Monday, December 21, 2009

The Heavenly Stars - Again

Ok, everyone, that's me done for this year. I hope it's alright with you, but I'm going to have a two-week break. The plan is that I'll be back on 4 January. That's the plan. As some of you know, the plan didn't quite work out as I had intended last Christmas. I trust there will not be a repeat.

No review of the year this year; well yet. Maybe there will be or maybe not. And no songs of the year, except the one that caused the greatest response of all of the "quiz" songs. It's three years old, so not new, but it is the blog's song of the year and probably video of the year - the weird and wonderful "Hunter Green" by The Handsome Family that dates back to the entry of 4 May (As I Cross The Empty Road). And here also is the link to what is now the official blog Christmas song, as it was last year. Not that it has anything to do with Christmas as such, just the heavenly stars.
Laura Veirs, "To The Country":

The only other "of the year" for the moment is the award of Man of the Year to Miquel Ferrer, mayor Alcúdia, scourge of the train, and now minister for tourism. To be honest, he only gets the award because the photo is priceless, and the exact origin of this was when he was gathered before the press back in March and had to stifle the product of a throaty cough. Nevertheless, he looked as though he was dreaming, dreaming of trying to explain to the hoteliers' association why he put the mockers on the train ... . One can only hope, for Ferrer's sake, that the shaky coalition government stays in place till end-term in 2011. Relinquishing mayoral duties in Alcúdia, if an early election had to be called in the not-too-distant future, he might have wished that he had stayed on in Alcúdia.

To all of you who follow this blog regularly, to those of you who are new, let's forget this year and look forward to better times in 2010. This was my sign-off last year. It still sounds good, I think:

"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 - Headless Heroes,


Index for December 2009

Alcúdia and Can Picafort hoteliers join forces - 5 December 2009
Best bars in the world - 14 December 2009
Can Picafort, squatting in - 9 December 2009
Can Ramis building, Alcúdia - 12 December 2009
Christmas spending and the economy - 15 December 2009
Coalition government and politics - 6 December 2009, 13 December 2009
Coalition government and tourism development - 18 December 2009
Corruption cases, Unió Mallorquina - 2 December 2009, 3 December 2009, 4 December 2009, 6 December 2009, 10 December 2009
Miquel Ferrer is new tourism minister - 11 December 2009, 16 December 2009, 18 December 2009, 21 December 2009
Miquel Nadal resignation - 4 December 2009, 5 December 2009
Muro's recycled Christmas tree - 19 December 2009
North-south divide for British expats - 20 December 2009
Palms: disposal and killer beetle - 19 December 2009
Real Mallorca, Sid Lowe and - 16 December 2009
RNE3 radio station - 17 December 2009
Sa Pobla-Alcúdia railway - 18 December 2009
Smoking law in bars - 17 December 2009
Street names and law on historic memory - 1 December 2009
Temperature laws, confusion about - 8 December 2009
World Cup 2010 - 7 December 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

North Wind Blew South

The north-south divide. Always the south, never the north. We make this a truism, because of English experience. It is not true elsewhere, Italy for example. In Spain, the north of Madrid and Barcelona may dominate, but it is not that simple. For instance, the south of Cadiz and Seville was a powerhouse in times gone by. In Mallorca though, it is the south, never the north. Despite historical claims by Alcúdia and Artà, it has always been the south - Palma; Palma and now its satellite municipalities, Calvia most obviously, the place of Magaluf, Santa Ponsa and Palmanova.

Population, commerce, power, each has been and is centred on the south. The north is another world, one that does not even have a motorway going all the way. The divide exists, whether for Mallorcans or others; always the south, never the north. And for the Brits, the divide is a vast chasm, one of neglect and sometimes hostility. But it is not difficult to understand why there might be such hostility. The northern zone comprises somewhat more than one-eighth (roughly) of Mallorca's British population, of which over a half lives in Palma or Calvia. Yet, away from the greater south region, this still makes it the second most populous British area on the island. Its problem lies not with the number of people but the 50-odd kilometres that separate it from Palma, the gateway to the south and its appendages of Calvia, Marratxi, Llucmajor and Andratx. And it is this separation that rankles, because it has caused and continues to cause a physical and perceptual disenfranchisement from the representation of the British as a whole.

In the artificial expatriate world, representation is largely not a question of politics or the other main "estates". It is predominantly that of informal networks and of the fourth estate, the press. Where an element of quasi-politics might intrude, it appears not to wish to. Does the British Consul ever visit the north? Maybe he does, but if so he keeps it quiet. Yet it is precisely the absence of established representation that makes a presence via the media that much more important. For without it, there is a lack of connection, a sense of avoidance and of neglect and the fomenting of petty hostility and prejudice.

It falls, or should, to the media to make the connection. But it fails utterly in doing so. It is not entirely its fault. Resources largely determine the breadth of representation, but it is not as though attempts have not been made to form a bridge that stretches for those 50 or so kilometres. They have failed. Why? Resources are one thing. Complacency, lack of interest might be others.

Apart from radio confined by transmission (now a thing of the past anyway), the only "voice", if you want to call it this, for representation is that provided by the press, namely "The Bulletin". Long have been the complaints of the paper's neglect of the north. I have argued in the past that these are not always accurate, that they are mainly a perceptual error, but I may well have been wrong. To take just one edition - yesterday's. It was replete with messages of goodwill, festive events, a fatuous "year-in" feature alongside news. What was there of the north? A couple of reader messages, a note about a market, and that was about it. There were not even any adverts from what I could see. Nothing. Worse still, is an impression of cliquism and vanity that holds no interest for anyone much north of Al Campo. It is unsurprising that there might be a sense of hostility, while bias of content acts to reinforce underlying prejudices. Take a recent letter to the paper. It referred to the elevation of Alcúdia's mayor to the post of tourism minister, dismissing his time as leader of a large tourist resort as grounds for such a promotion. The point was valid in that it may well indeed be insufficient qualification for the role, but the interpretation was that it was the very fact that he was from Alcúdia that might not qualify him. Might the same have been said about a mayor of Calvia?

Accusations of press and media bias along geographical lines are hardly unique to Mallorca. The BBC and the British press still suffer from them. But there is a difference, and this lies in my argument about representation in the absence of other forms of this. Within a specific community, that of the British in Mallorca, to exclude, or for the most part exclude, a not insignificant portion of the whole community is not far from being discriminatory.

One has to be realistic and also accept that relative population densities will inevitably skew balance of coverage. So they should; it would be unrepresentative were it to be otherwise. Nevertheless, in Mallorca, one is left feeling that there are two peoples divided not by a common language but by a 50-kilometre barrier.

Oh, and the north wind is blowing south. Cold, cold, like Britain freezing before Christmas. Six degrees during the day. Snow as low as 400 metres.

Yesterday's title - The Beach Boys, Today's title - this was the blog's song of last year.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Day In The Life Of A Tree - Palms And Plastic Christmas Trees

If you were to select a symbolic image of Mallorca, what might it be? A sweaty karaoke bar? An all-inclusive poolside with thousands of sweaty bodies crammed up against each other clasping plastic cups? Or maybe it would be a palm tree, sweating with the effects of a killer beetle?

The palm tree is not native to Mallorca, but it is symbolic, albeit that it is also an imported symbol elsewhere, such as ... Torquay. It adds to a certain sense of the exotic, but it comes at a price. Palms need an awful lot of looking after. They are, quite frankly, a pain in the backside. And since the start of November, there is a new rule regarding disposal of branches. Small ones and bits of small ones can be dumped in the communal garden-refuse containers, but not the bigger ones. They have to be taken to Palma (appropriately enough) to be incinerated, thus requiring some special transport, a call in advance to make an appointment, the payment of a tax and probably payment to a gardener chappie for having arranged all this and for having chopped down the branches. And woe betide you if you want to get rid of whole chunks of trunk or even a whole tree - it could cost anything up to around four grand, which is why the killer beetle, that is on the prowl or on the wing to be more accurate, is a real menace. If this thing affects the palm, that's probably it. The whole tree may have to come down, costing a pretty centimo to anyone unfortunate enough to have one of these symbolic monstrosities lashing their branches against you when the wind blows. It's all well and good having nice bits of nature adorning the place, but not when their disposal might cost the same as buying a second-hand motor. In the circumstances, one might be thankful that palms don't generally fall over at the first hint of a strong gust, unlike pines, most of which are scrappy-looking, weedy Catweazling affairs, bent arthritically by the wind and riddled with the malevolent effects of that damn caterpillar.

Far better then to do away with the real thing and get a plastic substitute, like some have plastic hedges or plastic lawns. The latter may not be great at soaking up floodwater, unlike real grass and lawns, and are therefore distinctly environmentally unsound, but they don't need cutting. I'm all in favour, though to make them a tad more acceptable to the eco-lobby it might be better were they recycled from punctured bouncy castles. So, in this spirit of recycling, it was good to see that in Muro town they have erected a ruddy great plastic Christmas tree in front of the church, and a ruddy great plastic Christmas tree which, moreover, has been built with cans and water bottles. The great recycled Christmas tree of Muro, with more than a hint of Blue Peter about it. Save up your old Coke cans, kids, and we'll build our own ecologically correct tree in the Blue Peter garden. And here to do it are a John Noakes and a Valerie Singleton I made earlier from some discarded plastic terrace furniture.

Of course, the tree of many cans and bottles is a cheap option in these cash-strapped days. Perhaps the good people of Muro might have a word with the UK Serious Fraud Office which has splashed out 700 quid on hiring a Christmas tree. Give them time, four grand should secure a palm tree.

Yesterday's title - Mike & The Mechanics, "The Living Years", Today's title - "A Day In The Life Of A Tree", it was actually pretty rotten, the song that is. Who was it?


Friday, December 18, 2009

You Just Can't Get Agreement - Antich And Other Politicians

There was an interesting little thing tucked away in "The Diario" yesterday. Interesting, not because of what it said, but because of what could be extrapolated from it. The article referred to a meeting between Francesc Antich, the regional government president, and the hotel federation. The headlining element was that Antich suggested it was easier to reach agreements with business and unions than with political parties. From that, one can infer that it is not always easy to reach compromise with coalition partners. He is not wrong. But this was not the most interesting aspect. Antich is also reported as saying that "the political situation impedes the taking of measures that allow for greater tourism competitiveness". In other words, the very nature of the system is a constraint on Mallorca's most important industry.

Now, just think about this, and take into account also the fact that the hoteliers made a number of demands to Antich, one of which was for the improvement of public transport to Alcúdia, i.e. the train, the train that was effectively vetoed by Alcúdia town hall. Think about it. Who is now the new tourism minister? The mayor of Alcúdia, Miquel Ferrer, the one who stood in the way of the train because the town hall would not go along with the government's preference for the siting of the Sa Pobla rail extension.

The political system - the coalition - acts against the best interests of the tourism industry, including those to do with transport infrastructure. This is what Antich is saying. The coalition comprises three parties, one of which, the Unió Mallorquina, is represented in the tourism ministry, as it has been throughout the Antich administration, albeit by different politicians. Do we infer from this that the UM has been obstructive in tourism development? No, this has not been the case. But now that Ferrer is in charge of tourism, will he see the train in a different light, i.e. one that takes account of a wider interest than merely a parochial Alcúdia one of self-interest, as was manifest in the protests by the finca owners of the Son Fé area of Alcúdia? It is not for Ferrer, as tourism minister, to decide anything where transport is concerned, but he must have an opinion or be asked for one. Will this now change?

When Ferrer gave his first press conference the other day, one of the things he was not asked about was the train. Had he been, he would probably have deflected it by saying that it is not an issue for the tourism ministry. But he should still have been asked. Ferrer has been mute on the subject since the decision was taken to use funds earmarked the Sa Pobla extension for different projects. He has made something of a virtue of not saying things, but now he is tourism minister, he is going to be expected to be less taciturn. Though the train is effectively dead in the water until a new administration is elected, it nevertheless remains an issue, an issue for tourism development - as the hoteliers have made clear and, by implication of what Antich said, for the president himself, whose whole period of office was meant to have been celebrated as "the age of the train".

There is no collision course as such between Antich and Ferrer on the matter, as it has been shelved, but the very fact of the matter having been raised highlights - again - the difficulties created by different levels of government and different parties and also the potential complications for a politician elevated from a local environment to one of state (assuming one can call the regional government a "state"). Moreover, Ferrer will spend much of his time in discussion with the likes of the hoteliers federation. What will he say to them about the train? That Antich has had this meeting with the federation could be interpreted as a shot across Ferrer's bows, while a more active involvement in tourism matters by Antich, something I believe he should have, might be taken as either an admission of possible inexperience on behalf of Ferrer or of undermining him and also the UM.

Alcúdia town hall went against the preference of the government's transport ministry, one headed by a member of the Mallorcan socialists (Bloc), i.e. one to the left of centre, an area also inhabited by Antich. There is no love lost between the UM and the Bloc, and the train debacle was in so small part a reflection of this. Antich is widely admired for his patience and for his attempts at diplomacy, but one could forgive him just a touch of annoyance that one of his "big things", the train, was scuppered by the very person who is now his tourism minister.

Yesterday's title - Editors, "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors", Today's title - "you just can't get agreement" from a song with a choir by a Genesis off-shoot.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Smokers Outside The Bar Doors - New Spanish Smoking Law

The new smoking law has become a bit clearer - sort of. Issued by the central government in Madrid, it will, in 2010 (not clear exactly when**), mean that in all "public spaces" that are closed, i.e. the interiors of bars and restaurants and so on, smoking will be banned. There is none of this determination by size of establishment or any of the previous confusion. Nor would it seem, unless the regional government proposes otherwise, will there be separate regulations for Mallorca, which had been the case. Public spaces that are not closed, e.g. terraces, will remain unaffected. While smoke can of course circulate and dissipate more readily outside, this lack of prohibition is still not great news for those who might be at a table next to one of smokers setting fire to themselves. Nevertheless, the new law does now seem to be taking shape, much to the annoyance of the "club of smokers for tolerance", which apparently can boast some 100,000 members across Spain, and to bar and restaurant owners who fear loss of trade.

One of the arguments against the new law is that it will just compound problems caused by the economic crisis, to which though one might argue that there is no good time to introduce such a law, in the sense that whenever it is introduced it will have an impact, as has been the case in the UK. As has previously been reported, owners who had invested in creating physical barriers are moaning twice over because those investments will now have been for nothing, assuming they did actually make such investments.

The smokers tolerance crowd are also arguing that the new law is likely to lead to disturbances, akin to those witnessed, apparently, in Paris and Italy where smokers gather outside doors, with their drinks and cause a nuisance to neighbours and passers-by alike. Add to this the fact that drinking in the streets is generally prohibited, and, so the smokers say, you have a toxic mix of potential trouble. They may have a point, or they may not. Either way, what with the introduction of that other law - the one about interior temperatures and doors being closed - there is likely to be no lack of open to interpretation. As is always the case.

** And as is always the case, the timing is unclear. Some reporting says "from 2010", which could mean from the start, while there is a conflicting report which suggests that the law will not go through parliament in 2010.

Divine Cricket
Around the time that the first test match between England and South Africa got underway yesterday, the national radio station RNE3 offered something of a cricketing tribute. Not, one imagines, that they for one moment knew anything about the game at Centurion. Nevertheless, there it was - on this most eclectic of Spanish music stations - a song from the "Duckworth Lewis Method" album by the group of the same name (Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy), with references to getting your pads on and the like.

How big, do you suppose, does a song about cricket play with a Spanish audience? Not very, one would think, especially as the lyrics are of course in English and obscure to any - even to English speakers - who might not understand the cricketing motifs in the song, after which the presenter explained that it came from a concept album about cricket, a sport that no Spaniard would have a clue about. What would have been better, would have been if the presenter had tried to explain the Duckworth Lewis Method to a Spanish audience.

Today's title - Had this before, but "Smokers Outside The Bar Doors" is a corruption of which song by which band?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Swing Lowe - Vicious Sid And Real Mallorca

Sid Lowe. Not a stranger to a bit of controversy and not a stranger to this blog, as any of you will know who recall the ding-dong he caused when he drew attention to an advert in which the Spanish basketball team made "slitty-eyed" gestures at the time of the Beijing Olympics (18 August, 2008: Basket Case). Now it's the turn of Real Mallorca. The club has apparently sent him a letter expressing its indignation (so it is said in "The Bulletin") following something he wrote on his "Guardian" blog, which would probably not have caused much of a fuss had it not been picked up by the Spanish media.

Lowe, for those of you who don't know, is a journo based in Madrid and has made a career out of taking the rise out of Spanish football and sport. He is also a football commentator on Spanish TV, but he is of course British, and it is this - being British - that one suspects people don't like, some Real Mallorca supporters and officials, that is. There has also been a touch of lost in translation as well as selective reading of Lowe's piece in which he called Real Mallorca "rubbish" and sub-headed the piece by saying that "Real Mallorca are badly run, financially constricted and have a shoddy team". None of this is inaccurate, though he goes on to qualify this by looking at the recent farcical ownership fandango and by heaping praise on coach Gregorio Manzano for getting a team of average players to perform as well as it is - to fifth position in La Liga. In response to one of only, from what I can see, two comments taking him to task, he also qualifies the use of the word "rubbish", one that is typically used in throwaway terms by English speakers. He also said that the club has "no fans", which he then explains in the comments exchange; the club has a poor attendance record, which is undeniable.

It does all seem to boil down to who you are and where you write. Go back to the title of that previous blog entry about Lowe. "Basket Case" is a term I have used on more than one occasion to also describe Real Mallorca. Lowe's article is not a million miles away from stuff I have said about Real Mallorca, especially in respect of the ownership nonsense, the lack of money, the level of debt and the fans - I still find it hard to understand how the only La Liga club in Mallorca cannot regularly fill its stadium, one with a capacity of some 25,000. Actually I do understand, because many Mallorcans follow Barça or even one of the Madrid teams.

The mention in "The Bulletin" described Lowe's piece as "inflamatory" (sic - there is an "m" missing). It was nothing of the sort, and many Mallorca fans would probably agree with much of what he wrote. Indeed many have said much the same thing, especially with regard to the damage to the club's reputation caused by the likes of Grande, Davidson and the Martí family.

Read Sid Lowe's article here:

Ferrer's first interview
Rubbish, nonsense, the Spanish have a word that can mean both - "tonterías". It was a word used by new tourism minister Miquel Ferrer during his first press engagements. Politicians should not be wasting time on nonsense was how the interview in "The Diario" was headlined. It was, unfortunately, an uninformative piece. It lacked bite. There needed to have been more grilling of Ferrer and his qualification for the post, while the issue of the all-inclusive was ignored. Ferrer believes that 2010 will see an improvement in the tourism market, that there is an excellent marketing plan in place and that the Rafa Nadal promotional campaign will be continued. Good for the still Alcúdia mayor. The coming season should indeed be better (one would hope), but as for the marketing and the promotion ... ?

The popular Popular
A poll suggests that, were an election for the regional government to be held now, the Partido Popular would be returned with a majority. "The Bulletin" points out that this would be despite the party being implicated in corruption cases, most obviously that involving former president Matas. Though the turn-out would, in all likelihood, be low, perhaps an indication of voter disaffection caused by the various political scandals, the fact that the PP might regain power probably says more about what really matters to the electorate. As ever, "it's the economy, stupid", and may well reflect attitudes towards the central socialist government as much as those towards the regional socialist-led coalition.

Yesterday's title - Alan Rickman, Sheriff of Nottingham, "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves".


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And Cancel Christmas! Spending Down In Mallorca

There is this myth that the Mallorcans don't really do Christmas. Well, it's true, up to a point, but whereas Christmas Day may not be the be-all and end-all of the festive season, as it is in the UK, in Mallorca, "Christmas" goes the whole nine yards, or rather the whole twelve days. It's not as though the Mallorcans don't hand over plenty of readies at Christmas-time; they do, even if they may be somewhat more restrained than their British counterparts. And this year the average spend is down to 766 euros per head (15 per cent lower than last year). Don't ask how they arrive at the figure, but they do. A quarter of this will go on presents for the kids. At 180 all in, that's probably low by comparison with the UK; depends how many kids you're talking about. Add in the purchase of other presents, and the figure rises to 345 euros, something less than half the total average budget.

To these findings, based on a market research survey and reported on the other day in "The Diario", can be added discoveries regarding relative spends at different parts of the social spectrum, which suggest a widening of the social divide between haves and have-nots and with the middle class being squeezed in terms of its consumer power. Sounds rather familiar of course to anyone in the UK, but this sort of discussion, replete with references to social exclusion and so on, is less common in Mallorca where the safety-nets of more or less guaranteed summer employment and state assistance in the winter mask societal divisions. But these safety-nets have been pulled away from under many, and, against a background of the corruption cases, one does see concern as to an increase in tensions - a fear I have referred to before.

The language used is the same as it is in English, except of course it's Spanish - "riesgo de exclusión social" (risk of social exclusion) - as it is for other aspects of social and economic life. There are, apparently, signs of "retoños verdes" (green shoots) and economic recovery. The phrase has been used on more than one occasion by more than one politician over the last few days. The Spanish president, Zapatero, believes that recovery is "imminent". For the economy, arguably the worst affected in Europe by recession, this would come as something of a relief, if it were believable, that is. The property market, an indicator of how things are, continues to be in a bad way, and few regions of Spain are worse off than the Balearics; a fall of 31% in terms of transactions was recorded in October, compared with the same month last year.

Given the economic circumstances, it is unsurprising that families should be looking to cut their Christmas budgets, but they will still be able to enjoy all the jollities of a Mallorca Christmas period. In Alcúdia, they have produced a small catalogue of what is happening over Christmas and New Year. This town hall is really rather admirable in its information provision, albeit that it is of course all in Catalan. Religious services, New Year's Eve events, Three Kings; they're all listed and times given. And if you don't do the Catalan, it's in English - on the WHAT'S ON BLOG. So Christmas is not cancelled, even if there's less dosh sloshing around.

Yesterday's title - Elastica. Today's title - easy stuff, which actor playing which role and in which film uttered the words "cancel Christmas"?


Monday, December 14, 2009

Bar Bar Bar - How To Become The Best Bar

The controversy may have receded into the depths of early-season crisis and socially-networked speculation, but the which-are-the-best-bars debate can always be relied upon to raise its parlour-game head, be it in columnar Nelsonian form talking of the north locally or in the pages of "The Sunday Times". For there, yesterday, was a double-page spread on the world's best bars. No need for any guesswork as to the authors; they are named and some of their mugshots appear. We know who you are; we even know what some of you look like, even if we have never heard of you. What though of all the thousands, probably millions of bars everywhere that are not included in this vox-pop from a member of Blur and nightlife queens? What will they make of their exclusion? And specifically, what of all bars in Palma, save for somewhere called Bar Abaco, the choice of a co-author of "Miller's Antiques Price Guides"? This happens to be one of the best bars in the world, or so says Martin Miller, whoever he is; well, I've just told you. So, there's no need - barpersons of Palma or the rest of Mallorca, including Alcúdia - for a who-the-hell-is-Martin-Miller. Just find where he lives, and give him a slap.

To become a best bar, it seems, the bar needs to serve gin cocktails and offer "great people-watching opportunities". These are some of the attributes of the bar in Palma. People-watching is also important at a beachside restaurant in Formentera called Juan y Andrea, or so says a Michelin-starred chef by the name of Tom Aikens. So, there you have it, the two best bars in the whole of the Balearics, and clearly there are only two, and it's all down to looking at the passers-by. Oh, and in the case of the place in Formentera, it's also because of its "cool crowd". Ah yes, "cool". Not probably a word you would associate with many an Alcúdia bar, though I confess I'm not sure as to what constitutes a cool crowd, and so would be unlikely to recognise one even were it to be standing around the likes of Paco's Bugs Bunny. (And I do apologise for naming only one bar; I'll desist.)

It's all of course a question of how pretentious or not you may be. Assuming none of you reading this are "movers and cocktail shakers", as the paper dubs those nominating the world's best watering establishments, then qualification as to best bar probably comes down to rather more basic requirements - Sky, the size of the full English and how cheap it is to get off your face. And so with that in mind ... yep, you know, I reckon there's a good deal of scope to this best-bar malarkey. I can feel another book idea coming on ...

Yesterday's title - The Stranglers, "No More Heroes", Today's title - which group actually did a song with the title "Bar Bar Bar"?


Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Ice-Pick In The Head - Mallorca And Coalition Politics

At the risk of over-doing the political angle, when it appears that there is a collective failure to see the point, I feel I have to say something. It's this coalition politics deal, the one that is said to blight Mallorcan politics. I'll set to one side the corruption aspect, because it's irrelevant in this context - as I said the other day. The argument goes, in Mallorca, that the diversity of political parties that constitute governments is bound to lead to failure. The current regional government administration comprises three elements - the PSOE socialists (the coalition leaders and providers of the president), the left-wing Bloc (itself a mish-mash of minor parties) and the centre-right Unió Mallorquina, the ones who have caused the problems because of the corruption cases and not because of ... in-fighting.

It is this, in-fighting, which goes to the heart of the anti-coalition argument, and was one expounded in the weekly yes-no interlude in "The Bulletin" yesterday. The point of this debate was that both sides are missing the point, as do others who constantly harp on about the propensity for in-fighting caused by coalition. Let's get it clear. There is in-fighting, there is bound to be in-fighting. It may be exacerbated by having a collection of competing political ideologies defined along separate party lines, but coalitions are not the only forms of government which give rise to in-fighting. All forms of government do. Politics, by nature, is about in-fighting. Politics is the collision of ego and power-grabbing and therefore in-fighting.

Simple-majority governments are no less immune. Go ask John Major about the "bastards" or Michael Portillo and his rapidly created office when Major looked to be on the point of going. Ask the Tories about Europe. Ask Gordon Brown or Tony Blair about each other. All in-fighting. Blair attempted to impose discipline on New Labour and succeeded for a while, but gave rise to the obscenity of the set pieces at PMQs and the fawning of the Blair Babes; it was not democratic, but a form of brainwashed groupthink. Go back a bit further to Kinnock and his obscenity - of letters of redundancy being sent out by taxi, all to the background of Derek Hatton shouting his mouth off, Eric Heffer walking out and the Militant tendency being dispatched into oblivion.

Political parties are not uniform. The Conservative Party has long been known for its "broad church". Labour may have lost some of its more extreme elements, but is still a thing of left and right. In-fighting cannot be completely controlled out, whatever style of government obtains. Even totalitarian regimes can't manage it. Go ask, were you able to, Leon Trotsky. What did he get for his troubles? An ice-pick in the head. At least politics is a bit less violent these days; well, in the "civilised" world at any rate. Essentially, though, any political party exists as an artifice; one of a superficially shared value but one, nevertheless, exploited by its individual members for the gain of power and prestige. So also does a coalition or any form of government.

Democracies create imperfect forms of government. Yet there is no "perfect" form of government, just as there is no "perfect" electoral system. Coalition works reasonably well where the philosophy of consensus exists, such as in Germany. Coalition or majority, it is the art of compromise that is often its saviour. And compromise can only come from a mature and stable political mindset, that of the individual politician. It is this, the - if you like - psychological and philosophical capability to set aside ideologies in pursuit of the greater good that allows whatever form of government to function.

A more pertinent question, in the Mallorcan and Balearics context, is whether there exists sufficient maturity, on behalf of politicians from a multiplicity of parties, small and large, to allow for government to function effectively. It is not just personal maturity but also systemic maturity; democracy is still a relatively recent phenomenon. One might argue that 30 years is long enough. Perhaps so, or perhaps not. Perhaps they are still feeling their way towards a more effective management of the political system. Whatever the case, it is wrong to blame the style of government and therefore Mallorcan politics as a whole, or to use the convenient but largely misunderstood accusation of in-fighting as a reason for somehow dismantling the system. Let them get on with it. They'll get there in the end. Maybe.

Today's title - which group sang about Trotsky and an ice-pick? Very easy.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Toy Story - The Can Ramis Building

There was I suggesting yesterday that Miquel Ferrer's period as Alcúdia mayor has been relatively successful, and forgetting of course the slight blip of the fiasco that was/is the Can Ramis re-development in the old town.

This involved the demolition of the old Ramis houses by the car parking and the creation of something new. It has been a farcically tortuous process. Firstly, the budget was too low, most of this going - in advance - to the building firm which then went bust, the money itself being eaten up, not by the new construction, but by the new plaza by the market. Secondly, there was the collapse of part of the building last March, there having been a hiatus to allow further funding to be put in place. Thirdly, there is what we now have. Not quite finished but close to being so. A piece of Legoland in Alcúdia. The new Can Ramis looks as though one is invited to take it apart and re-do it in a different shape, just like Lego. What do you get if you take some large blocks of wood, attach a load of glass and put it all inside a great slab of concrete in one soulless oblong? The Lego Can Ramis. Maybe Lego is an official sponsor, and the town hall will sell naming rights. They should do in order to re-coup the budget overspend. It's not as if it's going to do all that it was intended to. Buses were meant to use it as a station. There was a change of idea, so I am told. Shame, the buses might have managed to knock it down.

No doubt some sap will come along at the official opening, whenever that is, and announce that it is "emblematic" or some such rot. Emblematic yes. Of a Danish toy company. It may well be that it falls to the new mayor to make an announcement. Another Miquel, always a Miquel. Once one Miquel, Ferrer, finally divests himself of the mayoral gown and slides his feet full-time under the tourism ministry desk, another is likely to be mayor: Miquel Llompart.

What will be going into the Lego Can Ramis will be the tourist office, a bus waiting-room and a café; this much we know. Getting on for one-and-half-million euros (the later budget, that is) to house something that already has a house, something that is useful but did not require such a lavish spend and something that is utterly unnecessary. Perhaps there will be more. Something a bit more emblematic. We will have to wait and see. Admittedly, though, the tourist office will be better sited in the new building, but it didn't need the expense that it has involved.

But more than anything, there is the architectural barrenness and pointlessness of the new building. Situated just outside the walls, it was not covered by the heritage law that protects Alcúdia. They could, therefore, do what they like, and so they have, thanks to Lego. There is not one iota of context to the building, a functional-only rectangular series of blockheaded building-blocks of an edifice with more than a hint of British 1960s town-centre architectural vandalism; all that's missing is the graffiti. Give them time.

Perhaps Ferrer has timed his run perfectly. He won't have to be the one pretending that this is any good when it comes to the opening ceremony. Unless they drag out the tourism minister.

Yesterday's title - Inspiral Carpets with Mark E. Smith, "I Want You",


Friday, December 11, 2009

No One Ever Said This Was Gonna Be Easy - Ferrer Is Tourism Minister

As mentioned yesterday, Miquel Ferrer is to be the new tourism minister. He replaces Miquel Nadal. Always a Miquel. Miquel, row the tourism boat ashore but not onto the rocks - with any luck. Hopefully, for the new Mick in town, the coalition won't indeed fall apart, as he may end up without a job; he is relinquishing the mayoral post in Alcúdia. President Antich believes that Ferrer is the right Mick for the job, as he has been mayor of one of the more important tourism centres in Mallorca. Perhaps. Whether that is a real qualification for the job might be open to some debate. And to what extent Ferrer has been behind tourism development in Alcúdia is also open to question.

What has been the record recently? The establishment of the combined sepia and boat fairs in spring? Yes, a good move, but it was inspired as much by traders in the port as by the town hall. The tourism day in September? Nice idea, but not hugely relevant to the tourism season as a whole. The upgrades to the beach? The WiFi zone has, except inside the hotels linked to it, not been a success and is not well-promoted. The chill-out zone came and went. The growth in all-inclusives? There is little the town hall can truly do to stop it, but it has been a feature of Ferrer's tenure. The pursuit of alternative tourism? The Nordic walking area in the north of the town, yes, but only something of minority interest. The Estación Náutica concept? Nothing really to do with Ferrer, as it was driven by the Spanish Government's Turespaña promotional body, and town hall contacts tell me that they don't know exactly what's happening with it.

Rather more positively, there have been the improvements to the area by the Vanity Golf hotel. There has been more aggressive marketing of Alcúdia, e.g. via a tourism website that does actually offer something, unlike Pollensa's, yet the tourist information offices are not as good as they might be and the department, as a whole, lacks resources and funding. Perhaps Ferrer's greatest achievement lies not so much with tourism but with the overall management of the town hall. Alcúdia is the only town hall in the northern area that works anything like properly, and it is in surplus, assuming one believes the figures, and the opposition of course don't.

There were others who might, on the face of it, have been more qualified for the post, such as Joan Sastre, the director-general of tourism promotion, but Ferrer's appointment is probably a political one as much as it is practical. His party, the Unió Mallorquina (UM), advanced his case, once the former-but-one minister, Buils, was rejected by Antich. Ferrer is something of a leading light in the UM. He was a challenger to Miquel Nadal when Nadal ascended to the UM throne in succession to mother Munar who made it quite clear that Nadal was her preferred choice. Look where that has got either of them - in court. That Ferrer has now taken over from Nadal at tourism might well give him cause for a touch of schadenfreude, but he's unlikely to express it. His greatest strength has arguably been the fact that he keeps his mouth shut. His discretion during the recent corruption crisis that has afflicted his party has stood him in good stead. This, in itself, may bode well in a senior governmental role where diplomacy within a coalition setting should be a virtue.

However, there are misgivings, not least whether Ferrer has the presence to be an effective tourism minister. He will be diligent, but will he be dynamic? It's a step-up for a local politician - and he is a native of Alcúdia - to the international business world of TUI, Thomas Cook, Air Berlin and glad-handing at trade fairs and other events. Ferrer does not cut the same dash as Nadal, a politician hewn from the more worldly political environment of Palma. Even he, Nadal, found it impossible to extract a greater budget for tourism. Will Ferrer be more assertive? Doubtful.

Nevertheless, one can but hope. It should be a source of some pride for "alcudiencs" that their mayor has been given the task of tourism minister, but he does of course face any number of challenges. In yesterday's "Bulletin", the editorial bemoans - yet again - the state of winter tourism, yet again calls for extended shop hours and offers such as food and wine tours and yet again calls for "imagination". The challenge of winter tourism, for Ferrer, is to try and convince many that they are barking up the wrong tree. Want food and wine tours? Ok, go and organise them, and see where it gets you. The dialogue I presented recently in respect of cultural tourism (27 November: The Coffee Culture Club) applies just as equally to this form of niche tourism. The greatest challenge is the bread and butter of summer. We wish him well. No one ever said this was going to be easy.

Yesterday's title - Eric Idle in Monty Python's "Church Police" ("There's a dead bishop on the landing ..."). Today's title - What was this? Mark E. Smith, The Fall, but with which band?


Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Fair Cop But Society's To Blame - Mallorca's Corruption

It's not quite to the day, but it is only a couple of days out. Last year (8 December: We're Only In It For The Money), the Balearics delegate represented in Madrid made a speech about the state of local politics. It's easiest if I repeat what I reported then:

Speaking about politicians in Mallorca and the Balearics, Ramón Socias said that: "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, there has been a failure of control mechanisms that has led to corruption, itself a fault of the system."

Nothing much seems to change or to improve. Socias has this year also criticised anti-corruption measures being considered by the regional president as not going far enough. These measures would involve legislation that would force a politician, embroiled in a corruption case, to resign. This seems fair enough. Credibility is strained by the stain of corruption, even if charges do not stick, though there is a slight unease with this: the hint of a presumption of guilt where no such guilt may ultimately be proven. Moreover, this measure does raise the possibility, only a possibility perhaps, of spurious charges being levelled for some political gain, something that does echo what the Unió Mallorquina (UM) is alleging - that the current spate of accusations made against its members is somehow a socialist plot. This allegation may seem far-fetched, but something similar could not be completely ruled out. Nevertheless, for the credibility of government, it is safest if a politician does resign: it shouldn't really need legislation to force the issue. Miquel Nadal's credibility had been stretched to the limit, having stayed in post for some eight months since he was initially implicated.

Electorate perception is also important, and for this reason, doing the honourable thing makes sense. A poll suggests that around a half the local population believes that the scandals will turn people off voting. There is, though, a lot of water to pass under bridges before the next regional elections due to take place in 2011, unless the coalition does indeed prove to be unworkable and an earlier election has to be called. A Facebook- inspired demonstration against political corruption is due to take place in Palma this weekend; so it is with the subversive but democratic will of an internet people. All power to their social network.

The latest potential pitfall facing the Antich administration surrounds the appointment of a replacement for the tourism minister Nadal. The UM has nominated his predecessor, Francesc Buils, the one who had to resign because he sacked people he wasn't entitled to. Antich has knocked this back, largely because it was Buils who was making those allegations of a socialist plot (Antich, remember, is from the socialist party). On the face of it, Buils' re-appointment would make sense, but he himself has made such a re-appointment nigh on impossible, which all goes to prove that it is probably best to maintain a dignified silence. And one who has been conspicuous by his absence in the media since the scandals erupted is Alcúdia's UM mayor, Miquel Ferrer. Much as he said nothing publicly after the train was dropped, so he has kept his powder dry regarding the corruption cases. Ferrer's name entered the frame as a potential successor to Nadal, the main problem with this being that it would involve time - he would have to stand down as mayor and ensure a smooth transition in Alcúdia. And time is short. The tourism post cannot be left vacant at such a crucial period for the industry. Yet Ferrer has indeed been named tourism minister.

A new tourism minister, the coalition holds together; moving pieces around the chess board until the next time. Socias is not wrong in anything that he has said either this or last year. But it is what he has not said which is most instructive, for he has spoken only of the political class and not of the culture and the society that gives rise to corruption. Mallorca is not unique when it comes to Spanish corruption, but the situation is exacerbated by the mores of an island, by the closeness of families and the complexity of politics that affords so many opportunities to those who might wish to exploit it for less than ethical purposes. Socias would be making a more telling contribution were he to address this cultural dimension, for it is this, more than the political system per se, that causes the cases of corruption arise.

Yesterday's title - Without Young, here are the others, including Graham Nash who wrote it, Today's title - which sketch does this come from and who spoke the words?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our House - Someone's Living In Our House

In Can Picafort there is an old house. It has been there for fifty years. It was one of the first "new ones" to be built, before the hotels came, along with the bars and even roads. It belongs to a family who can't agree what to do with it. No one has lived there for some twenty years. At least, that's what was thought.

The house has not been completely abandoned, just that it's not habitable - or so it was thought. There are no utilities, that's for certain; no electricity, no water. Someone had been given permission, for some reason, to store certain things in the garden. That was ... how long ago? Then someone else said, not so long ago, that there was a person living in the house. This someone is a little crazy, people say. He is, but he doesn't imagine things. He had spoken to this person, he had been inside the house, this house that belongs to his family, to this family who can't agree and mainly don't speak to each other. He, this someone who is a little crazy, had gone with the key, the key to the front door. It didn't work, he said. That's impossible, others thought. So these others went themselves, some time later. They had not been to the house for ... how long could it have been?

The key didn't work. He had been right. They looked around, tried to see inside, and then he appeared. Another he, a little crazy maybe. The alcohol on his breath could be smelt. Who are you? They asked of each other. We are the owners, some of them, they said. What are you doing here? I live here, he said. Live here!? That's not possible. Yes. For how long ...? Ah yes, he remembered. Six years it had been. Six years he had been living in this house. But how, they asked. He had been allowed to. By whom? By the man with the key, the one with the stuff in the house. The man with the key? Who is he? A man, the one who puts the stuff in the house.

They went inside. They could only just get in. There was furniture and junk everywhere. Piled as high as the ceiling. He lived upstairs. He didn't want to show them. They didn't really want to see. But there is no water, no electricity. It's ok, he said. I have friends where I can wash. And in the mornings I take a coffee and go to the toilet, and then again in the evenings. Where are you from? Not from here. He wasn't. He was from another country, from their country. He has been in Mallorca for how long? Fifteen, sixteen years perhaps. But in this house for six. He cannot go, go back, well not unless he gets some sort of papers. No passport, no anything. He is from nowhere now, except this house. He can work, yes, he does work, now and then, but only nearby. No car, no bike. The bike is no good when it rains, he says. Before, years ago. How long ago? Years ago, he worked elsewhere. In Alcúdia. That's impossible now.

Are you selling the house? No. We can't. No one can agree, not everyone speaks to each other. What do you want of me? Nothing. Not of you. It's ok. You can stay here. In this house. Ok. Then he remembered some more. The lady, he said, the lady who is one of the owners. Which lady? He couldn't really recall her, but she had been there with a man and she had this car, it was distinctive, yes he could remember the car well. But she never said anything to us. She knew you were living here? Yes.

They left, left behind the man in their house, the man who had lived there for six years. Did she ever tell you about the man in the house? Me? No, never. She spoke about the house quite often, but never said anything about someone living there, only that it was in a poor state now, only that none of you could agree as to what to do with it. Does it matter though? He lives there, he stops the house being taken over by kids having a party or something. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. Maybe. But, even so, how can someone live in that way? And how has our house come to be like this? When we think of how it was, our summer home from those years ago. How long ago?

Today's title - "Our House". Which one of the four wrote it?


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Some Don't Like It Hot - Bar Temperatures And Other Confusions

There are certain things I don't understand. I could do an entire blog with things I don't understand about Mallorca. But I'll stick with one - for the moment. What I don't understand is why certain stories seem to provoke such little attention. At least, I thought I didn't understand until I started to realise that there was a common thread - legislation. I've concluded that these stories provoke little attention because no one else understands them. We all go round and round in blind circles of non-apprehension.

There was the story about the change to what constituted the "evening", a bizarre matter on which to legislate in any case, but this is how politicians seem to want to justify their existences. The evening was between eight and twelve, and then it wasn't; an hour had been lost, as though the clocks had been permanently turned back and it was to ever more be 2am on the last Sunday morning of October. Except that the hour was lost in June, by decree, by a law from the environment ministry. Henceforth, bars would have to close their terraces and their doors and windows at eleven. Or that was what was being assumed and even put into practice, until the ministry said something to the contrary - possibly.

Then there was a story that was just buried in a small column of a paper. It had to do with "venta ambulante", street selling to you and me, a term that covers a multitude of practices and even some sins. It had to do with some European decree. Town halls would have to backtrack on measures they had taken against street selling. What did it mean? No one knew, and no one said anything about it for this very reason: they didn't know and they didn't understand.

And now we have the story about temperatures in bars and keeping doors closed. It is, like the change to evening, a potentially significant piece of legislation, but who's talking about it? Hardly anyone. No one's saying much about it, because no one much understands it. And that probably includes the town halls and even the politicians who have drafted the laws - all of them: evening time, impact on street selling, and temperatures.

The lack of understanding gives rise to the tyranny of interpretation, at some future date, by some zealous town hall or police operation. Maybe the interpretation is correct; maybe it isn't. Calvia town hall and its police thought they understood the evening ruling and went about telling bars that they had to put up the shutters at eleven. Then the ministry said that wasn't what they should be doing.

With the temperatures story, no one seems sure, even those few who might be talking about it or are aware of its existence and whether it is intended to apply in all cases. "The Diario", for one, seems to think it does. It sent its chaps off to check on temperatures and whether doors were permanently open in different establishments, including bars. They found most were warmer than the 21 degrees winter level that has been decreed, found that many had doors permanently open, which they would not be allowed to under the new law, one that is designed to make for more efficient energy use and to cut carbon emissions, one that the local environment ministry would be very keen on. What building registered 23.5 degrees do you suppose? What building, according to the reporter, was much too hot? The environment ministry's building. Outside this building, there is a sign informing people that, in rationalising energy consumption, temperatures should not exceed 21 degrees. Even the ministry doesn't seem to understand the new law. Or it probably does, but isn't actually doing anything about it. At the Tráfico building, the temperature was 23.9 degrees, and the doors were open. The reporters also found a café. The temperature was 20.9 degrees, but the doors were open - which would contravene the law: maybe.

Fair play to "The Diario". The paper is a rare example of the media locally trying to get to grips with the often ungrippable. It also, perhaps not consciously, aids our understanding a bit when it comes to this temperature law. It reports the government as saying that the law will also have the impact of stimulating a sector of the economy - that of businesses offering energy-control services. Ah yes, I wonder who might monitor all those contracts, especially those for government and other public-sector buildings.

You can add to all the above the law on smoking. Will it apply to terraces, to streets, to beaches, to what? No one knows, because no one understands, so no one much talks about it, until the smoking gestapo come along and start issuing fines. Like the temperature gestapo will probably also do. And remember, it's not just in winter that the temperatures will have to be regulated. It will be summer, too. 26 degrees and the doors closed. So the law on evening and closing the doors at eleven, were it in fact meant to mean this, would be irrelevant, because the doors will have to be closed, except when they are opened via an automatic door-opening system, in any event. Understood?


Monday, December 07, 2009

It's Leaving Home - World Cup In Mallorca

The World Cup draw has been made. We now know that from 12 June until 11 July, no one will be going on holiday, for that is the period during which England will play their first game and ultimately the final. If only.

I have never quite bought this argument that people don't go on holiday because of the World Cup; it's always seemed like a convenient excuse for those inclined to talk of bad times to be able to say that times are bad - all because of some football. True, there are some who prefer the comfort of their living-room sofa and the contents of their fridge and drinks cabinet to mucking in with fellow fans in a bar, but there are an awful lot who prefer the bar for football watching, wherever it is - back home or on holiday. With the hotels being even keener to keep the football watchers in the bars within their own several walls next summer, there will be nowhere in Mallorca where the football will not be available - and it will all be at convenient times; England's qualifiers will take place at 8.30 in the evening or four in the afternoon, Spanish time.

The bar is the football terrace writ small, and with no restrictions on alcohol. It is the place of group tribalism, where the irrational hatred of mostly all teams England encounter is given high volume and much voice by wearers of the latest replica kit and bearers of high-sized shorts: Germany, the war, losing penalty shoot-outs and differences of opinion of a sun-lounger nature; Argentina - Rattin, Galtieri, Maradona and Simeone; France - because of Henry and because they're French; Australia - because they normally beat England at any other sport; Portugal because they always beat England and Ronaldo is a cheating bastard; Ivory Coast because Drogba's a cheating bastard; Italy because they're all cheating bastards; even Spain now, because they are no longer the great cockers-up as England still are. In the first round, the USA will be despised because they've all got too much money and caused the banking crisis, the Algerians will be damned because they're Muslims, the Slovenians will be the object of derision because Slovenia is a small country that no one had heard of until a few years ago and everyone confuses with Slovakia, another small country no one had heard of until a few years ago. There's always some reason.

Then there's the opportunity for a bit of light-hearted violence. On holiday during the World Cup makes this all the more convenient with competing nations represented in-resort - Germans, Danes, Dutch, Italians, French, Swiss; doesn't really matter which, they're all foreign, after all. And there's the chance to parade in the streets and instruct the locals as to some choice but limited English vocabulary: F, C, W, take your pick, or even put them in combination. The chance, too, to drape flags of St. George from hotel balconies, flags identifying some small part of England, announced to passers-by - Runcorn, Peterborough, Dagenham.

And as for the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish (north and Republic), there is no excuse to stay at home, as there's nothing to watch anyway, except England hopefully being stuffed. So, they'll be heading for Mallorca, along with the England supporters about whom there will be alarm among the local authorities which will try and impose new restrictions on bars, which will issue warnings as to fans sleeping on beaches and causing general chaos. And they will, as usual, get it wrong because actually there never is that much chaos, if any. Despite all the foregoing, there never is much by the way of trouble, just football fans out for a good time, a few of the boys' bevvies, watching the footy in the sun. World Cup on holiday. They'll be flocking in - whatever some might say to the contrary. Oh, and if on 11 July, by some miracle ... .

Yesterday's title - Rick Astley, "Never Gonna Give You Up",


Sunday, December 06, 2009

We've Known Each Other For So Long

The coalition regional government of President Antich is to struggle on without changes to its composition and without an election. The make-up of the parties is for Antich and his fellow socialists to be content with, an election would have made little sense other than as a last resort if no accord could have been reached.

There are two issues at play, two issues which are tending to be confused. The editor of "The Bulletin", saying that coalition government doesn't work, cites the examples of the two tourism ministers who have lost their jobs over the past months as evidence of in-fighting. In Miquel Nadal's case, there was no in-fighting; he had to go because of the allegations made against him. The left-wing Bloc members of the coalition government may have said that they could not continue in coalition with Nadal's party - the Unió Mallorquina - but that is not in-fighting, that is the moral high ground. As it is, the Bloc has swallowed its morals and opted to stay in the coalition. Moreover, the previous tourism minister lost his job because he sacked, without authorisation, two aides who both happened to be members of his party. This was not in-fighting; he resigned because he had exceeded his ministerial responsibility. And while we're at, reporting is not always as it might be. It is being said that the tourism ministers have gone in the last 18 months; they haven't, Francesc Buils went at the end of September last year. But be this as it may.

The corruption allegations are a separate issue to that of how well or not coalition politics operates. The electoral system may not be all that it might be, but the electorate is not turned off by its inadequacy as much as it is by improper behaviour by officials it elects. The same might be said to apply in the UK where the expenses scandal, though not corruption, was evidence of a discredited political class. To somehow meld the current corruption in Mallorca with the nature of coalition politics and to form an argument against the political system based on such a melding is quite wrong. Indeed, coalition politics, because of the spread of power, might be said to act as more of buffer to corruption. That it does not, or has not, just proves the point; corruption and the political/electoral system are two distinct issues.

Dysfunctional politics in Mallorca, as is being played out at present because of the corruption cases, is a cultural issue, not a political one per se. What we are witnessing is the apparent pervasiveness of a system of favours and of nepotism, allied to personal greed and immorality. We are also witnessing what might be said to be a continuance of societal and cultural practice, admittedly within a political framework, that stretches back to the nineteenth century. The "cacique" system was corrupt, one based on favours, as was the Franco administration, during which the wealthy and powerful received any sort of favours, most notably non-payment of taxes, a factor that had also been evident under "caciquismo".

Coalition politics is not the automatic consequence of Mallorcan and Spanish politics. At national level, a majority government is the norm, albeit that some assistance is required from other parties. But it is the consequence of an attempt to institute a seemingly more democratic style of government. President Antich, in reaffirming the current coalition, says that anti-corruption measures are to be brought forward. We wait to see what these might be, but one begins to edge towards a conclusion that only some form of independent checks and balances can overcome underlying dishonesty. This might take the form of commissions, not from the island, that have to monitor contracts and other awards. The environment minister Grimalt, still in his post and denying any wrongdoing, may have inadvertently put his finger on the problem. He said the other day that "Mallorca is small and here we all know each other". He was saying this in the context of his own reputation, but one can interpret this differently. Because they all know each other, and have known each other for so long, and because the island is small, the conditions are perfect for favours and nepotism to flourish. It's all too cosy, too liable to allow impropriety to exist. The faults with Mallorcan politics lie not with coalition governments but with the island's culture and society.

Yesterday's title - Canned Heat, "Let's Work Together", Today's title - this come from ... great, great; no really, I mean it.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

United We Stand

We. Rather they. United they stand. The hotel associations of Alcúdia and Can Picafort have joined forces. Confronted with the worst low season ever, with even fewer hotels open than is normally the case - and there never have exactly been many - the combined might of the two associations, so they say, will act to pressure and lobby the two town halls (of Alcúdia and Santa Margalida) and other institutions in order to exert more influence. Among the things they are looking for are improved public transport and a re-development of Alcúdia's front line.

Fine. So, the two associations have got together. What's it really likely to achieve? Anyone's guess. And isn't there something missing? Such as another hotel association? The one for Playa de Muro that covers the area between Alcúdia and Can Picafort. Maybe no-one invited them. It seems a little odd that it should not be included.

One thing seems sure; the two associations are not about to somehow merge into one. They will continue with their own identities and pursue their own campaigns, based on differences that the two resorts have to offer. So, you then, again, have to ask, what will this achieve? Far better might be if they came out with some plan of their own - in combination - for stimulating off-season tourism (and they might also include high season while they are at it). Otherwise, one senses the creation of yet another talking-shop. Moreover, what precisely is this lobbying of the town halls? The respective associations can talk to their respective town halls, but there's no point in them talking to another town hall. Why should it listen? If there is to be some united front, then the town halls would need to band together themselves, and certainly drag in Muro as well.

Then there is this desire for a re-development of Alcúdia's front line. What has this got to do with Can Picafort - its hotels or its town hall? Were it the case that hotel groups representing both resorts were involved, then maybe one could sense some sort of cohesion. But one of the directors photographed at the gathering by "The Diario" is he of the only Sol Meliá hotel in either resort (a hotel, incidentally, that does not open in winter), so that theory would seem to fall by the board.

It doesn't, on the face of it, seem to amount to very much, other than as a way of publicising the poor state of northern zone off-season tourism. And we knew that already.

The resignation of Miquel Nadal does not help the more general tourism scene. Despite the occasional criticism of Nadal, he has actually enjoyed a good enough relationship with groups such as the Mallorcan hotel federation. Representatives of tourism associations have been quick to express their regret at Nadal's demise. Charges levelled at Nadal that he should have done more by way of spending promotional money are somewhat facile; he could only work with what he was allocated. But herein lies the rub. Tourism should be at the top of the local governmental list when it comes to priorities. President Antich, who had talked of a streamlining of government, should take the opportunity of Nadal's resignation to perform a restructuring, either taking on tourism responsibility directly or creating a beefed-up tourism post. "The Bulletin", noting that there have now been two minsterial departures in the tourism department in recent months, argues that someone from outside the government should be given charge of tourism. Unlikely to happen, and even if it were, if an appointment from business were to be made, it would probably come from a business sector with its own specific interests - like the hotels.

Nadal's position, as we know, had become untenable. It was interesting to learn in "The Bulletin", according to the Calvia councillor for tourism, that it had become "unattainable" (and this councillor is British by the way). Perhaps that's it, tourism is unattainable; Can Picafort and Alcúdia hoteliers, please note.

Yesterday's title - Sly And The Family Stone, Today's title - first line of what and who was it originally? The actual title could also apply.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Unió Mallorquina - It's A Family Affair

It just gets better. Or worse, if you happen to be one of those implicated in the Son Oms case. Not only is it getting better, it is dragging in some bizarre elements, like for example an heir to the Bulgarian throne. Didn't know there was one? No, nor did I. But there is. Kyril of Bulgaria, as he is known. And how, you may ask, does some prince or other from an all-but-defunct royal family get embroiled in what "El Mundo" is calling the biggest scandal of political corruption in the history of the Balearics (which in itself probably takes some doing)? Well, you have to realise to whom Kyril is married, albeit they have not long separated. The missus? Her name is Rosario, Rosario Nadal. Sounds familiar? Dead right. She is the cousin of Miquel Nadal, the now ex-tourism minister.

Though not directly related to the Son Oms case, the police are raking through all manner of stuff, one aspect being the purchase of a finca in Llucmajor, a purchase made by Kyril and Rosario, for which Miquel Nadal and his law firm acted. The investigators want to know why nearly 3 million euros were paid for land, the value of which had seemingly increased by around 700%. They are also keen to know about movements of money allegedly involving tax havens. Miquel Nadal's firm coined some 370 grand as a consequence of this purchase. The authorities are following different lines of enquiry, one is that the land was bought speculatively as it could have been subject to some development, another - and this is where it gets even stranger - is that the finca could have somehow been to the benefit of the Unió Mallorquina party in the construction of the golf course in Campos. I confess that I have got lost; I'm not entirely sure how this might all have benefited the UM, but the authorities clearly seemed to believe that it might have done, though now they are backtracking on this theory, given the distance between the finca and the golf course that was planned for Son Baco in neighbouring Campos. Kyril, for his part, is denying that there is anything wrong.

With all the flak flying around, it was inevitable - as I had suggested by saying his position had become untenable - that Nadal should have resigned, which he did yesterday. This might just be enough to hold the coalition regional government in place, though President Antich has announced that the current pact with the UM will be broken, meaning a likely teaming up with the Partido Popular, despite the fact that his party (the PSOE socialists) and the PP are poles apart politically. Another option, that of an election, is also being touted, not least by "The Bulletin". It could be necessary, certainly if a new coalition cannot be established, though I am unconvinced that it would solve anything because the problem runs much deeper.

This is an extraordinary situation. Even by Mallorcan standards, the scandal is potentially immense, and one has to be reminded that, in addition to the last president of the islands being under investigation for a different case, the Son Oms one involves the former leader of the council and two former leaders of the Unió Mallorquina as well as the current one. It doesn't get much worse (or better, if you prefer a bit of corrupt knockabout). Maria Munar, that former leader of the council, was always close to Nadal. He was very much her "boy" when it came to the party leadership succession. Political closeness is one thing, family ties another. Munar's husband has been mentioned, Nadal's wife's cousin has been mentioned, in addition to his own cousin. You begin to see a pattern emerging, one that appears to bring us, not irregularly, to scandals and specifically to the biggest scandal of the lot. It is deeply troubling.

Yesterday's title - Nadal means Christmas in Catalan, and as there have been suggestions as to, erm, unaccounted money, then there's your black - allegedly. Today's title - simple one for you today.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Black Christmas

The Son Oms case has led to calls for an election in the Balearics. The argument goes that, with two members of the government (Nadal and Grimalt) implicated, it - the government - cannot continue. A point to bear in mind, however, is that Nadal was already implicated and has indeed made an appearance before a judge. Does one more member of the same party and government necessitate an election, therefore?

An election might clear the air, for a while, but that air has a distinct stench to it. It is rancid, the smell of a rotten core. Who's next? Name a new government and who might be caught up in some future case, whether they are guilty of anything or not? At every political level in Mallorca, there is some misdeed - town halls, Council of Mallorca, government. The biggest shock of this latest case is that Maria Munar is again being cited, and she's not even a member of the government, just the speaker of the parliament. One other of those named, Vicens, was suspended some while ago from the UM party; he's implicated in another scandal as well.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the fact that no-one has been formally charged with anything, the fetid whiff that hangs over Mallorcan politics does probably demand some sort of public action. If that's to be an election, then so be it. The alternative is that those implicated should all resign, pending any investigation. One does wonder quite how credible Nadal is. Tourism minister, it is he who deals with the TUIs of this world. One can imagine what might go through their minds. "Isn't he the bloke who's ... ?"

The case has moved on, evidence seemingly growing against Munar and Flaquer, the current leader of the Unió Mallorquina. The police and the tax authority are investigating, as "The Diario" puts it, offences of misappropriation, trafficking of influence, bribery and fraud. The sums involved have risen as well; nearly five million euros are now being mentioned. The tax authority speaks of "possible connivance", and fingers in particular the tourism minister. He seems also to be wrapped up in some real-estate dealings which involve Munar's husband, and is said to have handled over 600,000 euros of "questionable origin". The environment minister, Grimalt, is, meantime, denying any involvement and protesting his innocence, while the UM leadership - stripped of its more prominent members - has come out by saying that the socialist-controlled government has pushed the prosecutors into trying to "finish off" the nationalist party. The main spokesperson for the UM at a press conference yesterday was Francesc Buils who had to be removed from the post of tourism minister and who was replaced by ... Miquel Nadal. Buils was not involved with a scandal; he sacked some staff that he wasn't meant to. Nadal has been minister for just over a year. At a time when tourism is a matter that needs a minister fully concentrating on the job, one has to ask whether he is capable of doing so. This said, his name has been in the scandal frame for some nine months or so, but his continuing in the post has now become pretty much untenable. He should resign.

Where's all this going to lead? If it leads where it might, there should be more than just an election. Far more. Even if it does not lead where it might, there needs to be a fundamental appraisal of the system of government, a fundamental appraisal of control systems and of checks and balances to try and put an end to these cases. There may even be some element of truth in what the UM is saying about the socialist government. It is a fact that the proliferation of regional parties, across Spain, does weaken the stronger main parties, the PSOE and the PP. Perhaps it is in their interests to see regional parties "finished off". But don't let them get self-righteous. Remember those corruption cases pending? The ones across Spain? Over 450 involve the two major parties.

A fundamental appraisal, yes. Because the system is rotten to the core. There again, let me not get too serious. It is all pretty daft, after all.

Yesterday's title - The Twelve Days of Christmas. Today's title - now, you've got to figure this out: think of one of those named above and what he may or may not have been up to, and how do you get to "black Christmas".


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Five Golden Rings

Well, well, well, what have we got here? 'Tis the season to be merry, 'tis the season for corruption allegations. Hard on the heels of the Matas affair (Matas the ex-president of the Balearics), comes another bombshell. Five leading members of the Unió Mallorquina nationalist party are facing accusations of having "diverted" hundreds of thousands of euros. The case, known as Caso Son Oms, relates to payments allegedly made to two media companies - those hundreds of thousands. More than just five golden rings for the infamous five.

And this five could hardly be more impressive in terms of their prominence in the UM. Heading the list is Maria Antònia Munar, matriarch of the party, its former leader, the former president of the Council of Mallorca and now the president (speaker) of the Balearics parliament. She has recently been hauled up before the beak to answer questions relating to another case. Following her are: the already implicated tourism minister and ex-leader of the party, Miquel Nadal; the current leader of the party, Miquel Flaquer; the former councillor for territory, Bartomeu Vicens and ... and Enviro Man, yes, Miquel Grimalt, the current environment minister in the Balearics government.

All those named held responsibilities in the previous Council administration, presided over by Sra. Munar. They are only accused, but stuff has a habit of sticking, while it doesn't look great if such prominent politicians are being cited. This was a point made by the current Balearics president when Sra. Munar had her previous day in court. She said that it was normal for someone in her position to be asked to give evidence when the case had happened on her patch, as it were. Which is probably fair enough, but Antich (the president) is also right to say that it looks bad. And unfortunately, it does look bad, regardless of whether there is any truth to the accusations or not.

The consistency with which these cases emerge leads one to the conclusion that virtually no project is unsullied. Someone said to me the other day that a number of projects are basically unjustified; there is no real need for them, except as a means of some money being "diverted". And who's doing the diverting?

Oh, and when I said the other day (20 November: Conde Nasty) that the UM, with seven cases of alleged corruption hanging over it, could do better, I was only joking. I hadn't expected that the party might actually be about to boost its rankings.

Yesterday's title - "My Fair Lady", Today's title - I assume you all know where this is from.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On The Street Where You Live

Courtesy of "The Diario", here's a strange little story, though it isn't all that strange for Mallorca. It concerns a street in Palma that used to be called Capitán Salom. That was its name until June of this year when it was changed to Alfons el Magnànim, who apparently was the king of Mallorca from 1396 to 1458 (an explanation that appears under the new street sign). That sign has been defaced and the old name has been written in above the new one.

The change in name has to do with the law on historic memory, the one that is concerned with eliminating references to and symbols of the Franco era. Capitán Salom was, presumably, associated with Franco. Palma town hall had identified a number of streets that needed a name change, in accordance with this law.

One day in June, along came the town hall workers and put up a new sign, that of Alfons. It was then that things started to get interesting. The residents say that they were not notified as to the change, though the town hall and the post office say otherwise. But since June, there have been problems with post, letters being returned no known address (for Capitán Salom), cheques for payments being returned, and so on. The paper spoke to a number of businesses, and they all say the same thing - that they had not been told of the name change and that they were all suffering because of non-receipt of mail. Moreover, if one googles these two street names, it is the captain's that comes up, meaning all that information is out of date. So who's right? The businesses and residents of the street or the town hall and the post office?

The answer is probably that neither is right and neither is wrong. The greater issue lies with the law itself. It is one thing for the government to wish to eradicate Francoist symbols, quite another when it is likely to cause practical problems, and the Capitán Salom case would appear to be one such practical problem. Perhaps the Captain was a well-known Franco thug. Then, well, one could understand the name change. But if he was just any other Franco follower, does it really matter? How many people might know who he was, in any event? It's a street name, not a statue to the glorious nationalist revolution and the repression of republicans and others.

But they do this sort of thing - changing street names - even when there is no law on historic memory to influence the change; it's just done, as has been the case in Can Picafort - a street name disappears to be replaced by one of a street a couple of streets down, which in turn is replaced by another one. Or that is how it seems, because street maps don't keep up with the changes and were wrong in the first place. Even the one being issued by Can Picafort tourist office was out of date for a year or so. And how well town hall and post office communicate is anyone's guess.

The postal service can be somewhat haphazard, but it's not altogether surprising. Post codes are subject to change (which occurred when parts of Alcúdia were re-coded), while not everyone knows what their code is. It should be very simple. Unlike the complicated post-code system of the UK, in Mallorca there is a five-digit code per town or per area of a town. It should be simple, but isn't, because of a lack of clarity and communication. There's an example. Playa de Muro's post code is? Well, maybe it's the same as for Muro town, maybe it has its own, or maybe it's the same as for Can Picafort because the local post office for Playa de Muro, though it is in Playa de Muro, actually falls under Can Picafort.

Confusion reigns, post doesn't always get delivered, and then, on top of everything else, they go and change the street names. Fortunately, not everywhere has a Capitán Salom or even an Alfons el Magnànim.

Yesterday's title - "Night Boat To Cairo", Madness, Today's title - from which musical does this come?


Monday, November 30, 2009

On The Banks Of The River Nile

The Balearics may still be the leader when it comes to Mediterranean holidays, but this position is under threat. Tell us something we didn't know, and "The Diario" did just that yesterday, but it set out quite why this threat exists.

Turkey, Egypt, Croatia - these are the three countries that most exercise the minds of Balearics tourism authorities, or they should be. The competition they represent is now well-understood, but it is still a relatively recent phenomenon. Yet, this very recency has been one of the things that have caught the Balearics on the hop. The catch-up that has been played in these countries has been swift. In the case of Croatia, it has occurred in a short period since the turmoil that was the former Yugoslavia. I went on holiday to Croatia in 1984. I say "Croatia". You didn't refer to it as such back then; it was still Yugoslavia, and it was crap. We stayed on a holiday complex which had some what could only be described as "communist" elements: a vast refectory that served inedible food and a so-called entertainment building which didn't have any - entertainment that is, except for morose local youths looking to pick fights. The beach did not exist. One stretched out on what was like a car park, a series of huge concrete slabs from which one walked down steps into the sea. It was popular with Germans who could drive there, and there were even holidaymakers from the old communist bloc - Hungarians most obviously. The complex was soulless, what there was by way of bars, restaurants and shops was of a poor standard. The best thing about it was that you could buy reasonably good fresh food and have your own barbecues, because you certainly didn't want to be dining out. Oh, and it was incredibly cheap.

But that was 25 years ago. The war intervened, and then Croatia undertook its tourism birth, while Turkey and Egypt began to plan more aggressively for the future.

Though both Turkey and Egypt have experienced slight falls in the number of tourists this year, the decline has not been as great as that in the Balearics. The islands still hold their dominant position, but they are in retreat, faced with the competition of the eastern Med. This competition is founded on new and often superior hotel stock and cheapness. There is also a bit of unfair competitive advantage. Governments can subsidise an industry in a way that the Spanish cannot, unless they wish to bring down the wrath of Brussels on their heads. These governments can also influence exchange rates - to their benefit - in ways that Euroland Spain cannot.

"The Diario" itemises the pros and cons of the Balearics and of its competitors. The paper admits that the so-called "complementary offer" (i.e. bars and restaurants etc.) is costly, but it is also vastly superior to that available in the competitor destinations. However, it is the hotel element that speaks volumes. The current-day holidaymaker seems less interested in that complementary offer. Egypt and Turkey may suffer from inferior infrastructures, but what do these matter when the holidaymaker can stay in relative luxury on an all-inclusive basis? Outside bars and restaurants hold less appeal for a growing number of tourists, and so it also is in Mallorca where the all-inclusive offer has had to increase in response to what is happening elsewhere but where the hotels are not always as good.

There are cons in Egypt and Turkey in terms of, for example, terrorism, but this is a more questionable card to play following the summer bombs in Mallorca. There are cons in terms of low-quality bars and restaurants, but this is a questionable card to play if the holidaymaker isn't interested. There are cons in terms of limited travel possibilities, which constitute one definite pro for Mallorca which is better served by air and sea and which is also closer for northern Europeans. There are pros in terms of government intervention; the Turkish government supported financially an 18% shareholding in Air Berlin by the Turkish airline Pegasus, thus, at a stroke, opening up a wider German market to the Turkish Riviera. There are pros in terms of governmental priority; tourism is the industry in the eastern Med and responsibilities of those at the heads of government reflect this. I suggested a while ago that the Balearics president should also be the tourism minister. Maybe I was right to have done so.

In Mallorca and the Balearics, they continue to bang on about the strength of the brand (Balearics, erroneously), about professionalism, about sustainable environments, blah, blah, but much of it is whistling in the dark. It will continue to be so not only because of the growing competition but also - a point "The Diario" neglects to make - because there are too many competing self-interests in Mallorca, be these in government, within associations or in the tourism sector. The eastern Med countries are far more single-minded, far more focused on an overarching strategy led by government. They, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Croats, have adopted coherent and intelligent strategies of competition, and it is these, more than anything, that they have used to challenge Mallorca and the Balearics, because similar strategies, if they really exist, are obscured from view.

Yesterday's title - Larry Grayson. If you must - Today's title - at the risk of the blog becoming a tribute to Camden's finest, it's them again.


Index for November 2009

Albufereta - 9 November 2009
All-inclusives - 7 November 2009, 16 November 2009
Artà and Manacor rural tourism - 19 November 2009
Being Mallorcan - 24 November 2009
Blogs - 1 November 2009
Cabrera, filming on - 9 November 2009
Café Playero Club demolished - 22 November 2009
Can Picafort in winter - 26 November 2009
Catalonia football team - 3 November 2009
Christmas decorations and illuminations - 28 November 2009
Christopher Columbus - 4 November 2009
Competition from Croatia, Egypt and Turkey - 30 November 2009
Corruption in Spain, political - 20 November 2009
Cultural tourism - 27 November 2009
East German tourists in 1990 - 2 November 2009
English speaking in the Balearics - 14 November 2009
Environment minister - 5 November 2009, 9 November 2009, 21 November 2009
ESRA mediaeval fayre - 23 November 2009
Expats Alcúdia v. Pollensa - 23 November 2009
Expats criminals and drunks? - 10 November 2009
Expats victims of fraud - 16 November 2009, 17 November 2009
Golf course policy - 12 November 2009
Holidays abroad - 5 November 2009
Jaume Matas corruption case - 13 November 2009, 14 November 2009
John Hirst, Gilher Inc - 16 November 2009, 17 November 2009, 24 November 2009
Jolly Roger car boot sale - 23 November 2009
Menorca suspends tourism promotion - 19 November 2009
Mobile phone registration - 10 November 2009
Muro and Muro church - 25 November 2009
Nautical tourism: Club de Producto náutico - 21 November 2009
November in Mallorca - 7 November 2009
Pollensa Fair 2009 - 15 November 2009
Puerto Pollensa: improvement to frontline - 20 November 2009
Puerto Pollensa to Pollensa pavement - 21 November 2009
Real Mallorca - 12 November 2009, 14 November 2009, 18 November 2009, 22 November 2009
Sant Sebastià fiesta, Palma - 14 November 2009, 18 November 2009
Television, Mallorca and - 4 November 2009
Temperatures in bars, Spanish Government's law on - 29 November 2009
Tourism economics - 16 November 2009
Tourism promotion - 8 November 2009, 11 November 2009, 19 November 2009, 21 November 2009
TUI prices - 7 November 2009
Valencia demonstration against corruption - 3 November 2009