Notes de Mallorca (febrer-març 1921).
Primeres impressions.
You think yourself smart and one day you find you're so stupid! Without ever having read anything from Josep Pla (a renowned Catalan writer, died in 1981) I had always neglected and even despised him. A week ago, while wandering in a local library, the whole collection of Pla's books came into my sight. Well, I can be obtuse, dense and prejudiced but I'm still curious, so I took a look at one volume there and got fascinated by the freshness and simplicity in the style and the substance of the text. Now I've excerptedt his passage where he recounts his impressions when he arrived in Palma for the first time, in 1921 .

I plan to add more photos in the near future, to have an image of the different parts of the city as Pla saw them, along with modern images of the same places. Hopefully I'll find the old ones in postcards and photography books!

I want to thank my brother Enric for his thoughtful overhauling of the translation. 

If you're interesed in the Catalan language, the Catalan Foundation Paulí Bellet has published an online " Catalan Grammar in Brief ", along with exercises and several dialogs. They also provide links to another Catalan-learning sites in the web.


A word of warning about the translation.

I'm not a professional translator, but a dilettante. As anyone visiting my homepage can notice, I'm far from mastering English —quite on the contrary, my English is poor and limited. Furthermore, if the former weren't enough a hindrance, Pla's text is a literary one. Please take all this into account when reading the English translation and be aware I'm offering it just as means of providing all non-Catalan readers with a sketch of what's going on in the passage. Having said that, I can tell you I'm making every effort to get an accurate and proper translation. Please feel free to email me if you find any inaccuracy or mistake in my version —I'll be grateful if you do.

 

El dia —malauradament— té una tendència notòria a assolellar-se; ha deixat de ploure; el cel s’esbadella ràpidament. El xicotet que m’acompanya deu ésser un element espontani del turisme, perquè de cop i volta deixa la maleta a terra i em fa una adorable explicació del panorama que tenim davant. Amb el dit em va assenyalant els punts més visibles del paisatge. Es Terreno, que sembla acabat de rentar; Bellver; el barri de Santa Caterina; la Llotja; l'entrada d’Es Born; la catedral, que en l'atmosfera grassa té un deliciós color de rosa; la part alta de la ciutat, que podríem anomenar l’Acròpolis ; les murades sobre els dipòsits de carbó; el Molinar, el perfil del qual es perd en la costa sorrenca i baixa. En el Molinar es veuen, encara, uns vells molins aturats, amb les grans aspes.

Rather relentlessly, the day is getting sunny —it no longer rains, and the sun is rising. The lad who comes with me must be sort of an unofficial tourist guide, for now and then he drops my suitcase and gives me a wonderful explanation of the view in front of our eyes —he points out the leading elements of the landscape. Es Terreno , as if it had just been washed; Bellver ; Santa Caterina 's district; the Llotja , the old fish market; the entrance of the Es Born ; the Cathedral, which in the plump air of that day it has taken a delightful pink tone; the upper part of the city, which we could designate as the Acropolis; the old walls, behind the carbon deposits; the Molinar , its profile fading away in the low, sandy coastline. There in the Molinar you can still see, old as they are, a bunch of windmills with those big arms.

A mesura que el dia es va alçant, Palma recobra el color, com si sortís d’un desmai. Va agafant el color de les galtes de les noies de quinze anys.

As the time goes by Palma recovers the color, as if coming round after a faint. It slowly gets that very color of the fifteen years-old girl’s cheeks.

Ens anem acostant a la ciutat, i de sobte apareix davant de la meva vista l'edifici de la Llotja de Mar. La mirada en queda imantada. S'ha dit: aquest és un gòtic de pa de pessic, de pasta d'ensaïmada. Si els qui formulen aquests judicis ho fan en to despectiu, produeixen, al meu entendre, el millor elogi que del gòtic pot fer-se. Si la correcció m'ho hagués permès i la cosa no hagués sorprès uns ciutadans que prenien un palo a la porta d'un cafè immediat, hauria saludat el gòtic de la Llotja de Palma —i el seu autor, l'arquitecte Sagrera— fent una gran barretada. Davant del Mediterrani el gòtic, en certa manera, quedà dominat. Se n'evaporà una bona part de misticisme i de misteri. Això és visible a València, en aquest gòtic de Palma, en algunes ciutats de Catalunya. L'orgull místic i vertical que el gòtic posa en la pedra fou balancejat pel gust de la normalitat, pel bon sentit (no pas sempre constant) del mar. Esdevingué un gòtic considerat, lligat amb el famós principi del 'no es pot pas matar tot el que és gras '. Sembla mentida que en la historia d'un país —penso— hi pugui haver coses tan agradables i coses tan absurdes i manicomials.

We approach the city, and suddenly the building of the Llotja de Mar comes into sight. It’s like a magnet for my eyes. It has been said this is a soft, home-loving Gothic art. And no matter how demeaning the intention in those who say this, that's in my opinion the best tribute this Gothic can be paid. I would gladly have greeted the Llotja’s Gothic —and Sagrera the architect who built it— by taking off my hat, if my doing that wouldn't have bothered some citizens having a pastry at the terrace of a nearby café. In front of the Mediterranean the Gothic was, in a way, dominated —a good deal of its mysticism and mystery faded away. That can be seen in Valencia , in this Gothic style of Palma, and in some Catalan cities. The mystic and vertical arrogance that Gothic puts in the stone was countered by the sea, with its liking for normality and, sometimes, for common sense. It became a considerate Gothic art, an architectonic incarnation of the famous principle of turning a blind eye. It's unbelievable, I think, that the history of a country can comprise, at the same time, such nice things and such absurd and foolish ones.

Deixo la maleta a Can Tomeu, al Born, i surto al carrer a vagabundejar. Aquest és el moment més saborós de les ciutats: quan són prou desconegudes per a no contenir cap element de monotonia, per a fer l'efecte, totes elles, de novetat.

I drop my suitcase at Can Tomeu , in the Passeig d'Es Born , and begin wandering. This is the tastefulest moment of cities —when they're unfamiliar enough for you to find no sign of monotony and so get the feeling of novelty altogether.

Palma té l'aspecte d'una ciutat neta i de molt bon aire. El Born és una delícia urbana, un saló acabat. Es un carrer per a estar. La majoria de carrers són per a passar. El Born és un carrer per a estar. M'imagino que la persona dotada per a la xafarderia no pot pas demanar res mes eficaç. El pla de la ciutat té mobilitat i fa unes pujades i baixades que tenen molta gràcia. Els carrerons son civils, no tenen res de dramàtic. Divagant pels voltants del Born em topo amb tres o quatre grans palaus de gran estampa, d'un ruralisme sòlid, senyorial. Els patis són memorables. Les cases són senyorials perquè els signes de riquesa hi són discrets, molt poc visibles, desproveïts de petulància.

Palma has the air of a neat and healthy city. The Born is a urban pleasure, a perfect lounge. It's a street to stay, not to get through. Yes, the Born is a street to stay —no doubt those prone to gossip can't ask for anything more effective. The city ground is uneven and the streets go funnily upwards and downwards. These are very civil streets, without any trace of tragedy. While rambling in the Born, I come across three of four very good-looking big palaces, made of an old, sound ruralism. Its patios are something you can't easily forget. These houses are aristocratic since the marks of wealthy are discreet and scarcely visible, without any sign of vanity.

La gent camina a poc a poc sense empentes, va i ve pels seus quefers plàcidament. Els mallorquins parlen generalment en veu alta i de vegades se'n veu algun que acciona amb brusquedat. No és pas rar que un interlocutor, sobretot si constata la proximitat d'un turista estranger, digui a un altre: "No parleu tan alt!". Els mallorquins, que són generalment gent reposada, tenen de vegades vertaders atacs de brusca violència, i llavors utilitzen interjeccions d'un pintoresquisme frenètic. Els renecs mallorquins són únics en el Mediterrani. Són un crescendo recargolat d’augmentatius atropellats, una massa desbocada de paraules que no els cap a la boca i que comprimeixen per fer-la passar per l'ull d'una agulla, per tal d'aconseguir —sospito— una eficàcia més punxeguda. Per més intens que sigui l’exabrupte mallorquí, no posa mai la pell de gallina, per raó de la dolçor i a la gravetat de la llengua que parlen. Els greus que a les Illes té la llengua són admirables .

People walk slowly and without rushing, placidly going their way. Majorcans usually speak loudly, and sometimes you can see someone performing bluntly. It is not uncommon that one of the speakers in a group, when aware of the nearby presence of a tourist, warn the others not to talk so loud. Majorcans, who are very quiet people on the whole, have sometimes fits of sudden violence —then they use the most picturesque and frenzied interjections. Majorcan swearwords are one of a kind in the Mediterranean —a winding crescendo of hastened augmentatives. Such a wild stream of words don't fit in the mouth, so they shrink them until they can go through a pin hole in order to give them, I suppose, a sharpest effect. No matter how intense Majorcan curses can be, it never make you goose pimples, because of the sweetness and gravity of the language being spoken.

La gent vesteix bé, amb una apagada discreció, cosa que realça, per contrast, els enlluernadors casos de saltataulellisme que es donen a Palma. Hi ha cada joven maurista que fa tremolar les estrelles! Els militars no tenen pas un aire excessivament fatxenda. Els que no són del país produeixen la impressió d'haver-s'hi aclimatat. Els capellans tenen un caient més aviat pansit i crepuscular. Els tramvies són còmodes, nets, sorollosos i lents, que és com ha d'ésser. Quan passen fan aquell soroll de ferralla que sempre ve bé a una ciutat. Els cafès tenen una entrada fàcil i universal. El cafè, a Palma, és bo, perquè‚ l'aigua dolça de les vores del Mediterrani no té rival per a fer un cafè‚ negre fort i perfumat.

People dress well, with a dim discretion, which by contrast highlights those few flashy types you can also see. Military men don't look like especially swank, and those who aren't native make the impression to have weathered. Priests have a faded air, as much as dusk. Trams are clean, noisy, comfortable and slow, which is how they must be. When going by they make that typical sound of scrap which so well suits a city. The cafés are easily and commonly accessed. Palma's coffee is good, because the sweet water of the Mediterranean seashores has no rival when making a hard, black, flavoured coffee .

Malgrat els reiterats esforços que ha fet Palma per esdevenir una ciutat provinciana, em sembla que encara no se n'ha sortit. A la plaça de Cort, davant de l'Ajuntament a la porta d'una barberia, em trobo amb el pintor Gelabert. Per guanyar-se la vida i poder continuar pintant, Gelabert ha muntat una barberia. Dic al meu amic que el considero un home feliç i que la seva escassa propensió al romanticisme el manté en la bona via. Però Gelabert em confessa que tampoc no és feliç. Amb una sinceritat admirable, que sovint es possible de trobar entre els mallorquins, em confessa que els pintors li diuen que pinta com un perruquer i que la seva clientela afirma que afaita i talla els cabells com un pintor.

Although the constant attempts Palma has made to become a provincial city, my guess is it hasn't succeeded yet. At Plaça de Cort , in front of the Town Hall, I come across painter Gelabert . To make a living and being able to go on painting, he has started a barbershop. I say to my friend I consider him a happy man, and that it's his scant inclination to romanticism what keeps him in the good way. Gelabert, though, confided to me he wasn't happy. With a rare sincerity (of a kind you can often find among Majorcan people) he declares that while painters say he paints like a barber, his customers say he shaves and cuts hair like a painter.

— Hi veieu alguna solució?— em diu Gelabert amb una bonhomia somrient i maliciosa.

Francament, no hi veig pas solució. El millor —li dic— és tenir la consciència tranquil·la. Quan sent la paraula "consciència" es posa a riure sense contenció. La gent s'atura a mirar-se'1. Gelabert es un tipus que sembla arrencat dels aiguaforts de Goya, un personatge d'aspecte fantàstic: la cara i els pòmuls molt amples, pelut de galtes, calb del cap, una mica deforme, el crani aixafat, el nas de qualsevol manera, les faccions prominents. El periodista Pinya i el pintor Gelabert presenten dos físics considerables, el primer dins del gènere negroide, el segon en rogenc. En tot cas, Gelabert és l'únic perruquer que he conegut amb cara de geni. Entrats en el seu establiment, m'ensenya tres o quatre dibuixos de Picasso molt bons, amb la incisió nerviosa i vivent de Picasso. Deuen valer un dineral.

—Can you find a solution to that?— Gelabert asks me in his roguish, good-natured smile.

Definitely I can't. What do matter, I say, is having a clear conscience. He begins laughing without restraint in hearing the word "conscience". People stop to look at him. Gelabert is a guy who seems to have been taken from a Goya etching, a fantastic creature —his face and cheekbones very wide, with hairy cheeks and a bald head; he's somewhat abnormal, with a flattened skull, prominent features and an indeterminated nose. Pinya the journalist and Gelabert the painter both have  a sound appearance, the former belonging to the blackish type and the latter to the reddish one. At all events, Gelabert is the only hairdresser I've got to know who looks like a genius. He shows me three or four Picasso drawings hanging in his barbershop, all having that vigorous and living lines so characteristic of him. They must be worth a fortune.

Arribo als voltants de la catedral. El barri és una meravella. Segueixo la planta de la prodigiosa massa. La pedra té ara un color entre ataronjat i ivorenc. El que impressiona més —potser— d'aquesta catedral gòtica es la manera contundent i definitiva d'estar present sobre la terra, la seva manera estètica d'estar en la terra. Les coses que tenen un emplaçament just i ben trobat semblen arrelar-s'hi. Les aspiracions verticals del gòtic septentrional estan ací, també, corregides per aquest afany d'estar en la terra. Es una catedral tan ben posada que encara que fos mes alta semblaria més arrelada. L'enorme pedra sembla, d'altra banda, l'estructura d'un somni.

I get to the cathedral's quarter. The district is wonderful. I follow the shape of this prodigious church. The stone happens to have now a color somewhat between orange and that of the ivory. What impresses most in this Gothic cathedral is perhaps the solid, unequivocal way of lying —its esthetic way of being on the ground. Buildings which have been placed in the right spot do seem to take root. The vertical vocation of the northern Gothic style has again been corrected here, due to this very desire of being on the ground. This is such a well erected cathedral that no matter how high it could be, it would seem even more rooted. The huge stone could be said to be the structure of a dream.

Hi entro. Camino lentament per les naus, davant dels altars, pel creuer, per l'absis. No hi ha gairebé ningú. De vegades es veu un capellà que surt per una porta i desapareix per una altra. El silenci, pleníssim, satura l'interior. Sembla que el temps ha quedat empresonat entre les pedres. Prenc seient en un banc. Hi ha una llum diluïda, lleugerament rosada, irisada —com una música remota que flotés en el temps aturat. Aquesta llum i aquesta música es confonen, semblen ésser la mateixa cosa. Aquesta llum i aquesta música barrejades, ¿no serà el mar tan pròxim, corbat en la forma d'un cargol marí nacrat? O són cosa de la catedral mateixa? Surto al pla que la catedral fa sobre el mar. Mirant al sud es veu, a llevant de la badia, el cap Enderrocat, calcari i blanquinós, i a ponent Portopí, Es Terreno, el bosc de Bellver. El dia té una llum de convalescència, una llum tendra, una gamma de colors pueril ingènua. Sota l'ampit que fa el pla de la catedral es veuen les murades, amb aquell color de rata morta —malenconia colonial— que les coses militars tenen en el país i aquella cosa d’abandó que tenen les coses anacròniques i inservibles.

I step in, deliberately walking the aisles, the transept, past the altars and the apse. There are seldom people around. Now and then some priest turns up while going out and in somewhere. Dead silence permeates the interior. You'd say time has been confined inside the stones. I sit in a pew. There is an iridescent, diluted pinkish light —like some remote music hovering, timeless. This light and this music merge together, making it impossible to tell one from the other. I wonder if it is the sea this mixed entity of light and music —this sea so near the cathredal, in the shape of a pearly large shell. Or maybe is it the cathedral itself? I walk out to the building's south-oriented terrace over the sea. Looking East from here you can see the cap Enderrocat —a calcareous, white cape. At West there are Portopí , Es Terreno and the Bellver woods. The day has a tender, kind of convalescent light featuring a range of ingenuous and childish colors. The old city walls, below the cathedral's sill-like base, have that color of dead rat typical of the military businesses in this country —sort of colonial gloominess. They are in the usual abandoned state of what has become useless and anachronistic.

Per esperar l'hora de dinar faig cap al Casino Mallorquín , que és una baluerna aparatosa i que m’asseguren confortable —cosa que en principi m'emplena de dubtes. Després de pujar una escala declamatòria i de passar per unes habitacions buides enormes, em recullo en un racó de la biblioteca. Es un racó assolellat, encarat al sud, posat davant de la badia. El sol és l’única cosa que deu fer agradable el lloc. El del dia d 'avui es magre i trist.

To while away the time before lunch, I head to the Casino Mallorquín —a bulky object that I've been told it's comfortable, although I really doubt it. After climbing a ranting staircase and go past some huge empty rooms, I make myself a place in one of the library's corners. It's a south-oriented sunny corner in front of the Palma's bay. Only the sun makes this place nice, and today's sun is scant and sad.

En el racó de la biblioteca, hi veig un senyor assegut davant d'una taula on hi ha escampats els diaris de Barcelona. El reconec de seguida. Es don Joan Alcover . Quina il.lusió fa trobar les persones que hom realment admira. Em dono a conèixer, i el senyor Alcover m'allarga la mà amb una barreja d'estranyesa i d'amabilitat. El senyor Alcover em diu que acaba de sortir de l’Audiència —on és relator— i que ha entrat, com cada dia, al Casino a donar una ullada a la premsa. Abans d'anar a dinar, cada dia fa el mateix. Es un senyor que representa uns seixanta anys. reduït, petit, admirablement arreglat, amb un cap fi, dibuixat, afinat, les faccions correctíssimes, amb una impecable barba blanca. Porta un abric fosc i una bufanda de color de cendra. Un barret negre, llonguet. El senyor Alcover fa un esforç per ésser amable, però em produeix la impressió d'un senyor internament fatigat, d’una emotivitat continguda, tímid, que gairebé repapieja. La manera que té de produir-se és exquisida. Es literalment una flor d'aquesta llengua popular i al mateix temps treballadíssima. La seva preocupació permanent és la ingravidesa, no fer soroll, aconseguir que la seva presència sigui absolutament imperceptible. En aquest nostre país de fatxendes i de temeraris, l’aparició és com una llum suavíssima.

I see a man in a cornered table browsing the Barcelona's newspapers. I recognize him at once —Mr Joan Alcover . How exciting is to meet the people you really admire! I introduce myself, and Mr Alcover stretches his hand out in a mixture of kindness and uneasiness. Mr Alcover informs me he's just out of the High Court, where he's the court-relator, and that he has dropped into the Casino to have a look at the news, as he does every day before lunch. He looks like a small, tiny sixty years-old very well dressed man, with neat and proper features and a faultless white beard. He's wearing a sober coat and a greyish muffler, along with a black top hat. Although Mr Alcover makes an effort to be nice, I can't avoid seeing in him an inwardly exhausted man, with deep restrained emotions —and timid to the point. The way he speaks and behaves is exquisite. He masters this popular cum sophisticated language. His main effort seems to be making himself weightless, noiseless, undiscernible. In this country of reckless and conceited people, he's like a very soft light.

Al cap de deu minuts de conversa em causa la impressió d'un home molt prudent, d'una normalitat i un bon sentit portats fins a l'extrem de la tragèdia. Sí, exactament: el bon sentit portat fins als extrems de la tragèdia! ¿Per què en el nostre país la gent que val alguna cosa té sempre aquest aspecte tràgic, internament aclaparat, insatisfet, que de tan insatisfet és extremament rialler? Valga'm Déu! Parlàrem de coses insignificants, de la pluja i del bon temps, i a cada moment se'm descobria la profunda tristesa del senyor Alcover. Era una tragèdia continguda voltada de la més absoluta i inoblidable bona educació. Em digueren desprès que es tractava de desgràcies de família. Em sembla que hi havia alguna cosa més. Jo pensava quan em parlava de les quatre gotes que havien caigut sobre Palma: quin excel.lent conseller seria aquest senyor per a les coses greus de la vida! Però al mateix temps sentia que havia arribat tard per a conèixer el senyor Alcover. Aquella bufanda de color de cendra sobre el coll planxat de vell curial de l’Audiència!

After ten minutes' talk I get an idea of him as a very sensible man —a man who has taken both correctness and good sense to the point of tragedy. Yes, that's it: the good sense taken to the point of tragedy.  For God's sake, why do the worthy people in this country always have that tragic bias, that vital burden and dissatisfaction, which in its own intensity becomes highly amusing? We talked about nothing, of rain and fine weather, and every now and then I could feel the deep sadness surrounding Mr Alcover —a restrained tragedy packed up in memorable very good manners. I was later told his grief was about family woes, but I think it was something else. Listening to him over the sound of rain, I thought he would have made an excellent adviser for the grave aspects of life. But I had the impression that I had been late to get to know Mr Alcover, with his greyish muffler and his ironed old curial collar.

De la vella generació mallorquina de quan jo era adolescent, m’hauria agradat de conèixer tres homes: Alcover, que vaig veure un moment; Miquel dels Sants Oliver i don Antoni Maura. Considero que Oliver fou el català —socialment parlant— més complet del seu temps. De Maura, crec que es pot dir -—quan s'ha parlat de tot— que les aclaparadores desgràcies del final de la seva vida foren degudes al fet que fou un dels pocs polítics que féu el que pogué: fou un home molt més intel.ligent del que cregueren mai els mauristes. Els mallorquins, quan surten bons, són molt distingits i en la seva persona predomina el fet que és sempre més important el que reserven que el que diuen.

From the old Majorcan generation that I remember when I was a teenager, I'd like to have known three men: Alcover, who I just met for a while; Miquel del Sants Oliver ; and Mr Antoni Maura . I think of Oliver as the more complete Catalan (Catalan in a social way) of that time. About Maura I will say that the crushing misfortunes he suffered by the end of his life were due to the fact he tried to do his best, unlike most of his fellow politicians. He was much more intelligent a man that his own followers thought of him. Majorcans, when they're valuable, are very prominent, and what distinguishes them is the fact that what they keep is always more important than what they say.

A la tarda vaig al Molinar: una part en tramvia i una part a peu. Els vells, enormes molins, tenen una decrepitud malenconiosa. Em passejo una estona, solitari, per la vora del mar. Amb una canya escric unes paraules vagues sobre la sorra humida i grisa. La tarda passa lentament. Palma s'estampeix sobre una posta de sol discreta, esfumada, sense escenografia.

In the evening I go to the Molinar , first by tram and then on foot. The huge old windmills have a kind of melancholic decrepitude. I walk by the seashore for a while, on my own. I use a cane to trace some vague words in the wet grey sand. Time goes by slowly. Palma straggles over a blurred, discreet, scenography-free sunset.


Translator's notes

No es pot matar tot el que es gras . "Significa que no és prudent obrar amb massa exigències i subjecció a la llei, sinó que cal fer els ulls grossos i concedir certa llibertat"(from the Diccionari català-valencià-balear , Antoni M. Alcover ). Back to the text .

Els greus que a les Illes té la llengua són admirables . I don't really know how to translate this, because I don't know what Pla means here by "greu". In Catalan "greu" is an adjective, not a substantive. So, it must qualify an omitted substantive, but I can't figure out which one: "paraules" (words) maybe, but also "matisos" (nuances) or something else. Please give me a clue if you have it (by email ). Back to the text .

Hi ha cada joven maurista que fa tremolar les estrelles! I leave this sentence untranslated. Pla refers to the clothing extravagance of some young followers of Antoni Maura, a local politician who played an important role in the Spanish government in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Back to the text .

Casino Mallorquín . This building, after having been embellished and renovated in recent days, has become the House of Parliament of the local government. Back to the text .

Joan Alcover . Politician and poet (Palma 1854-1926). Cap al tard (1909), his most important book of poems, puts together very different poetic genres, including some major elegies (in which he laments the decease of both his wife and two of their sons) and La Balanguera (which was later set to music; sung by singer Maria del Mar Bonet became a symbol for the clandestine democratic forces opposing Franco's dictatorship regime in all Catalan-speaking countries). Back to text .

Miquel del Sants Oliver . Writer (Campanet, Mallorca 1864-Barcelona 1920). He was editor of  "Diario de Barcelona" and then of "La Vanguardia", where he first favoured Catalan nationalism and later defended Maura politics. Back to text .