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Weekly Edition 049: Saturday 2th February 2002

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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

For Whom The Bell Tolls

January marked a bleak moment in Ibicenco history. The death, two weeks ago, of the eminent island historian, Joan Marí Cardona, has cast its pall on virtually every sector of society. Despite the extensive coverage that this event has received in the local papers, I feel compelled to share my personal memories of Don Joan with any who will listen.

Unity in Grief

Don Joan's benevolent aura has proven to be as powerful in death as it was in life. It is indeed a rare moment when the rivalling factions of a government can forget their differences and find a common ground on which to agree. However, such has been the case in Ibiza since the historian's death. From the far left to the extreme right, a new unity has been born: the unanimous conviction that this singular individual, recipient of both the Balearic and the Pitiusan Gold Medals, should be exalted with the highest public honours. His funeral brought together representatives from both ends of the political spectrum, as well as high-ranking officials from Palma de Majorca. Legislation is already being drafted to name several streets and public spaces after him. In hindsight, these measures will no doubt be remembered as the least contentious ever to be instituted in the Pitiuses.

Academia Loses Brightest Beacon

It goes without saying that Ibiza's intelligentsia has been impoverished by the loss of one of its most brilliant and prolific members. Not only was Don Joan's oeuvre remarkable in itself, but he was also a willing advisor to any and all who sought his help. His thorough knowledge of Latin, for example (a language which is increasingly lacking in the formation many of today's young scholars), made Don Joan a veritable font of wisdom for local students. Visiting savants, as well, often sought the historian's expertise on various questions.

Caring Housemate

At the human level, Don Joan will be sorely missed by the residents of the Reina Sofía Home for the Elderly, where the priest lived, worked and headed the administrative side of the residence. I often visited Don Joan at his office there (after he had resigned from the presidency at the Institute of Ibicenco Studies), and I remember how the senior citizens would sometimes come to collect their pension cheques. Usually, they would turn to go when they saw me sitting there, but Don Joan would wave them in heartily and always strike up a little conversation with them. After they had left, he would pass on some endearing snippet about each person, as if he felt a special tenderness for each of them.

Last week I went to the Home to bring some flowers for the chapel where a shrine to Don Joan has been installed. When I handed the bouquet to Sister María, we both began to cry. Who can keep a stiff upper lip at these times? Certainly not I. Sister María took me into her office and explained exactly how Don Joan's last weeks had been. Although he never once complained, he suffered terribly from his cancer as well as multiple complications that kept cropping up. Everyone knew that the end was near when declined to leave his room to attend the Home's annual Christmas Dinner. He even refused to see the Bishop in his quarters. Sister María remembers that, "He simply did not have the strength to speak or even to follow a conversation. At the end he wouldn't eat, and we kept trying to tempt him with his favourite dishes, but nothing worked. Finally, we tried warming sweet milk with cinnamon and lemon, and he managed to drink that. It's funny because he'd never liked milk or any kind of dairy product before. On his last he was in coma for the whole time. He couldn't speak or move, but I know he could hear up until the very end. (Pauses to regain composure) We knew he wasn't long for this world, but at least we kept busy trying to care for him as best we could. Now that he's gone, there's an emptiness here like you can't imagine."

Gentle Man of God

The clergy have also been deprived of one of their most beloved canons, a man who was universally admired as a personification of goodness and humility. Don Joan never preached or postured righteousness. Quite the opposite, for he seemed, effortlessly, to emulate exactly those qualities one would attribute to Jesus of Nazareth. I do not exaggerate when I say that all who came near him were bathed in the milk of his kindness and warmed by the spark of his humour.

Family Bereft

Most bereft of all, of course, are the historian's friends and family in Sant Rafel, the village where Don Joan was born and raised. I did not know them, but I met his niece once. It was the last day I ever saw Don Joan alive. I had stopped by to bring him a box of chocolates for Christmas, and, hopefully, to have a short chat with him. Unfortunately, he and his niece were just leaving for the hospital as he had a doctor's appointment. I halfway ordered him to get better soon, but he just smiled and said his usual: "Oh, I'm fine, really. My only complaint is that the doctors keep me coming and going so much I can barely sit down." I knew these words to be untrue, but I understood what they meant: that this exceptional person would not give in to self-pity no matter how bad things got. I took my leave, never suspecting that I would never see him again.

Like so many others, my life has been touched by his generosity. Hidden beneath the string of important titles that rested so easily on this unassuming scholar, lay a lesser designation that will remain one of the great honours of my life: for ten years Don Joan acted as my guide and mentor in Ibicenco history. His willingness to share the abundant fruits of his research enabled me to follow a course of independent study which, without his personal involvement, would surely have fizzled into apathy sooner rather than later.


I will never forget the first time I walked into the Institute of Ibicenco Studies. It was April of 1992. For several months I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a reliable source of information on the history of the island's churches. Finally, a former work colleague pointed me in the direction of the Institute, and I eagerly took her lead. Naturally, I had heard of the Institute, but assumed that anyone as unversed in local culture as myself would not pass muster at such a sanctum of erudition. I had assumed wrongly.

I arrived one afternoon, unannounced, and nervously stated the purpose of my visit. A friendly secretary informed me that the person I needed to speak to was the society's president, and, without further ado, ushered me into his office. Don Joan looked up from his papers and bade me sit down. Then, in his characteristically warm way, asked how he could help me. I immediately felt at ease and put forth my idea of commemorating the fiesta of each village with a historical write-up. Don Joan pushed aside his work, thought for a minute, and then, in a conversational manner, proceeded to explain founding of Sant Ferrán and Puig den Vals, the villages that would next celebrate their patron saint's days.

I took notes while listening to his interesting monologue, and, at the end of a generous hour, Don Joan urged me to return the following month for another session. As I stepped out into the warm evening air, a ripple of elation passed through me, for I realized I had found both a friend and teacher. Don Joan continued to tutor me on a monthly basis for a year, during which time I compiled a series of feature articles on the island's fiestas - the very articles that, up to now, have formed the backbone of this history page.

By the time the series was finished, both Don Joan and I had ideas for new areas of exploration. Although our visits did not remain as regular as they had once been, we kept in frequent touch through the years, and, in fact, had been working on a long-term project until the time of his death. Our last work session was on 24th October, the Day of Sant Rafel, when I happened to drop by with some flowers to wish him a happy fiesta. He was up and about and in better form than he had been, so I took the opportunity to go over some material with him. After that I never felt right about asking for his help.

Don Joan at the launch of “The History Buff’s Guide to Ibiza” in December 2000

Picture © Emily Kaufman (December 2000)


There is so much more to tell, but, already, I'm boring my readers. All that's really left to say is 'Goodbye'.

Join us next week, because life does go on and so must we.

Emily Kaufman

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