Monthly Archives: August 2007

The Queen That Never Was

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Princess Diana’s death is being marked in a memorial service today, a decade after she died in that infamous car crash in Paris. Camilla, Prince Charles’s second wife, has finally stated that she will refrain from attending. Probably a wise decision, to the best of everyone. Diana and Camilla are pictured above at Ludlow racecourse, UK, in a 1980 photo.

Diana Frances Spencer (1961-1997), born in Norfolk, had some brief encounters with the island of Mallorca, and with Deià in particular. Deià is a mountain village in the north eastern mountain range of Mallorca, the Serra de Tramuntana. Deià is famous for many things and many people, such as author and poet, Robert Graves. Deià’s most notable hotel is called La Residencia, which had a Michelin star until recently and which has some more modest rooms as well as three suites, each with their own swimming pool; Princess Diana was a dedicated visitor of La Residencia. She is said to have come and stayed three or four times during the time of the break-up of her marriage to Prince Charles.

Earlier, in 1987, the Princess of Wales had been to Mallorca with Prince Charles and their two sons, staying at Marivent Palace outside of Palma de Mallorca, where the British Royal family was holidaying with the Spanish King Juan Carlos and his family.

 

In my humble opinion, Diana, the Queen that never was, may have benefited the British monarchial dynasty in more ways than is commonly assumed.

 

Tomatoes Anybody?

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Most people think of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) as a food item and even a culinary symbol. But wait a moment. This blog comes to you from Spain.

The tomato probably originated in the highlands of the west coast of South America. After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, from whence it moved through south east Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in the Mediterranean climate, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, though it was certainly being widely used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.

If ever you have travelled extensively in Spain or if you even live here, you might have become accustomed to the fact that Spain is different. How the tomato is typical of such differences you will discover as soon as you hear about the Tomatina.

La Tomatina is held in Buñol, a small town about 50 kms west of Valencia. It takes place on the last Wednesday in August every year. It has been held there ever since the end of the Spanish civil war, possibly as a celebration of life at the end of all the misery and pain endured in Spain before 1940. Yesterday, it was Tomatina time, once again.

I have to admit that I did not make it to Buñol yesterday and I do not have first hand experience of the Tomato Battle, but I cannot hide an eagerness to see it for myself, one day.

Buñol is a small Spanish town of perhaps 9,000 inhabitants, but every year, at Tomatina time, some 40-50,000 people congregate to celebrate the ultimate tomato festival that man, or woman, has ever invented.

Imagine the combined effect of San Miguel, sangria, sweltering heat, a profuse dousing with water from the public water hoses (lots of wet t-shirts there) etc. and you get a party atmosphere that easily rivals the running with the bulls party in Pamplona, also in Spain, but without any of the risks of physical harm that a fast moving object of 750 kgs or more could inflict on you.

Add to this some 120 tons of ripe tomatoes, streets crammed shoulder to shoulder with people and the senseless spirit of a party made up of Buñolians, Valencianos, Spanish, Germans, Brits, Americans, Australians, a Kiwi or two, plus a surprisingly large number of Japanese and Asian visitors, and you have probably the most insane thing you are ever likely to witness.

The blood-like red colour of the tomatoes suggests violence and injuries, but everything is totally good natured with almost no incident in this peaceful annual tomato throwing fight of tens of thousands of people. 

You will need a good and proper wash at the end of the fiesta, though. The combination of tomatoes, sweat and alcohol amounts to a very smelly and sticky matter, exciting as it may be.

 

Albert Camus and the Balearic Islands

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Albert Camus, French novelist and dramatist, was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Although he is generally thought of as being French, he was actually born in Algeria into a French settler family. His father was French, his mother was of Spanish extraction.

 

Camus is often associated with Existentialism, but he preferred to be known as a man and a thinker, rather than as a member of a school or ideology. He preferred persons over ideas. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked….”. 

Not only did the mother hail from Spain, but from the Balearic Islands, and from Menorca in particular. Apparently, Camus visited Menorca to connect with his mother’s and grandmother’s roots, the grandmother also being Menorcan.

 

Camus also visited Mallorca, where he met his first wife, Simone Hié, then a morphine addict. His stay in Palma is told in the chapter Love of life from his book The Wrong Side and the Right Side. Interesting reading, I think.

 

May I suggest you retrace Camus’ steps in Palma de Mallorca with a copy of this text in hand, next time the opportunity arises?

 

– Carrer Llotgeta: Bar Flexas. This is not the bar which Camus describes, but you can see details there of a typical bar of Palma’s historic centre from the 1930’s and 40’s.

– Go to Plaça Santa Eulàlia and take Calle Morey and Calle Almudaina, where you can see Can Oleo and Can Bordills, both of them possible examples of the courtyards that Camus describes. Keep going until you reach the Cathedral.

– La Seu (the Cathedral): In his first of the Notebooks, Camus adds a comment on the Palma Cathedral: “bad taste and master workmanship”. I suggest you enter and admire the reform carried out under Antonio Gaudí’s orders, undervalued and harshly critizised at the time.

– Return through the narrow streets behind La Seu towards Plaça Sant Francesc and enter the most beautiful Cloisters of the Iglesia de San Francisco there.

Camus was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (after Rudyard Kipling) when he became the first African-born writer to receive the award, in 1957. 

Albert Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers, his father having died when he was barely one year old. In 1923, he was accepted into the Lycée and eventually to the University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his football activities and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie (BA) in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne for his diplôme d’études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M. A. by thesis). The rest is history.

I read some of Camus’ oeuvre when I was an angry young man, in particular The Plague and The Stranger. Later on, I had the opportunity to see his plays Caligula and The Just Assassins on stage.

 

In the 1950s Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953, he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers’ strike in East Berlin. In 1956, he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.

He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment anywhere in the world. One of his most significant contributions to the movement against capital punishment was an essay collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay Réflexions Sur la Guillotine. When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the French/Algerian conflict and stated that he was worried what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals.

Camus is also the shortest-lived of any literature Nobel laureate to date, having died in a car crash only three years after receiving the award.

 

Camus was interred in the cemetery at Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France (see photo above).

 

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A brave angry young man in my books. 

 

The Moon, Eclipsed Again

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I must confess that I am a bit of a lunatic. The word is borrowed from the Latin word lunaticus, which gains its stem from luna for moon, which in turn denotes the traditional link made in folklore between madness and the phases of the moon.

Ok., let me re-phrase that. I do not believe that I am mad (somebody better ask my wife for her verdict). I just happen to like the moon in its appearance and in its rhythm, and I am probably prone to some of its folkloric and symbolic connotations. So maybe I am a moon-atic.

Anyway, it’s Full Moon again, tomorrow, and a special one too, at least in some parts of this lovely planet. No, I am not talking about a Blue Moon for tomorrow. The next Blue Moon is not due until 31st December, 2009. Instead, tomorrow we can experience another Total Eclipse of the Moon. At least, if we live on the right side of this planet.

A total eclipse of the moon occurs during the early morning of tomorrow, Tuesday, 28th August, 2007. The total lunar eclipse, already the second one this year, will be visible in North and South America, especially in the West. People in the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand will also be able to view it if the skies are clear.

An eclipse of the moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the sun’s rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon.

People in Europe, Africa or the Middle East, who had the best view of the last total lunar eclipse in March 2007, won’t be able to see the one tomorrow because the moon will have set when the partial eclipse begins at 04h51 EDT. The full eclipse will begin an hour later at 05h52 EDT.

Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth’s shadow taking a bigger and bigger bite out of the moon, totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, lasts for about 3 1/2 hours. The total eclipse phase lasts about 1 1/2 hours.

The next total lunar eclipse will occur next year, 21st February, 2008, and will be visible from the Americas, Europe and Asia.

I am more than slightly worried about a friend of ours, who gets totally affected every time there is a Full Moon. I just hope he does not get a Total Eclipse himself, tomorrow. Or tonight. Or all week.

 

 

Some Buildings in Mallorca Are 3,000 Years Old, or More

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Imagine you walk through a passage way that is covered by a solid stone slab weighing some 3,000 kilograms or more and that was put there, no-one knows how, some 3,000 years ago, or more. Eerie.

Mallorcan civilization is much older than one might think. It is older than the Arab’s, and older than the Roman’s. As old as some Pharaonic dynasties, even.

 

There was life in the hills of the Levante some 4,000 years ago. Well, let’s settle for 3,000 years, just to avoid argument. Yes, that’s almost as old as the pyramids of Giza. No, I am not comparing the two. It is to give you a feeling of age, nothing more.

 

The Megalithic civilization that had settled in the Balearic islands, mainly really in Menorca, but to a lesser extent also in Mallorca, is called the Talayotic society. Talayotic because they lived in settlements that were characterized by some massive watchtowers, called Atalayas. If you are really into all that you should soon make your way to Menorca, where there are some fourty or fifty settlements, of various states of importance. Some of them are magnificent. World heritage stuff.

 

Here, on the bigger Balearic island, we have to settle for something smaller and lesser. But impressive nevertheless, if you join me on the way to Ses Païses (see photo above), near Arta, or to Capocorb Vell, south of Llucmajor, or to Son Fornes, near Montuïri. Mallorca has only about twenty or twentyfive Talayotic settlements, of which the three named above are the biggest and best preserved. Some others and mainly smaller Talayots in Mallorca are not very well cared for, I am afraid. Some have been outright neglected.

 

I do not know why the Island guardians care so much more about small infringements in contemporary planning laws, when they have architectonic remains of historic importance on their hands that they neglect to even fence in.

 

Be that as it regrettably may, you might just want to pop down to Llucmayor and see for yourself, one of these days. The Capocorb Vell settlement is well fenced in and is signposted all the way from Llucmajor. You can’t miss it. Opening hours there are from 10h00 to 20h00 (closed Thursday), now that the season is in full swing. But busloads have been known to descend, and it gets too hot anyway. Why not wait another few weeks until things get cooler. The extensive Talayot is nicely looked after. Of course this is public domain, but the keepers are private people that obviously care. There is a small entry charge of 3 € and it is worth every Cent. If you get exhausted from looking and perhaps acting out that Indiana Jones urge inside of you, refreshments are on offer, as are crisps and sweets. You can take your young ones, too. But urge them to stick to the paths. 

 

And if you are still up for it, you might check on the other sites, too. Son Fornes near Montuïri is currently being assessed in earnest, after many years of neglect. A small exhibition display has recently been opened at the vicinity.

 

A real classic is Ses Païses, near Arta, but then, some of you might know that one already.

 

It is the Talayot that Mallorca likes to show off.

 

Have You Heard of Gran Gimnesia?

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The beauty of the Balearic Islands is that it is an archipelago. There are so many islands, and each one is so very different from the next one.

 

I haven’t counted them all yet, but there are at least a hundred islands and islets in all. There are the four principle ones that are of any considerable size and these are inhabited: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The islets surrounding the four big isles are protected and mainly uninhabited; one of them (Cabrera, the biggest of the little ones) is declared as a Spanish National Park. Cabrera itself is again surrounded by several other islets.

 

Of course, it was not always that way. Some 100,000 years ago, perhaps 200,000 years, one presumes that all these islands were connected into two large land masses, one, combining Menorca, Mallorca and Cabrera and spanning some 8,000 square kilometres, resulting in an island called Gran Balear, or Gran Gimnesia. The other island was Gran Pitiusa, combining Ibiza and Formentera. Both islands were separated by a marine canal of a span of 70 to 80 kilometres. We can’t go back in time, but we now have the means to travel across water.

 

Today, it is Cabrera where I suggest you go to one day, if you have not already been. The Parque Nacional del Archipiélago de Cabrera used to be under military rule for defense purposes for the last sixty years, but a few years ago, was returned  to the auspices of the Civil authorities. Cabrera is now uninhibited, save for a small contingent of keepers of no more than ten or twenty souls. Nature is amazingly well preserved on the islands that form the archipelago of Cabrera, for the simple reason that the long time tutelage of the Ministry of Defense has prevented tourism from coming and spoiling it.

 

Cabrera is now home to a great number of animals, ranging from eagles to falcons, cuckoos to owls, swans to seagulls. Over 120 species in all, just birds. Birds migrate from as far as Madagascar, India, the Red Sea, and Africa. Apart from birds, there are untold numbers of maritime animals from turtles to seals, dolfins to morrenas, whales to tuna. On land you find hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits and lizards. Of the podarcis lilfordi you will find 80 % of what is left in the whole world, here in Cabrera. That’s a large size lizard (see photo below).

 

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You can go to Cabrera by private boat. Only 50 boats are allowed on any one day. You have to make reservations well in advance. Or else you can make a boat trip from Colònia de Sant Jordi, near Santanyi. Trips leave daily at 09h30 and return at 16h30. Fares are 35 € for adults, or 18 € for children up to 10 years old. You have to bring your own food, as there are no facilities on the island such as bars or chiringuitos, thank God. Or you can book your comida from the ferry boat people at 10 € per person, which is likely to be paella and a soft drink. The boat trip stops at the Blue Grotto, called Sa Cova Blava, on the way back. Don’t forget your camera. Telephone 971.649.034 for a reservation.

 

Have fun chasing those speedy lizards, but don’t touch them. No, they are not poisonous, but they are very fragile. To save their skin, they surrender their extreme body parts rather than being caught. And you would not want a lizard to have its tail amputated, do you?

 

And let me offer my thanks to the G. O. B. More about them, soon. And more about the other Nature Reserve close to Mallorcan shores, Sa Dragonera, also soon, in a blog near you.

 

A Tribute to Olive Oil

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In a restaurant on the island of Mallorca, a small saucer might be put on your table before the menu arrives and before you even make your choices for the meal you are going to want to eat. You might mistake that small plate for an ashtray. Not so funny if you don’t smoke, or, as the new anti-smoking laws in Spain would have it, are not allowed to smoke. You push the small plate to the edge of the table.

Now some unsalted bread arrives. You might be surprised when, at the same time, the saucer is being placed in front of you, again, and a generous helping of pure virgin olive oil is being poured into the small bowl.

The idea is that you are encouraged by the friendly restaurant people to awaken your taste buds for the culinary delights still to come.

You dip some of the bread into the olive oil. You may not have thought of tasting olive oil on its own, ever before, but hey, why not?

Hmm, this tastes good. Your taste buds actually like the stuff.

I’ve been to a very nice Mallorcan restaurant, a while ago, where three different types of olive oil where being offered in three small compartments of a molded, longish glass-plate. They all tasted of oil, yes, but each one had a distinctive taste, a slightly different colour and a varying consistency.

What you see is not what you get, here. You get much more than what you see. You get some medicinal virtues for your heart, and for your blood, and for your digestive system, as well as the delicious taste.

Ok. To start with, I live in Spain. Spain is a country that borders on the Mediterranean Sea, and it was here, possibly in Greece or on the Greek island of Crete, where olive oil was first invented, let’s say, 6,000 years ago. An estimated 900 million olive trees are currently cultivated worldwide, with about 95 % in the Mediterranean region. Some of them are right outside our front door. Well, almost.

Olive oil is a prime component of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is a natural juice which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is – freshly pressed from the fruit. And it is so healthy it might make you want to move straight here, to the Mediterranean Sea.

The greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat is olive oil. And we all know that monounsaturated fat is widely regarded as being protective against cardiovascular disease. And a report was just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in August 2007, claiming that olive oil is rich in phenols, substances that are thought to have beneficial effects on the heart. Phenols may help ward off harmful blood clots in people with high levels of cholesterol, according to reports published there by Spanish researchers.

Now, you may not like the idea of drinking the stuff in its pure form and shape or, simply, dipping some dry bread into some oil. The good news is, that you don’t have to. Just buy a bottle of some good quality olive oil, and add it to your normal cooking habits. If you eat a salad, add some extra-virgin olive oil which comes from the first pressing of the olives. It doesn’t have to be Mallorcan or Spanish. Good if it was, but not necessarily. The Italians and the Greek do some fine stuff as well. Why not check your local Delicatessen and see what they have on offer?

Your children might inherit your legacy a few years later but, what the heck. You might have a bit of fun, a little longer. It’s almost like a non-prescription Viagra.

 

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One of the best olive oils anywhere is Made in Mallorca. Aubocassa is made of 100 % arbequina olives. It is produced on the eastern side of Mallorca, near where I live, on an ancient estate that cultivates about 8,000 olive trees. It takes over 9 kgs to produce 1 litre of this rich buttery oil. Aubocassa retails at about 13 € per 500 ml bottle. It’s worth every penny.

Scrumptious.