Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 February 2017

Morning high (7.38am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 1 March - Sun, cloud, 17C; 2 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 3 March - Sun, cloud, 19C

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

A much better morning, barely a cloud in the sky, so the forecast for a mostly sunny day should hold good.

Evening update (20.00): Decent. High of 22.2C.

The Execution Of Antoni Ques

The dates 23 and 24 February hold a great deal of significance in Spanish and Mallorcan history. At national level they were the days in 1981 when the coup attempt was launched and when it was quashed. The choice of 23 February didn't in itself hold any particular importance other than the fact that it was the day when there was to be a vote in Congress to seek confirmation of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as prime minister. Against a background of political crisis, kidnapping, murder, torture and the re-emergence of the far right (expressed in a section of the media), Antonio Tejero, a Guardia Civil lieutenant colonel, and Jaime Milans del Bosch y Ussía, an army lieutenant general, headed the coup attempt. It failed and although there was to be another coup plot in October the following year - one which was kept quiet and was a vain effort to prevent Felipe González and the PSOE socialists from forming the government - the events of February 1981 solidified the movement towards democracy.

The abortive coup of 1981 did nevertheless highlight the ongoing tensions in Spain, ones that have never truly gone away. If 1981 was a manifestation of the clash between democracy in its multiple guises and the former authoritarianism, nowadays the rift is - as it has so long been in Spain - between the crown and the republic.

In the Civil War, the crown, as far as the Nationalists were concerned, was symbolic rather than being a prime institution to defend and restore. In no small part this was because of the historical division in the nature of the monarchy that occurred in the nineteenth century. For much of that era, Spain was in turmoil because of the competing claims on the monarchy that had arisen at the end of the reign of Ferdinand VII in 1833. One of these claims, that of the Carlists, was for a deeply conservative and a Catholic Spain. Franco's Nationalism was in a sense an extension of the Carlists without a monarchical figurehead.

Republicanism and liberalism took root during Ferdinand's reign, especially because of the king's betrayal of the 1812 Liberal Constitution and of those who had sought his restoration and the removal of Bonaparte and the French. While the monarchists were to spend years fighting among themselves and inspiring the Carlist Wars, Republicanism and liberalism bubbled beneath the surface and began to become the breeding ground for an altogether different force in Spain - the middle-class business bourgeoisie.

All this context is important in understanding what was to happen over the years that led up to the Civil War and indeed to events during it. The bourgeoisie, some of it anyway, embraced Republicanism less because of being fiercely anti-monarchist but more because of obstacles presented by the aristocracy. By the time of the Civil War, Republican businessmen represented a movement far removed from other elements which attached themselves to the Republican cause, such as communists and anarchists. They were essentially moderates, defending their business interests.

In Alcudia, 23 and 24 February are significant for very different reasons. The first date relates to the miracle of Sant Crist, which occurred in the sixteenth century. The second date marks the day eighty years ago when an Alcudia businessman - Antoni Maria Ques Ventayol - was executed along with the Republican mayors of Palma and Inca, Emili Darder and Antoni Mateu Ferrer.

There was a ceremony at the weekend to mark the eightieth anniversary. Darder is the best known of those who was executed, but in Alcudia Ques is still remembered: there was a presentation last week in his honour. Ques was far from having been the only businessman who was given a death sentence. Llorenç Roses, Darder's brother-in-law, who was the driving force behind the creation of Palmanova, was another. He had joined the Esquerra Republicana Balear (the Balearic Republican Left), another member of which was Antoni Ques.

The evidence presented against Ques, apart from his membership of this party, was that he was supposedly part of the "Lenin Plan" to impose a Moscow-type dictatorship in Mallorca. A witness, who was later sent to a mental institution, claimed that Ques had amassed over two hundred weapons that were to be used for a massacre. It was a total fiction. The weapons were never found.

Ques was a millionaire. He had known Joan March for many years. He was a shareholder in March's Trasmediterránea shipping company and had established an Palma office in 1915 close to where March had his offices. Yes, he was a Republican but he enjoyed a high social status. A communist he most definitely was not. Unlike March, who had after all founded the Liberal Party in Mallorca but who was astute (or corrupt) enough to know how to shift affiliations, Ques adhered to principles for what he saw as a better political system for business. That was why he was executed.

Ques was remembered at the ceremony at the weekend, a symbol of the tensions that are now some two hundred years old.

* Image is of the poster for the presentation in Alcudia.

Index for February 2017

Adults-only - 1 February 2017
Balearic parliament shenanigans - 5 February 2017, 12 February 2017
Balearics Day - 27 February 2017
Balti Picornell - 9 February 2017
Council of Mallorca - 24 February 2017
Flights increase in Palma - 25 February 2016
Greyhound racing - 19 February 2017
Holiday rentals - 3 February 2017
Mallorca's folk tales - 6 February 2017
Mallorca land - 13 February 2017
Nóos trial verdicts - 21 February 2017, 26 February 2017
Palma urban forest - 17 February 2017
Partido Popular division in the Balearics - 16 February 2017
Picudo rojo and xylella fastidiosa - 8 February 2017
Podemos division - 15 February 2017
Pollensa Sant Antoni cock - 22 February 2017
Puerto Pollensa bus station - 20 February 2017
Quality v. quantity: tourism - 2 February 2017
Republicanism: execution of Antoni Ques - 28 February 2017
Ryanair and lower Spanish airport taxes - 11 February 2017
Saint Valentine's Day - 14 February 2017
Tour operator-hotel relationships - 23 February 2017
Tourist bus services - 18 February 2017
Tourist tax - 4 February 2017
Valtonyc - 10 February 2017
Working conditions in tourism - 7 February 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 February 2017

Morning high (7.15am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 28 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 1 March - Sun, cloud, 17C; 2 March - Sun, cloud, 17C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 3 to 4, occasionally 5.

Cloudy start. Should clear to give a mostly sunny and quite warm day.

Evening update (19.45): Well that didn't go to plan. Very little sun and only in the afternoon. High of 17.8C.

The Balearic Holiday

This Wednesday is Balearics Day. On 1 March 1983 the islands were officially granted regional autonomy. The official part is crucial for determining the date. It was 1 March when the announcement was made on the Official Bulletin. The law by which autonomy was approved was in fact passed on 25 February.

The day is essentially a celebration of government. Once autonomy was secured, it was only a short time before the first elections were held and the first government in the Balearics was formed. It was an historic development. One-time institutions or organisations which had been at the core of economic, social and political affairs disappeared or were superseded. The Mallorca Tourist Board was one such. There was to be a tourism ministry for the first time and so therefore a governmental tourism promotion agency rather than one that was a private club, albeit a very large club that had done so much for the island's tourism for almost eighty years.

With autonomy came legislation: the Balearics own legislation, not law foisted upon the islands (or never passed) by a distant power in Madrid. Tourism was but one area to come under legislative scrutiny. The environment was another. The two seemingly irreconcilables - tourism and environment - have been scrapping it out ever since, though it needs remembering that initial tourism legislation took due account, considerably more so than previously, of the fragile earth of the Balearics.

Government spawned its array of what they like to call "social agents". Lobbying elevated the status of the hoteliers and of the environmentalists. GOB, a product of the very late days of Francoism, had found its initial protest voice six years prior to the creation of government when it had inspired an occupation of the island of Dragonera; there was concern about "private interests". Government facilitated a legitimisation of environmental protest. Like the hoteliers, and perhaps ironically so, GOB were to become what they are nowadays - part of a non-governmental establishment, at times seemingly indivisible from policies of certain political parties.

And this autonomy bred its new parties. "Nationalism" in the sense of defending and advancing Mallorcan and Balearic claims - to the point of ever greater levels of self-administration - split along left and right lines. A political honeypot was created, around which hovered those whose greed was to eventually be their undoing, i.e. the Unió Mallorquina. 

Yet how deep-rooted is any notion of Balearic-ness? Is Balearics Day solely an affirmation of political structure rather than a deeply felt sense of identity? To answer this, one has to go back to the time when autonomy was declared. There were no particularly riotous displays of unconfined joy. This was a political development which erected something of an artifice that exists to the present day.

Autonomy for the Balearics had never been strongly demanded. Reaction to the possibility of regional autonomy, which arose during the Second Republic immediately prior to the Civil War, had been lukewarm to the point of outright hostility, not least in the islands which weren't Mallorca. Autonomous government was viewed with suspicion and as a means by which Majorca could assert ever greater power and authority over the region.

When this autonomy was to come about fifty years after it had been widely rejected, it did so almost by accident. The drafters of the 1978 Constitution originally sought to establish rights to forms of self-government for regions with historical claims to it, notably the Basque Country and Catalonia. When certain other regions made demands, not necessarily based on any historical claim, there was a redrafting. Regions couldn't be discriminated against. They all had to have their own governments.

While there clearly are common elements among the islands of the archipelago, there are also clear distinctions. History can be drawn upon, from as far back as ancient times if needs be, in order to highlight them. At the time of the Roman occupation, for instance, Mallorca (and Menorca) were backwards in a way that Ibiza was not. That island had more in common with north Africa than its neighbours and a trading system that was far more advanced.

So we come, once more, to Balearics Day, a celebration that we are never quite sure about and one - in terms of government - which is in any event under certain strains. The Council of Mallorca has been pressing claims for it to have more government responsibility as the natural voice in defending Mallorca's rights and interests. And the Council has changed its day - Mallorca Day - as a way of expressing ever greater Mallorcan identity. Balearics Day? There'll be concerts, there are open days at institutions and museums. And Wednesday will be a day off, a public holiday. Now you're talking.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 February 2017

Morning high (7.22am): 4.5C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 27 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 28 February - Sun, cloud, 18C; 1 March - Sun, cloud, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 3 to 4 backing West 2 to 3 during the morning.

Cold, clear morning. A good day in prospect; note the UV going up another notch - spring is on its way. Outlook for the week is fine.

Evening update (19.30): Nice. High of 20.3C.

From Our Court Correspondent

What do you do with yourself, do you suppose, when you've been handed a 75 months sentence but been allowed to toddle off to Switzerland while the Spanish legal system winds its way along its slow course to a Supreme Court appeal to confirm that you should indeed proceed straight to jail without passing Go? Geneva, one guesses, isn't such a bad place to while away the months (or more) until our learned friends gather - not that I've been there for over 40 years, but it seemed ok back then. But how does one, as in Iñaki, spend one's time? Eating cheese and heading into the mountains to do some yodelling? Or does one get a job? It might be a tad awkward informing a prospective employer that you are likely to need a 75 months holiday at some point, but Iñaki isn't your ordinary prospective employee.

Perhaps he just has to accept the fact that the missus will be bringing in the bacon (and the cheese). And seemingly there is a fair amount of bacon to be brought in. More than half a million euros worth per annum, courtesy of the La Caixa Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, or so it appears. Given this, couldn't Iñaki, rather than telling the court he didn't have two hundred grand to his name to stump up for bail, have asked the wife to sub him? I mean, she's also due to be repaid a hefty wedge of what she lodged with the court as a civil liability bond thanks to the court having levied a far lower fine on her.

It's been, how can one put it, an interesting week for the legal system, top honours for which go to the court having decided that Manos Limpias should pay all the Infanta's costs. And quite right, too. Otherwise, there's the business with our good friend Valtonyc, the rapper who faces a rap of three and a half years for some deeply unpleasant things he rapped about the old king and others. Forty-two months for Valtonyc, seventy-five months for Iñaki. Hmm.

I'm certainly not defending what he rapped - promoting assassinations, supporting terrorism and what have you - but does this merit such a sentence? I have questioned whether he should have been in court at all, but then he - even as a mere 17-year-old, as he was - would have been familiar with the law which decrees it an offence to insult the crown. He would have known what he was doing, but even so - 42 months? It's not as if he had it away with a couple of million euros of Balearic government money, to say nothing of Valencia government moolah.

If he had to be in court, a guilty verdict should have condemned him to giving up a year's worth of royalties (assuming he gets any) and handing it over to charity, six months of community service picking up litter in the gardens at the Marivent royal palace and being branded - in public - a Spotty Herbert who should learn to behave himself. Instead, he's going to end up - in the eyes of some - as a martyr.

Then we have our even better friend, Balti of the Balearic parliament. Admittedly he's only copped for 601 euros - and again he would have been fully aware that resisting the Guardia Civil doesn't do you a great deal of good - but in his case I have to say I'm warming to him. Not for resisting - sorry, you can't do that - but for having protested against the bull-run. His fine is fair enough and so was (is) his cause.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 February 2017

Morning high (7.12am): 10.7C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 26 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 27 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 28 February - Sun, cloud, 17C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 6 to 7 easing 4 by the afternoon.

Cloudy skies as dawn breaks. Some reasonable sun expected later. Tomorrow good.

Evening update (19.30): Sun came out. Pleasant but a high of only 15.5C.

Mallorca's Saturated Skies

It is not just Mallorca's roads, streets and beaches that are saturated with tourists, so are the island's skies, and these are due to be more jammed than ever this summer courtesy of a 20% increase in air capacity. One uses the word "capacity" advisedly, because capacity is already stretched to the limits, and as a result tourism minister Biel Barceló is absolutely furious with Aena.

He isn't the only one who should be. The tipping-point with visitor numbers has been edging ever closer. One fears the edge will be reached this summer. The additional numbers being spoken of verge on the preposterous.

Aena is scheduling a landing or a taking-off every 45 seconds. The hourly capacity is to rise from the current 66 to 80. That gives you the 20% increase (actually 21.2%). The logic of such an increase is that passenger numbers, which were a record 26 million last year, will be well over the 30 million mark this year. There had been talk of one million more passengers for 2017, not of five or six million more.

Barceló's anger stems from the fact that there had been no consultation about this increase. While there will be those who believe the more the merrier when it comes to ever greater tourist numbers, there will be plenty who do not, and Barceló is right to say that a major increase in volume has serious ramifications for roads, the environment, emergency services, waste management, health services. Everything. There again, one might suggest that he would say all this. Politically, he can't afford to be presiding as tourism minister over ever greater numbers, given the "saturation" and sustainability debates and arguments.

It is in fact highly unlikely that the increased numbers will be in the order of five or six million. It serves Barceló, Podemos and GOB well to suggest that this will be the case, but one is talking here about maximum capacity at specific times. Even so, there will be a rise (and perhaps a significant one) while there is also the distinct sense of Aena totally disregarding the island's own capacity in the pursuit of ever greater profit. And when one refers to Mallorca's capacity, where exactly might these greater numbers be staying? Not hotels because they're pretty much booked out as it is in high summer.

The Aena announcement simply adds further fuel to the argument that there should be local co-management (and so therefore greater control) of airports and ports. And there is an important point to make about these. The ports are run by the state. The Balearic Ports Authority, which is the regional division of the State Ports, doesn't generate enormous profit, and much of what profit it does make is ploughed back in the form of investment. Aena, on the other hand, makes colossal money from Palma and the other two Balearic airports - over 1,100 million euros per annum from airport taxes.

There will be even more local anger because of the coincidental announcement of Aena's figures for last year. Its profit increased by almost 40%. The consolidated net profit of more than 1,100 million euros (a figure that is a coincidence in itself given the revenue generated from the Balearics) equates to some 30% of consolidated revenue - a staggering return.

To return to the increase in hourly capacity, a point also needs to be made about safety. Air-traffic controllers in Palma were last summer saying that at peak times (typically weekends in high summer), they were having to deal with well over 66 planes an hour. They were warning that safety was at risk of being compromised and that their own ability to handle such volume was being stretched to the limit. Aena needs to give some explanations and assurances. Barceló and the government have requested a meeting with Aena's directors. That's likely to be a feisty affair.

Friday, February 24, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 February 2017

Morning high (7.58am): 13C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 25 February - Sun, cloud, 15C; 26 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 27 February - Sun, cloud, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 4 increasing 5 to 6 around midday.

Storm in the early hours, so a damp start. Rain likely during the day. Fairly windy as well. The weekend looks fine.

The Re-Expanding Council

We need to talk about the Council of Mallorca. Expansionist tendencies have returned. Munarism, even Armengolism appeared to have been consigned to the empire-building waste bin, but only because of Salomism. And she - Maria Salom - now has to watch on from the national government's delegation building while the Council undertakes its 100% U-turn. Or more than 100%.

The Council president, Miquel Ensenyat, seems like one of those rare political beasts - a decent enough bloke. He has had his moments, such as the row over Extremadura farmers being paid to sit around in bars all day, but for the most part he's gone about his presidential business without courting any major controversy of copping for any great flak. He has also not been shy in attracting publicity. There was the visit to Greece to come to the aid of refugees, there has been the recent business about Saint Valentine's Day, there is the "rescue" of the Soller Tunnel, there was the meeting with the Pope to press the claims of Ramon Llull sainthood, and there is now the re-naming of the airport ... after Ramon Llull.

Taking the lead in calling for a new airport name, and insisting that Aena pays for it, speaks volumes for the way in which the Council has been adopting an agenda-setting profile. One might ask why it is doing so. The answer lies - or does it? - with wishing to promote Llull and an alternative image for Mallorca: alternative to sun and beach, that is. There is a good deal of scoffing at the idea, though it might be recalled that a poll indicated that some three-quarters of respondents thought Llull should be the name, if there is to be a new name at all, which is another matter.

Those three-quarters will have predominantly been Mallorcan. They confirmed what Ensenyat is pressing for, a symbol of Mallorcaness, which is reasonable enough, but such Mallorca-centricity overlooks the wider world which Llull would supposedly be exposed to. The wider world really couldn't care less, and it's worth asking what the now finished year of celebration of Llull has achieved. Is the world more knowledgeable of Llull as a result? Well, is it?

Llull, whether he becomes an airport or not, is thus principally for Mallorcan (and Catalan) consumption. Emblazoning his name across departures would be a deeply significant act of identity, and it would be the Council that promoted it. And the Council is all about embedding this identity - one that is Mallorca. But in order to truly establish this identity, more has to be done than adopting the name of a mediaevalist. There is political identity, and that means government.

Recently, Ensenyat was asked whether he might stand as a Més candidate for the regional parliament (and therefore possibly the regional government) in 2019. His reply was instructive. It sounds, he said, as though there is a division one and a division two, with the regional government the number one. That isn't how he sees things. It would be good, he intimated, if he could secure a second term at the Council, for which he envisages very much greater things. The regional government should be slimmed down. Responsibilities should be transferred to the Council (and to the councils on the other islands). Not just responsibilities, but also officials, buildings - the lot.

Ambitions for the Council as an institution are rooted in the fact that it pre-dated the regional government: the first elections were held four years before those for the government. As an entity it has historical antecedent - the great and general council of the island, which brought together institutions for Palma and the "part forana", was established in 1373. History, as if we didn't know, counts for an awful lot in current-day Mallorca politics, not least when it comes to assertions of island "nationalism".

Ensenyat and Més represent one particular take on this nationalism. The alternative, as in having been a centrist-right perspective, was that of the former Unió Mallorquina. Maria Antonia Munar was the UM president of the Council for twelve years, the longest serving president, and during her time the Council grew to a degree that it seemed to all but mirror the government. A consequence of this was the massive amount of duplication and no shortage of debate as to what the purposes of the two institutions were and as to whether one was dispensable.

It was Salom who took the knife to much of this duplication. She got rid, for example, of TV Mallorca, established by the Council under Munar. Ensenyat, acutely aware of the charges of duplication (and therefore additional cost), argues that transferring responsibilities to the Council will be the way to avoid duplications. He may be right, but at the heart of these ambitions is the Council as an expression of nationalism, for which Llull is symbolic.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 February 2017

Morning high (7.35am): 9.1C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 24 February - Rain, 16C; 25 February - Cloud, 15C; 26 February - Cloud, sun, 16C

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

Cloudy first up. Sunny spells later. Tomorrow looking like it'll be wet.

Evening update (20.00): Not a lot of sun, but warm. High of 22.1C.

Playing Hardball With Tour Operators

In a book published in 2011 entitled The British On Holiday, author Hazel Andrews wrote that in 1998 the head of the Palmanova-Magalluf hoteliers association had told her that the most important relationship in the resorts was that between hotels and tour operators and that the most important tour operator was Thomson.

Earlier this month, a Frontur report concerning international tourist movement into Spain revealed that slightly under 23 million tourists travelled with a tour operator on a holiday package. That is to say that in 2016 the percentage of holidaymakers relying exclusively on a tour operator was just short of 22%. Twenty years before, so a little time before Hazel Andrews spoke to the hoteliers' president, over 80% of holidaymakers booked packages with a tour operator.

A great deal has therefore happened in the past twenty years, one aspect of which is that Thomson, important or not as a provider of Magalluf tourists, is to be consigned to the brand waste bin.

Another obvious development since the late 1990s is the extent to which holidaymaker booking behaviour has altered. The package holiday's obituary has been written often enough, but - and bearing in mind also the significant increase in the number of tourists in the past twenty years - it remains resilient, not least if it is an all-inclusive one. Moreover, these are figures for Spain, to which low-cost airlines fly in abundance and where there is no shortage of alternative accommodation: alternative to hotels, that is. Other destinations aren't necessarily quite as easy as Spain is for the independent traveller.

The package holiday, for all the predictions of its demise, still holds a decent share of the market, decent enough for tour operators like Tui to snaffle up as many hotel beds as they can. There need be no tears being wept for the tour operators in this shifting scenario. They still exert great power and they still have massive offer to sell.

But can it be said, as it was in 1998, that the hotel-tour operator relationship remains the most important one, and not just in Magalluf and Palmanova? The Frontur figure of 22%, one suspects, is a good deal higher in resorts, so arguably it is, even though it won't be anything like the 80% of 1998. Tour operator power has thus been diminished, if only to a degree, and the scramble for beds (along with increased prices) that has been occurring just recently because of the elevated demand for Mallorca holidays demonstrates how the hotel-tour operator relationship has changed.

Historically, tour operators have always held the whip hand. Mallorca was almost solely reliant on foreign companies at the start of the boom, a fact that was dramatically exposed by the oil crisis of the 1970s and by the collapse of Court Line and Clarkson. This shock to the tourism industry was such that there was a determination to assert Mallorca's own power over it, but this never happened. The package holiday and its selling by foreign tour operators  just kept on getting stronger.

Given this strength, tour operators were able to keep control over prices. Although there have long been partnerships with hotel chains - direct ones in certain instances, such as between Tui and Riu - the tour operator was the more powerful partner. It could also dictate the type of offer. Few hotels have genuinely wanted to provide all-inclusive, because of the lower margins and the far lower possibilities for making add-on sales to clients. At the bottom end of the AI market, as a hotel manager once admitted to me, the hotel would have much rather been in a position to provide greater quality. But it couldn't. The quality was crap, and he recognised that it was.

Something else which has significantly altered the scene since the late 1990s is the level of competition, to which can be added the demands of a more critical and sophisticated holidaymaker. It is this context which goes a long way to explaining the apparent abandonment of Mallorca (and the Canaries) by Thomas Cook. While this has been greatly exaggerated, the tour operator is ditching a number of hotels as part of an overall strategy of moving up-market.

Thomas Cook has also taken into account the elevated prices being demanded by hotels. The relationship in terms of power has been disrupted by current circumstances, and while there seems to have been some glee among hoteliers as well as indifference to continuing relationships with certain markets, notably the British, the hoteliers are taking risks. There may not have been such statements in Mallorca, but in the Canaries the president of the hoteliers association has warned against "abuse" of prices. Some hoteliers may believe they can play hardball with tour operators. For the moment maybe they can. In the Canaries at least, there is concern about the harmful effect on the historical relationship.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 February 2017

Morning high (8.07am): 8C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 23 February - Sun, cloud, 20C; 24 February - Cloud, rain, 16C; 25 February - Cloud, sun, 15C

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

Evening update (19.20): Pleasant, mild day. High of 21.9C.

Driving The Rooster Of Pollensa Home

It was Willie Dixon who provided one of the means by which The Rolling Stones demonstrated that they were originally a blues group. In Little Red Rooster, Mick, as had been the case with Willie himself, pleaded for anyone seeing his little red rooster to drive it home. This was because, as Mick and Willie informed us, there had been no peace in the farmyard since the little red rooster had been gone.

The little red rooster of Pollensa is now typically driven home. Or at least to a finca belonging to the conqueror of the Sant Antoni pine on top of which the rooster (some say cock) had been too lazy to "crow for day" because it had been stuck in a bag. Well, it's always possible that it had crowed earlier on, but by seven in the evening, it would indeed have been too lazy. Once upon a time, the cock would have been driven home and ended up dead meat to be served on a plate. Not now. The cock has his own finca yard home, unless another cock from on top of the Sant Antoni pine is brought along to share the same living space and promptly kills him. Which has happened in the past.

The fact that the cock is now typically allowed to grow and crow old gracefully hasn't persuaded opponents of the pine climb that all is right in an animal-welfare style. The Alternativa per Pollença party, perfectly capable of starting a political fight - and often with very good justification - in a bag empty of a cock or anything else, has registered a motion to be debated at the next council meeting. It says that the use of a cock aloft the pine in the Plaça Vella each Sant Antoni Day in January breaches the 1992 animal-protection law.

The party objects to the use of a cock for purposes of "simple entertainment", observing that it can suffer if it is thrown or falls from the top of the pine. But the objection is based more on a point of law, and it is the one contained in the 1992 act under which traditions involving animals are defined. In itself, this is a curious approach to setting law, a seemingly arbitrary longevity established as a threshold for defining tradition or not. The law states that an act, such as the use of a cock at the Sant Antoni fiesta, can be deemed an exemption if there is evidence of one hundred years uninterrupted use. If there isn't evidence, then the involvement of live animals on fiesta occasions is proscribed.

This is the situation in Can Picafort. The use of real ducks for the mid-August swim was finally stopped ten years ago, the town hall in Santa Margalida having consistently ignored the law. Only when legal action was being taken seriously did the town hall comply. There are those in Santa Margalida, and not just at the town hall, who want the law amended and have proposed that the 100-year threshold is reduced, the point being that the earliest evidence of the ducks and swim comes from the 1930s.

As far as the cock of Pollensa is concerned, there is little documentary evidence to back up how long the cock has been a feature of the pine climb. Indeed there is little evidence that shows when the climb started (with or without a cock). A newspaper report from the early twentieth century appears to be one of the few actual references.

The Alternativa is pursuing a line that it adopted ten years ago. On its Urxella blog in March 2007, it referred to an official complaint lodged with the Balearic government by ANPBA, the national association for the protection and welfare of animals, and also to an initiative by the town hall itself (in 2004) to prevent actions that cause suffering to animals. Proceedings were to have been initiated to withdraw the cock, but these were not seen through, the suggestion having been that it would have been a vote loser.

In 2010, it would seem that the town hall was in fact fined for breaching the animal-protection law and that there is also an open case for the same reason that is outstanding since 2015. At the start of that year, the Baldea animal-rights group proposed to the town hall that the cock should be substituted by a rag-doll version. It set out seven ways in which the law was being violated, referring, for example, to "unnatural treatment" by suspending the cock at a height of some twenty metres on top of the pine. To authorise such "illegality" would warrant a charge of abuse of public office.

A hundred years or not, why should longevity have anything to do with it? Should the little red rooster stay in the farmyard and never need to be driven home?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 February 2017

Morning high (8.08am): 6.1C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 22 February - Sun, 18C; 23 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 24 February - Cloud, 16C.

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

Chilly, bright start to the day. Good sun later on. Minimal breezes.

Evening update (20.15): Fine. High of 21C.

Mallorca's Moments Of Legal Tourism: Nóos Trial

Mallorca has had its several months of fame. Perhaps the tourism ministry should consider a new "tourist product" in its endless search for de-saturating the beaches of mono-cultural, sun-seeking northern European holidaymakers. They could call it legal tourism. Or Nóos tourism. A route (the ministry loves a route) for the greatest legal show on the earth of Mallorca. But who would really want to be shown around what - for purposes of the trial - was an adapted room in an office block on an uncharming industrial estate located ominously closely to the prison?

No, there's fame and then there's celebrity. It was Mallorca's fortune (or perhaps misfortune) to provide the location for Nóos and for global media hunger. They were attracted not by Urdangarin or Matas but by the princess. Has the ministry set a figure yet on how much the media spent in terms of accommodation, of daily spend per journalist/cameraman, of the knock-on benefit for bars and restaurants and shops? Has there been, will there be a promotional effort to attract visitors to the place where justice was enacted and seen to have been enacted in a confirmation of the soundness of the Spanish legal system? A royal on trial. And it was right here. Or right there on the otherwise non-descript Son Rossinyol estate. When (if) another royal is subjected to the whims of a peculiar organisation such as Manos Limpias, then they now have a far better option. Shift the trial from the Via Alemanya to the Palacio de Congresos - a palace fit for a royal trial.

Has the legal system been a winner or has it been a loser? Where the princess is concerned, it was both. It was a winner in that she was acquitted and others, such as her husband, were not. It lost because it allowed for a prosecution that should never have been brought and not only against the princess.

Juan Pedro Yllanes, who would have headed the judges' panel had he not opted to become a Congress deputy for Podemos, observed that the outcome - the verdicts and sentencing - could have been foreseen. He, therefore and without obviously having the full evidence to consult, was able to predict an acquittal. Mostly anyone else could have as well.

It was the damning conclusions of the judges directed at the Manos Limpias prosecution of the princess and of the wife of Diego Torres that held up the right to a private action under the legal system to ridicule. The judges were particularly condemnatory of the latter stages of the trial. Manos Limpias, by then under the scrutiny of the allegations raining down on it of extortion - pay up and prosecutions will be dropped - showed "minimum prudence" which made "abusive" its right to pursue its actions. Its case was "devoid of consistency". Manos Limpias wanted its several months of fame. It got it, but it was twisted into notoriety by its own warped sense of entitlement.

Perhaps, however, the legal system was not a loser in enabling the princess' prosecution to proceed. Where, after all, was the fabric for Manos Limpias woven? Not solely within its factory for the allegations that have since been levelled at it. Judge Castro was the weaver. Held up as a people's hero in his tireless targeting of the corrupt, his reputation has been diminished. The anti-corruption prosecutor Pedro Horrach, who disagreed with Castro from the outset, has referred to a regrettable loss of time - four years of instruction, which ultimately led nowhere. He has also regretted the fact that his own independence was questioned. That he, by not pursuing a state prosecution, was somehow got at.

There will be many who will believe that the princess got off scot-free. Surely, they will think, she must have been party to the design of the web of businesses through which public funds were diverted? Why surely? She said repeatedly in refusing to answer Manos Limpias' lawyer and responding only to her lawyer that she trusted her husband. The very model of the modern royal marriage. A one-time golden couple. She knew her place. And that was to let Iñaki take care of business. She never questioned it. Or the basis for the spending she was able to indulge in. She has been fined over quarter of a million euros for having been an unquestioning wife.

The legal system is a winner, though, in having snared Iñaki and Torres, the latter the recipient of the stiffer sentence. Iñaki, clearly not an unclever man, was nevertheless not as clever as Torres. Or as clever as Torres thought he was. Perhaps there should be some sympathy for Iñaki, who - as Horrach has noted - did not participate in the creation of the structure for money laundering. The sympathy evaporates because he knew full well what was going on. Unlike his wife.

Monday, February 20, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 February 2017

Morning high (7.44am): 7C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 21 February - Sun, 16C; 22 February - Sun, 18C; 23 February - Sun, cloud, 18C.

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

Nice morning, nice day to come.

Evening update (20.00): Nice it was. High of 18.1C.

The Movable Case Of The Bus Station

The Puerto Pollensa bus stop saga is a consequence of the semi-pedestrianisation: the one-time stop by the tourist information office at the yacht club roundabout had to go.

The permanent solution is the establishment of a type of bus station on the Formentor bypass. It is not a new solution. When the town hall administration of Joan Cerdà attempted and failed in introducing its pedestrianisation project in 2009, the intention had been for the bus stop to be relocated to the bypass and specifically to the area which is now a car park by the roundabout leading into the calle Tramuntana.

So this has long been the preferred option, but of course there has been the stop-gap solution - the stops for both local and Palma buses along Roger de Flor. These became a major issue last spring and summer because of the noise and the fumes. The delegate for the port, Andres Nevado, told me in June that the permanent solution, i.e. the bypass, would be realised within two to three months. He also said that this solution wasn't one that the town hall could provide; it was a matter for the Council of Mallorca.

He showed me a Google Map presentation of where this "bus station" would go. Not where the car park is, but on the other side of the Tramuntana road on what is a plot that would needed to have been developed in order to accommodate it. That, it seemed to me, was rather curious. Buses would therefore be in front of apartments. The issue with noise and fumes would be shifted somewhere else, though admittedly not as intensively, given that the road is open to one side. The problems in Roger de Flor have been exacerbated by the trap created by the church for the local buses.

What has now emerged is a plan which shows the bus station to be sited where it had been intended to go back in 2009: on the car park. This plan was pinned on to the entrance of someone's apartment and then shared on Facebook.

That was almost two weeks ago. On Tuesday last week, the town hall was being taken to task via its Facebook page about the ongoing issues with the buses on Roger de Flor. The town hall's response was that the stops on Roger de Flor had always been temporary and that they will not be there for the tourist season. Therefore, the inconveniences of last summer will not be repeated.

So, some time between now and April or May, it would seem that the stops will move. Will this, therefore, be to a permanent site, as in the bus station shown on the plan with the message that says there is no date for it to be operative but that it will be at some point this year?

Meantime, it was somewhat ironic that the town hall should post a photo of a bit of road repair on Roger de Flor. It had been necessitated because of the volume of bus traffic.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 February 2017

Morning high (7.50am): 9.1C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 20 February - Sun, 16C; 21 February - Sun, cloud, 17C; 22 February - Sun, cloud, 17C.

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

Cloudy start. Sunny spells later. A mild and calm pattern at present, the next few days fairly warm and sunny.

Evening update (20.00): Pleasant enough. High of 17.6C.

When Palma Went To The Dogs

The announcement last week that the scheme for an "urban forest" in Palma will include a conversion of the former dog track may well have had some scratching their heads. There used to be greyhound racing in Palma? There did indeed, and the "canódromo" is a further relic of a sporting past on the island which is littered with abandoned arenas of some form or another, such as the El Tirador velodrome - right by the dog track and also to be part of the forest - that was opened in 1903.

The origins of the track lie with two men. One was the gentlemanly figure of the Marquis Villagragima, son of the Count of Romanones. Towards the end of the 1920s, the marquis - a regular visitor to England - came across greyhound racing and thought that it would be a splendid sport to be imported to Spain. He was therefore behind the establishment of the Club Deportivo Galguero Español ("galguero" coming from "galgo", the Spanish word for greyhound) and the first track to be built in Spain in Madrid.

The other person was Miguel Rosselló Andreu. From a wealthy Porreres family, he had sought a military career, only to be struck down by typhoid. Seeking alternative ventures and with the aid of military nobles, he got to know the marquis and, soon after the Madrid track was built, so were two more - one in Valencia and the other in Palma. Initially, and prior to obtaining the land for the track, races were staged at the trotting track. Despite greyhound racing being almost totally unknown to the paying (and betting) public, these first races were a great success, thus confirming the commercial value of there being a dedicated track.

Rosselló was to also become a breeder. There was commercial sense to this, as the first dogs to race in Palma had to be imported from Ireland and England, which at the start of the 1930s was far from a straightforward procedure. There were greyhounds but these were ones suited to coursing, which had existed prior to the dog tracks, and not to races of some thirty seconds. Obtaining dogs was just one obstacle. Another was a 1932 prohibition on betting. This, though, was to be lifted two years later. Subsequently, and despite the Civil War, greyhound racing began to flourish. Republican Spain could count on tracks in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, while Nationalist Spain had Tenerife, Las Palmas, Zaragoza, Seville and Palma.

At the end of the Civil War, the former sporting club became the Federación Española Galguera. By this time, greyhounds for stud had grown old, and importing dogs was impossible because of the world war. Breeding in Mallorca and the Canaries did, though, help to sustain the sport, which held the first official championship under the auspices of the new federation in 1940. Legendary studs of the era included Mallorca's Panama, the father of a dog who acquired even grander status, the bitch Costa Rica II, which was to win the first Balearic championship, also in 1940, and the Spanish championship in Barcelona the following year.

Palma was to come to be considered to be one of the finest of tracks in the country. By the mid-1970s there were sixteen tracks, but the sport was never widespread across Spain. Various tracks closed, and so the focus was on the Canaries - where there were once eight tracks - Barcelona with four, Valencia, Madrid and Palma.

The final Balearic championship was held in 1980, the same year that the national championship was also staged in Palma. Two years later, the national federation stopped subsidising the various regional championships, a decision which heralded the gradual decline of greyhound racing.

As can be seen from the fact that tracks were confined to only a few parts of the country, it was never a sport that took off in a way similar to, for example, England. This lack of popularity and an absence of funding were to bring about its end, though just as importantly, if not more, were the efforts of those opposed to the racing of greyhounds and in particular the conditions in which they were kept and the ways in which they were treated.

From the start of 1990s, the British organisation Greyhound in Need, founded by Anne Finch, helped to investigate the treatment of dogs and to bring this to wider public knowledge. One by one, the tracks disappeared. The last one to close was in Barcelona in 2006. Palma's canódromo, meanwhile, ceased to be in 1999.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 February 2017

Morning high (7.47am): 5.3C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 19 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 20 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 21 February - Cloud, sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 3 occasionally Variable in the afternoon.

Pleasant morning. Decent sun expected today. Tomorrow a slight risk of rain.

The Bus Services PR Game

When are direct bus services from the airport to tourist resorts not direct bus services from the airport to tourist resorts? Answer: when the regional government which dreamt up the scheme for direct bus services determines otherwise.

There seems to be precious little sympathy for the taxi drivers, but neither they nor the government is coming out of this affair with a great deal of credit, and where the government is concerned, it has moved the goalposts from what was originally said. This was that there would be direct bus services to the resorts, an intention which no longer holds good. When the director-general for transport, Jaume Mateu, let it be known that these services will be stopping in "pueblos" with 15,000 or more inhabitants, it was a further red rag to the taxi driver bull. He didn't actually specify which these pueblos will be, but they certainly include Inca and Manacor, because that much is known. Which other ones? Llucmajor along the route to Cala d'Or?

President Armengol, arguing earlier this week that citizens in certain towns have the right to a good system of public transport, referred to Sa Pobla and Son Servera, neither of which have populations of 15,000. So how does this marry with what Mateu has said? It doesn't, and the impression being given is that the government is making things up on the hoof. Initially, there was never any mention of there being stops anywhere other than in the resorts. Had this been decided but not revealed? Or have these additional stops been added as a way of getting the public more on the government's side (the public in the relevant pueblos, that is)?

These bus services are therefore becoming new bus routes, simple as that. In which case, why - and the taxi drivers have asked the question - aren't they going to operate all year? And one wonders how feasible these services are in terms of serving both residents and tourists. Assuming, for example, the service which starts at Cala Bona fills up, then what happens to the residents of Manacor who might be waiting to be whisked off to the airport?

Improvisation is what one perceives, and improvisation in the name of winning the PR game against the taxi drivers, who do themselves few favours by trotting out some of the arguments they do with precisely the same PR aim. They are appealing to a public that may hold anti-hotelier sentiments (and this public is sizable) by suggesting that the hoteliers are implicated with the introduction of the services. It was said that the bus services are a government way of placating hoteliers as it will compensate hotels for the tourist tax. What!? By way of explanation, this is because hotels will save some money because of the bus services. While hotels do incur some cost with transfers, the notion that this has all been set up to appease them is frankly ridiculous.

One of the most sensible observations amidst an increasingly nonsensical situation has come from Bartolomé Deyà of the university's tourism faculty. There are tourist customers for everyone - buses, taxis, transfers - and the bus and taxi markets are different. Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 February 2017

Morning high (7.58am): 5.6C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 18 February - Sun, cloud, 15C; 19 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 20 February - Cloud, sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3 tending to Variable 1 to 3 in the afternoon.

Fine morning, a bit foggy in areas, but lifting to give a decent day.

Modelling The Green City

Let me say this. One, Palma is given too much attention. Yes, it is the capital, it has around half the population of Mallorca, it is the centre of the commercial and political universe on the island. It still gets a disproportionate level of attention, though. Two, its town hall councillors have an unerring capacity to unleash barrages of statistics designed to doubtless impress the citizens but which instead induce comas of numbed-by-number. Want to know the percentage increase in film shoots for adverts for the past twelve months, the rise in the number of passengers on a particular bus line, the budget elevation for rubbish collection, the percentage of full-time workers in the non-tourism sector in a certain quarter of the year? If you do, then there's a councillor (usually either Joana Maria Adrover or Neus Truyol) who will oblige.

Which isn't to say that Palma councillors are unique in this regard. Or that their utterances are of such a uniquely great abundance in order to ensure attention. As the third government in Mallorca - after the actual government and the one that would like to be, namely, the Council of Mallorca - it has a duty to follow the communication rules of its betters and numb the citizens into servile submission under the sheer weight of percentage points.

The follow-on from all this quantity is the quality. Increases here, rises there, and therefore things are better. More employment, more rubbish being collected, etc. There's nothing wrong with this, but too often the qualitative message is subservient to the quantitative announcement. What people really want to know is how are lives being improved, how is the city being improved. Not by numbers but by physical evidence of action and firm commitments to action that lead to qualitative enhancements.

I come, therefore, to praise the next mayor of Palma, Antoni Noguera. When he first landed the job as one of the plethora of the city's deputy mayors, there was less than clarity as to one of the responsibilities that had been assigned to him. Or rather, that he had assigned to himself. Deputy mayor for the model of the city. What did that mean?

We are now discovering what it means and also what pledges to improve "livability" are to do with. And we need look no further than the scheme for the urban forest to understand where Noguera is coming from. In essence it's about more green space, but it comes with the additional intention of offsetting the impact of rising temperatures by virtue of this very greening. Applause there should be for the scheme. Palma doesn't have enough green space. Providing more is desirable in different ways, not least because of the qualitative value in terms of quality of life.

Noguera has been making other contributions. There is the plan to cut lanes of traffic by two along the Paseo Marítimo. There are further ones in respect of the number of new restaurant and bar licences. In other words, there will be limits, and for once a town hall initiative affecting the city's business has been greeted with seemingly total approval. The thinking is to avoid there being ghettoes of bars and restaurants and little or nothing else. Create a mix of business, and a greater sense of civility is established.

Likewise, and although this doesn't come under Noguera, there are the changes to the use of the public way, the most controversial aspect of which has to do with terraces. It can seem as if certain councillors have it in for terraces (and they may well do), but the principle isn't wrong in wishing to create more space for people just to walk. In a sense, this is similar thinking to the urban forest and to the opening-up of the Paseo Marítimo by creating a real link between the urbanised city and its sea: the perception and reality of more space, of less clutter, of greater quality.

But is Noguera getting ahead of himself? The plan for the forest includes the velodrome and the Es Fortí military club. The town hall says it will expropriate the former. A desire to take Es Fortí out of private hands might prove more problematic. While one applauds what he wishes to create, the actual plan for the forest is still no more than a draft. Yet he says that it will be completed, along with the planting of thousands of trees along the Riera torrent, by the time the current administration finishes.

Has he been spinning as he moves towards the time when he succeeds José Hila as mayor, promoting his projects as means of guaranteeing - were there to be any doubts - this succession? One hopes not. His is a worthwhile project. Palma might just attract ever more attention, and in this instance it would be highly merited.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 February 2017

Morning high (7.00am): 6.7C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 17 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 18 February - Cloud, 15C; 19 February - Cloud, 15C.

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

Hopefully some more reasonable sun today. Note the UV rating edging up to three for the first time in a fair while.

Evening update (21.00): High of 17.5C. 

The Vogue For Bloodletting

Given all the shenanigans involving what one tires of being told are "anti-austerity newcomers" Podemos, it has been easy to overlook that pro-austerity oldsters, the Partido Popular, are lurking in the murky political undergrowth ready to pounce on the next unsuspecting electorate - in the Balearics, that is.

Away from the islands, and in the safety of The Land That Time Forgot, the PP's national hierarchy lumbers on, a giant staggering through a forest of political half-light, never turning the torches on the corpses that are strewn across its path or are buried in a court's archives. Seemingly immune to the convulsions and eruptions everywhere else, there is a serenity for the PP, capable as they are of closeting themselves within the contentment of another electoral job done (if only just) and of pulling down the shutters to avoid the inward glares into their Jurassic lair.

The PP were forgotten at the weekend. This was not how Pablo Iglesias had intended it. The Podemos knockout to decide a winner was duly timed to coincide with the PP who were gathering only a short distance away. But because everyone was interested only in the left and even more left hooks being delivered by Errejón and Iglesias, no one took any notice of the PP. Podemos were a show, a spectacular, a political prime-time reality broadcast played out in the real-time of up-to-the second voting intentions. Time had indeed forgotten the PP. Their dullness in this post-modern political world of citizen online councils, speakers with piercings and a long mane of hair tied up in a sort of bun, and election brochures stolen from Ikea is the very thing which sustains them. They seem otherworldly, of another and former time.

Iglesias had hoped that having the two congresses at the same time would enable the citizens to draw comparisons. If the citizens did do this, then the comparison would have been between a tetchy bunch of upstart Herberts and the grim familiarity of Mariano Rajoy. In a world of convulsions there is something to be said for a leader who sports a tie, is attended to by a barber with a certain degree of frequency and can at least attempt to converse with Trump.

The cosiness of the PP's gathering was such that controversy was a distant cousin, one for the sentencing of "caso Gürtel" and for the machinations across the sea in the Balearics. And it is here in the Balearics that the national hierarchy would much prefer that a son, who at one time - now long ago - had been looked upon with benevolent, austere goodwill, would quietly disappear. But the hierarchy is not alone in having been confounded, nay startled by the sheer persistence of he who refuses to lie down - José Ramón Bauzá.

We did all rather chortle when Bauzá made it known that he was intending to attempt to once more become president of the party. There is still some chortling, but as the time moves nearer for a regional congress at least a year overdue, there is Bauzá, steadfast in his belief that he can return as the re-conquering hero of the Balearic PP. Never mind that he did his best, and mainly succeeded, in delivering a sharp instrument into the heart of Balearic society and much of his own party; he seems convinced that all that will be forgiven.

The show that the Balearic PP are planning will be bloodletting on a scale that is biblical in its abundance compared with the streams that washed across the feet of Errejón and Iglesias in Madrid last weekend. The long-time favourite to become the party's new president, Biel Company, should win in the kind of canter suited to a man with his agricultural leanings. But Bauzá has pulled two agrarians out of the hat who are his latest cheerleaders. One says that Bauzá was the best president that the Balearics has had. Both are one-time friends of Company but they no longer share company.

Company was once a friend of Bauzá's, too. It was Bauzá who made him environment and agriculture minister, but it was Company who helped to deliver the knife. Hauling in agrarians is Bauzá's way of showing he's every bit a man of conservative, farming sod as Company is. 

Bauzá was aghast to see that Company had surrounded himself with members of the hierarchy at the PP congress in Madrid. Here was affirmation of what Madrid hopes for and which the temporary leader of the PP in the Balearics, Miquel Vidal, also hopes for - a single candidate who can pull the factions together. There is little chance, not while Bauzá continues along a path that may result in a humiliation greater than the defeat of the PP he presided over two years ago.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 February 2017

Morning high (8.18am): 11.1C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 16 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 17 February - Cloud, 16C; 18 February - Sun, cloud, 15C.

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

Cloud and some fog giving way to a bright and sunny day (with any luck).

Evening update (21.30): Pretty good. High of 18.7C.

The Pleasant View From Podemos

The Palacio de Vistalegre in Madrid is not what one might describe as a lovely building. Unlovely might be more accurate. To the sides of its main entrance are two enormous grey slabs with poky windows. They look like some nightmarishly anonymous apartment edifices of a Brutalist East Berlin style. To the front of these are great plinths on which two bulls stand. This is a convention centre built on the site of a former bullring and which has incorporated another.

Symbolically, this curious juxtaposition of highly unattractive, functionalist architecture and national image appears to say a great deal about the occupants of the Palacio at the weekend. The bull, representative of a monarchical, Francoist, conservative Spain that plays fast and loose with animal welfare in the name of honour and tradition, is a manifestation of what Podemos reject. The Brutalism reminiscent of collective dwelling might be said to belong to a political society that Podemos hanker after.

As far as the bulls are concerned, one has to feel that Podemos were playing an ironic joke by selecting Vistalegre for the second time of asking. As for the architecture, rarely has a convention centre been more inappropriately named, but as a symbol of Podemos, is it entirely accurate? Not if you do not consider Podemos to carry the legacy of communism, and any number of "Podemistas" will insist that they do not. But such a legacy helped partly to explain why they all gathered in Madrid at the weekend.

The navel-gazing combined with internal factionalising that have consumed Podemos energies for several months led to Vistalegre II and to the votes to decide the direction in which the party will now head. And one factional aspect had to do with communism; in particular the electoral tie-up with the United Left, which is unashamedly communist.

Podemos, under the combined umbrella of Unidos Podemos, didn't do as well as had been hoped at the June election. This was one reason why Iñigo Errejón had been promoting a less scary Podemos image. He wanted the party to adopt a fluffy demeanour instead of its anxiety-engendering stony face. The Podemistas who went to Madrid or hit the online citizen participation button were torn between a rock and a fluffy place. They chose rock.

There will be those who make an assumption that Podemos are more or less indivisible from communism anyway, but the assumption is far from accurate. In the first place, Podemos do not avow established political philosophies. There may well be strong echoes of these but they are not dogmas as such. And because of this disavowal of established thinking and organisation, there was great unease that the party should have chosen to team up with an established party at the election. And moreover, that it was a party known for its communist leanings.

A key point with Podemos which is all too easily forgotten is that they appealed to a broad spectrum of society. It was pluralist. One only has to look back at opinion polls and actual polls to appreciate that support wasn't only coming from left-leaning society. Partido Popular voters gave Podemos their support as well, seduced by the anti-corruption message and their own disenchantment. In a way, therefore, Vistalegre II was all about Errejón seeking a reconnection with this wider base that had initially served Podemos so well in propelling them to where they had got. The hook-up with the United Left seemed to cause a flight of support.

Pablo Iglesias, having seen off his rival, now has the mandate to move towards what PSOE spokesperson Mario Jiménez has described as "Pabloist-Leninism", a lurch most certainly further towards the radical left. For PSOE, there is an opportunity, it believes, so long as Pedro Sánchez doesn't manage to return as its leader. The centre-left is there for its taking and any thought of accords with Podemos are now firmly out of the window.

But what of Podemos? Are they strengthened or are they weakened? Both. Iglesias has the grip he wanted. He had instilled a certain fear factor by having stated that he would have immediately resigned had things not gone his way at Vistalegre. The Podemistas, many of them, would have sensed a weakening without the most visible face the party possesses. Some may well have been swayed to back him for this reason alone. He is still very much an asset rather than a liability with greater charisma than his rivals.

Nevertheless, there is a weakening. Errejón and his supporters, according to the voting, represent around a third of Podemistas. Errejón himself faces being purged, and it isn't beyond the bounds of possibility that there might be a formal split. In which case - whither Podemos? The next opinion polls are going to be very informative.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 February 2017

Morning high (7.17am): 9.2C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 15 February - Cloud, 15C; 16 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 17 February - Cloud, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 4, Variable at times in the morning. Swells of one metre.

Clear sky, moon's bright as sun comes up. But forecast to be mainly cloudy later.

Evening update (22.00): It wasn't cloudy later. It was nice and sunny, with a high of 19.7C.

Saint Valentine's Day Massacring

The Council of Mallorca has been undertaking its version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. No submachine guns have been involved, only the small fire of a campaign aimed at "dismantling" Saint Valentine, disassembling the old fellow, taking him apart and leaving him divorced of romantic love.

Saint Valentine himself may or may not have been physically disassembled when it came to the act that led to his martyring. One reason for such uncertainty is that there were various Valentines who may have been the saint. The chances are that he was combi-Valentine, made up of components, and moulded into saintliness with legend fully attached. According to the inexact history books, he copped for it in 275 when in Rome. And when in Rome in those days, it wasn't a wise thing to be going around being a Christian. If 275 was the date of his untimely end, then at least he wasn't a victim of Diocletian, who pushed martyrdom to unprecedented levels.

Valentine supposedly got into trouble for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. Not each other, you understand, though this might be taken as something of a theme for the Council's massacring. His legendary association with weddings was to come to the aid, several centuries later, of Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1382, Chaucer scribed Parlement of Foules, which wasn't a parliament of fools but one of birds. On Saint Valentine's Day, according to Chaucer, every bird went to choose a mate, and his work was written to mark the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.

One of his lesser known works, it was to have a profound influence, as it popularised the concept of romantic love. Without Chaucer, it is unlikely that we would have Valentine cards, Valentine candlelit dinners, Valentine city-breaks for lovers or any of the contemporary manifestations of the saint. Indeed, had it not been for Chaucer, I wouldn't be writing this and the Council of Mallorca wouldn't be engaged in its disassembling.

It wasn't as though Chaucer invented romantic love within a courtly setting. Other mediaevalists had done likewise, none more so than Andreas Capellanus with De Amore, which has come to be known as The Art of Courtly Love in English. But it was a combination of this early literary tradition and Chaucer that propelled not only Valentine's Day along its path to eventual full-blown commercialism but also inspired the dominant romanticism of Spain's literature. Despite Cervantes' lampooning of this chivalrous love, the influence remained and did so to an extent that society - part of it anyway - reflected the unreal world of literature more than literature did society.

What this bred (so to speak) was a much broader society based on what the Council of Mallorca now wishes to dismantle. This is the ubiquitous message of romantic love in which love is presented as a utopian state and that love is worth anything that it might take in order to achieve it. The mediaevalists' portrayal of romantic or courtly love placed enormous emphasis on the lengths that had to be gone to, and a current-day view suggests that this persists in creating dangerous situations that foster jealousy, control, possession. dependence and ultimately mistreatment.

Nina Parrón, the councillor for equality, believes that Valentine's Day is a celebration of "unbalanced relationships" in which the "myth" of romantic love dominates and limits love to a single way of wanting. It is this myth that the Council wishes to demolish in promoting "respect-based and equal" relationships. Furthermore, it is couching this against the background of the campaign against gender violence. Valentine's Day reinforces the presentation of a love that is not real and so leads to unequal relationships, in which violence may exist.

In addition, this leads to a stereotyping of relationships that exclude alternative ones - lesbian and gay. All of which has prompted the less than left-wing Balearic Family Forum to denounce what it considers to be the demonisation of love by the Council, which is doing so using public money. The forum argues that the Council is seeking to impose gender ideology in a totalitarian manner. "To try to say that romantic love is the same as imposition, disrespect, submission and dependence is a crude means of imposing gender ideology."

The Council's president, Miquel Ensenyat, accepts that some controversy has been aroused. But controversy is useful in order to engender debate. If the campaign makes people asks questions, then good, and he has placed it in the context of the "serious problem of gender-based deaths".

So, will people today be thinking deeply of the controversy as they head off for their Valentine's meals? What will they believe that the cards they receive really represent? Will they side with the Council's view or the family forum's view? What do you think?

Monday, February 13, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 February 2017

Morning high (8.02am): 10.7C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 14 February - Cloud, sun, 17C; 15 February - Cloud, sun, 16C; 16 February - Cloud, sun, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 5 occasionally six easing South 2 to 4 during the afternoon..

Another mostly cloudy day on the cards. Mild with the possibility of a shower this afternoon.

Evening update (19.45): Glimmers of sun before there was indeed a shower. High of 19C.

This Wounded Land

There is an environmentalist group in Mallorca called Terraferida. The name means wounded land, and the group takes aim at what is sees as wounds inflicted on Mallorca's land. For Terraferida, human intervention is not benign. It responds to population growth, tourism, economic development and speculation. It serves itself at the expense of land, wounding it in the process.

Underpinning the beliefs of groups such as Terraferida is an unstated idyll, a hankering for a time before intervention altered the land. Yet human intervention goes to the heart of the supposedly unwounded land. It goes back to times many centuries ago, which have only recently been honoured by Unesco. The landscaping of the Tramuntana mountains was the product of ingenious intervention which created dry-stone walls, terraces and passages that survive to this day. The mountains are placed on a pedestal for tourism of an alternative variety - cultural, historical, natural - yet the mountains and this alternative tourism owe a great deal if not everything to human intervention. The motivations for intervention were quite different - they essentially boiled down to survival - but it was necessary to shape the land way back when, just as it is nowadays.

The key difference is the aggressive nature of this intervention. And interwoven with this is a connection with the land that can too easily be overlooked or not be appreciated. The connection can also be overstated, but somewhere in the middle there exists a soul in Mallorca that beats because of its land.

Contemporary political and social discourse is littered with references to land, to landscape, to scenery, to natural patrimony. This might be taken to be a consequence of the reassertion of the values of the land that were severely undermined by the process of "Balearisation" which changed coastal Mallorca irretrievably. Although Terraferida and others will point to more current-day evidence of aggressive intervention, it is the collective memory of Balearisation which informs much of this discourse. It hasn't been forgotten, and it hasn't been forgiven.

But if one goes back to times pre-Balearisation, the discourse was much the same. The early twentieth century founders of Mallorca's tourism spoke of little else than land and landscape. They were to be grateful to the publicists - the landscape artists, the writers who introduced this idyll in the Mediterranean to a gradually global audience.

It was landscape and patrimony, both natural and manmade (such as with the Cathedral), that the early movers of Mallorca's tourism promoted. And they did so, at least in part, as a response to crisis. It was one that affected the land - phylloxera.

The damage that was caused to the vineyards of Mallorca served only to reinforce the vulnerability of the island, one surviving mainly on a monoculture economy of agriculture. Tourism, predicated on land, was to provide a solution. Nowadays, the land is looked to as a means of providing a new solution to a different monoculture - that of tourism and principally a tourism of the coasts.

There has been much discussion about how tourist tax revenue is to be spent. Why, it has been asked, should revenue go to agrarian projects. One reason why is in order to recover, maintain or improve the landscape and the natural patrimony. It is too easy perhaps to consider landscape as being the Tramuntana and nothing else, purely because so much is said about the mountains. But this landscape - obviously enough - is everywhere, and it is one that provides, among other things, almond blossom at this time of the year.

The land has been wounded again. Drought and floods have created the wounds, and the land finds itself confronted by another enemy - xylella - which can deepen the wounds further. These are not self-inflicted wounds, like Balearisation was, these are natural and have an impact on the natural patrimony.

But there have been "plagues" before, such as phylloxera. The land recovers, and if human intervention can be shown to be at its most benign by hastening recovery or indeed preventing its need by stopping the destruction of almonds, olives and others, then so much the better. We wish them the very best. They are working with the soul of Mallorca - the land.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 February 2017

Morning high (7.39am): 11.1C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 13 February - Cloud, 19C; 14 February - Cloud, sun, 17C; 15 February - Cloud, sun, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 4 to 5.

Some cloud around first thing. Not forecast to be sunny today but looks ok to begin with.

Evening update (19.15): Sun sort of came out in the afternoon. High of 18.7C.

The Balearic Parliament Show Goes On

Sweet and friendly Francina Armengol was apologising the other day for the "show" that has been the Balearic parliament. It's not the sort of display that the citizens - who else - deserve. Oh really? The citizens may not deserve it but, boy oh boy, have they been having a laugh. And things, as a political party elsewhere once maintained, can only get better, and we have Podemos to once more thank.

While many of the Podemos citizenry is away in Madrid or poised over the participation online voting button in deciding the fate of Pablo and The Infant Errejón, some of it has stayed at home in order to prepare for Tuesday's Great Show. Yes, Francina, the show must go on, and you're partly to blame (or to be thanked). Even if you don't understand a word of what's being said, I'd recommend a revision of normal daytime television viewing habits and tune into Tuesday's parliamentary session, during which Balti will ascend to the presidential (speaker's) throne.

It would be nice to think that this ritual could be performed with Balti clad in pure white robes and with angelic Jarabos and Camargos fluttering above him before anointing him with an artisan-crafted halo. "Truly he is the Son of Pablo," the angels would chant. Alas, this will not be. Balti, we can anticipate, will be sporting a checked sort of lumberjack affair and dodgy jeans. Besides which, any even vaguely religious connotation would be severely frowned upon, as much as any monarchist leanings would be, which Balti most certainly doesn't have.

Francina and chums have been asking (pleading) that when it comes to the moment for Balti to speak, he shows "restraint". They are more than slightly concerned about what he might come out with. This being just one of the reasons why they would have much preferred someone else to replace Xe-Lo Huertas. Will Balti take the opportunity to declare war on the Bourbons or some such?

Balti's elevation to the throne was assisted last week by a surprise guest appearance of none other than our good friend Alberto Rodríguez Rodríguez, aka Natty Dreadlock In A Babylon, the rasta Podemos Congress deputy from Tenerife. One had wondered when the two of them might team up, and prayers that they would do were fulfilled. Natty met Balti and there was a selfie (also containing the clean-cut Alberto Jarabo) in which Natty was sticking his tongue out. As you do.

While in the Babylon that is Palma, Natty was asked whether "a long hair" (Balti) and a rasta mark a change in political aesthetics. Appearance is not important, actions are, he explained. It's better that there is a speaker with long hair than one who looks to favour friends, he added. And one knew precisely to whom he was referring - Xe-Lo.

The former speaker was having her day in court. Not that she was in the dock, but rather she was making her case to be readmitted to Podemos. Among other justifications presented by her lawyer was the fact that she had her right to equality denied by being discriminated against in favour of Balti. This was because Balti had supposedly also supported the cause of Daniel Bachiller. It was the funding of his research laboratory which kicked off the whole Podemos crisis. The Podemos lawyer said the situation with Balti was different, so that was all right then.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 11 February 2017

Morning high (7.16am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 12 February - Cloud, sun, 18C; 13 February - Cloud, 19C; 14 February - Sun, cloud, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 5.

A grey day on the cards but quite warm.

Evening update (20.00): High of 16.8C. Average sort of day. 

Price Reductions: Ryanair And Market Dominance

The national minister for development, Íñigo de la Serna, has asked airlines to reduce their prices because of the cut to airport taxes that will come into effect on 1 March and which will be repeated each year until 2021. Although, as he has said, the government has no legal power to demand that they do cut prices, it does have some authority. The airlines are likely to play ball; it's wise to keep the minister sweet.

The first airline to say that it will reduce prices was Air Europa, the Mallorca-headquartered operation that flies the flag for Spanish aviation, a flag that has been progressively lowered to the point that it's almost sharing space with airport ground crews. Other significant airlines are either foreign or foreign-owned. For Juan José Hidalgo, the boss of Globalia, of which Air Europa is a part, a positive response to De la Serna's request was to have been expected: a patriotic statement of aviation intent.

Less patriotic and purely hardnosed was Ryanair's announcement that it will pass on the tax cut. Again, it was to have been expected. Michael O'Leary has constantly called for lower airport charges; they are all part of the low-cost mix. With Ryanair, though, how can anyone be certain that the reduction is being directly or partially applied? This is to not say that it won't be, but is to say that the airline's prices are flexible, and it has demonstrated its willingness to cut prices in order to guarantee occupancy.

In the final quarter of last year, Ryanair achieved 95% seat occupancy. That was some achievement. By coincidence, it also turned in a 95 million profit for the quarter. While this was down - it was attributed to the fall in the value of the pound - it was still a healthy return, given that its prices overall were 17% lower. Taking account of a reduction in airport tax shouldn't pose Ryanair any business difficulty.

The point with Ryanair, and indeed other airlines, is that price fluctuation reflects the application of science and in particular the technology of Big Data. Prices aren't determined on a whim or purely marketing speculation; there is knowledge to back it up. And this information has been gained over years through the analysis of purchasing behaviour and demand. You don't become a highly successful airline just by taking a punt.

By contrast, there is the case of Iberia, which now also has its low-cost brand. Its president, Luis Gallego, has said this week that 2017 is going to be a difficult year. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, is forecasting a fall in profits of the order of 16% because of a slowdown in global economic activity and rising costs. Iberia has yet to say if it will accede to the minister's request, but it was perhaps no coincidence that Gallego was sounding a warning about lower profits at the same time as the request was being made. There are, so it seems, some airlines, such as Ryanair, which have little problem adjusting to altered pricing mechanisms, while there are others which do.

It is the ability of Ryanair to sell places that leaves other airlines, especially Air Europa and Vueling, gasping to keep up. It has been suggested that additional flights in winter between Palma and both Barcelona and Madrid could cause "havoc" with competitors. Moreover, there is increased service between Ibiza and Madrid and Barcelona, to say nothing of other increases to, for instance, Gran Canaria. It's a full-frontal battle with Vueling, Norwegian and others, and one that Ryanair is well-positioned to win. It can get the occupancy, while competitors struggle to fill their planes. Price reductions? Bring 'em on.

Friday, February 10, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 10 February 2017

Morning high (6.49am): 3.4C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 11 February - Cloud, wind, 16C; 12 February - Cloud, 18C; 13 February - Cloud, 18C.

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

Cold old morning. Not much by way of sun forecast, and the sun due to disappear over the weekend.

Evening update (22.45): Well, it was a good deal sunnier than anticipated. Not bad at all. High of 16.5C.

The Parody Of Valtonyc

Claims as to the origins of rap music are as many as its styles. There are some frankly bizarre suggestions as to elements of rap before it truly burst onto the global music scene in the late 1970s. One, and I kid you not, was from the theme to the sitcom Are You Being Served?, which was clearly a great distance removed from gangsta rap.

As with other popular musical genres, especially the more controversial ones, there have been societal justifications for their development. Gangsta rap has had its, as in being a reflection of urban suffering and neglect that spilled over into crime and violence. Yet it also spawned misogyny, homophobia and serial killings. Rap therefore acquired a self-serving justification for its anti-social messages (not all of it, obviously, given the various styles that exist and have existed). It also attached to itself the notion of art form because of lyrical styles and phrasing. In so doing, rap lost sight of what may have one time been a pure form and wrapped itself within a blanket of pomposity and desperate cleverness in a similar way that rock did with progressive music before punk took such a clear aim at it.

Punk, though, serves as a reminder of how rapidly a genre can descend to the level of parody. Indeed, all genres end up going the same way and sometimes find themselves being satirised, which is what happened to hard rock through Spinal Tap and the Comic Strip's Bad News Tour. Likewise, rap seems endlessly trapped in its parodical urban posturing, constantly straining to maintain credibility through the assertion of the art form.

Art, freedom of expression and imagery, non-censoriousness have long been advanced as the justifications for the ground-breaking. But the art form has also long suffered with being chastised for going beyond the mere ground-breaking and advocating the tasteless. Challenging society's mores and attitudes is both positive and negative, and society occasionally decides that the negative outweighs the positive. It does so by merely rejecting, by excoriating or by going to court.

The test, in a sense, is if there is gratuitousness. Is the tasteless or the offensive being displayed for the sake of it? If so, then the art form evaporates and is replaced by a meanness of spirit. On top of which, one keeps returning to the propensity for parody. Combine this meanness with an "attitude" of the urban gun-fingered style exported from the American inner city to an island in the Mediterranean, graft onto it notions of Republicanism, and you end up with someone like Valtonyc, otherwise known as Josep Miquel Arenas Beltrán.

In August 2012, I suggested that the then 17-year-old rapper was likely to be receiving a visit from someone in the near future. He had, variously, nominated the former king for assassination, the founder of the right-wing Circulo Balear Jorge Campos for death, and the mayor of Sineu for a silver bullet. He was to also have suggestions to make about various Partido Popular politicians and the one-time leader of PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The visit came, and Valtonyc has been appearing before the Audiencia Nacional, with the prosecution service calling for a sentence of three years and eight months for insulting Juan Carlos and a further two years for exalting terrorism (e.g. ETA). Whatever society might think of Valtonyc, there is the slight matter of legality: you can't go around insulting kings and the crown and necessarily expect to get off scot-free.

Valtonyc has played the art form card. He told the court that he is both a poet and an artist. His work is designed to provoke rather than to, for instance, humiliate the victims of terrorism. On leaving the court, he announced that he will continue to say that the Bourbons are "mafiosos". There's provocative.

Should he be in court? Certainly under the law that safeguards the honour of the crown, then he deserves to be. He isn't the first to find that a dim view is taken of such an attack and he won't be the last. One of the more celebrated cases of this type was when the editor and cartoonist from the satirical magazine El Jueves were taken to court for insulting the then Crown-Prince Felipe. They were fined.

A few days ago there was a benefit event for him Arta, at which performers made clear their beliefs in his freedom of expression. And it is for this reason that I have some sympathy for him. Moreover, placing him in the legal spotlight fuels the very messages that caused the legal system to take action. Valtonyc has thus been granted a greater sense of self-importance than he merits. He cloaks himself in the art form defence, when he's little more than a mean parody. What's the point of his being in court?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 9 February 2017

Morning high (6.56am): 8C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 10 February - Cloud, 14C; 11 February - Cloud, 17C; 12 February - Cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 6 easing 3 to 4 in the afternoon.

Expected to be reasonably sunny today but not warm. Forecast for the weekend - cloudy but getting warmer with strengthening southerly winds.

Evening update (19.45): Sunny enough but a high of just 14.7C.

Balti Eats Balti: Mr. Speaker

I have a photo opportunity suggestion for when the new president (speaker) of the Balearic parliament is finally sworn in. He should be whisked off to the nearest curry house, where hopefully they do more than tandoori, in order that the headline can read "Balti eats Balti".

It is just possible that Balti does eat Balti, though his Mallorcan authenticity might possibly preclude this. A hearty dish of organic frito is more likely to be Balti's favoured dish "de jour". Whatever it is, one trusts that it doesn't get stuck in his beard or hair when (if) parliament resumes for the post-lunch session. They have cameras trained on parliament speakers and the speaker, you should take note.

For reasons not entirely clear other than to procrastinate ever longer, Baltasar Picornell will not be sworn in as the new speaker of parliament until next week. It's all a bit like Joe Root taking over as England captain from Alastair Cook. Everyone knows this is going to happen, but process needs to be gone through, which is rather more necessary for electing a parliament speaker than it is an England cricket captain. (Though the social media obsessives would beg to differ; the ones who still hold a candle for Kevin Pietersen and for whom due process was not observed with Cook. The obsessives maintain that Cook sold KP out in order to keep his job.)

Apart from fairly obvious differences between Balti and Joe - appearance, sport, that sort of thing - the one major difference in terms of being lined up for promotion is that Balti only recently became the frontrunner. Podemos had insisted that he would be right for the job but their preference was for another woman to replace the excommunicated Xelo Huertas. Unfortunately, the woman they had in mind, Marta Maicas, has found herself needing to do some explaining to a court in respect of allegations that the digital signature of Montse Seijas was forged - Seijas being the other Podemos deputy to have been terminated. Consequently, it was becoming clear a month ago - because Podemos were saying so - that Balti was "gaining points" in the speaker bid.

But despite assuming pole position, Balti's elevation was far from secure. That was because the Podemos partners in the "agreements for change" - PSOE and Més - didn't want anything to do with him being speaker. They still don't, but their hands have been forced by the Podemos threat to break the agreements and therefore cease to be a "partner".

Having gone through the turmoil of the institutional crisis created by the Huertas affair, the two other partners were insisting that her replacement needed to be able to guarantee stability. In fact, there are still rumblings of this nature, but Balti is being foisted upon them and on parliament because Podemos were never going to give up the parliamentary presidency: it remains for now their most significant position in regional administrations anywhere in Spain.

Why might they be so concerned that Balti will not ensure stability? To answer this, one has to consider Huertas and how she was as speaker. The history books are rapidly being revised, but she was generally felt to have made a decent fist of the job. It is one that does require being evenhanded and also a certain amount of dignity. She may have lost this because of the affair, but even when she was meeting the King and insisting that he spend the money for the official reception on soup kitchens, she didn't come across as being extreme.

This, really, is part of the issue with Balti. Not that he has hippy hair and beard, not that he was a mere metalworker (or whatever it was), but rather that he comes from a background that is strident even by Podemos terms. His membership of the union for the Third Republic and the Balearic civic unit for a Republic should make his meeting with the King something to look forward to, assuming he doesn't boycott it.

Being a Republican, though, hardly sets him out as unusual among Podemos ranks. There has to be something a bit more to the reluctance of PSOE and Més to have not wished to sanction his election. And it may just boil down to the very simple belief that they don't think he's up to the job. Fina Santiago, who is the Més minister for social services, was outraged by the idea that he was being opposed because of his work background. She explained that she believed that there were individuals within Podemos who were better qualified, better suited. She also found it odd that Podemos were backtracking on their aim for the speaker to be a woman.

Such a principle went by the board. Laura Camargo ruled herself out, Maicas was being quizzed by a judge, so there was no other option than a man. Balti it was and Balti it is, unless by some bizarre twist of politicking, the PP's candidate Nuria Riera is elected. Were she to be, then the government's pact would be well and truly busted.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 8 February 2017

Morning high (8.25am): 9.8C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 9 February - Sun, cloud, wind, 14C; 10 February - Cloud, 13C; 11 February - Cloud, 16C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 7 locally 8. Waves to four metres.

Grey, wet and windy. And likely to stay this way. Better tomorrow but not particularly warm.

Evening update (20.00): It was a horrible morning. Heavy rain, quite windy and cold. Picked up and there was some reasonable sun, but didn't warm up. High of 13.7C.

The Life And Death Of Trees

It was reported last May that almost 9,000 palm trees had been destroyed in Mallorca as a result of having been affected by the picudo rojo red beetle. The number of trees which had been affected since 2006, when the beetle was first detected in Mallorca, was put at around 11,000 from a total palm population of getting on for 275,000 trees.

Trees can be saved. I know of cases where they have been and where the trees are once more flourishing. Early detection, "shock treatment", as a gardener described it to me, constant treatment, trapping the beetle can help to revive trees and then go some way to eradicating the beetle.

It is a pest which is difficult to eradicate, especially as the beetle has no predator (birds and others shun it), but it can be eradicated. It is now over three years since the last beetle was captured in the Canary Islands (Fuerteventura to be exact). Constant monitoring led the European Commission to declare the Canaries free of the insect; the first region in the world where it has been eliminated.

It was first detected in the Canaries in 2005, a year before it was in Mallorca. From that moment on up until relatively recently, i.e. well beyond that last insect having been captured, more than 700,000 palm trees were inspected. Over 200,000 were treated. Only 659 were actually removed. In a coordinated effort which involved the general public, various administrations, strict import controls, geographic information systems and more, they managed to get rid of it. The cost of doing so was nine million euros.

By contrast with the Canaries, the response in Mallorca was uncoordinated. There was also complacency that bordered on gross incompetence. Latterly, the beetle has been treated very much more effectively and efficiently. Nevertheless, in 2015 the number of trees that were eliminated was almost 1,800.

The incompetence was as detectable as the evidence of the beetle was - trees slowly dying. Although it is generally thought that the beetle first took hold in Pollensa, it wasn't Pollensa where it was first detected: this was in Campos on the other side of the island. Yet Pollensa was to become the initial and most obvious part of Mallorca that was affected, so much so that it was dubbed "ground zero" for the beetle. The response was initially a state of denial. When action was finally taken, trees were cut down and the remains left in the open: a terrible decision. Eventually it was realised that the remains had to be burned or buried, preferably both. And the burning was ideally in an incinerator, not out in the open.

One can only conclude that it was a combination of incompetence and complacency that allowed the beetle to spread. One can add to this mixture a lack of resources, especially money. As the Canaries already had the problem (and were getting on with tackling it), as Valencia and Andalusia most definitely also had the problem, then why was not more done?

The complacency was perhaps because the beetle had first been found in Spain nine years before its presence was evident in Valencia. The first reported case was in a place called Almuñécar on the Costa Granadina in Andalusia. This was way back in 1994. The apparent slowness of the plague may have led some to believe that it wasn't the threat that it turned out to be.

Despite the destruction of trees and the regrettable sight of stumps that remain, in percentage terms it has been modest. But the anxieties and sadness caused should in themselves be sufficient to have administrations in a constant state of high alert in case another threat emerges. It has, and it's called olive ebola (xylella fastidiosa), a bacteria that is far less discerning than the beetle. Its appetite is for various tree species, over 300 it is reckoned, and these are not only fruit trees - oaks, sycamores, ornamental plants; they're all on its radar.

By comparison with the potential that olive ebola has for devastation, the effects of the beetle would be small beer. It is now being said that there were indications of the pest in Mallorca in 2012, so before it started to wreak havoc in Italy. If there were signs, it was only a few months ago that there were confirmed cases. But it turns out that there were more. Has the government been slow to react? Was it in denial, complacent or incompetent? Analysis was needed to be sure, it argues. It would now be easy, says the agriculture minister, to just destroy acres of countryside by cutting down thousands of trees. Instead the bacteria has to be fought. If the fight is lost, the destruction will occur anyway.

But there is hope because there is action, so one trusts that the mistakes of picudo rojo are not being repeated.