Monday, March 31, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.00am): 13C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 2 to 3 switching to East around midday.

A dull morning, but due to be sunny today. The week ahead looks mostly ok but with the forecast for Thursday suggesting rain.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 19C. Pleasant enough day once the dullness had lifted. 

Forget Me Not: Historical memory

Adolfo Suárez's death last week ushered forth a generally positive appraisal of his premiership. As is often the case when a major political figure passes away, there was some selective memory being applied. Though Suárez is now remembered for his achievements in helping to found democracy in Spain, his time as prime minister came to an end because of a lack of consensus, something which conflicts with how the obituary revisionists have portrayed his prime ministership (even if this consensus was evident with the Moncloa Pact of 1977 that was important in the immediate post-Franco period). But his Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) was a shaky coalition and it fell apart, he having already gone down with it by the time it was dissolved. One faction within it had criticised Suárez for not being democratic enough and for showing uninspired leadership.

That period in Spain's history was volatile for different reasons. One was industrial relations strife. Symbolically perhaps, what had promised to be a stormy UCD congress in Palma was cancelled because of an air-controllers' strike. Suárez, who had faced the prospect of a hostile gathering, didn't need the meeting to tell him that the writing was on the wall. He resigned anyway, less than a month before the coup attempt in February 1981.

The nonetheless successful transition to democracy obscured what arguably was Suárez's greatest failure. Though a reformer and moderniser, he was a product of Francoism. It took the coup attempt to bring home to the new democrats this failure: one which had not looked Francoism straight in the eye and dealt with it square on. The period from 1977 to 1981 was dubbed the politics of amnesia, and these were politics which were produced by the "pacto de olvido" (the pact of forgetting).

It is too easy to argue with hindsight that Suárez should have taken a different course and that there shouldn't have been this forgetfulness. The course that was taken was essentially pragmatic. Francoism most certainly did not die along with the Generalísimo. The coup attempt confirmed this, and indeed pressures from the military are sometimes cited as a reason why Suárez resigned.

I stated above that there was some selective memory with the tributes for Suárez, and memory - or its absence - has been a key factor in Spain since the Civil War. The politics of transition demanded that there was amnesia, but in applying this forgetfulness, Suárez and the rest of the political class were adopting a similar course to that which the Franco regime had. It airbrushed Republicanism from the memory and from the physical landscape of Spain. Its symbols were torn down and destroyed. It never existed.

The amnesia is often said to have lasted well into this century, but that isn't strictly accurate. Events of 23 February, 1981 heralded two decades of the "accommodation period". Acknowledgement of the past was made but without anything officially being done to reverse the forgetfulness pact or the Amnesty Law which had in effect pardoned repression and those who had committed offences during the Franco era. As these two decades went on, though, the pressure grew for some form of official recognition of the past and for official abandonment of the forgetfulness.

It wasn't until the Zapatero PSOE administration introduced the Law of Historical Memory that this recognition was made official. The law included the removal of Francoist symbols from public places, a condemnation of the repression, and state aid to exhume graves. As a process of reconciliation, it has been praised, even if it had taken 30 years for it to occur.

Between 2006 and 2010, almost 20 million euros were made available in the form of government grants for reconciliation funding. With the change of national government, these grants came to a halt. They may not have been necessary in any event (or affordable in a time of austerity), but reconciliation has proved to be shortlived. The law has not been the success that some would suggest it has been, and the politics of right versus left have conspired to undermine whatever success it might have achieved.

Like the Franco regime removed symbols of Republicanism, symbols of Francoism have also been removed, but not in the destructive manner with which the fascists attacked the Republican symbols. The removal of the symbols has been a physical sign of the implementation of the historical memory law, but there has not been consistency. In Llucmajor, for example, the mayor is under pressure to insist that the parish church removes a Francoist shield replete with the legend "fallen for God and for Spain". It is a small reminder of a past that some would like to cling to, a testimony to the strength of memory not to the weakness of officially induced forgetfulness. What would Suárez have made of such a little symbol? We'll never know.

Index for March 2014

Berlin travel fair politicians' no-show - 8 March 2014
Bono seeks support for Spain - 9 March 2014
Capdepera tourism - 6 March 2014
Carnival - 1 March 2014
Catalan book week - 4 March 2014
Council of Mallorca: Bauzá - 3 March 2014
Cycling tourism - 28 March 2014
Emigration and crisis - 23 March 2014
Eurovision and English - 12 March 2014
Farm bill - 5 March 2014
Farm reform and tourism - 24 March 2014
Law of Historical Memory - 31 March 2014
Mining law - 13 March 2014
Pollensa and university: landscape improvements - 2 March 2014
Rafael Nadal honorary doctorate - 29 March 2014
Sa Pobla's bell - 24 March 2014
SICTED quality - 21 March 2014
Sleep and Spanish kids' education - 26 March 2014
Son Real - 11 March 2014
Spring in Mallorca 1936 - 22 March 2014
Threat to certainty of Mallorca's tourism - 7 March 2014
Touristic zones in Mallorca - 27 March 2014
Tramuntana website - 30 March 2014
Women in Spain - 10 March 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What's On In Alcúdia And Pollensa - Boat show/sepia gastronomy fair and Playa de Muro RoadBIKE Festival

A note to say that the old What's On Blog - wotzupnorth - is no longer being updated and that all information is now on the HotGUIDE Alcúdia Pollensa blog. I'll link new info here for entries on that blog, so here are two new ones - for Puerto Alcúdia's Boat Show and Sepia Gastronomy Fair (4-6 April) and the Playa de Muro RoadBIKE Festival (10-13 April).

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 14.5C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): East and Southeast 4 to 5 easing during the morning to South 2 to 3.

Wet and staying wet during the day. Wind down though. Brighter tomorrow, and the outlook for the week is reasonable, getting warmer by midweek.

Evening update (19.15): The greyness and wetness did clear up somewhat. An unremarkable day, though. A high of 16.3C.

Tramuntana Is Number One

You can't or shouldn't take Trip Advisor at its word. Not for its rankings lists certainly. "Best restaurants" in a given a resort are often laughable. They become best not because they are but because someone has been clever in driving reviews. But sometimes these rankings do bear some semblance of a connection with reality. What is the number one attraction in Mallorca out of 221? If you guessed Pirates you would be wrong. It's number two, says Trip Advisor. At number one, and it is really quite heartening to find it at number one, is the Tramuntana mountain range.

The consortium which promotes the mountains and which was tasked with doing so following the declaration of the Tramuntana as a World Heritage Site has launched a website. About time, too, you might think. The declaration was made in 2011. Very little in promotional terms seems to have happened since. Better late than never, though.

The website is reasonable enough, and so it should be at a cost of 21 grand. It has a good amount of information and the English section, for once, seems to have actually been written in English and not passed through a Google Translate mangle or been Spanglished by a non-native speaker. It's reasonable in the worthy-but-dull sense of reasonable. Plenty of information, plenty of pictures, but no multimedia, interactivity or social media. This would probably cost too much.

Thanks to the press announcement of the site's launch, I knew of its existence and so went in search of it. I entered "Serra Tramuntana", and it was there in Google, though it might be confused with another website with the .eu suffix. The official one is .net. The first thing that occurred to me, though, was whether an English search would get to the site so easily. Its title is Catalan - Serra de Tramuntana - so would "Tramuntana mountains" work? They do. Very well. That's a big plus.

It was when checking that this English search was satisfactory that I noticed the fifth entry on the Google page. It was for the Serra de Tramuntana in Trip Advisor. Five of five stars, the abstract said, and on going into Trip Advisor, I found there were indeed five of five stars. Out of 196 reviews, 163 rated as excellent and 32 as very good. Not a hint of criticism, unless one considers a not-for-fainthearted warning for the route (by car) as being a criticism (which it isn't).

It is mightily reassuring and just a little surprising to find the Tramuntana at number one. It is reassuring in different ways. One very much doubts that someone is hard at it getting visitors to post positive reviews. They are, one has to presume, absolutely genuine and totally unsolicited. As such, it is an example of how one might hope that Trip Advisor would normally work but doesn't. There's nothing wrong at all in positive reviews being solicited - it's good business to do so because Trip Advisor is very powerful - but this can result in something of a credibility issue. We're back to some of those so-called "best restaurants".

A second way in which there is reassurance lies with the fact that the mountains are a natural attraction. Obviously they are. But the term attraction - in tourism circles - tends to mean something which isn't natural. We can all name some of them, and I would do, but to do so might imply a criticism when none is intended. It is the, shall we say, artificial attractions and the association that is made with them as "attractions" which makes the number-one position of the Tramuntana that much more surprising. Trip Advisor is hardly scientific, but occasionally it can be quite revealing, and this is one occasion. For all that Mallorca has its commercial tourist attractions, one that isn't commercial on account of it simply being there and that is ranked number one should tell a story. Mallorca's natural heritage is clearly appreciated and perhaps more so than might be thought.

The mountains can be enjoyed at any time of the year. I know how popular the excursion during the summer season is. As part of the island tour, it is probably the single most popular excursion that the island has to offer. But clearly, the mountains don't have to be enjoyed only during the summer season, and so one comes back, almost inevitably, to the theme of off-season tourism.

The hope with the World Heritage Site declaration was that this would lead to inroads being made into the absent off-season tourism through the promotion of the Tramuntana. With the website, at least there is some tangible evidence of this promotion, and with the Trip Advisor number-one ranking, there is evidence also of how impressed visitors are with the mountains.

Sometimes when number-one rankings are given, the relevant business or authority makes a point of saying so. Is anyone saying anything about the Tramuntana? This brings one back to the website. Because it seems to have neglected social media, there is no link to Trip Advisor and certainly no announcement of the ranking. A trick is being missed. Promotion isn't simply a case of spending twenty thousand euros on a website. One would have hoped that this would have been realised by now. Tramuntana. Number one on Trip Advisor.

* The web address is

Saturday, March 29, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Mallorca play-off ambitions not advanced against Recreativo

Real Mallorca 0 : 0 Recreativo Huelva
Despite their stuttering season, Mallorca still have ambitions of a play-off spot, while their opponents, Recreativo, occupy one of those spots.

An even enough first period, Mallorca initially in the ascendancy until Recreativo came strongly into the game towards the break. Little by way of clear chances for either side though. Mallorca upped the pace after the break - and they needed to - with Alfaro, Thomas, Hemed and especially Martí all creating opportunities. Recreativo went down to ten men with eight minutes left, but Mallorca couldn't press home any advantage.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.15am): 14C
Forecast high: 20C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): East 6 occasionally 7 easing 4 by the end of the day. Swells to two to three metres.

Warmer morning, partly cloudy. Wind due to be up with alerts for the coasts. Rain probable tomorrow.

Evening update (19.15): Not as warm as had been forecast. A high of 16.8C. Tomorrow's not looking too good.

Doctoring Nadal

During this week the Tramuntana has been transformed into a Christmas card scene. Absent from its snowy peaks, though, was Mallorca's Mr. Christmas (Sr. Nadal). He was in Miami and was thus spared the snowballs of the press being lobbed in his general direction. It was a difficult week for Rafael the red-faced racket-player who declined to go down in history by becoming the first sportsperson to accept an honorary doctorate from the Universitat de les Illes Balears.

The source of the boy Nadal's embarrassment was the succession of volleys fired over the net of the university management council's decision earlier this month to award the doctorate. When the press did finally manage to catch up with him in Florida, he explained that his life was just fine without a doctorate. Which it almost certainly is, so why disrupt this wonderful life by bothering to make space in the Nadal trophy warehouse for an honorary mortar board with accompanying gown?

At the heart of the rumpus - supposedly - was whether Nadal was deserving of the award. He is only a sportsperson, after all. Had he added to his sporting achievements by presenting a thesis on the aerodynamics of belting a small yellow thing over some netting, then that would have been all right. But no, all he had done was win the odd tennis tournament.

The university rector Llorenç Huguet, only in the post for a few months, has been learning, as did his predecessor, the late Montserrat Casas, that there is more to this running-a-university malarkey than smiling nicely when handing over certificates. There are the politics as well, and Huguet suggested that elements on the university governing council (as distinct to its management council) had been the ones who had "dynamited" the doctorate. Rafa had been blown up.

With the press and its readership also none too certain that the doctorate was merited, Nadal added to his wonderful-life statement by saying that, in the absence of unanimity at the governing council, he would decline the offer. And more light was shed on these dissident elements on the council by Miguel Deyá, who is the regional government's director-general for universities. He described them as "anti-Spanish". Because Nadal "feels Spanish" and has shown himself to be, the anti-mob wanted nothing to do with him. Or at least I think this was what he was on about (and Nadal is a Real Madrid fan).

Perhaps with this rather odd observation in mind, Huguet moved the tramlines in justifying the original decision. Nadal was deserving not just because of his sporting achievement but also because he should be considered part of the culture - Balearics culture, that is. Whether he is or he isn't, advantage was with the governing council dissidents, and Huguet and Nadal duly lost. Game, set and match to the anti-Spanish.

Friday, March 28, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.00am): 7C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South 3 backing Southeast 4 to 5 and to East 5 to 6 during the afternoon.

A chilly, bright morning. Good amounts of sun anticipated today. The weekend, though, is going to be windy (alerts in place for wind and coastal conditions) with some rain likely.

Evening update (19.15): Not too bad. High of 18.7C. Looking iffy for the weekend though. 

In Praise Of Cycling Tourism

Those of you with good meteorological memories will recall that the first week of November last year was exceptionally warm. Your memories will also tell you that this exceptional warmth went downhill very suddenly and very drastically. All but out of control it freewheeled from a peak to a trough with all the recklessness and rapidity of a road cyclist who had mistakenly taken out a velodrome bike (minus brakes therefore) and who had encountered some black ice. Funny that, the reference to cycling, because back in November, cycling was one item on an agenda that has characterised this winter. Though that November weather did turn so dramatically, there was bewilderment at the fact that though that first week was knocking out thirty degrees or more, Mallorca had all but shut up shop for the "winter". Where was the winter tourism? And now, you may have noticed, winter is behind us, but in Mallorcan tourism terms, is still with us.

Call the season what you will, we are almost in April, and it seems appropriate to revisit cycling. In November there is very little cycling. By now and into April there is an awful lot of it, and along with this awful lot of cycling there is an awful lot of hot-under-the-collarness. More of that in a bit.

On Sunday there is a cycling event. Another damn cycling event, some will say and bemoan. It is the Mallorca Classic. In fact, it is the Mallorca Classic by Max Hürzeler. The race's name has been given this marketing appendage. The use of "by" (someone) is a piece of marketing me-too-ism that would normally make me want to find the nearest bike tyre and attack it with a sharp blade. But in Max Hürzeler's case, I shall make an exception. Hürzeler is one of the heroes of Mallorca's winter tourism (shall we call it off-season tourism instead). If a Classic is by him, then why ever not. He's deserved it.

In 1989, Hürzeler founded Bicycle Holidays. Though it is now 25 years since the founding of the business, Hürzeler had his idea for bringing cyclists to Mallorca some years before. A professional cyclist himself, at the start of the 1980s he had approached a travel-agency owner in his native Switzerland and had presented to him the concept of flying cyclists to the island. The travel-agency owner thought he was nuts.

He may well have been in one regard; the roads were certainly not as good as they now are. But he was undeterred. In 1985, still a leading pro cyclist, he organised his first training camp in Mallorca. Within four years the number of cyclists who came had risen from 185 to 1,400. He retired from cycling, started Bicycle Holidays and the rest is the history of growth.

Hürzeler has said that he didn't invent cycling tourism in Mallorca, just that he made it better, but he caught a wave, one that had been identified in the first tourism plan to be drawn up by the regional government in the 1980s. Cycling was one of its key, off-season elements, and the enthusiasm for cycling in Germany was to be made ever greater by its own cycling stars - Udo Bölts, Erik Zabel and Jan Ullrich - in a way not too dissimilar to that in which Wiggins and Cavendish have heightened British cycling enthusiasm.

The growth of cycling tourism in the 1990s prompted the Balearics Confederation of Business Associations (CAEB), in collaboration with the government, to produce the first proper study of this tourism. It is an incredibly detailed study, and one aspect it looked at was the other activities that cycling tourists engaged in. The sorts of things they didn't do (or hardly at all) were to also play golf, go sailing or to visit attractions. What they did most was to visit towns and "typical markets". This was closely followed (by 50.9% of them) by gastronomy routes. That left 49.1% who said  they didn't, but the fact that gastronomy (and visiting markets) were vastly more popular than any other activities gives a lie to the often-made criticism of cyclists; that they are not interested in restaurants and indeed don't go to them. Times have moved on, but it is no truer now than it was in 1995 when the research was conducted to suggest that cyclists don't frequent restaurants and therefore spend money on the "complementary offer".

Of course, not all the cyclists that Bicycle Holidays and others bring to Mallorca meet with everyone's approval. Frankly, I despair. What do people want or expect? Nothing it seems. Or nothing which entails a bit of inconvenience whilst driving. The vitriol that can be levelled against cyclists can be staggering and beyond rationality.

Max Hürzeler is partly responsible for this. He is also responsible for having given Mallorca something it might not have had or not have had to such a large extent, which is at least some off-season tourism. If you find a road closed on Sunday because of the Classic, it will be an inconvenience. But so what? There's an even greater inconvenience, and that's not having cycling tourism. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spam sites affect page views

If any of you follow the page views info and most popular posts on this blog, you might notice that some pretty ancient and unusual posts enter the most popular list. Usually the most popular ones are just that - the most popular - but what happens, and there really isn't anything that can be done about it, is that spammer sites attach themselves to particular entries and keep on referring them. It's an annoyance. For example, the popularity of the John Hirst case and the balcony fall in Cala Rajada are because of these spammer sites. The rest are kosher; they are popular. Where page views info is concerned, these spammer sites are responsible for roughly 10% of this info at any given time. They come and go. At present, the ones involved are and eooznyfz.bloger.index (please don't visit these sites). I can see all this on the back system. They are usually harmless enough, just annoying. So, if you see what looks like or is an old entry, take it with a pinch of salt.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.00am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 4 to 5 easing to Variable 2 to 4. Swells to one metre. Possible rain and storm in the morning.

Some more rain around. Dull but with some brightness emerging. Not feeling warm. Due to be sunnier tomorrow.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 16.2C. There has been some occasional rain but also sun today. A mixed but not very warm bag. 

So Very Little: Mapping tourism

We are all familiar with the map of Mallorca. We are able to pinpoint those parts of the island where there is a concentration of tourism. We are aware of these concentrations, but it requires a particular type of map to highlight them, a basic one which shows the boundaries of the municipalities but very little else. This map is colour-coded. Red indicates existing golf courses. Yellow denotes possible golf courses. Grey represents residential zones (without, by definition, any notable concentration of tourism). The fourth, in purple, shows tourism zones, or more accurately zones which accord with the plan of organisation for the touristic offer: POOT. The purple zones appear on a map which is the blueprint for the Plan Territorial de Mallorca, the Mallorca land plan.

POOT is an urban planning mechanism. Its purpose is to lay down rules as to the density of touristic development. Essentially, it operates according to a quota system; only so much land in given municipalities can be dedicated to such development. The POOT zones are the ones with tourism concentration, and when one looks at this particular map, something strikes you. Because it is so stripped-down, the amount of purple looks inconsequential. We know about the concentrations of tourism, but in the overall land scheme, they amount to only a very small part of Mallorca.

The residential zones, those not covered by POOT because there is little or no touristic development other than, for example, agrotourism, country fincas for rent and so on, are distributed right across the island with the exception of chunks of the Tramuntana region. They are the town centres. The grey that represents them is to be found in largest amount where you would expect it to be found - Palma and Marratxí.

What is not shown on this basic map are other areas covered by the land plan. They include areas of a high level of protection, natural areas of special interest, rural areas of wooded landscape interest, areas of farming interest, and rustic land under the general forestry regime. There are others, each with their own acronym; areas for this, areas for that.

The POOT purple is only to be found in coastal areas. All of the municipalities which have coast have some POOT, with the exception of six along the west coast - Estellencs, Banyalbufar, Valldemossa, Deiá, Fornalutx and Escorca. Of these, it might be surprising to learn that Deiá has no purple; Deiá does, after all, have tourism. It does, but it isn't a touristic zone. Its land use is determined in other ways, which exclude development that would make it a touristic zone in the same way as Port de Sóller is.

Of the coastal municipalities, there is one striking example of just how little land, comparatively speaking, is dedicated to tourism development, and that is Llucmajor. By land area, it is Mallorca's largest municipality, 120 square kilometres or so bigger than Palma, 60 square kilometres bigger than the second largest, Manacor, and over twice the size of Calvia. Being home to Arenal, Llucmajor might conceivably have acquired a negative image, but when does anyone hear anything untoward about Sa Torre or Cala Pi? Arenal can be spoken of in the same breath as Magalluf, but then Magalluf is part of a virtually unbroken coastal conurbation within one municipality.

Calvia is, in a sense, an anomaly. The density of its tourism development, its POOT ratio, far exceeds that of any other municipality. And it is its disproportionate level of tourism development which, one suspects, is a principal reason for charges that Mallorca sold its soul to the devil of tourism. One is well aware of the coastal abominations that have been committed in different touristic zones and also aware of accusations of over-commercialism, over-construction and indeed over-reliance on tourism, yet, with the exception of Calvia (even Palma's POOT is relatively confined), the map paints a picture that doesn't quite measure up to this charge list. Only Alcúdia and Capdepera, roughly the same land size and both with relatively large amounts of POOT, might - in comparative terms - be placed in a similar category as Calvia.

This POOT land is what breathes economic life into Mallorca; a very small amount of land relative to its contribution. The POOT land may have changed local culture and landscape in the coastal areas, but elsewhere? 60% of Mallorca's land is for agriculture and contributes only 1% of gross added value. Much more of the land is protected by those various other acronyms. Can POOT and tourism be held so accountable? If culture elsewhere has been changed, then it has been changed through a process of modernisation, for which tourism is only partly or incidentally responsible. We are familiar with the map of Mallorca, but we are perhaps less familiar with what the map actually tells us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 7C
Forecast high: 14C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North and Northwest 5 to 6, locally 7 in the afternoon. Swells of one to two metres. Storm likely.

Currently quite clear and calm, but there was more rain overnight and there is due to be more during the day, with the wind up as well. Looking better tomorrow and a bit warmer.

Evening update (19.00): Snow in the mountains today. Distinctly chilly. A high of 13.3C.

Sleepy Time: Spanish kids and education

"It's often past midnight, well past midnight and you can hear the boy and what's probably a TV. This isn't just weekends by any means. And then you can hear them getting up at seven the next morning. Maybe he has a siesta, but if not, he's surely suffering from sleep deprivation. It can't be good. And it's been like this for some years. He's fourteen now, but it was a similar pattern when he was much younger."

This is the drift of what I was told by someone (English) who lives in a semi and whose neighbours are Mallorcan. Being a semi, you can hear something of what goes on next door and you are aware of people being up late. It is only one story, but how typical is it? How normal is it for Spanish kids (and indeed kids from other nationalities) to be up until past midnight and to seemingly get too little sleep? Quite normal, you might tend to think.

The broadcaster Telecinco has been criticised for showing "La Voz Kids", the children's version of "The Voice", between 10pm and 1.25am on Thursday nights. The average viewing figure for the show was 5.1 million in all. When the final was broadcast, ratings data suggested that over 300,000 viewers were children. They may not all have watched to the end, but you would guess that most did. 

Spanish TV programmes have a tendency to go on for an inordinately long time. Partly this is because of interminable and regular ad breaks. Partly it is because they are simply over long. Put these two factors together and you get a show that lasts for almost three and a half hours, one that doesn't start until 10pm on a weekday. If you take my anecdote, then you can add other examples of late broadcasting which are keeping children awake into the early morning.

Television is only element. It's a cultural thing, so the justification goes. We are all familiar with the sight of children being up and around late in Mallorca. It is nothing unusual. But is it good for them? Has this cultural fact of life been a contributory factor in educational underperformance, something which is more acute in Mallorca and the Balearics than in most other other parts of Spain?

Towards the end of 2012, the Spanish Institute for Sleep Research launched a campaign called "I Have a Dream". It was designed to promote better sleeping habits among children. What the institute was mainly concerned with were the health consequences of inadequate sleep - obesity and the development of diabetes - but it also considered educational performance and the effects of late-night TV watching and computer screen use. Its director was in doubt that fewer hours of sleep plus the wrong signals being sent to the brain by this late-night viewing were contributing to attention deficit syndrome. He said that 60% of Spanish children got less sleep than is recommended, that 30% displayed symptoms of daytime sleepiness, that there had been an ongoing tendency since the mid-1980s for children to go to bed later and that two-thirds of kids between the ages of ten and fifteen made the decision themselves as to what time they went to bed.

Research published in 2011 studied sleep among children from the ages of two to nine in different European countries. It found, among other things, that the percentage of children in, for instance, Germany, who slept between ten and eleven hours was almost 28%. For Spain, the percentage was under 5%. But other international research, published last year by the Boston College in the US, showed that, for maths teaching, Spanish teachers reported that 38% of pupils suffered from a lack of sleep. This was a comparatively low percentage. A higher one was for Finnish pupils. 60% of them suffered from lack of sleep, and yet maths performance is very much higher in Finland than Spain.

A conclusion that was drawn from the Boston research was that the use of phones and computers (to which could be added TVs) late at night was resulting in the lack of sleep and was a particular problem in more affluent countries. Does this mean, therefore, that Spain is a comparatively less affluent country?  

Drawing firm conclusions as to the relationship between sleep and the school performance of Spanish children is difficult because of apparent contradictions between these different pieces of research. And in any event, does research for Spain as a whole equate to the situation in Mallorca?

It may be right to criticise broadcasters, but before people get too critical or draw inaccurate conclusions, perhaps there ought to be thorough research into the sleep of children in different parts of Spain and the relationship with school performance. Only then might it be possible to say for sure that Mallorcan kids need more sleep or don't.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.00am): 11C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 4 to 5 increasing West 5 to 6 veering Northwest 6 by the end of the day.

A fair old dumping of rain overnight. Grey and wet morning with an alert for winds in place. Should be some sun, but we are seemingly into a rather unsettled phase.

Evening update (20.15): Lightning around. Things are looking grim for the next 24 hours at least. A high today of 17.9C. Some sun, but feeling chilly.

The Melting Of Antonia: Sa Pobla's bell

For seven years the main bell of the Church of Sant Antoni Abat in Sa Pobla has not chimed. When a crack appeared, it was decided that it would be for the best if the bell was made mute, and so silence has reigned from the largest of the six bells ever since. This isn't any old bell, because of its name and association. The big old bell in Sa Pobla is called Antonia. The name is derived from the name of the parish church, and the church's name has existed since the mid-fourteenth century. When you have a church named after an ancient Egyptian hermit - Sant Antoni - who carries with him any amount of pre-Conquest Catalan tradition, then naturally enough you call the bell after him, but feminise the name. Personalising bells is not, of course, unknown elsewhere. Great Bell it may officially be, but we all know about Big Ben.

Finding a solution to the predicament of cracked Antonia has taken seven years, but only now can the preferred solution be implemented because of a lack of money up until now. And how much does this solution cost? 24,000 euros. This is to be the cost to transport Antonia to Valencia, melt her down and re-do her. It is a sort of final resort solution, because it in essence involves destroying the original. Re-creating her from her molten remains isn't quite the same as repairing her, but a repair job, one that would involve a journey to Germany, would be more costly and might not totally eliminate the possibility of the crack reappearing. It has to be a melting down job, therefore. 

Why, though, has it taken so long? One can understand the need to debate the alternative forms of rectifying the problem of the crack, but has this required seven years to debate? It hasn't only been the argument over the method that has caused the delay, there has also been the issue of paying for the chosen method. 24,000 euros do not, in the scheme of things, sound like a lot of money. If Antonia is so important and emblematic, and the bell is because of the Antoni association, then surely the money would have been found well before now. It isn't as if the Catholic Church is in a state of penury, but wealth or no wealth, it doesn't appear possible to, for example, apply to the Pope for a grant.

Grand churches - and they normally always are grand churches - demand a great deal of cash for their maintenance. I couldn't begin to tell you the state of the accounts for the Sant Antoni church (church accounts tend not to be public knowledge anyway), but it will, as with other churches, benefit in a way that other property owners do not. There is no property tax levied on churches.

Churches such as Sant Antoni are looked after by their own organisations. In Sa Pobla, this means the Obreria de Sant Antoni, which has been around since the end of the seventeenth century. It not only looks after the upkeep of the parish church, it is also the keeper of the tradition of Sant Antoni; all those demons and what have you during the January fiesta have to go by the Obreria's book. So, it is up to the Obreria to come up with the readies for something like a crack in Antonia, unless, that is, the town hall is willing to step in. And Sa Pobla town hall is distinctly short of readies of its own.

The Obreria comprises a board of "obrers", the "obrer major" being the rector and others coming from the oldest and most traditional of Sa Pobla families; there are eleven "obrers" in all. The Obreria is organising a benefit lunch this coming Sunday in order to raise the outstanding funds needed. It has to be confident that the lunch will mean that 17,000 euros are forthcoming, as Antonia will have been taken down before then in preparation for her journey to meet her melter.

This final fundraising push comes five years after it looked as though repair was going to be effected. It wasn't. Two years ago, the funding was still way short. A mere 5,000 euros had been raised, most of it in the form of a donation by the Sa Pobla guild association. Two thousand euros have been found since then. Things have been painfully slow.

Antonia will not, however, be shipped off immediately. She is to lie in state for a few weeks. Residents of Sa Pobla will be able to pay their last respects before she has her date with the furnace. The rector has said that this only seems right; not everyone is happy with the meltdown. There's no pleasing some people. For whom the bell tolls. The toll for repair could have been considerably greater.

Monday, March 24, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.45am): 12C
Forecast high: 20C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 4 to 5 easing 2 to 3 by the evening.

Sunny morning. Could be rain by the evening though, and the rest of the week looks up and down, with temperatures dropping midweek.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 21.2C. Good sun but also chilly breeze. Alert out for wind for tomorrow.

How Farming Land Reform Aided Tourism

In a document of 1933, drawn up as part of what was called the "Registro de la Propiedad Expropiable", there is a list of owners of land ("rustic property") who each possessed more than 250 hectares. There are nearly 70 names on this list for the Balearics as a whole. Many of them are similar - they were members of families - and a couple are familiar names. Juan March Ordinas, he of the Banca March, is one of them. A second was Joaquín Gual de Torrella. In addition to some land in Binissalem, he had much more in Alcúdia, Muro and Sa Pobla. The exact amount of land in the first two was unspecified. For Sa Pobla, it was specified. He owned most of it.

Gual de Torrella is central to the story of the development of Albufera. This member of the Mallorcan nobility acquired vast amounts of land - hence why he had interests in Sa Pobla, Alcúdia and Muro - included among which was the farming colony of Gatamoix, which had been founded by the British engineers responsible for draining and cultivating Albufera.

I referred yesterday to the farming colonies of the second half of the nineteenth century. Gatamoix was the biggest of them. Unlike others, such as Colonia Sant Pere, it lasted only a short time. It wasn't a philanthropic exercise on behalf of Frederick Bateman and the other engineers. They needed workers, so they created the colony. Bateman's son, Lee, was philanthropic. He also went native and was incredibly vain. He renamed the colony Sant Lluís, a Catalan corruption of his Christian name, and presided over the financial ruin of the New Majorca Land Company. Gual de Torrella got himself a bargain and promptly decided to close Gatamoix.

The sad story of Gatamoix is just one example of how Mallorca's land was subject to the whims of private landowners. The 1933 list, because of the families involved, shows that the island's land was in the hands of a small and select group of owners. Not all were bad or unscrupulous (Gual de Torrella did some immense good; it was he who was responsible for introducing rice cultivation to Albufera), but for political reasons (this was the time of the Second Republic and some of the owners were from the nobility) and for legitimate farming reasons, expropriation was deemed necessary in 1933.

Pre-tourism, Mallorca had long faced a struggle in optimising its land resources in terms of exploitation, self-sufficiency and export. The farming colonies had partly been a response to this struggle, and they were an attempt at some form of planning. But by 1933, there was still a lack of order. Land and its use was fragmented, despite reforms that had been ongoing for a century, and partly this was because the land was still predominantly in the hands of this select group of owners. This struggle wasn't helped by how the land was used. By the 1930s, there was still a reliance on cereal farming (Bateman had envisaged wheat cultivation at Albufera, which proved disastrous), but alternative crops promised far better yields and export possibilities - these were almonds, figs and carobs. And it was their cultivation which was the farming reason for the drawing up of the register of land for expropriation.

There was also, of course, the political reason, and in addition there was some pragmatism. Earlier changes to inheritance meant that the great estates of this select landowning class could no longer just be handed down. Also, a number of these owners had serious financial difficulties. The expropriation register hastened a process that had got underway before the Republic came into being, namely the sale of land.

When we consider Mallorca's tourism development, we tend to do so in terms of the tourist himself and of factors such as the jet engine and tour operators. What is often overlooked is the land factor. The expropriation register of 1933 may have referred to "rustic property", predominantly in rural areas, but some of it included coastal land (Albufera was a case in point). Typically, this land had been considered all but worthless, but entrepreneurs (and bankers) were starting to appreciate that it might not be, and this change in attitude towards coastal land plus inheritance rules, financial difficulties and the expropriation register combined to produce an unexpected result.

A fundamental reason why Mallorca's tourism took off as it did in the 1960s was the existence of nascent resorts which sprang up during the wars, and they came about almost by accident. Both in anticipation of the expropriation register and once it was published, sales of rural land which included parcels of coastal land led to the creation of Son Bauló (Can Picafort), Palmanova and Cala d'Or, to name but three.

Tourism development has been a principal cause for the decline of the farming sector. Yet, without a realisation that they would, reforms of rural land were to prove to be crucial to the very industry which was to usurp farming's one-time economic dominance.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Mallorca eventually prevail over 10-man Castilla

Real Madrid Castilla 1 : 2 Real Mallorca
Mallorca away at what is Real Madrid's B team, one a couple of points below Mallorca in mid-table in the second division. For once, it wasn't Mallorca suffering the early setback, R.M. having striker Willian sent off before 15 minutes were up. Despite the one-man advantage, Madrid had the better of most of the first period until Mallorca woke up through efforts by Alfaro and Gerard Moreno. Nil-nil at the break, but with less fifteen minutes on the second-half clock, it was one-nil, Madrid going ahead through a Vázquez strike. It might have been expected that Mallorca would dominate, but this wasn't the case, the game becoming open and even, disadvantaged Madrid a match for the visitors. Finally, though, the numerical advantage told, Hemed equalising with seven minutes to go. And then, four minutes later, Thomas put Mallorca ahead. That wasn't it, as Madrid then had a penalty in time added on; Miño saved it. Suddenly, and following the win at home against Tenerife last weekend, a play-off place starts to look like a possibility for Mallorca.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 12C
Forecast high: 17C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North 3 to 5 increasing Northwest 6 occasionally 7 during the morning.

Calm and bright morning despite there being a yellow alert for the coasts and a rough shipping forecast. Should be sunny today. The coming week looks unsettled with temperatures down at times.

Evening update (18.30): Fair amount of sun but a chilly old breeze. High of 15.7C.

A History Of Migration: Mallorca

In 1405, the Kingdom of Mallorca went bankrupt. It was one of the most spectacular failures of the mediaeval depression that had brought down banks in Mallorca and on the peninsula. Kingdoms, albeit minor ones like Mallorca's, subordinate to a greater Crown, that of Aragon, didn't typically go bust even in those days. But Mallorca's did, and it was the culmination of a number of factors: tax fraud and unsustainable debt and interest repayments, a housing bubble, to which could be added the effects of wars and their financing and the legacy of the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century.

The story of the kingdom's bankruptcy is one that deserves its own treatment, if only because it is a story which highlights the fact that there is nothing that new under a Mallorcan sun. It is a story that tells of island councils - those of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza - and their own debts, taxes imposed on meat, fish, oil and various produce as well as on the movement of people and goods, and of good old-fashioned corruption.

Of the consequences of this prolonged mediaeval recession, which in effect lasted for the whole of the second half of the fourteenth century and into the next one, there was one that didn't occur because physically and logistically it wasn't possible to occur. And that was migration. Even if it did occur, there weren't lands grassed with gold to head for; the east of the peninsula (Tarragona and Barcelona, as examples) was only slightly less of an economic basket case than Mallorca was.

Go forward some centuries, and migration had become a consequence of economic crisis. Mallorca's history, in more modern times, is one of migration. The staggering increase in the island's population from the 1960s was largely due to immigration, but emigration had been a factor decades before the island's demographics were to be changed utterly by mass tourism and competitively priced new apartments and villas which attracted foreign owners.

Between 1860 and 1887, there was an earlier population boom. It wasn't one caused by migration but by human biology, and of an increase of 40,000 people over that period, over three-quarters of them were inhabitants of the "part forana", i.e. they weren't inhabitants of Palma, and as they were living in the sticks, this meant that they were mainly engaged in agriculture.

There were various responses to this population boom, one of which was the establishment of the "colonies" (Sant Pere, Sant Jordi, for instance), which were designed to alleviate strains on living space and to cultivate new land to feed this increasing population. But though this boom might have been considered a positive, it was to prove to be anything but, as various factors conspired to make it a negative. In 1889, things came to a head. There was a farming crisis, brought about by successive poor harvests, disease which decimated the pig population, unfairly low wages and even less fair taxes. Over the next few years, there were to be further blows. One was the destruction of vineyards by phylloxera in 1891. Another was the loss of overseas markets in Cuba and Puerto Rico because of their wars of independence.

These were to exacerbate the crisis that had become evident in 1889 and which was partly the consequence of the previous population boom in the "part forana". Poverty was appalling, jobs were disappearing, families couldn't be fed and the Guardia Civil had to intervene, such as in Pollensa, where there were riots. The town hall in Pollensa was, by then, already aware of a potential solution. In June 1888, it raised the possibility of the provincial authority making resources available for people to emigrate. By 1889, this emigration drive was in full swing, assisted by emigration agents from Argentina and Chile and by subsidised or assisted travel and low interest rates provided by the governments of those two countries.

Rather like the bankruptcy of the Kingdom of Mallorca deserves its own detailed treatment, so also does the story of this mass emigration to South America. It was one of the movement of some 5,000 people and of a scandal of appalling conditions that they encountered on their journeys. It wasn't, though, the only story of migration. There were others, such as to Algeria, and it wasn't a story that had an even impact across the island. Pollensa, Manacor, Sant Joan, Felanitx were among the towns which lost relatively more people than others.

Depression, recession, crisis, call it what you will, it has the same consequence. History repeats itself. In the late nineteenth century, the Mallorcan migrants were part of the 70,000 Spaniards who left for South America. In last year alone, 125,000 Spaniards headed abroad. Of Balearics citizens, the number who now reside overseas is 24,600; this figure rose by 10.4% last year.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.15am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 20C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 4 easing West 3 during the afternoon, increasing Northeast 4 to 5 during the evening. Possible storm.

Grey morning, a bit breezy. Greyness the order of the day with rain later. A yellow alert for rough coastal conditions for tomorrow with the wind up and rain possible.

Evening update (19.30): A high of 16.5C. No real sun today but some wind and some rain. 

Spring Backward: Mallorca's tragic spring of 1936

Spring. In one regard, there is no such thing as a Mallorcan spring. In tourism terms, there is winter and there is summer, two seasons determined not by equinoxes or solstices but by employment contracts and by flight and tour operator programmes. "The season" is typically taken (officially even) as starting on 1 May, more or less halfway through spring, but it marks the start of summer, just as 1 November - and the appropriate connotations of the day of the dead - signals the start of winter.

Spring. It has so many meanings. Renewal, rebirth, advance. Even the aide- mémoire for instruction as to which way the clocks are changed hints at advance: spring forward, though it is possible to also spring backward. Advance, renewal and rebirth, they are words of optimism, and the word "spring" has been attached to optimistic movements, those of hoped-for renewal and advance, yet which have proved that optimism can soon be lost. Spring backward. Spring is renewal. It is also revolution. Prague Spring, Arab Spring, the Spring of Nations, the latter a reference to the revolutions of 1848 which swept across Europe, only for them to collapse a year later.

Mallorca has had its own "Spring". It wasn't an optimistic spring, it was the "primavera trágica". 1936. With tragedy evident across Spain, Mallorca was caught up in the prelude to the coup in July and the Civil War. Getting a handle on how this tragic spring played out in Mallorca helps to give a better appreciation of just what Mallorca was like in 1936, because there is often an erroneous view of the island in the mid-1930s - one which suggests an indifference towards politics as a whole and so, therefore, to the politics of the mainland.

In the spring of 1936, working the land dominated the island's economic landscape, but agriculture was not as dominant as it had been even thirty years before, when some 70% of the economy was tied to the land. Urbanisation was such that 30% of the population lived in Palma alone, while industrial development, including tourism, had made significant inroads into a predominantly agrarian economy. Far from being populated by ignorant and apathetic peasants, Mallorca had a wealthy and educated middle-class and a network of workers' organisations. In other words, the island, though still mainly rural, possessed enough ingredients for modern attitudes and beliefs to take hold, which, at that time, included Republicanism.

Mallorca was then, as it still is, a conservative place. Though the cause of Republicanism on the island had been advanced considerably by 1936, it was a minority movement. Electorally, Calvia and Palma were exceptions rather than the rule in the February municipal elections of that year in returning Republicans (for the national election, no Republican was returned). An innate conservatism, perhaps because of the traditional agrarianism, perhaps because of insularity, held sway.

Despite this conservatism, two minority influences were to enter the equation. Over the course of the spring, Communist membership doubled. Though there was a significant Communist protest march in Palma, the Communists were not the main instigators of the violence that was to break out. Its primary cause were the pockets of the Falange who had arrived on the island in 1934. The Falange, a curious mix of its own republicanism, arch-Catholicism but also modernism, barely even registered in the 1936 elections. It had secured only around 200 votes across the Balearics; conservative, right-wing Mallorca was not about to embrace it. In March, the national government proscribed it. This, as much as anything else, was the signal for the outbreak of the tragic spring. Though the press attempted to portray Mallorca as being peaceful, it couldn't ignore acts of violence from Palma to Campanet to Porreres. A reason why some commentators and historians refer to Mallorca's "primavera trágica" is because it unleashed the violence it did on an island unused to such turmoil, largely because of the Falange. Clandestine though it became, it could count on as many members as the Communists; more in fact. In June, less than two weeks before spring became summer, a Falange bomb went off at the Casa del Pueblo in Palma.

A tragic spring might seem like an odd way to introduce a Mallorcan spring, but not really. The circumstances of the Civil War and of its prelude hold a fascination, if not necessarily for the best of reasons. And around the island there are places which have a perhaps surprising and certainly unwanted connection with events leading up to the Civil War and with the rise of the Falange. Sant Martí de Lanzell in Vilafranca de Bonany, one of the most important and oldest "possession" country estates in Mallorca, Vallgornera Vell in Llucmajor, Son Vivot in Inca, now an agrotourism rural hotel; these were, from March 1936, locations for pockets of the Falange to prepare for armed intervention. Spring backward.

* I am indebted to an article by David Ginard i Féron for information here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 10C
Forecast high: 20C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Variable 2, occasionally East until midday, veering South and Southwest 3 to 4 by the evening.

While absent over the past few days, there has been some serious weather. Serious as in very warm. Still warm, but likely to be far less so from Sunday. Make the most of it then, as the temperature is due to dip to the low to mid-teens. Nice bright morning with plenty of sun today.

Evening update (19.00): A 20.8C high. Nice enough day.

Back Again

So, as you can see, I have returned following what was not a self-imposed blogging exile but one imposed on me by technology. To cut to the chase, changing internet providers is not necessarily straightforward, but suffice to say that the past is bright, the past is Orange. Bye, bye. This may not have caused the unintentional blogging hiatus it did had it not also been for the fact that I am the only person in the world who relies on only piece of kit - a large Macintosh desktop, which is not the sort of thing you can lug around and take to a wifi zone. Keeping up to internet speed (more internet slowness) has therefore required borrowing someone else's system or going to an internet café. I have now experienced two in Alcúdia. In both, several of the keys were unreadable, the mouse in one was so clogged up on its bottom that it was virtually unusable, while you can understand why the speed would be low; in order to get you to spend more.

Anyway, in the intervening time little of real note has occurred, but then little of real note does occur in Mallorca. I do begin to wonder quite how it is that I manage to bang stuff out day after day, but then there is always some story to tell behind even the slightest news or event. Take the Hotel Illa d'Or in Puerto Pollensa, for instance. It celebrated its 85th anniversary the other day. Why 85? It seems like an odd number to celebrate (odd in that 85 is not usually the criterion for a celebration as opposed to 85 not being an even number). Anyway, celebrate 85 years they did, and grand nosebag was to be had - lobster, partridge, beef amongst the 85 courses. For the Illa d'Or, fine pile that it is, one of Puerto Pollensa's Old Dame hotels, there is a back story, which makes it more interesting than it would otherwise be. It is there where Agatha Christie was inspired to write "Problem At Pollensa Bay" (though there is a rival argument that she was at the Hotel Formentor instead) and it is also there where members of the German Condor Legion were housed when they were based in Puerto Pollensa during the Civil War.

So, yes, there is always something to be said, even when nothing happens.

Sick Smiley: Quality

SICK TED. Ok, I've done it before, but here goes again. Is this pervy Edward or infirm Eddie? Because urban vernacular now decrees that sick means something completely different to what it ought to mean, as in good or (to use an out-of-date urbanism) wicked, is SICK TED also good Ted? And the answer is ... yes. SICTED. The Sistema Integral de Calidad Turística en Destinos. Get a SICTED and you too can boast your touristic quality in destination. Sick. Wicked. Good.

They've been SICTED-ing in Alcúdia and Pollensa. They don't SICTED everywhere. I'm not sure why not. Only Palma and Artà also SICTED in Mallorca. Is there no touristic quality in other destinations? No, but it would seem that other destinations have not been in touch with Turespaña (area of quality and technological development) or something called FEMP (the Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias) in order to obtain this mark of quality. Alcúdia and Pollensa have been pioneering destinations, therefore, and the latest businesses in the two towns to have been inducted into the SICTED hall of fame have recently been announced.

Both town halls posted photos of the happy winners onto their websites or Facebook pages. Spot the restaurant owner (and various others) time. I got four in Alcúdia - Bodega d'es Port, Café Illa, Diana Apartments and Magdalena, boss of the tourist offices - and a measly one in Pollensa (Posada d'Ariant), but there were more to choose from in Alcúdia, as they included businesses renewing their SICTEDs as well. I should have done better.

I was thinking I might list all the SICTED diploma holders. A cheap and easy way to fill some space, but I have standards; I'm applying for my own SICTED. So, if you want to know which businesses have this quality accreditation, you will need to look out for the logo. You can't miss it because it looks like TUI's, in that there's some of that smiley thing going on as there is in TUI's logo, assuming it is a smiley thing, which it might not be when you're in for fifty million euros to the Balearics tax office.

Good, sick, though this all is for the Alcúdia and Pollensa businesses, they will be horrified to learn that having had to go through the rigmarole to get their certificates and plaques, the regional government has come up with yet another quality wheeze. Under this one, there would be a special category for bars and restaurants with superior quality. It would also have a rather easier name. Or one that doesn't lend itself to having the rise taken out of it. GOLD is the probable title. I can already hear Spandau Ballet blaring out of the speakers at the inaugural ceremony. (Perhaps they could get Tony Hadley, as he's a regular in Pollensa and, let's face it, isn't doing much these days.) This GOLD award would be handed out by the tourism ministry and winners determined by a technical committee from the Chamber of Commerce and restaurant associations, and winners will also apparently be entitled to some tax benefits (unspecified), which sounds like a real incentive. More than a smiley logo. Sick.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Short Break

Just to say that I'm having a short break while some internet issues get sorted out. I'll be back in a few days with any luck. Sorry for the interruption in service!!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (6.30am): 11C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northeast 4.

Damp start, there having been some rain around. More dampness possible during the day, but from tomorrow things look really very good with temperatures due to be on the rise by the start of next week.

Evening update (23.00): A high of 18C. Not too bad.

Hunting Quarry: Mallorca's mining law

In 1989 the Sa Truiola coal mine in Lloseta was closed, and with its closure came an end to coal mining in Mallorca that had occurred since at least the first half of the nineteenth century. Once upon a time, in the 1930s, mines in Lloseta, Selva, Consell, Sineu and Binissalem provided 85% of the island's coal requirements for generating electricity. There were other mines, those for iron and copper, but they, like the coal mines, are things very much of the past. The only mining which occurs in Mallorca now is quarrying.

Stone that is extracted around Mallorca has different characteristics, ranging in colour from the almost pure white, such as a stone from Petra, to golden in Porreres, and it is the quarry in Porreres which is one of the main targets of a mining law that is to be brought before the Balearics Parliament. The quarry, argues the regional government, is too big and too much of a blot on the landscape. Quarries such as it and one in Establiments will not be possible in future while they are going to have be restored in such a way as to minimise their current visual impact.

In the case of the Establiments quarry, it hasn't been worked on for ten years. Activity there started in the 1950s and an authorisation of sorts came from the national industry ministry in 1959, but there was always a dispute as to whether there was a licence for quarrying to be carried out. Almost thirty years later, in 1988, a court decision upheld an appeal by Palma's city council to deny a licence for one of what are in fact two quarries. Between 1981 and 1994, there were four separate legal resolutions which deemed that the quarrying was illegal. Regardless of whatever courts decided or the city council wished, it wasn't to be until 2004 that work at the quarry ceased. It was closed but it most certainly wasn't forgotten. "An open wound on the Palma skyline" is just one description.

When Establiments was closed, the land was supposed to have been regenerated. It wasn't and still hasn't been. There was some hope that it might have been when Jaume Matas became president in 2007. 25 million euros were due to have been spent on a plan that would have turned the former quarry into an area with sports facilities, walks, playgrounds and what have you. But as we know, Matas was full of grand and ambitious plans that cost a great deal of money. Unlike some others on which great deals of money were spent, the plan for the quarry never went further than an election promise.

Under the mining bill that the government is to introduce, a Mining Council will be created, and this body will oversee existing quarries and authorise new works. Where Establiments is concerned, the council will, so it is hoped, force the owners to undertake the regeneration that should have started ten years ago. The council will also ensure that new phases of quarrying cannot start until the land at existing ones is restored. The bill will also give the government the right to expropriate quarries in order to ensure that they are regenerated. Bonds, as a form of guarantee for quarrying, are to be increased substantially, and these could, if necessary, be withheld by the government in order to cover the costs of regeneration that an owner fails to do. 

While this all sounds reasonable enough, will a new law and a new council be any more effective in enforcement than has been the case up till now? It hardly needs pointing out that the track record with enforcement has not been good. And how effective might this new council be? It is to be made up of representatives from government, the industry, various institutions (unspecified at present) and environmental organisations, which probably means GOB or Friends of the Earth (Amics de la Terra in its Mallorcan guise). The government's director-general for industry and energy has made a point of talking to and involving the environmental groups in the drafting of the bill, but while such a multi-agency council sounds good in theory, would its differing representatives be able to agree on anything?

Still, if the government has discovered something of an environmental consciousness in addressing the absurdity of the quarrying at Establiments without the appropriate licences and checks and balances, then good for it. But there is an irony in the government indicating that it will be acting tough in one way to restore the landscape while in another way it has adopted a different approach in the Ley del Suelo that has just been approved. Under this there will be an amnesty for illegal buildings on rural land (said to number around 20,000). One law for one, one law for another.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 11C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): East and Northeast 3 increasing 4.

Clearish skies. Possibility of a shower today but otherwise sunny. Forecast looking ahead to the weekend seems to suggest some real spring weather.

Evening update (20.45): A high of 17C. A sharp downpour in parts, but remained mostly sunny.

Dancing In The English Rain: Eurovision


It is remarkable how certain subjects crop up at precisely the same time each year and have an almost unfathomable ability to generate some form of controversy. Nevertheless, their recurrence is a sign of cultural importance, and there is little that is more culturally important than the Eurovision Song Contest.

Last year - at this time - it was the UK creating the discussion and controversy. Was it right that a pop dinosaur like Bonnie Tyler should be dragged onto a soggy Welsh beach and appear to be sinking into the sand while gyrating unconvincingly for the video to promote "Believe In Me"? There was little to believe in, and Bonnie didn't disappoint, failing spectacularly when it came to the actual contest and so perpetuating a tradition of UK Eurovision disaster. This year it's Spain generating the controversy and, according to one critic at any rate, it is the fossils if not the dinosaurs of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (RAE) who are at its centre.

So, what is the fuss all about? Ruth Lorenzo, that's what. Or rather, that's who. Ruth, those of you with long and detailed memories of "X Factor" will know, took part in the British talent show in 2008. She didn't do all that badly, getting as far as show eight before being ushered off stage. And being the British "X Factor", she did something that most people in Britain would have expected her to have done - she sang in English.

It is English that is proving to be controversial. Ruth sings in English. Actually, she sings part of the song - "Dancing In The Rain" - in Spanish and a part in English, the crucial part, i.e. the chorus, which is replete with repetition of "rain". Ruth can certainly hold a tune. No one has ever before belted out "rain" in such dramatic and regular fashion. If it is true that a song's chart success is partly a function of the number of times the title is repeated, then Ruth is on to a surefire winner, assuming, that is, that text voters in Serbia and Azerbaijan understand "rain". 

Ruth secured victory on the show broadcast by the national broadcaster RTE over two weeks ago. That she sang partly in English didn't appear to bother anyone, certainly not the Spanish public who voted for her. Two weeks on, though, and the RAE has got involved and stoked the controversy. Some of its academics (not the RAE directly) have fired off a missive to RTE, expressing their "disquiet" at the intrusion of English and prompting RTE to say that a final decision has yet to be made as to whether Ruth will perform at Eurovision only in Spanish, only in English or in the Spanglish that got her to the final.

Why, though, are some of the academics agitated enough to send a letter to the broadcaster? It is not as if Spain hasn't had a Eurovision entry which is partly in English in the past; it has happened on five occasions previously. Is it because the academy senses that its role is being diminished?

Jaime Amador, the critic who has described the academy as a group of fossils, would argue that this is the reason. The academy, he says, adopts resolutions on language that interest nobody; it is the body which arbitrates on standard use of Spanish. He goes on to call the academy a "delusion", implying that it is out of touch with the real world, especially the one which attracts millions of tourists to Spain who aren't about to suddenly think that English is the language in Spain purely because part of a song at Eurovision is in English.

What he's getting at, other than intimating that the academy has become increasingly irrelevant, is that there are occasions when language becomes the cause of cultural navel-gazing. Eurovision isn't culturally important. Above all, it is or should be entertainment and not an exercise in nationalism or linguistic imperialism. It might offend some that English insinuates itself to the extent that it does, but this is a song contest for the "X Factor" era not a platform for promoting global Spanishness, which was how Franco was inclined to see it but also how the academy appears to perceive it. One of the justifications for the academics' "disquiet" is that messages have been received from some Latin American countries where they don't understand why English has been incorporated into the song. What's it got to do with Latin American countries? They can't vote in Eurovision.

We'll have to wait until the contest to find out what Ruth sings in, though one can be sure that it won't be Catalan, which would make for a far better controversy, and that the UK's young Bonnie for 2014, Molly Smitten-Downes, won't be singing in Spanish.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 11 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.00am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 16C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North 2 to 3 increasing 4 and occasionally 5, veering East towards the end of the day.

Bright and chilly. Due to cloud over by the evening bringing possible rain tomorrow.

Evening update (18.00): A high of 17.1C. Mostly sunny.

The Rubbish Of Son Real

In the years that I have been writing about Mallorca there is one story which, when one takes all its component parts, accumulates into a vast volume of work which relates all you need to know about institutional incompetence and grandiosity, practical failure and political infighting. This is a story which has reached its denouement: the accumulation of rubbish found by a partially hidden hut. The location of the hut is the Son Real finca near Can Picafort. The accumulated rubbish is (now was, because it's been cleaned up) thousands of unused "green cards", promotional leaflets and DVDs.

The story of Son Real and the sub-plot that was the "tarjeta verde" is one that I have followed over the years. Partly, this is because the finca is quite near to me, but more importantly because it has been a story of quite staggering stupidity and ineptitude that has crossed over into the scandalous.

Where to start with this story? Let's start in the middle. September 2008. One evening in that month a number of government officials and businesspeople attended the official opening of the "interpretation centre" at Son Real. The grand fanfare for the opening included a statement as to expected numbers of visitors to the finca. 20,000 per annum, paying five euros a time. The work on the centre and other property on the finca had cost three million euros. This was on top of the over 17 million euros that the Balearic Government had paid for the finca in 2002 (when the story really started). At a rough estimate, it was going to take two hundred years for there to be a payback.

The investment was justifiable because of Son Real's importance, but it was an investment which was the first example of grandiosity. The finca was acquired with the help of funds raised by the eco-tax, a project therefore which was in keeping with the principle of the tax - environmental conservation with a tourist application. Six years later, it was evident that it had limited tourist application. The 20,000 per annum visitors would have also included local residents and school groups.

As a way of attracting tourists, the government of Jaume Matas, which scrapped the eco-tax in 2003, launched an alternative scheme. This was the green card. At a cost of ten euros, the card offered discounts, such as one for Son Real. When an audit of the card's performance was undertaken for 2008, it was found that the regional government had received the princely sum of 13,524 euros. The card was an unmitigated disaster (the practical failure) and was made more so because hoteliers couldn't be bothered selling it and even when they did, weren't handing over the cash. On top of this, no one had the faintest idea how many cards had actually been sold.

Matas and the then environment minister, Jaume Font, had launched the card in typically grandiose fashion, employing Michael Douglas and Claudia Schiffer. The card was to be operated by a body called the Fundación Balears Sostenible, a creation of the Matas administration which was linked to the tourism ministry and which also took on responsibility for managing certain sites - Son Real and Costa Nord. 

In June 2010, police raided the Costa Nord headquarters of this foundation. Its new director said that there was a "leak" of some three million euros in its accounts. He also said that he was surprised, on taking up his appointment, to find fifteen pallets of publicity and other material stashed away in a storage facility: the green card and accompanying leaflets. The foundation became just one element in anti-corruption investigations that related to the Matas government and to the tourism ministry in particular.

It is an assumption, but some of the material from those fifteen pallets may well have been what was found scattered around Son Real. Wherever it had come from and whoever had sanctioned it being stored at the finca, the fact is that the green card was quietly dropped at the end of 2012, while the foundation was absorbed by the tourism agency and its responsibility for Son Real transferred to a department within the environment ministry.

The green card, as I say, was a sub-plot in the whole Son Real story. How awfully appropriate, though, that its remains should be found as piles of rubbish on the finca, one which was supposed to have benefited from it. The truth is that Son Real has received no benefit and certainly not from political figures. The most ludicrous of the political scraps occurred when Jorge Campos, an arch anti-Catalanist, took over as director of the foundation and insisted on flying the Spanish flag at its entrance. The greatest failure, though, has been in the finca's management. The environment ministry is now meant to be managing it, but Santa Margalida town hall has consistently criticised it for its mismanagement. All that money, all that grandiosity and now all those unused green cards. What a terrible waste.

Monday, March 10, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 10 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.15am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): North 3.

Pleasant, calm morning. The breeze likely to pick up and so possibly making things feel a bit chilly. Otherwise sunny. The outlook is now more mixed with rain possible later in the week.

Evening update (20.30): A high of 17.9C, so just about on the forecast high for once.

From Isabel To Ibex: Spanish women

On 19 October 1469 there was a wedding in Valladolid. It was a wedding that was notable for a number of reasons, not least because it established a union between two kingdoms and announced the arrival of a nation state. When Isabel of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon, it is doubtful that anyone could have predicted where their union would lead. It was a marriage that was to travel to the Americas, along the rivers of gold and to an imperial destination, and though ostensibly a marriage of equals, Isabel was the dominant partner. She was tougher than Ferdinand. She believed in justice, even if this justice was far from always benign; the Inquisition was established nine years into their reign.

Isabel is arguably the most important woman in Spain's history, but more than three centuries later the second Isabel also became important, albeit for a different reason. Isabel I may have led Spain to its empire, but she was still only a woman, and Isabel II was responsible, merely for being a woman, for the Carlist Wars. Her father, the generally mad absolutist Ferdinand VII, had dispensed with Salic law, meaning that there could be the succession of a female sovereign. The Carlists rejected Ferdinand's "pragmatic sanction" and supported the pretender to the throne, Ferdinand's brother, the Infante Carlos. Carlism, a movement characterised by Catholic traditionalism, was to be a factor in Spain's history for more than a hundred years. 

Kings and queens tell only part of a society's story, but the story of Isabel II shows that, despite the achievements of the first Isabel more than three hundred years before, entrenched attitudes hadn't changed. Indeed, because Carlism and its traditional Catholicism remained factors into and during the Franco era, those attitudes prevailed for very much longer than they did in other societies. In Franco's Spain discrimination against women was such that there existed the "permiso marital". A woman couldn't work or even travel away without her husband's permission.

The changed role of women in Spanish society is one of the most profound of all the changes that has come about since the establishment of democracy. If one looks around the political scene, one finds a female vice-president in the national government, a trend started by the previous Zapatero administration. In the Balearics two women will be fighting it out to lead PSOE into the next regional elections. Either might just become the first female president of the islands. In the business world, such as in Mallorca's hotel industry, women occupy top roles in hotel chains and in hotelier organisations. The changed role of women has been dramatic.

To celebrate International Women's Day a conference was held in Palma which was entitled "Work, family and personal life: a triangle in constant evolution". It looked at issues surrounding equality and the reconciling of family and working lives. The conference would have been able to draw on a substantial body of research, such as that from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and from the European Commission, which has detected a wage gap of 16.4% between men and women that applies across Europe but which has been widening in Spain. This 16.4% gap just so happens, according to the UGT union, to exist in the Balearics, though it isn't as wide as a national 23% level, which might sound like a reason to be cheerful but in the union's opinion isn't; it says that it reflects generally lower salary levels because of the nature of the Balearics labour market and the high level of seasonality.

From this research one also discovers that the percentage of female representation at board level in Ibex 35 companies (those that comprise the stock market index) is 16%, while among unlisted companies with between 100 and 500 employees, a third of them do not have any women in their management teams. This suggests that women are getting a raw deal, but if one considers the situation in the UK, it isn't all that different. There, a 15% wage gap is said to exist (the figure is probably open to interpretation), while female representation on the boards of FTSE100 companies has only recently topped 20% for the first time.

To combat this inequality the ILO suggests measures that were on the table for discussion at the Palma conference - improved child care services, codes of practice to tackle gender stereotyping and such like. It all sounds incredibly familiar. In the early 1980s my company was the first to publish a journal in the UK devoted to women in management. The issues were the same then as they are now. That was the UK though. This is Spain. The advances here have been remarkable in that there is now some comparison with the UK. But these things take time, though perhaps not as long as the period between the first Isabel and the final years of the Carlist tradition.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Mallorca draw in Zaragoza

Real Zaragoza 1 : 1 Real Mallorca
Both relegated from La Liga last season and both might have been anticipating a prompt return, but neither Zaragoza nor Mallorca has enjoyed the best of times in the "segunda división". But at least Mallorca managed a draw, an improvement following the horror show at home in new coach Carreras's first match in charge against Barcelona B. The goal action occurred within the first few minutes, Thomas scoring for Mallorca after five minutes and Roger replying for Zaragoza seven minutes later. Roger caused Mallorca regular problems, Miño saving the visitors halfway through the first period and again in the second half when Roger drew a penalty which Miño saved with three minutes of the match to go. Mallorca, for now, are in fourteenth spot, four points short of a play-off position but only three points above the best-placed side (Hércules) in the relegation zone.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 9 March 2014

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.15am): 12.5C
Forecast high: 18C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): East and Northeast 3 to 4 backing North 3 by the evening.

Milder morning, bright with good amounts of sun in prospect. The outlook has altered with more cloud due to be around during the week and temperatures decreasing from Tuesday.

Evening update (18.30): Breeze a bit chilly today. Sunny though. A high of 17.3C.

Bono Comes To Spain's Rescue

The raor fish commands a hefty price. It may well be the most expensive fish in the Mediterranean. It is tasty, tasty, very, very tasty and it can give a fair old bite if you are not careful when taking it off the hook. The raor is known by other names, one of them not being, as far as I am aware, "rayor", an obscure species that was netted in Dublin on Friday. The rayor commands a hefty price from those that it governs. It has marked out its territory and made it one of the most expensive in the Mediterranean and indeed in Europe (electricity, for instance). And it most certainly has been let off the hook; thus far at any rate. There could yet, though, be a nasty nip aimed at it, if it isn't careful.

The European People's Party, "the political family of the centre-right" apparently, had gathered in the Irish capital for its summit. Among the political leaders who form this family are Angela Merkel and Spain's very own Mariano Rajoy. And Mariano made a speech at the gathering. Unfortunately, it wasn't Mariano Rajoy but Mariano Rayor, a simple enough mistake perhaps or alternatively a massive great howler. The name that was projected behind someone who looked remarkably like Mariano Rajoy was Mariano Rayor.

Of course, the Irish might not be terribly familiar with Mariano, but they would most certainly be very familiar with one of the non-political-leader speakers. They can't avoid him. Indeed, no one can avoid him. He still hasn't found what he's looking for, but Bono has spent the past several years in earnest pursuit of its discovery. World peace, poverty, you name it, Bono is seeking a solution.

And in Dublin he came up with a solution for Spain. "Where is the response of the European family? Where is the pan-European campaign for people to take their holidays in Spain, to buy Spanish products and listen to Spanish music?" There has to be European support for the Spanish economy, he went on, as a response to the reforms and measures that the Spanish Government has put in place.

It was all very curious, and doubly so when Bono seemed to intimate that U2 might be about to record a flamenco album. But has there not been European support for the Spanish economy? Or did we imagine all the intervention by Brussels? And what exactly was all this stuff about a pan-European campaign for Spanish tourism? Is Brussels about to diversify into the travel industry?

Unless you prefer Bono sticking to telling us all it's a beautiful day and so stop sticking his nose into European affairs, you will probably think it does little harm for him to make a plea on behalf of the Spanish tourism industry. To be fair, it doesn't do any harm because very few people are likely to pay much attention, but by calling for a campaign for more holidaymaking in Spain, Bono falls into the trap marked "over-reliance on the tourism industry". This may not be a reliance which is common to all parts of Spain, but it is to some, such as Mallorca.

Tourism, and more of it, as an antidote to economic crisis is both necessary and welcome, but tourism has, for too long, been a strength balanced, or rather imbalanced, by the weakness that this strength produces. Mallorca displays this better than anywhere. Its economy does not have adequate balance. There is little scope for a major increase in Mallorca's summer tourism (peak summer, that is), while there is enormous scope for a major increase in the off-season, as I think we know. But the angst that is caused by the absence of off-season tourism and the resultant debates, suggestions and prescriptions create a polemic which is itself imbalanced. The arguments should be about economic well-being from sources other than tourism and about attempting to establish a balance in the economy rather than one in which the summer scale is so heavily loaded that it tips the empty winter scale to an almost vertical position.

The Bono prescription is, therefore, simplistic and short-termist, but then he is a rock singer not a politician, though being a politician offers little guarantee of there being a true understanding of issues, tourism being one of them. Take Mariano, for example. Among his arguments for defending oil exploration off the Balearics was one which drew a comparison with the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada. In each of these countries oil co-exists with fishing and tourism, he said. Which may well be true, but the tourism is of a very different order to that in the Balearics. And as for fishing, with his newly acquired moniker, he might bear in mind that the Mediterranean is very different to the Atlantic. Perhaps he can seek Bono's advice.

Photo: Wikipedia.