Friday, July 31, 2009

One Man's Freedom Fighter ...

And so ETA has brought its bombs to the tourist areas of Mallorca. It is not the first time that ETA has committed an outrage on the island; the bomb yesterday in Palmanova coincided with the eighteenth anniversary of two car bombings in Palma. It is also fifty years since ETA was formed, a fact that was "celebrated" by the bomb in Burgos. Some celebration.

Two Guardia Civil officers lost their lives in Palmanova; the bomb appears to have been placed under their Nissan Patrol vehicle. The Guardia acted swifty; hotels were closed, residents told not to leave their homes, the airport put on the highest level of security, closing it for a time, and helicopter and coastal patrols put into full action. While the outrage was a direct attack on the forces of law - as was the case also in Burgos - it was also in a tourist area. That is not a normal modus operandi for ETA; or it had previously had not been.

One supposes that this will all lead some to question whether it is safe to come on holiday. It might be understandable, but it would not make sense. There is no suggestion at all that tourists are targets; indeed the very notion is both extremely remote and extremely unlikely. ETA has a beef with the Spanish state, and the Guardia Civil is a personification of the state as well as being ETA's "enemy". The Guardia and the National Police are highly skilled anti-terrorist bodies. Alongside their British police counterparts, they rank as the most adept anti-terrorist forces in Europe; they, like the British security forces, have had a lot of practice.

The national president, Zapatero, sought to engage ETA. A ceasefire was formed, but ETA broke it, probably because it had regrouped, having used the ceasefire for that purpose. Why does ETA persist? It's the same question that was asked of the IRA, yet the Irish question had been posed for very much longer than the Basque one. The ETA cause is, for some, not totally dishonourable, but it is infused with a deluded romanticism - the terrorist as martyr in support of a mystical homeland - one combined with psychopathic criminality and without mass support. It is anachronistic within the context of a contemporary Spain, kicking at invisible proscription; invisible because none exists. It is a potent cause for idealists, for fanatics, but it is also totally and utterly futile.

Alcúdia train
Meanwhile, the Alcúdia train saga drags on and on. It is, or appears to be as much as anything a stand-off between two political sides - the Unió Mallorquina, of which Alcúdia's mayor is a member and the so-called Bloc of which the transport minister is a member. The UM wants the southern route, the one to terminate in Puerto Alcúdia, and the Bloc wants the northern route into the town.

The Partido Popular is getting in on the act, probably rightly so as it is expressing concern that the failure to arrive at an agreement could mean that the funds which have been promised might be made unavailable. In other words, those in central government could get hacked off and kill off the whole project, which would be very unsatisfactory to say the least. The PP is also talking of an amendment to the recent Decreto Grimalt in respect of environmental protection aspects that might currently prevent the northern route.

Three days of mourning have been announced by the president of the Balearic Government, Francesc Antich.

Everything at the points of entry and exit is more or less normal again. The airport was closed for only two hours, pressure being applied by tourism sources to get things back to normal as soon as possible. Alcúdia port was closed for a time, as were main roads in and out of the town with vehicles being subject to police checks.

There is concern for the impact on tourism, but it is being pointed out that other destinations - Egypt and Turkey - have suffered terrorist acts and not experienced any great harm to tourism. Indeed the attack in Mallorca is far less obviously aimed at tourism than those in these other countries.

The British Foreign Office has raised its advice in respect of travel to Spain to high risk, which seems like an over-reaction. Yes there may be a risk of a further attack, but once again one stresses that tourists are not in the firing-line.

A second bomb was discovered under another Guardia vehicle. It was detonated using a controlled explosion.

UPDATE (14:00, 31.07)
Six suspects named. Photos on

UPDATE (18:30, 31.07)
The delegate for the Balearics to the central government has said that he believes that the bomber or bombers are still on the island. The interior ministry has not confirmed this.

UPDATE (21:00, 31.07)
"Rings of steel" imposed by the Guardia at the airport and ports, including Alcúdia, to check all movement of vehicles. Checks on ID etc. Demonstration involving 6000 people in Palmanova against the terrorists.

UPDATE (23:15, 31.07)
Studies of the second bomb suggest that it, like the killing bomb, was a "limpet", i.e. magnetically attached. A conclusion is that this would have given the bombers ample chance to get away from the scene.

Yesterday's title - Godspell, Today's title - "is another's terrorist"; one of the greatest songs by a group more commonly known for a more extreme rock style.


Index for July 2009

ABC1 socioeconomic groups - 15 July 2009
Alcúdia town hall history - 16 July 2009
Alcúdia's population - 9 July 2009
All-inclusives - 15 July 2009
Beata 2009 - 21 July 2009
Bellevue, tour operators pull out of - 28 July 2009
Bingo - 14 July 2009
Boat taxation - 10 July 2009
Bony - 28 July 2009
Botellón - 26 July 2009
Building laws - 5 July 2009, 8 July 2009
Can Picafort frontline upgrade - 17 July 2009
Christians and Moors, Pollensa 2009 - 20 July 2009, 23 July 2009
Don Pedro Hotel, Cala San Vicente - 24 July 2009
ESRA - 11 July 2009
ETA - 31 July 2009
Fiestas - 3 July 2009, 4 July 2009, 14 July 2009, 16 July 2009, 20 July 2009, 21 July 2009, 23 July 2009, 25 July 2009, 26 July 2009
Heatwave - 24 July 2009
Hotel low occupancy - 12 July 2009
Joan March - 19 July 2009
Ley de Costas - 5 July 2009, 8 July 2009
Mallorca expensive? - 7 July 2009, 27 July 2009, 29 July 2009
Mallorcan society - 3 July 2009, 9 July 2009, 21 July 2009, 26 July 2009
Miss Baleares - 29 July 2009
Monarch's beach in Birmingham - 25 July 2009
Muro's new mayor - 6 July 2009
Musicals - 10 July 2009
Palmanova bombing - 31 July 2009
Patrona 2009 - 20 July 2009, 23 July 2009
Playa de Muro hoteliers - 8 July 2009
Polish tourists, trouble caused by - 24 July 2009
Pollensa town hall contracts - 30 July 2009
Pollensa town hall finances - 18 July 2009, 25 July 2009
Puerto Alcúdia's commercial port - 10 July 2009, 11 July 2009
Puerto Pollensa military base Civil War memorial - 2 July 2009
Puerto Pollensa not like it was - 1 July 2009
Puerto Pollensa old school - 28 July 2009
Pumpkins - 19 July 2009
Rain - 11 July 2009
Road accidents - 14 July 2009
Road names, Franco associations - 19 July 2009
Sa Pobla-Alcúdia train - 31 July 2009
Salt lands, Puerto Alcúdia - 5 July 2009
Sant Jaume fiesta, Alcúdia - 16 July 2009, 26 July 2009
Son Bosc golf development - 17 July 2009
Souvenir shops - 27 July 2009
Swine flu - 16 July 2009, 22 July 2009
To Holiday holiday club - 18 July 2009
Tourism economy - 12 July 2009
Tourism promotion - 25 July 2009
Tourism spend - 30 July 2009
Unió Mallorquina - 13 July 2009
Youth drinking - 26 July 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day By Day

One of those what-are-we-supposed-to-make-of-these statistical moments, courtesy of the Balearics part of the "El Mundo" website. Tourism spend in the Balearics during June was down four per cent on last June; it equated to 993 euros per person. In the whole of Spain, the two most prominent tourism groups - the British and the Germans - spent on average 773 euros and 974 euros respectively; quite a difference. But as ever with these figures, the reaction is something of a so what. At least these figures do not inspire an incredulous reaction, as they were doing last summer when they seemed to be increasing. If those were genuine, then a 4% slump in the context of the current economic situation doesn't sound too bad. The trouble with any of them, however, is making sense of what they mean, how they are compiled, what differences there may be between different resorts and so on. Recently, some friends staying in Puerto Alcúdia told me that a daily spend of 100 euros per person was about par for the course. Setting aside costs of accommodation and travel, which one assumes are never included in these spend calculations, 100 per day is probably about right if one spends fairly liberally. At a more basic level of subsistence for food and drink on a daily basis, assuming one meal out at an inexpensive restaurant and a fair amount of alcohol, I would offer you the following:

From a main supermarket: bread (freshly-baked) 50 cents, fruit and vegetables 1.50 euros, ham and cheese 1 euro, drinks (2 litres of water, 1 litre of cola, juice, 1 litre of beer, 1 bottle of wine) 10 euros, milk, cereals, margarine and eggs 1.50 euros.
Meal out with a glass of wine and water - main course and sweet 15 euros, two coffees out 3 euros, four large beers out 12 euros. Total: 44.50 euros.

There are many ways to skin the food and drink cat, but the above might not be unrepresentative.

Elsewhere, i.e. "The Diario", there is a feature that points to the "alarm" among some hoteliers as to the lack of spend within the hotels themselves. It does support much of what is being said, and makes one rather question the official spend figures. These hoteliers talk of guests buying from supermarkets and making up their lunch snacks in their rooms (and why, pray, shouldn't they?) or of helping themselves to excessive amounts from the morning buffets for later consumption (hardly a new phenomenon, one would have said). Perhaps more scandalous are those tourists staying all-inclusive who get drinks and then go and sell them on the beach. Nothing like a bit of entrepreneurship, but it is decidedly naughty. Then there is what the tourists have actually spent on their accommodation, very low in some instances with rooms packed with four or five people. And it hacks some hoteliers off that some guests forget that they have paid very little and yet demand a level of quality way beyond that for which they have forked out.

All this and August yet to come, a month of high season but one traditionally that results in a lower relative spend because of the generally higher costs of the original holiday. Overall, it doesn't sound very clever, does it. And finally, from the Holiday Truths site, one contributor - all-inclusive - says that he spent, get this, 20 euros during his week's stay. Twenty of your whole euros, everybody. Or 2.01% of that tourism spend figure. Go figure.

Without contracts?
And here we go again ... The Alternative in Pollensa is to press for the creation of a commission to study what he believes to be a state of chaos at the town hall. This stems, says "The Diario", from the fact that some half a million euros worth of services provided to the town hall is not actually contracted, or so says Pepe Garcia, who is having this all checked out by his lawyer apparently. He argues that those firms without contracts have not submitted the correct documentation or bona fides; they include, for example, the company that maintains lighting in the port. The mayor naturally begs to differ, saying that there may be some instances of not all work being covered by contracts, but that all is overseen and supervised by council technical staff.

Yesterday's title - Phil Collins. Today's title - where did this come from?


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Face Value

Well true to form there was indeed a mention in "The Bulletin" of price controls. This followed the letter it published at the weekend, the one about which I commented a couple of days ago. This notion of price control does raise its rather pointless head every now and then. It is pointless as, in the context of bars and restaurants, there is only so little that could realistically be controlled - coffee, some beers, the price of the menu of the day (and at one time I think this was indeed controlled). But you cannot control or cap the rest. How on earth could you? Price is a facet of a business's marketing mix, it is determined by factors such as cost and the market, of ingredients, style of menu, number and type of personnel; a statist price-fixing mechanism would not only be impossible to apply, it would fly in the face of a free (or relatively free) market. I wonder how many who might argue the case for price controls are in fact Thatcherite market liberals. The whole notion is preposterous.

Rather more importantly, one does have to go behind these statements of everything's so expensive. They are ones made largely as a consequence of perception as much as of reality. They are also ones made, in many instances, based on a lack of appreciation of prices and how they vary from establishment to establishment. To simply accept the words of one or more letter-writers as some sort of gospel of Mallorcan expensiveness, to take them at their face value is to be incurious or unquestioning. Ok, there is much that is expensive in Mallorca; land and property for starters. But it is not the whole story.

Want cheap? Well try the small Spanish bars and cafés then. Even in the square in Puerto Pollensa, there is the variance between Cultural and Bony. They are totally different, and one is less expensive than the other - so be it. There are the menus of the day. Want cheap? La Cantina in Puerto Alcúdia, four euros for a menu take-away. Then there are the food stores. Want cheap? Try a litre of Aurum beer for 59 centimos from Eroski, rather than Becks from a tourist outlet. Or other types of store. Want cheap suntan lotion? Try the Müller store. On offer at a euro a bottle have been CadeaVera sprays at different factors.

It occurs to me that I could list a whole load of bars, restaurants, shops and the rest and give a guide to doing the area on the cheap. It wouldn't be difficult, but to do so would probably run the risk of hacking off those who charge more. The fact is that things are as expensive as people want to make them and to perceive them to be. And even were there to be such a list, it might strike some as being expensive. It all comes down to individual circumstances and perceptions.

Miss Baleares
On 21 July (Childhood Dreams - Part 2), I referred to the election of the Beata at this year's Santa Margalida fiestas, alluding to the non-beauty contest nature of the election. Little did I appreciate that the Miss Baleares contest was due to take place, and did so this past Saturday. One Verónica Hernández has been crowned Balearic totty of the year. But I shouldn't be so non-PC. Señorita Hernández is studying journalism and "audiovisual communication". She says, in an interview with "The Diario", that being a "miss" and being a model are two distinct things; she is the former, a more real woman, in her words. Anyway, there may be some among you interested to know that Verónica does not have a boyfriend. In which case ... here she is:

Yesterday's title - Paula Abdul, Today's title - album by?


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Opposites Attract

Been wondering what is to be made of the now closed school in Puerto Pollensa's market square (aka church square, aka Plaça Miquel Capllonch)? Well, one element would seem to be a future enhancement of health centre facilities. The central government has approved financing to the tune of 300,000 euros towards the re-development of the actual building. As to what was the old playground, it remains to be seen. There was that talk of an ice-rink, but whether the town hall has the moolah to provide for such frippery is debatable, given the parlous state of the town hall finances. As to its being a bus station - forget it.

And opposite - in different ways - across the square yesterday was José in full "more publicity, more publicity" mode, as in things he can put up in the form of posters. I wonder what he actually does with the CDs he's given, as he was wanting another made up of the various things for which, for my sins, I have been responsible, such as the legs, trousers and clothes-pegs shot and the "olé", sweets-bowl photo. Anyway, Bony is back as though it had never been away - "don't cry". You can't keep a good man down.

Bellevue and the tour operators
It took a couple of weeks, but I have received confirmation from the First Choice press office that it is no longer operating at Puerto Alcúdia's Bellevue. There may be something in this week's "Talk Of The North" about this, which says that a response had not been received. Ah yea, lead times and all that. Anyway, now it has, and it says: "First Choice and Thomson constantly review all the hotels to which we operate to make sure that they meet the high standards we expect for our customers. We can confirm that we no longer operate to the Hotetur Bellevue as it no longer adheres to our selection process".

Well there you go. The statement does not mention anything specific, so it would be wrong to suggest anything specific, but it might be possible to hazard a guess, one I shall leave you to make.

Yesterday's title - OMD, Today's title - or maybe they don't, who is she?


Monday, July 27, 2009


Never accuse "The Bulletin" of a lack of hyperbole. It headlines a letter "the demise of the tourist industry". And this is? Oh no, spare me. Someone change the record. Or rather, don't, as to do so would deprive me of some blog inches. Yep, you've probably guessed it; everything's so expensive, tourists being ripped off, locals having a laugh, blah, blah.

Let's put the euro-pound thing to one side, shall we. The crisis has created a mindset that has made tourists - and not just tourists - pay far greater attention to prices than was the case. Therefore, things seem more expensive because people are more conscious of what they're spending. In real terms, prices for many items are generally no higher than they were say five years ago, but costs have contributed to increases, inevitably so. Certain things are undeniably more expensive. Car hire for one. And the letter refers to this being "extortionate". Unfortunately, the writer is probably unaware of the supply and demand in the car hire business this season; the agencies could not get hold of the bank finance so had to reduce their fleets. It's not having a laugh, it's very basic economics and very basic doing business.

And doing business is what some tourists seem to resent. There is an enduring belief that Mallorca and Spain should still be some tin-pot economy on the edges of the civilised economic world. It once was, and it was once also very cheap. Not now though. Not cheap to buy products or services, and not cheap to run businesses either. But when the letter-writer refers to eating out for a "reasonable sum", what is reasonable? Are the two large pieces of cod with chips and a salad at the Pins i Mates tourist restaurant in Alcúdia Pins unreasonably priced at 5.75 euros? I don't think so. It all depends where you go and what you have.

Elsewhere we learn that souvenir shops are having a particularly thin time. Well, nothing new there. Last year it was being reported that sales were down by around 60% in some cases. That didn't stop the souvenir shops opening up again. If there was going to be one sector that suffered particularly spectacularly this year, it was going to be the souvenir shops and other stores, such as perfumeries. All that buying gifts for friends and family has been kicked into touch. I never quite understood it anyway. But it's all part of the same greater awareness of what is being spent and therefore what it all costs. A hideous piece of kitchen ceramic may have seemed a reasonable thing to have bought before, but now the price tag, and the fact that it is hideous, has made the tourist think twice before pulling out some folding euros.

But to come back to that letter, the writer was saying all this based on a holiday in Puerto Pollensa. Poor old PP. If it's not the wicked uncles of Dakota or the leg-overing, sweet-dispensing José, it's the fact that the resort is too expensive. As a conclusion, the letter says that officials "need to act now and cap prices". Cap which prices, which products or services? And at what level? The suggestion is nuts, but it probably won't prevent an editorial in the paper reiterating a previous call for price controls.

Yesterday's title - The Dubliners, Today's title - from the '80s, who did this and a completely pointless video that went with it?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Seven Drunken Nights

There has been a thread over on Holiday Truths concerned with the legal age of drinking alcohol and specifically the suggestion that Mallorca does not have a problem of a British nature with alcohol among the young, over or under-age. It's all a cultural difference, goes the argument.

It's true that there is a cultural difference, it is also true that the Mallorcan young are not in the same league as their British counterparts when it comes to causing trouble or getting drunk, but it is a complete fallacy to suggest that a problem does not exist. In Palma the authorities are now starting a campaign of communicating with parents over the specific issue of the botellón - the street drinking party - that is the most obvious manifestation of youth drinking, and a growing social problem not only in Palma but in many towns across the island. These parties, usually on a Friday or Saturday night, involve cheap booze being brought to or sold at locations in different towns from where the youth will often go on to nightspots, having got tanked up on drink that would otherwise cost vastly more in clubs. In the case of some, those under 18, they wouldn't, or shouldn't be allowed into these venues anyway.

While the main consequences of the botellón are noise and mess, they have also contributed to occasionally serious incidents. The death of Gabriel Marquet in Alcúdia was partially attributed to the botellón by the Magic roundabout, while the authorities in Manacor moved swiftly to outlaw street drinking following an attack on a local citizen - again attributable to a botellón. The delegate for the Balearics to the central government, Ramón Socias, was moved to say that those who could not control themselves when with drink should not drink. It was a pretty pointless statement, but the fact that he was referring to self-control and drink at all gives the lie to the mythical notion of Mallorcan youth all being well-behaved and having been brought up to treat alcohol with respect.

Someone on that thread made the point that at fiestas, and especially the dance parties during fiestas, there is no trouble. It's a fair point, but it is not to say that there are never incidents. There is the further issue of drugs, one that affects the whole of the island. A parent in Puerto Pollensa once expressed to me her worries for her son as he entered his teens where the availability of drugs was concerned. The taking of drugs is as much of a problem in the small towns of Mallorca as it is in Palma.

One needs to be careful and not overstate the problem, but there is a lingering perception among those who merely come to Mallorca for holidays that the island -its people and its youth - exists in some idyllic other world where social problems of other countries do not manifest themselves; that the youth sit around a café table and discuss music or art over a coffee and then go quietly home. It simply isn't true. One doesn't like to have to shatter people's illusions, but many, including some expats residing on the island, have a misguided impression as to life in Mallorca. It is not the social paradise they would like to believe that it is.

The last supper?
On a lighter note, the Sant Jaume fiesta in Alcúdia, that came to its firework-blazing conclusion last night, recorded record numbers attending the open-air supper that is an annual feature during the fiesta week. For two and a half euros, more than 3,000 people were able to tuck into different pa amb olis, a dessert, some wine and water. Not a bad price. Perhaps it was so popular because it was so cheap. A sign of the times maybe. The supper was also, however, a potential demonstration of popular rejection of authority. An aspect of the supper is that there is a grand bingo. The interior ministry, as mentioned here previously, has sought to ban these open-air bingos on the grounds that they are illegal. It's daft. Could this have been the last supper and bingo? But the size of the prizes on offer is maybe also indicative of the current times. Like the cheapness of the meal, so the incentive of a not insignificant cash payout is possibly a way of registering a record turn-out.

Yesterday's title - Wham, "Club Tropicana", Today's title - could be more, could be fewer - who?


Saturday, July 25, 2009

All That's Missing Is The Sea

If you can't actually get to Mallorca, then what's the next best thing? Flicking through the pages of a brochure or surfing websites and imagining you were there? Or how about going to a pretend Mallorcan cove in the middle of an English city? If you live in Birmingham you could have done just that. Monarch had created an artificial beach replete with sun umbrellas in Chamberlain Square in the city centre. Visitors, says "The Diario", could listen to music such as flamenco, and there is a supporting website -

Of course when the skies are grey and it's chucking it down, it does all rather lose its impact, but this is not such a bad idea - the fake cove that is. The Mallorcan tourist authorities put on a Mallorca show in Manchester some weeks ago. How effective that was in attracting business, we will probably never know, but it was a worthy attempt. The Birmingham beach is an example of businesses doing it for themselves. But don't get carried away with thinking that Monarch is only trying to drum up business for Mallorca - they're now doing something similar for Turkey.

And I would be deserting my duty if I did not of course discover something rather odd for you. It comes from that Monarch website. Go to the bit for Mallorca (Majorca) and you will find that is says, inter alia, that "one of the most famous beaches on the island is in Alcúdia (Playa de Palma)". Eh? Well, Monarch is only, through its tie-up with Cosmos and the Co-op, the third biggest tour operator in the UK. You don't expect them to get things right.

Pollensa - six hundred grand light
Further to the note on Pollensa town hall being in debt and seeking bank credit (18 July: Sick And Tired), the administration has, it would appear, been able to secure 400 grand, less than half the amount that it needs. Cue, as always, the usual suspects among the opposition to voice criticism. The head of the PP does "not wish to participate" in what he considers to be "a farce" (the seeking of this credit), given - as he claims - the town hall is sitting on 3 million's worth of short-term credit policies and unreceived taxes for "urbanistic" infractions. The Alternative argues that the town hall should be looking to cut costs, and in this he is almost certainly correct. We come back, for example, to the spend on the fiestas. It may not be a huge amount in the overall scheme of things, but what exactly is the justification for lavish publicity material for the likes of the music festival and Patrona? There are signs up all over the place for the festival. Why? The design and production costs for the Patrona brochure will not have come in cheap. The publicity should be about information, which indeed it is, but it is information that can be conveyed far more cheaply. The town hall runs two websites; it can use those more effectively for getting the information out. People can download and print off if they want. Then there are the fiestas themselves. The town hall was meant to be reducing its spend, but the programme for this year's Patrona suggests anything but. Is it really necessary to have three separate music events going off at the same time in three different squares of the town? What do they all cost? Apart from the artists, there is erection and dismantling of stages and equipment, cleaning-up, policing.

Town halls such as Pollensa are responsible for a number of public services, such as police. It's not as if they do not need sizeable budgets in order to meet these basic obligations, but one also has to wonder at the size of the administrations. Departments for this, departments for that. Jobs for the boys, you tend to think. In a town of under 20,000 people, it should be possible to efficiently run a town hall with far fewer heads than are employed. I have mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. To the best of my knowledge there is not a public audit office that scrutinises town hall operations. There ought to be. Not only might this recommend savings, it might also be able to check for or indeed prevent any potential misappropriation - a problem in many town halls that has led to the numerous scandals, though not, I would hasten to add, Pollensa. The town halls operate as their own self-sufficient democracies, which is fine, but there needs to be a body to which they are accountable and not just the legal authorities and police when they unearth potential malpractice. If such an office does indeed exist, one might reasonably ask what on earth it does.

Yesterday's title - "Heatwave", Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Today's title - had this before, but it's a great song even if it is complete froth.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Burning In My Heart

Who turned on the oven? It had been forecast that the worst heatwave of summer would be experienced this week; they hadn't said quite how bad. Temperatures of 44 degrees had been anticipated yesterday afternoon; that's around 111 in old money. Sa Pobla is the place that is taken as representative for the interior in the north, and Sa Pobla is where this record high was expected. It is fifteen years since a 43 was recorded there. As it turned out, the temperature was only 42 - only 42. The interior temperatures are higher than those around the coast, by a factor of some five or six degrees very often, but you don't have to go very far inland to get the full effects of that interior heat. In the old town of Alcúdia at midday yesterday, it was unbearable, but back down in the port it was cooler - all things being relative. The weather centre had issued a red alert for the interior, the north and the north-east.

The extreme highs are the result of air being sucked up from Africa. You can feel the heat of the wind or breeze - it grips you, encloses you. This African wind can sometimes just come out of seemingly nowhere and last for only a relatively short period, but when it does spring up it has the ferocity of old red nose giving the hairdryer treatment.

These are dangerous temperatures, ones to be respected. The advice to avoid dehydration is crucial; to not take on liquid is to run the risk of heatstroke or to suffer diarrhoea or worse. Ever had heatstroke - the full dose, that is? I have. I don't much recommend it. The question is, though, what liquid. Much as the thinking is to just take on water, this is not enough. The best drinks are the non-caffeine sports drinks. Eroski does a lemon one. Tastes ok and it has the salts, minerals and vitamins that are as important in preventing the worst affects of the heat. Yet, despite all the advice, you will still see those quaffing back great pints of beer during the day or tucking into a full English or a vast plate of meat and chips. None of this makes any sense. Ok, let's not get too sanctimonious, a freezing Saint Mick of an evening is hugely tempting, and rightly so, just so long as it's not the whole gallon.

What's Cracowing-off in the Cala
Are the Poles the new Brits? Last summer there was something of a street battle involving plod and some youthful Polish holidaymakers in Magaluf. There is now a report of trouble involving some younger Poles in - of all places - Cala San Vicente, but this is all-inclusive Cala, not the genteel old-colonialism of the Moraleja: the Don Pedro in other words. Perhaps it could have been predicted. Put British families together with the nouveau holidaymaking classes of young Poland and it was maybe bound to end in tears. But put them together Thomas Cook have done.

"Talk Of The North" got the story, and it should appear in greater detail in the next issue. From what Graeme tells me it has all been rather unpleasant, a group of Poles effectively terrorising the Brits and causing general mayhem. The boys in green were eventually called, after the Brits demanded that something be done. In addition to "TOTN", you can probably also expect that the forums will be given a bashing by very unhappy Brits, to say nothing of the complaints that will land in the in-tray of Thomas Cook.

Yesterday's title - Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York", Today's title - why? It's a line from ...


Thursday, July 23, 2009

In A City That Never Sleeps

There must, you imagine, be a point in the early morning of the second of August when DJ Enigma or Pako passes by a group of worthy pollencin ancients who look aghast at the ponytail and eyebrow piercing and who are weary from the noise of a night of endless partying in three whole squares of the old town, but determined to be there at five am for the traditional alborada. Fiestas are all about the old meeting the new, but not necessarily in the streets as one lot gets up and the other makes its way to bed. Except, that is, in Pollensa. Why anyone feels the need to get up for a tradition that was invented at the end of the nineteenth century in order to herald the final day of the fiesta week is lost on me. They could just as easily, you would think, pack it all in to thirty minutes at some sensible hour, like ten o'clock; time enough for a decent snooze and a lump of lard and sugar together with a stiff hierba for breakfast. But not with Patrona.

The locals have to suffer for their fiesta art, and that may well mean not having had any sleep ahead of a day that features make-believe Christians and Moors rampaging through the streets and a bloody great fireworks do at midnight. It might not be so bad, but the night before there was another grand party - the marxa fresca - that techno-ed across the Plaça Major. Actually, techno may not be accurate. There is a youtube of last year's marxa and that's got Madness playing. So much for traditional Catalan house or whatever the flavour of the dance world is these days. At least on the night of the Wednesday, the provocatively entitled "Decibels Pollença 2009" is confined to the footy pitch. No sound limiters there, one supposes. God forbid that an unsuspecting tourist booked his family of toddlers into the Hotel Juma on the Plaça Major in anticipation of a quiet few days of cultural tourism at the end of July and start of August. He'd get culture alright, Pants Breakers on the stage in the square and DJ Full-Attack larging it within easy sleep-shattering distance in the Monnares plaza.

Pollensa town hall, strapped for cash as it has been for several years now so much so that it is running a regular deficit in the region of a million of your European Euros, was meant to have been cutting its fiesta budget this year. Not that you would think that were you to take a look at the schedule for Patrona. It's like a mini-Glastonbury, replete with sound, Quakerist, saving-the-world enviro children's parties and benefits for Rwanda and the like. All that's missing is the mud, which is a shame as it would allow the Batley Townswomen's Guild to re-enact the Moors and Christians.

The simulation, Pythonesque or otherwise, is - in its billing - something of a curiosity, given that the Moors were anything but Moors. They were Turks, intent on turning the inns of Pollensa into kebab restaurants, but Moors is how we must call them. The term "moro" is one commonly used in the local languages; indeed Patrona features a comedy (ho-ho) called "No Hi Hara Moros A La Costa" which translates, more or less, as the coast is clear, i.e. there are no Moors on the coast. It will be one of the events that attracts rather fewer tourists than others, one would guess. Another more obscure feature of this year's Patrona is a "return to the sixteenth century" with music and entertainment of the period. 1550 was the year that the so-called Moors attempted their invasion. At Patrona they're making music to repel Moors by. They're making rather more music than that - 14 DJs, 20 groups of different sorts, plus some Mallorcan traditional music and that stuff from the 1500s.

Patrona - the fiesta of the sleepless.

Information on Patrona 2009 is on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Today's title - ol' blue eyes, or is that red eyes, is back.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine Flu

The swine flu situation in Mallorca is gathering some momentum. The first death attributed to "Gripe A H1N1" was recorded last week on the island, though the number of cases remains relatively low. There is a belief that, because of the degree of mobility in Mallorca, the likelihood is that it will register more cases than some other parts of Spain. Perhaps. There are plenty of regions, however, that have high levels of mobility - the major cities and of course all the tourism centres. A British tourist from Birmingham is in hospital on the island and apparently responding well.

The reports that started coming out of Germany last week, led by "Bild", have insinuated that Mallorca is something of a hotspot for the virus. This is overstating the case, but the actions of the police (national and local in the case of Calvia) in taking to wearing masks have not exactly lessened a certain sense of unease. It is being left to individual officers' discretion as to whether they don the masks or not. But if there are police roaming around with masks on, the rest of the population is quite likely to ask, then why not us. The health department thinks they are unnecessary. Nevertheless, well over 200,000 masks are being made available in the Balearics. The Partido Popular opposition in the Balearics has accused the health minister of having contributed to a "general alarm". Meanwhile, the ministry says that there is a reserve of more than ten million antiviral treatments - in Spain.

Of course there is alarm, but much of it, as in the UK, is overblown. The effects of the flu virus are not necessarily that harmful, but all that Mallorca needs right now is a dose not just of swine flu but also bad publicity. And images of police officers wearing masks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there is sense that the police, and especially the police, take what precautions they can. But the same applies to other sectors. They may as well issue masks to everyone.

The regional government has issued its own advice to citizens. Its information provision is not that brilliant. Go to the website - - and you will see there is an announcement to click on. Try the Castellano or English pages, and what do you get? The same default information - in Catalan. Only the menu to the side of the page changes language. How useless is this? Well, one of the pieces of advice is that the transmission of the virus is the same as for any other strain, hand contamination being one means. Given the amount of handshaking that goes on in local society, one measure might be to give that a rest for the time being.

Oh, and there's one other thing health-wise. Temperatures are hitting 40 degrees in parts. Stay home, stay out of the sun, keep cool, and you probably won't get heatstroke or swine flu.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Childhood Dreams - Part 2

One day the dreams of those raised in Pollensa, the next of those from Santa Margalida. Joan Mas and Dragut duly elected to charge around Pollensa with some vigour like a Blue Remembered Hills grown-up small boys' re-enactment, Sunday was the turn of the election for a rather more sedate role - Beata. One Antònia Frontera Pont has secured the highlight of her still short life - the current-day Beata of what we are constantly reminded is one of the most typical of Mallorcan fiestas that climaxes on the 6th of September with the Beata procession. The election of Beata is not a sort-of Miss Santa Margalida parade of the local totty; there is far more to it than good teeth and wishing for world peace. The aspirant, and there were 22 to choose from, has to demonstrate sound religious credentials for seeing off the rest of the field. Senyoreta Antònia has taken part in Beata in one form or another for several years. A minimum of five years participation is a pre-requisite for candidature. This, and having reached the age of 18, which she has.

According to the report from "The Diario", she could not contain her emotion when the mayor read out her name. It is the dream of everyone in the town, she said, though whether she went on to thank her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins, dog was not reported. Probably though; well, some of them. But highlight of her life it will be and will remain so, as Beatas are chosen but once only. Rather like being chosen as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, the accolade is bestowed on just one occasion. Nevertheless, it probably looks good on the CV. What prospective employer could turn down a Beata? And Antònia is training to be a teacher. In years to come, girls of schools in Santa Margalida will be inspired by the presence of a one-time Beata, which is actually a rather charming thought. "Miss, miss, tell us about when you were Beata." Yes, it is a charming notion.

And being charming and traditional, one thinks what is there to compare with such an election in decadent, irreligious Britain. Very little. In fact, nothing. The odd May Queen perhaps. Do they still have them? Not much of a gig if they do. In Britain, it would be necessary to invent something. Jade Goody Day or some such horror. Text voting for one of 22 candidates lounging around on sofas under the scrutiny of cameras in a make-believe house. Who's the gobbiest of them all? It's you-who. This year's Jade.

No, being picked as the Beata is all rather lovely, partly because it is such a tradition and an important one not only in Santa Margalida but also on the island as a whole. It's why such an election gets reported. You might think it was pretty insignificant, but it isn't. It matters. And it couldn't be further from something as contemporarily commercialised and profane as a Jade Goody. The only thing is, I wonder what some of the other 21 made of it. Now, there wouldn't be any catty remarks being muttered, would there? Perhaps not, but were there to be then they would doubtless be catty remarks made by the odd Cati, as every other female is called Cati.

Yesterday's and today's title - Nelly Furtado,


Monday, July 20, 2009

Childhood Dreams

Every year the people of Pollensa gather to vote in the current-day players of an act that is over 450 years old; the Joan Mas and Dragut of the Christians and Moors role game during the Patrona fiestas. They gather not in the Plaça Major but in the Plaça Vella (the old square), a small area that is the scene of some of the more traditional aspects of Pollensa life; it is the Plaça Vella that is the site, for example, of the climbing of the soapy pine tree during Sant Antoni in January. It is a matter of local pride for the youngish male Pollensa citizens to be acclaimed pine-tree victor or Mas or Dragut. This year's Joan, Pep Martorell, said (as reported in "The Diario") that it has been his "dream since small" to be Joan. Some small boys dream of being a train driver, others of playing at the Camp Nou, others, it seems, of being the vanquisher of the Moors. Small boys grow up, but they still enjoy small boy games, such as running around the town pretending to be pirates or defenders. It beats a computer game version, but like all games it is virtual. They are virtual, pretend, play-act Joans and Draguts. But they are also pretend entertainers. Not on the stages of Pirates but on the streets of a real town, steeped in history and antiquity, presenting a show for tourists and residents alike. They should charge an admission fee, for this is historical spectacle performed in a popular fashion by the people for whom it means most, who grow up and live with the tradition, and dream, as small boys, of being the performers.

This is not spectacle stage-managed, choreographed, set to music, served up at a table with a chicken in a basket and a bottle of plonk. This is not removed from context, sanitised and artificial theatre of gleaming entertainers. This is spectacle as real, even if it is virtual; spectacle in context in the very streets of their town. It is an extraordinary tradition. Living theatre created by the people and for the people. Democratically chosen representatives of the local history. Remarkable.

Christians and Moors - what happens
The Christians and Moors event, on 2 August, really gets under way at seven in the evening when Joan and Dragut come together in the Plaça Almoina, Joan calling out to the mother of the angels for assistance for the "Pollencins" in defeating the pirates (led by Dragut). It moves to the church of Sant Jordi and the liberation of women and children held captive in the church. The final "battle" takes place at the football arena Can Escarrintxo where Joan takes the enemy's flag and then leads his men to the main church where the Christians celebrate their victory by giving thanks to La Patrona.

Bellevue - more
It now appears that Thomson is pulling clients out of Bellevue owing to health and safety reasons - as being reported on the forums. This follows the news of a week ago that First Choice was placing clients elsewhere. Now what health and safety reasons might these be? There is sympathy for the hotel, but pretty much everyone locally knows what this is about. The hotel has got a big problem; it could do with some decent PR. In fact, it could do with any PR.

Yesterday's title - Keane, "Everybody's Changing", Today's title - Canadian-Portuguese female singer from her second album.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Remember My Name

If you cross the main road from the Soller station to the Plaça Espanyol in Palma, you are walking on a symbol of Franco. The road is the Avenida Joan March. The association for historic memory is demanding that Palma town hall changes the name of the road, together with seven others. Why?

March is sometimes referred to as having been Franco's banker. The Banca March of current day takes its name from him. I once suggested, partly in jest, that they would have to change the name of the bank. Maybe it should have been in seriousness. If they can call for a change to the name of a road, then the bank should, logically, also be re-named; it is surely more symbolic than a stretch of tarmac, especially given March's banking association with the dictator. Indeed it would be hypocritical to not do so; hypocritical, that is, if the intentions to rid Spain and therefore Mallorca of symbols of Francoism are to be pursued fully.

Of the other seven roads deemed symbolic, three have names of countries - Alemania, Portugal and Argentina, each of which supported Franco in some form or another. This is ridiculous. That the names may have been granted during the dictator's regime and that Germany in particular was highly important to Franco during the Civil War does not mean they should now be changed. How many would have been aware of this connection had the historic memory association not chosen to cite them? It is not as if Germany is not now unimportant to Mallorca for entirely different reasons. There are many Argentinians now living in Mallorca. Portugal is a neighbour. There are other towns that have streets which bear the names of these countries, Alcúdia for example. And you can chuck in Italy as well; the Italians were hardly neutral when it came to matters nationalist during the Civil War.

Ok, change Avenida Joan March, but then make the bank change its name as well, or the demand to change the road name will smack of choosing an easy target. As for the countries, just leave them alone.

Smashing pumpkins
Do you like pumpkin? Pretty good I reckon. Normally you expect the pumpkin to be of the circular variety with eyes and mouth gouged into the skin and the fruit scooped out to allow for Hallowe'en lanterns. They can grow in a different way, such as ... Well, you should see for yourselves. My mate Diego Qüerio has taken a photo of a pumpkin that is over a metre long. It has been cultivated by a chap in Pollensa. You can see him in the photo as well. I leave you to offer your own captions. There are, I fancy, some rather obvious ones. Go here:

Yesterday's title - The Cardigans, Today's title - from one of their first hits; the title is about changing.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sick And Tired

They're gone. The scratch-cardists. The office in Puerto Alcúdia has closed. No-one will be lamenting the loss. All that remains for the moment is the sign - To Holiday and Real Liberty, sometimes known as right liberty.

There has been a fair old turnover of the street sellers this season. More seem to have been taken on in an attempt to generate ever more business. Maybe it hasn't worked. Maybe tourists are more resistant. Maybe those taken on did not like what they were doing. Maybe there were too many and they were not making their commissions. If there is any sympathy, it is for those who took up this employment in the hope of making some summer dosh. They may have antagonised a lot of people, but they were only the frontline operators for the backroom selling. I am told that there has been a fair amount of dashing around by people looking for transfers and flights out.

It was quite an impressive set-up. The offices were large. A kiddies area, the sales area, the separate offices, the plaques displaying some major names, such as hotel chains, the staff with ties. One looked familiar. There is a youtube knocking around of an exposé by the BBC in the Canaries. The salesman shown by the hidden camera looked similar to one from the Alcúdia office.

The website, for those who succumb to the sales pitch, is still up. It says that To Holiday is operated by Elite Holidays Royal Travel in the Canaries. The site is visually the same to that of Travelsafe, a company that the forums have been less than complimentary about. The revealing thread on the Holiday Watchdog site that has embraced To Holiday also has the names of Real Liberty and Elite in its title; its content also embraces an outfit known as Carpe Diem, which appears to be the company higher up the "organisation" above Elite.

The local police have, apparently, been issuing fines. Maybe they - the fines - have mounted up. Maybe business has just dried up. Maybe the pressure had been growing. Whatever. The office is closed. The police, who had grown "sick and tired" of the whole issue (as said to me,) may, from 2010, have more clout if the issue arises again. There is due to be a change in European law to deal with holiday clubs as from next year. Timeshare selling had been outlawed, but the holiday club was not. This appears to be set to change. The problem of the scratch-cardists in Alcúdia may now be over. We'll see.

Town hall troubles
Two town hall things lurking in "The Diario". Pollensa town hall, which may or may not have yet set its budgets for this year, is one of a group of town hall administrations seeking credit - to the tune of slightly less than one million euros. The deficit that the town hall is running is partially due to an historic shortfall dating back to 2005. According to the head of finance, there is now also an issue in respect of unpaid taxes from bars and restaurants with terraces. And in Sa Pobla, the town hall, which had said that it would be pursuing a strategy of low- or no-cost acts in order to keep its fiesta programme intact, has more or less "exhausted" its budget of just under 350,000 euros, claims the opposition Partido Popular.

Today's title - charming song by a charming (Swedish) group; well, Nina was/is charming.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Ten Years After

So finally it would seem that the golf course in Muro is going ahead. It's only been a decade or so. These things do tend to take some time, especially when there is so much environmental squabbling. But now the overseers of flora and fauna have said that the protection of the orchid seems guaranteed, and the environment ministry has effectively given the green light. The new mayor of Muro, Martí Fornes, has confirmed that, environmentally, everything is in order. Indeed his remarks have been reported in rather perfunctory fashion, as though he is saying that enough is enough. Good for him. Despite his connection to Grupotel, a key shareholder in the development, he is right to take a firm stance. If the development is to go ahead, then let's get on with it. GOB, the environmental pressure group, is presumably rather green, suitably so you might say, around its organic gills.

Though I remain unconvinced as to the necessity of another golf course, there is nevertheless an argument in favour of the course as a potential generator of more tourism in Muro, and also in favour of a less tangible aspect - that of a general upgrading in the appeal of Muro and Playa de Muro. The latter already benefits from the sophistication of much of its hotel stock and from a more up-market style than some other places; the golf course can only enhance this.

Unconvinced as I have been as to the business case, I have never been particularly convinced by the environmental counter-argument. So long as certain species are protected, a golf course does not have to be environmentally harmful; indeed it can be the opposite. Habitats can remain unmolested alongside an environmental landscape change that, one hopes, has aesthetic appeal and style.

Work on the course could begin as soon as September, assuming, that is, the enviro lobby doesn't drag up even more objections. Yep, just get on with it.

Meanwhile, the hotel association of Playa de Muro's website, the one that has been talking of the creation of a golf course for some while now, has yet to update the good news. But in its absence, there is something else that is a bit of an oddity. Welcoming all to Playa de Muro and to the "congresses" that can be enjoyed, it mentions that also at one's disposal is the "recently built Alcúdia Auditorium". How recent is recent? What is the year of the auditorium's inauguration? About as long as they have been talking about the golf course. 1999.

Can Picafort's frontline
And another green light. One in Can Picafort. A while back I mentioned the opening of the walkway from Son Bauló and remarked that rather more pressing was an upgrade of the frontline in Can Picafort. What do you know - three and a half million euros or so are to be spent doing just that. Work is due to start on 1 November and finish before May. There is some debate as to whether cyclists will be able to use the paseo; the plan seems to be exclusively for pedestrians. The bulk of the dosh is being stumped up by the environment ministry. Ah yes, now we know why the environment minister it was who cut the ribbon to open the Son Bauló phase.

Swine flu
Well sad to say that the first death has been recorded; a Nigerian woman in Palma. She had gone to emergency and been sent home with a prescription for paracetamol. Wasn't quite enough it would seem.

Yesterday's title - The Who,


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Join Together

Starting on Saturday, Alcúdia will be celebrating its annual Sant Jaume fiesta, the events climaxing on Saturday 25 July, the day of Sant Jaume, with the fireworks that bring the fiesta to its close. There is a further dimension to this year's fiesta. Indeed there is a double celebration. It is eighty years since the town hall building was opened and thirty years since local democracy took off following the period of Franco's dictatorship. To mark these anniversaries, there will be an act of commemoration during the fiesta week and the presentation of a book that looks at the building of "la Sala", the town hall.

These two anniversaries - of 1929 and 1979, half a century apart - are in themselves significant as they top and tail, as it were, the period of descent into turmoil, Franco and finally the restoration of the monarchy and the establishment of democracy. Though overshadowed by who and what was to come, in 1929 Spain was governed by another dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera. He presided over the inauguration of the building, praising its "sumptuous construction". He was accompanied by Jaime, one of the sons of King Alfonso XIII. It was an ironic pairing, and whether Jaime knew anything of the compliments lavished on la Sala by Primo de Rivera is doubtful; he was a deaf mute. By the time of the inauguration, 10 September 1929, Primo de Rivera was on his last dictatorial legs. He had assumed the dictatorship in 1923, thanks to the support of Alfonso, but the king was reaching the point of wanting to sack him. A few months later in early 1930, the army failed to back the dictator: he resigned and died in March of that year; the Republic was declared the following year; the monarchy abolished and the path to Civil War created.

Primo de Rivera is sometimes considered a bit of an irrelevancy. He was far from that. Franco learned from his regime and was thus ruthless in crushing unions and Catalanism in a way that his predecessor had not been. Primo de Rivera had also headed a period of economic advance, much of it based on extravagant public spending, which partly contributed to the collapse in the peseta and to his demise. But that spending was what brought about not only la Sala but also significant other works in Alcúdia. Much restoration and construction in the town dates to the period of the first dictatorship.

La Sala was not to be the location of an actual "ayuntamiento" ("ajuntament" in Catalan) of Alcúdia until 1979. That was when the first democratically selected mayor, Pere Adrover, came to office - fifty years after the building which houses the town hall's meetings had been praised by a former dictator for its sumptuousness and for being "extremely artistic". The words "ayuntamiento" and "ajuntament" come from the Castilian and Catalan verbs ayuntar and ajuntar, meaning to join. It took half a century for them to truly join together in la Sala.

Information on the Sant Jaume fiesta and also the Sant Jaume and Santa Margalida fiestas in Sa Pobla is on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Swine flu
How's your swine flu doing? Want some? Then come to Mallorca. Only kidding. Not that the German newspaper "Bild" seems to be kidding. It is saying that around ten cases of swine flu in Germany have their origins in Mallorca, specifically in the Playa de Palma area. The local health authorities on the island are flatly denying that it has been contracted in Mallorca. Officially, there are, to date, six cases that have been reported in Mallorca and two more in Ibiza and one in Menorca.

Yesterday's title - Jackson Five, Today's title - who, er, yes?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ABC Is Easy As ...

Anyone who might have been hoping that the all-inclusive (AI) would just close the tap on its endless lager and go away should think again, especially if they happen to be aware of the brochures being issued for 2010. Thomson and First Choice have got theirs out. There is a dedicated all-inclusives brochure for both operators. These do not mean a sudden rise in the number of hotels offering AI - they are more a case of packaging the package - but they indicate the direction in which the tour operators are going, even more than before.

For those alarmed at the inexorable march of the AI, there is no solace from the press release coming from Thomson and First Choice. Indeed there is more to be alarmed at. Using findings from the market research organisation Mintel, this says that "the main increase (in AI) has been within the affluent ABC1 socioeconomic groups who have previously favoured self-catering accommodation". There is now a growth in 4- and 5-star AI that provides far more than just all that lager and dodgy nosebag, attracting those who want "variety, convenience and superior standards". For the customer seeking some certainty as to his budgeting, the AI makes money "go further", says the head of short and mid-haul and product development. The release goes on to say that, "AI holidays now make up 20-25% of all package holidays, with bookings having grown by 32% in the last five years".

Whilst much of the attention is turned towards the AI ghettoes of the likes of Alcúdia, it is perhaps easy to overlook the fact that AI is on offer in the higher-standard hotels. Go to the Iberostar site, as an example, and you will find "all-inclusive" clearly buttoned. The Iberostars cater for the type of clientele that the Mintel research is referring to. It is precisely the sort of clientele that local restaurateurs can ill afford to have staying ensconced in a hotel lapping up a superior level of service - all of it pretty much pre-paid. Value for money and convenience are just as attractive to the more elevated levels of the socioeconomic food chain as to the deltas and epsilons.

Mallorca has long craved a so-called "quality" tourist, and many have held the view that it is this market which will re-invent the tourism economy. But if it finds its way ever more into all-inclusive exclusive enclaves with spas and I-Pod docking stations, it, too, will contribute less and less to the wider economy. It is instructive to consider the findings in Hawaii where it has been calculated that more than 80% of an AI traveller's "fees" go to airlines, hotels and international companies - meaning, in the latter instance, the tour operators - and not to local businesses or workers.

As part of the recent plan to consider the island's tourism economic model, the regional government and others are meant also to be addressing the role of all-inclusives. They're meant to be, but whether anything comes of it must be extremely questionable. We've been here before, and nothing has been said beyond the initial announcements as to concerns and looking at the issue. While true that hotels' board offers are subject to licensing, this has hardly had any effect in slowing the pace of all-inclusive places. It is, however, not necessarily the case that hotels yearn for all-inclusive clientele. One hotel in Alcúdia, for example, declined a request from Thomson to have an AI provision this year. Some seem to have been pressed into doing so by the current economic situation, while others are pretty much wholly subject to what the tour operator wants.

Just take note again of those figures - 20-25% of all package holidays are all-inclusive, a 32% increase in five years. What about the next five years?

Yesterday's title - Could have been The Tavares, but of course Take That, Today's title - a ropey lager and pizza from a ropey AI for anyone not getting this.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It Only Takes A Minute

Or a second, or not even that really. I have this in my mind as I drive the roads. Only takes a second for potential oblivion for someone, myself included. I commend it as a thought for everyone to hold in their heads. It only took a second for the driver of one of the vehicles involved in the smash in Alcúdia the other day to not observe the stop sign and end up in a collision with a van and a people-carrier, with a three-year-old left in a serious condition.

The accident took place at the junction of the Avenida Tucan (the Hidropark road) and the bypass by the mountain. It is not an accident that is hard to understand happening. Some of the junctions are confusing and downright dangerous, no more so than the one at the turning into the road for Cala San Vicente. The combination of fast-moving traffic, filter system and means of turning left from one road makes these junctions accidents in waiting. They should get rid of all of them and replace them with roundabouts. The locals may not be too clever where roundabouts are concerned, but at least they slow traffic and create less confusion. Roundabout accidents tend to be confined, at worst, to shunts, but they rarely cause multiple pile-ups; the filter junctions do. And while on confusing road layouts, can someone try and explain to me what in God's name one is supposed to do on those roads by the Eroski on the outskirts of Pollensa going into the industrial estate; it is a complete shambles of confusion.

It only takes a second, but if you need several seconds to be really sure, then take them, regardless of the idiot behind doing the gesticulating or giving it large on the horn.

Thirty-three ... the interior ministry
Ever ones to try and interfere with the previously unmolested workings of fiestas and tourism, different ministries seem intent on finding new ways of generally hacking everyone off with the irrelevant and the stupid. Let's run this one by you. In the municipality of Marratxí, there has been a tradition during the fiesta in Pòrtol of holding a street bingo. Money raised from the event this year has been earmarked to go towards renovation work on the local church. In step the heavy boots of the interior ministry, via the local police, which says that it cannot take place as it is illegal; these bingos take place in many other villages and towns. The ministry reckons that they have got out of control, that their prizes are too valuable and that they do not exclude those under eighteen.

The street bingos are something of a tradition, and frankly what harm do they do? If there was really a desire to eradicate some traditions, then the authorities should concentrate on more questionable aspects such as those involving genuine animal cruelty (and no not the ducks in Can Picafort, which is even more potty than it was now that rubber ducks are involved). Anyway, the bingo in Pòrtol did take place, and seemingly no-one tried to intervene to prevent it.

No flights?
And something of a follow-up to the piece of two days ago about the hoteliers and the so-called "catastrophe" that is this season. I am told that many hotels, those contracted to certain tour operators, have no real problem with occupancy, in that they are contracted for their allocations. A problem lies with the airlines providing sufficient flights. One hotel in Alcúdia has places but is unable to sell them - and there is demand - because flights cannot be obtained. Or that is what is being said. Not sure. On a different matter, I am also told that one tour operator, First Choice, is pulling tourists out of Bellevue and placing them elsewhere - Sea Club or, in the case of guests signed up for all-inclusive, Jupiter. There are, apparently, "certain problems".

Yesterday's title - For example, The New Christy Minstrels, Today's title - no clue needed.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael Row The Boat Ashore

The Unió Mallorquina party has a new leader. Again. Some eighteen months since the last one came in, in comes the latest new one - Miquel Àngel Flaquer who replaces another Miquel, Nadal of that name. Flaquer has promised that the past two years of instability in the party will now be put behind them. There is not just a sense of déjà vu about the election of a new leader, it exists also in that Nadal said much the same thing when he assumed the leadership. Flaquer had some words for Nadal, suggesting that he had used the party as a "personal instrument". There will be a resumption of "munarismo" in the party, a reference to the matriarch of the UM, María Antonia Munar, now the president of the Balearic parliament and former president of the party. She was a founder of the party in 1982 and now looms over it in Thatcherite fashion, ready to handbag anyone who steps out of line. The leaders of the UM benefit from her patronage. Nadal was one; he was very much Munar's boy when the last election was held. Not that it got him very far - well about eighteen months.

The fractious nature of the UM was in evidence prior to Nadal's elevation. At one point during the leadership battle that he won, he actually took his bat home and withdrew his candidature, only to come back with the Munar handbag of approval and trounce both Alcúdia's mayor Miquel Ferrer, who rictus-grinned through his gap-toothed smile having lost, and Miquel Grimalt, he of the notorious "Decreto Grimalt", now the environment minister. All these Miquels - all these Michaels rowing the boat ashore into the rocks of political turmoil. Maybe now there is a Micky who will steady the ship. You wouldn't really bet on it. But the UM does need to be stable. It does, after all, form part of the coalition that governs the islands, if govern is quite the right word - Nadal is also in a position of some importance as tourism minister.

As always, or seemingly as always, there was something a bit odd about the reporting of all this. Flaquer also had some words for the current state of Spanish politics, dominated, as it is, by the ruling PSOE and the Partido Popular. It fell, as all too frequently, to "The Bulletin" to provide the oddness. It referred to the PSOE as the National Socialists. Yep, the "n" and the "s" were capitalised. For anyone who might be a tad concerned, the PSOE is not a Nazi party. What should have been said was something along the lines of the nationwide socialist party - national socialists most certainly not.

Finally on the UM, just as a reminder, it was the matriarch Munar who once complained about the "invasion of foreigners" into Mallorca. So, if you happen to be foreign and are planning an invasion, just bear in mind that María and her party are not among your greatest fans.

And coming back to our favourite newspaper. What exactly are we to make of its propaganda for the Calvia bar association and this association for "Europeans", which now seems to be called "Europeos por España"? (It probably always was called that, just that it was reported wrongly as "Europa" rather than "España.) Once more, this propaganda appears in the Calvia section. The first understandably so, but the latter? But more importantly, are we to conclude that newspapers locally are mere vehicles for whatever association wants to publicise itself? Maybe we should. There was a very revealing interview in yesterday's issue with a journalist from the Bulletin's sister paper "Ultima Hora" who is due to retire next year. He said, inter alia, that journalism is "not about typing press releases". How right he is. And if you really must, you can google and discover that there is a website for this esteemed European association. And no, I'm not giving out the address; what do you think this is, a propaganda exercise?

Yesterday's title - Chris Isaak, Today's title - take your pick with this one.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blue Hotel

Mallorcan hoteliers gathered in a restaurant in Puerto Portals to discuss the current situation in respect of the island's tourism, says "The Diario". I wonder what they ate. Humble pie for any that had been saying things would be ok-ish this season.

The word to come out of the meeting was that things, far from being ok-ish, are catastrophic. Seemingly, only one part of Mallorca is enjoying more than 90% occupancy, and that is Soller. Elsewhere there are reports of figures of barely 40 or 50%. Not that this elsewhere is defined. It does all rather depend: there are hotels, e.g. in Puerto Alcúdia, that are full, but presumably those which are far from full. The hope of last-minute bookings seems illusory, and the back end of the season is looking poor, with hotels suggesting that they will close at the end of September. The hotels are having to lower prices and want to revive the notion of offering condos as a means of avoiding going belly-up.

Might there be an element of some special pleading in all this? The hotels are never slow to voice their views, often with justification, such as with regard to the new application of the coasts law in Alcúdia and Muro. Arguably they form the single most powerful lobby in Mallorca, again with justification; it is they who help to drive the island's economy. But these figures have a precedent. Try last year. In Alcúdia there were reports of 40% occupancy at one well-known hotel, another had provision for under 60% at the end of July. Soller is unrepresentative; it is not a town and resort that has an abundance of mass-style hotel stock. It also has a rather different tourism profile to the likes of Alcúdia. Therein probably lies a story.

The question is to what extent these lower figures are simply a result of current economic times or a trend. One only needs to go back to 2007 which was, allegedly, a record year to believe that a bounce in the economies of Europe will return occupancy figures to the status quo. But one also has the niggling suspicion that figures which have been declared until now have not always been completely accurate. That the hoteliers are talking again of condos and also of a change in use - to living accommodation (for which, presumably, one can read privately owned apartments) - leads one to surmise that perhaps they recognise that there has been an underlying trend, and one, moreover, caused by over-supply. Much as one hears that there are too many bars, restaurants and all the rest, it is just as appropriate to suggest that there are too many hotels. Indeed this very point has been made to me where the hotels of Playa de Muro are concerned. That some hotels are not even opening this summer supports the fact that demand is down this year, but it is also indicative of too great a supply.

Against this background, it is small wonder that hotels seek to compensate for a fall in the number of places being taken up by increasing offers of an all-inclusive or a "plus" basis in order to generate greater occupancy and more additional revenues that might otherwise find their way into the tills of local bars and restaurants. It is quite understandable, and one does have some sympathy. The hotels represent colossal investment. To have them under-utilised or less than totally productive means a diminishing return on that investment, which in turn results in a cut in employment opportunities. The hotels, collectively, are hugely significant in terms of their being creators of jobs. Idle stock has an impact in terms of jobs. But so also would a change of use. Where we seem to be going, if these latest statements from the hoteliers can be taken at face value, is towards a contraction in the tourism industry - at least in the short term. One of the potential ironies of, for example, converting hotels to apartments is that there would be increased pressure to permit holiday lets, something which galls the hotels to the extent that they are the strongest voice in pushing the government to act against private rentals. They are, however, misguided in this. Local tourism needs a mix in types of accommodation, not just hotels. Perhaps the hoteliers are, inadvertently, seeking to promote this; or maybe they actually realise the importance of such a mix but don't want to admit it.

If contraction is the conclusion, then there needs to be some serious planning for it, and pretty damn quick. Criticism for the regional government came from the meeting of the hoteliers, albeit from representatives of the Partido Popular, but it may not be misplaced. What this season is showing, and really it should not have been necessary, is that an over-reliance on one industry, and one industry, moreover, that has over-supply, cannot sustain the local economy in the longer term. The time to act is now. Sadly, one hears only the snores of inertia, the back-slapping of complacency and the sounds of spin of government and others missing the point, as with the announcement that seasonality (low winter tourism) is the "principal problem" facing the island's tourism economic model. It is spin because they know - or should know - they have a far more serious problem; the hoteliers' announcement adds force to the fact that it is the main summer season which is the problem.

Yesterday's title - U2, Today's title - probably had this before, so here it is again ...


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Rain

Following the glad tidings of the announcement of work moving towards completion at the commercial port in Puerto Alcúdia, come the less glad tidings. Employees say that there is a lack of security provision - only one guard for the night times who has to patrol on foot despite there being a vehicle which, apparently, is not being used.

If indeed this is the situation, it does perhaps reinforce the point from yesterday - that these grand schemes are paid out for at grand cost but are then not exploited fully (if indeed they ever could have been) and simply not resourced adequately. Too often one has the impression of projects being undertaken, completed and then someone asking, "right, well now what do we do?"

Rain, come on, rain
Rain finally fell yesterday. Chucked it down in Puerto Pollensa at lunchtime. It was the first appreciable rainfall for a couple of months; it was badly needed but shortlived. The curious thing was that, though the skies glowered elsewhere, the clouds seemed only to burst over Pollensa. The bone-dry earth of Alcúdia, that which partly contributed to the fire on the Puig Sant Martí earlier in the week, remains bone dry.

But when it does rain, tourists are thrown into disarray. There is little alternative to the sun and its trappings, i.e. the beach and the pool. It might be a time when the bars and restaurants will be rubbing their hands with glee at the anticipation of the tourist diaspora wandering aimlessly under clouds and opting for a beer or several. In the past this would have happened. Now, even less-than-glorious weather fails to encourage tourists to turn the contents of their pockets out in return for a few cold drinks. And this despite the cricket. I can think of few better ways of idling away several hours than watching The Ashes, but unfortunately bars are geared more for the short bursts of sporting activity like football than the all-day grind of a test match. There should be bars with sofas or perhaps corporate hospitality boxes.

The principal principle
A few days ago I had cause to mention ESRA (28 June: Nothing Lasts Forever). I happened to see a copy of the annual handbook - not that I am the proud owner of one; it so happened to be sitting on a table in an office. This was put together with the help of dosh from Simon Cowell, for reasons I am not entirely clear as to, but be that as it may. But it is good to see that the X Factor-meister has dug into his pockets to support a publication that starts off with something as priceless as its explanation that the handbook is the "principle publication" of the association. I suppose that a "d" might have been missed, in that it is a "principled publication", but I suspect not. ESRA is the English Speaking Residents' Association. The principle is the wrong one; it should have been the other one - principal, meaning, in this context, main. There again, it is a speaking association, not a writing one. At least they didn't get their abbreviation arse about face.

False alarms?
A footnote to the Bellevue fires story of a while back. I am told that the alarms did go off. But not in the affected block - Minerva. They went off in Neptuno. How does that all work?

Yesterday's title - "Mamma Mia", Abba (again): Today's title - some old friends of this blog.


Friday, July 10, 2009

How Can I Resist You?

The re-development of the commercial port in Alcúdia is entering its last phase. The new infrastructure - building, terminal, expanded dock facilities - will open at the end of summer in September, but not completely. The walkways need some more time, and so the whole project will be finished off in the winter.

At a final cost of close to 24 million euros, the port will be capable of accepting much heavier tonnage, thus taking some of the merchant trade from Palma, and of doubling the number of passengers on the Barcelona and Menorca routes. It will have been a major infrastructure investment project that, theoretically, will propel the port to a different level of importance. Also theoretically, it will prove to be a boost to the local economy. The question is - how much of a boost.

There has been talk of the new port becoming a stopping-off point for cruise ships. This, perhaps more than anything, could be highly significant, but it is only a possibility as yet. Despite the impressive commitment to upgrading the infrastructure, one still does have to ask what it is all going to mean. New jobs should be created especially for handling merchant shipping, but otherwise? The recent track record where major projects are concerned is not that encouraging. Go and take a look at the industrial estate in Alcúdia for instance. Not that there's anything to see. Other local estates, Pollensa and Can Picafort, are hardly full to overflowing with units.

Still on matters maritime, there is a somewhat alarming application of tax on non-Spanish boat owners. I admit that it is confusing. It was explained to me at some length yesterday. It all revolves around length of boat (15 metres or more or less), charter or non-charter, exemption licence previously granted or not. This is too tricky an area except for those steeped in the industry, but I am told it has a political dimension and is also indicative of how laws in Spain tend to be passed, forgotten about and then returned to with some vigour. And that vigour involves some swingeing demands directed, or so it would seem, against a sector that might be able to improve the size of flagging governmental coffers. I recommend following it all on the website of "The Islander" -

The musical has become the almost default summer entertainment mode. Around the hotels it is possible to stumble across the likes of Hairspray and Mamma Mia. The auditorium in Alcúdia tomorrow takes this one stage further - a two-hour spectacular described as "a journey through the magic of Broadway". I confess that I don't quite get it with musicals, despite a past influenced by the older musicals of Oklahoma, West Side Story etc.; the influence largely manifested itself in the form of drunken student evenings and their related singing (so-called). It is something of a mystery that the musical has made such a strong comeback, but come back it has to reinvigorate not only Broadway and the West End but also to give employment to troupes of entertainers at the auditorium and in the tourist resorts.

How can I resist you? Hmm, well actually I can. But then I'm not everyone.

Yesterday's title - Del Shannon, Today's title - and this is from?


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Stranger In Town

Alcúdia has more residents of foreign origin than of those born in the Balearics. Of a total population of 20,395, 7,847 come from outside Spain, 80 more than those from the islands (the missing four and a half thousand or so come from the mainland).

What do we make of these figures? Anything? There will probably be those who want to make quite a bit of them, minded if they are to bewail an undermining of traditional Mallorca or Alcúdia. A related issue is that it is not unreasonable to assume that Catalan is not the majority language. Most but not all those native to the Balearics will use it as a first language. Most of those from elsewhere will speak Castilian (if they speak anything other than their original language), unless they are from Catalonia. The largest single foreign grouping is the Argentinians - more than a thousand; the British represent nearly a thousand, itself an advance of over 100 since the last figures were issued. Just on this, I recently sent an email to the organisers of the "Trobada de Músics per la Llengua", the Catalan music event in Pollensa. I apologised for using Castilian and received a perfectly helpful response - in Catalan. There is an increasing number of the locally born who pointedly refuse to use anything other than Catalan. That's their legitimate choice, but to not use Catalan does - sometimes - make one feel as though offence is being caused.

This locally born often comprises younger Mallorcans, those who are involved in the organisation of events that are thoroughly commendable, such as the "Trobada". There is a confidence and a degree of defiance in their insistence on Catalan. It makes one a little uneasy. There is an element of the locally born young that favours a back to the future policy in terms of language, tourism restriction and also a constraint as to the number of incomers. It's all perfectly understandable and idealistic, if not totally pragmatic.

A more assertive Catalanism may well represent a reaction to the shifting demographics of a town like Alcúdia. It's the sort of assertiveness that has spawned the likes of the "Trobada" and the "Acampallengua", alongside the at-times dogmatic refusal by local authorities to use anything other than Catalan (they are meant to use both languages for official documents). There is an impression that there is a lack of concession made to the increased cosmopolitanism, while other manifestations of Catalan promotion, such as its use in the public sector, reflects a determination to hold on to the cultural emblem that is the language.

Yet there is no denying the cosmopolitan nature of even relatively small towns such as Alcúdia. There is also no turning the clock back; no back to the future. But there is a growing sense of polarism, not just in terms of language but also in political and societal attitudes, the latter being reflected in a possible radicalisation of the locally born young. If indeed it is the case that Catalan speakers are in a minority, one fancies that there will be those who are minded as to its implications.

Today's title - a '60s American singer, whose biography used this minor hit as its title. Think runaway.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Costas' Lots

The rumpus that has erupted regarding the new definition of limits under the demarcations of the law on the coasts (Ley de Costas - see previous 5 July: Saltbreakers) has all the makings of a major conflict between the Balearic Government and the hoteliers of Alcúdia and Muro. As soon as one was aware of these new definitions, it didn't take much to realise where all this could lead - conflict yes and possibly also the courts. To sum it all up, these new definitions encompass the salt lands and what is private or public land and go beyond the previous application to the beaches and distances from the shore line. The Costas authority has not so much moved the goal posts as erected a whole new goal and a penalty area. As reported by "The Diario", the directors-general of Iberostar (with five hotels in Playa de Muro and one in Puerto Alcúdia) and Grupotel are not happy, the former hoping that the director responsible for demarcation will respect the "tourism sensitivity".

There may be some special pleading emanating from the hoteliers, but who, frankly, can blame them? If developments, both existing and future, are to become confused by interpretations of law, where do these all leave what is the single most important sector of the local economy, one largely created by the hoteliers? The logic of these interpretations could be that hotels have to go. That is highly unlikely to happen, but there could be ramifications of different sorts, such as modifications and constraints on development or renovation. Why, though, is the Costas authority apparently determined to create an issue that will have an unclear conclusion and to cause a confrontation? The authority would argue, legitimately, that it is acting within its remit to protect the environment and to right any errors of the past and to prevent future building errors. Fair enough. But it also, surely, has a wider responsibility within the framework of the government to act in the best interests of the economy - locally and island-wide. Joined-up government? Probably not.

One needs to also consider that there has recently been a relaxation in respect of allowing hotels to undertake certain new developments - a relaxation intended to help boost the ailing construction industry. There is also governmental finance on hand to assist with this. Which department agreed this relaxation? The tourism ministry, not the environment ministry of which the Costas authority forms a part. There is a further twist to all this. The environment ministry, via the so-called "Decreto Grimalt", has established changes to procedures in respect of some construction (it is the same "decreto" that has caused the fuss about bar noise). Initially, this law was going to permit building in tourist areas during the summer. It was the vocal criticism of the hoteliers that brought about a retraction. While it seems that there are forces pulling against each other within government, one also wonders at the timing of the latest intervention by the Costas a month or so after the passing of this "decreto" minus its provisions for summer building work. It might also be noted that the president of the association representing the hotel chains, which was a powerful voice against the summer building, is also the director-general of Iberostar.

There are some powerful figures on the hotel side, not least the boss of Iberostar, a company it should be remembered that has enjoyed number one status as the most profitable of Mallorcan businesses. One might argue that big business needs to be confronted sometimes, but in this instance one detects a sense of jobsworthing taking on powerful business with no sensible outcome. All the more curious then when one realises that the director responsible for demarcation at the Costas is a former tourism minister.

On a different note, though there may be some question marks as to the precise legal interpretations of the status of the land on which hotels have been constructed, could anyone seriously argue that the hotels of Playa de Muro constitute something that is environmentally unsympathetic? For the most part, the hotel stock in Playa de Muro is of a superior standard to many resorts. Aesthetically, the hotels are generally appealing. Not all, but many: the Iberostars, Grupotel's Parc Natural, the Palace de Muro, the Viva Blue, La Dorada, and so on. The far more important issue regarding the resort, and its hotels, is securing its future as a thriving tourism location. The Costas' intervention is unwelcome.

I have had some words in the past against the hotel lobby, not least in respect of all-inclusive offers and the pressure to limit holiday lets, but on this one I am in complete agreement with them. It is the hotels that have created the resorts' and the island's wealth, not a government authority which seems hell-bent on acting against that wealth.

The SPCC and the Ashes
I should just mention that one of my correspondents has asked why the Sa Pobla Cricket Club, through my good offices, has not been given space to offer its thoughts on the Ashes. I can report that the SPCC is giving 15-8 on 2-1 in favour of ... the Australians! But ...

"And Fred is coming in on from the Fred (cold in Catalan) End ... and he's got Ricardo Ponting pierna delante de, er, wicket."

Yesterday's title, adapted slightly for today - Alan Sugar.