Tuesday, May 31, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 May 2016

Morning high (7.16am): 16.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 1 June - Sun, cloud, 23C; 2 June - Sun, 21C; 3 June - Sun, cloud, 24C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 2 to 3 veering East in the afternoon.

Bright morning. The risk of a shower today seems to have diminished, so good sun all day. Rest of the week into the weekend looks decent: sunny and moderate temperatures.

Evening update (20.30): Well that didn't quite work out. High of 26.3C but there was some weather somewhere, thunder rumbling at one point and some dark cloud hovering.

Airport Co-Management Is Flying Again

In late August 2006 the then president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas, met José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister. The location was the VIP lounge at Palma's Son Sant Joan airport. Zapatero had stopped to have a meeting with Matas before going on to the Marivent Palace, where he was to be received by King Juan Carlos. The choice of the airport lounge was more than just a simple convenience. It was also symbolic. Matas wanted to talk to Zapatero about airport management.

Almost eighteen months previously, Matas had participated in a form of summit. The outcome of this, named after the setting, was the Murcia Declaration. It consisted of common areas of interest between the five Spanish regions in the Mediterranean Basin: Andalusia, Catalonia, Murcia, Valencia and the Balearics. Those who took part were three Partido Popular presidents - Matas and those of Murcia and Valencia - and the leaders of the PP in Andalusia and Catalonia. A key item on their agenda and which was to be included in that declaration had to do with airport management.

At the meeting with Zapatero, the former prime minister promised to study the Matas proposals. Matas himself believed that the meeting had been very positive. Here, it was believed at the time, was movement towards co-management of Balearic airports: private and public co-management, with the public element being the regional government.

The significance of the Zapatero meeting should not be lost on those who are today calling for airport co-management. This had been a PP regional president asking a PSOE prime minister. The roles are currently reversed: there is a PSOE regional president and a PP premier.

Nothing was to come of the meeting. Zapatero, returned for a second time as premier, was to run into the storm of economic crisis. As his government sought to spend its way out of what he initially denied was a crisis, Spain's financial situation deteriorated. One of the solutions was to consider privatisation. The national airports' network, Aena, was to eventually go under the hammer: 49% of it at any rate. It created a public-private arrangement but not one that Matas and others (the Canaries had also been interested) had sought. Regional governments were to not get their wishes in having a share of their airports' pies.

Airport co-management is back on the agenda. In truth it hasn't been off it for many years. The Bauzá PP regime never seriously spoke about it, but the Matas PP administration had, as also had the PSOE-led governments of Francesc Antich. The talk now, where the regional government is concerned, runs up against a sizable obstacle the Rajoy government, which has never shown any interest in co-management, only in the Aena privatisation.

Francina Armengol was in Madrid last week. For some observers it was clear what her main objective had been: less one of showing support for Pedro Sánchez and more one of again pressing the case for airport co-management. She may have had a greater priority, but a Sánchez PSOE-led government, it would be hoped in the Balearics, would be even more amenable than Zapatero's had once seemed to have been.

In April the Balearic parliament passed a motion calling for co-management. It was supported by all parties, as was a statement demanding that the current 51% state shareholding in Aena should not be reduced. Where the parties disagreed, with the PP and Ciudadanos doing the disagreeing, was a further statement calling for the national government to consider reversing the privatisation of Aena.

A month earlier, the government in the Canary Islands had been paving the way for a legal challenge to force co-management of the airports on those islands. It had already unsuccessfully sought to block the partial privatisation of Aena in the courts.

Going back to the time of last December's general election, the Congress lead candidate for Més, Antoni Verger, had been calling for a reversal of the privatisation. A representative of Balearic nationalism, he was coming from a similar perspective as the government in Canaries: it is run by the Coalición Canaria, also nationalist but not, unlike Més, left-wing.

Co-management is not and has not been solely an ambition of the left. Different parts of the political spectrum, especially in the two archipelagos - Balearics and Canaries - have seen the potential value and not only in terms of possible revenue. Verger, who has now found himself back in the frame as a potential Congress deputy, believes that it would bring advantages, such as a reduction in wintertime airport tariffs.

The co-management debate is very much alive again. As part of a new economic regime for the Balearics, to which Sánchez in particular might be well disposed, it's time might be coming. But what might it mean for Aena shareholders whose returns have been soaring?

Footnote: Of course, where Matas and the airports were concerned, knowing what we now know ...

Index for May 2016

Ada Colau and tourism - 5 May 2016
Airport co-management - 31 May 2016
Attitudes towards tourism - 25 May 2016
Blue Flags in Mallorca - 10 May 2016
Cities of Mallorca - 15 May 2016
Cruise ships - 7 May 2016, 24 May 2016
Cycling and anger - 2 May 2016
Drunken tourists - 3 May 2016
Family tourism - 6 May 2016
Holiday rentals regulation - 21 May 2016
Hotel places' limits - 28 May 2016
Lawyers and Nóos trial - 23 May 2016
Mallorca and Western Mediterranean islands - 12 May 2016
Mining in Mallorca - 1 May 2016
Overcrowding in Mallorca - 17 May 2016
Place names - 13 May 2016, 20 May 2016
Podemos, Balearics, general election - 9 May 2016, 11 May 2016, 16 May 2016, 18 May 2016. 30 May 2016
Retailer employment and salaries - 26 May 2016
Sant Joan Pelós, Pollensa - 29 May 2016
Sobirania per a les Illes - 27 May 2016
Soller Es Firó - 8 May 2016
Spain election and the Balearics - 4 May 2016, 22 May 2016
Tax cases: Cuéntame cómo pasó - 19 May 2016
Tourist cars: ban? - 14 May 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 May 2016

Morning high (6.45am): 15.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 31 May - Sun, cloud, 24C; 1 June - Sun, cloud, 21C; 2 June - Sun, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3, locally Northeast during the afternoon.

Light, patchy cloud first up. Good day ahead, not expected to be as warm as yesterday. Possibility of a shower tomorrow.

Evening update (20.30): High of 27.4C. Cloudy at times. Decent though.

Breakfast With Francina

The breakfast meeting is, one is inclined to suspect, a device to convey to the citizens that politicians are ultra-hard-working. We never stop. That's the sort of message. Never stop to have a hearty breakfast, that's for sure. And so the full English wasn't on the menu when Francina met Pedro in Madrid for their breakfasting chat, followed swiftly by their breakfasting news conference (one much to the annoyance, one imagines, of the gathered and hungover members of the media). Instead, Francina could have taken the opportunity to promote Mallorcan products. Off she would have gone on the low-cost hop with her ensaimada in its box: Mallorcan pastry, as endorsed by the president.

Of course it was a Balearic promotional drive insofar as Francina was there to promote the desperate need for her and her political chums to manage the airports and also to inform the assembled and bored media how marvellously well her government of change in the Balearics is working. So marvellously well that two components thereof - the Més-ites and the Podemistas - have melded to create Podemés and squeeze PSOE even more on 26-J. However, such minor detail should not and did not get in the way of the Balearics being championed as the model for the whole of Spain to follow in government: unworkable, in other words.

Pedro held the Balearics aloft as the template for "progressive politics" but having observed, only a couple of weeks previously, that Podemos represents the extreme left, it is as clear as a fine spring morning in Mallorca that such progressiveness excludes Podemos; at least where Pedro's concerned. Francina appears to look out and see only cloud: that created by the hodge-podge, fudge government that isn't entirely a government over which she presides. But Francina has not been cast as sweet and friendly for nothing. She does not categorise anyone as "extremist" or "radical". See no evil. They all have their own points of view and see how well these have been combining in the Balearics.

If only one could believe her, and it is evident that Pedro doesn't. His progressiveness still involves the other half of his Ant and Dec act, Al Rivera of the C's, who for some mysterious reason was in Venezuela. Had he gone there in search of money in a Podemos sort of a way? Quite the contrary. He was seemingly there to highlight the Venezuela-Podemos link.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 May 2016

Morning high (6.56am): 19C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 30 May - Sun, 23C; 31 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 1 June - Sun, cloud, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Northwest 4 to 5 easing Southwest 3 to 4 in the afternoon.

Bit of a breeze first thing - it had got quite quite windy last night - clear sky, and there should be clear skies all day with any luck.

Evening update (20.00): Stayed pretty breezy. Nothing wrong with that. Lovely day in fact. High of 27.1C.

The John Of Corpus Christi

The first Hairy John of the season appears today. The Sunday after Corpus Christi: the same procedure as every year. Hairy John will dance in the streets of Pollensa as will the eagles. To give him his proper (Catalan) name, John is Sant Joan Pelós. He is one of a handful of Johns who do their dancing stuff on the occasion of a Mallorcan fiesta. The Felanitx John comes out at midsummer. He's the island's head John, the best known of them all. His emergence for the midsummer fiestas of Sant Joan would seem obvious given his name, though he and other Johns do require some explanation. Sant Joan Pelós is a representation of John the Baptist, who was supposedly born on Midsummer's Day, i.e. 24 June; hence the fiestas.

This being the case, why is the John of Pollensa allowed out on the first Sunday after Corpus Christi? Moreover, why is he hairy?

To arrive at some sort of an answer - possibly - one needs to take account of the other protagonists in today's dancing procession in Pollensa. The girls with the eagles strapped to their waists in the style more commonly associated in Mallorcan folk tradition with the figures of horses may hold the key to the earlier appearance of Sant Joan Pelós in Pollensa.

An eagles' dance from mediaeval times was practised in Catalonia and Valencia, but its first documented staging in Pollensa comes from the eighteenth century, and the roots of it would seem to go back to the year 1614 and to Palma. During the Corpus Christi procession of that year, a giant eagle supposedly appeared. The Mallorcan version of the eagles' dance, based on old Catalan tradition, was thus perhaps developed because of the 1614 eagle. For reasons no one can really explain, it was Pollensa which took it upon itself to maintain the tradition: it is the only town in Mallorca with such a dance.

So where does Sant Joan Pelós fit into the story? Well, this may be on account of John the Baptist's association with the symbol of the eagle. From the point of view of religious interpretation, the eagle symbol when it has a halo is John the Baptist. John was responsible for his "soaring" gospel and is thus represented by an eagle. Another explanation is that the eagle symbolises the resurrection and ascension and so all baptised Christians.

Is this the explanation then? Well not necessarily, indeed many of the commonly held assumptions are open to question. Take, for instance, the eagle of 1614. There is an alternative version of events that places the appearance of a giant white eagle in Palma on 29 June. It was nothing to do with Corpus Christi, which had been on 23 May that year. An eagles' dance was as a thanksgiving response to the good fortune of the appearance of the eagle, as the crops would prove to be good.

Then, where Pollensa is concerned, there is the fact that Sant Joan Pelós did in fact once upon a time do his dance when all the other ones do: at midsummer. A further element in the conundrum is evidence which suggests that eagles were one of various images at Palma's Corpus Christi procession from at least the first half of the sixteenth century, so many years before the 1614 eagle arrived on the scene.

One also has to take account of the view that the image of Sant Joan Pelós is a relic from ancient history, a symbol perhaps of pagan ritual. This may fit with notions of midsummer but offers nothing to explain why he came to be associated with Corpus Christi. Except, and here is another version, he was associated with it and as long ago as the fourteenth century. All that time ago, he was to be found in Corpus Christi processions in Palma and quite possibly elsewhere.

The fact is that no one can state with certainty how the Pollensa dances came about. The Sant Joan Pelós and eagles' dance stories and legends are all open to varying interpretations. But here's another one for you. If there's any truth to the 1614 eagle version, why did the eagles' dance seemingly not take place in Pollensa until the eighteenth century? Was it in fact all something of a commercial enterprise? There are certainly grounds to suggest that the local weavers' guild was behind it. Pollensa's textile industry has a long history, and so were the dresses of the girls with the eagles, still made with the careful weaving of jewels into them, all part of a promotion? And might Hairy John have been included as an added attraction?

Who can honestly say. But as for why he's hairy. Well, have you ever seen an image of John the Baptist when he wasn't?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 May 2016

Morning high (7.24am): 16.8C
Forecast high: 28C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 29 May - Sun, 25C; 30 May - Sun, cloud, 22C; 31 May - Sun, cloud, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3, locally South 4 to 5 from midday.

Expected to be hotter today and there is also the chance of a shower in the afternoon.

Evening update (19.45): High of 30.3C. Cloudy at times but no rain. 

Limiting Hotel Places In The Balearics

Putting a cap on the number of holiday places in private property is likely to prove to be an almost impossible task for the Balearic government, but places in hotels are easier to control. Biel Barceló has in the past differentiated between the two types of accommodation, stating that there is (or can be) a finite number of places in hotels, a situation which doesn't exist with private property. Concerned with overcrowding, it may seem discriminatory to seek to shore up this finite number when there is such an absence of regulation for the non-hotel sector, but this is what the government will do.

Under existing tourism law there are already constraints on adding further hotel places. If there is new development, then the new places have to take the place of others. This was all part of a drive by the previous government to weed out obsolete and outdated hotel stock and replace it with greater quality, and this has been happening principally through re-development of hotels. However, the law does make allowance for exceptions when it comes to building new five-star hotels or creating urban hotels, agrotourism establishments and rural tourism hotels. These do not have to replace others, meaning that there will be an increase in the total number of hotel places.

Barceló intends to change this law by removing these exceptions. Regardless of the type of hotel, new places would have, in every instance, to replace existing ones. This wouldn't necessarily mean that there couldn't be new building, but were there to be then existing hotels would either have to have their capacities reduced or close.

This latter option is also addressed under the current tourism law. It permits, subject to approvals, changes in use, one being that hotels can be converted into residential accommodation. In reality there has been very little evidence of this happening (there have been one or two notable cases but not much more). However, such a change in use was always going to provide the possibility of ever more private apartments coming on to the market (mostly illegally) for tourist purposes.

Barceló will therefore need to consider the change in use provisions that were included in the tourism law by Carlos Delgado. It would fly in the face of all his talk about overcrowding were they to remain on the statute, as it should be clear to anyone that not all residential accommodation will be used solely by owners. This then raises the question as to what might happen to hotels which in effect become redundant. A bold initiative, might one suggest, would be to arrive at accords with hoteliers to either expropriate old hotel stock or to permit conversion into social housing or accommodation expressly for rental to seasonal workers. At a stroke issues of pressure on the housing market, as have been highlighted already this season, would be greatly lessened.

Meanwhile, the complexities of drafting effective legislation for holiday rental regulation are being highlighted in the Canary Islands. The regional government there has come up with a raft of measures designed to curb the growth of private accommodation. These include the setting of standards through mandatory minimum sizes of beds, ensuring accommodation is equipped with certain kitchen devices, towels and so on. This doesn't sound unreasonable but the National Competition Commission is taking a rather dim view. It is opposing in particular a Canarian measure that would prevent holiday apartments being in areas which are already predominantly tourist zones: the centres of resorts in other words. The Commission has observed that the likes of Airbnb currently offer up to 85% of accommodation in areas that are otherwise dominated by hotels. To not permit apartments in these areas, the Commission argues, would severely limit competition.

Friday, May 27, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 May 2016

Morning high (7.30am): 15.9C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 28 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 29 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 30 May - Sun, cloud, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3.

Nice enough morning. Some cloud and possibly also a touch of mist or fog. Plenty of sun today, pretty warm. Weekend outlook the same.

Evening update (20.15): High of 28.2C (inland).

Singing For Balearic Independence

It's not easy attempting to explain to the uninitiated what a glosador is and does. Can it be defined as singing? Is it a vaguely melodic monologue? What is he/she going on about? In order to answer the last of these one would need to have a firm grasp of (typically) rural Mallorquín, its various accents and the degree to which it is being spoken/sung with what can seem like an imaginary potato in the mouth. As I, and I expect most of you, do not possess such a tight hold over the local and the variants thereof, then the explanation becomes doubly difficult. Pretty much impossible in fact. And if one tosses in (more than just metaphorically) the barely disguised onanism of the playing of the ximbomba as accompaniment, then all pretence at explanation is superseded by a dropped-jaw question: what the hell's that all about?

Without wishing to seem as though I am pursuing an erotic theme, much of it has to do with oral tradition. Oral, as in spoken (aka sung), was the required medium for a language (Mallorquín) with little or no written tradition. As most of the rural population wouldn't have been proud owners of a pen or other such writing implement, let alone know how to use it, such absence of written tradition was hardly a great surprise. And the same can be said of the reading tradition. Into this communicative vacuum, therefore, came the glosador some time around (at least) the nineteenth century. There were professional glosadors. They would hold contests. They still do. In addition to entertainment, they were engaged in the dissemination of information.

A root of the glosador - possibly - is the troubadour, the wandering minstrel of southern France and northern Spain who, in his original guise, dabbled in lyrics in the "langue d'oc". This tongue is important. It was and is otherwise known as Occitan, closed aligned to Catalan linguistically. The troubadour phenomenon arose in the twelfth century. His popularity was such that one would presume that he wasn't so far behind the invasion ships that arrived off Mallorca in the following century. Is it fanciful to suggest that over time the troubadour in his Mallorcan guise was to morph into the glosador? The meanings are not dissimilar. Troubadour comes from "trobar" - to compose; glosador from "glosar" - to provide a commentary.

Whatever the origins of the glosador there is no doubting the tradition and the obvious linguistic significance. The glosador is thus representative of something distinctly Mallorcan (and Balearic), which may help to explain why a glosador (more than one in fact) is aspiring to become a deputy in Congress on behalf of a newly formed party that goes by the name of Sobirania per a les Illes (sovereignty over the islands).

Mateu Matas, "Xuri", is one of Mallorca's best known glosadors. He is the lead candidate for what he has described as not being a political party. Rather like defining a glosador, it is difficult to therefore know how to define Sobirania if it claims not to be a party. There again, the same used to apply to Podemos.

And it is Podemos who seem to be the principal reason for the emergence of Sobirania. This stems from the decision of Més to ally itself with Podemos, characterised by Sobirania as a Madrid-based party and so, by implication, not a defender of nationalist, island rights. The like-minded in Sobirania have been left to feel like "orphans", deprived of a potential political say because Més, supposedly the voice of nationalism and sovereignty, have got into bed with Podemos.

Sobirania, let's call them Sobs shall we, is a peculiar alliance of one-time right-wingers, hard-left radicals, the odd screwball and glosadors. In the shadows, so it is being said, is one-time and briefly PP president of the Balearics, Cristòfol Soler, who long ago nailed his colours to the Balearic sovereignty movement (i.e. independence). There is also our old friend Jaume Sastre, the hunger-striking teacher, a man with a permanent look of utter misery combined with sheer anger: he's very much an independentist. We also have someone called Loreto Amorós, who is possibly worthy of an entire article. If not, let's just note that she has told her Twitter fans, of whom there are apparently thousands, that she does "topless". Good for her.

Do the Sobs have any chance of gaining a seat in Congress? Absolutely none. Xuri says that in addition to not actually being a party, the Sobs aren't looking to take votes from others. And he may be right, if no one votes for them. But one has to admire his optimism and his defence of islands' rights. You don't get much more Mallorcan (Balearic) than a glosador, and he says that "we are here to sing". So there you have it. It is singing after all.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 May 2016

Morning high (6.38am): 15.6C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 27 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 28 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 29 May - Sun, cloud, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 2 to 4.

Low cloud on the Sant Marti mount first thing. May linger for a time and getting brighter later.

Evening update (20.30): High of 28.1C (inland). Well warmer than the morning forecast. Mix of cloud and sun all day.

Retailer, Hotelier: Good guy, bad guy

It was the queue of the hopeful. How many of them were there? Hundreds. They went in their droves, enticed by the search for "dynamic, committed, enthusiastic" people of a certain (young) age. Such is the recruitment lingo. When did employers ever wish to take on apathetic, uncommitted, unenthusiastic staff? Once upon a time they probably did. A time when no one much cared for anything other than the pay packet regardless of whatever drudgery was performed or expected.

They were queuing in Madrid last October. Hundreds. They weren't after jobs. They were there to buy. In the capital city's Gran Via, Primark had come to town, and Primark shopping fever had taken over. But jobs with Primark were what mattered last week to those who had waited patiently to hand in their pen drives with all relevant information at the offices of the Balearic Confederation of Business Associations.

Primark will open in September and not towards the end June as had been initially said. FAN Mallorca Shopping, the curious name of the new commercial centre, will not be ready until then. For those queuing it might as well rain until September. Then the sun will shine. Assuming they are the lucky ones. And when the doors of the shopping centre finally open, there will be a tidal wave of shoppers. The roads will have been gridlocked. There's more to FAN, much more to FAN than Primark alone, but it will be the Irish retailer attracting the greatest fan base, if the Madrid experience is anything to go by.

The jobs though, what about the jobs? How much might the lucky ones earn? In Madrid the labour agreement was for a "competitive salary package" for the dynamic ones. The typical sales assistant maximum is just over 15,000 a year - twelve months plus three extras. Over half of the staff, however, are not on full-time contracts. One worker, quoted in a report by the "El Confidencial" website, said she was on 700 euros for a 30-hour week, though this seemed to be for a temporary contract.

Retail jobs are like many in the tourism industry. They are not highly paid. The Primark base salary for full-time employees - 15,247 euros per annum (quoted in connection with the Madrid store) - is virtually identical to the agreement Lidl came to earlier this year. It has a guaranteed fixed hourly minimum of 8.50 euros per hour: 15,257 euros for an annual maximum of 1,795 hours, five days a week. Lidl has also agreed to have a 75% minimum of its staff on full-time contracts.

This doesn't match Mercadona, though. It has 98% full-time contracts. Its base salary is 15,160 euros but it adds two extra months to this depending on performance. It also rewards loyalty. Length of service and corresponding increases in salary mean that it has 90% of staff earning 1,430 euros after tax plus the potential two additional months. Mercadona is looked upon as one of the best employers in the retail sector.

The regional government, the Council of Mallorca and the town halls have an at-times awkward relationship with retailing. The current moratorium on new developments is an example of this and is aimed principally at larger retailers. Yet they will all know that these larger retailers create employment and, as can be seen with Mercadona in particular, this is pretty stable employment. It may not be highly paid, but that is how retailing tends to be. Mallorca's no different to anywhere else in this regard.

Where the public authorities really run into a problem is with seeking to safeguard the smaller retailer and defend it against the voracious appetites of the large multiples. A case in point has been the to-ing and fro-ing over declaring (or not) zones of high touristic influx. Say yes, and there is far greater liberalism for large store opening hours. Say no, and there is not.

But generally, and here is where the government and others let slip their begrudging acceptance of the large retailers, there is no antagonism implied when it comes to terms and conditions of employment. Yes, the government keeps banging the drum for greater "quality" of employment and higher earnings, but the retailers fall into the category of the "good" employer. Mercadona is a prime example.

Contrast this with the general antagonism towards the hoteliers, with Podemos the most ferocious of critics. True, there are issues with maids and some other categories of employee, but the attacks are certainly not always justified. The government is toying with the star ratings being modified to reflect this so-called employment quality. But would such an attempt at labour engineering work? Can the hotels really be blamed for offering contracts that are not in the Mercadona league when it comes to being full-time? It's the seasonality, stupid.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 May 2016

Morning high (7.20am): 14.1C
Forecast high: 26C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 26 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 27 May - Sun, cloud, 20C; 28 May - Sun, cloud, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 3 to 4 easing Northeast 2 in the late afternoon.

Regular sort of morning with some cloud. Due to be a bit warmer today. Sunny and occasional cloud.

Evening update (20.00): High of 28.7C. Pretty decent. Cloud at times. 

Between Love And Hate: Tourism attitudes

Guess who's going to benefit most from this summer's tourism bonanza? There are no prizes for guessing as the answer is pretty obvious: tourism businesses, for which mostly read the hoteliers. The one surprise of the answer is that not more than 77% of Balearic citizenry believe that business will be the great beneficiary. The poor old regular citizen won't be cashing in, that's for sure. A mere 19% reckon that "social profitability" will gain; this being defined as, for instance, greater general welfare.

The latest Gadeso survey of opinions about tourism reflects the age-old dichotomies of the industry. The rich (the businesses) get richer, but the poor (the workers) don't get richer. They don't necessarily get poorer but the imbalance is as it has always been. And that, imbalance, is how tourism tends to be. Mallorca, Spain, mostly everywhere, it's the nature of the beast.

Tourism jobs are not typically among the best paid. Think for a moment about a recent report about current employment trends in Palma. Which jobs were proving the most popular? Waiters and waitresses, cleaners; these topped the lists of positions most on offer. Popular isn't the right word. Available would be more apposite. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed reckoned that one of the weaknesses of tourism was that it gives rise to work of low quality. Only two-thirds? I guess it depends on individual perceptions.

Ambivalence is how one might describe the overriding attitude towards tourism: positive and negative feelings held simultaneously. Under 50% feel that tourism is the basis of Balearic well-being and so therefore its principal strength. What else might they have in mind, either now or in the future, that would be of greater well-being? Oil exploration?

This under 50% - 47.3% to be pedantic in a percentage way - is almost equivalent to the percentage of GDP that tourism provides in the Balearics: 45.5% at last count. That's a lot of well-being. Nothing else comes anywhere like close, and nor does the GDP factor of other regions, not even the Canaries. The Balearic Islands do not live only from tourism, but they near as enough do.  

The greatest weakness of tourism is recognised by a significantly greater percentage than the principal strength. Seasonality. Somewhere in the Balearics is one per cent of the population who don't consider it to be a weakness. Maybe they didn't understand the question.

Like jobs, though, what do people expect? A hell of a lot better obviously, but vastly improved pay, all-year contracts, all-year work because everywhere is open can be illusory. Tourism isn't like that. The Canaries, where the winter season is as good as summer, is the only sun-and-beach region of Spain to not be affected by seasonality: Benidorm, it might be suggested, ekes out a decent all-year trade, but that's one resort and not a whole region. Yet in the Canaries the unemployment rate is always greater than in the Balearics. Maybe it's because tourism only offers some 30% of GDP despite the twelve-month season.

Is it a case of the government (notably the current one in the Balearics) guiding the citizens in their attitudes or are they formed independently? A bit of both perhaps. The government drones on about seasonality and how it's new sustainable tourism will attack it. But governments have long droned on. Seasonality has always existed and always will exist. It is a subject that allows politicians to talk a good talk without doing anything truly fundamental that breaks the cycle.

And the sustainable part is there in the Gadeso survey as well. Which measure, more than most, will improve the tourist product? Protection of the environment and cultural heritage, say 85% of the citizens. Biel Barceló will love that, as he will also love the fact that a mere 13% believe that the tourist tax will harm tourism. He might love less the discovery that 43% think his administration is no better or worse than the last government.

There again, maybe the current government is responding to the citizens' views. Preservation and conservation are not new in being public priorities. And nor are hotel improvements and resort infrastructure makeovers being far lower priorities anything new. Attitudes don't habitually swing violently; they are mostly consistent with only slight shifts over time.

The prevailing attitudes are not wholly negative but nor are they wholly positive. It's that ambivalence. Love and hate. It might be tempting to suggest that people are being ungrateful for what tourism brings, but the temptation should be resisted. People can't be blamed for feeling their work is low-paid or that the quality of that work is low and insecure. Efforts by the current government to effect changes in this regard (though probably doomed to fail) should nevertheless be applauded. Spread the wealth and the well-being more widely, and the positivity would surely rise.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 May 2016

Morning high (7.20am): 12.1C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 25 May - Sun, cloud, 25C; 26 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 26 May - Sun, cloud, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South-Southeast 2 to 3 increasing 4.

Bits of light cloud round early on. Clear sky otherwise. Mainly sunny spells all day and temperatures bumping up with the southerlies.

Evening update (20.00): Up and down, some cloud, some sun. High of 26.7C.

Disharmony Of The Seas

On Monday, 13 June and on subsequent Mondays until late in October, Royal Caribbean's Harmony Of The Seas will form a colossal vision on early mornings in the bay of Palma before parking its massiveness in the port at eight o'clock. On board, at absolute capacity, can be 6,410 (or is it 6,780) passengers and 2,100 crew. The largest passenger ship in the world. Let the celebrations begin.

Impressive, that's the word. Impressive because of sheer size. Harmony Of The Seas is not alone in this regard. Watching these leviathans creep over the sea towards port, their movement imperceptible, their bulks do impress. There again, so do large aircraft when one sees them at relatively close hand. The instinct is to be impressed. Size matters.

Think about this for one moment. The largest single hotel complex in Mallorca in terms of total guest capacity is Alcudia's Bellevue. At a squeeze, and it would be, 6,000 people can be crammed into its 1,400 or so apartments of varying sizes. The upper limit might more typically be in the 5,000 range. Harmony Of The Seas plus crew dwarfs even Bellevue. Its human content exceeds even the most excessive of the island's land accommodation.

The ship, as with others in the contemporary fleet navigating the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the fjords and elsewhere, is representative of a new-age maritime Brutalist architecture. There is something almost Soviet about this design. Appropriate perhaps for the collectivist nature of its business. Pack 'em in, pack 'em high: fifteen decks in all on the Harmony.

Bellevue has a weirdly Soviet feel as well. Especially weird as it was built in the final years of the Franco regime. But its architecture is functional, utilitarian, Brutalist not so much because of the scale of the individual blocks but on account of the sense of "béton brut", the raw concrete Le Corbusier chose in bequeathing to the world the very term Brutalism.

Such land-based accommodation would not and could not be built now. Major new projects are of the Park Hyatt in Canyamel style. Its environmental ethics have been questioned, but at least the architecture has a reasonable (though by no means whole) sympathy for its wooded setting. Its human content might be only in the region of one tenth of Bellevue at full blast. 

Despite adding more floors, if the local authorities don't object, the trend in hotels is away from massiveness. At its best this trend is giving us the fabulously and lovingly re-crafted urban hotels, the boutiques of Palma and elsewhere. In full harmony with their environments. Harmony, that's another word.

Tourism in its mass version has always been dependent on the virtues of economies of scale. Greater the size, greater the volume, the lower the cost per unit. Volume is thus a virtue for the bottom line. Such economies still persist in Mallorca's sun-and-beach resorts - of course they do - but they are not on a scale of the behemoths of the oceans: more people on one ship than in any single hotel complex on the island.

What type of tourism is this? Is it the ultimate in terms of mass, one for which size, and very large size, is all that matters? We are impressed by the scale. But are we also appalled? Why are there such celebrations of these colossal apparitions lumbering closer and closer to port?

The cruise industry will baffle you with figures. Billions here, billions there. The employment, the sourcing of products and services, the general economic welfare that is generated. We get all that. But what of the direct impact? Two hundred euros per passenger. That was a spend figure cited last week for a Palma disembarking passenger. Way above a figure (acknowledged as an estimate) of sixty euros that the Balearic government came up with a few years ago. Better economic times may be returning, but by 140 euros? Direct individual spend is hugely variable. It depends on time in port and on the type of passenger: TUI Cruises have recently indulged in their own celebrations of all-inclusive cruise ships heading Mallorca's way.

The quest for cruising justification is necessary, given the disquiet expressed about it in certain quarters. It is the source of disharmony, with graffiti only a minor manifestation of this. And this disharmony arises not from the boutique-style ships, the clippers and the like but from the ominous floating housing estates. They are overwhelming in scale, and their human content can overwhelm as well.

This is before one gets to the environmental issue: air, noise, light pollution and marine. If land-based accommodation has been subject to ever tighter regulation, this seems to apply less to the temporary and transitory tourist container vessels. They come, in their huge numbers, and they go, leaving behind ... celebrations or disharmonies of the seas?

Monday, May 23, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 May 2016

Morning high (7.25am): 13.8C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 24 May - Sun, cloud, 25C; 25 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 26 May - Sun, cloud, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3 increasing North 3 to 4 around midday.

Pleasant morning once more. Not expected to be as warm as yesterday but good enough. The week's weather - fine with temperatures up to the mid-20s.

Evening update (20.00): It did the cloud-over-in-the-afternoon trick again. Not bad though. High of 24.1C.

The Land Of Lawyers

Are there more lawyers per head of population in Mallorca than anywhere else in the Western world. It can seem as though there are, and their number is only matched or surpassed by architects.

One of these lawyers is Manuel González Peeters. He is defending the former business partner of Princess Cristina's hubby at the interminable Nóos trial. A week or so ago, he described a witness at the trial - one-time justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón - as an idiot.

Whether he is or he isn't is irrelevant, but court protocol and all that demands a degree of civility. González Peeters was thus himself hauled before the protocol beakery and asked to explain himself. He did so by arguing that, in the Bible, Luke had used idiot to mean someone who doesn't listen and that many popes have used the same word for the same reason. So that was that cleared up then.

Meanwhile, someone who isn't a lawyer but a judge, no less than Judge Dredd - José Castro pursuer of ex-Balearic president Matas, Princess Cristina's hubby and indeed the princess herself - was letting it be known that while he was investigating what resulted in Cristina's appearance at the trial, her lawyer, Miguel Roca, had requested a "discreet" meeting.

"I didn't ask what the agenda would be, as it was obvious that Sr. Roca and I had no other issue in common than Doña Cristina de Borbón," explained the judge. The meeting never took place, but the implication of the proposed meeting raised, how might one put it, certain suspicions.

Sr. Roca, when it comes to the making of the film of the trial, will be played by Ian Richardson, he of "House Of Cards" fame. Or would be if he (Richardson) wasn't dead. The likeness is, nonetheless, striking. And as part of the script for the film will be Sr. Roca's denial of there having been such a proposed meeting.

Judge Dredd, it might be recalled, had a falling-out with the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, the lawyer Pedro Horrach, over Cristina. Horrach said there was no case. Dredd said there was and so opened the way to what has amounted to a private prosecution by Manos Limpias.

This so-called union has since come under investigation because of allegations that it was extorting money from those it intended to prosecute. Pay up and the cases would be dropped. One such example was the princess. Allegedly. Manos Limpias is saying it didn't seek such remuneration. Sr. Roca, among others, insists that it did. The National Police, meanwhile, have said that there was what appeared to be a "common strategy" in respect of these claims against Manos Limpias, as in "denuncias" from Sr. Roca and two banks - Caixa and Sabadell - were lodged on 29 and 30 March. Were they a coincidence?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 May 2016

Morning high (7.25am): 15.9C
Forecast high: 26C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 23 May - Sun, cloud, 22C; 24 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 25 May - Sun, cloud, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 3 to 4 backing North around midday.

Another gorgeous morning. A good and very warm day to come. General outlook is very much more settled now.

Evening update (20.30): High of 29.1C (inland). Pretty warm then. Partially cloudy in the afternoon.

What Teresa Does Next

Now we know why The Great Mariano will continue to be Spanish prime minister (president) for life. Apart from the fact that the other lots can't muster enough citizen interest to eject him from office once and for all, there is also the absence of a "natural successor". The illusionist premier informed the FT that there isn't one. Moreover, with his work only half done (his words), it is no bad thing, he opined, that there isn't a natural successor. On and on and on he will therefore go. Forever.

But if there is no natural successor, might there be an unnatural one? Who knows what mysterious sorts lurk within the unexplored reaches of PP-land, ready at any moment to unnaturally leash their force and succeed Mariano. There again, succession does not come at all naturally to the PP. They have little success in deciding upon succession. Just ask the local Balearic mob. With Matty Isern now an ex-politician, the number one spot on the election list was up for grabs. So many names, so many unacceptable to the various warring factions. Finally, it required High Command in Madrid to decide for them.

Teresa Palmer, who sounds as though she should be reporting to Dave and not Mazza but who isn't British or a member of the Conservative Party, is the new number one. The decision made and suddenly Balearic security was threatened. Teresa, it constantly needs explaining, was the national government's delegate to the islands, meaning that she was the one with the finger on the Balearic nuclear button. Elevated to top Congress candidate, and the Balearic Islands were suddenly defenceless. Not that anyone really noticed. As sweet and friendly Francina observed: "I don't know what she has done for the autonomous community." Now, though, she has a further chance to do nothing for said community (better known as the Balearics) by being a deputy in Congress.

With the PP in full-on candidate crisis mode, The Great Mariano materialised on the island with which he is so familiar that he once referred to it as the island of Palma (with or without de Mallorca). Had he descended in order to resolve the crisis? Not at all. He wasn't losing any sleep over it. For once, the citizens of the islands were in full agreement with their persecutor (a description according to Francina and her government, one should point out).

Meanwhile, Teresa, confident of securing a further nice little earner courtesy of the party, insisted that everyone was rowing in the same direction, without defining which direction this was or which type of boat they were rowing in. She knows where she is rowing, and it is off to Madrid, albeit she'll require more than a rowing boat to get there.

It was not only the PP who had been plunged into candidate list conflict. The Mésite sect was reacting with less than total satisfaction to the arrangements under the electoral pact of Units Podem Més, which should be renamed You-Nits Podemés. The Verger (Antoni, that is) was resurrected from his failure as the Mésite lead candidate in the December election and was immediately clashing, in true Mr. Yeatman fashion, with the Corporal Joneses of the Balearic Podemos Citizens' Army. "Unfair and disagreeable" were just two adjectives that the Verger chose to describe the third-on-the-list candidate carve-up of Podemés. He will be that third on the list, but will have to forego his Congress salary after two years and allow a Podemos sort to take over.

One could have foreseen the so-called pact of You-Nits Podemés ending in tears, but not quite as rapidly as it has. In addition to the Verger, the chief Mésite in Menorca, Nel Martí, branded Alberto Jarabo of Podemos a "liar". Units, one should explain, means united. Or not, as the case may be.

As if this wasn't bad enough, another lot appeared on the scene who threaten to undermine the Mésite claims on Balearic nationalism (or independence or whatever). These are Sobirania per les Illes (sovereignty for the islands), led by one of those glosador types, Mateu Matas aka Xuri. Splitting the vote? Francina and PSOE can only hope that they will.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 May 2016

Morning high (7.20am): 13.4C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 22 May - Sun, cloud, 25C; 23 May - Sun, cloud, 19C; 24 May - Sun, cloud, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3 increasing Southeast 3 to 4 during the morning.

Lovely morning and should remain lovely. Warmer, assisted by southerlies.

Evening update (21.15): Definitely more like it. High of 28.1C.

The Mess Of Regulating Holiday Rentals

The regional government is getting itself into a right old pickle over holiday rentals' regulation. A requirement for regulation, one in fact mandated by the sustainable tourism tax law, is that it should be in place within six months of that legislation's approval. The very fact of this legislative mandating says much for the cart-before-horse nature of the holiday rentals' regulation. It needed to have been in place before the tourist tax was implemented; hence why the government is in such a rush to regulate.

There is, one can say with certainty, going to be total chaos from 1 July. Legitimate rentals' owners and businesses haven't a clue as to how they are to collect the tax. Illegitimate ones have even less of a clue, but they are supposed to charge the tax, even if they are renting out illegally. So, the need to have regulated the market was essential prior to the introduction of the tax. Though even with regulation, it should be noted that Catalonia, where they have over three years experience with a tax, admit that they haven't smoothed out all the wrinkles when it comes to private accommodation: and in Catalonia, there is sensible regulation. 

Biel Barceló and his tourism director-general, Pilar Carbonell, have been doing the rounds of the island councils, presenting them with a draft for regulation. The ministry is going to have to re-draft it, as the councils aren't happy. This arises, in part, from the fact that responsibilities for tourism have been devolved to the islands, but even then, not in a standardised way.

One of the councils' concerns is that the regulation is pushing the onus further down the administrative chain to the town halls. The councils believe, and they are right to believe, that most (all?) town halls will not be in a position to meet demands of the regulation by the time it is introduced (presumably some time in September at the latest). How long would the town halls need? That's anyone's guess.

The situation is made very much more complicated by the fact that the overarching plans for intervention in touristic areas (PIAT) will take up to two years to be agreed: these are plans designed by the island councils. These will supposedly define where holiday rentals can be and where they cannot be. In the interim, town halls are to be left to decide where holiday rentals will be permissible within their municipalities. These decisions may later be in accordance with the island councils' PIATs or they may not be.

This seems like a recipe for utter confusion and potential conflict down the line, while the chances of the town halls being able to come up with interim decisions are, in any event, almost zero: or certainly not by the time the regulation comes into force.

The government is at pains to stress that each island should, within a general framework of regulation, be able to decide for itself how regulation will be applied: to which areas, for example. The consequence of this, however, is that each of the islands is likely to end up with differing interpretations of the regulation. And that's before the town halls have come up with their own. Who'd be an owner and who'd be a tourist trying to pick a way through the potential mish-mash of regulatory application this is all going to create?

Moreover, there is the situation by which the island councils are at different stages of having adopted tourism responsibilities. Mallorca hasn't as yet. Ibiza, by contrast, has, and it has announced its own get-tough policy on illegal rentals. So, in addition to the regional government (and the Hacienda) reading the riot act to non-declaring owners and illegally rented properties, there is an island council doing the same thing.

It is launching an "emergency plan" against illegal rentals. It reckons that there are up to 20,000 places (as opposed to actual properties) that are defined as illegal. But the need for such an emergency plan arises in no small part from the fact that the rules are so unclear. Will they become clearer with the government's regulation? You really wouldn't bet on it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 May 2016

Morning high (7.16am): 14.2C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 21 May - Sun, 25C; 22 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 23 May - Sun, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 2 to 3 veering North during the morning and Variable by the afternoon.

Some cloud first up this morning and likely to linger but hopefully all clearing this afternoon. Tomorrow expected to be quite a bit warmer with breezes swinging southerly.

Evening update (21.15): High of 24.3C. There was cloud during the morning, but the afternoon was generally sunny. Pleasant with a breeze.

The Great Vowel Controversy Of Calvia

Where, you will doubtless be wondering, is a toponymy commission when it is most needed. Only a week ago I was highlighting the government's revival of this twenty-person gathering of place names' experts. It is needed for Mallorca in particular: of the four islands there is less official toponymy in Mallorca than in the other three. And there is ample evidence of this. Paguera or Peguera? Palma or Palma de Mallorca? Just two daft examples currently doing the rounds to add to those of, for example, Porto Cristo versus Portocristo (and others) or Cala Ratjada plays Cala Rajada.

The Partido Popular in Calvia is minded to ignore the aspirations of said commission and indeed of the town hall responding to the apparently desperate requirement to harmonise the municipality's place names. (By the way, can we add Magaluf or Magalluf to the list?) The PP is suggesting that the citizens should decide. Have a referendum. Make the decision the people's Paguera or Peguera. It was always Pag, says the PP, until a unilateral decision taken by the town hall converted it into Peg in the 1980s. Not that it did wholly convert it. Had it done, there wouldn't be the argument there now is. Pag and Peg have resided side by side in comparative toponymic harmony since the '80s. But now the town hall appears determined to divide society in this part of Calvia over the choice between two vowels.

As might be detected, given the left-wing leaning of the administration and the opposition of the PP (and Ciudadanos), there is a bit of a Catalan thing going on here. The left, with the Open Left (Equerra Oberta) coming to the aid of the PSOE-Si Se Puede Calvia administration alliance, insists that there is no "linguistic conflict", only that there should be compliance with the law and with the department of toponymy at the university. Apart from begging a question, given there is such a department, as to why a toponymy commission is needed as well, this makes clear that toponymic correctness lies in the Catalanist camp. For what it's worth, the name is derived from "forn de brea" aka "pega", referring to pine sap. In Castellano, the colloquial "pega" means something like a snag or a catch. And yes, there is a snag. Is it Pag or is it Peg?

For reasons best known, so it would seem, to the good folk of Pag/Peguera, they opted for Pag at some time in the past, only for Peg to hit the revivalist trail some thirty odd years ago, courtesy of the town hall. And so we now arrive at the current controversy. Should the people decide? Perhaps they should. Holding a referendum is in current vogue. They're having one in the UK it would appear, though the subject is of somewhat greater consequence than a vowel. Of greater relevance is the citizen participation via referendum of Palma.

In that city the people (a very small minority) used their voice in choosing between Born terraces or not Born terraces. The vote went strongly against the town hall preference, which is probably why Palma hasn't opted for another referendum over the planned demolition of the Sa Feixina monument (the people would say no, and the town hall knows they would). It may also be why there is no referendum proposal regarding the choice between Palma or Palma de Mallorca.

There will undoubtedly be some Palma fanatics (in addition to those at the town hall) who will argue the case for with or without "de Mallorca", but the vast majority, one suspects, really couldn't care less. It was the nasty PP who were of course responsible for appending "de Mallorca", a move of some common sense if only to distinguish the city from others. But even if "de Mallorca" were to be retained, it's not as though anyone here ever refers to it thus. Tell me the last time you said, if you live outside Palma (de Mallorca), that you were having a night out in Palma de Mallorca.

The apparent pointlessness of this argument is reinforced twice over. Firstly by the fact that the Balearic parliament has to have a debate to decide whether it should hold a further debate to decide between the rival claims. Secondly by the weird assertion by a PSOE parliamentary deputy that the PP's adding of "de Mallorca" had been part of the Bauzá regime's desire to weaken Catalan culture and language. At least Mayor Hila had the sense to say that Palma was a Roman thing, because if Catalan gets dragged in, the name should really be the one that the bestower of all things Catalan, the conquering Jaume I of Aragon, gave the city: Ciutat de Mallorca.

Anyway, Pag or Peg, let the people decide. And perhaps give them some other choices. Piguera, anyone?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 May 2016

Morning high (7.56am): 14.2C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 20 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 21 May - Sun, cloud, 22C; 22 May - Sun, cloud, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 2 to 3 increasing East-Southeast 4 around midday.

A very fine morning. But there might be a shower lurking later on. Otherwise the overall outlook going into the weekend is good.

Evening update (20.00): Still not really able to make its mind up, the weather that is. Clouded over at times and then cleared. Pleasant though.

Remember When?: Tax cases

The only Spanish television series I have watched with what might be described as some regularity (I very rarely watch television at all) is "Cuéntame cómo pasó". I say regularity but when I last saw an episode it was still based in the Franco era. It has moved on a number of years since then.

The programme's producers have named the series "Remember When" in English. In June last year, there was an announcement that agreement had been reached with London-based New Media Vision for a possible adaptation: more likely for the US market rather than the British. There is a great deal of material to draw on. The series started in 2001 and it has told the evolving story of the Alcántara family from a fictitious area of Madrid. Over the years the background contexts have included Franco's death, the formation of the first democratic government and the 1981 failed coup.

From memory of when I did last watch it, this was a gentle, fairly undemanding, at times funny, at times tense or sad drama-cum-soap opera. Since 2001, it has won numerous awards, as have its actors. Its real glory seasons were the early ones. The third series, broadcast in 2003, attracted audience numbers over the 40% mark. In recent years this has dropped off. The provisional figure for season 17 is down to 17%. Nevertheless, the final episode in the fifteenth season had attracted a record audience.

Is a trend of declining overall viewing figures the reason for it being axed? They are certainly down on where they once were but this isn't the reason. The two main stars - Imanol Arias and Ana Duato, who play Antonio and Mercedes - and the production company, Grupo Ganga Producciones, have been caught up in a Panama Papers kind-of affair. The national television broadcaster, RTVE, believes that it would "unsustainable" to commission a new series because of this.

An ongoing investigation dubbed "Operación City" was opened by a judge at the national High Court. The production company is alleged to have engaged in tax evasion through an offshore network established by a Madrid law firm, Nummaria. The two actors are scheduled to appear before the judge and make declarations. The anti-corruption prosecution service claims that between them Arias and Duato defrauded the Hacienda of almost three million euros. Arias has also been named in connection with an offshore company called Trekel Trading, based in the South Pacific island of Niue.

The charges are clearly serious. But is the broadcaster right to cancel the series? As yet, they are only charges, but reaction - that of the viewing public via social media and newspaper website comments - is generally disapproving of RTVE's decision. Why penalise a whole programme, why penalise the viewers for actions (at present under investigation)? A distinction is being made between television life and real life. As one comment says, it is not Antonio Alcántara who is under suspicion, it is Imanol Arias.

RTVE, one feels, is in a no-win situation: damned if it does, damned if it doesn't. The decision may seem precipitous but the circumstances are embarrassing for the broadcaster. They could prove to be more so were things to pan out in such a way in the courts in the midst of another series being broadcast. On balance, it was probably left with no choice but to take the decision it has. And as the national broadcaster it does have some responsibility and duty. These are times for cleaning up Spain. A national minister, José Manuel Soria, has been forced to resign because his name has appeared in the Panama Papers. He has not been charged with anything, but the association with tax havens was sufficient to bring him down.

The point with what is now being referred to as the "caso Cuéntame" is that there are charges. Yet the actors are by no means the first public figures to find themselves hauled up in front of a judge for alleged tax crimes. Take the footballer Javier Mascherano, for example. He admitted to not paying 1.5 million euros of tax. A one-year sentence is unlikely to be effected. But regardless of the sentence, indeed regardless of the circumstances of the case brought against him, would anyone suggest that his club, Barcelona, be penalised or be somehow cancelled?

The cases are not directly comparable, but is there an argument for saying that Barcelona should have dismissed Mascherano? What does the club do about Lionel Messi, himself named in the papers and with a trial into his affairs due to start at the end of this month? It hasn't exactly been in a rush to distance itself from one of its star players - the star player.

Double standards? Possibly. But some will say remember when such cases might never have even come to light.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 May 2016

Morning high (8.05am): 14.8C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 19 May - Sun, cloud, 22C; 20 May - Sun, 19C; 21 May - Sun, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 4 backing East-Southeast in the afternoon.

Probably much like recent days with cloud around, but due to be warmer today.

Evening update (21.15): Better. High of 25.6C. Sun wasn't obscured by cloud in the afternoon for a change. Windy and rather chilly now in the evening.

Humiliation Delayed: Més takes third spot

It was David Abril, co-chief spokesperson of Més, who had spoken of an "humiliating" agreement. Podemos had been the target of his annoyance. The offer of an electoral pact for the general election was going to place a Més candidate fourth on the list of candidates for Congress. Under this, there was little or no chance that it would get its wish and be able to send one of its own to Madrid. Podemos would have had the top three places, grateful to the additional vote from Més supporters which would have guaranteed Podemos one more seat than it gained at the December election. Més thought the deal sucked.

A pact of the hard left had therefore appeared to be dead in the water. But something happened. Més will now have the third place (for the first two years of the legislature and then give way to Podemos). A combined vote with Podemos and the other signatories to this pact, the United Left, will be sufficient to guarantee this unless there is a collapse of the vote.

So what did happen to bring about the Units Podem Més pact? One suggestion is that Alberto Jarabo and Laura Camargo, the main voices of Podemos in the Balearics, had been attempting to persuade supporters to agree to the proposal for Més to have the third place. The implication is that those supporters were against the proposal. But how accurate is this suggestion? Jarabo, for instance, had said that without Podemos Més wouldn't have any presence in Congress, even if this were only indirectly as a partner in a pact. Nothing that was heard from Jarabo had hinted at acceding to Més demands.

More accurate were an approach by David Abril direct to Podemos high command and the intervention of Iñigo Errejón, the Podemos number two after Pablo Iglesias. Errejón is increasingly being cast as a sort of Mister Reasonable of Podemos but he is also one of the party's high chiefs for strategy. He would have known that without Més there would be no third place, as Podemos would not get sufficient votes for this third place: the votes of the United Left are inconsequential.

On top of this was the formal pact entered into at national level between Podemos and the United Left. A strengthened pact in the Balearics, meaning the addition of Més, would give that national arrangement further clout. So, the Podemos national command saw the virtual necessity of accommodating Més. And in bringing Més into the fold, Podemos is able to pile further pressure on PSOE's candidate for prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

All the talk from Podemos and Més is about attacking Mariano Rajoy and the PP and about removing them from government. But which is the party really under attack? It isn't the PP. It's PSOE. The combined Units Podem Més should gain sufficient electoral support to relegate PSOE to one deputy in Congress, while it is most unlikely to get sufficient support to capture four deputies and so reduce the PP to two from the current three.

Apart from the potential consequences that this will have for the Balearic government and its lame duck president, Francina Armengol, there is the much bigger consequence for national government. Errejón, adopting his Mister Reasonable hat, has said that the problems Sánchez faced in arriving at an accord which could have seen him having received support for his investiture as prime minister were underestimated. By this, Errejón is saying that Sánchez was being stifled by elements within PSOE from having agreed to the "government of change" with Podemos.

On the one hand, therefore, Errejón is seeking to appeal to Sánchez by intimating that he understands his problems but also by implying that he (Sánchez) needs to be bolder: to abandon any agreement with Ciudadanos and climb aboard the left-wing government of change. He has reinforced this message by insisting that during the failed investiture attempt by Sánchez, Podemos would have been "loyal partners" for PSOE, had Sánchez been allowed to take the Podemos route.

On the other hand, though, Errejón and Podemos are piling the pressure on Sánchez, and the arrangement with Més is an example of this. It is an arrangement for strategic purposes pure and simple.

Més may have avoided an "humiliating" agreement but they are naïve if they believe they are anything more important than a convenience for Podemos. They will obtain a seat in the Congress on the back of what was a disappointing performance at the December election. And who's to say they and their partners will actually do better this time? Will the supporters of the three parties in this pact give it wholehearted support at the election? And might the PP find its fortunes reviving at the election? Possibly, but the loss of Mateo Isern and the consequent squabbling won't help the Balearic PP. And Errejón would have known that too. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 May 2016

Morning high (7.02am): 13.4C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 18 May - Sun, cloud, 23C; 19 May - Sun, cloud, 19C; 20 May - Sun, cloud, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East-Southeast 3 to 4.

Clear skies first thing. Will they remain clear? Chances are that they won't. Middling sort of weather at present.

Evening update (20.15): High of 22.7C, but this is getting monotonous now: too much cloud and too little sun.

The Environmental Crisis Coming Our Way

"The Guardian" joined the Mallorca overcrowding bandwagon at the weekend. Apart from a factual error - the date of the introduction of the tourist tax - and certain points that needed qualifying, such as all those cruise ship passengers supposedly inundating Palma on one day, it was reasonable enough. Being "The Guardian", an environmentalist was sounded out. A GOB spokesperson, Gerard Hau, said that this will be a "crisis" year, "a crazy year, the infrastructure will not cope".

You would expect GOB to say this, but are forecasts of some touristic Armageddon just environmentalist hot air? We will only know once high summer arrives, but the current prognosis goes something like this: airport stretched beyond its limit; Palma crowded out by ships and passengers; roads chockful of hire cars; ever more thousands of apartments being rented out; the hotels full; limits needing to be placed on the numbers on unspoiled beaches; supermarket supplies questionable; water supplies threatened; outdated sewage-treatment plants incapable of taking the pressure. Too many planes, too many ships, too many cars, too many people.

It should be a bonanza, but the anxieties and fears seem to outweigh the joy and the benefits. Mallorca, safe haven destination, reaping the rewards of others' hardships: all systems go, until the dam bursts and the haven is flooded by a tsunami of human pressure.  

To take a specific. Water. The geographer Dr. Ivan Murray from the University of the Balearic Islands, one of Mallorca's most often quoted experts on the impact of tourism, said the other day that while a resident might consume 125 litres per day, a tourist will get through 440. One might query how he gets to these figures, but he is not the first one to point to the vast difference in terms of water usage. With Mallorca having endured a dry autumn and winter, we all know that water supplies are not as they should be. Thank Heaven that there was the foresight to build the Andratx and Alcudia desalination plants, barely used until now.

But desalinated water costs more than the water supplied from aquifers and reservoirs, and this water - from whatever source - goes for example, as Gerard Hau observed, towards the swimming pools and gardens of residential tourists. These aren't only foreigners. There are plenty of Mallorcan-owned second holiday homes.

Hau, it might seem strange, suggested that it is better to have "drinking ghettoes" such as Magalluf rather than have "intellectual types who tramp over everything in their search for the untouched bit, the original Mallorcan". Strange but not wholly wrong. There is a name for it. The Benidorm Effect. Pack tourism densely into specific areas, introduce sound environmental efficiency controls, and the overall cost and damage to the environment and resources are reduced.

Inefficiency is increased by having high dispersal of tourism, and there is ever greater dispersal in Mallorca, partly aided by legislation. The last government made easier the creation of rural tourism accommodation, one needing water and other services and so adding to inefficiency. It seemed minded to also permit developments such as polo fields. These might seem benign, but not when the supplies of water have to be factored in. Likewise with golf courses. Murray reckons that the 440 litres per day doubles if a tourist plays golf. His calculation is obviously not solely on direct personal consumption but the volume of water required to permit this type of tourism activity.

There again, if tourism is a vital industry, which it is, is this water usage any more detrimental than the vast amounts needed for agriculture? Tourism's contribution to island GDP is massively greater than that of agriculture, but then agriculture, with its huge appetite for land (and so therefore water), is equally vital. Citing GDP figures gets one only so far when produce, livestock, landscape, rural communities and employment need to be taken into account.

Water is just one example but it is a fundamental one. The lack of rainfall has sharpened minds, as have all the forecasts regarding numbers, be they for people or means of transport. But what, other than drafting drought plans, has the government been doing to prevent this being a "crisis" year? What actually can it do? Biel Barceló, the tourism minister, talks on the one hand of it being impractical to put a cap on numbers - preferring instead that the load is spread and therefore assists with tackling seasonality - but he also implies a cap. If there are finite numbers for hotels, so there should be for other accommodation.

Yet for all this, can anyone say what the cut-off point should be? Does anyone know for certain what this might be? Is talk of "crisis" correct or is it just environmentalist propaganda? We may be about to find out. But if systems start collapsing, don't blame the tourists. Forward planning had required more than a couple of desalination plants.

* http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/14/gridlock-tourists-terrorism-spain-balearics

Monday, May 16, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 May 2016

Morning high (8.03am): 14.7C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 17 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 18 May - Sun, cloud, 20C; 19 May - Sun, cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 4 backing occasionally East.

Light cloud but mostly sunny early on, the outside chance of a shower later, but otherwise fine.

Evening update (20.00): A high of 23.3C on a day when the sun failed to really get its hat on again.

Damned United: Podemos and the United Left

Alberto Garzón wasn't happy. There was a photo of him and a friend clasping bottles of beer. Whichever owner of the brand this was - it could not be determined from the photo - would also have been unhappy. Here was a perfect product placement opportunity. "Beer X. The choice of the hard left. When you've had a hard night's negotiating over the Marxist dialectic and its application to the Spanish proletariat, what better way to celebrate than with Beer X: a brew you can trust."

Alberto, if you have no idea, is the leader of the United Left, a euphemism for communist. His beer-drinking pal was Sr. Churches, Pablo of the Podemos parish. They are united in more than just leftness and beer. Together, united, they'll never be defeated. Not that they've won anything yet. But Unidos Podemos, We Can United, is marching on the Moncloa. The revolution is timed for 26 June.

Why Alberto was unhappy was hard to ascertain, other than the fact that the photo appeared in "El Mundo", the publishing arm of the Partido Popular (some might suggest but not myself), which has been going around making people redundant of late. In Alberto-land, such things will not happen when he and Pablo storm the Moncloa Palace. Newspapers will not happen either. Or not in their current form. Pablo has after all suggested that they should be under state control.

Not everyone in the United Left is happy. There is talk of "humiliation" in having joined forces with Podemos. As with all alliances created by the Podemistas, there is only one winner, and that is Podemos. Will it all end in tears? Quite probably. But for now, it affords Pablo an increased opportunity of usurping PSOE as number two in the land and so confronting the devil of the PP. Iglesias is a sort of Brian Clough of the political new age, informing his new charges at Leeds that they had only got to where they were by cheating. And by corruption: the PP, the Leeds United of Spain's political system. But it all went wrong for Cloughie very rapidly. Damned United. He'll hope that he has found his true Peter Taylor in Alberto and that together they do a political Forest.

Yet even this seems a remote possibility. Pablo admitted during the week that in order to govern he needs PSOE. There has to be an agreement with Sánchez. Just as there had to have been one over the weeks and months of negotiating after the December election. And did they ever get near to an agreement? Did they heck. What's more, Pedro alluded to the "extremist left" last week, that of Podemos and the United Left. There is no reason to believe that 26 June will, where PSOE and the further left are concerned, prove to be any less of a waste of time than the last election.

Pedro, meanwhile, was extolling the virtues of his buddy in the C's, Al Rivera. Ant and Dec may well survive the election, reunite and restate their vows of pact for government. Dec, said Ant last week, is a reconstructed right-winger "with whom there can be dialogue to arrive at positive agreements for Spain". Which is all very well, but it won't change the fact that Pablo (and now Alberto) won't go anywhere near a government with Dec in it. And he, Dec, might think it time to remove himself from the shadow of his taller partner and discover a new best friend: Mariano. Honestly, it just gets worse. United? None of them.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 May 2016

Morning high (8.03am): 15.3C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 16 May - Cloud, 22C; 17 May - Sun, cloud, 17C; 18 May - Sun, cloud, 19C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3.

Sun's out but there are some quite dark clouds as well. Due to all clear to give a fine day. Forecast now suggesting there could be showers tomorrow.

Evening update (19.15): High of 24.4C. Sun didn't really get its hat on until the later afternoon. An ok day.

The Cities Of Mallorca

Shirley Roberts, who co-pens the Tuesday Spotlight on Soller column in the Majorca Daily Bulletin, provided an interesting post to her Soller Shirley Facebook page the other day. It reported that Soller is a city and was made so by King Alfonso XIII in 1905. I commented that there were two other "cities" that I was aware of in addition of course to Palma, whereupon Shirley suggested this might be the subject for a few articles. Well, I don't know about a few but here's one.

The term "city" poses a bit of an issue. The Spanish and Catalan are, respectively, "ciudad" and "ciutat". But both words are used generally to refer to somewhere as a town (or a city). This, though, isn't an official usage; it is just a generic term. Where it does get official is when the word refers to somewhere that has been granted the status of city by the crown.

The British are used to a city being so because of a cathedral, but that isn't the case with Mallorca's cities: there is only one cathedral and that's in Palma. But as far as I can make out, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, there are seven Mallorcan cities in all. Palma is by far the largest, Soller we have already established is one, and the other five are Alcudia, Felanitx, Inca, Llucmajor and Manacor.

Palma is not only the largest city, it is the oldest. After the Catalan conquest, it was given the name Ciutat de Mallorca by Jaume I of Aragon. There are those who nowadays refer to the Ciutat. Indeed, it has been argued that this is how Palma should be known.

It was to be almost three hundred years after the 1229 conquest that Mallorca acquired its second city - Alcudia. Back in Roman days, Alcudia (or Pollentia as it then was) was every bit as important as Palma (which is what the Romans called the city). By the sixteenth century it no longer was. So how did it come to merit a city status? It had everything to do with the Germanies (brotherhoods) uprising: the revolt by the artisan class against the aristocracy and against King Carlos I. Alcudia remained loyal, the nobility which hadn't been massacred holing up behind its walls. When the revolt was crushed, Alcudia was named - in July 1523 - "city most faithful to the emperor". Carlos, in addition to being king, was also the Holy Roman Emperor.

Although there are references today to Alcudia being a "ciutat", the background to the awarding of this status might be said to cause a bit of an issue: the Germanies, certainly for some, were the goodies. Such bashfulness in city matters, always allowing for any reluctance to admit that any honour bestowed by the Bourbon dynasty is automatically a "bad thing", would not apply to the other five cities. They were all given the title for their contributions to economic well-being.

The first of them, and so what became Mallorca's third city in 1886, was Felanitx. At the time, it was positively thriving and was a major centre for the wine trade. It was Maria Christina, the Queen regent from 1885 to 1902, who bestowed the honour, as she also did to Inca (city number four) on 13 March, 1900. This was in recognition of Inca's growing industrial importance, especially where the leather and shoemaking industry was concerned.

It was her son, Alfonso XIII, who then got into the city-making business. He took the throne, aged 17, in 1902, and his first city was indeed Soller in 1905. Here was a place which, despite the occasional downturn, had been a hotbed of entrepreneurialism for decades. Its isolation, stuck in the mountains, had led to export trade from which much of its wealth was derived.

Seven years later and it was the turn of Manacor. Apart from anything else, this was, from 1902, the home of the Majorica pearls. By 1912 the company was booming, so was Manacor, and a parliamentary deputy by the name of Alexandre Rosselló petitioned the king, Alfonso, seeking the honour of "ciutat". It was granted. The same Alexandre, friendly with Joaquín Ruiz Jiménez, who was basically the interior minister (not that it was called this), wielded his influence four years later, and Llucmajor became city number seven.

None of this really meant a lot. Alcudia had, back in its day, enjoyed tax privileges, but they were not a factor when the Queen Regent and Alfonso were handing out the titles. It was all about the honour, and so you have the seven cities of Mallorca.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 May 2016

Morning high (7.34am): 15.3C
Forecast high: 22C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 15 May - Sun, cloud, 22C; 16 May - Sun, cloud, 19C; 17 May - Sun, cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 3 to 4.

A good start to the day. Nice and bright and staying so; none of the hailstorms of yesterday. General outlook seems set fair - mainly sunny with mild temperatures.

Evening update (21.30): Decent. High of 25.1C.

Banning Tourist Cars Or Not

This week's foreign media Mallorca and Balearic alarm-raising headlines had to do with cars. Tourists cars are to be banned from the Balearics, said one headline. This stemmed principally from a piece in La Vanguardia, the Barcelona-based national paper which, given its location, takes a keen interest in that city's tourism affairs (of which there are many) and thus considers other destinations by means of comparison.

The background to all this is familiar enough. The regional government, especially Biel Barceló, has been making reference to overcrowding and saturation for several months. A ban or a limitation on cars has been most spoken about in respect of Formentera. As the island has no airport, it can get overrun by the volume of vehicles: this was certainly how things were being described last summer.

A ban on the entrance of cars to it and to the other islands would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would run up against challenges from the ferry operators and its legality might be questionable. The Balearics are part of Spain, so how can you stop other Spaniards moving freely? And that's before one gets to other European nationalities. The example is cited of Capri, where non-resident vehicles are banned during the summer, but Capri is really tiny and is also right next to the mainland. The comparison, even with Formentera, isn't as strong as some might think, not least because of the differing nature of the islands' governmental administrations.

Another measure is some form of tax. The possibility of this was raised some weeks ago, with imported hire cars being its target along with tourist vehicles. While a charge on hire cars might be possible (as a way of dissuading agencies from bringing ever more cars onto the islands' roads), one for private vehicles would come up against European law. Toll roads are perfectly legitimate but tariffs to simply use roads are not.

The number of vehicles on the road, especially in high summer, is obviously a reflection of the number of tourists, and as this number continues to rise and is expected to rise again this summer, the whole issue of human saturation has arrived centre-stage in Balearics' tourism politics and possible policies.

On 10 August last year, the population of the islands exceeded two million. This was the total population. One can of course ask how the number is arrived at, but assuming that it has some legitimacy it would have acted as confirmation of how much human pressure there can be on any given day in high summer. This maximum value has risen every year since the turn of the century except for one small blip downwards in 2009. In 2000, the maximum, also on 10 August, was 1,543,160. So, tourism has contributed to a rise of over 460,000, has it?

Well no, because the registered population increased by almost 280,000 between 2000 and 2015. Tourism, therefore, has added under 200,000 over the same period, though even here one has to be aware of the caveat that not all this additional number is made up by tourists.

Nevertheless, the increase is significant, and last year's maximum represented an increase of over 40,000 on 7 August 2014, when the population reached its maximum. This wasn't the largest rise since 2000 but it was one of the larger, and crossing the two million mark might be said to have been a crossing of a psychological barrier. Two million are too many, however ill-defined too many might be. Which is of course the nub of the issue. How many people can the Balearics cope with? How many should they cope with?

Saturation, human pressure, overcrowding are going to be themes of this coming summer, even more so than last year.

This said, we already have the sound of the doubting voices ringing in our ears. Despite current tourism performance, there is the familiar, typically anecdotal denial. Businesses are reporting a bad start to the season: the normal response to what statistics would suggest otherwise. Somewhere between the anecdotes and the statistics lies the truth, though it's anyone's guess as to what that might be.

Anyway, for what it's worth, a survey by the Gadeso research organisation here in Mallorca reports that a half of hoteliers expect this season to be better than last year. With all the visitors we can supposedly anticipate this season, one would have thought that they would all be expecting a better year. But maybe the other half see themselves threatened by holiday rentals. They may actually be right.

Friday, May 13, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 May 2016

Morning high (7.01am): 13.1C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 14 May - Sun, cloud, 21C; 15 May - Sun, cloud, 18C; 16 May - Sun, cloud, 19C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Southwest 4 to 5 easing West 3.

A fine start though there is a risk of rain or even a storm this morning. If there is, things will get better later on. The weekend outlook is good: mostly sunny spells with fresh breezes.

Evening update (21.45): Well that was a strange old day. Nice to start with, in came a storm, down came the rain and hail (but not everywhere) and down plunged the temperature to under 14C. Then it recovered. Sun and a high of 22.3C.

Working For Mallorca's Place Names

In Jonathan Meades' short story "Filthy English", the semi-autobiographical protagonist is cast as being a lexicographer by profession: that's someone who, broadly speaking, compiles dictionaries. Meades doesn't explore how his character earns a living - that isn't the point of the story - but a living he does make. But being a lexicographer, one would assume, offers only comparatively limited prospects of earning huge salaries or indeed of being presented with a vast array of job opportunities. How many dictionaries can there be?

Meades' lexicographer might also have been described as an etymologist - a student of the origin of words. Both professions exist within a range of studies, each of them with several degrees of obsessiveness and all related to words. Others include the philologist - the student of languages -  and the toponymist, he or she who studies place names. None might seem to offer great career prospects, yet, and I have remarked on this in the past, Mallorca appears to be awash with all of them. There are, for example, politicians who present themselves as philologists - the leader of Ciudadanos in the Balearics, Xavier Pericay, is one of them. For Pericay, this earnest background has a political significance. A Catalan speaker, he is nonetheless from the supposedly right-wing school of political thought which argues that there is room in society for more than one language: Castellano, for instance.

Obsessive or not, there is a fascination. How did a word come to be as it is? What's the background to such and such a place name? In the case of the latter - toponymy - the Balearic government has sought to provide some gainful employment (possibly) to a commission of toponymy. The department for linguistic policy has reactivated this commission, it having been moribund for four years.

And what, you may ask, will this commission do, all twenty members of it? Its brief, according to the department, will be to establish a working plan with the aim of completing the official toponymy of the islands, replete with geo-referenced nomenclatures, and so of contributing to the knowledge, correction and recovery of place names. In Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, all this is apparently at an advanced stage but it is not in Mallorca.

Why, though, are they bothering? What is the purpose of this obsessing with place names? Does it have any practical outcome or is it merely an academic exercise? Well, in terms of practicality, there may well be applications. And for this one should consider the four years of moribundity. To what do these four years refer? The last government.

When the Bauzá regime came into power, one of its more idiotic ideas was to harmonise place names. This meant using one interpretation of these names, a Castilian interpretation. Hence, and at its most extreme, this might have led to road signs, say for example for Pollença with a cedilla, being changed to Pollensa. This could have been a practical outcome that would of course have been wholly impractical. How much would it have cost for starters?

Mercifully, they saw sense and the whole proposal was quietly dropped. But what was also dropped was any official consideration of place names. And why? The presupposition is that the absolutely correct use of names has an overwhelmingly Catalan element, a fact that the Bauzá language policy would have been less than keen on. Better, therefore, just to ignore the whole issue.

A clue to why we now have a toponymy commission once more lies with the department that has reintroduced it. Linguistic policy resides within the weirdly concocted (by Més) ministry for participation, transparency and culture. Place names, toponymy need to be politically correct according to a Mallorcan and Balearic nationalist narrative.

So this may all seem - and is - a political development, but in language terms there really isn't or shouldn't be anything wrong with it. Catalan influence is clearly fundamental and it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise, but Mallorcan and Balearic place names are a great deal richer than one language alone: the various strands that combined to form Catalan, Arabic, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Iberian, Mallorquín and other island derivatives, French, English in the case of Menorca, and indeed Castellano, they all play a part.

This study of place names is, therefore, an exercise in detailing the various cultural influences on the islands. As such, it is a worthwhile undertaking. And it is one that is set against a broader background, that of Spain. To give an idea of how widely the investigation of place names in the country as a whole is, one only needs to be aware of the conferences that are held by the specialised commission for geographic names: the last one was in Valladolid in April 2015.

Names are a Spanish obsession not just a Mallorcan one. And after all, as there are so many toponymists, etymologists and whatever knocking around, you have to give them something to do.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 May 2016

Morning high (6.43am): 10.8C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 13 May - Cloud, sun, 20C; 14 May - Sun, cloud, 19C; 15 May - Sun, cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Southwest 2 to 4 increasing Southwest 4 to 5 during the afternoon.

Should be a decent enough day with clearer skies than yesterday. The weekend not too bad, but tomorrow might see some rain.

Evening update (20.15): Breezy but sunny. High of 24.2C.

The Empire Of The Western Mediterranean

Malta is a curious island. Its population is roughly equivalent to that of Palma, yet in size it is less than one-tenth of Mallorca. Such shoe-horning of humanity into such a small area makes it one of the most densely populated countries of all. And it is of course a country, unlike Mallorca.

There was a time when there was a common link between the two islands, namely Aragon. Indeed, there was a common link between Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Mallorca. All of them in centuries past were united under Aragonese rule. In addition to parts of Spain, southern France, southern Italy and even Greece, the Crown of Aragon at one time ruled as a thalassocracy - rule of the sea, a state with principally maritime realms. It was, if you like, a Mediterranean empire.

It was the lot of Mediterranean islands that they were to pass into the control of others. Being generally of strategic importance, they were tempting to any wannabe imperialists. Malta, like Mallorca, had its share of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs. Malta was to also, somewhat bizarrely but importantly, to come under the ownership of the Knights Hospitaller in the mid-sixteenth century, and they remained in situ until Napoleon took a fancy to the island. The outcome of the latter's interest was to bring the British Empire into the story. In 1814, under the Treaty of Paris, Malta became part of the empire.

Apart from some protection from the old Kingdom of Sicily, of which it was a part, Malta was never integrated into a Mediterranean country. The rule of the Knights of Malta was a key ingredient in establishing a form of insular independence, which was finally and definitively established in 1964. Under British control, its protector was a long way distant, so it was quite unlike the other western Mediterranean islands with their geographical proximity to Spain, France and Italy. This very distance and membership of empire, as opposed to membership of a nearby nation, were factors in it becoming its own country.

The Malta story is an intriguing one in the context of current Mediterranean politics. Here is a tiny island, a country in its own right, a member of the European Union, with a GDP around a third of that of the Balearics as a whole, with Mallorca providing the lion's share of this. If Malta can do it, then why not other islands?

The circumstances were, on the face of it, quite different, but there are those who will maintain that Mediterranean islands were every bit as much brought under the control of an empire as Malta was. In Mallorca the narrative is one that concerns the Bourbon dynasty. The destruction of the Crown of Aragon brought the island within the Castile sphere: 300 years of hurt and all that.

Earlier this year there was a landmark agreement reached between Corsica and Sardinia. Corsica, more so than any other of the western Mediterranean islands, has long had independence agitation. It has at times been violent. Now, it has come together with its neighbour in not just strengthening inter-island relations but in also establishing a cooperation framework that would include the Balearics. Practical aspects of this relate to transport and energy, but there is an undoubted political dimension. Corsica has a new governing alliance of pro-independence parties. Sardinia has for some time had greater autonomy with real law-making powers.

Biel Barceló, the Balearic vice-president from Més, the Mallorcan (Balearic) nationalist party, made a speech to mark Europe Day earlier this week. He spoke of there being a Europe of shared sovereignties, in which Mediterranean islands are demanding recognition of their own specific needs. "We are working towards specific formulas that will allow there to be effective recognition of our island situation." The islands, with the possible exception of Sicily because of its very much closer location to the mainland, have similar issues in common, ones caused by being islands (connectivity, increased costs, and the like), and varying levels of desire for independence from some quasi-imperialist master.

Jaume Font, leader of the more moderate nationalist El Pi, said recently - apropos travel discounts for residents - that "Madrid never learns anything or knows anything about how things are in the Balearics". They probably say the same about Paris and Rome. It is this perception of being ignored, the consequence of being on the national periphery, that helps breed resentment and desire for greater autonomy if not independence.

And that, independence, is a remote, not to say fanciful notion. Malta might provide  a clue, but Malta was and is different. So if not independence, then what about a union? One between the islands. They have much in common and much which, together, they can present at a European table. The Corsica-Sardinia agreement may well be the first step: a new Aragonese empire.