so I arrived in a dazzling bright-but-chilly Ibiza. It was 23rd
December 1964 and the great world was in an accelerating ferment,
politically, socially and otherwise. But you would never have
known it that wonderful morning on the island. Flipper and I and
the Renault were almost mobbed on the dock by that wonderfully
welcoming, boisterous crowd of island people! They milled around
us, they smiled and laughed at us, they patted Flipper’s head, and ooh’d
and ah’d about him, mostly in Spanish, much to his delight. They
even, some of them, offered us cold drinks. In the crowd there
were some people holding signs high above their heads. They were
colourful cardboard display signs, signs which touted hostels, hotels
and eateries. There were signs with the names of people on them,
too, people who were expected, it would seem, people who would need
lodging and a place to eat.
Picture © Harold Liebow
People! There it was! I was one of those people. I
would need a place to stay until my Paris hostess arrived in another day
or two. And I had not the slightest idea of where that place would
be. So I looked more carefully at the bobbing tout notices
sprinkled around in the crowd and at the people carrying them. And
there was one among those, a tall, lean man who was wearing a weary,
wide-brimmed, once maroon-coloured hat. His shirt and trousers
were as nondescript as his hat. But he had a face like a tired
eagle’s, with dark, weather beaten skin, and with sunken eyes that had
seen everything. He was thin as a scarecrow. His
green-lettered sign said simply, The Delfin Verde. Somehow
I knew that it was to that place that I would go. When I caught
his eye, he knew it too.
how could a man such as this man, I wondered, with that powerful face,
with eyes that had seen everything, and with the manner of one who knew
well who he was, how could such a man have become content to have become
a dockside tout? He came toward me with a certain low-key, but
unmistakable authority that opened a way for him through the crush on
the dock. Then he was standing directly in front of me. For
a moment I was nonplussed. Those eyes of his bored into mine.
Were they confrontational? Inquiring? Welcoming? What
were they telling me?
you don’t mind the odd drunk in the middle of the night,” he said, “then
Delfin Verde might be for you.” His words were strongly accented
like other middle Europeans I had heard while in France. But his
fluency in English, none the less, was indisputable. This was a
man quite at home with distant relatives to his mother tongue, whatever
that was. “And it has the only telephone on the port,” he added,
“when it works!”
was all such a straightforward statement of the key facts about the
Delfin that I nodded at once. I would be needing a telephone…when
it worked. Moreover, the name of the place, The Delfin Verde, had
a certain ring to it which suggested that the management might have been
blessed with imagination. The Green Dolphin, indeed.
“Sounds good,” I said, “but how did you know to speak to me in English?”
shoes,” he said. “I can always tell by the shoes. Pointed toes,
the Continent. Square toes, English or American. Besides,
your car’s matriculation tells me the same thing.” The plates were
indeed touristico. In those days - and perhaps even now - cars
bought in France by foreigners planning to stay in the country for not
more than six months, were sold with special red-coloured matriculation
plates. My little Renault had such plates. I was to learn
later that such plates could become a serious liability in Ibiza.
so it was that we made our way slowly down the dock to the Delfin,
Flipper yipping excitedly all the way. Fronting effortlessly
for us in my little black car, Hannibal - for I had learned that was his
name - led us safely through the crowd to what turned out to be both a
bar and a hostel. Somewhat to my surprise it was located right
there, portside, just opposite the Trasmediterranea ferry which had
brought me to the island. The Delfin was as green as
Hannibal’s sign advertising it. The whole façade of the building in
which it was located was green. Inside, everything that could be
green, was green. Tablecloths, napkins, lights, tropical fish
tanks, bar top, bar tender’s apron, even the precious part-time
telephone was in a green glass cage. As were the bar tender’s eyes
which turned out to be green, too. She was a buxom, active Irish girl,
with flashing green eyes and a ready smile.
“Hello!” she said explosively and with a cordially inflected brogue.
“Glad to meet you. Name’s Doreen. They call me Dundee Doreen.
‘Cause they think that’s from where I come. First drink’s on the
house? What’ll it be?” The accent was unmistakable.
And indeed, a drink was a welcome idea. But my idea of a drink at
9:30 in the morning was a cup of coffee.
“Could you do a coffee?” I asked.
“Sorry,” she said, “the machine’s not been started up yet. It
would take a while” Sadly, that was a refrain to which I was soon
obliged to become accustomed. “But I can make you tea. How
about a nice cuppa?”
was while the water was heating - slowly - for my tea, and while
Hannibal and I were carrying my few essentials for a day or two’s stay
up to my room, that I saw a very frail looking, middle age woman wearing
an artist’s blue smock. She was sitting at a table in the dimly
lit dining area and she seemed to be working her way through a bottle of
brandy. As she sat at her table, she was slowly and rhythmically
moving in her seat like a tipsy mosquito. It was a table with a
green cloth on it, of course. She was looking straight at or
through me, but smiling to herself in a distracted sort of way.
Her hands were lifted to her face and were talking to each other like a
Thai dancer’s. Hannibal saw me wince as I saw her lift a full
jigger of the stuff and swallow the lot in one gulp. What was that
all about, I thought?
“That’s Chinese Rita,” Hannibal said, answering my unasked question.
“She starts early and she kills a bottle or two a day. There’s a Dutch
Rita too, on the island, but she’s not a boozer.”
“What’s this Chinese Rita bit?”
“Almost everybody here’s got a name that tells you something about
them. It seems to work. My name’s really Hungry Hannibal,
for instance. That’s because I’m nearly always hungry. A
long story. They don’t use it to you, only about you. The
foreigners go for it. The locals have triple barrel names that
don’t tell you anything about them.”
Chinese Rita,” I insisted, “She’s not Chinese!”
“Well, they say she was born in China, and her eyes are a bit funny when
you look at them up close.”
was just then that Flipper started to bark. It was his ‘Watch it!’
type of bark. He used it when he came up against big dogs and big
men and I knew it was generally for real. So I looked quickly
around and, sure enough, standing just inside the heavy, spring-hung,
two-way swinging entrance door, was a quite big man. He was a
foreigner and he a bit unsteady on his feet, as if he was walking on
ball bearings. He wore jeans, top and bottom, with a big red
handkerchief around his neck. His wide black belt, his back-tilted
black hat and his great black boots, all made me think he was a Hell’s
Angel type. After a moment he began to move cautiously towards me
- and he didn’t look friendly. When he was just a few feet from me
he stopped. We stared at each other for awhile, sizing each other
the Hell are you?” he demanded finally. He spoke clearly but he
was almost shouting.
Hungry Hannibal, close behind me, hissed into my ear; “Watch it!
His name’s Unwanted Tom! He’s murder when he’s boozing and he is
Flipper stopped barking and sat down right beside me. He had done
his job, he said. He had sounded the alarm. Now it was on
me. That’s the way it was with Flipper and me.
“Who’s asking?” I answered levelly. Four years in the US Navy
during the War long ago, had taught me that in situations like this it
was always better to answer stronger, rather than weaker.
“Never mind that shit,” he growled, “I asked you, who the Hell
I didn’t answer, he rushed me. The fury in his face, his bulging
eyes and his giant drunken strides, all provided me with ample warning
of what he had in mind. Then, unbelievably, Flipper made a serious
mistake. It is the only one he ever made in matters such as this.
Instead of holding down his grand stand seat and watching the show, he
dashed forward as if the whole thing was his business, and, making like
a Great Dane, he tried to grab on to one of Unwanted Tom’s trouser legs.
Tom’s foot lashed out and a great black boot caught Flipper squarely in
the side. Flipper yelped piteously as he was flung out of the way.
And all I saw was red. I set myself properly to get my whole weight
behind my punch, and as Unwanted Tom lunged at me, I launched a massive
right hook that screamed home squarely on his chin. The blow was
devastating because it had blazing anger-power behind it. Unwanted
Tom was frozen in his tracks by its force, and then slowly began
collapsing. He instinctively mini-stepped backwards to save
himself from falling, and, doing so, his back collided explosively with
the heavy, swinging, entrance/exit door. There was only the sound
of its coming to rest after Unwanted Tom’s unconventional departure.
Except for low whimpering sounds from Flipper there was complete
silence. So much for kicking small dogs.
I turned back to the bar I saw Dundee Doreen and Chinese Rita both
sitting on the floor, close together. They were comforting
Flipper, who I am happy to say, was not seriously hurt and seemed to be
greatly enjoying the attention the ladies were paying to him.
Hungry Hannibal was carefully pouring me a generous shot of Chinese
Rita’s brandy as he told me the phone seemed to be working, if I cared
to use it. And in no time the coffee machine was in good working
order. We had scalding hot coffee all around, handsomely laced
with what was left of Chinese Rita’s bottle. Then Chinese Rita
herself came over to me and affectionately kissed me on both cheeks.
“Welcome to Ibiza, ‘Thumper’,” she said. And ‘Thumper’ I was, ever