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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Eight
The House


I Remember Ibiza

As a photographer, the morning of my second day in Ibiza had been an exciting one. There had been that wonderful Christmas shot of the benign police-Santa directing sleepy traffic in an island of gifts, the Polaroid print of which had so astonished the locals: but, as a person, the afternoon was to prove even more exciting. For in the late afternoon the boat from Barcelona finally arrived. And on it were the friends who were to be my hosts during the next ten days. We were to go on from Ibiza town to their house on the island’s west coast, well up from San Antonio Abad. It was sited in a lonely stretch of coast at the base of a massive, rocky promontory which jutted boldly out into the sea. Adjacent to it and just north of it was a lovely, very private, quite small cove. And still further up the coast was a much larger, very grand Cala. A place which was to figure importantly to me in the next few days. The friends were the people in whose Parisian apartment we had met about a month earlier and who had invited me to what I thought would be a Christmas party in Ibiza. They had told me their house was in a beautiful and solitary location. They had also told me that it was the first time they had opened the house in the winter. The chilly implications of that information had entirely escaped me and were only to be fully understood in due course.

The scene at the quay when their ship docked was much like the one when I had arrived. There were masses of welcoming people and I had the same impression that I had had before, viz., which the whole town turned out to meet these incoming ships bringing their cargoes of goods and people from the great outside world. In the quiet life of Ibiza town the arrival of the ocean going ships was a communal affair of the first magnitude. People would plan to meet them in the same way they might plan to have a picnic. They would organize themselves into family - or friend-groups and then become active spectators of the docking scenario. They would join in with the waving, welcoming throngs, even if they were not expecting visitors of their own. They would join in the occasional and spontaneous crowd singing, much like that of the fans at football spectacles. The arrivals of the ships were to be celebrated by one and all. And so they were.

This particular arrival saw my new friends struggle carefully down a shuddering gangplank lugging baggage and a child-in-arms. There was the Madame herself, dressed in that special Parisian fashion which immediately identified her as a woman of discriminating taste. There was her long-time companion, Jacques, about whom more later. There was her stunning daughter, Catherine, a youthful matron carrying her beautiful baby daughter, Sandra. And there was Catherine’s young husband, Alberto, a poetic Columbian type who was manfully shouldering the heaviest of the luggage pieces. When at last they were all safely off the uncertain gangplank and standing solidly on the quay, there were embraces all around and a powerful sense of homecoming. Ibiza, it seemed, was as much home to them as was Paris. They had met Flipper before, of course, and their reunion was a delight to see. Baby Sandra, especially, was enchanted by him as he was by her. Because my Renault was full of my things and could never have held us all in any case, I had ordered one of the very few cabs available in those days - which had proved to be no simple matter since my Spanish was not up to telling its driver where I wanted him to take us. But finally, I had prevailed. So we all moved off slowly to the cab with the crowd noises still ringing loudly in our ears. In the end the two cars travelled westward together, towards San Antonio Abad, the cab leading Flipper and me in our Renault. I was now entirely in the hands of my friends. The Delfín Verde soon became only a memory.

The road westward began to rise just before we reached the mid point of the island’s waist, at San Rafael, and the climb became steeper as we went on. It was so late in the afternoon or so early in the evening, that shadows were falling on both sides of us. Farm houses would at one moment be standing in glaring whiteness and in the next, look dark and alone in the tilled fields surrounding them. Here and there small clusters of sheep, or goats, would be moving slowly homewards. It seemed a perfect picture of the pastoral. Most notable of all, to my urban eyes, were the olive trees. Some of these trees presented a calendar of the island which must have been a thousand years old. They stood massively in their places, their knurled trunks sometimes a meter in diameter. They had seen the migrations of the Ancients; now they were to see the coming of new waves of unexpected people. The writers and the painters and the poets were soon to be joined by the flower people, and a new life style would begin to replace the old. In the end, with the coming of the tourists, the old ways would be forever lost. And so would most of the olive trees. But not all would go. To this day the island still cherishes the few that remain.

And then at San Rafael, we reached the top of the rise and began to negotiate a long downward slope which took us almost to San Antonio Abad. But not before we had one of those revelatory views of the island which, at the same time, startle and shock with their beauty. Suddenly, as we topped a minor rise in the roadway, the entire plateau on which San Antonio sits, and the sea which boarders on it to the west, burst into view. It was as if a stage curtain had been abruptly withdrawn revealing a gorgeous vista of green-blue sea, a vast open sky, a sleeping fishing village and gleaming, well groomed country farms. Flipper, hearing me catching my breath, jumped up from his cushion, put his paws on my shoulder and furiously wagged his tail. It was his way of reassuring me, of saying that everything was all right.

It is common knowledge that taxi-drivers anywhere in the world are leery of bad road conditions. Our taxi-driver was no different. The downgrade access road to my friends’ house in those days can only be described as having been an automobile torture test. It took all of her charm for Catherine to persuade our reluctant driver to override his fears for his suspension. Finally, a compromise was reached. To relieve the strain on his springs, the passengers all absented themselves from their seats in the cab and, on foot, dutifully followed its cautious, snail-like downhill approach to the house. I followed them in the Renault, with Flipper yelping in indignation at the site of his friends stumbling along. The descent took us twenty minutes and during its passage we found ourselves in a brooding pine forest. It had become early evening and the sombre ambiance under the trees, and amid their resinous fumes, proved a proper introduction to the house itself. It heightened our senses and sharpened our vision. And when at last the house came into sight, with the sun beginning to set, the vista proved to be another of those magical Ibiza moments that are so hard to forget. Suddenly we broke through the last of the pine forest and into the open. We had reached the sea…and the house.

There it stood virgin white and indigenous to the ancient rock shelf out of which it seemed to grow. Solitary in the gloaming, no other human thing in view, it gazed forever west, to the sea, to the burgeoning sunset, the radiance of which embraced the vast dome of the sky and flamed the almost invisible horizon. Just below the house lay the deep purple of evening water saying farewell to the day, while high overhead a small flight of silently soaring seagulls, saluted the setting sun.

It was a large structure, simultaneously affirmative and authoritative, its commanding impact not diminishing in the least its proffered warmth of welcome and its gift of impregnable security. It seemed two storeys high, with ample girth to carry the upper mass. There was a convincing logicality to its exterior presentation which strongly implied that the inside of this architectural apparition on a lonely beachside, would be correspondingly logical to comfortable human habitation.

I stood struck with wonder at the huge complex of circumstances which had been woven together to create such a phenomenon as this house in this place at this time…and with me, there, to see, touch, smell, hear, and, yes, to taste it all! How had it happened? How had it fused together to find me and Flipper standing in this place at sunset on Christmas night with new friends and a new life ahead of us? Suddenly I felt a familiar pressure on my right foot. The little dog was sitting on it. He had read my feeling, as usual, and had come to say he understood. He was the only element of my past life in America that was still with me. I knelt down and patted his little head.

The speculation I had made about the nature of the interior of the house was well borne out. The layout and build quality were extraordinary for a building created in the early 1930s. We had entered from the rear into what was really a central utility area, walking on lovely old tiles. On the right was a kitchen of primitive character. There was a heavy stoneware sink supplied with sparkling fresh cistern water by a built-in hand pump. There were two foc a terras, small charcoal burning cookers made of heavy, natural earthenware. These stood on the left, at right angles to the sink, on an ample, waist-high platform. There was work surface enough to satisfy the most space-wasting of cooks. And everything such a cook might need seemed ready to hand. The kitchen, though primitive, was utilitarian in the extreme.

Back in the central utility area, and opening out from it, were a bedroom to the left and another one to the right, just after the kitchen. But the chief architectural feature was a great arched entrance, into what was the main and central living space. The arch was so fashioned that it displayed the structural nature of the walls. These were no less than 50 centimetres thick and had been built of large rocks concealed and locked in place by mortar, not cement. This was the same material and construction style of the island’s casas payesas. Some of those old country houses were six hundred years old, still well preserved and in use. But what took the eye most, was the two-storey height of most of what was really the living room. The feeling of light and air and spaciousness that resulted was enchanting. The two storey ceiling portion permitted of a sleeping balcony reached by a curved staircase, with a small bedroom located underneath it. The balcony was ample for its purpose and was supplied with a south-facing window and a doorway opening to the west, onto its own pleasant terrace overlooking the sea. Two massive exterior wooden doors protecting two framed, interior, glass doors, comprised the main entrance of the house, and gave out onto a large terrace facing westward to the sea.

It was bitter cold as we stepped inside and entered the generous living room. In it were two comfortable old cushion chairs - still in place forty years later - set close to the walls, while the central region was occupied by a low table around which stood six chairs seemingly designed for children. They were very small chairs, indeed. I discovered later that they were typical of Ibicencan households. In the master bedroom, which was wide open to the living room, being closed off when appropriate only by a full sliding curtain, was a handsome fireplace fringed with old tiles. It was begging to be lit…and it was not long before it was.

Flipper stood in the middle of the living room, his tail wagging a bit uncertainly. I stood there with him, chilled to the bone. It had begun to dawn on me that there was not really to be a party, as I had expected, but rather a first-time Ibiza family gathering in winter. Madame came over to me, a sweet smile on her face.

“Welcome to my house!” she said, and kissed me on both cheeks.

Harold Liebow