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Tuesday February 11, 2014

Throwing caution to the wind

On an early morning run in Soller port yesterday I coursed along the quiet and windswept promenade towards the fishing zone of Santa Catalina where a huddle of fishermen sheltered beneath an old stone wall tending their nets. As I stopped for breath and a quick stretch while marvelling at the frisky waves nudging their vessels, an elderly man in their party approached me.

Of course were I a more zealous would-be athlete, such an interruption might have been bothersome. As it happened I was grateful for an excuse to dally by the sea a while longer. My new fisherman friend wanted me to listen to the wind which he said was the Xaloc blowing from the southeast. He pointed in the direction of a row of bijoux terraced houses, once fishermen’s cottages, explaining that local roads nearby were each named after one of Majorca’s eight winds. Some years ago I had been told by a local historian about the topography of the area but now for the life of me couldn’t recall all of the island’s famed winds. The fisherman obliged, holding up a finger for each one – Tramuntana (North), Migjorn (South), Llevant (East), Ponent (West), Gregal (Northeast), Mestral (Northwest), Xaloc (Southeast) and Llebeig (Southwest).

Those with an interest in Majorcan history will know that when King Jaume I sailed to Majorca in 1229 to rest power from Abú Yahya, the Moorish governor of the island, he had a devilish problem landing his troops – those accursed Majorcan winds again – and was forced to sail south, past Soller, docking at Sant Elm, some way off from the capital, his intended goal. In fact the whole episode is described in creative splendour by my chum Peter Kerr in his novel, Song of the Eight Winds.

Anyway, back to my old fisherman pal. He forecast that the sea would be boisterous once he sailed out of the protected harbour but none the worst for that and was confident that conditions would be fine for fishing. Before we parted he showed me that it was impossible to whistle into a strong wind – admittedly not something I’d tried before. Anyway, for reference, he was right. When I faced the strong breeze from the sea, my pathetic whistle wandered off into the heavens and I suddenly understood the true meaning of that little nugget about ‘whistling into the wind’.

That evening after visiting a friend in the mountain village of Deia, I wandered back to my car along the dark and rain sodden winding streets. There wasn’t a soul in sight and while battling with my temperamental umbrella I became aware of a tremendous noise, not a rustling, but a fierce drumming that stopped me in my tracks. A moment later a local appeared in the obscurity as if from nowhere, an eerie trail of light emanating from his head torch. He beckoned to me to follow him up the winding hill to a point where the sound was almost insufferable. I’m not one to follow complete strangers into the pitch black night but I’m glad I did. The roar of the wind was extraordinarily powerful and quite deafening. The man kindly escorted me all the way back down to the car park where my lonely vehicle awaited me. ‘Always listen to the wind,’ he advised. ‘It never fails to tell you how the weather will be the next day. Tonight it is angry so tomorrow it will be rainy and dull.’ And by Jove he was right.

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