Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 December 2014


Morning high (7.30am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 1 January - Sun, cloud, 14C; 2 January - Sun, 14C; 3 January - Sun, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 4 to 6, swells to two metres or three later.

A much better morning. Clear but also cold, with lows in areas of under three degrees. An alert still out for coastal conditions, so wind still a factor. For tonight's celebrations, cloud expected but only a slight risk of any rain.

Evening update (19.30): A good amount of sun today and warmer. A high of 14.2C.

No Frills Excursions

It's Going To Be Fun In 2015

"2015 will be a year of political thrills - and colossal dangers. What-ifs aren't cashable once this most uncertain of elections is over. Nothing can be taken for granted." These are the words of Polly Toynbee writing in "The Guardian" behind a banner on the website which says that 2015 will be "a political moment of truth". Without wishing to suggest for one moment that what happens in a regional election in the Balearics is comparable to a general election in a one-time major power that could be on the point of finally ensuring that its future is behind it, they are words which, with an exception, could also apply here. Colossal dangers? I don't think so. However the regional elections go, the islands will stumble along as they have for the past thirty years making political mountains out of molehills and disappearing up a collective posterior of animosity, polarity and division that leads to ineffectualness and endless challenges to legislation in the courts which mean that "nothing can be taken for granted" because whatever political decisions might be taken will later be revealed to be illegal in some form or another. Which isn't to say that the regional elections are not relevant. They most certainly are, but above relevance there is the entertainment factor. The political thrills will be the comedy gold of what nonsense awaits us. What fun it will indeed be.

I can readily concede that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the next few months but perhaps not everyone shares my view that the islands' politics exist for their amusement value. Everyone should. Yes, there are the serious bits, and I can readily turn my hand to politics-serious, but far preferable is politics-slapstick and politics of the old school. From the bucket loads of so-there, yah-boo, custard-pie-in-the-face politics to the green-t-shirted hordes of agitprop Dave Sparts marching on the winter palace of the Balearics Government, only to be repelled by police implementing the new and absurd "gagging law", the Balearics specialise in both. The old school, particularly that of the left, fills me with nostalgia for the days of the students union, for its dog's breakfast of Marxist-Leninists, Leninist-Marxists, Maoists, Trotskyists and for its passing motions approving ultra-vires payments to the Iranian 91 and Shrewsbury 3 and the budget for the eggs to be thrown at Keith Joseph.

It was all so fantastically divorced from any known reality, which is where the comparison with the Balearics falls down. This is real. And rather than some paltry union funding to be frittered away on some political cause which was of no interest to the student rank and file, there is a vast budget of hundreds of millions to be squandered, which is where the reality kicks in. Nevertheless, there is the air of the students union. It is vastly more than playing at politics, but when laws and decrees can be passed only for Madrid, Brussels, the courts or all three to instruct local politicians to stop arsing around, it is a reality constantly being checked by the more powerful.

Polly Toynbee speaks of a "moment of truth" in the UK. Here, it is more a moment of destiny. There was a time when I paid no attention to Mallorca's politics. This changed on the day in late 2006 when Eugenio Hidalgo, the former mayor of Andratx, was arrested. Soon after, there was a sort of night of the long knives when notary and lawyer offices were raided. Something big was stirring. We had no idea then how big it would eventually be. The reports of corruption which followed came so constantly that they suspended belief. How else could one respond other than to laugh at the sheer audacity and incredulity of what had been going on and to become deeply curious as to what sort of society - political and non-political - could give birth to such shenanigans? The moment of destiny is caused by the arrival of Podemos, a national product of the anti-corrupt but just as relevant to the Balearics; it is a moment of destiny that is the culmination of what happened in Andratx in 2006.

"This most uncertain of elections" will be uncertain because of Podemos and because of it being added to the already over-long cast list of leftist parties. In the Balearics, it is an election that can be styled as a clash between the Dracula-alike, blood-dripping Bauzá and the presence on the islands of the Guevara for the new age, the poster boy of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias. Podemos won't win (it would be a hell of an upset if they were to) but they will determine how things will be if they form part of a PSOE-led winning coalition. Let the fun begin.

Index for December 2014

Air Europa inter-island flights - 15 December 2014
Awards: Obra Cultural Balear - 11 December 2014
Balearics education ministry scandal - 13 December 2014
Balearics tourism decree - 8 December 2014, 12 December 2014
Balearics tourism economic contribution - 26 December 2014
Castellón airport - 16 December 2014
Christmas number ones - 18 December 2014
Constitution of 1931 and Balearics autonomy - 7 December 2014
Corruption in Spain - 4 December 2014, 9 December 2014
Day of the Innocents spoof - 29 December 2014
El Gordo lottery - 22 December 2014
Farming law - 10 December 2014
Fiesta of the Standard - 28 December 2014
Guanyem and Mallorca's left - 6 December 2014
Holiday lets and sharing lobby - 19 December 2014
King Felipe, Princess Cristina and corruption - 27 December 2014
LIttle Nicholas - 3 December 2014
Mallorca's fishermen - 2 December 2014
Obituaries 2014 - 30 December 2014
Phillip Hughes: Spanish reaction - 1 December 2014
Pig slaughter (matances fair) - 14 December 2014
Podemos in Palma - 20 December 2014
Quotes of 2014 - 23 December 2014
Regional elections in 2015 - 31 December 2014
Sibil-la - 21 December 2014
Tourism journalism - 17 December 2014
Up-market tourism - 5 December 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 December 2014


Morning high (6.45am): 8C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 31 December - Sun, 13C; 1 January - Sun, cloud, 12C; 2 January - Sun, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North and Northeast 6 to 8 easing 5 to 6 by the afternoon. Swells to two metres.

And still the wind blows. High winds expected for much of the day, easing later and staying breezy into tomorrow when there should be good amounts of sun. General outlook is for temperatures rising as we go into the new year.

Evening update (18.00): Wind has eased off, which is as well, it was bitter. A high of 10C.

No Frills Excursions

Adiós: Gone but not forgotten

Adolfo Suárez
The challenge of leading and effecting major political change has been faced by only a select group of individuals. To place Adolfo Suárez on the same pedestal as, say, Mandela or Gorbachev, would be stretching things, but consider the challenge he faced in leading the transition to post-Franco democracy. He himself was not a natural visionary. As the minister secretary-general of the Movimiento Nacional, the only political party that had been permitted, he was steeped in the Francoist tradition. His selection as prime minister by King Juan Carlos was unexpected. Indeed, for those hopeful of reform, it seemed like a retrograde step. But Suárez had the advantages of being relatively young (43) and so open to change and of having been close to the Franco apparatus. He knew, therefore, how to dismantle it. And he did so remarkably quickly.

The transition was anything but straightforward, though. Economic problems, union unrest, ETA violence, discontent among the military, they all played their part (as did his own tiredness of internal squabbles within his coalition UCD) in his eventual resignation in 1981 and in the failed coup attempt which coincided with the vote on his successor. Perhaps Suárez had not been firm enough. Lieutentant Colonel Antonio Tejero, the Guardia Civil officer who led the assault on Congress, had received only a few months' sentence for his part in the Operación Galaixa coup plot three years earlier. Dramatic though change was, there needed to also be a softly-softly approach; hence why the Amnesty Law of 1976 effectively ruled out retribution for crimes during the Franco era.

Hard it was, but the transition succeeded, and this was Suárez's great achievement. Among moves he made that angered the Francoists was to bring Felipe González back from exile. González's PSOE performed credibly in the first elections and it won in 1982 (another coup attempt having been uncovered and stopped just before the election). It was González who was to transform Spain, but he couldn't have done so without the transition under Adolfo Suárez.

Alfredo Di Stefano
Was he one of the greatest footballers ever? Quite probably so. He was from a time when footballers with strange, foreign names were heard of but never seen. There is no doubting his contribution to Spanish football and to Real Madrid's reputation, though where in the pantheon of sporting legends who have lent their names to advertising would one place this gem? "Alfredo Di Stefano dice ... Lucky Strike es mi cigarillo. Irresistible." Much more recently, he appeared in an Estrella Damm advert with Fernando Torres, then the wunderkind of Spanish football, the new Di Stefano. Whatever happened to him, do you suppose?

Gabriel García Márquez
When García Márquez died in April, the response in Spain was one of great grief tempered with great pride. Here was a writer to be placed in the same Spanish literary stratosphere as Miguel de Cervantes. But there was one great difference between the two. García Márquez wrote in Spanish but he wasn't Spanish. He was Colombian. This didn't seem to matter, though. Language had made him one of Spain's own as had his "magical realism", the way in which he weaved a Daliesque surrealism into his stories, the greatest of which and, in my opinion, one of the great novels of the twentieth century was the epic "One Hundred Years Of Solitude"

Luis Aragonés
For someone whose surname translates as Aragonese, Luis Aragonés should - on account of the historical connection between Mallorca and Aragon - have an affiliation with Mallorca and be held with some affection. He did have and was. Aragonés took Real Mallorca to third place in La Liga in the 2000-2001 season. Oh for those days to return. A second spell as Mallorca's coach three years later was cut short when he was chosen as coach of the national side. In 2008 the great underachievers of world football finally achieved. Aragonés had led Spain to European Championship victory. He did have his moments, though. Like the time he was filmed calling Thierry Henry a "black shit". He was fined 3,000 euros. Had he been an England coach, he would have been sacked.

Paco de Lucia
Someone else with a Mallorcan connection, if mainly by residence and a brief period as a face of tourism promotion, de Lucia was one of Spain's greatest ever musicians. His guitar playing alone was sufficient to have afforded him such an accolade, but it was his innovation which elevated him to the heights of national and international acclaim. He broke down barriers between flamenco, pop, rock and jazz, most notably through his fusion work with the jazz guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola. De Lucia was thus a prime mover in making flamenco more widely accessible and appreciated and in inspiring the flamenco fusions that have followed his lead.

Monday, December 29, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 December 2014


Morning high (7.30am): 8C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 30 December - Rain, wind, 11C; 31 December - Sun, cloud, 12C; 1 January - Cloud, sun, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North and Northeast 6 to 8. Swells to two metres.

Extremely blowy again with some rain and a snow line to lower levels. The coasts are at amber alert today and tomorrow with winds up to force 8. Improving by New Year's Eve, with the general outlook now much better.

Evening update (18.45): A poor morning with high winds and rain, some sun during the afternoon but a bitter north wind as well. A high of 10.9C.

No Frills Excursions

Spoofing Porn: Feast of the fools

Yesterday was the Day of the Holy Innocents, so named because of the order by King Herod to slaughter all children in Bethlehem under the age of two in the hope that the cull might include the newborn king of the Jews that the Three Wise Men were looking for, Herod having sent them in the direction of Bethlehem with the request to let him know when they found this new king. But of course, the Three Wise Men bumped into an angel who recommended that they kept mum, which they did, while mum herself was busy swaddling the baby king and stashing him away in an ox stall - as you do.

It is highly unlikely that this slaughter occurred, but Matthew knew a thing or two about anti-Roman propaganda and about portraying Herod as an infanticidal lunatic (which, in any event, he was). Had there been a "Bethlehem Times" back then, a front-page story on 28 December announcing the slaughter of the innocents would probably have been taken at its face value. But little might the readers have known that they could have been victims of a hoax story. 28 December, abbreviated to the Day of the Innocents, is the day when people innocently fall victim to pranks, and it is a day which has pagan roots.

The Holy Land might not have had its day of the fools, but Spain has had it for an awfully long time. It is said to date from the Middle Ages, though as it has a pagan background, it is quite possible that this "fiesta de los locos" is considerably older. As with many a pagan carry-on, it involved healthy doses of debauchery. Anything went. The church, none too impressed by this old-time behaviour in a vaguely Magalluf style, decided to graft the fiesta of the fools onto the Day of the Innocents, believing that memories of the alleged infanticide would calm everyone down.

Whether they did all calm down isn't a matter of record, though at some point in time they must have done and so gradually the Day of the Innocents became less eccentric and less extreme. It became what it now is - a day for the prankster akin to April Fools' Day.

The British media love April fools. The most celebrated spoof was that of 1 April 1977 when "The Guardian" produced its travel supplement for the tropical island republic of San Serriffe, a joke that the British press has spent the last thirty-seven years trying to emulate. The San Serriffe joke was only possible because back then it was just about plausible that there was a tropical island republic no one had heard of. The spoof has, therefore, to have an element of believability. In my own small way, I once did an April fool about drilling for oil in the bay of Alcúdia. The exploration company was called Tonto S.A. (which was the giveaway), but this was at a time before there was any talk of oil prospecting in Balearic waters. It was, as things have turned out, somewhat prophetic. When I wrote a story about the Chinese buying Cala San Vicente, "The Bulletin" put a note in the next issue which pointed out that it had been an April fool.

Believability is crucial, and this brings me to the front page of Sunday's "Ultima Hora". The Spanish media have typically not gone in for spoofs on the Day of the Innocents, but occasionally they do. Or do they? "An increase in homemade porn videos set in Mallorca detected." The story said that the emergency services had received complaints over the summer about couples and groups having sex in coastal areas and that the majority of homemade porn videos going on the internet with "Mallorca" in the title were German. "Inocentada!", laughed social media - "jajaja" - though it wasn't a story which played for the laughs, except to suggest that Portals was a place where residents had been complaining of "scandalous sexual activities". (Well, I found it funny that Portals should have been singled out.)

It was a story which was believable. In fact, it was too believable. I can recall a few years ago there having been reports in the local press (not on the Day of the Innocents) about porn films being shot (by Germans) in quiet parts of the island's coast. There is, furthermore, anecdotal evidence of professional porn-making if not the homemade variety, though I daresay that there are anecdotes regarding this as well.

Very believable it was and very much in keeping with the pagan tradition of the feast of the fools when debauchery was the order of the day. I'd like to think the paper had that in mind, though I suspect not, while I'm also rather inclined to think that the spoof had been a double bluff and was true all along. It was simply too believable.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 December 2014


Morning high (7.00am): 15C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 29 December - Sun, cloud, wind, 12C; 30 December - Rain, wind, 9C; 31 December - Rain, sun, wind, 10C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North and Northeast 7 to 8 easing during the morning to 4 to 5. Swells to three metres.

Very blustery but quite mild. Alerts for the coasts and for wind, which will ease during the day but pick up again later on and overnight. General outlook is windy and fairly cold.

Evening update (18.15): The wind blew and the rain rained during the morning. Calmer during the afternoon, even a couple of glimpses of the sun, but otherwise grey and cold. The temperature dived from what was a morning high, with the afternoon high a mere 9.3C.

No Frills Excursions

Twelve Hours Of A Mallorcan New Year

New Year in a Mallorcan style. The bells will ring out, fireworks will go off, the cava will pop, the twelve grapes will be scoffed and DJ Deejay will prepare the decks for a sound avalanche erupting with 1980s nostalgia into the night skies of town centres. There is nothing specifically Mallorcan about this. The grapes are Spanish grapes. Tradition they may be, but they owe everything to the pursuit of commerce and to early twentieth-century vine growers in Alicante who picked up on what was then a recent but not widely followed practice and saw it as an excellent means of selling grapes from what had been an abundant harvest.

The grapes might be said to bring luck, but on New Year's Eve 785 years ago luck had run out for the Arabic occupants of old Madina Mayurqa. Jaume I of Aragon and his band of land-hungry followers from the mainland took what was to eventually be called Palma, completed the conquest of Mallorca, introduced Catalan and thus paved the way for 785 years of squabbles, primarily those to do with Catalonia and language.

It isn't everywhere that can tag the birth of nationalism onto its New Year celebrations. In Mallorca they can, assuming that is, that one adheres to a notion of nationalism as it applies to a small island in the Mediterranean which isn't a nation. But, and as is evident from a book by Antoni-Ignasi Alomar i Canyelles, 31 December is the date on which Europe's oldest national fiesta takes place. Its title says so: "L'Estendard, la festa nacional més antiga d'Europa"

The fiesta (or festival) of the standard - the Catalan-Aragonese flag flown by the conquering army of Jaume I - is only truly celebrated in Palma, but as it is supposedly also a "national" event, there are mini-celebrations in the villages of Mallorca in the days before 31 December. Thanks to the Obra Cultural Balear, promoters of all things Catalan heritage, the festival has gone on tour. This evening, as an example, there will be a festival of the standard in Campanet.

It has become a fiesta that for some, as the title of the book suggests, is an occasion to assert Mallorcan nationalism, but over its centuries of celebration it has been interpreted in different ways, has been repressed and has gone through one lengthy period of decline, which followed the end of The War of the Spanish Succession and the passing of the Nueva Planta decree of the Bourbon King Philip V that dismantled the Crown of Aragon (of which Mallorca was a part) and did away with much of the associated ceremony. There still was a ceremony for the standard but it was far from being what it had been. It was hijacked by what some contemporary writers refer to as the "Bourbon occupation". In other words, it was made a "Spanish" celebration. So much so that the sermon - the fiesta has always been part religious, part secular - was delivered in Castellano, which mostly no one understood.

This decline continued through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. During the Second Republic from 1931, the fiesta was repressed. It was considered symbolic neither of Mallorcan nationalism nor as an extension of Catalan nationalism (the somewhat mythical notion of the Catalan Lands) but of Spanish conservatism and monarchism. It was, curiously enough, during the Franco regime that the fiesta started its comeback. Though the regime looked upon it in the same way that the Bourbons had - as a means of incorporating Mallorca into Spain - something rather odd was added to the celebration in 1965. This was the reciting of the poem "La Colcada", written in 1861 by the Mallorcan Pere d'Alcàntara Penya i Nicolau. It was odd because the poem alluded to how the fiesta had once been before the years of decline started by Philip V (of whom it might be said that Franco was something of a political descendant) and so to the days when the fiesta was marked by its grand procession of knights on horseback. Its opening line recognised that "as no one knows the story of our great King James", the poem would have to tell the forgotten story of the festival of the standard.

Now very much fully restored, the festival has become an occasion when divisions reflected in its varying interpretation and treatments over the centuries come to the fore. For the left-wing nationalists (who strangely might be deemed to be heirs to the Second Republic which had been against the fiesta) there are those cries of nationalism: history and politics are never far from the surface in current-day Mallorca. But for most people the fiesta is just that, a fiesta, a celebration. On New Year's Eve at midday in the Plaça de Cort the "La Colcada" poem will be read. Twelve hours later, the bells will ring out, grape growers will be rubbing their hands and the DJ (Juan Campos) will take over. A difference of twelve hours which sums up a Mallorcan New Year.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 December 2014


Morning high (6.30am): 8.5C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 28 December - Sun, cloud, wind, 15C; 29 December - Rain, wind, 9C; 30 December - Rain, wind, 9C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 2 to 4 backing and increasing Southwest 5 to 6 by midday. Swells to three metres decreasing later.

A bright but windy day in prospect, and wind very much a feature of the weather scene over the next few days, alerts in place for high winds and poor coastal conditions tomorrow and into next week. Getting quite cold as well.

Evening update (18.45): Nothing like the sun that had been forecast, but quite mild except when the wind gusted. A high of 16.3C.

No Frills Excursions

Felipe And The Sister Thing

It is Christmas Eve 2015. The Spanish nation turns its attention from stuffing the turkey with truffles and from popping the cava. It's the most anticipated television event of the year. What is he going to say? The he is King Felipe, though one might not totally dismiss the possibility that the he will by next year be the grandeur-delusional "pequeño Nicolás". Assuming that the little twerp hasn't ascended to the throne and that Felipe is delivering the annual Christmas message, he has to deal with the sister thing. The anticipation is therefore immense.

Felipe's message this Christmas Eve made no direct reference to Cristina, but it was a message notable for its absence of preliminary warm-up of the small-talking variety. It went straight in on corruption. The number one theme. It was a bold and strong message. "We need a profound regeneration of our collective life. And in so doing, the fight against corruption is an essential objective."

The message needed to be strong. Part of the job description that came with the succession was to be able to handle the sister thing. The old king, sadly discredited, could no longer credibly contend with the daughter thing. Awkward and embarrassing it must be for Felipe, but the nation comes first. He knows that, even if he didn't explicitly place nation above immediate family.

But what might the message next year contain? By then Cristina should know her fate, though there are surely several twists to follow the decision of Judge Castro to put her on trial. The judge, in delivering his "auto" - his judicial declaration - ruled out appeal and the application of the so-called Botín doctrine. He may yet find himself challenged on both counts. Botín, named after Emilio Botín, the former president of Santander Bank who died in September, refers to a case brought against Botín that was ruled inadmissible by the Supreme Court because the prosecution was led not by a state prosecutor but by a private, unaggrieved third party. As Pedro Horrach, the state anti-corruption prosecutor, has said that he believes Cristina does not have a case to answer, the prosecution lies essentially with a third party, namely the right-wing "union" Manos Limpias, an organisation which constantly seeks to fight corruption but which, as implied by alleged links to Francoism, is no friend of the royal family.

In a different case, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that an unaggrieved third party can be the sole accuser. The Atutxa doctrine refers to the case brought against the former president of the Basque Country, Juan María Atutxa, alleged to have had links to ETA. Despite this apparent contradiction, might the Cristina prosecution be bumped up to the Supreme Court? Castro would say no, and in delivering his "auto" he laid down a gauntlet. For there to now be a challenge citing Botín or for there to be any attempt to accuse Castro of having exceeded his powers (which was what happened to the celebrated investigating judge Baltasar Garzón) would be highly dangerous for Spain's reputation and indeed for Spain's society with its "serious social concern", as noted by Felipe.

Who knows what twists there might yet be and so what type of message Felipe has to deliver on Christmas Eve 2015. And who knows what Cristina might do next. Were she and Iñaki discussing divorce during the family Christmas in Switzerland? Was she giving serious consideration to renouncing her right of succession? (As sixth in line her chances of ascending to the crown would be as unlikely and as implausible as the current sixth in line to the British monarchy, Princess Beatrice of York.) Did she watch her brother's message? What did she think? It could not have been a happy Christmas in the Urdangarin household.

Friday, December 26, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 December 2014


Morning high (6.30am): 11C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 27 December - Sun, cloud, 16C; 28 December - Rain, sun, wind, 14C; 29 December - Rain, sun, wind, 9C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West and Northwest 3 to 4 veering and increasing North 6 during the morning. Swells to two metres.

All pretty calm at present but strong winds anticipated at times. An alert for the coasts therefore. Mostly cloudy today. Looking ahead to next week, the forecast is suggesting that there will be some days of really quite cold weather coming in on stiff northerlies that could see snow fall at low levels.

Evening update (18.15): Only occasional sun and a high of just 14.7C.

No Frills Excursions

Milking The Balearics' Cash Cow

A ten per cent economic impact on the whole of Spain's tourism is what tourism in the Balearics contributes to the national economy. Good thing, bad thing? Forty-five per cent of Balearics Producto Interior Bruto (PIB or GDP) is derived from tourism. Good thing, bad thing?

Exceltur, the alliance for touristic excellence, has calculated the contributions of tourism to the PIBs of regions of Spain. The Balearics' contribution is greater than that of any other region. Significantly greater. The Canaries lag some fourteen percentage points behind in second place. And behind the Canaries, a long way behind, are Valencia (Benidorm and all with 12.6%) and Andalusia (Costa del Sol and all with 12.5%). Exceltur, to the delight of the regional government, was able to show that the tourism PIB in 2013 had leapt above the level for 2008, the year before the effects of crisis really took hold. It has taken five years for there to be recovery, but recovery there has been and in 2013 the PIB increased by 5.7%.

On the one hand this is good news. Very good news. But on the other hand it isn't good. It is very bad. Almost half the islands' economic activity is generated by one industry. The Balearics is about as close as you can get to having a single-product economy. Tourism is a strength, a mighty strength, but it is also a mighty weakness. If the Balearics were a nation, the panic buttons would have been pressed long, long ago. Compare the Balearics with nations that have a high reliance on tourism. The Dominican Republic, according to the 2014 World Travel and Tourism Council's report, generates 13.3% GDP from tourism. In The Maldives it is 28%. Two developing economies, but with far lower dependence upon tourism. The Balearics is not a developing economy. It is developed, but a developed economy is not supposed to have only one main industry.

When one looks at how Exceltur arrives at its 45% calculation, one wonders why this percentage isn't in fact greater. Three-quarters come from direct effects, such as hotel and restaurant activity. The other quarter is made up from ancillary and supply industries, one of them being construction. It would be interesting to delve deeper into this calculation. Much construction, such as roads, unarguably has an effect on tourism, as does, for instance, building for medical services. When Jaime Martínez, the tourism minister, announced provisions within the recent tourism decree, he said that "all infrastructure has much to do with tourism". He was not wrong in this regard, even if he was bending an argument to justify the legalistic regularisation of land on which Son Espases is built and its inclusion within the framework of tourism legislation.

Fortunately, the Balearics is not a nation. Fortunately for Spain and for the Spanish economy, the Balearics can provide a hugely significant contribution to national wealth. And also fortunately for the nation, Balearics tourism generates almost 40% of the islands' tax revenues that are deposited with the national treasury. These economic and tax contributions make the Balearics the nation's largest tourism cash cow. One region, one industry, and the cow is milked for all it's worth.

One should look at these figures in the context of arguments that the regional government has with national government over financing. The direct investment fund for Balearics infrastructure is low by comparison with other regions, while the income the Balearics receives via the redistribution of tax revenues generated by all regions is vastly inferior to revenues the islands raise, 40% of them coming from one industry. The unjustness of this distribution should be obvious, and it is made more unjust because of the massive reliance on tourism.

When such a reliance exists, there is an inherently high level of risk, especially as tourism can be a volatile industry. The Balearics is lucky in this respect. Despite volatility, Balearics' reliability allows it to withstand shocks to the system. Tourism PIB slumped by 6% in 2009, but recovery was relatively swift. But luck and reputations for safety and reliability should not be allowed to dominate. The treatment of Balearics tourism as a national cash cow badly needs addressing. Economists, academics and even some journalists have been saying so for years. There should be a greater level of state financing but it should come with the proviso of being targeted at economic diversification in the Balearics. 45% tourism PIB is untenable, as is the 35% of employment - direct and indirect - which comes from tourism but that gives rise to the absurdity of the six-month working year.

45% sounds good, but it isn't. The regional government might be able to glow in the light of the increase, but it should be planning the opposite. When that 45% is down to a less dependent level will be the time to celebrate.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Being Bradley

Here's something else that didn't previously appear on this blog. It was a feature for the Majorca Daily Bulletin in February.

In any walk of life it is hard to come to terms with the fact that you are unhappy and that you are going through the motions. For a high-performance and high-achieving athlete it must be even harder. Without happiness and without motivation, what is the point of what you are doing?

We all know Bradley Wiggins. Don't we? We all know the sideburns, the Mod look and the bit of a geezer style (all now discarded), the Olympic champion, the winner of the Tour de France. We know all this but actually we know nothing. One can only come to know so much about someone in the course of twenty minutes, but at Team Sky's Alcúdia hotel on Tuesday evening, Wiggins was remarkably frank and honest. I didn't know him before. I know something of him now.

Why unhappy though? Two years ago at the Mallorca training camp, he had been happy. But that was before everything that happened in 2012. In that summer he had left for the Tour de France and the Olympics "pretty much unknown" and had returned "the most famous man in the country". This "shortcut to fame" had been hard for him to handle and for his family. At the training camp a year ago he had yet to come to terms with the consequences of 2012. There was all the "hangover" from 2012. He hadn't looked forward to racing and when he did, it was a case of going through the motions. Missing the Tour de France last year was, he admits, a "blessing in disguise".

To make matters worse, there was the fallout from Lance Armstrong and his admission of having been a doper. His kids were "harassed" and "bullied". Was their dad taking drugs as well? He had to move them to a different school. "It was horrible. I felt responsible and it all added to my unhappiness." Then there was the team itself. The end of that season of success in 2012 should have been a time for celebration. There was a party (in London), but instead, "it felt more like a wake". 

Apart from all this, there was the need to come to terms with a different situation within the team. The elevation of Chris Froome to team leader and the apparent issues these raised for Wiggins have been chewed over enough times. Whatever issues there were, they are resolved. Wiggins' renewed happiness stems in part from "not carrying the burden any more". "Chris has taken the mantle and is set to dominate the Tour de France for the next few years. I want to do the team and do Chris justice, and to do this, I have to be there when it matters at the crucial moments." There was a time last year when he "was really struggling" and when he questioned if he was able to do a job that warranted his being on the team.

The training camp in Mallorca has helped to mend bridges and to put the team and Wiggins back into a better place. Whether in a room talking with Froome and other team members or out on the road, the time spent at the Alcúdia base both before Christmas and since the start of the new year has been hugely positive. "A complete contrast to where I was this time last year." A much happier Bradley, therefore, who is looking forward to racing with and supporting Froome and to also doing himself justice.

A key target is obviously this year's Tour de France, and there is a sense in which Wiggins wants to right what he perceives as a wrong last year; right a wrong that was the conclusion drawn by some from Froome's performance in last year's Tour. He compares how it was for him to win in 2012 with how it was for Froome by drawing what might seem a strange analogy. He was watching the film "Gladiator", and he realised that by winning the crowd and so winning your freedom was how it had been for him in 2012. He had won his freedom. "It was the opposite for Chris because of his performances" and so because of the suspicions. "The Tour was horrible for the team last year. I'd like to win those people over a bit. I feel keener to do so. I feel much more comfortable in my own shoes. A year ago I wasn't interested in the bigger picture stuff."

This bigger picture stuff includes his own role in the world of cycling and the inspiration he offers. He accepts that there will always be those who are suspicious, but he places himself in a "very small club" of Tour winners who don't have a "history". It's a euphemism, but one understands what he means. The majority of people, rather than being suspicious, believe in him. "I got knighted by my country because they believe in you. Believe in you as a role model and believe you are a genuine person. Why would you go and cheat?"

There is a humility about Wiggins, one that may be a reflection of him having come to terms with how roles have changed, but there is also a wish to tell the story of his success and of that of the team. "I'm blowing my own trumpet, but fuck it, why not? I have come through this system since I was seventeen, when Chris Boardman was the role model, to this incredible success from the track to what we do on the road. It's a different story to anyone else. No one else had gone from the track to the Tour."

And the track may just be where he ends his career; the track which was his "first love" as a cyclist and which was where it all started for him at the Sydney Olympics. "I don't think I'll go (to the Olympics in Rio in 2016) and defend my time-trial title, but I'd love to go back to the track." 2016 will be his last Olympics, if he makes the team, "so to finish on a high would be a great way to go out".

Shorter term, there are targets for this year. The Tour is one, albeit as a team member supporting Froome, another is the Tour of California, and California is a place he seems to have fallen for. There is a huge cycling community there, but he makes the point that that community "has been robbed a little by all that has gone on". The spectre of Armstrong is never far from the surface, and Armstrong was one reason why this time last year Wiggins was unhappy. That unhappiness has now gone, and the contentment of a more reflective Sir Bradley has been found, partly, on the roads of Mallorca. Out on a bike with his team mates; Froome in particular. "There's a lesson for us all to spend more time together. Just talking."

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 December 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 8.5C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 26 December - Sun, cloud, wind, 15C; 27 December - Cloud, 14C; 28 December - Cloud, sun, 15C.

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

A fine Christmas Day in prospect, the forecasts earlier in the week for possible rain seemingly going to be proven to have been wrong. Alerts for wind and coasts for tomorrow, and with northerlies dominating over the next few days, likely to be quite blowy into next week.

Evening update (19.45): A fine Christmas Day it has been. A high of 18.7C but with an occasionally chill breeze. Good and sunny though.

No Frills Excursions

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 December 2014


Morning high (8.15am): 7.5C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 25 December - Sun, cloud, 16C; 26 December - Sun, wind, 12C; 27 December - Cloud, sun, 14C.

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

Bitterly cold in some parts, down to just over two degrees. Bright and sunny morning and a warm day later. Tomorrow's forecast for Christmas Day has improved. The chance of any rain is negligible. But, Boxing Day is set to be very windy with a yellow warning already in place for rough coastal conditions.

Evening update (19.30): A high of 18.8C. Good and sunny but clouded up later.

No Frills Excursions

Merry Christmas 2014

Well, if you'll forgive me, I'm having a day or two off, unless I change my mind and produce something for tomorrow. A very short break may just be in order. I've calculated that, given all I do, in the course of one week I now pump out close to 9,000 words (not all of them appear on this blog). So you can figure out what that equates to over a year. Most of these words are to do with Mallorca - its society, its politics, its culture, its traditions, its tourism and its eccentricities. And with the latter in mind, here is an article which was possibly my favourite story of the year, but one which wasn't posted to the blog. Here it now is. Merry Christmas, everyone.

The Amazing Mestelrich

In August, we are not short of entertainment in Mallorca. It can be entertainment of the simple pleasure variety - a day at the beach, messing around in the water - or it might be the entertainment of a spectacular show or perhaps the entertainment at a fiesta. Sixty-seven years ago, there was a spectacular of entertainment that had never been witnessed before in Majorca. It took place on 16 August, 1947. The performers were two brothers - Miguel and Rafael Estelrich from Santa Margalida - and a friend, a bike mechanic called Sebastian Mestre. Miguel, the brains behind the spectacular, was to go on and achieve global fame. His stage name was Mestelrich. The three-man troupe was The Mestelrich Trio. On that day in August, in front of a packed arena, the trio performed an act of daring some forty feet above the hard but sandy surface of the bullring. Without the aid of a safety net, with no protection on their bodies, they completed the "Ride of Death". Miguel was a high-wire cyclist, Rafael and Sebastian were the trapeze artists, attached to the wheels of Miguel's bicycle.

Miguel was a bit nuts. He had tried his hand at bullfighting but he wasn't much good. He was unquestionably a showman, and it was the urge to do something different, something more daring that drove him to eventually perform the high-wire cycling act. Prior to this, and after his failed attempt at becoming a bullfighter, he had performed other acts. These were centred on the bullring in Palma, where he was a sideshow for the main event. One of these acts involved him sitting on a bike motionless while a bull was allowed to roam around the arena. The theory was that a bull wouldn't charge a motionless man (on a bike). As luck would have it, Miguel's theory was correct.

Very much less successful was his scheme to become the first bullfighter on a bike. It ended in total disaster. Miguel wasn't hurt, but he and the bike took something of a battering when the bull charged and sent Miguel and the bike some distance into the air. Despite this failure, the businessman who ran the bullring was impressed by the young man's courage and Miguel persuaded this businessman, Eduardo Pagés, that it would be a good idea to develop the high-wire cycling act.

With the aid of an aviation mechanic, Miguel came up with the design for the bike, the trapezes and the wire. He patented his system, though he wasn't the first to have taken to the high wire on a bike; the Great Wallendas had been doing their act for quite some years before Miguel came up with his. But it was new for Mallorca, and being new it did require getting an initially reluctant town hall to agree to it. The day came, the wire was strung between two towers at the bullring, Miguel's patented contraption was put to work and, in front of an amazed audience, the act was a fantastic success.

So successful was it that another bullfighting impresario, Rafael Dutrús, contracted The Mestelrich Trio to repeat the feat at other bullrings in Spain. As the shouts of bravo reached their crescendo in the bullrings of the country, Dutrús had further ambitions. And so did Miguel. The showman in search of a show had well and truly found it. Fame came swiftly, and international interest followed just as quickly. It is said that the trio performed in over 50 countries, and one of them was Britain. But it was in Britain where tragedy very nearly struck.

The story goes that the BBC, who were to film the feat of daring, insisted that the act was performed more slowly than usual. This was because camera work wasn't that sophisticated back then. It is thought that this might have been the reason for what followed, but legend has it that Rafael, going against the advice of Miguel and Sebastian, had eaten before they went up on to the wire.

The Pathé newsreel report of The Mestelrich Trio in Battersea Park in 1952 said that the spectators might have suspected that there was some trick. The report went on to say that there clearly was no trick. Rafael, apparently suffering from indigestion, fell. He would have been killed, had he not had the good fortune to land on an attendant. Rafael was in a coma for some time, and when he recovered, he unsurprisingly came back to Mallorca to resume his other career with the post office.

A new line-up headed off to the US, where further disaster was to strike during what was now also a unicycling act. A new trapeze artist, Gabriel Perelló, fell into the sea at Atlantic City. Hopes of storming America came to a watery end. Miguel carried on and put together other acts, such as the "smallest bicycle in the world". He ended his performing days in clubs in Palma, doing an act called the "cyclist of fantasy". He retired when he was 55 in 1968.

The Mestelrich Trio was, for a time, one of the most famous acts in Europe, and it was an act which went on to achieve its fame thanks to what happened on one day in August sixty-seven years ago.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 December 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 8C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 24 December - Sun, 17C; 25 December - Sun, cloud, 14C; 26 December - Cloud, sun, 12C.

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

Cold and clear morning again. Pleasant, mainly sunny day in store. Christmas Eve should be fine with good amounts of sun. Christmas Day, there is a risk of rain but it's only low. Boxing Day looks as though it will bring a change with high northerly winds forecast and daytime temperatures falling.

Evening update (19.45): High of 18.6C. Nice and sunny.

No Frills Excursions

They Said This In 2014

"A few small incidents." Mariano Rajoy downplaying the level of corruption during a speech in Murcia. The next day there were raids in Murcia and elsewhere as part of Operación Punica, another corruption investigation mostly involving figures from the Partido Popular. "I apologise to all Spaniards in the name of the PP." Mariano Rajoy, the day after the raids. "Spain is not corrupted." Mariano Rajoy, a month later and the day after health minister Ana Mato had resigned, having allegedly profited from crimes supposedly committed by her former husband.

"I will always keep Spain deepest in my heart." King Juan Carlos making his abdication announcement on television on 2 June.

"We said that the results of 25 May would open a cycle of historical political change in our country. We did not imagine that it would start so quickly." Podemos on the abdication.

"Brave son of a bitch, go to Colombia and (graphic description and expletives deleted) friend of yours ...and get shot in the neck and leave us in peace." Jonathan Cabeza, PP councillor for culture in Paredes de Nava, addressing Pablo Iglesias of Podemos via social media. Cabeza resigned.

"A judge can lose impartiality, just as a prosecutor can lose impartiality. This is an inherent human risk. But I do not believe that a judge is more vulnerable than a prosecutor to losing impartiality." Judge José Castro, responding to what he felt was disrespect being shown to him by prosecutor Pedro Horrach with regard to what was then only the possibility of Princess Cristina being placed on trial.

"Horrifying footage." "The Mirror" grossly exaggerating the nature of the mamading video in Magalluf while at the same time joining with other British red-tops in seeking out further horrifying footage.

"We demand that the greed and unscrupulousness of a few businesses, if you can call them that, do not ruin Mallorca's reputation." Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, CEO of Meliá Hotels International, speaking in light of the Magalluf video.

"Magalluf is five hundred metres of shame." President Bauzá referring to Punta Ballena. Mayor Manu Onieva was said to have been livid with this observation.

"The number four represents the square ... the four elements and the realisation of ideas." Manu Onieva in explaining the reasons why he would not be standing again as mayor of Calvia. And no, no one had a clue what he was talking about.

"They hate each other." A PP politician who preferred to remain anonymous, talking about the relationship between Bauzá and Palma's mayor Mateo Isern in April. He was of course right, and the relationship was so sour that Isern lost Bauzá's backing to stand again as mayor.

"Remember the Nazis when they put the Star of David on Jewish shops." PP Balearic parliamentary spokesperson, Mabel Cabrer, reacting to criticisms of the PP's discount card. Her insinuation of Nazi tactics by the opposition led her to have to apologise.

"Totally ignorant." Rafael Perera, president of the Consell Consultiu, the body which can arbitrate on matters of regional government policy. This was a description of President Bauzá and it was contained in a letter Perera sent to Bauzá, the background to which was the implementation of trilingual teaching (TIL).

"Either the ministry doesn't know what it's talking about or it is taking us for fools." The Mallorcan parents' association, taking umbrage at a letter sent from the education ministry to parents waxing lyrical about the virtues of TIL.

"You are doing a great job, despite the difficulties, because we have principles and convictions, and for this I appreciate your effort." President Bauzá to the then education minister Joana Camps. A few days later he sacked her.

"With humility." This was how the PP would work in attracting voters who had deserted the party at the European elections. They were the words of President Bauzá. Three years before, and prior to the regional elections, he had said "we have to be humble". Somewhere along the line this humility had been lost.

"The disappearance of the Council would amount to a mutilation of democracy in the Balearics." The president of the Council of Mallorca, Maria Salom, responding to Bauzá's suggestion that the Council's role should be reduced to a minimum.

"Put your hands up like the ceiling can't hold us." The video to promote Aina Calvo's leadership of PSOE in the Balearics. It was a line from the dance tune by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. What did it mean? No one knew. Aina lost out to Francina Armengol.

"Where is the response of the European family? Where is the pan-European campaign for people to take their holidays in Spain, to buy Spanish products and listen to Spanish music?" Bono at the European People's Party conference in Dublin, calling for greater European support for the Spanish economy. What had the Spanish economy to do with Bono? It was impossible to say, and his words were swiftly forgotten.

Monday, December 22, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 December 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 23 December - Sun, 17C; 24 December - Sun, 15C; 25 December - Sun, possible rain, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 3 to 4. Swells to one metre.

Another clear and calm morning, distinctly chilly in parts with lows under four degrees. More good sun today. The Christmas Day forecast remains much as it has been - sunny but with a risk of rain. Any snow will be on the very highest peaks.

Evening update (17.15): High of 19C. Decent enough.

No Frills Excursions

El Gordo Is Not Its Name

Leopoldo de Gregorio was his name. The Marquis of Esquilache was his title. He was a big name in the court of Carlos III in the eighteenth century. He was also a sort of Noel Edmonds of his day. There were 231 years between the two, but on 19 November 1994 Noel did what the Marquis had done in December 1763. And that was to start a national lottery.

The Marquis hit upon the idea of the lottery, known as Lotería por Números, as a way of swelling Carlos's state coffers without imposing a new tax. His was not an original idea by any means. King Francis I of France had attempted to organise one in the sixteenth century. It was a flop because it cost too much to play, but Francis was only trying to follow a means of raising revenue that was by then common in parts of what was to become Italy and the Low Countries. In England, there was a lottery during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and a state lottery was to later run from the end of the seventeenth century until 1826. Following its demise, it was to be 168 years before Noel presented its revival.

The Marquis's lottery was incredibly complicated, so much so that I don't intend to try and explain how it operated. It was also inefficient. It was supposed to raise revenue but its risk factor for the treasury of the Hacienda was high. In 1811, therefore, another lottery was introduced by the parliament that was then based in Cadiz. It was a lottery of tickets, much like today, which was altogether simpler to comprehend and an altogether better deal for the Hacienda, for whom the risks disappeared as prizes would be based on a percentage of takings. With the first lottery it was in effect the player who determined the size of the reward and not the state.

There are two reasons offered as to why this second lottery came along. One was that it was simply an improvement on the first, the other was that it was to help fund the war against the French. There was probably an element of both reasons, but whatever they were, this new lottery became known as the Lotería Moderna, while the original one was dubbed the Primitiva, which carried on until 1862 before being scrapped. It wasn't revived until 1985. The Moderna, easier to understand and more efficient, became the Lotería Nacional, the National Lottery of Spain. The title "national" became truly established after the death of the mad absolutist monarch Ferdinand VII in 1833 and it has been played ever since, even during the Civil War when the Republicans and the Nationalists each had their own version.

A year after the Moderna started, the lottery of 18 December 1812 was the first special lottery for Christmas. It wasn't to be until 1892 that it in fact became known as the Sorteo de Navidad and, contrary to what might be thought, it was never officially named and still isn't named El Gordo. All lotteries have their "gordo", the big one as in the first prize, but quite when El Gordo passed into common and popular usage to describe the Christmas lottery is a good question. There doesn't seem to be any answer.

And there is another misconception about the Christmas lottery. The pupils of the San Ildefenso school in Madrid who are selected to do the singing (in the loosest sense of the word) did not originally become involved with the lottery at Christmas. Indeed, it wasn't what is now the National Lottery which saw the school become involved; it was the original lottery, the Primitiva. For the lottery of 9 March 1771, a seven-year-old boy called Diego López performed the ritual drawing of numbers so perfectly that the relationship with the school was established and has remained in place ever since. There was a further consideration for creating this relationship. Back then, the children were orphans and, as such, it was thought they would be less susceptible to cheats, though quite what the logic was in making this assumption isn't entirely clear.

Each year, certain numbers for the Christmas lottery attract particular interest. This year, so it is said, the date of the death of the Duchess of Alba has been particularly popular. In the recent past, there has been similar interest in the birth date of Leonor, the first daughter of now King Felipe and Queen Letizia, and the date when Fernando Alonso secured the Formula One championship.

If you fail to turn up trumps with El Gordo, there isn't long to wait for another big draw and so another potential "gordo". The Lotería de El Niño takes place on 6 January. Its history is very much shorter than the Christmas lottery, it having been drawn for the first time in 1941 and not actually given its name (after the "niño" Jesus and the adoration by the Kings) until 1966. If you get lucky with that lottery or indeed any, there is always a very much recent innovation to take into account. Tax. Spain is unusual (but by no means unique) in taxing lottery winnings. But might this tax, only introduced by the current, austerity-inspired government, be scrapped? A little vote winner just prior to the next election? Maybe.

Photo: Christmas lottery ticket from 1812.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 December 2014


Morning high (7.30am): 9C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 22 December - Sun, 17C; 23 December - Sun, 15C; 24 December - Sun, cloud, 15C.

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

A nippy morning, calm and clear. Plenty of sun anticipated today and quite warm later. Looking ahead to Christmas Day, it should be mainly sunny but with a low risk of a spot of rain.

Evening update (19.15): Another cracking day. Clear skies and sun with a high of 19.9C (felt much warmer right in the sun).

No Frills Excursions

The Sibil·la And The Day Of Judgement

"On the day of judgement, he will be spared who has done service.
Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, man and true eternal God, from Heaven will come to judge and to everyone what is fair will give.
Great fire from the heaven will come down; seas, fountains and rivers, all will burn. Fish will scream loud and in horror. Losing their natural delights.
Before the Judgement the Antichrist will come and will give suffering to everyone,
and will make himself be served like God, and who does not obey he will make die."

This jolly lyric, you might notice, does not contain any references to jingle bells, red-nosed reindeers or shepherds watching flocks by night. Nevertheless, it forms part of a Christmas song. The lyric is a translation of the first lines of the Sibil·la, the Mallorcan version of the Song of the Sibyl, a prophecy of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement which most certainly wasn't ever destined to be given the wall-of-sound treatment and feature in "Phil Spector's Christmas Album". Full of dark omens it may be, decidedly un-Christmassy it may be, but the Sibil·la is so much a part of a Mallorcan Christmas and indeed of Mallorcan culture that it is the only "thing" to have been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in Mallorca and indeed in the whole of the Balearics.

The Mallorcan version is but one version of the Song of the Sybil, but it is definitely the most important among versions which came from the Provençal dialect of southern France and crossed into Catalan, and it secured its place in Mallorcan and European cultural history by being the one that defied a ban placed on performances of the Sybil by the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century. The Catholic Church, faced with the Protestant Reformation, issued any number of decrees, and the Sybil was considered to have been "offensive to our Lord".

It took only a short time for the Sibil·la to re-emerge in Mallorca; in 1575 to be precise, a mere twelve years after the eighteen-year-long Council of Trent ceased to convene. But the ban was from time to time restored until finally, in 1692, the performance of the Sibil·la was reinstated in Palma's cathedral. Prior to the ban, the Sibil·la, in addition to having been something of an early mediaeval folk song, had crept into the liturgy of the Mozarabic period in the tenth century, if not in Mallorca but in Catalonia. As far as Mallorca was concerned, Father Higini Anglès, who had a book published in 1935 entitled "The Music of Catalonia at the End of the Thirteenth Century", said that the Sibil·la became part of the liturgy after the conquest of Mallorca, so from this we have confirmation of church performance and of its presence in the century before a codex, which dates from the fourteenth century and which is the first official inscribed record of the Sibil·la in Mallorca, established its existence in that century. It was certainly performed in the cathedral and became established as part of the Matins service at Christmas (which back then was Matins, as in the nighttime liturgy which ended at dawn, but which now is the evening of Christmas Eve).  

The prohibition by the Council of Trent removed the Sibil·la from the liturgy. It didn't therefore ban the song altogether; just its performance in churches. Nevertheless, the ban was sufficient to make it all but disappear, except in Mallorca (and also, it should be said, in Alghero in Sardinia) where, despite this official ban, the song continued to form part of the Christmas tradition. Though outside the liturgy, the express permission of bishops allowed its performance; hence why, in 1692, it became established at the cathedral. It wasn't to be until 1976 that the Sibil·la was formally reintroduced to the liturgy, and as Mallorca had been the place which had kept it alive, its cultural association with the island was confirmed.

Since then, it has found its way back to Catalonia and Valencia, while in Mallorca it is performed in various churches, and so certainly not just the cathedral. The song still retains something of its origins as a Gregorian chant but its melody has changed, as have rules as to who can sing it. Once upon a time it had to be a priest, then boys were given permission and finally girls. But those Gregorian origins tell only part of the story of the roots of the Sibil·la. Where did it come from in the first place? Greece, it would appear, as an "acrostic poem" was recorded some time in the early fourth century. And acrostic refers to? A message, and the message came, so it is said, from the Sybil of Erythrae (in modern-day Turkey), a prophetess, though how she might have known about Jesus and the day of judgement several centuries BC is anyone's guess. 

Video: The Mallorcan folk singer Maria del Mar Bonet performing the Sibil·la.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 December 2014


Morning high (7.30am): 10C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 21 December - Sun, cloud, 14C; 22 December - Sun, 14C; 23 December - Sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 2 to 3 increasing 4 at intervals in the Formentor area.

Clear skies early on save for some low, fast-moving mist or fog. Should be another good, sunny day, though maybe not as warm as yesterday. General outlook remains decent.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 20.6C. Good enough. 

No Frills Excursions

The Revolution Will Be Pedestrianised

When you are a new political party, there are difficult decisions to be made, such as what you call yourselves. Podemos is the name. Or so we thought. It is nationally but not locally. We can thus conclude that Podemos is not so much a party more an alliance of brethren, a co-operative of "we can". Will voters in Palma be presented with marking the X against an option called Palma Co-Op or something similar? Who knows? The Podemos people in Palma, who can't call themselves Podemos, don't themselves as yet know.

At one point we had been led to believe that Podemos wouldn't run in municipal elections. Then there was a change of mind, but it came with this twist of nomenclature. The municipal Podemos can be Podemos but by another name: not-Podemos but is, as it were. My God, it doesn't half get confusing. And to heap further puzzlement onto befuddlement, there is not one but two Podemos factions, one which is Podemos and one which isn't, though of course neither of them can be come the elections. Strictly speaking, the one that is, isn't, as it is Catalan - Podem per Palma. The other is Tots per Palma, and I shall decline the opportunity to suggest that these Tots are a tad like tots, though I suppose I have. The Tots may well have it by election time and there may well also long before then be unity among the Podemos factions. The united co-operative of not-Podemos will select its secretary-general and hold its primaries in January.

This at least was the message that was emerging at the end of a week which had earlier been marked by what was being called the "battle" of the Podemoses. At the centre of this battle was the question of education. One imagines that when Pablo Iglesias and his chums came up with the idea for Podemos, they would have taken no notice of arguments over the balance of languages for teaching instruction in Mallorca, but notice does of course have to be taken, and the Tots wing rejected the notion of "immersion" in Catalan, i.e. a return to how things were before Bauzá came on the scene, which was what Podem were angling for. Tots reckoned that immersion would represent the politics of other parties, such as PSOE, and as Tots (or Podemos or whoever) reject such politics, immersion would not be acceptable. So, they have to yet decide where they stand on teaching language, though I would like to suggest they adopt a truly radical and revolutionary stance, and that would be to reject all languages. Teaching through body language alone. Or perhaps dust down the dictionary of Esperanto, the language of a Spanish anarcho-nudist movement of the early twentieth century.

Tots did, however, give one concrete indication of policy - literally concrete. Noting that Palma is not a European city, an assertion with which some may disagree, Tots said that they wished to eliminate the "abuse of cars in public spaces". Consequently, they would get rid of vehicles from the whole of the old centre of Palma. To borrow from Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution will be pedestrianised.

Friday, December 19, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 December 2014


Morning high (7.30am): 14.5C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 20 December - Sun, 17C; 21 December - Sun, 15C; 22 December - Sun, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West and Northwest 2 to 3. One metre swells locally.

Some patchy cloud first thing, but a decent sunny day in prospect. The general outlook right into next week is good with moderate breezes and temperatures in the mid-teen range. The local met office has suggested that there may be light showers on Christmas Day.

Evening update (18.30): A fabulous day with clear blue skies and very warm sun. A high of 22.2C.

No Frills Excursions

The Sharing Lobby

The regulation or non-regulation of holiday lets has reached the highest levels of Spanish governmental administration. The national competition commission is addressing the issue, taking account of the explosion of the P2P phenomenon, i.e. web portals which place consumers in direct contact with providers, be they apartments for rent or other types of service. As the issue climbs towards the top of the regulatory heap, companies engaged in P2P in Spain have formed an association to lobby government. It includes the most celebrated of the P2P websites, Airbnb, plus other accommodation websites and, for example, car sharing sites. It does not include Uber, however. This taxi and transport network has been condemned in Spain for providing unfair competition. A judge has ordered Uber to cease all activities in Spain. The French are to ban Uber from the start of next year.

But if Uber is a sort of black sheep of the P2P community, other web operators are craving legitimacy and have so formed their association - "Sharing España". Much of this sharing, holiday accommodation and so on, is considered by opponents to represent an underground economy, which this week was said to equate to 22% of the Spanish tourism sector. How such a figure is arrived at is unclear, but the secretary-general of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation, Ramón Estalella, asserted that 22% it was. The hoteliers want tough action on any form of what they see as unfair or illegal competition, but arriving at regulations is far from straightforward. As the director-general for tourism in the region of La Rioja has quite rightly noted, attaining uniform regulation in all regions of Spain would be "unworkable". She has thus reinforced the fact that the devolution of responsibilities for holiday let regulation to the regions by national government is itself all but unworkable; the consequence of this is that there are seventeen separate regulatory frameworks.

The holiday lets sector is now trying to fight back against the hoteliers and their claims. The association for apartments for tourist use (APTUR) in the Balearics has argued that holiday lets generate more employment than the hoteliers do, both directly, e.g. through cleaning services, and indirectly - car hire, restaurants, shops, etc. This lobby in the Balearics has, until recently, been fairly quiet, unlike in the Canaries, and the association for holiday rentals there held its first forum on Monday at which a video was unveiled. It is called "Holiday rental: the tourist decides" and features personal accounts by tourists as to why they opt for non-hotel accommodation. In addition, Homeaway, an online holiday rental marketplace similar to Airbnb, has teamed up with the university in Salamanca to create the first "barometer" of holiday lets activity in Spain and specifically in the Canaries, where the economic impact of the sector is said to have been worth 817 million euros over the past three years. The Canaries are, unlike the Balearics, edging towards a permissive form of regulation akin perhaps to that of Catalonia. And that region, the only part of Spain which has a tourist tax, anticipates generating 10% of revenue from the tax in 2015 from accommodation which has been regularised and which may legitimately form part of P2P sites' offers. Catalonia is looking forward to raising 44 million euros from tax next year, meaning that holiday lets will account for approximately four million. This is revenue which is used for tourism promotion purposes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 December 2014


Morning high (7.45am): 13C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 19 December - Sun, 18C; 20 December - Sun, 15C; 21 December - Sun, cloud, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West and Northwest 3 to 4, occasionally 5 by Formentor. Swells easing to one metre.

A cloudy but dry morning. Sun later, and sun set to dominate over the next few days with temperatures in the mid to high teens.

Evening update (20.15): Fairly sunny at times. A high of 17.9C.

No Frills Excursions

It's Number One, It's A Spanish Christmas

I'm wondering quite when a Christmas number one became a Christmas tradition. Do we have to go back to 1954 and Winifred Atwell with "Let's Have Another Party" or a year later and Dickie Valentine's "Christmas Alphabet"? Quite possibly we do, but these were number ones during the Dark Ages of popular music before popular music actually became popular, shortened its title to pop and created an industry of diverse and brilliant imagination but which has given us as its current-day descendant-in-chief, Simon Cowell. The Christmas number one, as in hyping up its significance, can possibly be blamed on "Top Of The Pops" and the aren't-we-whacky-wearing-Santa-hats excesses of DJs whose names we are now no longer allowed to mention (well, one in particular). It is an unfortunate coincidence that a record Margaret Thatcher once chose as a desert island disc made it to number one in 1969: "Two Little Boys" by he whose name we're also not allowed to mention. 

The Scaffold had got there in 1968, so the novelty number one was all their fault. Mike McGear's brother was perpetuating what by then had become the annual atrocity of the Christmas number one in 1977. "Mull of Kintyre" can't be described as the nadir of Christmas number ones because far greater depths had already been plumbed and were to be over the following years. Benny Hill, St. Winifred's School Choir, Mr. Blobby, the list is sadly all but endless.

This said, there were to be moments of light among the darkness of the novelty number one or the otherwise simply dreadful (Renée and Renato, for instance). Pink Floyd, The Human League, East 17 were able to prove that it wasn't always the case that the single that great aunts had bought nephews and nieces for Christmas had to be Shakin' Stevens. But since the emergence of Cowellism and of the counter-Cowell movement (Iron Maiden, Rage Against The Machine), the Christmas number one has acquired new and different levels of atrocity: marketing-is-everything hysteria versus the subversiveness of social media.

A strange thing about the Christmas number one is that, with the exception of Band Aid cropping up all too frequently, there haven't been Christmas-themed number ones since Cliff was on a roll at the end of the '80s and start of the '90s - two number ones interspersed, naturally enough, by Band Aid. Nowadays, the charts bear great similarity each year and so Christmas is the same each year. Slade, Wham, Wizzard and John Lennon will be with us at Christmas in perpetuity. They don't make new Christmas songs any more because it's much easier just to re-release them and market the download.

This British obsession with the Christmas number one is in sharp contrast with a Spanish indifference. This may all be a reflection, however, of what Christmas means in the two countries. Spain may have been caught up in greater Christmas fever than was once the case, but they're not looking to dust down The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl as soon as September starts. They don't really care who's number one at Christmas, but as Christmas can be said to start on 8 December, officially finish on 6 January but lurch on, as it does in Mallorca, for most of the rest of the month, then there is no great musical Christmassy climax to be had. Besides which, number one at Epiphany doesn't have the same ring about it.

There is typically an absence of Christmas songs, except for Mariah Carey. Yes, Mariah pops up almost as frequently as Band Aid does, only it's the same version of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" each year. The most recent Spanish chart had Mariah at number 12. Last year she was number 16 at Christmas. Hardly an epic sales performance, but then she was up against tough opposition: One Direction at number two, Miley Cyrus at number three; "Wrecking Ball" was most certainly not a Christmas song. And at number one was the distinctly ordinary Latin disco sound of Kiko Rivera, whose "Asi Soy Yo" is the subject of a claim for damages on account of plagiarism.

This year, the number one heading towards Christmas is David Guetta and Sam Martin with "Dangerous"; it would appear that David's habit of having to call off gigs in Spain hasn't harmed his chances of chart success. But there have been Christmas-themed number ones in Spain. Who can forget Rosana with "En Navidad" in 1997 or Crazy Frog's epic double A-side "Jingle Bells" and "Last Christmas" in 2005. (Everyone would prefer to forget Crazy Frog.) Then there was, of course, who else but Band Aid in 2004. Will they be number one again this year? No, they've been number one and gone. There are certain things for which we should be grateful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 December 2014


Morning high (8.00am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 18 December - Cloud, sun, 18C; 19 December - Sun, 17C; 20 December - Sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West and Northwest 3 to 4. Swells to two metres easing.

Mainly clear and fairly nippy. Likely to cloud over later but an improvement on yesterday, the general outlook seeming to be reasonably sunny for the next few days.

No Frills Excursions

Listening Without Prejudice: Tourism journalism

Javier Mato is a journalist who contributes to the Spanish tourism and travel magazine, "Preferente". He has penned a short opinion piece for the website under the heading "Waiting for Podemos". As is common with websites there was a facility to comment on the article, and as is also common the comments missed the point. Mato was not acting as an advocate for Podemos, as two suggested. A third corrected them and rightly suggested that they hadn't read what he had written.

Mato's article was a stinging attack on the recent tourism decree in the Balearics. Or rather, it was a stinging attack on elements of this decree which had nothing to do with tourism, such as the change to building regulations to allow the Rafa Nadal tennis centre to go ahead and the legitimisation of land on which Son Espases hospital is built. Mato went on to suggest that the decree may as well include provisions for school heating and aspects of education. He was being ironic. As he was in concluding that "these shameless acts which destroy all logic" take away what credibility remains of "our political class" and so open the door to Podemos.

Rather than address the point that Javier was making, commenters wandered into tangential territory. It happens all the time. And there are two key reasons why it does. One is that the article isn't read properly (or is read in a way to suit a particular agenda). Two is that commenters aren't really that interested in the article, only in highlighting their own prejudices, opinions and solutions, even if the latter might be half-baked, impractical, sometimes self-serving and self-promotional or fail to appreciate wider issues (of legislation, for instance).

Hence, we get comments of the following variety (not untypical through the good offices of the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" and its Facebook page): Mallorcans don't know what they're doing when it comes to tourism; Mallorcans don't like foreigners; Mallorcans don't and won't listen to what anyone from outside Mallorca might have to say.

I find such generalisations ungracious to say the least, and just who are these "Mallorcans" anyway? They are rarely specified, if ever. They are, it would appear, some amorphous mass of non-intelligent life form. Of course they know nothing about tourism, which is why Mallorca has provided some of the world's leading hotel chains, which is why Mallorca has exported its tourism know-how, which is why Mallorca was the birthplace of tourism. If by Mallorcans we mean politicians, then there may well be credibility to the claim, but otherwise there is not. Mallorcans don't like foreigners? I treat such a view as some kind of reverse xenophobia. It may have some cultural legitimacy on account of insularity, but it would be a dislike reserved as much for mainland Spaniards as it is for people from other countries, while if one takes this as safeguarding interests, then which nation (or island) can truly be said to be any different? And what of not listening to foreigners? Do the "Mallorcans" not listen to Peter Long of TUI, to Stefan Pichler, the CEO of Air Berlin, to Natalia Vorobieva, the CEO of Russia's leading tour operator, Natalie Tours? I would suggest that they listen very closely.

And they certainly listen when news, opinions and reports presented by journalists from overseas are good or bad. They might circle the wagons when Magalluf hits the headlines, but they certainly don't ignore what is said, and when there is, by comparison, a glowing tribute, they readily and naturally acknowledge it. But when it comes to listening, how much attention is paid to the Mallorcans' own journalists? Javier Mato was making a political point, but "Preferente" as well as the better-known "Hosteltur" magazine are reference points for tourism opinion-making. They are Spain's leading tourism publications, and they are both published in Mallorca. Coincidence? No. Mallorca gave the world tourism as we have come to know it, and so it has maintained a journalistic tradition in tourism that goes back to the turn of the last century when it was journalists, notably Miquel dels Sants Oliver, who created the vision for what was to become tourism as we now know it.

Too little attention may be paid to journalists. Wrongly so. The "Mallorcans", in this instance the regional tourism ministry, love journalists who contribute to the tourism promotion strategy of having them write nice things about Mallorca and the Balearics, but they should listen just as attentively to what else they have to say. In a year when the 150th anniversary of Sants Oliver's birth is being commemorated, it would be appropriate were they to be. But then, whatever they might say, there will still be those who choose to read what they want to, even if it is not what was being said, and to self-indulge their own agendas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 December 2014


Morning high (8.00am): 11.5C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 17 December - Cloud, sun, 14C; 18 December - Cloud, 15C; 19 December - Sun, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4 to 5. Swells to two metres at times.

A cloudy morning, there having been some rain overnight. Improving later though not particularly warm.

Evening update (20.15): Mostly grey all day. Some rain, occasional sun (but not much). High of 14.5C.

No Frills Excursions

Fifty Up: Castellón and Spain's airports

An inaugural flight was made last week. A helicopter landed at a new airport. Its occupants spent a few minutes looking around before the helicopter took off. The airport in question was that of Castellón in the Valencia region. It isn't totally accurate to say that the airport is new because it was itself inaugurated in March 2011, but forty-five months after that inauguration, the first flight - the helicopter - landed.

Of the many excesses perpetrated across Spain that only truly came to light when economic crisis engulfed the country, Castellón airport is one of the worst. It shouldn't have required public money, as the private sector was supposedly going to fund its building (a similar story to that of the disaster of Ciudad Real's airport). It has thus far cost the government in Valencia around 170 million euros, a figure that will rise to almost 200 million when a fee to be paid to the operator is factored in. This operator, the Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin, has the concession to run the airport for twenty years. It is a company which has been undergoing urgent management restructuring and establishment of corporate governance and ethics procedures. Its CEO was arrested two years ago on fraud charges.

The helicopter was able to land at the airport because the national agency for air safety, AESA, had finally granted it a licence to operate. But when the first airplanes start landing is still open to some question. Flights should start in March next year, but then flights were supposed to have started last year. They didn't, and one reason why they didn't was because the runway had to be re-built; it was too narrow. This was just one additional cost that the airport has attracted. There have been others, such as 30 million euros spent on its promotion, a sum that was revealed over two years ago. Then there is the sculpture. It cost 300,000 euros, chicken feed by comparison with some other costs, but a cost that might be added to. Will the sculpture remain? If it does, passengers, as and when they start arriving, will find a face staring out at them from the sculpture. It is the face of Carlos Fabra, ex-president of the Castellón province, who was the driving force behind the airport. Fabra started a four-year prison sentence for tax fraud on 1 December.

The airport should never have been built. A justification for it was as an alternative to Valencia's airport, which is less than an hour away to its south. But the 35,000 passengers that SNC-Lavalin believe will pass through it next year is a miniscule number when compared with over four and a half million passengers at Valencia airport in 2013. It will undoubtedly offer greater convenience for some tourists, but if, as has been said, it is expected to take fifty years to realise a return on investment, where was the wisdom? If there are indeed 35,000 passengers next year, this would place the airport in 34th place in the list of Spanish airports by passenger number (on 2013 figures). There is a vast leap in passenger numbers to the airport in 33rd position, that of El Hierro, the small island in the Canaries, which attracted almost 140,000 passengers in 2013.  

Castellón would have to be added to the network of airports operated by AENA. It would bring the total to fifty. A few of these, like Son Bonet in Palma, have limited functions or are heliports rather than airports, but mostly they are airports with genuine commercial operations and Castellón would represent an additional burden for an airport network that the national minister of development, Ana Pastor, once described as "stupid and crazy". And this stupidity and craziness is something which the partially privatised AENA is going to have to get its head around. A rationalisation of the airport network has been pretty much ruled out, and Pastor admitted almost three years ago that such a rationalisation would be complicated, but what do shareholders make of an investment represented by, according to 2012 figures, an accumulated debt of over 12,600 million euros and an accumulated loss of over 70 million, a figure that would be significantly higher were it not for the profits that Palma and Barcelona turn in?

The long-term shareholders who are to acquire a 21% stake are presumably satisfied enough with their investment, but with the government retaining a 51% stake after the 28% of shares go public - delayed until at least February next year because there was no auditor in place (there now is) - room for manoeuvre in terms of network rationalisation will be limited if non-existent because the government appears not to have the political stomach for this. Small, loss-making regional airports will remain, and Castellón will be one more to add to the list.

Monday, December 15, 2014

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 December 2014


Morning high (7.15am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 16 December - Rain, 16C; 17 December - Sun, cloud, 14C; 18 December - Sun, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 2 to 3 veering Northeast 3 to 4 by the later afternoon.

A storm has been rolling around for a good hour or so. A wet start to the week then. Alerts in place for rain and storms into tomorrow. Sun is likely to make limited appearances today.

Evening update (19.00): There was some sun this morning, but very dark clouds reappeared in the afternoon, producing a further deluge in some areas while others remained dry. A high of 17.2C. 

No Frills Excursions