Monday 10 August 2020

David Holzer's Letter from Magaluf

On Saturday night's Leap in the Dark, our beloved yoga master Guru Dave sent a Letter from Magaluf, the part of Mallorca popular with British tourists since the 1960s. Hs has kindly agreed to share to here.

A Letter from Magaluf by David Holzer

The sign for Arfur’s Chippy includes a snarling, sneering bulldog rampant against a Union Jack and the slogan ‘British owned’. It’s closed. 

Lineker’s. Finnegan’s Bar. Eastenders. The Prince William. The Prince Harry. The Dream Pub. All the bars on the Punta Ballena, the street Louie the Lip calls Hamburger Hill, are closed.

It’s 11 in the morning, a time when the sunburned lads would be revving up for another day’s boozing and, as a friend of mine who was meant to be working as a DJ in one of the bars on Hamburger Hill told me, it’s ‘well eerie’.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a flock of sheep come clattering down the hill. 

A week or so ago, the Punta Ballena was shut by order of the Mallorcan government after, as the Daily Mail put it, ‘yobs jumped on cars’. 

Brits on the piss. The nightmare, it seemed, had returned. 

My DJ friend, who was working on Hamburger Hill that night, said the police did nothing to prevent the beered-up rampage. 

While this sounds like the standard British denial -  ‘All we did was serve them pints of whisky, guv. We’ve got to make a living too. Pay the Duke.’ - I can believe that the Mallorcan police might well stand aside and let the Brits seal their own fate.

Because of its beach and infrastructure, Magaluf is mouthwatering real estate and the hotel chains that run the island, and probably the police, want to drive the Brits out of Magaluf and go upmarket, family friendly and all-inclusive so they can hoover up all the available money. 

I walk down to the beach through Momentum Plaza, a shopping mall and food court so bone-white the glare hurts my eyes even through sunglasses. Balearic house music drifts across the deserted square like dead leaves.

Momentum Plaza’s design feature is a glass-bottomed swimming pool that forms a bridge between two white buildings six storeys above the square. At first it looks great – sunlight shining through azure – but then I see the fat, brown legs swinging in the water above me. And I see the children splashing around. And I imagine the accidents that could happen.

I pass one of those pedicure places where Garra Rufa fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It’s empty. The fish must be starving.

With its graceful curve and white sands, the beach at Magaluf is one of the most beautiful you’ll see anywhere. 

For Claude the Fraud, a Frenchman who started La Baraka Beach Bar here in 1971 when the only Brit on the piss was Georgie Best who used to hide out at La Baraka and get hammered, it was the best beach in the Mediterranean.

Claude came to Magaluf from Saint-Tropez, where he’d also had a bar. He was a Tunisian middleweight champion boxer who’d knocked about with the Paris jet-set in the 1950s. One of his pals was Dominican diplomat and playboy Porfirio Rubirosa who managed to marry Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton, two of the richest women in the world.

Rubirosa was legendarily well-endowed. In certain circles, the giant black pepper grinders that waiters wave over pizza were called Rubirosas.

As you might expect from the name, Claude was splendidly dodgy. A friend of Louie the Lip’s said there should have been a chandelier on top of the till at La Baraka Claude played it so well.

Claude certainly associated with villains and a couple of impressive crimes were allegedly planned at La Baraka.
One of these was the kidnapping of a French business tycoon called Baron Édouard-Jean Empain for a ransom of 17 million Swiss Francs by a not exactly professional gang that included a pimp named Joe The Marseilles. When the police discovered that the gang, who all claimed not to know each other, had spent a week on Mallorca planning the kidnap, the game was up.

Another equally spectacular crime allegedly planned at La Baraka in the early 80s was the heist of a van loaded with used francs, marks and pounds worth 780 million pesetas being sent back from bureau de changes all over the island to Mallorca airport. 

The Mallorcan police thought Claude had something to do with this. One morning, he opened the shutters to his apartment above the beach to find 40 police sharpshooters lying on the glaring white sand, rifles pointed at him.

Claude denied all knowledge of the currency heist and was never convicted.

In contrast to the eclat of the villains Claude associated with, British crime in Magaluf has always been grubby. 

Gangs deal drugs. A man named John Hirst masterminded a Ponzi Scheme that targeted elderly expats. One scam defrauded hotels by claiming mass food poisoning. Now the hotels are getting their revenge on Magaluf.

A woman I know, an agent for a multilevel marketing business, knew Howard Marks and his wife, who were arrested in Mallorca. She claimed to have no knowledge of the business Mr Nice was involved in. ‘They were lovely people,’ she said. ‘We had no idea.’ 

The same woman would fix me with blue eyes that managed to be pebble hard and heartbroken at the same time and say, ‘I’m living the dream, David.’

Marks is the only British villain with a connection to Magaluf I can think of who can be said to have any degree of class.

Mr Nice also had a Deià connection. But that’s another story. 

La Baraka is, I think, now a beach bar called S’Esponja Beach Club at the top end of Magaluf bay. It’s a pretty, low stone building painted white with the obligatory turquoise paintwork and house music wafting down the beach.

From then on, it’s white, turquoise and empty house music all the way, one beach club after the other. And it’s horrible.

It almost makes me nostalgic for the Brits on the piss. But I don’t believe they’re ever coming back. 

The Mallorcans, who’ve always dealt with invaders by giving them what they want, retreating deeper into the island, waiting for them to go and taking over what they’ve left behind, are winning again. 

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