Here is my good friend Ellen from North Carolina. We met in Hong Kong when I was teaching her and her husband Cantonese, and then became friends over a shared passion for Chinese food and adventure trips to China. When she was brutally torn away from Hong Kong after only four years of adventures, it marked the gestation of a new thought in my head: Why can't I be the one who's leaving for a change?
This week was her second visit to Mallorca in a month, and what do you know - Ellen went straight into adventure mode! This time it was tile related.
Why don't you have a personal documentary made when you're next in Mallorca? I'm here every day with my video camera and tripod, ready to show you all the adventure things! Yes, not only tiles!
I thought my new house had high ceilings, but that was before I visited Palacio Can Marques in Palma's narrow and mysterious Carrer de Apuntadores. Apuntadores! It was the first street I went to when I came here last May for reconnoissance. The name sounded so interesting, but do you think I looked it up? Oh no. I thought Punt, maybe means bridge? Something like guys who raise and lower bridges? But there are no... Never mind. I just looked it up . An apuntador is a prompter in a theatre. So... pretty close!
Anyway, last month my friend Mariette was here, and already other people are more adventurous than me, for it was she who dragged me into the beautiful lobby to check out the hotel, which had just opened. A kind receptionist showed us around, but I wanted more and sent them an email asking if I could take a closer look. The lively and knowledgeable hotel director Mariya took me around the Palacio, which used to be owned by the family Marques. And get this: The ceilings are 11 metres high!
AND! The rooms have books! Real books. That's all I need to know...
Each room is a suite and they all look different, with lots of lovely art and objects sourced all over the world by one of the owners herself, who also happens to be a designer! By the way, the room above overlooks one of my favourite plazas in Palma, the Plaza de la Drassana. There you can find Bar Arenas where they have the second best tapas in Palma, after Hostal Corona of course, because they (the tapas in Arenas) are made by Chinese! There is something about that Chinese touch that makes all food better.
And just to seal the deal - the bathrooms! Ohhhhh. Me, I'm a firm shower taker. Firm. I don't lie around in baths. What for? Just lie there, to get clean? But I would make an exception if I could stay in this suite in Palacio Can Marques. I really would.
Next time: The restaurants.
PALACIO CAN MARQUES
C/ Apuntadores 15, 07012 Palma de Mallorca
One of the reasons why I just had to leave Hong Kong after 30 years there and in China, is that everything had become so damned ugly. It was just high rises of 80 floors or more; cold, sterile, forbidding; glass and metal canyons. It made me feel like an ant. Look at this streetscape of Hong Kong:
All the signs are gone. The famous neon signs are all but gone, as are most street markets and anything that's cool and beautiful, the beauty being that it's unique and could only be Hong Kong. Now most of the city consists of shopping malls, high rises and highways.
Mainland China, dead set on out- hongkonging Hong Kong at all cost and in addition still on a great momentum started by Mao in the 1950s to get rid of all Chinese culture, is well on the way to becoming a gigantic shopping mall interspersed by highways as well. It hasn't yet succeeded everywhere, what with it being the fourth biggest country in the world and therefore quite a lot of area to get through. You can still find towns like the one above, Xiahe, not yet succumbing to the wrecker's ball. But with the latest push to get rid of all religion, perhaps they will now finally be able to raze the monasteries and build some proper skyscrapers.
I understand that people don't want to live in hovels, but when it comes to visual beauty, the shiny new stuff just doesn't cut it.
So because I couldn't very well ask Chinese and Hong Kong people to keep living like they did 30 years ago just in case I should drop by and want to take a photo, I had to leave. It was the only thing I could do. And guess what? I miss China, but, like the past itself, it's a China that no longer exists. Now I live among beauty again.
Of all the superb things of El Terreno in Palma de Mallorca, where I have been living for more than eight months now after 30 years in China, Bellver Castle is possibly the most superb. I mean, imagine living a few minutes' walk (16) away from a real castle, one of only two circular-shaped castles in Europe and the only one in Spain, and look at and touch the same stones that were laid in 1310! That's the kind of thing that impresses me. I want to see and touch history, not just read about it or, as in Hong Kong, be frankly a bit insulted when a street with nothing but shiny 120 floor high rises, suddenly has a plaque with a photo of what it used to look like, calling it "Heritage Trail".
As castles go it's not particularly big, and you can see everything, including a view of all of Palma from the top, in about an hour.
But on the ground floor the City of Palma has set up a truly excellent permanent exhibition of the history of the castle and of Palma, in well-made, easy to read posters and pictures. That's really worth spending another hour on! If you get tired, you can alway repair to the charming café outside, where you can enjoy cakes and what not.
The castle was originally built to be the summer cabin thing for kings visiting from the mainland, but was never used for that. Instead, it immediately turned into a prison where many an illustrious geezer languished, mainly for saying and writing things. Sigh.
Ah, Bellver! So beautiful. I look at it every day, and touch it as often as I can, which is also most days, on dog walks.
It's 4 euros to get in; WELL worth it, I say! Of course, as a resident (hem hem) I get a big discount.