Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Tramuntana And Institutional Failure

Theodore Pratt, the American journalist (long passed away), is one of my favourite Mallorcan anti-heroes. Little of or about Mallorca was spared from the vitriol he unleashed in what became an infamous article which appeared in "The American Mercury" in 1933. By contrast with what he had to say of other subjects, the Tramuntana mountains emerged relatively unscathed. Well, he did say that they were dramatic, even if he then went on to describe them as bare, grey and mostly inaccessible. They were evidence, according to Ted, of Mallorca's physical characteristics: not exceptional in his opinion.

Pratt was, it should be said, pretty even-handed. His jaundiced view of Mallorca was reserved for more or less everything. He couldn't have been accused of being biased in favour of certain aspects at the expense of others. He was, though, not unique in offering criticism of what was otherwise acquiring the title of the paradise island and which had, by the time he wrote, been dubbed the island of calm for some twenty years: and that description was from the painter Rusiñol, who was to capture what he perceived as a very different Tramuntana.

George Sand, almost one hundred years before Pratt, had launched insults directed at the locals (and some other subjects) which were at a comparative level of abuse. Unlike Pratt, she wasn't run off the island; she and Chopin left of their own accord. But also unlike Ted, she didn't engage in criticisms of the mountains; she was rather taken by the landscape.

One mentions these differing perspectives of the mountains - each of them by foreigners (Rusiñol was from Catalonia) - as they can seem to sum up what might be considered to be a certain ambivalence towards the Tramuntana by the residents of Mallorca: an ambivalence which appears to be reflected at institutional levels on the island.

This ambivalence might equally be defined as indifference or, in the estimation of historian Angel Morillas, as "low self-esteem" held by the people of Mallorca when it comes to the Tramuntana. Morillas is Unesco's representative in Spain. He is also a member of Unesco's council of monuments and sites, the one which awarded the Tramuntana World Heritage Site status five years ago. He had been closely associated with the award in the advance of its being granted. In September 2008, for example, he had attended a conference in Pollensa which addressed the processing of the award nomination. At that conference were representatives of various schools from Pollensa, Alcudia and elsewhere.

The presence of those people from Mallorca's education sector now appears pertinent, with a question - just as pertinent - being how much the island's schools do to inform and educate the young generation about the mountains and the very patrimony - that of dry stone formations - which was to prove to be key to the awarding of World Heritage status.

Morillas attended another conference at the weekend. It was in Selva and was organised as a way of celebrating the fifth anniversary. During his presentation he referred to the lack of self-esteem, a rather curious way of putting it, one thinks: it might be better explained as the mountains not being held in high esteem by the islanders. Morillas argued that there was a lack of knowledge of the "gem" that is the Tramuntana range. He called, therefore, for greater input by schools and levelled criticism at the University of the Balearic Islands. What does the university do for the mountains? Not very much was his answer to his own question.

As curious as styling the attitude as one of lack of self-esteem is the fact that Morillas should feel it necessary to highlight it. One would have the impression, given the amount that was written and said about the mountains at the time of the heritage award and has been since, that there is an island-wide attitude of high regard. Clearly not. Morillas will know better than I, and I am not about to disagree with him.

It is an unfortunate fact that in the years since the award was granted, there seems to have been an incoherent approach to promotion of the mountains as well as maintenance of their prized assets - the dry stone paths, walls, terraces and other structures. The fault lies at an institutional level, and not only with, if Morillas is right (and who's to argue with him?), the university.

There are of course any number of people and sources who inform and who heap praise on the mountains. Many of them are foreigners who write, paint and provide blogs and websites. The Pratt view of the mountains is certainly not the prevailing one. But then it often does seem to fall to others, and not the island's institutions, to act as promoters of Mallorca - mountains, beaches, villages and the rest. The institutional failure to promote is not discriminatory.

Photo: the templete at Son Marroig (Deia), one of the Tramuntana's iconic spots.

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