Monthly Archives: July 2007

Moros Against Cristianos – Year After Year



I want to alert you to the fact that the Mallorcan town of Pollença celebrates the Fiesta de la Mare de Déu dels Àngels this week, which culminates in the annual battle of Moros y Cristianos (that’s Moors against Christians) on Thursday, 2 August.

This is one of a number of main events that Mallorca and, in fact, most of southern Spain celebrates under the same heading, Moros y Cristianos, but at different times and commemorating different historical dates. All of them share, however, a similar reason: that of an earstwhile attack by either Arab or Moorish intruders, or Saracen or Turkish pirates. Sóller and Puerto Sóller, again in Mallorca, for instance, celebrate the Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Victoria, or ‘Es Firó’, in May, when Moros and Cristianos sort it out between themselves, with the Moors losing every time, just as they did on 11 May 1561. This was the date when the Arab pirates, coming from Algiers, disembarked in Sóller, meeting fierce resistance from the local Christians. Luckily, the Viceroy from Ibiza had sent warning to the citizens of Sóller who could therefore prepare themselves and organise their defense. Santa Ponça, however, commemorates a famous battle of 1582, when 150 North African pirates were defeated by only 50 Cristianos. This victory is celebrated every year on 13th May in another Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos.

The Pollença fiesta, celebrated this week, is more distinctive. La Diada de La Patrona starts at 05h00 in the morning of 2 August. All day long, different activities or events build up to the commemoration’s high point, when at 20h00 the battle between Pollençins and Turks is reenacted at the local football ground. The population of Pollença dresses up in either white, for the Christians, armed with sticks and farming utensiles, or full colour and head dress for the Saracens (Turks), armed heavily with scimitars. Gun barrels are impressively fired with gunpowder and live fuse. Ear shattering. Both camps are united, though, in the consumption of spirits throughout the day.


The local population gets quite carried away by it all, as do some camera equipped tourists, and not just for the alcohol. I am not so sure, though, that in the long run this tradition is very helpful for the relations between two major religions in this day and age.


I won’t go to Pollença this Thursday.


Gibraltar is Pretty Close to Spain


Of course, Gibraltar is quite near to Spain.


Geographically it is even part of Spain. Or at least part of the Iberian Peninsula. The rock of Gibraltar occupies a strategic position at the entrance to the narrow strait and guards the only exit from the Mediterranean to the wide Atlantic Ocean beyond.


Gibraltar has been in the historical limelight for over 3,000 years. 4,000 years ago the ancient mariners didn’t dare pass the rock for fear of the currents. The Phoenicians sailed past it and used it as an important landmark, marking the entrance to the Atlantic. The Greeks gave it the name Calpe which means urn, possibly because of it’s shape.

The name Gibraltar derives from the Arabic Jabal-al-Tariq (mount of Tariq), dating from the 711 A. D. capture of the peninsula by the Moorish leader Tariq. This Arabic name has altered over the centuries to the present form of Gibraltar.

The Spanish held the peninsula until 711 and again from 1309 to 1333 but did not really recover it from the Moors until 1462. It was during the capture of Gibraltar by the Castillians that the streets of the lower town were constructed and Gibraltar became a proper city. It was not until the time of Cromwell that Britain first became interested in the rock, although it was not captured until the War of the Spanish Succession.

The English have maintained possession since 1704 despite continuous Spanish claims. Gibraltar became British in 1730 under the Treaty of Utrecht and later was declared a colony. The British post was besieged again and again unsuccessfully by the Spanish and French (1704, 1726 and again 1779-1783). During the last siege, the rock was defended by a force of 7,000, commanded by the Governor, General Sir George Elliot. The battle eventually ended in February of 1783. The city took many years to rebuild, hence the lack of any Moorish buildings, there.


Spain has never been able to accept the loss of Gibraltar with good grace. The Spanish have tried to recapture it by military or diplomatic means, but without success so far. Gibraltar has been a fortress for centuries and evidence of this can be found all over the rock, from guns to battlements and gun turrets. The museum of Gibraltar houses an impressive collection of artefacts dating back to pre-historic Gibraltar, when the first humans settled in caves.

As you see from all this, Gibraltar could easily be Arabic today, or French, instead of British. I believe that it would be wrong nowadays for Gibraltar to belong to the Arabs, or the French, just as I believe that it is wrong for the British to continue claiming Gibraltar as theirs.

Instead, I imagine that Gibraltar should be neither British nor Spanish, but Gibraltarian. With the existence of the European Union, it should be easy to give independence to Gibraltar and allow it be a sovereign Member State of the European Union, a bit like Andorra.

I wonder if we all will live to see that happen, one day?


Greetings From the Rainforest



We have news from our daughter Kilina, who is spending a summer volunteering in Ecuador. After one month of working in Hacienda El Porvenir, at the foot of Cotopaxi volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and a number of hikes and horse riding expeditions, she has now gone off on a four day excursion to the Amazon rainforest, still in Ecuador.


She had to go back down to the capital, Quito, from where a small group of about 15 IASTE students from all over the world set off to Reserva Cuyabeno, close to Ecuador’s borders with Colombia.


Upon being met by their guide they were transported by motorized canoe to the camp, the Cuyabeno River Lodge, in Amazon National Park.

During their explorations they will be able to observe the exotic flora and faunæ (monkeys, river dolphins, etc.) peculiar to this unique environment. Apparently there are 15 species of monkey and well over 500 types of birds in this area. With luck they might even spot a giant anaconda on the Hormiga River, a tributary river of the Laguna Grande.


On a hike through the primary rainforest, guides will introduce them to various medicinal plants. They will also have the opportunity to observe monkeys and parrots, among others, and they might even possibly spot a jaguar. They will also run across various animal tracks (tapir, armadillo, paca, puma, etc.).


The group is expected back in Quito on Monday morning. From there, it will be back to Cotopaxi for Kilina for another month of slave work (sorry, volunteer work).


What fun.


We sometimes forget what a lovely planet this still is, despite it all.

12 Places I Want to See Once More Before I Die



You might know the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

Well, here is my list of 12 places that I would like to go back to and see once more before my time is up. They all are places that I some way or other associate with moments of happiness during my life’s journey, so far:

1. Aleppo, in Syria (see above photo), and its souks. And Damascus, on the way there. And some Chai tea. Without sugar.

2. Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), in Australia. And the Ghan train ride from Darwin to Adelaide, on the way to Uluru.

3. The pyramids, in Egypt. And the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, opposite Khufu Pyramid, also known as Cheops Pyramid, to spend the night. And some Meze.

4. Jerusalem. This time with peace all around, if possible. And some Falafel.

5. Ensenada, in Baja California, Mexico. This time with an outing to Cabo San Lucas in Baja Sur, Mexico. And some Mango with sweet red pepper.

6. The Zzyzx salt desert, California. And some ice cold water.

7. Mount Fuji, Japan, also known as Fujiyama. And on the way, O-cha tea in Kyoto. And Toro Sushi. And Sake.

8. The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. And a visit to Topkapı palace. And some Rakı. And some Lokoum.

9. The Grand Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan. The best hotel experience I’ve ever had. Well, not quite true. But definitely the best Dim Sum meal that I have ever had, except for a wonderful prawn Wanton soup that I once ate in Chinatown, Los Angeles.

10. Kars, the ancient capital of Armenia. And Mount Ararat, on the way there. Or on the way back. And Erzurum. Only this time, without going to the hospital.

11. Inverness, in Scotland. And the Highlands. This time with a detour to the Isle of Mull. And a Single Malt, or two.

12. A Spanish choice, at last: The Alhambra, more specifically, the Lions’ patio, in Granada, Andalucía. Divine. Thank you, al-Andaluz.


Not a place to visit but a thing to do once more would be the Camino de Santiago. But next time a different route, and a longer one.


What would your own list be like? Do you have a list, somewhere in the back of your mind?

Cuba Celebrates 26 July Without Fidel


Cuba celebrates a national holiday today in commemoration of the 26 July 1953 rebel attack on the Moncada barracks, in Santiago de Cuba, which is considered a key factor in the making of the Cuban revolution of 1958/59.

Last year’s 26 July celebrations were the last time that Fidel Castro was seen in public. A week later El Commandante was admitted to hospital for a series of operations on his intestinal organs.


This year’s acts in the city of Camagüey were led by Cuba’s acting president, Raul Castro, who is Fidel’s younger brother. Fidel had temporarily handed over power on 31 July last year, ahead of surgery.


In my mind Cuba has had a bit of a rough time over the last 500 years, or more.


Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba on 28 October 1492, having sailed from San Salvador (in today’s Bahamas). Columbus was very impressed with the beauty and nature of this large island. He was astounded by its splendor and wrote at length about Cuba in his journal and in letters to Spain. Despite finding very little gold on the island, or other preciosities, Columbus was infatuated. Cuba was claimed for the Spanish Crown, and remained Spanish until 1898, even though it had been briefly annexed by Britain in 1762 (Cuba was later exchanged for Florida). During all this time, Cuba was continually exploited by Spanish, French and British profiteers.

A series of rebellions during the 19th century failed to end Spanish rule, but increased tensions between Spain and the United States, resulting in the Spanish-American War, finally led to the Treaty of Paris and thus, Spanish withdrawal. Cuba gained formal independence in 1902, under the Platt Agreement, which however, among other things, gave the United States the right to intervene militarily in Cuba. Cuba was now exploited by the American profiteers. Only in 1925, the United States finally recognized Cuban sovereignty over the island. Which, by the way, did not stop United Fruit Company from further exploitation.

I do not want to bore you with a discourse on more Cuban history, neither pre-Castro nor post-Batista, but you might have an inkling that the Cubans themselves did not have much of a say in the affairs of their lives, either before 1925 or after, or indeed, ever.

The good news today may be that Raul Castro has now offered an ‘olive branch’ to whoever is elected US president in 2008.

Let’s wait and see if the Cubans can finally have their particular Berlin Wall come down and can at last have a say in matters of their own. Perhaps Raul Castro can do a Cuban Perestroika.


And let Cuba have their Guantánamo back. The Platt Agreement stipulated a 100-year lease, which ended in 2002. Two Guantánamo wrongs do not make one right.

Time For a Walk to Lluc



You might want to get ready for this year’s walk from Palma to the Lluc Monastery. The date is set for Saturday, 4th August. It will be the 33rd Marxa de Güell a Lluc a peu.

As you all know, Spain is a country deeply routed in religion. One aspect of this devotion is the abundance of pilgrimages. Think of the most popular peregrinaje – the walk to El Rocío, in Andalucía. Or the most testing one, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the St James’s walk.

Mallorca has its own share of pilgrimages, too.

The most popular devotional walk here is the Marxa de Güell a Lluc a peu. The first Marxa was in 1974 by Tolo Güell, a bar owner in Palma’s Calle Aragón. Tolo and about 30 friends set out on foot to march to the Monastery of Lluc, some 48 km away from their starting point. In 1990, there were 30.000 pilgrims participating, not all of them religiously motivated. Last year, there were about 12.000 walkers, of which about 9.000 made it the whole distance. This year’s walk starts at 23:00 h, on Saturday, 4th August, at Plaza Güell in Palma, and those who last the enduring task, might get to the Santuari de Lluc between 07h00 and 11h00 the next morning (Sunday).

Lluc is Mallorca’s spiritual centre, where the Gothic XIV century image of the island’s patron saint (Mare de Déu de Lluc: Mother of God of Lluc) is worshipped. The name Lluc comes from the Latin word lucus, meaning sacred forest, which has led experts to believe that there must have been a pagan sanctuary here. In 1246, immediately after the Christian conquest of Mallorca, there is documentation of a chapel dedicated to Mare de Déu at this spot. However, the Renaissance-style sanctuary which now stands here dates from the 17th century.

If you fancy a bit of penitence yourself – in case you missed that opportunity during the Easter processions – you might give this walk a thought. I hope you have practiced and are in good shape for a long walk. But if you are a bit feeble – I would understand, really – drive to Selva, for instance, and just walk the last few kilometres. It is the thought that counts, after all.

Selva is a municipality in the Northern part of Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains. It covers an area of 47,5 km² and has 2,983 inhabitants, at the last count. The setting between the impressive mountains and a lush valley makes this village rather attractive. Selva is probably one of the villages in Mallorca that best kept its identity and that has least succumbed to foreign influence and tourism. Selva is probably too far from the sea to be more popular with the Jones’s, a small detail that most likely is not about to change any time soon.

A small church dedicated to Sant Llorenç (Sancti Laurenti de Silver) already existed around 1248, and was documented in the papal bull of Pope Innocent IV. Sant Llorenç is Selva’s patron saint, who is honoured on the 10th of August.

In 1300, King Jaume II declared Selva a town. Also towards the beginning of the 14th century, the building of the new church began, although the elegant façade of the older church can still be seen. This new church was built around 1600. The apse was lengthened, and the majestic steps in front of the façade were built. In 1855, a fire burnt down parts of the church, after which it was rebuilt to its current looks.

The best known event in Selva is the annual Herbal Fair, the Fira de ses herbes, held during the second weekend of June. Make an effort to go next year; it is quite marvellous. Selva’s connection with herbs is also the reason why an association, founded in 1999, worked very hard to make a Jardí Medicinal Ramon Llull reality. Sadly, in the end this project came to no fruition, and had to be abandoned after a few years.

The fair and Fiesta de la Creu is held in Camareta de Selva on the 3rd of May. This has become, over the years, a popular fiesta including an exhibition of craftwork.

Of course, a visit to Lluc is worth your while at any time of the year. By no means should you go there only on the pretext of a worship. You can drive there by car, if walking is too strenuous, especially now in the summer. The famous Blavets boy choir sings in Lluc monastery every morning. The museum of the monastery is open daily 10h00 to 17h30. And if you fancy spending a night or two, there are plenty of monks’ cells converted for accommodation. And do not miss a visit to the restaurant there. You won’t regret it.

Have fun, whichever route you choose.

45th Wedding Anniversary


King Juan Carlos I and Reina Sofía are spending their annual holiday in Mallorca at this very moment, as they have done for the last 30 years or so.


Only two months ago, the Spanish King and Queen were able to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. 14 May, 1962, was the happy date, when the two descendants of Queen Victoria were joined in matrimony, in Athens in case you should wonder.


Not many people would have foretold at that time that King Juan Carlos would lead the way for Spain to become a modern and democratic society. Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón was born on 5th January 1938 in Rome, where the Royal Family was living in exile at that time, having had to leave Spain when the Republic was proclaimed in 1931. His father was Don Juan de Borbón y Battenberg, Count of Barcelona and Head of the Spanish Royal Household ever since King Alfonso XIII had relinquished this reign in 1931. His mother was Doña Maria de las Mercedes de Borbón y Orleans.


At the express wish of his father, he was educated in Spain which he visited for the first time at the age of ten. In 1954 he completed his Baccalaureate at the San Isidro School in Madrid. In 1955 he began his studies, at the Military Academies of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. During this time he carried out his practice voyage as a midshipman on a training ship. He also qualified as a military pilot. In 1960/61 he completed his education at Madrid’s Complutense University, where he studied constitutional and international law, economics and taxation.


And in 1962, Juan Carlos married Princess Sofía of Greece, the eldest daugther of King Paul I and Queen Federika.



Juan Carlos and Sofía are related several times. Juan Carlos is a grandson of Queen Victoria-Eugenia of Spain, born a Princess of Battenberg. Victoria-Eugenia was the only daughter of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of Great Britain.


Sofía is a descendant of Queen Victoria through both her parents. King Paul I of the Hellenes was the youngest son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophie, born a Princess of Prussia. Sophie was the third daughter of Kaiser Friedrich III and Kaiserin Victoria, who was Queen Victoria’s eldest child. Sophia’s mother, Frederica of Hanover, was the only daughter of Duke Ernst-August of Brunswick and Princess Victoria-Luise of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s only daughter. Wilhelm II and Queen Sophie of Greece were siblings, both being children of Kaiser Friedrich III and Kaiserin Victoria. Duke Ernst-August was closely related to the English royal family, as the head of the old Hanoverian royal family. Ernst-August was the grandson of King George V of Hanover, only son of King Ernst-August of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland. Ernst-August was the younger brother of Edward, Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father.


The Spanish Dictator, Francisco Franco, had designated Juan Carlos as future successor to the Head of State, way back in 1969. Two days after Generalissimo Franco died, Juan Carlos I was proclaimed King of Spain, on 22 November, 1975.


Upon his proclamation as King, Juan Carlos expressed in his first message to the nation the basic ideas of his reign – to restore democracy and become King of all Spaniards, without exception. The transition to democracy, under the guidance of a new Government, began with the Law on Political Reform in 1976. In May 1977, the Count of Barcelona transferred to Juan Carlos his dynasty rights and his position as head of the Spanish Royal Household, at a ceremony which confirmed the fulfilment of the role incumbent on the Crown in the restoration of democracy. A month later the first democratic elections since 1936 were held in Spain and the new parliament drafted the text of the current Constitution, approved in a referendum on 6th December, 1978.


Of course, there is a reason why I am telling you all this.


Last week, a member of the new Balearic Government, only sworn in three weeks earlier, proclaimed that the Royal family was not welcome in Mallorca any longer and should seek a different place in Spain, or elsewhere, to spend their annual holidays. There was surprisingly little uproar about this in the Spanish press, to my mind, and I am certain that the kings and queens will continue their summer vacations in Mallorca for some time to come.


But I also believe that in the Europe of the XXI Century, one ought to have a closer look at today’s role of monarchy, here in the Kingdom of Spain and possibly elsewhere as well.


After all, it seems an out-dated model, to say the least.