A GUIDEPOST Reprint
By Paul Brunswick
With a mournful hoot La Cuidad, a rusted hulk that has seen better days before the Rif Wars, pulled away from the deserted pier with her cargo of pilgrims en-route to Ibiza. Aside from a few families of Spanish construction workers, no-one had come tonight to see the voyagers off. Enrique and I picked our way over the mass of inert bodies that covered the decks among a litter of Morrocan pouches, stringed instruments, flutes, and bongo drums while behind us, above the multitude, a voice in Brooklyn-accented Tibetan floated in the leaden air.
“Ommmmmmmm……!” it intoned. “Qmmmm mane padme hummmm!”
We were the only customers in the second class bar. The clock on the wall read the right sailing time, nine o’clock. And a dingy-jacketed barman smiled grimly. “No vodka,” he informed us, “no cognac, no coffee, no cold beer.” Noticing our glum expression he nodded towards the door that led to the deck. “Most of them,” he explained, “don’t drink…”
We settled for gin and warm Coca-Cola. A half hour passed but the clock still read nine sharp. Someone banged on a tin tray and we went below to the steaming dining saloon. Here, the clock’s hands were frozen at an eternal half past two.
“Maaan,” the passenger across the table from us straightened his headband. “Just dig this crazy soup!”
Later, in our cabin, we lay fully clothed on top of our bunks, listening to the chanting of the pilgrims and the clanging of weird instruments above deck. It had been many years since we’d last made this trip, and the atmosphere of the ship and its passengers were plainly indicative of some of the many changes we’d heard had taken place on Mallorca’s sister island. Curiosity as to what we’d find there kept us awake till shortly before dawn when through our open porthole the sick sweet stench of centuries of uncleaned Roman sewers heralded our approach to the Mediterranean hippy paradise of Ibiza.
Many guidebooks insist that Ibiza alone among all the Balearic Islands has preserved her Moorish heritage. Lately, this has become an understatement, for today most of the Eastern atmosphere of the port town, aside from the white walled houses, and the winding alleys of her ‘casbah’ is supplied not by the natives but by the foreigners who settle here. At the dock, just as in Tangier, arriving passengers are greeted by a motley crowd of ‘port people’ wearing bits of rags, bangles, fringed goatskin bags and handmade amulets, all anxious to offer their services to newcomers for a nominal ‘fee’. The only difference here is that the language is a dialect of English instead of Arabic.
“Like man…don’t I know you? Did Marty send you from the Village?”
“Hey cat…looking for a score?”
And here, as in Tunis or Beirut, it is wise for the traveller to make his way quickly out of the port and head for the ‘European Quarter’, or native Ibicencan part of town where a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish or French will, with luck, obtain you lodgings and a safe place to eat. It is wise to rest up before sightseeing. Be careful how you dress before going out. A clean shirt and trousers, polished shoes and socks will only evoke suspicion among the habitués of the port area. Cameras are taboo. Though the denizens of this holy of holies of hip-dom tolerantly practice religious cults to Mahayana Buddhism, four things are anathema: modern technological inventions, steady work, soap, and fresh water. Before venturing out we discussed the local situation in the lobby of the Hotel Montesol with Juan Guasch, first mate on a local fishing boat.
“You were lucky you found a room,” he told us. “All the hotels and pensions are full. People are sleeping on the streets and on the beaches. It’s not our fault, it’s just that there are too many people and more keep coming…”
“I never drink around the port anymore,” he continued. “I either go straight home or come up here. All my favorite bodegas have been bought by foreigners and turned into jazz-bars or boutiques. And when I get off the boat, or am on the dock mending nets, these people look at me like I was an outsider! Hombre! My family’s lived here for over a thousand years! What is happening to this world? These poor foreign kids,” he sipped his frigola. “Most of them don’t even have shoes! I feel like helping them, but then, I have my own kids to take care of.”
Ibiza town is very small. Less then a mile separates the Crédito Balear at the end of Vara de Rey – the main street of the New Town – from the Comandancia Marina at the foot of the breakwater in the port. Almost halfway between these two points Calle Rosellón running up from the water to the walls of the fortified Old Town, forms a demarcation line between two ways of life. Even the names of business establishments are different in the two areas. In the New Town one finds the Correos, the Cine Serra, Bar Alhambra, Iberia, Café Domingo, and Restaurante Alfredo. In the port one sees signs advertising the Yes Boutique, Sam’s Hamburgers, Wauna’s Stage Door, George & the Dragon, and the Naked Ape.
Avoiding the waterfront we cut up a back street towards the old town marketplace. Even here, among the ferreterías, bookstalls and clothing shops, we found signs of the encroaching ‘new wave’. On the corner of Calle Mayor and José Verdera, a bead-hung, barefoot creature of indeterminate sex sat crosslegged in the dust, fashioning trinkets from the copper wire. While on a high stool in Wauna’s Bar, a crop-haired betrousered dowager listened enraptured as a bearded youth in an ankle length silk green gown serenaded her on the flute. Enrique snapped a photo and was rewinding his camera when a menacing crowd gathered.
“Go home, Squares!” someone growled.
We slipped down an alley and into the haven of the Bar Pou, one of the few familiar places left on the waterfront for the town water company.
“The Seventh Invasion of Ibiza,” he remarked, bitterly. “First the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians and the Romans, then the Catalans, the Moors and finally…these!”
A loud voice hailed us from the doorway.
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
We looked up and recognized Mr. Steve Seely, Ibiza’s writer-in-residence. The grizzled author of ‘The End of Mercy’ was staggering under the heavy load of a huge straw Ibiza basket slung from his shoulder. Several Spaniards rushed to help him, but he shrugged them off. “I’ll carry it!” he roared. “It’s filled with my books! You gotta buy one,” he told us when he reached the bar.
Mr. Seely, who has spent the last fifteen years on Ibiza working on a revised version of ‘Mercy’, is a Familiar figure in the port in the early morning. ‘Mercy’, he explained to us (first published in the US during the early Forties,) had been recently reprinted in its new version by Steve’s friend, Dutch publisher Geert Lubberhausen of Amsterdam’s avante garde Busy Bee Press. “He’s made me my own agent!” the author told us, pulling a copy of the book from his basket and shoving it towards us on the bar. “And it’s damn hard work! These things are heavy! Two hundred and fifty pesetas and it’s all yours!”
“Aren’t you going to autograph it?”
“Sure,” he whipped out a pen and scrawled a dedication on the inside of the jacket. “I’ll even buy you a drink!”
We lunched in a port open-air restaurant, surrounded by hippy beggars and stray dogs, then hiked up through the gate in the wall into the Old Town to visit Ivan Spence at the Galeria Spence on top of the City. The gallery, one of Ibiza’s ‘firsts’, has exhibited such well known painters as Martin Bradley and Irwin Bechtold. But today, in a town of less than fifty thousand inhabitants, the “Spence” is only one gallery out of dozens.
“So you’re back.” Ivan did not get up to greet us. He looked tired.
“Until tonight,” we told him. “This place sure has changed.”
“All things change,” he sighed philosophically. “I hope you’re going to write nice things about us.”
He introduced us to Miss Charity Thorne, Folk-editor for the US little magazine Poughkeepsie Papers. Miss Thorne arrived on the island fresh from covering the Woodstock Music and Art Fair at Bethel New York. Today, the lady, who stands only four foot five and could be any age between twenty-five and fifty, was wrapped, in spite of the stifling heat, from shoulders to ankles in a heavy woolen plaid shawl. She wore square-toed hobnailed brown leather brogans and carried her work, which includes a portable mimeograph machine, in a bulging black doctor’s satchel that looked to weigh even more than Steve’s basket.
“My field is the customs, mores and philosophy of folk people,” she told us. “I wonder if your magazine would be interested in my views on Ibiza?”
“Why not?” we said. “Yours will give us a fresh outlook. And save us a lot of work…”