Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Place Called Al

Pompeu Fabra was an industrial engineer. He was also, perhaps strangely for an engineer, a man of language. In 1932 a dictionary was published. It was the "General Dictionary of the Catalan Language" and was the culmination of other work, such as the 1918 "Catalan Grammar". Fabra was responsible for these publications. The 1932 dictionary was the official word (or words, many of them) on Catalan for over 60 years before the first dictionary from the Institute of Catalan Studies was published.

Fabra didn't have anything directly to do with Mallorca, but he was certainly in contact with various language scholars and writers on the island. As a consequence of producing his grammar and his dictionary, Fabra was an extremely important person. He still is. Yet his name, one fancies, is one that will mean little or nothing to the general visitor to the island. Even if that visitor is aware of his name having been used for a street or a square, it will still mean very little.

Alcanada is a small place. There is very little there. What passes for its centre is revealed to you as you gingerly manoeuvre your car past a house which juts out into an already narrow road and as you hope for dear life that there isn't a damn great bus or a gaggle of tourist pedestrians around the blind corner. Successfully having managed not to hit anyone or anything, you see to your right a low wooden fence behind which is a small parking area. For someone as celebrated as Fabra should be, this seems an unremarkable tribute. A car park has been named after him. Well, not exactly. The car park, strictly speaking, is the Plaça Pompeu Fabra. It is a square without any clear indication that it is a square. Indeed, it is a rather inconvenient triangular shape.

The square-triangle-car park forms the anything but bustling heartland of Alcanada. Pass through it and you come to La Terraza and its chiringuito, the restaurant perched over an invitingly clear kaleidoscope of greens swirling within blues. It's the end of the bay of Alcudia which offers a view of the bay that isn't interrupted with the sight of the twin towers of the old power station, the rather unlovely relic hidden a couple of kilometres or more away that acts as a contrarily welcoming host as you make your way from Puerto Alcudia into Alcanada.

To the other side of Pompeu Fabra is another restaurant, Es Faró, and the apartments that take the Alcanada (or Aucanada if you prefer) name. Another wooden fence runs to one side of the apartments. It marks the limits of a wooded, shaded area and of the road that carries on to the golf course, the one of Trent Jones design and Porsche family ownership and with its own restaurant. Add the all-inclusive Hotel President, a couple of small supermarkets, a small beach, and you have all you need to know about Alcanada.

Except of course, there is more. Well, there's the lighthouse for one thing - the faró - the lighthouse which sits on a small islet (or illot in Fabra's native) and to which, thanks to the shallowness of the bay, overnight guests once upon a time used to walk, carrying picnic and bedding paraphernalia above the calm sea. They weren't proper guests. They weren't really supposed to be there. But those were days when no one took much notice. They do now, and no, you can't go and have an overnight picnic.

Around the time that Pompeu Fabra was publishing his dictionary, an American in Mallorca was making a name for himself for a different reason. He was Arthur E. Middlehurst. Not a great deal is known about Arthur, other than that he was an urban planner and architect who specialised in a "Californian style". It would appear that he was part of a literary, cultural and somewhat Bohemian set that sprang up in Mallorca in the 1930s. He would have been well aware of the cultural movement that Fabra's dictionary represented. It isn't known with any certainty, but the square in Alcanada probably acquired its name in the 1930s in recognition of the dictionary, for it was in the early part of that decade that Arthur was set to oversee the development of a garden-city style resort, i.e. Alcanada.

Whatever it was that Arthur had in mind for Alcanada, it didn't really materialise and certainly not as a resort of any significance. The resort that did begin to take shape, courtesy of Pedro Mas y Reus and Jaime Enseñat, was down the coast past the port of Alcudia. Who knows? Perhaps history might have been different and Alcanada would have become more of a centre for tourism. It is a place that has a geography that might be considered not dissimilar to Illetes in the way that it climbs in different tiers. But it wasn't to be.

For the visitor, and indeed for many residents, Alcudia means one thing when it comes to tourism. It is an erroneous perception based on the architecturally less than lovely Mile and on the category of tourist that the Mile attracts (itself something of a misguided generalisation). Alcudia is several places, not the one. And Alcanada is one of these several places; a place of summery somnolence far removed from the touristic pleasure park that radiates out from Bellevue. What is its appeal? Sebastian Sanchez, director of the apartments, sums it up easily and in one word. "Tranquilidad." Tranquility, quietness, translate it as you wish, it amounts to the same thing. The translation is not difficult, but every now and then the name of Alcanada can cause a problem. It isn't a small place that has been transported from Canada. It isn't a small place called Al. Al, Canada.

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