That Christmas visit to the family on the
west coast of the island has remained vividly alive in my
mind all these many years. It happened in 1965, but it might
as well have been yesterday. I remember with a unique mixture
of pleasure and nostalgia the beginning of a friendship that
has grown richly in depth and understanding through the years.
It is a friendship which now includes a Sandra who has fought
her way through the inscrutable maze of French medical training
to become a full fledged psychoanalyst holding a senior post
in a major hospital. It includes her still stunning mother,
Catherine, who has become one of Frances most celebrated
singers of antique vocal music, and finally it very much includes
Recently the two of us sat together in her
same wonderful house watching the infantile antics of Sandras
baby boy, a sturdy fellow with a strong will of his own. But
always while laughing. |t was good to sit there together and
reminisce about the old times, when Sandra herself, sporting
a tutu, would dance for us to her mothers lilting songs,
at the age of three. Jacques and Juanito, alas, are no longer
with us, and Alberto felt obliged to return to his tortured
country, Columbia. But the family is virile and still growing.
And Madame, at last, volunteered to me that I had been correct
in wondering why I had been invited, on such slight acquaintance,
to the full house guest intimacy of their family life, that
Christmas. What she had really meant was for me to come by
and see them, of an afternoon. I had misconstrued her meaning
entirely: I thought to have been invited for the whole holiday.
But such was their delicacy that my mistake was absorbed with
no pain to me. It was turned into an adventure for all of
us. An adventure that birthed a lasting and loving friendship.
It wasnt until 37 years later that I learned I hadnt
been really invited to stay with them. And even then, the
information was given with restraint and a soft smile.
But I am wandering from my story. Flipper
needed attention. He needed to be seen by a vet. And so the
visit to the west coast of the island, perforce, had to come
to an end. The vet was in Ibiza town, on the east coast. Since
an arrangement had been made with our new friend, the taxi
driver, to pick up the family when the time came for them
to return to Paris, I was free to drive myself and Flipper
back to Ibiza town. It was time to say good-bye. At least
for this Christmas. Baby Sandra could not contain herself
when she realized that she would be separated from Flipper.
I had half a mind to let her have him for her own, but the
problems inherent in such a gesture proved to be just too
much for all of us. There was the little grey dogs addiction
to me to be considered. The little fellow had been with me
for almost twelve years. It would be a wrenching dislocation
for him to find himself with a new mistress instead of an
old master. And, in the end, I found I could not bring myself
to give him up. It would be a wrenching dislocation for me,
as well. Besides, Sandra would have to learn, somewhere along
the line, that loving alone was not in itself a license to
acquire. At age three, it was a tough lesson, but she learned
it well. She gave him one long, last hug as we were about
to leave. Then she ran straight into the house. I didnt
see her again until two years later. She had become a big
girl by then. Baby Sandra was no more.
And so it was. I drove the Renault up that
lonely, car-killing access road again, if it could be called
a road. Flipper lay beside me in his usual place, but was
far below his usual form. His head lay pillowed in an old
hat of mine. From time to time he would half raise himself
to look up at me. Then he would fall back and pass into what
seemed to be sleep, but what I knew to be prolonged exhaustion.
The real trouble, I had discovered, was in the condition of
his little paws. Their pads had been seriously abused by sharp
stone and contamination. I had carefully and gently washed
his feet before we left, but the damage had been done. Infection
had set in and with it, an elevated body temperature. He was,
after all, an urban fellow with urban paws, i.e., softer ones
than those of country bred dogs. He had suddenly, and for
a protracted time, been exposed to a harsh and entirely foreign,
foot environment. His pads had been unable to withstand the
bruising to which they had been exposed. He was a very tired,
very old, very ill Flipper. For the first time in his life
the joy had gone out of living. It was a sad Flipper, indeed.
And an even sadder Harold.
When I had made about half the distance
through the brooding pine forest of that awful winding road,
I saw two people hiking along, using walking sticks. They
were youngish, of middle height, carrying what appeared to
be small, worn, leather bags strapped to their backs, and
wearing the kind of clothes and the standard island straw
hats which immediately identified them as being a country
couple. They had stepped to the side of the track when they
first heard the cars engine noise, and turned to look
at it. At the last moment, just as I was about to move slowly
past them, the young man of the couple raised his hand, palm
facing towards me. There was no mistaking it. Despite he was
asking for a lift as a favour, his gesture could only be taken
for a command; Stop. He had not used what I had
come to think of as the international sign language request
for a hitch. He had not clenched his fist and stuck his thumb
straight up in the air. So what was it all about? I soon found
I stopped the little Renault and through
my open window I said, in English, Want a lift?
There was a rising inflection in my tone which didnt
need English to be understood, and the young man and his companion,
a lovely girl, both shook their heads affirmatively and energetically.
I somehow knew they were going a long way by the swiftness
of their reply and by the emphatic way in which they both
said Si. Somehow we made room in the back seat
for both of them. We had to move a lot of my stuff to do it.
But in the end it was all right, if a bit tight. Some of my
photo gear ended up in their laps. And so did their hats.
But they laughed about it and I laughed about it and I felt
they grew more and more grateful to me for the trouble I was
taking to accommodate them. When at last we were all sitting
comfortably, I put the little car into gear and we were off.
Flipper, in the meantime, had not even raised his head. Ordinarily
he would have been actively greeting our unexpected passengers,
barking a staccato welcome. But now the only sign he made
of being with us at all, was a low whimper which escaped him
from time to time. I touched his nose. It was dry and hot.
His body temperature was rising. It was becoming urgent to
find a vet, and soon.
It was just at that point that the young
man, having heard Flippers whimper and seen me testing
his nose, leaned forward, and, looking over the back of the
front seat, actually saw Flipper. He knew, without being told,
that the dog was not well. And he said three magic words;
Conozco un Veterinario! I know a vet! As it turned
out what he really meant was that the Vet in Ibiza town was
his cousin. And so we would be able to go directly to the
doctor without delay, once arrived. The coincidence of having
given a lift to Ibicencans who could expedite a meeting with
the man, whom, at that moment, I most urgently wanted to see
in the world, was of such a unique quality that it brought
to mind that old fable of the stone in the middle of the road.
Under the stone was a fortune in gold. It was free for the
taking by any passer-by who would move the stone out of the
way. But many passed and few had any feeling for the common
good. So the gold remained unclaimed until one passer-by,
fearing for the safety of others, moved the stone and found
the treasure. Somehow, without meaning to, I had found gold
on that awful access road leading to, and away from, Madams
house by the sea, on the west coast of the island. Now it
was Eastward Ho! And on to a vet for Flipper.