Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Environment vs. Ambience: Beach chiringuitos

Legend informs us that the first beach-bar or chiringuito in Mallorca appeared on the beach at S'Illot in 1951. It was in the days when beach and non-beach were indistinguishable and when the means of running it would have been primitive to say the least. Despite it having been on the east coast and well off what was mostly beaten track in any event in those days, it proved to be popular and wasn't apparently just solely a place for cooling refreshment. For all that it would have been rudimentary, it was a beach-bar to which people would travel and where they would meet. It had ambience, the product of what seems like a natural collision - bar and beach.

The chiringuito, as in the traditional sort with thatch and a shape vaguely reminiscent of a boat, can be distinguished from other beach-bars, such as the wooden-roofed balneario, which is a misleading term in that the word means spa but which has acquired official status for its beach locations. Resorts are mapped according to balnearios: Playa de Palma, for instance. These balnearios have become part of the beach urban environment. A chiringuito implies a construction of a more rustic beach nature, to which can be assigned certain characteristics: laid-back, relaxed, cool.   

This is the implication, though it isn't always the reality, while the word chiringuito may or may not mean that traditional image. And into this realm of uncertainty has ridden the controversy of Son Serra de Marina, where the town hall (Santa Margalida) has been thinking about plonking a chiringuito and other beach paraphernalia, such as sunbeds. It is not known what the chiringuito structure might be (or might have been), while its positioning would not necessarily have been rustic in that its location was in front of or very close to the final urban development in this resort.

One can talk about this plan in the past tense, as the regional government would appear to have scuppered it. The protesters, several thousand of them, who formed a human chain against the plan can breathe a sigh of relief. The rustic nature of Son Serra is to be conserved.

The cause célèbre that has been the Son Serra plan might seem to have been what has provoked the environment ministry into tightening up on chiringuitos and what have you on rustic beaches. In fact, the ministry's natural spaces and biodiversity department have been on the case in any event. Son Serra is a clear case in point, but it isn't the only one.

The objection that the ministry has to the project is that one hundred sunbeds plus bar and other facilities would "appreciably affect" an area of "community interest". The objection isn't so much that there would be the risk of environmental harm through pollution (though there might be some small risk), it is more the damage to the visual environment: unspoiled should mean and remain unspoiled.

Santa Margalida have given out different justifications for the plan. One was (bizarrely enough) to obtain a Blue Flag. Another was that the revenue from the concessions would pay for the maintenance of the beach. These may well have been reasonable grounds, but the chiringuito was surely unnecessary. Indeed, it would have represented a kick in the teeth to the one or two bars (not on the beach of course) which have, over several years, contributed to a laid-back atmosphere which so many thousands were prepared to defend.

But while this particular bar was questionable, can the same be said for chiringuitos on other beaches of a rustic style? A full invasion of beaches by sunbeds and other facilities is one thing, but a chiringuito on its own? Yes, there are many tourists (and residents) who crave unspoiled beaches. Likewise, there are those who quite enjoy there being a bar. It can be positive in that it adds to the ambience rather than subtracts. It can also be positive in preventing a need to haul any amount of containers and plastic which might end up being discarded and so pose more of an environmental risk than a chiringuito, so long as the latter is subject to strict control.

What will now happen is that the ministry is going to say yea or nay to new applications and existing ones. Son Serra, representative of the former, is almost certainly out of the question. But what of, just as an example, Es Trenc's famed S'Embat?

My guess would be that a great majority of tourists and residents will approve of the government's aims (and I would be included in that majority), but being too dogmatic and too universal in treating each beach as the same would mean missing a point about how many have enjoyed beach life for so long. Chiringuitos have their role and it is one of ambience created decades ago.

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