Books on Ibiza
by Martin Davies
The Emerald Muse
week we shall be taking a look at Ibizas legendary bars as well as a rather
special local beverage, but to start with a word on the person who first made
book-collecting fashionable. According to Lionel Casson, author of the groundbreaking
Libraries in the Ancient World (2001), the first properly-attested bibliomaniac
was none other than Aristotle. So extraordinary was his collection that when Ptolemy
of Alexandria decided to add a little cultural gloss to his upstart dynasty, the
learned Stagyrites library provided the blueprint. Aristotles scrolls
were eventually inherited by some distant relatives in Asia Minor, who resorted
to hiding them in a cave when the ruler of neighbouring Pergamum took up book-collecting.
200,000 of the Pergamum scrolls (mostly of parchment, which derives from this
place-name) were later purloined by Mark Anthony and presented to Cleopatra in
rival Alexandria as a special token of affection. Back to Aristotles pride
and joy, it was the bibliophile Apellicon who brought the collection back to Athens,
but not for long. He couldnt resist showing some choice items off in Rome
- with the result that after seizing Athens in 86 BC, Sulla swiped the lot and
hauled them off to the Eternal City. The priceless bequest disappeared from the
face of the earth when the dictators spendthrift son Faustus disposed of
it to pay some debts. Tempus edax rerum. Time, the devourer of all things.
Gogh,Still Life with Absinthe (1887)
Although Aristotle never
wrote about Ibiza, he did have something to say about the alcoholic muse: 'Men
who have been intoxicated with wine fall down face foremost, whereas they who
have drunk barley beer lie outstretched on their backs.' What would he
have made of absinthe, one wonders? It was known to the ancient Greeks as apsinthion
(undrinkable, the wormwood herb making it very bitter), an elixir
and cure for bad breath. To Parisian bohemians it was la fée verte -
the green fairy - as the viridescent spirit, a veritable muse, was
said to stimulate the creative juices. For Ibicenco peasants, however, the cocktail
had a different name. In a travel piece originally written for The New Yorker,
Norman Lewis singled it out for special mention:
proper drink, though, of Ibiza, is suisse - pronounced as if the final
e were accented. This is absinth mixed with lemon juice, and costs
one peseta a glass. At the colmado of San Carlos - a village once famous
for classing as foreigners all persons not born in the village - you
can see the customers on Sundays line up, a glass of suisse in hand, to receive
an injection of vitamin B in the left arm, administered by the proprietress, Anita.
The injection costs 5 pesetas, and is supposed to ensure success in all undertakings,
especially those of the heart, during the ensuing week.
Lewis, The Changing Sky (1959), p. 213
Ibicenco term (suissé or, more correctly, suïsser) may
derive from the fact that the modern form of absinthe was created in Switzerland
by a doctor fleeing the French Revolution. Alternatively, it may derive from Suisse
La Bleue - the most sought-after brand in the world today, straight from
the foothills of the Alps. In a later article Lewis wrote that absinthe was drunk
in such quantities that it caused the peasant womens hair to fall out. Be
this as it may, as the preferred local tipple - after vi pagés -
it was highly appropriate that when Peter Kinsley decided to write a book about
bar-life in Ibiza, The Green Fairy became its working title. This book
has just appeared in print as part of a larger work, Bogged Down in County
Lyric, whose title derives from a passing comment by American writer and absinthe-connoisseur
Stephen Seley: Were bogged down in County Lyric. All I ever wanted
to do was write something that would sing down the centuries. Barely three
decades down the chronological highway, Seleys last published work, The
End of Mercy (1969) is well off-key. Here is its final page - a fairly typical
sample - to dispel any doubts:
what do you attribute your success, Mr Seley?
* this asterisks for fun*
* so is this one *
* and this? *
simply rhymes with parenthesis, now) closed *
* and that alors? left lying
on the floor of Mercys ...
* it (Mercy, too) WILL arise
in Volume Two, when
well try again *
* alors ...
Seley, The End of Mercy, p. 222
- the leaden wand of the green fairy. Published in Amsterdam, double Dutch is
the prevailing idiom of this strange curio from Bibliomaniacs Corner.
No such charge can be levelled at Bogged Down, although the first third
has a touch of Joycean stream-of-consciousness, which encourages speed-reading
up to the Ibiza chapters (pp. 135-351). It forms the third volume of a projected
tetralogy, the narrative being taken up where the author left off in Volume Two,
Dont Tell My Mother Im a Newspaperman... Kinsley, who styles himself
McGinn and writes in the third person throughout, arrives in New York
on the eve of the American launch of his first novel, Three Cheers for Nothing.
We follow some breathless globe-hopping for eleven chapters before eventually
coming to rest in Ibizas Calle Mayor. The year is 1969, inland from Murcia
people are just coming to grips with forks, and off the Ibizan waterfront, Seley
is expounding the principal advantage of life on the White Island: You can
get a litre of gin for nothing. Of course, you have to eat the occasional orange
for your health.
The reader can tell its Ibiza
because of the names: not Seley, but Steve Primero; the supporting cast include
Far Out Phyllis, Jumping Susan (who cured a fit of depression by jumping from
a five-storey apartment, hitting each balcony on then way down), Nescafé
Jack, Crazy Hans, Finnish Dora, Sin Zapatos (a Swede who always walked barefoot),
Cherokee Frank, Pot Peggy (whose children thought their surname was Pot), Peter
the Book, Anna Banana, Rick the Prick, Kamikaze Schmidt, Too Much Tommy, Gordon
the Flute, Hairy Pat, Charlie 103, Mad Mike, Wanted John (on the run from the
law, he became Unwanted John when the authorities dropped the charge). Even the
dogs have original labels - Sir Edward, Stroppy and No-Name. Kinsley often uses
these sobriquets to brilliant effect:
the Pills back, said George as he held the door.
guess whos with her? Chelsea Elsie.
What? Randy Mandys
Down in County Lyric, p. 221
Llewellyn was master of ceremonies at the George & Dragon, a bar in the Calle
Mayor, nearby Waunas being owned by a large and formidable Anglo-American
(Wauna Paul) who played up the fire-breathing beast for passing trade. Many of
the best one-liners come from this amazing duo, and the present writer takes off
his hat to Peter Kinsley for having the presence of mind and journalistic savvy
to record them for posterity.
It is quite a line-up: Steve
Primero, the archetypal alcoholic writer, penniless, perennially plastered, quick
to take offence and unrelentingly rude; Tristan Jones, an old salt with a wicked
sense of humour; George and Wauna with their rapier-like repartee; Doreen on her
perch in the corner (Im half Irish and half pissed and I came to Spain
to get away from twats like you.); and Dora and Lena from Helsinki, trying
to raise the tone just a little:
at it again, said the British tourist to his wife. I wont ave
it. He stood up and walked over to Dora, a rotund and formidable blonde
even more amply proportioned than Doreen.
you mind watching your language, said the tourist.
are you talking about?
I said watch your language,
- theres women and children present ere. He pointed to his wife
what has that got to do with me?
had enough of it. That feller there - he pointed to Mad Mike, was
blindin last night when we were in ere. You should
moderate your language when women and children are present and stop swearing.
I wasnt swearing.
sounded very much like it to me.
are speaking the Finnish language together. Urpa, Lena and I are from Helsinki.
Urpa is a painter, Lena is a journalist and I teach music and art.
Im very very sorry, Madam, Im sure. I do apologise. Can I get you
a drink to
make up for my mistake?
vodkas and a whisky for Mike.
Down in County Lyric, pp. 158-9
another day in a soggy corner of La Marina. Tristan Jones, as mentioned in the
previous article, was a prolific and highly-successful author of yachting tales,
among which Yarns (1990) includes a chapter
on Ibiza. When not eyeing up local talent (including one of Abel Matutess
daughters: shes twenty-three and even now she has to be in by nine
oclock at night.) his main hobby seems to have been picking scraps
with other boaties:
caught him with a right hook that sent the fisherman flying into the doorway of
a souvenir shop. The gorgeous Miss Matutes took the opportunity to use her discretion
and hurry off, consulting the minuscule white gold wrist watch that her father
had given her for staying a virgin, and wondering if she would dare to accept
the little Welsh captains invitation to - what had he called it? Tea
and crumpet - aboard his little yacht
Down in County Lyric, pp. 299
reviewer is spoiled by the sheer number of anecdotes in this marvellous book -
the lynching of the municipal dog-catcher by a pack of beatnik women, the mounted
Guardia routing a barfull of hippies, the chair thrown through the Post Office
window by Steve Seley and the clerks immediate response (Thank you
Señor Esteve, we need some fresh air in here). But to end we will
return to our fairy theme, used here by Kinsley to christen a gay bar up in Dalt
Vila, based on a real establishment which opened (under a different name) near
present-day Anfora. Run by an English-Spanish couple it managed against all expectations
to survive for two whole months in the early 1970s. In the book though, it is
closed down the following day. Here we are on opening night:
the door, Doris Karloff clanked as he greeted the guests with chain-mailed gauntlet.
Ewald came as a Green Fairy, to the titters of the assembled throng.
misunderstood again, someone said. Its the name of the drink
theyre serving -
that mind-blowing stuff that tastes like licorice.
said Youssef, Doris wants to call the bar The Green Fairy. His English is
That Cockney barman, George
I asked him for
a shandy and he said Do you want it
in a straight
glass or a gay glass, the cheeky sod.
municipal policemen, in their navy blue uniforms with the green piping, stopped
suddenly at the packed throng in the entrance to the new bar where men could dance
with men. They pushed their way through until they could see what was going on
inside and their faces turned the colour of the whitewash on the bar walls. Breaking,
unusually, into a trot, they hastened towards Headquarters with the news that
either the foreigners had gone mad or there had been an invasion from Mars. They
had seen Ewald dancing with Gordon the Flute, Doris Karloff doing the rumba with
Youssef wearing Waunas curtains as a shirt, and the waiter from Es Quinques
in full bridal dress with a bouquet of fake orange blossom trying to get in to
ask Doris Karloff for a dance.
Down in County Lyric, pp. 324-327
Down in County Lyric can be obtained directly (25 euro + postage) from Peter
Kinsley, tel. 00 44 (UK) 207 652 2587 or from Island Books in Santa Eulalia. Ibizas
prize-winning producer, Marí Mayans (by far one of the finest absinthes
in the world according to an American specialist) has an absinthe page at
A recommended website for the drinks literary-artistic reputation is