Island Mosaic – An Ibiza Childhood
And when we passengers are given two hours,
The wheels failing once more at Somewhere – Nowhere,
To climb out, stretch our legs and pick wild flowers-
Suppose that this time I elect to stay there?
(A friend of my parents who had settled on the neighbouring Balearic Island of Mallorca)
“Watermelon is the best fruit,” Toni Ferrer would say, his eyes lighting up, as he paused to suck his pipe, or adjust his black beret, “because you can eat it, drink it and wash your face with it.”
Toni Ferrer, Santa Eularia: photo by Rolph Blakstad
He would cut us huge slices of carmine-red watermelon, which we ate greedily, the sweet, sticky juice running down our chins, arms, legs and onto our toes, bare and grubby in white and blue flip flops. Toni Ferrer was an old man by the time I remember him, with only a few years left to live. A great friend of my family’s, he was one of the protagonists in The Life and Death of a Spanish Town – American author Elliott Paul’s account of the Spanish Civil War in Santa Eulalia del Rio- the fishing village where I was born in 1963, on the south-east coast of Ibiza. The book was also influential on my Canadian parents in choosing to settle on the island – a place populated over the centuries by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors and Catalans.
Group of Ibicencos and foreigners (including my parents) outside Bar Estrella, Port of Ibiza
Image credit: Dick Gardiner
Early on a clear sunlit morning in October 1956 my parents, Mary and Rolph Blakstad – en route, in fact, to Mallorca – sailed into the harbour of Ibiza, and essentially never left. My father was initially a painter, then a freelance cinematographer for the CBC, and finally an established architect, building many houses on the island. My parents told us the story of their arrival. They said it was like landing in an earlier century. They described the scene at the quayside as lined with wooden sailing ships: the loosing of the anchor, the running clatter as the chain was sped out, the excited greetings from the crowd waiting on shore. My father described the town of Ibiza, as ‘white, pyramidal, a terraced hill rising from the sea with tier upon tier of crystalline cubical houses.’ If the town seemed medieval and in some respects nineteenth century, he said, the countryside seemed pre-classical, Homeric, and primordially Mediterranean.
In the 1920’s Spanish painters from the mainland began coming over to Ibiza, drawn by the extraordinary quality of the light. In the early 1930’s foreigners, including European intellectuals and artists, such as Walter Benjamin, and the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann spent time living, writing and taking photographs on Ibiza. However, the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) followed by the Second World War, flung Ibiza into a decade or two of ‘oblivion’, a forgotten, impoverished backwater of Franco’s Fascist Spain.
My mother Mary Blakstad, Port of Ibiza, welcoming the Barcelona Boat (taken in 1962 by Dutch photographer Cas Oorthuys for “This is Majorca: The Balearic Islands” guide book)
It was not until the 1950’s that foreigners began returning to the island. As mass tourism brought more and more people to the island, my parents moved further and further ‘away’. After their early years in Ibiza Town they moved to the village of Santa Eularia, then to the countryside of Sant Carles, before finally buying and renovating a ruined finca in the foothills of deepest Morna. It was into this environment that I was born and grew up on Ibiza, only leaving the island to set off to the University of Toronto after completing my A levels at Ibiza’s small international school. The school was founded by my mother to educate, initially, her own five children, and those of her friends. When Helga Watson-Todd, who later started the Las Dalias Hippy market, asked if she could enrol her son Julian, my mother said ‘Yes, if he brings his own chair’.
Can Miquel de Sa Font (‘our ruin’, Morna): photo by Rolph Blakstad
To me as a child, Ibiza, surrounded and cut-off by the wide expanse of sea, felt like an entire, small world – a microcosm which contained at least one of everything: one city, one cathedral, one large port, one airport, towns, villages, churches, white-washed houses, many nationalities, many languages and many cultures. There was one river, one waterfall, valleys, farmlands, hills, huge autumn waves, beaches, sand dunes, and cliffs, ancient silver and lead mines… and the white expanse of the marshy salt lakes. There were meteor showers in August, jellyfish invasions, shipwrecks, dolphin sightings, scorching summer days, forest fires, drought, torrential winter storms of flashing lightning and roaring thunder and floods. There was even snow on the ground, in late January 1976 which was coupled with sprays of white almond blossom above – the white island.
The world came to us. Every summer the Barcelona boat would arrive, unloading our friends from London and Paris, Rome, Berlin and New York. Gradually, but almost imperceptibly to me as a child, life on Ibiza, and the old ways, began to change; the river of Santa Eularia dried up. The island became a stop on the hippy route: California-Amsterdam- Ibiza-Goa-Bali-Maui. Flower Power, hippy markets, ever increasing mass tourism, built-up coastlines, hotels, clubs, music… eventually leading to the modern, prosperous ‘Party Island’ of today.
Rolph, Mary and Children (Nial, Leo, Sabrina) at Can Curreu, our Sant Carles house: from family photos archive.
Image credit: John Zichmanis
But the core of the old Ibiza lives on… this is still a salty, blue world of screaming seagulls, full moons over red shores, cane groves, stone-wall terraces, olive, almond and palm trees. It was the Phoenicians, my father said, who brought date palms to the island. A palm tree was planted in front of each house to bring good luck. Good luck, he said, is the colour of tan, of gold – the colour of ripe dates.
Can Balo with almond, olive and palm trees, Santa Agnès:
Image credit: Conrad White (in Ibiza Blakstad Houses)
I am glad, that over half a century ago on that fateful stopover, my parents were among those passengers who elected to stay on this island with date palms in front of their house.
For more information:
Blakstad Design Consulants
Ibiza Blakstad Houses
AA Book Launch for Ibiza Blakstad Houses