Sunday, November 30, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 15C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 1 December - Rain, 20C; 2 December - Rain, 16C; 3 December - Rain, sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 5 to 6 backing East to Northeast 4 to 6 during the morning and West 3 to 5 during the afternoon. Swells to two metres. Possible storm.

Some sports of rain early on. The alert for heavy rain still in place for today. Unlikely to be a lot by way of sun, and a similar forecast for the next few days.

Evening update (18.00): Something of a storm in the morning, not a great deal of rain though. Sun out for a time later. A high of 18.8C.

No Frills Excursions

The Centuries Of Mallorcan Embroidery

At Alcudia's fair each October there are exhibitions of autumn embroideries. I confess that they are not shows to which I make a beeline, but there are many who do, while many are the embroiderers themselves. Needlework and embroidery sound like the epitome of the cottage industry; a Mallorcan woman of times gone by busying herself with creating patterns from fabrics on the step of the cottage. And that, for centuries, was pretty much how it was. But in which century did it start? No one can say with certainty, but the first references to Mallorcan embroideries appearing in the homes of the wealthy are contained in house content inventories of the mid-fourteenth century. The traditional craft of the local "brodat" (embroidery) is at least 700 years old.

By the start of the eighteenth century, the patterns and designs of the Mallorcan embroiderers had become well established. They typically featured, for example, undulating branches of climbing plants with petals, and the reputation that this Mallorcan craft acquired was such that during the reign of Isabel II in the mid-nineteenth century Mallorcan embroiderers were employed by her court. For the most part, however, embroidery remained a craft of the homeworker, and it wasn't until the last century that workshops began to crop up. Into the story comes, therefore, the town of Sant Llorenç, a place which, until 1892, was not a separate municipality; it had been part of Manacor.

It would seem that this granting of "independence" was the inspiration for the development of a more coherent embroidery industry in Sant Llorenç. On its own as a municipality, the town sought to develop its economy, and embroidery, which would have always existed, was to become an important part of the local economy. It was to become important also for the fact that it represented the first time that women truly formed a paid workforce on the island (the pearls business in Manacor was one of the few other examples).

In 1924 the first actual workshop was opened. Or at least this is when the workshop was first officially recorded as having been in existence. It had, in all likelihood, been going for a time before then. It was located on the Carrer Major next to what is now the Bar Olimpic. Initially, five women were employed and trained in using embroidery machinery, but from this modest beginning the local industry grew so that by the 1960s some 700 women were employed in what may have been seventeen workshops (getting at an accurate number is seemingly rather difficult because not all were properly registered). As such, the growth of embroidery in Sant Llorenç provides an interesting case study of how an industry is formed as a cluster in a specific location; one thing led to another, to another and to then more.

The early output of the 1920s was mainly for the Mallorcan market but there were also exports to Barcelona. Later, and by the time things had settled down years after the Civil War and when the Franco regime had taken a more realistic attitude to the economy, exports were heading overseas as well as to mainland markets. The workshops, which for a time closed because of the war and its immediate aftermath, reopened and ultimately started to develop new product lines for the burgeoning tourism industry. Inevitably though, as with other economic sectors on the island, it was tourism which was to prove to be the undoing of the embroidery trade, as was access to cheap imports from China. Alternative employment opportunities beckoned, but there was, however, a benefit for the women who had been engaged in the industry. It is said that they had earned sufficient money to be able to invest in tourism businesses.

In the same way as with other craft traditions on the island that had been undermined by politics and tourism, embroidery has been revived. Much of it is a throwback to the nineteenth century in that it is a cottage-style industry, while some of it is simply done as a hobby. Machinery there may be, but contemporary embroidery relies on old needlecraft and on the types of design that go way back in time; hence, there are branches, petals, flowers that typified embroideries of the eighteenth century.

Sant Llorenç has been celebrating its embroidery industry this year. An exhibition of workshops, embroiderers and embroideries at the rectory in the church square will continue until 21 December. It is an exhibition that celebrates a more modern era of embroidery but also a tradition that has existed on the island for all the centuries that it has.

Index for November 2014

Albufera and maintenance of nature areas - 17 November 2014
Ant discovery in the Tramuntana - 27 November 2014
Balearic Government communication - 24 November 2014
Caimari and Llubi fairs - 16 November 2014
Calvia Beach transformation of Magalluf - 3 November 2014, 7 November 2014
Catalonia vote - 11 November 2014
Cruise shipping - 21 November 2014
Day of the Dead - 2 November 2014
Duchess of Alba / Balearics education ministry - 22 November 2014
Embroidery - 30 November 2014
Forty years on: Franco - 13 November 2014
Francesc de Borja Moll - 5 November 2014
Health service in the Balearics - 6 November 2014, 15 November 2014
Holiday lets: need for proper regulation - 18 November 2014
Més and the Mallorcan left - 19 November 2014
Partido Popular and corruption - 29 November 2014
Podemos lead in polls - 4 November 2014, 8 November 2014
Preservation and heritage - 20 November 2014
Radio and TV history - 12 November 2013
Small government - 14 November 2014
Spearfishing champions - 9 November 2014
Sports tourism - 10 November 2014
Strategic quality plan for tourism - 28 November 2014
Tax giveaway - 1 November 2014
Treasure Hunt in Mallorca - 26 November 2014
Xeremía - 23 November 2014
Youtubers - 25 November 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 16.5C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 30 November - Rain, 19C; 1 December - Rain, 17C; 2 December - Rain, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 5 to 6.

With a yellow alert for rain today and for at least the next two days, we can probably anticipate some rain. Dry at present but unlikely to stay that way. The general outlook is poor into next week.

Evening update (18.30): So much for the alert for heavy rain. It drizzled on and off during the day, but that was about it. Grey skies, no sun, a high of 20.4C.

No Frills Excursions

The Killers Of The Partido Popular

Right, all you lot who can't speak Spanish, here's today's grammar lesson. The Spanish verb to kill is, everyone? Anyone? Yes, you, you at the back there, consulting Google Translate on your iPhone. "Matar?" Correct. Now, let's do a bit of conjugation shall we. Matar, third person. He kills, she kills, you (formal singular) kill. And the answer is? Juan Mata, the Manchester United footballer, kills. Él mata. Next, first person, I kill. Who shall we have here? Come on down, Ana, yes Ana Mato, until very recently the Spanish health minister. Yo mato. Now, it gets a bit tricky. Second person, you kill (informal singular). Who can this possibly be? My God, Jaume, Jaume Matas, ex-Balearics president, newly returned to jail. Tú matas.

Next question. Which of these three - Juan Mata, Ana Mato, Jaume Matas - is the odd one out? Simple. It is of course Juan Mata. Thanks to an extraordinary conjugational coincidence, he is not a Partido Popular politician who has been caught in a corruption net either alleged or proven. He should really donate his surname to Ana and Jaume, though. It would sound so much better and so much more accurate. Ana kills. Jaume kills. Or, if you fancy some alternative meanings for "matar", Ana does in, Jaume destroys. Pretence to the end with the PP. Destroying democracy. It isn't Podemos which is on the point of doing this, as Maria Dolores Cospedal (PP) has suggested; the PP has been perfectly capable of doing this by itself.

Greater care really should be taken when appointments are made. I mean, whose bright idea was it to have a health minister whose name comes from the verb to kill? Rajoy's probably. And how he must wish he'd given Ana the heave-ho a few weeks back when there was a clamour for her head over the ebola business. This might at least have reduced the embarrassment of the past week when she resigned having been cited by a judge as an alleged "participant to profit" from gifts that were lavished around through the network that has made the "caso Gürtel" the massive, ongoing corruption investigation that it is.

Poor old Rajoy, his timing was, as ever, impeccably dreadful. One day he had brought his anti-corruption measures before Congress and the next day Ana had handed in her resignation; echoes of the "few small incidents" (of corruption) speech he made in Murcia the day before much of Murcia was raided. Mariano, much to everyone's amusement, was forced to declare that Spain was not corrupt. And no, Spain, as in the whole country isn't. Just some of it, and Rajoy knows full well which part. By the way, can anyone remind me? Those Bárcenas ledgers of supposed black payments. The M.R. mentioned as an alleged recipient was? Why has all that gone so quiet?

Friday, November 28, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 15.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 29 November - Rain, 22C; 30 November - Rain, 18C; 1 December - Rain, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South and Southeast 4 to 5.

The alert for rain and storms yesterday came to nothing and it has been dropped for today, which probably means there will be rain and storms. Otherwise, fairly clear first thing and quite breezy. Reasonable sun is anticipated, but things are supposed to deteriorate this evening, and the weekend and the start of next week are looking like washouts.

Evening update (21.45): Sun, cloud and wind today. A high of 21.1C. Rain tomorrow, it would seem.

No Frills Excursions

Isabel In Quality Land

Isabel Borrego, the Mallorcan who is the national secretary-of-state for tourism, has been suspiciously visible over the past few days. After three years of relative anonymity or of, when becoming visible, a tendency to put her foot in it, she has suddenly taken tourism centre-stage. Something's afoot, or perhaps she's just taking the heat off her boss, Soria, as the flak flies in the Canaries over oil prospecting and is about to fly in the Balearics for the same reason. Whatever the reason for this unexpected activity, Isabel has followed up her grand idea for Shopping Tourism 2015 with the Strategic Plan for Quality, something which has in mind giving Spain the most advanced tourism quality system in the world.

As ever with announcements of such plans, there were precious few details to explain what she meant, other than vague references to perfecting cultures of hospitality and attention to tourists and to attracting tourists with increased purchasing power (the same principle underpins her shopping plan). Asian tourists would appear to be important to all this. Their number has risen by 20% so far this year, and as they spend more than other tourists, Isabel is clearly keen to cash in. Not that Asian tourists are going to mean a great deal for Mallorca at present, save for a few Chinese knocking around on golf courses. Without direct flights, getting a piece of the Asian action will be hard.

Meanwhile, Isabel didn't have good news for hoteliers who have been imploring national government to give them some form of fiscal preference, as in reducing IVA. She didn't believe that this was likely, noting that sectors of the tourism industry (not all but certainly the hotels) do already have preferential treatment in that IVA is charged at a lower rate of 10%.

She has also been speaking about holiday lets, and what she had to say was very little. This is a matter for regional governments, she pointed out, which is something we already knew, the national government having abrogated responsibility (for fear of upsetting the hoteliers) and dressed this up as decentralisation of decision-making, something which has led to the lack of harmony of regulations across Spain.

Figures issued by the Balearics Statistics Institute for October's tourism should be noted by Isabel, by Martínez and by the Mallorcan hoteliers. Though healthy - over one million tourists, which is in fact very healthy for October - the figures point to the importance of non-hotel accommodation in attracting tourists. It can be misleading to refer to a lengthening of the season in respect of October, given that October is part of the summer season, but a lengthening was how these figures were being interpreted in some quarters. The fact that holiday lets were playing a significant role in this lengthening contradicts the frankly stupid comments that have come from Martínez and the hoteliers' federation. They have claimed that holiday lets only intensify seasonality, when it should be obvious that they can play a role in making it less intense and so lengthening the season even further. (When there are so few hotels open, this should be clear.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 12.5C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 28 November - Sun, shower, 23C; 29 November - Rain, 18C; 30 November - Rain, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 3 to 4 backing Southeast 4 to 5 during the afternoon.

A mist has lifted and the skies are fairly clear but there are alerts for rain and storms today and tomorrow. The general outlook is now pretty poor through the weekend and into next week.

Evening update (19.30): Don't know what happened to those alerts. Some rain in parts but other areas totally dry. A high of 20.2C. 

No Frills Excursions

The Mountain Ant Of Mallorca

I'm guessing, but I imagine that ants would not be most people's choice as favourites among the broad animal kingdom. The poor ant is forever destined to be given an exoceting via a strong spray of Zum delivered by an angry homeowner who has just come in and found that dinner has become the object of extreme anty interest. The ant gets a bit of a bum rap. Its remarkable load-carrying capacity makes it variously the hod carrier and the HGV building materials transporter of faunal life, yet it is treated with the disrespect of a sound stamping, a bucket of hot water or the toxicity of insecticide.

But care should be taken. I'm not about to suggest that one starts to hug an ant, but one should be aware of the precarious continued existence of one particular species. Extinction may be around the corner, which in entomological terms might normally mean thousands of years but which could be very much sooner for "lasius balearicus". This ant, which I shall refer to as L.B., has only recently been discovered, which makes its potential disappearance all the more disappointing. You go millions of years looking for a new species, only to find one that is on the point of becoming an ex-species. That's what one calls sod's law in the world of entomology I suppose.

Unless you happen to live on top of a mountain, you can be safe in the knowledge that L.B. isn't about to target your kitchen. L.B. is a mountain ant, and the higher the better, as it prefers cooler temperatures. It is only to be found on the higher peaks of the Tramuntana, which helps to explain why it had remained undiscovered for as long as it has been: roughly 1.5 million years. All that time ago, L.B. parted company with "lasius grandis", a species abundant on the mainland. High on a mountain, it formed its distinctive appearance. It is small even by ant standards, is hairy and has a yellowy-brown colour.

The discovery of L.B. has caused something of a sensation. Apart from anything else, it can truly be said to be an ant indigenous to the Balearics, one which evolved as it did because of isolation. It is an example of endemism, i.e. a species which is present in only a limited geographic area and which is part of a specific ecosystem that has undergone separate development. And up on the Tramuntana mountains is one such ecosystem.

The L.B. is metaphorically carrying a sandwich board proclaiming the end is nigh on account of two things. One, it rather foolishly doesn't like wooded or forested areas. Foolish? Yes, because forests would afford it some protection from the heat, which is point two. It has grown accustomed to a Mallorcan heat, but climate change and a rise in temperature would make this heat unbearable: hence, no more L.B.

It is researchers Gerard Talavera, Xavier Espadaler and Roger Vila who have reported the discovery of L.B. in the "Journal of Biogeography", though it would seem that they first unveiled the sensational news two years ago at a congress in Innsbruck. The researchers make the point that L.B.'s discovery shows that there is still biodiversity which remains undiscovered even in Europe and they add that the Tramuntana is an area which is rich in endemic species, not just L.B. but also, for example, the Mallorcan midwife toad, aka ferreret aka "alytes muletensis". They stress the importance of conserving natural habitats, such as those of the Tramuntana, in order that other species can be found before they also become extinct, though in the case of the L.B. there isn't, one would assume, a great deal of conservation that can be done if mother nature's heating system is turned up too high.

In a way it is perhaps surprising that there are discoveries to still be made in Europe. In some parts of the world it would be altogether less surprising, but this hasn't prevented six new species of so-called Dracula ants recently being found in Madagascar (they suck the blood of their young) or the mirror turtle ant being discovered in Brazil. It can apparently disguise itself by mimicking a different and aggressive ant and so get away with nicking its food. 

As for the L.B. it doesn't go in for blood-sucking and doesn't have the need to infiltrate a rival ant's gang. It has more pressing concerns, i.e. a rise in temperature and its preference for rocky scrubland as opposed to cooler forest habitats. It has just been found but it might just also be on the point of being lost.

* My thanks to Simon Tow for pointing out the ant's discovery and to Xim Cerdá of the Doñana Biological Station for additional background information.

** Photo: Lasius balearicus, Gerard Talavera.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 14C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 27 November - Sun, shower, 22C; 28 November - Sun, shower, 19C; 29 November - Rain, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3.

Some rain overnight. Cloudy start with the possibility of more rain. A similar mix of sun at times and possible rain tomorrow. The weekend looks set to see a deterioration with wind, rain and lower temperatures.

Evening update (18.15): There was a spot more rain this morning, the sun came out for a time, but it remained mostly cloudy. A high of 20.1C. Tomorrow - alerts in place for rain and storms.

No Frills Excursions

Anneke Finds Treasure: Tramuntana

The same size as Cornwall and three million tourists a year. Granted Cornwall isn't quite Clacton, but I'm sticking with my only way is the same size as Essex. Three million? Look, let's not be over-picky. This was 1984 after all, and we had to be merciful that our lives had not become dominated by Big Brother. Not then anyway. TV-land had yet to become the unreality of reality, and liberties applied. Helicopters could be flown. Blonde-haired presenters could run in pink jumpsuits followed by a cameraman with the lens trained on the backside of one particular presenter. Liberties were taken, but they were small liberties. Yes, Mallorca is roughly comparable in size to Cornwall but not as roughly comparable as Essex, and it was true that in 1984 there were three million tourists. And some more. Four million (at least) would have been more accurate.

This was "Treasure Hunt". In 1984 the treasure, for one episode, was to be found in Mallorca. It was ten years on from two great Mallorca moments in British television history - "Coronation Street" on holiday and the first ever "Wish You Were Here" with Judith and Jim chinking the champagne flutes on a pedalo in Magalluf - but in some respects it was light years away from both of these. The treasure had shifted from the goldmines of Palmanova and Magalluf to the mountains of the Tramuntana and the presentation had ceased to be coyly self-conscious. Because of her bottom, it is easy to overlook just how good Anneke Rice was. Dashing around in search of treasure and jumping in and out of a chopper, she could have been forgiven for not having consistently and endearingly worn a smile and for not having been able to improvise when mostly anyone else would have been so short of breath they wouldn't have been able to speak let alone have done some improv.

While Anneke represented a new breed of presenter, "Treasure Hunt" hadn't totally shaken off the stuffiness of the past. Kenneth Kendall, ex-schoolmaster, ex-Coldstream Guards and by then ex-news reader, was the studio-bound master of ceremonies whose delivery was pretty much like a news reader. Nowadays an equivalent of the homosexual Kenneth would have found camp innuendo in any exchange. Not Kenneth, though. "Are you ready with your instruments?" he enquired of Nettie, the studio adjudicator. "Let's hope for a smooth operation," responded Nettie, without any hint of an ooh-er missus from either of them.

The bookish Kenneth with a whole stack of books behind him introduced father-and-son team Patrick and Michael. Kenneth wished to know if Michael was enjoying his first year at Cambridge. Michael paused before saying, "yes, thank you." The politeness of both was overwhelming, but such was life thirty years ago, a life which included things like stacks of books. Perhaps the greatest curio of "Treasure Hunt" was that they relied on books. With no internet, all information about Mallorca was contained in a guide book. Several of them. The sight of Patrick, Michael and Kenneth poring over a map and texts didn't then and still doesn't make for great telly. The greatness lay with Anneke and the short travelogue she offered.

To the initiated of today, it would have been obvious where the hunt started. Sa Calobra. The clues would, for the most part, have been obvious too, as would have been the references. This was a treasure hunt to the Torre Picada above Sóller, to the town's tram, to the Archduke Louis Salvador's Son Marroig via the "I Claudius" of Graves and the "tir de fona" of slingshot competition, to the cell of Chopin and Sand in Valldemossa and finally to the manor house of La Granja. Knowledge was outweighed by lack of knowledge. Kenneth, as might have been expected, knew about Graves but didn't know about the Archduke. He was adept with the pronunciations. No one else was. "Val de Mozo?" asked Anneke, for whom the lingo was also a challenge. "Monsieur," she uttered several times on the tram. Tourists on the ground were of little use, apart from one who knew where Anneke's helicopter was when she seemed to have lost it.

But tourists there most definitely were. While Hilda Ogden had known how to spell Valldemossa ten years before, the mountains had in 1974 generally been a mystery to a tourist who confined him or herself to the beach and the bar. The new Mallorca of 1984, with an emphasis on its culture, was a deliberate development born out of social and political change, and "Treasure Hunt" reflected it. The views from the helicopter were stunning, Anneke marvelled at the rock formations. From Sa Calobra, across the sea by Sóller and to the buildings of Deya, Valldemossa and Esporles, she had found the treasure.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 15.5C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 26 November - Cloud, showers, 21C; 27 November - Cloud, sun, 19C; 28 November - Cloud, sun, 19C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3.

A mostly cloudy day expected with the possibility of a shower. Tomorrow looking rainier. Mild morning again but general temperatures now starting to drop.

Evening update (18.30): Not a bad day, some sun as well as cloud. A high of 23.6C.

No Frills Excursions

Beauty Tips And Orgasms: Mallorcan Youtubers

"I am now a professional idiot." These words belong to Loulogio. And Loulogio is? Well, one version suggests that no one is too sure where he came from or how he was born. A possibility which can't be ruled out is that there was a computer error during an update of YouTube which, in the form of an act of rebellion and humorous insurrection, led to the fifth dimension of the internet (co-ordinates x, y, z , time and porn) being crossed and that this brought him into real life. This is the version according to Frikipedia, an online encyclopedia, not to be confused with one of a similar title, in which you can also discover that "Parma de Mallorca" (and it is Parma) is a continent, the ownership of which has been disputed for thousands of years by Germany and the United Kingdom.

A different version has it that Loulogio was born Isaac Sánchez Gonzalez in 1983 in Badalona, just up the coast from Barcelona. Bearded with black, tousled hair, Loulogio made his debut on La Sexta's "En el aire" in September. This was why he had become a professional idiot. Loulogio had crossed the media divide into mainstream television. He made his name as one of Spain's foremost youtubers. 

The first time I suppose that I encountered a youtuber was the accident of discovering Dimple Diamond in 2008. So astonishing was his rendition of "The Runaway Train" that I implored others to spread the word. It was a campaign which was so successful that six years later the video still only has 2,208 views. But then Dimple was a product of the early days of youtubing. Plus, he wasn't to be honest terribly good. He didn't go in for high production values. Or indeed any. He clearly wasn't in it for the money either, which was probably as well. No, Dimple was of a time when YouTube was littered with 30-second videos of a cat sat on a mat or on its litter, and everyone thought it was marvellous.

It wasn't to be long, however, before the true potential of YouTube became clear, and so were born the youtubers, some of whom are nowadays said to earn small fortunes from their productions, and Loulogio was one of the most important contributors to this new media phenomenon in Spain.

Earlier this year, "Business Insider" ranked the world's highest-earning youtubers, even if getting a true figure of what they earn is not straightforward. Nonetheless, the top 20 who featured were all reckoned to be making more than a million dollars a year in advertising revenues. PewDiePie, aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg, was ranked number one: "a foul-mouthed Swedish video-game commentator who has absolutely dominated YouTube over the last year." Among the top 20 was Vegetta777 (Samuel de Luque). At number six in the chart he was the highest-ranked Spaniard. His specialism is also video games. He was believed to be earning as much as 2.6 million dollars.

Early in 2013, "Ultima Hora" ran a piece about the Jackass youtuber phenomenon in Mallorca. At the end of the article, readers were asked to judge for themselves whether what the 300 to 400 teenagers involved in Jackass did was normal, such as filming themselves kicking others in the balls or drinking a concoction comprising a "fizzy drink, black pepper, curry, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, vinegar, paprika and other herbs" and then trying not to vomit. Some of the Jackass contingent had been present at the first gathering of youth youtubers in Palma the previous September. One who was there was an irritating teenager known as Alexis Cold; irritating solely for the fact that he is a teenager. Alexis is just one of many Mallorcan youtubers.

Another, more famous local product of YouTube is Toni Nievas. Like Loulogio he has crossed over to TV, to the same show on La Sexta. Described by the show's presenter, Andreu Buenafuente, as "the most unclassifiable of youtubers", his humour takes aim at the likes of former president Jaume Matas and Princess Christina. Then there is, for example, Koala Rabioso, a punk creation of deviant art who offers some quite striking videos on seemingly mundane topics like "Instructions for Walking". Born in Mallorca, she is now in Bilbao. Or there is Roser Amills from Algaida, who created something of a sensation by being filmed apparently having an orgasm while reading a novel in Catalan. It might be noted that Roser, a writer and journalist, has written a book entitled "I Like Sex". Less extreme is the Mallorcan Noemi who has two YouTube channels in which she gives beauty tips.

The world of the youtuber is a strange mix of the normal, the bizarre, the informative, the anarchic. If you are one in Mallorca, let me know, but only if you are a professional idiot.

Photo: Loulogio.

Monday, November 24, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 16C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 25 November - Cloud, 23C; 26 November - Cloud, sun, 18C; 27 November - Cloud, sun, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South to Southeast 3, occasionally 4.

Cloudy, mild morning. Sun at times today. The outlook for the week is unsettled, though as the forecast has improved a bit over the past 24 hours predictions of rain may be less certain.

Evening update (18.30): Warm again if not as warm as yesterday's record warm. A high of 24.9C. Mix of sun and cloud.

No Frills Excursions

Communication Breakdown: Balearic Government

The government of José Ramón Bauzá has many failings, but its greatest is arguably its inability to communicate effectively. In this it only has itself to blame, while by its own design it has allowed communication in a more general sense - media, the man and woman in the street, social networks - to be dominated by the battles it has sought.

If only. If only Bauzá had not bulldozed headlong into the great wall of Catalan, he might now be looking at higher poll ratings and looking forward to receiving the mandate which would allow him to realise his ambition for a second term - to complete what he says he has started. Instead, he chose his battles and he will die by the sword he has waved. If only he had not revised history by insisting there was a mandate for trilingual teaching when there was not. His constant reference to a manifesto which set this out, but which did not, has merely added to the discontent that TIL has aroused; he has constantly taken people for fools, those who have bothered to read the manifesto, that is. If only he had approached TIL in a consensual evolutionary fashion. If only he had not torn down the symbols and marked himself out as the enemy of Catalan through a conversion to the philosophies of Carlos Delgado and the Circulo Balear's Jorge Campos.

But this confrontation was wholly expected. Members of the Partido Popular now claim that Bauzá became someone they hadn't selected as leader in 2010 (rather than Delgado). This may be so, but his conversion was indecently swift. In December 2010, five months ahead of the regional elections, I wrote about Bauzá's intention to revise language law and of the divisions this had already created within the PP. Immediately after the election, I said that the good week the PP had enjoyed because of the election results might not look so good "when the divisions that exist within the PP in Mallorca re-surface". Not if. When. If leading lights within the PP had their concerns about the language policy, as many will now intimate, they failed to get it toned down, assuming they even tried.

Several months ahead of the last election, Manacor's mayor, Antoni Pastor (then still in the PP), was already at loggerheads with Bauzá over language and attitudes towards regionalism. When he spoke recently of the "hate" that has been brought to Mallorcan society by the Bauzá government, he was overdoing it, but there is no questioning the division that has been created; division which could have been predicted and indeed was.

Has the inability to communicate effectively been intentional? It seems perverse to believe that it has, but the Bauzá regime appears to have been content to allow the controversies to take centre stage. Perhaps the political ego of wishing to appear tough, even at the expense of social and indeed party harmony, has barged common sense out of the way along with communication that is more positive.

Bauzá inherited a difficult economic situation, and he is now able to say that the Balearics will enjoy two per cent growth in 2015. If only. If only the communication had been more effective, more sympathetic, less confrontational, people might now listen and believe that he has done well. Instead, an announcement of predicted growth sounds more like triumphalism and propaganda neatly timed with the months ebbing away before the election. Yet, he and the government can take credit for the improvement. It has had its luck, such as with the Arab Spring that benefited tourism, but it has also sought to enable growth. The tourism law, while by no means perfect, the farming law, the fishing law, an emphasis on technologies; they have all been examples of policies with investment, greater productivity and growth in mind.

Bauzá now boasts that his has been a reforming government, the most reforming government among the regions of Spain. There has been welcome reform and, even allowing for the mess created by the language policy, this also needed some reform because the bias towards Catalan had gone way too far under Antich. Nevertheless, there will be those who will call it reactionary and not reforming, just as there will be those who will point out that economic growth can increase inequalities, and a report last week highlighted just this.

Boasts about reform will cut little ice with the electorate. Economic good news should do, and it was the economy above all else which was the reason for Bauzá being in government. He should have stuck to the economy knitting and communicated the changes needed to right the economy in a more understanding way. But he hasn't, and so he only has himself to blame for the divisions and ruptures that have been caused and for inadequate communication that has merely intensified them. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 November 2014


Morning high (7.45am): 17.5C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 24 November - Cloud, 24C; 25 November - Cloud, sun, 20C; 26 November - Cloud, sun, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South to Southeast 3 to 4.

Mild, quite warm morning. Fair bit of cloud that is likely to be around through the day. Chance of rain tomorrow. Unsettled look for the week ahead with temperatures dropping.

Evening update (19.00): When the sun came out, which it did from time to time, it was very warm indeed. A massive high of 28.9C. But that's probably our lot. All change tomorrow.

No Frills Excursions

The Revival Of The Xeremía

Maybe it's the name. It can be confused with "poble". The village. The people. It doesn't mean that, and indeed there isn't a truly satisfactory translation. Sa Pobla: the colony, the settlement, the inhabitation, the populace. Perhaps the last of these is the most satisfactory, a derivation from the passive verb - to people - while there is the assertiveness of the Mallorquín definite article, "sa", a powerful linguistic symbol of distinction with Catalan that is rooted in ancient Latin. Maybe it is because of the name that Sa Pobla became the spiritual heartland of a cultural hybridism that followed the conquest of centuries ago and which nowadays might be termed Mallorcaness, a place on which was conferred the Catalan-Aragonese cult of Sant Antoni and which has thus become the location for the annual gathering of the tribes of Mallorca for the fearful night of witches, demons and fire.

In some ways it is an unlovely town. Anonymous ring-road and low-rise factory and showroom units are the external non-descript artifacts typical of many Majorcan towns. The interior is a confusion of equally anonymous roads and streets criss-crossing in a Romanesque grid formation. Yet within this town beat the hearts of Mallorcaness, of tradition and of revivalism.

As with so much of the island's tradition and culture, the intervention of war and political dogma and then the industrial revolution of tourism, allied to the migration to the coasts and to employment in the new industry, undermined the long history of the xeremía, the Mallorcan bagpipe. Among traditional instruments, it wasn't alone in falling into disuse and silence. Its fellow x-instrument, the ximbomba, underwent a similar decline. This, the xeremía, is a bellow from the past that fades way back into the antiquities of Mesopotamia and Egypt, of pre-Middle Ages France and of the conquering King of Aragon. Jaume I and his successors brought more than just language and the cult of Sant Antoni, they also brought a bagpipe, and it moulded its sack into the Mallorcan xeremía, the word itself having been handed down from the French, "charamie".

It was, perhaps inevitably, Sa Pobla which led the revival of the xeremía, and to the fore was the cultural association known as Albopas. Where does it get its name from? Think about it for a moment, or if not ... Sapobla backwards; going backwards in time in revivalist terms. The association covers much of the traditional life of Sa Pobla; demons and what have you are all Albopas. It was not so very long in the past - twenty or so years ago - that the number of bagpipe players, the "xeremiers", numbered only around fifty in all across Mallorca. The number is now over 500. And whereas xeremier troupes were not so long ago confined to a limited number of towns and villages, now every village has its xeremiers.

The Albopas association is this weekend celebrating the twentieth meeting of xeremiers in Sa Pobla, an occasion which has, since the mid-1990s, contributed greatly to the revival of the local bagpipe and its accompanying flute-whistle and drum. The meeting has also been central to broadening the appeal of the xeremía to a more youthful age group. Twenty or so years ago, those few recognised xeremiers were getting on, thus endangering the tradition's future even more.

The success of the revival, demonstrated by the formation of xeremier troupes across the island, has also been recognised internationally. Seven years ago, Albopas went to New York for the World Fair of Mediterranean Music. Demons, xeremiers, they all flew off, and the pipers played Central Park along with other troupes from Palma, Sencelles and Sineu.

At midday today there is a procession in which different elements of the Albopas association will take part. In addition to the pipers, there will be the "caparrot" big heads as well as the Sa Pobla "Grif", dragon and, somewhat strangely perhaps, eel (though this is not strange as far as Sa Pobla is concerned; eels, farmed in Albufera, form a key part of the local cuisine).

It is odd to realise that many Mallorcan folk traditions which are nowadays firmly established and all but taken for granted are the result of revivals which have their origins only some thirty or so years ago. And they are with us thanks largely to the efforts of local cultural associations like Albopas, which have ensured that rather than die out and allow centuries of culture to be discarded, they are alive and, in the case of the bagpipes, making one hell of a welcome racket.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 November 2014


Morning high (6.45am): 14.5C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 23 November - Sun, cloud, 25C; 24 November - Cloud, 21C; 25 November - Sun, shower, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 3 veering South. Occasional poor visibility.

Seems clear enough in the pre-dawn night skies, though mist may be around. A warm day and weekend in prospect with light breezes from the south upping the temperatures.

Evening update (19.00): The misty/cloudy conditions dominated for most of the day. Warm, though. A high of 23.2C.

No Frills Excursions

Of Extraordinary People

Mallorcan and Spanish names can be extraordinarily long, though one would have thought it doubtful that any Spaniard would have been able to match or beat Mallorca's great non-Mallorcan Archduke, the Austrian Louis Salvador Maria Joseph John Baptist Dominic Rainer Ferdinand Charles Zenobius Anthony. So great was the Archduke that they named him twelve times. But Zenobius? Where did that come from? An episode of "Doctor Who"? But the Spaniards don't dabble in long names for nothing, and no one, simply no one can compare with María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart, Silva, Falcó y Gurtubay. Try putting that lot on the back of a football shirt.

It would seem that the now ex-Duchess of Alba didn't have some distant cousinly relationship with the Archduke's Habsburg-Lorraine mob, which would have made them about the only dynasty with which she didn't have some form of relationship. Here was someone who acquired titles like other people collect stamps or beer mats. Duchess of Berwick? Don't mind if I do, she might have uttered. But a side-effect of having to support so many names and titles was the strain it placed on her physically. She had been wearing her own death mask of botox and several layers of fast-drying cement for many a year.

When they made the Duchess, they broke the mould, only for her to remould herself later in life. Sadly though, the mould is now truly broken. They just won't make royals as extraordinarily bats as she was.  

Some people are born into extraordinariness and others have it thrust it upon them. Among the latter we now have to include the "team" at the Balearics education ministry, a team so extraordinary that it has undergone Fergie-style reforms over its comparatively short life and has managed to leak political goals with a defence as porous as one made up of a handful of Duchesses of Alba. Team manager, Sir Alex José Ramón Ferguson Bauzá (short name), has informed us that throughout the current legislature his "team" at the ministry has been extraordinary, which is quite a feat as Bauzá rotation has meant that the team crossing the green white line of teacher protests has undergone constant substitutions, transfers and relegations. Or it would be quite a feat if it weren't for the fact that the team has been extraordinarily useless.

As though having to justify another 7-0 drubbing at the post-match press conference, Bauzá adopted the Wenger defence. He hadn't seen anything. Certainly nothing to suggest that there had been any problem with applying TIL trilingual teaching. Yep, he really said this on IB3 the other evening. There has been "no problem" with its application. And with this absence of problem made clear, he was able to confirm that he will indeed be seeking an extension to his contract in May. "An eight-year project term is needed to consolidate all the work that has been started", such as consolidating the chaos of TIL or the divisions inflicted on a party, electorate and society, all of whom were under the impression they had appointed someone quite different in 2011. Come spring, and the fans may disappoint José Ramón and thwart his ambitions for eight years of extraordinariness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 16C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 22 November - Sun, mist, 23C; 23 November - Sun, cloud, 24C; 24 November - Cloud, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 3.

Much warmer morning than of late, and we're due some further autumnal warmth going into the weekend: hazy, misty but sunny. Looks as though things may be going downhill a bit from Monday.

Evening update (20.00): Quite humid all day, a high of 23.4C with a mix of cloud and sun.

No Frills Excursions

Cruise Shipping Saturation?

Palma port received four cruise ships on Tuesday morning which were carrying more than 10,000 passengers. It seems strange that, with most of the island having gone into touristic hibernation, so many tourists can appear, even if they then disappear rapidly. Still, an estimated one million euros of spend from the 10,000 are not to be sniffed at, though whether all cafés were open to accept the 10,000 is doubtful. They came into port in the early morning, and there are cafés which don't open until midday. Winter hours. Oh well, their loss, though it must be asked, as it is often is, whether these cruising tourists were actually spending in Palma and not being whisked off to parts of the island on excursions.

Cruise tourism continues to be, so to speak, buoyant. Growth expectations for the Balearics in 2015 are placed at 30%, which represents some considerable growth if the forecasts turn out to be accurate. But is this growth about to plateau? Certain industry observers suggest that it might. The Western Mediterranean, they argue, is close to cruising saturation point. This is not the view, however, of cruise operators like Royal Caribbean and Costa. There is further room for growth. Spain, including therefore Mallorca, has not reached a point of product maturity, while the range of customer types allows for a diversified cruise product such as, one might suggest, a November cruise in the Mediterranean which stops off in Palma. It is quite different to the all-inclusive-style floating leviathans of summer.

Arriving midweek, passengers would have found shops open if not all the cafés. The old chestnut of shop opening times at weekends in Palma needs to be considered not just in the context of cruise tourism but also that of a campaign unveiled at national level. The "Shopping Tourism Plan 2015", backed up by a promotional budget of just under three million euros, aims to increase shopping spend by tourists while also attracting tourists with greater purchasing power. The campaign will go wider than just the regular European markets and bring in Russia, China and other Asian countries, the Middle-East, the USA and South America. It sounds, therefore, a highly ambitious plan, though to what extent it might have any impact in Mallorca is questionable. To take the Chinese tourism market as an example, Malaga is anticipating growth of over 50% in this market in 2015. Mallorca and the Balearics don't as yet figure with the Chinese tourism industry. Catalonia is by far the most popular region of Spain - it accounts for almost 60% of Chinese tourism - followed by Madrid with 25%.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 13.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 21 November - Sun, 23C; 22 November - Sun, 23C; 23 November - Cloud, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 2 to 3 increasing 3 to 4 during the afternoon.

Clear skies at sun-up with a touch of mist. Due to cloud over later on. Fine tomorrow and into the weekend but a possible change to rainy weather from Sunday.

No Frills Excursions

The Price Of Preservation

Inca has a local publication called "Dijous". It is a weekly, though its title carries more significance than just a day of the week. It is a nod firmly in the direction of the annual fair which took place last week. "Dijous" has this year been celebrating forty years of existence, which is an achievement of continuous publishing compared with many local magazines that have come and gone since then. Ten years after its first issue hit the streets, the bars and the banks, its front page for the edition dated 22 November 1984 carried photos of the Dijous Bo fair and an editorial which had nothing to do with the fair. Its headline was "El Puig d'Inca, el Puig de Santa Magdalena".

It was an editorial which referred to "our hill". Whether the Puig d'Inca or the Puig de Santa Magdalena (either will do), the editorial was concerned that it might have been on the point of becoming the Puig de Mallorca. It was clueless as to what was meant by a statement which had been released the day before publication which said that the Council of Mallorca had bought the puig. It didn't understand how the Council had come to buy it or indeed why it had. It recognised that the Council wasn't about to start taking bits of the puig away or to begin developing it, but it bemoaned a sense of loss of "ownership", that among the people of Inca.

What the Council was principally interested in was the hermitage, the Ermita de Santa Magdalena and church. The religious community at the top of the hill had been there since the days of the Catalan conquest in the first half of the thirteenth century. In 1931 hermits of the congregation of Sant Pau and Sant Antoni came to the hermitage. A year after the Council acquired the hermitage, they left, not because they were kicked out but because their number was in decline. There was, by 1984, an issue about the hermitage going forward. Who would look after it and preserve it? The Council resolved the matter by acquiring it.

Once the hermits had left Santa Magdalena, a process of restoration was begun, and work on the interior of the temple was finished in 1994. Despite the misgivings expressed in the "Dijous" editorial, the hill of the people of Inca and its hermitage were being cared for by the Council, and I use the story of the hermitage as an example of the preservation that the Council has undertaken and of the preservation which other bodies have been responsible for.

Other acquisitions made by the Council have included Can Weyler in Palma, the old Gothic house in the Calle Pau, which was bought for over 1.5 million euros in 2010, while other organisations include Sa Nostra bank and the Fundació Illes Balears. This latter foundation, formed by the one-time president of the Balearics, Gabriel Cañellas, at the end of 1988, has acquired seven properties. Among them are: the castle of Sant Elm, which dates from the late thirteenth century and which was bought by the foundation in 1995; S'Illot, a finca in Albufera known also as Ses Puntes; Son Pax on the Sóller road out of Palma; the eighteenth-century fort in Cala Llonga. Among the acquisitions made by Sa Nostra is the regional museum in Artà.

There are, therefore, various organisations which devote resources to preserving the heritage of Mallorca and of the Balearics. These are very laudable efforts, but how effective is some of the preservation and how sensible might some of the acquisitions have been? Take Can Weyler, for instance. Its cost was in fact more than double the 1.5 million, as the total was 3.2 million to include restoration work. Two years ago, former occupants of the building, ARCA, the association for the revitalisation of old (town) centres, criticised the lack of restoration. The Council had forgotten Can Weyler. And then there is Sa Nostra, a bank founded in 1882 as a non-profit organisation whose profits go towards social and cultural work. A month ago "El País" was asking why there was such apparent silence regarding the affairs of Sa Nostra since it had become part of BMN, a bank formed by crisis-struck institutions like Sa Nostra. The report said that it was selling off some of its culturally and historically significant properties. 

While the "Dijous" editorial in 1984 expressed its concerns, those were early days of autonomous government and of the Council's involvement in guaranteeing the future of Mallorca's heritage. It has unquestionably done a great deal of good in this regard, as have others. But one has to ask in certain instances at what cost and with what regard to ongoing restoration? 3.2 million euros at the height of the economic crisis was an awful lot of preservation commitment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 20 November - Sun, 24C; 21 November - Cloud, sun, 20C; 22 November - Sun, cloud, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 2 to 3 backing Southeast by the evening.

Nippy start, down to around 7C in parts, getting quite warm later with good amount of sun. Outlook - mixed going into the weekend but low risk of any rain.

Evening update (20.30): Decent day. A high right on that which was forecast, i.e. 22C.

No Frills Excursions

Unhappy Together?: Mallorca's left

Biel Barceló is a name with which you should familiarise yourselves if you haven't already. He is secretary-general of the PSM, the Mallorcan socialist party which supports Mallorcan nationalism. He is the parliamentary spokesperson for Més, a grouping of the PSM, Entesa (basically the same thing as the PSM, but formed when there was a split in PSM ranks), the Iniciativa Verds (greens) and the ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya - Catalonian republican left).

Més is a relatively new grouping in that rather than being a coalition of different components it became a "single political project" in October last year under the leadership of Barceló. He is thus the strong man of the Balearics left-wing, the firmly left-wing as opposed to the qualified leftism of PSOE. He has been on the scene for a number of years. He knows his way around. He is the Més candidate to be president of the Balearics in 2015.

Barceló has spoken of the possibility of there being a government which is truly of the left for the first time in the Balearics. While PSOE has headed two coalition administrations, these were ones in which the old Unió Mallorquina (not left-wing) featured. The UM is now dead but partially resuscitated by a struggling regionalist-nationalist merger that is El Pi. Centrist Mallorcan nationalism, represented by El Pi, may be inconsequential at the spring elections next year. Barceló is thus correct in believing that there could well be a government only of the left.

He made his remarks at a public meeting with Laura Camargo, who is a leading member of Podemos in Mallorca. Camargo noted that though there had been talk of a "possible flirtation" between Més and Podemos, "no romance was envisaged at the moment". She was referring to the possibility that Podemos might join some grand pact of the left rather than go it alone at the regional elections. If there were to be such an amalgamation, then it is conceivable that it might just secure the highest percentage of the vote and so head a new government.

Even if there isn't such a pre-election pact, Podemos would surely form part of a left-wing coalition in government, headed by PSOE. In the absence of a grand pact between Més and Podemos, PSOE would certainly achieve a higher percentage of the vote and so be number one in government, with Francina Armengol as president. But whichever way it might play out, you have the ingredients for mightily difficult government.

Just consider Més for a moment. One of its components, Entesa, was born out of an ideological division within the PSM in 2006. It has since come back into the fold. A further component is the ERC. It was not part of the original "single political project" formed last year. Its inclusion within Més was approved in May this year. But now an almighty row has broken out because the ERC president, Joan Lladó, only managed to make eleventh position on the list of Més candidates for the regional parliament; the list headed by Barceló.

The ERC has called foul, to which Barceló has responded that the voting for candidates was transparent. It was a process, therefore, through which Lladó received comparatively little support. The ERC might now walk away from Més, and Barceló seems unconcerned were this to happen; the ERC on its own, according to the latest polls, might not manage to win a single seat in parliament.

Barceló has also spoken of the need for there to be "sovereignism" within Més, by which he means one ideology. But as had previously been demonstrated with Entesa, arriving at this one ideology is not straightforward, while the ERC row has simply reinforced the difficulty. Place this inside a coalition government with Podemos and as importantly PSOE, and you begin to see how such a coalition could be riven with conflict. The current Partido Popular administration may not be all sweetness, light and harmony, but a coalition of the left could be like a bar brawl of competing factions.

There again, it might not be. It might work perfectly well, but Armengol as president would face an enormous challenge to ensure that it does, and a key challenge she would have would be in the divvying-up of responsibilities. Which party would get education, health, environment, tourism? Barceló isn't totally accurate when he says that there would be a party of the left for the first time. There was under Antich when the UM was booted out of the coalition. What happened then was that the PSM got more power, i.e. at environment, and went around reversing decisions. Antich was rarely in total command of his government anyway, bowing to demands for, for instance, the absolutism of Catalan. Barceló might believe in sovereignism, but putting it into practice is quite a different matter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 12.5C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 19 November - Sun, 23C; 20 November - Sun, cloud, 20C; 21 November - Sun, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 2 to 3.

Chilly morning with clear skies. Sunny day ahead for the most part with little breeze and staying sunny into tomorrow.

Evening update (20.00): Good, sunny day. A high of 21.3C.

No Frills Excursions

New Holiday Let Regulation Is Imperative

Last year I was involved in a public debate about holiday rental accommodation in the Balearics which, to be perfectly honest, was a bit of a waste of time. The intention had been good but the debate, such as it was, became mired in the sterility of law and took too little account of what should be central to such a debate - tourism and tourists.

The law is of course hugely important, but it is the law - different regulations, contradictions the law permits, its lack of clarity - which is at fault. It's small wonder that any debate is reduced to dissecting points of law, because - and despite the claims of the tourism ministry and some lawyers to the contrary - the law is not well enough understood, while it is also open to wholesale abuse.

A debate held last week featured professors from the university; the vice-president of the Mallorcan hoteliers' federation, Inma de Benito; the tourism minister, Jaime Martínez; the tourism minister in Catalonia, Marian Muro; the president of Fevitur (Federación de Asociaciones de Viviendas y Apartamentos Turísticos), Pablo Zubicary. It was really no different to previous debates. Law, law, law.

It should now be obvious that laws in the Balearics which apply to holiday rental accommodation are inadequate. One of these laws, the Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos (often referred to as the Tenancy Act), creates as much abuse as the prohibition on apartment rental specified in the tourism law. The unreal nature of this law and of the principle of "family and friends" being able to occupy holiday accommodation (which shouldn't be defined as such) has led, as an example, to the situation in Sóller which was reported last week. Well over a thousand places (i.e. beds) are offered and taken up by visitors who are anything but family and friends.

The obfuscation that applies to holiday rentals has long been, one feels, something that has suited the regional government. Martínez, recently given a ticking-off by the Chamber of Commerce and told to make things clearer, attempted to do so (or claimed that he was), but failed. Quite deliberately, one fancies. Keep things opaque, the market will be confused, the government can act against owners if it so wishes, and the hoteliers will be happy.

At the debate last week, Martínez and de Benito were in the minority. The professors, Muro and Zubicary represented the pragmatic and common-sense side of the debate. Muro's presence was perhaps the most important, as her government in Catalonia has adopted regulations which have been acting as a type of benchmark for other regions to follow. It is permissive while at the same strict in applying standards and demanding proper registration of all types of property. Also last week, we learned that the Canaries, where there has been resistance against holiday lets of a similar level to that in the Balearics, were moving to regulate. Those islands may not adopt the same system as Catalonia, but it was revealing that Catalonia's model was referred to in despatches.

The development which more than any has made it imperative that there is some form of pragmatic regulation that is more permissive and is very much clearer is the P2P phenomenon. It has undoubtedly given rise to far more property coming onto the market via the internet, much of it unregulated and illegal. So, faced with the additional dynamic that P2P brings, what does the regional government do? Draw up a black list of all websites that may be offering unregistered properties. What it doesn't do is move towards a sensible form of regulation, thus reinforcing prohibition which leads, as all prohibition does, to an ever-expanding black market.

De Benito's presence at that debate was also important. She is likely to become the new president of the hoteliers' federation and she has been the principal source of anti-holiday rental propaganda that has been emanating from the federation. However, both she and Martínez must know that things could change. If the Partido Popular is ousted from the regional government in May, which in all likelihood it will be, the new government will be dominated by PSOE, recent converts to the pro-holiday rental lobby, and the two other parties which will matter, Més and Podemos, neither of them allies of big business and so therefore the hoteliers.

Because of this potential change in government and governmental policy, de Benito's role is now more significant than that of Martínez. She will hope to get PSOE onside, but she's battling against a tide of sensible regulation adopted elsewhere. The need for proper and clear regulation, one that establishes standards, correct registration, transparent marketing and also safeguards for owners, both those who rent out and those who don't, is indisputable. Obfuscation will no longer do, unless the government wishes to expand the black market.

Monday, November 17, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 12C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 18 November - Sun, 22C; 19 November - Sun, 19C; 20 November - Cloud, sun, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 4 to 5 veering Northwest around midday.

Chance of a shower this morning, some cloud around at sun-up. Expected to be mostly fine though and at times quite breezy. Tomorrow and Wednesday look as though they will bring good amounts of sun.

Evening update (18.30): More rain this morning than might have been anticipated. Sunny otherwise. A high of 19.4C.

No Frills Excursions

Maintenance Failure: Albufera

The Supreme Court in Madrid last week ruled against the Balearic Government in a compensation claim, the origins of which go back 26 years. In 1988 the Albufera wetlands were granted protection from any further development when they were declared a nature park. The regional government is thus liable for paying 21 million euros to a developer - Playas de Mallorca S.A. - in respect of some 33 hectares of land (approximately 80 acres) on which it has not been able to build villas or hotels.

The time that it has taken for the court to reach its decision is extraordinary. Ten years ago the Balearic High Court had ruled that the government was not liable, a previous decision having said that it was. The level of compensation then was 13.5 million, so over the intervening years the amount has risen by more than 50%.

Playas de Mallorca S.A. was one of the companies responsible for the transformation of Albufera into Alcúdia's City of Lakes in the 1960s and 1970s. That transformation project originally envisaged far greater development than that which occurred, but there were pockets of further development which were placed in the pipeline. The 33 hectares would have represented development of roughly a quarter of the size of what became the City of Lakes, but with protected status came prohibition and ultimately compensation.

Protection, welcome though it most certainly was, has brought with it questionable benefits. In environmental terms, one can't question the advantage of protection, but in ongoing care, attention, maintenance, management and benign exploitation, one can.

Albufera is currently experiencing a problem of a natural variety: a lack of water. The situation this autumn is much the same as it was last year. Too little rain has meant that water levels have dropped and, as a consequence, migratory aquatic birds are seeking alternative locations. The situation will doubtless right itself, but in the meantime there are fewer birds than would normally be expected and so reduced opportunities for bird watchers. Despite this, it is said that visitor numbers are "optimal", which is a vague description but not an unsurprisingly vague one. How do they know how many visitors there are?

At present, cutbacks have meant that it is not possible to conduct satisfactory censuses of the number of birds at given times in Albufera. If they can't count the wildlife, how can they count the human life? And even if they can arrive at an "optimal" number, how many of these visitors are not residents and especially not members of the regular school parties which descend on Albufera?

Keeping tabs on the number of visitors and who they are has not been helped by the fact that the Can Bateman information centre has been closed for most of the year. It has now re-opened, but its closure is symptomatic of the malaise which affects natural spaces such as Albufera. These are granted protected status or, as was the case with Son Real near Can Picafort, acquired at vast cost and are then, thanks to unclear lines of responsibility as well as lack of funding, allowed to fall into neglect.

Moreover, personnel, when there are any, receive insufficient training in the use of the information systems at Can Bateman, while there have been previous occasions when the centre has been closed and when visitors were unable to use the so-called green card (now abandoned) to obtain discounts for bike hire or indeed obtain a bike, full stop. These all point to a failure, in marketing terms, of ensuring that the product is right. But this is a marketing and product failure mirrored elsewhere in, for example, the absence of a dedicated website for Albufera (there is good information through Balears Natura, but this isn't only for Albufera) or in other information centres being shut; the one in Puerto Pollensa's La Gola rarely seems to be open.

Pollensa's tourism development plan includes a focus on attracting bird-watching tourists and so, in addition to the La Gola centre, the town hall would like the old fish market to include another information centre for the Tramuntana and its birds, wildlife and what have you. Laudable though this might be, has any consideration been given to its ongoing maintenance and funding? And who would supply these? The town hall, the Council of Mallorca, the government?

Local authorities talk the talk about wildlife and nature tourism but then do too little to back it up. They create centres and then don't look after them. They have natural spaces but then equally fail to care for them adequately. Maybe the developer should have been allowed to build, but then, had there been more City of Lakes-style development, who would have looked after it? Alcúdia's City of Lakes suffers from seemingly being a low priority. It's a familiar tale. Create something and then don't maintain it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 November 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 13.5C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 17 November - Sun, cloud, 21C; 18 November - Sun, 19C; 19 November - Sun, 19C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 4 to 5 easing 3 by the evening.

A spot of rain first thing, but it should be a decent enough day and quite warm. Tomorrow may bring a shower and then the rest of the week looks really quite promising.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 20.7C. More rain than expected early on. Good sun later. 

No Frills Excursions

A Taste Of Honey And Olives

Caimari is an odd little place; odd insofar as, though it is recognisable and known as a village, it isn't a village in its own right. It, with its 700 or so residents, forms part of the vast conurbation of Selva village (population roughly 3,900). This village federation means that not only do the component mini-villages have their own council delegates they also have their own fairs, and Caimari is blessed by having a councillor for its fairs called, remarkably enough, Caimari. Pere Segui of that ilk will have been a busy chap lately. Caimari is holding its annual olive fair this weekend.

They've been staging an olive fair in Caimari since 1998, but the olive tradition goes back very much longer in time. Olive oil has been produced in the village since the Roman era, though it wasn't to be until the sixteenth century and then especially the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the production of oil really took off. The olive oil of Caimari is, and woe betide you suggest otherwise to a native, the finest you can get anywhere in Mallorca if not Spain or indeed the world.

The current-day fair has established a tradition of its own in that, year after year, the programme for the fair is remarkable for its artwork, be it painting, drawing or photo. The imagery is highly evocative of the rural past (and indeed present) - olive trees or, as is the case this year, an old oil crusher (at least I assume that's what it is). But this imagery hasn't concentrated solely on the olive industry. It has also focused on other traditions of Caimari, and one in particular - that of coal making, or more accurately charcoal burning.

Caimari's location at the foot of the Tramuntana is such that it is close to forests of both pine and oak, and it was the oak wood that the "carboners" of Caimari cherished. Once upon a time, charcoal was the principal (if not only) source of energy, and the memory of the charcoal burners is kept alive at the Caimari Ethnology Park, where there are examples of the kit that was used and the "barraca" huts in which the charcoal makers lived during their spring and summer season of labour. This hut was a rudimentary construction of dry stone with a sort of thatch affair of branches as a roof. 

The employment of "carboners" was such that between 1900 and 1920 there was an increase in their number of 67 - from 32 in 1900 to 99 in 1920. There were also during this time seven coal or charcoal merchants in Caimari. The skill of the "carboners" saw them seek pastures away from Caimari. Some emigrated to South America, for example, but gradually of course, with the arrival of electricity and other sources of fuel, the number was reduced. At the end of the 1960s the last of the Caimari "carboners" abandoned his "barraca" for good.

While Caimari is celebrating its olives and remembering its other rural traditions, in Llubi, separated from Selva by Inca, they are hard at it in celebrating honey. It's the fifteenth honey fair of Llubi today.

Llubi is a village more associated with its capers, but its beekeeping and so honey making would appear to have been a strong part of the village's economy since around the fifteenth century; there is evidence of exports of honey having been made to France. So when Llubi's mayor, Joan Ramis, speaks, as he does in the programme for this year's fair, about the village's "traditional fair", he is not wrong in that there clearly has been a long tradition of honey, if not a fair actually devoted to it.

Away from the fair, this tradition manifests itself in the Llubi museum of apiculture, i.e. beekeeping - and yes, it really does have such a museum - which is a collection of hives and what have you that are of Mallorcan origin and from further afield. If you would like to visit the museum, you typically have to ring and make an appointment, and only four visitors can be accommodated at any one time. But, you get an hour's worth of beekeeping history and tradition, so it's worth the effort for the apiculturists among you.

The museum is a reminder though, if one is needed, of the often unexpected that resides in the villages of Mallorca, and the fairs - those of Caimari and Llubi - are reminders also of rural traditions, some of which, especially with the production of olive oil, have become contemporary industries that have given Mallorca international recognition which goes way beyond that of its sun and its beaches.

Photo: An example of a carboner's barraca hut.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 November 2014


Morning high (6.45am): 16C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 16 November - Sun, cloud, 21C; 17 November - Sun, cloud, 18C; 18 November - Sun, 19C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 5 veering West during the morning.

Some rain around early on and quite breezy too, but due to clear up and be a mostly fine day. General outlook is fairly good - quite sunny over the next few days with highs around the 20 mark.

Evening update (20.00): A high of 21.3C. A morning that was a mix of sun and showers gave way to an afternoon of occasional sun. 

No Frills Excursions

Sorry Seems To Be The Easiest Word

Reluctant though I am to use clichéd metaphor, for once I shall. You wait forever for a politician to apologise for something and, blow me, two apologies come along at once. First we had Mariano saying sorry for the albeit few and small instances of corruption committed by members of his otherwise whiter-than-white party, and now we have José Ramón requesting forgiveness from a Balearics public that has been collapsing outside health centres of a collapsing health service because there's no doctor or nurse in the house. Apology or no apology, there was no "chaos" in the health service, said the president, accusing the opposition of having said there was, to which the opposition - in the form of battling Més socialist, Biel Barceló - replied that it wasn't the opposition which had used the c-word but the media; not that it really matters who used it. Let's just say that the health service has endured a period during which it has functioned with less than full efficiency, which may be a way of saying that there has been chaos but isn't quite as headline-grabbing.

Joserra's apology amounted to apportioning blame to the health service's new computer system. Neither he nor the health minister, the boy Martí who first came up with the computer excuse, has said if any heads are rolling for the computer system having taken it upon itself to block temporary appointments. But then, what more should the public expect? It has its apology, so now all is fine. Not that this is how Barceló sees things. The College of Nursing, he informed the president, says that its members are overhwhelmed at work each day and that closure of centres was indeed due to a lack of funding. And joining the fray, we now have the CCOO union reckoning that the whole of the social services on the island are set to go totally belly-up some time in the next few months. If they do, then this will presumably also be due to a computer error.

With all attention having been concentrated on the no-staff-available notices sellotaped to the doors of the island's health centres, everyone has quite forgotten about the schools and which languages the government has said the kids should be taught in this week. Everyone, that is, except for someone with whom you may be less than familiar - Soledad Becerril, the Ombudsman, or rather the Ombudswoman, the Defensora del Pueblo de España.

The fact that Sra. Becerril has held high political office because of her membership of the Partido Popular has not prevented her from demanding information from the PP regional education ministry regarding the implementation of the TIL trilingual teaching system. Indeed, she has been asking for information since February and been getting absolutely nowhere. The ministry, as with any other public authority, is in fact obliged by law to meet requests for information by the Ombudsperson, especially when they are of an urgent nature and have been influenced by court judgements, which is the case with TIL. As the information has not been forthcoming, Sra. Becerril is threatening to denounce the ministry and thus the Balearic Government to the attorney-general on the grounds that it has been "disobedient".

So, maybe education minister, Nuria Riera, will apologise to the Ombudsperson and blame it all on a problem with the computer system. Her ministry's disobedience comes in the same week as another act of disobedience, that of Catalonia's Artur Mas; you see, like apologies, disobediences all come along at the same time. The attorney-general is looking into Artur's disobedience over the rather pointless independence consultation thing which occurred in Catalonia. And what do we do, Artur, when we are in the naughty chair? We say sorry, don't we. Or probably not.

Friday, November 14, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 November 2014


Morning high (6.15am): 13C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 15 November - Sun, cloud, 21C; 16 November - Cloud, sun, 17C; 17 November - Cloud, sun, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 4, locally 5.

Looking reasonably before dawn and should be fine for some of the day but with cloud coming in during the afternoon. For the weekend there is the risk of the odd shower but otherwise looks quite sunny.

Evening update (19.15): Cloudier than had been forecast and not as warm either. A high of 20.6C. 

No Frills Excursions

Does Small Mean Less?: Governing Mallorca

What does small government mean? What indeed does big government mean? I ask the questions because the current Balearic administration was supposed to have been run along small government lines. President Bauzá said so. I ask them also because the UPyD (Unión Progreso y Democracia) has proposed that all town halls with fewer than 20,000 residents should be scrapped.

In its broadest sense, big government refers to bloated administrations often characterised by corruption and almost always by inefficiency. It is a form of government which lacks accountability, spends way too much, does things which smaller bodies could do with greater efficiency and produces limited real benefits to the public. It is also characterised by the dominance of the higher level of government over lower levels to the detriment of decentralised and local administration. Small government is supposed, therefore, to counteract this inefficiency, corruption, lack of accountability, excessive spending, but it doesn't necessarily entail fewer levels of government because it is geared towards decentralisation.

The Bauzá version of small government has so far involved the elimination of a number of government companies and that is pretty much all it has involved. Despite this elimination, cuts to services and to jobs, the regional government budget will increase next year to a level higher than in the first year of the Bauzá administration. So, it is hard to see how Bauzá has followed through with his promise.

He has, however, wanted to or at least intimated that he would like to trim down responsibilities and to reduce the cost of the regional parliament. He suggested that the Council of Mallorca should become no more than an advisory body, a proposal which got short shrift from the president of the Council, Maria Salom. He wishes to cut the number of deputies in the parliament by sixteen from the current fifty-nine. But eliminating these deputies would only be a cost-cutting exercise and not one of making government smaller or any more efficient.

There was a good deal of sympathy for Bauzá's proposal regarding the Council. It has long been seen as a source of duplication and over-spend and as unnecessary. There may also be some sympathy for what the UPyD is proposing. Of Mallorca's fifty-three municipalities, only six would retain town halls, and so there would be an enormous cost-saving. But scrapping all these town halls would mean some organisation taking on their responsibilities, in all likelihood the Council of Mallorca, which is already poised in any event to take some from the smaller towns. The Council would thus become very much bigger than it already is, while getting rid of the town halls would be contradictory to a principle of small government. Likewise, Bauzá's proposal also contradicted this principle in that the Council's existence conforms to a small-government notion of downward delegation.

The town halls will be losing a whole load of paid councillors from next year under national reform of local government, but as with the idea to cut the number of parliamentary deputies, this doesn't mean smaller government. The UPyD would clearly seem to think that getting rid of town halls altogether would do, but
the chances of the overwhelming majority of Mallorca's town halls being eliminated must be put at slightly less than zero. Sympathy there may be in terms of eradicating costs, but sympathy there would not be because of all the psychological and social baggage attached to small-town identity, of which the town hall is the epitome. This said, it is undeniable that the island's smaller towns can be and generally are inefficient in cost terms purely because costs of services for smaller populations are proportionally that much higher than in larger municipalities.

It might be said that because of the system of downward delegation small government already exists in Mallorca, but to suggest that it has acted as a buffer against corruption, lack of accountability and inefficiency would be a long way wide of the mark. As we are all too well aware, corruption has occurred at all levels of government - regional, Council and town halls. It can't act as a buffer if there is a culture of corruption, and it is questionable whether any form of government could ultimately tackle this.

The discussion about small government really revolves around the issue of cost. What Bauzá and, one suspects, the centrist, free-market liberal UPyD would like is far more privatisation. Of the two biggies of regional spend - health and education - it has been suggested that the government's policies have been designed to drive the public into the arms of the private sector, be this private health or private schools. As a philosophy of government, this is one for which there will be limited sympathy, but were there to be that much more contracting-out, would this mean less corruption? One suspects it might mean the opposite. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 November 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 14.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 14 November - Sun, cloud, 24C; 15 November - Cloud, sun, 18C; 16 November - Cloud, sun, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West and Southwest 3 to 4.

Fine, clear sky as the sun comes up and it looks like a very good day ahead. Forecast into the weekend appears mixed but will probably be sunnier than rainier.

Evening update (20.00): Very nice day. Loads of sun, fairly breezy, high of 24.4C.

No Frills Excursions

What Do These People Want?

In a year's time Spain faces a Franco issue. "El Caudillo" died on 20 November, 1975. Does the fortieth anniversary merit some form of honour, if only an acknowledgment? It is doubtful that it will, but there will nevertheless be those who consider the anniversary worthy of more than a footnote to official business.

Franco may be long dead, but his memory lingers. The Amnesty Law which followed his death can be dubbed the amnesia law, as it assisted in creating the collective loss of memory decreed by the newly democratic but unreconciled Spain. But this memory loss didn't extend to the extinguishing of all Francoist sympathies or indeed the evidence of physical manifestations of the regime. It wasn't until the Zapatero administration sought to remove these concrete or symbolic reminders via its law of historic memory that the statues started to be pulled down. The current government reduced the budget for this to zero.

The shadow cast by this lingering memory is such that for some Franco never died. As with Elvis, who followed him a couple of years later, there is doubtless a guy working down the chip shop who swears he's Franco. The years of linger are reminiscent of the months of linger prior to his passing in 1975. These were such that US television news would make repeated reference to Franco still being alive. Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night", the comedy show which was to later become "live", adopted and rephrased this - "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead".

Those months of lingering death and indeed years of failing health represented a period of uncertainty not just to the future but also to the present. Who was in charge and what actually were they in charge of? It was also a period during which a dying regime and its fellow travellers would show their spite and attempt to assert their fading authority, and there were two incidents which occurred forty years ago this month which demonstrate this.

At around about a quarter past midnight on 22 November, 1974 a bomb exploded at the offices of the "Diario de Mallorca". There were no injuries, but it was the third attack of some description on the newspaper in less than a month, the second of which involved the daubing of graffiti that was reproduced elsewhere in Palma. It read: "Tácito. No. Falange". Tácito was a reference to a group of intellectuals, politicians and journalists who, as the death of Franco neared, sought democratic solutions and who took to print in espousing them. The Falange, Franco's one-time Thought Police, didn't take at all kindly to them.

The Falange was very much one of the regime's fellow travellers, but it had been on the death bed a lot longer than Franco. Its power had been diminishing from the early 1960s, but it also lingered. It is a mark, however, of the extent to which the Falange was distanced from the regime that the conservative "ABC" newspaper could openly report the bombing as the work of the Falange. As such, it was indicative of the extent to which the full apparatus of the Franco dictatorship had been undermined and had been crumbling from the 1960s when tourism and pressing economic needs had brought about new thinking. Yet, it was an element associated with the dictatorship which viewed the potential for democracy with horror and so made its desperate final attempts to assert itself.

The other incident concerns Mallorca's greatest folk singer, María del Mar Bonet. On 7 November, 1974 she was arrested in Barcelona, accused of having been spreading subversive propaganda. It was not the first time she had encountered problems. In 1971 she had been arrested after a concert in Zaragoza and had been subjected to, in her words, "an horrific interrogation". She was held overnight and no longer, and nothing was to really come of her detention three years later. But it was a reminder of how the regime, though in its death throes, could still not stomach any criticism. Her main crime was to have put the music to and have sung "Què volem aquesta gent?" (what do these people want?), a song dedicated to Enrique Ruano, a student, anti-Franco militant who had died in police custody in 1969.

But what the regime could stomach even less than the criticism was Bonet's popularity. She was by then nationally and internationally acclaimed. Her arrest in 1974 was proof of its desperation and of final displays of malice, which brought scorn from the international community and increasingly from a Spanish one as well.

Franco believed that Juan Carlos would carry his legacy forward. He was wrong. The spitefulness of the bombing and the arrest, the rise of Tácito were all evidence of a regime and ideology on the point of collapse. There was to be no other way than democracy.

Photo: Maria del Mar Bonet in her younger days.