The search for my lost Flipper was very
thorough. Despite the hazards of the terrain, and these were
of an almost lethal character, we explored every crevice among
the plentiful rocks, beneath every fallen tree trunk overgrown
with underbrush, and even looked aloft as we went. Just in
case Flipper had been caught by a snap-up snare and hoisted
aloft by his neck. But he had been spared from that ordeal.
We could not find him. He was, simply, missing. He was, simply,
lost. He was, simply, gone. For the first time in our lives,
Flipper and I were separated for more than a few moments.
Each of us had searched until he dropped.
Madame had been untiring in her efforts and I marvelled at
her constancy of purpose, despite the limitations of her physique;
for I soon saw she was not as strong as she might have been.
When finally it was over and we had given up, she was pale
and hoarse, hardly able to speak, fatigue written large in
her face. But she had been staunch and utterly committed to
finding the lost dog. Never a word of complaint or of irritation
at having what had started out to be a pleasant jaunt through
a wonderland of nature, turn out to be a dangerous, traumatic,
even frantic effort to save a lost animal. In American slang,
she had been a brick. And I was so grateful that I could not
find words fulsome enough to thank her. I drew her to me and
held her close. We were one in our sorrow for the loss of
a wonderful friend.
Jacques had perhaps outdone us all in his
physical exertions. He had covered probably twice the area
that I had, and had also lost his voice from the endless shouting
of Flippers name. His strength and endurance, he said,
came from his profession. He was a professional agriculturalist,
working in his own experimental fields. On his farm in France,
he specialized in developing new and improved strains of wheat
and other grains; and his work was largely physical. He, too,
like Madame, had devoted himself to the urgency of the task
in hand and poured all of his energy and his will into the
search for my lost Schnauzer. I embraced him, too, and thanked
him for his unstinting cooperation until I thought I had embarrassed
him. And so I turned to Alberto.
He had turned an ankle almost as soon as
he had begun to search. And, while it was fortunately not
a bad bruise, the swelling was enough to prevent him from
doing much in the way of walk-search. I helped him all the
remaining way to Juanitos house. Albertos English
was very limited and my Spanish then was really nonexistent,
so communication was largely a series of grunts, groans, smiles
and nods. But he managed, nevertheless, to convey his absolute
conviction that Flipper was not, I repeat, that Flipper was
not, truly lost for good. Of all of us, his nature was the
sunniest, and his optimism the most fervent. In the end he
converted all of us to his view and my spirits rose as I realized
that it was in fact quite possible that Flipper might show
up anytime in the next few hours or days. Alberto knew all
about disasters. His country was engaged in one of the longest
civil wars in South America. He had become inured to disaster.
And his defence against it, he suggested indirectly, was always
to believe that the worst had not happened. That there was
always hope. I was, and still am, very grateful to him for
the strength with which he promoted that point of view. It
saved me from some very bad hours.
Juanito had only just returned home when
we arrived. Around him were his Ibicenco hounds, four of them,
excitedly wagging their tails, greeting their master. It was
lovely to see. And it broke my heart. There was no Flipper
to greet me. The dogs were liver, tan, and white in colour,
lithe, lean and long-legged, in build. Juanito took their
greeting taciturnly. He was resting in his way, sitting, but
in a slightly stretched-out sitting, on a heavy, hard-pine
ceiling beam which lay disconsolately on the ground, instead
of holding up the roof. This was because there was no roof
to hold up. The house was a total utilitarian ruin. Juanitos
wife had been bringing him a bladder-bottle of home made red
wine as we trooped in with our stern news about Flipper, and
we spilled it out to him as if he was a father confessor.
He listened carefully to us with his usual reserve. He showed
neither surprise nor dismay at our story. And when we had
finished the sad tale and given him all the details of our
hunt for the little dog, he gravely poured himself a long
draught of the wine, holding the bladder high above his head
with his one hand, and pouring an arching stream of wine directly
into his wide open mouth. Not a drop did he spill and not
a word did he say. And then, to lubricate the moment, and
with her natural good taste and politeness, Madame presented
me to Juanitos wife.
She was a tall and powerful looking woman,
with a face like a mans; leathery, lined and likeable.
She was wearing the traditional Ibiza country womans
costume; voluminous, dark colour skirts, a full blouse assembly
and a very large, unexpected, flamboyant straw hat that provided
substantial protection from the fierceness of the island sun.
The skirts, I had learned somewhere along the line, were of
particular interest and importance. They were usually seven
in number, the under skirts being of less heavy material than
the outer one. Originally they had been worn, and worn in
such a way, as to suggest that the wearer was pregnant, whether
she was or was not. This was because of an ancient, unwritten
law, which was universally and strictly honoured by all, even
the fiercest of pirates that pregnant women were not to be
raped. It must be understood that rape was so common that
the institution of the multiple skirts had come into being
quite spontaneously. It was to protect the island women from
the very frequent island marauders who as often as two or
three times a month in the very old days, would invade Ibiza
in a frenzied search for slaves. Even though the threat had
long vanished, the custom was still observed
some dying extent, it still is to this day. After I had been
presented to her, Juanitos wife gravely offered me wine,
offered her condolences on the loss of my little dog, and
introduced me in her turn to her two teen-age daughters, already
wearing the multiple skirt uniform. She then announced that
refreshments were in order and disappeared into a dark doorway
which led into what must surely once have been a kitchen
I sat down beside Juanito and looked around
at the ruin which we had all been calling his house. It seemed
to me that no one could really live for any length of time
in such a fallen building. It was located on the upper edge
of a heavenly sandy beach which curved beautifully into a
full half circle, forming a lovely cala. Directly behind it
was the edge of the ever-present pine forest. The walls of
the old building, about 70 centimetres thick, were in good
shape, generally speaking. But the window openings were glassless
and there were no real working doors where doors should have
been working. There were several bedrooms opening on to the
central area where we were sitting. The outstanding architectural
feature of the place was the missing roof. Only the bedrooms
had intact overhead protection from the weather. The main
living space was open to it.
But no one seemed to think this was a serious
deficiency. Juanito, I was told, had taken the position after
the roof had fallen down, that the traditional dampness of
casas payesas would be completely by-passed if the roof was
not replaced. This, he insisted, would keep the whole family
in better health than otherwise would be the case. Especially
would they escape from what was an almost universal complaint
in Ibiza in those days, i.e., rheumatism and arthritis. With
a dry living room area, no one would ever have serious skeleton
unhappiness. And he had stuck to that position until the whole
family had come to agree with him. They none of them suffered
from those dreaded illnesses.
It was just then that the salsa arrived.
You must remember that it was Christmas time and that the
visit itself had been made not only with the purpose of showing
me Juanitos house and introducing me to his family,
but also because it was that time of year when families visited
back and forth because of the holiday. It was customary at
such times to provide a special salsa, a very special brew,
I can tell you. It was made with a heavy hand. Its ingredients,
in part, consisted of honey, ground almonds, oil, eggs, secrets
and more secrets, and its consistency was at best, sluggish.
It passed the taste test with flying colours, but after the
first few swallows it became more and more difficult to pass
the rest down the tube. Now remember, this salsa brew was
a universal guest offering at a time when guests passed to
and fro, from house to house, and from salsa to salsa. And
it was unthinkable that it should ever be refused. It was
a quite impossible imposition on one and all alike, but it
persists as a custom even until today. If you visited four
or five neighbours at Christmas time, as almost everyone did
in those days, you were obliged to down at least four or five
generous bowls of the time honoured guest delicacy called
simply, salsa. There probably is a proper name for the stuff,
but somehow that name has escaped me.
After I had downed the offered bowl, and
politely accepted another, I suddenly remembered with fear
and trembling that Madame had told me that the next day of
my visit would be devoted to travelling from neighbour to
neighbour in my Renault to catch up on all her social obligations.
It would be salsa and more salsa, all afternoon. And only
two of them had almost made me forget that I had lost Flipper.
It wasnt that there was any alcohol in the stuff; it
was just the sheer weight of the liquid. It flowed like cold
Suddenly Juanito stood up. All of us froze.
There was something in his posture, his attitude, his projection
of sudden illumination, which commanded strict attention.
We all waited breathlessly for what he was about to say, for
surely such a dramatic self-arousal could only be the forerunner
of an important announcement.
My bitch is missing! he said
slowly, almost wonderingly, as if each word carried with it
a hidden meaning. She has never been missing before.