Our taxi-driver had been urgently unwilling
to embark his cab and its suspension onto the hazards of the
access road. But now that it had delivered its passengers
and all their baggage to their proper destination, he seemed
equally unwilling to start it on its return trip. He decently
helped us as we began to hassle the luggage into the house.
And after we had finished that chore he stood quite still,
looking out to sea. He was a short, rather round Ibicencan,
very sparse of words, but withal, self composed and quite
alive to his surroundings. As we said our good-byes and made
as if to leave him, he remained silent and frozen in position
a protracted pause developed when he failed to respond. Then
he slowly spread his arms expansively to include the whole
beautiful prospect in front of us, nodding his head and smiling
This, he said in Ibicenco, never
have I seen it before.
It was quite evident that he was deeply
moved and we looked at each other with quick understanding.
Madame immediately took charge and, to my astonishment, replied
in the same language.
It is always like this here,
You are very lucky people, he
said, to live always with such nature around you. It
With quickening empathy, Jacques said quietly
in French, Come in with us, well all have some
tea now. Madame promptly translated this into Ibicenco.
And so it was; we all trooped in, taxi-driver
included. The windows and doors were opened to air the rooms,
Madame and stunning daughter Catherine started on the tea.
With Alberto, Catherines husband, I broke out the oil
lamps and soon the house was alight in their warm glow. Meanwhile
Jacques had a young fire going in the bedroom fire-place and
the sense of an empty and deserted house was dispersed. By
common and unspoken consent, we all then gathered together
in front of the fire and welcomed its gentle heat. For the
temperature had fallen sharply as night fell, and the house
had been closed to the sun all day. The baby, Sandra, had
settled down on a cushion on the floor, just in front of me,
and Flipper had fallen asleep in her lap. When the tea was
served out, it seemed that nothing could be more wonderful
than the peaceful mood of that time and that place. And, as
the shadows grew around us, the sun, now a gigantic hemisphere
of fierce orange, sat flat on the horizon. It grew colossal
arms that filled the western sky, huge limbs of vermillion,
gold, and rosy red. It sent them groping heavenwards, searching
for purchase on the unseen stars to save it from the sea.
But soon it was dark. The sea had swallowed the sun. We drank
our tea. Sandra joined Flipper in sleep. The hours flew by.
The talk ran out. The cold increased despite the fires
heat. It was bedtime.
Our taxi-driver rose to go. His presence
had become so natural that his departure came as a surprise.
Madame spoke as if he had not stood up.
"In the morning, she said, Juanito
will bring fresh fish for lunch. Breakfast is when you like.
Catherine said in her delightfully accented
English, You will eat ze most zelicious fishes of your
lives! And this with a big smile, showing gleaming white
Then Madame reeled off our bedroom assignments,
including one for our taxi friend. But everybody realized
this might be optimistic. He was a family man. He had obligations
on the other side of the island.
I am much more now, he said
philosophically, than I was. And I thank you for that.
But now I must go to Ibiza town, to my family. It is a long
way and the dark of night is on me. That is the translation
which I was given, though it sounds a bit inflated. But who
knows? Poets and philosophers are found in the most out of
the way places. After all, Mohammed was a camel driver.
Bedtime found me stiff with cold; and the
bed itself was colder still, despite I had been given the
warmest sleeping place in the house. The balcony, high above
the main floor, should have collected the warmest air in the
house, if it is true that warm air rises and cold air falls.
But notwithstanding all of that, it was cold. Very cold. And
it was there that Flipper and I bedded down for the night.
Through the window, just above us, we could see a half moon,
obscured from moment to moment by slowly moving clouds. On
top of the blanket we had been given, I piled my coat, my
jacket, my trousers and my towels, but still Flipper and I
shivered in separated spasms so that sleep was slow in coming.
I marvelled at the adaptability and the toughness of the French,
for from down below us there came the reassuring sounds of
deep sleep. Someone was happily snoring away. In time, after
counting dozens of cold sheep jumping over a low fence festooned
with icicles, I was, too.
As Madame had foretold, the morning brought
with it not only a reborn sun, splendid in its dominion of
sea and sky, but also the charismatic appearance of Juanito,
a long time neighbour and family retainer. He was a taciturn,
middle aged Ibicenco of middle height and slender build. The
detail of his face was always partially obscured by a heavy
growth of short-hair beard. It was clear; however, that behind
the grey stubble was a strong face, one with the powerful
suggestion of a unique personality. With a perpetual dead
cigarette drooping out of one side of his mouth, and with
a speculative look always playing about his features, Juanito
was an arresting character by any standard. But the single
most unusual feature about him was his missing hand. Juanito
had lost it in a dynamite fishing accident many years ago.
He had adapted to this disability with an intenseness of purpose
which had restored his independence completely. He sternly
rejected any effort to help him, however the delicacy of the
task involved, and he continued to support his large family
and himself by professional fishing, as if the accident had
Whenever the French family was in residence,
Juanitos routine would change somewhat to accommodate
their presence. Instead of spending the whole day at sea,
he would make a small off-shore, early morning catch in a
row boat, and bring it immediately to the house. There, notwithstanding
he had only the one hand, he would skilfully and quite rapidly,
clean and gut the fish, and later prepare them for the family
lunch, using the two charcoal-burning foc a terras. Their
absolute freshness and his skill with traditional Ibicenco
recipes produced, in Catherines words, ze most
zelicious fishes of your lives!
There was a warm family atmosphere that
morning when Flipper and I came down from our balcony bedroom.
We were made to feel as if we, too, were part of it. There
was singing and laughter and there was washing and shaving,
though Juanito would have no part of that. And as the sun
rose higher and higher, there was also warmth once again in
the house. I went out and stood on the main terrace and looked
out to sea, to the west. To the west, the water was deep purple
and was very beautiful. So clear was the air that one could
even make out the dim outlines of the mainland
west. That morning, with Flipper, my last contact with America,
cavorting about my feet, the west captured not only my mind
but my feelings as well. To the west far across the waters
of the Mediterranean, lying just below me, and far across
the mainland Peninsula of Spain, then far, far across the
Atlantic, to the west, beyond all of those huge parts of our
immense globe, lay America, lay my country, lay my life. All,
to the west. This, it seemed, was what homesickness was all
about. One began to think and feel in geographical terms.
I thought I had settled the matter of my future, of my permanency
on the island. But had I? Would I be feeling the strong pull
of the west, if I had? Surely, this family whose generous
hospitality I was enjoying, whose way of life had seemed so
attractive to me, surely they were not responsible for this
sudden uncertainty which had invaded me on this, Oh! So lovely
morning? But if not they, who or what was responsible?
I stepped back inside and looked around
me in that lovely living room of that lovely house. There
they all were, busy with their morning things, busy with preparing
for a long walk later that day, a walk designed to bring me
more into the picture with respect to Juanitos house
and family. And I realized that I was at home, that my nostalgia
was only natural, inevitable, probably repetitive, but that
my reality was now with this place, these people and this
island. If I was not at home in the sense of having been born
here, then I was at home in the sense of having chosen to
be here. And surely that self-chosen, independently elected
option was the more valid one, as against the accident of
birth. Free will is the defining attribute of mankind, I suppose.
And suddenly I felt all man.