Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Winters in Mallorca

A whole host of exciting celebrations and interesting events during the months of January and February welcome the visitor to the Balearic Island of Mallorca .. As an occasional off-season resident familiar to the island, I am fortunate enough to have a lovely place to stay with a stunning view toward the marina at Puerto de Alcudia ..

However, I am not the first traveller to have spent ‘A Winter in Mallorca’ – as George Sand (pseudonym of Aurore Dupin, Baroness Dudevant) and her children stayed there for several months from 1838-39 with her companion and lover Frederic Chopin .. subsequently writing the classic, if somewhat critical and ethnocentric book about their trials and tribulations during those less comfortable days at the monastery in Valldemosa ..

Thanks to friends and associates in the area, I have had the opportunity to witness several of the most fascinating traditions – especially frightful is witching night in Sa Pobla, where the locals dance round bonfires till the wee hours dressed as ‘El Diablo’ and Sant Antoni – the ascetic of the desert, and patron saint of farm animals who, like the Christ, faced his own demons in the dry parched landscape of the wilderness .. The ‘night of the devils’ fiesta was first documented in Sa Pobla during the 14th century .. Watch a video ~~~~>

A unique tradition to celebrate the feast of Saint Antoni on 17th January occurs annually in the Port of Pollença, a few kilometres along the coast from Alcudia ..

Early in the morning, after the Beneïdes – a blessing of the animals, a small fleet of fishing boats heads around Cap de Formentor where they locate and chop down an enormous fir tree (a very tall pine – which they call the Pi de Sant Antoni) and after stripping it of all but the highest branches, lash it to a boat and haul it back to the port, where it is hoisted up onto the dock .. the tree is then handed over to the young men of the town who ceremoniously drag it through town ..

The event takes several hours and is accompanied by much revelry and dancing with songs and music provided by the local Xeremiers: musical troupes that consist of bagpipes (which they claim to have invented), hand-held percussion drums called ximbombades and whistles ..

A main feature of the procession is the drinking of copious amounts of Tunel Herbes, a sweet alcohol that I was, only on this occasion, liberally adding to my frequent cups of coffee ..

After much mirth and merriment we arrived through the church to the main square Plaça Vella, where everyone partakes of a traditional lunch of pa amb oli, arrengades i vi (Mallorquin for bread with olive oil, herrings and wine) ..

The tree is then raised to a stupendously eerie height of 20 metres .. The young men of the town then compete to get to the top, where a bag of sweets and money awaits – it is a difficult task and many brave souls try and fail, either by losing their nerve, sliding back down exhausted or more often, being dragged off the tree by their friends and fellow climbers .. however the one conquistador who finally achieves the feat gains the bragging rights to remind everyone for the next year who got to the top of the Pi Antoni ..

December heralds the annual parade of giants through Alcudia – the old town proper on the hill, with its Roman ruins, Moorish walls and fabulous Sunday market ..

The family-friendly event marks a social revolution and commemorates the handing over rule of the town from royalty to landed gentry and elected officials .. here we see giants representing each of the traditional trades and craftspeople of the region as they march through the streets demanding the right to determine their own laws and be compensated with fair economic exchange for their learned skills ..

Accompanied once again by the Xeremiers in local costume and colours, the giants proceed through the narrow streets, past boutiques and cafes that fill with locals and tourists as they swarm en masse toward the main square .. (rather like the newly-established Derby Quad event which you can see by scrolling down to the next page)

Eventually, the giants arrive at the Town Hall to stage their re-enacted protest and claim the right of self-governance – here represented by the giant mayor and his wife .. after the obligatory speeches by the actual prominent figures of the town council there is more song and dance before everyone descends on the plaza restaurants for lunch ..

January 5th sees a colourful flotilla of boats that announce the arrival of the Three Kings in the Port of Alcudia – marking the visit of the Magi, the astrologers from the East who followed the North Star to find the young Jesus and bestow gifts upon this ‘chosen one’ ..

However, the most enjoyable days out are often in simply discovering the natural scenery of the island .. one of my favourite regions can just be seen in this picture as the ‘twin plateaus’ of a massive cloister of peaks ..

I often looked upon this mountain at sunrise from the north terrace of the penthouse I stayed in one recent winter in Mallorca, and considered scaling the heights ..

The Tramuntana Mountains range across the northern coast and have stunning and seemingly inaccessible peaks and valleys where through the strenuous effort of climbing and hiking one is rewarded with panoramic views of the beautiful island, and can gaze down upon the tourist towns famous for their magnificent beaches and hedonistic nightlife ..

Although getting back to the apartment on the beach at the end of the day was always a treat .. sharing with friends the sunsets and sunrises, caliente pan and cheese, a bottle of roja vin and a cool evening on the terrace ..