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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Thirteen
Flipper Son Of Salsa


I Remember Ibiza

And so it was. When tomorrow came and breakfast had been taken in the leisurely manner usually reserved for royalty, when there had been a generous time to stretch out in reclining chairs on the front terrace and take in the silent miracle of the sea’s ever-changing purple, blue and green colours, only then did I finally ready the little Renault. All of us, Madame, Jacques, stunning Catherine, baby Sandra, her father, Alberto, and I were to visit a distant neighbour at Christmas time. In deference to me, Madame had decided to visit only one family instead of the four originally contemplated. It would serve to more gently introduce me to the custom, she said. But at the same time she let me know that she was fulfilling what she considered to be her own wish and pleasure, as well as an inescapable social obligation. I was strongly impressed by what I could see was her punctilious attention to strict island protocol. There must be a strong and genuine personal contact, she explained, while we were guests in the homes of our Ibicencan friends. There was, first, an obligatory inquiry of the latest family affairs: births, deaths, marriages, jobs, crops, weather, health and….then salsa.

All this while sitting on the traditional, hand crafted, child-sized, Ibicencan chairs. This only emphasized the unusually gracious dimensions of the entrada room in which we would be sitting. One entered the friend’s house only after announcing one’s presence by clapping one’s hands vigorously in the front courtyard. It was exactly like ringing an entrance bell. One was then immediately invited in and the social ceremony began. That strong personal contact was established, there were the polite inquiries about the family’s affairs….and then salsa.

The woman of the house invariably took a special pride in the quality of her special recipe for this traditional Christmas soup. And you could be sure it was a special recipe, for no two salsas ever tasted exactly alike. One might almost say no two servings of the same salsa ever tasted exactly alike. There was a profound ethos attached to the making of salsa. Generations of the family’s women had developed their own special way of producing the golden Christmas bowl of soup. So it was no surprise then, that your appreciation for its merits was eagerly awaited each time you were gracefully offered a bowl. And it behoved you to be more than politely generous in your approval. In which case, of course, you were awarded another bowl of... .salsa.

There really was no way out of this Catch 22 salsa situation, I found. I soon learned to draw out the consumption time of each bowl with which I was so eagerly provided, so as to lessen the total number of bowls which each visit could be counted upon to present. And I soon learned to make the right noises, too, about how especially delightful it all was. And it was, really. It was just that there was too much of it. And it was impossible to refuse.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We must come back to my first Christmas visit. We ‘drove’ up the car-cruel access road to Madame’s house, creeping along like a small beetle climbing a rough wall, until at last we found what might be called the main road…if you stretched the meaning of ‘main’. Main road surfaces in those days were sometimes almost as much pot hole as they were asphalt, and road width varied a good deal from easy two way passage to only just one way passage. It was, however, an easy matter to adapt to these conditions, and to soon come to approve of them, as well. There were no high speed collisions, no blood on the tarmac, and no cadavers in their cars, staring straight ahead. Not many of these, in any case. (I, myself, was later to prove to be one of the exceptions!)

Once on the main road, we turned left, north, toward Santa Inés, climbing up and out of the seaside shore area where Madame’s house was located. The road was a miracle of scenic variety and mountainous marvels. We chugged up and up and up, as if there was never to be a top to our climb. And on our way we were presented with splendid views of glorious, distant mountains, their tops wreathed in mist, against a sky so blue it made you think it had been painted by God. Beneath these towering mountain giants, spread out as if on deliberate display for us alone, lay pregnant, verdant valleys, with clusters of sheep and goats drowsing in the ever enchanting sunlight of the island. Here and there, on great rocky outcroppings and intimidating cliffs, clung lonely casas payesas, monarchs of all they surveyed. We stopped once, to listen to it all. There was no sound but of nature and the tiny bells suspended beneath the chins of the lead sheep and goats.

In the end we rounded down to the Santa Inés road itself, the same one Flipper and I had used to visit that charming hamlet only a few days before. It was entirely a surprise to me when the directions which Madame gave me, took us to exactly that place where I had reached my overwhelming decision to remain forever in Ibiza. And that transcendent spot itself was directly overlooked, from a high cliff site quite nearby to its left, by one of the most beautiful casas payesas I have ever seen. Its proportions were preposterously perfect. Its intense whiteness was virgin and nowhere blemished. Its location was celestial. It provoked a sharp intake of my breath when I realized that it was to that house that Madame intended we should visit. We had come some six kilometres to find it. Below it spread the breathtaking plain of Santa Inés, and I felt immensely privileged to absorb its beauty again, even if only for an hour or so, while, at the same time, I marvelled that one family had lived with such natural magnificence laid out before them for hundreds of years.

In the front courtyard, just as Madame had said, we clapped our hands loudly and were immediately rewarded by the appearance of an elderly Ibicencan gentleman who graciously waved us all inside. He was a strong looking old man, grave, courteous and well preserved. He was clean shaven and smiling and he immediately showed us to the little chairs that were so typical of country furnishing. We sat at a small round wooden table, well worn and well polished. The old varnish gleamed in the indoor gloom, for the sunlight was effectively blocked out. In a moment the woman of the house joined us, smiling and whispering, greeting the family as old friends and making me feel especially welcome. She took my two hands in hers and told me that she and her husband had heard of me and my little dog and of that Christmas Polaroid shot I’d taken of the lovely policeman near the Montesol Hotel! I was astonished, of course, that these things should have been news in the first place, and then that the news had travelled so fast and so far, but when I learned that their son had been in town when the great shot had been given to me, I understood. It was another example of the island’s everlasting even tenor in the course of which the smallest of events tended to be greatly magnified.

And then she said something so unexpected that I was sure the translation which Madame made, had got to be wrong. Our hostess said that it was an extraordinary coincidence that they should have come upon a small grey dog, only the day before. He was very much like my dog, according to the description their son had given them of Flipper. They had found him and a Podenco bitch with him, while on their way back home in their wagon from a Christmas visit. Both animals had been limping slowly and painfully along, and, since they were obviously lost, they had picked them up, taken them home, fed them, watered them and let them sleep. Sleep, she said, was the great healer. They were still sleeping now and they were just inside one of their animal houses, behind the main house. Would we like to see them? But perhaps it would be better to let them sleep on? Seeing them now would surely wake them. In the mean time we could all have….salsa….and she passed the bowls around. And then perhaps just before we left, we could have a look at them.

Now there was no way of immediately explaining to these kind people under what tension and under what unresolved strain over the loss of Flipper we had all been labouring until then. And with what hope and with what joy we were now all possessed, upon hearing such miraculous news of his recovery. It was a profound testament to our sense of the order of things, to our sense of determinative decorum in the presence of the conservative elderly, that we did not immediately shout out the feelings of relief and happiness that boiled up within us. Even baby Sandra remained silent. For surely, the two animals sleeping peacefully away in one of the animal houses just behind the main house, were Juanito’s bitch and my Flipper! Anything else would be just too bizarre. So for the nonce, we contrived to say nothing, though we looked volumes at each other and the effort cost us. But the instant rush of strong feeling which surged up inside of me was just too much, and I coughed up my mouthful of….salsa. It was an inexcusable breach of the protocol of visiting friends at Christmas time. But in the circumstances, I was excused, nevertheless.

Harold Liebow