Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Palma And The New Old

In with the new, out with the old. The new is the new old. Each new year brings with it its hopes and messages for the next 365 days. Same as they ever were: mostly platitudinous nonsense. Of course, some messages are clung to with greater optimism and fervour (even credence) than others. Into the latter category (the others) fall the New Year expressions of Balearic politicians. There is nothing papal about their delivery. And nor might one expect there to be, given the non-leanings of some inhabitants of this political class.

As historical coincidence would have it, Palma provides a readymade opportunity for the very old (788 years old on 31 December 2017) to invade the very new. If only it were - very new, that is. The invoking of the ancient defines the present and the future. Republican mayor Antoni Noguera, not reticent in making his allusions to the murdered Republican mayor, Emili Darder, reaches for much greater antiquity than the shameful barbarity of 1937 and Darder's execution.

For Noguera, the Festival of the Standard is for the people of Palma to reaffirm themselves as a people. Or something like that. Meanwhile, this reaffirmation is coloured with the language of the new. "A great social and urban transformation. Perhaps the most important in its (Palma's) modern and contemporary history. Projects based on sustainability, culture and the general interest." And within the projects for culture is the hankering for days of yore and Good King James putting the Muslims to flight. Welcome to modern, contemporary, multicultural Palma. (It was actually Miquel Ensenyat, Noguera's more impressive brother-in-Més-arms, who took the 31 December opportunity to refer to multiculturalism.)

One cannot and should not forget or neglect the past, but Heavens, how much it determines the present. Jaume I, Franco and the 1715 Nueva Planta of the Bourbons. Everything revolves around these historical landmarks, if everything is allowed to be. They are massively important, of course they are, but so much of what we call modernity and contemporary society, including what Antoni Noguera might have to say, is indivisible from the history that has shaped it.

The Festival of the Standard, the mayor opines, should be Palma's festival, the means for the reaffirmation. Really? While the festival carries negligible weight in anywhere other than Palma, one might well ask just how much weight it has in the city itself. Isn't Sebastian the Palma festival? Do the people of the city not define themselves more in terms of some crackpot legend about a saint's bone and the music parties and fire-runs that it has permitted?

And while this reaffirming is to be implanted, Palma in 2018 will undergo a social and urban transformation like never before, says the mayor. Cases in point will be the urban forest of the old dog track and the preservation of the little port of El Molinar. Both are most worthy - it would be surely difficult for anyone to disagree with either - but how transformational are they? Are town halls not in any event charged with undertaking projects that contribute to elevated quality of life?

Another project, the one for the Paseo Marítimo, has raised a query or two from the Council of Mallorca. Again, and in principle, the scheme for traffic calming and greater pedestrianisation, has much merit. But what about the practicalities, Antoni, the Council asks, donning its highway hat and doing so, moreover, through the offices of a PSOE councillor. Dogging the Noguera vision of transformation is the uneasy alliance with PSOE, and if PSOE at the town hall prefers not to be seen to be taking issue with one of its shaky partners, PSOE at the Council has no such qualms. Elections are coming, and so socialist pragmatism will compete with socialist eco-nationalism.

Skirting round the practicalities, Noguera responded by, among other things, referring to a saving of the planet - yes, he really did come out with this. Fine words indeed, but what about all that traffic backed up because of the loss of two lanes?

There is much to admire with the mayor's vision of the city. The urban forest, for instance, is a very good idea, so long it proves to be practical. The notion of a creative, digital space that appears to involve the Gesa building is another idea, if only we knew what he meant by it, just as it would be nice to know what actually is going to be done with the building. One wonders, were it to ever be put to a citizen participation poll, which would attract greater support for the wrecking ball: the Gesa building or the mayor's cause célèbre of the Feixina monument.

Both Gesa and Feixina are further relics of the old. One can be transformed (maybe), the other not. For the transformation of the new old, history means everything.

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