Ibiza History Culture

Established 1982
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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Eleven
Another House, Another Place


I Remember Ibiza

The search for my lost Flipper was very thorough. Despite the hazards of the terrain, and these were of an almost lethal character, we explored every crevice among the plentiful rocks, beneath every fallen tree trunk overgrown with underbrush, and even looked aloft as we went. Just in case Flipper had been caught by a snap-up snare and hoisted aloft by his neck. But he had been spared from that ordeal. We could not find him. He was, simply, missing. He was, simply, lost. He was, simply, gone. For the first time in our lives, Flipper and I were separated for more than a few moments.

Each of us had searched until he dropped. Madame had been untiring in her efforts and I marvelled at her constancy of purpose, despite the limitations of her physique; for I soon saw she was not as strong as she might have been. When finally it was over and we had given up, she was pale and hoarse, hardly able to speak, fatigue written large in her face. But she had been staunch and utterly committed to finding the lost dog. Never a word of complaint or of irritation at having what had started out to be a pleasant jaunt through a wonderland of nature, turn out to be a dangerous, traumatic, even frantic effort to save a lost animal. In American slang, she had been a brick. And I was so grateful that I could not find words fulsome enough to thank her. I drew her to me and held her close. We were one in our sorrow for the loss of a wonderful friend.

Jacques had perhaps outdone us all in his physical exertions. He had covered probably twice the area that I had, and had also lost his voice from the endless shouting of Flipper’s name. His strength and endurance, he said, came from his profession. He was a professional agriculturalist, working in his own experimental fields. On his farm in France, he specialized in developing new and improved strains of wheat and other grains; and his work was largely physical. He, too, like Madame, had devoted himself to the urgency of the task in hand and poured all of his energy and his will into the search for my lost Schnauzer. I embraced him, too, and thanked him for his unstinting cooperation until I thought I had embarrassed him. And so I turned to Alberto.

He had turned an ankle almost as soon as he had begun to search. And, while it was fortunately not a bad bruise, the swelling was enough to prevent him from doing much in the way of walk-search. I helped him all the remaining way to Juanito’s house. Alberto’s English was very limited and my Spanish then was really nonexistent, so communication was largely a series of grunts, groans, smiles and nods. But he managed, nevertheless, to convey his absolute conviction that Flipper was not, I repeat, that Flipper was not, truly lost for good. Of all of us, his nature was the sunniest, and his optimism the most fervent. In the end he converted all of us to his view and my spirits rose as I realized that it was in fact quite possible that Flipper might show up anytime in the next few hours or days. Alberto knew all about disasters. His country was engaged in one of the longest civil wars in South America. He had become inured to disaster. And his defence against it, he suggested indirectly, was always to believe that the worst had not happened. That there was always hope. I was, and still am, very grateful to him for the strength with which he promoted that point of view. It saved me from some very bad hours.

Juanito had only just returned home when we arrived. Around him were his Ibicenco hounds, four of them, excitedly wagging their tails, greeting their master. It was lovely to see. And it broke my heart. There was no Flipper to greet me. The dogs were liver, tan, and white in colour, lithe, lean and long-legged, in build. Juanito took their greeting taciturnly. He was resting in his way, sitting, but in a slightly stretched-out sitting, on a heavy, hard-pine ceiling beam which lay disconsolately on the ground, instead of holding up the roof. This was because there was no roof to hold up. The house was a total utilitarian ruin. Juanito’s wife had been bringing him a bladder-bottle of home made red wine as we trooped in with our stern news about Flipper, and we spilled it out to him as if he was a father confessor. He listened carefully to us with his usual reserve. He showed neither surprise nor dismay at our story. And when we had finished the sad tale and given him all the details of our hunt for the little dog, he gravely poured himself a long draught of the wine, holding the bladder high above his head with his one hand, and pouring an arching stream of wine directly into his wide open mouth. Not a drop did he spill and not a word did he say. And then, to lubricate the moment, and with her natural good taste and politeness, Madame presented me to Juanito’s wife.

She was a tall and powerful looking woman, with a face like a man’s; leathery, lined and likeable. She was wearing the traditional Ibiza country woman’s costume; voluminous, dark colour skirts, a full blouse assembly and a very large, unexpected, flamboyant straw hat that provided substantial protection from the fierceness of the island sun. The skirts, I had learned somewhere along the line, were of particular interest and importance. They were usually seven in number, the under skirts being of less heavy material than the outer one. Originally they had been worn, and worn in such a way, as to suggest that the wearer was pregnant, whether she was or was not. This was because of an ancient, unwritten law, which was universally and strictly honoured by all, even the fiercest of pirates that pregnant women were not to be raped. It must be understood that rape was so common that the institution of the multiple skirts had come into being quite spontaneously. It was to protect the island women from the very frequent island marauders who as often as two or three times a month in the very old days, would invade Ibiza in a frenzied search for slaves. Even though the threat had long vanished, the custom was still observed…and, to some dying extent, it still is to this day. After I had been presented to her, Juanito’s wife gravely offered me wine, offered her condolences on the loss of my little dog, and introduced me in her turn to her two teen-age daughters, already wearing the multiple skirt uniform. She then announced that refreshments were in order and disappeared into a dark doorway which led into what must surely once have been a kitchen…and still was.

I sat down beside Juanito and looked around at the ruin which we had all been calling his house. It seemed to me that no one could really live for any length of time in such a fallen building. It was located on the upper edge of a heavenly sandy beach which curved beautifully into a full half circle, forming a lovely cala. Directly behind it was the edge of the ever-present pine forest. The walls of the old building, about 70 centimetres thick, were in good shape, generally speaking. But the window openings were glassless and there were no real working doors where doors should have been working. There were several bedrooms opening on to the central area where we were sitting. The outstanding architectural feature of the place was the missing roof. Only the bedrooms had intact overhead protection from the weather. The main living space was open to it.

But no one seemed to think this was a serious deficiency. Juanito, I was told, had taken the position after the roof had fallen down, that the traditional dampness of casas payesas would be completely by-passed if the roof was not replaced. This, he insisted, would keep the whole family in better health than otherwise would be the case. Especially would they escape from what was an almost universal complaint in Ibiza in those days, i.e., rheumatism and arthritis. With a dry living room area, no one would ever have serious skeleton unhappiness. And he had stuck to that position until the whole family had come to agree with him. They none of them suffered from those dreaded illnesses.

It was just then that the salsa arrived. You must remember that it was Christmas time and that the visit itself had been made not only with the purpose of showing me Juanito’s house and introducing me to his family, but also because it was that time of year when families visited back and forth because of the holiday. It was customary at such times to provide a special salsa, a very special brew, I can tell you. It was made with a heavy hand. Its ingredients, in part, consisted of honey, ground almonds, oil, eggs, secrets and more secrets, and its consistency was at best, sluggish. It passed the taste test with flying colours, but after the first few swallows it became more and more difficult to pass the rest down the tube. Now remember, this salsa brew was a universal guest offering at a time when guests passed to and fro, from house to house, and from salsa to salsa. And it was unthinkable that it should ever be refused. It was a quite impossible imposition on one and all alike, but it persists as a custom even until today. If you visited four or five neighbours at Christmas time, as almost everyone did in those days, you were obliged to down at least four or five generous bowls of the time honoured guest delicacy called simply, salsa. There probably is a proper name for the stuff, but somehow that name has escaped me.

After I had downed the offered bowl, and politely accepted another, I suddenly remembered with fear and trembling that Madame had told me that the next day of my visit would be devoted to travelling from neighbour to neighbour in my Renault to catch up on all her social obligations. It would be salsa and more salsa, all afternoon. And only two of them had almost made me forget that I had lost Flipper. It wasn’t that there was any alcohol in the stuff; it was just the sheer weight of the liquid. It flowed like cold molasses.

Suddenly Juanito stood up. All of us froze. There was something in his posture, his attitude, his projection of sudden illumination, which commanded strict attention. We all waited breathlessly for what he was about to say, for surely such a dramatic self-arousal could only be the forerunner of an important announcement.

“My bitch is missing!” he said slowly, almost wonderingly, as if each word carried with it a hidden meaning. “She has never been missing before.”

Harold Liebow