Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Man Who Invented Sun And Beach

One of the favoured acronyms that Mallorca's town halls baffle us all with is the PGOU. It stands for Plan General de Ordenación Urbana (or Urbanística). Essentially, it is the grand design for a municipality's urban planning. Go to many a town hall website or to a town hall's planning department, and you will discover this plan. It will be colour-coded according to various purposes: the whole of the municipality mapped plot by plot dependent on what function the land has.

In very general terms the plan will follow three basic guidelines: land already developed, land that could be developed and land that cannot be (in theory if not always in practice). This template is sixty years old this year. It has been worked over and adapted during this time, town hall administrations of differing hues amending the colours of the codes in line with their own colours (as is happening at present).

The first ever global PGOU was for Spain as a whole (there had been a specific one for Madrid ten years before). Guidelines were to be ones followed by provincial, city, town and village administrations (there weren't regional authorities as such in those days). This first plan came under what was known as the Land Law, a classic example of how the highly centralised regime under Franco operated. The vast country of Spain with its enormous diversity was to be plotted and planned in accordance with central diktat. It was, but only up to a point. More remote parts of the country didn't always observe the rules. You can probably guess at least one part of Spain where the rules were not always followed according to the letter of the law.

The 1956 plan was to prove to be significant, not least because the acronym has remained in use ever since. It was significant in another way because of its chief architect. In the history of Spain's tourism there was a man known far more for a different innovation, one which, bizarrely enough, was to contribute to his becoming a trusted member of the Franco regime. He was Pedro Zaragoza. The mayor of Benidorm from 1950 to 1967, if things had turned out differently, he wouldn't have been the architect of the plan. Nor might Benidorm have become what it is. Nor might Mallorca's resorts have become what they are.

Zaragoza was the mayor who first permitted the wearing of bikinis on beaches. There were then rules on what could be worn on beaches and the bikini was the last thing that Spanish women would have worn. But Zaragoza didn't have local women in mind. He was interested in foreign women and foreign tourists. He involved himself directly in promoting Benidorm as a holiday destination. It was he who was largely attributed with coming up with "sun and beach" as a phrase and also with the notion of "bottled sun".

The story of the bikini is one of the most famous in Spain's tourism history. It might be an exaggeration to say that it changed everything, but Zaragoza's initiative most certainly led to a gradual relaxation of attitudes that was to contribute to the eventual boom. The story is as famed as it is because Zaragoza was denounced by the Guardia Civil and then threatened with excommunication by the church. Undeterred, he went right to the top. He met Franco and the bikinis of Benidorm were permitted, as was a local bylaw under which anyone insulting a woman for wearing one would be fined.

In 2014, a short film comedy was made about this famous meeting. Entitled "Bikini", it is now available on YouTube. It is of course in Spanish but even if one is unfamiliar with the language, the comedy comes through, such as when Franco is attempting to determine what the bikini top actually entails. There is of course some licence but the film is pretty faithful to what happened, such as Zaragoza having travelled all the way to Madrid on his Vespa: Franco was not wholly impressed by his using an Italian scooter.

Zaragoza didn't meet the Generalissimo solely to plead his case for the bikini. It was when Franco was shown the numbers - the potential revenues from a new brand of tourism - that he came round to Zaragoza's arguments. He, Franco, was convinced, but someone else needed convincing - his wife, Carmen. Zaragoza had another idea - the Benidorm Festival of Spanish Song. The bikini was in the bag.

This was no liberal. Zaragoza was a Falangist and it was his orthodoxy that eventually led him to the regime's inner circle and to the creation of the land plan. Had the meeting turned out differently, who can say how developments might have been. The plan was to be the template for Benidorm, the Costas and for Mallorca, as also and as importantly was the bikini.

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