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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Eighteen
The Party At La Parra


I Remember Ibiza

There was hubbub and uproar, guitar music and ladies’ laughter, there was also the throaty, basso speech and deep pitched laughter of heavy men…there were heavy shadows in dark corners, as well as the tinkling sound of ice cubes being poured into tall glasses; there were the to-ings and fro-ings of waiters burdened with overloaded trays, There was, in short, a party at La Parra. Which was just off La Marina, the port area of Ibiza town. And it was my party.

It was really, in general, by way of my saying thank you to my new friends for the warmth and kindness they had extended to me; and it was, in particular, a party honouring the newly weds, Paco and Maria. In addition to the bar’s regulars there were all of us at our own round table. Absent was Flipper, still recovering in hospital. Present were the starry-eyed, peasant newly weds; Vicente, cousin to Paco and Flipper’s vet; Ernesto, man of the world, art agent and philanthropist; Hungry Hannibal, the man with a face like a tired eagle’s, hotel tout and instant blood brother; Chinese Rita, nursing her own bottle with hands that trembled; Dundee Doreen, never without a smile, a one-liner, or a broken heart: Big Mimi, timid and silent, owner of a tea plantation in India but always broke, child lover and hostage hostess to the hippies; and Little Mimi, dynamo of discontent, lover of humanity, for once overpowered by another personality, Catalina, our majestic hostess!

It was a smallish place. Perhaps there were ten, twelve tables, a four or five meter long bar, a small dance space of sixteen square meters, dark walls with spectacular bull fighting posters splendidly displayed by brilliant, focused lighting, an obscure ceiling, and, guarding the cash register like a stranded whale, the dueña. Robed in a vast, Jellaba-type, all-enveloping garment, poured into a deeply cushioned throne designed to comfortably accommodate elephants, was Catalina, so obese that she had never been seen to walk....but a woman so wise that troubled people came from distant parts of the island to seek her advice….a woman known to massage ‘fallen stomachs’ (more explicitly described as hiatus hernia), with such passionate perseverance that surgery could be avoided. Catalina! There was a woman, indeed! Even Little Mimi was awed by her!

She commanded a service staff of two waiters, one of whom, Pepe, will presently appear importantly in our story. There was another Pepe, a somewhat limited guitarist, Pepe Escudero, whose musical shortcoming was compensated for by his volcanic enthusiasm. Another guitarist played that night along with Pepe, but somehow I missed his name. There was a singer, Pepe’s Escudero’s wife, Herminia, who sang her own inventions. And there was a Flamenco dancing gypsy grotesque, Paquito, small, thin, and untidy, who completed the entertainment roster.

“Antonio Bueno,” was Catalina’s son and major-domo (as opposed to another local Antonio, “Antonio Malo”, the town’s acknowledged bad boy). It was Antonio Bueno who had arranged the details of my party with me. And it was he who ordered the entertainment and managed the bar and supplies for the place. The most unusual element in all of this was that there was formal entertainment at all. Most bars in Ibiza those days served only as drink/social centres for their patrons. Entertainment was for someplace else. And for a small place, La Parra carried a rather biggish staff, I thought; but when you counted up the number of patrons sitting at table, standing around, and those seated at the bar, you began to understand why La Parra’s ancient cash register was ringing up paid cuentas as fast as Pepe’s fingers were sounding chords on his guitar.

It must be pointed out that the presence of our crowd at La Parra was a departure from the usual. Antonio Bueno had been delighted when I approached him about a party made up mostly of foreigners. He had been quick to assure me that a proper table would be provided, that it would be placed adjacent to the dance square, and that the service would be reasonable. ‘Reasonably tolerable’, was the exact way he put it. La Parra was what was called by the extranjeros, the permanently resident foreigners of the neighbourhood, an ‘Ibicencan’ bar. As such it was presumed to be patronized largely by locals and was a place where the languages spoken were Ibicencan, Catalan or Castellano. So our presence inspired a certain element of novelty and even of special effort, not only from the service quarter, but from the entertainers as well.

It all started with a prodigious Flamenco dance spectacle. While drinks were being passed around, and as the ambient noise level had risen to deafening proportions, while Pepe, our principal waiter, was sweeping up an accidentally spilled tray of olives, potato chips and cheeses, there was a sudden explosion of guitar chords and an accompanying chorus of startling and exhilarating shouts calling us all to attention. A chair with a thin plywood back panel was placed in the middle of the dance square, and then small, thin and untidy Paquito, the gypsy grotesque, leaped on stage.

He was instantly in command. It is impossible to give a literal written description of the overt, bold gyrations, as well as the subtleties, of his performance. Only film could capture that. So suffice it to say that he was a master dancer who took us far beyond mere Flamenco machismo. More than that, he was a master entertainer, and he held us in thrall for perhaps fifteen minutes. It was a long time to keep a crowded bar bewitched by the increasing complexity and mounting tension generated solely by the prolific pounding of heel-and-toe cleats on a hardwood floor. To say nothing of the dramatic contrast provided when, with the guitars silent, he began to beat out a variety of rhythms on the chair’s plywood back panel, with his fingernails! Cries of “Olé” rang out spontaneously from all around the room; and, when he mounted the chair and danced on its seat, the place went wild.

When it was over, in a final burst of inspired gymnastics, there was a grand burst of ear-shattering applause….and on Paquito’s face was a smile like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. He bowed and bowed as the unison chanting of Olé!, Olé! went on and on. At last, as an encore, he started to dance once more, without guitars, He adopted a slow adagio rhythm on which he began an elaboration which soon became impossible to follow, so complex did it become. But one continued to feel the underlying, sad, commemorative rhythm with which the dance had begun. Then the tempo (the key, had it been music), erupted into an upbeat mode (a major key, had it been music), and he was away. Celebration triumphed over mourning that night and one understood the dance was being dedicated to a happy future for the newlyweds. And so it proved to have been, for, when it was finished, Paquito turned to our table and proposed a toast to them and to their future. It was a toast in which the whole bar joined. And Catalina, ensconced like a rotund, pear shaped Buda in her voluptuously upholstered throne, ordered a round of drinks on the house, as a sign of her own good will to the pair. Her face, too, half lost in its bulging fat, carried traces of a smile, a smile which I read as self-congratulatory in having taken on small, thin, untidy Paquito as a regular attraction for La Parra.

Almost immediately the guitars roared into life again. And then, almost immediately, went almost silent. Herminia, stepped into the dance square. She was wearing a long red dress. It had a high sheen about it, even in the quiet lighting. It was tight about her hips and knees, flat over her abdomen, and loose about her breast and ankles, where it flared out almost into a trail. She had a red hibiscus blossom in her jet black hair and an open red fan in her hand. She was young, beautiful, and she also proved to be an enchanting singer. Her voice was a sultry contralto and of a quality to mark her special in any venue. She sang softly at first, guitars strumming lightly behind her. Not moving her body, but turning her head with her phrasing and looking directly into the eyes of her audience, she was close enough to make each one of us, instantly and powerfully, feel that she was singing intimately to us. It was a compelling performance I can tell you, and when it came my turn, and she looked directly into my eyes for several long seconds, I felt as if we were about to become lovers. But soon she looked away from all of us and seemed to be looking into herself. Her voice blossomed into fuller volumes and her song became more agitated. Its tonal quality was rich and womanly. Her heart, she said, had found its home. Then, moving slowly over to the newlyweds, she sang to them directly, changing her key and tempo. She sang about love, home, children, happiness, sorrow, health and illness. She sang about life in such a way that by the end of her song we were all crying and laughing at the same time. Paquito had been a hard act to follow, but Herminia had been up to it. The applause was deafening. It was astonishing to me to find such artistry, such world class talent, in such an out of the way venue as the Bar La Parra in Ibiza.

Catalina ordered canned music and general dancing began, but not before Maria, in a lovely long white gown which had been her wedding dress, but which had been modified so that it could be worn for special social occasions such as this one, took the floor with her husband, Paco, and surprised us all by dancing delightfully. My party at La Parra went on and on into the small hours. When at last it broke up, and everybody had said good night and thanked me for a wonderful time, Chinese Rita and Dundee Doreen were escorted back to the Delfín Verde by Hungry Hannibal and Ernesto, Paco and Maria left with Vicente, who promised to look in at Flipper before turning in for the night, and in the end, I first drove Little Mimi to her place, well out of town, and then Big Mimi, to hers, just off the main road to San Antonio Abad.

It was then that I learned where the turn off was from the main road to Jutta’s Casa Paput, soon to be my own place and just a bit beyond Big Mimi’s. It was about a kilometre north west from Ibiza town at an area called Can Negre. One turned left. Both Big Mimi’s house and Paput were high on a hillside overlooking Ibiza town itself. They were half a kilometre up the narrow dirt track and, just as we approached Big Mimi’s, my headlights suddenly and shockingly illuminated an amazing and fearsome sight. A huge, jet black stallion was galloping straight at us! His eyes were wild, white froth lathered his mouth and he was in a heavy sweat, as if he had been at it for a long time. Standing upright in the stirrups of this apparition was a crouching human figure completely attired in a jet black body sock. He was wearing a full-face black mask, a large sombrero, also jet black, and he was relentlessly whipping his mount toward us. I wrestled the Renault to the right, up against the hillside, and just in time, too, for the mad black horseman and his spectral steed went by us on our left like a lethal hurricane, with only a few centimetres to spare. Big Mimi said, quietly, as if nothing untoward had happened, “I’ll tell you all about him sometime. He does this when the moon is full.” It was only then that I became aware that it was, indeed full.

And it was not until much later that I learned that Big Mimi had been decorated for heroism after the war. For hazardous actions with the French Resistance. Which would tend to explain her coolness under the fire of that nocturnal nightmare. Many strange things were, and still are, believed to happen when the moon is full, in Ibiza. And it was quiet, reserved, timid, fearless Big Mimi who let me into the secret.

Harold Liebow