Monday, January 11, 2016

The Great Unknown: Llorenç Moya

Freddie Frinton, some of you may be aware, is big news in Germany on New Year's Eve. The 1963 recording of "Dinner For One" in which he plays the manservant James to May Warden's Miss Sophie is broadcast every New Year's Eve and has not missed a year since 1972. It spawned a catchphrase that is familiar to most Germans: "The same procedure as every year."

In Mallorca, there is something not totally dissimilar. The procedure is not entirely the same every year, the performance is not a television theatrical production and it it is staged on 6 January rather than New Year's Eve, but it has nonetheless acquired the status of an annual tradition every bit as strong as "Dinner For One". It is called "L'Adoració dels Tres Reis d'Orient" (the adoration of the Three Kings) and it has now been presented since 1985.

The author of this was the Binissalem-born writer, Llorenç Moya. This year is to be his year. He was born one hundred years ago. His name, for those of you who are regular readers of this column, may be familiar, but probably for a reason other than his literary achievements. Moya was crucial to the founding of what became the late September Vermar grape harvest wine fair and fiesta in his home town. Above all, though, he was one of the towering names of Mallorca's literature of the twentieth century.

The performance on 6 January takes place in the open air in Ses Voltes park in Palma, its first ever performance having been in the town hall square thirty-one years ago. The theatre company which stages it is called Taula Rodona, but its actors are certainly not just professionals. This year's interpretation, in which the Three Kings were in fact queens, featured the president of the Balearic parliament, Xelo Huertas, as Balthazar. (Her portrayal was panned by the critics.)

Essentially, Moya's work is a farce that combines satire and is thus littered with current-day references to political matters: the recent national election offered fertile sources for the satire. But it isn't the only annual production for which he was originally responsible. The same Taula Rodona has been following much the same procedure as every year on Good Friday, also since 1985. Moya's "Via Crucis" is an  altogether more serious performance that depicts the crucifixion and resurrection and does so on the steps of the Cathedral. Emotional and somewhat surreal, it is something which, like the 6 January production, is known about but which attracts, or seems to, comparatively little promotional attention.

Yet, here are two tributes that are played out each year to this great of the island's literary traditions, one who, it's probably fair to say, will be unknown to the vast majority of Mallorca's visitors and to a sizable number of the island's residents as well.

Miquel Àngel Vidal is a writer who, in 2012, presented a doctoral thesis directed by a professor at the University of the Balearic Islands into the life and works of Moya. It is vast, over one thousand pages of description, analysis, reproductions of his texts and of original manuscripts plus a set of photos that detailed Moya's life. If for these photos alone, where a non-academic or non-Catalan speaker is concerned, it is an utterly extraordinary document, as they show Moya and his family from the time soon after his birth through to his later life, often shown with other leading figures from Mallorca's literary past, such as Llorenç Villalonga and Llorenç Riber. They also show of course the passing of time, via the Franco years and to just before he died in 1981.

As such of course, hardly anyone will see it. Which is a great shame. It can't be expected for those who don't speak Catalan or even some who do to get overly interested in his works, but there is much to be said for revealing to a wider audience the life and times and so the changes in Mallorca and its society through what he had to say and also the photographic evidence. But Moya, as with other Mallorcan writers, is a mystery because there is no attempt to make him less so. In his case, though, he was more of a mystery even to the aficionado, and one of these was Miquel Àngel Vidal. When Moya died, he was nineteen, but the writer was a "great unknown". It seems that he was a humble man who didn't indulge in self-promotion. It was said that he had no literary rivals, although Riber was said to have despised him. Why? Well, it may have been due to his physical being: short, unattractive. It was also rumoured that he was gay.

However much he might have been a great unknown, he no longer is. Two of his works are subject to the same or similar procedure every year. And this year is his year.

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