Another extended adventure in Mallorca - 2003/2004


Posted: 01 October 2004 Updated: whenever

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As with my previous extended stay in Mallorca, this latest was the product of the efforts made to secure funding by my friend and colleague, Clemente Ramis.  It was originally planned that it would be five months, as in 1995-1996, to begin early in October and run through the end of February.  This plan was seriously damaged by the Spanish bureaucracy, which took an inordinately long time to process my visa.  I won't go into the details, but it cost me a month.

As I was supposed to teach a course at the University of the Balearic Isles (UIB), this loss of a month was a setback, but we persevered and the trip finally was begun in early November.  I could not extend my stay beyond the original ending date, as I had various commitments that were inflexible.

The trip over was one of my typical airline disasters.  The American Eagle flight to Chicago was delayed for more than an hour, threatening my connection to Madrid.  But once in Chicago, I found that my Iberia flight to Madrid was delayed for more than two hours, which seemed to be something of a blessing at the time.  However, my Iberia connection in Madrid to Palma left precisely on time (naturally!), which ate up all my Madrid layover time with the result that I was about 10 min late to make my originally scheduled flight from Madrid to Palma.  This created a problem since of course I was expected to arrive for pick-up in Palma at a particular time and the airlines are all reluctant to offer information about the circumstances of an individual traveller.  To make matters worse, my new Iberia flight to Palma from Madrid was delayed for almost 2 hours more!  Pity that the flight I had originally scheduled was not the one delayed, but I suppose that's my connection with Murphy's Law. I had no way to contact my colleagues at UIB to let them know what happened.  Nevertheless, once through customs in Palma, I was relieved to see my friend Romualdo Romero (Romu) waiting for me.  He had correctly guessed about missed connections and was right there.

I wound up staying for several days at the Hotel Abelux on the northern side of the city of Palma, which was conveniently close to UIB (see Mallorca map), It was all right for a few days, but awfully noisy at night, including enthusiastic, bed-bouncing sex one night in a nearby room!  Romu would show up every day to drive me to UIB and take me home in the evening, at some cost to his busy schedule (important responsibilities at UIB, plus his own personal life).  Thus, we were motivated to get me an apartment somewhere and a rental car. Based on various information, I wound up choosing an apartment in the village of Bunyola (north-northeast of Palma - see Mallorca map), close to UIB (see Mallorca map, again) but off the touristic travel lists.  This turned out to be a wonderful choice, as I'll relate.

We chose Centauro for my local transportation needs, a small rental car agency with offices at the airport.  This was partly motivated by price, as they had reasonable long-term rental rates with unlimited mileage.  This also turned out to be an excellent choice.  I could only rent a car for 3 months and then had to return the car, and rent another in February to complete my visit, but this was no major hassle.  I wound up with two Ford Fiestas, which were excellent cars &endash; thus, I had my independent transport and no longer needed to depend on someone else to get me around.  Driving in Mallorca is not all that challenging for someone who learned to drive in Chicago!  The driver distribution is bimodal, about equally split between timid and aggressive.

 Thus commenced my second extended stay, and this one was in many ways much better than the last, although the winter turned out to be colder and wetter than last time. 


My formal responsibilities

 Under the terms of the support I was receiving for my stay, I was to engage in a research project related to the MEDEX program concerning the structure and evolution of cyclones in the Mediterranean.

 I was also obligated to teach my course &endash; Severe Weather Impacts on Society.  In view of my continuing laziness in not mastering spoken Spanish, to say nothing of Catalan, my course was in English.  This was a challenge for us all.  My course had 18 students enrolled,, not all of whom showed up &endash; and there were several regular sit-ins, including INM staff from Palma and several Grup de Meteorologia students.  More about the students later.

 A formal report on my formal activities can be found here.  All in all, I believe it was a successful and productive "sabbatical" that will bear fruit in the future.  We have much work to do to complete what we have begun, but I anticipate some interesting and, hopefully, meaningful results.

I was afforded the opportunity to share some thoughts based on my course presentation at the 2004 Workshop on Societal Impacts Research in MEDEX, in Barcelona. This was an outstanding beginning to what I hope will become a pioneering effort to tie scientific research to social needs. My presentation Thoughts about mitigation of social impacts of rare events in Mediterranean Europe was based heavily on my interactions with students during my course, as well as some previous writings for the 2002 European Conference on Severe Storms..


My life in Bunyola

The village of Bunyola is in the foothills of the mountains (see here for selected images from Bunyola).  It's not a tourist attraction and basically has no facilities for tourists.  I don't know the population, but I'd guess it's on the order of 1000 or so.  It has the standard narrow streets, with the standard parking problem, but the town has a nice public parking area that is almost never completely full and so I mostly parked there.  The public parking lot was also a place where the local grafitti artists displayed their abundant talents ... see here and here for examples of their work. It was a fairly steep walk up from the parking lot to the town's main drag, with two flights up waiting for me at the apartment.  Good for my health, though!

My apartment was on the 3rd floor (what folks there call the 2nd floor, as what we call the 1st floor is floor 0 (zero) to them), so I had two steep, narrow flights of stairs to climb from the street to my apartment.  My apartment was down a street at right angles to the main street, about 30 meters away.  At the end of my street was Bar Paris, where I became a regular customer, for café con leche (coffee with milk) in the morning, and other things at other times, including bocadillos (sandwiches).  The staff at Bar Paris:  Jaime (the owner), David, and Beatrice ran the place in the mornings, and in the afternoon, Gabriel and Enrique (nicknamed "Guti" - apparently for Gutierrez, a common Spanish surname) operated the place in the afternoon and evenings.  Great, friendly folks, who put up with my bad Spanish and made some effort to speak in whatever English they knew.

Jaime apparently is an influential man in town, and being friends with him opened many new friendships for me, including various expatriates (who spoke English), as well as native Mallorcans.  They all really went out of their way to make me feel like I was part of the town and that made my time in Bunyola very special to me.  I will never forget my friends there.  On several occasions, I was invited to join a group of friends who regularly had a luncheon.  The cast changed somewhat from one such event to the next, as various obligations and commitments would keep someone away one time, but they might be free for the next one.

It was only a short drive from Bunyola to the University, and only a short drive from the University to Palma, where I could shop at "Carrefour" (a French-owned version of Wal-Mart) and have film processed, etc.  Parking in Palma is a nightmare, so you find a spot somewhere, wherever you can, and then walk a lot.  Good for my health!

My apartment, like most in Mallorca, had no central heat, to say nothing of air conditioning, so it was generally cold and drafty.  It never quite froze during my winter in Bunyola, but it came close a lot, and the wind was often strong in the foothills, rattling doors and whistling through the drafty apartment.  Floors are generally all tile in most Mallorcan homes and flats, so they get cold in the winter and stay that way.  My water heater was a small on-demand unit powered by gas from a bottle (that needed replacement about every 3 weeks or so, at my usage rates).  The intensity of the gas flame in the heater was apparently keyed to water flow rate, so I had to run the bidet in the bathroom at the same time the low-flow shower was going in order to get the water decently warm, and it usually took about 5 min of flow to reach a usable level of shower warmth.  I don't normally take long showers anyway, but this arrangement encouraged me to hurry through them pretty fast!

I had to buy a large space heater to keep the living room decently warm, and another small one to heat the bathroom during a shower, and the bedroom at night.  Plus I bought an electric bedwarmer pad (under the fitted bottom sheet) so I didn't have to get into an icy cold bed.  Make no mistake, Mallorca is not tropical and it does get cold in the winter, even if freezing temperatures are rare.  I ran up a fairly substantial electricity bill (on the order of 100 euros &endash; about $115), due once every other month.

Since I had substantial afternoon meals (at about 2 pm every weekday) at UIB with the students (for 5.50 ¤ [euros]), I usually only had sandwiches at night. On weekends, I'd cook up a real meal in large quantities and eat it for 3 days by reheating the leftovers.  Thus, I didn't cook too much.  Plus we did a lot of eating out at fiestas, parties, etc.  We were definitely party animals!


My various excursions and images

 As happened during my last extended stay, Romu arranged several excursions.  Being in much worse physical condition than in 1995/96, less strenuous excursions were purposefully and mercifully selected.  We did a hike down from the mountaintop north of Bunyola on two different occasions.  We also did a hike down from near the monastery at Lluc, and another down a trail near Pollenca.  Vickie and I visited Cap Formentor and Sa Calobra (Torrent de Pareis), as well as our time in Palma and Valdemossa.

A selection of my favorite images from this trip can be found here.


My student friends

 In contrast to previous visits, there are now more students that are part of the Grup de Meteorologia at UIB.  They are all relatively young and not so far along in their studies as Romu was on my first extended visit.  But they are enthusiastic and characterized by the warm friendliness I have found consistently on Mallorca.  We regularly had morning coffee together,, ate at one or another of the UIB "restaurants" on campus for lunch (about 2 pm, normally), and I was invited on several adventures of various sorts by the students.  One night we attended an annual Sant Antoni festival in Sa Pobla (see map), which was based loosely on the story of the defeat of the devil by St. Anthony.  Interestingly, there were many devilish souvenirs for sale and being displayed everywhere, but no sign of St. Anthony paraphernalia, despite the fact that St. Anthony wins the battle every time.  Perhaps there is some sympathy for the underdog?  The evening included a pretty decent fireworks display and concluded with folk singing late into the night.  There were numerous street fires that turned into barbecues for the locals and no doubt there were parties that went on until dawn.  We were getting tired so we began to wander back to our vehicles.  Along the way, I was passing a partially barricaded sidewalk and tripped over the foot of the barricade, falling heavily on my left side.  Apparently I either cracked or bruised a rib and had considerable pain in my side for a week that only gradually abated thereafter.  No point seeing a doctor, though, as there really is nothing they can do.  And I'm happy to report no effects remained by the time I flew home.  Anyway, it was a late arrival in Bunyola that night ...

We also went to a similar festival, this time for St. Sebastian, about a week later in Palma, that included more street fires.  This time we brought our own food to barbecue and took advantage of the fires for that purpose.  The city of Palma apparently paid for a number of bands of various sorts to play in the numerous city center plazas.  After eating and drinking, we wandered around to different plazas taking in the different music.  All in all, a very nice party that essentially included most of the city!  The Spanish (and, in particular, the Mallorcans) know how to party!  We NorteAmericanos could benefit from lessons ...  I arrived home rather late that night, as well

 The Grup de Meteorologia got together most every weekday at UIB.  There was coffee in the morning at around 1130 am.  Then lunch at 2 pm, with a coffee stop after the meal.  Plus, some of us got together on weekends for excursions of various sorts.  And I even attended "el senor de los anillos" ("The Lord of the Rings") with a student friend (Arnau) at a cinema in Palma, in Español, no less.  Since I knew the story so well, being a big fan of Tolkien, watching the movie in Spanish was not a problem, and I enjoyed it, actually.  Another time, I saw "Lost in Translation", this time in English with Spanish subtitles.  I could tell that the subtitles lost a lot in the translation, even with my minimal Spanish, an ironic touch for that particular movie.  My student friends apparently never tired of having me around, which probably says a lot for their patience. They invited me to parties, excursions, and meals in their homes - and freely offered help whenever I needed it. They're a great group of young folks, and I was really pleased to be able to spend as much time with them as I did.  I hope their futures are at least half as bright as their talents promise!

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