search for my lost Flipper was very thorough. Despite the hazards
of the terrain, and these were of an almost lethal character, we
explored every crevice among the plentiful rocks, beneath every fallen
tree trunk overgrown with underbrush, and even looked aloft as we went.
Just in case Flipper had been caught by a snap-up snare and hoisted
aloft by his neck. But he had been spared from that ordeal.
We could not find him. He was, simply, missing. He was,
simply, lost. He was, simply, gone. For the first time in
our lives, Flipper and I were separated for more than a few moments.
of us had searched until he dropped. Madame had been untiring in
her efforts and I marvelled at her constancy of purpose, despite the
limitations of her physique; for I soon saw she was not as strong as she
might have been. When finally it was over and we had given up, she
was pale and hoarse, hardly able to speak, fatigue written large in her
face. But she had been staunch and utterly committed to finding
the lost dog. Never a word of complaint or of irritation at having
what had started out to be a pleasant jaunt through a wonderland of
nature, turn out to be a dangerous, traumatic, even frantic effort to
save a lost animal. In American slang, she had been a brick.
And I was so grateful that I could not find words fulsome enough to
thank her. I drew her to me and held her close. We were one
in our sorrow for the loss of a wonderful friend.
Jacques had perhaps outdone us all in his physical exertions. He
had covered probably twice the area that I had, and had also lost his
voice from the endless shouting of Flipper’s name. His strength
and endurance, he said, came from his profession. He was a
professional agriculturalist, working in his own experimental fields.
On his farm in France, he specialized in developing new and improved
strains of wheat and other grains; and his work was largely physical.
He, too, like Madame, had devoted himself to the urgency of the task in
hand and poured all of his energy and his will into the search for my
lost Schnauzer. I embraced him, too, and thanked him for his
unstinting cooperation until I thought I had embarrassed him. And
so I turned to Alberto.
had turned an ankle almost as soon as he had begun to search. And,
while it was fortunately not a bad bruise, the swelling was enough to
prevent him from doing much in the way of walk-search. I helped
him all the remaining way to Juanito’s house. Alberto’s English
was very limited and my Spanish then was really nonexistent, so
communication was largely a series of grunts, groans, smiles and nods.
But he managed, nevertheless, to convey his absolute conviction that
Flipper was not, I repeat, that Flipper was not, truly lost for
good. Of all of us, his nature was the sunniest, and his optimism
the most fervent. In the end he converted all of us to his view
and my spirits rose as I realized that it was in fact quite possible
that Flipper might show up anytime in the next few hours or days.
Alberto knew all about disasters. His country was engaged in one
of the longest civil wars in South America. He had become inured
to disaster. And his defence against it, he suggested indirectly,
was always to believe that the worst had not happened. That there
was always hope. I was, and still am, very grateful to him for the
strength with which he promoted that point of view. It saved me
from some very bad hours.
Juanito had only just returned home when we arrived. Around him
were his Ibicenco hounds, four of them, excitedly wagging their tails,
greeting their master. It was lovely to see. And it broke my
heart. There was no Flipper to greet me. The dogs were
liver, tan, and white in colour, lithe, lean and long-legged, in build.
Juanito took their greeting taciturnly. He was resting in his way,
sitting, but in a slightly stretched-out sitting, on a heavy, hard-pine
ceiling beam which lay disconsolately on the ground, instead of holding
up the roof. This was because there was no roof to hold up.
The house was a total utilitarian ruin. Juanito’s wife had been
bringing him a bladder-bottle of home made red wine as we trooped in
with our stern news about Flipper, and we spilled it out to him as if he
was a father confessor. He listened carefully to us with his usual
reserve. He showed neither surprise nor dismay at our story. And
when we had finished the sad tale and given him all the details of our
hunt for the little dog, he gravely poured himself a long draught of the
wine, holding the bladder high above his head with his one hand, and
pouring an arching stream of wine directly into his wide open mouth.
Not a drop did he spill and not a word did he say. And then, to
lubricate the moment, and with her natural good taste and politeness,
Madame presented me to Juanito’s wife.
was a tall and powerful looking woman, with a face like a man’s;
leathery, lined and likeable. She was wearing the traditional
Ibiza country woman’s costume; voluminous, dark colour skirts, a full
blouse assembly and a very large, unexpected, flamboyant straw hat that
provided substantial protection from the fierceness of the island sun.
The skirts, I had learned somewhere along the line, were of particular
interest and importance. They were usually seven in number, the under
skirts being of less heavy material than the outer one. Originally
they had been worn, and worn in such a way, as to suggest that the
wearer was pregnant, whether she was or was not. This was because
of an ancient, unwritten law, which was universally and strictly
honoured by all, even the fiercest of pirates that pregnant women were
not to be raped. It must be understood that rape was so common
that the institution of the multiple skirts had come into being quite
spontaneously. It was to protect the island women from the very
frequent island marauders who as often as two or three times a month in
the very old days, would invade Ibiza in a frenzied search for slaves.
Even though the threat had long vanished, the custom was still
observed…and, to some dying extent, it still is to this day. After I had
been presented to her, Juanito’s wife gravely offered me wine, offered
her condolences on the loss of my little dog, and introduced me in her
turn to her two teen-age daughters, already wearing the multiple skirt
uniform. She then announced that refreshments were in order and
disappeared into a dark doorway which led into what must surely once
have been a kitchen…and still was.
sat down beside Juanito and looked around at the ruin which we had all
been calling his house. It seemed to me that no one could really
live for any length of time in such a fallen building. It was
located on the upper edge of a heavenly sandy beach which curved
beautifully into a full half circle, forming a lovely cala.
Directly behind it was the edge of the ever-present pine forest.
The walls of the old building, about 70 centimetres thick, were in good
shape, generally speaking. But the window openings were glassless
and there were no real working doors where doors should have been
working. There were several bedrooms opening on to the central
area where we were sitting. The outstanding architectural feature of the
place was the missing roof. Only the bedrooms had intact overhead
protection from the weather. The main living space was open to it.
no one seemed to think this was a serious deficiency. Juanito, I
was told, had taken the position after the roof had fallen down, that
the traditional dampness of casas payesas would be completely
by-passed if the roof was not replaced. This, he insisted, would
keep the whole family in better health than otherwise would be the case.
Especially would they escape from what was an almost universal complaint
in Ibiza in those days, i.e., rheumatism and arthritis. With a dry
living room area, no one would ever have serious skeleton unhappiness.
And he had stuck to that position until the whole family had come to
agree with him. They none of them suffered from those dreaded
was just then that the salsa arrived. You must remember
that it was Christmas time and that the visit itself had been made not
only with the purpose of showing me Juanito’s house and introducing me
to his family, but also because it was that time of year when families
visited back and forth because of the holiday. It was customary at
such times to provide a special salsa, a very special brew, I can
tell you. It was made with a heavy hand. Its ingredients, in
part, consisted of honey, ground almonds, oil, eggs, secrets and more
secrets, and its consistency was at best, sluggish. It passed the
taste test with flying colours, but after the first few swallows it
became more and more difficult to pass the rest down the tube. Now
remember, this salsa brew was a universal guest offering at a
time when guests passed to and fro, from house to house, and from
salsa to salsa. And it was unthinkable that it should
ever be refused. It was a quite impossible imposition on one and
all alike, but it persists as a custom even until today. If you
visited four or five neighbours at Christmas time, as almost everyone
did in those days, you were obliged to down at least four or five
generous bowls of the time honoured guest delicacy called simply,
salsa. There probably is a proper name for the stuff, but
somehow that name has escaped me.
After I had downed the offered bowl, and politely accepted another, I
suddenly remembered with fear and trembling that Madame had told me that
the next day of my visit would be devoted to travelling from neighbour
to neighbour in my Renault to catch up on all her social obligations.
It would be salsa and more salsa, all afternoon. And
only two of them had almost made me forget that I had lost Flipper.
It wasn’t that there was any alcohol in the stuff; it was just the sheer
weight of the liquid. It flowed like cold molasses.
Suddenly Juanito stood up. All of us froze. There was
something in his posture, his attitude, his projection of sudden
illumination, which commanded strict attention. We all waited
breathlessly for what he was about to say, for surely such a dramatic
self-arousal could only be the forerunner of an important announcement.
bitch is missing!” he said slowly, almost wonderingly, as if each word
carried with it a hidden meaning. “She has never been missing