that lunch! Juanito had prepared fresh fish. Such an
understatement! A more accurate way of saying it would be: Juanito
had created a culinary masterpiece. Using the most elementary tools, in
the most primitive way, and using only his one hand, Juanito presented
each of us with a bone fide gourmet’s delight. What secrets he
employed to capitalize on the extreme freshness of the catch, and what
ingredients he employed to create the juices in which it swam, remain
his secrets to this day. For he was not forthcoming about them
when the great moment arrived. Taciturn as always, he shrugged off
our blandishments and simply served up more fish. We were past caring.
One refrains from probing favours from the Gods.
lunch was over, Juanito took what I gathered was his customary seat in
one of the two great chairs in the living area. He was asleep in
an instant. The others trooped off to their siesta as well,
leaving Flipper and me to our own resources. It was then that I
had my first good look at the setting of the house. It stood quite
alone, overlooking an azure sea. It stood fairly high above that
azure sea, and just below it and a bit to the left, was a huge
outcropping of very old rock that looked astonishingly like a gigantic,
recumbent dog, as seen from behind. In the far distance, perhaps
three hundred meters off, there were proper ears standing out of the
great stone head with just the right conformation; there was the main
body of the animal, well proportioned relative to the head and
shoulders, and withal very doggy in aspect. A small, uninhabited
island stood further offshore, to the left, and, on the right, a lovely
little cove that promised privacy so invited me that without half
knowing what I was up to, I set off with Flipper to see it closer up.
was worth the effort. The water was as limpid as the sunlight was
pure. Gentle melodies hummed through the branches of the very
evergreen pines crowding in close to the sandy beach at waters’ edge.
I could easily imagine how wonderful swimming would be in the spring and
summertime. But now the water was bitterly cold. One could
easily understand why Juanito preferred winter fish to summer ones.
And one could easily understand why my new friends, living in a
pressurized urban environment like Paris, would find this refuge so
heavenly. But what I found very hard to understand, was how Madame
had come to invite me to join them in their idyll on such short
Picture © Harold Liebow 1966
After all, prior to the farewell gathering at her apartment, we had
never met. And to invite a complete stranger into the intimacy of
this Christmas, in this house, on this island, seemed a very bold
invite, indeed. If I didn’t fit, it would ruin their time.
And I was not sure I would fit. Their life style was attractive in
the extreme to me, but it was not my life style. Their culture and
world awareness was far deeper than mine. Our differences were far
greater, in general, than our similarities. I was a nice Jewish
boy from Brooklyn, very American, notwithstanding I was a maverick,
while they were sophisticated Europeans, steeped in Old World values.
Would it all work out? Or would we all part later on, a little
sadder for the experience than gladder? I looked at the sea.
It was an unbelievably intense blue. I looked west and could just
make out the faintest low lying line of the mainland. The
atmosphere was clear and invigorating. The midday sun was gently
warming me. There was not a manmade sound to be heard.
It was all so incredibly beautiful that tears formed in my eyes.
How had all of it come about? How had I arrived here into this
wonderland of silence, nature, kindness and new life? I could
elaborate the steps. But I could never understand them. Not
even now, forty years later on.
the time and sun seemed just right, we set off on the planned coastal
walk to Juanito’s house and family. It had been referred to the
day before, as “the long walk”. The question which quickly arose
in my mind as I struggled to keep up with the three of them, Madame,
Jacques and Alberto, was, what did they actually mean by the word,
“long”? And how was I going to keep my self respect intact if
“long” turned out to be too long for me? Catherine and the baby
had been left home, of course, and Juanito was already invisible on his
way back home in his row boat, powerfully retracing his earlier heading
and pushing along with his one good arm and a half! But Madame,
Jacques and Alberto seemed to be racing on ahead of me and Flipper as if
it was an international competition. Of course, they had the
advantage of prior knowledge of the terrain, having made the trip many
times before. I had been given to understand that they would show
the way, but not coddle me. And it became clear, too, that this
undertaking was their way of saying that they felt I might be suitable
material for admission into the club. But that it was to be up to
me to prove it. So I soldiered on. And, in time, I began to
find a rhythm and a confidence which slowly grew until I found myself
able to stay with them, without being obliged to fiercely concentrate on
my progress. This freedom from introspection came bearing a
generous gift. It permitted me to actively see and wonder at the
powerful nature around me.
on the one hand, Flipper and I found ourselves comforted on our right by
an unfolding series of sweet forest glades, and on our left, by giant,
unforgiving rock outcroppings, challenging the might of the sea.
It seemed that it was always that way on the west coast of the island.
The forest, usually of heavy pine stands and dense undergrowth, would
march imperiously and ominously toward the west, toward the sea.
But, just before it was engulfed by that infinity of water, the forest’s
advance would be abruptly halted by enormous, rugged, rock ramparts,
established millions of years before. The forest was saved from
the sea. The sea was saved from the forest. It was a
personification of that old conundrum: what happens when an unstoppable
force meets an immovable object? The answer would seem to be that
nothing at all happens. The sea remains serene, bathing itself in
the sun’s benevolence. And the forest abstains from enlargement,
content to be renewed by the rains which are borne of the sea.
path we followed, alas, was untroubled by any of these philosophical
considerations. It seemed to be doing its best to present us with
an extraordinarily ankle-wrenching, rough passage combined with
backbreaking upgrades. It was beset with stones and boulders, the
former loose and lethal, the latter leaning precariously toward our
passage. There was an inescapable sense of impending danger
compounded by ignorance of where to and how long we were still to go on.
And, though the beauty around us continued to enthral, the feeling grew
that it would be grand for it all to be over. And then catastrophe
struck, as I knew in my gut it would.
Flipper was missing.
had been with me all the way. In front, behind, to the side.
Always perky and adventuresome. But during the last few minutes he
had been out of sight, off searching on his own after some interesting
doggy matter; and then he had been unable to make it back to me.
Someone or something was in his way. I knew it intuitively.
Because it was not in his nature to stay on his own. And he had
been gone long enough so that it told me he was not on his own any more.
I called out to the others who immediately came to me. After
explaining the situation, we quickly set up search areas and spread out,
calling him loudly and carefully examining our territory. All to
no avail. Flipper was truly gone. What could have happened?
How could the little dog have come to harm in this solitary wilderness
through which we were walking? How?