Between Sun and Moon

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Nearly everybody heads to the Mediterranean for the sun. The sun, the sea and the Sangria. Or do they all, really? Well, not quite, I think.

 

Take the Mallorcans, for instance. You will find, if you talk to the locals, that they do not take to the sun all that much. Mallorcan villages always look as if deserted. All shut, especially in the summer. The windows are protected to leave the sun out, and the heat with it, by way of shuttered blinds called Persianas. What a clever invention.

 

Locals have a lot of respect for the sun. If you examine traditional architecture in the Mallorcan countryside you will notice that most old farm houses have surprisingly few windows of a surprisingly small size. Modern farmhouse conversions, done by well-off Northern European finca owners, can’t seem to get enough windows, all of them as large as possible. What do the locals know, that we don’t? Or better: what did the Mallorcan farmers know, in times gone by?

 

Talking of farmers: they respected the sun, possibly feared its unforgiving force, but they did not live, nor farm, nor grow by the sun’s schedule. Quite the opposite. Mallorcan farmers observed the Lunar calendar, and still do, when it comes to pruning their fruit trees, grafting plums onto almond tree branches, planting new trees, sowing their crop, harvesting their wine, mating their sows or sheep. I would say that the Mallorcan farmer’s life is governed by the moon much more than by the sun. I dare even claim that Mallorca as a whole seems perhaps to be dominated much more by the moon than the sun, and has always been. Why that should be, one cannot fathom. But that this is so, you will find lots of evidence for. Take agriculture as just one example.

Take Ramon Llull as another point in case, the famous and important 13th century mystic. Ramon Llull wrote some 265 books, one of which is Lluna Negra (Black Moon). Ramon Llull was seemingly more drawn to the moon and the stars that are so prominent in Mallorca, where he was born, than the sun. He did not write about the sun, to my knowledge. Llull’s work is clearly orthodox and anything but magical. But in the 15th century, the historical evidence makes it clear that Llull’s work was lumped by some into the category of Magic.

Or take Cresques Abrahams, a prominent 15th century cartographer of which Mallorca has bred so many. The moon was important in the prediction of tides and in seafaring in general and the knowledge of its phases could often decide about life or death. Lunar phases and stars were likely to have been important in the Mediterranean from the early 14th century on, when navigation and seafaring became all important. That is suggested by sea-navigating maps. The season between the rising of the Pleiades (shooting stars) in the spring (bringing rain) and their setting in the fall was considered favourable for sailing (for shooting stars: you can watch lots of them over the next few days).

 

Is all that too long ago for you to matter? Then take someone nearer to our day and age. Robert Graves, poet and writer, 1895-1985, for instance. Reliable sources suggest that Robert Graves claimed repeatedly that he was fascinated by Mallorca for the moon rather than the sun. You might remember that he lived for most of his adult life and up to his death on this Balearic Island. “The Muse, or Moon Goddess, inspires poetry of a magical quality”, as Graves would put it. You can find evidence of that in many of his poems as well as in his book Between Moon and Moon: Selected Correspondence (1984). A book that sadly is out of print, or so I am told.

 

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Be that as it may, just look at the sky next time the moon is out in Mallorca, or better even, the Full Moon. In three weeks time, for instance, on 28th August. You will not have seen such a moon anywhere, or hardly anywhere. Not in Barcelona. Not on the Côte d’Azur. Not in Greece.

 

It’s all very interesting, I think.

 

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