Monday, August 07, 2017

The Present Day Remains Of Gabriel Alomar

August is the month when Mallorca seems to fall asleep. It takes itself off to a beach and dozes under a somnolent sun. It shades itself on terraces and falls drowsy listening to the gentle rustle of bougainvillea; the breezes, desperately sought, lessen the soporific heat. It wakes from another night of fiesta revelry and decides to turn over, willing a re-energising for yet more nighttime partying to come.

August isn't always like this. It wasn't, for example, in 1936. The heat of high summer was the hell of war. A victim of that conflict was Gabriel Alomar Villalonga. He wasn't a victim through death but, like many others, through exile.

Alomar was born in Palma in 1873. He grew up in Mallorca but was to leave the island and move to Barcelona. He was to become a journalist, a writer, a politician and a diplomat. Mallorca couldn't satisfy his views. It was a conservative land. It is less so now. In Barcelona he was able to join the movement for Catalan nationalism, one that nowadays has ambitions for enveloping Mallorca and the Balearics in a mythical territory - the Catalan Lands. Enduring conservatism of the island, diminished to a degree, today supplies only modest incentive for such ambitions.

Before the war, Alomar became the ambassador to Italy for the Second Republic: Italy, a country gripped by fascism. Alomar would have witnessed at first hand something of what was to overwhelm Mallorca and Spain. When the war broke out, Alomar was back in Spain and in Madrid, for the time being still the seat of government for the Republicans. He signed up to the manifesto of adherence by Mallorcan intellectuals to the culture of Catalonia and to the broader manifesto of Catalans in favour of the Republic. In 1937 he went to Cairo as the commercial attache. It was to prove to be a fortuitous appointment, though he was to die in Cairo on the seventh of August 1941 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery.

His name was largely forgotten, but it was to be remembered as the nascent revival of Catalan culture in Mallorca took its first tentative steps under Franco: the Obra Cultural Balear (OCB) came into being in 1962. Alomar had been one of the standard bearers of Catalan Republicanism, and when the Franco regime ended, his name was well and truly revived.

Thirty-six years after his death, his remains were brought to Mallorca. They arrived in 1977 on an August day that coincided with when he had died. Around one hundred people gathered in silence at the airport. The cask was covered in the Catalan flag, and the mayor, Paulí Buchens, handed it to Alomar's son, Victor. He said that the burial of the remains in the cemetery of Palma should be a simple act not to be exploited by any particular political group. "My father is heritage of the history and people of the islands."

As tourists flew into Mallorca in that August forty summers ago, they would have had no knowledge of this ceremony or of Alomar. Tourism followed a path quite separate from the recent history of the island. Tourism wasn't totally divorced from the island's culture, but the culture it was served was mainly that as it had long been: the trips to Valldemossa and such like. Tourism was also on its branch line of development, one distinct from the environment. Forty summers on, and there is vastly greater awareness of all these, and the awareness that was to be fostered for tourism and tourists owes a great deal to what happened in that summer. Alomar's remains were just one aspect.

In June of 1977 the first elections of the democratic era were held. Against this background there was a whiff of revolution. In July of that year, as an example, the magazine of the federation of revolutionary communist youth groups was demanding that its voice be heard and was advocating advances in sexuality and ecology. A group calling itself "Denúncia i Control Contra la Destrucció Ecològica" was formed. The environmentalists GOB were to the fore in the occupation of the island of Dragonera, protesting at proposed development. Police confronted some 500 Dragonera protesters in Palma's Plaça Espanya. Rubber bullets were fired.

It was a summer that marked a watershed. Environmental awareness was raised to a level that it had never been, but there was also the confirmation of the presence of the counter-establishment, which today finds expression through at least some of the island's politicians. Gabriel Alomar's remains were symbolic. No one political party did claim them. But at the meeting on 6 August that was held to organise the return of the remains, the parties were joined by various groups - the OCB, GOB, the Congress of Catalan Culture. A cask of remains was a symbol of the future, and in a sleepy August in 2017 it is also a symbol of the present.

* Photo of Gabriel Alomar from Wikipedia.

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