Sunday, October 11, 2015

They've Mapped The Imagination

A few years ago I wrote an article about maps, Mallorca's maps. It was about a function of maps that went beyond the obvious. It said: "Maps should map the imagination. A map of Mallorca should be a map of Mallorca's imagination". It was an article that visited a theme I have touched on periodically: the power of stories, those that have been written and spoken and those which are untold.

Behind the facts of Mallorca's history - the battles, the feuds, the buildings, the plagues - there are the stories. It is these which give history greater meaning. They are variously social commentary and observation or fantasy, but even the fantasy is rooted in certain realities, those of oral tradition, the passing of the fantastic tale from generation to generation, itself a product of myth, superstition, the land or sea.

Mapping imagination is all this. Stories told and stories untold. The fantastic or the factual, and those which combine both. And within Mallorca there is a denseness of stories, the consequence of its smallness, of its remoteness and insularity, of its fears and anxieties and of its essential folkloric tradition - when you are cut off and separated as Mallorca was, the stories acquire a uniqueness and difference.

The literary and story-telling tradition is centuries old. Its first true manifestation dates from the later thirteenth century. Ramon Llull's "Blanquerna" was a semi-autobiograhical novel of fact and fiction, the hero - Blanquerna - leaving the family home to devote himself to God, to aspire to become pope, to become a hermit in order to dedicate himself completely to God.

Llull was one of those who was name-checked at the launch of Walking on Words last weekend. This initiative combines walking routes (which might equally be cycling or driving routes) with the literary heritage of Mallorca in its different guises - the observational documentary, the novel, the poetic, the folkloric and the fantasy. Across the island there are main centres: Ca N'Alluny, Robert Graves' house in Deya; Casa Llorenç Villalonga in Binissalem; Can Llobera in Pollensa; the Institució Alcover in Manacor, among others.

Between them, these four centres capture these different elements of the island's literary tradition. Graves, the poet, the novelist, weaving an alien's perspective into a Mallorcan framework; Villalonga, the author of the modern tradition with his at times scathing insights into the presence of the early tourists (well before the boom); Miquel Costa i Llobera, fundamental to the new school of Mallorcan poetry and literature; Antoni Maria Alcover, the keeper of the oral tradition, the promoter of the fantastic and the folkloric - Mallorca's "rondalles", the island's fairy and other folk tales.

But of these, there is an intermingling of elements. Costa i Llobera's "El Pi de Formentor", perhaps the best known of all Mallorca's poems, was one of the purest expressions of the Mallorcan imagination, borrowing from a folk tradition inspired by the landscape. Graves drew on this landscape, one that had enchanted and captivated him. For Villalonga, there was the shifting nature of society and how it determined the landscape, and he was one who was as willing to highlight local pretensions - those of Mallorca's nobility - as he was those of the incomers.

These are, though, but a select few of the writers that the walks embrace. There are all the others, the familiar and less familiar: the Archduke Louis Salvador, Agatha Christie, Jorge Luis Borges, Joan Alcover, Rafel Ginard. And there is also Jules Verne, whose place in Mallorca's literary and touristic past is often overlooked. When a nascent tourism industry was founded in the early twentieth century, it was to France that Mallorca looked as much as it ever did to Britain. This was to be tourism akin to the French Riviera, a winter tourism of mild weather before the Americans, French and Germans invented the suntan and so the whole notion of the summer vacation. And with winter in mind, there is also George Sand and her variously complimentary and condemnatory observations of Valldemossa and Mallorca.

I am intrigued by Walking on Words. Intrigued but also pleased. At the launch presentation, they handed out a map. A map of Mallorca with the routes and the authors. A map of Mallorca's imagination. I salute them.

For more information, go to the website:

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