Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Mess We're In

Real Mallorca. Pronounce "Real" correctly and it sounds "ray-ahl". Pronounce it incorrectly, in English, and it is real. Real mess, as in right mess. Not even a hundred days have passed since the new owner, Javier Martí Mingarro, took over, having paid something around 4 million euros for this basket-case of a club. Yet now, he has announced that he has nary a euro to spend. And so the club is up for sale - again. Part of the problem is that banks won't extend credit. Well, what a surprise. Perhaps someone might have asked them before pen was put to paper and the club went into new ownership.

Even less of a surprise is the fact that Real Mallorca is awash with debt. Anyone could have read the papers to learn that some 64 million euros (and rising) of short-term debt existed, to say nothing of the other 20 million or so. Anyone could have checked the books and discovered that monthly outgoings on first-team players and other staff amounted to 360,000 euros. Not everyone would have been able to say that other players and staff would not have been paid for two months.

A real mess. A real mess that has been gathering force for some time, thanks to the debt run up by the former owner, Vicente Grande. Force and farce, the latter surrounding the ludicrous episode with Paul Davidson who made a monkey of the fans, the club and his one-time cheerleaders in the local English-speaking press.

What is it with football clubs and pretenders to the ownership thrones? For Real Mallorca, read many others, such as Portsmouth or Newcastle United. Whatever one thinks of Mike Ashley, he did at least have money and did pay off the club's debts. Real Mallorca cannot even bank on this happening, because the banks won't chip in. And who can blame them?

Football appears to attract, more than any other "business", charlatans, dreamers, egoists and nutters. In England, there is at least more money sloshing around from TV. Not so in Spain, unless the club happens to be Real Madrid or Barça. What does Mallorca get from TV? 1.3 million a month. One comes back also to the fact that the club doesn't even own the stadium with its capacity not that much greater than that of ... hmm, Portsmouth's Fratton Park. There may be real estate lurking elsewhere, but what would be its prime asset, one that might act as collateral, is not its to put up as security. Again, small wonder that the banks are unwilling to play along. The only salvation is that the team, remarkably, is doing well this season.

The so-called "humid space" that is La Gola in Puerto Pollensa enjoyed a visitation a couple of days ago. Up popped the environment minister, Grimalt, alongside Mayor Cerdà to do some sort of topping-out ceremony on the parking area. For once, he wasn't cutting some tape or helping to plant a tree. The environment minister does get about. One day he's opening walkways in Son Bauló, then he's doing the same around Artà, the next he's giving the boss of TUI Germany a hand with the spade and planting the first pine in the TUI Bosc (forest). The latter is a splendid example of corporate sponsorship for parts of Mallorca. I am all in favour. Indeed, I have previously suggested that resorts could be sponsored. Maybe they will be. The sale of naming rights can bring in a pretty centimo. Just ask Mike Ashley who wants to flog off the naming of St. James's Park. But there is one more sponsorship that TUI should consider. Indeed one ownership it should consider.

TUI Real Mallorca. TUI-owned, lock, stock and barrel. There you go. Problem solved.

Yesterday's title - The Mamas and the Papas, "California Dreamin' ", Today's title - collaboration between miserabilist band singer and one of the finest "indie" female UK artists.


Index for October 2009

Abortion and assisted suicide - 19 October 2009
Andrés Montes - 21 October 2009
Camino de Ternelles re-claim walk - 14 October 2009
Can Picafort football tournament political spat - 13 October 2009
Christopher Columbus - 24 October 2009
City of culture and Olympics 2016 - 4 October 2009
Climate change - 17 October 2009
Council of Mallorca - 2 October 2009
Crisis in government averted - 15 October 2009
Fire-runs, European directive & - 23 October 2009, 26 October 2009
Golf in Campos - 15 October 2009
History and stories of Mallorca - 3 October 2009
IVA (VAT) and tourism - 7 October 2009, 8 October 2009, 9 October 2009
La Gola, Puerto Pollensa - 31 October 2009
Language learning - 20 October 2009
Malarial mosquitoes - 17 October 2009, 22 October 2009
October in Mallorca - 1 October 2009, 18 October 2009, 30 October 2009
Playa de Muro - 30 October 2009
Principe de Asturias awards 2009 - 22 October 2009
Real Mallorca for sale - 31 October 2009
Robberies from villas in Puerto Pollensa - 29 October 2009
Sa Pobla-Alcúdia railway - 5 October 2009
Season 2009 - 10 October 2009, 30 October 2009
Sephardic Jews, Ladino culture & - 16 October 2009
Ses Casetes des Capellans, Playa de Muro - 21 October 2009, 25 October 2009, 26 October 2009
Smoking in bars - 29 October 2009
Speed limits, driving - 27 October 2009
Temperatures exaggerated - 11 October 2009
Things that are wrong with Mallorca - 12 October 2009
Thomas Cook express concerns - 7 October 2009
TUI: trees, green hotels and state of tourism - 28 October 2009
Types you meet in a bar - 6 October 2009
Unió Mallorquina councillors' resignation - 2 October 2009, 15 October 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

All The Leaves Are Brown

Like the cicadas in their death throes, Playa de Muro falters towards its seasonal end. Whereas the cicadas, sucked of their greenness, hurl themselves pitiably into walls or onto terrace floors, Playa de Muro is still, silent almost in its last staggering moments. It just gives up. There's nothing left, or very little. The life that is left is equally pitiable. A supermarket with lilos that no-one needs, flip-flops flopping forlornly on racks, the Pepsi and soft drinks cabinets shuttered over as the stock had been allowed to run out days ago. The tabacs stopped bothering to order newspapers at the start of the week, the girls are at their busiest in compiling closing-up inventories; no-one is even buying sleeves of cigarettes. The flags on the beach indicate that lifeguards are still on guard, but there are ever fewer for them to watch over as the hotels limp on with their last remaining guests before the whitewash and brown paper are dragged out of the store-rooms and smothered across the insides of the glass facades. Boots of cars are open, revealing suitcases and boxes of small belongings, ready for transportation to who knows where. The apartments are emptying, the season's population moving on and the "for-rent" signs being hung up.

This is how it ends. The season just fades away but not without recriminations - someone's sold off the TV or taken the fridge, so it gets said, someone misunderstands the contract terms and is not entitled to the dole, so it gets said. The season fades away and things fall apart - the centre cannot hold, it has given up trying after the months of managing to hold things together.

The streets become ghostly. At night there is no-one, no-one wandering to or wandering back, no-one shouting or laughing. Gone is the tribute entertainment of the evening that blows on the breeze from the hotels and disturbs a now-forgotten hot night on the villa terrace. During the day, the little train has stopped and been shunted into its winter sidings, the trikes no longer squeak past, their drivers no more shrieking or screaming. The wire fences go up, creating no-go areas of hotel complexes, the pine needles get tossed and pile up against every wall along with sweet wrappers fallen from litter bins and a yellowing page of a newspaper taken on the wind. The garden lawns become a confusion of renewed grass but also brittle, colourless bracts of fallen bougainvillaea, the grey-sand decayed branches of palms, ever more brown pine needles and the similarly brown leaves of this tree and that plant. This is how it ends. Every year the same, and you somehow wonder if it will come back. But it does. Because in spring, this will be how it starts - they arrive and rent their apartments, sign their contracts, sweep the terraces, scrape away the brown paper, wipe away the whitewash, bring out the lilos and the flip-flops, stock the drinks cabinets, the tobacco shelves and the newspaper stands. Every year the same, the same cycle as every year.

Yesterday's title - "I Think I'm In Love", Spiritualized, Today's title - first line from one of the great songs.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Probably Just Thieving, Probably Just Smoking

If you happen to have a villa and rent it out, there are a number of things you need to bear in mind. One of these may not be the fact that someone might just be helping themselves to the contents. It is not the first time one has heard of such a thing, but a woman has been up before the beak, charged with 51 counts of theft from villas of a "high level", says the report from the "Diario". Apparently, she worked for estate agencies and cleaning companies, and had some 200 keys which were used to gain entrance to properties - and cleaning up, so she had hoped - in the Gotmar and Almadrava areas of Puerto Pollensa.

The report itself is quite funny, as it plots how the Guardia came to suspect the woman who has been detained. I say "funny" because, given the concentration of the sites of the robberies and the obvious similarity of circumstances - often empty properties where it would have been known when they would be occupied for rental or otherwise - it beggars belief that anyone could really have believed that they might get away with it. But then there are obviously those who do, like the woman who has been arrested.

Whither smoking? And smoking in bars and restaurants? This is a subject, the exact rules about which have become more confused the more the law gets changed or imposed. The Balearics have their own interpretation, one that differs to national law. But this does seem about to all change.

At present, a bar in Mallorca, if it is less than 100 square metres, can opt - in its interior - to be smoking or non-smoking, which means, almost invariably, that it is smoking. More than 100 square metres and there are meant to be two zones. Strictly speaking, these should be physically separated, but often they are not, making the presence of two zones - next to each other - a nonsense, and also meaning that the division is often ignored.

Along now comes the idea that smoking inside will be allowed but only if food is not being served, and by food this would mean even something like a bag of crisps. As there are very few places that do not serve food, the consequence of this should be clear - there will be no smoking inside. Terraces would still be exempt, maybe.

Or at least, the above is what one is being told. Don't necessarily assume that this will all come about, or that, even were it to, it would be pursued with vigour. The separation requirement has not been the subject of great scrutiny, but one is led to believe that any further change to the law - one that would ban smoking in "public spaces" - would be implemented more strongly.

One is, though, as always, in unclear waters. The definition of public spaces would include terraces, as surely it would also include beaches. Or would it? To make matters more murky, or indeed smoky, restaurant owners are seeking compensation for work they carried out - in those instances where they actually did - to create physical barriers for smoking and non-smoking zones under law changes four years ago.

Whatever the final result of all this apparent uncertainty, it would seem that smoking in Mallorca is unlikely to ever be the same. Local government figures suggest that smoking is a habit of only some 25% of the population - figures one might find hard to believe - but one might also consider tourists, be they smokers or not. The fear might be that effectively banning smoking from bars would add to the hardships bars have had to endure over the years and that it would come in at a time of difficult economic circumstances. Perhaps. There again, perhaps it might prove positive.

For some tourists, however, this may all prove to be a step too far. Tough laws in the UK? No problem. Go to Mallorca and you can light up where you like - more or less. But if the law were to be changed? Cue voices of discontent, those of ones who still seem to believe that things should be different elsewhere. Like the fact that a three-course meal and wine should be less than a fiver (and I'm not referring to the menu of the day in the rare cases where such a price might apply), so the expectation is that similar rules to the UK shouldn't apply. Or the fact that tobacco price increases were, for some, scandalous. They weren't. The most swingeing increases were for particularly low-priced products, such as rolling tobacco. The scandal was those who were complaining because they had been paid for "orders" from people back home, only to find that their profit margin was eroded because of a sudden increase in duty.

Yesterday's title - The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's) Today's title - this comes from something quite staggering, and spiritual (clue's in the last word).


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Getting Better All The Time

You may remember that the chief exec of Thomas Cook hit town a couple of weeks back and had some damning things to say about the projected IVA rise and the amount of money that is spent on promoting Balearics tourism. At the time, I wondered what TUI might have to say. Not very much, it would seem. Whereas Thomas Cook came to metaphorically partially bury the local tourism industry (well, I do exaggerate of course), TUI came to plant a tree in the same Mallorcan earth. The Germans wear their green credentials with pride, and so the boss of TUI Germany headed off to a nature park with a spade and a baby pine. There would appear to be a TUI forest - really, TUI Bosc it is called - in the Llevant park. From small pines do mighty tour operations grow. TUI has been banging on about sustainable hotels, or something like that, for a while, all part of making the über-green Germans feel at home when the recycling gestapo rifle through the hotels' litter bins.

The only slight drawback to this TUI forest malarkey is that some wag might append an "h" to the end of the Catalan word Bosc, and I make this point not with reference to a well-known German manufacturer of white goods and quality gardening equipment. As part of the TUI greening of Mallorca, the obermeister was also on hand to dish out prizes to local hotels that are doing their bit to save the world. TUI may be applauded for its environmental responsibility, but it doesn't stop them taking away in other areas - like launching an exclusively all-inclusive brochure.

In the circumstances, a troll off to the nature park with the environment minister was probably not the time to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Thomas Cook and have a go at the rise in tax. Instead, as reported in the "Diario", the TUI boss reckoned that this year had been "complicated" and that 2010 would also be complicated. The year of living complicatedly. Or two years of doing so. Swine flu, bombs and bad weather make life complicated, or in the case of the former some irresponsible, sensationalist reporting by the German red-tops make life complicated. The lousy weather in the second part of September, a time when the Länder normally disgorge great numbers of Germans to come for a late burst of Mallorcan sun, may have curbed these visitors' enthusiasm, but rubbish weather in September is hardly unknown. Maybe every year is complicated.

Fortunately, not everyone sees complications. Take the secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization. He's been on walkabout in Spain** as well, not with a Bosch spade and a bag of fertiliser, but with some reassuring words for Spanish tourism - to the effect that things will get better from the middle of next year. From which the tourism industry will doubtless take heart.

Setting aside the fact that "complicated" and "getting better" do appear to be at odds with each other, are these about it when it comes to pronouncements? One fancies that there is rather more to all this tourism bossery than offering vague statements about complication and getting better. If not, then I am at their disposal, willing and able. And I'll even bring my own spade.

** The WTO is in fact based in Madrid.

Yesterday's title - Simon and Garfunkel, "The 59th Street Bridge Song", Today's title - well, possibly. Which album was it from?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

You know how it is. You'll be steadfastly and righteously observing the speed limit, and some twat appears in your rear mirror expressing paroxysms and gesticulating ferociously with an aggravated hand, or even both hands where the less diligent are concerned. Ever since they made the gloriously difficult-to-overtake-on new road layout through Puerto Alcúdia and Playa de Muro, the motoring psychotic and impatient have had to improvise methods of speeding themselves along without demolishing their cars and themselves on the inconveniently close-together central concrete islands. The favourite is to nip onto the parallel side road and race at great velocity to the next exit, cornering back onto the main road with a manoeuvre of which Jenson Button (aka Chris Martin of Coldplay) would be proud. And this in order to steal one place as part of qualifying for the grid. 50 kilometres per hour, an affront to motoring civil liberties, but a limit designed to protect erring tourists from being launched into the air and then making a wheel-on appearance in Muro hospital as part of an episode of "Sun, Sea and A&E", attached to a life-support machine and with a weeping spouse clawing at the lilo they had intended for the beach.

Apparently, things have got so good in Spain that annually fewer than 2000 people now lose their lives in accidents on main roads. The news is less good when it comes to towns and those side roads. An encounter with a bus or a souped-up mobility scooter can be fatal, so the traffic authorities are contemplating introducing a thirty kilometre speed limit in towns. Tee-hee, that should cause some fine sport. You know that place in Holland where they've done away with all restrictions, and motorists, pedestrians and cyclists just get on with it. They should do that here - in Alcúdia, for example. What fun that would be. Though my Dutch moles tell me that the Dutch driver can be a bit of an animal, there is aggression and then there is sheer lunacy. The Dutch are not known for their lunacy. Pragmatic, one can see them adhering politely to the non-restriction principle. "After you, Arje." "No, after you, Joost." And the traffic just grinds to a halt as caravans of schoolchildren on bikes collide with some old folk crossing the road.

No, such a civilised solution wouldn't have a chance where the mad of Mallorca are concerned. So, they have to try and impose ever-decreasing speed limits. They, the authorities, should come and hang around those side roads for a day or two. What with the irate overtakers (or should that be under-takers) opting for the side roads as a means of getting ahead of plodders such as myself with the cruise control on the limit and with coaches hammering past houses and divesting parked cars of their wing mirrors, those authorities would soon realise the forlorn nature of their plan. Which is probably why they'll introduce it.

Yesterday's title - Roberta Flack, Today's title - first line from ... ah, but what was its main title?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Killing Them Softly

Further to yesterday. There is some disquiet that there was not a cohesive message coming from the various political parties in Muro against the Costas demolition plan. Only the Unió Mallorquina got involved, something for which it was criticised as it appeared to make Ses Casetes the party's own issue. Maybe that's why others stayed away. Something else that came out was that, while Ses Casetes is threatened by the definition as to what is public domain or land, a hotel next to the area is excluded. One presumes that this means the Hotel Platja Daurada, a hotel operated by the EIX group, which so happens to have its offices next to the hotel.

Even if this not the right hotel - and there is no other hotel that joins onto Ses Casetes - it is hard not to get the impression that maybe Ses Casetes is something of a soft target. For the very reasons that it is not a hotel and is not an urbanisation of expensive real estate or of the fabulously wealthy, perhaps it is a convenient fall-guy in the Costas wish to do some cleaning up of public land along the shorelines of Mallorca. Killing the small houses softly.

Yet for all this, if one takes a stroll around Ses Casetes, and the photo from yesterday does give an impression of the place - unmade tracks as roads for instance - then one does wonder as to the legitimacy of the development. It does seem hugely anachronistic, which is of course part of the charm. That it has not been developed in terms, say, of roads, does not mean that it does not have legitimacy, but there is also something that is not quite right there. The original or oldest small houses around the parking area and just off are one thing, but some tracks go into the forest, and next to some tracks are houses that are not like the small houses. They are in fact new; certainly by comparison.

The land itself was ceded to the town many years ago. A question may well be what that land actually was. Some of the buildings would certainly appear to be in possible conflict with what is meant to be the wider nature park of Albufera.

Whatever the real legal situation, the people of Ses Casetes deserve support. One thing that came across vividly during the demonstration was the strength of the community that is Ses Casetes, of the vast age ranges that tell of the history of ownership and of the generations who have summered (and also wintered at holiday times) in the small houses. It is definitely a place worth preserving.

Some hours after the Muro demo, there was the other one - in Sa Pobla. This was a gathering of "demons" in a defiant act of fire-running against the European directive that would limit the participation of children and general interactivity during fire-runs at Mallorcan fiestas. 3,000 people are estimated to have attended. Further to what I said on 23 October ("Feel The Fire") when I wondered about the safety of fire-runs and of bonfires, I was told by Kevin at JKs about how the Santander bank in Puerto Pollensa nearly once copped for it, while John MacLean has sent an email specifically about fires in Sa Pobla during Sant Antoni. I quote: "We were absolutely gobsmacked to see a roaring fire, surrounded by the usual crowd of partygoers, slap bang on the forecourt of the Repsol filling station". (Yep, that's right, filling station as in petrol station.) "It could not have been more than ten feet from the pumps. At that point, I realised that the Mallorcans and the 'poblers' (as the folk of Sa Pobla are called) are not only a different breed but totally off their heads. Needless to say, we didn't hang about!"

And they're complaining about a bit of European health and safety that might stop kids setting fire to themselves during fire-runs. Tradition is one thing, but madness is another.

Yesterday's title - Simple Minds, Today's title - variant on what?


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Don't Take It Away - This Is Your Land

And the people of the little houses made their way to the little plaza in front of the Pedrissos bar. The man with the conch had blown his loudhailer trumpet. Everyone had searched in the bottom of wardrobes for a dispensable sheet and had blackened it with a slogan. Those without sheets had stuck brown wrapping paper together and had used biros. Two hundred or so formed a semi-circle and had their photos taken. One chap with long dreadlocks tied into a ponytail had the biggest photographic kit of all. Local TV smoked and waited for their interview. Small children, an afternoon spent with cardboard, sticks and marker pens, were thrust into the circle. One had her sign reversed, revealing a patchwork of different coloured tape. Someone helpfully turned it the right way. The conch was handed to a man with a grey goatie who started a song no-one seemed to know. There was some applause and he tried again with a bit more success, but maybe the people were shy when it came to singing for the telly. The local police, half-a-dozen strong, stood about and grinned. One came forward and took some photos with a small digital camera. Perhaps it was a requirement - evidence of the demonstrators - or maybe they were of his family. There was one of the girls from the Eroski near to Playa de Muro. Her family has a "caseta" and has had it for years. It's a place where children can play freely, as she used to, this Ses Casetes des Capellans. It's a place that's very Mallorcan, very Muro. One felt like an intruder into an essentially Muro occasion. Barely a word of Castilian was being uttered, just the chatter and chirrup of the Mallorcan char-char sound, but without any sense of choler - no anger as such, it was a pleasant afternoon in late season, the sun was out and warm, and the "cassettes", if one might call them that, took a stroll from their casetes and were taped for posterity and for transmission on the evening's news.

The signs said what the people thought. "We don't understand the Costas' criteria"; "We want to conserve Capellans as it is"; "Capellans is our Capellans, it is for the people of Muro and for everyone". Rather more politically, one read: "A golf course is for the rich. Capellans is worth much more". The latter sign was a reference to the permission granted to build the golf course on the nearby Son Bosc finca. Casetes is for the ordinary people, their summer homes of white-washed walls, their bungalows with green or red trimmings and brightly-coloured gates. And it is these curious and humble little houses that the Costas authority would like to see demolished. It may take years for that to happen, if happen it ever does. But the people of Ses Casetes have expressed their views. There is traditional Mallorca and there is traditional beach and summer Mallorca, not the beach and summer of the hotels and the resorts, but of holiday for the local people as it once was, and still is - for the children of the Murers and the owners of the Casetes. One boy's sign said that Capellans is "like a playground for the boys and girls, please don't take it away". This is their land. Please don't take it away. It brought a tear to the eye.

* This is a follow-up to the piece of 21 October.

Today's title - the second part; great, really great.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Columbus Industry

This is the thing about Columbus that appeared in "Talk Of The North" this week, the piece to which I referred on 16 October (Chris and Yasmin). I was thinking of reproducing another thing that went into TOTN - about the Ternelles carry-on - as it had, what I thought, a pretty good gag in the final paragraph which mysteriously didn't appear. But as I've done enough on that subject already, you'll never know the gag.

Anyway, here's the Columbus industry:

Christopher Columbus, Cristóbal Colón, Cristofol Colom, Cristoforo Colombo - take your pick. There is a Columbus industry in Spain, one dedicated to proving that the discoverer of the Americas did not come from Genoa. There is also a lot riding on Columbus not being Italian. So synonymous is he with Spain that the "Día de la Hispanidad" coincides with the day on which he made landfall at what he called San Salvador on 12 October, 1492. In the variants of his name, he is celebrated by streets, such as Cristofol Colom in Alcúdia old town; in Porto Colom he has been claimed as one of their own. DNA tests on those with the Colom or Colón surname have sought to prove his Spanishness or maybe his Catalan or even Mallorcan origins.

The traditional historical view of Columbus is that he came from Genoa, but there has long been sufficient mystery as to his background that his birthplace has been the subject of fierce and patriotic debate, and no more so than in Spain where the patronage of the Catholic Kings resulted in his discovery of the New World and heralded Spain's Golden Age. National pride, akin to Spain winning the Euros, would flow from it actually being proven that C.C. was a Spaniard all along, or you might think it would were it not for his tarnished image or that he was in fact Catalan.

Nevertheless, Genoa is usually accepted as being his place of birth, and the Genoese were merchant traders and familiar to the Spanish court of the late fifteenth century. In itself, it would have been no surprise had he, from Genoa, been hanging around in the general area of Isabel and Ferdinand. But the Columbus mystery remains and has largely centred on how he spoke and on how he wrote. The only real agreement is that his language has been hard to pinpoint. One argument is that he learnt a corrupted form of Castilian while in Lisbon some years before his first voyage. (His wife, indisputably, was Portuguese.) That he appeared never to write in Italian may have been due to the fact that his Genoese dialect, if this was indeed his "native" tongue, was a spoken and not a written language.

In seeking to resolve the Columbus mystery, a new book by Estelle Irizarry, emeritus professor of Spanish literature at the University of Georgetown in Washington, argues that Columbus was in fact of Catalan origin and that he spoke Catalan before he could speak Castilian. In "The DNA Of The Writings Of Columbus", Irizarry places Columbus as having come from Catalan-speaking Aragon, itself of symbolic importance to Mallorcans as this was the kingdom of the "conquistador", Jaume I.

Intriguingly, Irizarry has identified characteristics of linguistic use which point to Columbus possibly having been descended from the Jewish-Spanish race persecuted from the fourteenth century. The language of the Sephardic Jews in Spain was Ladino, a mix of primarily Hebrew and Spanish. Though Irizarry has identified use of Ladino by Columbus, she implies that there was also a variant - Ladino-Catalan - and that this usage indicates a Catalan origin. Sephardic Jews were to be found across Spain, but they were certainly prominent in Aragon and Catalonia, and even in Palma.

Claims of Jewish or Catalan lineage or birth are nothing new in the Columbus mystery. But if Irizarry has indeed managed, via a study of linguistics, to unravel the mystery and to establish a Catalan origin, how well would this all sit with Columbus and the Día de la Hispanidad? Not very well where more radical Catalan voices might be concerned, one would imagine. The Columbus industry, moreover, has scarred the reputation of the discoverer, which might make those who would claim "ownership" of him pause and consider him in terms of current-day political correctness. Not only was he a lousy administrator, he has been blamed for the wiping-out of the indigenous Taino indians. The Tainos may have bequeathed us certain words - hammock, hurricane, barbecue, for example - but they survived as a separate race for only a short period once Columbus had colonised La Española.

Yet for all this, how does it square with the fact that Columbus did have Genoese connections? With the fact this brothers came from Genoa to join him on voyages? Or with the generally held view that his father, Domenico, is meant to have originated from the village of Moconesi near to Genoa? Or that he himself once clearly stated that he was born in Genoa, despite his frequently being attributed with having said that he came from nothing?

Columbus, it is said, sought to hide his origins because they were humble. His father, if indeed Domenico was his father, was a mere weaver. It might be construed that he was ambiguous as to his background because of a possible Jewishness, even if it was not unknown for "conversos" from the Jewish faith to rise to positions of importance at the time of his voyages. But it is not inconceivable that he acquired what was a polyglot tongue. His time in Lisbon may be more significant than previously thought, as Portugal, prior to expelling Jews at the very end of the fifteenth century, had become something of a refuge for Sephardic Jews leaving Spain in the years before the final expulsion order of 1492. If it is true that Columbus acquired his Castilian in Lisbon, then might it be that this was influenced by Ladino? Columbus was clearly exposed to the Jewish community in Lisbon. In his will, he referred to the Jew who guarded the gate to the Jewish quarter. This all said, it is the Catalan element in Professor Irizarry's findings that is the wild card.

The Columbus mystery and the Columbus industry will continue. There's too much riding on them for his origins to be finally and irrefutably laid to rest.

Yesterday's title - It was on my list of last year's songs of the year - Paul McCartney and Youth, "Sing The Changes",


Friday, October 23, 2009

Feel The Fire

Another day, another demo. Actually, the same day as the demo against the demolition of Ses Casetes, just a different town - Sa Pobla - and a different matter of concern. And this is? Fire. Fire and fire-runs. One of the most traditional aspects of the Mallorcan fiesta is threatened (allegedly) by the European Union and its directive 2007/23/EC which comes into force at the start of next year - just in time, of course, before one of the biggest "fire" occasions in Mallorca, the Sant Antoni devils night of 16 January. And which town has the biggest of these occasions? Sa Pobla of course.

I have tried to read this directive. Have you ever tried reading European directives? As a cure to insomnia, they probably have some merit. Anyway, this one is all about fireworks and other pyrotechnics. At its heart is the free movement of pyrotechnic articles which, being European legislation, is anything but. Possibly; I did rather get lost at that point. But also being European legislation, it would not be doing its job if it didn't draw up volumes of law in respect of health and safety. It is this aspect, fundamentally, that could change the fire-run tradition. One says could. I actually doubt it.

Much as traditions should be preserved, I have long wondered about the whole fire-run and bonfire-lighting malarkey in Mallorca. In towns such as Puerto Pollensa, bonfires are lit in close proximity to houses and bars. There may not have been major conflagrations, but it's not hard to imagine that the fires might get out of hand. Then there are the fire-runs themselves. Advice is always issued as to the wearing of the right clothing and the like, but once again you do wonder.

In the directive, there is this thing about the observance of "festivities" in member states. It has not been drafted without acknowledgement of these traditions or indeed permissions issued by member-state governments. The fire-run itself does not appear to be endangered, but there are rules being set out about the handling of fire and fireworks and the ages of those doing so.

In May, the fire-run tradition was taken to the streets of Manchester as part of the attempt to drum up Mancunian business for the beaches of Mallorca. I'm sure that Manchester was impressed. Or maybe it wasn't. But it should have been. The fire-run is a spectacle. It should be left to continue. Also earlier this year, a delegation of mayors and others trotted off to Brussels to lobby against the directive and to also ask for more European money. There was some talk of legal action if the directive did actually impinge on the fire-run to the extent of it being outlawed. This, the outlawing, I cannot see happening. Apart from anything else, who - locally - would enforce the ruling? And, as I point out, there is this mention in the directive of observing local traditions.

The Sa Pobla demo may be a bit of an over-reaction. There seems to be an admission that the definitive ruling on the fire-run is missing, which maybe how Brussels wants it. Thataway, it can let the local traditions carry on while at the same time insisting that there is adequate safety, to which the locals would respond that there already is. But where kids of certain ages are concerned, the fact that the directive might lead them to handling nothing more incendiary than a sparkler may actually be sensible.

Don't let's get too worked up, though. The fire-runs will continue. And so will the devils.

Yesterday's title - Spin Doctors, Today's title - which "Fireman" (firemen) included this in which song?


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two Princes

In the current "Talk Of The North", there is mention of the death of Reinhard Mohn. Who he? Mohn was the former president of the German Bertelsmann media group. He was also fabulously wealthy. He owned a home in Alcúdia and had close links with the town, founding the library of Can Torró and being honoured by being named an "adoptive son" of the town. Rather more grandly - at national level - he was awarded a Principe de Asturias prize (for communications and humanities).

By coincidence, the 2009 event is currently taking place, as always in the city of Oviedo in the principality of Asturias in north-west Spain. The actual awards are to be handed out tomorrow evening.

Principe de Asturias is the title bestowed on the first-in-line male heir to the Spanish throne. The title dates back to the fourteenth century. Currently, this is Crown-Prince Felipe. His father, the current king, Juan-Carlos, was previously the Principe. It is akin to Charles being Prince of Wales. Rather like Charles, and his Prince's Trust, the Principe de Asturias awards have a charitable status - there is a foundation that oversees them. It also gives the heir to the throne something of importance to do, and the awards have become not insignificant in terms of international recognition and prestige.

One might have the impression that the Spanish, all sun, beach and sangria, don't stand too much on ceremony. Well they do when it comes to many aspects of life, including awards ceremonies. The Principe de Asturias prize-giving is, ostensibly, quite a serious do, but the Spanish royals have the knack of introducing light-heartedness into even more solemn occasions. I recall the time when the king and queen embraced and kissed Spanish gold-medal winners at an Olympics event. You wouldn't catch Elizabeth and Philip getting up to that sort of carry-on. But it is this that does make the Spanish royals rather endearing. and the Principe de Asturias ceremony, though formal, does manage to introduce moments of humour. It is all rather splendid.

There are various categories of award, and past winners, an eclectic bunch to say the least, have included the likes of Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Google, Yasser Arafat, Mary Robinson, Sebastian Coe, Stephen Hawking and J.K. Rowling. This year, there are prizes for, among others, the architect Norman Foster, David Attenborough and two men who, it might be said, have shaped our modern lives more than most - Martin Cooper and Raymond Tomlinson. And they are? Respectively, it was they who - more or less - gave us mobile phones and email. So, it's they - these two princes of technology and the Principe award - who we have to blame.

More climate change and mosquitoes
Following the interview with the chap from IMEDEA (17 October: High In The Sky), the "Diario" has also been talking with the professor of zoology at the university in Palma. In answer to a question as to whether climate change may bring disease-imparting insects, he says that it could well do. The main immediate threat might be the appearance of the tiger mosquito - it has yet to be encountered in the Balearics - which is more aggressive than the current lot and can even bring with it the transmission of diseases such as dengue, which isn't a particularly reassuring prospect. Perhaps some scientists could turn their attention to the matter and get themselves a Principe de Asturias award in the process.

Yesterday's title - Pete Seeger, Today's title - the band with the lead singer who looked like Alexei Lalas, circa the World Cup 1994 (or maybe it was the other way round).


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Little Boxes Made Of Ticky Tacky

Not for the first time, the odd little area of Ses Casetes des Capellans in Playa de Muro has aroused some passions. It has, in the recent past, been the site of an outcry over the raising of a flag with Francoist associations on one of the small houses. There has also been concern as to the fact that the sand area, around which many of the cottages are arranged, has been a free parking space for those destined for the beach. Indeed, the regional government's own tourism website has advised that it be used for parking. Muro council has now decreed that only residents of the town, with a permit, can use the parking area.

To remind you, Ses Casetes sits at the border between Playa de Muro and Can Picafort. The houses not only encircle the parking area but also make their way into the forest that, itself, is part of the wider nature park of Albufera. As such, all the residences occupy dune or formerly dune land, which can also - almost certainly - be classified as "salinas", dried salt lands. Those of you with sharp memories may realise where this is all leading. Yep, it's them again - the Costas authority, the one that oversees and determines what is rightfully or wrongfully built in the general area of the sea. (This is, by the way, something of a follow-up to a piece from 5 May: Mean Streets.)

Ses Casetes has history. It was originally designated as a holiday retreat for clerics (strictly speaking, I guess, chaplains, which would be the closest translation of "capellans"). That the houses may have passed into private hands as holiday homes is not the issue. What is, is that they contravene what the Costas has established to be land in the public domain. Ses Casetes could be bulldozered.

The Unió Mallorquina (UM) party at the town hall is leading the fight against the Costas' stance. And it is a fight, in its own words, "for the peculiarity" of Ses Casetes. Nicely put. It is this, the very peculiarity of the area, that makes it something worthy of preservation. The socialists at the Mallorca Council have now weighed in as well, arguing that Ses Casetes is not only unique to Mallorca, it is unique to Spain, too. Perhaps it is, though this may be overstating its significance. As such, it has little merit in terms of architecture, but that very peculiarity should be sufficient to have a heritage site protection stamped onto it.

What has riled many is the fact that the Costas have given only a month for representations to be made against the "demarcation" order, officially announced on 8 October, and that the authority has planned a meeting with residents for 30 November, i.e. some three weeks after the process of representation has finished. As a minimum, the UM is pressing for a month's extension. Meanwhile, there is to be a protest this coming Saturday.

Even were the Costas to reject the opposition, Ses Casetes would not suddenly disappear. Indeed, the rulings on demarcation allow for a maximum stay of execution, so to speak, for up to 60 years. You might ask, therefore, what the fuss is all about. Apart from anything else, the owners cannot, were they inclined to, sell their properties. But the most important aspect is that oddness. Mallorca should cherish its curios and not have them demolished, even if the prospect is some way in the future. The Costas often appear to act in a heavy-handed manner. In the case of the "casetes", it is heavy-handed and short-sighted.

Tiki Taka
A few days ago, Andrés Montes, the Spanish football commentator, died. Some of you may recall him being the object of my ribbing during the 2006 World Cup. He was one of the Three Tenors, as helpfully dubbed by correspondent Alastair I think, the threesome of commentators (which also included Julio Salinas) who would burst into song during a match. Montes it was who coined "tiki taka" to describe the short passing game of the Spanish team, and which he would frequently drop into his commentaries. He was infuriating, but he was certainly different.

Yesterday's title - Natasha Bedingfield, Today's title - little boxes were houses, and this was?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

These Words Are My Own

You know those Google ad things. Do you ever take any notice of them, let alone click on them? I don't. Well not normally. Only if there is the prospect of a potentially rich source of bloggism. And so it proved the other day. Up popped this thing for a Spanish language course. It said something along the lines of you only need 138 words of Spanish and you're quids in with the language. It didn't say that exactly of course, but it was the 138 that caught my eye. Why 138? Why not 150 or 200? There must be a psychology of greater credibility that demands the promotion of a seemingly inexplicable number, such as 138. Rather as Douglas Adams settled on 42, so the answer to everything Spanish is 138.

The site itself, and I'm damned if I'm mentioning it and giving it more publicity, was as you might expect. Great lists of testimonials of the I tried everything else and then found your course and now I speak the language so well I am the president of Spain variety. Again, I do exaggerate slightly. There was some mention of handing over folding notes through a credit-card transaction. 110 dollars I think it was. (Surely 138 would be more credible?) In return for this, you could download or get the CD or do whatever you are supposed to do with these things.

Now, I'm not saying that there may not be any merit in whatever system the site claims to promote. For all I know, you may indeed be fluent in a matter of weeks. But I do somewhat doubt it. One comes back to those 138 words. Apparently they're all you need to be conducting yourself in Spanish. No need for any boring old grammar. People do not learn languages through the grammar approach, it says. Language teachers don't like the grammar approach, it adds.

Up to a point, this may be correct, though where some language teachers are concerned it may be because they're lousy teachers and don't themselves understand the grammar. And that would not be unknown. The problem is that grammar is unfortunately quite important. Without an understanding of it, you cannot correctly construct sentences, which is really the whole point of speaking a language.

But let's say there is some value in this approach. Below, therefore, are 138 words/expressions. I will gladly offer them to you free of charge, though if you are truly impressed by your Spanish ability as a result, I might establish a PayPal account and you can transfer a tenner plus shipping costs and I'll send you a blank CD. So, here we go:

Some pronouns - yo, tú, él, ella, usted, nosotros, vosotros, ellos.
Some verbs - tener, hablar, poner, poder, estar, ser, decir, pedir, querer, seguir, hacer, ir, venir.
Some descriptive verbs - tener sed/hambre/frío/calor/razón, hace frío/calor/viento.
Some numbers - uno, dos, tres, diez, veinte, cien, ciento treinta y ocho, mil.
Some nouns - hombre, mujer, marido, abuelo, abuela, amigo, niño, hijo, comida, bebida, café, té, leche, cerveza, coche, jardín, playa, cara, cabeza, ojo, oreja, mano, cielo, lluvia, sol, casa, mesa, silla, salón, dormitorio, baño, cama, gato, perro, tiempo, hora, día, mañana, tarde, noche.
Some adjectives - pequeño, grande, mucho, poco, largo, corto, alto, ancho.
Some words of greeting and goodbye - hola, mucho gusto, encantado, cómo estás, qué tal, buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches, adiós, hasta luego.
Some prepositions - a, de, por, para, hasta, desde, con, sin, en, sobre.
Some common expressions - claro, perfecto, me gusta, digame, muchas gracias, lo siento.
Some adverbs - aún, entonces, también, tampoco, todavía, quizás, cuando, mismo (and mismo is one of the more versatile of Spanish words).
Some words of place - aquí, allí, ahí, frente, abajo, arriba, detrás.
Some question words - qué, quien, dónde, por qué, cómo.
Some negatives - no, nada, nadie, nunca, ningún.
Some conjunctions - porque, pero ... er, forget anymore, that's 138.

Right then, off you go, learn all that lot and then place them in meaningful sentences paying careful attention to verb conjugation, noun gender, adjectival endings, appropriate use of prepositions ...

Ultimately, the only way you learn is by speaking - and speaking a lot and by being corrected when you make mistakes. Especially those grammatical mistakes, because without the correct grammar and all the rest, you can never be said to be able to speak a language. But if you must, then go the 138 route and tell me if I'm wrong, so long as you do it in Spanish.

Today's title - when I saw her on Jools Holland's new year thing a few years back, it was - wow!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Matters Of Life And Death

The anti-abortion rally that took place in Madrid on Saturday attracted, depending on whose figures you believe, anything between a quarter of a million and a million and a half demonstrators. The rally, as much as it was a pro-life proclamation, was also a direct attack against the liberal social policies of the Zapatero government. Since taking office, Sr. Zapatero's socialist administration has sought to slacken the shackles of conservative Catholicism by, for example, legalising gay marriage and now seeking to introduce abortion on demand and, moreover, abortion for 16 and 17-year old girls without their having to gain parental consent. Until now, abortion has been sanctioned only in extenuating circumstances, but it has also not been unknown, under these circumstances, for termination to be performed as late as eight months. The most usual justification has been the psychological or physical risk to the mother. The government wishes to see abortion on demand up to 14 weeks and no later than 22 weeks in certain instances.

As ever, this is a tough issue. The conservatism of the Catholic right makes it an even tougher one in Spain. The Zapatero government has sought to take on this conservatism - it is, perhaps, the single most important socio-political question that the country faces. Yet the power of the church has waned. Less than 20 per cent of the population now attends church on a regular basis. There are those who will quite openly denounce the obstructiveness of the church, while there are also those with memories of the church's role in the Franco era.

Nevertheless, abortion is a subject that goes beyond either religion or politics. It is, or should be, a moral issue, divorced from religious doctrine or political dogma. Personally, I struggle with it. Like, I would imagine, most people, I abhor the notion of abortion, but the moral argument goes further than the rights of the unborn child. Also like many people, I have had experience of abortion, if not directly but through the experiences of friends, such as one who terminated her pregnancy because the baby would have been born with Down's Syndrome. I also know people with Down's children, but was she wrong to have terminated? I don't believe she was. And one edges into the quality-of-life question. It is tough, and no-one can say that it isn't.

If abortion is a morally tough call, there is less agonising when it comes to assisted suicide. Or, put it this way, I do not have a moral struggle with it. This is also something that the Spanish are toying with. But it has been nuanced as a political issue, quite inappropriately in my opinion. In September last year, the health minister stated that a decision to opt for assisted suicide was in line with socialist ideology. The argument is laughable. The avoidance of "unnecessary suffering", the more humane justification that the ministry has proposed, is the key and not dogma.

I know someone who has a highly aggressive form of multiple sclerosis**. I will not name her, but there are many in Alcúdia and around who will know who she is. The disease has progressed rapidly; total incapacity and loss of control of functions are inevitable. There is no cure of course. Let me stress that I am not for one moment suggesting that assisted suicide is a solution that has been mentioned in her case. But it should surely be an option were she, or anyone else with such an awful condition to consider it, just as Debbie Purdy - also an MS sufferer - has fought for it to be in the UK. Any change to Spanish law to permit assisted suicide has yet to be agreed, but it is on the table. They should do it.

Inevitably, as with abortion, the assisted suicide argument runs up against the same opposition - that of the Catholic right. However much one may find repugnant or support abortion and assisted suicide, the decisions do ultimately reside with secular politicians. And it is this that traditional Catholic conservatism cannot accept. Politicians may make the winning of the arguments more difficult by styling them in terms of a particular political philosophy, but it is they who are the moral arbiters and not the church. Both issues will continue to arouse the passions of the traditionalists but, rather like Margaret Thatcher embarked on a change in British culture through her confrontations with the unions, so Zapatero has made this traditionalism his battlefield in advancing the cause of a socially liberal Spain and neutering the conservatism that historically has been the state's undoing. But there's a difference: cultural change in Spain is a matter of life and death.

No-one said this was easy.

** Multiple sclerosis is relatively uncommon in Mallorca, which may support a view that lower doses of sunlight can be influential in its development. In the case above, the person concerned is not originally from Mallorca and also has a condition against prolonged exposure to sun.

On a different health issue - breast cancer - I am grateful to Ben Grimley for the photo above. This comes from a short ceremony on the sports beach in Puerto Alcúdia yesterday at the end of a walk in aid of breast cancer charity. Alcúdia's mayor is on the far right in the photo.

Yesterday's title - Dusty Springfield,


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Summer Is Over

"I'm off to gather mushrooms." Those wacky French, always truffling around in the undergrowth snouting out fungus. It had never occurred to me that anyone, let alone a French visitor, might trek up to La Victoria and usher away the mountain goats before they could snaffle all the fungal booty. But it's that time of the year. Into the forests they go in search of firewood - not, I guess, that they're meant to - and the they is anyone with a wood-burner. Unused for several months, the burner is now being relieved of old ash and being re-commissioned once more.

The dew hangs thick on the grass that leaps up in a matter of a few days. It is this, the dew, as much as the torrents of September, that brings lawns back to life and to enjoy a spell of rapid re-growth before the sun loses more of its power and the gardens retreat into the winter time. Snails slime out from beneath stones, while the dying cicadas, in their shrouds of browny-grey, slam against walls in their last moments of disorientation before coming to rest and to await the ants. Flies crawl on terrace furniture and erratically buzz into faces; persistent, they land on arms or lobes, seek out spots to rub their legs in kitchens and bathrooms. The spray should kill them as well the autumn-returned mosquitoes, but rarely seems to.

The days shift from clear skies to grey, from calm to wind and from temperateness to chill. The beaches, where in summer the kiters and surfers are barred, now are littered with the colours of sails, boards with graffito go-faster, heavy-metallic blazes, and obsessive, freaky-haired surfies squeezed into wet suits. The wind from the sea is starting to cut. Hands reveal a purpleness unseen since early in the year, and jackets are zipped up to the neck, heads poking out from upraised collars that are caught on gusts and smack against an ear.

The "butaneros" are newly busy. Orange bottles, hidden in utility rooms, are lugged onto the streets to await the parping of the gas truck. Heaters are wheeled out and re-acquainted with the containers that vaporise their spectral, watery toxicity. In the supermarkets, the shelves change their contents, the greengrocery becomes greener as the likes of broccoli come back into fashion as the complement to legume-based stews. Refreshing summer whites begin to disappear as heavy reds regain their dominance in the wine sections.

From wardrobes and drawers come sweaters and sweatshirts, destined for the wash to fragrant-conditioner away the mustiness accumulated in the dead air of summer. Heavier clothing may be needed, but there are still tourists spirited enough to be shirtless and to take the iciness of a beer where a tea is demanded. The glass facades of some hotels are already whitewashed as end-of-summer shutdown signals the sad end of another season.

Winter's coming, and the tramuntana north wind blows south, forcing sand back against the wooden barriers and the flaking paint of shore-side villa walls. The sea rebels against the turquoise of summer. Turbulent, tossed by the tramuntana, it shrieks a green-seaweed greyness - an army colour, that of a tank - splashing up its detritus onto the water's edge, building castles of kiwi-moulded sea grass on the sand. The anger of the bay roars through the night, remonstrating with a forlorn and desperate desire to eke out just a few more hours and days of the season.

Summer's over.

Yesterday's title - "High", Lighthouse Family (Lightweight Family was how Steve Wright cruelly dubbed them), Today's title - one of her lesser-known songs, but it's terrific and so was she. Think another season.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

High In The Sky

Might malaria make a return to Mallorca? There used to be malarial mosquitoes. Workers engaged in cultivation of and by Albufera in the later nineteenth century were not immune from it. In current-day Mallorca, victims of malaria have contracted it in countries where it remains a reality. The disease was all but eradicated in European countries where it had been indigenous by the 1960s. Nevertheless, it is still the single greatest health threat that humans have to contend with, and climate change might lead to its return in parts of the world where it was thought they had seen the back of it - and that includes Mallorca.

This possibility has been raised by a professor at IMEDEA (Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies). Interviewed in "The Diario", Carlos Duarte hypotheses that intense rains, the consequence of climate change, could see plagues of mosquitoes, a return of malaria or the creation of new diseases. Part of the background to this is that the storms in September did indeed bring a "plague" around Palma, and special dispensation for spraying had to be obtained in order to contend with the number of mosquitoes.

Duarte has much to say about the impact of climate change. Apart from mosquitoes, he comments on the effects on tourism of rising temperatures. He doesn't envisage tourists deserting Mallorca but preferring to holiday in the spring and autumn when the temperatures would be benign but higher than at present.

Interesting stuff, but nothing particularly new. It's a while since I did anything on climate change, but there was a period when it was a regular feature on the blog. The tourism impact was just one aspect. The effect of rising sea levels another. Some of the forecasts for both temperature and sea-level rises have been truly scary, but coincidental with what Duarte says comes a book that may go a long way to disputing much of the thinking behind climate change. In an extract from "Superfreakonomics" in the last "Sunday Times", Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner reported on the work of some extraordinary men from Intellectual Ventures (IV) in Seattle. And they are extraordinary - a close associate of Bill Gates (an investor in IV), an astrophysicist and a climate scientist who has challenged his own assumptions about climate change, ones that had led him to share a Nobel prize with Al Gore, but which now contradict much of the Gore-ist propaganda.

The nub of what these extraordinary men have been working on is that, while accepting the Earth's warming, they dispute many of the crude models upon which predictions have been based and also one of the central tenets of the climate change debate - the role of carbon. Their argument is that carbon dioxide is not, in itself, a bad thing, just that it is increasing too fast. There are numerous sacred cows that the article tackles, but the "big thing" that they have hit upon is to take the experience of a volcanic explosion in 1991 in the Philippines to conclude that small increases of sulphur dioxide, artificially pumped into the stratosphere, would be sufficient to cool the planet. Moreover, they propose how to do it, at very low cost. It would entail a system of very long, very thin hosepipes. It may sound bizarre, but the argument is compelling.

And there is one particular other thing they believe - and that is that the threat of sea levels rising has been blown out of proportion. The most authoritative estimate would have these levels, by the start of the next century, being no greater than many normal tidal variations that occur every day. The people of the Mallorcan coasts can rest easy in their beds.

The IV scientists have proposed something disarmingly simple and cheap. And cheapness can often be best, as it was with DDT to eliminate malaria before the mosquitoes started to fight back. It may be necessary that insecticides have to be used again in Mallorca - on a far more widespread basis than the special spraying last month - but were they to be it would not be costly. But even less costly, in the total scheme of things, would be the hosepipes in the sky. Extraordinary men and extraordinary thinking.

* I would give you a link to the article, but I'm damned if I can find it. Maybe not included on "The Times" site as it is a book extract and therefore copyrighted. Sorry about that. The book, published by Allen Lane, is released in the UK on 20 October. Its full title is "Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance".

Today's title - line from something, the title of which is the first word above; the group used to have its name changed by Steve Wright - weight was the substitute word.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Chris And Yasmin

The history of the Jewish people in Spain has largely reflected their treatment in many other countries. Though the Jews were generally accommodated by the Muslims during the period of the caliphate, persecutions in the form of pogroms emerged from the eleventh century, and in the fifteenth century Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism, to go into exile or be subjected to the inquisition. Spanish history, from mediaeval times, has partly been one of persecution of two peoples - the Jews and the Catalans. All the more ironic, therefore, that a new book should suggest that the iconic figure of Christopher Columbus was not only Catalan but that he also spoke Ladino, the Judaeo-Spanish language of the Sephardic Jews of Spain.

The Columbus angle I won't go into here; it is likely to be covered elsewhere - in "Talk Of The North". But if the book, by a Professor Irizarry of the University of Georgetown, has indeed resolved the mystery surrounding Columbus's origins, it will shatter a number of illusions.

While Catalan persecution was essentially one of proscription, and not just by Franco - Philip V banned Catalan under the "Nueva Planta" decrees of the early eighteenth century (this was in fact dramatised as part of Alcúdia's "Via Fora" programme during the summer) - Jewish persecution was more extreme. By the later nineteenth century, though there were few Jews left in Spain, they were still singled out as being responsible for the ruin of Spain during a period of newly assertive arch-Catholicism that was to endure and to find expression in Franco's nationalism. It is another irony, though, that Franco did not share Hitler's hatred of the Jews. Indeed Spain was something of a safe haven for Jews, which was just one of the reasons why Hitler mistrusted Franco.

Just as Catalan culture has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance, so also has the Sephardic Jewish tradition and its culture begun to flourish under a liberal democracy. It was perhaps no coincidence that during the summer the Sephardic music group Yardem performed in Pollensa, a town which bears its Catalan cultural credentials more strongly than most others in Mallorca. Within the new Catalan tradition, there is arguably more support of other cultures that had been threatened with extinction or had been banished.

Ladino and Sephardism have now also shot to prominence through the work of Yasmin Levy. The daughter of Isaac Levy, himself a hugely significant figure in Ladino culture, has released an astonishing album - "Sentir" - which takes Ladino and has combined it, to the annoyance of some purists, with elements of flamenco; it is produced by the influential Spanish flamenco artist and producer, Javier Limón.

It is a coincidence that, just as Levy is bringing back the music of a culture that was effectively kicked out of Spain in the late fifteenth century, so also is that culture being given additional exposure through, of all people, Christopher Columbus, whose discovery of the Americas on 12 October 1492 is celebrated annually as part of the "Día de la Hispanidad" (Spanish day) celebrations. How very, very ironic.

Yesterday's title - Saint Etienne,

No quiz today, but here is a documentary thing about Yasmin Levy. There are further links from this to songs from her album:


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let's Kiss And Make Up

Crisis, crisis, everywhere crisis. I am wondering if it would be possible for any news media to exist without the word "crisis". Were its usage to be banned, how on earth would they cope? At one point, until early yesterday morning, there was a time of high crisis, über-crisis possibly, in the ranks of the island's governments. One says "governments" because there were three involved - the regional government, the Mallorca Council and Palma town hall (itself a sort of mini-government all of its own given the relative size of the city's population to that of the rest of the island). This elevated state of crisis surrounded - still - the resignations of councillors belonging to the Unió Mallorquina (UM) party from the Mallorca Council, which had confined its crisis-state to the Council alone until the lesser-crisis stakes were suddenly cranked up and embraced the other two. There had been a move towards kissing and making up, but then there loomed, on the turbulent political horizon, a golf course. Yes, a golf course.

One needs to be reminded that the three governmental institutions are all run (if that's the word) through a coalition comprising the PSOE socialists, the UM and the left-wing Bloc. I think I have explained this before, but you might not have been listening or had given up the will to live. So it is necessary to state it once again. One might also be reminded of the story of the golf course, that will never be, on the Son Baco finca in the municipality of Campos. One has to go back almost a year to get something of a handle on this; to 17 November (Heart And Soul) in fact, when I argued that the planned golf project was an important story not to be ignored. I hadn't envisaged that it might be so important as to bring the three institutions to a state of virtual paralysis and of minority government with the PSOE ruling alone because of the fractious nature of the relationship between the UM and the Bloc.

The Campos development had been vetoed, much to the chagrin of the UM, a party which sometimes appears intent on converting Mallorca into one giant fairway. Nevertheless, there was a good argument for its going ahead in a town largely devoid of tourism. Undeterred, the UM had placed an amendment to the so-called "Decreto Nadal" (named after the tourism minister, himself a member of the UM and its former leader) that might have paved the greens of a golf construction. The Bloc insisted that this was withdrawn. If not, it would have thrown its clubs out of the golf buggy, thus breaking the coalitions. There was, indeed is, an alternative offer on the table for Campos, i.e. the development of two luxury hotels in Sa Ràpita, an alternative that the UM had appeared to accept, but which the Bloc seemed disinclined to.

Extraordinary though it may be to think that governments could tumble or be made all but unworkable by something as seemingly unimportant as a golf course (unimportant compared with graver issues such as the economy and the state of tourism), this is, I'm afraid, how things are in Mallorca. The golf course stand-off was a point of arch-politicking, making large the discontent between the various parties. It was irrelevant, but golf became a political football. Stupid.

And all the more stupid when, by coincidence, tourism minister Nadal had been meeting with the president of the international association of golf tour operators. First time I've heard of such a body, but exist it does and keen also to help in making Mallorca the leading golf tourism destination in Europe, a destination to which an additional 100,000 more places could be sold. At a time of über-crisis in the economy and tourism market, these are not to be sniffed at, but that president might be alarmed at the perfectly ridiculous inability of competing political parties to arrive at a consensus concerning what might have been a sensible addition to the golf stock of the island, one that is not going to happen.

But back at the crisis ... at the last moment, the clock ticking and politicos ready for their beds at two in the morning, they did indeed all kiss and make up. An agreement was reached, minus any golf course. The governments were saved. Long live the governments! Until next time.

Yesterday's title - Cliff, "Living Doll", and here he is with The Young Ones, Today's title - old favourite of this blog, this was BS - Before Sarah.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Walking, Talking

They came, they took a butcher's and they used ladders to climb over the barrier. On Monday, 500 or so people took part in the so-called "re-claim walk" along the camino de Ternelles in Pollensa and to the Castell del Rei. This is the camino, across the Ternelles finca, owned by the March family, which has been closed to ramblers and which has been the subject of much huffing and puffing, and not all of it by less-than-fit walkers.

Pollensa town hall, which ostensibly is on the side of those who want to see unfettered access, had stipulated that only twenty people would be allowed to make the symbolic re-claim walk. As this was a local decree (backed by the regional government), the local plod were duly on hand to enforce it. They didn't. And so it was that the march of the great 500 did come to pass across the land of the March.

The walk (not the re-claim one but the actual one) is in fact promoted among the rambles of the local area, but for years it has been off-limits. The mayor has talked a good walk and has taken notice of the will of the 500 (or more) to open it up, but still it remains a case of "walk, don't walk". The action on Monday was all the more notable for the fact that, amongst the ranks of the 500, were the regional government's transport minister, the parliamentary spokesperson for the Mallorcan socialists, a nationalist deputy and the director for heritage at the Mallorca Council. Swelling the numbers were various ecologists, representatives of the two main trades unions, doubtless a few agitpropists and even some genuine ramblers. All that was missing was the gangling sight of Janet Street-Porter whom I once saw arm-in-arm (just about) with a short bloke walking along London's Tottenham Court Road. A world away from the rambling hinterland of England's fair dales - and indeed Mallorca's finca-land - but I know how much you like these celebrity stories. And if you don't get the Street-Porter connection, then you'll have to google her together with rambling; up to you.

But where was I? I was rambling. Oh yes, take a look at that list above. What exactly has all this got to do with the transport minister? Was he sizing it up as a potential site for a new motorway? Or maybe he's a mad keen hiker. Of course, there is the probably not insignificant matter that he is also a member of the Mallorcan socialists. As so often, these things seem to come down to a touch of political handbagging, or backpacking in this instance; the mayor of Pollensa is Unió Mallorquina. And the mayor is, as you might expect, outraged and is due to be writing to the regional government's president, Antich, to protest at the breaking of an order from the government itself (one covering the camino) by at least one member of his government, albeit that the transport minister is from a different party to both Antich and Mayor Cerdà. The environment ministry, whose agents had been positioned to prevent a previous re-claim walk, had in fact sanctioned this latest one, but with the limit of twenty hardy souls out for a hearty yomp on what was a public holiday.

Anyway, one could nuance the dispute over the camino as an important battle for the heart of countryside Mallorca and for the right to walk. And one would be correct, up to a point, perhaps about as far as the barrier that was erected. There are, though, plenty of people who do enjoy a stroll off the beaten Pollensa track, and some of them are tourists. But the problem would then be, were the camino to be totally opened up, that the same ecologists would turn round and say that this was harmful to the environment, to which the environment ministry would add its centimo's worth. So you would end up with a different argument. Despite the claims for the right to walk, this has descended into politicking. As such, it seems as nuts as the football trophies of yesterday.

Still, the walk re-claimers have made their point and have created a spot of media frenzy (erm, slight exaggeration). Be grateful that there weren't 600 of them, as you would then had to have put up with me doing a line about into the valley of Ternelles walked the 600. Come to think of it, you just have.

Yesterday's title - Carly Simon, Today's title - what?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nobody Does It Better

Of the local town halls, only Alcúdia might be said to function adequately, notwithstanding the Can Ramis fiasco. One can probably add Muro, now that the PP-CDM have carved up the mayoral office and put an end to the slight inconvenience of a rival party having that office. In Pollensa, the administration stumbles from debt-ridden crisis to another, assaulted from all political sides for creating, for instance, "science fiction" in respect of its latest attempt to draw up a budget; at least the local police no longer deem it necessary to work to rule, which they did last year. Sa Pobla gives us near acts of fisticuffs in the open session, but nowhere does it better - or worse - than Santa Margalida.

Santa Margalida town hall is the gift that has been giving and keeps on giving, though one might also say that it is the cup that regularly overflows. From the potty notion that Son Real might have been turned into a golf course (and unlike the Son Bosc finca in Muro, there were very strong reasons for it not to have been, such as the ancient burial sites) through the spats over contracts for works in Can Picafort and fiesta expenditure to the current lunacy surrounding cups for a football tournament. Yep, this is politics, local-style, in Can Pic and at the town hall some kilometres away. This is the town hall where the opposition groups have walked out of meetings - as happened with a dispute about invoices - and have even set up an alternative open session, protesting at a change to the time of the regular one. Over the past week, it emerged that there was a plan under which establishments currently operating on a commercial basis, such as restaurants, would no longer have been classified as being for commercial use. This was before it was admitted that there had been an error, one laid at the door of the previous administration and, naturally enough, batted back across the net and laid at the current one's door.

Then we come to this football tournament. This was part of a fiesta for immigrants in Can Picafort. Five seven-a-side teams made up of players from South America took part in this tournament, itself all in the name of the process of social integration. When it came to the giving out of trophies, however, the mayoral delegate in Can Picafort vetoed the handing over of two trophies donated by the Unió Mallorquina party, one of the parties in opposition to the Partido Popular, of which the mayor is a member.

Now this may all sound very petty, and it almost certainly is, but there's a bit more to it. On the previous day, the UM published the latest issue of its local news-sheet. On the front cover of this were mocked-up 500 euro notes bearing an image of the mayor; this was a protest at the alleged squandering of public money. On the back cover was the reproduction of an invoice said to support this allegation. So, come the day of the tournament, the PP would appear to have sought its retaliation - by not delivering the trophies to players completely uninvolved in the argument.

"The Diario" styled this as part of the "never-ending row" between the ruling body and the opposition. One can probably style it differently. Kindergartens, asylums, breweries, there must be some analogy, the problem is trying to choose between them all.

Yesterday's title - Ray Stevens, Today's title - I've a feeling we've had this before; ho hum, still a good (Bond) song.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Everything Is Beautiful In Its Own Way

The letters page in yesterday's "The Bulletin" is likely to provoke a strong reaction. Stand back and wait for responses along the lines of "if things are so bad, then go back to the UK" (accompanied by examples of how bad things are in the UK). The letter, by a Mr. Stack, was a lengthy charge-sheet of the ills of Mallorca: the changed circumstances of the tourism industry; a lack of diversity in the economy; excess supply of bars and restaurants and of new buildings with units beneath that no-one needs; rents too high; dishonesty; political corruption. Those inclined to protest the "everything is beautiful" motif will be scandalised.

The letter is one-sided. But this is normally the way with letters. They are not exercises in journalistic balance. Nevertheless, the letter will, should, touch a nerve. It is not easy to disagree with the sentiments. Whenever such criticisms leap out from a page, a common reaction is to argue that nowhere is perfect, which is perfectly true - nowhere is. But where imperfection exists, a further reaction should be to try and eradicate the causes of imperfection. It is the inability to do so that is the real, nihilistic message of this letter, the writer stating at one point that "there is no solution". Moreover, it is a message of impotence combined with incompetence.

There is a certain familiarity in much of what the writer has to say. All his points have been dealt with on this blog, though I would hope that I do at least suggest some solutions. But while he is entreating readers to not bury their heads in the sand (for which one could also add another cliché - that of turning a blind eye), a few pages later is a double-page spread devoted to a party for some folk I have never heard of and have not the slightest interest in. At the end of that piece, there is even a quote that goes: "The island is so beautiful. It has so much to offer." Yes, it certainly does. Mr. Stack has pointed some of it out.

Let's be clear. Where dysfunction exists in Mallorca, and it is not difficult to be aware of its existence, it adds to the very dottiness of the island. Part of the charm, one could argue, lies in the fact that it is imperfect. And yes, one must appreciate and praise the landscapes and seascapes and all the rest that have contributed to the island's success. But to retreat to the stultifying superficiality of minor "cause celebrity" or to the wearisome repetitiousness of brochure talk is to indeed be blind or insensitive to the malodorous and the malignant. To do so is the Mallorcan modern day of Nero with his fiddle.

The letter, though I doubt many will perceive it as such, is one of the paper's more important contributions. It should provoke a debate, though even if it were to, such a debate would doubtless be mired in emotion. The writer may well be accused of imbalance, disproportion, lack of objectivity, and he may receive a recommendation that he buys a one-way ticket. Perhaps, though, it should be asked why it should need a letter-writer to inspire such a debate.

Yesterday's title - Crowded House, Today's title - from someone perhaps more known for his novelty songs.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Always Take The Weather With You

Thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-five, forty, forty-five. Take your pick. Choose a number and let it be the temperature. There is a colossal amount of old pony that gets trotted out in the name of the weather. Let's go back, shall we, to the summer. The highest temperature in the north of the island was 42.3 in Sa Pobla. There may have been somewhere else, Muro town for example, that was a fraction hotter, but Sa Pobla is the main weather station. It is not by the coast, as to be by the coast does give a different value; the temperatures are always lower, by a factor of at least three degrees. During the very hot summer, there was never a time when the temperature reached 48. But there were some who would have you believe it did. Had it, not only would it have been massive news locally, it would have registered across the world, so extreme would it have been. The 42 was, in itself, extreme - for Mallorca. And 42 was quite damn hot enough; don't wish for anything higher, for God's sake.

Let's now come to October. Notwithstanding the return of storms on Friday, the temperatures have been unseasonably high. But not that high. Not as high as thirty-four, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, all of which have been reported. The official highest has again been in Sa Pobla, in the interior, away from the coast where it is always cooler. That high was 32. By the coast, it would have been 29 at most, when the highest temperatures were registered midweek. But we still get the exaggerated reports, and, by now, one would have thought that the message might have got through that thermometers in direct sunlight and indeed many little thermometers hanging on the terrace are far from accurate. For those values that are cited are those that are given by either a dodgy thermometer or one in the sun; they are not the ones given out by the meteorologists. We may not always believe weather forecasts, but I, for one, cannot query the actual temperatures the met boys record.

There is, though, the question as to why some people feel moved to report what are exaggerated values. It is a curious psychology, one that varies between boastfulness and one-upmanship and a desire - at all costs - to big somewhere up and make it appear wonderful. It is especially curious as anything much over 27 or 28 degrees becomes less than pleasant for anything other than a trip to the beach. Who needs 36 or 37? No-one is the answer, so why exaggerate the temperature to make it so, when it isn't? It is doubly especially curious that one might take the weather with one as a means of some sort of self-aggrandizement, parading around with an imaginary t-shirt saying "I am 38 degrees" and then when back in freezing England, getting the same t-shirt out and sitting down in the centrally-heated warmth of the neighbour's house, showing the inevitable photos of when it was 38 or even 48. "It was 48 degrees when we were there." "Was it really?" "Ooh, yes, ever so hot."

The bigging-it-up psychology is part of the same "beautiful" motif. It (wherever it is) is "beautiful" because the temperature says so, even if the temperature is not as is reported. And one still has the question as to why a 33 should be more beautiful than 25. Much of this comes down to a sort of justification of existence, itself a facet of the self-aggrandizement-through-weather mentality. We live by the weather, we always takes the weather with us, and much as we may be prone to exaggerate almost anything, there is nothing more exaggerated than what is truly registered on a thermometer - one that works properly and in the right conditions.

Today's title - "Everywhere you go, ..."


Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Season Of Extremes

This is the piece that has appeared in the latest "Talk Of The North", the one about the season that was.

So that was the season. It may be a little premature to be looking back with October not yet past, but to all intents and purposes the season has gone, some places counting their losses and shutting up shop early. That was the season that was. A season of extremes. Over four months of almost unbroken sunshine peaked with a 15-year temperature high (in Sa Pobla) of a touch over 42 degrees in July. And then the weather duly and predictably collapsed in mid-September, making the month the wettest in the last 30 years. The abrupt and grey end to summer only added to a sense of despondency as late-season bookings took a tumble along with the thermometer.

There were the extremes as experienced in the pocket, of health - swine flu - and on the streets and in the bars of Palmanova and Palma. Bombs. Despite the paranoia that made a few imagine that every shopping bag carried Semtex or a black ball with a wire sticking out of it, ETA's actions were seen for what they were: desperate and isolated. This also despite an outrageous claim by the travel editor of "The Sun" (the travel editor, mind) that the bombs could mark the end of tourism in Spain and that tourists would avoid Mallorca. I trust she's been reallocated to something less contentious or less intellectually challenging - like making the tea. The German tabloid press was not to be outdone. "Bild" claimed that Mallorca was some sort of hot spot for swine flu. The numbers who succumbed to the virus on the island remained low.

The price story, though, was the recurring theme of the season. Mallorca is so expensive. For some reason, Puerto Pollensa seemed to get it in the price neck more than anywhere else. Emotion and hyperbole intervened in an unseemly scramble to prove that one anecdote of high prices was better than another. The most crass was the example of paracetamol costing five euros. Chances are that it was being sold in a supermarket, and there was at least one supermarket in Playa de Muro doing just that - at a fiver a pop. The real story was that the supermarket had no right to be selling it. Amidst all the complaints as to costly this and costly that, the most legitimate complaint concerned hire cars. But even here, the charges were not universally high, while the fact that some agencies may indeed have been demanding what were excessive amounts should have come as no great surprise. In April, it had been announced that there would be a shortage of vehicles and that the lack of credit had limited agencies' abilities to renew their fleets. Moreover, the credit squeeze for hire cars was experienced in other countries.

Yet all of this led to the inevitable "the authorities must do something" and the gross exaggerations of the "demise" of tourism based on little more than one person's say-so and experience of a plate of steak and chips costing more than that person had bargained for. Emotiveness was no more apparent than in the default use of "beautiful" - as in our "beautiful island/resort" (delete as applicable) being "ruined" or "going to the dogs" (literally in the case of the ongoing doggy-doo tedium) because of high prices.

There was evidence also of a more extreme position being adopted by the hotels and tour operators in advancing the offer of all-inclusive places. Alcúdia's Bellevue was but one example. From zero five years ago to over 50% now - and growing in all likelihood. Just wait for next year when the hotels take on the bars in the World Cup war. A hotel room or lounge may lack the communal experience or atmosphere of a bar, but the hotels will be looking to try and ensure that watching Wayne Rooney getting himself sent off is done within their walls. TUI, meanwhile, was launching its first specifically all-inclusive brochures, in readiness for 2010.

And as the season's sun sets, so attention will shift to the lack of winter tourism. Amidst all the navel-gazing and angst caused by lower tourism spend and a fall of up to 20% in the British market (in some instances), those authorities - the ones who must always do something - were saying that the summer tourism model was working fine and that attention had to be paid to the off-season. They were wrong. More than anything, recession and the pound's slide have highlighted the extent that the summer model is subject to capricious economics and also to the tourist's priority in terms of cost. And if the summer model was so right, then why undertake exercises such as the Mallorca events held in Manchester in May or lavish a significant wedge on Rafa Nadal so that he'll unbutton his shirt and hang around on a yacht? If the summer model isn't working, then you can forget the rest. And how can it be said to be working if 50% or more places are all-inclusive and if the wider economy suffers as a consequence of these places whilst also being caught in the vice of recession and a basket-case pound? Only in terms of announcing numbers of tourists overall and in particular the numbers passing through Palma airport can it be said to be working. And in the case of the airport, the greater the numbers the better as the regional government seeks to get its hands on running it once the numbers reach the required level. One then also has the absurdity of the consistent attempts to undermine the private, holiday-let sector, one that offers the potential of high-value tourism which the authorities, apparently, crave.

Those authorities who must do something consistently miss the point. Nadal fronts up promotion for a corporate Balearics, yet it is the individual islands that are the "brands". No-one goes on holiday to the Balearics. At a time when spending on internet advertising in Britain has overtaken that on television, it is here - the internet - where the real battle is being fought. And it is one involving increasingly canny tourists on the hunt for a bargain. The real promotion for the island and the resorts is coming from the likes of Travel Republic and Alpharooms. Those authorities who must do something should accept the lesson of 2009, not the extremes of weather, not the flu, not the bombs, but - I'm sorry to have to say - all that price stuff. It's easy to be dismissive of those anecdotes, but in the same way as the tourist seeks his bargain so he takes note of an allegedly price-inflated pizza. They would do worse than to offer everyone a bribe, sorry, price incentive. Here, have a fiver and come to Mallorca. So long as you don't spend it on paracetamol.

Yesterday's title - The Shangri-Las,


Friday, October 09, 2009

Leader Of The Pack

And continuing what is likely to be theme of the month, the hotels and others have called upon President Antich to form an alliance with the heads of other regional governments across Spain, for which tourism is a vital part of their economies, in leading a lobby to get the central government to back track on the planned rise in IVA. In the report from the "Diario", the head of the hoteliers' federation in Mallorca is quoted as arguing that the IVA rise will be a worse move than the so-called eco-tax of some years ago, which was aborted almost as soon as it was introduced.

The strength of the opposition should not be underestimated and the argument against a rise is valid. However, it is also a case of special pleading. What about everyone else who is set to be affected by a two per cent rise on the top rate? Take away the one per cent for the tourism sector, and what might happen? Three per cent on the top rate?

The central government has to find money from somewhere. The alternative of course is cut public spending, but how? New funding is already in place for, for example, that investment finance for the hotels and additional assistance for those in need over the winter. A constant in the economic development of Spain during the boom years has been the role of public spending, especially for construction and civil engineering projects, and therefore for the construction industry, an industry neutered by the current lack of private finance from the banks. Without public spending in some parts of Spain, Mallorca for example, the economy would all but grind to a halt, save for tourism being bashed about by recession and now a possible tax increase.

The crisis, more than anything, has emphasised the underlying weakness of the Mallorcan economy and the short-sightedness of a model based on two key industries without a diversity to act as a safety net. There is an inevitability that taxes will need to rise, despite my assertion that a lowering might actually lead to increased revenues, and if not in the tourism sector then in the wider economy, resulting in shackles placed on consumer spending and thus a further limit to the capacity to come out of recession. In economics, recessions are often referred to with the aid of letters - a U is a fall, bumping along the bottom for a while and then coming up, a V is a sharp fall and then a sharp rise. Then there is a third - a W, two V's in other words. And that may indeed be the consequence of tax rises, a short-term recovery followed by another slump as consumers put their wallets away.

To other things, well, one other thing - the weather. The fortnight of storms that seemingly brought summer crashing to an end gave way, bang on 1 October, to a return to sun. It is extraordinary the number of times changes to the weather do seem to coincide with the first day of a new month. And the late summer weather has been remarkable. A temperature of 32 degrees has been registered in Sa Pobla, the weather station commonly used as the benchmark in the north, and meaning around 29 on the coast. Next week is forecast to see a drop to more normal temperatures of 22 to 23, and after that ... ? Hold on to your hats when November arrives.

Yesterday's title - Daft Punk, Today's title - iconic song, iconic group from the '60s.