Monday, February 26, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 February 2018

Morning high (7.22am): 9.2C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 27 February - Rain, 10C; 28 February - Rain, 17C; 1 March - Sun, cloud, 21C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 4 to 5.

Unremarkable mix of cloud and sunny spells expected today. The east and northeast breezes today are ushering in the "Siberian" front anticipated for tomorrow. The breezes are due to shift southerly on Wednesday, push the front away and bring in quite warm weather.

Evening update (20.45): Some sun but not warm - high of 13.5C.

Guillem Bestard And Mallorca's Early Photography

Pollensa town hall is to spend 277,500 euros on a collection of photos. This isn't any old collection. It is one that will be bought so that it remains the property of the people of Pollensa. It is the Bestard archive, one of the most famous and most important of all photographic collections in Mallorca.

The town hall will make four separate and equal payments over four years. In return, it will receive part of the collection every three months. The photos will be catalogued and stored in Can Llobera, the family home of the Pollensa poet Miquel Costa i Llobera. Eventually, there will be a room at the Pollensa Museum which will be used for a permanent exhibition. There would need to be a fair amount of space, if they were to in fact display the whole collection at one time. The exact number of photos isn't known for sure, but it is believed to be as many 400,000: they were taken over a period of one hundred years by three different generations.

The decision to purchase the collection was made at last week's council meeting. At that meeting it was also agreed to start the procedure by which Guillem Bestard will be named an illustrious son of Pollensa. It was Guillem who started it all off. The year was 1898.

The Bestard family ran an inn. A German painter came to Pollensa in 1898 and stayed at the inn. Guillem was seventeen; the painter introduced him to the camera. The rest was history that endured until 2006, and it is a history that has acquired a worth of more than a quarter of a million euros. While one might sometimes question town hall spending, there surely cannot be any criticism of this investment: one of the most remarkable archives that reveals Mallorca from the start of the last century.

The name Bestard can often be found on old photos of Mallorca. The majority of the photos that Guillem took in the early years were landscapes and scenes of fishing villages, such as his own - Puerto Pollensa. But he had a broader scope. He photographed Antoni Maura in 1910. Maura was the first and only Mallorcan to have been the prime minister of Spain.

His fame spread beyond Mallorca. His work was used for the Madrid daily newspaper El Sol. It was also featured in National Geographic. He received the gold medal for artistic photography at the international exhibition in Paris of 1910; other awards were to follow.

The early work in the Bestard archive is one of only a handful of collections to have survived. Another is that of Josep Truyol. While renowned as a photographer, Truyol had another claim to fame: he was one of the pioneers of film in Mallorca, if not the pioneer.

The claim to having been Mallorca's first photographer is somewhat disputed. One name who stands out in this regard was a Frenchman - Jules Virenque Chastain. He came to Mallorca in 1855. Three years later, he married Francesca Simó. The couple opened a photographic studio in Palma. Virenque was to become friendly with the Austrian Archduke Louis Salvador. His photos were to form the basis of illustrations in the Archduke's master work, Die Balearen. There is one very famous photo of the Archduke and family. The precise year is unclear, but Virenque died in 1876; the Archduke had arrived in Mallorca nine years earlier.

The Welsh photographer Charles Clifford, whose career as a photographer was developed in Spain, took photos of Queen Isabel II when she visited Mallorca in 1860. The official album of that visit is in the safekeeping of Palma town hall.

Then there was also one Francisco Muntaner Llampayes. He was from a family of engravers based in Palma and he collaborated with an industrialist and intellectual, Bartolomé Sureda, and Pere d'Alcàntara Penya, who nowadays has fame as the writer of the Sa Colcada poem that it is recited every New Year's Eve to mark the conquest of Jaume I in 1229.

Anyway, it would seem that Muntaner began using collotype (invented by the Frenchman Alphonse Louis Poitevin in 1856) for works by Sureda and Alcàntara Penya, which appeared in the first travel guide to the Balearic Islands. Muntaner wasn't really a photographer; he sought ways to improve other processes. But in some circles he is described as Mallorca's first photographer. Whether he was or he wasn't, he helped pave the way for those who were to follow, such as Guillem Bestard.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 February 2018

Morning high (8.11am): 5.2C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 26 February - Cloud, sun, 14C; 27 February - Rain, 11C; 28 February - Rain, 19C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 3 to 4.

Another bright and chilly morning. The week ahead ... cold and wet on Tuesday, then warming up but with showers.

Evening update (19.30): Much better - for now - high of 16.7C.

The Political Prisoners Of The Balearic Parliament

Members of the Balearic parliament last week became political prisoners, if only because they had attached small posters to the lids of their laptops in order to disguise which of them have got the latest and most expensive Mac PowerBook. These members were declaring their support for the Jordis, brothers in quasi-revolutionary arms who are currently banged up somewhere in Catalonia. Liberty for the Jordis read the posters displayed on the laptops.

Staring earnestly at the laptop screens were, quite naturally, the brother and sisterhood of Més and Podemos. PSOE, ostensibly partners in government, eschewed the opportunity to join in and become political prisoners. In fact, PSOE members of parliament don't tend to bother looking at laptops at all. Maybe they have more important things to do, like being parliamentarians. I mean, what do the likes of Més wild man David Abril find of such interest on a laptop? The Euromillions numbers?

If you've never taken the time to peer into a local estate agents, I recommend that you do. You will then appreciate how similar estate agents are to members of Més and Podemos. There they all are, eagerly ogling a computer screen. Well, I suppose if you're hunting for the commission on the sale of a five million euro gaff in Puerto Andratx, then you would do. That's the estate agents, by the way; not members of Més or Podemos (or maybe that's what they're doing in parliament as well).

Given that we learned once more last week that seven-figure properties are flying off the shelves (or rather the computer screens) but that local authorities can't find it within their generosity to make land available for affordable housing, perhaps the laptop-obsessed parliamentarians should display solidarity with those closer to home: Jordis plus families in Mallorca living in semi-penury and unable to find somewhere decent to live because all the property which isn't being flogged for seven figures had been snapped up and thrown up on Airbnb (before the government came along and put a stop to that - and rightly so).

Not, it has to be said, that this would go down at all well with the estate agents. A two hundred grand hovel in Inca? Not worth my while getting out of bed, mate.

But no, the parliamentarians - some of them - insist on campaigning for the Jordis and raising motions demanding that the Supreme Court immediately orders their release. Personally, I don't disagree - the Jordis and the others shouldn't be in prison - it's just that one feels these dear elected officials should be spending their time and taxpayer money in pursuit of more meaningful matters.

Someone asked me the other day if we are all led to believe that island politicians make themselves out to be a lot more important than they really are. The answer to which was unquestionably yes. Some are undoubtedly worthy and do worthy things, but how many are basically just nits who consider it worthwhile to waste parliament time on motions for which the parliament does not in any event have any say? (Separation of powers and all that; a regional parliament has no authority whatsoever to tell the Supreme Court what it should or shouldn't do.)

And how many of these nits have been thrust into a political spotlight courtesy of a small percentage share of the vote and now wish to foist Catalonia Mark II onto a populace that would rather slit its collective wrist than ever be under the control of Barcelona and find itself part of the mythical Catalan Lands?

Excluded, it must be stressed, from the ranks of the nit is our favourite president (aka speaker) of the Balearic parliament. Balti celebrated his first year as president last week, and he said that people may feel as though they can identify more with him than with someone who wears a suit and a tie.

If one looks like a one-time bass guitarist with The Allman Brothers Band, favours a pair of Converse and drives a clapped-out Renault Twingo, then one probably does identify with Balti. But this is a disparagement. Balti's image may be somewhat unconventional, but he believes - and he's probably right to believe - that he's doing a decent enough job. And why shouldn't he?

He spoke last week about his first year, suggesting that people have got used to him now. More important was how sincere he sounded. Unlike some who are on-message with all the consensus and citizens guff, when he said that his motivation is to help the citizens, you were left under no illusion that he really meant it. There's a humility with the bloke that is endearing. And it's not as though he's actually coining it in. He earns 3,400 euros a month, and 800 of that is handed over to Podemos.

"I know why I took this step (to become speaker). I know we must be very clear in not falling into any temptation." Amen. Balti? Why not Balti? Think who has occupied the speaker's chair in the past. One of them will be looking at the inside of a prison cell for at least seven more years. And no, she is not a political prisoner.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 February 2018

Morning high (7.21am): 1.6C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 25 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 26 February - Cloud, sun, 13C; 27 February - Rain, 10C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 2 to 3.

Cold morning. Clear skies. Should be sunny most of the day.

The Road To Formentor

Antoni Parietti would never have envisaged that almost ninety years after he started drafting the project, the road that was he was responsible for would become the subject of such debate. There were in fact two roads, both of which are being scrutinised because of the apparently excessive volumes of traffic. Sa Calobra was one; Formentor was the other.

Parietti was an engineering genius. Either that or he was mad. It has been said of the Formentor road - thirteen kilometres in length - that it would not now be built. It probably would, but it would be built under very different conditions to the construction of the 1930s. There are no records as to what might have befallen some of the men who worked on it. The project was enormously dangerous and complex. The curves were necessary in order to counteract the slopes. Rock was removed from cliffs in order to give support. Men would have to scale pine trees in order to carry out some of the work.

The lighthouse at Formentor was already there when Parietti embarked on his project. The road that was eventually built is, like that of Sa Calobra, iconic because of its design. But it was a road constructed for the 1930s, when Formentor tourism meant a day's excursion in a rudimentary bus that would make its way from Palma and back. Those were the days; today is very different.

The Council of Mallorca, we learn, has counted the number of vehicles which use the road in summer. Overwhelmingly, these vehicles are private cars. The number reaches a peak in September. There are more than 8,500 per day, not all of which go as far as the lighthouse; around 40% stop at the beach and go no further.

Does this number represent an excessive volume of traffic? For a road conceived in the 1920s and built in the following decade, the number sounds vastly too great. But the solution can never be a remodelling of the road. It is what it is, and it will remain what it is.

But when the Council provides us with the figures it has, what are we comparing them with? There are no comparative data for previous years. By how much has the traffic therefore increased? No one can say with any certainty.

The figures have been presented in order to make the Council's case for limits to be imposed on private vehicles. There is to shortly be another meeting, one involving Pollensa town hall, in order to determine how restrictions are to be applied and at what times of the year the limits will be imposed. Drivers wanting to undertake the hairy route to the lighthouse will no longer be able to. They will instead have to park somewhere in Puerto Pollensa. Where? Then they will have to get on a shuttle bus, which won't be introduced this summer because it has to wait for the new bus service concessions (coming in next year) to be established.

So, it could be that there will be limits this summer but without any bus to compensate for a prohibition on car use. Even once the bus service is created, how many people will this be able to move?

Yes, the number of vehicles sounds like way too many, but then Formentor has always attracted a lot of tourists. In fact, the main reason why the road was built in the first place was because of tourism. Parietti, as well as having been an engineer, was also for a time the president of the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board. Formentor was a key attraction, a key excursion in the early years of Mallorca's tourism. It still is.

Friday, February 23, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 February 2018

Morning high (7.53am): 8.6C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 24 February - Sun, cloud, 15C; 25 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 26 February - Cloud, sun, 13C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 4 to 5 easing Northwest 3 during the afternoon.

Better morning. Some blue in the sky. Should be sunny spells.

Evening update (20.30): Wasn't too bad for a time, then some rain came in the afternoon. High of 11.4C. 

Fining Airbnb

Apropos the Balearic government having fined Airbnb 300,000 euros, someone said that the fine will never be collected. Someone else agreed. This had been tried in the Canaries, and the courts quashed it.

These two someones are in fact the same person. Technology is wonderful when one has access to certain applications; in this instance, a website back-end administration system. People talk to themselves under different names. It happens not infrequently. Funny old world.

This single-person chat is really a subject in its own right. Let's not detain ourselves by being concerned about it for now. Let's instead consider the Canaries fine, because there has never been one. The real story is that the Canaries High Court has on three occasions issued rulings challenging the Canaries government's holiday rentals legislation; a rather different matter therefore.

The Canaries government has not yielded to the court's rulings. The Supreme Court is to become involved. Legal certainty might therefore be said to be limited in the Canaries; the government had in fact banned holiday rentals in many resort areas. 

The Balearic government, the current government, has not banned anything as such. Rental accommodation, i.e. villas or houses that were legally registered, has been unaffected and will remain unaffected. The government has applied an interpretation of the tenancy act, which had been open to flagrant abuse because of the way in which clearly tourist accommodation (apartments in particular) was being disguised. The Madrid government might have challenged this; it did not.

The banning dates back to 1999. The Partido Popular passed the first Balearic tourism law. From that point on it was definitively illegal to rent out apartments for tourism purposes; the PP's second tourism law (2012) put more flesh on this. People still did rent out because of the tenancy act, but the principle of a ban came into existence almost twenty years ago, and it was introduced not by a left-wing government but by a right-wing administration.

You do hear some real old claptrap, such as the current government being in the pockets of the hoteliers. The PP were so far inside the pockets they were buried deep along with any loose change. That's why the PP failed to regulate in favour of openly marketed holiday apartment rentals in 2012. The PP are now playing political opportunism for all its worth, attacking a government which was left to try and sort out the mess that the PP might have lessened.

And it is a mess. The government's legislation is a mess but only because the situation became messy. And who does one blame for this? The former PP government yes, but the blame lies far more squarely with Airbnb and its ilk and what it has spawned in the years since the PP so lamentably failed to grasp the  nettle that might have prevented a great deal of difficulty for all the apartment owners who had been renting out but were not given the chance to "regularise" their situation when they should have been.

So, the government slaps a fine of 300 grand. Small beer to Airbnb. It might find that it does have to pay, which it didn't when a Catalonia government fine a tenth this amount was ruled out by the Catalonia High Court. The justification for the court's ruling was that Airbnb was merely a digital intermediary that wasn't itself offering a tourist service. The European Court's ruling regarding Uber has changed all that. Barcelona town hall's 600 grand fine of Airbnb may well stick, as will those imposed by other administrations in the EU.

Airbnb operates as though rules don't or shouldn't apply. It has accepted that there were properties in Mallorca without the necessary licence registrations on its website. Why should it worry? It can afford the fine but will do all in its power to avoid paying it. As for poor owners who find themselves being fined in Barcelona, what does Airbnb do? It hooks up with an online legal advisor to help these owners, which is very kind of the website but also a tacit admission that there are legal cases to answer.

Have you heard the one about the single "owner" in Ibiza who markets 500 apartments for holiday rental? You haven't. It was reported on in an Ibiza paper the other day. This is a business, one indicative of the speculation that the virtuous Airbnb has facilitated. The true small owner, the one who was renting out in a somewhat dodgy fashion for years before Airbnb came along, is the one I feel sorry for; not those who have emerged in recent years and are wholly distorting the market for accommodation. That true small owner has been caught out by the Balearic legislation, but don't blame the government. Control had to be applied. People have to live somewhere.

Whether the fines are ever paid, who knows.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 February 2018

Morning high (7.54am): 8.9C
Forecast high: 12C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 23 February - Cloud, 13C; 24 February - Cloud, sun, 14C; 25 February - Cloud, sun, 16C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 6 to 7.

More dark skies. Rain possible at any time. Snow at 400 metres. Yellow alert still in place for coastal conditions.

Evening update (20.00): Rotten. High of 8.9C.

Valtonyc: A Berk, Not A Threat

In August 2012 I wrote: "I can't be certain but I wouldn't be at all surprised were Josep Miquel Arenas, aka Josemy Valtonyc Marx Beltrán (Es Rapero Pagés - Marxista Leninista) to receive a visit from someone in the near future. Who is Josemy Valtonyc etc.? He is a 17-year-old rapper and he is not happy with, variously: the King and the royal family; Jorge Campos, the founder of the Círculo Balear; the mayor of Sineu; and the president of Nuevas Generaciones in Sineu.

Referred to as the rapper from Sa Pobla, despite a connection with Sineu (he went to school there and has, you might have noticed, got problems with some people from Sineu), Valtonyc has been creating a right old rapping rumpus. Via his poetry, he has nominated the King for assassination, Jorge Campos for death, and both Pere Joan Jaume, the mayor, and Laura Montenegro, of Nuevas Generaciones, for the receipt of a silver bullet, presumably from the barrel of a gun and not in a velvet-lined presentation box."

Five years and six months later, a prison sentence of three and a half years for Valtonyc has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. Valtonyc had taken an appeal to the highest court, the Audiencia Nacional having a year ago handed out the original sentence. The court has rejected his appeal, which was based on freedom of expression and artistic creativity. The court has pointed to the "seriousness" of what was expressed in a Valtonyc song (and others) and has taken into account, among other things, the "lauding" of terrorist organisations, such as ETA, which went beyond expressions of solidarity based on ideology and instead involved praise of violent means and political objectives of those organisations.

The Supreme Court also identified all those who Valtonyc had threatened, insulted or humiliated: King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the Infanta Elena, Jorge Campos, Dolores de Cospedal, Esperanza Aguirre, Iñaki Urdangarin, the Guardia Civil, Froilán Marichalar (the son of Elena), José Ramón Bauzá, and more. An open and shut case? Three and a half years?

Valtonyc has reacted to the court's rejection of his appeal by insisting that there is no freedom of expression, that he has no trust in the "Spanish state", that he will be a "political prisoner" and that he didn't commit any "blood crime", he just wrote a song.

A whole host of personalities from the arts and culture worlds have come out in support of Valtonyc. They include the veteran Mallorcan singer Tomeu Penya, hardly the most rebellious of artists or performers. Some two hundred of them have signed up to a manifesto which rejects the sentence as it limits a fundamental right of freedom of expression. It will condemn the now 23-year-old to serve time in prison when the same judicial institutions that have condemned him absolve and pardon businesspeople, politicians and members of royalty.

His lawyer, Juan Manuel Olarieta, says that the sentence hadn't been expected; it makes no sense. It is a total "aberration", and there is to be a further appeal to the Constitutional Court. Political parties and politicians on the left have attacked the sentence. Jorge Campos, satisfied with the court's decision, has called for the resignation of politicians who have sided with Valtonyc. They include Bel Busquets and David Abril of Més; the mayor of Calvia, Alfonso Rodríguez; Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos; Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona.

It can be easy to pick and choose from what Valtonyc rapped. Wanting to get Iñaki Urdangarin to work in a Burger King was hardly threatening or insulting. Saying that the Bourbons are thieves was more serious insofar as a crime can be deemed to have been committed if the royal family is insulted. Generally though, the courts -at most - issue fines if an insult is considered to have been particularly serious.

The apparent lauding of terrorism was another matter, as were the apparent threats. Defending these on the grounds of freedom of expression inevitably raises questions of what limits there should be (if any) to this freedom. Nevertheless, the sentence is harsh; it is wrong. Three and a half years?

Valtonyc's greatest crime was not that he threatened anyone or praised terrorist organisations; it was that he was a berk. He was a teenage berk who allowed his immaturity to get the better of him. He, in himself, is and was no threat to anyone. He was a stupid boy who was rather too full of himself. You don't or shouldn't send someone to jail for being a berk.

The judicial process has merely given him publicity. Yes, he overstepped the mark; yes, in law he was wrong; yes, there are limits to freedom of expression. But the sentence serves little purpose. It also fuels further the current political unrest, and now Valtonyc may be added to the other political prisoners.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 February 2018

Morning high (7.57am): 11.6C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 22 February - Cloud, wind, 13C; 23 February - Cloud, sun, 13C; 24 February - Cloud, sun, 14C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 4 to 5 increasing 6 to 7 by the evening.

Grey skies. Some quite heavy cloud. Rain very likely. A strong old northerly will whip up later. Yellow alert for coastal conditions.

Evening update (20.00): Lousy. Some rain this morning. Windy now. High of only 9.4C.

Mick's Your Més Man

"Més seem to have no idea where they're going - how much they'd love Ensenyat to say yes, but he wants to stay at the Council of Mallorca."

I wrote this three weeks ago. It was in light of the opinion poll which confirmed that Més were leaking support. A revival of fortunes appeared unlikely. With Biel Barceló, the one Més politician of real substance in government and parliament circles, having been ejected from the frontline, the party was left with less than substantial leadership. Barceló was never in any event going to be a candidate for the Balearic presidency in 2019, but he remained a definable face of the party. Despite the controversies about the contracts and the trip to the Dominican Republic, he was still more asset than liability.

Prior to Barcelo's resignation in December, Més were already riddled with division. The party was aware that Barceló had no intention of standing in 2019, so the question was arising as to who would. Més, a coalition essentially of the PSM Mallorca Socialist Party and the Iniciativa Verds, had begun to show its fault lines, and the more dominant element - the PSM - was getting twitchy. The main candidate appeared to be the social services minister, Fina Santiago, and Fina is not a member of the PSM; she's from the Iniciativa.

When Barceló did resign, it had seemed as if Fina was nailed on to become the new government vice-president. This was before the PSM machinery moved into gear. The vice-president (and tourism minister as it was to also turn out) would be Bel Busquets. Fina has never said anything, but there was an unmistakable sense of her having had the right hump as a result. And she wasn't the only one. Outside of Més, Bel was not looked upon favourably; President Armengol clearly didn't want her.

Since Busquets was catapulted into her dual positions in the government, it has become apparent that she doesn't actually have much support within the PSM rank and file either. Hers, to be blunt, was a terrible appointment, one that was transparently motivated by a PSM determination to dominate Més. The opinion poll ratings are only destined to slip further, unless Més get a grip on where they're going.

Adding to the division within the party was the attitude of Santiago to the contracts affair and then also the Barceló trip. She was more forthright in suggesting he should go because of the Globalia "gift" of the few days in the Dominican Republic than she had been over the Jaume Garau contracts. She had nevertheless implied that more heads should have rolled than the one minister's which did. The PSM, closing ranks around Barceló, didn't take kindly to that.

So, Més have found themselves with two candidates for the presidency who are both, in their different ways, unacceptable. The party needs the cavalry to come and rescue it, and the cavalry charge consists of one person - Miquel Ensenyat, the president of the Council of Mallorca.

Ensenyat has said in the past that he wants to stay on at the Council. Having spent his time as president bolstering the role of the Council, to such an extent that it is appearing more and more like a government in its own right, his intention has been to go for re-election next year. He has also said in the past that he believes Santiago would be the best presidential candidate in 2019. Was he just being diplomatic or did he mean it?

One suspects that it was the latter, even if he now says that he would get a better result than Santiago in a selection run-off. An observation of Ensenyat is that he isn't quite the whole Més (PSM) insider deal. There is an element of distance between him and the party machinery. Nevertheless, Més - if only one faction - know that he is really the outstanding candidate. And it now seems highly likely that he will put his name forward at the primaries for selection. Busquets might struggle to beat Santiago. Ensenyat would have no such problem.

What is it about him that makes him such a strong candidate? One aspect is that distance. He gives the impression of being his own man. As such, and he has demonstrated this at the Council of Mallorca, he is able to draw people together, not divide them. His time as president hasn't been all a bed of roses, and there will be many who disagree with his policies, but he has succeeded in creating a unity with PSOE and Podemos that has been missing from the government and also at Palma town hall.

Ensenyat has his ideologies, of course he does, but they are modified by his being a sympathetic character. If he is confirmed as the Més candidate, it would be a surprise if the party doesn't experience a revival.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 February 2018

Morning high (8.28am): 9.2C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 3
Three-day forecast: 21 February - Cloud, wind, 15C; 22 February - Cloud, sun, 13C; 23 February - Cloud, sun, 13C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4.

Cloudy again. All very well the UV rating going up to three, but ... .

Evening update (20.15): Not much of a day; sun was out briefly. High of 16.4C.

The Nine Houses Of Mallorca's Nobility

There is an expression in Mallorquí that refers to someone who acts as though he or she is above his or her station; has airs and graces. It goes something like: "that one thinks he (or she) is from the nine houses".

From the time that Jaume I and the Aragonese-Catalan forces conquered Mallorca in the thirteenth century, the island was dominated by noble families who were supporters of the king. There were blood ties among these families who, by the early eighteenth century, were themselves dominated by an elite - the nine houses.

The names of these families are still present in Mallorca, although it's fair to say that they are not among the most common names: they wouldn't be because of their noble pasts. The nine were and are: Berga, Cotoner, Dameto, Salas, Sureda, Sureda de Santmartí, Togores, Verí and Zaforteza. They had alternative names or titles that reflected their status. Hence the Sureda de Santmartí were the Marquises of Vilafranca, the Togores were the Counts of Ayamans and the Barons of Lloseta, the Dameto were the Marquises of Bellpuig. In the case of the Cotoner, I recently wrote about the origin of the shield of Mallorca's newest municipality - Ariany. The shield contains the image of a cotton plant. Cotoner means cotton maker. The Cotoner were the Marquises of Ariany.

Blood ties or not, the Mallorcan nobility was constantly in disagreement, but in the early eighteenth century any disagreement was set aside. The Marquis of Vivot (Sureda) was to talk about "ties of common blood rather than ideas". The marquis had been on what was the losing side in the War of the Spanish Succession. Or put it this way, he was a supporter of the Habsburgs and their claim to the throne. Most of the elite had backed the winning cause - that of Felipe V, the first Bourbon king of Spain.

The consequences of the war were far-reaching for Mallorca. They still inform a great deal of political and social debate and argument today. Felipe set out the Nueva Planta decrees. The Crown of Aragon, of which Mallorca was a part, was dismantled. Castile and Castilian were to impose hegemony over Catalonia and the old crown and over the Catalan language.

Juan Vázquez de Acuña y Bejarano was another member of the nobility - the Spanish nobility rather than Mallorca's. His title was the Marquis de Casa Fuerte. Following the end of the war, he became the governor and captain general of Mallorca; he was to hold the post for five years from 1717 to 1722. Casa Fuerte's principal task was to establish the requirements of the Nueva Planta. This meant ensuring that there was no uprising. One means of lessening the likelihood of any insurrection against what is still dubbed by some in Mallorca as the "Bourbon imposition" was to get the key noble families onside. It was Casa Fuerte who proposed what was to be an extraordinary alliance of the wealthiest and most powerful families on the island - the nine houses, "ses nou (sometimes written as nous) cases".

Last September, ahead of the Catalonia referendum, the PSOE socialist party in Catalonia was branded with an insult. The party was said to be a traitor to the nation (that of Catalonia). The word used was "botiflers". The origin of this word - one theory anyway - is that it came from the French beauté fleur, a reference to the Fleur de Lis emblem of the Bourbons. Whatever the origin, the word took a different course. It is also said to be where "botifarres" came from; botifarres as in the sausages.

The botiflers were those principal noble families, the supporters of the Bourbon cause. Those families, Casa Fuerte reckoned, would be able to keep the less powerful nobility in check: ones who had been more inclined to back the Habsburgs during the war. The nobility as a whole had its economic interests to look after, and so the alliance grew. By the end of the eighteenth century the elite was classified according to its superiority. One name not in the original nine was among the six most superior of all - this was Despuig, the Counts of Montenegro and Montoro.

Among the nobility that was classified as less superior was the "second class without titles". They weren't marquises, counts or barons; they were just important and quite powerful. Who do we find in this list? Well, for example, there was Armengol. And in a "third class without titles" there was Barceló.

The noble classes saw their power and influence erode. The names still endure, and in some instances it would seem as if that old power and influence has moved in a different direction.

Monday, February 19, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 February 2018

Morning high (7.58am): 7.2C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 20 February - Cloud, 17C; 21 February - Cloud, wind, 15C; 22 February - Cloud, 13C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3.

Cloudy. Not much of a day to come. Occasional sunny spells with any luck. The rest of the week's looking grey with rain at times.

Evening update (20.30): High of 18C.

When Luis Riu Became News

It would be wrong to conclude that the owners of Mallorca's Big Four hotel chains actively court publicity. They get it as they can't avoid it: when you're fishes the size of the Big Four in the small business pond of Mallorca, this is inevitable.

The Escarrers, father and son, are the most prominent: Meliá is the biggest of the Big Four. Miquel Fluxá of Iberostar is not far behind: with that mane of silver hair he is the most recognisable. Simon Pedro Barceló's banker appearance is the total opposite of Fluxá's flamboyance. He has rarely enjoyed the sort of coverage he has received recently, because of the now aborted merger with NH Hotels.

The Rius, brother and sister, are the least known, and Luis was less known than Carmen. This was how he had liked it. A somewhat reluctant head of a massive hotel empire, he had to step in (as did Carmen) when his father died in 1998. He had really wanted to be an architect. Everyone knows about Luis now. If he had ever believed that he would attain something approximating to global recognition, he would never have contemplated this being because of images of himself in handcuffs. Prosecutors in Miami-Dade County have given Luis the publicity he has always shunned.

On the face of it, things don't look great for Luis or for Riu Hotels & Resorts. Investigators had amassed 119 pages of documentation. Allegations of free stays in hotels or hefty discounts; Mariano Fernández, the former head of urban planning, was a beneficiary, and Mariano apparently had luxurious suites replete with jacuzzis and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label as a birthday present. The "gifts" seemingly spiralled out of control: one employee of the Miami public works department asked for free nights for her father.

None of this has of course been proven in a court of law. But damage has already been done. The company is threatening to sue individuals who have been making what it considers to be defamatory comments. It naturally and justifiably reserves the right to take action. Damage limitation is needed, and there are those in the Balearics only too ready to increase the damage.

Be it just a whiff or more potent, scandal surrounding any of the Big Four (especially the Big Four) provides an open goal for hotelier critics to net their recriminations. The Panama Papers offered this where Meliá was concerned. With Luis Riu, the goal is more tempting. The prosecutors got their man, even if he did give himself up voluntarily. For observers in Mallorca there is a greater reality with the Riu case than with the Panama Papers. Smoothing things with town hall and local authority officials - allegations or proven facts - has been a way of life on the island. (One says "has been" with a degree of optimism.) Everyone in Mallorca can understand what has happened in Florida, as it could just as easily have been in Mallorca.  

For some current elements in higher political echelons in the Balearics, Luis Riu has been like manna from Heaven. It's not difficult to figure out who these include. The Balearic Islands do not deserve to be "shamed" in the way that they have been, has said Alberto Jarabo of Podemos. The image of the islands has been "tainted". Alberto can be thankful for not having tainted the image. Subletting a holiday rental in Son Serra de Marina and forgetting to declare the income is not something that anyone away from the islands gives two hoots about.

David Abril of Més has observed that certain "lobby" groups attempt to influence laws. Who can he possibly have been referring to? In foreign lands, power and influence are used in order to go above the law. Abril, as with Jarabo, could have been expected to have been less than impressed by developments in Miami.

What of the media, though? The broadcaster IB3 is being accused of having already condemned Luis Riu. A witch hunt has been launched. The coverage given to the affair is vast by comparison with other major stories, one of which was the Biel Barceló trip to the Dominican Republic. When a tourism minister from Més runs into controversy because of the supposedly irregular acceptance of a gift, this doesn't merit the same scrutiny as a hotelier allegedly plying individuals with gifts.

With IB3 there is a bigger game going on. The Partido Popular is demanding the resignation of its director, Andreu Manresa. The broadcaster is being politicised (nothing new with this; the same has been said in the past of other directors), its ratings are plummeting, and there are issues to do with the contracting of reporters and with a "poor working environment". Accusations of some bias in the Riu affair have to be considered in the wider context of criticisms coming from the political right.

Meanwhile, Luis Riu has never been such big news.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 February 2018

Morning high (9.17am): 11.7C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 19 February - Cloud, sun, 16C; 20 February - Cloud, 17C; 21 February - Rain, 16C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 5 easing Variable 2 to 3 this afternoon.

Quite a mild morning but rain is possible. Not much by way of sun anticipated.

Evening update (20.00): High of 14.8C. Some rain this morning, some sun this afternoon.


I suppose it's fair to say that I was never particularly drawn to the idea of a British foreign resident amateur dramatics society - Nomads, the North of Mallorca Amateur Dramatics Society. Until, that is, I ended up almost by accident with a small part in 2015. It had been an awfully long time since I had been on stage - school as Thomas Mendip in The Lady's Not For Burning and either of Rosencrantz or Guildenstern in the Tom Stoppard play (not being too sure who was who was part of the deal with the play).

For the following production, I rewrote The Sound of Music, then it was Oliver and this year Mary Poppins. The idea was to make them like pantos, although it was more a case of making them farces. And over these years they have acquired - and one can say this with all due modesty - something of a cult status, typically because of what can go wrong: the prompt, Lorraine, falling backwards through the curtains during The Sound of Nomads has been the high point of the cock-ups.

With this status have come the audiences. The Casa de Cultura in Alcudia was so full for the third and final performance of A Spoonful of Nomads last night that there were kids sitting on the floor in front of the seats. Even the Saturday matinee was two-thirds full; that has never happened before. And remarkably enough, there were quite a number of Spanish in the audience.

So, a success and one for a small part of British resident life. I guess it says something about this foreign community, although I'm not entirely sure what. For one previously reluctant participant, I'm not overly minded to contemplate a so-called expat existence. Like Brexit, I let others worry themselves about that.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 February 2018

Morning high (8.04am): 7.2C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 18 February - Cloud, sun, 16C; 19 February - Cloud, sun, 16C; 20 February - Cloud, sun, 17C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 3 backing Northeast 5 in the afternoon.

The same mix of clear and cloudy sky this morning. Sunny later, clouding over by the evening. The forecast at present into next week suggests we are in for another cold snap from Wednesday.

They Sing The Body Politic Electric

Around a month ago, Francina Armengol was ambushed in Madrid. At a pre-Fitur tourism fair session organised by the Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence she was left friendless in the face of an onslaught on various fronts. She couldn't even count on fellow PSOE-ite, the president of Valencia Ximo Puig: Valencia's PSOE is not in favour of a tourist tax.

The Balearic tax was but one issue. It was the one that grabbed most attention, as Francina copped it from the likes of Carmen Riu, whose brother is now of interest to the authorities in Florida. It was as well that the allegations against Luis Riu hadn't surfaced pre-Fitur; Francina might otherwise have wandered into dangerous territory re "irregular" practices in seeking to get her own back on Carmen.

Moderating that session was the president of Exceltur. The moderation was not as moderate as it perhaps should have been. The Exceltur president is José María González Álvarez. His day job is that of the CEO of Europcar, one of the car-hire giants which don't always appear to be the Balearic government's best friends.

Francina couldn't even rely on the moderator. Apart from the fact that José María was supposedly moderating, it wasn't entirely a surprise that he seemed disinclined to give Francina an easy ride. Within Exceltur, one has always felt that there must be business leaders who take a different view to the big hoteliers on an issue as controversial as holiday rentals: the car-hire sector would be one of them. Holiday rentals are good news for Europcar and others.

It wasn't holiday rentals, however, that had moderated José María's moderation. What had annoyed him in particular was an aspect of the Balearic government's proposed legislation for climate change. Faced with the prospect of all hire cars in the Balearics being electric by 2030, he informed Francina that "it will be the sector which decides this and not the Balearics". In actual fact the deadline for all hire cars being electric will be 2035. Seventeen years away; there is surely time for the car-hire sector to fall into line. Isn't there?

José María's apparent disagreement with Francina was not entirely in keeping with Europcar's own thinking. At the International Car Rental Show in Las Vegas last April, Europcar unveiled an initiative to create an all-electric car club. The car-hire sector is fully aware of the dynamics - electric cars, demanded because of their environmental friendliness, are going to have a significant impact on the industry.

In pure PR terms, José María might have adopted a more moderate tone with Francina. But the electric stipulation was just the latest issue in the far from harmonious relationship between the Balearic government and the hire-car multinationals. There has been all the business with not registering cars in the Balearics, with tax being paid elsewhere, with the hire-car sector being accused of "saturating" the islands' roads in summer.

It may have been the case that José María had felt that the Balearic government was stealing Europcar's thunder: look, we're already planning for an electric future, and we don't need a government to impose it. Possibly it was. But setting aside the differences that the multinationals have with the government, why should there be a problem with going all electric? Seventeen years represent a long time for technologies to further advance, for costs to come down, for infrastructure to be in place. The government is planning this infrastructure, and for islands the size of the Balearics, there can ultimately be little doubt that an all-electric future is eminently feasible.

There is a fear with the government's climate change strategy that some of it is just designed to grab headlines and be a potential boost to votes in 2019. Nevertheless, this government is the first to truly attempt to try and get to grips with climate change and with the related subjects, such as switching to renewables, if Madrid wasn't being as obstinate as it is.

An all-electric hire-car future is seventeen years off. Of course it's feasible. Who makes the decision shouldn't be the issue. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 February 2018

Morning high (7.50am): 8.6C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 17 February - Cloud, sun, 17C; 18 February - Cloud, 15C; 19 February - Cloud, 15C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 2 backing South 3 in the afternoon.

Blue and grey sky mix early on. Due to be mainly cloudy all day. Fairly warm.

Evening update (22.15): Not much sun but not band - high of 19.4C.

Let's Go!: Stopping Catalanisation

Mos Movem! En Marcha! Let's Go! is the full name given to the Facebook page of a group that started in Menorca - Mos Movem. Let's go or let's get going are probably the best ways of putting this Menorquí into English.

The Facebook group was started some three months ago. There were, as of midday yesterday, 9,337 members. The aim of the group is to "mobilise Balearic civil society". This mobilisation is directed towards Catalanisation, and a key cause has allowed the group to grow stronger - requirements for speaking Catalan in the Balearic health service.

There is to be a demonstration in Palma on Sunday morning. The Catalan requirements will be one aspect, but more broadly this is a group - a movement - which rejects what it sees as dictatorial attitudes on behalf of the current Balearic government. A Catalan "imposition" is said to be indicative of this dictatorialism. Another is the apparent support of independence in Catalonia and a drive towards the fulfillment of an officially created Catalan Lands. President Armengol is accused of wanting the latter just as much as members of the more obviously nationalist Més.

Because of all this, Franco has returned, says one of the spokespeople for Mos Movem, Manuela Cañadas. Franco's return, it might be noted, is of a rather different flavour to the original, but we get the idea. Franco is always hauled out when there is some argument about imposition of one form or another.

In an interview with El Mundo, hardly a natural political ally of the current government, Manuela suggests that attempts have been made to keep the group off the broadcaster IB3; to not give it any publicity airtime. She adds that a request for a meeting with Armengol has gone unheeded. Because there has been no response, there will be the demo. Armengol's insistence that she pursues dialogue, according to Manuela, is a "facade". This may be putting it too strongly, but the president - as I have noted enough times - can make no public statements without stressing how much she and the government seek dialogue (and consensus). As it is said so often, you know it is at least partly phoney. And if it doesn't suit to have dialogue, e.g. with Mos Movem (allegedly), then it doesn't suit, so dialogue can go hang.

Mos Movem is hardly the first group to come along which takes issue with Catalanisation. However, what may distinguish it to the likes of the Circulo Balear or the Fundació Jaume III is that it is tapping into the popular culture of social media and into an issue - Catalan in the health service - that is arousing the sort of opposition that there was under the Bauzá government to trilingual teaching (which was more a case of the Catalan issue from the opposite perspective).

There won't be anything like the numbers protesting as there once was against Bauzá, and that will partly be because the opposition to Bauzá was so coordinated. Nevertheless, the demonstration will demonstrate the divisions that exist in Mallorcan and Balearic society.

One senses, if only from what one is told by Mallorcan people, that there is a majority who sides with Mos Movem. The group advocates, as did Bauzá and as do organisations such as the Fundació Jaume III, the promotion of the islands' languages (or dialects if you prefer) over Catalan. The insistence on Catalan is representative of the desire for there to be the Catalan Lands. In Mallorca, and seemingly also in the other islands, there is not a societal desire, only a partial political one that is bolstered by organisations diametrically opposite to Mos Movem - the Obra Cultural Balear is one.

It's not as though I don't know the ins and outs of the debates and the history. It's not as though I don't have a great deal of sympathy because of the repressions of the past. But with the language, I fail to understand why Catalan is elevated to the level that it is above the islands' languages. The preference for these languages is styled as being right-wing, but left or right politics should not have anything to do with it.

The trouble is that they do, despite the fact that they cause havoc in the two most important public sectors - education and health. Manuela Cañadas accuses Armengol of not engaging in dialogue. Even were she to, there wouldn't be consensus, and it doesn't seem to matter who the president is or what political complexion a government has. Consensus is absent. As a result, the same arguments crop up constantly to the satisfaction of no one or only to those who, for a time, are in power.

What a colossal waste of energy and what an absurd obsession with generating division. And now there's a new political party joining the fray - Jorge Campos of the Circulo Balear has set up Actua Balears to confront the "separatist threat". On and on it goes.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 February 2018

Morning high (8.07am): 7.6C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 16 February - Cloud, 19C; 17 February - Cloud, 18C; 18 February - Cloud, 16C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 2 to 3.

A fine, sunny day expected. Tomorrow and the weekend cloudy with some rain at times.

Evening update (21.30): High of 21.3C. Hooray!

Keeping Quiet About Holiday Rentals

Tomàs Adrover Albertí is Alcudia's councillor for the environment. They hadn't needed to let Tomás take care of the environment. They hadn't needed to even invite him to be part of the ruling administration. But they did. It was all something to do with being inclusive, if my memory serves me correctly.

They are the centre-right El Pi and the socialist PSOE. The last municipal election in Alcudia produced a situation reminiscent to how it had been for many years prior to the 2011 election (which the Partido Popular won). The former Unió Mallorquina, of which El Pi is not a direct descendant but is a descendant nevertheless, and PSOE used to form pacts. And by and large they worked well. The pact since 2015 has also worked reasonably well.

The inclusion of Tomàs slightly changed the dynamics of this pact. Tomàs is a councillor with GxA, Gent per Alcúdia. This "people's" party was in fact a compromise between Més and the Esquerra Unida (United Left). At each other's throats before the election, in Alcudia they were able to create a mini-pact. Tomás was from the Més wing; the PSM Mallorca Socialist Party to be precise.

Between them, El Pi and PSOE ended up with ten councillors after the election. As the required majority was nine, they didn't require anyone else. Tomàs was brought in nevertheless. Very little, to be honest, has been heard of him, and even on an issue as contentious as holiday rentals, Tomàs - environment portfolio and all - has been quiet.

Somehow, Alcudia town hall manages to keep a lid on things. Perhaps it's the sign of a certain maturity that exists within the corridors of that building on the calle Major. The three ruling parties may not have seen eye to eye on everything, but disagreements and dirty linen do not get a general airing in public. Holiday rentals have provided a perfect opportunity for such an airing, but remarkably enough there seems to be an absence of tension or conflict.

Prior to Tomás becoming a councillor, he stated that Alcudia lives from tourism and not from rubbish (this was a reference to the waste that was being imported via the port for incineration). Mayor Toni Mir (El Pi) told me in an interview that Alcudia lives from tourism. Joan Gaspar Vallori (PSOE), the tourism councillor and fifth deputy mayor, told me the same thing in a different interview. Everyone's agreed then, as they are on the type of tourism that Alcudia wishes to live from - quality, aka a tourism that has plenty of money to spend and isn't inclined to stagger along the streets of the municipality vomiting and urinating everywhere.

Alcudia has its share of the non-quality class. This is a reason why holiday sickness compensation claims farming touts descended on certain all-inclusive hotels and why the owners of one complex - Club Mac - set the whole ball rolling which led to the arrests of touts and their boss.

Holiday rentals, although I personally have an issue with them because of the pressure caused in the residential rental market, generally speaking do conform to the "quality" that Alcudia wants. As with all-inclusives, where not all holidaymakers should be tarnished with the same negative and disparaging brush, the holiday rental tourist is not universally "quality". By and large, though, he or she is.

The town hall held a council meeting on Monday. The Partido Popular opposition raised a motion. In essence, it was against the Council of Mallorca and the holiday rentals zoning. El Pi backed the motion. It was passed. PSOE and Tomàs were against. The pact was therefore fractured. So, has there been a rumpus? No. And nor was there much of an air of conflict when the Council of Mallorca worthies - the Més president and the PSOE councillor for land - turned up at the auditorium for a rentals presentation and discussion. Were this other town halls, Pollensa's for example, you wouldn't hear the end of it.

The point is that all parties are agreed on the principle of quality tourism. Where they do have disagreement is the means of achieving this. El Pi wants less restriction on rentals. PSOE and Tomàs follow the party lines as have been set out by the likes of Mercedes Garrido, the PSOE councillor for land, and Miquel Ensenyat, the Més president of the Council.

My own view is that despite the dog's breakfast approach to zoning, I am generally in agreement with the Council of Mallorca and the Balearic tourism ministry. But having a dispassionate and civilised debate about rentals can at times seem nigh on impossible. In Alcudia, at least on the public surface, they appear to manage this impossibility.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 February 2018

Morning high (8.09am): 12.4C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 15 February - Sun, 20C; 16 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 17 February - Cloud, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4 to 6 easing Variable 2 to 3 around midday.

Cloudy but not heavy. Due to be like this for most of the day.

Evening update (20.00): High of 15.5C.

Airbnb: Poacher Turned Gamekeeper is part of the American company The Priceline Group. It is also one of the four largest online travel companies in the world: the others are Expedia, the Chinese Ctrip and Airbnb. Booking offers all sorts of accommodation. As far as its rentals side is concerned, it has been commended by certain regional authorities in Spain for being rather more willing to comply with regulations than other online concerns: Valencia has been one, the Balearics another.

Expedia used to be TripAdvisor's parent company. The website that is ostensibly about user reviews was spun off from Expedia, which has since acquired HomeAway, perhaps the biggest rival to Airbnb. TripAdvisor branched out to become its online travel company as well. It, as with HomeAway and Airbnb, has fallen foul of regulators in Spain, such as the Balearics.

Airbnb, it doesn't really need pointing out, has grown to be the business it is by being an "intermediary" for non-hotel accommodation. This is now, however, all about to change. Airbnb, rather than just being an online travel company (which it would in any event dispute), is to become an online travel agency - an OTA, the term used for the likes of Again, of course, Airbnb would dispute that it is or will be an OTA.

What is changing is that a tie-up with another website - a non-exclusive one with SiteMinder - means that hotels which appear on SiteMinder can also go on Airbnb. Yes, Airbnb is to become a hotel distributor, just like Booking and Expedia. The website so maligned by the hotel industry will now, if hotels wish, become something of a friend. As Airbnb appears to have no limits in its ambitions in becoming an "infinite" company (CEO Brian Chesky's term), you can be pretty sure that the first foray into hotel distribution will only grow much bigger.

Hotels have already been able to use Airbnb, but only an individual basis. They now stand to be incorporated en masse, and they also stand to benefit from the vastly more favourable commissions. Booking and Expedia will be looking on all this with some degree of horror. The difference between Airbnb and Booking/Expedia commissions is anything from three or five per cent to fifteen or thirty per cent.

The Airbnb commission range may change, but for now it will look very tempting. And as such, it puts hoteliers into more of a fix. Can they carry on being as aggressive towards Airbnb if they want to take advantage of the more advantageous commissions?

The massive global industry that is accommodation is undergoing yet more revolution. There is Facebook and there is also Amazon. And as these global concerns move into new product areas, so they move further away from what they were originally, none more so than Airbnb. The disingenuous propaganda about the collaborative, sharing economy is further undermined by having a hotel product. There is nothing sharing about this; it is business pure and simple, and hugely profitable it is, too.

Moreover, the Airbnb (and HomeAway) argument about being merely intermediaries which operate in accordance with European e-commerce regulations is also further undermined. The European ruling regarding Uber, which basically determined that it is a transport services operator subject to member state regulations, has yet to be applied more broadly. But the European Commission will have greater evidence to rule that Airbnb is a travel services company (an OTA), which brings with it very different regulations to that of e-commerce. And that would mean that there would be far less defence against the type of fine that the Balearics and other administrations care to dish out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 February 2018

Morning high (7.43am): 6.8C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 14 February - Cloud, 15C; 15 February - Sun, cloud, 19C; 16 February - Cloud, 20C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 4 to 6.

Clearer skies. Fair bit of sun today. Better all round than yesterday.

Evening update (20.00): Reasonable, as in there was some sun, but there was also a chilly wind. High of 13.7C.

The Sardines Of A Mallorcan Carnival

* A revival of an article from the past; appropriate as today is the sardine burial day.

Francisco de Goya knew a thing or two about painting. He could turn his hand to pretty much any subject and do so with a remarkable ability for subversion and the portrayal of darkness. His painting of the burial of the sardine is a good example. Apparently there were at least two alternative versions, but the one most commonly known is an expression of supreme grotesqueness with the "sardine" symbolised by a grinning but disturbing face on a banner. Goya's painting, while celebrating the joy of the common man, is a satire on the church and on the crown. It was created during the reign of the absolutist monarch, Ferdinand VII, who had attempted to outlaw Carnival and so the end-game of Carnival, the burial of the sardine before the start of Lent.

Goya didn't invent the tradition of the burial of the sardine but he certainly helped to popularise it. Quite what its origins are is open to debate. The generally held theory is that it arose during the reign of Carlos III, so some time between 1759 and 1788. The king, the story goes, ordered that there be one final party before Lent and, because there was an abundance of sardines, these were the culinary centrepiece. However, because there were so many sardines and because the weather was particularly warm, there was an almighty great pong on account of sardines rotting in the heat. The solution was to bury them. As theories go, it seems as good as any, though the fact that there appears to be no documentary evidence to support this royal command could mean that it is just a tall tale.

Goya's painting (or paintings) most definitely assisted in spreading the sardine tradition and in also reinforcing the bizarre, profane and anti-establishment nature of Carnival as a whole. Over the decades of turmoil through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, Carnival and the sardine were symbolic of the people taking over for a short while and poking fun at those who often made their lives a misery.

The burial of the sardine is nowadays absolutely central to the Carnival story. It clearly isn't a Mallorcan tradition as such, but it finds expression here in Mallorca as much as it does on the mainland. Consequently, there are sardine-burial ceremonies, most of which confirm that, on occasion, Mallorcans are more than capable of acting in a totally bonkers fashion.

A sardine, being a sardine, is only small. As such, it doesn't command a great presence when it comes to a spot of street-theatre, fiesta-style celebration. In order to overcome its diminutive nature, there are mock, giant sardines instead, and nowhere does this in any more peculiar fashion than the village of Portol in Marratxi.

Since 1993, the burial of the sardine has taken place on Shrove Tuesday, the last day of feasting before fasting, Ash Wednesday and Lent kick in. Today at 6pm, as has become traditional, a giant, comedy sardine will be paraded through the streets, carried as though by pallbearers, accompanied by suitably solemn music from the local band (music of a tongue-in-cheek variety, if it is possible to describe music in such a fashion) and by ladies of the village, clad in black mourning dresses and weeping (in a hammed-up, over-the-top manner). The weeping, so tradition suggests, is all to do with the people being saddened at the end of the Carnival festivities and being faced with the prospect of several weeks of strict religious observance (or not). 

The Portol sardine, as is the case with some sardines elsewhere, doesn't actually get buried. The Mallorcans enjoy nothing more than setting fire to something, and little excuse is needed for a festivity to feature a roaring bonfire. The comedy sardine is toast, its final moments being marked by the sound of a trumpet reveille. Having committed the sardine to its fiery end, it is of course time to get eating. Cue, therefore, many a real sardine and any amount of strong alcoholic beverage plus, of course, the ubiquitous ball de bot folk dance.

The actual burial (or burning) usually requires some form of blessing, which may or may not be serious and may or may not actually feature clergy. These burials can crop up anywhere. So, take note. If you see some strange sorts wandering along the streets carrying something which looks as though it is destined for a funeral, don't be alarmed. In Mallorca, just as you are never far from the sea at any time of the year, at the end of the Carnival, you are never far from a sardine.

Monday, February 12, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 February 2018

Morning high (8.30am): 12.3C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 13 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 14 February - Cloud, 15C; 15 February - Sun, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 5 to 6.

Quite a change from yesterday morning; cloudy skies meaning it's not nearly as cold. The cloud will persist. Rain is likely.

Evening update (20.00): Rain was likely. Most of the day. The morning high was the day's high. Tumbled to six or seven degrees.

The Dark Night Sky Of Tourism

"The dark night sky is the underlying resource," explains a piece of worthy research. A definition of "underlying" is real but not immediately obvious. I would suggest that the dark night sky is more than underlying when it comes to astronomical tourism. Without the dark night sky there is no astronomical tourism.

The resource itself is abundant. It is theoretically infinite. The dark night sky as with the light day sky is always there in its unfathomable vastness. The resource is, however, greater - or rather better - in different parts of the globe, especially if someone has taken the trouble to advance the cause for its particular dark night sky resource. Here is where underlying enters the adjective-noun conjunction. The resource is certainly real but its status as better is not immediately obvious until it is explained that it is better.

Astronomical tourism is a segment of the tourism market, a niche product. It has existed for centuries, if one cares to define travellers who have wanted to search the dark night skies as tourists. They went to Stonehenge, at least in part, to wonder at the dark night sky. Ancient skies of an English summer might not have been habitually clouded. They most certainly were not affected by light pollution, and nowadays the absence of this pollution holds the key to unlocking the niche potential of the dark night sky and of astronomical tourism.

Mallorca has (or had) an underlying resource other than its dark night sky. One day we might know what really occurred at the observatory in Costitx. What we can say is that it was a resource which was woefully underexploited. It was managed well as a scientific resource but was mismanaged in terms of its tangential potential. Administrations must share the blame. And in this day and age of sustainable tourism, they have missed an almighty trick. The sky is sustainability writ very large. Tourism attracted by the sky is respectful of one of the greatest resources known to mankind.

The Starlight Foundation explains the various dimensions to its activities. One is economic: "To boost the economy through the contemplation and interpretation of the starry sky, promoting infrastructure, products and activities in the field of sustainable tourism which we call 'star tourism'." Starry, starry night; every astronomical tourist is a star.

The Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) was founded in 1982. A Spanish public research institution, it is an international benchmark for astrophysics, advanced scientific instrumentation, university education and the cultural dissemination of science. There are observatories in Tenerife (the Teide Observatory) and in La Palma (the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory).

In 2012, the Starlight Foundation, a body that was created by the IAC, recognised La Palma as the first Starlight destination on the planet. There are now others. In the Canaries, the dark night skies - away from the urban centres - are unrivalled for their clarity. The foundation and the IAC might have seemed to have been somewhat self-serving in accrediting La Palma as they did six years ago, but to qualify as "Starlight" there is a requirement to be able to observe the stars in optimal conditions while at the same time being an example of environmental protection and conservation, including protecting the environment from artificial light pollution.

At the Madrid Fitur tourism fair in January, La Palma received a new distinction. It was deemed to be the "best active tourism product"; active as in tourists undertaking an activity - stargazing in this instance. Above all, La Palma - and this is the whole island - was given the award because of the public and private sector collaboration which has enabled the island to become Spain's foremost destination for astronomical tourism; not only Spain's, one of the world's foremost.

Mark the words of Inés Jiménez, the councillor for tourism in Gran Canaria, where they also pursue astronomical star tourism. Various municipalities and the whole business sector - large and small - have come together in not only appreciating that the island is for tourism but also has an "alternative product to sun and beach". The Canaries, admittedly benefiting from the backing that goes back to the 1980s, have made a sustainable tourism virtue of their dark night skies. Not so Mallorca; not so the Balearics.

The Canaries are not alone. In Castile-La Mancha, there is a multi-municipality cooperation project that has created an astronomical park - Serrania de Cuenca. Work has started on certifying as Starlight a new park in the Valle del Alcudia. This is an Alcudia in the Ciudad Real province, not an Alcudia in Mallorca.

Cordoba, Aragon, Navarre, Extremadura; here are other parts of Spain where the underlying resource of dark night skies has been developed to beneficial effect, and all in the name of sustainable tourism. In Mallorca, meanwhile, they seek to blame each other for the loss of what was a real resource.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 11 February 2018

Morning high (8.22am): 1.1C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 12 February - Rain, 16C; 13 February - Cloud, sun, 15C; 14 February - Sun, cloud, 18C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 4 to 5.

Cold start to the day but bright. Sun for most of the day. Yellow alert still in place for coastal conditions.

Evening update (19.15): A significant improvement. High of 17.2C.

Will The Davis Cup Really Come To Alcudia?

Alcudia wants to stage the Davis Cup quarter-final between Spain and Germany. The Balearic government wants Alcudia to; the Council of Mallorca is supportive; the Balearic Tennis Federation says yes; the Alcudia hoteliers want the tennis as well (naturally enough).

If one were being purely objective and it was a case of anywhere in Mallorca being lined up for the event, then there are probably easier options. They might even involve existing tennis facilities, such as courts and stands. When the announcement was first made about Alcudia, I was racking my brain - where are they planning on holding the event? They were talking about ten thousand spectators on temporary stands. Where?

From what one can make out, there are two possibilities. The less favoured would appear to be where everyone once thought was going to be something to do with Mercadona - the land that was levelled in front of Garden Lago on Avenida Tucan. The preferred site seemingly involves where the circus used to be held on the land by the Magic Roundabout. The tournament village would go there, while the court and stands would be on another plot behind it.

The cost of all this, never mind the logistics, would be at least one million euros. The government will probably cough up, although the tennis federation - understandably enough - is seeking some assurance as to who will be paying for what and how much. Time is running short. The tennis federation needs all the documented proposal by Monday. The tie is over the weekend of 6 to 8 April. The Spanish federation has to make a decision by Monday week.

Well, it would unquestionably be excellent news if a high-profile sport event such as the Davis Cup were to come to Alcudia. But is it realistic? And why actually is everyone so keen for it to be in Alcudia? One reason is the municipality's profile of being a destination for sports tourism. In this regard, it fits in with the government and the Council of Mallorca's quest for tackling tourism seasonality. Sport is a tourist product mainly for the low season. Another reason is that German tourists will get to know about Alcudia. Yes, and those German tourists would probably then be more inclined to come in the summer, on top of all the thousands who already do.

We will shortly find out if Alcudia will be successful in its bid - there's stiff opposition from the likes of Valencia. But if it is successful and there are indeed to be ten thousand spectators, there is another question. It is being said that the Magic site is well connected in transport terms. Which it may well be, but what happens with the transport, such as cars? Where would they park?

* Would they really hold the Davis Cup on this site? In a residential area near to Sunwing.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 10 February 2018

Morning high (7.44am): 5C
Forecast high: 12C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 11 February - Sun, cloud, 16C; 12 February - Rain, 16C; 13 February - Cloud, sun, 13C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 6 to 7.

Windy and grey. Coastal conditions amber alert and a yellow one for wind. Snow could fall at 200 metres. Alcudia, Muro and Santa Margalida are going to have better conditions for their parades tomorrow. Buger, Campanet, Can Picafort, Pollensa, Sa Pobla may not be too clever today. 

Evening update (20.00): At least the sun came out for a bit. High of 10.1C.

Spending By Holiday Rental Tourists

Statistics, as we know, can be used to prove anything, and when it comes to tourism statistics, there is no measure more open to interpretation than that for tourist spending. Depending on where one stands on a particular argument, however, the spending stats can be called upon to provide useful support, even perhaps by those who would normally call the stats into question.

The Egatur survey of tourist spending is primarily a tool designed to give the Bank of Spain data for calculating the balance of payments. In this respect it does need to  be pretty accurate, despite people often not believing it. A reason for questioning it is that it can seem as if it doesn't correspond with the realities of some resorts. How often does one hear someone complain that no one's spending any money, yet Egatur insists that spending is going up?

The survey isn't and cannot be totally comprehensive, but one has to accept that it is a reflection of variance in the tourism market: not all resorts are the same, not all tourists are the same. But there is one significant ingredient in Egatur that can skew the spending statistics: the cost of the holiday. If this is a package holiday, bought from a foreign tour operator, then much of this spending element never touches the destination. Take away the package and factor in direct bookings, and a more realistic figure is attained; realistic in terms of what goes into local economies.

Egatur does, therefore, seek to reflect the different types of holiday, and the latest survey provides some ammunition for the pro-holiday rentals lobby. Again, not all of the spending is in the destination, if the rentals booking is, say, made via a foreign agency, but for the most part it will be. And where Egatur is concerned, it doesn't distinguish between the nature of rentals - they could be legal, they could be illegal, they could be ones made under the terms of the tenancy act.

Anyway, the survey shows that tourists who last year stayed in holiday rental accommodation (which falls under what Egatur broadly defines as the "rest of the market") spent almost 24% more than tourists who stayed in hotels. The average spend per tourist in non-hotel accommodation was 1,295 euros, and it increased by 20% over 2016. Another survey, the Frontur one that measures foreign tourist arrivals, offered some symmetry in this regard: there was a 20% rise in foreign tourists staying in holiday rentals.

The figures are for the whole of the country, but they clearly tell a story where the Balearics are concerned. Importantly, Egatur (and Frontur) are about as independent as one can get in measuring tourism performance. There are no agendas, which isn't always the case with studies that emanate from rival factions in the rentals argument, most notably the Exceltur alliance for touristic excellence and the Aptur holiday rentals association. Egatur, while noting that spending by tourists in hotels increased by ten per cent, does provide greater support for the Aptur stance than Exceltur's.

As I say, the stats can prove what you want them to, but here - despite the questions that surround the Egatur methodology - is some evidence of what many have long argued: holiday rental tourists spend more.

Friday, February 09, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 9 February 2018

Morning high (7.55am): 6.4C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 10 February - Cloud, sun, wind, 13C; 11 February - Cloud, wind, 15C; 12 February - Rain, 16C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 3 to 4.

Grim. Very grey and damp, though not raining at present. May be ok though for Puerto Pollensa's Carnival parade at five this afternoon.

Evening update (22.00): It was a ghastly morning - cold and rain. Better later on, as in it stopped raining. High of 10.4C.

Not Local: Petit Deià

Bel Busquets' minder scaled the protest ramparts in Deià the other day, these having been in the Joan Mas amphitheatre, named after the writer who was born in the village. Normally a location for a civilised summer string quartet, the amphitheatre heard the minder denounce a little Deià development that would affect Deià's littleness. There is little and there is little: Deià doesn't even run to 700 inhabitants.

Why would you want to build a little development (21 houses priced up to 1.6 million euros) in a little place like Deià? The answer's easy. It's a nice little place, potentially about to get less little, and someone would make a shedload out of some luxury gaffs that will be snapped up by outsiders. Not local!? One can hear The League of Gentlemen's Tubbs and Edward screaming into the Tramuntana skies.

So, the locals would have every reason to protest. They also have every right to protest, as the mayor, Magdalena López, has conceded. The only thing was that, according to the mayor, the locals were thin on the ground; indeed the protesters did not number the 200 (or was it 400) that had been reported. There were more like 120, and only a sixth of these were Deià persons. This is the mayor's version anyway.

Where did the other one hundred come from? López insists they were incomers from groups such as the environmentalists GOB. Not local. Some may have been chums of the minder, Lluís Apesteguía. Lluís is on an upward Més trajectory. A mere opposition councillor in little Deià, he was a councillor in the much bigger Council of Mallorca. He is now Bel Busquets' minder, her chief of staff at the tourism ministry/vice-presidency. Happy days for Lluís, a government post beckons, assuming Més make it past the electorate in 2019 and so do PSOE and Podemos.

It really doesn't harm anyone's eco-nationalist political career to have a cause célèbre that combines contentious issues of saturation, housing availability and resources, especially when it's in one's own backyard - Petit Deià, the development that drew the 120 (or maybe more) to the streets of little Deià the other day. Not that Petit Deià was all that the minder and the not locals were concerned about. There were also hotel developments and holiday rentals. Little Deià can't cope with all of this. It's a resources issue apart from anything else. Lluís will be among those who didn't mind Deià being coloured purple for saturation on the rentals zoning map.

But was it so wrong for not locals to voice their protest? Are they not permitted a say in the defence of cherished parts of the island? There have, after all, been other protests that reject some form of development or other. When, for example, a few thousand (estimates varied) gathered along the beach in Son Serra de Marina, constructed a human chain and declared their opposition to a beach chiringuito, these were most certainly not all locals. Hardly anyone lives in Son Serra in winter, which was when the protest was staged. The protesters weren't necessarily from the Santa Margalida municipality either. But why did they have to be? The beach is for everyone, and in the case of Son Serra it is one of the few remaining examples of a beach that can genuinely be described as unspoiled.

Locals or not locals, is it really the case that we wish to see gems like Deià further gentrified and taken over by not locals who might grace the village with occasional summer visits (if this is what Petit Deià would mean)? I can only pose the question. I am not local. I have no personal interest in the affair, merely an interest as an observer. And what of other locals? Perhaps there are those who are in favour of Petit Deià. Maybe their voice needs to be heard and not drowned out by the minder from the ministry.

Petit Deià is a further example of how political capital can be made, and not just by Més politicians who may have aspirations for higher things. There is GOB, there is Terraferida. There is the raggle-taggle army of associations and political agitators for this and that which gathered in protest against "massification" last September. The politics thus take over, as do the opportunities they present. But much though one can (and does) despair of the negative publicity that is generated by certain protests, one can also empathise with the sentiments. Petit Deià is a developmental branch line of the massification cause, of the opposition to ever more wounding of Terraferida's wounded land.

One can appreciate this, just as one can appreciate the politics. As Magdalena López has observed, Lluís Apesteguía was a member of the Council of Mallorca's historical heritage commission that voted in favour of Petit Deià. There's local for you.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 8 February 2018

Morning high (7.32am): 5.2C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 9 February - Cloud, sun, 13C; 10 February - Cloud, wind, 12C; 11 February - Cloud, sun, 14C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 2 to 3.

Could be more by way of sun today. Still chilly. 

Evening update (20.15): There was some sun. Only a high of 12.7C.

For Half A Metre More

Joan Gaspar Vallori is Alcudia's tourism councillor. He is also the chap in charge of public works. Given his combined responsibilities, he was in a reasonable position to offer an opinion on the cycle lane that is supposed to link Puerto Alcudia to Can Picafort and onto Son Real but which will in fact be missing a significant part - the whole of Playa de Muro.

The town hall in Muro has had an issue with this cycle lane project. Of the three town halls involved, it has faced the greatest complications. And where there are complications, there are also costs. Just one of these complications, which have led the town hall to pull out of the project, had to do with a Council of Mallorca proposal by which there would in fact have been two lanes - one on each side of the main road. This, however, would have required the environment ministry's department for biodiversity and natural spaces agreeing to give up some land. And we're talking land in the Albufera nature park, which is on both sides of the road for a stretch of approximately one kilometre or so because of the forest and dunes on the beach side.

The environment ministry was being asked to let go of what amounted in total to one metre: fifty centimetres on both sides. Alcudia town hall had by this time started to lose patience with the whole affair, such had been the endless complications. When the half a metre problem surfaced, Vallori observed that it would be ridiculous to hold everything up because of an argument over fifty centimetres. Quite.

The total area of the Albufera park is 1,645.50 hectares. I'm not even going to begin attempting to calculate what the percentage of two fifty centimetre strips would be, but I think that both you and I can conclude that it is a very small percentage. The park is of course protected. Therefore, nothing can be built on it. But half a metre?

The biodiversity and natural spaces might well have argued that had it agreed to the Council's plan, this could have been a case of the thin end of the wedge. Who knows, someone else might come along after a further thirty years of the park's existence and want to nab a whole metre either side. One can understand the protected status, but given that there is a main road running right by the park, how much biodiversity along the fifty centimetre strips would have been affected? None, one would think.

The tale of the Albufera fifty centimetres brings us to another half a metre story. This one doesn't affect the natural environment. It has to do with the urban environment: Palma's and Palma's terraces.

I understand that a standard wheelchair measures 760 millimetres width and 1,220 millimetres depth. In other words, neither in width nor in depth is a standard wheelchair two metres, let alone two and a half metres. I only mention the dimensions of a standard wheelchair because accessibility is at least one issue for Palma town hall and its saga of the new terraces bylaw.

To explain, in case you are unaware or have given up the will to live, so long has this saga been ongoing, the town hall plans that terraces should allow a minimum of two and a half metres space for pedestrians (or wheelchairs or other forms of reduced mobility vehicle). The current minimum is two metres.

Is it really necessary, as with the fifty centimetres of Albufera, to be arguing over fifty centimetres of terrace space? It seemingly is necessary. And the argument includes the loss of business - up to 500 terraces affected, with some of them going altogether. Half a metre matters.

Terraces can't just be put any old place. Noise is a legitimate concern. But half a metre? Can this really make such a difference to so-called saturation of the public way or indeed to noise? There are other aspects to this bylaw - the technical chaps have been out with their tape measures all over the city - but it is this fifty centimetre cut that has caused the greatest fuss. And whose fuss is it exactly?

Podemos, in the form of their councillor Aurora Jhardi, have made terraces a cause célèbre in Palma. No sooner had they become part of the ruling administration, than they decided that terraces on the Born had to go. What a rumpus that created. So they held a citizens' referendum, and the citizens - those few who could be bothered to take part - told the town hall where they could stick their terraces' restrictions. A point is that terraces may occupy the public way, and do so with the permission of the municipality, but it is the public which occupies terraces as much as the public walks along the public way.

Mallorca, where government is measured in centimetres.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 7 February 2018

Morning high (7.41am): 9C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 8 February - Cloud, sun, 13C; 9 February - Cloud, 13C; 10 February - Cloud, sun, 14C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 6 to 7 easing Northwest 3 to 4 in the afternoon.

More greyness. Sun not expected. Wind down.

Evening update (19.45): Well, the sun put in a brief appearance. Otherwise ... . High of 12.4C.

Balearics Tourism: A Research Experiment

The things I do. Having grappled with the equation-littered methodology of Messrs Rosselló and Sansó and their taxing tourism, as highlighted two days ago, I set myself the masochistic task of consulting the whole 93rd edition of the journal Cuadernos Económicos (special theme, tourism and sustainability).

Actually, I didn't bother with something about visitors to the Teide National Park in Tenerife or with a hybrid multi-criteria method for evaluating the development of community tourism in Imababura, Ecuador (there are limits even to my research). Otherwise though, here was a minor treasure trove of tourism sustainability intelligence; or one hoped there was.

Mercifully, not all of it was the avalanche of mathematical formulae that Rosselló and Sansó had presented in determining (or maybe not determining) the loss of tourism because of the Balearic tourist tax. Indeed some of it was fairly straight to the point, insofar as anything that appears in an academic publication can ever be described as being straight to the point (and normally it can't be).

Bernard Lane, who is the founding editor of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, offered views on the evolution and future of sustainable tourism. He identified twenty likely growth areas for second-generation sustainable tourism research (we are apparently now in the second generation). One of these made for particularly interesting reading. Under financial and taxation instruments, Lane said that tourism has fought shy of this type of control and referred to the "anger" created by the tourist tax in the Balearics both in 2002 and more recently in 2016.

It was illuminating that he should single out the Balearics tax. The Catalonia tax has been a more permanent feature - it's been going for six years - while there are other taxes, especially city ones, which predate the Balearics Ecotax Mark II. Yet it was the Balearics tax which was highlighted. I am ever more convinced that the "anger", notwithstanding the rates of the tax, is the consequence of the attention that Mallorca and the Balearics attract, which is vastly greater than anywhere else.

Lane added that "as neo-liberalism increases, financial and taxation issues will assume greater importance". Neo-liberalism? Are we to conclude that ex-minister Biel Barceló and the current Balearic government have inherited the neo-liberalism Earth of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman? Besides, isn't neo-liberalism something to do with less tax? Well no, it's about expanding the tax base. Even so, it seems curious to link neo-liberalism to tourist taxes, especially as it is supposed to promote growth, competitiveness and wealth.

What I think he was really driving at was that taxation is a means of sustainability and the sole means. He later adds that neo-liberalist ideologies actually threaten sustainability, and that - one assumes - is because such ideologies are so geared towards growth and can be the antithesis of, say, environmental sustainability. Whatever one thinks about the Balearics tax, there is at least some genuine defence of the environment.

Lane also considered governance issues, and on these his words leave one wondering as to who, if anyone, is in charge of tourism: "Tourism is remarkably ungoverned and perhaps in some respects ungovernable, in part because of the fragmented ownership of its private sector elements, and in part because of the changing and complex nature of the public sector components that both control infrastructure and have some governance powers through planning permissions and some marketing activities. Tourism is also a relatively leaderless industry except in terms of lobbying."

Well, pick the bones out of that. He could easily be describing the Balearics. There is fragmentation in the private sector, such as with all the hotel groups that exist and their differences, as exemplified by the wage negotiations. The larger and wealthier groups basically drove the wage increases through in their desire for more sustainable employment. The leadership through lobbying is manifestly the case in the Balearics, as with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation. Lobbying is its prime function.

At the public sector level we have the regular shifts in political control. These create a flip-flop of policies and of matters such as planning. The lack of leadership is such that there may no longer be a tourism minister in future, if Biel Barceló is to believed. This leadership, if it exists, will be shunted downwards to the islands councils until there is a later decision to reverse this. There is therefore an incoherence that undermines long-term planning for sustainability.

The article wasn't offering any solutions. It was about areas for further research or even some research. With financial measures for sustainability, e.g. the tourist tax, there is very little knowledge of their impact. The Balearics provide a perfect test base for understanding this impact because of the scale and scope of the tax. But do we really want the islands' tourism to be treated as an experiment? Because that is what it appears to be.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 6 February 2018

Morning high (7.35am): 7.6C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 7 February - Cloud, wind, 14C; 8 February - Cloud, 13C; 9 February - Cloud, 13C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 increasing North 6 to 7 in the afternoon.

General greyness all day, with showers possible any time and the wind getting up. Amber alert for coastal conditions.

Evening update (21.15): Rubbish. High of 11.2C.

The Old Woman Of Lent

Were there to still be the practice, some time around the second week of March folk would take themselves off to the town hall square in Palma - Plaça Cort - and saw an old woman in half. The old woman, by then, would be deprived of four of her seven legs. Her fate would be determined, roughly speaking, by the halfway point of Lent.

Antoni Maria Alcover, sage of the Mallorcan folk tale, explains: "The Jaia Serrada was an old woman made of paper, cardboard or painted wood. Thin and haggard, she had a cod in one hand and a bunch of carrots in the other. She had seven legs and seven teeth. On the first day of Lent, they hanged that old woman in the kitchen or the dining room, and on each Sunday they cut off one leg of the seven she had until by Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) she had no legs at all, and they would discard what remained of her. But by the middle of Lent they were already performing an operation, from which came her name (serrada - sawn), and it was on the Thursday of the fourth week that the old woman was taken down and sawn in half, because half of Lent had passed."

Her name, prior to being sawn in half, was Jaia Corema, the old woman of Lent. How she came to be as she was is something of a mystery, but her main purpose was to act as a form of calendar. The father of the household would ceremoniously cut off each leg, so the family knew where they were in terms of the period of abstinence. The Jaia came in different varieties. The cod was a constant element, but she could also hold a small grill and a rosary.

The Jaia is just one of the folk legends that surrounds Mallorca's Carnival and post-Carnival. There has been a sort of revival of her story. In Porreres on the fourth Sunday of Lent they conduct the public trial of two straw dolls, who are then executed because of their bad behaviour. Afterwards, they all tuck into some coca pastries and wine. Lent it may be, but Lent is not totally for the observance.

Once upon a time of course, they did take the abstinence pretty seriously, but what preceded it - namely Carnival - was anything but serious. The grand parade for Carnival, in Palma at any rate, didn't appear until the early years of the last century, but there had been parades with costumes and masks for a good two hundred years prior to the grand parade.

It all goes back, it's reckoned, to Pope Gregory the Great in the late sixth century. He came up with the idea for a period of fasting prior to Easter as a way of mirroring Christ's fasting in the desert. Carnival was thus a period of excess in the lead-up to Lent. But Pope Gregory wasn't the perhaps inadvertent originator of Carnival as such. The origins are pagan. The excess, the wearing of masks, the mocking of important people as well as a celebration of the return of the sun - these are all rooted in the dim and distant past.

The Church and the State have not always been terribly at ease with Carnival. Franco did of course ban it. In Cadiz, where Carnival has long been celebrated more wildly than anywhere in Spain, they had a special event in February last year to mark the eightieth anniversary of the prohibition. The Franco regime's repression was at least partially motivated by a fear that Carnival could be used as a time to show dissent. And this wasn't the first time that the State had been concerned about this.

Carlos I in the sixteenth century slapped on a ban. It remained for several decades until it was lifted by Felipe IV. But some one hundred years later, during the reign of Carlos III, there were other bans. In 1776 in Mallorca, the Marquis Alos, the captain general and governor of the Balearics, issued a prohibition. There could still be parties but these had to be limited to friends and relatives. Masks were not allowed. Behaviour had to be modest, and anyone who didn't comply or who was out on the street after nine in the evening faced a jail sentence.

This was all a consequence of Church pressure and fears about social uprising. The Esquilache Riots of 1766 had been sparked off by the rising cost of cereals, bread and other staples. There was also a severe drought that lasted well into the mid-1770s.

Carnival is therefore as much a socio-political celebration as it is a cultural one. It is said that Carnival has been moulded to suit tourism. This may be the case in places such as Tenerife, but in Mallorca the tourist dimension is by and large absent. It is essentially a time for some fun, for dressing up and holding parades of floats. As for the Jaia Corema, well yes, she may still be about, but her tradition is not as it was.