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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 072: Saturday 13th July 2002

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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

 
Part Six:
Strange Bedfellows At The Delfín Verde
 

Well, it had been quite a day.  Following an all night ferryboat passage to the island from Barcelona, Flipper and I had arrived about 9.30 on the morning of our first day in Ibiza.   By about 10.15 we were being introduced to the darker side of Ibiza’s expatriate life in the person of American Unwanted Tom.  After the dust of the fracas with him had settled, this idiosyncratic hiccup in the bar of the Delfín Verde was reassuringly counterbalanced by the warmth of welcome we had found in the society of Chinese Rita, Dundee Doreen and Hungry Hannibal, Whose introduction of me to Ernesto at Es Quinques restaurant, soon after, had also been an omen of better things to come.  Then, while Ibiza town slumbered through the siesta hours, we had driven northwest along an ancient wagon track and Flipper and I had marvelled at the unrivalled beauties of the island’s interior.  These were so effectively proselytizing that I had made the unpremeditated and momentous decision to settle among them permanently.   With this giant step taken, we had found a world of wonder in a seaside forest fiesta being celebrated by the vecinos (neighbours) of Santa Inés.  As I say, it had been quite a day.

So it was with fatigue that I approached the meeting with Ernesto, who had invited me to his place this same evening. I was to see the work of the painters he represented.  Nevertheless, the drive back to Ibiza town and the Delfín Verde was not without a lively appreciation of its own jewels. The vistas of the open countryside, now seen driving south east instead of north west, continued to delight, enhanced by the added gift of the exquisite quality of light just before, and immediately after, gloaming.  There is a sense of mystery that falls on the meadows and a quality of brooding introspection that invades one’s emotions at that time that it is not easy to express.  There is a soft, whispering connection with nature that such a light constructs.  One must simply experience all this, for oneself.

When at last we parked the Renault in la Marina, poor little Flipper was flaked out on his cushion beside me, too tired and too fast asleep to even notice when I lifted him out and carried him into our room in the Delfín.  There he slept on, while I washed and made myself comfortable in fresh and loosely fitting things.  My room was little more than a sleeping closet with walls and ceiling painted solidly green, of course.  It did have assets in the shape of a window overlooking the Port, a quite comfortable bed and a small, green writing table, as well as ample closet space.  What is more, it was quiet.  After resting on my bed for awhile, it was time to visit with Ernesto; and time to tell you about it.

One could imagine that a man as austere as Ernesto could live comfortably in the world of art, but it would be more difficult to imagine him as a bohemian, which is almost a synonym for eccentricity.  And he was no eccentric, yet it was clear that he had space in him for both.  This was a man who knew the world, a man who had been a prisoner of Hitler’s SS in Vienna because his mother had been Jewish, a man who had been in the French Foreign Legion, a man who had lived in chaotic Algeria for seven years.  This was, must have been, a very political man.  And yet here he was living in the Delfín Verde for the past twelve years, the which, I had learned, was owned by one of the many Germans who had gravitated to the island after the war.  Some of these had been escapees from the Allies’ continental net, set to catch wanted war criminals; some of them had been quite legitimate ex-military personnel; many others had been artists and musicians and some of them had even been business men.  But whatever was the true identity of the man who owned the Delfín Verde, the big question in my mind was: why had Ernesto chosen to live in his hostal?  It was a question which was never answered. 

In another small room in the Delfín, like mine, with another window opening on to the port, Ernesto lived suspended in a sea of canvasses.  They were everywhere.  They were piled against the walls, all green of course, they were displayed on several small easels, they were stacked under his bed and in his closet, and they were even piled on several small platforms hung from the ceiling.  It was as if art and one of its prodigal products, painting, filled his whole life, saturated his existence and commanded his world.  And yet you would not be surprised, I knew by now, to find him strolling along la Marina or sitting casually having his café con leche, and carrying on a relaxed and endless disputation on the nature of art with one of his friends.  But surprises in Ernesto were not rare.  He was, after all, a man of many worlds, a man of many places and, as time would show, a man for all seasons.

He answered quickly when I knocked at his door.  He was taller than I, so I looked up into his face and found it to be relaxed and welcoming.  His eyes, large and lustrous, smiled down at me and he graciously waved me into his quarters.  Where I was overwhelmed by the paintings.  Paintings, paintings, everywhere, but not a one to see!  They were all stacked and stored in such a way so that only their reverse sides could be seen.  Ernesto saw my unspoken surprise.

“Ah”, he said, “if you lived with them as long as I have, you would have to escape from them, too.  They are too much.  Too much.  Colour, colour, colour.”

By this I took him to mean that always looking at them face on would be tiring at best, soul destroying at worst.  As a black and white photographer, colour impact didn’t play a very important role in my working life, but I realized quite immediately that it could, indeed, become a problem in an artist’s life…or the life of an art dealer like Ernesto.

“But Ernesto”, I said, you have hardly any space for yourself!  There are pictures everywhere, just everywhere.”

“And it is just so.  I have promised myself to clear this mess for years.  And somehow every time I begin to clear some of them out, my conscience begins to yell.  Guilty feelings I hate, and they begin to run over me.  You know, these paintings are almost like my children.  If I move one out, it becomes an orphan.  And I hate the idea of orphanage. “

Many years later I learned that when Ernesto died in 1978 he had died a wealthy man. His concern with orphans was real. The larger part of his fortune, 44 million pesetas, was used to set up a foundation which distributes scholarships to deserving Ibiza orphans.  It is presided over to this day by the mayor of Ibiza town.  Yes, Ernesto Ehrenfeld was, indeed, a man for all seasons.

When we had looked long at pictures and I had marvelled at some of them, there was a sudden, unexpected knock on the door.  The caller was a tall, corpulent German who turned out to be Emilio Schillinger, the genial owner of the Delfín Verde. It was immediately clear that the relationship between Ernesto and Emilio was a friendly one.  Schillinger let it be known that he had called because he wanted to meet me and, as we shook hands, it was with some relief that I felt that this was a man who probably had no evil in him.

Velcome to Ibiza und der Delfín,” he said.  His voice was deep and resonant, rumbling out of his belly.  His eyes were bright and smiling.  There was no sense of strain in him at all.  “Ernesto has telling about you…you are a photographer?”

“I feel more like a tourist today,” I said.  “I have been to Santa Inés and I found it all very beautiful.”

Vell, you vould.  It is.  Please, if I can anyzing do for you, you vill ask?”

 “You can tell me why everything, but everything, in the Delfín is in the colour green?”

It was as if I had lit a fire under him.  Emilio’s head shot up, his eyes became hard, and he seemed almost to come to military attention.   After a moment he let out a deep breath and relaxed.  His eyes became friendly again.  His voice boomed out again and he laughed a deep laugh.

 “Ach so, you haf seen!  Is nozing, nozing.  Goes to ven a little boy I vas.  You zee, a dream I had.  A very bad dream.  I zink you have for it a verd?  A bad dream und a bad verd?”

“A nightmare.”

Ach ya.  Zat it is, a nightmare!  Ven I vas ten only, eleven.  I vas run on, how you say, a goff kort?”

“A golf course?”

“Ya, zat it is!  A goff kortVell, zer vas grass, much grass, much green, green always green.  Und it vas up und down, up und down, like hilly.  Und I vas on it run, on the green, run, run, run.  In terror I vasUnd vat vas I run from?  From vat vas in terror? From der var!  I vas run, run from var!  Every zing exploding vas, every zing blowing up vas, behind me und around me…. in life never vas I ever so feared!  I vas crying, screaming!  Only child I vas, no?  Und after zat, never could I see green.  Zat killed me, green.  I vas years und years a great coward to green.  But zen came der great var, the real var.  Mit der Luftwaffe I vas a pilot, no?  Und I must over England fly to bomb!  Und England vas green, green, green, und it vas hilly, like up und down, up und down!  Und I must not be coward!  I must bomb, bomb, and bomb!  Bomb der green, green green!  So I make myself, make myself, not be coward, be brave, to not be terror from der green.  To luf green!  Und I did!  I did!  I teach to luf der colour green!  To luf it!  I vin!  Now I beat der green.  Zat is vhy is VERDE alles in der Delfín! 

The last sentence had been thundered out!  And quite properly, too.  A peroration was in order.  It had been quite a speech, quite a felt speech, and it had taken a lot out of him.  But he managed a big smile, and he grandly brought out a half pint bottle of a wonderful brandy, and we had drinks all around. But somewhere inside of me a voice was whispering that one could never be sure.  You see, my fathers’ entire family - 32 of them - had been wiped out by the SS in Lithuania.  I had no idea then, that just like Ernesto, I too would soon find myself living in a house that was owned by Emilio Schillinger. There were, indeed, strange bedfellows at the Delfín Verde in December, 1964.

 
Harold Liebow
haroldliebow@liveibiza.com
 

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