The souvenir shops of Majorca’s resorts have undergone changes down the decades. Nowadays, many of them, while announcing that they are souvenir shops, appear to sell little else other than inflatable crocodiles for the beach and Messi shirts. What a relief it must be for souvenir vendors that Messi is staying at Barcelona; what would happen to all that stock if he upped sticks and started appearing in the sky blue of Man City? Not, it has to be said, that this Barça stock is shifting at present. All any of us want is a souvenir, the memory of how things were, the reality of how things should be. Tourists.
Any of us? Well, maybe not. Let’s take souvenirs as a symbol, one of the good old days of the early boom. Souvenir shops must have done well. Everyone went home with a little donkey wearing a sombrero and one of those bullfight posters to which your name could be added. Some more adventurous holidaymakers might pack a weird siurell into their homeward-bound suitcases, but for most, the souvenirs were like Spanish alternatives to the familiar of a British seaside resort. Souvenirs were thus symbols of Balearisation in its different manifestations - coastal developments subject to limited planning rules and dumbed-down culture.
The souvenirs were therefore by-products of a movement which, while it represented an industrial revolution, was at least partially facilitated by shady dealings. Corruption embraced tourism. Corruption was an industry in itself.
The Facebook page for the Teatre del Mar in El Molinar has a post from earlier this month which refers to Souvenir, the artistic residence of the Souvenir company of spectacles (a literal translation, which should really be shows). It is a project, the post continues, which covers identity, corruption and tourism. “How corruption and the tourism boom, the entry of wildest and capitalist tourism into our society, have intensely conditioned our identity.”
The company has developed a production entitled “Souvenir”. My attention to this was first grabbed by the image of a promotional poster for what will be the premiere early next month at the auditorium in Paguera. Who is the woman depicted on this poster? Initially, and not having been aware of the production or of the Teatre del Mar’s post, I thought it must be coincidental. The woman looked very much like Maria Antònia Munar from a time well before she began appearing in court looking drawn and depressed. It wasn’t a coincidence. The woman is Maria Antònia Munar.
The one-time president of the Council of Majorca and leader of the disgraced Unió Mallorquina is herself a souvenir. Little remains to remind us of the UM. The court hearings related to the numerous charges that were directed at members of the party have just, and finally, come to an end, fourteen years after the first case emerged. The souvenirs are politicians and others who have been to prison or who are still in prison. The souvenirs are the names of the cases - Can Domenge, Maquillaje, Picnic, Voltor and others.
Maria Munar provides one of the scenes, the postcards of Majorca in a production said to be a “scathing and critical portrait of our destructive economic model and how it conditions our lives”. Other scenes include the Kellys, the hotel chambermaids whose working conditions became a cause célèbre for tourism sceptics, and, you might have guessed, tourists in Magalluf. The aim of the production is to invite the audience to reflect on whether “we live from tourism or we live badly from tourism”.
The production sounds interesting, and I’m certainly not about to take issue with the theatrical and creative urge, but at the same time it sounds like its own souvenir, a further reminder of what has happened and also of a debate surrounding tourism which has been rendered not exactly sterile by events but which has acquired a new complexity because of these events.
No one can surely seek to deny that bad things were done or that tourism, whether there was any corruption or not, did fundamentally affect identity. No one can deny this, because we all know this; it has been said many, many times. In reflecting on how “we live” from tourism appears to me to be another example of what have increasingly become exercises in navel-gazing. The messages are repeated, and they are ones already visited by the creative arts, such as with the “Overbooking” film documentary.
What was done was done. The souvenir is one of mistakes but also of economic and welfare improvement that can seem to be too easily overlooked in the determination to wallow in the mistakes. A souvenir for the current time should be one for the future and one sold with the optimism of a renewal.