Last day of fun in the sun

On my way to get the car from the convenient parking garage I stopped to photograph one of the many sculptures that decorate the streets of Palma. This is a Joan Miro piece called ‘Personnage’ and I was struck also by one on the trendy Passeig de Born with its built in watery reflections and fabulous title.

I decided to have a lazy day at the beach and I did get good beach time but travelled a few kilometres on the way. I hadn’t yet seen much of the east coast so headed off up the central spine Ma13 to the popular port of – guess what it’s called. As I arrived I found a convenient parking lot and could see no machines so I ask a fellow parker if we have to pay. “No, es gratis,” she replied and seeing my pleasure added a cynical “ahora, pero no se por quanto tiempo.” Whether she was indicating that the summer season would see charges introduced or that it would just be an opportunity for the local town hall to monetise its land was unclear.

I had a walk round the harbour, a coffee and thought it was a pleasant enough holiday resort with modern blocks of four to five storeys and loads of restaurants, bars, boat trip vendors and shops. Now for some open coast. I set off southwards and had my comparison of Palma with Valencia the other day reinforced by the fact that there’s a major wetlands natural park S’Albufera similar to the one south of Valencia. I decided to give it a miss on this occasion and then drove on with the frustration that frequently accompanies coastal drives in many areas of Spain. The main road is just inland from the coast and has a variety of apartment blocks, holiday homes and shopping parades obscuring your view of the sea, bar fleeting glimpses down side streets. So I turned left at San Baulo which was where the built-up strip seemed to run out, parked in a residential street where sounds of music, chatter and laughter showed that there were people living or at least staying here for the holidays. There’s a splendid promenade with an interesting piece of sculpture out on the rocks and a large pointy tower labelled ‘Military Edifice’ with no further explanation. It’s now 21 degrees and I’m pleased with my decision to head for the seaside. It’s a very pleasant stroll looking out across the Mediterranean and thinking ‘next stop Sardinia’ where, if I recall correctly, there is a Catalan-speaking enclave still.

It was great to smell the sea and wander along in the sun, but there’s more coast to explore. I pass a number of enticing turnings but then see this sign which after Christmas Day’s rather unfulfilling quest for Talaiotic sites, how could I not take this turning?

The promise of a whole village! My Catalan knows that much.

Setting off on the Ma 4021, I was a bit worried that, given previous experience, it might prove quite elusive. No worries! It is substantial and bang in the centre of S’Illot. First excavations began in the 1960s and 70s by archaeologists from the University of Marburg. They found both square tower-like structures and the circular sanctuaries we saw vestiges of on Christmas Day. There are helpful signboards and apparently much more to excavate especially towards the sea. Shame for the shops and blocks in the way! I’ll just add a few pictures here and for anyone who has some Catalan there’s a website and a YouTube video takes you on a tour of the site. It’s quite humbling to see what people could construct with limited tools and technology nearly 3000 years ago.

Scrambling through the stones and up the ramps is thirsty work and I also need a loo so it’s time to find a bar. I head to the sea and turn left. Lots of closed cafes, children’s playground and signs of a lively summer resort with this stunning white sand beach.

350 metres of sandy beach at S’Illot

I retrace my steps and find the perfect place to satisfy my needs. A beer, a view out to sea and some delicious gambas al ajillo made for a very happy tourist.

I’m due to get the car back to Mallorca airport by five o’clock so the remainder of the afternoon involves a series of drive by visits to a few towns in the east. Cala Ratjada and Capdepera look interesting and I was tempted to join the folk in the main square at the latter and visit its impressive castle. On my way back inland Artà and Manacor both looked like places worth a visit on another occasion. It had been a good last day exploring the island further and after depositing the car, there was a fabulous sunset from the bus that took me back to the Passeig de Mallorca two minutes from the hotel. My route took me past a lovely pastry shop from which I had been asked to procure goodies to take back home. Packed in a sturdy box I hope they survive the flight.

My negative test result is back so I can go home, mild disappointment there! Now it’s time to fill in the UK’s impenetrable Passanger Locator Form. The Spanish health declaration on the way out was so simple, why did completing the UK version take hours and refuse to let me either upload an image of or photograph my Covid passport but let me complete it when I eventually gave up and ticked ‘unable to upload image’? Eventually done and so packing was next and a light supper out in the old town again before returning for a final nightcap of that rather nice Mallorcan brandy Suau I’d discovered on nochebuena with a final view over the city from the terrace of the Skybar.

I got to the airport in good time after a final visit to the hotel breakfast buffet and checked in with all the right documents on my phone. I suppose the one good thing about being non-EU citizens is that you now get stamps in your passport – I used to love collecting those. A quick flight back to Gatwick, off to retrieve the car from Purple Parking’s country location and then back to my daughter’s to deliver the ensaimadas I’d been asked to bring back from the local pastry shop. Ensaimadas are to Mallorca as custard tarts are to Lisbon. It was here that I had to confess that I had not fully heeded Jo’s injunction to be sensible and not fall over. I did fall quite badly on the slanted steps outside the Museu EsBaluard last Thursday and badly bruised my left wrist and right elbow.

My downfall on these rather hard stones on the terrace.

I can’t get my right hand up to my mouth yet to drink so have to drink left-handed which I think Jo would have noticed. Rosa’s mother certainly did. She looked at my very puffy hand and enquired ‘Mala circulacion?’ To which I confessed I had fallen and bruised it. Pepita was instantly to the rescue with a tube of San Bernard anti-inflammatory cream which has certainly helped the swelling go down and the pain diminish. Still no stitches and no hospitalisation this trip so things are getting better. They say things come in threes so I’m hoping this is my last of the series. I might be allowed out again.

Bones Festes! Felices fiestas! Happy New Year!

Chopin/Graves Take 2

First things first – a trip at 10:00 to Clinica Belice for my two days before PCR test. Take 2 on that too as they needed to see my passport which was in the hotel – I’m really rubbish at this travelling lark. They were very efficient and friendly and I’m promised results tomorrow evening, [received Negativo at time of writing so if they have crew I might get home!].

Then later than usual to retrieve the car and set off. Well at least I know the way to Valldemossa and with the cloud much higher over the mountains I can appreciate the gorge that leads through the Sierra Tramuntana up to the town.

I know where to park so am soon in the Chopin/Sand cells inside the monastery. It is fascinating and reading George Sand’s disgust for the locals probably explains why they didn’t have a good time here. Her Un hiver en Majorque has some joyous descriptions of the landscape among the groaning about conditions and the impounding of a Pleyel piano for weeks by evil Spanish customs. When you read the copy you realise that they were only here for eight weeks and you wonder why all the fuss? She wrote about it and he composed some of his most famous works. Guess that worth some fuss – 24 Preludes Op28 are very highly regarded by Chopinistas.

What is fascinating is to see the wall displays of facsimiles of his manuscripts with furious revisions. He hit the paper hard as well as the keys. And it is good to see his bust keeping a watchful eye on the piano they’d paid Pleyel 1200 francs for and from which he’d had so little use thanks to customs difficulties

To talk of them living in a monastery cell sounds like real deprivation and there were three adults (FC, GS and maid) and two children living there but they did have a garden of their own which Mme really enjoyed with its stunning views.

There’s not a huge amount to see and an hour and a bit sufficed. Valldemossa itself is too touristy for my taste, highly groomed streets, some interesting art but a whole lot of craftish tat. So i have a peremptory stroll, stopping of course to snap Chopin Street and WhatsApp it to my friend Jadwiga who is Polish and a Chopin groupie!

As I left the town I was struck by the large number of plane tree avenues leading to and from Mallorcan towns – there are some on the mainland but it feels rather French midi to me. I love them. Good now, but must be great in summer.

Having not eaten until four yesterday I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if there’s a restaurant between here and Deia.’ There was and it is clearly very popular because while there were only a few diners when I arrived just before two, by the time I left it was full. I had some great sepia in a spicy pica-pica sauce and habanitas con baicon – an old favourite but here the very small broad beans had leeks, onions and peppers as well as bacon. Very tasty and timely – I thought.

The short drive to Robert Graves’ house was familiar too and I much prefer the town to Valldemossa – sorry if that makes me a tasteless Brit. There was a convenient parking spot right opposite the house so I crossed the road full of hope.

The nicest ‘P off we’re closed’ sign ever!

Once again the lack of a planning companion struck – they close at 13:00 so I should have come here first. Doh! However the gate was not locked and I crept in to have a look at the garden at least. I was caught by the very friendly and fluent English speaking gardener who said he would have shown me round the house but had to leave at three-thirty. We chatted about the problems of gardening – it rained for the whole of November and everything is behind – but he’s doing his best, upon which I complemented him, explained I couldn’t come back again this trip but be sure not to miss it next time. He allowed me to take some photos and rewarded me with a couple of incredibly juicy tangerines.

With little encouragement, I decided to carry on round the Ma10 to Soller and then head inland and back to Palma through the middle. With today’s better weather in the mountains their scale, variety and colours were amazing – just not enough safe stopping places for photography but I managed a few.

I passed through some interesting towns that would repay a visit: the Botanic Gardens at Alfaibia are closed until March, but look fun; Bunyola had some interesting buildings; and as I came to the end of the Ma2040 I found myself at the Mallorca Fashion Outlet – no point me stopping there! This is on the outskirts of the town of Inca which is linked to Palma by a near-motorway standard Ma13 so I headed on home or back to the hotel at least.

World of wonder

Christmas Eve has a special meal planned at the hotel but first there’s some boring admin to deal with. So after breakfast: Book a PCR test for Monday two days before flying home. Check 7 minutes walk from hotel, walk in service no appointment needed. Brilliant.

Christmas Day visit to Rosa and lunch out in the country will need a car. None available in the city but I can pick one up at the airport tomorrow and it’s on the way anyway. Check. So now to the real business of the day – a trip to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro.

The location is out in the western suburbs of Palma in an area called Cala Major and it takes about fifteen minutes in a taxi from the hotel. One of the things I wanted after the grey of London was some blue sky. Not yet in Palma but today as I walk towards the entrance the cloud lifts and there is a good-sized patch of blue. And of course with Miro there will be more sun inside.

My visit was a little truncated as a large part of the building was closed for repairs and remodelling but both in the extensive gardens where big sculptures were displayed and in the studio where the stacked canvases there were ample testaments to the genius and prolixity of Joan Miro. He and his Mallorca wife Pilar, lived on Mallorca from 1956 until his death in 1983. He used a small building Finca San Boter while his friend Josep Sert was designing and building a purpose built studio, now known as the Sert Studio. Up in Boter it’s fun to see the remains of Miro’s sketching in charcoal directly onto the whitewashed walls and also to note the eclectic collection of everyday objects he took inspiration from.

The Sert Studio is a fine building from the outside with a fluted roof either echoing waves or clouds and slanted tiles to allow filtered light and air into the capacious balconied studio. I was utterly gobsmacked by the sheer number of canvases leaning against each other and the walls. While there are strong similarities in Miro’s basic mark selection and palette, each canvas has a different atmosphere and you wonder what the finished articles would have looked like. It’s always fascinating to see artists’ work in progress and there’s plenty of it here.

There was also a rather good fifteen minute video about his life and work on Mallorca which after climbing and descending the many steps to Boter studio I was happy to sit for a while and watch. I was very pleased I’d made the trip out here and as I left wondering where I’d get a taxi, I came upon a bus stop that said Route 46 went up the Passeig de Mallorca which is very close to the hotel. It also had a QR code that informed me that a bus was due in ten minutes so I decided to wait. Well worth it! It headed off in totally the wrong direction according to my understanding of where Palma lay, but eventually came to a terminus in Genova, waited for a while and then returned me through bustling suburbs including one that must have been close to the more infamous areas of Mallorca as there were adult only entertainment bars, sex shops which I found a bit surprising next to supermarkets and pharmacies. However it did pitch up where I wanted and I had a stroll back to the hotel with a few stops for liquid, but little food refreshment as a six course meal was planned for nochebuena in the hotel. This began at nine o’clock began with cava, a delicious fish soup, crispy octopus and fillet of sea bass accompanied by frequently poured Verdejo and after a short pause and change of glass, a Rioja went nicely with the lamb stuffed with foie gras (apologies vegans!). I declined the tiramisu with red fruits but did have some home made turron (nougat) with my coffee. By now I was chatting to my neighbours Carl and Cristina, Swedish fiancés who were here for Christmas before heading to Andorra for skiing where they had become engaged this time last year. Sampling a copa or two of Mallorcan brandy, we got on well and I have an invitation to their wedding in Stockholm in August. I may just be too busy with centenary celebrations at Watford to attend however. But what a lovely Christmas Eve and one that didn’t end up in hospital!

Palma Art trail

Well, I got a music fix on Day 1 and have the delights of Radio National Classica on the TV in my room. It’s a cross between Radio 3 and Classic FM and plays an interesting mix of material. So Palma Day 2 today is devoted to the visual arts alongside coffee, beer, wine and other tourist activities. The hotel is very close to one of the island’s most important museums of contemporary so I headed there first after my surprisingly included breakfast. So long since I booked I’d forgotten it was a B&B deal. The joys of a Spanish hotel buffet again -with so much to choose from!

The Esbaluard Museu has a series of terraces with sculptures displayed and then inside has four distinct exhibitions on at the moment.

One by a Mexican artist Elena Del Rivero was very impressive with a variety of installations and community project artworkS which the museum’s photos convey better than I can.

An Elena del Rivero piece ‘Chant’ in which she sews found letters onto a gauze drape.

There was a rather overly political photo collage project by Rogelio Lopez Cuenca and Elo Vega about the despoiling of the island by tourism – maybe I just felt guilty! I did like one room though with twelve male mannequins in Hawaiian shirts watching touristy footage. They just missed having towels on loungers.

I was much taken by glass sculptures by the aptly named Lara Fluxa given the fluidity of the pieces highlighting how glass is flowing until it settles into a form. I found the variety of her work from thin and flighty to more solid and serious quite affecting.

The fourth exibit was called Masks against Barbarism and had as a central focus a sound piece of scenes from Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi alongside a series of other images from many different artists. The Jarry piece was especially interesting for me as my directorial debut was in 1964 when I produced a version of an earlier Jarry play Ubu sur la Butte as University College French Department’s entry in the annual Lycée Français intercollegiate competition. It won best actor but not best director (sad face) but gave me a lifelong interest in surrealism and the poetry of protest.

All in all a very enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours after which I set off towards the cathedral which dominates the city from every angle. It is a very impressive edifice but is closed for public visits until the New Year so I didn’t get to go inside – I guess I could go to mass on Christmas Day, after all I did go see the pope’s Christmas Day address in Rome a few years back.

But right beside it is the Almudaina Palace and since that’s the name of my hotel it would be wrong not to wouldn’t it? I’ve been struck by how there are far fewer examples of Spain’s moorish heritage here than in most other cities. However the name and the fact that it has Arab Baths makes it plain that they did get here. The original Arab fortress was seized after the expulsion as a Royal Palace for the kings of Mallorca and is full of massive rooms with various functions over the years. It also has great vaulted ceilings, faded tapestries and outside an impressive cactus garden.

I had high hopes of my next art stop and so paused for a beer outside one of the most photographed facades in Palma. You see it on postcards and publicity for the city and is is a fine example of decorative retail art. They have great bread and cakes too.

On my way I was able to pass through Plaza Frederic Chopin and think of my Polish friend Jadwiga Adey at home alone as her family based in Paris and LA are not allowed to join her. When I rent a car I’ll go to Valldemossa where Chopin lived with George Sand for a year. He was in poor health but managed a burst of great creativity.

When I got there, the Fundacio March (big Mallorca banking family) was something of a disappointment. Among some workmanlike but uninspiring abstracts, paintings by Dali, Juan Gris and Picasso just emphasised the gulf between OK art and great art. So I left there and had a further wander through the streets of the old town with a few refreshment stops enjoying people watching frantic last minute Christmas shoppers in the trendy thoroughfare that must have been named for me – Carrer San Miguel.

It was announced on the news that from tomorrow (24th) masks are compulsory in the streets again.

So it’s off to he city’s other trendy thoroughfare, the Passeig de Born to eat this evening amid the Christmas decorations and noisy revellers. it’s such fun to be elsewhere! And it’s 16-17 degrees. Sorry!

We discovered once before that most restaurants close on Christmas Eve – Nochebuena – so I was glad that the hotel offered me a special menu de nochebuena in an email a couple of weeks ago. I’m due to eat at 21:00 so having got back from today’s further art excursion, I thought I’d get another blog down. What with tonight’s dinner and Christmas lunch out in the country tomorrow, it may be a while before the next one. The wonderful world of Joan Miro is next.

The joy of Christmas travel

Well, after careful consideration, I decided I would go away for Christmas and with a family recommendation I’m heading for Palma de Mallorca for a week and will rent a car to see a bit more of the island while I’m here. I’ve completely forgotten how to pack and found the new rules about cabin baggage confusing – for an extra 20 quid I can take a big and a small one – one for the locker, one under the seat. Hooray no waiting at the carousel!

As the flight is at 07:10, I’ve booked into the Premier Inn North Terminal at Gatwick with a week’s parking with Purple Parking. So out of practice, I go to the hotel first and check in only to be told that I should have parked first and come in on the shuttle bus. As I go to retrieve the car there’s a security guard on his walkie talkie summoning the bomb squad. He admonishes me “Never leave a car unattended in an airport”. I grovel and set off. It transpires that Purple Parking is halfway to Brighton and I have a vague recollection of using it under a different name once before when Dee, Jacque, Toddy and I set off for the Copa de Ibiza in 2004, my only other venture to the Illes Balears. A short wait and a bus takes three of us to a stop outside the terminal from which the only route to the hotel appears to involve dicing with death with drop-off traffic. I make it, have a beer and supper and retire fairly early with the prospect of a 05:00 alarm. I was concerned that extra security and health checks might make the security/check-in process even longer than usual. It was not too bad and soon I was at the gate where my bag option also conferred ‘speedy boarding’. a real bonus. The flight was busy but not full so distancing and masks were easily possible. As we took off and headed out across the channel the sunrise was amazing (and a bit sharper than the through the window phone shot).

A corner of Sussex as the sun comes up.

The flight was pleasant enough with solid cloud over most of France until the Auvergne and the eastern Pyrenees showed a light touch of snow. We even arrived ten minutes early – just as well as getting out of Palma airport is a task of IKEA-like proportions. A bus into town, walk to the Hotel Amudaina where, despite it being 11, they kindly allowed me to check in rather than just leave my bags which is what I had expected. Having declined EasyJet’s breakfast offerings, it was dump stuff in the very pleasant and spacious room and pop next door for my first orange juice, croissant and an excellent café solo doble. Refreshed I decide to go and explore. It’s not long before I get confirmation of where I am.

This sign is on the waterfront where there are lots of posh yachts and in the distance those apartment blocks of cruise liners that flock to the wonderfully curved harbour.

Next to this is the Lotja, the old stock exchange which with its barleytwist pillars and fine ceiling reminded me of the similar building in Valencia. That evening I was to say to a friend I met later on that much of Palma reminded me of Valencia – no bad thing in my book.

So I continued to walk around the city with occasional breaks for coffee and beer. I found the cathedral which I plan to visit tomorrow and the market – Mercat del Olivar – I love the colour, the smells and the constant babble of chat in Spanish markets and had some tapas in a bar inside it. The Plaza de Espana was a bit sprawly and dull, the Plaza Mayor very elegant but spoilt by Christmas market stalls – what have the Germans done to the worl.

The old town is filled with narrow streets and occasional delights of modernisme architecture. Feeling I’d had a good first orientation I went back to the hotel to change into more suitable garb for a concert at the Palacio de Congresos where I was to meet my friend Rosa Pascual and her mother. As it happened Rosa’s mum wasn’t feeling too well so I had the pleasure of Rosa’s company, and no need to confess to my lack of Catalan, for a concert in a fine new auditorium.

It was given by the massive forces of the Orquestra Simfonica dels Illes Balears. The programme opened with a festive overture by William Grant Still which was unknown to me and quite lively if a little rough at the edges as the band settled down. We then had Handel’s Water Music and a suite from the Nutcracker at which I kept wanting Matthew Bourne’s dancers projected on a screen behind them. It then went a bit poppy and Hollywood before concluding with a special arrangement of some Catalan carols which nearly had Rosa joining in and which we both really enjoyed. Rosa thought the conductor had made a very sensitive treatment of some old favourites. She then kindly dropped me off at the hotel but couldn’t stop for a drink as she had to drive back into the middle of Mallorca along dark and twisty roads to a villa she’s staying in.
I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, was declined entry by one restaurant which said the kitchen had closed so ventured a little further and supped in La Bodeguilla with a great atmosphere, far too much food and my first taste of a local Mallorca wine OBAC de Binigrau which was a blend of several grapes, lightly oaked and most acceptable but I think they should leave off the subtitle if they want to export it. It had been long, varied, exciting and lovely day – and I’m abroad!