Thursday, January 05, 2017

Debating Sant Antoni

They like their debates in Sa Pobla. The citizens have, for example, been invited to debate the town's touristic future. As it has no obvious touristic past, they have been debating from a more or less blank sheet of paper. Yet there is one aspect of the town's past - from a very long time ago - that has entered into this all but non-existent touristic past: the legendary Sant Antoni.

They were debating the Egyptian ancient himself the other evening. A group of youths - a mistranslation if there ever was one, given that "jóvenes" (aka "joves") can be applied to anyone up to roughly the age of thirty or even older - had organised a gathering during which one of the hottest topics for discussion was what type of dress should be worn for the Sant Antoni fiestas. It wasn't what they had in mind, but dress code advice might be said to be very simple - something warm.

The debate was otherwise under the broad title of "where's the fiesta going". In order to answer this, it was important to know where it had been, which of course takes one way back when - to the fourteenth century way back when. Following an explanation of this, there was a roundtable debate (another one) featuring eminent figures such as the mayor.

And what did they conclude? Well, nothing really, and it was unlikely that they would have arrived at anything dramatically different, given that the Obreria de Sant Antoni (represented at the roundtable) pretty much dictates what goes on. If the demons don't watch their demonic protocols, for example, they can find themselves on the wrong end of an obreria ticking-off. Which they have in the past.

Sant Antoni, in a Sa Pobla style - and it is the most important of the Antoni styles - starts as soon as the Kings are done and dusted. On Saturday, they drag the old boy out of storage for another year and hit the Antoni trail, one of the most significant rituals being the election of the "clamater" by the group of notables known as "La Prohomenia". The clamater is the one charged with leading the cry of "Visca Sant Antoni" during the Compline. The "jóvenes" would be well advised to not consider any tampering with this ritual, given that it was only restored in 2002 after a hiatus of some eighty years because someone had decreed that this shouting was all rather unseemly for a church service.

Mayor Ferragut reflects that the Sant Antoni fiesta has withstood revolutions, wars and periods of famine. Despite all of these, it has always gone ahead, albeit it is hard to know how he can say this with absolute certainty. But the roots of the fiesta are strong and profound. All the ancestry provides a form of substrate, the environment in which the organism of the people lives. Or something like that.

The mayor is therefore not for any change; not radical anyway. The fiesta has remained largely intact since time immemorial and will doubtless remain intact until hell freezes over and the demons are no more. Nevertheless, there is (and was) some sense in having a debate as to the fiesta's future. Partly that is because fiestas don't stand still. There is plenty of evidence which demonstrates how the "jóvenes" of other towns have shown a way forward and breathed new life into the same procedure as every year. They have created traditions for contemporary times, such as with the Much of Sineu, itself based on a traditional folk tale.

A further reason is tourism. The two debates thus collide, if there is a genuine wish that they should. One of the strange things about Sant Antoni - and there is a great deal which is strange - is that it has been a fiesta in the national touristic interest since the mid-1960s, a declaration which had virtually no impact and hasn't had. It's as if nowadays they've forgotten that the declaration was made. Perhaps it needs reviving, rather like the clamater was.

Or is there something lurking in the mayoral substrate which would prefer that the declaration hadn't been made? After all, it is from a time when you know who was in charge, and the Francoists did make something of a habit of attaching themselves to certain traditions and attempting to pass them off as being "Spanish". Where Sant Antoni is concerned, that would never do. His existence in Sa Pobla and Mallorca owes everything to his cult having been shipped across the sea by the various Jaumes.

But if this town is to ever be serious about its tourism debate - and they do wish to place an emphasis on the local culture - then it has this great fiesta advantage, one stronger and more profound than any largesse which might be bestowed on it courtesy of holiday rentals' legislation. Visca Sant Antoni. Visca turisme?

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