That's enough tourism, thank you
The son of poet Robert Graves is carrying on the tradition of trying to preserve the real Majorca.
Sunday 10 January 1999
The few foreign tourists in the city at the time looked on in amazement. But the demonstration was not aimed at them, or even at the many outsiders who have bought property there in recent years. Rather it was directed at the authorities themselves. The protesters had had enough and were calling for an end to the destruction by tourism of the island's way of life.
Only a few foreign residents - some Austrians, Germans and British were spotted - attended the demonstration. Among them was Tomas Graves, son of the poet Robert Graves, who was born on the island and still lives with his family in Deia, the village where his father set up home on the northern coast of the island. But the artists' colony which formed after the arrival of Robert Graves following the Second World War is now all but unrecog- nisable. The vision of a creative life in a bucolic setting that many sought in the 1950s has been replaced by the European consumer descending on the crowded chaos of the gleaming new airport at Palma.
Mr Graves's view of what is happening to the island, and his suggestions as to what housebuyers and residents can do to help, are contained in a recently published book of his, A Home in Majorca. In it he sets out the wisdom he has acquired - and some of the horror he feels - in having seen his home village become one of the most fashionable spots on the European house market.
Deia attracted its first foreign residents over 100 years ago, and now half the children who attend the local school are from foreign families. The arrival of a different kind of resident since the mid-1980s has been a source of concern for those already there. Long-time residents - starting with his father - Graves explains, came looking for a specific way of life. But over the past 15 years or so the people buying houses have been attracted to Majorca largely for reasons of investment, and for the status of having a home here. They are not interested in creating a particular way of life. In the case of Graves's village, the most significant transformation began with the opening of a luxury hotel in the 1980s - owner Richard Branson.
Mr Graves's contribution to the increasingly open battle to save the islanders' way of life from being smothered by tourism and the fad for second homes almost forms part of a family tradition. But his father, he explains, was able to be more upfront about controlling development. When something he disliked was being planned, he would ring the minister for tourism, who would respond with "Don't worry, Don Roberto", and the problem would be solved.
Robert Graves made efforts to preserve Deia from development, and his son has now made his own contribution, from the standpoint of someone who has an understanding of both the locals and the foreign community. He remembers there was a particular area near the village which his father always believed should never be built on, namely the land overlooking the sea. This meant that the village was not visible from the sea, a fact which had afforded it protection from pirate raids.
The village mayor, however, decided it was time to change this policy in the early 1980s, and set about planning its growth. Mr Graves says some locals are reaping the benefits of the protection his father and others achieved, as they are now constructing exclusive homes in an "unspoilt" landscape. Ironically, one of the streets in a newly developed area overlooking the sea bears the name of Robert Graves.
"What gave me the nerve to write this book," Mr Graves writes, "was that a new colonisation of the island is under way by people with good intentions but no information, settling no longer only on the saturated coast but reaching deep into the agricultural hinterland, where the fabric of traditional rural life is threatened enough already without their adding to the confusion."
The new arrivals do not have a social network to fall back on for information about local ways, and he explained that he wants foreigners who buy a house to realise that the property is their interface with the community. They should adapt their lifestyle to the house rather than the other way round. If you are considering investing your money in a Majorcan house, you'll find no chapter on "How to Buy Property", but you'll come across plenty of reasons for reconsidering your idea.
What has changed, says Mr Graves, is the attitude of the new arrivals. They ship in their dishwashers and vacuum cleaners, build swimming-pools, put up high fences, and fail to realise the harm this does. They even make mistakes in the garden. They spend a fortune ensuring it is at its best in August when they arrive for their holidays, not realising what every local knows: that it is then that you let the garden die off.
Mr Graves points out that the agricultural community is ageing, as young people continue to be attracted to the tourist industry. Those who choose to tend the farm are nearing retirement and there's no one to carry on. If a solution for Majorcan agriculture is not found soon it will die, he warns, and with it will go the esperit pages (spirit of the countryside) which is the repository of a 1,000-year-old culture and the only capable caretaker of the countryside.
easyJet (tel: 0870 6000000) offers flights from London Luton to Palma de Majorca from pounds 39, one way.
The Spanish Tourist Office, 22-23 Manchester Square, London W1M 5PA (tel: 0171-486 8077). A Home in Majorca by Tomas Graves is published by J J Olaneta (ISBN 84-7651-670-3), and costs Pts2,500 (about pounds 11). The book can be ordered from specialist travel bookshops or by writing to PO Box 296, Palma de Majorca 07080, Spain (fax: 003 971 71 1388).
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