Thursday, September 14, 2017

Remembering The Days of Romantic Travelling

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, romantic travellers and European aristocrats (an Austrian one in particular) discovered the romantic charms of Mallorca. An island hitherto unremarkable in the general scheme of Mediterranean things began to acquire a reputation. Those romantic travellers would arrive by boat, soak in the sight of the Cathedral, appreciate the light and the climate, and be taken by stage coach to mountain retreats, not least those of the Archduke Louis Salvador.

In the mountains those travellers could enjoy glorious vistas. Those who were friendly with the Archduke could visit Son Marroig, the stately pile perched on a cliff top overlooking the Tramuntana coastline. From the lookout, designed to the Archduke's instruction, they, as he did, could contemplate the rock with the hole in it - Sa Foradada - and the sheet of blue which at the horizon competed with a vast canvas of more blue (assuming the weather was ideal, that is).

The Archduke, despite his aristocratic upbringing, understood much of this island. In fact he would have understood more about it than anyone else. The Archduke, in some respects, invented Mallorca and indeed the Balearics. And among the subjects that the encyclopaedic Archduke turned his research attention to was the island's agriculture. He could hardly have avoided it. Agriculture was about all there was.

Mallorca was far from unique in this regard. Agriculture was still a dominant if not the dominant sector for parts of Europe, in particular those which the Industrial Revolution had ignored. The steam train was to arrive only a few years after the Archduke had in the late 1860s. The Industrial Revolution slowly made itself felt.

The Archduke knew about the steam trains, just as he knew about agriculture. His detail was such that he could note the price and output of produce. His inventories were as assiduously compiled as were those by governmental emissaries who were occasionally dispatched to this remote island in an attempt to understand why it was part of Spain.

But the Archduke was interested in more than just monetary values and the weight of crops. He witnessed the agricultural condition and the appalling condition of the farming labourers. There was grinding poverty, wholly inadequate wages, intolerable hours. And there was also pest. When phylloxera struck the vines in 1891 it was just another blow for agriculture. Emigration and the promise of greater wealth and better standards of living deprived the island of much of its agricultural workforce.

Move forward to the late 1950s and Mallorca and Spain were economic basket cases. Mallorca was actually rather better off than many parts of the country, and this owed much to its banking sector. In the fields the lot of the agricultural worker was still far from wonderful. Agriculture had enjoyed but also endured the Franco regime. Enjoyed it because of the stability of autarky that guaranteed the employment required for economic self-sufficiency and the supplies from the cooperatives. Endured it because of a lack of investment and innovation. Self-sufficiency placed a premium on staple crops above more profitable ones. Autarky had been economic insanity. Spain was on its knees before the Americans intervened, Opus Dei technocrats guided the regime towards a different economic model, and tourism (and foreign exchange) were discovered.

On 23 September there is to be a demonstration against the "massification" of tourism. The different groups which have lent their support to this demo have produced a "manifesto". This refers, among other things, to the days of the romantic traveller and the European aristocrats. It implies the existence of an idyll, which was far from the case, especially for the agricultural working class. There is another reference - to the "imposition" of tourism by the Franco regime and by local "caciques", a term used here in broad terms to mean businesses, such as banks.

The image that the Assemblea 23-S, the umbrella title for the demo's organisers, is conjuring up is one of its own false romanticism. It appears to hanker after a past before tourism was imposed on a "predominantly agrarian economy". If so, then its vision is as insane as autarky had been.

It ignores utterly the fact that a Mallorcan development of the "industry of the foreigners", which was how tourism was described at the turn of the twentieth century, owed a great deal to the insufficiency of agriculture. It ignores a further fact that agricultural workers were offered an alternative source of employment by the boom in tourism in the '60s. Yes, big mistakes were made through the environmental destructiveness of so-called Balearisation, but new employment was created and a new society began to emerge - one that was more cosmopolitan, more modern.

Agricultural work was every bit as precarious as work in the tourism sector. It still is. Wages are low, seasonality is a factor, the weather is another. Yet the Assemblea, characterised as much as anything by parochialism, would seem to be willing an imposition of this old economy. Romantic?

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