S'Arraco

A very long weekend

After what has been an extremely long weekend (normally that would be something to look forward to) I am relieved to think that perhaps all of the fires are out now and we can resume our normal lives. Last week I was telling you about the Nit de L’Art in my little village, s’Arracó which is in the Andratx area. Little did we know that the next day we would be hitting the headlines again for our own personal Nit de Foc (night of fire). After a sleepless night watching the hills which surround our village burning and then three more days of constant helicopter flights and Twitter updates with the fire spreading to St Elm and back up to Estellencs and over to the Galatzo estate some things have become very clear to me.

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500 portions of salad
(No sign of a Big Mac though)

1) If you are going to have a natural disaster don’t worry about catering as the local people will literally bring crate upon crate of food until you are begging for them to stop. “No more bocadillos!” was one of the Twitter updates from our local council where the operations room was. We saw photos of mounds of fruit and vegetables, stacks and stacks of boxes of salad, buckets of bottled water.

2) Don’t believe anything unless you have seen it yourself or it has come from an official source. Really. Gossip spreads like wild fire (I know, couldn’t be helped), and is just speculation. It only frightens people more.

3) If you haven’t already been to the Sa Trapa area of St Elm and had a walk up there to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and views, well you’d better get in touch with http://www.gobmallorca.com the local environmental group here on our island which will be getting the rehabilitation project for the area underway in September. The area is stunning but has been severely damaged by the fire and now resembles the surface of the moon. You can visit their website and sign up to volunteer right there on the front page. The site is in Catalan but if you can’t read Catalan then view it through an internet browser that does instant translations and you will be fine.

4) Our local community has balls of steel. Everyone stuck together, offered help and stayed calm.

5) We are extremely lucky to have such amazing fire fighters, both on the ground and in the air. What an incredibly brave group of people.

Matthew Clark

Thank you. 

6) The guy who started the fire by accident did so by disposing of smouldering embers from the previous night’s bbq. It was not a German resident burning stubble in his garden. (see point number 2).

For now, let’s appreciate and care for what we have been blessed to live amongst, please don’t throw cigarette ends out of your car, don’t burn rubbish in your back garden and don’t leave a BBQ unattended. It really can happen, just like that, and don’t we all know it now.

Stay safe. Vx

(P.S. I’ll tell you about the Night of Art and the “peg crisis”, and the Stand Up Comedy course, Wendy, brown trousers and performances next time).  

P.P.S. Thank you to Matthew Clark for the amazing photo of the airborne firefighters.

Our Nit de Foc

s’Arracó, forest fire, Mallorca, Oliver Neilson

The view from our office window
Photo by Oliver Neilson

Friday 26th July 2013

4.30pm I’m in Palma with my daughter when I hear about the fire. It’s burning vigorously in Sa Coma which is a few miles away from s’Arracó where we live. Every hour or so I call my husband, who is at home working, and then I start to see my neighbours posting photos on Facebook and Twitter of big, big bellowing clouds of smoke. A quiet anxiety begins to niggle away at me and I ask my husband to get our cats inside, and put them in a room where he can quickly put them in a travel box if need be. The hours go by. The fire moves closer to our house and our village which only the day before had been the stage for a brilliant Night of Art attended by thousands of people.

7.30pm My husband calls, he has to go out to see a client, so he releases the cats and leaves for Bunyola in the middle of the island.

9.30pm My seven year old daughter and I head for home. In Palma the sky is already dark. I know that the fire fighters in the helicopters can’t fly at night as it is too dangerous, so the fires will continue to burn unchecked. But I don’t truly appreciate what this is going to mean.

As we journey home we talk about the fire. I don’t want to frighten my little girl but I also don’t know what to expect. I ask her what three things she would want to take from the house if we had to leave quickly. She says “The three things I would take are Mummy, Daddy and Toffee” (her favourite toy). I explain that she was already on my list. We reach the crest of the hill: the town of Andratx is laid out before us. The sky is on fire. We both gasp.

I start gabbling, over and over, “oh my god, oh my god”. I drive slower than I usually would  through Andratx towards our village as I am not looking at the road; I am looking at the fire. The hills are glowing red, it is as if there is molten lava running down them and I can see flames. We are in a 4D volcano disaster movie. It’s incredible to look at, is it really okay to even be this close to the fire?

We drive from Andratx towards s’Arracó. The sky darkens and I start to think that our village has got away with it. Up, up on the winding country road to the top of the valley bowl, but as I turn the car into s’Arracó I have to slow down to a crawl. The landscape to the right of the village is alight.

When we get to our house which is on the main road of the village I am not surprised to see that all of my neighbours out. It’s a sharp contrast to the 24 hours before when we were all out celebrating the Night of Art and having a wonderful time at our home grown cultural fiesta. Tonight should have been a night to rest after our big party; we were all feeling a bit bleary already.

My opposite neighbours, Carlos and his family, are all on his first floor balcony window gazing at the flames. He is shirtless and wearing only his underpants: the air temperature is still tropical even though it is now 10.30pm. I hear him talking about his land, which is what he is looking at, it is on fire. He keeps animals up there and he hasn’t been allowed by the police to go up to release them.

As soon as we go into our house the cats appear. I decide not to feed them as I want them to stay close in case we need to evacuate. They lie on the cool tiles in the kitchen, chilling their bellies.

My daughter and I pack her things: a change of clothes, toothbrush, Toffee, and two more things special to her. We put them all in her pink suitcase and leave it by the door. Then she watches some TV and ignores the fire. I don’t. I can’t. Every time I look out of my home office window the flames are getting closer to us and filling the view. It’s compelling.

My friends and neighbours in the village keep in touch with each other through Facebook. We are taking photos and updating each other. The roads behind our village which travel off into the hills towards St Elm are closed and the properties there are evacuated by the Guardia. I hear of one family who are told to get out of their house and not expect it to be there in the morning. I don’t feel fear or panic, I feel numb. I can’t comprehend it.

I pack more things. What would we take if we had to evacuate? Passports, papers, work things, computers, cameras, clean pants, cats. Where would we go? We get offers from a lot of friends; we know we will be okay for somewhere to stay. I look at the contents of my house. We have a piano. What if it was burnt? Would the keys be left behind like the instrument’s teeth?

I speak to my father who lives in the Sa Coma valley and has decided to stay in his house with his wife. He thinks the wind has changed and they aren’t in any danger. I decide to believe him as he understands a lot more about wind directions than I do, given that he is a sailor .

11.30pm. The wind is picking up. I stand in our back garden and watch the hills glowing red with patches of embers. It’s beautiful to look at, but deadly to be in. I wonder about the animals that are in harm’s way. The wind is blowing from behind the fire directly towards our house and the rest of the village. The possibility that we will have to evacuate seems very real.

We watch and we decide that if we can see flames on the hills closest to us we will go.  One of my friends on Facebook tells me that if the smoke stings our eyes that it is time to hit the road. Our community vigil begins.

The flames creep over the hills and continue to travel towards St Elm. My friend who lives there reports that Sa Trapa is on fire as well. She is watching and waiting for her time to move as well.

We are in limbo. It’s as if we are all expecting a birth. We are waiting for nature to take its course. I keep busy and tidy the house; I put out the rubbish to be collected, which seems ironic as who knows what is going to happen? Perhaps by the morning there won’t be a house. I pack and prepare as if we are going on a holiday. It feels the same: putting plants in the bath, and doing a load of washing.

12.30pm We sit, we wait, we drink tea. There are a lot of people on the streets, a lot of cars moving around and doors being slammed. Our neighbours are loading their cars as well. Another of our neighbour’s sons is trying to find a safe place to park their car, it’s a classic Mini Moke and he is under strict instructions to get it away.

1.30am Water trucks drive down our street, one after another after another. The hydraulic brakes all hissing at the same point on the curve of the road.  Standing in our garden I can see the tongues of flames licking the palm trees in the distance.

2.30am I lose count of the number of water trucks, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty trips? The police are on the street again. It is the height of summer but the smoky air in s’Arracó makes it smell like winter and Christmas. The hours pass and the flames rage.

4.30am The wind calms and the fire begins to redirect itself.

5.30am The bin men pass by and I smile to myself as they stop to collect our trash. Hope prevails.

6.30am Daylight comes and with it the wind begins again. We can’t see the extent of the damage to our beautiful valley as everything is wrapped in a thick veil of smoke, but I can still see flames. The helicopters start to fly again.  I hear that our friends’ evacuated houses are okay, and it’s then that the tears come.

7.30am The suitcases are still by the door, but we decide to feed the cats. We pray for the wind to be still. The local cockerels start to crow.

First published on Sunday July 28th in the Majorca Daily Bulletin

The day it snowed

Please see below for a gallery of photos of a snowy Mallorca courtesy of some of my Facebook friends. 

It’s Saturday morning, it’s not a school day, so it’s not the alarm that wakes us up. There’s a weird feeling in our house, as if it is being cuddled. We pad around the house sleepily, rubbing our eyes and wondering about making a cup of tea or getting a glass of juice. It’s nice, this no-rush early morning, it might turn into a good day.  It feels like a firework has exploded in the living room when La Gidg opens a shutter, gazes out of the window and shrieks ‘IT’S SNOWING!’

Our neighbour, Carlos, is on the street, smoking a roll up because he doesn’t smoke in the house anymore since the baby came. He says that his wife’s mother says there hasn’t been snow like this since 1956. The snow is falling steadily from a dark sky. It’s fascinating to watch it appear in the beam of a street light as if it has come from nowhere. Magic. The snow is about 20 centimetres deep. I want to hug it. Carlos says the Spanish television says it is going to snow all day. How can Mallorca possibly be prepared for this sort of thing? Does the council even own a gritter or a snow plough? Why would they need one? The snow is so deep that it looks like we aren’t going anywhere today anyway, unless it’s by foot or by sledge. The snow has made everything feel so peaceful and cosy, it’s like being wrapped in a muffler. We’ve got a lot to do today, and none of it is going to happen. How liberating to say ‘we can’t come today, we have to reschedule’. And how easy.

La Gidg has never seen snow like this before, she’s six, she’s lived in Mallorca all of her short life. She is glittering with joy. What a treat for all of us. We pull on wellington boots and put coats on over our pyjamas and walk down the hill to our local cafe. There is a particular sound that snow makes when you walk on it; it’s a combination of a crunch and a squeak. A creak? A squnch? Other people are on the street too, they are smiling and saying hello to us. Everyone seems to be smiling, normally reticent and shy Mallorcans are actually saying hello to us without being prompted. Gidg is confused by snowflakes, ‘I thought they were like little stars’.

The snow has given our village a makeover. Even the street signs and power cables look graceful with their new icing sugar overcoats. There are more people stood outside of the cafe, they are all facing the road staring at the snowflakes falling as if they are watching a parade, some of them are trying to look nonchalant but you can tell they are all just as excited as Gidg. I see flashes of cheeky anticipatory grins from the man who runs the garage, and another one who is the local vet. Snowballs are soon flying from one side of the road to the other.

Gidg wants to eat the snow, we tell her to watch out for the yellow variety.  We fling snowballs at the trees to make the snow fall down in clumps. She makes a snowman and snow angels. It’s the perfect snow day, although it’s only really going to be a few hours. But she’s going to remember the day it snowed forever. When I was about her age I remember being inspired to draw a picture of my family home with snow on the roof and on the trees. I put the picture beside my bed and went to sleep. Overnight snow wrapped itself around our garden and our house, and when I woke I thought I had conjured up this miraculous weather with my drawing. For one amazing day I believed I had magical powers. My brothers and I played all day in the snow. That night I drew another picture to bring more snow. But by the morning, it had started to thaw. My career as a child sorceress was disappointingly short lived.

Inside the cafe there is water on the floor from snowy boots; every table is busy, even this early on a Saturday morning. We are here in time for the freshly baked croissants which are still crisply warm and buttery. Gidg has hot chocolate, we have strong and bitter coffee with warm milk.More people come in behind us, one man is carrying a little dog in his arms it’s a dachshund: it needs a carry today.

On the way back up the hill to our house, the snow is already turning from crispy white to slushy grey. Not everyone has boots on: one lady navigates her way across the road in a pair of fluffy mules. She doesn’t seem to mind her feet getting wet.

When we get back home Gidg puts her last snowball in the freezer to save it. The big melt has already started, there is water running down the hill where a few hours before there had been squnch. At the end of the day, after she’s gone to bed, snuggled down under two duvets and wearing extra socks, I make Gluwein and gaze out of the living room window, hoping for more snow, and wonder about drawing a picture.

©Vicki McLeod 2012

It snowed today at sea level in Mallorca… for the first time in over fifty years…. we all got a bit excited… thank you to my Facebook friends for sending me their photos! You can hook up with me here www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

Take it easy

If you’ve ever been to our little village of S’Arracó then you must really have wanted to go. It’s the sort of place which you drive through and if you blink, you’ve missed it. I’m not saying that we’re a one horse town, as there are quite a variety of things going on here, and we even have shops which are open on a Sunday, but when I tell people where I live they look at me strangely, head cocked to one side. Where did you say? ‘It’s near to Port Andratx, if you’re on the way to Sant Elm, then you might drive through it’. Ahhh… they reply, still not entirely sure where it is. Which is quite nice really, isn’t it? We’re off the grid a bit.

As a quiet and friendly little village we have lots of families with young children and more than our fair share of cars speeding on the main street, and that’s where the Slow Down S’Arracó campaign comes in. It’s that time of year when the cars start coming through on a country drive from Andratx on their way to seafront paella in Sant Elm, and these cars don’t seem to notice that they aren’t on a winding country road anymore when they blast down our high street.

We live on the main road, and I don’t even let the cats out of the front door (especially not the old blind one we’ve just adopted, who is doing very well thank you for asking), we’ve had one casualty, a kitten who was run over last year, the driver didn’t stop. So failing dressing up as the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny and insisting that everyone ‘Take it easy’ we’re hoping that a few practical measures will mean the kids and the animals in S’Arracó will be able to cross the road.

So far we’ve had our moment of glory on the local telly, which was exciting, and now we’re preparing a petition to take to the council. What we’re after (and coming from London I have so shake myself to believe I am actually supporting this as they’re the bane of the motorist’s life in the big smoke) is sleeping policemen in the road, or chicanes built in the pavement. Anything in fact that will make the convertibles with their happy holiday making and ‘out in the country for Sunday’ drivers just cut down on their speed.

So, please, if you would visit this site http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/reduiumlm-la-velocitat-s39arracoacute—slow-down-s39arracoacute/# and sign the petition that would be most greatly appreciated. When there are enough signatures we’re off to the council for a chat. Well to be more accurate, Tomas, who speaks Catalan, is off to the council for a chat. Any progress will be reported back. Thanks for your support!

http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod

The littlest hobo of toy town

We’ve lost Leo.

He was the first toy that we ever bought for our daughter, Gigi. She’s cuddled him, carried him around, fed him biscuits, dressed him up in her favourite princess outfit, introduced him to strangers, been photographed with him endlessly, and slept with him every day since she was born, twiddling his stupidly long ears as she drifted off. He’s a sad looking character, bought in the second hand shop in Andratx for the paltry sum of a euro back when I was heavily pregnant and we were shopping for cheap baby stuff to get ready for the big event. People couldn’t really decide what he was: a teddy with unnaturally elongated ears, a rabbit? No, he’s her perrito. And he’s gone. Muneça down, missing in action.

I’m devastated. I still have my first toy, a (now) three legged lamb, missing vital parts of its anatomy, and fur, and I always imagined Gidg would keep Leo forever as a reminder of her childhood.

My husband, Ollie, and I have recreated the scene: we last remember Gigi having him at the Port Andratx ice cream parlour, where Gigi always, without fail, has the strawberry sorbet because it looks the most exciting, and then makes sure that she also gets to eat everyone else’s icecreams as well. We’ve turned out both cars in the hope he’ll be lurking underneath. We’ve postered the Port, with a heartrending image of the odd little stuffed dog. Nothing. I find myself peering into building sites, and dark corners of car parks hoping to catch a glimpse of a long brown ear or his dirty beige fur. (I can’t tell you how embarassing it is when your child’s favourite toy is constantly the colour of an unwashed floor, or the intrigues and trickeries it took to magic him away from her for long enough to get him in and out of the washing machine for a quick spruce up).

If there were only a Missing Stuffed Toy helpline we could leave our details with; perhaps he’s tried to contact us and can’t get home.

In the course of beginning to write this first post in ages I did what I always do: find a hundred other things to do first whilst trying to conjure up the right words to use. In this case it involved completely reorganising the upstairs of my house. I searched high and low for any sign of Leo. Every cupboard was emptied, every piece of furniture moved, so I have contributed to the major jigsaw and plastic toy mess that now awaits me for the next time I have to write something.

But the displacement activity (a.k.a. completely unecessary but very satisfying house doctoring) served to remind me that I shouldn’t own white soft furnishings. You know how it goes, ‘It’s sunny, we live in Mallorca, let’s throw some white rugs on the floor and white covers on the sofas to really let the house look light and funky’. But less than a day later, they’re all that greyish colour and are begging to go in the wash.

I don’t know why I bothered really.

The reality is that we have two cats, two dogs, an (almost) three year old, and live in a dust bowl: S’Arracò – drive through it, blink and you’ve missed it. But live in it, and it lives with you, in your house, great dustpan fulls of it. There’s more of S’Arracó in my house than there is outside. It is a Mallorquin housewife’s nightmare, and is why all of my neighbours religiously sweep the steps and pavements outside of their homes every morning whilst I am running to my car with a child loudly disagreeing with me under one arm, wishing I had one of those politely obedient Spanish children which does what she is told and is never late for nursery.

The thing is Gidg hasn’t really noticed Leo’s gone, except when she sees a photograph of him, and then longingly repeats his name, which is heartbreaking. She has a stable of underused teddies, dolls, giraffes, monkeys, she’s even got a polar bear; and they are now all getting their share of affection and taking turns at being her bedtime companion as we read yet again The Tiger Who Came To Tea´. Perhaps it’s just as well that Leo is no longer around, as Gigi is due to start at the local school next week, and under no circumstances are the children allowed to bring sentimental objects of fake fur with them.

But I haven’t quite relinquished the search, I’m not ready to let go of her first toy, I’ve even scoured the back garden, as one of our dogs has taken to stealing teddies and running away to hide and devour them. I’ve looked under the spikiest of bushes, and heaviest of building materials, which are biding their time in the garden for that great day when we have the money, time and energy to start the home improvements.

I guess it’s our first real rite of passage as a family, yes I know that cutting teeth, learning to walk, the first words, are all major moments in a child’s development. But learning the lesson to let go, and that, especially on the island of Mallorca where people come and go, arrive and leave through the seasons, that sometimes friends move on, is a difficult one, whatever age you are.

I’ve comforted myself with the idea that Leo is the stuffed toy equivalent of the dog from the 80’s TV show ‘The Littlest Hobo’, this friendly creature would come and stay for a while, sort out a family and its problems and then move on to his next good deed.

So whereever you are Leo, good luck, keep your ears clean, and thank you for the memories.