Category Archives: Mallorca

History Is Happening All The Time

Pont Romá Mallorca

It would feel safe to say that the island of Mallorca was inhabited well before the Romans came to settle. In prehistoric times, in the Neolithic period, there was life on the island, mostly in caves, it is said. At around 2500 B. C. and up to about 1400 B. C., one speaks of the pre-Talaiotic period, coinciding with the bronze and iron ages, when people settled in caves and man-made Navetes. The Talaiotic period covers the time between 1400 B. C. and the arrival of the Romans, at around 123 B. C., when Talaiotic settlements were built with impressive towers and robust fortifications.

The Romans changed all that. It seems that they first arrived on the Northern shore of the island. Settlements were made in Bocchoris near what today is Port de Pollença, and Pollentia, near today’s Alcúdia. The Pont Roma (Roman bridge, shown here) in Pollença dates from approximately 400 A. D.

The North of the island must have had its attraction for the early settlers just as it has today, what with Port d’Alcúdia, Port de Pollença, Formentor, s’Albufera and the scenery between the Badia de Pollença and the Badia de Alcúdia, embracing the Peninsula de la Victoria. One might assume that the Romans did not play golf nor practiced kite surfing nor cycling, but they may have done some bird watching, mountaineering or rock climbing, just as you can do today in this popular part of Mallorca.

If you should be looking for accommodation in the rural area of Alcúdia, there is plenty of accommodation for rent, such as can be found at Alcúdia villas. Enjoy an encounter with the past when you savour your holiday.

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Miquel Barceló in the Palais des Nations

In my blog entry dated July 2nd, 2007, I told you of a commission which the Felanitx born artist, Miquel Barceló, had accepted in Geneva (Switzerland). Felanitx is the town in Mallorca (Spain), where I made my home for the last twenty years.

I have it from a very reliable source that Miquel Barceló has accomplished the mammoth task. The mural painting for the 1,500 m2 domed ceiling of Room XX in the UN Palais des Nations building in Geneva is now completed and, apparently, the finished result is said to be rather impressive.

Here is some background information (I quote from the ONUART website):

In April, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, the Fundación ONUART was established in Madrid (ONU is the Spanish acronym for the United Nations Organization). Fundación ONUART is a private, non-profit agency with mixed public and private funding, whose main aims are to promote dialogue, through the use of Spanish contemporary arts, to promote dialogue, to drive understanding between cultures and societies, and to foster multilateralism in Geneva. 

Fundación ONUART commissioned Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló, to create a unique ceiling painting for Room XX. This meeting venue will host the UN Human Rights Council and will be one of the largest and most state-of-the-art of all the negotiating rooms at the Palais des Nations. What also distinguishes Room XX in particular is that it has an enormous 1,500 m2 ellipsoidal dome. This dome provides the backdrop for the biggest challenge ever for 51-year-old artist. 

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations will be the room’s official title following its inauguration and it will be the permanent home of the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council. It will become the UN’s most modern negotiating room, using the latest materials and technology in audiovisual resources, conference services, interpretation systems, information technology and telecommunications.

Miquel Barceló, supported by a 20-strong team, was using some 35 tons of paint with pigments from all corners of the globe, specially designed equipment, with the involvement of specialists in various disciplines, including particle physics laboratories, engineers, architects and others in heritage restoration.   

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations is currently being fitted out and furnished to its 800+ seating capacity. I understand that the inauguration date is set for sometime in November, 2008. We just have to wait a bit longer before we can see what the man from Felanitx has created, this time.

In the meantime, an exhibition with work by the Felanitx artist opened last week at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (Ireland), called Miquel Barceló: The African Work. The show can be seen until 28th September, 2008. This exhibition will then travel to CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga (Spain), where it will be opened in November, 2008.

The two photos (top and centre) show Miquel Barceló’s ceramic sculpture, Gran pot avec crânes sur 1 face, dated 2000. The photo (above) shows the artist in Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva; it was borrowed from the Internet (© Agustí Torres – ONUART). Gracias.

All Saints

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Spain is a country where religion has played, and still plays, a considerable part in daily life. More so than in Northern European countries, or in Canada and the USA. Much more so. And religion in Spain, ever since the days of the Inquisition, has been exclusively Roman Catholic. That is 500 years by now, roughly speaking.

 

One significant difference to life, the way we know it, is the patron Saint.

Each child at birth is given a name, which most often has been passed down within the family. Traditionally, the oldest son is given the name of the paternal grandfather, and the oldest daughter the name of the maternal grandmother. The second son is given the name of the maternal grandfather, and the second daughter the name of the paternal grandmother. And so on.

 

As a consequence, you have an abundance of Miguels, Jaimes, Pedros, Antonios, Tomeus and Juans. And many Marías, Catalinas, Joannas, Antonias, Barbaras, Claras and Magdalenas.

All these names, of course, are borrowed from Saints. Each day of the year has been assigned to one particular patron Saint, and the child who is given the name of this Saint, will celebrate the day of their Santo with as much fervour and joy, if not more, as they will their day of birth. You get more presents as a Spanish child on your Saint’s day.

 

Today, by the way, is the day of Sant Calixt. Yesterday was San Teófilo. Tomorrow will be Santa Teresa de Jesús’s day. Enhorabuena.

If you look around, you will probably find it very hard to find a Tamara in Spain, or a Timothy. It is not unheard of, but it is extremely seldom. It is much more common to meet a Vicente, or a Gregorio. Or a Teresa, or an Apolónia.

Of course, churches are most often named after a Saint as well, here. That’s why we have the Basílica de San Francisco, here. The Oratorio de Sant Blai. And the Parroquia de San Nicolas.

It seems that more churches are named after Santos than Santas, but that may be for a future blog entry to look into.

 

Anyway, your very own Saint plays a very big role all of your life, if you live in Spain, or in a Catholic country. You celebrate your Saint’s day at every opportunity that might present itself. But you also live in a parish that has its own Saint. And you live in a village that also has its own Saint.

Santanyí for instance, has San Jaime as its patron Saint. Felanitx, where I live, has San Augustín. And Palma has San Sebastian. Another day off, every time. Sounds confusing to most of us, but it is an important backbone to people in Spain, and to your very own next door neighbour, provided he is not Swedish, German or Dutch. Or Moroccan, as it may be.

Unlucky is the person in Spain, who is first born in a village who’s local Saint is San Pedro, whose paternal grandfather was called Pedro and who goes to his parish church that is also named after St. Peter. He will only have one Saint day’s worth of celebrating a year.

 

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate our Muslim neighbours on completing their fast of Ramadan, and celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festivity to mark its joyous end.

 

Time to Talk About Salt: Flor de Sal

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Nothing enhances the taste of food like salt.

We all use salt, sometimes without knowing it, every day of our life. Without salt, animals cannot survive, and this includes the human animal. Too much of it can be dangerous and cause illnesses, and too little can cause dehydration.

 

If we need to use it, does it matter what salt we use? Or is salt just … salt?

 

The answer is, of course there is a difference. 90 % of salt today is refined, the same as sugar. The refining process kills all the goodness, in sugar as well as in salt. Natural salt consists of 84 different minerals and trace elements, which all occur naturally in the human body. However, according to the European Union food regulation, 82 of these 84 elements are lost from the salt when refining it to common table salt. Common table salt consists of almost 100 % sodium chlorine. Sodium chlorine from a medical point of view is a pure cellular poison and hence unhealthy for our bodies.

 

Enter two German ladies, Katja and Sabine, who a few years ago started to harvest the Queen of Salts, or Flor de Sal, on the island of Mallorca, Spain, near the Nature Reserve of Es Trenc.

 

Flor de Sal is an age old extraction method originating from the French Atlantic coast. Here, only the precious flakes of the first layer on the surface of the salt marshes is tenderly crystallized. Once harvested, this salt, pale pink in colour, becomes whiter when it is dried, naturally, in the sun. The salt obtained is 100% pure and it reaches your palate without having suffered any alteration.

 

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Flor de Sal is the purest of all salts. Leading chefs all over the Balearic Islands recommend Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc.

 

If you happen to live in Mallorca, like I am in the lucky position to state, Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc comes to a market, or a delicatessen, near you. It is available in four flavours: Natural, or with extract of black olives, or Mediterranean (herbal), or with Hibiscus (flowers). It retails for about 6,80 €.

 

If you live elsewhere, check the Internet and the Flor de Sal website, and enquire about distributors. The two ladies’ set-up is getting better and better all the time.

 

Give it a try. Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc is the purest salt imaginable.

 

You may never again say that salt is just salt.

 

I know, all of this sounds like a commercial endorsement. Well, it isn’t. The two ladies don’t even know me. They certainly don’t pay me. I discovered their salt a few years ago. I have used it ever since. I have recommended it to friends and relatives. Everybody likes it.

 

Now you can consider yourself a friend as well.

 

Frédéric Chopin’s Hapless Trip to Mallorca

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Mallorca always had an infatuation with famous people. Be that the Spanish Royal family, the British Princess Diana, filmstars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Goldie Hawn, Danny DeVito, or even longer ago, Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. As long as they all are rich and famous.

I told you about Amandine Aurore Dudevant, aka George Sand, on an earlier occasion on this very blog (see August 3rd). She came to Mallorca in 1838, accompanying Frédéric Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist.

 

Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French émigré and a Polish mother, Frédéric François Chopin won early fame in the relatively limited circles of his native country, before seeking his fortune abroad, in Paris. 

 

Chopin began to play the piano with verve at the age of 5, taught by his older sister Ludwika. His talent was immediately apparent, and the services of a piano teacher were soon enlisted in order to support his practice. Chopin was a highly dedicated student. It is even said that at the early age of 7 he slept, by his own free will, with wine-corks between his fingers in order to achieve a wider grip. He knew his destiny. 

 

After the studies, Chopin went to Vienna, where he was recognized as a decent pianist with some nicely written compositions, but altogether, it was not the success he had hoped for. Thus, he went back to Warsaw and, later, set his course for Paris. In Paris, Chopin did not immediately achieve success. It took a couple of hard years of composing and performing before he had worked himself into the High Society where he gave lessons to Royals and received the highest appreciation for his compositions. Chopin quickly became famous not only as a composer or teacher but also as a pianist.

 

Chopin was never to return to Poland again and made very few trips outside of France, mainly because of his weak health. The most famous of his trips may be a disastrous one to Mallorca which nearly cost him his life and another one, to Scotland, which was equally bad for his health. 

 

Chopin was diagnosed with Tuberculosis early in his life and it is quite surprising that he even reached the age of 39 before the illness finally took his life, after about 15 years of struggle. At this young age, Chopin had composed an amazing amount of works from a wide range of piano genres.

 

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In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d’Agoult, the mistress of fellow-composer Franz Liszt, Chopin was introduced to George Sand, who had been granted a divorce one year earlier from a marriage of convenience. She fell in love with him and offered to become his mistress. Chopin, however, did not find her attractive at first. “Something about her repels me”, he told his family. But George Sand had strong feelings for Chopin and pursued him until a relationship developed.

 

Chopin was already in poor health at the time, which is why he took his physician’s advice to leave Paris and go for a milder climate during the winter, in the Mediterranean. 

 

In the autumn of 1838, Chopin set off with George Sand and her two children, to spend the winter on the island of Mallorca. They arrived on November 8th, 1838, in Palma de Mallorca by boat from Barcelona. They rented a simple villa and were apparently quite happy. On November 15th, Chopin wrote a letter to a friend, saying “I am in Palma (…) I am close to that which is most beautiful”.

 

When the sunny weather broke, however, Chopin became ill. On December 3rd, Chopin wrote a letter to the same friend, saying “I have been ill for the last two days like a dog”.

 

When rumours of Chopin’s suspected tuberculosis reached the villa owner, they were ordered out and could only find accommodations in the Real Cartuja de Valldemossa (Real meaning Royal), a Carthusian monastery from 1399 until 1835, but now defunct, in the then rather remote village of Valldemossa. They stayed there from December 28th, 1838, to February 11th, 1839, when they left Valldemossa, Chopin being seriously ill.

 

He had been ill-advised to come to Mallorca. Even though temperatures here rarely drop very low, there is a sometimes quite unpleasant humidity in the air in Mallorca, rain or no rain, which can be uncomfortable and extremely damp in the winter. Not so healthy for someone with a tuberculum problem. Anyway, the hapless party left the island on February 13th, by boat from Palma de Mallorca, heading for Barcelona on their way back to Genoa and, eventually, France.

 

Although his health improved, Chopin never completely recovered from this bout. He complained, with his habitual wit, about the incompetence of the medicos in Mallorca: “The first (doctor) said I was going to die; the second said I had breathed my last; and the third said I was already dead”.

 

Chopin convalesced during the summer of 1839, in Nohant, George Sand’s manor house, 300 km from Paris.

 

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In 1845, as a further deterioration occurred in Chopin’s health, a serious problem also emerged in his relations with George Sand. The affair was further soured in 1846 by problems involving Sand’s daughter Solange. This was the year when Sand published her book Lucrezia Floriani, whose two main characters – a rich actress and a prince in frail health – might be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was in fact somewhat derogatory to the composer. In 1847 the family problems finally brought the relations between the two to an end, which had lasted for ten years. Chopin died later that same year.

 

Although Mallorca has treated its guests, Chopin and spouse, not in a very commendable way, as one can easily read in George Sand’s travel memoirs of A Winter in Mallorca, published in 1842, Mallorca has since made the most of the couple’s stay in Valldemossa. One could quite rightly say, that Mallorca’s most famous tourist attraction, after Palma’s Cathedral, for those visitors that do not come only for sun, sea, sex and sangria, is Chopin and Sand’s legendary 45 days stay at the Carthusian monastery. Today, the Claustro houses a Chopin Museum, mainly for the purpose of celebrating the composer’s visit.

 

Two of the pianos that Chopin played in Mallorca are exhibited there, including the one which he had shipped over all the way from Paris.

 

During the tourist season, short piano recitals are offered to visitors at the Valldemossa Cartuja, four times a day. A real treat, every time, even if only for a brief duration. In August every summer, Mallorca celebrates the annual Chopin Festival of Music, the Festivals Chopin de Valldemossa, with its 27th edition just concluded.

 

If you ever have a chance, come for yourself one day and see how Mallorca treats you.

Wine Festivals, Grape Treading and Merriment

The heavy rain that fell in Mallorca, Spain, last weekend could not stop the merriment of the Binissalem populace when the annual Verbena de la Vermada, the Grape Harvest Festival, was about to be celebrated. Binissalem, you should know, is the Mallorcan wine producing capital.

As the name suggests, the village of Binissalem has its origins in the period of the Moorish settlement in the Balearic Isles some 1,000 years ago. And yes, believe it or not, the Arabs were known then for the production of some fine wines. I cannot vouch that they actually drank the stuff because I was not around at the time, but they are reported to have been very knowledgeable in the fermentation of grapes in many ways.

Part of the festivities last weekend was the Battle of the Uvas. 4,000 kg of grapes were supposedly used to fight, battle, attack and compete in the friendly skirmish that got everybody soaked, stained and muddied. The rain helped along in the general saturation.

The following day, it was time for a bit of grape treading.

Grape treading is an ancient method already used by the Romans and the Greeks in their respective ancient empires and has since been practiced by the French, the Italians, the Portuguese and the Spanish, here in Mallorca and elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula. The Book of Hours illustration shown below hails from Paris, France. This exquisitely illustrated work was written and decorated by hand on vellum in Paris in about 1490. Among its brilliantly coloured miniatures is one for September, which shows a person treading grapes.

The human foot is considered to be far more gentle than any form of mechanical grape pressing. Although there are now automated alternatives, grapes for the highest quality wines are still routinely pressed by the foot, which still results in the best juice and colour extraction.

The grape treading competition was introduced into the Binissalem festival nine years ago, and is now one of the most popular events in the Vermada programme. This year, 30 teams took part, 10 of them of children, made up of girls and boys of between 12 and 16, taking part for the first time. The teams consisted of four people, two of whom tread the grapes first, then the other two, grasping each other by the shoulders as they do so. In the children’s category the winning team extracted 8 litres of juice in the five minutes allowed. Their prize was 120 Euros. The winners in the adult category managed to extract 10.5 litres in the time allowed. During the competition 1,280 kg of grapes were trod.

To avoid misunderstandings: in general, wine in Mallorca does not get produced nowadays by treading. It is a tradition that is celebrated at festival times, once a year. There are not enough little feet around in Binissalem to tread all the grapes for all the wine that is produced in Mallorca, every year.

September is the month when the Mallorcan wine is harvested. The grape harvest is traditionally related to the cycles of the moon, hence, the wine festival moves along in the calendar. Another highlight of the Binissalem festivities, apart from the Battle of the Uvas and the grape treading, was an open air dinner where locals as well as visitors sat down at the longest arrangement of dining tables that I have ever seen. Thousands of portions of seafood paella were served, together with the red wine that was trod here last year. There were also other events, such as dance exhibitions and sport contests, as well as a concert held in the parish church, to be followed ultimately by fireworks displays.

Whilst I like the wine festival of Binissalem, my personal tastes in Mallorcan wine go for some other areas of the island, such as the Pla i Levant region.

In case you are interested, my favourite vino tintos of the Mallorcan denomination are wines from Son Sureda Ric, Ànima Negra, Toni Gelabert, Miquel Gelabert, Miquel Oliver, Jaume Mesquida, and Armero i Adrover, probably in this order of descent. Of course that varies to some extent, as not every year can possibly result in exactly the same vintage quality or taste.

 

There are other grape harvest festivals throughout Spain, at this time of the year. Of course there are other great Spanish wines as well, outside of Mallorca, but that would be too long a story for now. Perhaps in a future blog entry I shall tell you all about wines from the Rioja, the Ribera del Duero and the Toro, my secret favourite. Unless you prefer to follow Robert Parker’s musings.

Salut.

 

Manna From Heaven

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Do you eat the Algarrobo fruit? Perhaps without even knowing?

At this time of the year you will see farmers in Mallorca, where I happen to live, beating long dark locust beans off their trees with long sticks. Now is the time for the annual algarrobo harvest.

The Algarroba tree, or Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), is native to the Mediterranean region, and is also prolific all over the Middle East, where it has been in cultivation for at least 4,000 years. The plant was known to the ancient Greeks who planted the seeds in Greece and Italy.

 

There are references to the carob in the Bible. For example, this plant is also called ‘St. John’s Bread’ or locust bean because of the pods which were thought to have been the locusts that were supposedly eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness. Some people think that it is the carob fruit that is referred to in the Bible as the ‘Manna from Heaven’, both, for its nutritional value and also for its easy availability.

 

The seed of the Carob tree is the ancient weight used by goldsmiths in the days of yore to weigh gold and precious stones. The seed of the carob fruit is always of the same weight, hence the word carat (from Ceratonia).

 

Mohammed’s army ate kharoub, and Arabs planted the crop in northern Africa and Spain when the Iberian peninsula was invaded by the Moors. The Spanish later carried carob to Mexico and South America, and the British took carob to South Africa, India, and Australia.

 

Carob trees grow well where citrus fruit is grown. They prefer dry climates that receive more than 30 centimetres of annual rainfall. In other words: the Mediterranean-type climate.

 

The fruit of carob is a pod, technically a legume of 15 to 30 centimetres in length, fairly thick and broad. Pods are borne on the old stems of the plant on short flower stalks. Carob trees have both male and female flowers. The dark-brown pods are eaten directly by livestock (horses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats), but us humans know carob mainly because the pods are ground into a flour that is a cocoa substitute. Good for people who suffer from diabetes, for instance.

 

The carob bean is widely used as a substitute for chocolate. Although this product has a slightly different taste than chocolate, it has only one third of its calories. It is virtually fat-free (chocolate is half fat), is rich in pectin, is non-allergenic and has no oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of calcium. Carob is also rich in sucrose (almost 40 %, plus other sugars) and protein (up to 8 %). The pod has vitamin A, several B vitamins, and a number of important minerals. As a consequence, carob flour is widely used in health foods for chocolate-like flavouring.

 

There are plenty of other uses of carob as well, medicinal, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and industrial.

 

Some nutritionists claim that from the nutritional values of the carob fruit and its extensive availability worldwide, hunger throughout the world could be combatted if the fruit would be used to feed humans instead of animals.

 

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If only our local farmers would know that. Over the last few years, the Mallorcan algarroba trees get more and more neglected. The cost of manpower is too high to harvest the locust beans whilst the wholesale price per kilo of carob beans is as low as 30 Cents. Not worth anybody’s while getting out of bed for.

 

Hmm.