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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Twenty One
I Begin To Understand Ibiza


I Remember Ibiza

It didn’t take more than half an hour to install me in Casa Paput, after which I was off to check on Flipper who was still installed comfortably in Vicente’s veterinarian clinic. Jutta stayed behind and at home, preparing lunch for herself and Emilio, while Dutch Rita and Dundee Doreen joined me in the Renault for the ten minute ride back to Ibiza town. As soon as we began to roll it occurred to me that in impulsively agreeing to let Casa Paput I had completely forgot about the rock dust on the road in front of it. And I had also forgotten the implications which could be drawn from its presence. The implications were that heavy truck traffic would seriously disturb my time at home in Casa Paput. The noise would be excessive. How could I have overlooked such a negatively pervasive factor and committed myself to a house in which I probably would never be able to get a silent siesta or a decent night’s sleep? How could I have done it?

Well, the fact was, I had. I had done it. And there was no going back. But as I ruminated on this looming disaster and went over the morning’s events in my mind, it all became clear to me. I understood how I had done it. And it made me feel good. Things came full circle as I tooled the little Renault along the rock dust road. The recollection of past events is always instructive, if one will only look at them impassively, but in this case it was also entertaining. What had happened was that I had been overcome, in the first instance, by the charm of Chinese Rita and Dundee Doreen. Both of them, from the first, had been actively after me to take Casa Paput, for a reason which I had avoided thinking about, but which, upon reflection, was quite understandable and which I could now quite happily accept. They had had, in fact, two reasons for pressuring me. And they had pressured me in the sweetest way imaginable. The two reasons were self-interest and my interest.

Taking the last reason first, they genuinely believed Casa Paput was for me. They loved the neighbourhood for me in general, and they loved it for me in particular, because they knew that Big Mimi, who lived a stone’s throw away from Paput, would surely help me along in adapting to it. They loved the house itself and Jutta’s palace, near where it stood. And, it would appear, they were genuinely fond of me. Putting those items in tandem and I could see why they had been anxious for me not to overlook Casa Paput.

Their other reason, self-interest, was also comprehensible. Chinese Rita was living on a small pension from Holland. A very small pension. Anything she could pick up as she went along in the way of added income was to be welcomed. And if I rented Paput, as a direct result of her efforts, and they had been clearly influential, Jutta would undoubtedly be willing to let her have a small commission commensurate with the small rental involved. It finally had filtered through to me that informal commission lash-ups were a way of life in Ibiza in 1965. They were quite usual in land deals even when only a simple referral was involved. They were the rule in tourist touting at ship arrivals. And they were always connected with accommodation rentals. Commission payments of this informal kind are commercial stigmata in all poorer societies, and in those days, if you can believe it, Ibiza was just such a society. Poor.

As for dauntless, audacious, Dundee Doreen, she would have joined forces with Rita if only to help her friend along. She herself, a working girl with a steady job as barkeeper in the Delfín Verde, could manage without. And so it was no surprise to me when she said, “Well, you’ve done your good deed for the day!” She meant me to understand that having taken Casa Paput was a good deed and a good deal for all concerned, especially me, but there was also a hidden meaning buried in her words. She was thanking me for having made it possible for Rita to have earned a commission. I was learning the byways of Ibiza very quickly.

Something else suddenly dawned on me as we drove along in the glorious sunlight of a clear day in January. I could not hear the road noise of my tires rolling along on the rock dust! The Renault 8, with its motor mounted in the rear, instead of under the bonnet and in front of the driver, was an especially quiet little car. The normal engine noise of a front mounted power plant usually obliterated tire noise entirely, but with the Renault 8 that didn’t happen. So, as I became aware that the usual tire noise wasn’t to be heard, the reassuring idea was born that it was the loose packed rock dust surface, soft and yielding, which was absorbing it. The last and only major objection I had had about taking Casa Paput, viz., that it would be hellish because of the noise of passing heavy trucks, was probably improbable. Even engine noise would be dampened by the noise-absorbent character of the thick, loose layer of gray-colored rock dust that covered the track. Casa Paput would prove to be home, as it happened, in the best sense of the word. Even Flipper loved it… But he was not to see it, just yet. As we were passing a small villa on our left, Dundee Doreen demanded we stop and go inside.

“There’s Big Mimi’s place,” she said, “She always loves visitors, so let’s go in.”

It was then that I realized that this was the same villa to which I had delivered Big Mimi only the night before, after my party at La Parra. In the few minutes it had taken to drop her off and turn the Renault around, and in the dark, I had hardly even seen the place. It didn’t take much prodding from Doreen to make me park in the small driveway to the house. Flipper would wait for me another half hour. I wanted to see how Big Mimi lived.

We all piled out and Doreen ran ahead, burbling with excitement. Chinese Rita, was just ahead of me, humming quietly to herself. She was fluttering her hands gracefully to accompany the tune. I was soon to learn why she always did this, why her hands were seldom still...

The house was small, tidy, and told a simple story. Its occupant was financially strapped, despite she owned a tea plantation in India, she was orderly and regular in her habits and she couldn’t resist a hippy. Rita said there were always two or three of them slouched about.

“Find Big Mimi, find a fellow. Find a fellow, find a fag. (Fag was slang for cigarette!) Find a fag, it’s got-a-be pot,” she said, while her hands undulated gently like the wings of tired butterflies.

And the living room smelled of it. Its characteristic odour was strong. A young man dressed almost in rags, with long, dark hair and a friendly, relaxed way about him, immediately poured wine for us and made us comfortable. Big Mimi was nowhere to be seen. We were sitting in rather skimpy stick-like chairs. The walls were bare of pictures. Only the light was luxurious and the windows let it in freely. They were spotlessly clean. As were all the floors. A slinky black cat stole in. It sat itself down with great dignity right in the middle of the floor. The hippy, whose name was Len, drew gently on his fat hand-rolled cigarette. He offered me a drag, which I politely declined. We were all waiting for something. And then Big Mimi came in. She was, of course, the something for which we had all been waiting.

There was cheek-kissing all around, as was the fashion, murmurs all around about the wonderful party of the night before, and then Big Mimi brought in a bundled-up girl-baby whom she was looking after for people who had had to go to Barcelona. She was always looking after children of people who had to leave the island. “Baby farming”, she said, “comes to me naturally”. The infant had started to cry, but in no time Bib Mimi had her laughing and cooing. When it had settled, Big Mimi let Rita hold her. The hippy, Len, had Indian music going quietly in the background and Bib Mimi, pointedly talking privately to me, let me know a little of Chinese Rita’s background.

“She would have been a concert pianist,” she said, “but there was an accident and she never got over it.”

“What kind of an accident?”

“Well, you see,” said Big Mimi in her usual diffused way, “she was living in Hong Kong or China or somewhere like that, and she had been preparing for her first professional concert. She was to play one of the great concertos, with one of the great orchestras.” Big Mimi paused and seemed to be trying to remember what she had been saying. “She was only sixteen.” There was a long pause. At last she said, “Ah, yes, I remember. After the piano, she loved riding best.” There was another long pause. Then, with shattering unexpectedness, she said, “She was thrown from her horse!”

“Thrown from her horse?” I was incredulous. “Just before her concert, she was thrown from a horse?”

“Exactly,” Mimi said, suddenly authoritative. “She had a very bad fall. She was jumping it over a low wall and somehow the horse stumbled and she fell off.”

“She was badly hurt, I take it, and she missed her first concert?”

“She missed all her concerts. She could not play the piano after that. In the fall the horse trod on her hands and her heart at the same time. Her hands were never right again.” Big Mimi got up and went over to Chinese Rita, who was still holding the baby.

“Give her to me now,” she said. Then she kissed Rita and came back to me. Leaning over me, with the baby quiet in her arms, she said with great intensity, but under her breath, “And that’s why she waves her hands all the time. She’s playing a concerto in her head and her hands are working over a keyboard. I knew you would want to know why she always waves her hands.” Then she walked out of the room. From inside the bedroom into which she had taken the baby, came muffled sounds of sobbing. They didn’t sound at all like the sounds of a baby crying.

Immediately, both Chinese Rita and Dundee Doreen rose and quietly walked out of the house. I followed. And as I left, the hippie, Len, turned up the music just enough to drown out the sound of Big Mimi’s pain.

Harold Liebow