Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Short History Of Wind

The shipping forecast for the bay of Alcúdia at this time of the year varies little from day to day. Its lack of variance doesn't prevent it, though, from saying that winds will be "variable". They are only light winds until some time not long after midday. From then, the winds pick up and become predominantly north-east. If you go to the beach along the bay, you will know this for yourself. You can pretty much set your watch according to when the wind increases. It's getting towards time for lunch.

Though the north-easterly occurs almost every afternoon, it is, and despite the variability of the shipping forecast, the southerlies which dominate in summer. The north-easterly is welcome. It may cause panic if it suddenly blows in and uproots beach umbrellas, it may be annoying in that it throws grains of sand and small pieces of beach detritus on to you, but it is cooling. If there were only southerlies and only African air, afternoons on the beach would be as stifling as they are inland, where the north-easterly rarely penetrates.

Mallorca is sun, sea and beach, but it is also wind. And not just one wind. The eight winds of the Mediterranean are so much a part of Mallorca's existence that they lend their titles to names of streets, to bars and restaurants and even to entire mountain ranges. The northerly tramuntana dominates in winter, along with its north-westerly neighbour, the mestral. The north-easterly gregal is less evident, but it blows nonetheless and can be cold and fierce, bringing with it rain and snow. In summer, it is more benign, more welcome. It lives up more to the summery implications of its meaning from the Latin "graegalis" - coming from Greece.

Though the summer gregal blows each day in the bay, it typically goes no further than the coast. Occasionally it can, if it has enough force. And if it does, the chances are that it encounters a different wind. Eight winds of the Mediterranean there are, but there is a ninth wind in Mallorca. Or different ninth winds, to be more accurate. The brisas marinas, the sea breezes peculiar to Mallorca. They have a collective name - embat - an atmospheric phenomenon caused by the contrasting daytime heat of the interior and the comparative coolness of the sea, which is both predictable and unpredictable. It can go in different directions and come from different coastal areas. Hence, there can be different winds - the brisas marinas - not just the one.

The eight winds, which in clockwise order starting with the tramuntana (the north wind) are gregal, llevant, xaloc, migjorn, llebeig (or garbi), ponent and mestral, were depicted in the "rose" of winds created by the father and son team of Abraham and Jehuda (aka Jafuda) Cresques in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The Cresques were responsible for the "Atlas Catalan", which is held in the French national library, and the rose was one aspect of this mediaeval cartographic masterpiece.

The Cresques were Mallorcan Jews. Jafuda certainly converted to Christianity, taking the name Jaume Riba, though Abraham probably didn't convert; the persecution of Jews in Mallorca was something that started after Abraham died. Their atlas, also known as a "mapamundi" (a map of the world as they knew it), was worked on from 1375. The Cresques received some payment from the Aragon crown for their work, but the atlas was donated to the French king, Charles VI, in 1381. It wasn't until the start of the nineteenth century that it was discovered, lurking unknown in the national library. While the map itself was of huge but seemingly unappreciated importance, the rose of the winds was also hugely important. Though the names on the Cresques' original were not identical to those of today, they bore a very strong resemblance, and the most significant of them was the tramuntana.

There has been much debate as to the origin of the name tramuntana. Its most likely origin was from the Latin "trans montes". Though it is said that it was first documented as an Italian word in the early sixteenth century, it most clearly wasn't. The Cresques used it, and Ramon Llull, the great Mallorcan polymath of the thirteenth century, also used a word that was very similar. Why, you might ask, is this important? Well, it is because the eight winds of the Mediterranean, as they are now known, are also sometimes referred to as the eight Catalan winds of the Mediterranean. In effect, the Cresques invented the "vents", the winds. Or certainly, they invented the tramuntana, no doubt borrowing from what was common usage that had probably been handed down from Llull.

So, when the wind blows in Mallorca, you should know that the winds aren't only part of the Mallorcan climate, they go very much deeper into Mallorcan existence. The winds, made in Mallorca.

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