Friday, March 31, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 March 2017

Morning high (7.43am): 7.4C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 1 April - Cloud, sun, wind, 17C; 2 April - Cloud, sun, 18C; 3 April - Sun, cloud, 18C

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

Expect another warm day. Tomorrow's forecast has improved but still the risk of showers.

Evening update (20.15): High of 22.5C. 

The Contracts Of A Pact

Pact. The Spanish media refer to the pact ("pacto" in Castellano) as a convenient shorthand. It overcomes the constant need to explain that the Balearics is governed by two parties which are in government and one which isn't. It's an odd pact. One of convenience, which is just as conveniently labelled a pact.

There have been previous pacts. They have comprised fully paid-up governmental political parties. The pact before the current one fell apart. There was a de-pact impact. The remaining members of that pact, once the Unió Mallorquina (UM) was booted into corrupt touch, were PSOE and the Bloc, which itself was a pact. Its prime constituent was the PSM, i.e. Mallorcan socialists. They are now the main force behind Més, a further pact within a pact. Confused? It's hardly surprising.

The high ground, morally and politically, was occupied by the pact survivors. They surveyed the wreckage of the de-pact. It had mostly been inflicted on the tourism ministry, from which a succession of UM ministers were removed (two of them are inside). The Bloc part of the two-thirds pact was gifted former UM terrain. Not tourism but environment. Such was the continuity of pact policies that the PSM overturned certain UM decisions. It was evident that the pact had not been singing from the same environmental hymn sheet.

Pact members essentially have their own domains. This is how they are kept sweet (hopefully). They pursue their individual agendas and then, under the collective harmony of consensus and dialogue, seek to inflict them on the others. The current pact has, as a consequence, had numerous conflicts hastily renamed consensus and dialogue. Podemos has caused nearly all of them. These, though, have been policy conflicts. There is a further dimension. Crisis.

The local media love a crisis as much as a pact. Podemos has seemingly survived the crisis brought about by the now former speaker of parliament Xelo Huertas. The need has arisen, therefore, for a new crisis. We have one - Més. And for old time's sake the tourism ministry isn't a million miles away from it.

This, one should stress, is not a crisis of UM magnitude. We are not talking thievery. It is a crisis that is above board but one which nevertheless falls under a category marked "fishy". In local terms it is also labelled "a dedo" - handpicked.

To try and summarise, the Més crisis has to do with contracts awarded by Més politicians, to the fore of whom is Biel Barceló. The tourism minister (also innovation and research and government vice-president) has an old chum called Jaume Garau. His company ran the Més election campaign. It has been revealed that this same company has been awarded half a dozen contracts valued at a little over 150,000 euros. They include one for studying tourism satisfaction (cost 21,500) handed out by another old chum of Barceló's, the director of the Balearic Tourism Agency, Pere Muñoz.

The largest one (over 55,000 euros) was for a study of Balearic business fabric. It was awarded by the vice-presidency. Others - all for 21,500 euros - have been for the environment ministry (Vicenç Vidal, Més), a deputy mayor of Palma (Antoni Noguera, Més), and two for the transparency and culture ministry (Ruth Mateu, Més). With the exception of the study of the business fabric, they all apparently fall under a system of awarding small contracts which don't have to be advertised or put out to tender. The contract amounts, which are all the same, do appear to comply with a value that doesn't require a tender. In fact, Barceló has explained that all of the contracts were offered to other companies. He admits, though, that it "doesn't look good".

The Partido Popular, for one, agrees that it doesn't look good. Barceló has reminded the PP that under President Bauzá, Gaura was also awarded contracts (total value slightly higher than the six Més contracts). The PP accepts this but points out there was no possible conflict of interest. And it is the relationship between Barceló and Garau which goes to the heart of the "crisis". In a nutshell, he's being accused of favouring his mate.

The government, meanwhile, is requesting information from the relevant ministries (and presumably also Noguera) about the contracts. It will want to assure itself that they complied with ethics and transparency. This in itself, though, sounds a little odd. Barceló is, after all, the vice-president. Is he to scrutinise himself?

There isn't any suggestion of anything illegal. There is also general agreement among political parties that Garau and his company are highly professional. The issue, though, is one of perception: one of not looking good.

Is it a crisis? Is the pact about to suffer the de-pact impact? Unlikely. But Barceló should know all about contracts with questions attached. He made a habit of asking the PP about its.

Index for March 2017

Baltasar Picornell - 5 March 2017, 19 March 2017
Bauzá versus Company - 26 March 2017
Brexit and British holidaymakers - 17 March 2017
Children's football match violence - 23 March 2017
Competitiveness in the Balearics - 24 March 2017
Corruption investigations - 3 March 2017, 16 March 2017
Count Rossi and Civil War - 8 March 2017
English language - 15 March 2017
Fira del Ram - 13 March 2017
Flights' increase at Palma - 25 March 2017
Holiday compensation claims fraud - 1 March 2017
Hotel prices and tour operators' row - 18 March 2017
Holiday rentals and property - 22 March 2017
Més and contracts - 31 March 2017
Paying for Son Dureta - 2 March 2017
Pop-up hotels - 21 March 2017
Pottery - 6 March 2017
Resort redevelopment - 14 March 2017
Sa Pobla church organ - 27 March 2017
Spring and Mallorca promotion - 20 March 2017
Sustainability and tourism - 9 March 2017
Terraferida and Airbnb rentals - 28 March 2017
Tour operators and hotel prices - 12 March 2017
Tourismphobia - 11 March 2017
Tourist tax - 4 March 2017
Transport policy - 10 March 2017
Trilingual teaching - 7 March 2017
Valtonyc and free speech - 30 March 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 March 2017

Morning high (7.13am): 7.7C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 31 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 1 April - Rain, wind, 16C; 2 April - Cloud, 18C

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

More good sunshine to come today. Forecast for the start of the new month not looking too bright.

Evening update (20.00): High of 24.1C. Pretty good.

Lessons In Free Speech

Our good friend Valtonyc keeps popping up. If he isn't quite your good friend and you need reminding of his existence, he is the Sa Pobla rapper Josep Miquel Arenas Beltran, who has found himself in hot water with the courts over what boils down to a question of freedom of expression.

Since being condemned, pending appeal, to three and a half years for, inter alia, wishing harm to the old king, appearing to support terrorism and wishing death on certain individuals, Valtonyc has been constantly to the fore. His latest appearance, in non-rapping style (one guesses), was at the secondary school in Santa Margalida.

There has apparently been a "wave" of reaction against his having "given lessons" to pupils at the school. These lessons weren't lessons as such. According to the school's director, he was invited to a first year class for communication and language. The pupils, it would seem, needed someone of some media standing with whom they could do an interview. As Valtonyc has a relative at the school, it was easy enough to get in touch with him and ask him along.

If it was necessary for there to have been someone with media prominence, then there must have been others who could have been invited. Take the current mayor of Santa Margalida, for example. Joan Monjo is rarely out of the media and was rarely out of it during all the years prior to his having become mayor. One feels sure he could have found a window in his busy schedule to answer questions about putting up chiringuitos on unspoiled beaches in the municipality. Or possibly about his desire to name a street after that old rogue of the municipality, Joan March.

If not the mayor, then maybe his predecessor (one removed) would have sufficed and have been more of the left, to boot. The pupils could have enquired whether Toni Reus of Més still wishes tourist tax revenue to be spent on old folks' homes (that was his idea).

Well, they could have asked either of them, but neither, let's face it, would have held as much appeal as a young rapper and one with a prison sentence hanging over his head. I'm guessing that Valtonyc didn't start whipping up anti-monarchist and pro-terrorist fervour during his "lesson", though one suspects that freedom of expression may well have cropped up as a theme for discussion. In the context of a class on communication and language, that seems a relevant topic.

Very much more unlikely than Monjo or Reus as alternatives would have been Ignacio Arsuaga. And who is he? The president of Hazte Oír, the right-wing organisation that has been driving an orange bus around (or attempting to) for the past few weeks. This bus, dubbed The Bus of Freedom or The Free Speech Bus, has been attacking what Arsuaga says are laws of sexual indoctrination that exist in certain regions of Spain. Basically, he and Hazte Oír are against gays and lesbians and in particular transsexuals.

The bus has been immobilised by police in both Madrid and Barcelona. Bizarrely enough, it has now turned up in New York, where it has been vandalised. The bus and Hazte Oír had gone along for an event organised by Family Watch International, a body founded in 1999 which opposes homosexuality amongst other things.

In a current climate of movement towards the right it might be said that Hazte Oír has found its moment, though I would question whether it has. Spain, unlike elsewhere in Europe, does not have a prominent rabid right. It is the left which has adopted the alt mantle, a quite different take on the populist political fallout from economic crisis and austerity which consumed Europe. Is this so surprising? I would suggest not. Despite the struggles of the conventional left, as in PSOE, socially liberal policies that it advanced under Zapatero have not been undermined. It took Spain a long time to adopt them and it doesn't seem inclined to let them go.

Within this context and general social climate, therefore, one has the support shown for Valtonyc, mainly by the left but not completely. It isn't total support for what he rapped but it is support for his right to have done so.

Is such support misguided? The courts would suggest that it is, hence the prison sentence. There are limits to what can be said. Freedom of expression does not give anyone carte blanche, especially when there are laws preventing this. As a general principle, I'm inclined to agree, pushed to such a conclusion by the apparent impunity which individuals (and organisations) feel they have to state and espouse whatever the hell they want to. The internet takes a great deal of blame for this. There are limits, whether views are of the far right or left.

In Santa Margalida, was a lesson in communication learned?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 March 2017

Morning high (8.05am): 9.8C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 30 March - Sun, 21C; 31 March - Sun, 19C; 1 April - Sun, shower, 17C

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

A fine morning. Lots of sun to come today.

Evening update (20.00): High of 23.5C.

Size And Space Matter

If I were to take you to a flat area of land and ask you to walk in such a way that you marked out a square the size of a hectare, would you be able to? Would you even know what a hectare is? For the record it is 2.47105 acres. Would you know what that is, or even a solitary acre?

Let's make it easier. How about if the puzzle was to mark out 0.247105 of an acre, i.e. 1,000 square metres? Or easier still, what about an are - 100 square metres?

Knowing your hectares and your square metres is useful. Most of the world now uses the hectare. Most of the real-estate world uses the square metre. Land, living space are valued according to their worth per hectare or square metre. It is useful, but even for comparatively small spaces and distances, being able to conceive these accurately is nigh on impossible. Space and distance do not compute. Both are guesswork. Let's go back to that flat area of land. How far is that nearest tree? Around twenty metres? Around, yes, around. Never - it is twenty metres. Without the aid of a measuring device, one simply cannot say for certain.

There are measures with which there is some familiarity, such as those in sport. The one hundred metres of a sprint, for instance. Or the chain of a cricket pitch, better known as 22 yards or 20.12 metres. But even for those of you who have run one hundred metres or played cricket, could you accurately reproduce the distance? Square measures are even more elusive than those in a straight line. Not all football pitches are the same size but a typical measure is 7,140 square metres. We're all familiar with football pitches, but we still wouldn't be able to mark one out in our heads.

The reason for mentioning all this is the diet we are constantly fed when it comes to size. Palma town hall, for instance, has very kindly informed us that its new set of four rubbish containers (mobile variety) occupy eleven square metres. Great, but so what? How does such information translate into the brain? With difficulty. Such enumeration when written is all but meaningless. There may be a rough idea what it constitutes, but for all the value of the information, it may as well just say that it occupies a small space.

But because small, medium, large, very large are more meaningless, a value has to be given, whether we can appreciate it or not. Therefore, we get all of this stuff. Such and such town hall is building a new facility of x square metres. Wonderful. The more square metres the better, is this the idea - to impress us? Not necessarily, because using limited space is virtuous when land is at a premium. It's only x square metres. Even more wonderful, even more impressive.

Fires are something else for which size matters. There was a recent report about how many hectares of forest, scrub and whatever had been affected by fires in 2016. If memory serves, it was something like 101. This was either more or less than the previous year - as you may realise, I didn't digest the information fully - and was therefore either negative or positive. But again, what does it mean? When we learn that a fire has consumed 30 hectares, that sounds like a lot. Doesn't it? Certainly more than if it were 0.3 hectares. In neither instance, though, can we conceive what it represents. If in the case of the 30 hectares, we were told that it roughly equated to 42 football pitches, then maybe. Or maybe not.

The Balearic government has a minister for land, Marc Pons. He is also the energy minister. Two of these portfolios have coincided in respect of plans to eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050. Out will go all fossil fuel energy sources, and in will come photovoltaic energy, which means all manner of plants dedicated to tapping into the sun's energy dotted around the Balearics.

This is a highly laudable plan, but photovoltaic energy, as in supplying more or less all energy needs for the islands, its residents, its businesses and its tourists, does have a land implication. It's not the same as just sticking a solar panel on your roof to get hot water or anything like it. So Pons reliably (one assumes) informed us that these plants will require 1.5% of land. Really? Well, erm, blimey, one point five per cent.

The land surface of the Balearic Islands is 4,997.71 square kilometres. It will therefore require 74.97 square kilometres of land to fit all these plants in. Is that a lot? You tell me. For what it's worth, you could stick them all on Formentera and more or less cover the island. Maybe that's it. A Formentera of photovoltaic. We can all understand that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 March 2017

Morning high (7.15am): 13C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 29 March - Sun, 20C; 30 March - Sun, 20C; 31 March - Sun, cloud, 20C

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

Plenty of cloud visible as sun comes up. Should go and give a fine and sunny day.

Evening update (21.00): Very pleasant. High of 19C.

In Praise Of Terraferida

Not everyone likes or will like Terraferida. I don't know that I like them, but that's down to the choice of word. Admire is more appropriate. When they have something to say, they do so with impact. People sit up and take notice. Attention was paid when Terraferida exposed the sewage spill in Albufera, just as it was only some three weeks later when Terraferida highlighted the "occupation" of the Cabrera beach.

The information the group has released about unlicensed rental property in Mallorca that is offered via Airbnb isn't necessarily shocking or revelatory. It is more a confirmation. Some fourteen months ago, the data Terraferida has analysed showed that there were over 11,000 properties which were capable - at a stretch - of providing places for almost 80,000 people. Not all of these properties may still be available. Some may have even acquired a licence in the meantime. But you can be sure that more will have been added.

Setting aside the more bizarre accommodation on offer - caves, a tree house, an igloo, for instance - the bulk of it was apartments or houses. In the case of detached houses, there is nothing stopping an owner, as it stands under existing law, from applying for a tourist rental. Apartments are of course a different matter. They are only legal if there is pretence - the absurd shield that is raised by the tenancy act. This is, as has been suggested by legal minds at the university, a fraud in law. And how many tenancy act contracts are ever actually raised and signed?

Not everyone of course pretends. But many do, and Airbnb, courtesy of its colossal disingenuousness, provides the perfect platform. It doesn't trade in "tourist" accommodation. It is merely a go-between. And its insouciance is laughable. Why should it worry? It doesn't. Technicalities in law mean little, and so users exploit loopholes for all their worth. Some do so and are fully aware of the law - many, if not all Mallorcans, one would suggest. Others, foreigners being among them, are just ignorant of the law or stupid.

A thing with Airbnb, it being a product not only of the "collaborative" economy but also of social media information sharing, is that it is very easy to identify what's going on, if someone cares to look. The tourism ministry may, for example, be interested in what a guest of a certain "property" had to say about being collected from the airport by the owner. The transport ministry may also be interested, to say nothing of the tax agency. Is there a transport licence? Almost certainly not. Does this constitute a service? Yes. Does this service contravene the tenancy act loophole? Yes. Has any of this been declared to the tax agency? Who can say. And who can say whether this tourist service - property and transfer - is the result of blatant thumbing of the nose in the direction of the law, of ignorance of the law or of simple stupidity. The law, though, does not accept ignorance or stupidity as a defence.

Terraferida, somewhat like politicians, makes the point that it is less worried about the small owner: someone with just the single property. It is more concerned, as is the government, with the multiple owner. It cites the example of someone with 632 properties. This again is no real revelation. The government knows that there are such cases. It will now be interesting to learn how the government reacts to the Terraferida information. The group will send it all to the tourism ministry: property locations, property type, names.

The ministry, meanwhile, has its own map. It will make it public. It will show legally registered holiday rentals. While it seems to be at pains to say that this isn't some means of providing a "dobbers' charter", it - and the tax agency - are more than happy for members of the public to provide evidence of fraud. The ministry needs the public. It only has fifteen inspectors, and these inspectors are involved in matters other than holiday rentals.

There are any number of people who will defend the right of rental, even if it flouts the law. Tourists using rented accommodation spend money, unlike all those in all-inclusives. This much is surely true, despite what the Exceltur alliance for touristic excellence (members of which include leading Mallorcan hoteliers) says. Its reports showing lower spend than hotel guests are counter-intuitive. There has to be scope for rentals - legally registered ones, including apartments - but not on the scale that is being witnessed and not with the abuses that are being committed.

Airbnb and other such websites are businesses. Despite their good words and PR, they have facilitated property market distortion and fraud. This comes at a social cost, thus - at best - neutering economic gains. Terraferida should be thanked. The government has some very important legislation to pass. The most important of this administration.

Monday, March 27, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 March 2017

Morning high (7.43am): 11.9C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 28 March - Cloud, 18C; 29 March - Sun, 20C; 30 March - Sun, 22C

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

Mainly cloudy first thing and likely to remain so until the afternoon.

Evening update (20.00): High of 19.6C. Got better in the afternoon.

The Story Of A Church Organ

A special concert was held at the Sant Antoni parish church in Sa Pobla on Saturday. It was to mark the 300th anniversary of the construction of the church organ. The concert, an organ recital (naturally enough), accompanied by a brass quintet, was a mark of the esteem with which church organs in Mallorca are held: just as much as the churches themselves. By coincidence, there was another event for a church organ on the same evening. A book about the organ of Santa Maria la Major church in Inca was presented; a recital followed.

The parish of Sant Antoni Abat in Sa Pobla dates back to 1357. Building of the current church was started in 1696, work on the bell tower having been started one hundred years previously (that alone took some sixty years to finish).

There was already an organ, for which documentary evidence is available from the start of the seventeenth century. We learn, for instance, that on 4 January 1609 it was decided to pay 30 pounds to the organ carpenter Comes (no Christian name) to give the organ a new varnish. In 1634, there was a visit to the parish by the Bishop of Mallorca, the Catholic Church's "Visitor General" (like a chief inspector) and an advisor to the crown: quite some set of dignitaries therefore. The record of this visit was in the "ordinances" of "La Pobla", as opposed to Sa Pobla, and it was presumably made in order to consider more than just the organ. Anyway, it was agreed that four pounds should be paid for work on the keys and that the work should be completed within two months.

Thirteen years later, there was another visit. This time it seems as if the Visitor General was unaccompanied. The ordinances book was to note that Don Diego Escolano was none too impressed with the organ: it was "badly out of tune". In the intervening thirty-four years, things clearly improved. The bishop (a different one) paid a visit in 1679. The organ, he concluded, was in good condition.

Better condition or not, there was a question as to whether the existing organ was going to be good enough for the new church. Well, if there is to be a new church, it really could do with a brand spanking new organ as well. Which of course is what was eventually agreed.

The new organ was finished in 1717. How long it took to build it isn't certain. The best reckoning is that work took place between 1700 and 1717. What is certain is that the master organ craftsman was Damià Caymari, who had been responsible for a previous organ - that of Nostra Senyora dels Socors in Palma. Damià, it would appear, could well have been the brother of another craftsman (and organist), Jaume Caymari, who in 1700 was paid eighteen pounds for work on the organ - the old one. Although there was a question mark over whether Damià and Jaume were brothers, it is now said that there was a "dynasty" of organ builders called Caymari.

It wasn't to be for more than 250 years that there was real confirmation that Damià had been responsible for both the Sa Pobla and the Palma organs. This was to come from Gerhard Grenzing, who entered the story of the Sa Pobla organ at a time when it was all but dead. The Sa Pobla chronicler Alexandre Ballester wrote that in 1960 the organ sounded awful. The registers were all wrong, the bellows didn't move properly. The grand organ, he said, was destined to a "slow death".

The death seemed to have come when in 1967 the parish acquired an electronic organ. Romanticism as well as the organ were being consigned to the dump of history. However, as with many other things of a traditional nature that were to find rebirth in the aftermath of Franco's death, the organ became the subject of restoration. In 1976, talks started with the master restorer, Grenzing. Two years later, with the support of the Obra Cultural Balear, there were more talks. A budget proposal was made. The rector called for donations, a restoration committee was set up. The town hall was to give money, so were banks, the local farmers cooperative and individuals. It took until 1986 for a definitive contract to be made with Grenzing. The cost was three million pesetas (around 18,000 euros).

On the "Opuslist" for the Gerhard Grenzing company, it says that "an historical organ is like a defenceless living being asking us to respect it as we try to preserve it". In Sa Pobla they did preserve it. This Opuslist of numerous restoration projects still being undertaken has a note which says modestly and simply: Sa Pobla (Mallorca), Spain - Parróquia de Sa Pobla, 1987. Thirty years ago they completed the restoration of the now 300-year-old organ.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 March 2017

Morning high (8.22am): 10.3C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 27 March - Cloud, 19C; 28 March - Cloud, sun, 18C; 29 March - Sun, cloud, 19C

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

The hour has shifted and it's a sunny Sunday morning.

Evening update (19.30): High of 20.6C.

Denouement Day For The PP

Today is D-Day. Domingo Day also known in co-official language terms as Diumenge Day. It will also be Denouement Day. Two one-time friends won't end up killing each other, but one will be the loser of a long and complex affair.

At some point today we will know who will be the new leader of the Partido Popular in the Balearics. I'll bet you can hardly wait to find out. And wait there has been. A very long one. Interminable. Well, not quite, as it terminates today, with one of the candidates due to be terminated. Which one? The bookies will be weeping if the long odds outsider J.R. Bauzá romps to victory. Others will be joining them. Catalanists will be wailing their woes and hurriedly reinstalling the garlic over their portals, lest Count Dracula should darken their doors once more.

Joy, though, might be unconfined in certain quarters: let's call them the hoteliers. J.R. has been going down - in all likelihood - with all guns blazing. One of them has been fired at the tourist tax. Were J.R. to a) become PP president (again) and b) Balearic president (again), he has said that the tourist tax will be the first folly of the Psoemespodemos pact to be ejected with great force into the blue waters of the Med.

The spirit of Jaume Matas would thus be restored, Jaume having taken the legislative knife to the little lamented ecotax in 2003. And in eliminating the tourist tax, J.R. would be having his symbolic retaliation against Psoemespodemos. One of its first acts was to consign the law of symbols to the symbolic junk heap of Castile-Catalan rivalry. The Catalan flag could once more flutter without fetter and fear of ferocious reprisals by anti-Catalanist fundamentalists. Would J.R. and his chums do the conga in the way that Psoemespodemos so embarrassingly did, having removed the symbols law from the statute book?

Well, he would have to be president and have some chums. And they, unfortunately for him, are in comparatively limited supply. But those that there are will be with him all the way at Es Moli d'es Comte, which is the finca pile hosting the PP congress. What a shame they couldn't have waited another week. They could have had their congress at a congress centre. More spirit of Matas would thus have been abroad, though given that the Palacio has now become something of a Psoemespodemos gig (hmm, maybe not Podemos), they would probably have decided otherwise.

Es Moli, from what I can make out (thanks to TripAdvisor), could do with all the PP-ists firing off some five-star reviews. It is ranked 1,487 out of 1,776 restaurants in Palma (de Mallorca). "The political debate was somewhat sterile, but we loved the cabbage rolls with sobrassada." Or whatever. Still, perhaps it's an appropriate gaff for the occasion and for the PP's Count Dracula. The mill of the count. Though for J.R. it may prove to be a millstone too far.

And one of the stones that he insists on dragging around with him is multi-language teaching. What more can he add to the list of teaching languages? What about Uzbek? There must be the odd tourist from Uzbekistan in desperate need of understanding why he must pay the tourist tax. Or how about Klingon? Much more of a laugh than English, that's for sure.

Teaching has been just one of the issues that the local Spanish (and Catalan) media has been dissecting in the lead-up to D-Day. There has been virtually no room for anything else, the photos vying for space with the analysis, the quotes, the interviews. And best of the photos was one for the favourite, Biel Company, There was Biel, surrounded by Biel's Babes, the males pushed to the periphery. And when one of the babes is Marga Prohens, one would have to feel that Biel has it in the bag. Who, let's face it, would knowingly vote against Marga.

In somewhat less frivolous fashion, Company has stated that J.R. is not a company man, as in there's no way he'll be giving J.R. a job if (when) he wins the election. Bauzá, attempting to appear all things to all (company) men and women in the party, has hinted that he might do otherwise were he to win. However, that would be unlikely. One of his parting shots last week was to say of Company that he (Bauzá) made him a minister, he (Bauzá) affiliated Company to the party. "Let each one draw his own conclusions about him." And it's true. He did make him a minister. Company wasn't a PP member as such. He became one later.

Denouement Day is thus highly personal. There may be more than one loser. The PP is threatened with being split in half. Or more like into one third and two thirds.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 March 2017

Morning high (7.12am): 7.7C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 26 March - Sun, 20C; 27 March - Cloud, sun, 20C; 28 March - Cloud, 19C

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

Bright and chilly morning. Fair amount of dampness from yesterday's rain around. Pleasant enough day anticipated. Tomorrow good.

Evening update (19.15): High of 18.2C. Cold wind this evening.

Flights Just Keep On Increasing

Aena has announced that from Sunday, 26 March until 28 October, airlines' programmes provide for almost 29 million passenger places. This doesn't mean that there will be this number of passengers - the figure is for available places - but one needs to consider some context. For the same "summer" period last year, the provision was 26.4 million, a figure which was only slightly higher than the number of passengers who actually passed through the airport during the whole of the year (26.25 million).

When a similar announcement was made last year, the increase in places was over  16%. In the end, actual occupancy was around 80% of the total, but the announcement was enough to set the alarm bells of the "saturationists" ringing. The increased places this year won't all be sold, but whatever the sales may be, it seems quite possible that for the end-March to end-October period, the number of passengers for the whole of last year will be exceeded.

The increase will mainly apply to the spring and autumn months. In fact, the provisions for May are not out of the ordinary. For April and June they are. Easter is a major factor with the former. School holidays in some German states are a key factor in June. So much for German families opting to go elsewhere. But with more routes operating this summer (47 more), there will be more passengers in high summer as well.

However one looks at it, there are going to be ever more tourists this summer. An expectation made last year that the 27 million passengers' figure will be topped for the whole of 2017 can be discarded. It will be many more.

On the one hand, more tourists in the lower months of the summer is very good news. But on the other hand, the political one (and social one), the news is less good. Biel Barceló was talking recently, and somewhat strangely, about fewer numbers of summer tourists. He was plainly wrong, perhaps misinterpreting, as others had, what Tui had said in Berlin. For Barceló, being able to say this was to his political advantage. Now, though, he is going to face the ever greater ire of Podemos and some in his own party (Més). The pressure groups - GOB, Terraferida, etc. - will have a field day. The season hasn't started, but saturation is already with us, and this summer it will be saturation-plus.

The government reaction so far has been to say that an increase in high-summer flights is "unacceptable". There is no room for more tourists in high summer. One can anticipate there being stronger reactions.

Where does it end? It doesn't, it seems. Aena has given mixed messages about increasing flight capacity - one minute it will increase, the other it won't - and precisely why it is investing so heavily in the airport. The belief is that the capacity will rise to eighty flights per hour at some point. To cope with more routes and flights (14,000 more) this summer, the capacity will need to be increased. In fact, the airport's director has said that 79 flights can be dealt with. They may well need to be.

Even without this to consider, the fact that this summer's passenger (and flight) numbers are on the rise again will only reinforce demands for airport co-management.

Friday, March 24, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 March 2017

Morning high (7.13am): 10.8C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 25 March - Cloud, sun, 19C; 26 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 27 March - Sun, cloud, 20C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 3 to 4 easing Variable 2 around midday increasing West 6 in the afternoon.

Grey skies. There has been some rain and more is forecast. Sun in limited supply, if at all.

Evening update (19.45): Rubbish day. Persistent rain, never that heavy but enough for well over 20 litres per square metre to have fallen. High of 11.5C.

The Vain Search For Competitiveness

The European Union produces a regional competitiveness index every three years. The latest one, for 2016, comes replete with a colour-coded map. Deep purple denotes low or negative competitiveness. A bright green shows the highest levels of competitiveness. On the purple to green with a sort of grey in between spectrum, there is almost no green in the Mediterranean. In Spain, of two regions with shades of green, the more vibrant is for Madrid. The Balearics Islands are in the purple zone. Not as low as Sicily, nearly all of Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, but in the slightly less purple category. In other words, not terribly competitive.

The competitiveness is evaluated according to three dimensions. Basic covers institutions (such as government), macroeconomic stability, infrastructure and basic education. Efficiency deals with higher education and lifelong learning, labour market and market size. Innovation is for technological readiness, business sophistication and actual innovation.

Of these, the Balearics score well on only two. Health is one. The other, and there will be some relief here, is basic education, which does therefore offer a brighter perspective than the normal gloom that surrounds the education system. But any positivity is not carried on to higher education. In all, the islands find themselves in 200th place out of 263.

The usual other Spanish suspects join the Balearics towards the bottom of the ranking - Andalusia, the Canaries, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Murcia and the north African cities of Ceuta and Melilla. These are ones which, for instance, have levels of unemployment higher than the rest of Spain. The Balearics are different in this respect, yet the region does not find itself well ranked for labour market efficiency. Nor are business sophistication and innovation particularly good. Lack of competitiveness therefore defines the Balearics.

And there is a further definition, one given by the report. Regional competitiveness is the ability of a region to offer a sustainable and attractive environment for business and residents to live and work Attractiveness for residents is unquestionably a factor in the Balearics. But a positive physical environment is as much a weakness as it is an intangible strength. It has bred a mono-economic culture of distorted tourism seasonality and other distortions - social, wealth and incomes, property ownership, land usage.

The apparent strength of the Balearic economy - 4.1% growth in 2016 - disguises so much. The inefficiency of the labour market, as highlighted by the report, is one of the most obvious. Improved employment there has been, but it is not stable employment. Nor is it well paid. The fact that economic growth has not been matched by improved pay suggests that an ingredient of growth - consumer demand - is limited. And where it exists, its source is more likely to be foreign - tourists and property owners.

Factors of Balearic growth are inconsistent. High levels of investment (private sector) are not matched by the public sector. The government, island councils and town halls are constrained by Madrid's requirements, while the government loses a significant proportion of its tax revenues through the funding which goes to poorer regions, such as Extremadura. This has a knock-on impact on the likes of infrastructure, which are not compensated for by Madrid investment.

But investment can run up against institutional impediments. Legal certainties are regularly referred to because business, e.g. the hotels, builders, are anxious about them. These stem from amendments to regulations at all levels; amendments either made or flagged up as possibilities. A different type of investment - in human capital - is lacking, as can be seen from the low numbers pursuing different forms of higher education. This has an impact on the capacity to innovate, while investment in innovation (where the government is concerned) is vastly lower than its rhetoric suggests. The current administration makes much of its commitment to innovation, yet the budget for this (Biel Barceló's department) is only one-tenth of the whole.

Exports in the form of tourism are the main lifeblood of growth, and given the apparent deficiencies in areas identified by the EU report, one is inclined to conclude that the Balearics achieve good rates of growth despite the obstacles presented.

The EU explains that a growing number of regions use the index in order to compare themselves with others and to identify strengths and weaknesses to shape their development strategies. There is also at the back of it a tool for Brussels to identify where funding is more pressingly required. But ultimately, very little of what the index reveals is either new or surprising. Putting things bluntly, northern Europe is competitive, while southern Europe isn't. How long have we known that?

And in the Balearics, how long have we known about economic reliance on tourism, about an absence of innovation, about patchy educational achievement, about institutional capriciousness? Still, there is always the attractive environment. If only competitiveness was just a factor of landscape, sea and sun.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 March 2017

Morning high (7.05am): 13.1C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 24 March - Rain, 15C; 25 March - Cloud, sun, 19C; 26 March - Sun, cloud, 20C

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

The morning due to be sunny. Clouding over later. Rain very likely tomorrow.

Evening update (20.00): Only sunny spells amidst light cloud. High of 20.8C.

Another First For Alaró

Alaró. What do we know of it? It has a castle. It was the first place in Mallorca to get electricity. The citizens not so long ago took part in a referendum to allow women to be part of the cossiers folk dance troupe. Its first woman mayor took office in 2015. It will have the Balearics first black mayor - Guillem Balboa - later this year. A municipality of firsts, it generally, one might suggest, has a fairly genteel image, as in being free of any associated vulgarities as opposed to being populated by the gentry (save some maybe).

Alaró is therefore not a Magalluf. It would be impossible for it be anyway, given that it doesn't have a coast. Instead, it nestles quietly by the Tramuntana, which cliché demands that it should do. Villages overlooked by mountains are required to nestle. That's all they do.

Unfortunately for Alaró, this carefully carved-out reputation has been shattered. It has joined the ranks of Magalluf (of which one must say, of course, that this is pre-transformation Magalluf). It has attained a new first. It is the first village nestling in the Tramuntana foothills to grab the attention of The Sun and The Daily Mail, except when either of these may have published a travel article describing the pleasures of Mallorcan foothill nestling. The genteel, free of vulgarities image has been destroyed by scenes reminiscent of most nights in Magalluf (sorry, pre-transfomation Magalluf).

The Sun usefully informed its readers of the "shocking moment" that a mass brawl broke out between parents at a kids' football match. Mums screamed "in horror" and scrambled "to protect children from fighting dads". Goodness me, Alaró, what have you done? There's Biel Barceló going on about non-beach tourism, lauding the alternatives of cultural, heritage and nature tourism, facilitating the arrival of inland holiday rentals, and what happens? A village symbolic of all this alternative tourism has threatened the promotional drive by engaging in a re-enactment of Punta Ballena. One thing's for sure. If Alaró signs up to the sports tourism niche as a means of tackling seasonality, it'll carefully sidestep any mention of football.

This is of course greatly exaggerated, as was perhaps a headline in the local press which referred to a scandal with global repercussion. This repercussion will mostly have involved avid social network users having a good laugh. Which isn't to condone what happened, just that values are what they have become. Moreover, it's not as if it is unheard of for parents to get out of hand at kids' football matches. The difference in this instance is that parents behaving badly has gone viral.

The immediate victims of the "mass brawl" (what actually constitutes a mass?) were the Alaró boys. The team has been withdrawn. There again, the boys aren't entirely victims. Certain players face expulsion from the team, such as one seen kicking a man who was on the ground. It might be noted that the whole incident kicked off when an Alaró player chased a Collerense youngster and kicked him. Alaró had already had a player sent off as well as their trainer. The referee had apparently asked for the police to be called fifteen minutes before the brawl broke out. He sensed that there was an inflamed atmosphere.

As a consequence of what took place the public prosecutor is involved, as is the Guardia Civil, the national government's delegation to the Balearics as well as the Balearic Islands Football Federation's Anti-Violence Commission. Fines of up to 10,000 euros could be handed out. There is the threat of possible custodial sentences. And all because of a football match involving 12 and 13 year olds in the Regional Second Division, Group E.

The government and the Council of Mallorca both rushed to condemn Sunday's events. "Values" to be acquired through sport are important, said Biel Barceló in his vice-presidential guise. The Council was at pains to explain that it has a whole project aimed at inculcating these values through sport and at holding workshops to try and prevent violence.

Values, and good ones, are there to be attained, but there are other values being pursued - monetary, fame and celebrity. When the likes of Talk Sport, rather than indulging in shouting, stop and have sensible discussions about football, a subject that comes up is the behaviour of parents. When did they start behaving badly? Around the time when big bucks for junior players loomed. Allied to this are the values displayed on football pitches. Jamie Vardy has been praised in some quarters for having been cute enough in ensuring Samir Nasri was sent off. There are so many other examples.

As a local journalist has written, none of the kids last Sunday will become Messi. But such are the distorted values, that is the parental ambition. Poor Alaró. What had it done to deserve its global repercussion?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 March 2017

Morning high (7.40am): 10.3C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 23 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 24 March - Rain, 15C; 25 March - Cloud, 18C

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

Another fine morning. Southerlies contributing to quite a warm day. That rain on Friday is still looking likely.

Evening update (20.00): Clouded over somewhat in the afternoon. High of 22.2C.

The Property Wild West

Tourism minister Biel Barceló does not wish to hinder economic activity in Mallorca's interior municipalities. Hindrance, as much as possible, will therefore be removed under legislation governing holiday rentals. The principle of zoning, by which municipalities with heavy tourist dependence are lumped together with those without this dependence, will almost certainly be prejudicial to the expansion (in legal, registered terms) of these rentals in tourist resorts. The more micro zoning, that within municipalities, will in all likelihood place greater restraints.

The devil will be in the detail that the Council of Mallorca has yet to reveal. It is responsible for eight zones on the island. Palma is looking after itself. Whatever the outcome of this zoning, the government, i.e. Barceló, states that the objective will be to ensure that ordinary people are able to find somewhere to live, especially those who work in the tourism sector and mostly only in the season (the definition of which is now being stretched because of its lengthening).

If the government said this when it first announced its intention to legislate, then it certainly didn't speak loudly about the issue of accommodation. It was not, so it seemed, top of the agenda. It has been forced onto the government by the scares over a shortage bordering on non-existence of accommodation and the advance of so-called gentrification - the takeover by tourists and by wealthy incomers buying up properties, partly (mainly?) for tourist rental purposes.

The government has reacted to these scares. It may now claim to be taking proactive measures, but that is spin. Residents associations, pressure groups and certain town halls were the ones who highlighted the problems, to which the government has now reacted through its words regarding the legislation. There aren't housing issues in interior municipalities, so these municipalities - within reason and legislative requirements - can have holiday rentals: proper, registered, legal rentals. The housing issues are in the resorts. The legislation may deprive them of the registered rentals, but it won't stop tourist rentals. The government's words are just that, unless mechanisms are in place. These involve, for instance, a reform of the tenancy act, something which is essential. The government, though, has to wait on Madrid for such a reform, which may not be forthcoming.

Barceló and the government have a growing crisis on their hands. More than one. Hackneyed expression it is but there is a perfect storm. Airbnb is not the sole factor by any means. Shortage of affordable housing is another. But even if there were more, where would be the guarantee that it would be purchased for residential use and by residents of these islands? What guarantee might there be of it being for residential renting? There is none. Speculation for tourism purposes is not confined to the higher end of the market.

The property developers bemoan a situation by which there is little scope for affordable developments. While they do this with a certain amount of self-interest, they have fewer problems (seemingly) with the higher end of the market. Let me cite an example. On an urbanisation in Playa de Muro, two luxury properties - totally out of keeping architecturally with others - have risen up on a plot once occupied by a bungalow. A neighbour describes the development as "a disaster". There is a sign which gives contact details. These are summer-season holiday rentals. The character of the urbanisation is altering. It has long had second homes, but one-time second homes are now being turned over to tourist rental.

A further factor is foreign buying. In certain parts of Palma which aren't considered the most desirable, we learn that there is increased demand from foreign buyers. The town hall talks vaguely about ensuring the co-existence of the neighbourhoods. But how does it do this? It has no mechanism to regulate who buys what. The same applies elsewhere. The level of foreign buying is lauded because of a beneficial economic impact. But at what cost socially? And for what purpose?

The situation with accommodation has become particularly acute in Ibiza; it is out of control. At the weekend there was a demonstration. It called on governments - regional and the Council of Ibiza - to apply laws. Left-wing administrations have been in power for almost two years and have barely addressed the issues of the increasing accommodation crisis, of the loophole offered by the tenancy act and blatant illegalities. Demands for rent are scandalously high. The shortage of places is such that Aena has been unable to recruit because of the cost of renting, assuming there is availability. Small wonder, therefore, that Barceló has been shaken into saying what he now is regarding the purpose of the legislation.

Allowing towns like Sineu to have a few holiday rentals will make no difference. Something very much more fundamental is demanded. Will government have the guts? Words aren't much good, especially when they are reactive.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 March 2017

Morning high (7.06am): 7.2C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 22 March - Cloud, sun, 20C; 23 March - Cloud, sun, 19C; 24 March - Rain, 15C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3 mainly East up to midday, veering South during the afternoon.

Cloudless sky. Another fine day to come.

Evening update (20.00): High of 22.1C.

Pop-Ups For Mallorca?

In 2009, and so against a background of economic crisis, the market research consultancy Euromonitor presented a report at London's World Travel Market which identified new tourist industry opportunities. One was for "eco-luxury". A second was the "nano-break" of only one day or perhaps two. The third was the "pop-up hotel". This was essentially a type of prefab that could be put up at small cost. It was particularly attractive, it was said, to Generation Y, aka the Millennials, defined - insofar as there is an accurate definition (which there isn't) - as those born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s.

These three opportunities have in a sense all collided, although the break is generally not "nano"; it's more likely to be longer. But it was nano enough at what was one of the first examples of a luxury, ecologically designed pop-up hotel. This was at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival. It was a giant tent - a luxury one.

The point about Glastonbury is that, while the Millennials will go, so also do other generations. The previous one - Generation X - is sometimes also referred to as the MTV Generation: music therefore. The one before Generation X is the baby boomers, who grew up with The Beatles, Motown and the Summer of Love.

Marketing loves to categorise generations according to aspirations, attributes and attitudes. As products of their times, generations do have different characteristics, but to assign them to everyone is just plain daft. It is also daft to assume that previous generations don't have some of these characteristics as well, and in tourism terms, the desire for "experiences" and for seeking out something different and alternative cuts right across generations.

Whichever generation, where the pop-up hotel is concerned, it helps to have a fair amount of disposable income. One of the leaders in the market is the UK travel company Black Tomato. It has a brand called Blink, as in blink and you'll miss it. According to the company's co-founder Tom Marchant, Blink offers 751,074,508,800 possible combinations to choose from in selecting and designing holidays: I'll take his word for it. The ultimate in customisation, Blink offers personalised pop-ups that come at a pretty hefty price. Four nights (so not quite nano) in "lunar-like bubbles" on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia costs six people a staggering 167,800 euros, to which the cost of transport has to be added.

As part of the ecological equation, the pop-up installations leave no trace of there having been there. I have to say that I don't know how they deal with issues such as, well waste, but I'm guessing that's all been thought about. But pop-ups don't have to be here today-gone tomorrow. In Tel Aviv, they've created the first pop-up hotel in a beach lifeguards' tower. Transformed into an ocean-front suite, it forms part of a tourism campaign by the city and the Israeli ministry of tourism.

It seems instructive that government should be supportive of this scheme. Israel is therefore not quite the same as Mallorca. When I became aware of the bubbles in Bolivia, my first thought - on seeing them on the salt flat - turned to Mallorca. If someone came up with an idea like the bubbles, everyone would have a screaming fit. And everyone would include environmentalist groups. That first thought was quickly followed by last summer's memory of the so-called privatisation of the beach in Cabrera by people who had hired a superyacht. The bubbles may be eco-friendly, but in Mallorca, the eco-brigades would cry foul. And which, among all the governmental agencies that exist in Mallorca, would ever give permission? The answer is almost certainly none of them.

The thing with Mallorca is that it doesn't do alternatives. Airbnb, with a good deal of justification it has to be said, is being demonised for offering alternatives. Nevertheless, there is opposition just because it isn't the same. And this can also be said of the tents and tree house offered via Airbnb that have attracted publicity in the past few days. These have been greeted with "horror", so it is being said.

Apart from any regulatory issues, this camping has been criticised as an example of attracting less than quality tourism, i.e. people who don't spend money. But who says that they don't spend? Moreover, the tents demonstrate that there is a demand for the alternative, something which Mallorca cannot tolerate. If it did, the legislative obstacles to establishing campsites set out over thirty years ago would not have been raised.

Had the tents not been just tents but pop-ups such as the Bolivian ones, would there be the same horror? Yes. The tourists would undoubtedly be "quality" because of their money, but Mallorca wouldn't want them or permit them.

Image of the pop-ups on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat from

Monday, March 20, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 March 2017

Morning high (7.33am): 10.2C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 21 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 22 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 23 March - Cloud, 17C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South-Southwest 2 to 3 backing Northeast around midday.

Spring officially starts (Spanish time) at 11.29 this morning.

A bank of light cloud but the sun's out: a warmer morning. Forecast for later in the week not looking too good at present - rain possible by Thursday or Friday and temperature dropping.

Evening update (19.30): High of 22.4C. Felt warmer.

The Island Of Everlasting Spring

The Balearic Tourism Agency's Better in Winter promotional campaign isn't wholly about winter. Although it doesn't mention summer (well, it wouldn't, would it), the campaign branches out into the two remaining seasons. In actual fact, there is an acknowledgement of summer because there is a slogan lurking which suggests that Mallorca is ideal at any time of the year.

It can appear as if the agency is somewhat confused as to what it is actually promoting. There again, where winter is concerned, the season has long been used as local shorthand for anything which isn't summer; itself defined, confusingly enough, as May to October.

The apparent neglect of spring and autumn comes about purely because of the holiday seasons. There is summer and there is not-summer, aka winter, the one which the agency is insisting is better (however it might actually be defined). There is a coy promotional acknowledgement in being "ideal at any time of the year" that summer does exist: coy because the agency (and tourism ministry and indeed whole regional government) would rather like there to be fewer summer tourists and more winter tourists.

This confusion of seasons (and messages) is currently intended to promote all the wonders of Mallorca which aren't only to be found on a beach and under a blazing July sun. But there is, you may be unsurprised to know, absolutely nothing new with what the tourism agency is saying.

If one goes back to around the end of the 1950s, Mallorca was beginning to enjoy its purely summer sun-and-beach reputation. The boom had yet to really happen, but already there were attempts to diversify tourism across the seasons. The Fomento del Turismo (Mallorca Tourist Board), then responsible for promotion, produced a couple of posters. One, with fishing boats in the foreground and Palma Cathedral in the background, said: "You will also prefer Mallorca in the winter." The other, with a Tramuntana mountain and sea image, announced: "Visit Mallorca at any time of the year."

Nothing has therefore changed, only the political thinking behind promotional campaigns. But even getting on for 60 years ago, the two seasons of spring and autumn found it hard to make their presence known. If one goes back over the decades, there is little which has ever expressly promoted either season. There was one campaign, though, and it wasn't Mallorca-driven. It was by the airline Iberia.

I'm unsure when this campaign was developed. It is quite possible that it coincided with the elimination of visa requirements for US visitors coming to Spain. That was in 1953. The following year, an amendment to international rules for civil aviation, was good news for Spain. Charter planes were permitted. Iberia responded by expanding its fleet principally for transatlantic flights.

The poster for this campaign featured a lady in a swimsuit, an almond tree in early blossom (at least I think that's what it's meant to be), the sea and a plane. The slogan read - "Mallorca, island of everlasting spring" - and yes, it was Mallorca with two l's. This may, I'm guessing, be because it wasn't aimed at the British. (The almond blossom, incidentally, is included in a very similar way to which the artist Erwin Hubert had used it in a scene from the early 1930s.)

Why use spring, though? Well, let's face it you wouldn't promote everlasting autumn or winter. Everlasting summer? Not really no. Spring is a bit farfetched when it is reaching a hundred in mid-summer or when the island is being battered by January winds and drowning under floods, but spring does perhaps lend itself to a more accurate impression of the climate when the year is taken as a whole. On average, the temperatures are springlike.

You may not know that 21 March is World Poetry Day. It marks the start of spring. And in Mallorca this is pertinent. Some of the finest poetry has been inspired by spring, and one of the finest and most famous poems is Miquel Costa i Llobera's El Pi de Formentor, the Pine of Formentor.

Costa i Llobera's pine withstands all seasons and all that can be thrown at it by the weather. It isn't a poem, therefore, about spring as such. The poet loves a tree. He says as much. This tree is older than an olive. It is mightier than an oak. It is greener than an orange. It is the pine and its leaves conserve something. They conserve eternal spring. Eternal or everlasting? Maybe someone at Iberia had read a poem.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 March 2017

Morning high (7.36am): 7C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 20 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 21 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 22 March - Sun, cloud, 19C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 2 to 3 temporarily Northeast 3 in the afternoon.

And one more time ... . Spring officially starts tomorrow but is already here, even if it's distinctly nippy first thing.

Evening update (19.30): High of 23.8C. Lovely day.

Balti's Little Red Book

It may well have been the first time that each parliamentarian reached for his or her Little (Reddish) Book. Obligatory reading it quite possibly is, but who ever complies with such obligation? They will from now on, rather in the way that Dylan Hartley promised to make the rules of rugby his bedside companion following the Italian (First Half) Job.

The whole episode stirred memories of the students' union past. Back in the day, Mao's Little Red Book was mandatory for all of a Maoist persuasion and even some who were not. The book would ostentatiously be laid on a junior common room bar table, while its owner ferreted for some scarce loose change with which to pay for a pint of Maoist Mitchell's bitter.

There was another book, one reserved only for the wise elders of the students' union. This was the constitution book. It itemised rules that had to be obeyed or conveniently ignored. Into the latter category fell "ultra vires" payments, an arcane matter that was nevertheless hauled out at every meeting. Could the Iranian 91 (or numerous alternatives) receive union funds or not? Very few students, bar the elders, gave a toss whether they could or couldn't.

Far greater observance was paid to the holding of meetings. Rules were there to be adhered to in order that Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists and other-ists were given their due time to apply and spout ideological thinking to the price of meat and two veg in the university refectories. The point having been, you see, that those of solidly left-wing convictions did things by the book (when it suited them).

Thus it was with Balti the other day. Rules contained in parliament's Little (Reddish) Book, which no one other than Balti had obviously read, permit the speaker to eject the citizens and the media if a matter affecting parliament's "decorum" is to be debated. The decorum in this instance had to do with the PP's Álvaro Gijón. Fellow Podemosites - Jarabo and The Boot Girl - had set up the chance to give Gijón a good booting. It wasn't to be in public, decreed Balti. The book says no.

Parties were unanimous in criticising Balti's observance of the letter of the rules. Those to the right were less willing to forgive. Balti had acted with "authoritarianism". He was "incompetent". Such reaction was entirely to have been expected. The opposition hadn't wanted Balti to succeed Xe-Lo Huertas. His qualification for the position was being drawn into question, as it had been prior to his election. What can a metalbasher, or whatever he was in a former life, know about parliamentary protocol? And one, moreover, who looks as if he still inhabits student unions circa the mid-1970s. Well, a great deal more than those whose qualifications for parliamentary life normally involve their having been lawyers, geographers or pharmacists, especially the latter. Or so it appeared.

Further criticism suggested that rather than parliament being open to the citizens in a participative, Podemos manner, it was being closed. We were thus to presume that Podemos say one thing and do the precise opposite. Which was nonsense. Balti was merely maintaining a tradition of hard-leftist application of rules, though he says he wouldn't do it in quite the same way the next time.

Frankly, it was a fuss about very little. And perhaps Balti had done the legal process and the odd parliamentarian a favour. A public airing of thoughts about Gijón might be less than wise, given that he has been implicated in various corruption allegations. He has also hinted that he is not above seeing in court anyone who voices allegations. Balti did right. Or was it left? Or was it neither?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 March 2017

Morning high (6.41am): 5.7C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 19 March - Sun, 21C; 20 March - Sun, cloud, 21C; 21 March - Sun, cloud, 19C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South-Southeast 2 to 3 veering West in the afternoon.

More of the same. Fine and sunny with light breezes.

Evening update (20.00): High of 22.9C.

Arguing Over Price: Hotels v. Tour Operators

The hoteliers and the tour operators have been at it. Rather, they were at it a week ago in Berlin. The hoteliers haven't let things lie, though. They've been keeping things on the boil.

This is an unseemly spat between the two primary institutions of the tourism industry. Or are they? It is a row which does at least owe something to the diminished roles of both. The hoteliers are assaulted by Airbnb. The tour operators carve out nothing like the percentage of the market they once did. It was a Mallorcan hotelier who called Tui a dinosaur this week. He could have said the same about his industry.

It is a row which on the surface is easy to figure out. Mallorca's hoteliers up their prices. The tour operators say their customers (Germans) can't afford these prices. It is less easy to figure out when one goes beneath the surface of the headlines. These are the same tour operators which were grabbing all the places that were available for this year because demand was going (is going) to be so high. The hoteliers said as much, and they were only too happy to tag along. Get exclusive deals, and the job's done.

The beef with the hoteliers' prices didn't just suddenly arise in Berlin last week. If it had previously, then it was when contractual arrangements were being made for this year. They weren't made in Berlin; they were months ago. The tour operators knew the prices, especially their UK divisions. What was it that the hoteliers intimated? If the UK tour operators don't like our prices, we'll sell to tour operators from elsewhere. The German wings seemed only too happy to oblige.

The statements by the tour operators can be explained in different ways. One is that they genuinely are aghast at the higher prices, though this takes some accepting, given that the prices have been known about and factored in. The second is that the tour operators are telling consumers that they shouldn't blame them for higher prices; it's the hoteliers' fault. The third is if the tour operators haven't passed on the prices. If not, then their margins are seriously eroded.

The likes of Tui and Thomas Cook took big hits last year, mainly because of Turkey. It was noticeable that Turkey wasn't being bigged up in Berlin; it was Egypt. That destination may be recovering, but it is still only a modest recovery, and the tour operators have admitted as much. Turkey remains flat, and they know it, because again their own figures suggest this.

Mallorca helped to salvage tour operators' 2016 summers. With the hoteliers seeking payback for the profit flatlining which occurred for several years of crisis, they decided to over-indulge themselves this year, content in the knowledge that the tour operators had been saying all the right things; which they had been. There wasn't going to be a sudden massive revival in the eastern Med trouble spots this summer.

The tour operators, meanwhile, were needing to recoup 2016 losses. With hotel prices going up, the potential for doing this was reduced, if these prices were not wholly passed on. Their spokespeople will have had shareholders whispering in their ears. Senior management will have been taking some fright. One might recall the bashing that Thomas Cook took from shareholders over salaries, especially given the losses it reported.

Both parties have therefore been engaged in the politics of tourism - their own. Ultimately, they both need each other, but different dynamics have changed this historical relationship. There are more holidays for sale than there were twenty years ago, but the tour operators' share of the market has dropped significantly in relative terms. The hoteliers, if not tied by exclusive deals that the tour operators have signed, have the direct channels to sell through or the online agencies.

The relationship may have been weakened, but in another way it has been strengthened, and that is through the investment which tour operators have themselves poured in to hotels. They are not about to see that go west. And the hoteliers, meanwhile, protest that investment (from whatever source) has been made so that quality is raised. The price-quality ratio has therefore been raised: both the price and the quality. Unfortunately for the hoteliers, surveys don't necessarily bear this out. Mallorca's quality hasn't, when tourists are surveyed, leapt up. And this can partially be explained by all the tourists who have been "borrowed" from Egypt and Turkey. They have experienced quality-plus. Mallorca is playing catch-up with quality.

The hoteliers and the tour operators will stick to their sides of the argument, aware that they still have a reliance on each other.

Friday, March 17, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 March 2017

Morning high (7.13am): 5.5C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 18 March - Sun, 20C; 19 March - Sun, 21C; 20 March - Sun, cloud, 23C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3, temporarily Northeast around midday.

Happy St. Paddy's. Cold start. Not cold later. All looking good for the weekend.

Evening update (20.00): High of 22.2C.

The B-Word And Brits on Holiday

Brexit. Aaargh! There you are, it's been forced out of me. I took a vow under oath to never mention it. So much for vows. So much for hoping that the B-word is all a charade dreamt up by fake news. There is no B-word. The B-exit will not happen. There never was a referendum. There never was a European Union. Can Donald Trump confirm any of this? Paul Mason, he who was responsible for the excellent Panorama thing about Spanish profligacy and the economic crisis, recently described Trump as a lying fantasist. Sounds good to me. Come on, Donald, tell us that the B-word is fake after all.

In the absence of such confirmation, we have to suppose that the B-word exists and that the B-exit will come to pass. For those who have devoted so many words to dissecting and analysing the B-word, this will come as a relief. What would they have otherwise been doing for the past ... past, how long is it now?

Experts. So many experts. So many inexpert experts. Let's take one strand of expertise or inexpertise, shall we? How about tourism? The impact of the B-word on tourism, British tourism. You do know, don't you, that when the process that trigger-happy Theresa will article-ate is completed, there won't be any more British tourists. You didn't know?

This is a conclusion at the extreme wing of expertise; otherwise known as complete nonsense. The navel of post-exit British tourism has been gazed into on a regular basis, as has the same navel of pre-exit. Why should things change dramatically or have been changing? The only matter of any significance thus far has been the exchange rate. Yet even that isn't highly significant. British tourists have known poor exchange rate days in the past. They come anyway.

Iago Negueruela is the Balearic minister for employment, trade and industry. He strikes me as one of the more sensible people who govern the islands. Regarding tourism and the B-word, he has said that there will "still be tourists". Iago is a sort of expert, though not as much as his boffin economic affairs adviser, Llorenç Pou, but his simple analysis and the use of "still" cuts through the nonsense. Of course there will still be tourists, and their numbers may not substantially differ to what they are at present.

As others have observed, Mallorca is a convenient hop of a couple of hours by plane. Despite hotelier avarice and all that, despite exchange rates, holidaymakers value time as much as money. They can't wait to get on the beach, to get by the poolside, to get out the claim form for a fake bout of gastroenteritis. Someone noted the other day, apropos the so-called tourist resort bus services (so-called, because they aren't), that holidaymakers have no great desire to be taken on mystery trips of the Mallorcan countryside when they should be steaming towards Cala Millor or Alcudia. Time is holiday money. The quicker the better.

Ah, but in the post-exit universe there will be difficulties with travel. Really? Will Spain come up with an arrangement as daft as it has managed to with Russian travellers? A new contract with an Indian company that sorts out visas has reduced the number of cities in Russia to less than a handful where visas can be obtained. But why any talk of visas? They won't be required. Besides, if travel is currently so difficult to destinations outside the EU, why are all those British tourists heading to Turkey. Or were heading there before they took fright at the prospect of terrorism.

Negueruela might be slightly more alarmed by what experts are suggesting could happen with European funding. This in itself has an impact on tourism, as European funds help with certain projects. When the UK closes its Brussels account, the funds will be deprived of however many billions currently flow into the account. Regions of Spain will therefore lose out. If this is the case, then they'd better ensure they get the hurry-up with restoring Inca's theatre: it's a Euro theatre, half of it anyway and vital for future cultural tourism. Possibly.

More damaging potentially would be the impact on Palma. It's a Euro city, such are the demands made on Brussels. Will it sink into the sea when the (British) money dries up? Unlikely.  

Nevertheless, it is probably wise to have some contingency. Experts suggest that the Balearic economy could contract by as much (?) as 0.6% because of the ultimate impact of the B-word. Tourism markets therefore need to be diversified. Very sensible, but has there not been a process of diversification for some time? Ask Magalluf, for instance.

There you are then. If you want to know more, consult an expert. I promise not to mention the B-word again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 March 2017

Morning high (7.13am): 6.2C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 17 March - Sun, 19C; 18 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 19 March - Sun, 20C

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

Chilly morning - down at 4C in parts. Bright day to come.

Evening update (20.00): High of 21.6C.

The Falling Dominoes: Corruption

Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? I suppose it depends on how you define fun. Some of mine has involved corruption. Not that fun is really the word, I guess. Interest perhaps? Curiosity? Fascination?

Time has flown by since November 2006. I was reminded of this during a brief social media exchange the other day. It was the month when it all started. You can put an exact date on it: 27 November 2006. Or was the date two years earlier? In 2004 something very important occurred. The first regional anti-corruption prosecutor in the Balearics was appointed. The one-time attorney-general, Cándido Conde-Pumpido, had set about creating positions of these prosecutors in Spain's regions. There were some regions that needed prosecutors more than others. It may be that 2004 was when the domino effect started. Or at least when the dominoes stood up. Knock one and eventually they all tumble. One by one.

The prosecutor was Juan Carrau. In November 2006 it was he who knocked over the first domino. The name was Eugenio Hidalgo. He was the mayor of Andratx. He's still serving time.

Whenever one considers developments over the past ten years or so, one always goes back to Andratx. But there was something else which happened not long afterwards which drew comparatively little notice but was also significant: there were coordinated raids on lawyers and notaries offices. These, together with Andratx, marked the beginning. A change was in process. The dominoes started to quake and shiver.

Andratx wasn't the first time that the legal system had taken action against corruption. The Soller Tunnel affair of the 1990s brought down the Partido Popular president, Gabriel Cañellas, but the whole thing ended up with acquittals because of the statute of limitations. Andratx was to prove that the judiciary possessed sharper teeth, and when Jaume Matas came under suspicion, soon after losing the election in the spring of 2007, the dominoes were trembling even more.

Not everything that has transpired since Andratx can be traced back to it. But some can be. There was a trail to Matas, and once the prosecution and the investigating judge, José Castro, had sniffed it, they were dogs unprepared to let go of the bone. Palma Arena loomed massively, and by way of various branches from that investigation, the former Duke of Palma (Iñaki Urdangarin) caught the attention of Castro and Pedro Horrach.

The investigation into Palma police corruption was a separate matter, but overlaps were to emerge. José Maria Rodríguez, the now former head of the PP in Palma, was implicated with Andratx. Another strand of the Matas investigations - one still outstanding - was Son Espases. Among various names to have cropped up in respect of the hospital contract investigation is Tolo Cursach.

A great deal has been said and written since Cursach was arrested. There is a great deal to say. One only has to consider the charges. The book is being thrown at him, closely followed by the bookcase. In a spate of soul-searching, questions are being asked. Is Cursach somehow the culmination of all that has preceded him in terms of investigations? How could Cursach have happened? What does Cursach say about Mallorca?

It is miles away from dodgy land deals in Andratx, but there is a sense that it is a culmination, and that is because of the scale. The allegations are of systematic and systemic corruption that goes back decades, which has touched and affected many: systematic because of the organisation, systemic because of entire systems implicated. Cursach starts to become easy to explain when this distinction is drawn.

Alejandro Salas of Transparency International once said that corruption in Spain is "impregnated into different sectors of society". Gabriel Garcias, a law professor at the University of the Balearic Islands, has said that "so long as there is no ethical or moral transformation in society, the law will solve nothing". 

This isn't to say that every person in Mallorca is culpable or anything of the sort. The point about society is the existence of a societal mores. Politicians, police, businesspeople are society. In order for corruption to exist and to be perpetuated on a wide scale and for a length of time, there has to be a societal collusion. If there isn't, then the system is incomplete.

In corruption cases such as Palma Arena or Nóos, the effects on society in general have been largely abstract. There hasn't been actual harm in a physical way. Nóos, for instance, didn't involve allegations of homicide or threats. Nóos was not systemic. That these allegations are present in the Cursach and police corruption investigations reveal the magnitude of what is being played out.

The judge and prosecutor are holding society to account. That society which enables abuse of a systemic nature. The final dominoes may just be falling.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 March 2017

Morning high (7.21am): 9.8C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 16 March - Sun, 18C; 17 March - Sun, 19C; 18 March - Sun, cloud, 19C

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

Sunny, warm, no sign of any rain to wash away the pollen, but not too much breeze to make it fly around.

Evening update (20.00): High of 19.9C.

Reforming Language: Arbiters And Liberals

There was a time when the BBC was not solely inhabited by individuals who spoke with plummy, public-school accents which located their upbringing as having been in an anonymous and mysterious cloistered environment that was never actually revealed. That was because it didn't physically exist. It was (still is) an intangible attribute of birthright, deployed to distinguish its users from the riff-raff and to mark themselves out as superior beings.

Nevertheless, there were those who dared to differentiate themselves along identifiably regional lines. Numbered among them were Eamonn Andrews, Jimmy Clitheroe, John Arlott and Ted Moult. But they all - more or less - still spoke the Queen's English. The BBC was able to tolerate little else unless there was some comedic value attached. Even as the modern world, aka permissiveness, passed through the portal of Broadcasting House, the requirement barely shifted. If you ever have the chance, listen to John Peel circa 1967. The slow, "really nice", public-school drawl is unrecognisable with what it became once he discovered punk.

It may well have been punk which shifted the BBC spoken axis as much as it had launched a broadside against predominantly public-school prog rock (e.g. Genesis). But whatever and whenever it was, the BBC started to become what it is now - all things to all men, women and children, however and whatever they speak. Which is exactly how it should be: a reflection of society rather than being a self-appointed arbiter, which it was when the insistence was on the Queen's English and, prior to the Queen, the King.

Along the way, however, there have been major assaults on standards of grammar. There is no better an example than what one might call Football English. Identifying the culprit for this is not easy, but I'm tempted to finger Ron Atkinson. It was Big Ron, it seems to me, who popularised the footballing use of the present perfect tense. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it goes something like: "The boy's gone down the line, he's crossed the ball, and the big fella's stuck it in the back of the net."

Grammatically there is a problem with this structure, and it lies with its application. It is after the event, used to describe something that has happened and has been completed. The present perfect is therefore incorrect. The past tense is required: "the boy went down the line, etc." But does it matter? Not really. It grates - well it does with me - but if the application becomes as pervasive as it has, it acquires the status of common usage.

Such is the flexibility of language, English in particular. It is highly organic, a function, in no small part, of there being no standard-setter. English doesn't have academies as French and Spanish have to issue decrees as to standards. It is left to evolve, and one of its formerly de facto standard-setters, the BBC, is perfectly willing to allow it to.

There is a splendid article* on the BBC's website which looks at how the self-appointed arbiters have railed against supposedly bad English, be it grammar, punctuation, syntax or vocabulary. They range from Jonathan Swift in the early eighteenth century to a George Quinn in 2004. He suggested that someone who started a sentence with a conjunction should have been “appropriately beaten in grammar class”. For what it's worth, there is no "rule" barring the use of a conjunction at the start of sentence, though it shouldn't automatically be followed by a comma: conjunctions don't take one.

The article reveals the snobbery of these arbiters. For instance, Henry Watson Fowler, he of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, referred to "barbaric" usages. Lynne Truss had her "moral weaklings". Correctness equates therefore to "moral propriety". Lack of correctness permits vulgarisms and barbarisms. Strewth!

It's not as though I'm wholly liberal on the subject. I have just used an exclamation mark, which I rarely do. So misused has it become that it appears to be an optional alternative to a full stop. Other beefs concern Americanisms. There again, American usage is a further indication of the inherent flexibility of English. Far from barbaric, language evolution is natural, a consequence in particular of internationalisation.

Which leads me to Spanish. There are all manner of Spanish words which have passed either directly or indirectly into English. Fiesta is an example of the former; potato of the latter. I advocate another, one which is commonly used in English here in Mallorca: "reform". The Spanish "reforma" means as it does in English when one talks, for example, of legislative reform. But English doesn't use reform for building work. One can re-form with a hyphen by changing a shape, but one cannot reform a kitchen or a whole building. I'm tempted to think that one should be able to, as it makes perfect sense. Reforming language; it never stands still.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 March 2017

Morning high (7.08am): 13.4C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 15 March - Sun, 18C; 16 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 17 March - Sun, cloud, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 5 easing 4 in the afternoon.

Mild morning, some breeze but not blowing like yesterday. Sunny spells to come. The rest of the week looking fine and quite warm.

Evening update (20.00): High of 19.1C.

Resort Redevelopment: No Money, No Time

The Mallorca Hoteliers Federation is the most powerful of all regional federations. Its power lies, to a very large extent, in there being so many powerful hotel groups in Mallorca. Nowhere else in Spain comes close to the might which exists on the island. The power is such that the federation, acting on its own, can command the ear of the national government. The usual channel would be via the national confederation, but Mallorca can bypass this and go right to the very top.

While there might have been some misgivings regarding the previous incumbents of the positions of national tourism minister and secretary of state for tourism, the federation's relationship was never dogged by the politics which meant that a Partido Popular minister and Partido Popular president of the Balearics ceased to be on speaking terms. Nevertheless, the federation found it difficult to make headway, despite the secretary of state having been Mallorcan. With replacements for both positions in place, it senses that it might achieve more.

Soon after Matilde Asián was named secretary of state, she had a meeting with the hoteliers' president, Inma de Benito. In a rare act of solidarity with the current Balearic government, Benito requested that consideration be given to reforming the tenancy act. The hoteliers and government have different reasons for wishing this, but the reform would be the same: remove the loophole that facilitates so many holiday rentals.

Benito had some other requests, one of which was echoed last week in Berlin. This had to do with finding ways to obtain funds to rehabilitate tourist resorts. When she met Asián in December, the talk was of seeking European funds. Last week, it had simply become funds.

The hoteliers argue, with justification, that millions of private investment have gone towards modernising and upgrading hotels but that this investment has not been matched by the public sector. There are, to cite a general view, five-star hotels from which guests step out onto two-star pavements and streets. The infrastructure is as it has been for years but is getting worse.

We know of course all about Magalluf and Calvia's efforts to try and follow the lead of Meliá and others. But keeping up with these efforts isn't straightforward. Many town halls, having spent the years of austerity remodelling their finances, have surpluses. However, they can't use them; or only small parts of them. They are restricted by Madrid, which in turn bends to the requirements of Brussels.

Take the case of Palma. The town hall is regularly upbraided by hoteliers and residents alike because of its neglect of Playa de Palma. Yet here was supposed to have been one of the stellar resort transformation projects. How long has it been waited for? This isn't the fault solely of the town hall because the scheme has always demanded (and been promised) national funds. The scale of the redevelopment outstrips that of other resorts, but the failures to date serve only to highlight the demands of Mallorca's hoteliers.

Mayor José Hila, referring to Benito's request for national funding, said last week that the principal problem is the cut in public investment. And he isn't entirely wrong. Town halls are bound by rules for budgetary stability. These restrict what they can spend and when.

Town halls, where they are able to, do make investments. In Puerto Pollensa, despite all the rows, the improvement, mainly confined as yet to pavements, has been massive. Previously, some of them wouldn't have merited any star let alone two. The rows were, however, understandable, because of the amount of work required and the consequent inconvenience and noise.

These rows are now being repeated in Cala Bona and Cala Millor. It's reasonable to ask, as is the case, why the work is being done now and will last, in all likelihood, until May. Son Servera town hall, though, will have been mindful of how it is forced to budget for such schemes, which is basically the point that Hila was making.

In other parts of Mallorca, work has caused some rumpus: Paguera, Alcudia, Puerto Soller are and have been examples during this low season. But work in all these resorts achieves only so much. The years of underinvestment, and not just the years of austerity, have created resorts in desperate need of improvement. This extends to buildings as well, and not just hotels. In this regard, Calvia's attempt to incentivise owners has thus far been a dead loss.

The national minister, Álvaro Nadal, has himself spoken of the need to modernise "mature resorts". At present, though, budgetary demands limit his ability to effect modernisation just as they do town halls. If the time comes, though, and the purse strings are loosened sufficiently to enable wholesale resort redevelopments, a question needs answering. When could it be done? Lengthening the tourism season has its drawbacks. Just ask the good folk of Cala Bona.

* Photo: Work along part of Alcudia's Mile.

Monday, March 13, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 March 2017

Morning high (6.55am): 14.2C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 14 March - Sun, cloud, 18C; 15 March - Sun, cloud, 18C; 16 March - Sun, cloud, 18C

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

Breezy morning. Rain quite likely, especially this morning.

Evening update (20.00): Only some spots of rain. Little sun. High of 16.5C.

The Palm Funfair Of Old Palma

It's a tricky word, fair. Not that any of its meanings are tricky, just that it can be difficult to distinguish between them. Mallorca has an abundance of fairs, dictionary definitions of which include - "a gathering of producers of and dealers in a given class of products to facilitate business" or "a gathering held at a specified time and place for the buying and selling of goods; a market". Although these gatherings don't presuppose the additional presence of a different type of fair, some fairs have them, they being "travelling entertainments with sideshows, rides, etc., especially ones that visit places at the same time each year".

The fair of the travelling entertainment variety is typically secondary to the market-type gatherings. No, not typically, always, with the rare exception. And the most obvious exception is Palma's Fira del Ram. This is a funfair fair more than a market fair. Indeed the market element is very much subordinate, being confined mostly to food stalls. In this regard, it's no different to funfairs anywhere. It's the attractions which matter, and the stalls are an added bonus. Rather than hot-dogs, though, there are fritters with chocolate, types of kebab, waffles and the ubiquitous "bocadillo".

This is not how it used to be. Back in the day there was no ye olde Giant Wheel. In fact there were no attractions, except one. The fair was a precursor of all the gastronomy events that now take place, a celebration of all things eating. It was also a type of craft market, an early incarnation of the numerous artisan fairs of today.

There may not have been the type of attraction one associates with the current-day funfair, but there was something which attracted the crowds: the reason why there ever was a Fira del Ram. This was the image of Veronica and the relic of Santa Faz, which is bound up with the story of Veronica who wiped the face of Christ on his way to Calvary.

Arguments rage, as the typically do with Mallorca's history, about when the image first turned up in Palma. One argument suggests that it was despatched from Rome in 1459 by Cardinal Antoni Cerdà: its destination - the nuns of the monastery of Santa Margarita. A rival argument insists that it appeared more than one hundred years later. Cardinal Jaume Pou Berard sent the image to his sister who was a nun at the same monastery.

The origins of the fair are, therefore, either some 450 years old or more than 550 years old. Well, what's a hundred years? It was a fair old time ago that the fair acquired its roots, and these roots were to be planted because of Palm Sunday.

The image used to be hauled out on three occasions. One was for the birthday of the Virgin Mary in September, while the other two were both during Holy Week - the Wednesday before Easter and Palm Sunday. The latter of these was to prove to be the most popular. Each year, more and more people pitched up at the monastery, and wherever people gathered in any great number, so the old-time entrepreneurs spied opportunities. Hence, the food came to be sold and the craft was on display, mostly figures to do with the story of Easter.

As the fair gained ever more popularity, so it needed more space. The monastery grounds were inadequate, meaning that streets, such as Sant Miquel needed to be occupied. By the eighteenth century, the star item of craft was the siurell. And around about this time, the first elements of a funfair began to creep in; there had to be something to entertain the children.

The fair was to then move to two different sites, the second of which was La Rambla. And it was here that in the late nineteenth century a businessman from Catalonia had the bright idea to introduce merry-go-rounds. Such was their popularity that other clear examples of the funfair were grafted on. By the second half of the last century, the fair was really a funfair pure and simple. It was moved again - in front of the Cathedral, to the Llevant estate and finally to where it now is - Son Fusteret.

Strictly speaking, the current-day fair should start three weeks before Palm Sunday - "Diumenge de Rams". Given that Palm Sunday this year is on 9 April and that the fair has already been going for a while, a certain looseness in interpretation has been applied. This also includes how long the fair goes on for - two weeks after Palm Sunday. As to there being any veneration of religious images, it's reasonable to suggest that this has largely been forgotten.