The second part of ‘Queridos mallorquines’ was published a couple of months ago. There was - unless I’m mistaken - no mention of this in the ‘Bulletin’. Should there have been? For a book in Castellano, there would normally be little reason, if any.
But the first part, which appeared in the mid-90s, was not only the best-selling book ever published in Mallorca, its English version was also highly popular. ‘Beloved Majorcans’ was a book that every English-speaker living on the island had read; or had seemed to have read.
The author of both parts is Carlos García Delgado, well known as an architect but even better known by his pseudonym, Guy de Forestier. This French nom de plume, one has always assumed, was a play on words joke. It is not far removed from ‘guia de foraster’, and appropriately so. The subtitle of part one of ‘Beloved Majorcans’ is ‘An Outsider’s Guide to Social and Personal Relations on the Isle of Mallorca’.
García Delgado is himself something of an outsider in that he wasn’t born in Mallorca. The son of a Catalan mother and an Andalusian father, he has explained that he was born in a village in Lleida, “from where they took me to Jerez de la Frontera, and from Jerez to Mallorca, where I stayed”. Although not a native Mallorcan, three score years and more on the island have informed him sufficiently well to pen the second part, which provides a more historical perspective in seeking to explain the Majorcan character than did the original.
Just some two score years had provided him with the insights that resulted in the first part, a humorous manual for outsiders wishing to understand the islanders’ way of being. It was not without its spots of sarcasm, and yet it was not a book which invited or received scorn from its subject matter. Even when contemplating, for example, the slowness with how things got done, an almost total disregard of the concept of time and timeliness, and apparent idleness, the native reader didn’t appear to take exception.
In this regard, De Forestier alluded to a way of life that had been captured in 1965, when Alexandre Cuellar wrote his “records” of the ‘Café de Plaça’. A homage to “blessed laziness”, this was based on a café in Alcudia’s Plaça Constitució. So popular has this satire continued to be that a dramatised version has been the final performance in Alcudia’s ‘Via Fora’ of summertime street theatre.
Both editions of ‘Queridos mallorquines’ deal with the singularity of the Mallorcan character, De Forestier suggesting in the new book that this may be traceable to the pre-Roman Talaiotic culture (unique insofar as it is shared with the Minorcans).
The character of a people is determined by the history of an individual place, and the Talaiotic culture does - as he points out - carry a great deal of weight in contemporary Mallorcan society. But is this because of its significance in terms of archaeological heritage rather than anthropological? Can there be a legacy of mentality that goes back at least three thousand years, especially as there has been so much cultural intervention since then?
Francisco Capacete is a lawyer whose parents were from Andalusia but who was born in Mallorca. Seven years ago, he wrote two articles which asked - “How are we Majorcan?”. He posited that the Muslims left a deep mark on the island’s character. He compared a Mallorcan parsimony, happiness, hospitality and a sense of not allowing things to get one down to what he had observed in Egypt and Morocco.
Happiness and an ability to “laugh at ourselves and at our customs” - in making this observation, Capacete reinforced the enduring relevance of ‘Café de Plaça’ and helped to explain why De Forestier’s original book caused no offence.
He also considered an “inborn aversion” to those who look to get above themselves. “We are a simple people and we do not like those who want to be superior.” Included among those who would be superior are the foreigners (included among whom are mainlanders), and themes that both Capacete and De Forestier have addressed are mistrust of foreigners as well as reserve.
Yet, and as Capacete remarked: “Mallorca is indisputably a welcoming and friendly land. Hospitality makes those who come from abroad feel almost as if they are in their own land and sometimes better.” Furthermore, he disputed that there is a “closed” islander mentality; an island people, but not insular in attitude.
Capecete noted that there is a desire to understand the Mallorcan character, but that little is said about it and “less is written”. One might be surprised by this statement, as there can at times appear to be no shortage of willing pontificators. But how well do they know our beloved Majorcans?
Understanding a people’s character and mentality may not require a lifetime of observation, but it does help, and I, for one, leave it those with such a lifetime. But there is more to be said - tomorrow and not in 26 years time, as has been the case with De Forestier, who might just have adhered to his own observation about the unhurried nature of time.