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
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.
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
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.
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
© Emily Kaufman
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.