No Smoke Without Fire in our Rural Mallorcan Valley

Bonfires are blazing at the bottom of our valley. We can’t see the flames from our finca, but smoke has been billowing from different parts for days. In summer, when the merest whiff of smoke tickles our nostrils, we’re outside peering all around in case a wildfire has broken out. Bonfires are forbidden in wooded areas such as ours for almost half the year and only barbecues are likely to be creating smoke during these months.

Bonfire smoke

Smoke billows from down in the valley

In the autumn and winter months, farmers and gardeners choose calm days to burn their mounds of combustible unwanteds. We sometimes see vertical columns of smoke making a lazy ascent towards the sky and can usually work out from its location which neighbour is having a burn-up. But the smoke that’s been wafting daily over our valley is not from ordinary bonfires.

Our torrente after the clearance

Our local landscape has changed dramatically as a result of the clearance work

Prevention is better than repair

I wrote a while back about the appalling floods that caused the loss of 13 lives in the northeast of Mallorca – the area known as the Llevant. As well as the tragic loss of life, property and roads suffered damage that in some cases is still being dealt with.

Since that incident, work has begun to ensure that the area’s torrentes – often-dry stream beds – are cleared of vegetation and widened to accommodate even excessive rainfall, such as that which fell on Sant Llorenç on October 9th.

For several weeks, enormous earth-moving vehicles have been trundling along the torrente at the bottom of our valley, ripping out trees and shrubs and reshaping the banks. The vehicles have fallen silent now and all that remains is for the workmen to burn the mountains of vegetation they’ve removed along the route of the stream. The bonfires have been happening for days and will probably continue for a while. Although they aren’t particularly close to our finca, our black car is dotted with ash particles – but it makes no sense to clean it yet.

Any excuse for a BBQ

Tomorrow evening the aroma of smoke will also hang over Manacor, our nearest town – but it won’t have wafted from our valley. The 16th of January is the eve of Sant Antoni and it’s traditional for fires to blaze in the streets during this much-loved fiesta. Tomorrow, butcher’s shops and supermarkets will do a roaring trade in Mallorcan sausages and pancetta, to be cooked alfresco over the roaring flames of the fires dotted all around town. And maybe also in our rural valley. Pass the BBQ sauce…

Jan Edwards ©2019

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Visca Sant Antoni! Manacor’s Favourite Fiesta…

Dimoni Mallorca

A scary dimoni in the streets of Manacor

Hello! And a belated Happy New Year. Mine unfortunately started with bronchitis, which laid me low at a time when normally I’m itching to get started on the new year. Colds, flu, and other assorted viruses are rife on Mallorca at the moment and it’s hard to avoid them. Unusually, I haven’t felt up to writing much – although I did manage to write a short story for an international fiction competition. If I win, I’ll invite you all round for a glass of cava!

Celebrating Sant Antoni

Fortunately I was just about well enough for our usual visit to Manacor last week for the Sant Antoni fiestas. The good folks of Manacor love this fiesta, kitting themselves out in the latest Sant Antoni sweatshirt, t-shirt, or other assorted merchandise printed with the current year’s Sant Antoni logo.

Merchandise for Sant Antoni

The 2018 Sant Antoni must-have, as modelled in Hiper supermarket

A day or so before Sant Antoni, heaps of sand appear in the streets: these are the locations of the bonfires that will blaze on the evening of the 16th January. Some of them will just be piles of logs but others involve a degree of creativity and handicrafting; these are the ones that will be judged in the annual competition to find the best bonfire.

During the afternoon of the day before Sant Antoni’s day, it seems as though the entire population is on the streets – strolling (or cycling) all over the town to see these creations before they go up in smoke that evening.

Better the dimoni you know…

Come the evening, the bonfires are eventually lit and the fun begins. People take meat and bread to cook over the torradas; these are informal barbecues, very often made from old metal half-barrels full of logs. The dimonis (devils) dance in a wild fashion through the streets and everyone has a great time.

It’s a night the youngsters of the town particularly enjoy and many of them wander the streets in chattering groups, clutching large bottles of what appears to be lemon Fanta. More often than not, it’s a Menorcan drink called pomada: a mix of Menorcan Xoriguer gin and sparkling lemon that is especially popular as a Sant Antoni tipple. Another much-imbibed drink is the bright-green Mallorcan herb liqueur known as hierbas. Mine’s a pomada, if you’re asking…

Ooh, another public holiday

On the saint’s day (January 17th) itself, Manacor has a public holiday. The local priest, however, doesn’t get a day off: he’s in Ramon Llull square blessing the animal population of the town and surrounding countryside. This is one of my favourite fiestas, when many people dress in traditional costume to accompany their domestic and farm animals on their slow procession past the priest.

The festive season is now officially over in Manacor. Until February 10th…when it’s carnival. Mallorca sure knows how to party…

©Jan Edwards 2018

Merry Christmas from Mallorca!

Wine-bottle corks

Mallorca produces fantastic wines. Here’s what we make with some of the corks…

What’s Mallorca like at Christmas? It’s a question we’re sometimes asked by friends who live in the UK or elsewhere. Well, it’s not as warm here as many who visit the island only during the summer may think. In our first year, a friend wrote in his Christmas card to us that he would be picturing us wearing shorts and eating Christmas lunch on the beach. No. We’re living in Europe, not Australia! We’ll be fairly close to our Jotul wood-burning stove toasting our bits!

The festive season here though is lovely – less frenetic than we experienced back in the UK – and we often have sunny days over the winter.

I thought I’d share a few phone-photos taken in Mallorca’s capital, Palma, in this pre-Christmas post, along with warm seasonal greetings from The Boss and me. Wherever you live, and whatever your weather at this time of year, have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas in good company.

If you’re interested, check out my Instagram posts at mallorcajan.

©Jan Edwards 2017

Find Your Festive in Mallorca

Looking around our valley, you’d never guess that Christmas was less than three weeks away. No inflatable Santas climb plastic-rope ladders up the side of house chimneys. No country properties around us are adorned with twinkly-lit reindeer or other festive characters. All looks peaceful, normal, and…rural. Of course, it could be a different story behind closed doors!

We knew from visits to Mallorca before moving here that we were unlikely to find a Christmas tree for sale – real or fake. I had always had a real tree in the UK and the annual visit to the side entrance of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, to select one of the numerous trees for sale, was guaranteed to make me feel more festive.

Faking it

Before we left the UK, we bought a high-quality artificial one from an Oxfordshire garden centre, ensuring that we wouldn’t be without a Christmas tree once here. In a week or so’s time, it’ll be released from its cardboard prison at the back of a little-used cupboard to be pressed into decorative service for its 14th Mallorcan Christmas. Fingers crossed it will still look perky – and won’t have lost all its artificial pine needles!

More than a decade later, Papá Noel’s sleigh GPS has located Mallorca: many lucky children now receive presents from the red-suited one as well as those traditionally brought by The Three Kings in early January. Must be an expensive business, being a parent on this island…

Baking it?!

And, you guessed it, you can now find Christmas trees – even real ones – just about everywhere in Mallorca. I thought the one below – made from the traditional Mallorcan pastries known as ensaïmadas (and spotted in a bakery window in the town of Artà) – was just a little bit different!

Ensaimada Christmas tree

An edible tree (but don’t count the calories!).

©Jan Edwards 2017

Fiestas galore on Mallorca … except in the countryside

Fiesta bunting

Bunting time!

Living in the open countryside, we are in a fiesta-free zone. But in villages and towns all around Mallorca, July and August are the months to deck the streets with fluttery bunting, get out the stacks of ubiquitous white plastic chairs, and party hard. The locals either join in or get out of town (or the village) for the duration. We can choose which ones we want to attend.

The main components of these fiestas are usually music (local bands or DJs), food (anything from giant ensaïmadas and enormous paellas, to tapas or street food, served from vintage food trucks), and drink.

Party time in Sant Llorenç

On Friday night we attended a fiesta in the small town of Sant Llorenç, combining all three: the Sant Llorenç Boscana Craft Beer and Swing Festival. It was held in the square by the distinctive town hall building, one side of which was lined with stalls  offering around 20 different beers (no, we didn’t try them all).

Boscana Cervesa Evolutiva

Beer, anyone?

DSC_0627

This was only the second edition of this particular festival. Apparently some lessons were learnt after last year’s inaugural event. One, was to bring in a refrigerated truck to keep the beer cold. The second was to provide some food to soak up the alcohol. On the opposite side of the square some local eateries and a bakery had set up stalls selling a few snacks, and someone known as Kitchen Guerilla was rustling up some sausages on a BBQ.

Strike up the band

Five swing bands were on the billing and an enormous professional-looking stage was set for the live music. Until the first band – Long Time No Swing – came on stage, we were treated to a performance by a strolling local pipe-and-drum group (xeremiers) and then a local batucada band.

Traditional Mallorcan music

Traditional Mallorcan music

The latter is a popular (and incredibly noisy) feature of many local fiestas. The drummers process through the streets followed by crowds of people – a bit like the Piper of Hamelin, but thankfully without the rats.

Eventually the stage came alive with the music of the first of five bands scheduled to play. We stayed to see Long Time No Swing and Monkey Doo – both terrific. When we left for home (around midnight), there were still three bands due to perform. Nessun dorma in Sant Llorenç that night!

Long Time No Swing

Long Time No Swing

Swing band Long Time No Swing

Long Time No Swing

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Monkey Doo

Lindy Hoppers are Sant Llorenç

What most impressed us about this night was the dancing. Dozens of couples took to the centre of the square to dance the Lindy Hop, and they seemed to know what they were doing. Unlike most dancing, this one seems to be done in sneakers – so no twisted ankles due to perilous platforms or soaring stilettos. What struck us – apart from the ability of so many locals actually to do the Lindy Hop – was the joyful nature of this dance. We couldn’t stop smiling as we watched.

Lindy Hoppers

… and Lindy Hop

At some point we spoke to a girl who was taking a break from the energetic dance and she told us there’s a popular Lindy Hop class run in the town in the cooler months. Ah, that would explain it. This time next year, The Boss and I could be Lindy Hopping ourselves. Just need to persuade him. And buy some sneakers.

And so to bed …

Unlike the good citizens of Sant Llorenç, we were able to leave the noise behind and go home for a peaceful night’s sleep. That’s country living on Mallorca for you …

By the way, if you love Lindy Hop, the Mallorca Lindy Festival takes place in Inca, at Fàbrica Ramis, from October 7th-9th.

If you’re thinking about a visit to Mallorca next August, keep an eye on the Boscana Cervesa Evolutiva Facebook page for the dates of the 2017 festival.

The fiesta of fire burns this weekend on Mallorca

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

Life is never dull on Mallorca. If Christmas, New Year, and Three Kings were not enough celebrations for this time of year, this weekend is the Sant Antoni fiestas. January 16th – the eve of the Saint’s day – is when Mallorcans traditionally light foguerons (bonfires) in the streets and make elaborate effigies of the Devil to set ablaze. Mallorca’s famous dimonis take to the streets with their manic dancing and scary costumes, and people have a jolly good time, cooking food on outdoor torrades (BBQs). And because it can be surprisingly cold at this time of the year (although not this winter, so far), a few libations are usually taken – very often the famous bright green Hierbas de Tunel.

In our local town, Manacor, the Sant Antoni fiestas almost seem more popular than Christmas. For the past couple of weeks, stalls set up in town on Saturdays have been selling this year’s design of Sant Antoni sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats – and all at affordable prices.

The excitement is building. This morning, doing a few chores in town, we had to drive around a pile of earth in the middle of several roads, on which the bonfires for this Saturday night will be built. These piles will be increasing in number over the coming days. And several shops have incorporated Sant Antoni into their window displays.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Hiper's stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Hiper’s stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

If you don’t know (and I confess that I didn’t until we moved to Mallorca), Sant Antoni was an Egyptian monk who, in the desert, was tempted by the Devil – cunningly disguised as a woman. The iron-willed monk didn’t succumb to these womanly wiles, instead walking on hot coals to take his mind off anything else getting too heated!

All this happened a long way from Mallorca, but stay with me. On the island during the 10th and 11th centuries, many folk were affected by a horrible skin disease caused by a poisonous fungus attacking rye crops. No cure was known, but the Mallorcans followed Sant Antoni’s example of using fire to fight the Devil that they believed had caused the disease.

The disease is long gone, but the fires burn on every eve of Sant Antoni, as the backdrop to much partying. And, on the Saint’s day itself, Mallorcans head for the streets again – to take their pets and other animals to be blessed by the local priest.

After the festivities of this weekend, things will quieten down . . . but not for long: Carnival this year falls on the first weekend of February!

 

A flower festival in rural Mallorca

Display in Costitx flower festival

Costitx en Flor 2015

Last Friday we fell a tiny bit in love with a small village called Costitx, in the centre of Mallorca. Relatively few visitors to the island will have heard of it, let alone visited, but many will have flown over it – the village being under one of the flight paths across Mallorca. An impressive number of visitors – mainly Mallorcans – flooded into the village on May 1st for ‘Costitx en Flor’.

Rural Mallorca from near Costitx.

Beautiful views across Mallorca’s Pla to the mountains.

We reached Costitx via a (usually) quiet country lane off the main Manacor to Inca road (between Sineu and Inca) in an area of the island known as the Pla. There’s lovely surrounding countryside and views of the UNESCO World Heritage Serra de Tramuntana. The village itself has some interesting old architecture and several beautifully restored stone townhouses. If we had to live in a village, rather than open countryside, Costitx does have its attractions . . .

The village also has a few claims to fame – and not the sort of fame associated with the likes of Magaluf, or the more genteel mountain village of Deià.

Here are a few facts you could drop into a conversation about this lesser-known part of Mallorca:

Eyes to the skies 

Costitx is home to the Observatori Astronòmic de Mallorca, opened in 1991.  Even after we’d bought our finca – but before we moved to Mallorca – we weren’t aware of its existence. I found out about it only during a BBC radio interview I did with an astronomy expert in north Oxfordshire, who told me the observatory was “very important”. The Observatory is also home to the Mallorca Planetarium.

Prehistoric treasures 

Costitx is home to three prehistoric bronze bulls’ heads found on common land in 1894. Well preserved, and part of the Balearics’ remarkable Talayotic remains, they have their 21st-century home in the Son Corró Sanctuary. One of the streets in the village is named after these Caps de Bou de Costitx.

Political heritage

In 1987, Costitx elected a mayor who became both famous and infamous. Every Mallorcan – and many non-Mallorcan island residents – will know of Maria Antònia Munar . . .

Blooming fab!

Costitx flower festival in May.

Saying it with flowers: a welcome to ‘Costitx en Flor’.

But it was last Friday’s ‘Costitx en Flor’ that wowed us. This annual flower festival sees the whole village decorated with flowers, with each street having its own themed display.

The creativity of the villagers, and hard work involved in putting this event together, are evidence of a real community spirit. We loved it and, if you’re on Mallorca next May 1st, it’s worth a visit if you appreciate flowers, handicrafts, and creativity.

Old denim jeans as flower receptacles

The street with the recycled jeans . . .

Bikes used to display flowers

The street with the bicycle and flower displays . . .

Jeans to display flowers

Jean genius.

Alternative use for an old pneumatic tyre.

Old tyres given a new lease of life.

Costitx en Flor

Streets closed to traffic – and open to floral displays.

Costitx en Flor 2015

Take a seat . . . and add flowers.

Alternative use for an old tyre.

Once a tyre . . . now a chicken.

Costitx house doorway.

In the doorway of an old townhouse in Costitx.

Old Mallorcan well outside house in Costitx.

Old well outside a Costitx house – complete with flowers in a recycled tyre.

Embroidered flowers in Costitx.

Embroidery on a big scale!

Old stone arch in Costitx.

Archway to ‘cup and saucer alley’ in Costitx.

Costitx flower festival May 1st

Anyone for a cuppa?

Costitx church.

Costitx church goes floral.

Garden plants for sale on Mallorca.

Plants for sale – for those inspired by their visit to ‘Costitx en Flor’.