Friday, January 31, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 12C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 3 to 4 easing and veering North 2 to 3 during the afternoon and backing Northwest by the evening.

Better morning. Clear skies. Temperatures fluctuating from cold (4 degrees) in parts to the mildish (10.5C). Should be decent enough today but not particularly warm. The weekend? Mix of sun and occasional rain.

Evening update (18.45): A high of 15.3C on a pretty good day with a good deal of sun.

A Gay Fuss About Nothing In Ibiza

LGTB tourism - lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual tourism - equates to ten per cent of global tourism but to fifteen per cent of global tourism spend. The gay tourism market is one characterised by good spenders. It is a market which is increasingly attractive to destinations and to tour operators, and a mark of its importance as a tourism sector was to be found at Madrid's Fitur travel fair where Fitur Gay was one of six specific areas of tourism and travel interest in addition to the main fair.

Mallorca doesn't have a reputation for gay tourism. Certainly not by comparison with, say, Benidorm, Sitges or Ibiza. The Council of Mallorca probably wouldn't see a huge advantage from getting involved with a video to promote gay tourism. The Council of Ibiza, on the other hand, has seen such an advantage. A four-minute video - "Ibiza, LGTB Friendly" - has been placed on the island's official tourism promotion website and on the Council's Facebook page. It is a video that I wouldn't have watched had it not been for the fact that it has been denounced.

Were you unaware of any complaint about this video, you might have looked at it and thought that it was what you might have expected and then thought no more of it. The music - a kind of Coldplay oh-oh-oh stadium singalong (lyric, "moving at the speed of light" as opposed to sound) meets a bit of Avicii club style - is frankly pretty dire and is therefore in keeping with the awful music that typically accompanies promotional videos. There are scenes of beaches, drinks, bars, food, people in a car. All unexceptional. Yes, there are a lot of pecs, six packs and bare torsos (male and female) and a spot of same-sex getting up close but not overly personal, but then promotional videos for a non-gay market might just as easily feature the same sort of images with one obvious difference.

The "denuncia" of the video, one which apparently portrays Ibiza as a "Bacchanalian island", has come from an organisation to which I have drawn attention in the past. It is the Instituto de Política Familiar de Baleares, the institute of family policy. Knowing that it was this institute which had been doing the complaining was all I needed to know prior to even seeing the video. I was not going to be exposed to any Bacchanalian scenes.

The institute has demanded the withdrawal of the video and sanctions against those responsible for it having appeared. Its complaints have been lodged with two women's organisations and with, bizarrely, Tráfico. The video, it is alleged, shows women as sex objects and has scenes which denigrate women. Having seen the video once, I was compelled to watch it a second time as I hadn't been aware of anything of the sort. True, there are a few breasts, but then there are also all those male chests as well. If one's being really sensitive, one could argue that it is men being shown as sex objects as well as or more than women.

And how, pray, does Tráfico come into all of this? Well, this is where the complaint gets really odd and presents straws to clutch at. In one scene, two blokes are driving along, all happy, smiling and laughing, and the driver has only one hand on the wheel. Next thing you see is the car taking a tight corner on a mountain road. The implication is that the driver has taken the corner with only one hand on the wheel, though of course you can't be certain that this is the case. Furthermore, the video supposedly makes much of drinking alcohol (as though this were in the least bit unusual), but because of the drinking and the one hand on the wheel, the complaint has been made to Tráfico.

The opposition to the video is laughable. One presumes that the institute isn't a great supporter of "el turismo gay" or of gay full stop. Its opposition is a clutching at straws; the highlighting of a promotional video which is most certainly not offensive. But then what can you expect? This is an institute which first really came to my attention over three years ago when it was calling for a ban on topless sunbathing (by women). It opposed this on the grounds that it exceeded norms of decorum. Digging around to find out more about the institute led to an interview with its national president in the magazine for an organisation called Foro Arbil in which he said that he was in total agreement with the aims of the organisation, one which is not exactly left-wing.

The institute is perfectly entitled to its views, but can it be taken seriously when it complains about an inconsequential video which, were it not for the promotion of gay tourism, would have passed without any comment. 

Index for January 2014

Alcúdia ecotourism - 17 January 2014
Alexandre Ballester - 10 January 2014
Burgos protests - 19 January 2014
Catalonia's tourism - 29 January 2014
Cursach hotel management in Magalluf - 11 January 2014
Demons' traditions - 12 January 2014
Els Valldemossa - 24 January 2014
Extremadura tourism promotion - 20 January 2014
Hotel modernisation: a slow process - 7 January 2014
Ibiza gay tourism - 31 January 2014 - 30 January 2014
Joan Miró, Japan and Portugal - 25 January 2014
Law of symbols - 16 January 2014
Local administration reform - 13 January 2014
Malén Ortiz disappearance - 2 January 2014
Mallorca in 2014 - 1 January 2014
Maritime museum - 27 January 2014
Montuïri tourism - 6 January 2014
Palma World Heritage Site - 22 January 2014
Palomares incident - 15 January 2014
Pollensa School history - 3 January 2014
Porto Cristo's magazine - 28 January 2014
President Bauzá non-appearance at Sant Antoni - 21 January 2014
Public-private tourism collaboration - 23 January 2014
Sant Sebastià tradition - 18 January 2014
Selva tourism - 9 January 2014
Signs in Castilian and Catalan - 8 January 2014
Spain's abortion reform - 4 January 2014
The Beatles and Mallorca - 14 January 2014
Three Kings - 5 January 2014
Works of art and IVA - 26 January

Thursday, January 30, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.45am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 11C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 3 to 4 occasionally Northwest 5 to 6 during the morning. Swells increasing to two metres. Possible storm.

A wet and colder morning with some light rain. Occasional sun forecast but staying chilly. The outlook is similar.

Evening update (19.00): After a horrid morning - cold, windy and wet - cleared up a bit. A high of 12.8C.

Below Average: Balearics' tourism website

In an article of 21 November ( I considered pilot research at Barcelona's Universitat Pompeu Fabra into the quality of official tourism websites. The article said that more comprehensive research was on its way and that it would look into the quality of websites for all the autonomous regions of Spain. That research has now been published and it doesn't make for good reading for those responsible for the website.

Though the researchers had not previously looked at the Balearics website, I, for the purposes of that article, had, and the conclusions I drew have more or less been echoed by what the researchers are now saying. Where illesbalears falls down in particular is in its interactivity with users (virtually non-existent) and in its "commercialisation" (the ability for users to be able to book something). Its content, though, is considered to be reasonable.

The research ranks the seventeen websites according to technical, persuasive, relational and communicative aspects, and the Balearics site, rated as below average, is placed fourteenth out of the websites for the different regions. Worse are those for Aragon and Extremadura, two areas of Spain which have comparatively limited tourism industries; Castile and León is the other one. Topping the list is Galicia, followed by the Canaries and Valencia.

Fourteenth position really isn't very impressive for a region that is so dependent upon tourism and that prides itself on its technological leadership when it comes to tourism. And this technological angle has been made even more acute since the announcement that nearly 450 million euros (half European Union, half Spanish Government) is to be made available for a Balearic Government strategy for technology initiatives with tourism at their core.

These initiatives will be for the private sector and the investment should be excellent news for entrepreneurs and small businesses seeking to develop new business. They will also be very much in line with the wishes of the regional government for the private sector to take the lead, as it has in tourism and as President Bauzá has very much admitted.

As the president has as good as said that the government doesn't have the know-how to run tourism and that the private sector does, then why doesn't it just hand over something like its tourism internet presence to the private sector? It doesn't seem interested in its own website and probably wouldn't have the resources to make it work meaningfully. The lack of interactivity and mobile communication that is apparent when one goes onto the website or when one searches on social media may well be evidence of a lack of resources. A meaningful web presence for tourism demands interactivity. If the government's tourism ministry cannot make it meaningful, then it should let people who can take care of the website.

The research findings are hardly surprising, but if the tourism ministry doesn't now act on them then there is something very wrong. It shows a lack of professionalism as well as interest to persist with a website that is inadequate. And in the scheme of things, putting a decent one together should not cost a fortune. Moreover, the website contradicts what was in the tourism plan that the ministry drew up in 2012. It was replete with stuff about web technologies, but one has the impression, in the absence of any real evidence as their exploitation, that this was window-dressing.

Perhaps the new man at the ministry, Jaime Martinez, will prove this impression to be a wrong one, but one thing is for sure, the ministry needs to pull its finger out. Its website is an embarrassment for islands which are at the very heart of Europe's tourism.

* The report's title is "Sitios web turísticos de las comunidades autónomas españolas". The research was sponsored by the national government's ministry for the economy and competitiveness.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.45am): 14C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 6 easing 4 to 5 during the morning and veering Northwest later.

Calmer morning. Mainly grey. Risk of rain later and overnight, with a strong northerly wind picking up by tomorrow and the temperature falling.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 16.4C on a day of some occasional sun.

Still Needing Spain?: Catalonia's tourism

The logo that appears with the "I Need Spain" slogan and which is the image used by the national Turespaña agency to promote Spain's tourism was created in 1983 by Joan Miró. Known as the "Sol de Miró", below the logo there is a form of typography that spells out "España". The whole thing, logo and typography, is very distinct and very recognisable.

What one notices about the "España" is, for example, that the final "a" looks almost like a chair with its left leg slightly raised and the right leg given a base topped with green that protrudes at a 90 degree angle. The yellow and red colours contained in "España" mirror those of the Miró sun; otherwise, and apart from the black lettering, this green at the foot of the "a" is the only other colour. The style is unmistakable and so also are the colours; they are very typically Miró.

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona. The logo was one of his final creations before he died at the end of 1983. But, thirty years on, the logo has been given some new life, and this new life has emanated from Barcelona. There is another logo. Or what might be taken to be a logo. It is for "Catalunya". Its style is, to say the least, highly reminiscent of the "España" typography. The final "a" doesn't have a base that protrudes as far and it also isn't topped with green, but in other respects, including the red inside the "a", it is the same.

At the recent Fitur travel fair in Madrid, a magazine was presented which promotes Catalonia's tourism. On its cover was this very Miró-looking "Catalunya". The website "El Confidencial" has drawn attention to this magazine, though not, it must be said, to the similarities with the "España" (I'm the one doing this). In three languages - Catalan, Castellano and English - it is what the magazine says which has been highlighted. "Welcome. Catalonia, a European country that is open to the world, dynamic and enterprising, rich in history and culture, with a vast diversity of landscapes." You will note that there is something assertive about this welcome. Catalonia is a country. Not part of another country, but a country in its own right.

Just what Turespaña make of the typography, heaven only knows. If it is only an imitation for the cover of a magazine, then they'll probably let it go, but if it were more than this, then it is almost certainly a case of passing-off. It is too similar not to be. But in imitating the "España", the "Catalunya" is like a red rag to the Spanish bull, enraged even more by the fact that it is against text which claims that Catalonia is a European country. At present, Catalonia is not a European country, and indeed it may still not be come this time next year.

What will doubtless enrage further is what is in this magazine. Aimed at both tourists and investors, there is a brief history of Catalonia and reminder of the "loss of liberties" in 1714 (the Nueva Planta, proscription of Catalan and Catalonian institutions, King Philip V, end of the War of the Spanish Succession and establishment of the Bourbon dynasty and all that). As an exercise in pre-emptory propaganda ahead of the independence referendum (assuming it goes ahead), the department of the presidency in Catalonia, which was responsible for the publication, has made a bid to already establish Catalonia as a separate entity and as a separate tourism destination.

Whatever happens with the referendum, Catalonia is forging ahead in developing its tourism promotional activities. Helped with the additional revenue from its tourist tax, it has more money to spend directly on promotion, but it is also beefing up its global presence. A new tourism promotion office has been opened in Sao Paulo in Brazil to add to other ones which have been opened in China, south-east Asia, North America and elsewhere in Latin America. Catalonia's minister for business and employment, Felip Puig, said at the Fitur fair that while Catalonia will continue to work with the "Marca España", which in tourism terms is the "I Need Spain" campaign, there will also be a specific and separate promotional strategy. The groundwork, where tourism for an independent Catalonia is concerned, has already been prepared.

But while Catalonia may be acting as though it were already independent and be preparing for a tourism strategy that is divorced from Turespaña, it may also find, as with other aspects of independence, that things get complicated. An example of this is the Barcelona (BCN) World development of casinos and what have you by PortAventura. It is a project that Catalonia will want to ensure goes ahead, but if there is the prospect of Catalonia being outside the European Union and if the Catalonian government doesn't drastically reduce its gaming tax, then it won't go ahead.

Borrowing typography via Miró from Turespaña may be a propaganda ploy, but Catalonia may yet discover that it still needs Spain. For tourism and for everything else.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (6.45am): 11C
Forecast high: 13C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 6 to 7 easing 4 to 5 during the morning, backing Southwest during the afternoon and increasing 6 by the evening.

Very windy, the alert for rough coastal conditions in place. Should be a bright enough day though, but colder. The outlook for the rest of the week is unsettled and quite cold with wind and occasional rain.

Evening update (18.45): A high of 14.7C. Good amounts of sun today but good amounts of wind, too.

Support Your Local Magazine!: Porto Cristo

Porto Cristo, famously, has six names. Legally, because the Balearics High Court ruled as such in 1990, the name is Porto Cristo, but there remain pretenders to the name, even if one of them is merely a combination of Porto and Cristo, i.e. Portocristo, while a further one which isn't one of the six, a hyphenated Porto and Cristo, can also be used. According to the High Court, that is.

Most towns and communities in Mallorca do not have such a controversy. They know their names and no one makes a fuss about alternatives. In Manacor, the municipality of which Porto Cristo is a part, the controversy continues to bubble under the surface. It may all be a bit daft, given that most of the world appears to accept that Porto Cristo is the name and isn't in the slightest bit interested in alternatives, but such a controversy is the very stuff of local communities. Isn't it?

Well actually not. It would appear that very few people in Manacor are that bothered either. The ones who are mainly concerned are on the town council, camps divided along Porto and Cristo separationist and Portocristo combinationist lines. In the bars and cafés of Porto Cristo, they are talking about other things; pretty much anything other than that what the name of the place should be.

An indication of how little the general populace appears to have been affected by this toponymic topic can be found in the local magazine. Stubbornly it is called "Porto Cristo". It always has been "Porto Cristo" and was before the High Court was brought in to arbitrate 24 years ago. When the debate as to the name was raging at the town hall this time last year, the magazine totally ignored it. There were more important things to report on, mainly the Sant Antoni fiestas and the 125th anniversary of Porto Cristo. And yes, it was Porto Cristo. The winning logo for the anniversary had the words separated, there was no combination to Portocristo and there was certainly no suggestion that the anniversary might have been in the name of Colònia de Nostra Senyora del Carme (sort of the late nineteenth century original name but even then not really because Porto Cristo is much older) or that the magazine should change its name (there wouldn't have been much room left on its front cover if it had done).

The magazine, with its December issue, reached a landmark of its own. This was its 300th edition. It first appeared in 1983 and is a local publication with one of the longest histories of continuous publication on the island. As with other local publications - there are (or were) 38 others - it comes under an umbrella organisation, the Associació de Premsa Forana, which represents magazines and newsletters across Mallorca.

Part of the motivation behind the magazine's launch in 1983 was to establish a mouthpiece for a distinct community - that of Porto Cristo - detached from the machinations of Manacor town hall and the dominance of the town of Manacor. The magazine aimed to create a sense of Porto Cristo being its own "pueblo", and, physically removed from the town by several kilometres, it was following or perhaps leading a tendency for coastal resorts to establish their own identities. Something similar has occurred elsewhere, for example in Can Picafort. Separated from the town of Santa Margalida, it has its own magazine, unsurprisingly entitled "Can Picafort", and its own political organisations.

But, and in common with much print media, things aren't easy nowadays for a local publication. Whereas it might once have received some financial assistance, it no longer does, while advertising is that much more difficult to attract. It is a publication which serves something in the region of 7,500 people (approximately the population of Porto Cristo), though it does also reach out to smaller coastal parts of Manacor. The market isn't that great, therefore, while social media and internet make much of its stock-in-trade - photos of fiestas, sporting events etc. - potentially redundant because they have already been posted onto Facebook or what have you.

It is easy to suggest, therefore, that a publication such as "Porto Cristo" is an anachronism, but in the 300th issue the local historian Sebastià Serra said: "If a magazine disappears, the village loses an important link with reality and the everyday. If a publication dies out, then the collective memory of the people also dies out."

This may sound idealistic but even in today's environment there is a tangibility and a connection that a physical publication can make which web technologies cannot. And where the less idealistic is concerned - the hard-nosed need for advertising revenues - it might be borne in mind that there is much research which shows that local content and advertising, be they online or print, have a higher level of consumer trust than other forms. There is life left yet in the local publication, whatever its name.

Photo: The first issue of "Porto Cristo"; taken from the cover of the 300th issue,

Monday, January 27, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 17C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 4 to 5 easing and veering Northeast and East 2 to 4 then increasing North 6 to 7 by the evening. Possible storm later.

Very mild and breezy. Grey with a strong chance of rain. Alter in place for poor coastal conditions. Staying windy for the next couple of days and getting chilly through the week.

Evening update (18.00): A high of 20.1C, another warm day then, but the winds have been up and there's colder weather coming in.

Boat Preservation: Mallorca's maritime museum

At Alcúdia's spring boat fair five years ago I got into conversation with a bunch of people who were exhibiting traditional fishermen's boats and promoting the craft that still goes into their making and also into their restoration. It was an exhibition and workshop by the Mestres d'Aixa, master shipwrights. Part of the stand was devoted to information about and photos of a boat called "La Balear". Built in 1924 at the Ballester yard in Palma, it was the oldest fishing boat to have undergone restoration and conservation work. It took four years; a labour of love, devotion and artisan skill to get right the first and most important restoration the Mestres had undertaken. Four years will sound like an awfully long time to work on a wooden boat that is not exactly large, but it wasn't necessarily that long a time. Another purpose of the Alcúdia exhibition was to highlight the decline and possible disappearance of the traditional shipwright in the Balearics and so also, therefore, the traditional craft. At the time of the exhibition, though there were still 1200 wooden fishing boats, there were at most only seven qualified shipwrights.

In that same year, 2009, at the Pollensa Fair some months later was a display of farm carriages. They were the work of a master wheelwright, a craft skill that has all but died out in Mallorca as it has everywhere else. I happen to know one of the very few wheelwrights in England. He teaches the craft and attempts to keep it alive, and there is, perhaps ironically, good money to be made. This friend of mine makes props for television period drama productions - coaches and what have you. And the money is good.

In order to keep these traditions going, be it in England or in Mallorca, requires a  fight against the demands of modernity, technology and indifference. Demand for shipwrights in Mallorca to make or restore traditional fishing boats is bound to only be limited, so modernity and technology will have its say; there's no escaping this. But indifference is another matter, one that conflicts with an oft-stated but rarely actioned official desire to maintain traditions and culture, including those of artisan craftspeople, be they shipwrights, wheelwrights or whatever. As is mostly always the case, politicians and others will speak romantically about preservation of skills and traditions but will end up doing precious little or anything about it.

When the restoration of "La Balear" was completed in 2004, the hope was that there would be an official maritime museum at which it, along with other old fishing boats, might be displayed. The Amics del Museu Marítim (friends of the museum) had a yard and a shed that could have become a museum. They had boats that had been collected from the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than these boats being placed in a museum, they were stored elsewhere. Neither the regional government nor the Council of Mallorca would make funding available, but the Council was able to give some storage - an old pig farm.

The vice-president of the friends of the museum was not optimistic that the museum would become a reality. That was ten years ago. Five years later, in 2009, a motion was presented to the Balearics Parliament which proposed the creation of a foundation for the maritime museum, one which would have been under the auspices of the regional government's environment ministry. The motion was rejected and so hopes that the museum might be created were once more dashed. It was observed at the time that discussions and broken promises regarding the museum had by then been ongoing for thirty years. It was also observed that plans for the museum had received some official recognition in 1997 when the prize for research, among the other prizes awarded annually by the city of Palma, went to Bernat Oliver, the chief technical expert associated with the museum.

Parliament's rejection of the motion led to the question being asked that had been asked many times before. Would a maritime museum ever be established? The question is of course still being asked and it was asked in rather unusual fashion in Manacor during the recent Sant Antoni fiestas. A bonfire with a traditional Mallorca "lläut" was set light to in order to highlight the failure by the "competent authorities" to facilitate the establishment of the museum. The Amics del Museu Marítim were joined by other organisations, such as the association for yacht clubs, in denouncing the inaction and the potential loss of the fishing-boat tradition once and for all. There is, though, some hope that the museum might at last come into being. The Balearics Ports Authority has offered its old headquarters. But will the offer be backed by official support and, more importantly, by official money?

* Photo is of the stand at the 2009 Alcúdia boat fair.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Draw for Mallorca in Murcia

Real Murcia 2 : 2 Real Mallorca
Mallorca took a point in Murcia in registering their third two-all draw in four matches, Mallorca twice coming from behind in a generally even match. Kike García put Murcia ahead after 16 minutes with Bigas, having had a shot saved four minutes earlier, equalising for Mallorca on the half hour. Eddy, put Murcia ahead again with 15 minutes left of the match, but one of Mallorca's regular goalscorers, Gerard Moreno, secured the point for the visitors five minutes later. Mallorca in seventh spot with the same points tally as Recreativo and Las Palmas in fifth and sixth positions.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.00am): 13C
Forecast high: 17C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 4 to 5 easing and backing West and Southwest 2 to 3.

A clear-skies morning and a sunny day on the cards. Quite warm as well. Colder next week though.

Evening update (18.30): A high of 20.7C. Certainly felt warm today, even if the breeze took an edge off things. Yellow advice in place for rough coastal conditions tomorrow.

Art For Banks' Sake: IVA and works of art

The Spanish Government is to reduce the rate of IVA (VAT) on transactions involving works of art from 21% to the 10% rate which commonly applies to certain tourism businesses. It is doing so, according to deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, in order to promote Spanish culture. She has said that a similar reduction is being considered for other cultural and artistic endeavour, such as for the film industry.

The government has been put under pressure to cut the tax rate and to bring it in line with rates of value add tax that are applied to works of art in other European countries. In December last year the Spanish Consortium of Art Galleries wrote to the finance minister Cristóbal Montoro and let him know what they thought of the government's attitude towards art; a lack of empathy and sensitivity, said the galleries' people.

The Spanish art world is in crisis - though there again, what area of activity isn't - and the market for Spanish art has contracted by a third in the past five years. This is one statistic that highlights problems in the art world, though it isn't as catastrophic as another one, revealed by the magazine "Artprice", which suggests that sales of works of art in Spain plummeted by almost two-thirds in 2013 alone.

This depression in the art market clearly has a negative impact on artists as well as on galleries, and where the former are concerned, young artists are being affected the most. The consequence of this is that, as with younger people in all manner of sectors, they may look and are looking to work in other countries, thus fuelling a cultural drain from Spain as much as a brain or brawn drain.

But behind the gloomy situation depicted by the galleries there lies much which, regardless of increases in prices because of tax, is stacked against a thriving art market in Spain. Some galleries may be collectors in their own right, but who actually stands to benefit most from a measure designed to breathe life into sales of works of art?

Spain has few serious private collectors of art and the number has been dwindling, the reason being that they are broke. This was an observation made almost three years ago, and the situation will not have altered since then. Indeed, it will have got worse. With the art world already well mired in crisis in 2011, the government, helpfully, went and upped the IVA rate, thus making the situation that much worse. But Spain does have some serious collectors. It's who they are which can be seen as part of the problem affecting the art world. They are banks and the State. It is they who would, because they are the most important collectors, stand to benefit the most from a cut in IVA.

If the government doesn't now extend the tax reduction to other areas of the arts and culture, ones with which it and its friends in the banking sector are not so intimately engaged, then it runs the risk of exposing itself to a charge of self-interest. As it is, selecting works of art as the first (and possibly only) beneficiary of a tax cut has to be looked upon with some cynicism. But more than a potential accusation of looking after their own, the dominance of the banks and the State in art collection has been singled out as a reason why Spanish art has been in the doldrums in any event. Artists are dissuaded from displaying originality and critical thinking, meaning that more innovative artists have indeed opted to work abroad where they might find more receptive and open-minded audiences. 

The governmental-banking nexus, the one that did so much to bring about general economic crisis, did at least attempt to boost the art world through developing new infrastructure in the form of arts centres. But as with other projects that involved regional administrations and banks in cahoots, some of these have floundered while others, not untypically, were too grand for their boots. Everyone seemed to want another Guggenheim but ended up with a gooey mess that couldn't be afforded. They were projects undertaken with little planning either for what they would be or why they were even being created.

Yet, governments and banks can't really be held responsible for what Adrian Searle, the art critic of "The Guardian", said about Spanish art three years. "Why is painting so lousy here?" It was a staggering comment that reflected awfully on the nation that produced Miró, Dali and Picasso and many others going further back in time, such as the greatest of them all, Francisco de Goya. Searle attributed this to inadequate art schools, the absence of an arts "movement" and to artist emigration.

The cut in IVA, while welcome, doesn't address a more deep-rooted problem for Spanish art, one that merely adjusting tax will not solve.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.45am): 12.5C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North and Northwest 3 to 5 easing during the morning to West 2 to 3.

Mild morning. Fairly grey. Tomorrow likely to be a touch warmer and sunnier.

Evening update (18.30): A high of 16C. Not much by way of sun, but a pleasant enough day nonetheless.

Miró And The Japanese Connection

This is a story which starts a long way from Mallorca in the land of the rising sun, a land from which Mallorca might hope one day to attract tourists, who are said to be particularly interested in Mallorcan footwear, according at least to some mad buggers in Inca who seem to think they can create a flourishing tourism industry in the town. That's another story, though, as this one, indirectly, begins with a Japanese artist called Ito Shinsui (real name Ito Hajime). If you don't know who Shinsui was, you will almost certainly be familiar with his work. He was one of the great names in the shin-hanga art movement in Japan, one that was typified by those paintings of geisha girls and landscapes which consisted of lots of creams, whites, some blacks and splashes of colour here and there (you might sense that I'm not exactly an art critic or reviewer).

Anyway, Shinsui became so ultra famous and important that he was honoured with being a Living National Treasure in Japan and with receiving the Order of the Rising Sun. He also became very rich. His son, and this is where the story begins to move closer to Mallorca and Spain, is someone by the name of Kazumasa Katsuta, and he is one of the world's leading art collectors. To give a flavour of how much he has tended to collect, in 1991 he bought 530 works at Sotheby's. They were all by the one artist, the Barcelona born but mainly Mallorcan resident Joan Miró. 

Putting an exact figure on Miró's total artistic output is difficult. Approximately though, he was responsible for 2,000 oil paintings, 500 sculptures, 400 ceramics and 5,000 various drawings and collages. Whatever the precise number, in 1991 roughly 7% of the entire Miró ouevre was scooped up at one bid by Shinsui's son. 

Not all of Miró's work was done in Mallorca as he didn't finally settle on the island until 1956, though he had periods when he had been living here prior to this; his wife and mother were both Mallorcan. But a great deal of his work was created on the island. Miró is inextricably linked to Mallorca as much as he is linked to the city of his birth, Barcelona, and nowadays the Miró Foundation has premises in both Palma and Barcelona. 

Though the foundation is the keeper of the greatest number of Miró's works, Katsuta is probably the keeper of the largest private collection, but he hasn't sought to keep them under lock and key somewhere in Japan. He has sent some of the works to Barcelona. In 2000 the foundation received 25 works to mark the 25th anniversary of its founding. In 2005, by which time Katsuta's total stock of Mirós was said to have increased to 780, some important landscape paintings from the mid-1920s were ceded to the foundation. Five years later, ten more pieces arrived. By now, Katsuta was also a patron of the foundation, and in 2011 he was made an honorary citizen of Barcelona in recognition of his collaboration with the foundation and, by extension, with the city.

So, Katsuta has been a very important figure in the Miró story and in supporting the foundation in Barcelona and Palma. But into this story we must now add Portugal. And why? In order to answer this, one has to go back to 2006. In that year the Banco Português de Negócios (BPN) bought 85 works by Miró from Katsuta. They are said to be worth 35 million euros but could fetch at least double this at auction.

BPN bought the works solely as an investment. They have never been exhibited in Portugal, though the bank did once consider exhibiting them. This was before its former president was arrested on corruption charges. BPN was a victim of economic crisis and of less than scrupulous behaviour. It collapsed in 2008, the Portuguese Government nationalised it and acquired, into the bargain, the 85 Mirós. It still has them, sitting in a vault somewhere, but it is planning to sell them at auction. They are not a priority, and the government says it doesn't have the spare cash to acquire them, a line of argument which doesn't wash with a number of critics. What is there to acquire, if the government and so therefore the state already owns them?

Putting the Mirós up for auction has caused a storm of protest, opponents saying that they belong to Portugal and should be exhibited and enjoyed by the Portuguese people. The government seems unmoved. Though 70-odd million euros would come in handy, in the scale of things (national debt), it isn't really a lot. But, auction it will doubtless be. Whether Kazumasa Katsuta will be one of the bidders would probably be unlikely. Why would he buy them for a second time? Wherever they end up though, the chances are that, like the works that Katsuta owns, they might find their way back, if only to be exhibited. Not, one imagines, to Portugal, but to Miró's lands - Barcelona and Mallorca.

Friday, January 24, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 13C
Forecast high: 15C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West and Northwest 4 to 5 - 6 at intervals - easing and veering North 2 to 4 during the morning. Swells to two metres.

A mix of cloud and clear sky. Calm for the moment, though the wind is due to pick up. Fine for the most part today. A chance of rain over the weekend.

Evening update (18.45): Rather warmer today, a high of 15.9C with some sun.

From Fiesta To Folk: Els Valldemossa

On the Formentor promontory there is an old farm called Ses Cases Velles. It used to be the property of the family of Miquel Costa i Llobera, the Pollensa-born poet who, most famously, wrote "El Pi de Formentor". On an interior patio there is a bronze bust of the poet. The sculptor was a Basque artist by the name of Horacio de Eguía, whose work can be found in other parts of Pollensa and Mallorca: a bust of the painter Anglada Camarasa in Pollensa; monuments to the Archduke Louis Salvador and Santa Catalina Thomàs in Valldemossa; monuments to Father Juniper Serra and Ramon Llull in Palma; and a bust of Queen Sofia at the Marivent Palace.

Eguía died on 15 January 1991, so this year does not represent a notable anniversary. But he was born on 15 April 1914. Perhaps the centenary of his birth will be celebrated; it should be. Eguía's story is one worthy of a whole article, and I shall doubtless write one. But for now, the story to tell has to do with Eguía's accidental role in discovering what became one of Mallorca and Spain's most important music acts - Els Valldemossa.

In 1959, Eguía was resident at the Hotel del Artista in Valldemossa, an establishment that was described as an "oasis of Mallorcan talent" in the middle of the last century. It was in that year that Eguía introduced three brothers, who, together with a cousin and a girlfriend, were performing at the hotel, to the director of Palma's Tito's nightclub. The three brothers were Rafel, Bernat and Tomeu Estaràs, whose father had created a group for folk dance and dancers in the 1920s. The cousin was Maties Estrades and the girlfriend was Bernat's. She was Swedish, and her name was Nulle Oigaard. Together they formed what for a time was known as Los Existencialistas de Valldemossa, a name that was shortened to Los Valldemossa. They went on to perform at Tito's for three years until 1962, and in that year the group took charge of another Palma nightclub, Tagomago. They later appeared on the BBC and in 1969 took part in what has gone down in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest as the most bizarre contest of all. Held in Madrid, Salvador Dali was responsible for its publicity, but just as odd was the result. It was a four-way tie, one of the joint winners being Salome, who was backed by the Estaràs brothers.

The group which, despite the deaths of two of the brothers in the past six years, is still going, were essentially a pop act for several years. At the height of their fame in the 1960s, they included among their number a ballerina-come-vocalist who had been voted Miss Balearics and Lady of Honour of Miss Spain in 1961. She was Margalida Llobera, better known as Margaluz, who was to later acquire further celebrity for her films and theatrical performances and who had been a protégé of the Mallorcan impresario Paco Vicens who died last year. In 1970, Los Valldemossa scored a massive summer hit with "Fiesta" (Margaluz, who was pregnant, was temporarily replaced by an American, Genia Tobin).

Two years after the success of "Fiesta", things began to change. The brothers' background, as can be noted from their father's founding of the Parado de Valldemossa folk dance group, was in folk music - Mallorcan folk music, and this meant music sung in Catalan. Though Franco was still in power, in 1972, taking advantage of what had been a general relaxation of prohibitions on Catalan and greater permission for it to be used publicly, the group recorded an album of Mallorcan folk in Catalan. Essentially therefore, they were returning to their roots, and after Franco's death they formally dropped the Castilian version of their name and became known only by the Catalan alternative - Els Valldemossa.

Though the group's name was one I was familiar with, I didn't know a great deal about them and I hadn't necessarily been inclined to find out much before coming across a mention of them by chance in an old issue of the "Majorca Daily Bulletin". Next to an article about a familiarisation visit to Mallorca by Harry Goodman and other executives of Sunair Holidays (which had been what I had been interested in) was Irene Taylor's "Majorcan Miscellany" for 26 March, 1969. In this it said that Los Beta and Los Valldemossa were "running neck and neck in the poll to decide Majorca's top entertainers". I don't know which of them ended up winning, but it was enough to spark my curiosity. Who were these groups?

Los or Els Valldemossa became the biggest name among the Mallorcan music acts  and, as mentioned, a version of the group still exists. They are a group with a history which goes beyond achievements, as it is a history which reflects changes in Mallorcan and Spanish society. From folk roots, they became part of the superficial and happy-happy pop music of Spain in the 1960s, the type of music that the Franco regime wanted in order to portray a happy-happy country and to be welcoming to tourists. Their name was in Castilian because it had to be. But as things changed politically, they rediscovered not just their Catalan name but also their Mallorcan-Catalan folk music. They may just have been the most symbolically important music act of the second half of the twentieth century.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 13C
Forecast high: 12C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North and Northeast 3 to 5 backing Northwest during the afternoon and West by the evening. Swells between one and two metres.

Windy and grey, the sun may appear later, but otherwise quite chilly. Grey and cold into the weekend.

Evening update (18.45): A high of 13.7C on a day with little sun, a bit of rain and a lot of cloud.

Who Knows What They're Doing: Tourism strategy

Before the Fitur travel fair kicked off in Madrid this week, the seventh annual "Foro Exceltur" for "touristic leadership" was held in the capital; Exceltur being the Alliance for Touristic Excellence. It all sounds, therefore, incredibly grand and important, and grand and important was what it was. How about this for a roll-call of forum attendees? Taleb Rifai, the secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, Mariano Rajoy (hmm), Peter Long of TUI, Miguel Fluxá of Iberostar, Carmen Riu of Riu Hotels, Gabriel Escarrer (junior) of Meliá Hotels International, José Manuel Soria, the Spanish minister for tourism, and ... José Ramón Bauzá, president of the Balearics. These were just some of those who took to the stage on a star-packed day.

José Ramón's away-day at the forum was in order that he could take part in a roundtable (actually there was no table, just some chairs in a row) to discuss public and private-sector collaboration to strengthen Spanish touristic competitiveness. On the stage with him were two other regional presidents, those for the Canaries and Galicia, Juan José Hidalgo of Globalia and the aforementioned Sra. Riu and Sr. Escarrer. Three minor politicians lined up with three of the most powerful and important people in Mallorcan and Spanish tourism. Boys versus men (and one woman).

Of course it's all good stuff for a rising star of the Partido Popular to be seen to be rubbing shoulders with tourism industry leaders in a location other than Mallorca, where typically he would be rubbing shoulders with these same leaders on a not infrequent basis anyway. But Madrid, centre of government, is a very much better location for any self-respecting regional president who might harbour ambitions of relocating to Madrid and getting his feet under a ministerial table. Possibly. For José Ramón, the key thing was to outdo the two other presidents, especially the one from Galicia. The chap from the Canaries isn't a member of the PP, but Alberto Nuñez Feijóo of Mariano's home region of Galicia is. And he has been spoken of in terms of higher office. Everything to play for therefore between José Ramón and Alberto.

So, what did they have to say for themselves? The man from Galicia reckoned that a national tourism promotional strategy was needed which was based on co-operation rather than competition. Meaning what exactly? Well, meaning that all the lovely regions of Spain would work together in fraternal fashion for the greater good of national tourism. The words cuckoo, land, cloud come to mind. Why on earth would the regions co-operate? Had Paulino Rivero from the Canaries said the same thing, one trusts that José Ramón would have told him to stick his co-operation. Galicia may not get any tourists, other than those who traipse off to religious sites and get soaking wet on the Atlantic coast, but the Canaries and the Balearics do. Great bus and airloads of them, and competition is the name of the game.

It is often overlooked, when talking about competitor destinations, that the Balearics have competition much closer to home than Turkey or Egypt. Some of it is staring across the sea in Catalonia and Valencia, and some more is lounging around on the Costa del Sol or in Tenerife. This internal competition between regions of Spain makes co-operation and therefore national plans somewhat if not totally redundant. The nation, where the Balearics are touristically concerned, can go hang.

This idealistic but unrealistic suggestion from the man from Galicia should have given José Ramón a clear shooting chance. However, never let it be said that a president can't miss an open goal and hit the corner-flag instead. Talking about Balearics tourism politics, El Presidente said that the Balearics haven't spent anything because tourism is in the hands of the private sector. Which sounds like a lopsided public-private collaboration and sounded even more lopsided when he added that the Balearics place projects in the hands of those who know what they're doing.

José Ramón was admitting, more or less, that they (the government) don't know what they're doing. Is this not the conclusion one draws from his saying that there are those who do know what they're doing, namely the private sector? This being the case, why then does the Balearic Government bother pretending it does know what it's doing and bother having a tourism minister, tourism ministry or agency for tourism promotion (one that doesn't spend anything).

Of course, this might not have been the missed goal that it sounds. Doubtless lurking somewhere was Rajoy, who would have been nodding with approval at José Ramón's strategy of public-private collaboration that doesn't actually involve the public part. Music to Mariano's ears, even if to other ears what amounted to not having a clue about tourism would have sounded distinctly odd coming from a president of some islands which, without tourism, would have long ago sunk into the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 9C
Forecast high: 15C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 3 increasing North 4 by the evening.

Chilly night and morning. Sun around but rain set to come in later. Tomorrow and Friday, showers and wind.

Evening update (19.15): A high of just 11.7C. Cold and damp.

A Questionable Benefit: Palma and World Heritage

Palma wants to become a World Heritage Site. The great and good had gathered for the annual gala at which the city doles out its annual awards and were informed that at the next meeting of the city's council a proposal would be put forward for a commission of "experts" to examine the presentation of the city's candidature to receive the UNESCO accolade. Assuming the proposal is accepted, and the opposition parties already know about it and would appear not to be ill-disposed to the idea, what would it mean? Would it mean anything? Why bother?

What are the criteria for becoming a World Heritage Site and would Palma actually qualify? Above all else, a site should supposedly have "outstanding universal value" and then it should meet at least one of ten criteria, so does Palma meet any of them? Without going through all of them, it is probably fair to say that it does. For example, under "interchange of values" (which can be reflected in, for instance, architecture, monuments or landscapes), there has been such an interchange. Or was, going back in time. How about "human creative genius"? One might make an argument for the Cathedral being representative of this.

A case could therefore be made for being a candidate, but what benefits might accrue from the award? The most obvious one is for tourism, and it is the one which is most frequently cited, but this is a benefit which is removed from what the UNESCO award was originally aimed at, which was to protect sites that were under threat from human or natural intervention. UNESCO first swung into action in the 1950s when a campaign to relocate the Abu Simbel temples in southern Egypt was successful; the temples had been threatened by being flooded by the building of the Aswan Dam. A tourism benefit may have followed as a consequence of the relocation, but it was the protection which was of uppermost importance.

The protection aspect is still critical. Mallorca's only physical World Heritage Site at present is the Tramuntana mountain range, and the awarding of its heritage status came with caveats regarding developments that could or could not take place; if they are ones which UNESCO disagree with, then the award can be taken away. But while protection is key to the whole exercise, benefits from tourism have tended to assume greater importance in the minds of some of those places which seek heritage status. It does, after all, carry some kudos. Or does it?

Mallorca may only have the one site at present, but the number of sites worldwide grows and grows. There are currently just under 1,000, which might not sound a lot when spread across the globe, but there must come a point at which the award has a diminishing return because it is no longer particularly exclusive or uncommon. In Spain as a whole there are 44 awards, not all of them physical because the Mallorcan Sibil·la chant is one of them, but out of this 44, 13 are cities in a broad sense of the word. For example, in Ibiza some 85 square kilometres were declared a World Heritage Site for biodiversity and culture in 1999. I wonder how many people know this and how many are influenced by the existence of the award, in much the same way as I wonder how many people are influenced by the whole of Menorca being a biosphere reserve (a different UNESCO award) since 1993. Menorca hasn't benefited because promotion has been poor. The same can be said for Ibiza, and the same can certainly be said for the Tramuntana. Its award was made in 2011 and since then ...?

In 2007, the consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers presented a paper to the UK Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport which looked at the costs and benefits of World Heritage status. The report's conclusions gave plenty of grounds for believing that the award was of dubious value. The process of bidding costs money - at least 400,000 pounds in direct terms, so it was said - and was increasing because there was that much more competition to obtain an award. This isn't a huge cost, but the report suggested that offsetting this against obvious benefits was very difficult. A key issue it raised was that to do with "causality or additionality"; in other words and putting it bluntly, would the award make any difference?

For a city such as Palma, which is already heavily geared towards tourism, it could well be concluded that World Heritage status would have negligible impact. And there is just the possibility that the award, because of the protection element, could in fact have a negative impact as the strings which come attached to World Heritage status can stifle development. In an article in October I looked at the proposal for Palma's transformation in line with the concept of the "creative city". While this would retain existing culture, it could nonetheless be an example of development that UNESCO would frown upon. What, therefore, is more important to Palma? To have the flexibility to develop in ways not dependent upon tourism or to be told by a United Nations body what it can or cannot do in return for an award which brings with it a questionable benefit?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 14C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 5 backing West 4 during the morning with North 5 at intervals. Swells to two metres decreasing.

Clearish skies and should be a sunnyish day. Fine into tomorrow, but showers and wind becoming factors from Thursday.

Evening update (18.45): A high of 14.2C on a sunny day but not a particularly warm one.

Losing The Heartland: President Bauzá

If you read the programmes for fiestas, you will always find an entry in the schedule for the "arrival of the authorities (aka the dignitaries)". Normally, this just refers to a mayor and a few of his or her town-hall acolytes. Occasionally, however, it refers to dignitaries of a higher order, such as the president of the Balearics. It all depends on the importance and standing of the fiesta in question.

Two of the most important fiestas in Mallorca - in fact, the two most important - are those of Sant Antoni in Sa Pobla and La Beata in Santa Margalida. At the second of these, staged in early September, the dignitaries have already arrived and have been perched on temporary seating before officially arriving (so to speak) and following the procession of La Beata as she faces temptations by devils and the smashing of terracotta jars.

La Beata is the self-proclaimed "most typical" fiesta in Mallorca and for this reason it attracts the dignitaries that it does; it is a must-be-seen-at event for the grand order of Mallorcan politicians. Sa Pobla's Sant Antoni is similar to La Beata insofar as it is an occasion of island-wide significance, so therefore an occasion for the great and good (sic) to attend, and is staged in a town which lays claim to being the sort of spiritual home to Mallorca's Catalanism. Santa Margalida, a town once removed from Sa Pobla (Muro's between them), might also put a bid in for this title were it not for it having a different claim - its status as a "vila", an old categorisation and one that is unique to Santa Margalida. It may not really mean much nowadays, but the people of Santa Margalida maintain its importance by referring to themselves as "vilers".

Whatever the different claims of the two towns, they share in common the fact that they are both extremely Mallorcan. The same, one could say, applies to any town in Mallorca which isn't Palma or Calvia, but nowhere else has quite the Mallorcan kudos as Sa Pobla or Santa Margalida; they are the repositories of centuries-old ruralism, tradition, culture and language, augmented by heavy doses of the religion thing in the shape of Sant Antoni and Santa Catalina.

The two fiestas have, however, posed something of a conundrum over the past couple of years for politicians-in-attendance: one in particular, i.e. President Bauzá. In both 2012 and 2013, his appearance at La Beata was confirmed only at the last minute. In 2012, he had initially been banned (or not invited at any rate) by former mayor, the battling, veteran hard man of the left, Miguel Cifre. In the end, he was invited, as he was last year. But these were invites without any great enthusiasm.

What had led Cifre to not issue an invite was what happened when Bauzá performed his Cook's Tour of Partido Popular HQs in various towns. In Santa Margalida the town's centre became a virtual no-go area because of security and after the visit there were insinuations (from a PP source) of the townspeople being violent. Cifre was mightily displeased. In Sa Pobla, during the same tour of the party faithful out in the sticks, there were jeers and disturbances when the president appeared.

Perhaps because La Beata is a rather more solemn affair than Sant Antoni, Bauzá has been able to get away with going to Santa Margalida without there being too much of a fuss. In Sa Pobla, however, and despite it having a PP mayor, he has stayed away from Sant Antoni for the past two years. Having been greeted by abuse and booing in 2012, he has headed off to the quiet of Menorca instead.

It might be thought fair enough that he prefers not to be subjected to abuse or to cause a security issue, but his non-appearance at Sant Antoni, taken together with the uncertainties that have surrounded his attendance at La Beata, amount to rather more than anxieties over what sort of a reception he will get. These are fiestas in heartland Mallorca; heartland not just in a geographical sense. If Bauzá cannot attend or if there are question marks over his attendance, then he has lost this heartland, and in the process an empathy with the heart of Mallorca has also been lost.

Mallorca seems like two places. One place is Palma and its suburbs of Calvia and Marratxí (Bauzá's old stomping ground). The other place is the rest. The now broken Bauzá-Delgado axis was representative of this separation; a cosmopolitan Spanishness at variance with and out of step with the insular instincts of the "part forana". It is a division which could be styled as the new versus the old, but this is not so. It is a division in terms of an island's psyche.

Bauzá has faced an enormous challenge because of the economic circumstances which he inherited. He was always bound to therefore come up against opposition, but handling of the islands' economy is really the least of it. Had he stuck to this, then he would not have lost the heartland. But he hasn't. And in instituting policies that he has, he has created a polarity of two Mallorcas pulling in opposite directions.

Monday, January 20, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 11.5C
Forecast high: 14C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 5 to 6; 7 at intervals around Formentor.

Rain overnight, a grey sort of morning with not much prospect of sun. An advice in place for poor coastal conditions. Tomorrow should be better, but the outlook is for unsettled weather.

Evening update (20.30): Quite cold, a high of just 11.9C. Grey mostly all day, occasionally windy, the odd spot of rain.

Extreme Tourism Promotion: Extremadura

Extremadura is the fifth largest region of Spain. It is also one of the poorest regions and has been hit particularly hard by the depression in the construction industry. Its unemployment rate is said to be 33%, higher therefore than the official national average (one says official, because there is always a caveat when it comes to unofficial employment, namely the black economy). This caveat notwithstanding, things in Extremadura are definitely tougher than most of the rest of Spain, and they might just get tougher if its public sector were to be trimmed back; it accounts for a third of what employment there is in the region.

The reliance on the public sector and on construction makes Extremadura a case example of what is inherently wrong with Spain's economy as a whole but it also emphasises, where the public sector is concerned, a Catch-22: cut public-sector employment significantly, unemployment goes up and there is little by way of an alternative. Unless, that is, there is some form of attitudinal and cultural change; the question being, though, to what.

For other parts of Spain there is always the get-out clause which is tourism. But Extremadura does not have a vast tourism industry. Landlocked, in 2012 it attracted slightly more than 200,000 foreign tourists in 2012. It's not even peanuts. As a region, though, it does have some things going for it. There are World Heritage sites, such as the monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe, and it is a region famed for the gastronomy of "jamón ibérico".

The tourism numbers in Extremadura are swelled by Spanish visitors to nearly 1.5 million, but it is foreign tourism that the region needs badly. What it gets at present is skewed in favour of Portuguese visitors, the largest tourism market, with the French, the British and the Germans trailing these. Consequently, a strategic effort to attract more foreign tourism has been put in place, with nature, gastronomy and culture very much part of this strategy (as you might expect). The region is strengthening its efforts to bring in French tourism and is eyeing up the American and Scandinavian markets; unlike the Balearics, the number of Scandinavians visiting Extremadura is negligible.

A comparison with the Balearics is impossible to make, except in one possible way: the amount of money that is being spent on tourism promotion. The Balearics budget for 2014 is less than three million euros. Extremadura's is, get this, just under 25 million euros.

If Extremadura might be a region of Spain which is not that well-known, Madrid would not be. This is the Community of Madrid and so not just the city. It suffered a major fall in its tourism last summer. In August it was down by more than 20%, and this was foreign tourism. Madrid, clearly, suffers from the same disadvantage as Extremadura in being landlocked, but it has very much stronger advantages in terms of international awareness and a diversity in the tourism offer. Despite this, it experienced its fall in tourism numbers, one that came as a genuine shock.

In an attempt to plough back this lost market, Madrid is increasing its tourism promotion budget. In 2014 it will be up by a whopping 68% to 12.4 million euros; only half of what Extremadura is planning on spending but still considerably greater than the Balearics. 

One looks at these figures for tourism promotion and wonders how it can be that the Balearics, with the enormous tourism industry it has, can spend so little. But though there is vast difference in the spend, there is also a vast difference in tourist awareness. No one has ever heard of Extremadura. Everyone has heard of the individual Balearic Islands.

This said, everyone has heard of Madrid and everyone has heard of Catalonia - its Costas and Barcelona certainly. And Catalonia doesn't have the disadvantage of being landlocked. It attracts more tourists than the Balearics and it will be spending more than Extremadura and Madrid put together in 2014, thanks in no small part to revenues from its tourist tax.

The circumstances, though, are different. For Extremadura, a virtual economic basket case of a region, it is a case of needs must. It needs any economic activity it can lay its hands on, so the 25 million is probably a wise investment. For Madrid, there was the shock of the decline last summer. For Catalonia, there is the windfall that has come from the tax. So, is it fair to compare these budgets with that of the Balearics?

Mallorca and the other islands do, certainly in summer, pretty much sell themselves, but this shouldn't be an excuse for neglecting promotion. Even if promotion is designed to keep the islands at the "front of mind" of tourists who are very familiar with them anyway, then it is promotion worth doing and worth spending money on.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Biggest win of the season for Mallorca

Real Mallorca 4 : 1 Sabadell
Mallorca's biggest win of the season. Sabadell had started pretty well but Moreno and Alfaro continued their scoring ways, putting Mallorca two up by half time. Bigas added a third five minutes into the second period, Zurdo pulling one back for Sabadell three minutes later and, despite Moreno getting himself sent off three minutes after this for a second yellow, Mallorca reduced any worries of a comeback by Sabadell, Teye adding a fourth in a counterattack after 62 minutes. Mallorca now seventh in the Liga Adelante.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Sorry, there was no morning report, but here's the evening's ...

Evening high (19.00): A high of 13C. Rain but not too heavy, unlike some of the stuff that fell last night. The outlook is for lowish temperatures - 11 to 12 - over the next few days and for unsettled weather.

Corrupting Purity: Burgos and warnings from the inferno

Fiestas are often the setting for satirical and critical displays and comments: the big heads of Carnival time depict political figures in a satirical fashion; the fiesta "pregon", an oration which kicks off a celebration, can be an occasion for scathing comment; if there is a matter of local controversy, the fiesta can provoke cat-calls, jeers and the banging of saucepans; demons' spectaculars can be accompanied by satirical "versots", directed at politicians.

At Muro's Sant Antoni demons' spectacular on the evening of 16 January, the "versots" delivered by the Grand Demon followed this tradition. Uttered in doom and horror-laden tones, with mysterious and frightening musical accompaniment, the versots are a warning. The dark forces from the inferno are watching. Politicians should be worried. Hell could be unleashed.

In the spectacular a sort of hell is unleashed. The fires, the fire-run, the demonic faces rage, race and stare once the versots have come to their crescendo, the Grand Demon being the father to this earthly inferno; he's the manic street screecher, the twisted fire-starter. But at Muro a hell had been portrayed prior to the versot pronouncements. From behind a screen, silhouetted demons abducted a pious, Bible-reading virgin. She was raped - and the scene was that graphic that it left nothing to the imagination - and was then groped as a demon pulled two babies from between her legs. The first was not devil-like. It was ripped to pieces. The second was a devil. It transformed itself into the Grand Demon who then smashed his way through the screen in order to deliver his words of warning.

The performance caused some upset, but as far as I am aware there haven't been official complaints. Perhaps there is a difference when it comes to sensibilities, as it is hard to imagine a family gathering in Britain being presented with such a performance. But while the rape was distasteful, it was intended to be symbolic. The Grand Demon spoke darkly of the corruption of purity. He named many, mostly all of them politicians both national and local.

Extreme it may have been in its portrayal, but this was a performance of protest, just as other elements of fiesta can be styled as protest. Fiestas can therefore be used as popular expressions of discontent, and at a time when street protests are being clamped down on in Spain, politicians might need reminding that there is such a thing as discontent and that it will find a way of expressing itself, however much they, the politicians, seek to neuter the protest.

The Grand Demon's warning against the rape caused by corruption could just as easily have been a devilish sermon directed at the whole of the political system which, combined with its corruption, is threatening to finally fan the flames of protest. The government's move to limit protests, a further prime element in an increasingly combustible mix, could backfire; Spanish society may often be styled as being apathetic, but when protest is the only form of representation it feels that it has, then it will not lie down and be doormatted.

There have been astonishing things happening in the city of Burgos. Work on a road expansion scheme in what is a working-class neighbourhood, Gamonal, has been halted definitely by the city's Partido Popular mayor. The scheme, to turn a road there into a boulevard at a cost of eight million euros, has been opposed by residents who argue that the money could be used on other things and that the expansion would increase traffic and noise pollution. On the face of it, this might not seem like an issue which would spark off massive and violent protests, but it has. Arrests of protesters were made in Burgos where there were five days of rioting and protest, and the protests spread to Madrid and had threatened to go nationwide in 48 other cities.

The mayor, Javier Lacalle, says that "social circumstances" have forced him to call a halt to the scheme. But what does he mean by these? Does he really understand these circumstances, because there is far more to them than fears about safety to workers developing the road.  

Rioting and violence can be and are caused by events which are themselves violent; one thinks of Mark Duggan. Developing a new road isn't violent, but in Burgos it was symptomatic of expensive waste and of warped priorities. Yes, the troubles there were also symptomatic of lack of privilege, but the social circumstances go further than unemployment and having no money. They concern an almost total loss of faith in the political system, in its corruption, in its inability to empathise with society as a whole and in its desire to remove the one way that the disaffected can make their voice heard - the right of protest.

It is a supreme irony of course that protest has led to the halting of the road. It is a victory for the protesters, and it is one that should not be dismissed as the actions of radical elements bent on causing trouble. It was a warning, just as the Grand Demon issued his warning. People have had enough. Change has to occur. Transparency is needed. Clean political parties with clean financing are needed. People have to be listened to rather than be treated as apathetic imbeciles. And they have to be allowed the right to protest.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 13C
Forecast high: 15C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South 4 to 5 veering Southwest. Possible storm.

Damp morning and staying damp. Wind picking up overnight and heavier rain anticipated for tomorrow, with an alert in place for rain. The outlook is unsettled and a little colder.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 16.8C. Mostly grey all day, a bit of sun and a bit of rain. The alert for rain tomorrow has been dropped.

How Old Is Tradition? Saint Sebastian

Sant Antoni may lay claim to being Mallorca's premier winter fiesta, but Palma's Sant Sebastià (Sebastian) can do likewise. In its scale and variety, it is surely entitled to stake the number one spot. But premier or not, it remains a frustration that Sebastian (and Anthony) stubbornly refuse to allow themselves to be recognised for the tourism treats that they are.

I have delved into my archives to look at what I have written about Sebastian in the past, and in 2009 I considered what "Ultima Hora" had to say about the Palma event. It was critical. It had a go at the organisers for not knowing what the people of Palma wanted and at the lack of international music acts and indeed at the preponderance of local acts to the exclusion of performers from the mainland.

The criticism was valid up to a point. In 2008, the music night had featured, among the acts on the nine stages, two British bands - ELO Part II and Echo and the Bunnymen. But then that was 2008. A year later, and things were different; financially different. Though crisis was starting to have an effect, there was still an expectation that Sebastian would be an aspiring international event which featured foreign acts and could therefore be increasingly marketable overseas.

After the 2008 event, the then councillor for culture at Palma town hall, Eberhard Grosske, said that he felt the time was right to re-think the fiesta. He also said that there needed to be greater promotional effort to attract foreign tourists. However, the re-thinking that was done was determined as much by finances as by fiesta content. Grosske's desire to see more promotion was lost in the need to scale back. Or this was how it seemed.

The presence of international acts on the music night added kudos, but for the 2008 event questions arose. One was to do with how much importance should have been placed on having international artists. Having one or two big (or biggish) names was never likely to attract a great deal of foreign interest. The fiesta would have required several more to have been able to do so, something that was never going to have happened.

A second question was more fundamental. What actually was being promoted anyway? Was it a music festival or was it a traditional fiesta? The answer would probably have been both, but herein lay a problem. Put contemporary and traditional together, and the promotional message becomes blurred. Most fiestas are a mix of the two, but their inherent appeal lies more with the tradition than with the new. Or does it, because there is a further question. What is the tradition?

The origins of the Sebastian story, in case you are not familiar with them, lie with events of 1523, when a bone of Saint Sebastian was brought to Palma by an archdeacon named Manuel Suriavisqui. It was a miracle bone which brought an end to a bad dose of the plague from which Palma had been suffering and which helped to eventually elevate Sebastian to the role of patron saint of the city.

Though 1523 is usually taken as the start of the Sebastian story, the celebration of Sebastian's feast had been taking place for some time before this. In 1451, for example, the Aloy bell at the Cathedral was rung to mark the solemn occasion. The patronage of Sebastian for his own chapel was awarded five years before the bone miracle, so Sebastian was firmly established in Palma before the archdeacon from San Juan de Colachi in Rhodes appeared with the healing part of the saint's body.

There have been various milestones in the Palma-Sebastian story over the centuries. It was 1634 when he was named patron saint, and there has been a fiesta ever since. In 1711, the chapel was destroyed by lightning and it took until 1757 for a new image of the saint to be brought from Rome. But coming much closer to the present day, it wasn't until 1977 that the celebration of Sebastian took on its current form. It was the folkloricist Bartomeu Ensenyat, who was known mainly for his promotion of Mallorcan dance, who proposed an "eve" (the "revetla"). And so this started in the Plaça Major and grew and grew to embrace the various other squares that it now does with its numerous musical acts. So, when we talk of the tradition of Sebastian in Palma and the newer, more contemporary aspect, i.e. the music night, this is less than 40 years old, which is not really long enough, you would think, to constitute a tradition, unlike the genuinely traditional, such as the demons and the "correfoc" fire-run.

But in fact, this isn't right. The two "traditions" are of more or less the same vintage. The correfoc is not even 40 years old itself. Demons have been around for centuries in Catalan culture, but it wasn't until La Mercè, Barcelona's major fiesta, revived the whole demons' tradition in the 1970s and also introduced the correfoc that this particular tradition took off and found its way over to Palma.

Sebastian is a grand fiesta, but in purely traditional terms, it isn't particularly traditional, unless, that is, one accepts that tradition can be 40 years old or less.

Friday, January 17, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.45am): 12.5C
Forecast high: 15C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 4.

Quite bright, despite the forecast suggesting otherwise. Rain is meant to be around for the next few days, but if there is, it is likely to be light - famous last words.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 16.5C. Forget what I said this morning. There is a yellow advice for rain on Sunday. Ho hum.

Eco Or Ego: Alcúdia take Madrid

FITUR is the Feria Internacional de Turismo (no translation needed I would hope). It takes place in Madrid, and this year will run from 22 to 26 January. In addition to the main fair, there are different sections - ones devoted to technology, business-to-business, investment, lesbian and gay tourism and green tourism. This latter section is called FITUR Green. Co-organised by the Institute of Hotel Technology and the World Tourism Organisation together with the FITUR organisation, the theme will be "innovative and sustainable management: a commitment to the tourist".

Alcúdia town hall won't just be attending this green event, it will be sending two speakers to make a presentation - Juan González, the number two at the town hall and who has the environment portfolio, and Aina Palmer, Alcúdia's principal environment technical expert. (Some of you may, incidentally, know Juan from the Cas Capella café in the old town; the family runs it, Bar Mosquito and Sa Romana.) The title of the presentation will be "integration of the tourist offer and a sustainable form".

It's actually a pretty big deal for Alcúdia to be making a presentation, given that the town will be lined up on the same stage as the likes of AENA, Renfe and the national hoteliers association. It also represents something of a tribute to Alcúdia, which was named an ecotourist municipality in 1992 and which has, since then, had the distinctive ecotourist symbols for some hotels, bars, restaurants and nautical facilities.

For all this though, what does it really mean? One gets a sinking feeling when the word "sustainable" is thrown around. It is one of those words that has crossed into public and private sector management - others are "innovative" and "quality" - which carry little meaning other than as promotional devices, and even then they carry little meaning because they are used so often that they now have no meaning.

As for ecotourism, it doesn't always get a good press. It has been changed to "egotourism", a term that was originally applied to tourists going to far-flung and remote parts of the globe where really they have no right to be going but which has since acquired a more commonplace application - tourism of environmental righteousness, wherever it might be. Nevertheless, and somewhat to my surprise, environmental and green factors are playing an ever more important role in informing tourists' decisions as to holiday destinations. Or put it this way, surveys, often by tour operators, suggest this is the case. I'll take their word, though.

In truth, applying the term ecotourism to major holiday resorts creates something of an oxymoron. A key aspect of ecotourism is that impact of tourism is minimised. Much of the rest which it deals with can be adapted for holiday resorts, but because the impact had pretty much been maximised before someone came along with the ecotourism moniker, then its application has to be open to question.

Of the rest, there are, where Alcúdia is concerned, some other questions. The provision of financial benefits and empowerment for local people is one. Financial benefits and empowerment there have been, but for whom? And while an all-inclusive hotel may be able to place an ecotourist symbol next to its front door, how much does it truly contribute to this empowerment? How much does it respect local culture? And, in more general terms, how much has the environmental impact on Alcúdia been minimised? Alcúdia has made great efforts in respect of marine and beach conservation, but in other ways?

Still, it is a feather in Alcúdia's cap to be represented at FITUR Green, and so I shan't quibble too much.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 January 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.45am): 14.5C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 4 to 5.

A bit blowy and a bit wet. The possibility of rain through the day and into the evening for the fires of Sant Antoni, but should only be light rain and the wind should have moderated by the evening.

Evening update (22.30): A high of 17.5C on a mostly cloudy day with some spots of rain this evening for Sant Antoni.

The Symbol Of Moderation: Catalan flag

The controversial law of symbols comes into operation on 20 January. If you need reminding, the principal reason for this law being implemented in the Balearics is to put an end to the display of the Catalan flag (the "senyera") on public buildings, typically town halls and schools. It is a law, according to President Bauzá, that is "common sense" and one which stops public buildings being used for ideological purposes. There are of course people who believe that it isn't common sense, that it is a form of censorship and is "typical of a repressive state".

This last bit, the repression, is the view of Silvia Cano, the general secretary of PSOE in the Balearics. PSOE, which nationally takes a pretty equivocal view of matters Catalan, is not normally to the fore in leading the defence forces of Catalan. It would, for example, prefer Catalonia to remain part of Spain. And indeed the Catalonian version of PSOE has said that there should be negotiations rather than the move towards independence and that the constant raking over the past does no one much good. A common-sense view perhaps, but of course not everyone agrees.

In the Balearics, things are seen rather differently. The law of symbols may well be a sledgehammer to crack a nut of alleged Catalan nationalism in the Balearics, but then the need for a sledgehammer has arisen because the nut has grown over the past year or so, fertiliser regularly having been supplied both by the dogmatic stance of the Bauzá government and by political groupings which have been only too happy to shovel ever more mucky stuff onto the nut of nationalism, seeing, as they do, the chance to oppose Bauzá and to grab at the populist opportunism that opposition to the law offers.

PSOE in the Balearics has never, in all truth, been that important a party when it comes to Catalan matters. It may have presided over administrations which have pushed for more Catalan dominance, but it has been coalitions partners which have done the pushing - the old Unió Mallorquina or the nationalist left of the PSM - while it shouldn't be forgotten that it was the Partido Popular (and its forerunner, the Alianza) which laid most of the groundwork for Catalan having become as dominant as it has: the old-school PP, that is, and not the current-day Bauzá version.

Thanks to the law of symbols, PSOE now finds itself with a golden opportunity to stake its claim as defender of Catalan and it is grabbing the opportunity with both hands, leading an opposition rebellion by calling on town hall mayors across the islands to defend freedom of expression and local symbols, i.e. the Catalan flag.

This rebellion has already started. Not surprisingly, Manacor was to the fore. PSOE representatives there only lent their support, as the motion to declare the Catalan flag an official symbol of the town had been driven by the PSM nationalists and Bauzá's one-time friend but now best enemy, mayor Antoni Pastor. Two other municipalities have done likewise - Costitx and Inca, the former with a mayor from what was the Unió Mallorquina and the latter with a PP mayor. PSOE, one gets the distinct impression, has been caught a bit on the hop by the centre-right having taken the initiative. Hence, it now seems to want to be seen to be leading the initiative, and four town halls it runs have indeed adopted the senyera.

Assuming that other town halls do follow the lead, and they are bound to, where does this leave the symbols law? Bauzá is quite clear that the towns will have to follow the letter of the law, but if town halls insist on making the flag their own official symbol, how can he impose the law? As there will be other PP mayors who, either against their wishes or because they actually believe in the flag being an official symbol, make similar declarations to those in Inca and Manacor, Bauzá runs an enormous risk if he now stamps down harder. There are mayors from his own his own party who are already fed up with him, and so if he insists on the letter of the law, the rebellion will not just be against the law banning the flag, it will be a rebellion against him.

Increasingly, one does have to wonder as to how well Bauzá's political antennae function, though he, quite legitimately, might wonder how tuned in members of his party were when the PP was being voted in. An anti-Catalanist agenda had been flagged up, so why should there now be this opposition from within his own party? Well, there is one good reason why, and that is that the law of symbols is an improvisation, as was the decree which cemented trilingualism into law. Members of his party may have misread Bauzá, but he has misread them as well, and now has this sledgehammer of a law to banish a symbol which, rather than being the flag of a largely non-existent Catalan nationalism is that of the moderate right. And also of, because it can't afford to be left out, PSOE as well.