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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Fifteen
Eastward Ho!



 
I Remember Ibiza

That Christmas visit to the family on the west coast of the island has remained vividly alive in my mind all these many years. It happened in 1965, but it might as well have been yesterday. I remember with a unique mixture of pleasure and nostalgia the beginning of a friendship that has grown richly in depth and understanding through the years. It is a friendship which now includes a Sandra who has fought her way through the inscrutable maze of French medical training to become a full fledged psychoanalyst holding a senior post in a major hospital. It includes her still stunning mother, Catherine, who has become one of France’s most celebrated singers of antique vocal music, and finally it very much includes Madame herself.

Recently the two of us sat together in her same wonderful house watching the infantile antics of Sandra’s baby boy, a sturdy fellow with a strong will of his own. But always while laughing. |t was good to sit there together and reminisce about the old times, when Sandra herself, sporting a tutu, would dance for us to her mother’s lilting songs, at the age of three. Jacques and Juanito, alas, are no longer with us, and Alberto felt obliged to return to his tortured country, Columbia. But the family is virile and still growing. And Madame, at last, volunteered to me that I had been correct in wondering why I had been invited, on such slight acquaintance, to the full house guest intimacy of their family life, that Christmas. What she had really meant was for me to come by and see them, of an afternoon. I had misconstrued her meaning entirely: I thought to have been invited for the whole holiday. But such was their delicacy that my mistake was absorbed with no pain to me. It was turned into an adventure for all of us. An adventure that birthed a lasting and loving friendship. It wasn’t until 37 years later that I learned I hadn’t been really invited to stay with them. And even then, the information was given with restraint and a soft smile.

But I am wandering from my story. Flipper needed attention. He needed to be seen by a vet. And so the visit to the west coast of the island, perforce, had to come to an end. The vet was in Ibiza town, on the east coast. Since an arrangement had been made with our new friend, the taxi driver, to pick up the family when the time came for them to return to Paris, I was free to drive myself and Flipper back to Ibiza town. It was time to say good-bye. At least for this Christmas. Baby Sandra could not contain herself when she realized that she would be separated from Flipper. I had half a mind to let her have him for her own, but the problems inherent in such a gesture proved to be just too much for all of us. There was the little grey dog’s addiction to me to be considered. The little fellow had been with me for almost twelve years. It would be a wrenching dislocation for him to find himself with a new mistress instead of an old master. And, in the end, I found I could not bring myself to give him up. It would be a wrenching dislocation for me, as well. Besides, Sandra would have to learn, somewhere along the line, that loving alone was not in itself a license to acquire. At age three, it was a tough lesson, but she learned it well. She gave him one long, last hug as we were about to leave. Then she ran straight into the house. I didn’t see her again until two years later. She had become a big girl by then. Baby Sandra was no more.

And so it was. I drove the Renault up that lonely, car-killing access road again, if it could be called a road. Flipper lay beside me in his usual place, but was far below his usual form. His head lay pillowed in an old hat of mine. From time to time he would half raise himself to look up at me. Then he would fall back and pass into what seemed to be sleep, but what I knew to be prolonged exhaustion. The real trouble, I had discovered, was in the condition of his little paws. Their pads had been seriously abused by sharp stone and contamination. I had carefully and gently washed his feet before we left, but the damage had been done. Infection had set in and with it, an elevated body temperature. He was, after all, an urban fellow with urban paws, i.e., softer ones than those of country bred dogs. He had suddenly, and for a protracted time, been exposed to a harsh and entirely foreign, foot environment. His pads had been unable to withstand the bruising to which they had been exposed. He was a very tired, very old, very ill Flipper. For the first time in his life the joy had gone out of living. It was a sad Flipper, indeed. And an even sadder Harold.

When I had made about half the distance through the brooding pine forest of that awful winding road, I saw two people hiking along, using walking sticks. They were youngish, of middle height, carrying what appeared to be small, worn, leather bags strapped to their backs, and wearing the kind of clothes and the standard island straw hats which immediately identified them as being a country couple. They had stepped to the side of the track when they first heard the car’s engine noise, and turned to look at it. At the last moment, just as I was about to move slowly past them, the young man of the couple raised his hand, palm facing towards me. There was no mistaking it. Despite he was asking for a lift as a favour, his gesture could only be taken for a command; ‘Stop’. He had not used what I had come to think of as the international sign language request for a hitch. He had not clenched his fist and stuck his thumb straight up in the air. So what was it all about? I soon found out.

I stopped the little Renault and through my open window I said, in English, “Want a lift?” There was a rising inflection in my tone which didn’t need English to be understood, and the young man and his companion, a lovely girl, both shook their heads affirmatively and energetically. I somehow knew they were going a long way by the swiftness of their reply and by the emphatic way in which they both said ‘Si’. Somehow we made room in the back seat for both of them. We had to move a lot of my stuff to do it. But in the end it was all right, if a bit tight. Some of my photo gear ended up in their laps. And so did their hats. But they laughed about it and I laughed about it and I felt they grew more and more grateful to me for the trouble I was taking to accommodate them. When at last we were all sitting comfortably, I put the little car into gear and we were off. Flipper, in the meantime, had not even raised his head. Ordinarily he would have been actively greeting our unexpected passengers, barking a staccato welcome. But now the only sign he made of being with us at all, was a low whimper which escaped him from time to time. I touched his nose. It was dry and hot. His body temperature was rising. It was becoming urgent to find a vet, and soon.

It was just at that point that the young man, having heard Flipper’s whimper and seen me testing his nose, leaned forward, and, looking over the back of the front seat, actually saw Flipper. He knew, without being told, that the dog was not well. And he said three magic words; “Conozco un Veterinario!” I know a vet! As it turned out what he really meant was that the Vet in Ibiza town was his cousin. And so we would be able to go directly to the doctor without delay, once arrived. The coincidence of having given a lift to Ibicencans who could expedite a meeting with the man, whom, at that moment, I most urgently wanted to see in the world, was of such a unique quality that it brought to mind that old fable of the stone in the middle of the road. Under the stone was a fortune in gold. It was free for the taking by any passer-by who would move the stone out of the way. But many passed and few had any feeling for the common good. So the gold remained unclaimed until one passer-by, fearing for the safety of others, moved the stone and found the treasure. Somehow, without meaning to, I had found gold on that awful access road leading to, and away from, Madam’s house by the sea, on the west coast of the island. Now it was Eastward Ho! And on to a vet for Flipper.

Harold Liebow

haroldliebow@liveibiza.com