Mallorca Hosts European Hot Air Balloon Championship

 

Balloons over rural Mallorca

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. We had a full-on – and fun – September, with family and friends who stayed with us at the finca; there were also other friends, staying elsewhere in Mallorca, with whom we met up to eat out. It was a thoroughly enjoyable month of good food, wine, company, and fun.

Back to work, I thought, as October began. Then wham! I went down with a heavy cold; barely recovered from feeling wretched, I launched into a project which took me out and about to interview and write about a few traditional artisans in Mallorca.

#AmWriting

With that project now finished, it’s time to crack on with my novel and catch up with posting here and on my Eat, Drink, Sleep, Mallorca blog – both of which have been rather neglected with everything else going on.

Until just over a week ago, we were enjoying an unusually warm and pleasant October, with only the occasional ‘off’ day. Then somebody flicked the ‘winter on’ switch and it was a hasty trip to buy logs for the Jotul stove.

A glorious autumn Saturday in Mallorca

Before we resorted to winter-weight curtains and socks, there was a wonderful autumn Saturday (October 26th). We got up early to go and watch hot air balloons. We do see the occasional distant hot air balloon from our home, because nearby Manacor is home to a company called Mallorca Balloons, run by Ricardo Aracil – but that day we were in for something special.

Ricardo was responsible for bringing the European Hot Air Balloon Championship 2019 to Mallorca – for the first time since the competition was launched in Skövde (Sweden) in 1976. The event is organized by the International Aeronautical Federation (based in Switzerland) and takes place every two years; 100 hot air balloons from 23 countries came to Mallorca to compete this year.

The European Hot Air Balloon Championship was as popular with spectators as it was with competitors and we were in a long line of cars driving towards the cloud of balloons rising over the countryside near Petra.

I find myself getting quite emotional when I see hot air balloons. It’s something to do with the tranquillity they exude: the slowness and peace (punctuated by the occasional burst of flame) as they travel. One day I shall try a hot air balloon flight – but I think I’ll wait for the warmer weather to return first.

 

Going to see the hot air balloons in flight was just the start of a memorable October Saturday. Later that morning we went to have a Terragust experience – which you can read about here.

We’re now in ‘winter’ mode here in rural Mallorca, but can look back at these two events and be grateful for a very pleasant autumn 2019.

Jan Edwards ©2019

How I Became a Speedy Swimmer

One of the many benefits of living in rural Mallorca – rather than on the coast – is the reduced chance of being stung by jellyfish.

The beautiful Mediterranean…

I’m sure that, if we were within walking distance of a beach, The Boss and I would be taking a regular dip in the Mediterranean. I would probably have been stung by jellyfish several times before now, but I made it to living here fifteen years before I was zapped for the first time in my life. Ooh, the pain.

We are sailing

My Dutch friend Sandra recently had her birthday and invited a few gal pals to spend that day on the charter yacht she owns with her husband. Four of us – including Sandra – enjoyed a lazy day of sailing,  sharing good conversation, Mallorcan wine, and the dishes that we’d each contributed towards our lunch that day.

We dropped anchor in an attractive bay, where Sandra’s husband – Captain Adriaan – showed us a nifty little app called ‘Grumering’. It was created by three Mallorcan friends to show information about the presence or absence of jellyfish – known in Spanish as medusas.

Jellyfish app

Using the app, anyone can add a notification to help other beach or boat users to avoid areas with jellyfish, or highlight areas that seem to be clear of the pesky little blighters.

The app suggested no reported sightings of jellyfish in the bay where we’d anchored. We’d have a swim here before lunch.

The Med was a little choppy that day, which made it harder to see what was in the water. Nevertheless, off I went, happier that the jellyfish app suggested the area was clear. I’d barely swum a few strokes when a horrible pain lashed my stomach, then my left thigh and calf and one of my fingers.

I’d never been stung by jellyfish before, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me what had happened. Even Michael Phelps would have been impressed by the speed at which I swam back to the yacht ‘Simmertime’ and hauled myself, shaking, out of the water.

Sandra quickly took on the role of efficient nautical nurse and did the necessary to remove the stingers and reduce the pain. Half an hour later, we were all sipping delicious Mallorcan white wine and enjoying lunch – which helped to take my mind off a deeply unpleasant experience.

Jelly stings – the gift that keeps on giving

Nine days later, the burning and itching of the stings suddenly flared up again and we sought advice. Our friendly local pharmacist said we should go to the hospital for treatment in the Urgencias department.

The doctor on duty looked at my wounds and prescribed a course of two different tablets and an ointment to apply twice a day. But that wasn’t all. He’d made a brief internal phone call and moments later a nurse arrived in the treatment room wielding a large hypodermic syringe. Having that jabbed into my backside soon made me forget the jellyfish stings…

 

 

For more about Sandra and Adriaan’s Mallorca sailing excursions on ‘Simmertime’, see here.

 

Jan Edwards ©2019

Our Cats in Mallorca

Yes, we still have cats, even though you won’t have read much about them lately (although there are occasional sightings on my mallorcajan instagram page). Our feline family now numbers six and, if you’ve read about our cats in previous posts, you’ll realise we’ve lost two. It’s heartbreaking when this happens.

We were devastated in April 2018, when Beamer – the alpha male of the outdoor cats – disappeared. This beautiful big black-and-white boy went off one day and didn’t return.

The evening before he left, he was sitting on the low wall separating our back terrace from the garden and seemed to be sniffing the air. Was he curious to find out what was beyond his territory? He’d always been much loved by his siblings, who came to him for washing, approval, and sometimes a bit of play. Perhaps he’d had enough of the constant attention from them?

We’ll never know what happened to Beamer, but it was out of character for this eight-year-old cat, who spent a lot of his time close to our house. Of course, we searched for him – as far as it’s possible to look for a lost cat in what’s a natural environment of open countryside and scrub vegetation. I spent many months last year hoping he’d stroll back onto the terrace for his food one day. I was convinced he’d come back but eventually accepted that he was gone.

In late July last year we had to say goodbye to our beloved Birman, Minstral. As they say in cricket, he’d had a good innings, being twenty-one years old at the time of his demise. We’d adopted him in the UK and brought him to Mallorca with our rescue Maine Coon, Smokey – who sadly died of leukaemia in our early years here.

Minstral was on medication and diet food for the kidney problem that often affects older cats; he’d been the most chilled-out cat we’d known, but let us know when he’d had enough. Twenty-one is a good age for a cat in Mallorca and our vet hadn’t seen one of such seniority at his practice. We brought Minstral home and buried him alongside Smokey in the garden. We had him for 17 years and I miss him every day.

Had we lost another?

What a yawn! Those teeth are made for nibbling

Nibbles – one of Beamer’s siblings, younger by just four months – is The Boss’s favourite of our cats. Despite being of feral origins, Nibbles likes to jump onto his lap and play the affectionate card for a few minutes…before living up to his name and nibbling any body parts he can reach (usually a hand).

On his eighth birthday (July 31st), Nibbles came for dinner as usual – but limping. He wouldn’t let us examine his paw and leg, and it was too late to take him to the vet’s that night; we set up a blanket in a box under our porch and placed food and water right next to it, so he wouldn’t need to venture far.

“We’ll take him to the vet’s first thing,” The Boss said.

Nibbles might have heard us say that: in the morning he was gone. We didn’t see him again for eight days and wished we had captured him and taken him into our house for the night. For a few days, The Boss scoured the countryside for him, even venturing into the jungle that is our valley-within-a-valley for the first time in many months.

“It’s impenetrable down there,” he said when he returned, defeated, sweaty, and covered with bits of vegetation. With temperatures at the time in the high 30s, we feared that Nibbles wouldn’t survive the heat if he couldn’t at least drink. An air of sadness and helplessness hung over us.

On Thursday, August 8th, we attended a start-of-the-grape-harvest party at a local winery. It was a fun evening, which proved to be a brief distraction from thinking about Nibbles’s likely fate.

The prodigal puss returns

Our cats were waiting on the terrace, as usual, for our return. They must recognise the sound of our approaching car and time their arrival to coincide with ours. The Boss will often top up their food bowls at this point and, whilst he went indoors to fetch the cat chow, I stayed outside.

One of the cats was standing on our solar-powered fountain, drinking from it. I thought it was Chico until I realised that the leg markings were those of Nibbles. He was home and, although still limping, had survived the heatwave. As we hadn’t seen him for a week, he had probably conserved his energy by limping to the terrace for food and water at night, when the heat of the day was gone. I scooped Nibbles into my arms and was holding him when The Boss emerged from the house, carrying the box of cat food.

“Look who’s back,” I said turning around to face him. We were overcome with joy at seeing this much-loved cat again – but disappointed to see that he was now walking on only three legs.

Nibbles spent the night indoors this time and, in the morning, we took him to the vet’s. He hates the car and howled all the way there and back. The vet diagnosed a bite on his leg, gave him an antibiotic injection that would last fifteen days, and prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine for us to give him each day.

He’s still indoors and has become quite the home cat – so far showing little interest in the outdoor world and plenty of liking for sitting on soft cushions and having food and water within a few paw-steps. He’s now walking on four legs, albeit still with a slight limp; by the end of this week, Nibbles should be back outdoors with his feline family. Domestic life will return to normal. As normal as it ever is when you live in rural Mallorca and have a semi-feral feline family.

Jan Edwards ©2019

Cold Dishes For a Summer in Mallorca

If you’re in Europe, you’ll be aware – from personal experience – that there has been a second heatwave. Yes, here in Mallorca, just as we were breathing a sigh of relief that the last one was over…wham!

As I write this, the sun has just disappeared behind some cloud; the weather is due to be cooler tomorrow and it seems to be getting in a little practice now.

No matter how cool it becomes over the summer months, little actual cooking is done in our finca’s kitchen. The ventilation isn’t good in there and using even just one gas ring on the hob makes the room feel like a sauna. I haven’t switched on the oven since the end of May. Our meals are a combination of cold dishes and food cooked on the BBQ (rather expertly, I must add) by The Boss.

Too hot for clothes?

On Wednesday this week – when the mercury was nudging 39 degrees C – I went to interview a mallorquín artist: a bachelor in his late fifties, whose rustic house didn’t appear to have changed over the thirty years he’s lived in it. How I missed the air-conditioned comfort of home, as we went from room to room looking at his numerous canvases – most of which were on the floor, stacked and leaning against lime-washed walls.

I thought I was going to melt in the heat. As he had taken some time to answer our knock on his heavy wooden front door – and was doing up the belt on his shorts when he did – I’d have bet money that he’d been all-but-naked before our arrival. It was far too hot in that house to wear clothes, if there were nobody else around to see your personal bits in all their glory.

Sticking to tradition

What? Watermelon in a gazpacho?

As the photographer and I were preparing to leave, to return to the cool of our respective homes, I mentioned (in Spanish) that I’d be making watermelon gazpacho that afternoon, as a neighbour was coming over for dinner. The artist looked horrified and told me – in no uncertain terms – that watermelon was for dessert and gazpacho should be made with tomato, onion, pepper, and cucumber; nada más (apart from seasoning and dressing, of course).

I explained that I’d found the recipe online in The New York Times and his eyebrows raised like a theatre-stage curtain. Over the years we have often found that mallorquíns – the older generation in particular – stick rigidly to culinary traditions.

“The proper ingredients are the same as for trempó,” he informed me, in Spanish, wagging a disapproving forefinger from side to side. The Mallorcan dish trempó is one of our favourites in the summer: a refreshing salad of these ingredients, made by chopping them up and mixing them with seasoning and dressing in a bowl.

Both gazpacho and trempó are dishes that we often have for a light lunch in the heat of the day. And it’s good to know that if we ever run out of teeth in future years (it could happen), we can just tip the trempó ingredients into the blender to enjoy the same flavours, in liquid form, as gazpacho.

I don’t think Mr Mallorcan Artist would approve of my plan to make a cherry gazpacho tomorrow. Let’s keep that one a secret…

Jan Edwards ©2019

Feeling the Heat in Mallorca

The Boss and I have taken to living like vampires. The doors and shutters (persianas) of our finca in rural Mallorca are closed most of the day and windows are firmly shut against the searing summer heat. We stay out of the bright sunlight and keep cool with our air conditioning. We’re so pleased we have a solar-powered electricity system: we don’t have alarming summer electricity bills to pay so can be liberal with air conditioning – until the sun disappears from the solar panels.

Mallorca – like other parts of northern Europe – had a heatwave in June. To be honest, I haven’t noticed that it’s ended yet. We have regularly registered temperatures in the upper 30s, in the shade on our terrace, and last night’s low, for instance, was 24 degrees Celsius.

On Monday morning I had to go to Palma and emerged from the railway station to feel fat drops of rain plopping onto my head. Sadly, this was not the start of a good refreshing shower, but what’s called cuatro gotas – four drops – which afforded little relief from the clammy heat.

But that night rain did fall. In the form of mud. This was our black car the next morning…

Looks like snow, but it’s mud.

Specific outings aside (and they’re usually in the evenings at this time of year), we have only daytime dashes outside to feed the cats (morning and early evening), take out the washing (which dries to a crisp in, oh, about ten minutes), or put the rubbish in the dustbin.

We save our time outdoors for the early mornings and the evenings (when, ironically, the heat of the sun may be replaced by the heat of The Boss’s Weber BBQ). These are the times when we are likely to see our cats, who hide away during the daytime. They each have their own way of keeping cool and two, in particular, amuse us. Nibbles likes to cool his nether regions by draping himself over the balustrade. Shorty – our gorgeous ginger – favours a cooling tummy dip in one of our several birdbaths (which also serve as drinking stations for our feline family).

Whatever it takes, find your own way to stay cool this summer. Early-morning swim at Portocristo? Don’t mind if we do…

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this post on July 13th and I’m pleased to say the humidity has eased off and temperatures are a little more comfortable.

Jan Edwards ©2019

Expat Book About Life in Mallorca (and Elsewhere) Published Today. But Not by Me.

Is it true that time passes more quickly when living in Mallorca? It certainly seems that way and I was shocked to see that my last post here was back in February. What have I been doing all this time?

In fact, I did log on to write a post a few times but was faced with the new ‘block editor’. I’m sorry, WordPress, but I just couldn’t get on with it and gave up in despair. Today, I decided I would push myself through the ‘block-editor’ pain barrier. It was only then that I noticed down in the corner of the screen that I could switch to the original way of creating posts. Duh! So I’m back.

#amwriting

This wasn’t the only reason for fewer posts of late. Last year I signed up for a novel-writing course (sadly no longer available) with Penguin Random House. I loved it, although it took a lot more of my time than I expected. I had started my novel not long after we had electricity installed at our rural finca (end of 2004), but domestic life and other writing stalled progress. Until I signed up for the ‘Constructing a Novel’ course.

The novel is now coming along steadily. A large amount of it is still in my head, rather than recorded on my computer. Like many other busy people, I could do with a few extra hours in my day, but I’m no longer able to sacrifice sleeping time to achieve this.

I blame my earlier working lifestyle in the UK, rising at 3.30am to travel to Oxford for my early-morning radio show and then the breakfast show afterwards. For a few years, between my radio and my TV continuity-announcing work, I missed out on a lot of sleep. These days I function better with my full quota of eight hours. Perhaps I’m still catching up – or remembering the words of my doctor when, during a medical check, he warned me that my working lifestyle was not sustainable.

I do lots of other writing too, with a second blog – Eat, Drink, Sleep, Mallorca – and other scribblings to satisfy my urge to write. Sometimes I think it’s not more time that I need, but a hefty dose of determination and discipline to help me prioritise what I’m doing.

A friend is way ahead of me…

Love the cover…

I know quite a few people who are published authors and have to admire them for their achievements. One of them is our friend James B Rieley – a born raconteur – who used to live in Mallorca, but moved to the Caribbean to live on his yacht.

Life dealt him (and many others) the cruellest of blows, in the form of Hurricane Irma in 2017. More than 130 people died in that category-5 cyclone but James was fortunate to survive – although his beloved floating home didn’t. I remember reading a magazine article he wrote about that experience and it gave me the chills, thinking about the fear and devastation he and so many others faced.

Today, James has published a book about his life on the two islands of Mallorca and Virgin Gorda. It’s called Living on Rocks: A Memoir of Sangria and Cyclones and it’s on Amazon as a free Kindle download for a couple of days (after which you’d have to pay for it).

It must be such an exciting feeling to see your book available to the wider public, wondering how well it will do and what kind of reviews it will garner. It’s a feeling I plan to experience one day.

I really ought to return to my novel after publishing this post, but I had my free Kindle download of James’s book earlier today. And my hammock, in the shade of our finca’s covered terrace, seems a very appealing spot for a little reading…

See what I mean about discipline?

Jan Edwards ©2019

A Flavour of 19th-century Rural Mallorca

Visiting Manacor on Saturday, February 2nd, we were surprised to see a large group of people wearing traditional period costume, gathered around a memorial stone. All soon became clear when we realised what day it was. These local people were honouring Antoni M Alcover, who became the parish priest of Manacor in 1886 but is best known today for having collected and written down more than three hundred traditional folk tales – known locally as Rondaies – from around Mallorca.

Antoni Alcover i Sureda was born into a farming family just outside Manacor on February 2nd in 1862. On this day, flowers are laid at the memorial stone and people in local costume of the 19th century come to celebrate the life and writings of the man often referred to as Mossèn Alcover. The town of Manacor has a number of events around the anniversary of his birth, including public readings of his stories.

Traditional Mallorcan dress

Local Manacor people wearing the traditional dress of Alcover’s era to celebrate the anniversary of his birth

We spoke to this group of people, proudly wearing the clothes of Alcover’s era. We are always fascinated by the locals’ willingness to dress themselves in traditional Mallorcan costume at every opportunity. I wouldn’t mind betting that most people have period garments hanging in their closets; we’ve certainly seen a few hanging in our local dry cleaner’s from time to time, freshly pressed for their next outing.

These garments would probably have been the ‘Sunday best’ of their time and not what your average rural Mallorcan would have worn when cultivating the land. I like to think that farming folk of that era would have worn more comfortable – and lighter – garb when working outdoors. The authentic 19th-century wardrobe looks a little warm for the Mediterranean climate!

Alcover didn’t just gather folklore from Mallorca; he also made notes for what would eventually become  the Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear. The first volume of this magnum opus was published in 1930 – two years before Alcover died.

If you’re interested in reading some of the folk stories collected by Alcover, a selection of them is published in English in a volume entitled The Best Folk Tales of Mallorca, published by Editorial Moll in Palma.

Jan Edwards ©2019