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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Three
How I Met Ernesto


I Remember Ibiza

The punch-up with Unwanted Tom at the Delfín Verde had cast a black shadow on my originally all positive feelings about the island. It had also generated a certain celebrity as well, for gossip had spread the news of the incident. Hungry Hannibal said It had been the first time anyone had interfered with Unwanted Tom during one of his drunken and destructive sallies into Ibiza town from his home in Formentera, Ibiza’s little sister island. I had invited him to lunch and we were strolling along the quay in la Marina, the port area, to the restaurant of his choice. Everyone we met seemed to be delighted that the bully had been trounced and showed their approval by greeting us warmly as we passed, smiling cordially and giving us the thumbs up signal. I began to feel like a local hero and Flipper, always sensitive to my feelings, couldn’t have been more proud. He barked his ‘happy’ bark exuberantly, and frisked about us. I was to learn that people took sides with great verve on Ibiza, and that it was very rare, as with this incident with Unwanted Tom, for unanimous approval to be accorded.

Foreigners congregated where the food was both good and inexpensive and it was Hungry Hannibal’s idea that it would be a good idea for me to meet some of them. Meeting them, he said, would soothe the barbed wire vibes which my untoward experience with Unwanted Tom had produced. He particularly wanted me to meet a permanent fellow Delfín Verde resident, a man called Ernesto, who, as one of the more senior foreigners, was not burdened with a descriptive nickname, as I was now. It touched me that he was so anxious for me to have good feelings about what he always spoke of as “his” island.

“Don’t you worry about that,” I said, “if Flipper and I ever have another chance to make it back here, you can bet we’ll take it!”

It is difficult to remember exactly what all my impressions were as we sauntered along the quay in la Marina about 2 o'clock that afternoon. But I do remember with delight the feeling of relaxed elation which enveloped me as we went. On my right, only a few feet away from me as we walked, was the inviting green water of the port, awash with the ever present, ever soft, ever enchanting Mediterranean sunlight. In it were thousands of very small fish in dozens of very big schools, flashing by in every which way, just beneath the surface. Their passage was magical, for it was silent, swift and rigidly choreographed, as if there was a single nautical mind that was instantaneously coordinating the individual actions of thousands of the little creatures.

On my left were the crowded buildings of the Port, now many of them decked out with Christmas decorations. Clothes lines were everywhere, with intimate items the rule. Children, grown ups, chickens, dogs, cats, fishermen, fishnet menders, all flourished together in stable social harmony. While bars, eateries, shoemakers’ shops, dairy shops, hardware shops, key making shops, all kinds of unimaginable shops, were jumbled together in a concatenation which could only have been consummated in the course of many years. The prevailing feeling was one of relaxed, conscious enjoyment of the gifts of the Gods. I felt at home. I felt I was in the family.

But how could I call these Port buildings, buildings? In all the architecture of the Port, there was not a single right angle that I could discover. They were, rather, a large congenial collection of dilapidated domiciles. Their colours had faded into one another, becoming pastel in the process. Though white predominated, it was not pure. It was white tinted with black. And, just as they shared their colours, they shared their structural integrity; they leaned lovingly on one another. Huddled somewhere in this mass of crumbling masonry was the only one-bright-colour structure in the lot, the all-green Delfín Verde - whose proprietor, Hannibal had informed me, I was soon to meet. But it was Ernesto whom I met that afternoon, at a charming, quite dark little place called, Es Quinques. It was located in a narrow, dirt surfaced street called the Calle de la Cruz, a block off the port and just across from a bar which later became my second home in Ibiza, then called Bud’s Bar, after its corpulent American owner, but later renamed Wuana’s Bar.

When we entered Es Quinques, ducking our heads under the low doorway overhead, the delicious cooking odours which greeted us immediately spoke well of my trust in Hungry Hannibal’s food/eating expertise. I smiled at him approvingly and I saw him actually blush with pleasure. At a nearby table we saw a man with sharp, aquiline features, gaunt in body, yet withal so quietly authoritative that one felt immediately that here was a man of stature. Hungry Hannibal led me to his table, and he rose as we stopped before him.

“Ernesto, this is Harold, a visiting photographer and your next door neighbour in Delfín Verde,” said Hannibal, much to my astonishment. It appeared that Ernesto and I were closer than I had thought.

“Harold, this is Ernesto, photographer, art dealer, writer.”

“A man of many parts,” I said.

“Welcome to Ibiza,” Ernesto said, shaking hands warmly. “I hear you had a busy time.

”It was shocking,” I said. And Flipper jumped up into my arms.

“So this is the little dog I’ve heard so much about. I mean the one in the car, looking out of the window!”

After that we all sat down, Flipper at my feet. A plump Ibicenco lady with a brilliant smile, jet black hair and eyes and a motherly manner, was at our side and waiting to take our orders. Her name was Pepita. She poured us red wine, tinto, all around. She did the same when the food came. She did the same when she cleared the table after the food had been finished. And the food was, well, Ibicencan. There was an especially interesting roast beef, as I remember. Juicy, rare, but, well, not easy to chew. Delicious to the taste, however. And wonderful mashed potatoes with a special gravy that satisfied. Best of all was the mini size of the check, which proved to be something like two or three or even four hundred pastas. I can’t remember the exact amount, but whatever it was; it was insignificant for what it purchased. Living on Ibiza those days, for foreigners with strong national currencies behind them, was as inexpensive as it was delightful.

The conversation turned to why there were so many writers and painters, both local and foreign, living on Ibiza. Ernesto explained it this way.

“Well, you see, there are many things that make it so. There is the location. The island is near and yet not near the rest of the world. It is easy to reach and very hard to leave. So that keeps the creative people here after they get here. And since there are always more of them coming than there are of them leaving, little by little, we have more and more of the creative people living here permanently. And that is the way it has always been.

“Then there is the social atmosphere. The island is traditionally a free place. Even in the time of the expulsion of the Jews from the peninsula in 1492, a time of terrible political life in all of Spain, Ibiza was known as a safe haven. Many of the oldest families here have Jewish ancestors from that time. So over the hundreds of years, liberal elements from all walks of life have tended to be attracted to Ibiza and especially the creative people from bad times in Europe. Ibiza has always welcomed them. It is their way.

“And it is not too much to say that the light which illuminates Ibiza is a light of such beauty that artists become addicted to it. Once they have been here they see there is no other light to paint by. They fall in love with the light. The light becomes their master, their lover, their teacher, their friend. The light becomes their life. And they tell their friends, other artists, their sweethearts, their children, and their whole acquaintance about the light here in Ibiza. And so more and more artists become enslaved by this beautifying sunlight with which we live almost every day on this island.

“Finally, there is the question of living costs. Ibiza is so inexpensive that even a pauper can live like a prince. That will probably change, given that more and more talk has been about the promotion of tourism. But in the past and for the near future at least, Ibiza is still the choice, from a cost of living point of view, of even the most impecunious of creative people. For all these reasons, Ibiza is a magnet to artists, writers, and creative people in general.”

And so lunch came to an end. I felt I knew a great deal more about this White Island than I had known an hour earlier. Ernesto was illuminating. I was honoured that he had asked me to come to his rooms in the Delfín Verde to see the paintings of the artists he represented. It was only much later that I discovered that Ernesto had been imprisoned by the Nazis in Austria during the war because his mother had been Jewish, that he had subsequently joined the French Foreign Legion, and that he had come to Ibiza in 1952 and decided to stay. He completely abandoned his previous life. He entered the art world, making many trips to Europe to see the work of the painters he represented. He became the prototype of the foreign bohemian so common to Ibiza during the 1960s, spending the day strolling through the streets of la Marina, meeting incoming ships to help visitors find accommodation, and frequenting the cafés of the quarter. He was widely known simply as Ernesto, few people ever knew his surname, which was Ehrenfeld.

I had come to Ibiza in 1964 and I would soon decide to stay, also. How that came about, I will tell you in the next chapter of “I Remember Ibiza…”

Harold Liebow