Monthly Archives: June 2007

Outside of the Comfort Zone



My ‘Camino’ experience was quite extraordinary in case you wanted to know.


I suppose that journey was rather the most exotic journey of any that I had ever taken in my lifetime. I have been to some faraway places, like Taiwan and Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Ayers Rock and Kyoto, but nothing can compare with my experience of walking for 850 kms in the north of Spain, carrying a heavy backpack and an even heavier burden of a lifetime of woes.


I have lived in Spain for 20 years now, and I suppose you could say that I speak the language pretty well. I did not need a visa for my Camino and I did not even leave the country that I had made my home so long ago, but what a strange place I encountered on the way. Ok, I have to admit that I have not done a pilgrimage ever before, but then I had not really thought of making this a pilgrim’s journey.


But nothing really prepares you for what you meet on the way and whom. I had chosen to walk on my own, in my own time, at my own pace. I think the Camino can not be taken any other way. Whether you are a pilgrim with a religious or spiritual purpose or whether you just want to test your own stamina and resolve, this is a task that is about one thing, and one thing only. It is about you and your life and your past and your purpose. That is what makes it so exotic and strange.


I suppose we go through life on an arrangement with ourselves to be comfortable. We live in a comfortable house, sleep in a comfy bed, eat food that becomes us, are surrounded by people that we feel close to and often even love dearly. We create a shelter that surrounds us. We create, and live in, a comfort zone. Fine. But on the Camino you leave all that behind. You say good-bye to the Comfort Zone.


You make yourself sleep in a different bed every single night. Not even a bed, but a bunk bed. You share your nights with people, sometimes people who you have never met in your life before. Some of them have habits and attitudes that you would not normally tolerate. You do not have the hot showers that you might be accustomed to. Some of the hostels afford no hot water. Some hostels are filthy. Some mattresses are plain right dirty. Surprisingly, this occurs often in shelters that monasteries might provide you with. Sometimes there is no hostel and thus, no bed, where your guide book led you to believe that there would be one.


Even the language can be a problem. Your entire Camino, if you do it the way I did, is along the Spanish coastline in the north, but people peak some strange idioms there. There is the Basque language, Euskera, which is not Spanish at all, not even Indo-European, which is spoken in the Pais Vasco. Then you get to Cantabria, which is o. k. Over into Asturias, where Spanish is spoken, unless you pass through a village or town where one speaks Bable, or another area where one speaks Eonavian. And then Galicia. The official language in Galicia is Gallego. If you end your journey in Santiago de Compostela at St. James’s cathedral, that’s it with all the confusingly different languages. But if you fancy to happen a bit further south, the Galician people start speaking Portuguese. You don’t need to show your passport along the Camino but you might as well have travelled through four or five distinct countries. And I started out from Mallorca, where one speaks a form of Catalán. Weird, really. Not comfortable at all, like you might think of your slippers as being comfortable, or the presence of your wife.


The secret of the Camino, to my mind, is really that you step outside of the Comfort Zone. You open yourself up to hardship, to uncomfortable nights, to quite a bit of bad sleep, interrupted by noise of which the snoring of your fellow pilgrims is only one. You ache. You hurt. You have blisters. You have reached the limits of your physical abilities. You sometimes go hungry and at times you run out of water. You get home sick, you miss your partner and your kids. You really don’t have a good time at all. You are wet most of the time because it is wet up there in the North. Either it rains, or you walk through the mist from the sea or from the low hanging clouds. Your clothes never dry. There might be a washing machine every ten days or so, and sometimes a tumble dryer. But do they work? No. You won’t get your clothes dry because it is humid everywhere and wet. And you walk. And walk. And walk some more, and lots. You don’t take the car, you don’t ride the bus, you ignore the train.


At home you might not walk the half a mile to go for a drink at your local pub or your morning Café Solo. But here you just walk and walk and walk. Sometimes you get lost, walking. Even though the Camino is marked you lose your way. Even though you follow a guide book you get waylaid and walk one or two or three kilometres more than you needed to. Some young person might have taken the signpost away or have broken it willfully, some other funny person might have painted the yellow arrow that accompanies you for four or five or six weeks and leads your way, in the opposite direction, just to spite you.


Then you meet this strange person, yourself. You begin to realize how weird you are. How strange your undertaking is, walking all these endless miles so far away from home. How peculiar this task is of walking to Santiago, and why? How very exotic the circumstances are that you find yourself in at this moment, and in fact, most moments of your comfortable life.


But the surprising bit is that you do not mind. You suffer the discomforts. And you get used to it all. You start thinking that everybody is quite silly to go by car everywhere when in fact it is so perfectly exciting to walk for a bit. You start realizing that you do not need a hot shower everyday of your life, and if you skip brushing your teeth, so what, once in a while. You begin to see people and companions as human beings that might have to offer you something despite their strange attitude or their weird behaviour. You begin to like this strangest person of them all, yourself. You make friends with yourself and your role in life, and your destiny. You start enjoying some discomfort and hardship and exhaustion because you begin to realize that you feel alive and perhaps more alive than you have felt for a very long time. Or ever. And that makes you feel at ease. That numbs the aches and the pain, the blisters and the exhaustion, the tiredness and the loneliness, the hunger and the thirst.


If you are lucky, as I was, you get to Miraz. After Vilalba you get to Santiago de Baamonde. In Baamonde you will be told that there wouldn’t be a shop or food or a bar or anything for a very long time. You had better buy some provisions. You are reluctant to buy too much because it will add to the burden of the weight of your backpack. By this time you really hate your backpack. But you have to buy some provisions, and then you set off.


Eventually, after a long, long walk, you get to Miraz. You enter the refuge. Something feels different. The hospitaleros do not seem Spanish. They hardly speak Spanish. Then you get it. These folks are English. British. You are being offered a cuppa tea. Then you are being pampered. You meet the nicest people you have met all along this Camino, and they speak your language. They think the way you do, and they make you feel at home. And because there is no shop around nor has there been for umpteen miles and miles, these kindly folks have set up a small shelf full of provisions. There are chocolate and biscuits, there are KitKats, there are pasta, rice, tunafish and other tinned food, tomato sauce and whatever. You can buy some food and drinks and cook your meal and have some more tea. And you can machine wash your clothes.


And the hot water works and the beds are clean. Blissful. All the suffering of the last three weeks or four is forgotten in an instance. This is one of the highlights of the Camino. At least it was for me.


The secret is that this refuge was taken over a year or so ago by The Confraternity of Saint James, in Good Old England. They have one more hostel, Gaucelmo, at Rabanal de Camino, on the Camino Francés, and they might open a third one soon on a different route if they can find one, and if they can raise the money. And these people show us how such a pilgrims’ hostel can be run and should be done. With love and care, and a cuppa.


Of course there is a drawback. They lie to you in Miraz. When I left the next morning David told me that the next bar or coffee house or shop would be a long walk of 15 kilometres. Well, that’s far from the truth. It was six hours and 20 kilometres, the longest and wettest 20 kilometres of my life. But thank you anyway, Caroline and David, for the best tea in ages and for the yummiest tunafish lasagna I have ever had. God bless.


And thank you, Ramón, for the photo above.

The Apricot Conspiracy



My wife is into making jams and marmalades.


In her laudable efforts she prefers to use local produce and ideally, to use fruit that we have hand picked ourselves or that someone nice like a neighbour might have picked and given to us.

Mallorca, the Mediterranean island where we live, is particularly reputed for its almonds, strawberries, figs, oranges and apricots. Now the apricot season is upon us; now is the time to harvest apricots. This time last year we went out with our children and friends and an armada of plastic buckets. We came home, proudly, with perhaps a hundred kilos of the ripe little Prunus Armeniaca. We could have had more, but my wife could not see herself making tons of apricot jam.

But this year it is all different. There are no apricots this year in Mallorca. On a tree that might have been laden with thousands of apricot fruits last year, there may be five or eight or eleven fruits this year. Or one, or none. So there won’t be any home made apricot jam in our household, this year.

We are all a bit puzzled about this apparent conspiracy of the apricots. But we have an inkling that a similar disappointing thing may have occurred a few years back.

Our local farmer friend, Sebastian, who so generously offers us the free range of his apricot orchard every year, knew what all this was about. The apricot tree, he said, usually has a cycle of two good years, followed by one poor one. The tree needs some time off to regenerate. Isn’t nature clever?

Apparently there are other trees that have a similar crop cycle, such as plums, or the edible acorn of the Mediterranean oak tree. Most people here do not eat the acorns any longer but the farmers’ sheep and pigs do, and there is a great commotion amongst sheep (and pigs) when there is a year with no acorns. Well, there is a great commotion amongst pigs this year as well, due to the lack of apricots.


As the Latin name for the apricot suggests, Prunus Armeniaca, this fruit belongs to the family of prunes and has its origins in Armenia. To make today’s post a slightly more interesting one, you might be interested to learn that my wife has Armenian roots on her mother’s side. Hence, you might want to read about an Armenian apricot jam recipe:


In order to make the best Armenian apricot preserve, called Korizov Tsirani Mooraba, you have to have large, mature apricots. The recipe is unique in that it includes the sweet kernels of the apricot pits, a delicious touch virtually unknown in the West which gives the jam a surprisingly slight hint of almond flavour. Pits from small, runty apricots don’t yield an adequate nut when cracked.


But whatever, it is bad apricot news, this year. At least where we live.

UNESCO Declares Spain’s Teide a World Heritage site



The UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has just declared Spain’s Teide National Park a World Heritage site.

The 31st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is currently meeting in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The meetings, which run until 2 July, consider new site nominations, sites in danger, site management and protection. The committee will also draw up lists for possible future World Heritage sites.

The Teide National Park, on the Canarian island of Tenerife, covers 18,990 hectares and features Spain’s tallest volcano, 3,718 metres high and 7,500 metres above the ocean floor. The UNESCO committee said that Teide’s surrounding atmosphere, which casts the volcanic backdrop of clouds in different textures and tones, was very useful for understanding the geological processes that underpin the evolution of oceanic islands.

Spain already has the good fortune of having had its National Parks Doñana (in Andalucía) and Garajonay (on the Canarian island of La Gomera) previously declared as World Heritage sites.

Spain has quite a number of National Parks, most prominent of which are the Picos de Europa, the Sierra Nevada and, nearer to Mallorca, where I am based, the Archipelago de Cabrera. I’ve had the good fortune of having visited some Spanish National Parks in the past, such as the Teide, the Canarian island of La Gomera and the Doñana Park, and of course the Cabrera islands one. The then snowcapped Picos de Europa I could only admire from a distance when I recently walked my ‘Camino’ to Santiago de Compostela. I would recommend a closer visit to any of Spain’s natural treasures to anyone. Spain is such a beautiful place and not just at its coastline and beaches.

As far as the UNESCO is concerned, perhaps somebody should tell the UNESCO people that sooner or later, the whole of Spain ought to be considered a World Heritage site, as should indeed the whole of New Zealand. 

Come to think of it, the whole planet Earth might have to be declared as ‘World Heritage site in danger’ in the not too distant future.


The map shows Spain’s National Parks, four on the Canary islands, one on the Balearic islands, and eight on the Spanish mainland. There is one more, on the lesser well known Atlantic islands of Galicia. Autumn would be a good time to visit any of these National Parks.

The Prado Museum in Madrid is Worth Another Visit


I am making plans to travel to Madrid in the autumn to visit the newly built extension of the Prado Museum.

Last time I visited the Prado was about a year ago when I attended a slightly disappointing ‘Picasso – Tradición y vanguardia’ show presented on the occasion of the Spanish artist’s 125th birthday.


The Prado museum is bursting at its seams, but luckily for the museum people, a deal could be struck with the Pope. The cloisters of the neighboring San Jerónimo church now forms part of the Prado museum, and work on the largest expansion in the Prado’s nearly 200 year history started at the end of 2002 with a budget of over 152 million Euros. This new 22,000 sqm annex was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo from Navarra and was officially opened last March. The new wing adds fifty per cent to the museum’s total space allowing the Prado to exhibit some 500 more works from their vast permanent collection. The cloisters’ annex will also house the ticket booths, an auditorium and a new cafeteria. The annex is open to the public now without any artworks in place, i. e. empty and will officially open on 30 October with a special exhibit of 19th century Spanish paintings. To be honest, I shall be more interested in the architecture than the paintings.


A few years ago I had a chance to attend a talk given by Rafael Moneo in Mallorca. He is also the architect of the Miró Museum in Palma de Mallorca. Some other examples of his remarkable work are the Atocha railway station in Madrid, the Kursaal Auditorium in San Sebastian, Spain, and the Los Angeles Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Moneo has also collaborated with Jørn Utzon in the making of the plans for the famous Opera House in Sydney, Australia, and he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995.


I can’t wait to see the Prado’s new cloisters.


The Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid, the MNACRS Reina Sofía, has also had a new annex building added to it recently. I have visited this work by French architect, Jean Nouvel, already once, but will not hesitate to revisit the MNACRS on my forthcoming visit. You may have heard of Jean Nouvel with regard to the Torre Agbar building in Barcelona.


How about it, Rick? Will you come?


The European Union Only Just Avoided Collapse


Europe is important to me.

I was born in Post War Germany. I concluded that I did not want to live there when I was 18. I needed a bigger world to call Home. I settled in the UK and greatly enjoyed the creative spirit of Swinging London of the Late Sixties, what with the incredible Arts Lab and the unique ICA. But Britain was not a member of the European Economic Community at that time, and I was not a Commonwealth citizen. Thus, our love affair was short lived and ended after only one year.

But I moved back to London in 1976. By then the UK had fully signed up to the European Community. Of course, ahead were the years of the Iron Lady and the controversial ‘Belgrano’ affair. By 1987 it was time for me to move on again, this time with my wife and two kids and this time to the South and to warmer climates. So, since 1987 we have been living in Spain, Mallorca actually.

As you can see, Europe is actually important to me. I consider myself a European native. I am now a European Union citizen with voting rights in Spain at the local town hall level, and of course at the time of the European Union elections. I am a documented permanent resident in Spain, just as I was a legally documented resident during my UK years. I still have my Germany passport and nationality, but I have not lived there since 1976, never voted for any German elections since then nor do I have any plans for the future to ever move back to the country of my origins. It is simply too cold there, weather wise and other.

It is important for me that Europe works, politically, socially, economically and culturally. The EU is the largest economic and political entity in the world, with a total population of 494 million and a combined nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of €11.6 trillion (US$14.5 trillion) in 2006. Ok., China is coming up fast as a close second.

The European Union has gone through a bad patch during the last two years. A European constitution (the Treaty of Nice) was proposed and already ratified by some 18 EU member states. But France and Holland voted ‘no’ and ever since, negotiations on a new treaty have been slow and difficult.

At this week’s crucial European Union summit in Brussels it was going to be tough. The EU leaders gathered in Brussels to hammer out a deal to replace the now defunct European constitution that never was. But while some may have been hoping against hope that the posturing at home would give way to compromise in Brussels, it seemed that instead most leaders were digging their heels in and were even finding new issues to argue about.

But Europe can breathe a sigh of relief after a marathon night of negotiations ended in a deal. After German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the stakes by threatening to go ahead without Poland, Warsaw was finally pacified with a number of concessions and eventually all 27 countries agreed to move forward with a new draft treaty to replace the defunct constitution. At a heated summit in Brussels, EU leaders eventually settled their differences over the rules under which the club operates. The main stumbling block was Poland’s attempt to boost its voting power in the Council of Ministers, the EU’s main decision-making body.

In a dramatic move, Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of June, threatened to press ahead without Poland. The tactic worked as the Poles accepted a compromise under which their voting strength will be reduced in 2017 after a three-year transitional period (that’s ten years from now, but never mind. Europe has to think long term). The news came at 4h24 this morning: The EU leaders had reached a hard-fought deal on a new treaty that will streamline the way the bloc does business. After two years of stagnation and introspection, the EU can finally re-launch its program of closer political integration. The 27 member states had agreed to the compromise treaty, presented by the current EU president, Angela Merkel.

EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the deal was vital: “I think now we have made a great step forward.” He praised Merkel for a success that many had thought impossible, and presenting her with a bunch of flowers, thanked her for all she had done for Europe. Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, who had threatened to torpedo the summit, said he was pleased with the final deal: “We did not have to swallow any bitter bills.” And British Prime Minister Tony Blair said “I don’t think there is anything that can derail the process now.” Well, I am not sure that he has much of a say in Europe any more after today.

The reforms to the EU will be far-reaching, it is thought. The treaty will create a full-time president who will lead the Council of Ministers, replacing the current system where members take six-month terms. There will be a new high representative for foreign affairs and the European Commission will be reduced. The reforms are considered essential to streamline the running of the bloc, which has increased greatly in size in recent years.

What must have been a sleepless night for a large number of European politicians and some others, seems to have turned around just in time. A collapse of the idea of a united Europe was on the cards, but it has been avoided, if only just.

Summer Solstice 2007




Today is the first day of summer. That makes it the longest day of the year, that makes it the shortest night of the year. One could also say that from now on we are heading towards winter. Phew!

It’s been rather hot here. Make that 27º C in Mallorca, 22º C in Madrid, 27º C in Sevilla, 30º C in Malaga and 28º C in Tenerife. People are beginning to talk of a short, but hot Summer in Spain this year.

We do not want to bore you with more bad news about the effects of Global Warming. After all, Herr Über-Bush is not much worried about that, so why should we? But the fact is that the climate pattern over the last ten or twenty years in Spain has shown to be one of shorter but hotter summer spells.

Recent weather patterns point to climate change already having an impact in Spain and the country is likely to become hotter and more arid, Spanish weather expert Angel Rivera from the National Meteorological Institute (INM) in Madrid said recently. “What we are seeing is an accumulation of records” says Señor Rivera, who has been forecasting Spanish weather patterns for the last 30 years.

Spain logged the driest year since records began, in 2005. The hottest May temperatures ever were recorded last year and Spain has now had a series of winters that are milder than usual. Last year also set a new record for average summer temperatures, although the peaks fell short of 2003.

“This accumulation of evidence, with high temperatures, intense drought and heavy rain, taken together is worrying and could be in line with climate change” Rivera told Reuters in an interview.

Spain is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and by its proximity to Africa and therefore is heating up slightly faster than much of the rest of Europe. That means Spain’s dry regions will become drier and more arid and water will become scarcer, both because it rains less and because more of the rainfall evaporates. Climate models tend to point to world temperatures rising 2 or 3 degrees Celsius on average over the next 40 or 50 years.

That does not sound too bad perhaps, but Rivera says that in Spain, where weather patterns are already extreme, summer peaks could rise by proportionally more. In cities like Madrid or Sevilla, where temperatures already hit 45º C at least briefly most summers, life is likely to become considerably more uncomfortable.

In Spain it looks as if heat waves in summer will become more frequent and more intense. In winter there will be fewer days below zero and rain will become erratic, with more Mediterranean storms and less of the persistent Atlantic front type rain that is vital for replenishing reservoirs and aquifers, Angel Rivera said.

“If the climate models prove correct, as now looks likely to be the case, the situation in a few decades could be truly worrying. Unfortunately what looks likely is that Spain will become increasingly drier and more arid because of the uneven distribution of the rainfall” Rivera said.

Climate change has happened before in the history of the Earth, but always over hundreds or thousands of years, he noted. This time, with greenhouse gas emissions from industrial nations burning fossil fuels the main culprit, the same changes are happening in just a few decades.

“It’s not easy for species to adapt that fast” Rivera said.

Well, we better sit tight. A good start would be to switch down that air conditioning unit or even switch it off. Have you ever thought about that?

Let’s all make a change.

And for those that have been reading my recent entry on Alaska (22 May), you might be interested to know that in Alaska today it will be daytime all day long, like 24 hours, and today it will be the night where there is no night in Alaska. None whatsoever. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

In the Catalonian part of Spain, including the Balearic Isles, the longest day of the year will be celebrated with a display of ‘Correfoc’. ‘Diablos’ play with fire and with the people. These devils are not the incarnation of evil; they are sprightly and festive, dancing to the sound of the tambourine and the traditional pipe, while they set off their fireworks.

Some ‘Correfocs’ are simple parades including fireworks and effigies of the devil. In Mallorca, it is common for a crowd to line a street, and participants run through a tunnel of fireworks. In Barcelona, ‘Correfocs’ are run at the local fiesta ‘La Mercé’ in September. It is a spectacular event, thrilling but not without certain risks. Do not take children of too young an age.

A Hike in Mallorca’s Torrent de Pareis



One of the most exciting hikes you can undertake on the island of Mallorca, or anywhere in the Balearic islands for that matter, is at the Torrent de Pareis, leading to the beach of Sa Calobra. Being one of the best hikes does not make it either easy or without any risks, though.


It might be a lovely, sunny day as you start on your hike when suddenly the weather might change and torrential rain might hit you completely by surprise and convert the Torrent into a death trap. Sadly, quite a number of lives have been lost there over the last 15 to 20 years, tourists as well as locals. So do not embark on this hike unless you have carefully and truthfully evaluated the conditions: your own fitness, that of your companions and that of your equipment.

Some Mallorcan friends reckon that the best time for this hiking excursion would be between May and September, but whenever you go, do not take children under the age of ten. If you still want to go, heed this advice: Take your sturdiest pair of shoes, certainly no sandals or flip-flops. Take plenty of water. And then some more. Take some food as well, apart from a couple of sandwiches, like nuts, or muesli bars. Take your mobile phone, and make sure the battery is charged up to the full. Take a rope. Take an extra piece of clothing in case you might get stuck for the night, and a towel. Best of all, don’t go on your own. Even if you go in a group of two or four, go with someone who has been there and has done it at least once before, just to be on the safe side. Always make sure, before you set off, that plenty of people know where you are going, when you leave and when you are aiming to come back. Do not undertake this excursion lightly.

If you go by car, as most people would, you take the Palma – Soller road, crossing the pass instead of taking the new tunnel. This way you have fun right from the beginning of your trip. Then take the Pollença road, passing the army barracks below Puig Major, the Cuber water reservoir and the Gorg Blau (another water reservoir). Make your way to Escorca and park your car, let’s say near the church. Leave no valuables in your car. 

If you are in two cars, which might make much more sense as far as the return journey is concerned, drive back with both cars for about 3 km or four, and take the road off to the right where it is signposted ‘Sa Calobra’. If you reach Gorg Blau again, you have gone too far. Now, one of the most daring serpentine roads in the Balearics awaits you. But if you are not a driving novice, you will manage. You drive all the way down to Sa Calobra, where you park one of your two cars. Again, do not leave anything valuable in this car either. Drive back with the other car to Escorca. 

From Escorca, follow the signs for S’Entrefoc, now on foot, or Puig des Cosconar (ca. 542 m, mind that you don’t climb up that one). Just stay on the narrow path which should not be too tricky. Follow the arrows and look out for the occasional small piles of stones that mark the route. You will spend the best part of two hours before you get to the ‘Cova des Soldat Pelut’. This is where the hike starts in earnest. This is the point where the Torrent de Lluc meets the Torrent de Pareis. The Torrent de Pareis is a dry river bed most of the time, and only turns into a river, and sometimes a wild and dangerous one, after a heavy rainfall. Don’t continue your hike if there is more than a palm of water in it when you get there, and better still, go only when dry actually means DRY.

There is no path in the torrent, or if there ever has been one, the last rainfalls have washed that away. Large rocks, stones and pebbles make your footing quite unstable, so it is best to take your time. If conditions are to your advantage, you should come to the end of the Torrent after a further two hours before you come to the end of the rocky stretch and the start of the pebbled bit leading eventually to the beach of Sa Calobra. In case of emergencies during your hike, ring 112 for help. And have a safe return.

If you are more sensible and less adventurous, you might, like me, want to take the walk instead of the hike. That means you drive down to Sa Calobra where you will probably find that the bottom end of the Torrent de Pareis is almost dry, and easily accessible. Walk up a few hundred meters on the pebbly stretches of the Torrent, and aim for the rockier stretch. Once there, do yourself a favor and do not get lured any deeper into the river bed, even if it is dry-dry. Do not be bribed by any Sirens either, but head back towards your car, where you will find a half a dozen bars and restaurants, and you can enjoy the spectacular sea views.

If the sea is calm there is a daily boat service from Port de Sóller to Sa Calobra at 10h00, April to October (Barcas Tramuntana). Telephone for return times.


For those of you who have no need of such possible hardship or a physical challenge in general, but rather get their nurture from the beauty of the landscape or the pleasures of music, heed this: an annual concert is performed in the Torrent de Pareis at the safe end of the canyon, 300 m or so up from the beach. This year’s event will be staged on 1 July at 17h30 when a concert will be given by the children’s choir of Lluc monastery. That’s Sunday week. 

Happy Days for Rafael Nadal



21 year old Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, actually from Manacor in Mallorca, has not only had an astounding streak of 81 wins on clay court, but he is also a singularly talented tennis sports person, in having won the trophies for three years running in the championships of Rome as well as Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and, just a fortnight ago, Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal still ranks as number 2 in the ATP tennis world, behind the ubiquitous Herr Federer, who is the biggest hero on all the Grand Slam surfaces but clay.

For his accomplishments the prestigious Principe de Asturias Award for Sport in 2006 was bestowed upon Nadal last September. As it so happens, the award ceremony was held only yesterday at the Royal abode in Madrid. Unfortunately for him, this ‘Asturias Award’ is a trophy that Rafa will not be allowed to take home for three years running.

And perhaps it will be Roger Federer’s turn next year. I think Letizia likes Roger (Letizia Ortiz, Princesa de Asturias, the future Queen of Spain). Next week, Federer will try for his 5th successive win of the All England Club trophy at the Wimbledon Championships. The best of luck, Roger.

Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States of America and famous for being the US American President that wasn’t, also won the Príncipe de Asturias Award, but alas, not for tennis or any other sporting activity. Al Gore won in the category of International Cooperation in 2007.


And to make up a trio of ‘Goodfellows’, Robert Zimmermann also won the same Asturias award, in this case for the category of the Arts in 2007. In case you do not recognize the name, it is our good old Bob Dylan. 

Congratulations to the three of you. Well done. Enhorabuena

And sorry, Roger Federer. Don’t try to be King Midas.

Ecuador is Waiting



Our daughter, Kilina is about to embark on another journey of a lifetime. This time next week she will be on an Iberia plane from Madrid to Quito, Ecuador, where she will spend three months over the Summer, working as a volunteer at the National Park of the splendid Cotopaxi volcano at an altitude of 4,400 m. The invitation is courtesy of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Kilina’s employer will be Tierra del Volcán.

Here is some information from their website: “Tierra del Volcán functions in one of the most beautiful and privileged places in Ecuador, Cotopaxi, considered the highest active volcano in the world. Tierra del Volcán has three haciendas available in the foothills of different volcanoes that surround majestic Cotopaxi, each with its own magic, ecosystem and distinctive climate. With us you will be lodged in fascinating hacienda houses and experience the adrenaline rush of living an adventure with experts who will share unforgettable moments with you. A broad range of activities are available: Horseback riding, mountain biking, trekking, hiking, mountain climbing, rappelling, bird watching, camping, cultural experiences, and more.”

We expect Kilina to start a new blog on her latest journey soon, telling us in detail about her South American adventure. Here is a link to her new blog.


By the way, a bank note like the one shown below of 10,000 Sucres won’t be enough to pay for Kilina’s bus fare from the airport to downtown Quito. 10,000 Sucres is the equivalent of approx. 0,40 USD. Imagine you wanted to buy a bus. That might set you back by 2,505,017,200 Sucres. Not many people have a pocket calculator big enough to convert that into Pounds or Euros. Okay, not many people actually want to buy a bus, either. At least not in Ecuador.




P. S. After Kilina having arrived in Quito, it transpires – according to her – that Ecuador has given up its currency, the Sucres, and is using the US American greenbacks only. The transition between currencies obviously has been a difficult time for everybody and your average Quito person. The cost of living has apparently gone up phenomenally. I imagine that this is even more of a problem in the less affluent provinces. That makes buying your average bus even more expensive.


In Ecuador, that is.


The State of the Arts?



Art as such, well, Modern Art, seems to be in a bit of a turmoil at this moment in time. That’s my opinion anyway, and has been for some years now. Yes, there are meaninglessly high prices achieved at recent art sales, such as for Jackson Pollock (140,000,000 USD), Willem de Kooning (137,500,000 USD), Gustav Klimt (135,000,000 USD), Pablo Picasso (104,200,000 USD), Mark Rothko (72,800,000 USD) and Andy Warhol (71,700,000 USD), but that is art history of dead artists and may be a result of the ‘New Richistan’ of Russia, China and India, not to mention Wall Street or the City of London.

Contemporary Art is a different story, though. There is Damien Hirst (auction record so far at 20,063,000 USD) offering a Diamond Skull supposedly worth an amount of 98,000,000 USD, whilst Spanish newspapers compete this week with silly promotions of dinner plates by Eduardo Chillida and commercial prints of Andy Warhol silkscreens. Would you like to own an Andy Warhol print for the price of 1 €? ‘El Mundo’ newspaper has it waiting for you.

The art world has turned into the art market, MARKET being written in capital letters.

Artists strive to achieve their promised ‘15 minutes of fame’. Artistic output is often not based on clever thoughts or mindful inspirations but mostly exclusively directed at the saleability of the work created. That’s actually misleading. Works are not created anymore, works are produced, fabricated, manufactured. Artists appear to now follow Andy Warhol’s dictum of ‘Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’, but fail to understand his individual circumstances in the particular time during ‘The Factory’ in the New York of the Seventies. Ah, there you have it. Warhol was the first artist to actually call his studio a factory. 40 years ago he was the only one, now it is everyone.

Notwithstanding, the confused contemporary art world celebrates itself more vividly than ever this year. For one, you have the recently opened ’52nd Venice Biennale’, the massive international exhibition of Contemporary Art in Venice, Italy. There is a staggering number of more than 100 exhibitions in Venice, representing a total of 76 countries, from Italy to Uzbekistan, France to Ukraine, and Great Britain to Uruguay. Britain is represented this year by a female artist only for the second time ever. The lucky lady is Tracey Emin, famous for exhibiting her unmade bed at the old Tate Gallery years ago.

The grand opening in Venezia was followed last week by more openings of more major art events: that of ‘Documenta 12’ in its provincial setting in Kassel, Germany; a huge art event that is staged every five years, and ‘Sculpture Projects Münster’, a big, but not so mega show in nearby Münster, Germany, that takes place only every ten years.

Venice turns the contemporary art fan’s visit into a kind of a treasure hunt. There are big group shows in palatial old buildings in the historic inner city (see photo above), solo exhibitions in pavilions dedicated to individual nations in the Giardini, the expansive park at the east end of town; and many small shows in locations that will test the visitors’ map-reading skills.

Kassel seems to have failed this year in making ‘Documenta 12’ into anything but a politically correct kaleidoscope of art and decorum. I have not been to the new Kassel show, but I have been to all but two or three of the last eleven editions. I doubt very much that I shall go this year. From what I see in the media, Kassel appears to be non-committed. Not committed to art, not committed to the problems of today’s society and not committed to any future other than a slick and consumerist one. Not for me, this one, I am afraid. The only gripping statements of art that you can see this year in Kassel, it seems, are remnants of past ‘Documentas’ such as Joseph Beuys’ ‘7,000 Oak Trees’ or Walter de Maria’s ‘Earth Kilometre’. But I have seen those at the time of their first presentations, and a few times since.

More relevance seems to be offered in Münster. All the art on offer there is presented out of doors and away from gallery spaces, i. e. away from any points-of-sale. One of this year’s highlights is a sculpture project by Bruce Nauman called ‘Square Depression’. The American artist designed this sculpture for the Münster exhibition of 1977, but the thorough German authorities delayed their approval at the time for supposed technical reasons. Only now, 30 years later, has the artist been authorized to make his now belated statement.

Whether you decide to travel to Venice, to Kassel or to Münster this year, you may find that contemporary art in its confused present state lacks more than just a go-ahead on technical grounds.