X Factor, is lowest common denominator nothing music. Formulaic and non-descript. Oh, there is always some folk singing of a local sort, the type to which the visitor applauds politely and then heads off to the nearest hotel or show bar in search of a tribute act. Alternatively, there is always the wonder of the Spanish guitar. But put, albeit that this would be unlikely, Paco de Lucia on the stage at your typical 3-star, and the reps would be inundated with complaints.

The best of Spanish music - de Lucia, the contemporary cross-overs from flamenco, the chill of Café del Mar, the genuine salsa style and its expression in current-day dance - is largely ignored. And it's ignored because, unless one goes to a club that plays it, it is unlikely to be heard, while it is also as unlikely to have ever appeared on that pre-flight wish-list.

Music should be a raw ingredient of a summer holiday. Well, it is. It is just that it lacks almost any Spanish context. It is Abba and the modern musical and X Factor-styled, boys and girls, so-called family entertainment of an almost universally average standard. The desire to be entertained is on that wish-list. It has become a pre-requisite for many. Yet, what is served up is generally something you wouldn't otherwise leave home for. You'd watch X Factor instead: just as average but with more cynicism, viciousness and mobile-based revenue for the producers. In truth, it falls into the something-to-do category, a way of filling an evening. It is Polyfilla for the mind in the same way as flopping in front of whatever happens to be on the TV binds the cracks of vacant inter-aural space. And like TV, it helps to avoid the need for overly much interpersonal communication or the creation of one's own entertainment. Them were the days, when we'd gather round the piano and sing together. But, you know, Spanish it may not be necessarily be (indeed rarely or ever), and much as it may attract the opprobrium of some, karaoke is the making of entertainment. Spanish music, no. Just make your own, whatever it is and whether you're any good or not. Oh, and if you want Spanish music at Christmas, bear in mind what I mentioned yesterday - a Felipe Spector Navidad.

Twelve Days of a Mallorcan Christmas

By way of an explanation for yesterday's "song":

God forbid there were twelve: Leapy Lee is the island's leading one-hit wonder celebrity, and his leaping did seem to fit in with the original. Eleven million: about the annual number of tourists to the island. Ten Elvis Presleys: the number of Elvis impersonators one can find of a summer's evening (actually, I've made the number up, but Elvises are ubiquitous). Nine mayors, in fact four mayors and five ex-mayors were implicated in another "scandal"; they were let off in this case. The eight Catalan winds of the Mediterranean, the Tramuntana, Mestral etc.; sometimes they all seem to be blowing at once. Seven knocking-shops: the number of "relax" houses in Alcúdia. Six dogs: could be any number in truth. Five euros a pint: yep, you can pay this. Four scratch cards: you only need one, but four and you really have been suckered into the holiday club clutches. Three tex-mexs: the number of Dakota restaurants in Puerto Pollensa - for now. Two parking spots: the number needed by Mallorcans in order to park one car in car parks. And a processionary caterpillar: the thing that destroys pines and can fall on you and sting if you're unlucky.

Today's title - Spanish made as pop, and who better to have done this than a part-Italian American. It's a line from?


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Twelve Days Of A Mallorcan Christmas

Ah, yes. Chestnuts roasting over an open butane-gas heater. Jack Frost British store not nipping at anyone's toes or indeed wallets because it's been closed for years. The sounds of a traditional Spanish Yuletime in the Mallorcan supermarkets - a Phil Spector Christmas collection ronetting over the PA's. It's that time of year again, or perhaps you hadn't noticed. In keeping with the ending of the year, this blog, recognising its role as an important part of the media, will do what other sectors of the media do, and that's desperately try and fill some space with a look back and with a touch of seasonal merriment - ho, ho, ho. Expect some time soon, therefore, the review of 2008. But meantime, to help you along your way with your Christmas festivities, here is the blog's first venture into Christmas songs. Ladies and gentlemen, the Twelve Days of Christmas with a Mallorcan stylie, and some of the numbers even make sense (some don't). If you don't "get" some of the references, then there will be an explanation tomorrow. Right, clear the throat ...

"On the twelfth day of a Mallorcan Christmas, the town hall invoiced me:
Twelve Lees a-Leapying
Eleven millions tourist-ing
Ten Elvis Presleys
Nine mayors corrupting
Eight winds a-blowing
Seven knocking shops a-knocking
Six dogs a-dooing


Four scratch cards
Three tex-mexs
Two parking spots
And a processionary caterpillar in a pine tree"

Fabulous, I'm sure you'll agree.

The three people, who had been arrested following the deaths of the workers at the collapsed hotel, have been released from prison, without bail, by a judge making the initial investigations. Remember what I said about back-covering? Well, blow me, one of the architects has used the very phrase "covering their backs" in respect of the town hall; indeed he says that this was the explanation given by those from the town hall who delivered notices regarding the absence of a licence.

Yesterday's title - Gladys Knight (licence to "kilt") - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW5G_05a5UU. No quiz today.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Licence To Kill

The inevitable fall-out from the Cala Ratjada hotel tragedy has only begun. It could just turn out to be something of a landmark as the first accusations and counter-accusations indicate the frankly ludicrous nature of how this building work was allowed to proceed. Setting aside, obviously, culpability, here we have a case in which there was no licence, and yet the owners were negotiating for it after the work had begun (there is a suggestion that they had in fact applied for it in August); in which the town hall says that on three occasions it attempted to get the works stopped (the owners refute this); in which, according to neighbours, everyone knew about the works (well of course they would; it would have been pretty difficult for them not to have known); in which the town hall and the local police enabled the closing of the street in order that certain work and rubbish removal could be done; in which the architects' association says that it doubts that the town hall would have denied a licence, admits the work should not have been started without it, but goes on to say that architects accept that this way of working, without the licence, is sometimes done because of the pressures of obtaining licences in order to complete works before the tourist season and that some smaller town halls go along with this.

The above is largely taken in translation from reports in "The Diario". I wouldn't normally take this amount, but it is all highly significant and important to convey, especially the last parts, those relating to the town hall. And it says just about everything you need to know about the ways in which things seem to work here. How on earth, for example, can the town hall and the police (the police, for heaven's sake) permit the closure of a street for work relating to something that did not have a licence? Anyone care to volunteer an answer, because I'm damned if I know. Of course, there may well be some back-covering going on in all of this, but these are the "facts" as they are currently being presented, including that which suggests that, licence or no licence, the work being undertaken was otherwise in order.

Tragedy this has been in that four men have lost their lives, but there is another tragedy at play, and that is the wider implications of the case, which itself is likely to be seen as a monstrous indictment of how the "system" operates here. How many building works go on without licences? But the specifics of the licence are just symptomatic of a wider malaise, one of rule-bending and of an unwritten complicity, not necessarily of a criminal type but one of smoothing the way. It isn't just the bureaucracy that is to blame; it is an acceptance that this is "how it is". It is something that pervades much of Mallorcan society. There is a societal failure as much as there might be an institutional, a legal or a systemic failure. The men who have died might just become martyrs to something way beyond the details of the Son Moll hotel collapse, and which leads to an examination and maybe a righting of this societal failure. It's a societal licence, not just an official document, and look where it's got us. It does not have to be "how it is". It should be how it was and how it will now be in the future. Don't hold your breath.

Ever wondered about what would happen with the yard outside the old school by the church square? Maybe you haven't. But if you have, here is the word - maybe. An ice rink. There's more to this than it seems. And is not as daft as it sounds. So I am told.

Yesterday's title - Bobby McFerrin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjnvSQuv-H4). Today's title - Bond, Motown, easy.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't Worry

You would think that language was one of the last things that would have a potentially negative impact on tourism. For your Brits, it matters little that they can't use the lingo. But where they can, it is Castilian that they use. Or should it be? We are back in Catalan territory, and one local politico, the mayor of Calvià (Magaluf etc.), reckons that leading tour operators - Spanish ones, that is - are seeing a reduction in the numbers of Spanish mainland tourists coming to the Balearics because they are worried that they are going to be confronted not with the national language but with Catalan. As the mayor represents the Partido Popular, which traditionally is somewhat antagonistic towards Catalan, you might say that, well, he would say that. Except that it appears to be tour operators who are saying it. Whether these Spanish tourists need to be worried is questionable, but they appear to have the perception that Catalan prevails, even if this may not turn out to be the case.

These worries, one supposes, stem from the publicity given to various initiatives to have Catalan as the language of bars and restaurants. A far from insignificant sum of money has been devoted to just that, and the other day I mentioned this bizarre idea of people being encouraged to go to their local café for the purposes of having a chat in Catalan. The Calvià mayor is accused by the opposition parties (socialists and nationalists) of having an obsession with the Catalan question, reports "The Diario", but one might argue that they - the opposition parties, especially the Unió Mallorquina - have an obsession as well: that of imposition. At a time when there are rather weightier matters with which everyone should be concerning themselves, the politics of language - as it may or may not affect tourism - is a ridiculous diversion.

It might be argued, well what about the poor old tourist from Mallorca who goes to the mainland and is confronted with Castilian. It could be argued, but the problem does not exist that way round to any such extent; mostly everyone here can speak both languages. Only those from Catalan areas of the mainland would be able to do likewise.

In truth though, I suspect the mayor is rather overstating the case. Whatever other politicians or other bodies may have in mind, the practicalities of language are not lost on those who really matter, i.e. those with bars or restaurants. They will continue to use whatever language is necessary, and much as some town halls may use Catalan only for some things, e.g. fiesta publicity, there is no evidence - as far as I am aware - of their adopting Catalan exclusively for other material: they would be crazy to do so. Go to a local tourist information office and spend any time observing - which I do from time to time - and you will hear staff using several languages, of which Catalan is but one. The Catalan thing is not an issue, except when politicians make it so.

The atrocious weather is being blamed for the collapse of the upper floors of a hotel (Son Moll) in Cala Ratjada (along the coastline going east from Alcúdia) and for the deaths of four workers engaged in renovation work. There was, so it would seem, an undermining of the building brought about by the recent rains. There is other blame being thrown around, and that has to do with the fact that, allegedly, the renovation work was being done illegally: in other words, there was no licence to do it. Shocking though the story is and though someone, or some people, will get a hammering, the question has to be asked as to why the renovation work would be done without a licence. And we may well be back to what I have said before - bureaucracy and costs of obtaining the permissions. It is just this bureaucracy that the Balearic Government wishes to now cut through in order to enable hotels to go ahead with modernisations (the hotel in question was in the process of being upgraded to a four-star). The case might just cause the authorities to seriously address the circumstances as to why alleged illegal works are done, the sort that do go on and which take a tragedy to bring into focus.

Updating the above, two architects and the manager of the works have been arrested, while the owners and the construction companies are, potentially, implicated. The owners say that all the documents they had, related to the renovation, were in order, including those for health and safety regulations, and that they were in the process of negotiating the licence. A key question, I suppose, is whether or not a licence would have been granted on the grounds of safety. Anyway, it's all in the hands of the police now, so no pre-judging.

I received yesterday an extraordinary email from someone I know in Alcúdia. I have no reason to believe that it is anything but genuine. What it is, is a warning not to pick up the likes of mobile phones or keyrings that may seem to have been abandoned, for example in the street. They could be dynamite - literally. This is apparently an ETA ploy. The warning seems especially aimed at those in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, but it could apply anywhere I guess. See a mobile, get away quick!

Yesterday's title - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Today's title - the other half of the title seems rather inappropriate given the Cala Ratjada and ETA stories, but anyway, who was it?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raising Sand

With the wind in a particularly foul mood and the possibility of a sudden deluge of biblical proportions, you do feel as though you are taking your life into your hands by going for a brisk stroll to the beach. A sudden switch from a Llevant to a Tramuntana wind and a small gale-pressed tidal wave comes hurtling towards you, a mixture of grey and mucky brown. When the sea gets as bad-tempered as it is at present, it loses all semblance of that azure and turquoise brochure talk. To cut across to the other side of England from yesterday, it's rather more like what you might witness taking the train by the side of the Humber. Unpleasant, to say the least. Still, a walk is invigorating, one might argue. There is another way of describing it - cold and miserable. Let me get back for a hot cup of tea, thanks very much. However, there was time to become aware of something down on Playa de Muro beach. Or rather, to become aware of something that wasn't there. There was a hint of this as one trod through the sand, turned mud, on the road leading to the beach. And that was it of course - sand - and those barriers that were erected to stop the sand being blown onto the roads. I'd completely forgotten about them. So, I checked. It was 28 January (Stranger On The Shore) that I wrote about them. And what they were, were V-shaped constructions, made from bamboo, which were designed to act as obstacles to the sand. It hadn't actually occurred to me, until yesterday, that they weren't of course there during the summer. So, let's just get this right. At the end of January, they put them up, and, in all likelihood, had taken them down again two or three months later. And they haven't put them back up again. What was the point of all that?

The point behind them was two-fold - one to stop the roads and streets getting blasted with sand, and two to keep the sand where it belongs, i.e. on the beach. This is, after all, a stretch of beach with serious concerns for its sand, if one accepts the command, that is, of the sign further along to brush sand off before leaving the beach - as it is needed! Now, these bamboo things were not concrete - quite obviously they weren't - but what I mean to say is that they were not without gaps; gaps through which and indeed over which sand could be blown. It is in the nature of sand that it gets blown about. It doesn't, on an individual grain basis, weigh a great deal; hence it is blown. Yet, the environmental concern for its well-being and its remaining on the beach stretches merely to a stupid sign and a few pikes of bamboo. Build a ruddy great wall if it's that important. But I suspect it isn't. Rather, the vain attempts at holding back the sand have been done so that someone can say that they're doing something, albeit that they're not doing very much, right down to not very much putting the stakes back in situ for the winter - yet. There again, maybe the very appearance of these bamboo jobbies was some sort of job-creation scheme. Here you are lads, go and hammer these stakes into the beach, and when you've done all of them, you can go back and take them out again. All rather like the rubbish cleaning of beaches of a couple of winters ago. I don't know if they're bothering with that still. It was all made to sound very tourist-friendly, despite the lack of tourists, and pleasant on the eye, but when the money gets tight, they probably take the view that the seaweed and sea-grass kiwi-fruit baubles that accumulate - as they have accumulated for, well, for ever - can take care of themselves. Along with the sand.

And just to put all this weather in context - November had the most rain for 50 years, and December will probably break all records. In Lluc, up in the mountains, there were some 276 litres per square metre. Yesterday, a fifth of main roads were closed because of floods, fallen trees or subsidence. These included those between Sa Pobla and Alcúdia and Sa Pobla and Pollensa. Albufera has reached its capacity, and that means it will flood. Batten down the hatches, boys!

Yesterday's title - "Everything's Just Wonderful", Lily Allen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-vWCUvOPXM). Today's title - well, it was this blog's album of the year in 2007.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Everything's Just Wonderful

I have this idea that there is a secret cadre of mysterious propagandists working on behalf of Mallorca who scour the internet and press with the intention of righting any idea that the island may be somehow less than wonderful. And no more is this the case than with the weather. Yesterday, when talking about golf and winter tourism - again! - it occurred to me, well, why would anyone select Mallorca for a round of 18 and a few gin and tonics afterwards. You can get more challenging courses hacking around the coastline of Scotland in a gale force wind and horizontal rain - and not only in summer. You can also, so I understand, get some decent hotels, respectable nosebag and endless supplies from local distilleries. So what's with Mallorca when you can get drenched and freezing cold on a fairway or two in proximity to the Highlands? The only thing missing might be the chances of being struck by lightning with the same degree of regularity that there is here.

The point is that the weather has been, and is, appalling. Now I know that it isn't like this all the time, but it is also far from exceptional, and herein lies of course the problem. There may well be lunatic golfers who enjoy a soaking and a touch of hypothermia but, for the most part, I fancy they prefer a balmy day with a light breeze, dressed in short-sleeved Pringle shirts, rather than being clad in thermals and foul-weather gear and being rushed into casualty suffering from exposure. In which case, why choose Mallorca when there are more benign conditions to be experienced elsewhere? But this brings me to those propagandists.

Cast an eye over the odd website and forum and when the what's-the-weather-like-in (supply the winter month as applicable) question crops up, which it does with monotonous regularity, chances are that there will come a reply along the lines of oh, well, even if the weather's not that great, it has got to be better than the UK. No it has not. In the UK, you expect - quite rightly - the weather to be rubbish. In Mallorca, you sort of think it will be ok. So when it isn't, like yesterday for example, you are sorely disappointed. You may as well have booked in for a couple of days in Morecambe. And before you ask, I did live in Morecambe for a while, Or rather, barely lived as a consequence of a Morecambe winter. But at least in Morecambe you weren't disappointed to have become frozen to the spot.

And when it carries on being wet, cold, grey and windy, you become seriously hacked off and pine for a Scottish log-fire and a large glass of Glenfiddich, both of which you can get here (well, a Mallorcan log-fire, that is), but that is not why you came. It's no good all this it doesn't matter if the weather's not very good carry-on. It does matter. Because if the weather is as downright malevolent as it is at present, it is worse than the UK, not better. And the reason for this is that the expectation - for good weather - is greater. The propagandists will try and reassure you, which is nice of them, but they can only help to raise frustration when it turns out that they were talking crap. And who are these propagandists? Expats. Expats who, it seems to me, need to be able to justify their existence on Mallorca in terms of the weather. Because that is why most are here. And they're damned if they want those shivering back in the UK to think that they, too, may be dressed in several layers and attempting to ward off frostbite.

Still, it will probably all turn around in a few days. And chances are it will. Two years ago, this was from the entry for Boxing Day: "But the awful weather suddenly, miraculously almost, changed over the night of Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was just perfect. Clear blue skies and warm - a remarkable contrast that has continued today." And it continued for much of the winter thereafter. The week preceding that Christmas had been as lousy as the current bout; worse probably. So, it has got to be better than the UK. I'm one of those propagandists, after all.

I didn't watch it, I listened to it - the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show. John Inverdale's chummy good-eggness, allied to a touch of irreverence, makes for an altogther more agreeable host than one cast from a plastic mould - like Gary Lineker.

Inverdale and his pundits got it wrong. They predicted that it would be the swimming girl or the boy racer. It was, of course, a Scotsman on a bike. And because of Chris Hoy's training connection with Mallorca, his elevation to join the ranks of Ian Botham, Bobby Moore and, er, Princess Anne will be the cue for some to see this as a triumph for the island. In personality terms, his cycling team-mate with the comedy name and the Paul Weller Jam-era haircut, Bradley Wiggins, should have got it, and Mallorca could still have had bragging rights. Mind you, just a shame that she didn't win three golds, as Rebecca Romero - half English, half Spanish (indeed half Mallorcan, I believe), trained on the island, Sports Personality - would have meant move over, Agatha, and move over, Rafa. Here would have been the face of the Brits' tourism promotion. And apparently, she's thinking of moving on to windsurfing. Where better? Somewhere warmer probably. Or maybe Morecambe Bay.

This was, you may recall, a court case involving some horsey social club and various mayors and ex-mayors (1 December: Wild Horses). The court has found them all innocent of the charges of false documentation. On the one hand, this is bad news, as we can't all have another laugh at indiscretion in local public life, but on the other, it is good and a relief that, though they may have been hauled in front of m'lud and had their names dragged through lightly horse-manured dirt, they have come out of it smelling, if not of roses, but then rather better than such a dragging might have created. Scandal it seemed, but scandal it wasn't. Don't perhaps let us get too carried away, after all. Until the next one.

Yesterday's title - The Kinks, "Sunny Afternoon" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9KaI5T0zRw). Today's title - sort of controversial English female singer who is the daughter of a comic actor.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Live This Life Of Luxury

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without some golf story emerging from the 19th hole to strike a long iron shot of publicity. The column inches devoted to golf, and the discussion that surrounds it (including, I guess, my own on this blog), is out of all proportion to the importance of the sport to Mallorca, albeit that the tourism authorities would have us believe otherwise. The latest move, reported by the "Majorca Daily Bulletin", is that the hotel at and development of the Pollensa golf course are set to go ahead; it's been a long time in the offing and the teeing-off.

Barnard Hamilton are due to create a 100-room luxury hotel and to add the nine holes needed to make a proper golf course, i.e. one with 18 holes. It's no big news that they are, as it has been known about for a while, and there is, as yet, no date for work to start. Into all this, step forward, no doubt, the likes of GOB who, even as it is being reported, will be hunting around for obscure species of flora and fauna in an attempt to try and scupper it. As in Muro, there is a UM (Unió Mallorquina) mayor with whom GOB can stage a battle; the party and the enviros are at constant loggerheads over golf developments. And mention of Muro makes the projected golf development on the Son Bosc finca even more questionable, in light, that is, of the fact that Pollensa will become an 18-hole course. Setting aside the environmental objections to the Muro course, I ask again, is that course truly necessary when there are two in neighbouring towns.

For Pollensa, the development would represent a further notch in the belt of the exclusive end of the tourism market. There is already a luxury hotel, just down the road from the golf course - Son Brull. To have two in such close proximity might sound greedy, and one wonders whether, rather than increasing the market, they might spread it more thinly. Whatever. For the mayor, the course and hotel would represent further evidence of that wretched term "quality tourism", for which read elitist and rich. For the UM, though, this is all part of their make-up; the party's matriarch Munar once admitted that Mallorca only wanted wealthy tourists. The problem is that relatively small hotels, even ones with well-minted guests, do not necessarily mean that huge amounts of wonga will be splashed around in local bars and restaurants. There will be some, for sure; the quality might be good, but the quantity won't be. But let's not gripe. It's better to have it than to not.

The difference between the plans for Pollensa and those for Muro are clear. There is already a course in existence in Pollensa. The development was originally conceived when it was first created some 20 years ago. So, although there will probably be voices raised against, the grounds for objection would be largely spurious. In truth, it should kill, were there any sense, the Muro course dead in its bulldozer tracks. I am reminded of something from back in April when it was said that Mallorca was close to golf saturation point. By all means let's have a full golf course in Pollensa, together with a fine hotel, but don't then let's have one by Playa de Muro that no-one will need.

Yesterday's title - All Saints (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCc4eLOZCw4). Today's title - line from a song by one of the great '60s British groups.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pour A Cup Of Black Coffee

Rafael Nadal, no sooner having been co-opted as the promotional face of Mallorca and the Balearics (actually, I think it still has to be fully ironed out, but it's on its way), now gets himself hauled into some other campaign. And that is? Well, get this one. There is this thing called "Café per la llengua" which is being launched by the Catalan promoters - Obra Cultural Balear. What it boils down to is that people will be encouraged to go along to their local café, have a coffee (or presumably any other drink) and talk in Catalan. Seriously, that is what this campaign is about. Am I missing something here? What language do many, perhaps most Mallorcans speak when they're having a coffee or indeed not having a coffee? Catalan, or rather its Mallorquín dialect. When I go into a local café, yes you may get some Castilian but generally they're speaking Catalan. So why do they need a campaign? And moreover, what are Nadal and his uncle-trainer doing getting involved? Yes, they are Mallorcan and yes they no doubt speak in Mallorquín with each other, but if, on the one hand, you are the international face of the island, with all the connotations that this has, why, on the other, contradict that internationalism with some parochialism. It all sounds a bit political, and I'm really not sure Nadal should be going along with it. But ultimately, what is the point of it? And there is something vaguely creepy about a campaign that, in the social setting of the bar or café, promotes one language over another.

I should have added yesterday that the mayor is now also thinking of moving the bus stop by the marina to a position by the municipal offices. This, I suppose, makes some sense as it would mean buses would not need to come right into the centre, or would they? It would depend how they were routed, but if they were to use the disaster area that is the Calle Vicente Buades (the road in front of the municipal buildings), or indeed Calle Roger de Flor (the one that runs parallel to it) they're going to have to re-do both the roads, you would think - which would be no bad thing. The obvious route, though, would be to use the bypass and then terminate by the municipal buildings. I don't know, that doesn't sound such a bad idea, but it would cut out the bus stops on the Calle Juan XXIII if the bus were to come straight along the new road and carry on the bypass at the Eroski roundabout. And indeed, what about the stops on the front line? Are buses among the "heavy traffic" that is meant to now only use the new road? Hmm, not sure this is all being thought through. Nothing new there, then.

Just to say that a new entry to the links section is one for a new forum - The Mallorca Forum. This is something from Hollie, who used to live in Alcúdia, and knew the likes of John and Lynne at The Highlander and Ben and Sara, as in who are now Bellevue Ben and Condes Sara. Recently, a link was also added for Puerto Pollensa.com's forum, and these both follow a pattern as the policy - such as it is - is to admit forums, blogs, myspaces, i.e. small or part sites as opposed to full sites, though there are exceptions, such as for the newspapers. Anyone with something along these lines, assuming it's appropriate, can email me if they wish to be listed.

And on a blog theme ... I was trawling through some of the very old archives of stuff that is no longer retained here, and I found this for 14 December 2005:

"Well, this could be good news indeed. Yesterday MPs in the Balearic parliament voted in favour of forming a body to monitor all-inclusive hotels. Driven by the opposition parties, who believe that such hotels are bad for the economy, the ruling PP (some of whose MPs voted in favour) have to confront the fact that they have not realised the potential harm that all-inclusives can and do cause. Former Tourism Minister Alomar spoke of a “low-quality product” in leading the move."

The ruling party is no longer the PP of course, but I wonder - whatever happened to this, do you suppose?

Following the recent inclusion of Alcúdia in the signal coverage for the impending switchover to digital television, Pollensa is now also on-stream. The change will occur at the end of next year. It's basically the same as in the UK, so TVs will have to have the appropriate gadgets or be compatible. There is in fact quite a good article on this in the current "Euro Weekly" (one of the newspapers linked). So, anyone locally needing some background, go to the site and you'll find the article. You need to go to Virtual Newspaper then click the Mallorca version and press the forward button to page three.

Seamus emails me from England to say that you can get 125 doggy bags for 99 pence. So, for those of you struggling to get them locally, stock up when back in England. Maybe something could also be done about cats that piss up against the front-door shutters. What was that, thought I, yesterday morning? Either a cat, a dog or a very short person.

Yesterday's title - Smokey Robinson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV7XlZPdzZI). Today's title - I've used this song before, but it's such a corker, here it makes a reappearance. Girl group.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Being With You


Catching up on the "being Spanish" series, I have had an email which does rather echo what I said about the Spanish "look" or rather its absence. John, damningly, characterises flats in both Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa as looking "not unlike Soviet post-war architecture". Whatever one thinks of developments such as Taylor Woodrow's in Puerto Pollensa, at least it has a certain style. It may be wrong for the port; indeed it almost certainly is wrong in terms of being out of place, but there again, what is "in place". I'm damned if I know. And that just emphasises the lack of a coherent architectural story, which is at least partly the fault of planning with no theme. There is certainly nothing obviously "Spanish" about any of it. However, I come back to the starting-point of where actually one derives a perception of being Spanish from, and John seems to agree with me that it is, in part at any rate, one lifted from Hollywood. As such, it is not Spanish at all, but American Western or Mexican. The association is one of language made physical in the form of buildings. We attempt to translate this language into the local setting - in Mallorca - and find that it doesn't in fact translate.

There is another, very different notion of being Spanish, and that is one which would doubtless escape the attention of many holidaymakers and indeed some of those who have moved here from the UK. It is one of describing, if you like, one's or another's existence or that of a thing. Which all sounds deeply profound, but it is not. It is actually very simple, if you can call a basic of both Castilian and Catalan differentiating between types of "being" simple. The piece I wrote the other day about Ramón Socias (8 December: We're Only In It For The Money) had as its source an article from the "Diario de Mallorca" newspaper. Perhaps it goes to show how useful it can be to read local Spanish papers as there was a usage there that, as such, I had never seen expressed before. It was this: "La cuestión está en estar o ser, ser o estar". Ok, maybe it doesn't make initial sense, but this is not a "to be or not to be" soliloquy, it is a "to be or to be" question. How can that make sense? Perfectly well, when one appreciates that there are two states of "being" - one permanent (ser) and one temporary (estar). It's why one asks "cómo estás" and not cómo eres. You are not how you are all the time, therefore the temporary form applies. The context in which Socias was speaking was that of politicians and of their holding posts for finite periods. When one states one's profession or job, "ser" is used, as in, for instance, "soy profesor" (I'm a teacher - and, incidentally - you don't use the article for "a" in Spanish for this sort of thing). Socias is challenging not just the permanence of a political appointment but also the rule of language in that he would rather it were "estoy político" (as opposed to "estoy de político" as the "de" is used when a temporary assignment is referred to, as in, possibly, I'm working as a politician at the moment in Spain). English makes no such explicit a distinction, but the mere presence - in Spanish - of different meanings for the most fundamental of verbs creates a conflict between the static and the fluid; a conflict and therefore a nuance in the way of thinking and of being. Being Spanish, therefore, could be ser or estar. Perhaps it is the latter in some instances, and this might explain the elusiveness of being able to define this state of "being Spanish".

Highly philosophical, you'll no doubt agree, and probably complete bollocks, but I, for one, find it intriguing as to the way in which language can determine how different cultures perceive things.

Anyway, to matters less cerebral and to hoteliers in Palma who are hacked off with the tourist authorities and the town hall for not doing more to promote the city. Bookings are down, and so someone has to carry the can. It's an old and familiar theme, and could apply to other towns, but Palma is a special case because it is the capital, it is big and it does have a lot to commend it, except for the likes of its shopping hours. I am still to be convinced that people would make Palma a weekend-break destination for the purposes of doing some shopping, but it cannot help the city if everything pretty much closes down by Saturday lunchtime. It may not assist the rest of the island, certainly not the north, for a sizeable chunk of the tourism promotional budget to be spent on the capital, but one has to be realistic, especially when it comes to the winter. Palma is open (well until Saturday lunchtime) in a way that other places are not. At least, that is how it is argued. But it is inaccurate. Alcúdia and Pollensa may be quiet in winter, but they are far from closed down. Special case it may be, but winter promotion should be for the whole island and not just the capital. But on specific international promotion of Palma - and that for its excellent San Sebastian celebrations in January - I wonder what they are doing. After last January's event, there was an admission that more needed to be done to attract overseas visitors to something that is deserving of greater foreign interest. So, is it?

And for the latest ... Now it's to be just the bit between the Calles Elcano (the road opposite the pier with restaurant Stay) and Temple Fielding (on the corner of which is Sail & Surf). Heavy traffic is going to all be diverted along the new road. Does this include coaches? Is Temple Fielding to be two-way traffic? Don't know. Meantime, the annual let's-rip-up-Puerto Pollensa scheme is to start in January, with the promenade (that part from the roundabout to the pinewalk which is of course pedestrianised) being dug up for drainage works. It will be finished by the middle of March. Oh no it won't. Oh yes it will. Oh no it won't. What a pantomime. But at least this may prevent that other annual event, namely the outpouring of sewage into the sea.

Yesterday's title - Fine Young Cannibals with Jimmy Somerville (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRyAD9dMQ64). Today's title - boy oh boy, does this bring back memories; one of the smoochiest and most romantic of all Motown songs. But I'm not telling.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Suspicious Minds

Is there any aspect of public life that is not under suspicion? To add to the various politicians hauled up in front of the local beak and under investigation, we now have a colonel from the Guardia Civil in the dock and, to cap it all, the police are now taking an interest in the affairs of the local television station - IB3.

IB3 started in 2005. It is basically funded with public money, and it has received its fair share of criticism, not least because of its cost. And costs might now be a thing of possible corrupt practice. Here we go again, and what do you know, there is another connection with the islands' last administration of the Partido Popular, as contracts awarded during its time are the subject of the investigation. According to "The Diario", this all has to do with payments made for studio sets, the value of which were some twenty per cent higher than tenders from companies other than that which was awarded the contracts, while the sets themselves were, allegedly, of low quality. Maybe it was just a poor decision by management, and it would be wrong to pre-judge, but the case is symptomatic of what has all the appearances of a society out of control, or of one that was maybe never under control. And that is part of the problem. So much here is a nudge and a wink, as it has long been. One really doesn't know who can be trusted. The police have got their hands full with various investigations, and it doesn't help when some of their ranks occasionally get caught with their fingers in the till.

IB3 may not be the channel of choice for most expats, but one, at least, watches the station. There was a letter to the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" a few days ago which expressed disbelief at the broadcasting of an expensive party for champagne-swilling usual local suspects of politicos and business figures to celebrate a change to the logo. The writer was not wrong to do so. How can such self-congratulatory nonsense be sanctioned when it is public money that is paying for it and at a time of economic hardship? It beggars belief. And it beggars even more belief when one realises that the contractor that provides news services is to cut the number of employees by around a half as of the beginning of January.

Confusion reigns as to whether Freddy Shepherd is going to bid for Real Mallorca or not, but there is a huge doubt hanging over any prospective deal, and that is the huge debt. It amounts to some 51 million euros when outstanding payments to the club are factored in. This is a club not only edging towards relegation but also edging towards oblivion. Rumours have it that players are not being paid and that transfer payment schedules are not being adhered to. Even if Shepherd, or anyone else, were to pay only a nominal amount, the clearance of the debts would, in all likelihood, be a step too far, especially as the team is sinking fast. Maybe Paul Davidson got wind of the full scale of the problem and this was what made him back off.

It's not as though new owners don't come along to pay off debts. Ashley did so at Newcastle. Ken Bates bought Chelsea for a quid, removed the debt and then saddled the club with more. Abramovic didn't exactly break the bank to buy Bates out, but he had deep pockets for clearing debts of the Bates era and for further investment, and times were different. Both English clubs, moreover, were and are more of a proposition than Mallorca in terms of potential success and return.

If the worse came to the worse and no buyer were to be found and the club actually went out of business, it would be a shame, but just how much of a shame? This is a team that cannot fill its 25,000 seater stadium. It may have ardent fans, but it does not appear to hold a place that is dear to most Mallorcans, many of whom support mainland teams. I'm afraid that I cannot concur with a comment in The Bulletin that the team being in La Liga "keeps the name of Mallorca on the lips of people all over the world". Mallorca keeps the name of Mallorca on people's lips, not its largely anonymous (in global terms) football club. There are, after all, plenty of people who know about Tenerife, and its team doesn't play in the top division.

Yesterday's title - The Velvet Underground (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVIklyZNSMY). Today's title - Elvis of course, Gareth bloody Gates and Will Young, but the one from the '80s?


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Murder Mystery

A holidaymaker is found dead in his hotel room. All the guests and the staff seem to have alibis. Was it one of them whodunnit or an intruder? Call for the police? Yes, but in the shape of a mustachioed Belgian detective. Step forth Hercule Poirot.

What is all this about, you may ask. There is a front-page story from yesterday's "Majorca Daily Bulletin" that gives a clue. The image of Agatha Christie is to be used to promote Puerto Pollensa. The famous and very dead crime writer is to be resurrected as, it says, her "image fits the area (Pollensa) best". I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Who on Earth comes up with this stuff? Well, I can tell you - the town hall and the Mallorcan tourism wallahs.

For the record, Christie did holiday in the town. She once wrote a short story entitled "Problem At Pollensa Bay". And for this, she is deemed to be the "perfect promotional image for the British holidaymaker". What next? Will someone discover that Enid Blyton once summered in Alcúdia, and so will suggest that The Famous Five become the "faces" of the resort. "Lashings of ginger beer, Dick." Hoorah! And now watch the British flock to the town.

Problem at Pollensa Bay. I'd say so. A problem of marketing. Christie may be ultra famous and may have had some sort of minor connection with the resort, but this, by itself, is no reason for her to become the "face" of Puerto Pollensa. The connection is not quite in the completely tenuous bracket, but one conjures up the idea of a meeting of marketing so-called professionals passing straws around and clutching at them. These may well comprise the same marketing people who came up with that daft c-cedilla image for Pollensa. How many "images" does a place need anyway?

Dead people from the world of the arts are already disinterred to form the island's marketing mix. Deía is known for Robert Graves, and Valldemossa makes much of Frédéric Chopin, which is a colossal cheek given that he was there for such a short period and that the damp atmosphere was not quite what his doctors had ordered when recommending Mallorca for his lung condition; he became ill over the four months of one winter and he left, though he did compose prolifically during this short period. Nevertheless, Chopin - and Graves - have a certain romanticism. The same cannot be said for Agatha Christie. What can, unquestionably, is that she is the most popular author of all time, has an enduring fame, and has a name, if not a face, that is instantly recognisable to the British and to an international audience. But this does not mean she is the perfect image. It's not as if there is the equivalent of an Anne Hathaway's cottage that would mark her out as someone with a distinctive or special Puerto Pollensa background, though I daresay there are those who will rush to claim that she stayed in such and such a place, and look to charge a pretty centimo to have a gander at what may or almost certainly wasn't her writing desk. She did not base her works - her Poirot, her Miss Marple - in a local setting, except that one story. Otherwise, all she did was have the odd holiday. Like a lot of people have holidays.

This is marketing opportunism. Apart from the name of Christie itself, what does she represent? Murder mysteries. How do these relate to Puerto Pollensa? "Come to Puerto Pollensa and get murdered." At least Chopin had the good sense not to hang around before it became terminal, while he was and is indicative of a cultural aspect of Mallorcan tourism that the authorities are keen to promote. But think of Christie as a person, and what image might come to mind? I knew exactly the image, even before reading a quote by her biographer Laura Thompson from the "International Herald Tribune" talking about tapes she had left. "Nobody sounds like that anymore. She's old England. She sounds like an Edwardian, like a gentlewoman, like a lady. It's as though she's suspended in an early-20th-century world where the social order is intact, and murder is only conducted in a socially acceptable arena - arsenic in the crumpets, or something." (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/17/arts/christie.php.) Is this really the image that the marketing people have in mind? A crusty old trout from a long-past era. There are some who might like to still think of Puerto Pollensa as something from a lost world, but I'm afraid that it's no longer true.

Recently (28 November: The Face), I spoke about Rafael Nadal as the image for Mallorcan tourism promotion. He is right for the reasons I outlined in that piece. Apart from being Mallorcan and alive, he is also youthful. Unless there is someone with an obvious historical connection, not the case with Christie, celebrity promotion - for tourism - is likely to be effective if it conveys an image that is living, vibrant and, as is so with Nadal, appealing across the generations. Or does Puerto Pollensa not wish to be seen in this way? Does it want to be portrayed as somewhere set in the past? He may not be in the same class as Christie or Nadal when it comes to fame, but Bradley Wiggins has connections with the port through cycling training and may well be buying a house locally. Would he, or someone of his ilk, not be more representative of a contemporary tourism for the Brits? (To be honest, when I first glanced at the headline, I thought it was going to be about Linford Christie.) It's not as though Puerto Pollensa suffers from a lack of British visitors, or indeed residents. Oddly, Christie might be a more potent symbol for other nationalities which are under-represented in the resort.

But this all begs the question whether it is necessary; whether such icons and images, certainly those no longer with us and from a different time, are needed to promote a resort, be it Puerto Pollensa or anywhere else. It also begs the question as to whether it does any good. Will the fact that knowing Christie once holidayed in Puerto Pollensa make more Brits descend on the town? I find it hard to believe. It may open up the opportunity for hotels to stage the odd Christie murder mystery weekend, but otherwise? Apparently, there are also likely to be Christie memorabilia and Christie meals. The mind boggles. A Poirot miniature with a sombrero? Murder on the Orient Express in a bun? Don't for God's sake anyone mention all this to Grupo Boulevard, the Dakota tex-mex-ists, or there will be an outbreak of Agatha's theme pubs or, more likely, Christie's Grills, vaguely designed like the train and with a menu offering Miss Marple's traditional barbecue steak and chips. And then there is a question as to gaining permission and, in all likelihood, having to cough up for the Christie image. Have they gone into that? Presumably they have. Chorion is the company that holds the rights to Christie's works and there is also the Christie estate which is active in preserving her image. How much, I wonder, might this end up costing?

Yesterday's title - The Police (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SojAZ0X1e0). Today's title - now, if this lot were to be used to promote Puerto Pollensa - or anywhere - then I'd be on the plane. American, mates of Andy Warhol.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

De Do Do Do

Further to the note about the Puerto Pollensa "platform" in yesterday's piece, I should add that Garry tells me that this coming-together kicked off with a discussion of the very fine mess that is the front line and the pedestrianisation, but expanded its scope, as he puts it, to "nothing less than the regeneration of the dirty, neglected port". Mess, dirty: note these words. One is tempted to believe that Puerto Pollensa is the only place that suffers from filth. I can assure you that it isn't, but there is certainly a level of disquiet - no, wrong word - disgust at the state of the pavements and so on, which brings me, of course, to dogs, and what dogs do. Doggy-doo.

The other day, there was this what, had it had a sugary coating, a layer of marzipan and a sprig of holly, might have passed for something that would find itself among the Christmas fare alongside the turkey and the Brussels sprouts. There it was, slap bang outside the front of the house. What sort of giant of a hound had left that there? Some dog of war; it must have been extremely frightened. So, I think, well, am I going to get rid of this, or do I just leave it and wait for a natural degradable process to take its course? It would have taken months. A handy shovel and a copy of a local publication were put to decent, or indecent, effect, and the canine Christmas log found its way to the general rubbish container. Shame that Muro town hall seem to have cut back on what used to be daily collections, but have upped the rubbish tax not insubstantially. Still, it has now gone. Until the next one.

Dogs out on their own for a bit of a trot, a bark and a visit to the on-street throne are one thing, even if no dog is meant to be out without a chaperon and, moreover, without being tethered to one, but dogs with their human best friends that evacuate their bowels without tidying up after themselves are another. And so it was that yesterday Hayley, as in Hayley of Hayley and No-Frills Seamus and their dogs that have taken cute lessons, was lamenting the absence of doggy-doo bagettes in the local supermarkets. If you can't get them, then how are dogs' best friends meant to flush and brush or poop and scoop the streets of not just Puerto Pollensa but the entire north of the island? Is there an island- or world-wide shortage of doggy bags? Maybe the recent rise in oil prices blew a hole in the mutt mopping-up sector of the plastics industry. And holes can be a problem. I point out, well, just use an Eroski bag. They are so generous with giving away bags - that are, of course, pretty useless when it comes to recycling - that you often get a bag per item; keep you going, and the dogs, for months. Apparently though, they are prone to holes or leakage. Despite doggy bags being even thinner, they must have hidden powers of complex polymer chemistry to retain elements of Rover's bodily functions. Frankly, they would need to be made with reinforced concrete to have accommodated, minus breakage, the tonnage that was left outside the house: either that or newsprint.

So, when next expressing your indignation at the apparent indifference of dog owners to the result of the internal and ultimately external processing of a dog's dinner, berate not those owners but the plastics industry and the retail trade. For it is they who are responsible, or not.

And as a footnote to this. Had a thought. Ferreterias - the hardware shops. They sell everything. Bet they've got doggy bags. Llomgar in Alcúdia, for example. There you can also get filters for coffee machines, because - and can anyone explain this - Eroski don't sell filters in winter. Why not? Must be all that paper being diverted into the doggy business, as it were.

Yes, the story goes from bad to worse. Like Subbuteo players having the odd arm snapped off or becoming dislodged from their plastic bases, the club and team are falling to pieces, losing to Huelva, a side even worse than Mallorca, and inspiring the waving of hankies in the direction of president Grande. And he has caught a cold; in fact a nigh terminal virus without a cure, unless the latest reports are to be believed, in which case cheery nurse Freddy Shepherd will arrive with some medication. It could probably be as little as a crate of Newcy Brown and some fog from the Tyne to take the club off Grande's hands. In fact, it will be a bit more and a bit stronger - an injection of between 12 and 16 million euros stronger, according to "The Diario". There is meant to be a consultation in a Newcastle surgery tomorrow. And coming back to dogs. And Freddy Shepherd. No, let's not go there, shall we. Yet.

Yesterday's title - Boney M, and if you really must - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgevV4tpXVE . Today's title - they did some very good singles; this wasn't one of them.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Painter Man

I almost reversed over who I thought was the postman yesterday morning. Just about to exit the driveway, there was a voice from the rear. I looked in the mirror and there was this chap with things in his hand. "Bon día", he was saying. Couldn't have been Postman Pedro though, what with it being Immaculate Conception and everything being closed down (you know it's a biggy of a holiday when not even the supermarkets are open). The chap, it turned out, was not a Postman Pedro but a Painter Pedro, from Can Picafort - painter and decorator, home improvements. The papers in his hand were his advertising. You know the sort of thing - Microsoft Word Art type with drop shadows and shades of pinks and blues plus a couple of photos. 500 euros for painting your apartment, it said. As I don't have an apartment, it didn't necessarily apply, but Pedro seemed a decent sort of cove, smiling and, hats off to him, you have to say, for tramping around on a holiday handing out his literature in search of drumming up business. Unfortunately, the ad also said: "pintor profesiomal". And, no, you don't spell it with an "m", even here. Anyway, at least he hadn't stuffed the letter box, unlike those who want to sell you artificial lawns and a new house around the corner. And though he was smiling, he wasn't one of the perma-smiley religious maniacs who periodically arrive mob-handed, with small children in tow and some booklet that will lead to a life of greater happiness. No, it will not. What will is a large cheque and their buggering off. The only nuisances at the garden gate are otherwise a brace of local policeman who turn up three times in one day (different braces, that is) to try and hand you a summons for someone who has not lived there for years and those other devils behind a smile, the gas con artists who will happily divest you of the contents of your wallet in return for checking your butane connection when it doesn't need doing and they are not the ones to do it anyway. With the God squad, I find a simple "no hablo español" to be an easy way of getting rid of them, as is the case when there is a phone cold call to sell you water filters or broadband that is even more crap than the service you already have, which is saying something. The butane chaps, however, get it with both barrels in English or Spanish. This island's full of bloody thieves, and you are one of them and if you don't piss off I'm phoning the police who would then, no doubt, send out three couples of plod to investigate.

People who sell things or themselves, as in looking for work. There would be more of it right now, you would think. Perhaps the Saturday morning boot sale at The Jolly Roger off The Mile is doing a roaring trade at the moment. Rather than just be a venue for local expat gossip, there are probably expats in desperate need of selling their microwaves or tat they picked up at another market. I suppose I should go and find out. But what do people sell and what services do they offer? I had a trawl through the Sunday edition of "Majorca Daily Bulletin", the most important medium for the expat classified. Other than property, of which there is nothing like as much as the acres of forest that are used for this purpose in the Spanish papers, along with the ads for "relax" and "massage", the most regular ads are for bars and restaurants (Christmas or pre-Christmas do's and Leapy Lee's curry nights), cars (mainly Mercedes, for some reason), building, renovations, painting, decorating, plumbing etc, removals, and Sky television. I sometimes wonder quite what Sky make of all this Sky trade here, given that in order to get a Sky card - or so I understand (not having one myself) - there is meant to be a UK address. Anyway, be that as it may. Most of what's on offer is pretty obvious stuff, but then there is the quirkier - tarot readings, a unicycle and some jetskis. Amongst it all, you can find a mooring for sale in Alcúdia that will only set you back 300,000 euros, South African products (for all the thousands of South Africans who have not been denied a residency), gourmet sausages and a system for getting rid of processionary caterpillars from pine trees (there is already a system - it's known as an air rifle). Then there are translation services, those companies that will help with your papers, like your residency, which is something I find odd as it is a simple enough, if tedious, procedure and you have to go personally anyway, and the business agencies who will help you to buy and sell, except no-one is doing the former and everyone is doing the latter. And mention of things quirkier, there was one display ad for the PQ Academy. Who he, you ask. More, who she, as it's Pauline Quirke for all those of you with a celebrity bent. The one-time star of a series with a sort of eponymous play on her name is starting a drama, musical and TV thing. Actually, I quite like Pauline Quirke, not for "Birds of a Feather", but for the likes of her appearance in "David Copperfield". If Mallorca is to be home to a celeb, then I would go Pauline every time rather than Peter Stringfellow. Somewhere, I have a photo of her at the old Tango restaurant in Puerto Pollensa, or if it isn't her, it was someone who had presumably been to a Pauline academy. But amongst all the ads offering the likes of dog care, nursing and piano lessons, there is not one for the most secure of all recession-proof businesses. And that is? Funerals. www.yourmallorcafuneral.com. I've checked. There is no domain name. Don't all rush at once.

As thought, the "platform" of citizen and business groups is indeed a port-wide coming-together of the nine associations. According to Garry Bonsall, the associations are so angry with the mayor that the platform has been created in order to regenerate the port and to pressurise the mayor, for whom one feels almost rather sorry; this is becoming a quite extraordinary situation.

Yesterday's title - The Mothers of Invention. Today's title - God, how I disliked this German-Caribbean act.


Monday, December 08, 2008

We're Only In It For The Money

Know who Ramón Socias is? Thought not. He is in fact the delegate from Madrid for the Balearics, a sort of political director of football reporting to the board while the manager, Francesc Antich, loses or keeps the dressing-room of the populace. The Constitution Day revelries were an opportunity for him to pronounce and, as reported by "The Diario", he did just this when turning his attention to the three "C's" - of constitution, crisis and corruption. The second of these was economic; it could as easily have been the third, and one could toss in the first in crisis as well, given the existence of the third.

It may not have been Burke or Locke, but Sr. Socias philosophised on the nature of politics, or the nature of politicians to be more precise. They should not see politics as something to depend upon or to see it as a means of a salary or privileges that cannot be obtained in other ways. They should be politicians for a "determined period" as a way of curbing corrupt practices. And in the Balearics, he says, there has been a failure of control mechanisms that has led to corruption, itself a fault of the system.

In a way, it is loaded stuff. I'm not sure that finite terms of office are in themselves a means of preventing corruption, but if one accepts the maxim of "all power corrupts", then it is probably true that there is a temptation to greater corruption the longer a politician is in situ. To act corruptly, however, requires a willingness to do so and a system that allows it. Sr. Socias is not wrong when he refers to a failure of control, though one might suggest that it is an absence of control. To admit, though, that the system is at fault is a pretty damning observation as it brings into question the whole edifice of local democracy here. It was revealing that he explicitly said that the problems of corruption in Mallorca (and the Balearics) were not those of the political parties; it chimed with what I said the other day about Franco and his desire to dismantle the party system. Yet, the parties are a part of the system, and the system is one of layers of government and duplication and of networks, families, nepotism and favours with a specifically Mediterranean flavour. I don't believe that people necessarily seek office in order to act corruptly, but the dynamics of the system are such that it can be all too easy to do so.

Taking democracy to as local a level as possible is a laudable political model, but one has to ask as to the wisdom of there being so much of it. In Mallorca, there is the autonomous regional (Balearic) government, the Council of Mallorca, and then the town halls, some 50 or so of them, each with mayors and various councillors heading departments which, in the main, replicate those of the institutions higher up the political food chain; mayors and town halls for an average, approximately, of every 17,000 of the population. I am unclear as to the necessity for the Mallorca Council, or why the town halls all need councillors for the various departments they have, or how it can be expected that truly competent officials can be available when there are so many municipal administrations - the talent, what there is, is spread thin and one is left with the impression of so many jobs for the boys (and sometimes girls). The more there is of all of it, the greater the potential for power corrupting, especially if there are inadequate controls.

I once compared local politics here to the collegiate JCR (junior common room) system of my old university. That was playing at politics, mimicking much that existed in a more meaningful fashion elsewhere and leaving only the bread and circuses of free beer and dance nights as a genuine "local" contribution. Looking after the towns' own bread and circuses - the fiestas - is fine, but land policy often is the subject of questionable procedures and should be subject to external scrutiny or decision, and why exactly is there a need for councillors to oversee things like the environment? In Alcúdia, you may recall, I was surprised to learn, when asking about the canals, that they are the responsibility of a central ministry, not of the town hall. As with other things, the "carreteras" (highways) for instance, there is a central body. In Pollensa, they have contracted an outside firm to establish the budget. It is good in one way as it may give rise to better management, but it does make one query the need for and competence of certain officials. And then there is the electoral system, the one that can lead, so I am told, to Joan Cerdà gaining but 13% of the vote only to find himself, to his surprise, as mayor of Pollensa. There are those who might doubt his ability, but I have sympathy for him as he is a part of a system that intrinsically can enable the Peter Principle of competence to apply - if indeed this is true of him.

For all that Sr. Socias may have touched a raw nerve, to imply that local politicians should treat their posts purely as those of some short-term civic honour is to ignore the political impulse, that of which he himself is a part*, i.e. to seek and gain office and then to continue to wish to do so. As for salary, well of course officials should be paid. The question is whether they are good enough to warrant their salary and whether they were the right people to be nominated in the first place. If the system allows for the next person off the rank, for horse-trading or for the only available person to fill, for instance, the mayoral office, then there is clearly a system fault. If Sr. Socias is serious, he should propose a root-and-branch examination of Mallorcan public office. He talks of cleaning up local politics, and one hopes that the recent scandals may bring home to those in office the need to act in ways other than for their "own benefit", as he puts it. But if the system isn't working, can we be sure that it will?

The danger is, though, that too much is made of the recent spate of corruption cases. In doing so, the good guys can be branded along with the villains. The reference to political parties by Sr. Socias may have also been diplomatic (he is socialist), as he didn't wish to single out the Partido Popular and the fact that so much of this spate relates to the period of its last administration. In which case, it is something for that party to sort out. But that still leaves the system.

* For the record, Sr. Socias is in his second four-year term as Balearics delegate. He was previously the senator for Mallorca (for eight years), mayor for Sóller,and a co-ordinator with Palma council.

Yesterday's title - "Don't Dream It's Over", Crowded House (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZZfuCJ970w). Today's title - album by? A band that has previously appeared here - American and satirical.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

There's A Battle Ahead

I referred yesterday to local businesses not being influenced by the media into suspending investments and employment because of the allegedly poor predictions for 2009. As hinted, I come to a more positive aspect, and that has to do with hotels and their investments and the promises of near-to or at-zero levels of interest finance and an unloosening of restrictions to enable hotels to effect modernisations. These have been welcomed, as you might expect, by the hotels. They are positive moves, albeit that, as I said on a previous occasion, hoteliers are admitting that the measures come too late for any meaningful activity this winter. However, the winter of next year should be a period of significant investment and employment as the hotels swing into action, always assuming the local town halls don't place obstacles in front of them. And the town halls, their bureaucracies and potentially also their politicking form just one possible set of blocks; there is also, as always, the pressure of the environment defenders, most obviously GOB. Unsurprisingly, GOB objects to the fact that procedures put in place to restrict developments - which have cost time and money - are to be modified or largely removed. It goes on to say that the "economic crisis" is being used as an excuse to eliminate these procedures.

GOB is not wrong. Of course the crisis has led to the changes in these procedures. One might say that it is the economy, stupid. The problem, as ever, is finding a happy compromise in the economic and environmental tug-of-war, and the economy - from a position of weakness - is nevertheless pulling that much harder, given a helping hand by the government. In all this, both camps refer to "sustainability". They use it as it is meant in the environmental lexicon, as it has been borrowed from the panacea of "sustainable development", the environment ministry stating that the hotels will put in place efficient energy and waste-management measures. Both sides argue that this "sustainablity" of the environment, in its widest sense, is required by clients and is something that attracts those clients, or tourists to you and me. They are both spinning. Most tourists are indifferent. Many like their "environment" packaged in neat excursions to the mountains or to somewhere quaint in the interior. So long as the beach and streets are clean, they give the matter little attention, and just how many base a hotel decision on whether or not it uses low-energy bulbs? There is another, more pertinent meaning for "sustainability", and that is the purely mercenary one of sustaining the current level of tourism, if not increasing it.

GOB's objections seem largely petty. For the most part, the changes to procedures are for alterations to existing hotel stock. There is also the possibility, as GOB alludes to, of increasing that stock. Here it is perhaps on firmer ground. Gone, or so it would seem, is some of that defence of the coastline talk. But be it more development or mere refurbs, one suspects that battle lines are being drawn, and they will be those at a local level, with GOB and its political supporters (mainly the minority parties) hounding the town halls to prevent work happening. And as some town halls are dominated by the Unió Mallorquina (UM), the battles could be vicious. The UM is seen as the devil in all this by GOB, which also accuses the party of wanting to cover the island with golf courses. The UM may be a nationalist party, but it is also centre-right: classically conservative, if you like, in conserving Mallorcan interests while at the same time adhering to principles of free enterprise.

Does GOB have Mallorca's interests at heart? It sounds like a ridiculous question, as the answer has to be yes. It wishes to preserve the natural state of the island as much as possible. It is a not unworthy objective. But its predictable contrariness, whenever development raises itself as a possibility, blinds it to wider interests. It is the Luddite voice set against the industrialist. Yet despite its ability to cry wolf and to constantly poke its nose into seemingly every conceivable area of economic life on the island, it does have an important role to play. The crisis has led to the changes in procedures and to the financing available to the hotels. To deny this would be absurd. But this emphasises the most crucial debate about Mallorca and its future. As was the case with the Campos golf development, the short-term economic priorities place that debate into sharp relief, namely the degree and type of further development and its environmental effect. And then there is the backdrop to all this, and that is the as-yet unknown but apocalyptically forecast impact of climate change. The government is freeing the hotels to undertake developments to sustain tourism, but longer-term just how sustainable will that tourism be? When it comes to cutting dole queues and to boosting economic growth, the environment takes a back seat, however the government may wish to spin it. The far bigger question is being ignored, and that is the future, be it four or five years from now when any major developments, were there to be any, might come on-stream and also 30 to 40 years down the line when the seas (and the temperatures) may start to make some of the current developments appear redundant.

Well, not yet, but the town hall is taking the Christmas wrappings off of two programmes to enliven the local scene up to and past Christmas. On the three remaining weekends of the month, there are to be markets (ever more markets), workshops, theatre and music on each Saturday, and there is also "Alcúdia tapa a tapa", a sort of bar/restaurant crawl of 16 establishments which will occur from the Friday till the Sunday. Tapas and wines will be on offer at the likes of Genestar, Cas Capella and Sa Plaça.

"The Diario" reports that a "platform", whatever this might mean, has been created by various citizen and business groups, the purpose of it being to act together in improvements to the town. Not sure what this is, but it sounds like the "über-association" that Garry Bonsall alluded to a couple of weeks ago. I shall doubtless find out and let you know. Sure you can't wait.

Yesterday's title - The Temptations. A further clue could have been the name of a one-time bar/restaurant in Puerto Alcúdia: "Cloud Nine" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBxFTzxc0Bo). Today's title - a line from an Antipodean crowd. Brilliant song.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

You Ain't Got No Responsibility

Miquel Nadal, the tourism minister, wants the media to act responsibly. Not the first time we have ever heard a minister of whatever colour or country make such a request. In the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" yesterday was a report that, in a sense, was quite extraordinary. Sr. Nadal was asking for, almost demanding, that the media portray a healthy situation in respect of next season's tourism. He doesn't want scaremongering or talk of a disaster, himself saying that the 2009 season will be "a great one". Though he is chipper, or at least his announcement is, behind the call to the media lies, one suspects, a more sober appraisal.

But always rely on a politician to look for a positive spin, I suppose. In one sense, he is absolutely right. Rather like one feels that there is a tendency for the media to talk economies into recession, so - one could argue - it can do the same in creating a poor tourist season, though I think that this is stretching a point. Positivity rather than negativity can help, if nothing else, to try and lift spirits and give some cause for optimism as opposed to the bleakness of pessimism. He's right in this regard. But he is also wrong. Does he realise what he is asking for? There is a word for it - propaganda. The media pumps out much governmental propaganda as it is, but its role is to comment upon, analyse and question it, not to blindly accept it. To do so would be to abrogate responsibility.

Talk of a disaster is way wide of the mark, and it would be irresponsible to predict one. There is enough evidence, independent of government spin or statistics, to suggest that the season will be - should be - acceptable if nothing more. But the media has to be allowed, in a balanced fashion, to present realities and to not paint a picture of all things being rosy when they are not. Does Sr. Nadal expect the media to report the unemployment figures and the slump in the construction industry as evidence of a vibrant economy? Tourism is so vital that any indications of a downturn are not just a single-column mention on an inside page, they are front-page headlines. Mallorca is tourism, and the minister is fully aware of this - one would hope.

One of the problems for Sr. Nadal is that there is a gap between what the government says, and the statistics it produces, and what is experienced by businesses. There is a credibility issue; the government's figures are not believed. When it was said that tourism spend had actually increased this year, one could hear the sarcastic laughs stretching the length of the resorts' promenades. The word on the street, if you like, is a different language to that of governmental offices. Furthermore, the minister says that tour operators always present a more unfavourable situation in seeking to get a "better deal". On 16 November (Smooth Operators), I referred to the decline in sales being reported by both TUI and Thomas Cook - an average of 18.5% for the UK market between the two companies. That piece also mentioned the 20% increase in sales that the tourism ministry is suggesting, a point reiterated yesterday. How does one reconcile the two? When Sr. Nadal speaks of a 20% rise in "takings", what exactly does he mean? My reading of this is that he may be somewhat disingenuous. The tour operators are reducing capacity and at the same time increasing prices. It is a simple law of economics that, assuming sales do come through, "takings" will rise if you cut the costs of production (the capacity) and up your prices. As a tactic, it does not mean that volume (numbers of tourists) will be the same; indeed it explicitly represents a fall. The tour operators may be giving off some less than buoyant figures, but the minister should bear in mind that they are public companies and are bound by rules of governance as to announcements. To overstate the case, to send out an over-optimistic message is to run the risk of breaching their own compliance. Governments have no such governance.

But when Sr. Nadal calls for responsible reporting, is he not overegging the media pudding? To what extent does the local media have any impact on, for example, the British holidaymaker? Spanish perhaps, though even here I would doubt it. It is the case that foreign media does pick up on local stories and issues, and they have, apparently to detrimental effect. The property market is one, if you can believe what at least one estate agency has told me. But that is different. The size and nature of property versus holiday investments bear no comparison. If a holidaymaker learns that Mallorca may have a poorer tourist season in 2009, is the minister seriously suggesting that this will make him think twice about coming? Hardly. He knows for himself what the tour operators are doing and saying. And he knows full well about the exchange rate, recession and the credit crunch. He can thank the media to an extent, but he can also see it for himself. A more likely target of negative reporting, in Sr. Nadal's eyes, is probably that of local businesses who, believing things might be bad, will hold off with their own investments and employment. I suspect, however, that many will be doing this anyway, with or without the word of the media to guide them. (And I will probably come to an aspect of this tomorrow.)

I have no wish to talk down the coming tourist season. There are business owners here who read this blog and for whom I would like to say that everything is going to be just dandy, and I hope that it will be. But I am sufficiently close enough to these owners and to what is said generally to know that there is a discrepancy between what the government says and what businesses' realities are. Sr. Nadal talks of the "reality" in his dismissing tour operators' protestations of an unfavourable situation. One is left to ask what is the reality.

On a quite different note, today is a celebration, a public holiday, the thirtieth anniversary of the "Carta Magna", the Spanish constitution, ratified by referendum on this day in 1978 and then given the royal seal on 27 December of that year. And some said it would never last.

Yesterday's title - Madness (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYZNSyP9v9M). Today's title - there is another line in this: "you're a million miles from reality". More Motown harmony and cheesy choreography and outfits.