Fools’ errands

Private piece of travel writing about Mallorca, no connection to the BBC

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Honoré Daumier, National Gallery London

Think of a tsunami frozen in time as it sweeps away a beachfront and you’ll be close to how I felt when I spotted the huge boulder embedded in the dry-stone farmhouse on Mallorca. It was on the valley slope opposite – the aftermath of some rockfall in the distant past, I assume. Such was my shock I yelled out to other passengers on the bus to look down. The most existential thing ever! Someone’s home smashed by a giant rock! The home of someone whose living must have been hard enough already on a rocky mountain slope. A peasant, subsistence landscape not unlike my ancestors’ own depopulated valley in Northern Ireland, Glenrone, where the slopes bear the outlines of long-abandoned potato ridges dug out of the stoney soil.

Glenrone 2021

Here on Mallorca it was like the myth of Sisyphus but without the possibility of even pushing the boulder away a little.

It was just a glimpse. On and up our little bus pushed, following the misty mountain road to the sanctuary of Lluc, the island’s most famous holy place. A few miles from the Christian shrine, I sat back in my seat reflecting on how meaningless life could seem, more fool’s errand than journey.

I also thought about a decently turned out chap I had watched earlier boarding a bus on the island full drunk but trying desperately not to let it show. He’d been having a grim, though polite, argument with an imaginary collocutor at the stop before the bus pulled up, but he drew in his hand and set the dispute aside in order to get on, and the driver did let him on, an act of pure compassion. Another man might have crumpled up on a bench but this one kept going, by a huge effort of will. And the driver gave him a chance to get from his A to his B, where I watched him through the window shuffle off.

Arriving at Lluc, I wasn’t really hoping to have a spiritual experience, just to satisfy my curiosity, and I did in fact get carried away by the excellent secular art in its museum – I hadn’t seen that coming.

Works by Catalan painter Josep Coll i Bardolet (1912-2007) in Lluc Museum

I was taken too by the view down into a neighbouring valley, a green oasis surrounded by rocky mountains.


A third distraction was the scent of cooking from a restaurant beside the basilica. Like in the Mullah Nasreddin story, I had only enough money in my budget to pay for the aroma of their delicious (?) sauce but I was still as happy as a pig in muck. I almost forgot the true spirit of the place. If I sensed it at all, it was for a moment in the breeze maybe, near a makeshift memorial to lost loved ones in the gardens.

By the time the return bus had arrived, rain was blowing in and the trip back down to the town of Inca was a blur in which I could barely see that boulder which had given me such a start.

I had two hours before a play I wanted to see, and headed off in the downpour to get something to eat. Despite my umbrella, I got soaked walking to a cafe in the town centre, and was still damp when I re-entered the rain with a map app for my guide. The walk was fairly long and lonely, down empty streets, a far cry from the lively scenes at Inca’s great annual fair which I saw in November, though the elegance of some of the old buildings tickled the feathers of my inner culture vulture.

Inca’s Dijous Bo fair

At one point I passed a shuttered warehouse where oil had evidently been spilt on the pavement. I say evidently because suddenly I was down on the paving, falling painfully on my elbow and grazing my knee, twisting the umbrella handle. Shocked I might be but damned if I would give in and head to the nearby railway station for a warm dry carriage, rolling back to the great city of Palma and its comforts. Rising up in pain, I tramped on, discarding my collapsing umbrella. I was determined not to miss the play having seen almost nothing on a real stage for a couple of years, just like tens of millions of other people.

And then, spilling a pool of light on to the dark wet pavement like some kind of urban shrine, there was the cabaret theatre, Espai Teatritx, as small and cosy as a home, and with everything just so: a welcoming box office with a stack of posters, a stage, and a few props and chairs for the audience coming to see Don Quixote.

Theatre poster near Inca Station

It was an arrangement so simple you could imagine Don Quixote and Sancho Panza themselves dropping by to see the show in some innyard or fairground. To see themselves as conjured up by a company of players at the top of their game, and later chuckle over the coups de théatre – the visionary and the realist seeing themselves for what they were and enjoying the delight of the audience.

I still grin at the jokes in that evening’s performance. I just wish I could go back and see their next production, Seven Ways To Be Hamlet. Writing this a month afterwards I tap my elbow. It still hurts but it was worth the journey.

Me walking an irrigation canal somewhere on Mallorca

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