Traveling with George Sand and Chopin…

This is the Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca’s* spiky ridge of mountains, running from its southwestern edge near Andratx to its northernmost tip at Port de Pollensa. Razor-like peaks, limestone cliffs, centuries old terraces, hidden coves, and eye-catching villages mark the route, but they are only part of what brings visitors to this World Heritage site. There is more to Mallorca than its arresting landscape, and one of the benefits of travel is discovering its little-known secrets and the local color embedded in its history.

This fall I discovered that in the winter of 1838, Frederic Chopin, suffering from tuberculosis, sought refuge and solace in the village of Valdemossa thinking that Mallorca’s island air would aid his recovery. Accompanied by his lover, French novelist George Sand, and her two children he established himself in a former monastery in the village. They stayed only 3 months as the cold damp winter air failed to produce the relief he needed. Both Chopin and Sand were unhappy in Valdemossa. It was not what either one of them pictured when they planned the stay. Nevertheless, he produced some of his most memorable piano compositions and she began a novel, A Winter in Majorca, based on the experience. Today the “cell” where they took up residence is a small museum with memorabilia from that time including his piano, their desk, some letters, photographs and sheet music.

Outside their monastic living quarters, overlooking the valley, is a beautiful garden, though I imagine his condition and the cold damp air made it difficult for them to appreciate either one at the time.

Though Chopin and Sand were not happy in Valdemossa, Robert Graves, the British poet, was very happy a few miles up the road in Deia when he made it his permanent home in 1929. Deia is even more picturesque than Valdemossa as is spills down the steep hillside toward the unspoiled Cala at Cas Patro March below.

Except for a brief period during WWII, Robert Graves lived in Deia for almost 60 years and produced his most famous work, I Claudius, while living there. As an adopted Mallorquin, Graves was intrigued by Chopin’s tenure just down the road in Valdemossa, and the Chopin exhibit includes the hand-edited foreword he wrote to Luis Ripoll’s 1955 biographical account of Chopin’s Winter in Majorca.

In addition to his foreword to Ripoll’s book, Graves wrote extensively about the Chopin tenure in his own memoir, Majorca Observed. Writing about George Sand, he notes that the Mallorquin islanders were not ready for a man-dressing woman who smoked cigars and she. in turn, was not ready for the “barbarians, thieves, monkeys, and Polynesian savages” who could not “shake themselves free from their intellectual and moral shackles, and become modern men and women.” Oil and water – George Sand and the Mallorquin locals.

Tapping into this local history is what brings it alive. I had no idea Chopin was connected to Mallorca, but I was reminded as I visited the small museum in Valdemossa of another travel experience involving Chopin.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland was one of its most progressive satellites. Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement were stirring the pot in Eastern Europe as the Soviet empire began to weaken. I was flying for Pan Am out of our base in Berlin at the time and had frequent layovers in Warsaw.

Chopin is Poland’s most celebrated historical figure. He was only 39 when he died in 1849, but in 1927 an international piano competition was established in his name. Every 5 years, with the exception of 1942, contestants gather in Warsaw to perform his work, one of the few competitions devoted to a single composer, and vie for the prize. In 1980 I had a layover in Warsaw during the competition and attended one of the evening performances. It would have been a highlight under any circumstances, but that year a young Serbian pianist named Ivo Pogorelic’ stunned the audience and caused an uproar with his unorthodox interpretations. One of the judges called him a genius and resigned in protest when he was eliminated in the third round. I didn’t get to hear Pogorelic’ the night I attended, but I knew he was something special, a provocateur, and began to follow his career. The wider world also took notice and Pogorelic’ became a star then suddenly stopped performing. In the early 2000’s following the death of his wife/teacher Aliza Kezeradze (20 years his senior) he began performing again.

The next event (1985), five years after the Pogorelic’ dust up, was much less controversial, but I was in Warsaw again and able to attend the International Chopin Piano Competition for a second time.

I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities I had as an international airline pilot. The world has changed since 9/11 and I doubt that the opportunities are as plentiful today as they were earlier. Still, a night in London or Paris is a remarkable fringe benefit. Travel is part my DNA  and this fall I was able to spend two months visiting old friends and making new ones in Berlin and Mallorca. I was able to stand within three feet of the 3400-year-old bust of Nefertiti in Berlin and peer into the case to see Robert Graves handwritten foreword to Chopin’s biography on Mallorca. I love what’s available in Seattle when I’m home, but I have a particular fondness for seeing things up close and personal in far off places – Graves and Chopin on Mallorca, Chopin’s legacy in Warsaw, and the friends I’ve made in all these places.

*Authors note: Mallorca and Majorca are both accepted English spellings for the largest of the Balearic islands. Mallorquin and Mallorcan are names given to the culture and used as adjectives attached to objects or residents.

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Is Your Luck Holding?

If you’re here, reading this article, your luck is probably holding, but not everyone is so fortunate. Have you met or do you know a refugee?

Sure, the guy who mows your lawn or the woman who changes your sheets may be an undocumented worker – an “illegal” – but they’re probably not refugees. Neither are the guys who hang out in the Home Depot parking lot looking for odd jobs or the dishwasher at your local Mexican restaurant, but there are real refugees among us; Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who helped America fight its Middle Eastern wars, people from Honduras who fled murderous death squads, and girls from Asia or Central America who escaped their human traffickers. I count several Vietnamese who fled their country after the fall of Saigon as friends. These are all people who meet or met the definition of “refugee,” but today I’m thinking about the fresh-in-their-skins variety like those fleeing Myanmar, Syria, or Afghanistan–people on the run without homes to go back to. Up to the minute refugees. 

Here’s where the question of luck comes in; with these people in mind it’s heartbreaking to reflect on the importance of luck in personal destiny. Accidents of birth. Genetic roulette. Geography. Tribal conflict. Racism. Sexism. Privilege. Despotism. War. Gun violence. Mental illness. Luck plays a role in everything from the micro to the macro – for refugees.

In September I had a miraculous experience. As Marilynn and I were descending a stairway leaving an art exhibition in East Berlin, I ran into a German friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years. Of the 3.7 million people who live in Berlin I happened to cross paths with her. An instance of the good kind of luck. Thirty years ago, when we lived and worked in West Berlin, we wouldn’t have been able to attend an art event in East Berlin, but in 2017 I was there and so was she.

Perhaps more miraculous than the unexpected encounter with Claudia was the fact that she was with a young Syrian refugee named Mohammad (aka Med). She introduced us. She and I talked briefly and agreed to catch up with each other the following week.

Thirty years ago, Med hadn’t been born. Thirty years ago, Syria was at peace. Today, Syria is a bombed-out shell and 26-year-old Mohammad “Med” Malandi, is a displaced refugee struggling to make a life for himself in Berlin. Bad luck as personal destiny.

The year 2011 changed everything in the Middle East. The “Arab Spring” swept across countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria. Revolution was in the air. Oppressed populations rose up to confront their oppressors. The hope that drove those uprisings has evaporated and countries that fell under their spell are, for the most part, worse off than they were before. That’s how Med Malandi became a haunting presence in my life.

This is Med’s self-portrait. He was always interested in art, but the onset of Syrian civil war turned him into a political cartoonist?

I need to tell you Med’s story, because remarkable as it is it transcends the personal and highlights what may be the biggest problem the world will face in the next decade. Bigger than the nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran. Certainly bigger than Russian interference in American elections. Even bigger than climate change.

And, speaking of climate, let’s start Med’s story today and work our way back. At this very minute, 11 pm on November 28th, 2017, it’s 41°F in Berlin. The forecast says it will be 31°F by 8 am. Med lives in an old art deco house on the outskirts of town but the house has no heating. His lease runs out in a few days and there is almost nothing available in his price range. The influx of refugees has pushed rents to unsustainable levels. Claudia will let him stay with her for a short while. She’s remarkable in her devotion to Med and the other refugee families she supports. She’s told me how much she enjoys Med’s company and what a good cook he is, but he needs a permanent place.

His journey to Berlin began two and a half years ago when he left his home and family in Idleb, a small agricultural community, 40 miles southwest of Aleppo. His parents, an educator and a housewife, chose to stay in Syria despite the fact that Idleb has been the sight of a seesaw battle between Assad’s government troops and the rebel alliance called the Army of Conquest (a loose coalition of Al-Nusra and Al Qaeda factions) mixed in with some irregular ISIS activity.

Here is how he described the journey to me in his own words (without edits or corrections) followed by a cartoon he drew of Putin, Erdogan, and Assad squaring off on the Syrian/Turkish border:

The Way to Germany was not easy, becaus the Turkish goverment was paying a siege on syria, fearing of Terrorism. People have to hit by bullets sometimes.

I traveled in the rubber boat to Greece with a group of Syrians, every one had to pay 500 $ 

Them the way in europe was open to everyone, I traveled on board a liner to Athens, all the way you have to haggle with brokers and Mafias, transporting people by paying hundreds of dollers in each country.

There was a group of smugglers who deal with human smuggling.

I went to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary to Austria then to germany.

By taking some of rented cars.

The risk factors were dealing with the Mafia. Also a lot of Thieves who were exposed to people on roads and in the woods.

As you konw, the Difficult is because the seriousness of the Situation, where you risk your life to get rid of the deadly dictatr Assad.

Med Malandi is one of the lucky ones who have asylum status in Germany. As such he is permitted to work though he doesn’t have the rights of a German citizen. He’s also been able to sell some  political cartoons. Others are less fortunate. According to DW (Deutsche Welle), Germany’s international news organization, more than 890,000 migrants found their way to Germany during the 2015 crisis. Of those, 286,000, by far the largest number, were Syrian. In 2016 immigration slowed (280,000) but continues to put pressure on government resources. To date, 62% of the asylum applicants, like Med, have been approved, but there has been a recent backlash to Chancellor Merkel’s decision to admit so many migrants.

Just as there is a vocal minority in America who want to deport undocumented workers, there is growing anti-immigration sentiment in Germany. As a result, the ultra-right wing Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party captured 13% of the vote in the September election and Merkel, without a large majority, is finding it hard to build a governing coalition. For the first time since World War II a neo-Nazi party is establishing itself as a viable political choice.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees reports that 65.6 million people are currently displaced from their homes worldwide. 22.5 million of these are refugees (over half of whom are under 18). 10 million are stateless. According to UNCHR figures only 189,000 refugees were resettled in 2016.

It’s important to draw a distinction between refugees and migrants. Refugees, as defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention, are entitled to basic rights under international law, including the right not to be immediately deported and sent back into harm’s way. “The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization,” according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “References to it have been found in texts written 3,500 years ago, during the blossoming of the great early empires in the Middle East such as the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians and ancient Egyptians.”

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home country because of armed conflict or persecution. Syrians are prime examples.

The U.N.’s definition of refugee is someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

All refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees. People leave their homes for many reasons, most commonly to seek a better life in a place with more opportunity, but these migrants have no protected status unless they are refugees. Migrants are processed under the receiving country’s immigration laws and policies and though migrants may seek to escape harsh conditions in their home countries, refugees might face imprisonment, deprivation of basic rights, physical injury or worse.

Med Malandi haunts me. I know he’s safe now, but there are millions, literally millions, of people like Med who are not safe, people without a home or country to call their own. It calls for compassion, something that seems in short supply in our chaotic world. I ask you to be your best self and lend a hand if you can. As the Christmas season approaches a donation to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) might be your way to contribute toward a compassionate solution to the refugee problem. It’s more pressing than climate change or Russian interference and will be for the next decade.

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Coming Home: Miro Meets Wyeth

There is always some dissonance and disorientation when we return from an extended stay overseas. It’s not just the jet-lag. There’s a cultural acclimation that has to take place too. For two months we’ve been trying to live like locals in a foreign place. When we’re abroad everything feels new and interesting; the colors are vibrant and intense while back home they seem monochromatic. It takes time to adjust and, for me, time to find my Seattle voice.

Over the years we’ve learned to deal with re-entry by looking for local events – concerts, plays, exhibits, readings – that can help us recapture the feel of what’s new and interesting on our home turf, and I never feel truly at home until I’ve found something local to write about.

Last week, we dove back into the local scene. On Tuesday we heard New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnick, preview the one-man show he’s working on for the Public Theater in New York. On Thursday we checked out the giant exhibit of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at the Seattle Art Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet to see Her Story, three ballets by women choreographers. Finally, on Sunday, our couples book club got together to talk about John LeCarre’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies.

It was a little overwhelming but, of the four things we did, the Wyeth retrospective provided the transition material I was looking for. Just back from Mallorca where we were surrounded by the work of Joan Miro (no less than four exhibits including his personal collection at the Fundacio de Pilar y Joan Miro museum in Palma), the realism of the Wyeth work stood out in contrast to the modernism of Miro.

It’s hard to believe that these two giants of 20th century painting worked almost simultaneously but presented themselves with such wildly different technical methods and artistic visions.

Only 24 years separated their birth dates and while both lived and worked into their 90’s their lifestyles and work product stand out as extremes on the artistic continuum. Their painting styles might easily be mistaken for work done in different centuries.

Wyeth was secretive and reclusive, only leaving his birthplace and lifelong home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania for summers at his cabin in Maine, while Miro was an international art figure moving comfortably from his birthplace in Barcelona to the south of France where he collaborated with his lifelong friend, Pablo Picasso, and in 1940, fleeing the Nazi invasion of France settling in his mother’s birthplace on the island of Mallorca.

It’s tempting to write off Andrew Wyeth as a regional painter in contrast to the worldly Miro. Home schooled by his father, the famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and rarely leaving his rural homestead, he found his subject matter in the people who populated that world – friends, neighbors and the spare landscapes of Pennsylvania and Maine he knew so well. Yet, by age 22 he had a sell-out exhibit of watercolors at a prestigious New York gallery and was emerging from is famous father’s shadow.

By this time, Miro was well established as a pioneer in modern art with an open contempt for conventional painting – the painting style and methods that Andrew Wyeth embraced throughout his long career. Miro was playful in his exploration of the subconscious, his bright colors and whimsical childlike iconography.

Wyeth, meanwhile, was focused on the extremely personal – his German neighbor Karl Kuerner (top), portraits of friends like Ralph Cline, Christina Olson, Siri Erickson, and later on the secretive Helga paintings. The contrast with Miro is highlighted in the 1940’s when modern American art moved deliberately and decisively into Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, and Minimalism. Wyeth noted the trends and consciously rejected them for himself, but the art establishment recognized his genius and in 1949 the Museum of Modern Art purchased his painting, Christina’s World for it’s permanent collection, thereby acknowledging his place, not as outlier, but as representative of the realist branch of modern art.

There is much to admire in both artists and I find them equally interesting. On seeing the Wyeth exhibit last week the paintings draw me in, as a viewer, in ways that Miro’s work didn’t. I want to get up close to see Wyeth’s meticulous brushwork and realistic detail in each painting. Miro, on the other hand, makes me want to stand back and imagine what he had in mind and what the meaning, if any, he wants me to take away.

In the museum shop at the train station in Soller, a small town northwest of Palma, there was a poster of Miro’s iconography for sale. I found it fascinating and saw it as a glossary of terms for deciphering his art. I was reminded of Carl Jung’s book, Man and His Symbols, an exploration of artistic symbols, their universality, and appearance various cultures over centuries.

It was a privilege to see the Miro oeuvre up close in Mallorca and a reminder of how much we love to travel. Those exhibits, with the exception of the Miro/Picasso exhibit in Soller, are permanent and will always be on display for visitors.

Seattlites have until January 2018 to see Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at the Seattle Art Museum. With more than 100 paintings and drawings on display, it would be a mistake to miss it if you’re in the area. Here is the least controversial of Wyeth’s Helga paintings.

I’ve finally recovered from the jet lag and cultural dissonance of our homecoming, and in spite of the cold, wind, and rain gratefully finding more and more things that help me in Surviving Seattle. 





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Anne Frank, Rick Steves, and Me

“He’s got it. He’s got my wallet…” I was half on the bus. Marilynn was behind me. I had taken our bus card from my wallet at the bus stop in front of the central train and bus station in Palma – one of the busiest streets in the city – people coming and going, busses coming and going, and the late afternoon crush beginning. I put the wallet back in the lower pocket of my cargo shorts, one with a Velcro closing, and joined the queue for the bus. I had the card in my hand ready to validate it as I stepped into the bus. I barely noticed a little push from behind. It was crowded, several people getting on the bus at the same time, but it felt odd. When I turned to see who was pushing, I instinctively felt for my wallet. It wasn’t there and the guy behind me had stepped off the bus and was walking away – blue T-shirt, jeans, curly hair and a bag of some sort over his shoulder.

I got off the bus and tried to follow, so did M but he was gone. We stood there speechless looking at each other. One of the lessons I learned is that surprise and speed are in his favor. I hesitated. I thought the wallet must be there. I checked my pockets again even though I knew where it should be. I was distracted just long enough for him to lose himself in the crowd getting on and off the busses. It was so smooth I couldn’t believe it had happened but there I was–relieved of 150 Euros, a debit card, four credit cards, driver’s license and my medical insurance cards.  All gone!

It was our next to last day in Palma. We had been on the road for two months, two nearly perfect months. September in Berlin, October in Mallorca.

I’ve been told there is a tribe in Africa that knocks a piece off a finished work of art, because nothing should be perfect. The pick pocket in Palma did that for me. He knocked a piece off my perfect European adventure. I’ve been traveling overseas for more than 50 years and I was over confident. I was savoring our two exceptional months in Europe and not paying attention. Great places. Great people. Great food. And… no domestic discord. We had such a good time together. No strife or stress – until the dude in the blue T-shirt slid his hand in and out of my cargo shorts.

Then there was a little stress. Marilynn, who hates my devotion to public transportation but goes along with it, told me it wouldn’t have happened if we had opted for a taxi. Guilt. Shame. Blame. Embarrassment. Stupidity, followed by two hours of calling banks, credit card companies, fraud alert agencies, and learning that within an hour the thief had tried to get cash from four different credit cards. My bad!

I’m still embarrassed, but I’m not alone. Earlier this summer Rick Steves, the author of Europe Through the Back Door and nine other travel guidebooks, was pickpocketed in a nearly identical situation in Paris. When I told him, he responded immediately with “It happens to the best of us.” And it does. You can read his cautionary tale at

But, that isn’t the end of the story; it’s where the good stuff begins again. When all the grunt work of calling was over, we decided to go out to one of our favorite places, Bar Cuba, for a “life goes on” drink. Bar Cuba is in this stunningly restored 1904 building.

If you look closely at the picture you can see the edges of umbrellas on the rooftop bar. That’s where we headed and where we met Roberto, our wise-beyond-his-years Macedonian waiter. M told Roberto our tale. She’s like that. I wouldn’t have done it, but that’s who she is. She talks to everyone and thinks they’ll be interested. To my surprise, they almost always are.

Roberto is an old soul who listened patiently as M related the story of the heist, the upset, the uncertainty – the whole catastrophe, chapter and verse. How she hates the bus. How we had bussed back to town from Andratx. How crowded it was. How tired and anxious we were to get back to our apartment. How we almost got on the bus. How we tried to chase the thief, took a taxi home, and Skyped America on Sunday night to cancel the credit cards.

Roberto listened attentively then held his hands up and said, “Tonight you don’t pay. What do you want to drink?” An unexpected gift gratefully accepted. I ordered a martini, my first since leaving home, and M had her usual glass of “Rosado.”

With that, our luck reversed course and we were headed toward perfect again. Roberto has a nice face, a welcoming manner and speaks seven languages (because “he likes to learn”). In his soft spoken way he reminded us that when something bad happens it often turns out to be for the good. When his family’s restaurant failed he had to leave Macedonia to find work. After a couple of false starts he landed in Mallorca, where he found a job at Bar Cuba and Veronika, his Czech girlfriend, who also works at Cuba, and began their life together in an apartment overlooking the Palma harbor.

Roberto’s generosity and wisdom touched us both. That was on Sunday, two nights before our departure. We left him a 20 Euro tip but wanted him to remember us as friends, so we went back the next night to say goodbye and celebrate our last night in Palma. Meeting him was something good that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my pocket picked. Good karma. Thanks, Roberto.

After saying goodbye to Roberto, we walked up Sant Magi to our other favorite place, Bar Ventuno, a small corner bar-restaurant with a tall two-top outside near the front door. Ventuno only serves drinks and individual four piece pizzettas. It’s our late night “don’t-want-dinner-but-want-wine-and-a-bite-to-eat” place. The owner, Yari, whose mother and brother run La Casa Mia, a real Italian restaurant, just across the street is a hard working charmer. Yari and his waitress, Martina, have adopted us and waved to us for a month as we walked down the street even if we’re not going to their place.

It was our last night in Palma and we told Yari and Martina that we would stop by for glasses of Rosado and Tinto and a couple of pizzettas. We did and after the pizza and two glasses of wine he suggested we try some of Mama’s tiramisu. It was delicious and when we asked for the “la cuenta” Yari told us it was his treat. Lots of hugs and smiles all around.
We’re so lucky. We’ve made friends everywhere we’ve gone. They seem to like us and we them. This is the true meaning of hands across the border. Crossing borders – cultural, linguistic, geographic, even culinary – to find common interests and values.

Robert was right; out of a bad thing good things can come. Being pick pocketed wasn’t all that bad, just inconvenient and embarrassing, but because of it we experienced the generosity and friendship of some new friends.

Often when I’m discouraged or disappointed I think of Anne Frank and her optimism in the face of true evil and real tragedy. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.” I think Rick Steves would agree that when these disappointments interrupt our otherwise good lives we need to remember Anne Frank’s words:

“In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”

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Thoughts on Formentera… and more.

I don’t remember how I first became aware of the Balearic Islands, but they seemed exotic to me. Dots in the Mediterranean. Ruled successively by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Moors, and Catalans. Spanish but not really Spanish. From that first awareness I felt a magnetic attraction. My first visit in the 1960’s, was a late honeymoon – several months after the ceremony. Abby had never been to Europe and we were looking for a special add-on experience. Something different.

On that first trip, we flew from New York to Barcelona, then on to Ibiza where we immediately boarded a lancha rapida to Formentera, the smallest and most remote of the Balearics. It was exotic. Palma, on the big island of Mallorca, was a full-on city. Ibiza was a jet-set hangout. No one had ever heard of Formentera. We were off the radar.

It was primitive at the time; we slept in a damp basement room in the village of Sant Francesc, ate Spanish omelets in its only café, borrowed English language books from a “lending library” run by an older American expat, and rode two rusty bicycles out to the lighthouse at the end of the island. We came home having discovered a place few others knew about. We weren’t the first to go there but it was rough and relatively untouched. We felt like adventure travelers.

Places change, especially places with pristine beaches. Shortly after our idyll, Bob Dylan was spotted staying in a windmill (or maybe it was the lighthouse). Those rumors are largely debunked today, but they signified a growing awareness of the tiny island and its originality.

Like many locations in sunny Spain, Formentera hasn’t always been about white sandy beaches and picturesque lighthouses. Our lending library friend told us that during the Spanish Civil War, Generalissimo Franco and the Nationalists used Formentera as the site for a concentration camp, and following the war the land where the camp was situated was regarded as a “dead zone.” Locals told us that nothing would grow there.

Despite that history, Formentera became a hippie refuge in the ’70s , much like Mykonos, and Franco worried that the hippies would foment revolution. He moved to expel them, but the effort failed and with his death in 1975 the ruthless, fascist dictatorship ended. Spain was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

For those with long memories, Saturday Night Life, did a hilarious Weekend Update when Franco died called “Franco is still dead… but he’s feeling better each day.” You can check it out at

I haven’t been back to Formentera though I’ve spent time on all the other Balearics since that first trip. Development has come to Formentera and I’m told that for the most part it’s tasteful and upscale. No gleaming white high-rise apartments blocking views, mostly low-rise structures that blend in with the colors of the sand and grasses. I found a recent article (May 2017) in the Financial Times encouraging. Where there are pristine beaches development is inevitable, often deplorable, but Formentera may be an exception. I still have my memories of empty beaches and fried calamari served on torn newspapers. I think I’ll leave it that way.

This month I’m back in the Balearics. Palma is not Formentera, but I’ve loved all my visits to the former island kingdom – from that first trip to unspoiled Formentera to later stays on Ibiza and Mallorca. With its steep craggy mountains and blue water calas Mallorca has the most dramatic landscape of all the islands, but there is more here than landscape. There are history and culture to match.

Yesterday we visited the burial site of the poet Robert Graves in Deia and passed through Valdemossa,  where Chopin and George Sand spent one miserable winter fighting with each other and annoying the locals. Miro spent years on the island and the Pilar y Joan Fundacio Museum in Palma is stunning in its architecture and collection. Today we visited three large exhibits in Soller featuring the works of Miro and Picasso and celebrating their long friendship.

Despite Spain’s tarnished political and ideological legacy; from the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews, to Franco and his alliances with Hitler and Mussolini, to the more recent problems with the Basques in the north and Catalans in the east, the country has maintained its magnetic appeal though there must be something perverse in the Spanish political character that can’t stand equanimity.

On October 1, 2017 the citizens of Catalonia (Barcelona region) held an unauthorized separatist “referendum” that has Madrid’s hair on fire, and this week the government vowed to take over the government in Barcelona.

Does it seem as crazy to you as it does to me that only two months ago an ISIS terrorist cell drove a truck into crowds on the most famous street in Barcelona killing 13 and injuring more than 80, but today Catalans are preparing for street warfare against fellow Spaniards in the name of independence. How can their memories be so short? I will never understand it. For the next ten days we hope to enjoy the people, food, and culture of this big island. The Catalans may have their hair on fire but the Mallorquins seem only mildly concerned. It’s amazing what 128 miles of water can do to bring down the temperature.


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