Thursday, June 22, 2017


I would have assumed that picture postcard was just a cliché that someone once came up with. Does a postcard not normally have a picture? Or several pictures? According to the Collins English Dictionary (online version), picture postcard merits its own entry as a noun and is defined thus: It is a postcard with a photograph of a place on it. How useful. So, it's a postcard then.

Rather more to the point, when Collins considers the picture postcard as an adjective, it says that this describes a place that is very attractive. Somewhere can be "very picturesque". By adding picture to the equation, the mundane functionality of a postcard takes on a whole different characteristic. Picture postcard settings are for aspiration and inspiration. They present very much greater stimulus to the wishing you were here sloganising of the postcard of yore. And in contemporary social network speak, these are settings to be liked or loved.

Does anyone send postcards any longer? Actually, they do. I received one from Zanzibar not so long ago. It must have taken about a month, which is partly the issue. As with other communications, the postcard has been booted onto the scrap heap of ancient technology. Why bother with a postcard when there is the immediacy, let's say, of Instagram? And with the additional technological aids available, the sharing of picture postcard scenes are even more picture postcard than they once were. These are virtual art forms revealing virtual destinations. Wish you were here? Oh yes: aspire, inspire, like, love.

The Balearic Tourism Agency, whose familiarity with contemporary technologies has often seemed to be non-existent or stuck in a past of postcards with pictures of donkeys wearing sombreros, has discovered Instagram: Turismoislasbaleares is where you'll find it. And goodness, what finds there are. Gorgeous coves, dramatic mountain scenes, quaint fishermen harbours, strange islets surrounded with deep blues of the Mediterranean, appealing streets with clothes of primary colours hanging outside pretty boutiques. Wish you were here? Heavens, yes. Here is Heaven - #MallorcaLover (or the other islands), #BetterInWinter.

The picture postcard instant gratification of Mallorca-gone-Instagram is a delight to behold. However, there is something missing from mostly all these picture postcard scenes. Their picturesque quality would be clearly lessened. This is a quality of Mallorca from a distant time even if it is still visible. This is tourism promotion not from the days just before the boom, it is from before they even started to formalise attempts at promotion 112 years ago. What is missing? Not what, but who. People.

The idyllic imagery is, one might suggest, slightly at variance with the general narrative of the times, one that the tourism ministry has indulged in or even actively encouraged. Coves, we have learned, are saturated with people, cars, rubbish, illegal chiringuitos, lookies, town hall and other authorities shaking their heads, and police attempting to de-saturate the coves. The mountains are overrun with coaches and cyclists. Appealing streets with their pretty boutiques may indeed be appealing, but no one's buying anything except from the ranks of even more lookies with their blankets on the ground just round the corner from the appealing street. This is Mallorca as the picture postcard would love it to always be. And of course it is; just that the images don't tell the whole picture.

There was a recent survey in which tourists were asked what was good and not so good about Mallorca. A staggering (or was it?) 91% said that the large number of tourists in summer was the island's least positive aspect, i.e. most negative. Yes, tourists believe that there are too many damn tourists. And many of them are blocking the view of what Instagram would have us believe is the wholly unspoiled island that Santiago Rusiñol (in 1912) described as calm.

This said, the Instagram hashtags provide a clue as to what this promotion is in aid of. #BetterInWinter is the tourism agency's passionate promotional cri de coeur. In winter, unless it's blowing a gale or hammering down with rain, the coves are gorgeous, the strange islets are surrounded with deep blues. And there indeed isn't anyone to block the view, at least in part because getting here can be as tortuous a communications process as sending a postcard from Zanzibar.

Still, one shouldn't really quibble too much. The picture postcards are lovely. And the tourism agency is finally catching up with technology: it's taken an awfully long time. But are the 12.3k followers of the Instagram channel seekers of picture postcards of the winter or of the summer? Do their likes and loves stem from existing knowledge? If so, they may be among the 91% - in summer anyway.

Wishing you were here? #BetterInInstagram.

* Balearic Islands Instagram: Turismoislasbaleares
** Photo here (mine): Sa Foradada and sea from Son Marroig, Deià.

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