8 December 2020
It is time to dispel a few mistaken ideas about Mallorca and to put things in their right place. Here are a few thoughts, just notes really, about the Mallorca that you will not see if your holiday is spent entirely on the beach.
First, let’s take gardening in Mallorca. The first rule is that everything is the other way round from England. In England winter is the difficult time for gardeners. Nothing grows and you sit indoors looking through the seed catalogues and dreaming of summer. Here summer is the dead season. Most plants wilt and die unless you are in the garden daily with the hose pipe and watering can. If you can nurse most of your plants through the heat from June to September, you have done well. If nothing in your garden has died when October returns, then you are a horticultural genius.
Here October and November are often called the second spring. People flock to garden centres to replace what they have lost during the summer, and life starts again. In winter come the rains and most plants are happy and drink like camels to prepare for the heat of the next summer.
Chrysanthemums. Here they are associated with All Saints Day. They are the flowers to take to the cemetery. This happens in Italy too as you find out if you read the Commissario Brunetti books by Donna Leon.
What else will you not see in Mallorca if you stay on the beach?
Every Spanish city has its Corte Inglés. This is a large department store rightly known for its high quality goods and customer service. About 30 years ago they opened in Palma on the broad street called the Avenidas. It was a prime position. Gradually they bought the shops and flats on the block they wanted for the new store. They bought all but one. One family who had their living quarters and their printing business there held out. Despite increasingly high offers they refused to sell their property to the Corte Inglés. Their building is dwarfed by the enormous store but to this day there it stands, proudly maintaining its identity. Just walk down the Avenidas, and you will see it.
And now to one of the effects of tourism. There is a story that is so often told that it must have happened more than once. There was a farmer here who had two sons. The old man had fields near the village, and they were good for growing olives, oranges and all the vegetables that the family needed. He also had a piece of land on the coast by a deserted ‘cala’, an inlet of the sea. This land was dry and yielded very little. In time the old man died, and his elder son inherited the good agricultural land. The younger son was given the useless land by the beach. This was the custom, and the younger son accepted his lot without complaint. Then came the tourist boom of the 1960s. The younger son sold his land to hotel developers and became a rich man while his elder brother sweated in the fields growing chard and onions.
And to politics. About thirty years ago there was a president of The Balearic Isles who filled positions of power and influence with his brothers, uncles and cousins. This was so apparent that members of his party in Madrid finally contacted him and told him that it had to stop. ‘It gives the party a bad image,’ they said. The President was shocked and simply didn’t understand. He replied, ‘But this is what we always do in Mallorca!’
Now to the winters. I once asked a student for her childhood memories of Palma. She said she remembered how cold the house was in the winter. It was a damp cold and the sun never entered those dark rooms in the shade of the buildings on the opposite side of the street. The humidity is hard to take. In winter, a damp cold enters your bones. In summer, a damp heat saps the energy more than much higher temperatures in a dry climate.
There are two myths here.
Myth 1. ‘Mallorca is never cold.’
Myth 2, which follows close on the heels of Myth 1, ‘Heating the house in winter is not necessary’.
Traditionally the houses here were built for the summer months. No carpets cover the tiled floors. The small windows do not let in the sun, and there is little central heating.
The towns. Each small town has its own reputation. It is recognized by the rest of the island by the character of its people and the dialect they speak. The differences are considerable and yet we are talking about an island that you can drive across in an hour! People regard someone who lives in a town just a few miles away as totally different from themselves.
‘Oh no,’ they say. ‘He’s very different from us. He`s from Felanitx!’
It turns out that Felanitx is only 10 miles away!
There are many local rivalries, for example that between Valldemossa and Deia. These beautiful villages are close neighbours in the Tramontana hills but they remain traditional rivals. Valldemossa is where the French writer Aurore Dupin, whose pen name was George Sand, took the composer Chopin to spend a winter in 1839, and Deia is where the English poet, Robert Graves, sought refuge after the First World War and lived for many years. Mallorca is full of surprises!
Sometimes I see an article with a title such as ‘Glimpses of the real Mallorca’. This claim to be ‘real’ is, in fact, a myth. It is like the photo in which the tourist cleverly manoeuvres the camera to eliminate the satellite dish on the roof of the quaint old house. The real Spain is not a nostalgic look at the past. It is what is happening in the present. Part of the real Mallorca is a long sea front of large hotel blocks full of tourists. It is the beach full of families enjoying the sea and the sand.
I have given you some glimpses of a Mallorca that the tourist may not see while on holiday in their bubble of hotel, beach and shops. I do not say that it is the real thing. It is simply a different Mallorca.