Thursday, February 04, 2016

Mallorca's Punxsutawney Phil

On balance, it was probably as well that Punxsutawney Phil didn't emerge from his burrow on 2 February on this fair isle. Apart from having run the risk of encountering some creepy-crawly things creeping and crawling from their own dens, Phil would have been scared half witless by the shadow he would have cast. Winter in Mallorca, almost totally absent, would thus have been assured. Winter weather, in Phil prognostication terms, would have started and be due to last for six weeks, which is about when spring is supposed to begin anyway.

The strong shadow cast because of the bright winter sun in Mallorca would have certainly perplexed Phil, but any forecast he may have offered would have had to have been considered in the context of his abilities as a weather animal. Experts say that Phil isn't terribly good at his job; not much better than some seaweed. But Phil would have got it right in one respect. Everyone would have been and was talking about the weather. Again. And about what the weather should mean (but doesn't) for Mallorca. Again.

In these days of online weather forecasting and data archiving, Phil might have been expected to have been stripped of his meteorological role by now. That he retains it - indeed that he has been able to expand it through global recognition - is something for which he owes Bill Murray a large debt. Not only did Phil attain international fame for his forecasting, he gave a whole new meaning to being a groundhog. 

Mallorca, lacking a Phil as such, does have its over-and-over Groundhog Day elements. Well, one notable one, the casting of the reflection of the Cathedral's eastern window on to the western wall in making its rosette piece of eight. Every year it's the same at the same time: Bill Murray could set his clock by it and never be able to break the routine. Forever and ever: same time, same day, same place.

In general religious terms, Phil is a product of Candlemas (which bred the groundhog legend), with its own symbolic repetition. Forty days after Christmas, it falls close to the start of another forty days, those of Lent. Everything seems to come in packages of forty, always repeating themselves and including (almost) Phil's six weeks of extended winter.

There is, however, one other significant repetition on Phil's day. A birthday. Strangely, it isn't one that receives a great deal of attention. Strange, given whose birthday it was. For 808 years this birthday has been celebrated. Or should be. Each year, the same as every year on 2 February. If there is one person in Mallorca's history whose birthday might be deemed more significant than anyone else's, if there is one person about whom the island's entire history can appear to revolve, then it is the 2 February birthday boy: King Jaume I, born in Montpellier in 1208.

That Jaume would now be, had he been capable of mortality, 808 should not disguise the fact that despite long, long being no longer of this Earth and this earth - Mallorca's - he can still seem to be alive and kicking. When you are, as he was, as significant an historical figure, then his shadow might be expected to cast a long shadow. It is one, however, that can give the impression of having caused 808 minus 21 years of extended historical winter. A springtime of renewal, a shedding of centuries ago, can constantly seem elusive. The repetition requires never abandoning the winter of the past. Instead, there is a retreat to the den of ancient familiarity.

In some respects, though, it is good. Identity hewn from the relics of the thirteenth century implies continuity, a valuable resource in a highly movable modern society. On the other hand, it can be less good. It breeds an obsessiveness, from which is derived a great deal of the constant repetition for a culture nuancing its existence on the basis of one important moment in time. And this breeds the counter-obsessiveness, that of styling this existence in ways that dispute the legacy.

It would be grossly exaggerating things to imply that Mallorca lives by some form of Jaume cult, but it is really only through an appreciation of Jaume and all that that some of the modern day makes sense (or doesn't, depending on one's view). Perhaps it boils down to the fact that, despite a rich history, Mallorca's history is limited in terms of seismic events. Accordingly, this limit has created giants of the past that are unshakable and in a constant state of repetition.

Anyway, to return to the more mundane. If it's cloudy on 2 February next year, we will be assured of an early Mallorcan spring. But whatever the conditions, there'll be one thing being discussed in addition to the winter weather. It'll be another winter topic. Every year. Same time. Same place.

No comments: