Monday, February 13, 2017

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.

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