Mancor de la Vall slumbers peacefully on the southern slopes of the Sierra de Tramuntana mountain range, close to Selva in the north of the island. And it’s my current home town - a cosy surround of quaint, stone houses, cobbled streets and traditional squares, characteristically embracing the embodiment of a charming, village atmosphere. I say squares because we have two! An upper one – ‘Plaça d’Alt’, overlooked by the impressive parish church of Sant Joan Baptista opposite the town hall. And subsequently, a lower one – ‘Plaça de Baix’, not particularly overlooked by anything significant other than one of our five local bars and the pharmacy, both essential items in a small town/large village community, along with our bakery, a mini supermarket and the ‘Botiga’ where you can buy anything from a pin cushion to a pork chop.
The small town, although peaceful and quiet, buzzes charmingly with local life, for Mancor de la Vall has thankfully yet to be discovered by mass tourism, and is generally only known by courtesy of the well informed traveller, or the cyclist clans who frequently venture to this neck of the woods to challenge the winding, picturesque road which climbs steadily onwards and upwards to the Sanctuari de Santa Llúcia, offering a wonderful vista across the island from its lofty, parochial perch; along with its downcast view across the heads of its lower children.
Mancor barely makes an appearance among the pages of leading guide books, and is missing from the various tomes written about this illustrious island, which happily keeps our small town private, exclusive, and jewel-like in the crown of the Tramuntana range.
With literally no passing traffic, Mancor de la Vall is indeed, by its geographical location, the very end of the line. And through these past few crazy months of Covid, its ‘off the radar’ locality has been a good thing in the distancing stakes.
Naturally, with people limiting their socializing, and all five bars being quieter than they would really like to be, the town has been even quieter than usual. But behind closed doors, life goes on. And we can only hope that people remain Covid responsible, and respect personal distancing along with super-safe protocol. Of course there will always be those who haven’t really digested six months of media information, but then I am trying not to focus too much on reckless stupidity and concentrating on positivity whilst moving forward, back to the future. Sadly, we have just been informed that as one of the few municipalities who have successfully maintained a Covid free environment for months, we now have three positive cases reported within the town! No-one is pointing the finger, but we should ALL question our anti-virus protocol!
But life must go on, and most days, we like to start our day with a relaxing country walk, and invariably en route, pass a few like-minded individuals who are simply out to enjoy some healthy, daily exercise. Most people in the village respect distancing, and on leaving and entering the township, masks are always firmly back in place, although more naked noses are making an appearance above the required parapet!
Yet, even with all these current adaptations in place that we have to accept and weave into to our lives, some things will never change. The ritualistic morning gathering outside the local cafés is one of those traditions. It’s only a cup of coffee, but over the years this restorative brew has almost evolved into a religious order. Everyone seems to find some time during their busy morning, no matter what risk is going on in the world, to stop off for a coffee! Historically, cafés in Mallorca, as well as Spain, have always provided an important social gathering point. Here in Mallorca, even a few small tables placed outside on a dusty roadside, somehow manage to create an instant atmosphere. It’s a continental thing that needs a Mediterranean spirit to truly work. And no matter how many restrictions are put in place, will always attract the hardcore traditionalists.
The local ladies perch at tables like hens around a corn-feeder, clutching their wicker baskets to their knees as they catch up on all the gossip with friends. The men roost apart, and remain long after the girls have left for home to get that all important ‘sofrito’ simmering on the stove; another custom which never changes! The men sit for hours, watching the world go by, and no-one ever asks them to vacate the tables or buy another drink. Can you imagine that happening in Starbucks, UK? Ten minutes into your ‘double chocha mocha skinny latte express with marshmallow croutons’ the bill usually arrives, and they start clearing the table.
Mentioned earlier, the ‘sofrito’ is another one of those ‘village’ things which never falters. Wandering through the empty cobbled streets on the way home from our daily walk, the ‘sofrito’ in preparation is evident as the aroma of slowly simmering onions, garlic and tomatoes fills the air. It’s a deliciously heady scent, a signature note, which to me defines the colourful flavour and essence of Mallorca; whilst providing the aromatic baseline for many traditional local dishes. Whenever I smell a slow cooking ‘sofrito’ wafting from the shuttered window of any village home, I am immediately overcome with a sense of the Mediterranean and home, no matter what else is being thrashed out in the outside world.
It’s the same with a ‘Pa amb oli’, or ‘Pam’s Brolly’ as our English friends call them. A simple snack to some, yet a popular mainstay in the dietary requirements of many locals which never changes. You can take a Mallorcan out of Mallorca, but you can NEVER remove the ‘Pam’s Brolly’.
It’s an exquisitely simple dish, yet so unbelievably good. Take a slice of bread. Now rub it first with a clove of garlic, then a squidgy tomato, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. BOOM! Mallorcan gold!
We’ve all had a ‘Pa amb oli’ at some time or other, and in all honesty, before I first tried one, I thought it was nothing more than a rather sparse looking open sandwich. But once bitten . . . twice rubbed with a ‘ramallet’ (a local tomato specifically grown for the task with a concentrated, unequalled flavour along with its squishy properties), and I have now discovered that making a decent ‘Pa amb oli’ is indeed a serious art form. And no two ‘Brolly’s’ are ever alike.
A ‘Pa amb oli’ can express itself in many, inimitable ways – ‘au naturale’ or topped with cheese, ham, tuna, anchovies or whatever you happen to fancy that day. Each creation being as good, but as totally individual, from the next.
It’s remarkable how two different people can take exactly the same ingredients and create a totally different result. After all there’s only so much you can do with a slice of bread and a tommy, isn’t there? But that’s where the expertise dives in, head first. You have to have the right, Mallorcan bread. It has to be toasted just so. The garlic has to be spot on. The tomato must be perfectly ripe. The oil poured from the exact height, at the right speed, at the right temperature!!!! It almost feels that way if you are going to make a successful ‘Brolly’. But the real secret is, you have to be a pure blood Mallorcan to do it exactly right! There’s no other way round it! And that will never change. After all they have been doing it for years. Some locals still don’t know how to wear a face mask or socially distance properly. You only have to look at regular photo postings on Facebook and Instagram to see those who are being truly committed, respectful and behaving correctly during this global pandemic, with safe protocol ‘at all times’ in place!!! Then there are those who believe ‘infection’ will never affect them or their families, until it does!!! But like a traditional ‘Pam’s Brolly’, those who do know how to do it, do it properly, with heart, along with true commitment and passion . . . and they do it brilliantly. Those who don’t, sadly don’t give a flying flamingo! Some things never change!