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The secret of Mallorca

February 2018 | Места | Mallorca

Relaxed. This is the word that comes out of your mouth as soon as you land in Mallorca. You take a breath, and the air smells of the sea. There is something dense, smooth, that fills up your senses. You feel relaxed, free from tension.
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer
  • The secret of Mallorca | © Tolo Balaguer

Text | Carlos Garrido
Photos | Tolo Balaguer


WHAT IS THE SECRET? Much literature, and bad, has been written about “the island of calm”. And things are very different from how the travellers of sixty or a hundred years ago saw them. But even so, with all of the advances of the modern tourist industry, the hotels, the cruise liners, the tourist flats, the estate agencies, the party groups... Even so, you take a breath and a single word comes out of you. Relaxed.

What is it that makes Mallorca such a special place? As soon as I arrive, I get breakfast at Can Joan de s’Aigo, a traditional 18th-century café which serves hot chocolate as its speciality in Carrer de Can Sanç. You can still feel the Mallorca of old here. People eating an ensaimada before heading off to work, older women gossiping about the neighbourhood, solitary people who draw in the newspapers. Time circulates slow and dense, like the chocolate or the “coca de patata”. Outside the world keeps turning. But in the baroque lounge, time seems to have halted.

And this is in spite of the fact that Palma is a city vectored by mass tourism. The centre has gradually transformed as the number of visitors grew. You walk in front of the town hall, in Plaza de Cort, along Calle Jaume II, Plaça Major, and hardly recognise the city of twenty years ago.

The ice cream parlours abound, as do the boutiques or souvenir shops, and also the street artists. Many traditional shops have disappeared, absorbed by the hike in rents and the pressure of tourism. There is a feeling of hustle and bustle and crowds.

But you go a few steps down any secondary alleyway and the Levitical, silent Palma is still there. The Palma of the closed windows and the whispers behind the curtains. A monumental, discrete city. Scenographic with its imposing cathedral, its stately patios, its convents. “Touristy” bars have taken over some places. But when night falls, the old town, or Canamunt, fills up with shadows, echoes, footsteps and invisible presences. Tourism is merely epidermic.

One good thing about the Mallorcan capital is that you can do everything on foot. You leave the centre and cross over the Riera torrent bed to enter the neighbourhoods that lie outside the former city walls - Santa Catalina, Son Espanyolet, el Terreno... They are former suburbs that now form part of the city, but still conserve their own personality. Santa Catalina, previously a fishermen’s district, is now the nightlife and partying area. There are all kinds of bars and restaurants. Places where you can hear a live concert, like in the Novo Café Lisboa. Or you can have a tapa in the Frau, inside the market. You share space with numerous foreigners, mostly Nordic. And top-notch Mallorcans. Boat owners in white polo-necks.

The island-Mallorca is another world. But it partakes of the same secret. From the human viewpoint, there is no longer such a big gap between “Ciutat” (Palma) and “Fora Vila” (the rest of the island). More and more natives of Palma, and foreigners, are settling in villages that were anchored in the past until recently. Everything becomes cosmopolitan. You can find shops in Pollença or Alcúdia that could be in Barcelona or Madrid. You sit down in a bar surrounded by Germans who have turned into neo-islanders. It could be Provence. But a more relaxed version.

A problem-free co-existence. Lifelong Mallorcans live their life, and let live. And in exchange, the newcomers enjoy the landscape, the calm, the sky, the light, the sea...

Everything in Mallorca encourages secrecy, introversion and inner affinity. If you would like to breathe in the near-spiritual relaxation that the island transmits, you don’t have to look for it in a particular place. It’s everywhere.

All you have to do is go to the mountains of Artà, and wait for dusk to fall. You won’t find any coaches here. And yet, the spectacle fills your soul. The stones on the mountainside slowly change colour: from golden to crimson, or even lilac. Disturbed only by the vapour trail of the odd distant plane or the flight of seagulls.

The secret of Mallorca is that everything is secret. You don’t have to look for the scenery from the brochure to have that perception of full time and the revelation of the senses. The harmony of the island, its picturesqueness, are in every nook and cranny. All you have to do is open your eyes, breathe in and enjoy it.

Food for the soul
Palma is not seen as an artistic destination, like Rome or Paris. But on its own scale, it has great attractions for those suffering from “Stendhal syndrome”. A visit to the terraces of the cathedral is particularly exciting. It’s breathtaking, and offers you the opportunity to touch the roof of the city with your own hands. Veritable food for the soul.

The Diocesan Museum also provides you with the chance to take a sensitivity-filled stroll through the medieval centuries. You could spend hours in front of the Sant Jordi altarpiece, the work of Pere Niçard. With its little details and its flamenco-like background scenery.

For a city of its characteristics, Palma has many art galleries. And several top contemporary art centres: the Pilar & Joan Miró Foundation, the Casal Solleric, Es Baluard Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Juan March and Bartomeu March foundations. All housed in interesting buildings.

Experiencing the sea
There is no island without sea. Everybody knows that. But there are many for whom the sea in Mallorca is no more than the beaches. You miss out on the authentic maritime experience like that. The sea is a landscape that has not changed since ancient times. You have to know it. 

I will always like the trip to Cabrera best. You leave from Colònia de Sant Jordi, and the 40-minute crossing seems like an endless voyage. The textures of the water and the colours of the seabed change. You see the land like a distant set. And when you are in Cabrera, you tread on a new world. Lost in the distant past. Full of untouched landscapes and stories.

There are other alternatives, like the excursion to Sa Dragonera, or the excursions from the ports of Sóller and Alcúdia. All of them allow you to recover the heart of the ancients. As Baudelaire wrote, “Free man, you will always love the sea”.


CARLOS GARRIDO
BARCELONA, 1950.  A writer, journalist and disseminator. He has published fifty books centred on the ancient world, archaeology and testimonies.

In the realm of testimonies, the book Te lo contaré en un viaje (2002) occupies a central position. In it he tells the story of his daughter, Alba. Other books in the same series are La memoria de las olas (2010), La estrella fenicia, memorias taumatúrgicas (2014) and La gente bella no surge de la nada (2016).

Since 2011, he has been directing educational shows on history and heritage which include theatre, music and lighting. This facet gave rise to the creation of the company Carlos Garrido Escènic. 

 

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