Edison's voice

Palma de Mallorca, the Promenade Borne, 1920s

“Those who did not live the last years of the past century and the dawn of this one, can hardly imagine what the Borne meant for the city at that time. When Palma was still the capital of the Islands of Calm, the Borne was the heart of everything… The elder people were sitting on the iron benches or bronze chairs lined up along the promenade, where a seat cost 10 or 15 centimos, respectively, and the young people were walking up and down on the promenade. So many loves were born in the Borne, it remembers the beating of so many hearts, when the modest eyes of a girl crossed the gaze of a passionate admirer, who was then filled with happiness and hope. When dinner time was approaching, the crowd dispersed, and the young lover followed from a distance his Dulcinea accompanied home by her mother, hoping that before entering the gate of their house she would turn back and send him a last look, a last smile, with a foretaste of heavens. Young men, who are reading this, and who live the free and busy life of the modern age, you cannot comprehend, as you cannot imagine the former silence of a city without noise, cars and haste. All this was symbolized by the Borne, which fades away before our eyes.
José Orlandis, „El adiós del Borne”, Diario de Mallorca, 7 October 1966

“La Ciutat de Mallorca”. The map of priest and mathematician Antonio Garau, 1644

The place of the Promenade of Borne was determined by the torrente de la Riera, or in Mallorcan, sa Riera, once meandering through the city of Palma, which in times of great rains often flooded the old town. Therefore already in the 17th century they dug a new bed for it, which led its water to the sea along the external side of the the city wall. The former river bed became in a natural way the promenade of Palma, as we can see on the above map of Garau.

The two endpoints of the last section of the former river bed, the promenade itself, were marked during the 19th century with two monuments, both tied to a visit to Palma of Queen Isabella II – de los tristes destinos, of the sad fate – (born in 1830, ascended the throne in 1833, resigned in 1868 and died in Paris in 1904), at the beginning of her reign, which sparked a civil war, and at its end leading to a revolution, respectively.

The Fountain of Turtles, standing at the upper end of the promenade, on which four turtles carry an obelisk topped with a bat, the heraldic animal of James I, who conquered the island from the Moors in 1229, was erected in 1833 in honor of the infant queen. At the same time they also commissioned Jacint Mateu to carve the four sphinxes at the two entrances of the promenade. And in 1860 Isabella herself laid down at the lower end of the promenade the foundation stone of the sculpture group representing her, surrounded by the allegorical figures of Agriculture, Industry, War and Peace. Both monuments were destroyed in 1868, during the so-called Glorious Revolution which drove away the royal family. The obelisk was later restored – its bat now forms a spooky backdrop for the demons on St. Sebastian’s night –, but the southern sculpture group is now only remembered by a fountain in the middle of the roundabout at the beginning of the promenade when one arrives from the sea.

The Font de las Tortugues, the Fountain of Turtles at the northern end of the promenade in the early 20th century

The statue of Queen Isabella at the southern end of the promenade, 1860-1868

When the statue of Isabella was set up, the four sphinxes were removed from the two entrances of the promenade, so the two monuments mark its endpoints. For decades they were slowly crumbling in the garden of the Capuchins, until in 1895 the city had them restored – at the same time diminishing their too prominent breasts –, and erected them again at the two entrances of the promenade. In 1859 here they located the city’s pride, the two gas lamp-standards as well.

The four sphinxes in the late 19th century in the garden of the Capuchins

One of the northern sphinxes with the Fountain of Turtles

At the turn of the century even a streetcar passed along the Borne, next to the sphinxes. The picture below shows a horse-drawn tower used for repairing the streetcar’s electrical wires. A similar one from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy will be shown soon in another post

The Promenade of Borne has remained the theater of the city ever since. Here they opened the first coffee houses and pastry shops at the turn of the century and here they held in the afternoons the pigeon-flying vividly described by Mario Verdaguer. Here, on 6 January the three kings parade with camels and elephants from the port, and on the day of St. Sebastian the demons go in fiery chariots to the port. Here, on the terrace of the Bar Bosch facing the Fountain of Turtles we sit for the first time with Wang Wei on each occasion when I arrive home at Palma. And here arrived also the future at the beginning of the century, as Verdaguer described it both in the previous post, and in the following essay, recalling a famous scene from A hundred years of solitude.

Edison’s voice

Along its picturesque life, the Borne was never closed to the air of progress, unlike an ancient house which tries to retain its sultry air by never opening the windows.

No, the Borne was always open to the outside air, and to the velocipede of Gaspar we can also add other milestones.

One day, as I passed along the Borne with my schoolbag under my arm, I suddenly stopped in great excitement.

Above a low shop, which is now a shoeshine, a badly painted sign appeared, which said:


I was shocked. My heart was pounding.

In The Garden of the Ladies I had already read the description of the phonograph, invented by Edison:

“At last the human voice can be reproduced with full naturalness!”, the magazine said. “The device is able to emit articulate sounds, equal to those of the human throat, and it is wonderful, how copper and tin can acquire a life of its own, and, like a person, issue thoughts.”

This time, it was no mere fantasy, like the novels of Jules Verne!

Here, there really was the machine that talked.

To hear it cost the price of a snack: a bagel and a chocolate bonbon, ten céntimos.

It was at the bottom of my pocket. I did not hesitate for a moment. To walk away, not hearing that wonder was not possible.

I slipped in the door.

A man with big black mustaches and disturbing aspect, who seemed to speak in Portuguese, was standing next to a table covered with a cloth of red velvet, and on the table there was a small device made of brass, like an old clock, having four long rubber tubes.

It was Edison’s phonograph!

I put the ten céntimos in the hand of the man with the mustache. He sat me down and said:

– First you will hear the voice of the great inventor Edison, talking in English, and then the brass band of West Point.

And he immediately took the rubber tubes and put me one in each ear.

His big hairy brown hands moved over the device. A cylinder began to spin, and suddenly, from the other end of the tube, like a distant echo mixed with strange noises, I heard a human voice speaking in English. It was Edison! My heart was beating so strong, that I almost did not realize what I was hearing. Then the voice ceased, and suddenly a whole band was sounding inside the tube. I could not resist my excitement any more, and tearing the tubes out of my ear, I ran out into the street.

When nowadays I sometime enter the small shop to have my shoes cleaned, I always recall the man with the black mustache and his wonderful little device. And I feel again the old thrill of discovering a new horizon.

Then came the phonographs with the large horn, the electric records and record-players, and the radio, but it all has left me unmoved, since in that first virgin excitement was already condensed everything that the future could bring with itself along the unlimited path of progress.

Walking on the Borne, 1928

The Borne. The handwritten message: “I find it much more pleasant than Madrid!”

2 comentarios:

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...

Re-posted here: https://plus.google.com/100146646232137568790/posts/Nc2WayWjQFV

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Rupert!