Party hostess, history buff, English teacher,
journalist, translator, mother, ex-restaurateur, go-go dancer
and maker of the most delicious chocolate-chip cookies on
San Antonio Bay. If you didn't see Emily Kaufman last summer
across a crowded dance-floor, chances are you attended one
of her impromptu fiestas two weeks back, or were behind her
yesterday in the queue at the library. Or that your son/daughter
is over at her place right now listening to hard rock and
eating a hot dog with guacomale.
Let us drop in on that pad overlooking the
famous bay, with Cap Nunó poking its unlikely summit
into the evening sky - a menacing grey, just for a change.
The apartment is cosy, 'lived-in' if you like, but somehow
an unlikely residence for a bibliomaniac: true, there are
books aplenty, but they are squirreled away behind candles,
family snaps, mauve cushions and masses of board games. Emily
herself seems to spend most of her time in the kitchen (she
opens the door wearing an old-fashioned apron), preparing
vegetarian meals and teatime treats for her two teenage sons
and a never-ending troupe of visitors. When, you ask yourself,
does she ever find time to write?
Ignoring the constant summons from the doorbell,
you sit down with a bottle of tinto and a delicious bean-and-cheese
dip (the computer has completely taken over the rest of the
dining-table) to ferret out a few answers. The first clue
turns out to be her name, which her mother bestowed out of
a deep love for Emily Dickinson (1830-86), one of America's
leading nature poets. To be called after a perennially popular
wordsmith is an auspicious beginning indeed for a writer.
Turning to the surname, her father was actually a buyer (Kaufmann
in German), who was so successful that he rose to become vice-president
of the national company for which he worked. Emily, an only
child, was born overlooking the East River and although the
family moved to Pennsylvania when she was six, remains at
heart a native New Yorker. After Ibiza, that is.
From New York - to York, Pennsylvania, the
region known thanks to the film Witness as 'Amish Country'.
But also to a town with inspiring pedagogues: "I loved
school," Emily confesses, as if it weren't quite the
done thing. "I thought every single subject was utterly
fascinating - except Math - and as soon as I got home would
rush upstairs to get down to my homework." Three very
different history teachers fostered a deep love of the humanities
as well as original ways of imparting information, lessons
which have served Emily well in her professional life. Pennsylvania
also provided an enduring appreciation of simpler values summed
up in the phrase 'Mom and apple-pie': home, treasured family
objects, kitchen and friends. Books (especially dictionaries)
hold an honoured place but there is no television whatsoever
- just like those spotless Amish farmhouses where Harrison
Ford went to ground.
Back to our c.v., young Miss Kaufman was
not exactly Wolfgang Amadeus when it came to history and at
Washington College, she put the subject firmly on the back-burner
in order to forge ahead in literature, art history, film studies,
languages and social skills. A better comparison would perhaps
be Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose early grounding in other
disciplines allowed him later on to completely steal the hearts
and minds of his audience. At college another inspiring teacher
provided important lessons about art and literature: a film
would never be watched once, but three times, each occasion
sounding a deeper level of craft and content. Rigorous analysis,
a methodology allowing her to plumb the vital depths of a
film or book, can now be seen in Emily's thorough reworking
of raw historical data to arrive at a fresh understanding
of the past.
In American colleges it is customary to
take a Junior Year Abroad, and as Emily was studying French
and Spanish, the choice was either Paris or Madrid. "Against
all expectations" (modesty is one of her most engaging
traits) an application to the prestigious Middlebury College
in Vermont was successful, and eleven months in 1980-81 were
spent at Madrid's Instituto Miguel Ángel. The Old World,
and especially Spain, came as a complete revelation: she sighed
with the Moors of the Alhambra, dreamt with the spires of
Salamanca and Oxford and fell hopelessly in love with the
architecture, the ever-present history and a handsome Madrileño.
After wedding bells and a classic Balearic
honeymoon (passing little Ibiza by - there was neither time
nor money) the couple settled down to work in the Spanish
capital. Emily taught English and became a mother, but within
a few years was feeling a pressing need to reacquaint herself
with the salty Mediterranean air. When a faint possibility
of work in Ibiza presented itself in 1984, she urged her husband
to pursue it and against all odds, fortune again smiled: the
little family found itself for the first time gazing out on
the miraculous bay of San Antonio.
We have been neglecting a key player in
our story: re-enter Betty Kaufman from Alabama and Tennessee,
onetime actress, passionate reader, history buff par excellence
- and mother of Emily. She had flown over to help with the
move, and before flying back to Pennsylvania decided that
now was the time to take her daughter's knowledge of ancient
history in hand. Emily recalls the day she told her mother
over the phone about the move to Ibiza. Mrs Kaufman (with
no hesitation): "Ibitsia? You know they have the largest
Punic necropolis in the entire Mediterranean?" Emily
hadn't the faintest idea what she was talking about, but both
'Punic' and 'necropolis' sounded intriguing. When her mother
added the Carthaginians for good measure, she was completely
floored: 'But we never studied them,' was all she could wail
into the receiver.
So one fine day in San Antonio Betty Kaufman
announced a joint visit to Dalt Vila. "We have to see
the walled city," she explained. Off the pair went and
within a short time Emily found herself standing before Charles
V's and Calvi's magnificent ramparts, transfixed to the ground.
It was the first time she had set eyes on anything like it,
a revelation - an epiphany. There and then she made a solemn
resolve to get to the bottom of the breath-taking monument
- and of the history of the island on which it had been erected.
Nearly eight years were to pass before she
could embark properly on her mission. The first step was when
she was headhunted in 1989 by the first editor of IbizaNOW,
Sally Wilson. The two were sitting in a travel agency and
it was their eyes which smiled, the start of a lasting friendship,
personal as well as professional. The latter was transferred
a few years later to Don and Gisela Andrews when they took
over the editorial reins in Santa Eulalia. Emily soon graduated
from cub reporter to one of the monthly's core contributors,
but when she started up a vegetarian café in San Antonio,
it became difficult to juggle the journalistic career with
her culinary one. The year was 1992, five hundred years after
Columbus sighted the New World, and the merry month was May.
"If I have to write this blasted thing," she said
in a frank outburst to the editor as the monthly deadline
loomed "I may as well write about something I really
like and that's history." Ever unflappable, Don Andrews
replied, "Well, go ahead and do it." Thus was born
The History Buff's Guide to Ibiza.
Ten years, a hundred articles and two books later (the
English original of 2000 and the German translation the
following year), Emily is still hard at work uncovering
the island's past. In addition she has also penned about
fifty history articles for LiveIbiza over the past year
and is also beavering away as an English teacher and translator.
We won't even mention those mouth-watering cookies. Ever
eager to give others credit for her original talents and
hard work, she feels she owes a special debt to island
historian Joan Marí Cardona, who died a few months
ago. He took her on as a 'tutorial student' when she was
not sure exactly where to turn, and gave generously of
both time and expertise. What Emily fails to mention is
that the highly-respected Ibicenco scholar could hardly
have had a better interpreter. Every historian worth his
salt knows that it is one thing to have the facts at your
fingertips, another to be able to pass them on to others.
This is Emily's particular forte, and the thing she owes
partly to her mother's love of neglected historical byways,
and partly to the broad spectrum of subjects and writing
techniques she studied at university.
But there are other aspects to her professional success.
Excellence at languages is a key factor for all historians,
and Emily's fluency in Castilian has undoubtedly helped
win friends in diverse fields of local investigation.
To this has been added her special blend of Pennsylvanian
and Southern charm with the result that carefully-guarded
secrets are never held back - be they the latest archaeological
finds or the sort of arcane knowledge which can only
be gleaned from months' - or years' - service in dusty
archives. Many of these investigators - archaeologists
and historians - are only vaguely familiar with Emily's
output, as there is a sort of invisible 'velvet (or
ivory?) curtain' between the Spanish/Catalan and English
(and German) writers on Ibiza and Formentera. The former
are not so bothered about passing on secrets to the
latter if they are only to be revealed to an audience
on the other side of the cultural divide. She is particularly
scrupulous about crediting her sources, a thoughtful
detalle backed up by a continuous stream of festive
treats - home-baked and liquid.
Emily tells a revealing story about a high school 'essay'
on Martin Luther - the Augustinian monk who started
the Reformation by nailing ninety-five theses against
papal indulgences onto the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche.
Perhaps it was an inherited dramatic gift, or maybe
a realization that history must somehow be made to come
alive, but whatever the case, she handed in not a written
document, but a cassette tape - a one-person re-enactment
of Luther's religious revolution. The teacher recognized
star quality when he saw (and heard) it, and awarded
the assignment a rare 'A'. It was, after all, a fresh,
original and totally unorthodox treatment of a fairly
hackneyed topic. I am sure that most, if not all, her
grateful readers, be they on Ibiza or far beyond its
shores, would give the very same mark to all her output.
Back in two weeks with more Ibiza book lore. My thanks
to Emily Kaufman for having a month's leave from her
regular column and also for giving me carte blanche
while she was away; and to Gary Hardy for being an editor
in a million. History buffs rest assured that Emily
will be back in her usual slot next week.