2. BUILDINGS l THERE must of course be new buildings, but these should not be in the hands of property-developers, whose main incentive is profit regardless of the development of ugliness. New buildings should be in the hands of genuine architects who have some concern for beauty and the environment, and not a horror of towns like Luton or Dusseldorf where it is a struggle for human beings to remain human. And though it may be difficult to define the aesthetics of beauty and ugliness most of us can tell the difference -- even if to a pig-breeder there is nothing more beautiful than a pig. Let there be prizes and competitions to lure the most gifted architects to the rescue of towns like Soller, let them use their imaginations provided only that their most inventive creations never show disrespect for the best of what is already there. The island of Majorca is blessed with a wealth of stone, not only mountains of boulder but quarries of sandstone and travertine. The latter were hewed into large slabs at Petra (the name still means stone) and shipped to Rome from the port of Alcudia. These boulders and slabs are still available for buildings, and the small neat bricks beloved by the Romans can still be baked here.
3. CONCRETE l THERE is nothing wrong with concrete -- the Romans used it - but there is everything wrong with concrete in the wrong places and one of the wrongest of places is the bed of the island's Torrentes.
These Torrentes are unique, roaring with water after a storm but in summer a mere trickle and the habitat of every kind of plant and creature: the wild fig, the perennial autumn sunflower, forests of can-smilax (called Devil's Ivy) and a variety of wiry grasses. This is the home of newt and frog, the non-poisonous black Majorcan snake, various lizards, the occasional tortoise or hedgehog, the handsome rat with white waistcoat, the striped edible snail, and over all this swallows swooping for a drop of water and martins for a speck of mud. Then at twilight for a mere 20 minutes come the bats. There are some 15 varieties including my favourite, the lesser Pipistrelle, no bigger than my thumbnail. These twilight zigzaggers have their dinner while doing us the service of clearing the air of insects, just as the newts and frogs and toads are clearing the ponds of mosquitoes. Are we to destroy this delicately balanced world of which we are a part so that a group of very rich confidence-tricksters, first cousins of the developers, can become even richer by paving the Torrentes? Ah, but what about the danger of flooding?
All right! Let me tell you. Some ten years ago deluges of rain put the road to the port under water. The water was not from the Torrente but from the skies. The Torrente itself, paved with concrete, its enthusiasm unchecked by bush or boulder, charged joyously seawards carrying its irreplaceable museum of flotsam and jetsam: bicycle tyres, broken umbrellas, defunct fridges, discarded sandals, cresfallen condoms and a rich harvest of turtle-choking plastic bags.
4. THE PLASTIC BAG
l LET everyone be aware that a plastic bag thrown into a paved Torrente where there is nothing to arrest its progress ends up in the ocean as surely as if it had been tossed from a boat. Turtles think that plastic bags are a larger form of their favourite food, jellyfish. They can manage condoms but stifle on plastic bags. Some years ago a friend of mine in her rowboat came upon a suffocating turtle and saved its life by dragging yards of plastic from its mouth. I don't know whether the Balearic turtle is now extinct but that saved turtle may well be the only one that isn't. It has no hope of coping with the armies of jellyfish that now control the summer seas. Swimming has become a kind of jellyfish roulette. Those who chance the odds come back from a swim as often as not tingling with stings and looking like pincushions. Hardly a good advertisement for improving the Quality of Life!
· PLANT them. Three young poplars have been removed from near my house in Soller. The reasons given are unconvincing. It was said they were diseased. They looked healthy enough to me. Many of us suffer from some sort of major or minor ailment without having to be removed. Anyway trees are our greatest hope of combating climate change and redressing the balance between how much we ourselves must change and how much we'd rather stay as we are -- whatever the cost. There is no doubt that our planet has reached a point of crisis where even three poplars matter and we should be planting trees by the million, not cutting them down. Yet the rainforests continue to disappear mile by mile while the black blanket above us thickens. Very well, what trees should we plant? Quick-growing poplars, there are scores to choose from: the ordinary oak and, for our great-grandchildren, the magnificent slow-growing evergreen oak Quercus ilex. Then there are the maple, the hornbeam, the beech, birch and the cypress. Nor need we forget the hundreds of fruit trees ranging from apple and pear, lemon and orange, to my own favourite the persimmon, which grows lustily in my garden and rewards me with the sweetest of fruits from September to Christmas. I haven't yet mentioned the fig -- black, golden and green ripening from June to December. The Germans have even invented one that grows in cold climates and more interestingly than the Ischia and good old Brown Turkey. Amen! How could I have forgotten the olive! 6. NOISY MOTORBIKES l IT seems that many of the boys and young men here in Soller are not sure whether they have balls or not unless they shatter the air with the cracking blasts from their bikes. Let the police arrest and fine these upstarts. Go your way, dear boys, and accept the fact that many have come to these blessed islas to get away from noise, and also that there are better ways of proving your virility. The hallmark of a man is confidence in himself and consideration for others.
7. FLOODLIGHTS l IS it necessary for the floodlights over the football pitch to floodlight the whole of Soller? This not only obliterates the beautiful evening sky but blinds drivers coming from certain directions. And there is a third casualty: the ecological ordering of day passing into night is thrown into chaos. Birds think it is day and leave their nests. Bats think they have missed their twilight dinner. The stealth of owls is wrecked by too much light and rats and mice are no longer easy prey. The remedy for all this is not far to seek. Put blinkers on those floodlights so that they shine only on what is directly beneath and not on the whole of Soller. Is any of this really important? Yes, very! Its consequences are far reaching in untold directions and reflect our seriousness in keeping not only Soller but a world worth living in.
8. POSTSCRIPT l ALL the above suggestions are made in response to the Mayor of Soller, Carlos Simarro Vicens, in a letter dated November 10, 2006, in which he invited foreign residents to air their views on how the quality of life here could be improved. This was not only a gracious invitation but a shrewd one. The Mayor knows only too well that without foreign residents and visitors the economy of the Balearics would collapse. There are other places where the sun shines and all are beckoning.
Paul Roche, Soller
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