Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mallorca Days

-a true story by Michelle

At a very young age I was immersed into a totally different culture and way of life from what I was accustomed to here in Canada. Though I was young and probably too young to understand cultural differences between Canadian and Spanish lifestyles, the differences were quite real and the change was a shock to my young mind. Today, so many years later, I can appreciate what a wonderful experience it was to live in another country, the experience taught me to be accepting of other cultures and way of life. One becomes less insular in ways of thinking and beliefs. I remember when I was six years old, I believed that white people lived on one side of our earth and black people lived on the other side. I am not sure where this idea came from. Before my exciting journey began, I looked forward to meeting new friends on the other side of the globe but was a little nervous about being the only white child in a distant land. As it turned out, I was not the only white child. It was a journey which affected my life and has forever changed me. I love the rich Spanish culture, the people and their lifestyle. I miss it and long to return for a visit with my husband - before I completely lose the language. Spain was under Franco’s dictatorship when our family first moved to Spain. It was a country steeped in history (and still is) with little influence from an outside modern world.

It was 1968 when my mother moved to Palma, Mallorca. (View short Youtube of Palma here). It was through unfortunate circumstances, the divorce of my parents, and also through a wonderful opportunity to teach classical guitar, that my mother decided to pack up and move. Mom journeyed by herself to Mallorca, settled into an apartment and quickly became acquainted with her new environment. Please visit my mother’s blog which gives more exciting details, lovely photos and her own personal story of when she arrived in Palma, Mallorca. My sister and I lived with our grandparents until we were ready to meet up with our mother. My grandparents, great-aunt, sister and myself travelled for one day until we finally reached ‘the other side of the world’. My first memories are of how hot and humid it was, it was July, one of the hottest months in the Mediterranean. I was not accustomed to temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. It is customary for the Balearic islands to experience heavy lightening storms during the summer season and I experienced my first big lightening show - it was frightening and loud.

Our first night in Mallorca, we stayed with our grandparents in the most luxurious hotel in Palma at that time, it overlooked the bay in Palma where palm trees lined the walkways, the majestic Gothic cathedral loomed in the distant vista. I had never seen such a big structure before, this was my first cathedral - it was beautiful! I remember visiting the cathedral during Christmas eve with my sister and mother, the magical sound of choir and the large pipe organs played, the music echoed and reached up high towards the flying buttresses. What an amazing experience. The cathedral is an architectural marvel with beginnings approximately 1230 AD; it houses one of the largest rose windows in the world and truly is a historic Spanish treasure.

Inside the Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca
Borrowed Photo of Mallorca (c) Linda Garrison

The summer evenings were very warm and sleep did not come easy. During the evenings, we slept with one sheet over top, no blanket. I had trouble with the heat more than anything. There was no reprieve from it except for a dip in the ocean or a nearby pool. During our first few days in Palma we usually dined at local restaurants, there was (and still is) a plethora of restaurants, cafes, bodegas and other places to eat (Sa Premsa bodega became one of our favourite places ).

Some of my fondest memories in Mallorca are revolved around food and aromas from cafes, restaurants and local markets. How can I ever forget the lingering aroma of coffee brewing from the cafes, delicious smells from the bakery down our street, aroma of tobacco and leather from shops - these smells were typical of the area and are indelibly etched in my memory. The sounds of people outside, the incessant chatter of locals in their little shops, the football matches that would blare from the tiny television in the corner street café where the game could be heard all through our street - and what an uproar during a goal! I welcomed the sound of coffee machine steaming milk to make café con leche (coffee with milk) - this became my favourite drink through to my adult years. The frothy foam of hot milk, swirling in espresso coffee…aaaahhh. The sound of waiters calling out to one another as they rushed about serving coffee and drinks. The small alley-way streets with mopeds buzzing to and fro.

Saturday mornings, quite early, we would hear a distant sound of a conch shell horn, it made its way down our little street - it was the fishmonger. Women would rush out to buy from him. My favourite was the man who played a trill up and down on pan pipes, the lilting sound echoed down our street, he arrived on the weekends with his mobile knife-sharpener bicycle, where one could have their scissors or knives sharpened very inexpensively. His music announced his arrival. So nostalgic. I wish we had these very special people travelling up and down our streets today!

During the years I lived in Mallorca, I became accustomed to the culture, food and language. To this day, my love of Mediterranean food and fondness of cooking stems from my early childhood experiences in the Balearic and Canary Islands. My mother enjoyed cooking and I will always remember her in the kitchen with her apron on and the shopping baskets loaded with fresh vegetables and fruits, meats, cheeses, olives, bread, olive oil. She learned how to cook Mallorcan dishes and with her many years of culinary experience, became one of the greatest cooks I have ever known. We would venture every Saturday, as a family, to the local market in Palma which was housed in a big warehouse style building with high ceilings - where local produce, fish and meats were sold. The vegetable and fruit stalls were so colourful and the smells so refreshing. I was not fond of the fish market - tables piled up high with smelly fish of every kind! Fishermen were busy piling tables with their fresh catch of the day - I especially did not like the looks of squid….eeewww. The meat market was a total shock to me when I first arrived in Spain - especially for a Canadian girl where in Canada all meats were nicely packaged! Of course all the meat in the Spanish market was fresh…….chickens and rabbits would be skinned and cut at the moment of purchase at the request of the buyer. Again….eeeeewwww. I saw some meat products that scared me and which I did not know even existed in a meat store....pig's and sheep's heads resting upon the corner of counter tops at meat stalls….I won’t go into gory detail here.

Back to my Mother’s cooking. The meals we ate were amazing - the food was very different than Canadian food - there were no ‘instant’ or packaged foods. There was only one type of ‘sliced’ bread available in Spain at that time which was sold in a plastic bag, similar to the bread in Canada, I remember it well, it was called ‘Bimbo’ bread - the bread pieces fell apart when taken out of their package and tasted like cardboard. ‘Bimbo’ bread was actually introduced into Spain by a Canadian friend of ours who could not find ‘sliced’ bread in the Spanish stores and wanting bread similar to Canadian bread, he brought it over from Cuba to the Spanish supermarkets. Of course, the local bakery breads were the best, and ‘Bimbo‘ did not find its way into many Spanish kitchens. We made a habit of walking down to the local bakery every morning to buy a fresh ‘barra’, the local loaf that looks similar to a French baguette. Also on our list for the bakery were croissants or Mallorcan pastry (ensaimada) - the pastry made from pig lard and flour, when baked, would be sprinkled with icing sugar, was the tastiest pastry. We enjoyed these with our café con leche (steamed milk with espresso).

Typical Mallorcan Pastry - Ensaimada

On Sundays, we would venture out for a drive to the country or beach side, we always packed a lovely picnic. We would travel in my mother’s little blue Seat 600 car (this is still one of my favourite cars), it was a delightful vehicle but it had seen better days. The wooden floor boards were worn and we could see the road travelling underneath us. Oh well, it got us around for a while until one day all four tires were stolen….mom then upgraded to a newer car with no holes in the floor. Happy memories. We continued with our Sunday journeys around the island and visited many historic sites. Click on the text here 'Canarybird's Nest' to see more country photos from my mother, taken in 1968.

My Uncle Driving Mom's Seat 600

The Romans and Arabs left a big imprint on the island and it is evident through much of the architecture and old ruins throughout the island. I especially enjoyed visiting the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, and the old town of Alcudia which has a history going back to the Romans and medieval times. My most memorable trips on the island were to the fishing village of Soller and the village of Valldemosa - both beautiful, bucolic, quiet rural settings away from the hustle and bustle of busy Palma. We would often visit these places and I hope to return there one day with my husband and children. Port de Soller is a village on the seaside, one travels by train (or vehicle) from Palma to get there. There is a valley nearby that is known for is orange and lemon tree groves and terraces of ancient olive trees. One can travel through the town in an old tram that runs through the orange trees where the tree branches are within reaching distance of the tram, it eventually winds along to the idyllic and quaint port of Soller. I recall many years ago speaking with one of the locals in the village of Valldemossa and he told me a story of the olive trees and how some of them were over two thousand years old! Did I mention that I acquired an addiction to olives - there was no shortage on this island and they would be served freely with any restaurant meal.

Olive Tree

I loved the village of Valldemossa, a quiet place with cobblestone streets and light vehicle traffic, suited mainly for pedestrians. One feels as though they have stepped back in time. Of course there is the historic Carthusian Monastery where Polish composer Frederic Chopin and his mistress, well-known French writer George Sand (feminist writer), once visited and stayed during 1838. Chopin was quite ill with tuberculosis and hoped the warm Mediterranean weather would help him, but the cool and damp winter made matters worse. The monastery now houses some of Chopin’s original music and other historic artifacts from that time period.


Not far from Valldemossa is the village of Deia, a beautiful idyllic village with landscape of orange and olive groves. This setting attracted many literary and musical residents. The village overlooks the Mediterranean. The famous writer and poet Robert Graves lived in Deia until he passed away, his home is now a museum. I recall when we lived in Palma (early 70‘s), Mr. Graves frequented one of the local cafes close by to where we lived and we often walked past him while he was quietly reading a newspaper and sipping coffee. We recognised him with his big straw basket and sometimes he wore a big straw hat. He loved the island and its beauty which inspired him with his writing.

Robert Graves (CLICK HERE)
Photo borrowed from The Listener
Brigham Young University, May 1970

So many fond memories of this island that I am unable to write them all down here in this posting. It is a magical place steeped in history, and once away from the tourist sites, has an abundance of historic old chapels, buildings, villages and scenic attractions to visit. The countryside has a true Mediterranean feel with its terraced landscaping, the olive and almond trees that dot the landscape and the scent of pine in the woods. The tinkling of sheep bells could be heard in the countryside where sheep and cows grazed upon fields. Whenever I hear the sound of sheep bells now, it takes me back to my countryside visits in Mallorca. I now collect these old bells, I yearn to hear that sound again. The Mediterranean ocean sparkles along the coastline where quaint fishing villages look out to tourquoise and emerald green waters; old wooden fishing boats dot the shoreline, their green and blue colours look so picturesque against the emerald green water. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live there, it truly was an enriching experience for a child and young adult. We had no television, thank goodness, and never missed having one. We lived life to its fullest, and as a family we explored the island and immersed ourselves into the Spanish culture. For now, I will end here. Thank you for reading my story, there will be more adventure stories of my life in Spain. Muchas gracias! Michelle

Visit a quick youtube of the Pueblo Espanol - it is a small village in Palma that houses reproductions of some of Spain's most famous buildings. It is an interesting place to visit and has lovely restaurants and shops. We would visit the pueblo to catch a flamenco dance or two!

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