Ibiza History & Culture

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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Twenty Two
A Sheep Leap, a Country School and a Translator

I Remember Ibiza

Flipper lay sleeping on the Renault’s front seat, beside me, after a frantic greeting in Vicente’s clinic. He slept as if we had never been separated and he had never been sick. He was back on his feet again, literally. Agile as ever, he had even been able to run to me when Vicente opened his cage door and with a great leap he had jumped into my arms and both of us were crying. I reached over and ran my hand over his rough, grey coat. I felt his small, muscled body heave a great sigh of contentment as I did so, and I had the distinct impression that we both felt that things had at last returned to normal.

I was on my way to San Carlos, up in the north-eastern part of the island where an appointment with the local teacher had been arranged for me. I was to meet him at the local school at recess time, when I would be able to see the local boys at play in the local schoolyard. And there I would be able to choose the boy whom I thought would do best for the main character in the photo book I was to write and photograph about his life in Ibiza. It was to be designed to be read by American kids like him. That is, if he would have me.

There would be a lot of work and a lot of time that would have to be devoted to the project and I had to be as certain as one could be, that the elected protagonist would not opt out half way through the course, thus nullifying all the work already invested. Working with children was always a bit of a gamble because they could not be counted upon to understand the larger importance of the project to which they had committed themselves. They were far more prone than adults to act on impulse and emotion, far more volatile and inherently egocentric in their outlook. It behoved me, therefore, to select a boy as carefully as I could, who promised to be steady, who was attractive in his style and appearance, and who also was at least intuitively oriented toward ignoring the camera, a talent only slightly related to acting, but one which, if lacking, would nullify even the greatest photography.

Given all these prerequisites there was then the question of how to decide how genuinely motivated the youngster would be, if he was motivated at all. If he jumped at the opportunity too quickly, there was a good chance his enthusiasm was of the short lifetime variety. If he turned down the chance to star in an only faintly understood literary project designed to play before an audience of foreign children, well, that was it. I would have to find another candidate. But, if I was lucky, and he was the kind of boy who would think about it for a day or two before making his decision, and if that decision was positive, I would be on safer ground. Finally, having found the fellow, I would then have to speak with his family and make sure of their cooperation as well as his. That would include parents, grand parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, and sometimes even friends. Unless all these ingredients were present the cake wouldn’t bake.

I had found that one of the most convincing arguments I could muster in favour of my project was fast asleep beside me. Flipper so easily wormed his way into the hearts of little boys, as well as into the hearts of their families, that reasoned discussion was quite often supererogatory. Flipper was, in fact, a kind of secret weapon. The realization that he would have Flipper’s companionship for the long time that the making of the book would take, was usually a convincing enough argument in itself to my elected boy, to encourage him to make an affirmative decision. But there were surprises, of course. Sometimes the boy I chose was afraid of dogs, even little ones. So you see, choosing a boy successfully was a complicated project in itself. And I approached it with great care.

About two kilometres from San Carlos I had an accident with the Renault of a kind which was verifiably soul destroying. We were chugging along the narrow asphalt roadway at a fair clip, as pot holes would permit. There was a magnificent valley view opening up on my left. It was bathed in the blessed sunlight of Ibiza. On my right was the sheer face of a low, solid, red-rock embankment which was what was left of the ledge through which the road had been cut. You can see that cut still. It is perhaps two hundred meters long and about two and a half to three meters high. About half way along its length, and immediately before my front wheels, a full grown sheep suddenly fell or leaped from the top of this embankment. It was impossible to avoid it or to stop and I ran it down and killed it. I had been entirely unaware of the sheep being above me as I drove along, of course, and its instantaneous materialization in front of me gave me absolutely no chance to stop in time. Whether the sheep had been frightened by the car’s approach and jumped in panic or whether it had simply lost its footing and fell, still remains an unanswered question. But whatever was the cause of the accident, it left me shaking and depressed. To make matters worse, it was not instant death. The animal suffered horribly for some time before it died, its legs jerking spasmodically and feeble cries coming from it like pathetic accusations. I suffered with it. Terribly. But there was nothing I could do. If I had had a gun I would have shot it and put it out of its misery. But short of using a tire iron on it, the which I could not bring myself to do, there was nothing for it but to wait it out until death ended its misery.

There I was on the road, alone and quite fragile, with a dead sheep on my hands. There was blood all over the front of the car. And I was a stranger in a land I hardly knew. Did I owe an indemnity? Was I responsible? Given the circumstances, I guessed I was not. But what to do? What to say? My quest for a proper boy for my book had taken on a most unlooked for and unpleasant coloration.

And then good luck found Harold. I heard motor noise. Incredibly, another car was approaching. Very rare, indeed. In 1965 for two cars to approach San Carlos almost at the same time was nothing short of miraculous. What was even more miraculous, as it turned out, was that the driver of the oncoming car was a young lady, the daughter of the proprietor of a popular and well known place called Anita’s Bar. Which is still there, on the square of the village, just opposite the church. She pulled up behind me and immediately ran ‘round to the front of my car.

“What a pity!” she exclaimed, in English! Then she looked at me carefully and saw my deep distress. She came to me quickly and took my hand in hers.

“You cannot blame yourself,” she said. “This happens sometimes because the farmer will not put up a proper fence up there” and she pointed to the top of the embankment. “There is much talk about it.”

I felt renewed. I felt as if there was someone on my side. In a lonely stretch of country road I had killed a sheep and was now being told by a local girl who miraculously spoke good English that I was not to be held guilty of any misdoing... Then she saw Flipper. “He’s wonderful!” she exclaimed! Her enthusiasm knew no bounds. She would have him in her arms. She would kiss his head. He kissed her nose. She laughed with gleeful delight. She asked me his name, his lineage, his age and about his health. Soon she knew all about him. In the end, I explained my mission to her carefully and she showed great interest in the whole idea. But until she had to let go of him in order to get into her car, she held Flipper possessively in her arms as if he was a child. And all the while, the dead sheep lay on the road, silent yet accusatory.

“Come,” she said, “I’ll take you to the school. And then I’ll get a bag and come back for it. There’s nothing as good as fresh, roast cordero!”

Together we went on to where she parked before a square building which was as wide as it was high and as long as it was wide. It is still standing there, just before you reach San Carlos itself. And it still is a country school house. And it still has the same playground area in which I saw perhaps thirty boys leaping and playing about as we drew up before it.

I stood there and marvelled. The accident had delayed my arrival fortuitously. It had delayed me so that I had missed being formally introduced to the boys while they were still in their classroom. The built-in strain, and the behavioural artificiality it produced, had been entirely avoided. The boys were in their natural environment, behaving themselves in their natural ways, and entirely unaware of me and my pending project. All I had to do was to look carefully at each one of them for a moment or two to get a quick but true idea of each individual boy’s style and appearance. It didn’t take long to find my “Juanito”! for that is what he was to be called in my book. And it didn’t take long for Catalina, for that was the name of my roadside rescuer, to announce that she would be my translator. She never thought to ask me if I would have her. It was the way she was, and I rather admired her for it.

Harold Liebow