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Deconstructing Mallorca

November 2017 | Места | Mallorca

A publisher, a gallery-owner, a designer, an architect and a baker talk about the delights an challenges of Mallorca as a tourist destination in a global world.
Lleonard Muntaner, Pep Pinya, Isabel Guarch, Arturo Vila & Tomeu Arbona | © Ricard Peitx
Arturo Vila, architect, founding member of 3de3 Arquitectos | © Ricard Peitx
Isabel Guarch, Jewerly designer | © Ricard Peitx
Lleonard Muntaner, publisher | © Ricard Peitx
Tomeu Arbona, master baker and confectioner at Fornet de la Soca | © Ricard Peitx
Pep Pinya, owner of the gallery Centre Cultural Contemporani Pelaires | © Ricard Peitx
Lleonard Muntaner, Tomeu Arbona, Arturo Vila, Isabel Guarch, Pep Pinya & Paula Serra | © Ricard Peitx
The mallorcan character
The gastronomy of Mallorca

Interview | Marga Font
Photos | Ricard Peitx

The members of the group are people who are enamoured of their island, and their affection for the region, its heritage, its gastronomy and culture impregnates the entire conversation. A healthy sense of criticism also floats on the air, along with the desire to protect what is theirs, their roots, their identity and for Mallorca to become an attractive destination because of the range of cultural options it offers. “Because,” says Lleonard Muntaner, “we have an immense artistic, architectural and documental heritage, the product of centuries of accumulation, but we don’t sell it because the right politician is never in the right place at the right time”. His idea is supported by Pep Pinya: “We need cultural tourism. Culture is worth money, but you have to think of what it gives back”.

What makes Mallorca different to anywhere else in the world? For the gallery-owner, it is “our pace of life, which is different to any other place. The safety of our citizens and the excellent health services are also important. And the fact that a drop of Balearic seawater cannot be compared to anything in the world”. Arturo Vila feels that the difference is the result of a series of factors: “We are in the middle of the Mediterranean, in the cradle of civilisation, just two hours by plane away from Europe. We have political and social stability. Our scenery is a paradise, with mountains, beaches and the plain, and the distances are manageable”. And he adds that “Mallorca is splendid, wandering through the historic centre of Palma is a privilege. There is an awareness about recovering heritage, which is fundamental for any town or village”. 

There are still corners of the island left to be discovered, “even for Mallorcans”, says Tomeu Arbona, for whom “the roads and paths of the Pla are an area that conserves the essence, the roots, the day-to-day life, which is doubly interesting for people with curiosity”. Enamoured of the Serra de Tramuntana, he suggests walking to reach preserved places, for example “going from Valldemossa to the shrine of Trinitat, where the best viewpoint over the sea is to be had, a stirring place with the best sunset in the world”, or “from Fornalutx to Biniaraix, a landscape cut through by Arab irrigation channels, and having an orange juice in a bar where it seems nothing ever happens, but all sorts of things happen. These are places with a brutal identity”.

Muntaner recommends “going from Andratx to Pollença along the Serra de Tramuntana road”, whilst Pinya invites people to discover beauty spots like Valldemossa, Sóller and Cape Formentor, on the north coast. For the gallery-owner, “Deià is a wonder, but not only because writers, painters, musicians and artists live there, but because the landscape is impressive, with establishments like La Residencia, an exquisite place, the kind of unexpected surprises Mallorca offers”. Vila agrees entirely: “In Deià, it is an authentic pleasure to stroll towards the cemetery and then have dinner in one of the restaurants, constantly with the enormous influence of the mountain”.

Moreover, he advises contemplating outstanding architecture like the Hotel de Mar in Illetes, the Moneo building of the Fundació Miró, the Casa Feliz by John Utzon in Es Carritxó or the intervention by Elías Torres in Ses Voltes. Pinya adds the value of the traditional, saying “You have to visit the possessions, the great Mallorcan estates”, and in this regard Isabel Guarch chimes in, recommending “going to the Raixa estate, where you can gain access to the private space of a possessió. And wander around the village of Capdepera, with its medieval historic centre”. 

“And we still haven’t talked about the intangible heritage, which is so important,” says Muntaner, “like going to the cathedral on Christmas Eve to hear the Chant of the Sybil. Or attending the popular festivals like Es Cavallets, Ses Àguiles or Sant Antoni in Manacor or Sa Pobla, all of them amazing spectacles”. He encourages people to “hire a llaüt - a traditional Lateen sailing vessel – to contemplate scenery that is inaccessible from the land”.

Is there a flavour or an aroma that synthesizes the essence of Mallorca? For Guarch there is no doubt whatsoever, it is “the Mallorcan red prawn, there is none better”. Tomeu Arbona defends the theory that “there is no aroma comparable to the month of April in Sóller, with everything that enriches the senses: the fragrance of the orange trees in blossom, the light… It is absolute plenitude”. But there is another one that takes him directly back to his childhood, “the smell of fermenting dough, which connects me to the roots of my roots. And in Binissalem, every year on Maundy Thursday, I love the aroma that comes out of the houses when people are baking their Easter panades (pies)”. 

Pep Pinya asserts that “the aroma of the ensaimada is the fragrance of Mallorca, unique the world over”, and he also likes panades, “although not many bakeries make them comme il faut, but the tradition, the struggle between sweet and savoury, the families gathering to prepare them… This is something that is our own, it’s very Mallorcan, wonderful”. Muntaner adds another scent that gives rise to consensus - “The smell of seaweed and the salt of the sea”.

Mallorca offers unique picture postcard images over the entire year, like the blossoming of the almond trees in early February. Our gallery-owner defends two images, “the surprising calm waters of January, when the sea is flat and the sky clear. And March, when Mallorca gradually turns green and fills up with little flowers”. Arturo Vila chooses “the sea of Cap de Ses Salines and the south of Mallorca in general, incomparable”, an image Pinya returns to - “I tell my friends that they won’t know what the sea is until they’ve swum in the water around Cap de Ses Salines. And that’s no exaggeration”. Something he says after having travelled the entire world.

The pride of belonging also surfaces, like that of Muntaner, who says “historically, Mallorca was the centre of the Western Mediterranean, the place where cultures from east and west have met. There is a crossroads of cultures which can be seen in the architecture, the artistic, cultural and intangible heritage. It was and will continue to be the naval of the world”. Guarch dreams “of quality tourism, the kind the island deserves”, an observation Pinya supports unequivocally: “Mallorca has to put an end to the ‘all-inclusive”’, and he paraphrases the words of the writer Gertrude Stein: “If you can stand the beauty of Mallorca, come and spend your holidays here”.

And there are desires to improve. Tomeu Arbona’s is “for visitors to be able to make a proper interpretation of our landscape. Plump for culture with a capital ‘c’, because there is no interest in our being the same as any other place”. Vila supports this observation because “there is an idea of Mallorca that is very far from reality. One has to discover the other island, not the touristy one, the real one, the one that is worth discovering”.

The talk enters the terrain of inspiration, because “everything here inspires, and we have to recover what is our own. I try to recover the great world of Mallorcan jewellery”, explains Isabel. Pep Pinya feels the island’s geography is ideal for films. “This place seems made by nature for shooting films, directors who come here leave enchanted, by its light, by the local character”. Mallorca’s light, everyone agrees, is special, and they are not surprised by the fact that the island has been attracting artists from every point of the compass for decades. Vila illustrates this with an evocative image: “The light and sky of September cannot be compared to any other place in the world”.

The talk ends with a complement for Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria, who spend several seasons on the island and, in the words of the architect, “built the best houses in the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range; he improved Mallorca, following the local style of construction. Only S’Estaca is different, because there were no houses beside the sea here, and he sought out models on other, similar Mediterranean islands, in this case Lipari”. For Tomeu, “he was the initiator of the promotion of tourism, selling the absolute essence of the real Mallorca, our authentic value”.

The tourism model
Mallorca’s tourism model is the focus of the beginning of the conversation, a cause for concern because, as Pep Pinya points out, “the island could become a victim of its own success. We have to lower the number of visitors, and raise the quality”. And for Isabel Guarch, this is something that is “starting to occur, but not in an organised way. As entrepreneurs we see we can raise prices because we are offering something of high quality, but there is no coordination”. Tomeu Arbona is convinced that “we must lean towards sustainable and cultural tourism”. And there is a consensus that planning is lacking, as Lleonard Muntaner sums up: “We need a stable policy that doesn’t change every four years. This is a long-term project”. 

The Mallorcan character
“It’s very difficult to astound a Mallorcan Do you agree?” The participants in the dialogue assent to Pinya’s observation, and Muntaner gives a reason – “We are an island that has been invaded since the 2nd century BC, and we have had to defend ourselves by adapting to different peoples. Here love and hate are very intense, individuality is above anything else; there are enterprising people here because that forms part of our character”. Arturo Vila believes that Mallorcans “have managed to be very discrete and keep our character reined in”, an idea Isabel Guarch supports: “We aren’t hospitable, we find it difficult to open up our doors, but we let people get on with things and that’s an advantage”. 

The gastronomy
They all agree that Mallorca is going through a great period in terms of gastronomy, with young chefs who are boosting the local cuisine. But for Tomeu Arbona, “we have adapted to what we believed was the taste of the visitors since the ‘60s. We need to introduce quality, recover the intangible heritage of the old recipes, the cuisine that speaks of us”. There is a consensus when it comes to recommending restaurants that reinterpret Mallorcan cuisine, like Ca na Toneta, Santi Taura, Can Calent, Can na Mirona and a few boutique hotels such as Can Alomar. And another unanimous opinion: the traditional Mallorcan bread, containing no salt, is spectacular.  

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