Carpe diem in Palma

Months ago, it seems now to have been very many months ago, my partner and I noticed that there was a long weekend coming up. This raised exciting possibilities and as any sensible travel-fancying folk is wont to do, we hopped onto the net for cheap flights. After winnowing away Rome (been there), Berlin (too expensive) and Edinburgh (we could get the same weather here) we settled on Mallorca. I was a bit hesitant, images of Magaluf and incessant club music lurking in my mind, but the more we investigated, the larger we found the island was, and the larger the distance between us and them.

Mallorca, for those who have not been or have only been to the hotels, bars and beaches around Palma, is an island full of stunning scenery. Mountain ranges split the island, their steep sides covered in pines and ancient olive terraces and wildernesses crowding on cliffs overlooking the sea. Considering the thousands of years that humans have been living on the island, it’s surprising how tracts of wilderness still exist, whether because it’s too beautiful to inhabit or too difficult to reach.

An ancient olive tree

An ancient olive tree

Our journey began in Palma, and a little Airbnb apartment that we rented for our stay. To have a home in the old town, with the tourist carriage horses clopping past in the afternoons and twisting cobbled streets almost leaving us lost more than once, was exactly how we like to experience a new place. The bottle of wonderful home-made wine was a nice bonus.

Palma Cathedral close up

Palma Cathedral close up

Our first stop was the cathedral, which we would return to again and again, drawn to it’s towers and changeable, squatting silhuette. You can’t view the cathedral only from it’s feet; it has to been seen from afar. Only then do the pillars and buttresses that look so blockish and clumsy up close soar upwards, and the curves and arches can be seen. It’s fair to say that we both fell a little in love with the cathedral, or at least developed a crush.

Palma Cathedral at night

Palma Cathedral at night

It would take till the 3rd day before we made our way inside, but it was certainly worth the wait and the ticket. Much seems at first to be a typical European cathedral, with pillars, buttresses, windows etc… On a closer look the colours and cacophony of shapes in the windows gave a hint that they had been designed by Gaudi, as was the gigantic canopy that loomed above the altar. Plate sized iron leaves held candles, sheaves of wheat seemed to sway above them, and above that was a dove in a splash of colour. This and the wall behind, palms on a gold background, could have been a chaotic frenzy but instead spoke of, or rather shouted about, life and nature. Live! Wander in the fields! Sleep between the roots of an old olive tree! Don’t wait for tomorrow!

Gaudi's canopy

Gaudi’s canopy

An even more urgent display spread up the walls of a chapel to the right, intended to celebrate aspects of Jesus with a marine theme. In impression of Jesus was there, pressing through the clay on the wall, surrounded by symbols of his life, all in painted clay hung on the walls. Loaves of bread overflowed on amphorae of wine, and on either side wall racing down from froth topped waves were hundreds of fish. There were sharks, jellies, salmon, at least one ray and other un-namables seeming to skim just under the surface of the clay, with a fin or a fisherman’s hook occasionally poking through. Again, chaos and life.

A wall of fish

A wall of fish

Other days spent in the capital revealed shopping districts and a restaurant area full of tourists, and beyond that the sprawl of everyday life. Though apparently prettified within the last few decades, the new sheen on the elegant boulevards being a bit of a giveaway, Palma gave the impression of being once a centre of commerce and movement, but having in more recent centuries faded a little. One of the finest signs of this, and vying with the cathedral as my favourite building, was the 15th century hall of the merchant guilds or Llotja de la Seda.

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

Very rarely are there secular buildings that seem built with the same care and thought for a long future as this hall was, even now bare of the banners, paintings and colours that must once have filled its bare walls and floor. It does still have the 6 pillars holding up the vaulted ceiling, and large lattice worked windows letting in the afternoon sun. It felt, somehow, comfortable and peaceful, though I can imagine that hundreds of years ago it would have been full of shouts, chatter and the crash and shuffle of goods for all hours of the day and probably the night as well.

Hall of pillars

Hall of pillars

This then is my memories of the city, snatched from the few days we were there. The next post will tell about our journeys further away, to hill towns and Roman ruins beside Medieval walls, plus wonderful the scenery in between.

A window in the merchant's hall

A window in the merchant’s hall

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For Pterry

Years ago I picked up a book. It was in a library, or a bookstore or handed to me by a friend. It doesn’t matter which. The point is that within a few pages I was hooked, line and sinker.
The jokes played a part, and the reality I could see behind the fantastical scenes and plots which whipped merrily along. As with anything I find and delight in I wanted to share it with others, but how to describe a series that melded witches, wizzards, coppers, dragons, zombies, trolls, Nobbses and Death, and which held more of a mirror to humanity than many books that didn’t feature magic?

Fortunately and completely unsurprisingly, I’m not the only person to love the series so there were many over the years who shared a laugh about a particular line or clever references, and who companionably slid off their chairs in glee at the mention of ‘the trousers were better then!’
What I didn’t always mention was that underneath the jokes and wit I could see a deep river of understanding for people, hidden beneath layers of cynicism. Amid the unionizing zombies and teetotal vampires were real people, the people you meet on the street who are brave and cowardly, concerned about their own backyards and willing to lend a hand, stupid and intelligent. These on many occasions also included the zombies and vampires, among others. They were all just people, even when they weren’t. He taught me, through his books, to see them better and to understand the mob as a mass of daftness and potentiality, or in his words,

The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

I saw the city as a process, endlessly consuming material and spitting out civilization and revolutions as things that always go around, back to where they started. Evil, headology, fanaticism, war, fairies, technology. I could have learnt these in pubs listening to folk yarning or reading books about failed revolutions. His way, however, lay by way of laughter and characters that I’ll never forget, and in many cases back to the source which could be plumbed for yet more treasure.

Night Watch

Night Watch

The reason I am writing this, rather than just enjoying the books, is that I read the last one recently. The very last. No more.
It was a fitting end, completing in part the journey of one character and the beginning of others. There was a sense of unfinished business as well, as it hadn’t quite reached the polished stage of the other books. If he’d had his way we wouldn’t have it at all. Despite this, it still contained the sensible, cynical, determined heart of the other books, even including a surprise Monty Python reference. I enjoyed every minute of it, partly because it was the last and always because it was genuinely good. I liked the goat boy, the cat, the battle and the continuing emergence of goblins into the light.

The last book

The last book

A wheel was turning, as it has for many of the books in the last few years, away from the medieval fantasy world into an early industrial land where everyone, regardless of species and gender can have a turn. Even the lowest and most hated can rise up (or descend if preferred) into the sunlight (or shade). I wonder where it would have turned next. In my head the world is now stuck in that last moment, preserved in the Century of the Anchovy forever.

Quanti Canicula Ille In Fenestra?

Quanti Canicula Ille In Fenestra?

I’m not going to tell you to read his books. If you want to you will. For those who have read them and who wear a sprig of lavender on May 25th or wonder about the lyrics of the Hedgehog Song, lets remember him as he’d have liked it, by being a bit more courageous, kind and by using our heads.

How do they rise up!