Ibiza History & Culture

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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Twenty
Casa Paput

I Remember Ibiza

By the time we arrived at what Chinese Rita had called “the most wonderful house on Ibiza” my head had cleared entirely and I put myself into what I had come to call my ‘analytic’ mode. This was supposed to ensure that I would take a sceptical attitude toward anything or anyone I was supposed to evaluate. Objectivity was to underpin validity and I called on my professional photographic sensibility to help me evaluate the architecture of the place, the quality of its location and the nature of its furnishings. I did all sorts of little exercises like that which fit into my image of myself while in my ‘analytic’ mode. But there was nothing for it. I just plain loved the place.

The main house, which was a signal example of classical, traditional Ibicenco construction and design, had been restored in a manner most marvellous. The proportions were happily married and were celebrating at least their 200th anniversary. During that time they had become so integrated with the enveloping terrain that the two had blended one into the other. It was almost impossible to determine where the house began and where the natural flora surround ended. There were oceans of flowers and gardens galore, but the greatest flower of them all was the house itself.

The main living area was a large and comfortable rectangular room with a high ceiling. It was held aloft by very hard wood Sabina pine beams of imposing bulk, which had been hand hewn from the raw trunk. When those beams had been made, only the axe and adze could have hewn them. No saw could cut the stone like wood. One could imagine the scene: two strong men, geared together in a rhythm set by their muscle-needs for oxygen, stood on opposite sides of a huge, trimmed, tree bole. It lay flush on the ground, as if exhausted and defeated, on a thick, sorrowful carpet woven of its own shorn branches. In their hands the men wielded heavy headed axes to do the rough sizing. Then they used adzes to skilfully cut and shape the gross, squared beam to exactly the wanted dimensions. There was not enough energy for talking, so the work was done only to the sound of heavy breathing. When it was finished, a very hard wooden beam lay before them. It was perfectly suited to its intended function. Though it would live for centuries, it had taken perhaps only half a day to create. There is almost no Sabina left on the island today.

Inside, Jutta’s house was so beautifully furnished that one felt one was entering a charmed and secret place. On the floors there was a generous use of sparkling scatter rugs strewn over exquisite old tiles. And in appropriate places, there were full size carpets from all parts of the world. There were Keshan, Hamadam and Tariz Orientals, a French Aubusson and Mughal dynasty rugs from Pakistan. Louis XIV side pieces mingled with Chinese dragons leaping at you from bulging storage chests standing alongside medieval suits of armour. It was a museum; no less. And the paintings on the spotlessly white walls had not only been hung to form engaging patterns of verticals and horizontals, but had been chosen with a sense of universal appeal. Ernesto’s touch was immediately evident to me. Each one was a unique object, but it also blended effortlessly with the others of its group. And there were more than a dozen groups.

I held my breath and said to Jutta, “Only beautiful people could live in such a beautiful place!” It was the end of my reserve. Like the conclusion I had come to about her husband Emilio, that he had “no evil in him”, I also came to the same about her. Jutta recognized the change in me instantly, for it must have been clearly evident in my bearing, so radical was it in my feelings. And it brought with it a so welcome relief to both of us that involuntarily, we held both the hands of the other, and then we embraced warmly.

The next order of business was an inspection of Jutta’s guest house, Casa Paput, which stood only about thirty meters away from the main house. I had become very anxious to find a place in which to settle so that I could get started working on my planned project for Ibiza. It was a job for which I had a fine contract from a major publisher in New York, McGraw Hill. Most of all, it was a very challenging assignment, requiring the full use of my abilities and resources. My contract with McGraw had grown out, of all things, the launching of the Russian spacecraft, Sputnik, a few years earlier. The American reaction to that had been, to say the least, agitated. In those cold war years the international competition between the two great rivals on all levels was ferocious. But it was particularly hard fought on the scientific front in general, and especially on the only then emergent, space exploration front, in particular. So when the Russians were the first to successfully launch a satellite - called Sputnik - the Americans had fits. They accelerated their research and investment in Space projects, rallied their entire scientific establishment to the cause, and called in the assistance of their national University system as well. Interest and investment in the Humanities, the study of the Arts and of Human Culture in general, fell by the wayside for several years. All energies and focus were glued to Space. When, finally, the Americans caught up with the Russians, and they did, a guilty awareness that the Humanities had been seriously, even dangerously, neglected for decades, began to sink in. While Science had expanded geometrically, the Humanities had shrunk arithmetically. If things continued in such gross imbalance for much longer, America would become culturally insignificant.

The reaction to this awareness was to frantically reinvest in the Humanities. Universities were prodded and financially helped to update and modernize their Humanities departments. Humanities budgets were enlarged all over the country to realize the new objective. Then American publishers, especially book publishers, were strongly urged to follow suit. To help them do so, the Government began to subsidize them, so that they could afford to publish material which was less commercial and more culturally oriented than they could otherwise have afforded to produce. The trickle down effect made me, among perhaps thousands of others, an immediate beneficiary of this national educational convulsion.

McGraw Hill hired me to do a series of children’s books in Europe. These books were to be strongly photographic in character but also strongly narrative at the same time: they were to be designed to show children in America, from the ages of eight to twelve, how their counterparts lived in Europe. The contract was for six books, each one to be done in a different European country, and each book to be a study of the ordinary life of a boy or girl born into a different socio-economic class from the others. It was a fine contract, indeed, and it was high time I got down to working on the book which was the second on my list. The first had been the French/Paris story which I had completed about six months before I arrived in Ibiza. It was already in use in hundreds of schools in the United States. The next book was intended to tell the story of a boy or girl living and growing up in Spain under a dictatorial regime. By default, I had chosen to write and photograph it in Ibiza…by taking that monumental decision to make Ibiza my permanent home. It was now time I found a place in which to live because it was now time to go to work. Hence my intense interest in Casa Paput. Would it do?

Jutta opened the front door. I stepped inside. It was delightful! It would indeed do. There was a small American style kitchen to the rear, left, which opened directly onto the main living space accessed directly by the antique front door. A living space capacious enough for a family of four. It was about eight or nine meters wide, four meters deep, and it had built in bed and bench accommodation in the right places. To the right, rear, behind the main room, was a small but complete bathroom. Best of all, and quite unexpected, was the presence of electricity. There was an up-pump system run by it, which made getting cistern water to the roof an easy matter. From the roof, where the water was stored in large tanks, gravity down-pressured it to the bath and the kitchen. And there was even hot water, provided by a pressure driven gas-burning water heater, right above the kitchen sink.

The house itself was tucked away in a natural fold of the land and was thus protected against north winds and storms. The view from its south facing terrace was magnificent. There, before you, was spread out the whole southern section of the island. Centred within that view was the Old Town, boldly thrusting skyward toward the Cathedral, which, like a medieval castle, overlooked the peaceful village below. The little house itself was surrounded, almost drowned, by a wilderness of brilliant red and purple flower bracts of bougainvillea. It was the cottage dream-house kind of thing, and it was perfect for single occupancy…but even better for double. As for its style, well it quietly harmonized with Jutta’s seigniorial villa only a few meters away. What more could an American with a taste for European living ask for? In no time at all we had agreed the details and everybody lent a hand unloading the Renault. Two things now became urgent. The first was to immediately check up on Flipper and to bring him home to Casa Paput, if he was up to being moved. And the second was to get in touch with the educational people on the island and ask for their advice and help in choosing the young boy who would become the protagonist of the children’s book I would begin to work on in the next day or two.

Harold Liebow