ses·qui·cen·ten·ni·al/sesk-wi-sen-ten-i-al/ (from Wikipedia) a noun: the one hundred-fiftieth anniversary of something. In this case, this is the sesquicentennial chapter of Letters from the Village. I thought it would be a good reason to celebrate, so……Cheers to everyone that has read all the chapters! If you haven’t, you don’t get to pass GO. You won’t collect your £200, and you won’t be able to stay up late to see Graham Norton. Actually, you don’t have to fret too much. It isn’t as if there is a test or anything (but you may have missed some tidbit of excessively redeeming value, so too bad for you). Okay, enough of that celebration stuff.
I was thinking of doing something different for this chapter, but after pondering the idea for either six consecutive 24-hour days, or about 3-1/2 seconds, I decided to just continue down the same random literary notes as in the past. After all, this all started as a way to let readers know what it was like for someone who was raised in an upbeat, fast-moving, technologically-laden, large city environment, and then moved to the little (but adorable) village of Puigpunyent where, as I had said long ago, ‘slow’ takes on a whole new meaning. But then several years ago, I left La Antigua and moved to Sol y Mar but kept clicking away on these little computer keys. The (alleged) direction of these chapters did have to change a bit (as I no longer was in the village), but the basic concept of writing when I thought there was something worth writing about. Which brings me back to this chapter. Seeing as how when I started these “Letters” I don’t think I expected doing more than about 30 or 40; so having done 150 of them did seem like a good enough subject to begin with.
Whilst the chapter title has to do with 150, I just found that 100 is something worth remembering as well…as in what happened on 24 July, 1911. What happened was that Hiram Bingham ‘rediscovered’ Machu Picchu in Peru. The story is that Bingham, a lecturer at Yale university, had been a delegate at some science conference in Chile and decided to wander home via Peru. His guide convinced him that a fun way back might include a stop off at Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by the locals so the chances that there would be rooms available were pretty high one would imagine. Shortly after Bingham went public with what he had found, other ‘re-discoverers’ came out of the proverbial woodwork (or in this case, Peruvian mountaintop stone work) all stating that they had ‘re-discovered Machu Picchu first. Regardless of who was first in ‘rediscovering’ Machu Picchu, Bingham was credited with being the one who publicized it around the world through his connections to the National Geographic magazine, and because of his work, had a windy road that leads to the site named after him. Well done Hiram. I don’t think we will get into the tasteless part about how many artifacts that Bingham managed to take out of the country or how even today, Peru is still waiting for many of them to be returned. Perhaps a slight change of topic might be in order. When I sailed to Mallorca many years ago, I recall that I stepped ashore and claimed the island for the Queen, as any good British subject would do. Did I get a road or harbour or tapas bar named after me? Shoot, I never stole any local artifacts nor even shop-lifted anything from the local IKEA or Carrefour stores. Have I been listed in any history books as a person who ‘re-discovered’ Mallorca? No sir. Perhaps I should have had some P.R. spin-doctor with me who could have made me out to be the good-guy instead of just another Brit who wanted to live on this wonderful island.
The whole thing about ‘rediscovery’ is important, as there is little in this world that was not discovered, or lived on, or seen, or known many many many years ago. But for some reason, the history books that we read (and our children still read) list those important ‘discovery’ dates in history as if no one at all was aware that these places exisited. The year 1492, when Columbus ‘discovered’ the new world springs to mind. The fact that this and the many other claims to this ‘discovery’ do seem to fall short of the mark when you consider that all these explorers encountered people who were already living in ‘the new world.’ Maybe it was assumed that those people didn’t know they were there. Or maybe, those people didn’t count because, as my brother wrote in one of his songs, “they’re not like me.” That is probably another topic not to get into too much now.
The past couple of weeks haven’t been the best here. A couple of really good friends passed away. One of them was the mother of my neighbour Rafa. Merche (mer-che) was brilliant, and whilst she was older than I (which is an understatement), she was great fun. (note: I first wrote about Merche in chapter 89 of Letters from the Village) She and I used to sit in front of her house and talk. Okay, the word ‘’talk’’ could be an oversimplification of what we were doing. Merche was from mainland Spain and would speak in some rapid-fire-anything-but-staccato-constant-stream of consciousness, usually telling me about the current corruption of government or the days when Franco was in power. I was mesmerized by her stories, and whilst I would ask questions about her opinion on this or that, I am sure that she was just being polite when she heard my meager Spanish attempts. My Spanish competence at the time really didn’t make any difference to Merche, and she would just go on and on about several topics at the same time. And if this wasn’t enough, she would do this whilst keeping up a near flow of cigarette after cigarette. These were in the days when I was still smoking, but she could outdo me to the tune of 3 or 4 to one.
I have found that my Spanish actually improves when I am talking to someone who I know doesn’t speak any of my native language. I am not sure exactly how this happens, but it consistently seems to. Perhaps it is because when I know the person I am talking with doesn’t speak any English, my brain seems to kick into overdrive. Maybe overdrive isn’t the right word for what happens, but I know that I stop trying to find the right word or trying to translate what they are saying. It just seems to all fall into place. This is how things would go when I was talking to Merche. Her English vocabulary consisted of “Hello” and “James,” and because of it, everything fell into place for me vocabulary-wise. Having said this, I am sure that after one of our talks, she would tell her family that her neighbour’s Spanish was pure shit. Merche was great, and I will miss her quite a bit.
We lost Clive recently as well. Clive was about as Welsh as they come and had arrived in Mallorca many years ago. He and I would have these wonderful esoteric conversations about things that really didn’t mean much at all to anyone else. Once Clive lent me copies of several of the books his brother wrote. The books (hang on, you may suddenly become very envious) “Wave Scattering by Time-Dependent Perturbations,” “An Introduction to Echo Analysis: Scattering Theory and Wave Propagation,” and, “Green’s Functions: Introductory Theory with Applications” – were full of equations and I can remember Clive telling me that whilst he didn’t understand the subject matter at all, it didn’t make any difference; he had the film rights. And we said it with a perfectly straight face. Clive was another one of those people who we probably don’t appreciate enough when they are here with us, but will miss terribly now that they are gone. All of us who knew Clive are richer from just having him as part of our lives.
Now, one last thing. This week it has also been the celebration of Verge del Carme. This celebration is so typically Mallorquin and if you ignore the number of motorized rides that appear out of nowhere on the back of a group of lorries, or the vendors selling God-knows-what, it is pretty great. Part of the celebration involves a sea-land procession in honour of the Patron Saint of seafarers and fisherman. The term ‘sea-land’ means that a statue of the Virgin is carried out of the sea on the shoulders of some pretty hearty types who are allegedly fisherman. This is a pretty spectacular sight if you haven’t seen it before. Not exactly the same sight as Ursula Andress walking out of the sea in Dr. No, but it is fab to see anyway. And if all that vista doesn’t get you going (I am talking about the fisherman carrying the Virgin out of the sea…pay attention here), there are the semi-requisite fireworks that accompany just about any celebration on the planet. As I was onboard Amélie at the time, and as the fireworks were set off just across the harbour, the sight was pretty spectacular.
only if you have kept up (sorry about the currency)
just a nice photo of a nice cathedral
looking through a screen at Sol y Mar
some neighbours of Amélie in Andratx
mi amiga Merche
my friend Clive
fireworks celebrating the Verge del Carme in Andratx
definitely not the patron Saint watching over seafarers
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 James B. Rieley