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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 068: Saturday 15th June 2002

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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

 
Part Two:
How I Got My Name
 

And 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.


Flipper
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.

So 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? 

“If 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!”

It 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?”

“Your 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.

And 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?”

It 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.”

“But 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.”

It 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 up.

“Who 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 drunk now!”

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 you are!”

When 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. 

When 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 after.

 
Harold Liebow
haroldliebow@liveibiza.com
 

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