Monday, March 13, 2017

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.

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