By Kat Coyle
Irene de la Torre is a translator, poet, and writer based in Madrid. Her book The Rural Island is an account of her mother’s life growing up in Mallorca. Here we discuss how life has changed since the 1950s and what it’s like to find yourself buoyed between a city and an island. The text was translated into English by Lauren Moya Ford who we also interviewed in February.
How has tourism transformed the island?
The biggest change has been the impact on nature. During the 1960s and 70s, the coastal strip was non-existent, whereas nowadays there are lots of hotels and apartments that have been built just for tourism. All of the sewage from the buildings travels straight into the sea.
The second biggest impact has been on the economy. In the past Mallorca was a poor island and now it is rich. But I’m not sure how beneficial that has been. The beaches are crowded and there are a lot of cars, which leads to more pollution. We also hate the image of Mallorca as a party island – this is why I wanted to write this book.
A lot of people have a certain image of Mallorca. But the island has a lot of untold stories: its own language, a rich gastronomy. Most of the fields have been sold off to people in other countries, and they don’t try to preserve the architecture or maintain traditions. For example, the Mallorquin language, which is a type of Catalan, is likely to be lost. It’s very sad for us.
In what ways was island life more difficult during the 1950s, 60s and 70s in comparison with modern life?
I can only speak about my family’s experience but they were poor, rural people. They lived in the country and life there was peaceful. But they had to work very hard.
They could never predict if they would have enough harvest to survive with each year. They lived from the harvest and sold a little of their food.
What did your family do to relax or pass the time?
My mum was always outside, going for walks in the countryside or using the bicycle. Sometimes she’d swim in the water tanks.* The children helped their parents a lot and were less spoiled and more respectful. I’m really jealous of her childhood.
(*In Mallorca every important country house had a water tank that was used for watering plants and vegetables. Every day they were refilled with clean water, rather than chlorine, and the village kids used to play in them. As Irene’s mother recalls in the book: “Now they make them in a rustic way to try to emulate this type of thing. No one can water plants with chlorine – the plants would die.’)
I like that every day practical items doubled up as toys. For example, a tire was used in place of a floatie in the ‘swimming pool’ or water tank. Did you experience any of this aspect of childhood that your mother did?
Yes, and they were happy with that. That’s the beautiful thing about life then. Now children have a lot of toys, tablets and phones, but the children then were happy with the little they had.
Things were already beginning to change when I was a child, but I didn’t have a computer or anything. We lived in my grandmother’s house and we still visit. When I was a child we’d go there on the weekends and during that time I was living the same type of life. It was very peaceful.
Could you imagine living on Mallorca again long-term?
I have lived there most of my life and it wasn’t until I moved the mainland that I realised how limited life is there. I think it would be very difficult for me to live on an island again. My mum also says that it’s not a gift to be born on an island. There is a sense of being closed-off and you can feel trapped.
But I miss the sea a lot. When I visited Mallorca last summer, I think I spent every day on the beach. I wanted to have that memory to take back to the city with me. I love swimming in the sea – when you are swimming in the sea you forget everything. You feel free.
What do you most enjoy about translation?
I most enjoy translating short stories. I feel I’m enriching the style and the vocabulary. It’s a source of inspiration for me and the experience of translating others work makes me a better writer. It makes me want to write more.