Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Allure Of The Mallorcan April Fair

When summer slips into autumn, you know that the season is changing, not because of leaves turning brown and falling but because the fiestas finish and the fairs start. The thing that we erroneously refer to as "winter" in Mallorca is bookended by fairs. They usher it in and they show it the door. The fairs are back, an agricultural-industrial-artisanal merry-go-round of pre-match warm-ups for the main events of the summer fiestas.  

The fairs are not all tractors, light engineering and pots to which livestock may or may not be added to their list of attractions, but it is Mallorca's agro-industrial complex which dominates the exhibition stands at the island's April fairs. Andraitx this weekend, Calvia, Santa Eugènia, Santa Margalida all next weekend, Muro and Santa Maria over the final weekend of the month. Each fair follows a similar theme, a variant being next weekend in Porreres where the fair has been ecologicalised.

The exceptions to this rule of fairs include, appropriately enough for the bookending nature of the spring fairs, the book fair in Vilafranca at the end of the month. A town more commonly associated with its melon gluttony goes cultural. Another exception is the Playa de Muro bike fest this coming week, a predominantly Germanic gathering of cycle technology, fitness and racing. At the end of the month and stretching into May is the daddy of all the fairs - the Palma boat show, happily restored following its hiatus. And this weekend there is another boat show, Puerto Alcúdia's mini-me to Palma's maxi.

There didn't used to be a fair in Alcúdia's port. The boats did make an appearance, but they showed up in the old town at the October fair. The people of the "moll" were keen on having their own slice of the fair cake, and so they suggested that the boats might be better off being next to what one normally associates boats with - water, rather than the ancient walls of old Alcúdia. And so, the port's fair came into being, but boats were to be only one part of the fair. The other part was to be gastronomy, and what did they choose as a theme? One also associated with water, a fishy theme but one, for many Brits, with an altogether different association, that of budgies. The cuttlefish gastronomy fair, which when it is referred to in its Castellano or Catalan versions sounds very much enticing - sepia/sipia.

I confess to finding cuttlefish in its full-bodied form somewhat less than appealing. It shares with other species of the Cephalopoda class the unfortunate trait of having been manufactured by Dunlop. Yet, take a handy knife to it and reduce it to less than mouth-sized bites, fry it in herby/spicy oil and present it with rice blackened by its own ink and with a side portion of mayo, and yum, yum. Other recipes are of course available, and the restaurants' marquee at the fair will have been doing a roaring trade in its variety of sepia tapas.

The Alcúdia boat show/sepia fair is in its ninth edition. My, how they love telling us how many editions there have been of fairs and other events. None is respectable without some Roman numerals forming a prefix to the title. I have witnessed the fair's development over its nine editions. The first one, blessed with glorious early April weather, was a huge success. It was a tremendous idea, as it breathed life into a port area struggling to wake up after the prolonged winter. It remains a tremendous idea. The whole island seems to turn up, make parking anywhere near the port impossible, pack the terraces and the marquees, watch the fishermen at work, dream of their own boat and gawp at the inevitable giants.

But it is a fair that has had its moments of controversy. The fishermen got into a right old hump a few years back when the restaurants refused to pay their prices for cuttlefish. It all seemed a little odd that a fair in celebration of the local catch would instead use sepia snaffled up much cheaper from wholesalers. The town hall intervened in order to come to a compromise agreement. Then the crafty-artisany sorts got into a strop of their own. The reason? Too many damn boats occupying specks along the extended Paseo Marítimo that had previously been for the sale of knicky-knackery. The growth in the on-land flotilla was a direct consequence of Palma's boat show having gone into hibernation. Mini-me has been restored, along with the pots and craft paraphernalia.

The fairs are not confined to April. In May, you can barely move for them. But, in seeking an alliteration for Mallorca in April, they have an allure, and even cuttlefish can have a certain allure, which is saying something.

Photo: Gawping at giants, 2011.

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