Friday, May 29, 2015

Connections: A day in the mountains

There is a scene from the famous episodes of "Coronation Street" when its ladies came to Mallorca in 1974 which has always struck me as slightly odd. Emily was writing a postcard but couldn't remember the exact spelling of Valldemossa. It was Hilda who was able to tell her: the same Hilda of the plaster flying ducks and the "muriel". Perhaps there was a hidden depth to Hilda after all. Odd it was that she should be the one to know the spelling, but might it have been because Hilda had been captivated by something she hadn't expected, that she had acquired a knowledge of attentiveness to the rare and rather marvellous? Pure speculation of course.

Forty years later, there will still be those who misspell Valldemossa as there will also be those who go nowhere near the place, who, though they can see there are mountains, never venture into them and discover the secrets of their peaks, slopes and hidden valley. Mallorca is sun and beach and yet it isn't sun and beach. The first "tourists" came not for the beach but for the mountains, inspired to do so by the likes of the Archduke Louis Salvador. When the masses arrived, the beach was more accommodating. Much of it artificial, its breadth and fineness of sand were the magnet that drew the masses to the sea. They saw it at sea level. In the mountains as you travel to or from Deià, you can look down on a very different sea: expansive and lit by the sun, yet alien and remote, two Mallorcas separated millions of years ago by Alpine formation.

I am in the mountains because of a film documentary. The script, to which I have contributed, has undergone iterations. To my words have been added those of the one who is to be the presenter; they need to be his words, after all, and he is, after all, someone with intimate knowledge of these mountains: William Graves, son of Robert.

There is a word which is used a couple of times in this script. It is "shaped". The references are both specific and general. Dry-stone walling and paving have been shaped through the craft of the stone technique, but the mountains themselves have been shaped. How can this be? Man can intervene, as he has, by blasting holes through mountains, by deforestation and forestation, by building and by fire and carelessness, but can man "shape" mountains?

Man can. The dry-stone paths are just one example, so also is the planting of trees and their cultivation, notably the olive trees. They shape the mountains because they commandeer part of its landscape. They were not there originally. They are immigrants and they have assisted, over the many centuries, in transforming that landscape. And there is another way, that of the dry-stone terracing. It is something which, though one might have been aware of it previously, is seen as more fundamental when the eyes one is looking through are those of someone who has grown up in the mountains and has been there all his life. William's reference to man's shaping through dry-stone terracing gives it an importance which had previously eluded me.

When one spends time with William, a connection with Mallorca is rekindled, a connection with its past and its development. For most of the time, I, and mostly everyone else I daresay, takes for granted what surrounds us, but there are moments when I pause. I have done so on the rustic beach of Playa de Muro and sought to try and imagine it as it was: backed as it is by dunes, forest and the wetlands of Albufera, with the mountains of Artà in the distance descending to the cape at the eastern limit of Alcúdia bay. Not very different in truth, apart from the people and the wooden tracks through the dunes that are designed to protect the eco-system. But this is a humbling realisation, of a connection to times so distant they are impossible to imagine.

Then, one can move much more closely to the present. At the Graves house, now the museum, this more recent past is preserved, and I find myself on the terrace with the ghosts of Robert Graves himself and of those familiar names who visited Deià: Ava Gardner, Orson Welles, Gabriel Garcia Márquez. On this very spot, of what would they have spoken? What connections would they have made, for they would not have been influenced by the onset of mass tourism, by the influx of people, even those tramping through the mountains, of whom, as I discover, there is a surprisingly large number?

The connection is one of perpetuation, of continuity. While Mallorca changes, it doesn't change. It stays immovable because, as yet, man has not learned how to move a mountain.

No comments: