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Books on Ibiza

Bibliomaniacs' Corner
by Martin Davies

Eva Lis Wuorio (Part Two)

Welcome back to the webpage that uncovers the real Ibiza. For bookworms, that is. As we live in the age of the sound bite, let's kick off with a few titles which have recently caught my eye:

1. Shit, man! A French hippie novel set on Ibiza. It won the prestigious Prix de Deux Magots in 1972 and was even translated into Spanish (published in Buenos Aires - not Franco's Madrid).

2. Dedicado a los que no saben y a los que no pueden leer: observaciones y notas en Ibiza (‘Dedicated to those who don't know and those who can't read', 1987). Written by someone who doesn't really know how to write. Published in Valencia.

3. Wenn Fische malen können (‘If Fish Could Paint', 2000). A familiar theme this: jilted husband goes to Ibiza to ‘find himself' and becomes a porn star instead.

4. The Terrible Door (1964). This has only three pages about Ibiza (pp. 39-42), partly lifted from the account by Norman Lewis in his classic travel compilation, The Changing Sky (1959). The story is rather curious and nicely turned: rare bookdealer is on the trail of the notorious ‘Ibiza letters' of sub-Oscar Wilde literary fugitive, who was on the island at the beginning of the twentieth century. On Ibiza he checks out the writer's ‘Castle', a tower next to a beach beyond Santa Eulalia (shades of Benjamin, or Robin Maugham, perhaps). The ‘terrible door' is better known these days as the ‘terrible closet'.

5. The Knight Has Died. (1963) This is about as literary as it gets, and also more than a touch self-pitying. The author, Cees Nooteboom, is one of the great names in Dutch letters, but this is definitely not his Don Quixote. Not recommended, unless you absolutely have to read everything ever published about Ibiza.

6. They Are Ruining Ibiza (1998). No, not a long-overdue UNESCO report, but a novella by a Texan literary academic. Again, it features a porn starlet, but I won't say more in case you're tempted to buy it. Funny in parts. Could the publishers please, please hire billboards for this title in front of the Consell Insular, the parliament buildings in Palma, Madrid and Brussels and the United Nations HQs in New York and Geneva?

7. Yoni (a spiral-bound book, date ca. 2000. The title means ‘C**t' in Sanskrit). This is definitely one for bibliomaniacs of the hippie generation. The author, Bruce C. Stratton, has also written The Last Boat to Barcelona (also spiral bound) which contains the memorable sentence: "I heard one woman remark that she had been judged legally insane in New York but since coming to Ibiza five years ago she hadn't had any problems."

8. The Gossip Pines: an Ibiza Country Journal (1994). Includes excellent recipes for boiled and roasted hedgehog. As for that title, ‘in our country [Scotland] custom requires that you tell all your family news to the bees, the Ibizencos tell it to the pines: every birth, every death, every marriage must be announced to them first … this small island is a storehouse of Mediterranean history, trapped in the memory of its trees.' Interesting theory.

9. Is Harry on the Boat? (1997). Londoner Colin Butts' début about holiday reps in Ibiza had the whole island buzzing, not just for its well-turned plot but just as much for the racy title, which is rhyming slang: Harry = Harry Monk, and Boat = Boat race. If ‘race' stands for ‘face', what on earth could ‘Monk' stand for? (Clue: it's the same colour as the isla blanca.)

At the end of the first article we took a look at The Island of Fish in the Trees, a children's book in which two girls dressed in party frocks wander around Formentera in search of a GP to mend a broken doll. The author, Eva-Lis Wuorio, moved in her childhood to Toronto from Viipuri, an ancient walled city in Finland, hence her unusual surname and perfect command of English. ‘The sound and love of the sea never left her' says a biographical note, so when she went to work as a journalist in Europe, Ibiza became her base, followed at a later stage by Jersey. Ibiza History Culture readers who recall José Ribas's articles (Weekly Editions 051 and 052 of 16th and 23rd February 2002) about barruguets (local mischief-making imps) will be interested to hear that her second book is entitled Tal and the Magic Barruget (1965).

Eva-Lis Wuorio with Sandy in El Caballo Negro (Sandy's Bar)
Santa Eulària (Early 1960s)

Tal is an eight-year-old boy, born in New York to a Canadian mother and Welsh father, the former now dead five years. The father is an abstract painter who goes off to make documentary films in far-flung corners of the globe, recalling the former profession of long-term resident Rolph Blakstad, better known as an architect and expert on Ibicencan culture. On this particular occasion the person left in charge is a sweet old grannie called Bruja Vieja (‘Old Witch'), who dresses in Sabbath black, has a large beak-like nose and likes to dabble in magic. The first thing she does is summon a barruguet from the oleanders in the river-bed to do the household chores. The diligent goblin soon makes it plain that his stomach is every bit as big as his gigantic pointy ears, so the fat, so to speak, is in the pan. Without revealing too much of the plot, readers can rest assured that dramatic tension is balanced with plenty of feel-good detail. In The Island of Fish in the Trees, the Formenterans were delighted to help the girls in their quest for the doctor, while in Tal it is the residents of Wuorio's home village of Santa Eulalia (in spite of the book's cover, which depicts Ibiza Town) who form a sort of protective blanket round the multilingual boy: even if he has lost his real mother, there are several others ready to stand in at the drop of a sombrero. In both books locals and foreigners form one big happy island community. Incidentally, as folklorists may have noticed, the strange-looking fellow summoned from the riverbed who constantly bellows ‘Work or food!' is not a barruguet but a fameliar.

Back and front covers of Eva-Lis Wuorio's book Tal and the Magic Barruget

In the same year that Tal and the Magic Barruget was published in Ohio, a third children's book about Ibiza saw the light of day in London, Pietro and the Mule by Helen Cresswell and illustrated by Maureen Eckersley. Helen Cresswell is known in her native Nottinghamshire and far beyond as a children's writer of definite stature, so here's a small sample of her chiselled prose:

In the Mediterranean Sea there is a little island called Ibiza. The sun is hot there, so the reddish soil is dry and baked to a fine powder, and the only green is that of the vines and olives on the slopes of the hills. Even this green is pale and dusty, as if it had been faded by the sun. The peasant folk who toil in the fields wear long black clothes to shield themselves from the glare, and when the sun is overhead they drop their tools and lie in the shade, their straw hats tilted down over their faces.

The book itself is only eight inches high - perfect for junior laps and hands - and the paper has a thick, creamy consistency which leaves the letters perfectly defined, begging to be read. At every stage its production has been in the hands of people who dream about font sizes and margins, agonize over different shades of ivory and would sooner be hung, drawn and quartered than allow a misplaced inverted comma to appear in print. Even the address of the firm's Edinburgh office (Tweeddale Court) seems to have been chosen with a bookish attention to detail.

Back to the story: the protagonist is an Ibicenco boy who lives with his mother and grandfather in Sa Penya, the fishermen's quarter below the ramparts of Dalt Vila. When Granddad is taken to hospital with a back injury, money runs low forcing Pietro to take responsibility for deliveries of fruit and vegetables by mule-cart. The plot thickens when Amanda, a wily American who seems to have a lot in common with Tal's barruguet, arrives on a cruise-boat. She jumps ship and gives her unfortunate parents and Chief Policeman Alberto a string of severe panic attacks. (Her surname, by the way, is Cunnington.) The entire town is eventually mobilized to run her to ground, but I won't spoil the ending. There are nine ink drawings, one of which was based on a photograph which originally appeared in the guidebook This is Majorca (1964) and more recently in the photographic anthology edited by your correspondent, Eivissa-Ibiza: A Hundred Years of Light and Shade (2000). It shows Pietro standing on the quay just as the boat leaves. There is one serious mistake in the book, a black mark it has to be said for both Helen Cresswell and Nottinghamshire letters: Pietro is an Italian name. In nine years on Ibiza, I have never come across it once.

Picture from This is Majorca
Photographer Cas Oorthuys
Illustration from Pietro and the Mule
By Helen Cresswell

Next week we move on to 1966 with Juanito of the Tower, a children's book without a single obvious mistake in its title. To sign off, an Arabic proverb, both because we're so close to the North African coastline and because bibliomaniacs there are such highly-respected members of the community.

A book in the pocket is a garden in the pocket.

Happy gardening!

Martin Davies



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