Ibiza History & Culture

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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Seventeen
The Kiosk On Playa den Bossa

I Remember Ibiza

It was on Vicente, the vet’s, insistence that we all have lunch with him that I was introduced to a miniscule eatery of such charm and felicity that I remember it with great fondness these forty odd years later. I even remember the meal, let alone the place. It became one of my favourites and I shall have much more to say about it in later Parts of my story. Especially was it wonderful in summer time, as you shall see. For now, it was suggested that we could, at our leisure, make plans there for the party I had promised my newly-made, newlywed, Ibicenco friends, Paco and Maria. But before I begin to describe the attractions of having lunch on a Mediterranean beach, just thirty meters from the sea, I feel obliged to clear up what might otherwise be a growing source of confusion in your mind. It is to Ibicenco names, in general, that I am referring.

For centuries the island had been characterized by only a limited number of patronymics, reflecting the relatively limited number of families indigenous to the island. Prominently among these were the names: Tur, Ribas, Costa, Clapes, Cardona, and perhaps a few more. Intermarriage among these families, over a long time frame, resulted in those patronymics dominating the name game. Almost every Ibicenco I met in those years was a Tur or a Costa, a Ribas or a Clapes or a Cardona. My nearest neighbour today is a Cardona. And, since the island custom was to preserve the metronymic in a going name, most names consisted of three parts, viz., the Christian name followed by the patronymic followed by the metronymic. Thus, a typical island masculine name might be, Vicente Costa Cardona. Such a name would signify that Vicente was a son in the Costa family and that his mother was a Cardona. Now a funny thing happened in the name game. Just as the family names were relatively few, so the Christian names were also relatively few. For whatever reason Christian names seem to have been restricted largely to Vicente, Armand, Jesus, Paco, Antonio, Juan, Arturo, and so on. Or to Maria, Catalina, Josefina, Dolores, Carmen or Sonia. The end result was that after awhile all Ibicenco names began to sound and even look alike. There could be Antonio Costa Tur, Vicente Tur Costa, Juan Tur Tur, and countless other combinations of the same relatively few family and Christian names. So when I speak of a Juanito, who lives on a west coast beach, in a house without a roof, and then speak of perhaps a half dozen other Juanitos, you will understand that there is a reason behind the multiplicity of Juanitos on the island, and also, behind the multiplicity of so many almost identical names, in general. So I shall have to be quite careful in specifying to which Juanito, or which Vicente, or which Pepe, I am referring. And I hope you will bear with me if, from time to time, you find that I have been insufficiently clear in my identifications.

You will remember that it was Vicente the vet, Paco’s cousin, who insisted on having us with him for lunch. There were the four of us. Maria and Paco, Vicente and myself. After a last look at Flipper, who continued asleep in his little cage and seemed to be responding to treatment, we all boarded my little Renault. Vicente directed me to a beach, the name of which I learned, was Playa d’en Bossa. It was a lovely beach. It lay just west of Es Vive, a charming little suburb of Ibiza town. It went on and on and on forever. The sand was the colour of wheat and as fine as hour glass stock. It was sand as clean as sun, wind and water could make it. It was sand born of Nature, over the millenniums. And on this vast swath of untouched beauty, this colossal work of oceanic art, I saw not a single intrusion by man. The entire Playa in my sight was virgin. There were no buildings whatever in view. No humans, either. It was so solitary and so alone in its feeling, that like Robinson Crusoe, I found I was startled when I saw some faded human footprints in the sand. I learned later that there was one small apart-hotel on the Playa, much further west than was Juanito’s kiosk, but on that day I did not see it. It was a very long beach, as I have said, and was beyond my field of vision.

I said the entire Playa in my sight was virgin? Well, almost virgin. I suppose the concept of partial virginity is insupportable, but that is the way it struck me. For it was to the one man made structure on that magnificent beach that Vicente took us. It was a humble, primitive structure. It was a seaside kiosk, coloured a faded-blue, and of minimum additional attributes. It was hardly a structure at all. But it was man made. And so it quite unconsciously and quite innocently carried with it the portent of the Hell that Playa d’en Bossa would one day become. But, alas, there was no one there to read the warning. Directly south of it, across the water, lay Formentera, Ibiza’s little sister island. About eleven miles away, she was just visible as a low-lying shadow on the horizon. In those days she was perhaps the last beautiful, untouched island paradise in the world. But she, too, would end up much like the Playa from which I first saw her.

The principal feature of this small kiosk was a side-wall to side-wall, open horizontal space in its front wall, the one facing the sea. At a comfortable height was a narrow bar set firmly on the lower section of that sea-facing wall. A few bar stools in front of it gave comfort to the weary. These stood on a rough platform resting flush on the sand, and made of close-placed, wooden loading palettes. The platform also supported the kiosk’s main frame as well as a few rickety wooden tables and chairs. The interior held a large, dilapidated old fashioned ice box, some rough shelving on which stood minimal stores of glasses, cutlery, plates and all the odds and ends needed in a small restaurant. I remember there was even a container of saccharine tablets. There was a full size domestic butane cook stove and a restaurant size grill, also heated by flames fuelled by bottled gas. Outside, in the rear, were elementary facilities for washing up. With running water. But there was no electricity. A few blackened glass-chimney oil lamps sufficed for low level night time general illumination, and there was a small battery powered radio that provided an ear-offending mix of music and raucous Spanish commercials and newscasts. The place was run by Juanito and his wife, Maria. It was called, simply, “Juanito’s”. Despite its tatty character, somehow it did not defile. It was so demure, so inoffensive and so insignificant in the grandeur of the Playa d’en Bossa, that it did not vitiate the virginity of the beach. Leading me to having spoken of partial virginity. It was set among a few waving palm trees growing just where the sand began.

Vincente appeared to be one of the regulars, for his greeting to Juanito and Maria was intimate and warm, as was theirs to him. I was introduced, as usual, as the new boy on the block. My credentials seemed already known, because Juanito immediately asked why Flipper was not with me. His voice sounded like a growl, like so many of the men’s on the island. But it reflected nothing of his character, which was cordial and at the same time rather placid. He was always chewing on a dead cigar butt, making him completely unintelligible to me and only a little less so to the others. (Many years later, when Juanito had long given up the kiosk, I remember meeting him by chance on a visit to my carpenter. He had a dead cigar butt in his mouth.) Maria was all smiles and hands wringing, hands drying, hands-to-black-hair touching, hand clasping hand. She hurried inside as soon as we were seated at one of the tables and there was an immediate clatter of pots and pans as she started heating up our lunch. There was no menu. You ate what Maria prepared for you. I soon learned that was a good thing, for it permitted her to take advantage of the best offerings in the market on any given day’s shopping.

Later on, when I had myself become a regular, we could place an order a day or two in advance for what we called a “feast”. This would be for either meat or fish and it was almost always for dinner, usually during late spring, summer or early fall. That way we could swim just before we ate. There was no plastic in the waters of Playa d’en Bossa in those days. And the swimming was delightful. A “feast” was built around the fish or meat main dish, accompanied by a stomach stuffing variety of minor dishes, which seemed to have been invented by Maria. They were invariably delicious. But what made these “feasts” exceptional was that they were custom cooked for you. It was Maria’s special gift to soon learn exactly how you liked your food prepared. She was, indeed, like a hovering, anxious mother to all of us. For Maria had no children of her own. And so we all somehow became her children.

Just as we were about to start eating, two new people arrived. They took a nearby table and greeted us politely. Then they greeted Juanito and Maria. They were both women. They were both foreigners. They were both dressed in a manner which instantly identified them as being permanent residents of the island. And they were both called Mimi. One of them, very tall she was, was called Big Mimi. She became known to me as the Nanny who looked after the children of foreigners who had to temporarily leave the island. The other, very short, was called Little Mimi. She became known to me as the one who looked after the foreigners themselves. (L’il Mimi was small, but Oh my!) In no time at all they had joined us. The formalities were not much observed in those days. It was not uncommon for people to meld together since they were usually known to each other in the first place. But even when strangers were involved, it didn’t take much to bring them together. Our two tables were put side by side and we began to make plans for the party I had promised to give in honour of the newlyweds. The two Mimis were delighted with Maria and Paco and enthusiastically endorsed Vicente’s suggestion that it would be fine if it was held at a bar called La Parra. Which was in La Marina, on the port. Without the slightest hesitation, I agreed.

I also happily agreed to have a look at a guest house called Casa Paput which was highly recommended to me by Big Mimi. In her understated, shy way, she said it was empty and looking for a permanent tenant. It belonged to a neighbour of hers called Jutta, who lived in a señorial casa payesa adjacent to it. It was about a kilometre out of Ibiza town, and, she said, had charm and comfort. Moreover, it would be inexpensive. If I liked, she would make arrangements so that I could see it. Things were looking up on the Playa d’en Bossa that day.

Harold Liebow