Mountain Music - Chapters 1-4
Author(s): Sheila Mackay
Copyright holder(s): Sheila Mackay
Sineu & the Market Towns
SINEU IS A SCINTILLATING PLACE, AT LEAST ON WEDNESDAY MARKET days. Its honeyed stones appear gilded when the world and his wife are there, moving from shadow to illumination and colour, vivaciously in step with the dance.
Loudspeakers blare a throbbing mixture of Spanish pop and flamenco. Gypsies hiss their wares. Encircled by beaten copperware, a voluminous señora nonchalantly chews gum as she barters. Exotic blue-black Sengali men, handsome as stallions, proffer electronic goods, embroidered leatherware and hand-made stringed instruments from prime position stalls.
The Sengalis appear Othello-like beside smaller, swarthy Mallorcan stallholders selling traditional market goods: olives, almonds, farm implements, straw ware, fruits, vegetables, cottons and all the accoutrements anyone could possibly need to set up a smallholding. Bric-a-brac stalls display antique bowls and other people's throwaways, which might do nicely in a corner cabinet. Here are local olives from enormous vats, orange, lemon and olive trees, and vines ready for planting. Over there, caged birds, and in the animal section, you can buy anything from a goat to a donkey.
Sineu, one of the island's market towns, was once the agrarian centre of the Mallorcan universe with its own royal palace. Jaime II, Mallorca's inspired king at the end of the thirteenth century, developed the towns of the plains as production centres and depositories for the island's fabulous produce: Sineu, Inca, Arta, Alcudia, Binissalem, Petra, Algayda and the others. But Sineu was the King's favourite. None of the other towns boasts a lion rampant on a monumental plinth.
The lion once looked down on desert caravans arriving from Timbuctu to trade gold from the distant kingdom of Mali which the Mallorcan king melted down into the real of 1309. The real's carats rivalled even the prestigious Venetian ducado as well as the Florentine florin and Parisian denier.
Produce was shipped out of the coastal ports through vigorous trading routes opened up with the Levant and North Africa. Mallorca was a trading force to be reckoned with in those days, its people less insular than they are today. By all accounts Jaime II was a far-sighted and gifted ruler who introduced the island to democracy, to agricultural and commercial improvements and ensured farm workers a minimum wage and a parcel of land. Influenced by Ramon Llull, the great medieval poet, philosopher and Arabist, whose patron was the King himself, Jaime II's court reflected the best that contemporary culture could offer. Llull's name is still revered in Catalunya and by philosophers the world over. You'll find institutions and streets named after him in Palma and most of the island towns. The freeing of slaves, the limitation of aristocratic privilege, the establishment of free trade and home ownership, the regulation of military service and the administration of justice were the primary concerns of the 1230 Mallorcan Cartas de Franquicias. Benefits like these, awarded by the Franquicias, laid the foundation of new communities which owned the cultivatable lands, in exchange for small tax payments, and assured their inhabitants a fixed wage. They owned their own homes and enjoyed free and liberal use of water, firewood and grazing lands. By the fourteenth century the king's territories were productive earthly paradises.
At a cornucopic vegetable stall, an ebullient young Mallorcan offers me a Spanish lesson:
'Espinacas.' Holding up a bundle of dewy green leaves.
'Medio kilo, por favor.'
Then a bunch of plump green beans:
'Judias verdes,' he smiles as I repeat: 'Hoodias berdee'.
The lesson continues, my basket fills, and so pleased is he with our joint effort that he throws in extra mandarins as a reward.
Wandering the market, warm sun easing my back, the prospect of returning to Scotland in December was something I preferred not to think about. But I was expected in Edinburgh before Christmas. There, the great Norwegian pine tree would stand at the top of the Mound, illuminating the northern darkness with hundreds of white fairy lights. Consumerism would be rife in Princes Street shops and there would be scarcely room to move in Jenners Christmas bazaar which would resemble a gigantic Victorian greetings card... its own Christmas tree chittering inanely with mechanical birds.
My shopping spree would be here and now, at Sineu. Sugared almonds were a must. What memories their sweet kernels would hold during short dark Edinburgh days. Soon several bags were mine, delicately coloured in pastel pinks and green, and several turrones, Catalunya's marzipan-based festive treat.
Pael's stall was opposite the almond section. He was around twenty, luminescent as a black tulip. His wares were African: embroidered leather belts, bags, batik and the like. I bartered for a belt. Pael and his colleagues took me aback at first, just as they would had they appeared in the markets of Berwick-upon-Tweed or Lanark. Sengalese men make their way north every year through Tunis, cross at Gibraltar and radiate through France and Spain, to eke out a living from markets like this one today. They are gradually being accepted as landworkers round the market towns as prosperity based on tourism increasingly frees Mallorcans from the land.
We blethered in French, our only common language. He spoke of an arduous journey, many months long, over deserts, dusty roads and the sea itself, to get to Palma where he lives now in a barrio with other Sengali men. Later, I bought UV sunglasses from an older man who told me he had a wife and several children back home and that it would be one year and one month before he could go back. He was counting the days. His eyes seemed sad and soulful, though I knew cynics would say 'it was all put on' and that what the Sengalis really hoped for were Spanish wives and girlfriends. He tempted me with a magnificent necklace of leather, brass and copper, fit for a princess, and a small stringed instrument like a lute made from a gourd decorated with tiny cowrie shells. The reappearance of Africans is a recent phenomenon, though their dark vivacity was a feature of ancient Mediterranean markets.
In 1281 Mallorcan ships sailed to the British Isles and by the early fourteenth century commercial traffic from England, Flanders and Paris came south by Montpelier or Perpignan bound for the territories of the sultans of Magreb, and crossed through the Balearic ports to Genoa, Tuscany and Venice. Strategically located between Europe, North Africa and the Levant, Mallorca was known as the 'the turning point'.
The lion still dominates a sun-filled world: Sineu's medieval Plaza de San Marco. Though its view has changed somewhat, it's still as fine a lion as the legendary beasts of Venice. Today the base of the plinth is draped with bolts of coloured fabrics: acid-green, purple, orange, yellow and black. A line of tersely coloured satin knickers hangs incongruously, like prayer flags, on a string below.
The lion commands the plaza in front of the octagonal Romanesque church built, like the square itself, from stones the colour of pale honey. Standing above the melee of the market it seems to symbolise Mallorca's history and its key role within the ancient Mediterranean trading world. The identity of the Mallorcan people has been shaped by successive invasions. First came the Greeks, followed by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Spaniards and, in recent times, tourists. Nowadays the islanders bask in new-found prosperity, mainly derived from tourism and they display their ancestral heritage and abundant produce every Wednesday at the Sineu market.
A FEW MILES FROM SINEU, MARY'S HOUSE, CA NA MARIA, STANDS ON a ridge above the wide plain of Inca and the mystical mountain backdrop of the High Sierras. The other side of the mountains I knew well, having recovered from a car accident there several years before. The experience which changed my life. And I had returned to Mallorca again and again. The plain and its market towns, though, were new territory.
Ca Na Maria had a forlorn appearance in the photographs Mary showed me when she urged me to stay there. Like a small dude ranch set in barren scrubland. Frankly, I cared little. I reassured myself that Mallorca would be more clement than Scotland in the winter as I scraped thick ice off my car windows and melted out its door locks before heading for Glasgow airport. As I would discover, this new retreat offered unexpected pleasures and tasks.
Above all I felt released from the magnetic pull of the mountains.
Down the hilly road to town, the hedgerows burgeon with wild flowers and shrubs. Carob trees drop leather-brown pods into a potpourri scatter of scarlet rosehips and tiny holm oak acorns on the road. John the Baptist survived forty days and nights in the desert on the sparse, date-like deliciousness of carob (St John's Bread) with a few locusts thrown in. Beyond the drystone dykes, almond orchards display darkly slender trees, bare now, against pistachio and emerald green chequerboard swards. Here and there, rough land harbours scrubby hawthorn, holly, rosemary and broom. Havens for thrushes, warblers, finches, magpies and the exotically crested hoopoe. Today all sing bel canto in bright sunlight.
Mary is one of a handful of foreigners with houses here. Smallholdings along the road to town belong to local folk and to Palma people who arrive on Friday afternoon and depart on Sunday or Monday morning. Most of the orchards include a random rubble building of traditional design. Sometimes it is a substantial house, or, at least, an outbuilding large enough to contain implements or animals. Weekends present a pastoral idyll of small groups working away on the land, the air filled with the voices of children and the barking of dogs. By the end of the year, most of the weed encrusted orchard swards have been grazed by flocks of sheep or pigs and turned over by a mechanical plough to reveal dark red glistening clods, ready for spring grass planting.
They drive saloon cars or designer jeeps, wear boutique country-clothes. These Palmesanos have bought or inherited their rich parcels and few come in time to harvest the almonds and figs, to prune the trees, to clear the earth of weeds, sorrel, grass and lady's mantle. Their holdings look unkempt. Unpruned, lichen-laden almond limbs, encrusted with velvety nuts, mark a sky-blue manuscript with stacatto-like notes. Stocks of last year's asphodel straggle woodenly amongst dried fennel heads and thistles.
By contrast, an orchard like Señor Moll's is a model of orderliness. Local folk do their work as it should be done. On time. The time of the season. Like other neighbours, he has harvested his almonds in the traditional manner, hitting the branches, click-click, with a stout bamboo pole, until the dark darlings scatter onto the green plastic net, vividly spread below the trees. His pigs have grazed the ground clean of insects and undergrowth and the plough has done its work, so that now - today - the time has come to prune gnarled limbs.
'Bon dia,' calls Señor Moll in Catalan. Everyone here acknowledges anybody who passes on the other side of a drystone dyke.
'Hola! Buenos dias.' I'm impressed to see such a swarthy, well-set man so precariously balanced on one of his almond trees, brandishing the saw that does its work so expertly in his hands. Piles of sawn-off limbs, flayed like helpless living things, lie scattered, ready to be gathered up into bundles of kindling by the teenage son who halts his lusty taunting until I've passed out of earshot.
The pigs are in the next orchard. I grew fond of them and often stopped en route from the town back to Ca Na Maria to give them a titbit from my shopping basket. These are pigs in clover. Pigs as pigs should be. Two mothers and two litters of squeaking, dancing piglets, clean and pinkly experiencing the delights of the land. When I stop by the wall, the two matronly sows snort a signal to their broods to stand still. Spryly they check me out and then snort the signal that sends them stampeding to the wall where all enjoy communing and munching. No wonder jamon tastes so good here.
Here, on the other side of the mountains, I discovered a landscape and culture so different from the tourist invaded mountain towns, that it felt like another country. Here almond trees proliferate in well-tended orchards, with only occasional olive or citrus trees, so prevalent in the north. In the town near Ca Na Maria, there are no signs of tourism. Not even a small hotel, or a taxi, or menus translated into German and English. Yet not so far away, the coastal towns of C'an Picafort and Puerto Pollensa, boast 'Wiener Schnitzel' and 'Fish and Chips' on hundreds of hoardings. Here a visitor is someone to be remarked on. I know this from the turning heads of old men gathered at a corner of the square and from the curious gaze of children as I pass.
My heart was soon lost to this town which, on the dusty surface of my arrival appeared unpromising, closed-up and provincial. It was a town which had not yet absorbed tourists clad for trips to the beach. It felt more appropriate to wear trousers or a skirt. It was still the sort of place where women over forty looked matronly, their hair neatly coiffed and permed, their clothes subdued. The older men invariably wore cardigans with cap or beret and pottered about the main street in the comfort of carpet slippers. Now, in November, all wore warm clothing, even in what I considered a heatwave.
'Hace frio,' people would murmur. 'Don't you feel the cold?'
Ca Na Maria was an abandoned farm building. Now, converted to domestic use, it consists of two main rooms: a kitchen and bedroom with bathroom off, and a 'bothy' with its own entrances from the garden or the terrace at the back. The floors have been tiled, the walls painted white and the doors restored. On warm nights the louvred shutters cut out light and let in air. Mary has hung traditional Mallorcan lace curtains over the French-style windows which are closed on cooler nights and which protect against the heat of the day.
In the mountain-enclosed town where I recovered from the car accident, sunset was discernible only when the grey and silver-ochre ridge of Teix turned golden-red, as if its surface had been rubbed with rouge. Here, from my seat on the terrace, I watch the entire mountain range - Mayor, Massenella and Tomir - turn violet under a flaming sky.
One day when I was pottering about the lanes, a sound primitive and strange as a banshee's call, rising from a nearby orchard, glued me to my tracks. Swooping, guttural cadences interspersed with arcane yodels masked the songs of the birds.
What on earth?
Then, raising a cloud of dust, sheep rampaged on drumming hooves towards me under the Argus-eye of a mean-looking dog which, mercifully, headed off the flock into a field before it pinned me to a dyke. All fell silent. The singing shepherdess, who stood amply in front of me as the dust settled, extended a hand. All the warmth of the Mediterranean lay in her grasp as she introduced herself. A large bashed sunhat protected Elena Bonet's polished-apple face, her eyes bright as dark olives. As the uncanny hound held to her heels I recalled a cryptic footnote in a guide book: 'Mallorcan dogs sound fierce but love their owners'.
Then I remembered. Mary had mentioned Elena's singing in her last letter: 'The noise might sound disturbing until you meet Elena. Pero and Elena work the farm next to Ca Na Maria'. Elena's strange ululation was inseparable from her shepherding; something extraordmary now, that was once universal, like a primitive form of flamenco soaring in the Mediterranean landscape.
After this initial meeting, Elena always stopped for a chat as she guided the flock in its daily round of grazing the orchards up to a kilometre beyond her farm. I joked that it would take me five years to learn Spanish.
'And Mallorcan ... ten years,' was her pertinent reply.
How closed up everything is in town, yet it is past siesta. The long sloping streets leading to the main road, and rising just as steeply out on the other side, are strangely silent. Through soft-focussed eyes, the piling up of small houses resembles some early Cubist painting: soft-brown, eau-de-nil, ochre and blue. The town was once two communities, each operating from its own high hill, separated by the valley. Several centuries ago a 'dangerous wolf' menaced both places and the people joined forces to fend it off. When this was achieved they declared that in future there would be only one town. When Elena's daughter Luisa told me this I understood why there was a square, a stone cross and a church on both sides of the town.
People come and go carrying bundles, their shadows cast long and dark in the afternoon sun: 'Hola, buenas tardes.' Everyone I pass acknowledges me. The mini-market is open and Señor Garcia greets me from the checkout, sending his assistant into convulsions over his linguistic confusion:
'Hola, comment allez-vous, Madame?'
'Muy bien, gracias,' I reply determinedly in Spanish. Señor Garcia likes to use his school-learned French which was of great assistance when I first arrived in town. But now I am determinedly tuned to Spanish.
But where is everyone? Leaving the shop I see what I take, at first, to be a colourful and festive procession coming down the Carrer Esglesia. As the group approaches, I realise that it is only the children of the town, wearing track suits in purple, pink, yellow and blue, like children nearly everywhere nowadays. The end of the school day revives the town. Mothers with babies and toddlers soon emerge to meet them and suddenly everyone is going about their late afternoon business.
This afternoon I have decided to act on my invitation to visit Elena Bonet's daughter, Luisa, who lives in one of the sloping streets of artisan houses and speaks English. Luisa worked in a travel agency in Palma before her son was born earlier in the year. I ring the bell. She opens an upstairs shutter and a moment later stands at the door to welcome me.
'My Mother told me about you. She said you were a writer.' At this, Luisa looked me up and down, an edge of doubt in her voice, and I wondered what it was about my appearance that differed from her image of the British woman writer abroad. She welcomed me into a cool hall lined in white-and-grey marble. She was recognisably Elena's daughter, despite her urban-European gear: purple-velour monogrammed blouson, leotard and ankle boots.
Now my preconceptions were turned upside-down. I suppose I expected her house to follow traditional style with some late-twentieth century accretions. A sound-system perhaps, certainly a television. Yes, these were in evidence. But I wasn't prepared for the shock of the new as Luisa led me into a post-modern interior. I could scarcely believe my eyes.
'Everything is white and black,' I wrote to Mary later. 'The entire house is tiled in white, the walls are white with white marble dados edged in black. It is open-plan, the whole space lit by a cupola, spotless and dazzling. A chrome and glass dining table with six black Mackintosh-style chairs dominates the reception/dining room. The telephone is a designer-accessory on another chrome and glass side-table under a stylish plant. Elegant black-and-white framed architectural prints line the walls of the high-tech staircase which ends in a balcony surrounded by plain white metal railings. This house would not disgrace the pages of "World of Interiors".'
As it was, I followed Luisa upstairs, subdued. Perhaps she had picked up my astonishment, for she said: 'Many people in our town find our house strange. Though young couples engaged to be married visit us, to see it for themselves. They want modern things too.' My mind struggled to imagine the earth-mother Elena here, coo-ing over her sweet grandson, Jaime, whom I meet now, contented in his portable baby-chair. This upstairs room is sparsely furnished too, with a round table and Jaime's designer playpen as the main focus.
Two youths sit in front of a pile of papers and books.
'This is Arturo and this is Tolo.' Luisa introduces me and instructs them: 'Say 'it is very nice to meet you'. You are very lucky to have a visitor from England today.' The boys dissolve with teenage embarrassment. My eyes catch the title of the largest volume on the table: ' Ingles'.
'An English lesson?' I apologise for interrupting.
'It's an exam really,' Luisa tells me. 'But they will not behave seriously today and so we will have to repeat it next week. Can you talk with them for a bit?'
As the baby sucks contentedly on his rusk I take the opportunity to tell the students that I am Scottish not English. They find this odd since I speak English. They think it's a joke: 'You speak English but you are not English?' I avoid going into detail about the Act of Union, and discover that they fully understand when I explain that Scots are, in fact, in a similar position to Mallorcans.
'Scotland, like Mallorca, is far from the centre of things. Scots find that decisions made in London are not helpful. In the Western Islands and the Highlands of Scotland, a language called Gaelic is spoken which is quite different from English. I'm learning that Mallorcan is different from Spanish.'
Mallorcan, a variant of Catalan, was rigorously suppressed under Franco's regime but has been revived in recent years and is spoken throughout the island.
Luisa and I talked above the students' heads until Tolo interrupted to say that he could understand Luisa, but not me. Yet I was a true British person. Was that not curious? The boys' mischievousness was palpable. Their naughty implication was that their young teacher was not teaching them true ingles.
'I speak too fast, that's all,' I said reassuringly, adding that I must leave. I invited Luisa to come for tea at Ca Na Maria the next day. Luisa was delighted. She turned to the boys with satisfaction:
'You see, it is just as I taught you. Real British people take tea in the afternoon.'
The town was all bustle towards dusk. Intriguing noises issued from open workshops next to the houses all the way up the hill: banging and hammering, machine stitching and nut cracking. Some stood open, offering glimpses of piles of potatoes and onions, neat sacks of kindling, heaps of wood shavings under a carpenter's bench. In one, three matrons sat folding cotton. In another more women were constructing soft fleecy slippers. It was disconcerting to hear them answer 'adios' to my 'buenas tardes' until I realised that they knew that I was leaving town. Word had got round. I was 'la escocesa' who was living next to Pero and Elena's farm.
In the gathering dusk it seemed a long way home. A last glow of sunset bathing dykes and farm buildings with diffuse, pink-tinged warmth encouraged me on. But violet-blue darkness descended fast, and before I could reach the top of the first hill I was dodging flitting bats under the carob trees and the wind came soughing through the almond orchards. A whoosh in the hedgerow made me spin round. Only an owl. I might well have felt afraid, but in truth my thoughts were more taken up with Elena's daughter's house than with the apparitions of the night. The contrast between the living styles of the parents and the child couldn't have been more stark. The parents lived in a sensuous, tumble-me-down dwelling with earth floors, so ancient that the building had almost become part of the landscape itself. The daughter's was an Apollonian interior which would have been perfectly acceptable in London, Paris or New York.
For several days I watched my few neighbours coming and going to tend their land. The sense of fulfilment exuded by the agricultural area of the Mallorcan plains is not an accident of nature. Rather it reflects bounty tamed and improved by sensitive development. The land system here is still small and beautiful and has worked well for centuries to provide the island with fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat and poultry with enough left over for export. Mallorcan olives and almonds are prized by gourmets and judged by some to be the best in the world, but they struggle to compete with more lustrous looking produce from elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
But for all that, there appears to be a crisis in island farming. Farm subsidies are unrealistic. Take Pero and Elena for example. There was a time when they were younger, worked hard to produce crops and raise flocks of sheep and looked forward to slowing-up towards a restful old age. After that they hoped to live well on what the farm produced. But now it's a different story. In order to survive Pero has had to take on drystone dyke work, getting up before dawn and travelling many miles to the mountain towns, where skills learned over a lifetime are required in tourism-related ventures and a new sewage plant. And Elena, in her fifties, has had to take on some of Pero's farm work, in addition to her own. Behind the romantic idyll of the sunhatted shepherdess lies a harsher reality.
Mallorcan cultivation is still based on the system inherited from the Moors (a heady mix of Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians and Berbers) who swept up through southern Spain in the seventh century expansion and stayed for several centuries. Under the inspiration of Jaime I, Mallorca's conquerer in 1229, the watering and gardening enterprises initiated by the Moors blossomed. Harvests of fruits and vegetables follow in continuous round throughout the year. To counteract erosion the Moors constructed drystone dykes and miles of straight and undulating terraces for the cultivation of almond on the plains and olives on the slopes of the High Sierras. They introduced irrigation. Their wells and channels are still in operation today, conveying water where it's needed.
The traditional well at Ca Na Maria is fully operational with its characteristic overhanging wheel and chain which allows pails of accumulated rainwater to be raised with minimum effort. When the solar system which supplies Ca Na Maria's electric power is low or non-operational, the pump cannot pull up water from the cisterna, and the ancient well provides an essential back-up.
Los lunes. I write it in my notebook. Monday seems to be the quietest day of the week in Mallorca's country towns. Does the weekend invasion of Palmesanos which spreads as far as Pollensa to Port Andraitx so exhaust local communities running cafes, bars and shops, and provincial relatives and friends providing hospitality, that the first day of the week has to be taken at a slower pace? 'Yes,' asserts Luisa. 'This is what happens.'
Los lunes. Even the barber shop is closed. But, later in the week, a visiting artist entered its portals with understandable trepidation. The poster hanging behind its closed and curtained facade did little to enhance his confidence on this first visit to a Spanish barber: six virile young men with clipped executive haircuts and the incongruous words 'Work Hard to Play Hard' in English. These were the only English words I ever saw displayed in the town. My visitor had a hard enough time going to a Scottish barber, but his maxim was: 'If I'm going to wear a beard I should look after it.' Scrutinising the shaggy growth thrown back by Ca Na Maria's bathroom mirror he announced that he would submit to the chair while I did the shopping.
Leaving him at the barberia, I relished the delights of the fish shop, their names chalked up on a blackboard: sardinas, sepia, merluza, langostino. Large plump sardines, grilled with the juice of a lemon freshly plucked from the garden and garnished with fennel, which grew like a weed in the orchard, would be tasty. At the panaderia I was relieved to find crusty baguettes. Typical Mallorcan bread is particularly unyielding to mature teeth and is usually softened by dipping in olive oil, café con lêche or Sopas Mallorquinas.
That much achieved, I called in at the barber's to see if my visitor was ready for a reviving carajillo (coffee with brandy) perhaps? Under the circumstances? Opening the lace curtained door, as if to a secret world, the artist rose from a silent queue of seated townsmen engrossed in magazines to tell me he was next in line. Continuing the shopping, Magdalena in the mini-market corrected my pronunciation. This would be helpful in the long term but had the immediate effect of obliterating nearly all known Spanish from my mind. Gingerly I worked up to her section Queso y Carnes via the fruit and vegetables which were always a joy: big tomatoes, tasty and substantial, too ungainly for the uniform packets sold in British supermarkets, small, shiny purple aubergines, artichokes costing next-to-nothing, plump green beans, pinkish-green sweet grapes, locally grown spinach and melons.
Magdalena could not be avoided: 'Buenos dias, Magdalena. Como esta usted?'
'Muy bien, ' she replied sweetly.
Good. That had passed muster. Now: 'Quiero un medio kilo de queso, por favor.'
'Kay-so.' She had the kindly patience of a primary school teacher. I repeated, obedient.
'Frances o Mahones?'
'Mahones, por favor.' I was eager to eat lots of this delicious Balearic cheese which is produced in both Mallorca and Menorca.
'No. Jamon, por favor.'
'Ha-moan,' she enunciated firmly. Then: 'Jamon York o Serrano?' And so it went on. Magdalena should have been a school teacher.
Back at the barber shop, he had, at last, arrived in the chair. His back was towards me, his shoulders draped with a huge white towel while el barbero stippled a large brush, white and foaming, over the bearded area. The barber nodded like a conspirator through the mirror, indicating that the operation was going well, so I gently closed the door. I would wait in the café with the Diario de Mallorca, the outstanding island daily. Turning to the weather report, I saw that yesterday's temperatures in Britain registered between nine and nought degrees and I pitied my Scottish friends living under the Diario's symbol of a black bank of cloud with no sun peeping above it. The Mediterranean was blessed with full sun symbols and basked in unseasonably warm temperatures of 22 degrees.
Before long a suave, Don-like figure appeared. It had not all been plain sailing, he told me. The barber was an artist like himself, he said, and therefore took a great deal of trouble over everything he did. There had been the initial lathering and surface trimming. He had risen from the chair thinking that was that. But el barbero had pushed him back. Then came a further soaping and cleaning off and again he rose only to meet the restraining hand once more. This time the barber wielded the straight razor above his head.
'No, señor, there is still the fine trimming to do. And the pomading.'
'Señor', as I shall call him throughout this book, leaned towards me. Sure enough he smelled wonderful and we made our way back through the loveliness of the country lanes towards Ca Na Maria for lunch and siesta.
THE ALARM CLOCK WENT OFF AT EIGHT O'CLOCK. SURFACING INTO consciousness I fumbled for the now-cold cup of tea deposited some time ago on the bedside table. Ah, yes, it all came back to me. This was Friday, viernes, the day señor (soon to be my partner), would soar out of Palma Airport back to Scotland: dark-grey, wet and cold in mid-November.
He had left on foot, pulling his transitional elderly suitcase on a pair of wheels into the star-filled dawn. It was almost five kilometres to town. After he had shouted the final farewell through the bedroom window's louvred shutters I remained enveloped in the wadded coverlet. Hearing the squeak of the metal gates of Ca Na Maria's almond orchard, I imagined him rattling along the stony track past Pero and Elena's ramshackle farm. Yes. Sure enough their dogs had barked, raising the chorus usually led by the cockeral at some God-forsaken hour of the morning. Silence fell. He was out of canine earshot and out of my orbit too now. He had reached the end of the track and turned into the main road to town. Adjusting to this fact, I sat up against the polished mahogany bedhead, inlaid with marquetry depicting Dido and Aeneas. The simple whitewashed room was tinged with the dusty-pink of dawn. The blue louvred shutters overlooking the orchard and the garden were slightly open. The sky was slate-blue streaked with almond pink, the oranges seemed luminescent as black-headed Sardinian warblers arrived to swoop and dance around split pomegranates dispersed on the terrace wall.
It would not be so bad. I had work to do: two weeks in which to write... and try my hand at almond gathering. The activities should combine well, I told myself briskly sweeping Ca Na Maria's main rooms after breakfast, pausing as a plane gathered momentum beyond the clouds. Perhaps he was flying above. My brain processed an image of his lithe-figure, soaring Icarus-like into a cerulean sky, dragging his battered brown suitcase. We had decided to spend the coming winter in Mallorca and would return here together a month from now.
Señor Bauza, one of my Palma neighbours, came late to harvest his almonds under my eager-apprentice eyes. I watched him at work over the wall. The ingathering of the almonds and work on the garden was the quid pro quo - 'only if you feel like it' - attached to Mary's offer of the use of Ca Na Maria for a month. It was time for me to begin. The orchard ground had been cleared of tree limbs and hollow wooden asphodel stalks which were piled in bundles for kindling by the wood pile. I had removed large stones and placed them near the mini-gardens that Mary's green fingers had established all round the house. Roses and carnations, orange and lemon trees, rosemary, lemon balm, marjoram and lavender thrived in a herbarium within easy reach of the kitchen. Geraniums, planted last year were already shoulder high.
Surely it would be easy enough to gather fallen almonds from this cleared ground? I set forth with the required implement for the job - a 10-foot long bamboo pole. The trees at the top of the orchard were the first objects of my attack: click-clack, click-clack. I strove for the castanet-like rhythm that had come to me from Señor Bauza's orchard. Lean and rakish in his straw homburg, I had half-expected him to break into full fandango at any moment. As it was, a few almonds encased in their hard velvety husks fell obligingly over my shoulders. But not the full scatter I'd hoped for. It was hard work clicking that stick against the high branches. I should have known. Most human endeavours which appear straightforward and effortless are, in fact, the result of years of practise. I hit harder, warming to the task as click-clack became thwack-thwack and dozens of nuts cascaded to the ground. Newton and his apple. David and Goliath.
Mallorcan trees, particularly olives and almonds, can take on a peculiarly human aspect. As I continued to perform a beginner's version of gathering-in the almond harvest, I felt like a wrestler in a ring. I hit with the stick, harder and harder, until the ground was strewn, and retreated with gladiatorial satisfaction to enjoy a libation on the terrace. A small rock to hand allowed me to break husks and shells and to sample the ginger-coloured, nourishing kernels whose ancestors can be traced back to the mass plantation of almonds around 1765. There are six million trees in production today. It takes seven years for a tree to show profit and Mallorcans are thrifty and ingenious in using all its products. The outer casing is milled for oil, the discarded shells used for fuel. The kernels themselves are sold au naturel, roasted, salted or sugared, baked into turron (that delicious festive confection) and other cakes and preserves.
Mary's words from our last telephone call now rang in my ears: 'almond harvesting can be a back-breaking job'. I had enjoyed the shaking of the tree limbs and the scatter of almonds with all the enthusiasm of a novice. Now I needed to devise an equally pleasant means of gathering up the nuts tomorrow. I planned to move round each tree, sitting on a cushion from which I might gather the nuts within reach. But, discomfort apart, this method was time-consuming. There must be a better way.
Señor Bauza had a fine net which, after a friendly conversation over the wall, was mine, delivered neatly folded in a huge plastic bag. Opened up, it was an enormous, oblong sea of green-plastic filament net. It reached two or three trees planted up to ten feet apart. The prospect of the collection net encouraged me to return the task with vigour and I never looked back. The pile of gathered almonds grew daily beside the stone trough outside the bothy. My next challenge was husking, a slow, sedentary labour, effected with just the right degree of pressure from a small stone. There is an almanderia in town where de-husking and shell-cracking is performed mechanically. I had noticed a high pile of husks spilling out of a skip beside a small workshop. Husking was a ritual performed every autumn to process the town's almond harvest. To get Ca Na Maria's almonds there and back by bike would take several trips. Hardly worth it, I reasoned, cracking away at husk and shell. And I enjoyed this mesmerising task performed for an hour each day before sunset. It brought me closer to the landscape which had become the focus of my new notebook:
At dusk I walk past the almond trees associated with my late afternoon labours. Away to the east the sky is tangerine-red and orchards stand etched against it, a filigree of purple-black marks. The gentlest tinkling, as if from temple bells, draws me to the wall beyond the gate to the other side of the lane. The chimes are concentrated in one part of the field where I dimly discern the dusky-soft mounds of Elena's assembled flock. The gate creaks and squeaks as I close it behind me and walk towards the house, set now against the sturdy inky backdrop of the High Sierras. As I approach the house the twelve lighted candles on the kitchen table are visible, my evening altar in the absence of solar power. The battery is flat. Each evening I am becoming braver. I dare to stand on the darkened terrace and even to walk down the steps at the back of the house to the field beyond, which in daylight is a tangle of scrub, olive, thorn bushes, fennel and asphodel. My feeling of being safe, protected even, by the blanket of the night, allows me to listen to the night songs of owls and hawks. I have given up the fantasy that plagued me earlier in the week: that some lusty lout or drug-crazed Palmesano might emerge from the thicket intent on theft or worse.
It is a privilege to be invited to a Mallorcan house. You can live on the island for years and never get to know a Mallorcan family. It's the same, of course, for incomers to remote parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. On the day before I left the plains to return to the mountains, I felt privileged to be invited to lunch at Luisa 's house.
Most days at one-thirty Elena's family gathers to eat a communal meal at Luisa's house. The women take turns to cook. Today Luisa's grandmother and aunt have gone to a festival in Inca but Pero is at home. He arrives in the Fiat van with Elena, fresh in jeans and a cotton shirt. Elena is resplendent in an pink and navy overall similar to one my own mother wore when I was a child. The gleaming chrome, marble and white of the kitchen accommodates us well and baby Jaime, already fed, coos at Grandfather Pero with little bursts of postprandial hilarity from time to time.
Elena has cooked today. She has carried the enormous, tinfoil-covered black pot from the farm and now unveils a magnificent, traditional paella of saffron-coloured rice, shrimps, black olives, indigo mussels and pieces of chicken. Numerous questions, answers and small talk bandy back and forth, taxing Luisa 's powers of translation. Before dessert arrives, a cornucopia of sweet melon, grapes, mandarins and persimmons, I learn more about the harsh reality behind Pero and Elena's pastoral idyll. They examined my photographs with great interest, particularly scenes of shepherding in the Scottish Borders where I have spent the summers these past few years. Pero observed that the herding skill of Scottish sheepdogs is famed throughout Spain and that he would dearly love to own one. We parted friends, and, although I was leaving for the mountains next day, I knew I would return.
The almonds are garnered, their ginger kernels stored in huge pottery jars in the shed. It's time to leave Ca Na Maria. From the terrace I watch the waning moon enter the theatre of the starlit sky. On the illuminated plains around Inca, patterns of lights resemble the Milky Way fallen to earth. I pack away the sunhat tied with its black and gold scarf, the diaries and the pile of books associated with my work. The last household chores are accomplished in the tulle of a rosy dawn and I am ready to steal away to catch the first Palma bus before the sun has replaced the moon's silver fingertip. My journey will take me back to the far side of the Sierras, whose theatrical moods witnessed from a distance of fifty kilometres have engaged me for nearly two weeks: cloud and clarity, distant thunder and lightning flashes and glorious sunsets. My car accident in the mountains several years ago has become a dim memory. The mountains hold no terror now.
1. The Sierra de Tramuntana & Sa Calobra
THE PLAINS OF MALLORCA HAVE BECOME FAMILIAR TO ME, BUT several years ago when I first came to the island, I was heading for the mountains. Palma basked in unseasonal January heat. After crossing Las Ramblas with its muted facades, decorative-iron balconies, flower booths and avenues of plane trees, I headed for Calle St Jaime to book into the Hostal Borne. The street is a subfusc cavern shafted with apricot light from alleyways leading off. Half way down, Saint James, the pilgrims' saint, surrounded by the gear he took to Santiago di Compostella, is framed in stone below a curvaceous scallop shell. He wears a wide brimmed, pilgrim's hat clasped with the symbolic shell. A water gourd tied to his staff. He looks a little baffled as I scuttle below. We are on the same wavelength, he and I.
Just before the Plaza Borne, a grand arched portal leads into the hostal. On my first visit, Hostal Borne had all the faded grandeur of a former Marques's townhouse and provided an enticing stopover for travellers on limited budgets. Its vaulted and colonnaded reception hall, floored and lined in deep-apricot veined marble, gave a view through plate glass doors onto the cloistered courtyard where four ancient date paIms yearned towards the sun. Furniture was sparse, but solid and antique. Fittings were original: tooled brass gleamed against dark-mahogany doors.
For me, its faded grandeur evoked Agatha Christie, perhaps because I had once stayed at the similarly fin de siècle Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul. It was there that the enigmatic genius wrote A Murder on the Orient Express. That was the time she disappeared on her travels. No one knew where she had gone. A considerable time passed, then a key was found concealed behind some white tiles in the bathroom of the suite that Agatha Christie had rented. The key gave the game away. I saw, fascinated, the very tiles and the very bathroom, and the Pera Palas's desk clerk showed me the key to which was attached a faded label bearing her name. Her signature in inky copperplate.
The Borne's dimensions, vast near 'front of house' , diminished progressively as the stairs ascended further from reception. Long-stay guests inhabited suites behind thickly studded doors - Daniel Hartmann invited me into his after we became friends. Passerines like me were directed down dark harem-like corridors to the small doors of modest rooms that were, nevertheless, interesting and adequately supplied with clean white sheets, thick cotton towels and bedspread monogrammed with the initials 'HB' and an embroidered coronet.
Hostal Borne. That first morning as I lay relishing the strange sounds of the city beyond the courtyard and the warmly pungent odours peculiar to Mediterranean ports, my eyes surveyed the Thomas Cook-ish room. A slatted leather luggage rack suggested untold journeys: to North Africa or the Canaries, to Casablanca, Barcelona or some other Iberian port, to Greece, Beirut or Alexandria. Diffuse sun cast oblique shadows onto my bedspread. Here, in the heart of Palma's old Arab town, an adventure might begin, on however small a scale.
The enormous frond of a courtyard palm thrust into the room like a playful cat when, at last, I got up and opened the shutters. After showering in the mahogany closet lined with tiles, and wrapping my body in a voluminous towel, I tied my damp hair under a patterned scarf and lolled on the edge of the bed painting my toenails. Sun warmed shoulders, scent of black tobacco. Looking-up, I caught myself in the mirror. I liked what I saw. My reflection resembled my northern self scarcely at all. At last I had shed a disguise, sprung the trap. My warm semi-nakedness, the sunlight fingering through the palm frond, the absurd turban, the sense of fantasy made real ineffably transformed that moment.
'I know you' the reflection seemed to say. 'Away from home, you're given to adventure.'
Scotland, inhospitably wintering, was behind me now. little did I realise that I was poised at a frontier whose exploration would reveal more than I could possibly imagine.
That morning I would climb Puig Tomir, one of the highest peaks of the Sierra de Tramuntana, with Louis and Liv, new friends from Barcelona. A notice in the Borne's foyer had reassured me that a decent breakfast could be had before the trip: Desayuno 8-10. That suited me fine. Breakfast at eight o'clock would allow me to meet Louis and Liv at the car hire place. We'd be in the mountains by ten. I had met them for the first time on New Year's Day, two days before, at Ca Na Gaia, the home of a mutual friend, Alice Knight. We'd planned our ascent of the Puig, over five thousand feet, in her garden. Louis worked for ICONA in Barcelona (Spain's nature conservancy organisation). Now, he and his Swedish wife, were on a romantic visit to the island where they had first met. Louis and Liv had not been able to join Alice for Hogmany but had arrived in time for a barbecue on New Year's Day.
All four of us sat round the fire's musky embers, drinking wine in the dusk under the shadows of the almond trees. Alice told them about the drama. It was her first New Year at the House of Gaia, a time when she felt it was important to have friends with her. As she told Louis and Liv, five of us, all women, had come together to celebrate. After dinner, we set off in high spirits, arm-in-arm down the moonlit road to the village. The stars constellated brilliantly over the nearby mountain of Galatzo.
'Starry, starry night,' someone sang. Magic afoot. The townsfolk would turn out to see in the New Year, as they always did, and, as a newcomer to the area Alice Knight wanted to join them.
She had told us what to expect: the mayor would serve champagne at midnight, the custom in towns throughout the island. But what actually took place astonished us all. Sure enough, a crowd had gathered in the town square, dimly lit by low wattage bulbs suspended between date palms. It was about eleven-thirty by the time the five of us stood among the throng. Alice was greeting her neighbours, introducing us, exchanging pleasantries, speaking Mallorcan, a dialect of Catalan based on Provençal French... when, suddenly, a mob burst onto the scene, leaping and whirling, cracking whips above their heads. They wore red from head to foot and weird pointed hats and thick black moustaches. The crowd shrieked and scattered as the weird figures claimed the plaza in a frenzy of action. Within minutes a thick grey-red pall obliterated the centre of the square, and spread stealthily outwards. Into that hellish pall there came bursts of firecrackers, alternating with menacing thwacking whips as the devils provoked the crow. Suddenly, a huge three-wheeled vehicle, like an enormous tricycle, came whirling through the smoke its wheels seemingly powered by bursts of lightning. The devils held the centre in an awful macabre dance for some ten minutes then rushed to harrass the huddled crowd, the whips lashing the air, their firecrackers scorching the ground. People screamed and ran in all directions. To stand still would have been to court an uncertain fate.
At this point Alice rebelled. Even now I see her standing at the centre of the square. That was the safe spot she reckoned. I wasn't so sure and stayed at the periphery, fascinated by her dark silhouette standing alone in the smoke. She confided later that she wanted to show what she was made of. That she knew about storms, that she could deal with the dramatic, overbearing, often menacing forces of nature which her valley projects in plenty, and still hold the eye of the storm. She needed to demonstrate this and, slowly, the rest of the crowd began to creep back. The centre had become safer than the devil-menaced spaces beyond the square.
Just before midnight the banging of drums, the crashing of cymbals and whip lashing reached a peak of frenzy as the devils followed the crowd back to the centre. like infernal monkeys, they swarmed up a flagpole where they let off twelve rockets on each stroke of midnight and the old world - the world of the Inquisition and, before that, of pagan primitivism - had been symbolically expiated. Everyone in the crowd swallowed twelve grapes. Twelve small moons symbolising the year gone by and the months ahead. The smoke subsided, lights were switched on, the devils disappeared as swiftly as they had come. Out of nowhere, back to nowhere. The mayor arrived with helpers to pour champagne. The New Year, that year of 1989, began with celebration.
On the second day of January I left Ca Na Gaia to walk the 13 kilometre mountain road to Esporles where I caught the bus to Palma. That's when I spent my first night at the Hostal Borne, before meeting up again with Louis and Liv to climb Puig Tomir.
At first the countryside was obscured by fog. At a stop beyond Esporles the doors of the bus swung open to admit an ardent old man carrying a package with a linen cover. He paid his fare and took the seat next to mine behind the bus driver. As we sped towards Palma the fog cleared, but the countryside looked alien. There was a dusty reticence about the hamlets we passed, with here and there something outrageous: a handsome palm inclining its turbanned fan to shade the ochre cube of a finca, a cemetery with star-studded domes, high stone dykes bordering lush orchards set in emerald swards, mysterious cloaked copses undergrown with rock rose and rosemary.
Seeing me turn from the window to steal a glance at his bundle, the old man lifted a corner of the cloth with a toothy grin. A yellow canary balancing on its perch broke into song with the sudden illumination of cage. We smiled at one another:
'The bird sings,' he said, 'but it is sick. Malo. I am taking it to the doctor.'
Soon he bade me good-bye, gingerly leaving the bus on the outskirts of Palma, and I could only marvel that a bird no bigger than a sparrow had inspired such a frail old man to go so far out of his way.
At the Hostal Borne, I didn't give the devils a second thought. After all, this was my first holiday for a long time. There would be time to recover from stresses left behind in the north. Luxuriating in the comfort of my room at the Borne, I anticipated the ascent of Puig Tomir which would be followed by leisurely days at Puerto Soller during which I had only one definite appointment. A colleague in Scotland had urged me to visit her friend, the count, who had recently exchanged his estate in Scotland for a spectacular cliff-top house on the mountain coast near the port. As a symbol of that transition, he had brought a Celtic harp, or clarsach, to Mallorca. Unfortunately, he had no idea how to play it. Intrigued, I promised to write up the count's story for local newspaper. Perhaps that would bring a harpist to light.
'Desayuno, por favor.' I am standing under the notice in the foyer jabbing my finger at it, a harried desk clerk by my side. 'It says Desayuno will be served at eight. Please, I am in a hurry.' I am beginning to lose my temper.
The desk clerk was apologetic: 'I know Madam. But not today. I am sorry.' He retreated to the safety of the mahogany reception desk where he pretended to shuffle papers; and just as I was about to give up, a courteous, accented voice sounded from the stairs above:
'Catering can be a problem here, but don't worry.' I craned to catch a glimpse of the owner of the voice above the silvered balustrade. Then he stood before me, his hand outstretched.
'Good-morning. I am Daniel Hartmann. If you like, I can show you a place nearby where I eat breakfast.'
Pale and somewhat dishevelled, his lank brown hair was neatly parted above a pallid and secretive face. Shabby sophisticate? Shifty entrepreneur? Perhaps both. Yet, something beguiling brightened his eyes and overrode any initial misgivings I might have had. What could be seen of his clothes under his too-large Acquascutum raincoat indicated an individualist: rough tweed waistcoat, linen trousers, a dark blue cotton shirt. I decided to follow as he swept out of the Borne's arched entrance into the shaded alley and we dodged the traffic of the Placa Borne, until we sat side-by-side at the counter of Bar Bosch where he ordered a Mallorcan breakfast. Desayuno. Café con lêche and ensaimadas. Only ten minutes to exchange brief autobiographies before I had to leave. Then I thanked him, waved him good-bye and set off on my journey never for one moment imagining that we would meet again.
The day on the mountain remains vivid in my memory, the clear air scented with pine, rock roses and rosemary as we climbed. Louis identified rare plants growing near Puig Tomir's silver-screed summit and we watched falcons, vultures, and small birds including finches and warblers through his field glasses. At the end of the day we stopped at the ICONA finca where his colleague Helena was based to study Mallorca's indigenous black vulture. 'Not so long ago, there were enough mammals on the mountains to satisfy the vultures,' she said. 'But nowadays they only survive by picking the bones of carcasses dropped from helicopters.'
That night, by candlelight, we ate a lamb and onion casserole beside an enormous olive-wood open-fire, with that heightened contentment which follows physical effort. Eventually fatigue got the better of me and I pulled myself out of their generous company into the black night to drive the tedious road to Puerto Soller.
Next morning, the weather had turned much colder. I breakfasted indoors at the Hostal Es Port and decided not to delay my visit to the count while I still had the hire car. He was not on the telephone and there had not been time to write. What if he wasn't there? It was a risk I was prepared to take. After all, what was one day out of the many that lay unplanned before me?
THE BACK OF THE BOTTOM DRAWER OF MY FILING CABINET AT HOME IN Scotland, I keep a small notebook covered in black leather, with a red spine. For a long time I needed to examine its contents regularly. It contains the notes and drawings I made after the accident.
The first drawing shows a small figure (me) standing in a cove off Sa Calobra road. Nothing is open and no one is there. I have driven over 2,000 feet down a snaking road to visit a man who is not there. Maybe he is there but I cannot for the life of me find his house.The directions my Scottish contact gave me are inadequate. There is a housing development on the cliffs above the sea and the cove is fringed with orange trees laden with fruits. The setting is lovely. The count lives somewhere here. Later, I chose orange, azure, terracotta and dark cypress-green crayons to sketch this scene. And yellow for the rented car: a Ford Fiesta. All the houses around the cove look closed up. Las casas están cerradas. The place is deserted.
The car had played-up in the morning before I left Puerto Soller and I had needed the help of a mechanic to get it started. Suddenly I felt frightened. What if it wouldn't start here, miles from anywhere with no one to help? My eyes swept the great height and weight of the vast Sierras, a terrain so steep that, craning my head to look up, up, up, I still could not see the peaks. All I could see, above me, was a strip of blue sky beyond the mountains and I could hear the cry of wild birds and the mysterious hollow bleat of mountain goats reverberating between rock ravines. I had to get the hell out of there. Fast! Back the safety of the Hostal Es Port.
The car started. Laudate Domine.
The second drawing in the notebook includes a small church with living space attached, several kilometres above the cove, where I stopped before tackling the return I dreaded. Many kilometres twisting, uphill, hairpin bends. One of the worst roads it is possible to imagine. Smoke circling out of the chimney attracted me to stop. I approached cautiously. Rosemary grows around the building which, I discovered later, is one of the oldest buildings in Mallorca: the thirteenth century chapel of San Lorenzo. Perfumed evergreen exquisite pale-blue flowers: 'Rosemary for remembrance, even if the stars forget'. We'd had a rosemary bush outside our house in the good old days. You knew who wore the trousers in the house if there was a rosemary bush outside, he said.
No one answered my knock. Peering through the half-open shutters, I could see a wooden table laid with sturdy implements and wooden bowls. Three people expected for a meal, but no one there. A pity. At least they might have been able to tell me where I could find the count's house.
I drew a yellow box for the Ford Fiesta, then sketched the church, the mountain landscape, the road winding up like an uncoiling snake.
I depicted myself walking towards the church, a matchstick figure. Fortunately, I was well-dressed that day: white silk blouse (a fine-silver Celtic brooch pinned at the neck), black crêpe trousers, leather jacket, and tartan scarf. I remember. I stood at the church hoping someone would come. The hill was encircled by larger hills, rising towards the mountain peaks of the Tramuntana range. Claustrophobia. All that landscape pressing down on me. I needed to get out of here. I wondered whether to fasten my seat-belt. Would it not be better to have freedom of movement to tackle the hellish bends that lay ahead? Thank God I fastened that belt. Without it I certainly would not have survived the abyss.
My marks on the next drawing (in black and white) resemble a cross-section through the brain showing the corpus callosum, the strange walnut creased texture of the cerebral cortex and the brain stem. It is not, though. It is what I thought the road was like at a particular bend on the Sa Calobra road. What looks like cerebral cortex or walnut kernel is a mix of rocks and stones. Still, yes: it does look remarkably like a cross section of an enormous brain. A sliver of the world brain perhaps? In this representation which is neither drawing nor diagram my car approaches the steepest and most twisting curve of the brain stem, sorry, the snake-like road. Hairpin-bends like you have never seen them. A devilish place. Later I saw the spat marked on an old map as 'clot infierno', the grave of hell. Ignorance was bliss.
Draw quickly with no regard to technique, I instructed myself. In order to come to understand and thereby accept what has happened.
You must make a record of what has happened. As a matter of urgency.
I selected a red pencil to depict the car that had drawn up behind me. I could see the driver clearly through the windscreen mirror: an older man with a dark-haired young woman at his side. Driving slowly in first gear, and using all my skill to control the vehicle up and round that tortuous bend, it was impossible to get round that loop-the-Ioop without going onto the wrong side of the road. My entire being concentrated on the task. It was imperative to get back onto the right side of the road. I knew that. But the car behind me was pushing, pushing, giving me no time to think, to consider.
'Stupid, bloody idiot. IDIOT!' I yelled inside the car. No one could hear me of course. In my agitation I lost control.
My blood ran cold. There was evidence and no doubt: I was about to be cast over the mountainside. An awful plunge into a void. For a long time afterwards, I would recall my inward scream. But, these days, all I can recall is my horror turning to acceptance. The world froze, became suspended, seemed to hold its breath, as I went over the lip in a micro-second of sublime beauty. Slowly, very slowly, with the grace of an acrobat in slow-motion I entered the abyss.
Every detail of the terrain was revived in the next drawing: every stone every rock, terracotta and gold, the grass, green tinged with gold, bushes and scrub, rosemary, pine and rock roses. Scree. It seemed important, later, to capture every detail of what might have been my last moment on earth. Why was it so important? Later I drew what I saw from windscreen, furiously with brisk, short strokes: the moment I went off the edge of the world. A grain of sand, tossed in a boulder fall.
The car somersaulted. The roof hit the rocks, peach-coloured, they closed-in, loomed large through the windscreen. I saw every mark and fissure. My head hit the roof. The rock repelled the metal Fiesta the yellow intruder. Tossed it carelessly onto the road below. Yes, that's what happened. The roof hit the rock. My head hit the roof. Then the world stopped turning. Everything went black.
When we come to an edge, we reach a frontier beyond which will become more than we have been before.
When we go over the edge what happens?
Nothing made sense when I woke up in a stark room of the Clinica Miramar, Palma de Mallorca on the 5th of January 1989.
'Desayuno' called a brisk voice.
'Breakfast' my semi-slumbering brain translated, roused from a drug-induced sleep.
'Desayuno.' I repeated the strange word. 'Desayuno can be the best meal of the day.' I recalled breakfast at Bar Bosch with Daniel Hartmann.
'Desayuno'. This was not Daniel's voice.
I opened my eyes. A nurse leaned impatiently over me wielding a thermometer. I stared at her in astonishment.
Where the hell am I?
'I don't feel like breakfast,' I uttered between teeth clenched over the thermometer. The nurse said nothing, propped me up on plump white pillows and left my breakfast tray on an invalid table, a bridge over the crisp white bedcover. Thrusting thermometer and table aside, I got up, surprised by the weakness in my legs, and slowly approached the bathroom where the mirror confirmed the reality of the throbbing inside my head. What anxiety I felt, and fear, faced with an image I scarcely recognised.
'You look like a victim of machismo,' Daniel would say later.
Dried-blood coloured my hair red. A large yellow-blue-black bruise had spread over my right cheek and round my eye. A white padded bandage was strapped to my right forehead with sticky tape. Another covered the crown of my head. I almost tripped over my bloodstained clothes lying in a forgotten heap on the floor and guided myself tremulously to the window to draw back the curtains. To the north, beyond the plains and a built-up urban area, lay the distant backdrop of the Sierra de Tramuntana with Puig Tomir, Massenella and Puig Mayor. I was in Palma.
Now I remembered. I had been the victim, not of conventional machismo, but of mountain machismo on the Sa Calobra road.
My brain processed a flashback of a small yellow Ford Fiesta tumbling over a tortuous bend, hitting the rocks and landing back on the bend below. I had been rescued and taken to the Red Cross station at Soller, examined by a doctor and sent in an ambulance to Palma. It was on that journey that I lived through the most fear-ridden hours of my life. Would I survive? If I did would I be 'normal' or was my brain so severely injured that some vital capacity or the other would be impaired? Would I pass out any moment and if I did, how would anyone know my identity? I guided myself slowly back to the sanctuary of the clinic bed and thought of Ruth amid the alien corn.
Like a Möbius strip, my conscious mind played the same tape again and again. The minutest details. Over and over again. A feedback loop winding up that snake-like bend and twisting over the edge. Depositing me back to the road below like a grain of sand. Back to where I had just come from. Minutes before I went over the edge I had unwittingly driven past my future. Or, looked at in reverse, I drove past my future only to be tossed back into the past. My brain needed the device of repetition, as if to play the events over and over again would help me to understand this seemingly senseless intervention of fate, or whatever it was. It seemed outrageous. How could this happen to me? Alone in the Clinica Miramar room I dipped in and out of sleep all morning. The 5th of January. I wrote it on a blank page in my notebook.
In my semi-conscious state, a shadowy figure plagued me, arms outstretched, as if struggling to pull me down, down into a dark abyss. Only with tremendous willpower could I restore consciousness and escape the fear that the apparition induced. A primitive terror. Had the 'thing' stalked me ever since New Year's Eve in Alice's town, following me on the snaking road over the mountains to Esporles and even on the ascent of Puig Tomir, watching, waiting, for an opportunity to destroy me? And did it linger still, perhaps in this very room, furious that its intentions had been thwarted?
Frightened lest this 'force' take me over, I struggled to sit up against the pillows. Irritable, I fumbled for my haversack, lying like a faithful dog on the bedcover. A stark trail of terracotta crayon on the bedspread. Sudden urgency prompted the drawings in the black and red notebook. I had to expiate this apparition somehow, lest it overcome me. Drawing might help. I remembered helping my daughter to come to terms with 'witches' that haunted her dreams when she was eight years old, by encouraging her to draw them. I found my coloured pencils in the recesses of my haversack and, feverishly, drew. A classic devil figure, as caricatured by our post-primitive culture, appeared on the page. Had I not seen him only days before in the square of Alice's town? I studied the drawing and decided I could deal with that. Then drew another of myself, a tiny figure tucked up in bed with a view of the Sierras beyond the plate glass window.
The door opened to admit my first visitor. The clinic was accustomed to receive wounded and sick foreigners and employed interpreters to liaise between patients and doctors. Juanita introduced herself, made notes on a form from information I gave her and asked for my insurance documents. I thought these were still Puerto Soller where I had hoped to return after my abortive visit to the count. As if by magic, a bellboy from the Hostal Es Port arrived with all my belongings and a bill. The insurance documents weren't there though - a circumstance that worried Juanita (X-rays, brain scan, examinations, tests had already run up a big bill) until I remembered that they were in a bag I had left at Alice's house.
She encouraged me to use the telephone at my bedside and said she would attend all the visits of the doctor, Doctor Gonzalez, to avoid any misunderstanding of my case. The sombre-spirited doctor joined us later, carrying several large sheets of photo-negatives.
'The results of the brain scan we took when you arrived,' he announced in broken English, holding up the dusky negatives against the light of the window and the backdrop of the mist-encircled Sierras.
Each small square represented the interior of my brain taken at different depths, from crown to brain stem. Breathtaking. The brain in X-ray. How much the human brain resembles a walnut kernel. Frisson. That skeletal image might have been my reality. A hair's breadth had kept me on the right side of life.
A hair's breadth from death.
Doctor Gonzalez said at last:
'Your wounding is not permanent. No damage to the neo-cortex. None of your functions will be impaired. You are very lucky.'
Juanita told me that I would remain in the clinic for a few more days after which a nurse would accompany me home to Scotland. I contemplated Edinburgh in January - short, dark, cold days - and a house which once I had shared, empty now. But I was in no fit state to dissent.
Devilish dreams plagued me during the night. But my will to live had outwitted whatever force had tried to bring me down. Morning brought the same routine. Impotence. The silent nurse thrusting the thermometer into my mouth. Pulling back the curtains. Light invading the room. She left. She returned. She deposited trays on the invalid table. No-thank-you. I don't want it. Tea, perhaps? Even tea tastes too strong to stomach. Water. When she comes back I resolve to say: 'Agua, por favor,' but the words won't come. I am left in silence, the room flooded with strong white light which drains me. Lying on my side, the mountain range of the Sierras, blue-grey and silent across the valley, looks ethereal. I long for the mountains of home. Coigach, Cul Mor:
A mountain is a sort of music: theme
And counter theme displaced in air amongst
Their own variations.
Wagnerian Devil signed the Coigach score;
And God was Mozart when he wrote Cul Mor.
The nurse brings lunch. I lift off the metal lid covering the dish on the tray, but the plain white fish, the boiled potato with its sprinkling of parsley, has no appeal.
The alien corn is ten-feet high.
I lie in a stupor until the piercing ring of the telephone beside the bed startles me out of my misery:
'Hola! Here is Daniel Hartmann. I heard you had an accident. How are you? Well, I'm glad that you are alive, at least.'
There was a pause. My disbelieving mind heard his almost familiar, accented voice and my being surged with hope. I might after all, be luckier than Ruth. Might not be alone in the world. But how had he heard about the accident?
'Don't worry about that now. May I visit you? Tomorrow is the Feast of the Three Kings, a big celebration here in Spain. You should not be alone.'
'Yes,' I said. 'Please visit me.'
Someone to get me off that damned feedback loop even for an hour or two.
I asked him to telephone Alice Knight and laid the receiver back on its cradle with unashamed tears of relief.
That was a long time ago now, a biographical episode set down in a black notebook with a red spine and only dimly relived when, for example, some feature of the landscape or a stunt in a film clip reminds me: you were there. Or, more potently, but for a hair's breadth, you would not be on this planet earth.
'There is no such thing as an accident,' Daniel would say later. Was he right? I played with the thought for a long time and I'm still unsure of the answer.
2. Puerto Soller, Soller & Environs
THE SUN SOARING BEYOND THE HIGH SIERRAS SMITES WINDOWS IN the old quarter around eight o'clock. An early tramcar clunks into town.
Secure within the encircling folds of the mountains, silver now in the sun, Puerto Soller is nearly itself. Ultramarine sea laps the cusp of its shore, shaded by fruiting date palms.
This is the tranquil time, before the daily tourist invasion off-loads hundreds, from bus and tram, into the small indigenous community. Off-season, most hotels are closed, a circumstance which forces this deluge of human flotsam and jetsam back to Palma before sunset - another tranquil time.
But in summer, hundreds of holidaymakers stay on for a week or two. There is no respite then, from alien noise and merrymaking, seabathing and boating, loving and parting, getting and spending. Güten Morgen, Bonjour and Hello.
The employees of the Barcos Azules set to, swabbing decks and rails for the morning sailings. Plate glass windows get polished-up in bars and restaurants, brasses are burnished, patios swept, and plants thriftily watered. Aproned women emerge with shopping baskets, fishermen mend vivid blue nets, cross-legged on the quay. Animated children cluster towards school. Chatter and banter hover over baker, butcher and grocery store.
The old quarter, several streets of artisan and fisherfolk's houses, forms a backwater of no-nonsense homes, with couthie balconies and wooden doors, and, in the absence of garden ground, abundant terracotta pots produce everything from the succulent sempervivum and cactii to dark-orange clivia, and culinary herbs: lavender, rosemary, parsley and thyme. Small birds, budgerigars and goldfinches mostly, chirp in cages, sparrows sing on pantiled roofs, seagulls keen. Radios offer snatches of pop music or flamenco. A ginger tomcat urgently promotes his sensuality and disappears under a hail of stones.
This is the music of the morning, to which the cluck-cluck of secateurs adds a basso continuo. A young fisherman prunes his vine pergola hard back, to an unpromising tracery of wooden stalks. These will miraculously sprout around April, providing a perfect shelter over his entrada against the punishing heat of July and August. What with the heat and the tourists, the port is an inferno then. Everyone agrees.
Puerto Soller was once so mountain and sea secure that only a handful of seafaring families had dwellings here. The Romans held sex-orgies in its pitted caves. An early jump-start to its more recent history arrived in the mild mannered form of Saint Ramon de Penyafort, a hermit from Barcelona, who 'utilizando su capa como vela' (using his cape as a sail) crossed the Mediterranean in a crudely constructed craft and disembarked here. An exquisitely simple church in the old quarter marks the spot at the end of a street named after him. Penyafort was one of many missionaries sent to convert 'the infidel', Arabs who stayed on in Mallorca after Jaime I's conquest in 1229. Catalina Tomas was another missionary, and by 1342 an oratorio had been constructed on the hill above the port to give thanks for Penyafort's miraculous sea crossing, and for Catalina, his colleague.
Utilizando su capa como vela.
In Spanish, vela means both 'sail' and 'candle'. I note that in my diary. Both are powerful symbols of the early Christian church. Sails in the wind, candles in the wind.
After the destruction of Carthage, the western Mediterranean was ruled by Rome. Quintus Cecilius Metellus conquered Mallorca and Menorca in 123BC and incorporated Mallorca into the Roman world with the construction of two cities: Palma and Pollentia (now Alcudia). The decline of Roman rule coincided with the infiltration of Christianity and after the disintegration of the Roman Empire the islands were occupied by Vandals in the fifth century, Byzantines in the sixth and Visigoths in the seventh, after which a period of semi-independence was enjoyed until the Islamic period.
The Moslem occupation of the Balearic Islands began around 902-903 when Isam al Jawlani disembarked in Mallorca and attached the islands to the political-administrative system of then emirate of Cordoba. From then on they were governed by a Wali who lived in Medina Mayorque, the old Roman Palma. The annexation induced an Arab Islamisation process, and the archipelago soon became a naval base for the Arab raiders led by Al-Andalus against the Catalan and French coasts.
After 1077 the Balearics became an independent 'taifa' kingdom dedicated to piracy. The republic of Pisa, whose trade being damaged by pirates, organised a reprisal raid (1114-5) which devastated the Medina Mayorque. However, the Pisan-Catalan fleet quickly withrew when more than a hundred North African Almoravide ships arrived. Without renouncing their plundering activities, the Almoravides signed peace treaties with Pisa and Genova and turned to harassing the Almohadesa until they annexed the islands in 1203. By 1321 the Genovese pirate trade had become a serious danger to island traffic and friendship degenerated into war by 1348.
In the sixteenth century, pirates plied the Mediterranean with merciless cunning, and soon slipped through the harbour's vulvic entrance. In their frenzied search for booty, they destroyed the port's oratorio. The bay's inhabitants speedily rebuilt, adding a hospice for pilgrims, a defensive tower and a niche for the statue of Santa Catalina Tomas which the pirates had failed to find. Defensive sighting towers were hastily constructed all round the Mallorcan coast at this time, and the 1561 Torre Picada above the port became the small fort you see today, with splendid views in all directions.
I have returned to Puerto Soller for the first time since my car accident. Contentment imbues my rented room: a balcony overlooking the harbour, a tiled floor, an old-fashioned wooden desk, an oval mirror, a bookshelf, an antique dresser which resembles a polished chestnut. Jasmine and rosemary perfume the air. Here is a perfect place to assemble what I have discovered of Mallorca in several years of coming and going. Signifiers tease my imagination, like mementos of a love affair, from the aquatic theatre beneath my balcony: the womb-shaped harbour, near circular, with a narrow outlet to the open sea, mountains climbed, others that beckon, the garigue that lies beyond the lighthouse on the cliff, characteristic of this coast with its incredible chthonic views, a jumble of grotesque rocks and hardy growth: straggled pines, euphorbia, cistus, rosemary and grasses high above the sea. There are cliff places strewn with debris, as after a battle of nature gods: hundreds of trees, tumbled like fallen soldiers, boulders cast downwards in frenzied destruction. Vengeful nature's toll. The gigantic pieces of wood and stone, the fractured rock slabs and sea carved caverns, remind us that we are, after all is said and done, less than grains of sand in nature's scheme of things. The car accident is almost forgotten.
A day comes when the sun is so hot that my neighbours have covered their bird cages. Underneath the white cloths, goldfinches flit from perch to perch and budgies lurk narcissisticly in front of small plastic mirrors.
A goldfinch in a cage... puts all heaven in a rage.
'It's too hot for February,' everyone says. 'We need rain. Not this heat and sun.'
What am I doing here? I have left my tracks in the snow of the Scottish border hills, crisscrossing the cloven imprints of deer, because I need sunlight. Once again, I'm drawn back to Mallorca like a migratory bird. To begin with I have rented this place and I placate my spirit with daily explorations. It's springtime here. On mountain foothills behind the port, almond blossom erupts as if by magic. Dense groves of orange and lemon trees display fruit and flowers against a backdrop of deeply green leaves. Olive terraces contour the mountainside as high as man could build.
Outside one of the grand fincas, the señora tends the earthly paradise of the garden she has known for sixty years, ever since she was brought here, a bride, from Fornalutx on the other side of the mountain. She travelled then, to Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium with her husband whose business was fruit exportation. Citrus from their terraces, tomatoes from Valencia, bananas from the Canaries. In the house and the garden, where sugar pink blossom shades luxuriant potted palms, time stands still while the señora and her retainers work ceaselessly to keep things as they always were. Passing strangers pause to sit in the garden, refreshed by tall glasses of orange juice, and to converse with her in one of the six languages she has picked up on her travels.
The peace here brings relief, after the turmoil of my return to the port. In the vast whitewashed entrada, religious paintings dominate the handsome Mallorcan furniture and a polished flagged floor. Intriguing doorways lead to a chapel, to the old flour mill and olive press that once supplied the house and to kitchens and living accommodation. The ancient finca attunes visitors to its ancestral heartbeat. They go away delighted with purchases of marmalade, black olives and honey, prepared by the señora herself.
'I like to work,' she announces, patting down her black-and-white apron. And she is always on the go. Invited to guess her age, you look at the spry figure, honed like a bird, and know the answer must be a miracle. It is. 'I am eighty-six,' she says modestly, in almost any European language but English which, somehow, she ever managed to learn. And she regrets this a little, for, as she says: 'English is becoming the language of the world'.
You would hardly think so, here in the Soller region, where so many Germans have settled and take their vacations, walking the vast mountain range of the Sierra de Tramauntana as if it were a gigantic fitness training centre. Here, the constant assumption that I must be German, by both Germans and Mallorcans who address me: 'Können Sie, bitte ..." tries my patience and I stubbornly answer in what Spanish I know. Underneath it all, though, I admire the Mallorcan flexibility to adapt to yet another invasion.
A secret track leads me to another finca, as fine as any Italian equivalent drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. A collonaded wall bears a wisteria-draped pergola, loveliness which begs to be recorded against the ochre harling of the house and the mountains beyond, rouged by the setting sun. Another old lady emerges behind the barking of a tethered dog.
'Yes,' she says. 'You may walk by. People don't usually ask.'
On my return from the high olive groves she tells me that she looks after the citrus farm for an absent landlord. Times have changed in ways she never dreamt of. She extends her hands in every direction: to a grand house there, another on the hill above, one across the valley and the house next door.
'All owned by Germans. Who would have thought it could happen? I can't speak German, can you? There is no one for me to talk to now.'
Her ancestral memory is a litany of conquest. But there is no self pity in her voice, no moistening of the eye. She is matter-of-fact as she communicates the reality, that, in the absence of her own kind, her earthly paradise is diminished.
On the way back to the port I mull over Alice Knight's opinion. Alice has lived here for thirty years and speaks Catalan, Spanish, German, French and English - the complete language kit for Mallorca. Germans, she says, are much more interesting to talk to than the British, who bore her. In her opinion, Germans are better educated these days. And, she adds, Little Germany contributes far more to the island culturally and economically than the British. Yet it was the British who began the tourist boom to Mallorca, the nec plus ultra for honeymooners in the 1950s. They still come in almost equal numbers to the Germans, many of whom have settled in the Tramuntana area, while Little England can be found in Pollensa and its port, settlements on the mountain slopes above the plains, and near Palma.
Mind tripping over the High Sierras I alight in a particular small town in the almond orchards near Ca Na Maria. Where citrus trees are as few as the almond blossoms here. Where almond and carob rule and, except for the throngs at the Wednesday Sineu market, tourists are few. But I rein in my imagination. I have unfinished business on this side of the mountains: a desire to explore Soller which has been called 'the most beautiful town in Mallorca, and one of the best in Europe', where 'one encounters everything in beautiful harmony'.
Visitors frequently observe that Soller feels and looks like a town in France. I agree, but it has taken time to understand why. Many people speak French here, not simply because they learned it at school. And the roadsign at the port reads Port de Soller, though it is also referred to as Puerto Soller. That is not all. The pastry shops here, and particularly the one in the port, sell delectable 'French-like' produce, outstandingly better, it has to be said, than the bland cakes and heavy bread sold elsewhere on the island. Younger schoolchildren wear French-style smocks with white collars. Older women wear casual elegance.
Mallorca is part of Catalunya and, as such, has always felt itself different from the rest of Spain. Catalunya includes all the Balearic islands, the vast hinterland of Barcelona, the coast as far south as the Ebro delta and north to the French border. Eager to resist Spain itself, France was only too willing to pop round the mountain barrier of the Pyrenees, and over and through them if necessary, to give Catalunya a hand over the centuries, to ward off Castille. In Mallorca, the rugged, isolated geographical situation of the Soller valley held off James I of Aragon, El Conquistador. The only place in Mallorca to repel his invading forces. Many Arabs stayed on here, and most of the Moorish artifacts in Palma Museum derive from the Soller valley.
Communications between the mountain towns and the rest of the island have always been difficult. This historical advantage had become a pressing disadvantage by the nineteenth century when the economy of the region declined. The solution was to develop accessible sea markets for the valley's bountiful produce, particularly citrus fruits. Until recently the Mediterranean coast of France, and particularly Marseilles, was Soller's business partner. Soller families emigrated to Marseilles and other parts of Southern France. Their menfolk sailed over with their produce and stayed on to work in the French harvests. Although the export bubble had burst by the turn of the century, the mutually advantageous partnership continued until tourism developed during the 1950s, particularly in the burgeoning resort of Puerto Soller.
But what of the centuries directly after the conquest? A few medieval towerhouses were constructed, fortified dwellings, such as the core of today's Hostal Es Port and the grand fincas of Sa Figuera in the foothills behind. There were the arrivals of hermits and pilgrims, piratical skirmishes and, presumably, many unrecorded short-lived disturbances, but, by and large, the harbour folks' daily round continued much the same until the nineteenth century. Two watercolours from that period show a straggle of thirty houses, Penyafort's church, the oratorio, the Torre Picada and the two lighthouses. The long pier, with the good view of the town I have now, a palette of blues and white, sand-pink and terracotta, had not yet been built. An accretion of buildings, nineteenth century and ugly new-build mostly, now dominates the ancient terraces which survive on either side of the old sandstone hospice on the hill. There, olive trees mingle with Corsican and other pines in a typical Mallorcan conflagration. This glimpse of terracing indicates that the houses of the old quarter below were built along the contours of the terraces, all the way down to the sea, and round the crescent of the bay as far as the jetty. A shingle bay provided anchorage for wooden fishing boats and yachts where the port's small fleet of motorised fishing vessels now haul in at a quay beside the Art Deco style naval base.
Late nineteenth century houses swelled the old hamlet, and villas sprouted along the route out of town towards Soller, proclaiming the prosperity and taste of their owners. At first glance nowadays, these edifices resemble decaying teeth in the badly made prosthetic maw of new-build hotel and apartment blocks of the mid- to late-twentieth century. But look closer and you will see that their sheltered courtyard gardens, mosaic decoration, arches, pillars, Art Nouveau and Art Deco railings and balconies are redolent gems of a gentler time.
In its hey-day, the evocative Soller tram transported Thomas Cook travellers past these old houses to the port, in wooden panelled carriages. Today, it plies back and forth packed with holidaymakers in T-shirts and shorts. In the 'good old days', passengers were immaculately turned out in white cotton and panama hats, their leather suitcases and trunks taken by donkey perhaps, or a horse drawn carriage, up to the old Hostal es Port. Their lifestyle might well have inspired an adventure in the vein of Death on the Nile or A Murder on the Orient Express. The fact that Agatha Christie's books sell in staggering quantities in Palma and Barcelona, attests in some degree to a longing to transcend the brash face of late twentieth century Mediterranean travel. Certainly, ambience lingers on at the Hostal es Port, where tennis balls ponk-ponk below cafe terraces set in a sub-tropical garden. Here Hercule Poirot would have felt in his element, where latticed windows, and Moorish-style arches and courtyards hint at a world more mysterious than it seems at first glance.
Around midday and the Barcas Azules, the Blue Boat fleet, has set off towards Sa Calobra laden with holidaymakers, keeping the regulation 25m distance from the naval base. Todo Por La Patria it signals, lest there be any doubt, in letters so large they can be read across the bay.
Some people in the port have raised a petition to have the naval base removed. Yes, I naively say, I'll sign, thinking that it would be a fine thing to do away with even a hint of military dominance of the port. That would be more green, more in line with ecological thinking. Don't be silly, says a Spanish friend, staying the pen in my hand. The ones with the petition want to construct a huge marina instead of the base. Then fumes and refuse from the boats would further pollute the sea. Another friend tells me later that the naval station is intended to be a cultural centre. Who knows if that would be a good thing? There is never an end to it, the construction and deconstruction, the restoration and renovation, the balancing act that Puerto Soller and nearly every other part of Mallorca engages in every day, as it teeters, overloaded with tourists, increasingly polluted and short of water, into the twenty-first century.
People living in Mallorca talk about 'sun places' and 'moon places'. The Soller valley claims the sun, though the Carrer de Sa Luna, one of its main streets, incises a deep gash into the main square, the Plaza Mayor. A stone-carved moon icon presides above a lintel half way down the street. I thought, at first, the valley's very name reflected the sun, but no; more accurately, the name has Moorish roots and can be translated as 'golden valley' or 'golden shell'. The latter is my preference, for I imagine the town, constructed in the centre of its scallop-shaped valley, to be an architectural equivalent of Venus, rising in a fertile valley awash with luxuriant farms and smallholdings, densely productive. Shell like, the valley scoops narrowly under the mountain foothills at Fornalutx and Binniaraix, and opens out curvaceously towards the sea.
Soller is protected from winds, thanks to the mountain range of the High Sierras. To the west the dramatic Puig of Teix, to the south the Sierra of Alfabia and eastwards, the summit of Puig Mayor. In winter the atmosphere is humid, as it is in all the north coast towns, particularly when the sky is overcast. People who forget to empty their dehumidifiers find them overflowing at the end of the day. A torrente, traversed by two bridges, carries off rain water and melted snow which occasional harsh winters deposit on the sierras, an increasingly rare phenomenon as Mallorca's climate shifts from temperate to sub-tropical. A snaking, coastal road leads out of the valley towards Deià and the Valldemossa, and on to Palma. Two mountain passes exit southeast and southwest - the Coll and the Barranc - the former now the tortuous road to Palma, the latter an arduous, magnificent climb to the Cuber Valley.
A nineteenth century traveller described the landscape broadly as I have done, and he referred to the bienestar (well being) which the people of Soller have, by and large, managed to retain into the late twentieth century. Despite the odds: the explosion of tourism, rising prices, ever-increasing traffic absurdly pushing through ancient, narrow streets. Mallorcan families aspire to have three cars. Despite all this, you sense the wellbeing. It permeates the bustle of young and old, as they wend in and out of rustic houses, mostly three-storeys high, with wrought iron balconies and polished stone entradas displaying antique furniture, festive curtains of Mallorcan cotton, and views to gardens beyond engraved or mirrored glazed doors. On winter evenings, woodsmoke, beeswax candles and the drifting scent of orange blossom from outlying smallholdings incense the air as the church chimes the hour of the last down-tram to the port.
One day a sky of glowering cloud brings rain, and, before your very eyes, rose bushes send out shoots, geranium leaves double in size, tentative alyssum and toadflax form mini-hanging gardens in wall crevices. The houses are not built for the cold which comes. Draughts find passages under entrance doors, and the cool interiors, so valued in the relentless heat of summer, feel chilly now. The two cypresses guarding the entrance to Ramon Penyafort's church, dance awkwardly in winds which whip up waves in the bay and tease garments off balcony washing lines. The fishing fleet stays in port and the tourists vanish.
I take my cue and spend time browsing in the Soller library. Groups of schoolchildren giggle in the ground floor reading room. On the floor above, there are few distractions. The only book I have been able to find with any English text is a volume of Robert Frost's North of Boston, complete with Mallorcan translation. I cannot resist looking up old favourites: Apple Picking, Birches, and The Road Not Taken, a traveller's lament. How I identify with traveller who comes to a crossroads and has to choose one of the routes.
What am I doing here?
There must be a volume on these library shelves to give me a bearing. I riffle through the Mallorca section, in a dimly recognised search for other travellers' books, writings that might spark off ideas for roads to travel. An impressive set of three volumes, Las Baleares, put together, complete with watercolours and engravings, by the Archduke Luis Salvador, engrosses me. Then I wander dazed into the sunset, and stand outside the building that shares a courtyard with the library. The Red Cross Centre.
Cruz Roja. I was brought here, concussed and traumatised after my accident on the mountain road beyond Soller. I have passed the building often but have not allowed myself to take it in until now. Here my head wounds were dressed and it was from here that I was taken in an ambulance, over the Coll, to the Clinica Miramar in Palma.
DANIEL HARTMANN. I LITTLE THOUGHT WE WOULD MEET AGAIN AFTER I LEFT Bar Bosch that morning feeling like a liberated captive. My holiday haversack swung from my shoulders as I headed for Calle Archduke Luis Salvador to meet Luis and Liv and pick up the hire car which would take us to the mountains.
Daniel told me later that he sat musing at his customary seat in Bar Bosch for some time after I left. Our meeting, he said, had sparked off memories of his Aunt Rose, a Scottish island-woman, part-Celtic like me, whom he felt close to as a child. She, too, was someone who liked to escape to the mountains. Rose became a respected academic in America. Her daughter, Daniel's mother, married a German whom Hitler decorated for bravery after he held a pass in the Alps.
'After the war the family came to live in Mallorca. But father was emotionally and physically wrecked - confined to a wheelchair in the garden. My mother had to extract lighted cigarettes from his seared fingers - he had lost the capacity to feel.'
Clinica Miramar, Palma de Mallorca. The sixth of January 1989, the Feste Des Reis, Twelfth Night. Daniel Hartmann appeared: Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior all rolled into one.
'Girl, how are you?' He peered into the room, hovered uncertainly at the end of my bed in his too-large mackintosh. Then, with sleight of hand and a formal bow he presented me with a bouquet of cinnamon-orange carnations. He sat on the edge of the armchair by the window and eyed me thoughtfully. His gawky theatricality rested on genuine feeling, I felt sure of that. I was impatient to know how he had heard about the accident.
'Oh, I had just got back to the Borne and Gonzalo - you know, the desk clerk you asked about breakfast the other day? - said: "That woman you took to breakfast had an accident" ... You gave the hostal as your address to the car hire place? Yes? And they of course phoned to say you would not be coming back. They said the car was a write-off and they didn't know whether you were alive or dead.'
Daniel paused and lit another cigarette. 'To tell the truth, I didn't the know what to do but Gonzalo said: "Come on Daniel, she was a nice woman." He passed me the Yellow Pages. Phoned all the hospitals first. No luck. Then the all the clinics and voila! here you were.'
He conjured a bottle of champagne from his raincoat pocket and fetched two plastic cups from the bathroom. We drank a toast to the Three Kings and to my great escape. I told him the good news. The brain scan. I would not be a cabbage. There was no damage to the neo-cortex. It was a relief to laugh with him, disguising the event with a cloak of fantasy, as if it had been a stunt from a James Bond movie. We considered an escape from the clinic. Supper at Eduardo's fish restaurant in the harbour, perhaps, from where we could watch the Three Kings arriving by boat to distribute presents to the children of Palma. But we realised I was not up to it. So he stayed for an hour or two, pacing the room, telling me stories edited from his life.
This is the use of memory, that we live to tell the tale.
Juanita arrived with Doctor Gonzalez who asked for a nurse to change my bandages and glanced disapprovingly at the thimbleful of champagne on the bedside table. He examined my head wounds and conveyed, through Juanita, that the glass still embedded in my scalp would take a long time to come out, but these splinters would not harm me. Then Juanita stayed to explain the plans for my journey back to the north at the weekend.
After she left, Daniel considered me through the silvery haze of his cigarette smoke: 'Girl, surely you are not going back to the cold north when you could stay here in the sun?'
That hodden, precipitous city. Edinburgh, Athens of the North. The black-cobbled cavern of the Old Town where I lived. A ghost-town in winter, haunted by the spirits of Jekyll and Hyde, where, at nightime, the only movement up and down the street was of some spirit wandered in body or mind or an outrageous occasional drunken mob or predatory cat. I imagined the cold emptiness of the house itself. My partner would be gone. I had pleaded with him on the telephone that morning to come south, that I needed him. But he quickly reminded me that it was I who had left. I broke off the conversation by slipping the receiver gently back on its cradle.
City of everywhere, broken necklace in the sun, you are
caves of guilt, you are pinnacles of jubilation.
....Your buildings are broken memories, your streets
lost hopes -
'But my work...' I protested.
'It will be some time before you can work,' Daniel countered. 'How can you work well until you have come to terms with this traumatic event? All this added to the breakdown of a six year old relationship? Do you really think you can start work next Monday? That's crazy. And what about making peace with the island. With Mallorca?' He persisted and I knew he was right. I didn't want to return to the north like a defeated child accompanied by her nurse.
'And what are you going to do about that Sa Calobra road? It'll be dangerous for other people too.'
I told Daniel that, just after lunch, Juanita had shown me a newspaper cutting. She translated the heading: 'Foreigner has serious accident at Sa Calobra'. The article implied that I might die. Half an hour later she brought two Civil Guard policemen to my bedside. Their peaked caps and petrol-green uniforms banded round with leather straps and supporting holstered pistols seemed shockingly out of place in the sanctuary of my room. They removed their caps and held them under their arms.
'They want to ask you a few questions.'
When they had finished I asked them about the condition of the road at the spot I had gone over. They told me that I was the fourth person in a year to have a road accident there.
'Si, claro,' they agreed. 'Something should be done.'
'They told me that the camber of the road rolls downwards on that curve,' I explained to Daniel. 'That makes me so angry... but still, it's a relief to know that it wasn't my driving... I mean, I really didn't want that accident.'
Daniel rose and came over to my bed.
'The best driver in the world wouldn't stand a chance if his wheels hit that incline,' he reassured me.
He was right. I must do something about that road, take action as soon as I was fit.
'Also, you should consider that what happened there was an extremely significant event in your life. Perhaps you should have a drawing of the place?'
We were on the same wavelength, he and I. I showed him my drawings. He could see the value of these, he said, but it was obvious that Daniel wasn't satisfied: 'I think you should visit an artist friend of mine. He is German and a wonderful draughtsman. I believe he could depict that place, the line, the form of it, and give it an emotional charge as well. Why not chat it over with him?'
Why not indeed? I wrote the artist's name in my diary: Nils Burwitz. To the arriviste allowed back into the world, as I felt myself to be, nothing seemed too fanciful. I would think about it, I said. Meanwhile, Daniel continued to press me to stay on the island, pledging his support like a conspirator. Eventually I agreed and Daniel went off to explain my decision to Juanita and the doctor, promising to return on Saturday to take me into exile.
ALICE KNIGHT PHONED THE NEXT DAY, SHOCKED TO HAVE HEARD ABOUT THE accident from Daniel Hartmann. Yes, of course, she said, she would bring the suitcase that I had left at Ca Na Gaia straight away. Waiting for her, I recalled my arrival there less than a week before. How extraordinary it seemed that I had known her so briefly, yet already she seemed like an old friend.
Over the Christmas holidays, before leaving Scotland, I had started to read "Winter in Mallorca" by George Sand, who had stayed on the island with Frederic Chopin in 1848. The intrepid Sand had started out on the road to Alice's valley, presumably by horse and trap. Her words, which I looked up later, came back to me as I drove through a lovely avenue of plane trees near La Granja:
'If one of our great landscape painters ever visits Majorca, I recommend to his attention a country house named La Granja de Fortuny, the vale of orange- and lemon-trees extending from its marble colonnades, and the entire extent of the road leading there. But without going so far as this, he could hardly take ten steps in that enchanted island and fail to pause and every bend of the path, now before an Arab reservoir shaded by palm-trees, now before a delicately carved fifteenth-century stone cross, now on the edge of an olive grove.'
The road beyond La Granja was lovely too, a largely unspoiled valley of open meadows graced with cypress and pine. As the road began to climb, the terrain supported pine trees, rock roses and rosemary whose scents combined in the warming damp of morning. The open road began to snake sharply upwards, until it finally reared a summit-head view far down to the next valley, backed by the mountain of Galatzo. I knew from the map that the house of Alice Knight lay somewhere there.
The downward undulations of the road now required all my concentration. Off with the car radio. Messaien was not for me that morning. Silent mountain air wafted through widely open windows as I guided the car, round and steeply down. Carefully, surely, round each formidable twist of the road. Sudden sharp sun shafted through the cloaking undergrowth of tall trees which grew on either side of the road. As I reached up with my right hand for the sunshield above the windscreen I felt the car go momentarily out of control, towards the wrong side of the road, and fear rushed through my veins. At the same time I saw a figure coming toward me on the next turn of the road below.
Controlling my panic which seemed to intensify in the blinding sunlight, I manoeuvred the car back. The figure was some two hundred yards ahead of me now at the far turning of a straight stretch of road. I identified myself with that figure. A woman in walking gear: boots, shorts, haversack, sunhat. The car went towards the bend as if in slow motion as I drove it with inheld breath to the corner. As it turned, I saw there was no-one there. I was tired, having just flown to Mallorca from Scotland, but, God, was I also losing my senses?
I braked, threw open the door and sprang to the verge, peering into the trees, into the shadowy pine veil, drawing in quick inhalations of scented air to steady myself. There was nobody to be seen. Only the dark treescape standing in its silence.
That incident, recalled several days later from the clinic bed, now seemed like a prevision of myself walking that same road to Esporles several days later, the day after New Year spent with Alice Knight and Louis and Liv, and of the car going out of control on the Sa Calobra road two days later.
When I arrived at Ca Na Gaia, Alice had been sanguine about my story: 'Obviously just a hiker who left the road at the bend and took a shortcut uphill to the next bend, rather than tediously follow it round.'
This was our first meeting. The thirtieth of December 1988. The first entry in my Mallorca notebook. That elegant, slim black, red spined book.
Ca Na Gaia had been featured in a magazine I wrote for occasionally, and I reckoned it would be a good place to spend a few quiet days of my holiday, before moving up to Puerto Soller and the mountains. Alice left off hoeing the almond terrace near the house as my car negotiated the steep gradient and greeted me warmly. She led me into the almond tree encircled garden. Two house cats played in the branches overhead, knocking down unharvested nuts. A simple lunch was set out under the trees: salads, bread and cheese, served with beer.
'You are the only guest, but Louis and Liv, friends of mine from Barcelona, are due to arrive on New Year's day.' Her luminous dark eyes surveyed me. She was perhaps a few years older than me, her fair hair greying and tightly curled, and her generous features proclaimed an attractive, intelligent woman. She was open and direct with me from the beginning.
'Why did you decide to come here?'
If, at first, I was surprised by her directness I was also grateful to have a conversation which focussed my tired mind. A break from publishing, I told her. Time to come to terms with a broken relationship. Time for myself, to walk in the mountains, to read, write, draw and generally recover. I ran through the list quickly, told her about my intention to visit the count, then changed the subiect.
'Ca Na Gaia? What does it mean?'
'Gaia' wasn't on everyone's lips seven years ago, as it is now.
'C'an or Ca No is Mallorcan for house and Gaia is Greek, meaning Great Earth Mother,' she explained. 'Some people use Gaia as the name of planet Earth itself. It was first used by a British scientist, James Lovelock, whose friend, the writer William Golding, suggested the name. The Gaia hypothesis holds that the earth is a self-sustaining mechanism, rather like the fur of a cat. I heard about Gaia quite by chance when Lovelock was speaking in Inverness.' I looked surprised. 'Yes, I was in Scotland three years ago. It's a beautiful country you have.'
'Anyhow,' she continued: 'coming to grips with Lovelock's concept at a retreat set among the fantastic scenery of the Scottish mountains, helped me to realise that we humans make a false distinction between mind and matter. When I realised that there is no separation, I felt mind-blown. You have to feel your way into believing that there is no separation between mind - the minds of humans and animals - our minds and matter, all matter, any matter: these stones on the terraces, the trees themselves, the fruits they bear - almonds, oranges, lemons. The nourishment they draw from the earth, all matter, anything that exists on earth. We're just a tiny part of it all. Human beings are important, yes, of course, but in actuality we're only minuscule cells of our living planet.'
I admired her conviction. Here was someone attempting to live according to these ideals.
'When I returned here from Scotland, the idea of building a self-sufficient house dedicated to Gaia took seed in my mind and continued to grow. I couldn't quash it. It was as if a force much stronger than myself was willing it to happen. Of course, I had tremendous misgivings. But this something kept pushing me on despite the necessity to risk most of my capital and give up other possibilities. To be honest, I was fear-ridden then, and still am now. From time to time. Such are the real or imaginary limitations with which we humans, and women in particular, are bound round.'
I knew only too well what she meant.
'After months of searching for a suitable site to build the house on, I was about to give up looking. On that very day, I found it.'
With a wave of her hand, she indicated the house and the land around it. 'And, here it is... I can assure you it didn't look all that promising. A half-built building site. But I felt certain this was where C'an Gaia should be. Two years later my faith remains unshaken despite all the setbacks and burdens I've had to overcome in supervising its development. And people seem to emerge out of the landscape, as it were, just when I need help. For the first time in my life I've experienced the joy of others arriving, when I need them most, to join me in reconstructing terraces, harvesting almonds, preparing the earth for vegetables.'
She told me that it had taken the awful shock of a heart attack to precipitate James Lovelock into synthesising the Gaia concept.
'Dramatic changes in people's lives are usually precipitated by crisis,' she observed and went on to confide that, after two failed marriages, she had been about to enter a third when the warning bells rang. She realised that the second half of her life would have to be dramatically different from the first.
'That third marriage wouldn't have worked either. I had to reconstruct myself and that's why I went to Scotland: to get away from everything familiar and find some way of getting back in touch with my childhood. Most of us have the experience, to some degree or other, somewhere down the line in childhood, of the shutters banging shut on beauty. Don't you agree? The beauty of the world which the small child experiences so intensely is gradually closed-off by ever-stricter parental controls which divorce us from our bliss in life. Prevent us from being whole human beings. Most of us never recover it. The bliss. Instead we're handed, bound and gagged across the railroad tracks to live stunted lives.'
As she spoke, I found myself recalling my own childhood days in Edinburgh. The flower-filled garden that bordered the Water of Leith, the Botanical gardens nearby, the park, the summer picnics, that incredible sense of being welded to a golden land of promise. Although it was wartime, there had been an abiding richness. Then, as Alice continued - perhaps it was the effect of the sun and the beer - my mind reinhabited that helter-skelter world of jump-ropes and apple-tree sailing ships and the intense intimacy of unfettered responsiveness. Perhaps I had come to Mallorca to recover some sense of this? It struck me as ironic that Alice Knight had gone to Scotland of all places, to recover what she called 'her bliss'.
'So now,' she continued: 'although I refuse absolutamente to be bound, gagged and handed over the railway tracks ever again: for instance, by getting bogged down with administration, bookeeping and the like, the house is ready for groups and individuals. You'll see a group in action tonight, if you like. See Ca Na Gaia as a place of healing.'
'What sort of groups?' I asked.
'Well, esoteric groups, if you like. But bird watchers and mountain walkers are particularly welcome since they already understand instinctively what Gaia is all about. And they have the distinct advantage, too, of having their feet firmly planted on the ground.'
'But, hey. That's enough bombardment for now.' She got up, stretched, and carried our empty plates towards the kitchen door. 'How about a siesta and a walk towards the magic mountain of Galatzo? We'll talk more later.'
In the white bedroom I lay down on a beautiful oriental bedspread depicting a tree of life, befuddled by sun and beer. Gaia. Mind and matter. One and the same. Drowsiness took over and I wakened an hour later to a softer, less intense world. The cats were sleeping by the open door in a pool of late afternoon sunlight and Alice was sorting out supplies between the refrigerator and the cupboard. Preparing for the meditation group. Galatzo seemed to challenge Ca Na Gaia from the opposite side of the valley. Alice came to stand at the kitchen door, one arm encircling a huge pottery bowl, the other rapidly beating a mixture.
'Miguel de Vargas, an eighteenth century visitor to the island, wrote that Galatzo was once covered with the finest trees in the world. He mentions olives, and oak trees with a girth of forty-two feet and a diameter of fourteen. But the forests were decimated by naval carpenters who turned them into an entire flotilla of gunboats for the Spanish expedition against Algeria.'
'Didn't I read that Galilleo had something to do with Galatzo.'
'I don't think so, but another astronomer was sent by the king to measure the earth's meridians from its summit.'
By the time I returned from my walk, the New Age group had assembled in the upstairs studio: a large open room whose plate-glass windows reflected the risen full-moon and the galaxy set in a navy-blue sky. Alice was priming the enormous Swedish wood-burning stove. Galatzo had dropped out of sight into the darkness. At first I joined them, sitting on one of a circle of plump cushions set on the stripped pine floor: a Spanish masseuse from Palma, graceful as a ballerina, a Mallorcan with heavy disappointed features, who carried a briefcase, a small plump Englishwoman, blond and earnest as a six-former, a serious German woman who said she was a poet, an emigré Frenchman with a goatee-beard who had sufficient private means to do nothing, he said, but heal his soul.
'There is nothing that cannot be achieved by inaction,' he whispered in my ear before bending stiffly at the waist to sit lotus-fashion on his cushion.
And there was a couple: a Mallorcan woman with a wealthy husband. He ran a restaurant on the mainland. She taught natural dance, and before everyone lapsed into the shared silence of the meditation, she invited everyone to take part in a ribbon dance later. Through the medium of silence, this small group united with a circle of similar groups around the world. I declined to join the ribbon dance later and retired to my room.
Alice and I had time to talk again the next day, and, waiting for her to arrive at the Clinica Miramar, I remembered some of the things she had told me. It struck me as extraordinary that Alice Knight had gone to Scotland to recover 'wholeness': 'Back to that lochside ... With time to reflect, to dream, to listen to echoes from the past, I became aware that it might be possible, even as an adult, to regain that childhood sense of wonder.' Alice had embarked on a process that I would have to engage with now. This car accident. Could this crisis be the catalyst that would lead me to change my life?
Here she was now, lugging my suitcase into the clinic room. She sat down on the edge of the bed: 'You look as if you've had one helluva trip. Do you want to tell me what happened?'
I sank back on the pillows... hesitating to bring it all back again... my subversive mind running sub-titles to the main storyline:
'Well, the first thing I remember after going over the edge was a Spanish voice speaking English.'
Kind, concerned, breaking through the darkness of concussion like a rising sun:
'You are safe. It's going to be alright.'
'A touch on my arm. My hand moved instinctively to grasp it. Then I came-to. Traumatized, I raised my dazed head. It felt so heavy. I stared through the windscreen that was no longer there. Shattered glass, a scatter on the yellow bonnet of the car, over the dashboard and around the controls at my feet.'
I peered out, uncomprehending, into a mountainous world.
'The man (I could see his beige slacks through the side window) shouted:
'Llamen a un medico. Es urgente!'
There's a stranger wounded in paradise.
'That, I remember. And people leaving their cars and running towards the scene, crowding anxiously round. I looked for the older man and the young girl but they weren't among them.'
'Who were they?' Alice asked.
'The man was driving the car behind as I negotiated the bend. He was right on my tail. The girl, young woman really, was his passenger. Anyway, nothing made sense when I came to. My shoulder was jammed under the steering wheel. The man reached further inside the car and moved his arm round my shoulders and eased me gently out, sideways. Towards him.'
I lapse into your protective embrace with the infinite gratitude of a wounded animal.
'He reassured me that I'd be OK. Told me he was an off-duty policeman.'
'There was blood everywhere.'
Blood falls richly down my cheeks like enormous tears. I tremble with fear and cold.
I was so cold. He, whoever he was, removed the scarf from round my neck.'
Gently as a lover.
'He tied it tightly round my head to stop the blood.'
Stop the blood. Oh, please stop the blood. I want to keep my
'Perhaps I blacked out again? At any rate, the next thing I remember is being laid out on the back seat of another car. I could see my bloodied face in the driving mirror as I struggled up, holding onto the seat in front.'
My beloved, whose name I will never know, has vanished. And I would have followed him to the ends of the earth.
'I was with strangers.'
They cover me with a dark-grey greatcoat which is blotched with blobs of carmine. My blood. My hand reaches up to my head. It hurts. It feels very strange. My hand is covered with blood. Talk to me. I'm aggressive with weakness and fear. Who are you? What's going on? Where are you taking me? I shiver, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am living through the worst moments of my life.
'Where are you taking me, ' I demand: 'Who are you?'
Speech and thought failed then, until Alice prompted me back: 'They told me they were called Juan and Mercedes. I scrutinised their faces as they looked back at me; good-looking, dark-haired Spaniards on holiday from the peninsula. They seemed to be a fine young couple.'
I depend on you utterly. Complete strangers. Good Samaritans. Thank you. Thank you, Juan and Mercedes. Don't let me pass out again. No one knows my name, or who I am, and no one may ever know again. A cigarette? Yes, oh please, I'll take one. It might stop me from... if I lose my strength I might lose my life. I'm so afraid. The cigarette tastes foul. But nothing is pleasant in a nightmare.
'On and on we travelled, back up the twisting road.'
That snake-in-the-grass of a road.
The road to Hell when Eden had been on my mind.
'I managed to pull my haversack towards me. Found my notebook. Wrote down your phone number, Alice, and other numbers of friends in Scotland.
Juan and Mercedes, these are 'phone numbers to contact if I black-out again. My friends: Dick O'Connell, Julia Laing, Myra Whitson ...
My hand hesitated to write the name and number of the man I'd lived with these past years. I wrote it down through a miasma of thick tears, forgetting that he wouldn't be there.
Broken lives, broken dreams.
I glanced over at Alice as if to say: 'Please let me off the hook I don't want to go on'. But something about her composure gave me the confidence to continue.
'The drive seemed to take forever. I recognised the blue ravine, the peaks of the Puigs, the twisting descent into the Soller valley. At last, the car stopped. Juan opened the back door and helped me out. I clung to him, too weak to stand alone and vomited at the feet of a white-coated doctor. He led me into a surgery where he dressed my head wounds and sent me here, to Palma, in an ambulance.'
I looked at Alice. 'I feel spaced out.' I was crying then.
'Just what you need,' she consoled. 'Get it out of your system... What gets me is that I nearly came with you to the mountains, and if I had I almost certainly would have stayed at the port and...'
Her drift was so rivetting that I was able to complete her sentence: 'And you would have come to visit the count and you would have been with me in the car!'
A passenger in that car would certainly have been killed.
Saturday. The hour of my dismissal from the clinic. Sitting in the armchair waiting for Daniel. What if he didn't come? After all, I hardly knew him. I tried to remember some of the things he had told me: that he had trained as an architect in Dusseldorf; that an early marriage to a Dutch girl had failed; that they had a grown-up son. Later he had married Maria-Louisa and they had two children. That relationship broke up and Daniel went to the Far East and married an exotically beautiful Indonesian woman whom he brought to live in Germany.
'She took to the West like a duck to water,' he said, 'gave me two more children. But eventually swam off into her own pools of opportunity. I thought she'd stay if I kept her pregnant.' He shrugged wistfully: 'But it didn't work.'
These days there was Sophie, his lover. She ran the German end of his Mallorca operation. He had described the institution he wanted to establish in Palma as a cultural institute of the arts and sciences based on ideas that were current during the Italian Renaissance. He believed that the West had taken the wrong turning and over-developed the rational at the expense of a more mystical attitude to life. Daniel had touched on these ideas the first time he visited me at the clinic.
'That wrong turning led eventually to industrialisation and man's increasing alienation from himself and the natural world which he's bent on destroying now. We have to go back to that fork on the road where we took the wrong turning, but without throwing out the baby... the incredible technological discoveries of our own times. If we're going to survive we must get people to break down the barriers between science and art and landscape and themselves.'
He felt it was important to base his institute in Mallorca: 'One of Man's first Edens', rather than in the over-rational north. These days he spent all his time in Palma networking, fundraising, trying to lift the venture off the ground. It was hard going. But he said he had letters from several Ministries now, promising support.
As I waited, it struck me that my two contacts in Mallorca, Daniel Hartmann and Alice Knight, were both engaged, in different ways, in a similar struggle. Mine was just beginning... I told myself I had made the right decision... not to go back to the distorting life I had been leading in the north. Although my reprieve, my great escape, the fact that I was still alive and relatively unscathed, made me feel elated, I was still weak. I couldn't make the transition without help.
Daniel was already an hour late. Time seemed suspended in the stillness of the room. A plastic carrier bag beside the chair contained the brainscan negatives which Doctor Gonzalez had instructed me to give to my own doctor when eventually I returned to Scotland. He also gave me six pills that I was to take if I felt faint.
Here he was at last. He knew of a hotel in a mountain town where I would be looked after. Slowly and carefully, he drove me there. But he was dismayed to find the hotel closed for the winter. Just as we thought we might have to return to Palma, he remembered a small house on the edge of town that might be available for rent.
'Oh, if it were, it would be too good to be true,' I responded, for I sensed that I could recover here in Deià.
'But don't you need looking after?' he protested. 'Someone to bring you meals. You can't shop and cook and all that in your condition.'
Yes, Daniel, I can, I can. I'll manage somehow.
I followed him through wrought iron gates, along the flower-strewn path where I waited while he went to the next house to find the owners. Waiting in the garden, I felt its enchantment. Daniel reappeared:
'Yes, it's OK. You can stay... Luck o' the Irish... the last people just left for the airport. They tell me the stove's even lit.'
His words were the 'open sesame' which marked the turning point in my life. My ladder had been against the wrong wall for years. Here in the small house, the cassita called the Music Room, I might put my foot on the first rung of a more authentic structure.
Daniel fumbled with the key until it opened the arched oak door leading into the thick-walled, warm interior. There was a harpsichord, its keyboard waiting to be played. Even the slightly musty earth smell and dusty spiderwebs in the corners of the groundfloor room felt oddly comforting after the stark lines of the clinic. There was a woodburning stove and a kitchen overlooking the olive terraces. My eyes traced the stairs leading up to a balcony bedroom and shower-room. Daniel urged me up there, carrying my bags behind me, and then banked up the stove against the damp chill of late afternoon.
He had promised the doctor that he would stay overnight in case I lost consciousness. 'An unlikely event,' Doctor Gonzalez had said reassuringly. 'You have had a miraculous escape. You are a lucky woman.
A hair's breadth.
Sleep was fitful. Eyes smudged with tears of exhaustion. Tears of relief and joy to be alive. Tears of weakness. Tears of dependence. Tears of hope. Tears that had been damned up for years. When Daniel woke me gently, laid a tray of tea, toast and eggs on the candlewick bedspread, the room already smelled warmly of woodsmoke and darkness had fallen.
'Eat up, girl. You must get your strength back.'
His concern masked the anxiety he was bound to be feeling on his own account, struggling on the edge of survival to bring to fruition his cherished dreams. He was an idealist and, like many of his kind, would cling to his dreams through thick and thin. His complexion revealed the beers he usually drank from mid-morning until the wee small hours. The fingers of one hand were stained with nicotine. The other frequently ran through the fine, lank hair in a puzzled gesture. His clothes hung on him like a scarecrow's garments in a late summer field.
Like many idealists, he had sacrificed the intimacy of women for his 'Holy Grail'. His girlfriend in Germany was a fine figment for his imagination. Doubtless he loved her in his own way, but he was unable to sustain ongoing everyday contact, preferring the casual company of women like Lola. She who approached Daniel and me as we dined together in the city several weeks later. Sidling up suddenly from behind a pillar. I didn't notice her leopard-coated presence until Daniel, who was expounding theories of the Renaissance which linked with his own, looked up, irritated, and snapped:
'Can't you see I'm busy. Not now, please.'
He offered no explanation as Lola slunk away through the restaurant but continued, doodling Leonardo da Vinci's encircled man on a white paper tablenapkin as he spoke.
Was he destined to become an old city roué? He wore the scarf of one now, proudly like a flag. It was of houndstooth check, silk, expensive. One of old Humphrey's last treasures given generously as a gift to Daniel. Humphrey was an expatriate, a permanent resident of the Hostal Borne. Tall, distinguished, silver-haired and wraithlike. He and Daniel would conspire in one of the banyos as they did their laundry. Then they would climb eight floors up to the roof to set smalls and socks fluttering in the breeze high above the date palms. Rewarding themselves with a beer or two, they would discuss the intricacies of hostal management and how its system could be bent to their own requirements. One of Daniel's privileges was to use the impressive entrada as an impromptu office. Seated on the velour sofa with its macramé fringe, behind a brass-bound table, he could receive the people he wanted to impress, especially those who might put up money for his institution.
That first evening in the Music Room, Daniel entertained me with stories as I sat propped up on the bed's red velvet cushions. One of these stories came close to answering a riddle. Why was he taking so much trouble over me? All in all, we had known each other only for a few hours, and his concern went far beyond mere acquaintance. Certainly, it met my own needs and I felt grateful for his company. Daniel paced the bedroom, back and forth, drinking beer, smoking, pausing frequently to gaze at the floodlit church set high on its crest beyond the window. I watched from the bed, too weak to be anything other than the captive audience of his virtuoso performance. There was an uncomfortable brightness in his eye. Something agitated. He seemed scarcely able to contain anxieties usually held at bay with nicotine and alcohol.
As I listened, I realised that my accident had re-awakened memories of another in Daniel. He did not, of course, say so specifically. But the clue lay, in one of the stories he told me. He had been away in Dublin pursuing an entrepreneurial rainbow which appealed to his Celtic soul. One night a telegram had been delivered to a remote pub in Killarney where he was staying.
'Return immediately. Roberto seriously injured.'
To my enquiring gaze he answered: 'No. There were no more details. Just the message.'
He recounted the incident which still, years later, drew tears to his eyes. He brushed them away with the back of his hands.
'Wouldn't you just know it? Talk about the luck of the Irish! I had to wait two hours in Dublin Airport for a flight. Then a two hour flight from London to Frankfurt. Then Barcelona and finally Mallorca. Waiting, waiting, waiting in an agony of uncertainty at each stop... I didn't know what the hell had happened to Roberto... smoking endless cigarettes at each stop. Looking at my feet most of the time... inwardly paralysed with anxiety. So much for the fucking global village... pardon the expression, girl... if you can't make human contact quickly at a time like this. Oh, I tried to get the various check-ins to rush me through... told them it was a crisis, but they were too damn bureaucratic to hear me.'
Daniel was very upset and I realised that this was the first time he had recounted the ordeal which had been dammed-up inside him for so long. He sat on the edge of the bed and reached for my hand. I felt a powerful rush of warmth. I think he did too. The power of human touch we both needed .
'We: me, my wife and my son, were living in the old family house in the mountains then. That house I showed you on the way here?'
I remembered. He had stopped in the nearby town of Valldemossa to deliver a letter to his niece. That's when he had pointed out the ancient house where he'd once lived, which stood off the main road. It's facade soft-stuccoed. Orange, with dark-green paintwork which echoed the pinnacled cypresses pushing through the lush vegetation of its garden.
'Maria-Louisa was stitching and mending in the downstairs parlour. She loved the siesta hours when the house becomes partly darkened and the village soundless. I can see her now, biting off a thread and choosing another colour to embroider a smock. She was pregnant with our second child. Little Roberto was upstairs having his siesta. It was almost time to get him up. His mother believed in putting small children into a darkened room in the heat of the afternoon. She needed a rest, too, after all. Time to think, sew, sort out plans, ideas, attitudes in her head, I suppose. She was probably thinking part fondly, part resentfully, that I would be back from Ireland in a few days with me banter, me blarney and me presents. When, clunk, something fell beyond the slightly parted shutters. Silence. Then a whimper.
'She must have started up in a terrible state then. 'Oh, My God. Something terrible.' She told me later she had a prevision of what happened almost before it happened. Yes, Oh God. Yes. She fled into the yard. Yes. Roberto lay silent on the ground. She ran towards him, her hands half-cupped over her eyes. She hardly dared to look. Roberto's little body lay akimbo on the terrace.'
I pressed his hand, encouraging him to finish the story. He stared down at his feet for a moment then stretched across the expanse of the embroidered cover to kiss my brow... making up, perhaps, for the kiss he had not been able to give the distressed mother and injured son. How terrible to have been so excluded, to feel so impotent at a time when he was so much needed.
But the story got better. Daniel rose to his feet, poured another beer and his theatrical tendencies resurfaced. When, at last, he had reached the Palma hospital, Roberto was lying in a life-support machine. His small naked body swathed in white bandages. Tubes were attached to his nose. Looking down at his son through the plate-glass window of the operating theatre, Daniel felt his whole life darken. It was the worst moment of his life. looking on helplessly at his son poised between life and death.
Roberto recovered. 'And, really,' Daniel confided, more relaxed now: 'I should never have doubted that he would. I'm not superstitious, or even that religious, but, you see, Santa Catalina, the patron saint of Valldemossa is the protector of children. Even in war none of her young people lose their lives. None. Not one. They all return. A delegation of elderly townswomen arrived at our house to remind us of this, implying that we must make a thanksoffering. We planted a rosemary bush at the spot where Roberto fell. I think you should plant a tree at your accident spot too.'
Daniel was still asleep on the stone settle by the wood-burning stove when I woke next morning as the first cock crowed over the valley. The stream underneath the bedroom window whispered in the breaking light and the church bell tolled. An hour later I heard him stir and soon the kettle was boiling merrily. Looking down over the balcony, I watched him carrying-in a pile of logs. He caught my gaze with a shy smile:
'I need more of this. This country air, the proximity of nature, the woods, the tranquillity. Palma seems so dirty, noisy, relentless.'
He brought me a cup of tea, made sure I was alright and announced his departure.
'Will you come back next weekend?' I asked. 'We can sit by the stove, have a meal, take a walk along the coast?'
Yes. A chance to repay his kindness. Yes. Then he was off, back to the city to wrestle another round of his dream-game, killing himself slowly with nicotine and alcohol. But perhaps it wouldn't be like that forever.
TWO ROADS OF MY LIFE CONVERGED THERE, AT THE RED CROSS station in a Soller courtyard in the scented dusk.
I thought I might never have to make the choice. But seven years of coming and going have made me feel rootless as well as stretching my finances alarmingly.
This year the choice must be made. In the meantime, my footprints lie frozen in the snow of the Scottish borders and here I am in Mallorca, in Puerto Soller, where almond blossom erupts everwhere. Señor and I have lived together these past two years - since Sineu - but now he's working at a Madrid print studio. I'm alone and I'd like a companion. Literary, if not spiritual. That nineteenth century traveller who described Soller's beinestar, the author of Las Baleares, the Archduke, could be my man. These days S'Arxiduc is promoted as the pioneer of Balearic tourism. Certainly the Archduke, the last Hapsburg, was one among few early tourists, but, more importantly, he was the first 'white settler'. George Sand and Frederic Chopin came here before him but didn't stay on. The received wisdom, recited at dinner parties all along the nothern coast today, goes something like this: the Archduke bought up several of the best houses, mainly along the mountainous coastal stretch of the island, as well as parcels of land including mountains. He was an environmentalist who forbade the felling of trees on his land, and he ordered the planting of thousands more. He was a Victorian gentleman amateur: botanist, writer, artist, traveller. He installed a mistress at one of his houses (which nowadays belongs to Michael Douglas), a peasant girl of Arab descent, planted a vineyard for her... but, nod, nod, wink, wink - he was probably bisexual.
There is always, to every story, more than meets the eye.
That's what intrigues me now. I'm filled with intuitive certainty that to choose Salvador as a travel guide (a more friendly name than 'The Archduke') would be to choose adventure. Every traveller craves the excitement of discovery. And to follow, more or less, in Salvador's footsteps, with his prosaic but detailed account of the island to hand, is a device I need. With a literary 'map' to follow I might be able to rein-in my own imagination.
Also, Salvador's spirit might hedge against any sense of aloneness, unless I should require that state as a luxury.
Fate begins to take a hand when I call my Belgian friend, Eliane. She and her husband, Tolo De Montes, belong to the family which run the Hostal Es Port. She is a recent friend. I didn't know Eliane when I checked in several years ago, the day before the accident.
'Come and join us for a drink after lunch tomorrow?' she says.
I have never met Tolo, a direct descendant of the Viceroy of Sardinia who came over to Mallorca seven centuries ago to assist Jaime I in his conquest. Eliane guides me through underground vaults before we emerge onto the sundappled terrace where he waits, a bearded, piratical figure, enjoying a splendid cigar, sipping cognac from an ample globe. He doesn't speak much English.We use French which puts me at a disadvantage, but Eliane fills in the gaps.
I haven't been able to tell either of them that I booked into their hostal for a week, years ago, stayed only one night and never returned... about the accident. No, this pleasant, postprandial, pre-siesta encounter is not the time for that. We talk about the port's history, of how it is being spoiled. Tolo recalls his grandfather's story of the day when Archduke Luis Salvador sailed into the port in an incredible beauty of a boat and, bold as brass, asked to buy the Hostal Es Port which was then the family home.
'Of course, as you see,' Tolo says, including the buildings, the gardens, the tennis courts, the swimming pools, the terraces where we sit, with a sweep of his hand: 'Eliane and I have reason to be grateful that grandfather didn't sell. This Archduke already had many properties on the island. He was creating a sort of empire for himself on Mallorca.'
A sleek sloop has skimmed into Puerto Soller harbour in the night and is berthed below my balcony, beside the Barcos Azules. A prince among peasants. A beauty of a boat.
I can't take my eyes off its elegant navy-blue and white lines, its incredible grace. I long to go with it, to sail away from my desk.
Later, walking in the mountain foothills, a man approaches who must have been incredibly handsome once. He's still a striking figure, although overweight and silver-haired. His nautical blazer is buttoned high on his chest. He smokes a cigar, he has an air that tells me what I want to believe: he is the voyager on that sloop, Beaugeste. A contemporary Salvador.
In the Soller library, I inspect an engraving of Salvador's beloved steamship, Nixe, which puts the modern counterpart under my window, Beaugeste, into perspective. Nixe was three times the size, with twice as many sails, three sets of deck cabins and, of course, a huge steam-belching funnel.
Two passport size photographs permit me to join the library and to borrow the Mallorca volume of "Las Baleares" from the set Salvador produced and published, first in seven volumes, "Die Balearen", in Leipzig between 1869 and 1884. The Mallorca volume tells me that Salvador got around Mallorca in els carrils (unique Mallorcan horse drawn carriages you still see drawing tourists around Palma) or by sea, in one his private sailing ships, Nixe or Miramar, which he berthed at Palma or Puerto Soller.
"Las Baleares" documents island life in its grand sweeps and details: fishing and agriculture sections accompanied by superb etchings. People living in different parts of the island shown stiffly wearing local costume, the women in strange high hats and black dresses edged with lace, the men in sturdy jackets, breeches, and the collarless shirts still sold today. Varieties of basketwork are represented, and sports... how small birds are trapped in mountain nets by grown men in camouflage gear. Another story.
Why did this aristocrat, one of the last Hapsburgs, who died the year after his grandfather's assassination sparked off the First World War in Sarajevo, want to record this island so thoroughly? Certainly, there were precedents, such as Daniel Defoe's "Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain" and Boswell's "Tour of Corsica". And the aristocratic traveller of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was expected to produce a record of some sort. Nevertheless, the publisher in me stands astonished by the extravagant illustrations - the fine watercolours and engravings - the expense Salvador lavished on his undertaking.
After the library, the tram takes me from Soller station back to the port. I go about in the world now as if with two sets of eyes. The ones borrowed from Salvador strip things back to the nineteenth century, not a difficult task in the Soller region. Take the station, for example, a gem of the great railway age, with a Moorish style entrance constructed on the site of an inn and its sixteenth century well. A plaque declares that King Juan Carlos recently awarded the restoration a prestigious Gold Award. The whole is a film set, ready made for a director. So too, are the environs of the station where the backs of Soller houses display long verdant gardens, plentiful with roses and fruit trees, and gates wrought in exuberant Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs. The gardens border the torrente, often unpleasantly littered with plastic and paper, and, worse, stinking of sewage which, however, does not deter the families of ducks congregating on its oozy reed banks. A walkway on the opposite side leads intriguingly towards a covered passage. Closer-inspection reveals a row of traditional ancient wash houses. The maids from the houses worked on the laundry here and carried it back to dry in the gardens or under the eaves of open roof spaces.
Hand painted Art Nouveau lettering above the ticket office, ornamental painted ironwork, original enamelled signs, a café fitted with black and white tiled floor, slatted doors and sunblinds are all original and well-preserved. Polished wood and brass in trains and carriages evoke childhood in older travellers and fascinate the young. This civilized train route between Soller and Palma has miraculously survived, long after other European towns and cities have foolishly thrown out their tracks and sleepers, their wonderful old trains and carriages. Mallorca realised what other countries failed to: people love to travel by train, and particularly through the countryside. The slower the train the better. By the time the Beeching plan had led to the destruction of Britain's small railway lines, the Soller to Palma line had become one of the island's main tourist attractions. However, both train and tram serve not only thousands of today's tourists but also the local population who are sorely tried in their struggle to get a seat.
Coincidentally, during an early visit to Mallorca, Salvador discovered that his childhood friend Eusebio Estada was in charge of railway development. When the train reaches Palma it literally takes to the road, a road named after Estada himself. Mallorca jumped on the railway bandwagon with the first line, Palma to Inca, opening in the mid-1870s, followed by branchlines to Manacor and Felantix (1879) and Santany (1917). Laying railway tracks across the plains was fairly straightforward. Constructing the Soller to Palma line, however, took courage and imagination: loops (180 degrees in one stretch), rock cutting and tunnel blasting through the Sierra of Alfabia, were involved in the five-year project. In April 1912 the line was officially opened with the steam locomotives 'Soller' and 'Palma' pulling coaches of the Ferrocaril company filled with VIPs out of the capital. To the people of Soller, who had made sacrifices, taken risks and invested savings in the venture, this was, understandably, 'their railway'. The Soller to Puerto Soller tram was added in September 1913.
The Mediterranean world wakens to refulgent brilliance. The winds that buffeted for over a week, bringing clouds to glower over the High Sierras like great angry gods... and rain, much needed rain... have disappeared, as it were, into the bosom of the sea, and all seems cleansed and transformed. To celebrate this awaited morning, Maria, my neighbour in the old quarter, puts on a favourite record. Pulsating erotic rhythms, melodic trills and nasal discords, rend the douce morning air, and are carried out over the sea, signifying Maria's pagan worship, which, unrecognised as such, annoys the neighbours.
In the recent cold spell, over in the Hostal es Port, gloomy tourists, mostly German, have felt badly done by: 'We did not come all the way from Düssledorf for this, ugh!' Now that the weather is warm and sunny again... what they expected, what they paid for... they are off in packs wearing breeches and carrying wandersticks, to conquer yet another mountain crest. You can almost hear them singing, too, but their's is a different song from Maria's, who embraces everything and everyone today.
Their's is an 'I' song, egocentricly northern: I love to go a wandering... I love to swing my knapsack on my back.'
In the good weather, I leave my desk with a sense of relief. Time to lace on the walking boots again. Time to choose where to go. To test the idea of following in Salvador's footsteps, I decide to walk to Fornalutx and the Barranc. Like travellers today, he probably approached the small towns of Fornalutx and Binniaraix on foot, by way of the Carrer de Sa Luna, with its line-up of small shops selling everything from wine and beeswax candles to lingerie and handmade shoes. Under the primitive stone carved moon at number fifty, past the street fountains with their drinking pans, inviting the traveller to taste the spring water, and the lovely approach to the bridge, where Salvador noticed fertile vegetable gardens irrigated by waterwheels.
He records, on the slopes to the left, the Arab settlement of Binibasi, which produced exquisite fruit: ' All the countryside here is very fertile, thanks to the fountain of Binibasi. Vineyards at regular intervals, groves of lemon trees and palms, combine to form an outstandingly beautiful area of southern vegetation.' The description is true today. All the way from town 'Gaian' street names suggest pagan origins: the street of La Luna herself, Carrer de les Animes, Carrer d'Ozonas.
The 1911 Art Nouveau house, C'an Grunera, its florid decoration similar in design to many gates, railings and balconies in the Soller area, was completed only four years before Salvador died, and other houses in the street display restrained Art Deco balconies and carved stone decoration. He never saw these, nor, thankfully, the uncompromising, economical box-style apartments of our own times. Salvador's favourite house in the Soller region was Son Angelats, standing proud behind a stand of date palms at the top of the twisting road to Deià. But it might have found a rival had he known the 1918 red-brick house, with tile mosaics, projecting pantiled roof, pagoda-like, and eaves with pendant decoration, standing at the junction of the Fornalutx and Binniaraix roads. In its hey day it would have been set in an equally inspired garden but, sadly, today all vegetation has been buried under a concrete forecourt.
At Fornalutx Salvador noted '903 inhabitants and 265 cassitas, all rising on the slopes of the mountain and the majority only one storey high'. Here, as elsewhere in Mallorca, from the beginning of the new century construction moved apace, reflecting industrial prosperity and export initiatives. On the Carrer Joan Alberti Arbona a splendid 1919 house prefigures the restraint of Art Deco in silver painted decorative balconies, a pair of carved lions and other stone carvings, all expressing the prestige of an owner who wanted an up-to-the minute façade for this house set in a line of traditional others.
Fornalutx today has a large immigrant population including English, Scandanavian, French and German. A tiled plaque erected in 1983 declares that it is a 'Placa D'Argent per Defenser i Maintenement' - a protected and conserved area. The towns's restored and exemplary streets lead up to, down from, into and away from the evocative church, set high above the square behind a symbolic lemon tree and date palm. Nothing jars the senses. Indeed the lovely small houses, which wend up the slope on which the town is built, display flowers and plants in tubs and pots outside front doors to increase the delight of the passer-by. Closer inspection of the rebuilt church of 1634, reveals a memorable painted Virgin and Child above the arched entrance, with additional hand-painted decoration, and above the side entrance, a painted sundial and pantiles underpainted with talismans of that more primitive era whose heartbeat still pounds away on this island: the moon, a devil, animals, plants, flowers and cultic symbols.
'According to several informants,' Luis Salvador wrote after his visit to Fornalutx: 'this church was constructed by the inhabitants in 1365 on the anniversary of the birth of Mary, or as she is called in Mallorca, the Mother of the September God' ... Ah, yes, and is she not the Black Virgin, celebrated in Mallorca at LLuch and many other sacred sites on the island, and at Monserrat near Barcelona... and la Sybilla of the Christmas Eve service in churches all over the island... and the figurines found in painted caves from Altamira to Avignon. She embodies Mother Earth herself... the Goddess... Gaia, if you like... Maria singing in the port's old quarter.
My first outing with Salvador is proving successful. Many features of landscape, architecture and technology of the region are still common to us both. Ever since Salvador and I conspired, my consciousness has been filled with views and senses similar to his and, in addition, with this century's contributions that he could not have dreamt of.
'This village is build on the crest of a hillock,' he wrote of Binniaraix: 'which emphasises the bell tower of its whitewashed church. The houses are small and dark and most have arched entrances. The church was constructed in 1602, one of the altars is adorned with a beautiful cross of Santa Catalina and there is a an antique missal with Gothic lettering in the sacristy.'
The church was firmly closed when I arrived in Binniaraix. No matter. Like Salvador, I was just passing through on the way to the astonishing Barranc, a sort of stairway to paradise, a precipitous flight of stone steps leading to the summit of a lesser mountain below Puig Mayor.
It seemed something of a miracle that so many people spryly passed on the way down the Barranc: the old, the obese, the frail, and even children. Then someone mentioned that a favourite local outing involved getting someone to drive to the other side of the mountain. Then it was an easy matter for passengers to walk a short way and reach the summit. After that it was downhill all the way. My leg muscles ached to the point of stiffness back at the port, but stunning views, vegetation and other-worldly rock formations made the climb worth the effort.
I soon realised that Salvador, the aristocrat, had terrific advantages over me. There was probably a horse with companion waiting for him at either end. And drifting off to sleep, Salvador turned up, elegantly dark-suited, with a cape (yes, the introduction to "Las Baleares" describes him travelling Mallorca 'utilzando su capa como vela'. Hang on, that was "Ramon de Penyafort". Ah, well ... editor's artistic license).
In my hypnagogic state Salvador combs the forsaken valley of the Gorg Blau, soaring vultures overhead, his fieldglasses sweeping the horizon towards Sa Calobra, that snake-in-the-grass road... the road to Hell when Eden had been on my mind.
But I don't want to.follow there yet. Instead of counting sheep, I mull over the litany of Salvador's names: Luis Salvador Maria Jose Bautista Domingo Raniero Fernando Carlos Zenobio Antonio of Hapsburg-Lorraine and Bourbon.
Notes have been made. I have studied the fine illustrations in Salvador's Mallorca book. My visual sense is satisfied. But no person emerges from Salvador's written text: the number of houses he finds in a certain village is interesting only up to a point, and the number of people living there, for example, and how they earned a living, the history of the church, etc. Very occasionally, something fascinating jumps out: like the three women he discovered in a settlement on the top of a mountain cone, who worshipped the Mother rather than the Christ. But I want to know more about him.
To be honest, I am having to reconsider the prospect of slavishly following Salvador's footsteps through the whole island of Mallorca. My curiosity about the man himself is becoming insatiable. Who did he travel to Soller with, for example? What was his personal life really like? And what of this Arab mistress, Catalina Homar? Now, there's a story, friends assured me.
At my request the librarian's hands and eyes skim the Mallorca shelves for a biography of the Archduke Luis Salvador. But she shakes her head.
'No, I'm sorry. There's nothing here.'
Later, in the Soller bookshop I find "El Archiduque Errante" (The Wandering Archduke) a biography by B. Ferrà Juan and purchase it. My Spanish is not good, and this book was written in 1943. Even so, with a dictionary I should get the broad sweeps of the man's life. Many hours of painstaking translation lie ahead. Sitting at a table outside the Café Paris in the square near a group of elderly Scottish tourists, the women in colourful cotton dresses, I feel oddly comforted by their broad and familiar accents.
SALVADOR, AT THE AGE OF NINETEEN, FIRST SAW MALLORCA FROM THE steamboat Jaime II after he had explored Ibiza. It was the beginning of September 1865 and he was accompanied by Eugenie Sforza di Montignoso. More than simply guardian, valet and travelling companion to Mallorca and elsewhere, Sforza played the father figure until his death, aged seventy-four. On that first morning in Palma, Salvador presented himself at the house of Francisco Manuel de los Herreros, Director of the Balearic Institute for Secondary Education, to whom he proposed his intention to explore the whole island. Herreros responded by producing a bundle of letters of introduction to people in the towns and villages who could help him. He also gave the young aristocrat a tour of everything of 'historical, monumental or picturesque interest'. The Institute's library, and other manuscripts were put at his disposal and Salvador left a calling card with the librarian which bore the alias: Ludwig, Graf von Neudorf.
It's a start, but the Ferrà Juan biography makes me uneasy. I sense its partiality, even in a language that is not my own. There has to be a better biography. Back in the library, I make a thorough search of my own which leads, at last, to "S'Arxiduc" a more recent biography by the late Juan March - in Catalan. Why hadn't the librarian been able to find it? No matter. Now I might discover why Salvador used that pseudonym. Count von Neudorf? What was he running away from? There's something I'm determined to track down. Something awful I've picked up but not fully understood from the Ferrà Juan book. To begin with I study the illustrations in Juan March's book, portraits mostly, hauntingly superior, of the players in Salvador's life.
I'm frantic to find a portrait of the Archduchess Matilde, but she's not among this photographic gallery of Salvador's ancestors and relatives: Fernando VII and Queen Gobernadora, Empress Maria Teresa, Luis I of Bavaria, Maximiliano and Carlota, the fugitive rulers of Mexico, the Duchess of Berry, dukes of Parma and Madrid, etc. etc. and Luis Salvador's father, Leopold II of Tuscany.
Salvador has quite a pedigree, as the family trees in the book indicate. One line traces the House of Tuscany (descendants of the Duke of Lorraine and the Grand Duke of Tuscany who married Maria Teresa of Hapsburg, Empress of Austria). A second line traces the Imperial House of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the third the House of the Two Scillies, descending from Luis Salvador's grandfather, Carlos III of Spain and Maria Amelia of Sajonia. It's an incredible lineage with several links to Napoleon. There is a photograph of the Pitti Palace in Florence where Salvador was born in 1847 and another of the Boboli Gardens, the playground of his youth.
Tracing the list of his nine brothers and sisters, I see that his younger brother, Juan, born in 1852, adopted a pseudonym too: 'he passed into history as Juan Orth after his bizarre disappearance in 1891', says the author. I make a note to follow up that story another time, fascinated that two brothers adopted aliases: one disappeared completely, while the other sailed to a new world, Mallorca.
What little information I'm gathering about Salvador's life in Mallorca intrigues me now, as it might a sleuth. It's obvious that Salvador had more guises than most to shed: an over-refined inheritance, a world where emotion was frowned upon and reason ruled. His early playground bred, no doubt, an appreciation of form and design, a feeling for Apollonian beauty. But the classical Pitti Palace and the formal Boboli Gardens lacked 'Maria warmth'. George Eliot described the palace as 'a marvellous conjunction of the cyclopic and solemn regularity'.
Was it his inspiration that by journeying round the island, and documenting what he found, he might begin to transform, to enrich, his inner world? Such, after all, is the hope that every traveller carries in the depth of his soul. The venture is always fraught with risk.
But why did the young Salvador adopt the desperate measure of a false identity when he came to Mallorca? What happened to the beautiful Archduchess Matilde, daughter of Archduke Albert, who had recently become his fiancée? Juan March's biography, lays out the whole gruesome tale.
In March 1867, two years after his first visit to Mallorca, Salvador was studying in Prague. Matilde was at Weilburg, preparing to take part in a fiesta. She put on one of her first ballgowns, made of gauze, and went to the library for her father's approval. Albert was smoking a cigar, waiting for guests, when his daughter appeared, dancing before him. The alcohol with which she had dressed her hair caught fire, and she became a human torch.
Like Joan of Arc, Matilde became a pile of ashes, but hers contained the precious gems of her jewellry, a ghostly prefiguration of the end of the Hapsburg era. For Salvador, the harrowing event contained the seeds of his release and broke, once and for all, the unbearable umbilical Hapsburg cord. He had a reason, at last, to leave the stultifying, power-mad world of his youth, but he carried the nightmare with him. His pseudonym 'Neudorf' (new village) reflected his need to start a new life. Like Odysseus he chose to travel by sea. Like Byron's Don Juan, Salvador's mental turmoil might be mirrored by the adventure of tossing and turning on the ceaselessly changing sea. Speed, space and sea breezes - a heady conflagration, after a lifetime's confinement in the Hapsburg court.
Salvador's generation was the first to experience speed in transport. Locomotion applied to sailing ships became his passion. Before his second visit to Mallorca he sailed in Nixe I. Nixe... a siren, a sea-creature, a mermaid, a sexless femme fatale, fascinating and unthreatening. Matilde, perhaps, reincarnated as objet d' art.
At the end of June 1871, Salvador had written to Señor Herreros of his intention to spend the winter in Mallorca - in fact, he would linger longer, as many visitors to Mallorca do. Herreros invited the Archduke to stay with him because the Palma hotels 'lacked any decency'. But Salvador preferred to rent a house near the sea. Thus began his love affair with Mallorca, which would be the umbrella for numerous dalliances as well as committed friendships, conspiracies and tragedies.
'I have always been a nomad, without fixed residence,' wrote Salvador. 'I circle the seas, driven first of all by my affections, a circumstance which has turned me into a wanderer, so to speak, on the fringes of humanity.'
As for me, I need a break from this distasteful detective work, with its mundane and horrific revelations, to take to the road again.
Salvador, that pioneer of Balearic tourism and passionate environmentalist, would be aghast to see so many feet trampling the adopted landscape he struggled so diligently to protect. Even in his wildest dreams he could never have imagined seven million visitors arriving by air to the island every year. Even five years ago, you could wander the coastal paths and mountain tracks and be sure of sensing that quality of nature which Robert Graves, who also settled here, called 'enchantment'.
Like Salvador, and every northerner who has come to live here, Graves's search was for wholeness: a longing to re-engage with richer dimensions which the rational north sweeps under the carpet. To unify mind and matter. Gaia. Maria.
I went through the port's old quarter, opening the cages of the goldfinches, setting them free...
Alas, it was only a dream.
This ineffable morning in late March, my form of praise is a radio produced Bach cantata. When I open the small door-within-a-door, I find Maria sitting on one of the white chairs - everyone in the street has at least two on either side of the door - with a new neighbour, aged around nineteen. She's wearing a pink candlewick robe, her fresh washed hair is tied up into an unruly pile. They have never come to sit at my door before, and I'm delighted. They've been drawn to the music.
'Le gusta la musica,' Maria states.
Any well-felt music, be it Baroque or Spanish flamenco rock, is acceptable to Maria.
Vine leaves have sprouted on my neighbour's pergola. The young woman, an immigrant from Murcia, has moved in with him. Roses in bud are climbing high out of their pots, sea fennel rampages, the succulents send out suckers, thyme is in bloom. The sea gardens, set atop the rubble walls, sense summer.
The time has come for me to leave the Soller valley, by tram from the port, and by train to Bunyola near the garden of Alfabia, and on to Palma. That is my intention, though, who knows, when a book begins, or when a journey begins, what might unfold. A book is a journey of sorts, its pages like feet, endlessly exploring as the reader turns them.
3. In the Mountain Towns
THE ADDICTION TO NOMADIC LIFE IS IMBUED WlTH UNCERTAINTY, BUT also with thrilling certainty. The person of no fixed abode ventures into an unfamiliar landscape with the certainty that his or her life may be changed irrevocably, from one minute to the next, for better or for worse, by an unexpected meeting, by accident or simply by the sight of something astonishing.
Luis Salvador's second visit to Mallorca in 1871 followed a hectic year of travel and study in Prague. By August not only had he finished the Ibiza section, but the general introduction to "Las Baleares" as well. Earlier in the year, the death of his father, Leopold II, had brought a sort of freedom. Salvador ordered the construction of Nixe I at Fiume, near Venice, but, pending its completion, it was on the steampacket Mahones that he arrived in Palma. On Don Herreros's recommendation he rented the magnificent home of a count, Ca's Formiguera, on the city walls near the Cathedral. By the end of November he was ready to set out for the mountain coast.
Salvador had travelled there four years earlier and he now retraced his steps to confirm the impact of a certain place that had impressed him most, and which he had paused to sketch: Son Morroig.
This time he saw other houses too: Son Galceran, Can Calo and Miramar. To Sforza, his stalwart companion, he said: 'If that house [Miramar] is for sale I want to buy it.' Son Morroig was not for sale at the time. Later, it would be his. Salvador sensed intuitively that this particular landscape held the key to the new life he craved.
Not only that, here he would learn about that giant of medieval thought and philosophy, Ramon Llull, who had lived and taught in this landscape six centuries earlier. Llull was the figure upon whom he would attempt to model his life.
After he bought Miramar, Salvador wrote to his mother: 'Come to see Miramar, the place where the ancient college of Miramar was established to teach oriental languages, with a view to converting the infidel, founded by the mayor gloria of the Balearics: Ramon Llull (Raimundus Lulius)'.
Ramon Llull is revered in Mallorca. Most towns include a street named after him. In Deià, Calle Ramon Llull leads up to the church and the main street is Calle Archduke Luis Salvador. Presumably it was the theological student Antonio Vives, born in Deià in 1855 and nine years younger than Salvador, who first filled his master with enthusiasm for Ramon Llull. Salvador had made Vives his secretary in 1870. The ageing Sforza, unable to accompany Salvador on all the trips connected with the preparation of Las Baleares, conceded that this younger companion should go in his stead. Vives accompanied Salvador on trips to the mountainous north coast, this area of outstanding physical beauty, its coastline peppered with hermits' caves, which, long before Salvador put down roots had become smugglers' lairs.
As Salvador notes, they travelled simply, cooking up eggs over a wood fire in a clearing near Deià, staying overnight in village houses. Juan March suggests that the 'libidinous' Vives made advances to Salvador, who was not, however, interested in his 'fatuous and slippery' seventeen year old companion. He described Vives as depraved: 'his hair impregnated with the smell of wax'. Vives's presence would be a thorn in Salvador's flesh for a long time, but the relationship matured with age and Vives inherited most of the Archduke's wealth. Vives's descendants own Son Morroig and Miramar to this day.
I am finding the painstaking translation of Salvador's biography in Catalan frustrating, but the gist emerges. Salvador had found his paradise.
'The night was clear, one of those January nights in which the stars are so clear that they seem almost within reach,' wrote Salvador when he reached Miramar, increasingly enchanted by the contrasts in the landscapes, by olive trees, flowers, stone relics. Not only that, he would discover a 'cultural alibi' here in the enigmatic figure of Llull. Salvador soon read his "Book of Blanquerna", which contained the seeds of an astonishing revelation.
Once upon a time, Blanquerna met a juggler on foot, accompanied by a horseman with a lance in his hand and his sword hanging from his neck. The juggler told Blanquerna that this horseman was an emperor and that they had visited many places together. He spoke with affectionate respect for the caballero.
After relating some of their adventures to Blanquerna, the juggler asked where they could find something to eat. They had neither eaten nor drunk for two days.
'Señor,' Blanquerna said, 'over there is a fountain of delicious water and you can eat the fresh herbs growing round it.'
The Emperor refused, saying he couldn't drink without eating and that he wasn't used to eating herbs. They would die soon if they couldn't get the food they were accustomed to.
Blanquerna led them to the fountain. Then he produced three loaves of bread. While the emperor was eating, Blanquerna asked if he preferred the bread he was eating to his empire. The emperor replied that here in this place, he preferred the bread.
Blanquerna challenged him saying: 'How little the empire is worth when its leader values bread more than his empire'.
This character, frequently referred to under the name of 'the Emperor', as the archetypal Christian monarch, Llull had modelled on Rudolph of Hapsburg, Landgrave of Alsace, whom Rubens later immortalised. Astonishingly enough, Salvador was the tenth generation descendant of Rudolph, Llull's Emperor.
THE RUGGED NORTH COAST OF MALLORCA REMAINS AN EARTHLY paradise today, though late twentieth century tourism and expansionism stealthily threatens. Approaching from Palma the visitor first crosses a rich alluvial plain planted with thousands of carob and almond trees. Then, tortuously, the road snakes towards a dramatic silver-crested cleft high above Arcadian fields and ochre-harled fincas graced with date palms and cypresses. As-if-by-magic, the town of Valldemossa reveals itself. Has a gigantic stage flat been pulled apart by mountain gods? It looks magical now, but often in winter the town shrouds itself under cloaks of the mists that suddenly swirl-in from the sea.
The turquoise and gold-studded mosaic dome of the Carthusian monastery, the simpler stone spire of the church of Santa Catalina Tomas, the huddled houses and the swirling terraced landscape all conspire to make Valldemossa appear Tibetan from afar. Its centre reveals a prosperous place filled with outdoor cafés, tourist shops and the monastery which attracts thousands of visitors every year (mostly German) to swarm through cells where Frederic Chopin and his then mistress, George Sand, lived in great discomfort for a few brief weeks during the winter of 1839. That far from romantic interlude, described by Sand in "Winter in Mallorca" (an island bestseller sold in several languages) nets the town a hefty revenue, its success backed-up by bus tours, car parks and new housing, all of which swamps the graceful aspect of the town, except in early morning or late afternoon when the Carthuja closes and the town returns to itself.
No one has surpassed George Sand in describing the island's rare beauty: 'green Helvetica set under a Calabrian sky, with all the solemnity and silence of the East', she wrote. It is unlikely that Salvador knew about the couple's stay in the Carthuja at Valldemossa. Certainly, Salvador doesn't mention their visit in his detailed description of the town. He described 'picturesque' Valldemossa, 437 meters above sea level, as a summer place, cold in winter with frosts and fogs. A small and humble village then, it had one thousand six hundred inhabitants and three hundred and twenty seven houses. Its surrounding countryside was possessed by wealthy Palmesanos. Some of the houses date from the seventeenth century and have wooden eaves and painted tiles in a variety of rustic forms, he notes, and he describes the plazas and the church of Catalina Tomas, founded in 1245, which, even in Salvador's day, had undergone many transformations. Ceramic tiles depicting scenes from the saint's life are displayed outside nearly every house today, for, as I had learned from Daniel Hartmann, Catalina Tomas is first and foremost the patron saint of the young.
The monastery of the Carthusians fascinated Salvador, who describes its primitive Moorish roots. 'Los soberanos arabes', the ruling Arabs, had a summer palace here before the Kings of Aragon built another in its place in 1321. Its first incumbent was Martin Montaner who enjoyed the sport of falconry. In 1399 the king ordered the foundation of a convent, which survived until the nineteenth century, and two churches were constructed in 1446 and 1812. Several tall defensive towers dominated the valley below, during the fifteenth and sixteenth century.
When Salvador arrived the monastery had been divided and sold to people who came to live in the cells in summer. Salvador describes the place as abandoned, its cells neglected, so he spent an uncomfortable night in an inn. The luxuriant valley of La Coma, beyond Valldemossa, was verdant in spring when Salvador took the route towards Son Morroig: 'cedars, spring shrubs and rosebushes mingled with exotic plants and huge conifers shading the ways.'
Beyond the Valldemossa valley an enchanted land of caves, towers, magnificent mountains and seascapes stretches all the way to Soller and beyond. Gustave Dore, famous for his illustrations to Dante's Inferno, was inspired by this landscape. But George Sand never saw round the Valldemossa corner. Nor did she visit the town of Deià which tops a geological cone under the embrace of the magnetic parabola of the Teix range, nine kilometres away. Until the tarmacadam road was built in Salvador's day (1880s) the area was virtually impenetrable except by sea or mountain track.
The cone of rock on which Deià is built spirals upwards like a conch-shell from the sea, enfolds Moorish-inspired houses and undulating streets incised into fertile terraces, where citrus fruits, olives, figs and persimmons flourish. People the world over have been cast in its spell and return, whenever they can, to wonder at its genius. Deià elicits symptoms not unlike an extraordinary love affair. Indeed, Gertrude Stein warned Robert Graves, who arrived in 1936, that the place was a paradise whose hold would remain intense until the release of death. Certainly this stunning coastal theatre has inspired innumerable love affairs, legendary and mundane. The mythic figures of Artemis, Aphrodite, Apollo and the others might be as at home here as in any Hellenic landscape. Thousands of ordinary and extraordinary romances have been enacted and re-enacted here by lovers sensing the fecundity and other-worldliness of the landscape. The coastline's star-crossed figures include Chopin and George Sand, Luis Salvador and Vyborni, Catalina Homar and Captain Singala, Robert Graves and Laura Riding, and, more recently, Michael Douglas and his wife Diandra, who grew up in Deià.
This is goddess territory. Robert Graves intuited that, and wrote "The White Goddess" here. He himself was inspired by several real-life women whom he called his 'goddesses'. But the true goddess, the Great She, can be traced back to an unlovely blind female who dwelled in darkness, seething with fecundity. Like an embryo. Her earliest representation in art is the bulging Venus of Willendorf: all belly, breasts and thighs. This old Stone Age relic, like a chip of the landscape itself, this cult-image, symbol of the abundance of nature, was designed to be the salvation of the cave dwellers who created her around 30,000 B.C. Her belly was her cave, her ropes of corn hair prefigured the invention of agriculture.
Thousands of similar statuettes - this one is under five inches high - have been found in caves throughout Spain and the rest of Europe, from Altimira to Avignon. Caves incised with the scratching claws of mountain bears and paintings of bison, buffalo, deer and elephant in muted earth colours, which gracefully follow fissures and bumps on the calcified walls. Some archeologists believe the cave paintings were the work of women. Whatever the truth of this, the broad hipped, faceless figurines, found buried near excavated bodies, often painted with red ochre beside carefully arranged cowrie shells, reflect ancient human awe in the face of nature's chthonic power to create and destroy, which primitive people related to the power of women to give birth.
Chthonic means 'of the earth,' but of the earth's seething interior, not its surface.
Earliest people believed that the Great She, if propitiated, would allow them to survive by hunting and harvesting. Some researchers hold that the earliest societies were partnerships between men and women, whose religious expression was still focussed on the Mother Earth Goddess. By then she was intimately bound up with the celestial spheres, like a Venus of Willendorf unmasked, allowed to peep out from the cave mouth and wonder at the sky. Men hunted according to the moon cycle that triggered women's menstruation, and ultimately, childbirth, and worship of the Great Bear became a predominant religion. Ancient awe and inspiration continued until the discovery of metal allowed powerfully muscular nomadic males to compete for new territories and enslave women and children.
Egyptian art was the first to break free from nature's thrall by ordering a rational society with a god king at its head and stylish art to reflect it. Day and night were equally honoured until the Greeks split the harmony of earth and sky by setting their Gods in earthly temples and pitting the Olympians - Apollo, Artemis and Athena - in a war against the chthonic whose chief protagonist was Dionysus, son of Zeus. Although she was a direct descendant of the Great Mother, Artemis represented a new idealisation of woman precisely because of her resistance to 'nature's sexual flux'. She is thus, perfectly on-line to become a model for the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa... and Robert Graves's 'personal goddesses'.
Inevitably, the subject of Graves's 'goddesses' crops up again and again, and not just in the bars of Deià. The Scots poet Norman MacCaig remembers Graves sweeping in to address an Edinburgh Burns Supper, a striking figure wearing a black cloak and black homburg, a young woman at his side. There are said to have been four major goddesses not counting Laura Riding. One is 'very old'; two have refused to speak about their liaisons with the poet; and the fourth, a dancer, keeps a house in Deià. But later in his life, Graves became intrigued by what he called the Black Goddess.
Roman culture produced the words mater and materia, semantically linking mother and earth. But by 415 A.D. the Great Mother had gone underground again, an outcast, eventually to be evoked by medieval witches. At Monserrat, near Barcelona, the Black Virgin is still worshipped where the spiritual heart of Catalunya beats strongest. The ropes of corn have become a simple carved crown, the dusky features, movingly open now, are covered by a hooded cloak painted with stars.
At the monastery of Lluch the Black Virgin evokes Shiva, graceful as an eastern figurine. After Jaime I's conquest of Mallorca the altar to the Lluch Virgin was probably erected and guarded by the Knights Templar. Later, sixteenth century pilgrims created a stairway representing 'the seven joys of our lady'. Seven lamps light either side of the altar of the Black Virgin of LLuch today. Seven. The seven stars of the Plough, the Great Bear, Ursa Major, worshipped by Willendorf's cave people. Seven. The symbolic number of the Knights Templar.
Twelve. Symbolic number of the first Christians. Twelve stars punctuate the diadem above the Lluch Virgin's thirteenth century crown. In 1884, twelve thousand pilgrims travelled through the mountains to assist in her coronation.
At the end of the twentieth century the Great Mother is staging a comeback, a further transformation, worshipped under the name of Gaia, by individuals and groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who revere the landscape and recognise the chthonic in nature. At best, their members acknowledge basic forces in their own human nature, and dedicate their lives to protecting the planet from loss of resources through pollution and heedless urbanisation.
Thus we return to the Virgin of Lluch. She is the Great Mother holding the Christ child, symbol of vulnerable humanity, on her lap. Maria. sensuously worshipping the coming of spring in the morning music of Puerto Soller, embodies Gaia.
Beyond Deià, the toad winds treacherously towards Soller. Although the drivers are fantastically skilled at fitting the huge bulk of the local bus in and out of tight corners, up hairpin bends and over fragile bridges, no one can pretend that his or her heart is not in their mouth for much of the time.
Travelling in the bus, I watch tourists cower in their seats, or else they sit bolt upright, as if full attention might prevent disaster. They clutch at their partner's arm, their eyes amazed to see little between the bus and the sheer cliff drop below. The question they ask themselves, their tongues trembling:
If we go over the edge what happens?
I would answer, if they asked me:
Who knows, but, certainly, nothing will be the same again.
AFTER DANIEL LEFT THE MUSIC ROOM FOR PALMA, I STAYED IN BED ALL day, dipping in and out of sleep, between endless cups of tea, absorbing the peace within the space of the house, allowing thoughts to come and go. Suspended in that state, willing my restless being to stay in one place, I was aware of music from the radio, each note distinct like falling raindrops. Despite my exhaustion and my bruised aching body, the notes seemed to promise liberation, as if they were keys to doors which had been locked for a very long time.
The view from the window of the balcony bedroom looks across incredible textured terraces constructed, stone-by-stone, by subjugated villagers and Moors. There is no trace of linearity in the terraces which spiral round the rock on which the town is built. Lush citrus plantations occupy the terraces above the bird haunted banks of the torrente. Finches and warblers find a safe haven here, and owls and hawks hunt above it. The olive groves peter out at the rocky summit where the church dominates the settlement in every direction. Except from the cove road where it cannot be seen at all.
Did the first settlers of the mountain town land through the mouth of the cove, which on certain days has a beauty so azurely intense that Aphrodite herself might emerge from its great sea-bedded rocks? The first swarthy settlers of the high mountain village would pull their primitive craft out of the gleaming sun-shot sea onto the rocky shingle and perceive a place so mountain-protected that they might live here, hunting and gathering in relative safety. Did the semi-circular cove itself seem like the mouth of a conch-shell whose inner spiral would lead them to the hilltop haven where they could celebrate the nature spirits of this extraordinary landscape while holding their devils at bay? The path of their interior landscape would spiral round and up for almost a mile, wide at first, narrowing at the summit. What spirits might lurk in its unexpected hollows, cliffs and caves? What mysteries might unfold in that magical valley?
For me each day became an adventure beyond the Music Room. Each step forward mirroring the print of a tentative returning footstep. The path above the torrente, a mere footpath, seemed high and treacherous in my still-recovering state. Eventually it led to the first olive grove where sheep and lambs wandered, unafraid of my approach. I sat here for hours, my sun-warmed back supported by an ancient olive tree whose gnarled boughs gathered protectively around me. On the third day I was able to cross the wooden bridge three feet above a water course, apprehensive as an ageing acrobat returning to the tightrope. Now all that prevented me from following the twisting path for a mile to the sea was my lack of stamina.
Time, once my adversary, was now on my side. Time to recover in the fullest sense. There would be time, when I was ready, to discover the town which itself seemed suspended in a timeless dream. Each ochre-stone house on the fecund terraces seemed to dream the lives of its inhabitants behind louvred shutters closed against the bright light of day. One morning I climbed further up the slope to the town, past groups of old women, gossiping on corners or coming and going to tend their garden plots.
The people I passed and the children playing all said: 'Hola! Buenos dias.' All but one, a silent solitary man wearing a woollen hat, a rough-hewn jacket of black-and-white checks lined in red and a wicker bag slung across his shoulders. I often passed him on the road to town but he exchanged no greeting and never looked at me.
After climbing the hill, I came to the town's main street which had the atmosphere of places in the outback. Places where every arrival and departure is noted by someone who just happens to pull back a lace curtain or leave a shop or bar or hang out over a balcony. There are bars at regular intervals along the route where cars and buses arrive and leave the town. Eventually I summoned enough courage to enter their dark, rich interiors. To order cognac and café con lêche. And afterwards, I bought supplies of olives, cheese, bread and biscuits which kept me going until suppertime.
I resolved to start working for a few hours each day. Drawing and writing my way back to confidence. Every morning I would sit in the olive groves lost in a world of shapes, textures and colours. The trees, twisted and textured with a thousand years' growth and pollarding, became my companions: solitaries, family groups, entwined couples, combatants. The flock of sheep came and went, munching the lush carpet of grass and sorrel at my feet. Beyond the grove, high on a terraced hill, I could see a house with an arched lintel painted cobalt. That house would have a view to the sea. The sea.
But, these delicate days, I preferred my landlocked encampment, enclosed, secret, safe, as I needed to be, in silence broken only by birdsong. To begin with I confined myself to straightforward sketching. But the dense grey-browns and silver-greens, intense purples, yellows, deeper greens and terracotta so vivid it was almost red, encouraged me to think of starting to paint. Light and shadow played among the trees as sketches of particular trees emerged, sharply focussed in their peculiar rocky encampment, and wider views of the grove with the sheep and the house on the hill.
I would be glad of these carefree mornings. As the drawings progressed my emotional strength returned. But a day came when heavy mist shrouded the mountains and the sun disappeared as I walked down the road to the cove in the silent, oppressive warmth of early afternoon. On my return, all nature seemed suspended. No birds sang in the grotesque cliffs which dominate a twist of the road and the only stirring was a flicker of butterflies on wayside shrubs. I avoided looking into the mouth of the great cave which rises above the road, ochre and alluvially smooth at its entrance, lest my imagination run rampant. For might this not be the cave of the Goddess and did she not eat poets for breakfast and night-flying bats for supper?
Next morning the heavy atmosphere persisted. But I returned to the grove to finish drawing a tree of peculiar strength and strangeness. Familiarity with the place where I always sat allowed me to become quickly absorbed. The sheep with their lambs accepted me as an element in their landscape and came to munch, ever-closer, beside me. When I was drawing I thought I caught a flicker of alien colour, a flash of scarlet, behind the tree. No, it was a trick of light. Then an arresting crack, like a pistol-shot, from behind the tree startled me. In portentous silence I stiffly approached it. A small bent figure darted away down the terraces towards the torrente. Man or mountain goat? Nothing but a broken branch lay behind the tree. Mounting rage overcame my lingering apprehension as I went to pack-up my equipment. How long had I been under scrutiny, thinking I was entirely alone? Trailing a sense of dismay back to the Music Room, I knew I would be unable to return to the grove with anything like my previous ease.
A series of powerful dreams plagued me that night. But they were different from the devil-dreams in the clinic. In one dream I fumbled down, down, down, into the earth, following a flight of rough hewn steps into a subterranean cave. At every step afraid to take the next. From the window beyond my bed I absorbed the star-filled small hours and grappled with my enslaved imagination. Who or what was the strange creature of the groves? I might never again feel the ease of my early encampment. But surely I would be a coward not to return.
Over the next few days I forced myself back, for shorter periods, to the grove. This was small bacon compared to the accident, I told myself. I would start work as the sun broke free from the great silver curtain of the Teix mountain and continued to draw until the terrace became unpleasantly bright. Then I would hide my gear behind a pile of boulders and walk, unhampered, down to the cove. This ritual pleased me. I heard no more breaking twigs. When a figure finally did emerge into that landscape I wasn't afraid, for he approached shy as a mountain goat and sat beyond the rooted cusp of my tree when the ground was peppered with purple-black olives. It was the silent solitary. I watched him roll a cigarette and lick its paper into shape thinking that it did not matter that he was almost certainly the figure that had disappeared with the cracking twig.
'You are already aware, I see, that the world is a stranger and more magical place than it appears to be at first sight.' That was all he said by way of an introduction.
I nestled further into the tree, my bones sweetened by the morn sun, but didn't reply. My arms curved upwards to support my head. Perhaps I seemed a curious sight, still altered by bandages and bruising. It didn't matter. I felt no requirement to respond to this encounter with the first person I had met since Daniel left the Music Room. The stranger sat puffing his cigarette in silence and then disappeared, as it is so easy to do in this landscape. He merged with the olive trees, became one of them for all I knew. Every particle of matter surrounding me seemed to resonate. Gaia. Mind and matter indivisible.
There were difficult times when I longed for company, but I was making progress. Daniel had not returned yet, but I knew I would see him in Palma when I was well enough. My back ached painfully with what seemed like a hundred knotted muscles. I checked my appearance regularly in the bathroom mirror. They had shaved the crown of my head above the wound and it upset me to think that my hair might not grow back. The other wound would probably heal, concealed by my hairline. Every day I picked a lemon from the tree in the garden and rinsed my head believing that its antiseptic properties would hasten my cure.
So easy to remember. So hard to forget.
A lithograph hung on the bathroom wall showing two primitive women on a shingle beach, their backs turned to the the sea beyond. One woman stood strong and tall, the other was crouched, her hand on her head. I identified with both women. One of the figures represented the part of me that dwelled on the outrageous event of the accident, trying to understand why it had happened, appalled by the thought that I had almost died, or worse, been maimed for life. The other woman expressed a vibrant realisation: she was not only egotistically human, but also part of the natural world around her. Gaia. Mind and matter, one and the same. I resolved that, however difficult it might be to extract myself from the life I had been living up till now, I must do so. The accident must not be in vain.
At night I often felt hysteria rise as I pulled the blanket over my head.
'Am I going barmy like an ageing Ophelia?'
I might wake in the dark, feeling cold. The moon and the northern star might not yet have entered the theatre of the window frame above my bed. Pitch-black. Waiting. Eternity. Does it matter where one waits? Here or there? I'd make tea then, covering my shoulders with a blanket. I knew if I were to create something out of this lull in my life, it would be necessary to remain still, with time to think, to dream, to re-listen to echoes from my past.
I moved my encampment to a headland on the sea terraces above the cove. Every day I sought out this particular place, a small pirouetting terrier at my heels. Fiddle belonged to my neighbours. He would have followed me to the ends of the earth if necessary, to share a picnic. Reward for his patient companionship. Rust-coloured, he sat on guard beside me as I attempted to write.
A long flight of steep steps, hewn from the sea-cliff, skirts the cove of the mountain town. Fishermen prepare nets of faded turquoise and garnet beside boats poised to slither down wooden ramps into the sea. The steps took me round the headland through a lush, almost pasture-like copse of heather, pine and rosemary. Heather and pine of my northern home in a different guise: expanded, delicate and more expressive. I stayed on the headland: a mystical, theatrical sea-terrace of burnt-sienna earth which commands a fabulous view of pure-white rocks embedded in viridian water far below. Aeons from now the sea's lapping will topple these rocks.
Here I struggled to write the words that lay behind the welter of my thoughts. But words wouldn't come.
Elegant silver-barked pines shade the place where I sit lapped round with sea-sound, hedged with voices. I wander further along the coast where soft-purple mud oozes into a clay pool. Here someone fabled, Cleopatra perhaps, smothered her face and body with the stuff, let it dry, cake-hard in the sun, and bathed in the sea until she emerged cleansed and beautified. Tourists still do this today and so would I if the weather was warmer. Unseasonal warmth carries the underlying threat of winter now. I dip my fingers in the purple mud and paint it onto the rough red rock. My recovering nervous system is put to the test by areas of scree (reminding me of Puig Tomir as well as the Sa Calobra road) high and precipitous above the sea, which I cross and re-cross to re-discover the world.
'Better take walks in the landscape than spend hours on the psychiatrist's couch,' as Guittarez the French philosopher said.
Ahead was the great cliff headland west of the port. Here island collaborators ordered Civil War refugees to walk, and walk, and walk until the edge. Yes. And to keep walking... over the edge. A hair's breadth. Into the abyssal sea. Teachers, doctors, shopkeepers, parents, grandparents. People living in the mountain town and all along this northern coastline remember to this day. The awful fate of relatives and friends.
This fate almost befell a particular man who evidently had his wits about him. He pleaded with his executioners to allow him to pray at the very edge of the cliff.
'Saint Peter,' he called, on his knees. 'Save me, Peter.'
No one knows his exact words. The words that rang out. Then suddenly Peter appeared on the cliff, his hair long and straggly as his beard, he carried a staff and wore a rough-hewn garment. His executioners took to their heels and fled and, no doubt, the man who said the right words at the right time ran to embrace his friend Peter the Hermit who lived in isolation near the clifftop.
The imaginary conch-shell spiral route through which the first settlers discovered the mountain town eventually brought me half-way up, to the point where it widens out to encircle the village. It would be some time before I reached its dramatic high pinnacle crowned by the church. Resting on a wall along the cobbled route, kittens played under a hedge of morning glory, dried black olives mixed with golden leaf-fall at my feet. Sunlight felt soft and diffuse on my skin. Streets here follow a curvilinear pattern, like the ancient terraces, with Moorish-style houses all along the route, vernacular and constructed close together, some grand, some modest, ochre-harled in exotic gardens of flowers and shrubs, lemon, fig and orange.
A woman comes out to buy fish from the van which has stopped outside her house.
'Hola! como esta usted?' the merchant calls.
'Muy bien, gracias. Si, pescados ...'
On a parallel street, a man approaches, about to enter the doorway of the house opposite my resting place. Does he think I look odd, with my yellowish-blue bruises and bandages? He asks me where I am from. A publisher? So am I, he says, and invites me through the lace-curtained door into a room dominated by a large French printing press. I notice a sign as I enter: New Seizen Press.
The publisher introduces me to a young Englishman. He is the artist who has illustrated the book about to be editioned. A book of Hungarian poems called "Winged By Their Own Need".
What wings brought me here out of my own need?
He shows me the exquisitely simple bird illustrations, some page proofs. Invited to stay, I watch silently as the pages move through the rollers. Slowly they assess them, publisher and artist. No. Something is unsatisfactory. Tissue paper folded up beneath one of the letters will raise it sufficiently to achieve perfection. It takes, perhaps, seven minutes to perfect the letter. I think of the business I have left in the north. Of the continual pressure to acquire ever more sophisticated computer technology. To spend ever-lengthening periods keying in words, chapters, books. To design them on screen using computer software. To come to the end of a session with aching shoulders and buzzing brain and a new set of problems to solve next day. And telephones ringing. And faxes arriving.
'What sort of runs do you publish?' he asks
'Oh, four to ten thousand depending on the product,' I reply: 'How many copies of this volume will you edition?'
Two hundred beautifully crafted copies winged by their own need. By the poet's need to express his interior landscape within the perfect object they are creating before my eyes, each letter, each word elevated on a bed of tissue paper if necessary.
The publisher interrupts memories which have set my teeth on edge. He touches my arm: 'We'll take a break here. Let me show you some of our other work?'
He leads me to a backroom containing a desk, paperwork, a chair a ceiling-high bookshelf, the window shaded by a thick crocheted curtain. He introduces me to his vivacious partner, Carmen, a bookbinder. The New Seizen Press bindings, too, are hand-crafted works of art. Then he asks me about my accident. The journey into the abyss and back. From space into grace.
Something strange happens then. Browsing through the beautiful handmade books the music I heard that first day in the Music Room plays on my mind. This exquisite harmony must be a pointer to something else? But what? Here I am, talking rationally about business in the north and my experience of publishing while another part of my brain is struggling to reach, to construct or re-construct something deep and rich and long-forgotten.
In front of me is a box covered with fabric, yellow and white Mallorcan cotton. The paper is thick, French paper ordered specially for this, he tells me.
I read Chopin. Sand. Graves. Suite. I realise that the publisher is Tomas Graves. I turn over each of the hand typeset pages. First an English version of Robert Graves' annotated notes to accompany George Sand's "Winter in Mallorca", with French and Mallorcan translations. Then a set of etchings, each an illustration of a significant aspect of the couple's experience of the island.
The first: the word Mayorque under a shimmering sun.
The second: a poetical map suggesting adventure, spiral shells, two crosses, black and red, and an inkstain. Chopin and Sand were studying an ancient map of the island as a special privilege at the Almudaino Palace in Palma when a bottle of ink spilled on it like an omen. The map was later restored.
The third: a series of tortuous roods, hellish caminos on the plains leading to the mountains. Like my road. The roads of Chopin and Sand, of Robert Graves, of all of us.
The fourth: musical notation, quavers on a score signed F. Chopin.
The fifth: an oil-lamp, perhaps. Dark shadows on the wall. The shadow of a writing quill. George Sand's quill.
The sixth: a salamander, with sleight of the artist's hand, appears on both sides of the paper.
The seventh: the corridor at the Valldemossa Carthuja, haunted, as Sand experienced it. Ghostly forms, demons, apparitions, shaking foundations.
The eighth: the wheel of the wagon and the Pleyel piano fetched from Palma by Sand and her son on the tumultuous day when Chopin wrote the 'Raindrops' prelude.
The ninth: the dimly discernible figures of star-crossed lovers walking in an avenue of cypresses under a full moon.
It astonishes me that Chopin is cropping up with such regularity. Then I remember, for the first time in years, that Chopin lived in my childhood house, a century and a half ago.
The artist who executed the etchings - Nils Burwitz - had signed each one. Recognition ignited the name.This was the artist Daniel suggested I should approach to commission a drawing of the spot on the Sa Calobra road where my accident had happened.
I found myself telling Tomas about my childhood home where Chopin stayed on his visit to Scotland in 1848, several years after the break-up of his affair with Sand. And after I returned to the Music Room, the two central illustrations from the Chopin. Sand. Graves. Suite stayed in my mind.
A quill in an inkstand. Hers. The symbol of George Sand the writer. The other page was his. Frederic Chopin the composer. Exquisitely graceful notes on a manuscript for the music which had haunted me these past days. Chopin who possessed the power to tune the delicate perceptions of human intuition to their highest pitch.
In the small hours of the night, I wrestled with images as if with clues which might open the Pandora's box of my childhood which had been firmly closed when my family left the house. Now his spirit claimed an echo of mine and brought me face-to-face with that prematurely closed door. I knew that I had to go through it. I stood in the sea, in the azure mouth of the conch shell cove, blowing into its spiral interior, sending sonorities soaring into the mountain amphitheatre. And that image merged with the New Year devils, the meeting with Daniel, with the old man and his canary, the wrought iron dragon gates leading to the Music Room, the music itself and the symbolic imagery of the Chopin. Sand. Graves. Suite.
I return to the still point of the headland, Fiddle at my heels. 'Sit, there's good dog.' He's panting from our climb. He eyes me, pleading for a morsel from the picnic.
Jamon? Good dog. Stay now! Sit still. I consider the power of words and meaning while Fiddle eats the ham and curls up to sleep.
Music filtered, distant and evocative, through diffuse fronded shadows of the pines. A pianist practising in a house high above the cove. It sounds like the Chopin prelude again. Fiddle slept, one ear cocked, in a cusp of rock.
On the sea terrace where I sit, memory reinvents my childhood house.
MY FATHER RETURNED FROM DAD'S ARMY WHEN I WAS THREE. HE HAD BEEN home on leave before that, but this is the only return I can remember.
On the mystical headland where the terrain is rough above the sea, Fiddle at my feet, I struggle to remember:
Sitting on father's knee, the thick rough khaki of his uniform bunched between tiny fingers, clinging on uneasily. He smooths the silken cap of my hair with large strong hands and talks to my mother on the other side of the room.
My mother stirs porridge on the New World gas cooker wearing a floral bibbed-apron. Father and daughter sit peacefully beside the black-leaded stove. My brother, Robert, plays with father's army cap which falls over his eyes and makes the adults laugh. I take all this in, seriously, silently. Ever after, when the children in the street made paper boats to sail on the Water of Leith I remembered father's hat.
These were the blackout years when Edinburgh citizens wandered pitch black streets like ghosts guided by the light of torches shining down, always down, just in front of their shoes. A whole city hoped to disguise itself and fool Hitler, who was intent on bombing the Forth bridge until someone told him his time would be better spent razing Clydebank. My father often told us when we were older that the only strike made on central Edinburgh hit the German Church near our childhood home. He always laughed heartily when he remembered this.
At three years old I was sent to nursery school every morning with Peggy, the Irish maid who was a deaf mute. My childhood landscape was almost identical to Robert Louis Stevenson's whose first home we passed every morning, me trailing sulkily at Peggy's heels. RLS was born here two years after Chopin left our house round the corner. The world I shared with RLS was the park, the Botanical Gardens, the Georgian terraced street. His world displayed no tramcars trundling along on high wires though, nor motorcars. Only horse-drawn carriages.
Peggy would deliver me, my white-socked legs twisting with shyness, to Miss Hutchings' nursery school, a primer for the private school for girls where my parents aspired to send me. Here I sat at a small wooden desk near the back of the class, silently learning. A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat. I can recall, even now, the large coloured illustrations that went with each letter. We learned simple addition and multiplication and how to fit wooden blocks into identical shapes. But I never spoke. At home there had been no one to hear me.
Then one day Miss Hutchings went to my grandfather's shops where mother and the shop girls were cooking huge quantities of beetroot in vats for the war effort in one shop, and preparing wreathes and flowers for the near-by cemetery in the adjoining shop. The fruit and vegetable shop smelled strangely musty but the flower and seed section was sweetly honeyed. Miss Hutchings was tiny, frail and birdlike. She dressed in pastel colours, powdered her face and wore rouge and lipstick. Her silver hair was pulled off her face into a bun. She delivered a letter to my mother to the effect that my silence was disturbing the other children. If I refused to speak I would have to be removed. This letter was kept in the same drawer as the poem my father wrote when I was born. I can remember the way the letter looked when my mother flapped it in front of me in a state of agitation. And in years to come I would take it out of the drawer and study it and my father's poem: the first two documents relating to my life. A lesson in the importance of words.
The piece of paper with the poem written in father's copperplate hand got lost but I will always remember the way it looked: the paper blue-lined and marked with brown tea-stains: 'Twas in the month of June, When the cabbage was in bloom...'
My earliest feeling memory, apart from a kaleidoscope vision of chestnut leaves above my pram in the Botanical Gardens, was of the courage it took to put up my hand and then to stand up in Miss Hutchings' nursery classroom to answer a question. In the hushed silence that followed, I felt empowered for the first time. My words dispelled the myth of my dumbness. Miss Hutchings went triumphant to grandfather's shops later that day and told my mother that not only could I speak, but I might be intelligent as well. I had answered a difficult question. My mother rewarded Miss Hutchings with a hand of bananas, black-market Canaries, fingers of wartime gold.
The blackout world my brother and I existed in was, in general, serious and silent. What pools of pleasure there were we created together. Except for the occasional Argus-eye that Peggy turned in our direction, we were left to our own devices. In their separate ways, our parents were engaged in the war-effort. We conquered the slopes and open spaces of the park, giving the 'parkie' in his authoritarian uniform a wide berth, or taunting him, so that his large black boots would pursue us, terrified, down the bush-lined path where we would hide in the shelter of leaves and bird's nests, holding our breaths until he passed. From our dappled sanctuary we watched him scratch under his cap, as, thwarted in his pursuit, he looked this way and that, till he gave up glumly and went back to the kiosk from where he policed the comings and goings on his territory.
We played 'tig' and fished the silky, weed-encrusted Water of Leith for tiddlers and frogs. We sat on the doorstep of the sheltering house, Robert reading to me from "Sunny Stories", shafting shadow and light playing around us, the fluffy white cat asleep at our feet.
There was little music to be heard in wartime Edinburgh, save for the occasional burst of hurdy-gurdy tunes from the cart of a passing trader and the songs which infiltrated our play in snatches, floating up the stairwell from the wireless in the kitchen:
Underneath the lamplight
By the barrack door
Vera Lynn singing "Lili Marlene" and "Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover" as Peggy laboured over her chores.
We knew, though, that our house was also the house of the 'music-man'. My father had told us that a great composer had lived in our house. He used my brother Robert's bedroom (more of a boxroom really, with a fanlight set into the ceiling) to prepare for concerts in the drawing-room next door.
Our musical offering to Chopin was a mumbo-jumbo of hymns and psalms, sung, jumping and twirling like dervishes, on the springboard of Robert's bed. The tunes must have come from our strict but kindly Sabbath-observing grandfather who wore a dark waistcoated suit decorated with a silver watch-and-chain and had a long silver beard. The words we sang came from a navy-blue hardbound book embossed with the image of a burning bush above the mysterious words: Nec Tamen Consumibatur:
After the war, we moved from the Chopin house to live in a hotel my father had bought in the West End of the city. That year my father and the Edinburgh Polish Society had a plaque erected near the front door as a memorial to Frederic Chopin's Scottish tour.
We were glad to leave behind the air-raid shelter and the gas-masks in the garden shed which made us look like weird elephant-headed creatures. Robert stopped acting as a conspirator in the discovery of life's pleasures. Instead he announced sternly one day that it was sissy to play with girls and he began to indulge in teasing his still-adoring victim. For a time he had me cowed. I would hunch-up my shoulders, twist one foot around the other, suck-in my cheeks and try not to cry. It was both a desolation and a relief that he became an increasingly remote figure in my life. Life became earnest. It was called growing-up.
'You will realise one day,' said my mother, 'that these are the happiest days of your life.'
The private school became the focus now. There fun was frowned upon, even as a reward to the academically gifted. Here were no rivers, no flower gardens buzzing with summer bees, but formal West End streets filled with buses, cars and traffic fumes. My brother and I learned to play the piano and eventually he would render Chopin's Marche Funèbre over and over again, so that I inwardly groaned. Oh, no, not that again. looking back I understand that this music was Robert's way of expressing the sadness we both felt at leaving the childhood house, the house of the 'music-man'.
Edinburgh. Mallorca. life and love. Snakes and ladders. RLS. Chopin. The broken necklace I attempt to mend has guided me like Ariadne's thread to this enchanted headland. Here truths long buried come to mind like shimmering streamers of light rising out of my childhood river. But the sun-dappled sea terrace grows cold and Fiddle is restless to return to the Music Room for a proper dinner. It's time to end this self-absorption.
Alice Knight came over to Deià to see me. I told her about the ups-and-downs of my mental state, of the cracking twigs in the olive groves as I sat drawing, of the silent solitary, of the coincidences relating to Chopin:
'It's so good to see you. I guess I've spent too much time alone.'
'No problem. I'll come more often. Perhaps you'd like stay in my flat in Palma soon? But today let's picnic at Mike Livingstone's house. He's away at the moment. There's a big table in his lovely garden where we can spread our feast and talk. He won't mind.'
We picked up her large wicker basket and walked down the road towards the sea. I hadn't met Mike Livingstone yet, though I knew he would be a neighbour when he came back from his travels. Alice led me through an olive orchard and up a scree covered slope to a simple stone house with a verdant patio garnished with terracotta pots of flowers and shrubs. She seemed puzzled that it was not quite as she remembered. But the large table under a mimosa tree was perfect for a picnic. Her basket produced wine, bread, black olives, tomatoes cheeses and sobrasada, a Mallorcan delicacy.
I listened as Alice speculated about what life would have been like if she had stayed in Australia: 'I would have been bound and gagged in some domestic, suburban hell, I don't doubt!'
I understood what she meant. It's so easy for women to become trapped in one way or another, I thought as she continued:
'Oh, I've been bound and gagged most of my life. Only these past few years have I felt anything like myself. Is one ever, always, truly oneself? What does that mean anyway? And freedom? If you are on the way towards it, as you seem to be, just by being here, you can't expect results too quickly. You're engaged in a process, not a fait accompli, after all.'
I refilled our glasses: 'To process then.'
The glass caught the light of the sun in shafting, fracturing concentration. Alice eyed me: 'We don't know each other well. But I detect that, at least until now, you've been a great one for writing the script?'
I looked puzzled: 'Oh, you mean the script of life?'
'The very same. Perhaps you'll give that up now and let life take over?'
I raised the glass again. 'To not writing the script. Maybe that was one of the messages of the Sa Calobra serpent?'
'I do have a few plans,' I continued. 'When I return to Scotland I think I should take a look at my childhood home, if only from the outside, and in the next few days go to Valldemossa and visit the Chopin museum.'
'Perhaps you'd like to take a look at this over the next few days?' Alice pulled out a book from her bag.
'"Mallorca Magico". It's just been published and it shows, I think, that this island's even more mysterious than we imagine.'
We examined the maps in the book which were covered with strange symbols. Ca Na Gaia's valley had a star designated lugar encantado which Alice translated as 'enchanted place', Galatzo's duendes were 'goblins' and buried treasure was indicated near the village. There were no symbols near the mountain towns, though the surroundlng sea was marked with a dolphin symbolising leyendas marinas, literally seafaring legends, which we took to mean every imaginable sea magic from mermaids to incredible voyages. The coastline boasted no less than three symbols which the legend designaled ovnis.
'I need a dictionary for that' said Alice, then: 'No, wait, hang on... I've got it: objeto volante no identificado. Ah, yes. Unidentified flying objects. UFOs.'
'Perhaps Icarus did his flying here?' I joked wryly, thinking of my own plummet over that hairpin bend.
Some mountain people believe to this day that there is a sort-of undersea hangar for ovnis off this coastline.
Of course I was fascinated by the symbols on the Sa Calobra road which read both clot de l'infierno, 'the grave of hell', and had two stars denoting lugar encantado. An inferno and a doubly-enchanted place. Alice exclaimed: 'You sure chose the worst and the best of all possible places for your tumble!'
The sunshine in the garden had weakened and we packed up to go. Alice wrote a note for Mike Livingstone. 'Thank you for the use of of your picnic table. Come and use mine at Ca Na Gaia soon?'
We wandered down to the cove where we collected sea-weed to fertilise Ca Na Gaia's garden, packing it in plastic bags which Alice collected in her jeep later.
When I finally did meet Mike Livingstone a week or so after the picnic he led me to his garden, a different garden, and I realised that Alice and I had used the table of a stranger.
A poster in the village store gave details of the concert at Son Morroig, the former property of the Archduke Luis Salvador, not far from the Music Room. Mingling with German tourists in the vast entrance hall I bought my ticket and prepared to enjoy my first outing since the accident. Unlike the tourists who frequented the local bus, these people were elegantly dressed and groomed, their figures, by and large, trim. They drifted in animated exchange round a long table where chilled fino was being served. The room was richly decorated with ceramics, oil paintings, a map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and heavy curtains partly closed against the glare of sun and sea. In this sophisticated gathering a little black number would have more appropriate than the cotton T-shirt and jeans I was wearing. But I resolved not to let self-consciousness spoil my pleasure in finding myself back in the world.
Soon we were ushered into the adjoining hall where exposed walls supported huge arched windows behind a colonnaded terrace high above the sea. I read that: 'Chopin composed most of his preludes in Mallorca, at Valldemossa, and he finished other works he brought with him to the island as well. These works include the Second Ballade in F Major, Opus 38, which the composer modified on his visit here'.
In "The Story of My Life" George Sand wrote that the Carthusian monastery at Valldemossa was 'full of ghosts and horrors for Chopin but paradoxically, it was here that he wrote his masterpieces, in their melancholy, some with a sadness so bleak that it pierces one's heart even as it charms the ear. And one of them, which came one desolate and rainy evening, produces a terrifying depression in the hearer's heart' .
From my seat on a raised dias at the back of the hall I pondered George Sand's predilection for romantic exaggeration. Times change though, and you could scarcely say nowadays that the so-called 'Raindrops Prelude' , which I knew from its repeated soundings in my mind, could produce 'terrifying depression'. On the contrary its delicacy perfectly expressed to me the miracle of man's existence on planet earth.
Sand's account of the journey to Palma to fetch Chopin's piano was inspiring though. You had to hand it to her. She was a plucky woman. A Pleyel piano, sent from Paris two months earlier to replace the diabolical one at the monastery which Chopin had been forced to use, arrived in Palma. George Sand set off with her son Maurice to fetch it, leaving Chopin alone in their cell. On the return journey they were caught in an appalling storm. Torrentes overflowed their banks and quickly became impassable so that they were forced to abandon the horse and carriage and return to the Carthuja on foot. They arrived late at night to find Chopin in his cups: 'condensed into a kind of quiet despair and he sat there weeping as he played his amazing Prelude'.
'When he saw us come in he stood up with a loud cry, and then he said to us, with a bewildered look and strangely, 'I knew it, I knew you were deadl' The piece he had composed that evening was full of the raindrops beating on the sounding tiles of the Cartuja, but in his mind and in his music they had become tears from heaven beating on his heart.'
Critics have never reached a consensus about which prelude evokes the scene described by George Sand, but the majority agree that it was the Fifteenth Prelude in D-sharp minor. But now we were to hear the Ballade in F Major of which another critic said: 'I have known children leave their games to listen to it, and one would think that it was really a fairy-tale translated into music'.
The grand piano held centre-stage. The audience clapped appreciatively and the pianist lifted her hands to play. You could hear a pin drop, It was as if Suzanne Bradbury was about to perform a ritual within a sacred temple. The room was uncurtained, its great unglazed arches open to the sea. The music swirled about this inner sanctum then seemed to soar with power and brilliance beyond the confines of the hall, to mingle with the elemental sea, sky and mountains. The audience sat entranced as the sun began to set.
In Valldemossa next morning I was leaving the café near the bus stop at the same time as a blond young woman entered. Her look of recognition stopped me in my tracks. 'Hola,' she said. 'How are you? I heard about the accident.' Of course. This was Sylvia, Daniel Hartmann's niece whom I had met briefly on the way to Deià through Valldemossa from the clinic. My story spilled out. Of how I was here to visit the Cartuja at last, of my recovery in Deià, of visiting the New Seizen Press, of seeing the Chopin. Sand. Graves. Suite there and the work of Nils Burwitz.
'Daniel was peculiarly insistent that I meet Nils Burwitz,' I said. 'But perhaps it is too late since I leave for Scotland next week?'
Sylvia shrugged: 'No, it is not too late. If you want to meet him he is here now.' She pointed to someone deep in conversation with a older man at the back of the restaurant. I had noticed the pair as I sat drinking my coffee alone, envying their conspiratorial camaraderie. The older man left as we approached and Sylvia, too, left me with Nils Burwitz who listened attentively to my story after ordering more coffee and cocas con patatas, a potato-flour bun unique to Valldemossa. He suggested that I carry on with my visit to the Carthuja and that I return in a few days, when he would have something to show me.
The following Thursday, Nils was waiting for me when the bus pulled-in. On the way to his studio I told him that I had ordered a copy of the "Suite" from Tomas Graves.
'A good idea. And I'm giving you something which you can add to make it unique.'
He presented me with a collage created on the backdrop of pages from the "Suite". The Sa Calobra road was represented as a huge snaking dragon with a devilish head. The twisted hulk of the Ford Fiesta was a used-up tube of yellow oil paint. A ladder was depicted rising upwards.
'Life is a game of snakes and ladders,' he said. 'You have gone down as far as it is possible to go. Now you can only go up.'
PATRICK MEADOWS AND STEPHANIE SHEPHERD, AN AMERICAN couple, founded Alma Concerts at a time when few recitals took place outside Palma and, more recently, they have organised the annual Deià Festival, which attracts musicians from all over Europe to play classical and contemporary music. Patrick Meadows is studying and collecting medieval and contemporary Catalan manuscripts and Stephanie Shepherd also sings in a madrigal choir. They have organised concerts at Son Morroig, at the Hotel Residencia in Deià, in the chapel at Soller and elsewhere on the island. It was their inspiration to use Son Morroig as a concert venue, and to time recitals - in 'the Archduke Series' - with the hour of sunset.
Salvador eventually bought Son Morroig. His personal paradise radiated from 'the best situated house in Mallorca' as he judged it, though the melancholy beautiful Miramar continued to be his main residence. Stunningly perched above the promontory called Sa Fordadada, whose sea-carved hole might have inspired Henry Moore, Son Morroig's architectural style is neoclassical with a white marble rotunda in the garden.
From here, or from the open arched terraces overlooking the sea, Luis Salvador surveyed his tremendous territory: the silver-screed mountain crests of the Teix, its cave pitted lower slopes, once the province of saints and hermits, of smugglers and pirates, and the extraordinary Sardinian-style mansion, directly above the sea, where - much later - he installed Catalina Homar. Here Catalina enchanted Salvador with a song. But long before Catlalina, there was Vyborni.
Settled on the Miramar coast, Salvador no longer needed the alias Count von Neudorf. In Ramon Llull he had found a figure to identify with, and he gradually began to reconstruct himself. He was an archduke ordering a society as archdukes are supposed to - but one as different from the hierarchical, power ridden Hapsburg societies as would be possible to imagine. Inspired by the Llullian community, he could put into practise his vaguely formed idea of the 'new village' which he brought with him to Mallorca. Now he could construct his ideal community, inspired by Ramon Llull whose feet trod these same stones of Miramar, and who worshipped in the chapel of La Trinidad in its grounds. To begin with, Salvador would model himself on Llull, as well as revive the island's interest in Llull ... Llullism.
Savador had already developed a disciplined approach to life, through writing a daily diary, regular letters to his mother, family and friends, and research for "Las Baleares" and other books.
Ramon Llull himself turned to scholarship and isolation after a fearful disenchantmen. Married with a family, he nevertheless fell headlong in love with a young Christian woman, presumably in the Cuitadella de Mayorque, ancient Palma. For a long time she would not return his glances, refused to acknowledge him, it is said. Llull pursued her hither and thither, such was his obsession. In desperation, he decided to ride into the church where she was worshipping. He rode in with great display, past his love, to the altar where he wheeled round and, approaching her pew, reined in the horse... as if to say: Surely you see me now? We can only guess at her desperation as she tore open her blouse to reveal the reason for her dismissal of the hot blooded Llull. Her breast was ravaged by cancer...
Such a horror story echoes of the immolation of Matilde. Yet Salvador was to suffer again, even more profoundly.
He took to the sea. His steamboats were like lovers, transporting him to pleasure domes unknown. Or the boats themselves were pleasure domes. Once Salvador bought a slave to entertain the travelling companion of the second half of his life, Antonietta Lancerotto. Nixe I and Nixe II were floating caves, sea wombs. But they skimmed, too. Out there, on the ocean, severed from the shackles of court and manners, Salvador tasted freedom. Caverns measureless to man, a limitless sea.
The seafaring nomad abandoned ship briefly to visit Prague in 1871. He travelled to the home of a fellow student, nineteen year old Wlatislao Vyborni, at Kiittemberg. Vyborni, remarks Juan March, had perfect classical beauty, 'enhanced by a happy childhood and balanced adolescence'. You notice this, in photographs of the young man, and in his marble memorial which is secreted within the private buildings of Miramar to this day. For Salvador, Vyborni was the beautiful boy of classical antiquity incarnate, whose image was all the rage among European aristocracy after The Benevenuto Boy - the first century BC sculpture found at Herculaneum, his hyacinthine hair entwined with sprays of wild olive - was purchased in the 1860s by Count Tyskiewicz from a Naples dealer. Vyborni was Donatello's David, Mann's Tadzio in Death in Venice. Salvador called him Amigo.
Salvador (deprived of intimacy and love, and haunted by the double deaths of Matilde and his father, the first still plaguing his sleep with nightmares) found Amigo, his golden hair luminous as a god's, irresistible. He had spent so much time alone, studying, researching, writing, that his need to find someone to share his appreciation of the Miramar coast and its beauties must have been overwhelming. 'Vyborni cut a perfect figure... appeared above the luminosity of a scandalously red horizon,' says Juan March in his book "S'Arxiduc".
Salvador's homosexual affairs - there were others, before and after Vyborni, but Vyborni was the passion of Salvador's life - were an esoteric secret known to very few: Don Herreros presumably, Sforza certainly, the young gentlemen of their cultural circle, and, in all probability, the monks of La Trinidad.
Alas, Nixe was not ready for the long voyage of 1873, but a fine yacht was commandeered to transport Salvador and Vyborni on a journey of mythological scope, which included Constantinople, the Bosphorous, Cyprus, Damascus, Beirut, Baalbek and Jerusalem. They visited the great memorials of the Holy Land before travelling on to Egypt, through the new entrance to the Suez Canal. They toured Cairo, the pyramids, the sphinx of Giza, whose muzzle Napoleon's soldiers are said to have shot off, the obelisk at Heliopolis. Benjamin Baker, of London Underground fame, had engineered the canal, and, in a prodigious feat, had an obelisk trawled to London. Within a decade, he was at work on his greatest project, the design of Scotland's Forth Bridge.
Egyptian style with its inventive and elegant genius had been rediscovered.by Napoleon's invaders in 1798 and taken up with passion in Europe. It became fashionable for nineteenth century travellers, including Byron and Napoleon himself, to be painted dressed in Oriental splendour. Byron's Don Juan experiences his most incredible exploits in the Near East. Salvador, a descendant of Napoleon, was one of these travellers, and similarly caught up in the fantasy of Byron's emotionally expansive Orient, which melted the edges of sexual identity.
The journey took almost a year. Salvador returned to Mallorca accompanied by Vyborni where they found Antonio Vives jealously put out. The presence of the sensitive young blond disturbed him. However, they lived in a whirl of happiness, for four years, in the incredible Miramar landscape and on frequent journeys to Europe and, in 1876, to America.
The grand Duchess of Tuscany, Salvador's mother, finally visited Mallorca and all was a round of affable social activity. Salvador continued to visit other parts of the island for the Mallorca book.
The grand Duchess of Tuscany, Salvador's mother, finally visited Mallorca and all was a round of affable social activity. Salvador continued to visit other parts of the island for the Mallorca book and took two months to sail round the coastline with Vyborni and artists, collecting data, watercolours and other illustrations for "Las Baleares".
Salvador and Vyborni - 'the Archduke and his secretary' - became the toast of Palma society, Vyborni took on the role of secretary after Vives left temporarily to continue his studies in Palma. The ever-faithful Don Herreros continued to gather data for the Mallorca volume of "Las Baleares" when Salvador was away. Now the general introduction, which included customs, art and artefacts, archeology, agriculture and fishing, religion, education, transport, etc. was complete. The following January, the two men were in Corfu. Salvador writing and researching each morning and visiting gardens, cypress and olive groves with Vyborni later in the day. They sailed through the Greek islands and spent a week at Ithaca, the country of Ulysses. By March they were in Athens, Salvador collecting data for a book about the Gulf of Corinth.
Herreros also took charge of expanding the lands of Miramar in the Archduke's absence, Salvador described this later in a book called "What I know of Miramar". Later, he owned Son Moragues as well as Miramar and, by the middle of August, was involved in deals to purchase Son Galceran, Can Calo and Ca na Matgina: 33 hectares of the lower lands of Miramar and a large tract of the coastal land including S'Estacca, now the home of super-star Michael Douglas.
OWLS, FROGS AND CICADAS SANG TO THE INDIGO NIGHT AND SATURN hung away to the west, solitary and refulgent, its ring dimly discernible. The sky was a curvaceous pre-Gallilean dome pricked with the diamond constellations of Casseopia, the Plough, the Bears Orion and the Seven Sisters. It occurred to me that the same sky hung over the familiar places of Scotland where I would soon return.
The wrought-iron gate squeaked as I entered the garden of the door open. Almost simultaneously the gate squeaked again and I knew that someone was coming up behind me. I stood behind the half open door. A cone of light from the room was cast woefully into the darkness. I waited with what composure I could muster.
The silent solitary stood in the pool of light: 'Hello, I'm John Biram. May I come in for a moment?'
Opening the door wider I motioned him towards the settle by the woodburning stove. He entered tentatively and I poured him a glass of wine. He was about my height, verging on the dapper, with stoical carriage and a good head of grey hair, precisely combed.
'You should be careful when you go on the mountains,' he said, diffidently seating himself. I must have looked surprised for he continued: 'I have seen you up there. It's very dangerous unless you know the paths. Spent years tracing them myself... many people have been lost up there, some killed.'
'Oh, I don't go far these days. More of an afternoon stroll really.' 'Still...' He stared into the fire then asked abruptly: 'Why are you here?'
I told him about the accident, the hair's breadth, my decision to stay in Mallorca rather than return to Scotland. I told him of my realisation over the last few weeks that my life in the north had become untenable.
'The accident was a turning point...' I began, wondering how much detail of the past weeks would sound plausible. It turned out that my new friend had arrived in Deià many moons ago and stayed to write a book called "Teknosis" with the encouragement of Robert Graves who wrote the introduction. 'Teknosis was what Robert hoped to escape by coming here,' John explained, adding that he himself had coined the word teknosis.
I knew that Graves had had first hand experience of the syndrome which has afflicted western society with ever-increasing tenacity throughout this century. Teknosis seemed a good word to describe it.
'I retired to a mountain village in Majorca where I hoped to avoid the more shocking sights and sounds of pluto-democratic civilization,' Graves wrote after finishing his valedictory biography "Goodbye to All That" in the late 1930's.
John iurned out to be a neighbour. Later he showed me into his sparse tower-like home where in the course of several conversations, before I returned to Scotland, I outlined my life and explained my dilemmas as best I could.
'You are a victim of teknosis,' he insisted. 'You've got to get yourself out of all that. Life's too short.'
I wondered how long it would take to disentangle myself from my situation, from my own personality, so imbued with the Calvanistic work ethic. The conundrums thrown up by my car accident would take a long time to resolve. In the meantime our conversations took a lighter turn.
'Why did your friend Robert spell Majorca with a 'j'?' I asked John once.
'Because the ancient name for the island was Majorica: 'the largest island'.'
'And why does the church bell ring twice?'
'It rings once for the townsfolk and a second time for the people in the fields, in case they missed it the first time.'
4. Palma & back to the mountains
IN RAMON LLULL'S DAY, AS IN SALVADOR'S, THE ROUTE TO PALMA from the northern Miramar coast was the hot-line to commerce and culture. What was a mountain track for LLull became a tarmacadam road for Salvador in the 1880s. After Jaime's conquest, Lull knew the old Arab town, Medina Mayorque, as the Cuitadella de Mayorque which by Salvador's time had become Palma de Mallorca.
Under Moslem domination, Medina Mayorque was one of the eight most important cities in the West. Its inhabitants engaged in piracy and trade linked with various tribal agricultural settlements throughout the island. These al-qarya (alquerias - farmsteads) and rahl (rafales - country houses) supplied cotton, rice and vegetables, thanks to the intensive use of a complete hydraulic network.
Jaime I's conquest in 1229 ended the era of Moslem domination. The Balearic Islands were incorporated into the feudal world represented by the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation. But many Moslem innovations, relating to agriculture and horticulture were retained.
For less than a century Mallorca had its own kings. After Jaime I's death the dominions were divided between his two sons. The independent Kingdom of Mallorca was ruled by three kings between 1276 and 1349. It was a period of insecure political independence, brought to an end when Pedro the Ceremonius overcame his brother Jaime III in the battle of LLuchmajor and reincorporated the Kingdom of Mallorca into the Catalan-Aragonese crown.
After the purge of the Medina Mayorque by Jaime 1, El Conquistador, its booty had been auctioned off, to the great joy, it is said, of the citizens. The 1228 Court of Barcelona and the 1229 Court of Tarragona ordered the island to be divided into eight parts, four of which were to be the king's, with the palaces and castles and sovereignty of the conquered area. The other four regions were given to the Count of Rosellon, the Bishop of Barcelona, the Count of Ampurias and the Viscount of Bearn, all of whom had participated in the conquest.
The king's territory included the mountains and half of the Medina Mayorque (renamed the Cuitadella de Mayorque), as well as Inca with Selva, Campanet and Sa Pobla, Pollensa with Alcudia, Sineu, Petra with San Juan, Arta, Montuiri with Algayda, Lluchmajor, Campos, Santanyi and Porreres.
The Count of Rosellon's districts were Valldemossa, including Esporles and Banyalbufar, Bunyola and Manacor with Felantix.
The Bishop of Barcelona received half the Medina Mayorque and all the west coast to Banyalbufar: Calvia, Andraitx and Puigpunyent
The Count of Ampurias controlled the district of Muro with Santa Margarita, one third of the district of Soller, including Deià and half of Albufera.
The Viscount of Bearn controlled the Canarossa district: Sencelles, Santa Eugenia, Santa Maria, Consell, Binissalem and Alaro and a third of Soller.
BY THE THIRD WEEK IN JANUARY I FELT STRONG ENOUGH TO RESPOND TO Alice's invitation to visit her in Palma for the Feast of San Sebastian, the city's patron saint. I clutched the directions she had given me like an eager schoolgirl invited to a dance. Life in the outside world could begin again. The bus maintained its steady pace, gliding the steep curves of the coast road and on through the great mountain cleft with its distant view of Palma and the Mediterranean beyond.
I yearned for life. My taste was returning for cavernous alleys shocked with light, for crumbling palacios with pastel facades and ornate iron balconies drawn in dusty greens and blues. I longed for glimpses of the harbour with flotillas of every imaginable craft, dockside wharfs and restaurants, the palm-fringed corniche in front of La Lonja, Palma's ancient bourse. I would walk through mini-Alhambrian gardens to the great Cathedral rising like the barque of God himself out of ancient Moorish sea-walls. The Cathedral, El Seu, with its soaring buttresses and internal architraves and treasures. Gaudi's inspired toy: the fairytale baubled altarpiece, suspended like so many ships of fools, to play among icons of saints and the crucified Christ.
I re-read Alice's instructions as we neared the terminus.
'Go through the Old Town, past the Baños Arabes... turn right behind the Cathedral... into a twisting calle of vast arched doorways. Enter number twenty into a small courtyard with a stair leading off. Ring bell on first door on right.' The man with the disappointed features who had been at the Ca Na Gaia meditation stepped out as the door opened, still carrying his briefcase.
Alice showed me into a strange, gloomy interior. This was her town house which Ca Na Gaia's expenses were forcing her to sell. An ancient mosque, undisturbed and unused in a courtyard garden, was visible from the kitchen where Alice served me tea.
'Glad rags tonight?' She eyed me with a grin. Yes. Glad rags.
After dinner we pushed through bustling crowds assembled outside restaurants and bars. It was a sepia world, drained of the intense daylight colour of the island. A scene painted in browns, blacks, greys and beige with touches of ochre cast in the unattractive brownish-orange of hallucinogenic lamplight. The alleys resembled unlit funnels, filled with people thronging from square to square. Each plaza had a raised dais where a band held forth. In one, there would be heavy rock, in another folk music, here flamenco, a string quartet round the corner, perhaps.
Santa Eulalia's carved stone facade dominated a world that, but for the microphones round the dais, might have belonged to the Renaissance. Numerous braziers glowed with coals below roasting chestnuts, sausages and bread. Wine from carboys was served out in paper cups. The crowd thronged thick and heavy round the square and, among family groups and groups of students, friends and tourists, solo guitarists and accordionists held court with partying citizens. Dark-haired youths, who had learned to dance flamenco at the knee, strutted their stuff.
'Gitanos,' said Alice. 'They are gypsies.'
The vibrant cadences of flamenco began reverberating in the square as they had once echoed in the rugged landscope. Once upon a time, these songs and dances of life and love, punctuated by the heartbeat rhythms of flamenco guitar, were repeated daily and endlessly into the very air they breathed by shepherds and gypsies, sending a chain of music and shared experience throughout all the landscapes of the south. A gypsy sang, his mouth scarcely moving to project the accumulated vibrations of his chest, throat, tongue and mouth. The flow of sound, now nasal, now poignantly pure and strong, seared the psyches of the audience in a vivid affirmation of life. Like a call to prayer.
We are here to sing where prayer has been answered.
The vibrations gradually awed the entire crowd. At first hushed and reverent, a few people began to clap rhythmically, then swayed and stamped their feet in time to the music. Soon, as if drawn by some power beyond themselves, by a force that they seem to have almost forgotten, the whole square participated in a dance of life. When the dance came to an end, a little girl, pale and slight, about eight years old, her long dark-hair pinned-up with a red carnation, held centre stage and began to dance to the man's next song.
'He is her father,' Alice confided in my ear. 'They come from a gypsy encampment near the airport. They live in poverty, eke out a living by performing in the tourist honeypots.' Later she observed that the sheer quality and brilliance of his performance went largely unappreciated in these places.
The child is Carmen in the making, her embryonic coquetry gleaned from mimicking the gestures of older sisters, mothers, aunts; the female carriers of the tradition.
She is required to dance.
Her small rhythmic body sways this way and that, head tossing, one small hand punctuating the guitar beats with clicking fingers, the other swirling the tiered-flounces of her cotton dress as she works immaculately through the zapateados. She carries her slender torso still and proud as she moves this way and that from the waist, knees bent to lend power to her steps. Innocence fused with previsionary experience .
I feel incredibly moved by her, by her blue sandals and her white knee-socks.
The gypsies left their original homeland in northern India some nine hundred years ago and reached Europe four hundred years later; crossing from Asia Minor by way of Crete and the Peloponnesians, westward and northwards. No one knows why they left their original homeland. They dispersed into groups throughout Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain, disguised as penitents on pilgrimages of expiation, soliciting alms, performing magic, telling fortunes. They worked as and how they could, as smiths and cobblers, for example, and they traded horses and resorted to petty thieving to survive hard times. At first they were protected, given safe-conduct in their nomadic wanderings, by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. But their status soon changed dramatically from protected guests to persecuted outlaws with the passing of savage laws for their expulsion and, in some cases, the death penalty. Their persecution goes on throughout Europe today.
The crowd applauds the child's dance. The man sings on. She steals shyly away to lose herself in the crowd. Stopping directly in front of me, she sighs and her small body trembles with emotion. I long to put my arm round her shoulders, to give her a hug, to tell her that her dance was well-done. Perhaps she senses my presence? She turns her head to look at me and wistfully returns my smile. Then she moves off like a gazelle to sit impassively on the wooden dais beside an older girl, dangling her legs over the edge. As Alice and I walked away from the square it struck me that the lives of these gypsies, even in urban poverty, still resonate with the landscape - with life itself. But their songlines are more tenuous with every passing year.
'Gitanos are becoming a threatened species,' echoes Alice.
Under the floodlit Cathedral in an open-air restaurant it is one o'clock in the morning. We drink rum toddies. Alice's favourite. 'To life, then,' we say. Yes, to life.
Next morning I left Alice's flat and walked down Las Ramblas where the stalls burgeoned with roses, carnations and lilies under the regimental line-up of plane trees. I took the curvaceous sloping wynd near the Theatre and met an old woman, hobbled on her cane, half-way up.
'Buenos dias,' I said. She returned my greeting and said in passing that there was a terrible smell. I turned, perplexed, to watch her struggle up, a bag of shopping over one arm. What did she mean? The street seemed clean and fresh in the morning sun. Then, looking down, I noticed through the metal bars of a sewer a horrible spawning of disposable syringes and hypodermic needles. The city's scourge. Subdued, I crossed the Borne to the tourist office where I had an appointment to see one of the directors about the Sa Calobra road. A pile of brightly coloured brochures displaying the island's attractions entertained me as I waited my turn on a wooden bench in the bustling office which looked little changed from the days of Mr Thomas Cook himself .
A familiar figure shuffled in:
'Daniel! What are you doing here?'
He put a finger to his lips and sat beside me: 'In this world of coincidences you should not be so surprised to see me anywhere, girl. But a serious answer to a serious question... I am here for a meeting about my institute. There may be funding... it looks good.'
'And when will you come to the mountains? Next Sunday? I leave for Scotland next week.'
Before Daniel could reply, a secretary approached to usher me into the official's office. He was pale and immaculately polite. I flapped the press-cutting reporting my accident in front of him. He studied it of course. He would contact the appropriate authorities. Yes, it was a serious matter. The road was dangerous. I must understand, though, that it was not really the concern of his department. He would do what he could. But he himself could not guarantee that anything would be done.
Daniel had disappeared by the time I came out.
He arrived at the Music Room on Sunday morning. We walked along the coast and, later, after supper, I sewed up the fallen cuff of his trouser leg as we sat on the settle by the wood-burning stove. I suggested that we dine together in Palma a few days later. It was time for me to return to Scotland and I planned to stay at the Hostal Borne on my last night in Mallorca.
As soon as I swung into reception I saw him at his usual place in the foyer. Almost before I could drop my holdall we were in each other's arms:
'It's great to see you, girl. Now you look recovered.'
Then held me at arm's length and fixed me with perceptive narrow eyes:
'Tonight we celebrate. I've finished the European submissions for the institute.' He whirled me round. 'You look great, girl. I like you in that jacket.' It was blue and green tartan.
For the first time I saw the courtyard of the Borne illuminated. White tables and chairs were arranged in the palm courtyard. I went upstairs with my bag and looking down through the fruited crowns of the palms I could see Daniel pacing the courtyard, thoughtful, impatient.
We ate at the family-run restaurant next door. The waiter pulled back chairs as we entered and welcomed us with a volley of hyperbole.
'I am invited tonight, by the señora,' Daniel announced, leaning a little back in his chair. He dropped his voice:
'The waiter, Carlos, started life cleaning horse-shit in stables associated with the bullring. The bullring. Carpe Diem. The matadors go to their appointments with death. Or not, as the case may be.'
Daniel eyed me and I knew he was referring to my recent avoidance of that particular appointment.
'Alive, the bullfighter carries within himself a sensation of immortality,' he continued. 'Dead he is a hero heaped with pundonor, or personal honour. Do you carry within yourself now a sense of immortality?'
'Yes, Daniel,' I said. 'It's a dangerous sensation.'
'Ah. And do you make love with your eyes open?' He looked at me intently, leaning forward now, elbows on the table. 'Well?'
I laughed, disinclined to take the question seriously. 'It depends on the lover,' I eventually replied. 'But, yes, mostly yes.'
'That I envy you. It's never been possible for me.' He rose abruptly and strode over to the counter to pick up the bottle of wine and two glasses which Carlos had set up.
I shifted the conversation back to Carlos, and Daniel leaned an forward on his elbows, seizing the lead:
'A very poor family gives a poor start in life, don't you think so? Can you imagine? But now he has this restaurant. And, knowing the misery of deprivation first hand, he turns no-one away: clerks, businessmen, to musicians, gypsies. All come here and can be sure of not going away with an empty stomach.'
The food, brought to the table by Carlos's two teenage sons, tasted wonderful: pots of soup, a steaming vegetable casserole, seafood, leg of kid. Daniel talked, as always, of the theory behind his institute and it was then that Lola suddenly emerged from behind a pillar and Daniel told her to go away. Later, in the Borne, I was getting ready to turn-in when Daniel knocked softly on my passerine's door.
I whispered firmly in his ear: 'Tonight I need some shut-eye.'
Daniel had left for a meeting when I checked out of the Borne next morning. Over the next months he telephoned my office in Scotland several times with pleas for urgently needed contributions to the institute's funds.
PALMA ACCEPTS LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY TOURISTS, EVEN THOSE who look oddly out of place: ungainly but comfortably dressed, their sun-reddened limbs projecting from shorts, their pink faces under daft hats. They can visit but they stay in ugly resorts that gave tourism here a bad name in the 1980s: Magalluf, El Arenal and the likes. Palma craves elegance, culture, savoire faire, disciples willing to sit at the feet of her history. Linen, straw hats, crêpe-de-chine.
Chopin loved Palma. He wrote to his friend Julian Fontana in Paris: 'I am in Palma, surrounded by palm trees and cedars and cactuses, by olive-trees, by orange-trees and lemon-trees, aloes, fig-trees and pomegranates... A turquoise sky, emerald mountains,and the air from paradise. The sun shines all day long, people are dressed as though this were the summer, and it is hot; at night guitars and singing can be heard for hours on end.'
The old Arab quarter, clings just as intensely down six centuries to the world of Ramon Llull. The Cuitadella de Mallorca was the turning point for trade north and south: road links headed south from London via Bruges, Montpelier and Perpignan. Sea routes striated from the city's port to almost everywhere: directly, to Barcelona, Valencia and Nice, round the Spanish coast, north to London and south to the Illes de Fortuna, from Nice to Naples and Genoa, overland to Venice, and back through the straits between Corsica and Sardinia. Other sailing routes traded directly with Algiers, and Tunis, via the north coast of Africa, and on to Palermo, Constantinople and Alexandria.
That ancient city is intact, more or less, today though bound round by 18th and 19th century architectural accretions. And it's as easy to imagine Ramon Llull, part-concealed in a hooded brown habit, long grey beard, benign and earnest, on a mission through the cavernous streets behind the Cathedral and the Baños Arabes, as it is to imagine Vyborni, in frock coat and stovepipe hat, eye-catching and devil-may-care, striding towards the Theatre.
Salvador and Watislaw Vyborni had been the toast of Palma society. But by 1877 Vyborni was chafing against his dependence on Salvador. Juan March notes that at a Naples carnival Vyborni was 'not allowed to mix with the multitude, and became frustrated and languid. He resembled an iris.' During their long trip to America in 1876 Vyborni's need for freedom had been awakened. By the time they returned to Mallorca, the relationship between the two men had altered. Salvador had become possessive to the extent that he vetted who Vyborni could associate with. As Cocteau remarked, the privileges of beauty are enormous... as long as the admired remains the objet d'art of the contemplator.
A sense of entrapment, then, fanned the flames of Vyborni's new love: a young Palma woman, Magdalena Janer, whom he first noticed walking with her mother in the Borne. Her mother was an innkeeper's daughter; her father a wine merchant from Binissalem. The family were moderately well off and lived in Calle on Apuntadores. The Archduke agreed that Magdalena was beautiful, but his disapproval of the affair forced Vyborni to keep it secret until his confession at Miramar. Enraged, Salvador threw Vyborni out. Salvador brought forward his plans to leave for Austria in a week. He would leave immediately.
A further command went out: no one was to offer transport back to Palrna to Vyborni who was determined to return to the city, to set the date of his marriage. He walked the twenty-five kilometres under a merciless sun, drinking ice cold water on the way, so that by the time he got to his lodgings he suffered sunstroke and heat exhaustion.
One source says he died at C'an Palou, his lodgings. But another source, Juan March, tells a different story.
The day after their confrontation, the 24th of July 1877, Salvador set sail for the mainland. That afternoon he had chanced to see Vyborni walking in the Borne in the company of two young men of their circle.
The day after that, July 25th, Vyborni was found dead... from sunstroke... in his lodgings at the inn of Barnils, Ca's Frances, in the Calle Victoria.
When a beloved beauty, contained as objet d'art, shrugs off his or her shackles and starts to live, who knows what chaotic forces might be unleashed?
Whatever the finer details of Amigo's tragic death, it preyed on Salvador's mind for a long time to come. The first source has it that, C'an Palou was closed up after Vyborni's death, accessible only to, the Archduke who, every year on the anniversary, spent the day there alone.
There is always more to any story than meets the eye. Can one die so quickly of sunstroke? Let alone a fit young man in his twenties? Why is there a day's delay in Juan March's version? Vyborni seems to have been well enough, walking down the Borne the day before he died. Was there a sinister side to Vyborni's death? As Juan March relates in "S'Arxiduc", Vyborni's body was dealt with swiftly in Salvador's absence.
On July 27th the embalmed body was taken aboard Nixe and on the 28th mass was celebrated as the boat steamed towards Trieste. Memorial services took place at Palma Cathedral, and at Miramar on the first of August, presided over by Don Herreros with the mayors of Valldemossa and Deià in the presence of many local people. Afterwards, alms were given to the poor and a donation to the monks. Later Vives would take Vyborni's place as Salvdor's secretary.
From Trieste, the body went by train to Vyborni's home town, Küttemberg. The Archduke, obviously affected by the disgrace of the affair, attended the funeral, delivered a desultory tribute, ordered a statue in Carrera marble and departed for Prague the next day. Later he offered the statue, depicting Vyborni at the feet of an angel, to his mother. She refused it, sending it back to the Archduke, whom she held responsible for the death of her son.
But I am a traveller, not a detective. I must leave it to others to re-examine the details of Amigo's death. It's time to return to the mountains.
AN OCTOBER HOLIDAY IN MALLORCA I FELT IMPATIENT TO SEE DANIEL Hartmann again. The occasional telephone call had kept us in touch. I abandoned the car in an underground parking place, anticipating Daniel rising from the peach-velour sofa with its macrame fringe to greet me in the Hostal Borne. 'Girl, you look great,' he would say, scanning my face and kissing both cheeks. I swung past the Church of Santa Magdalena relishing the sight of Calle San Jaime with its crumbling elevations and the statue of Santiago himself, only to find Hostal Borne's facade obliterated by plastic sheeting hung from scaffolding. I edged round it to stand before the familiar portal and was about to ring the bell when a workman called down:
'Sorry, señora. The hostal is closed. Cerrado.'
My disappointment was palpable. Was it the end of an era? The Borne was being restored. Soon it would be relaunched as Hotel Born. So much for the welcome I had anticipated, certain that Daniel would still be sitting on the sofa in reception 'like a stone on a log' as he used to say. Gonzalo, too, had gone. I rang the number the new desk clerk offered me explaining that Daniel had rented an office.
But a stranger answered: 'No es aqui. He returned to the north some time ago. No, he left no forwarding address.'
And so I crossed the Plaza Borne to Bar Bosch where Daniel and I had breakfasted together three years earlier and ordered what we had then: sugared rolls coiled in whorls and cafè con lêche. The skies clouded over and cool rain splattered my forehead. The scene before me in Plaza Borne soon resembled Renoir's Les Parapluiex in late twentieth century dress. Citizens unfurled umbrellas as-if-by-magic, those without them ran for cover. Hastily gathering up my gear, I left the pavement tables for the shelter of the bar's sepia tinted interior. The waiters, trim in black waistcoats and white linen aprons, bustled to prepare lunchtime tables, balancing silver salvers.
'More coffee, señora?'
I looked at my watch.
'Yes, please.' There was no hurry.
Watching the procession of the city pleased me. Palma, one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, a fascinating mix of sophistication and dereliction which restoration schemes in the centre of the city were salvaging these days.
After scanning the faces in the bar to confirm that Daniel's was not among them, I trailed a sense of disappointment through the traffic of the Plaza Borne and took a taxi to the Calle Archduke Luis Salvador. German and English tourists, predominantly middle-aged, waited to climb aboard the familiar beige-coloured bus.
'Hola! buenas tardes? A Deià?'
'Bueno! No, a Soller por favor.'
Miguel, the bus driver, remembered me from previous visits. This time I intended to have a proper holiday and stay in a pension in the mountains. The tourists sat in row after row of neat coupledom while I took a window seat behind the driver and soon the city lay far behind the green-leaved almond orchards as we sped towards the mountains.
Mallorca's elderly men are one of its joys. They give the impression that they go out into the world in cap or black beret, comfortable in carpet slippers, expecting that, before they've gone far, something hilarious or fascinating will turn up. Here was one, sitting at the window across the aisle, occasionally casting a gaze in my direction. At first I didn't return his gaze which seemed intent on gauging my response to the landscape which had become so familiar to me. The old man might have sensed my excitement as I craned my head to absorb the superb vista of Valldemossa which announced that I was back on the edge of one the loveliest places in the world. He leant towards me an enquired
'Si. Me gusta mucha.'
Now we would travel on along the mountain road with its sheer cliff drop and witness the vast spread of the Mediterranean's azure cloak at the feet of its compelling coastline. Elements of the landscape beyond the window inevitably rekindled memory: hairpin twists in the road, sheer drops down to the sea, the colours of the landscape, the mountain towns. It was impossible to dispel the car crash entirely from my mind, nor did I wish to, but it was a relief to no longer experience a rush of adrenalin every time it sprang to mind.
The pension's aura of formality was not so dissimilar to guest houses in the British countryside. It was a family run-affair and the major decisions were taken by the two señoras, the sisters who managed it. In the gleaming entrance hall a black-and-white chequered tile floor supported antique furniture below a gilt candelabra, oil paintings of local scenes, Victorian portraits and rampant plants. A grandfather clock ticked loudly and the entire interior seemed to resound to my pull on the bell. I remember thinking 'island fin de siècle' when Señora Ortiga, whose appearance was a study in devout mediocrity, came nun-like down the tiled treads of the wooden staircase to sign me in. I learned that she did 'front of house' while her sister, whom I never set eyes on, cooked and served up the meals.
I was shown a simple top-floor room and told that dinner would be served at eight-thirty precisely. No, it was not possible to eat at seven-thirty or even at eight. Eight-thirty, she said, firmly closing the door. At least there would be time to shower and change and read. I discovered in the days that followed that every evening the choice of main course was the same. Fish or chicken. Pescado o pollo. There was a grandfather clock in the large airy dining-room too, and guests spoke in lowered voices as if participating in a ritual for which Señora Ortiga was the servitor. I took out a book at my table-for-one and didn't look up again until the chicken, glazed on a bed of rice, was put down in front of me. Much to my surprise one particular evening, I met the gaze of a man at the next table. He told me later that he was an English journalist, the father of a family which had departed earlier that day.
'Are you lonely, too?' he enquired loudly, not minding that everyone could hear. 'May I join you?'
I felt the eyes of the dining room upon me, rivetted for my response as the señora hovered disapprovingly lest her careful table arrangements be disturbed. I dabbed my mouth with my napkin to cover my confusion as 'yes' vied with 'no' in my mind. I could hardly say no and, besides, I did need company. I nodded.
Barry Jones picked up his glass but as he approached my table, he tripped on the Turkey rug and stumbled into the señora. He gave her an appeasing look, murmuring flattery about her household and how tolerant they were of wayward foreigners like himself.
'What a hypocrite,' I thought when, at last, he sat triumphant beside and me. He seemed to sense what I was thinking:
'It's just good PR. Señora Ortiga knows me well. We come here often. She's a frosty old maid and like all of their kind, whether in Maidenhead or Madrid, a bit of a duffing up puts them back in the humour. What are you drinking? Water? Nonsense. Let's have some wine.'
He went towards the kitchen to exercise further the privileges he had earned as a long-time patron of the pension and returned with an opened bottle. 'Local red - Binissalem - isn't bad.' He eyed me: 'See what you think.'
The solemn atmosphere of the dining room had been thoroughly dispelled by Barry Jones' refusal to kowtow. The other guests chattered away like birds in an aviary now, and a young German couple, recently arrived and unaware of any lingering solemnity, sat enraptured in a corner. The girl leant her elbows on the table, revealing elegant, brown, braceletted arms and gazed adoringly at her Romeo. 'Ja! Ja!,' she purred, responsive to his every word.
My unexpected companion was a big man, not overweight, with a craggy Celtic face and amused eyes. He talked with loving familiarity about his experience of Mallorca: 'This is the finest of the Mediterranean islands. An Atlantis, without a doubt. The other islands - including the Greek - are so treeless in comparison. Mallorca has everything. And I like,' he added, 'the Mallorcan sense of humour and mysticism, their amazing ability to fuse elements which other nationalities find contradictory.'
At this I looked quizzical: 'Oh, let's see. They have an ability to fuse the rustic and the divine. They manage to be both realists and idealists. A real achievement, in my book.'
Señora Ortiga approached and we asked for a pot of coffee.
'Why do you think they love money so much?' he asked.
'Islanders everywhere are understandably hoarding and conservative,' I replied. 'Also if what you say is true, that they love money, perhaps it's because they were so constrained under Franco.'
'I suspect that's part of it. He had been a Governor of Mallorca and by the time he made himself Generalissimo, I suspect they didn't know half of what he was up to on the mainland. Times were tough for the islanders, most of whom were still bound to the land. And foreigners, English and Americans mostly, did very well out of the Franco era, zooming-in to buy-up wonderful properties and terraces for next to nothing, which are worth a small fortune now. The Mallorcans did well too, and sales of land all over the island have made some of them rich beyond belief.' A year or two later, after I got to know Luisa Bonet and her family, I realised that on the other side of this 'love of money' lay a tremendous fear. Fear of being dragged back to the land. Fear of earth floors.
'Ever since I was a little girl,' she told me, standing in her luxurious and well-equipped kitchen, 'I've realised how hard life is for my parents. Work on the land is... backbreaking. The continual daily round. And for what? They are not even well-off after all those years of work.'
Luisa works in the tourist industry. For her, that's where the money lies. Her command of English has transformed her life. Her arms tinkle with gold bracelets, her fingers gleam with gold rings. She and her husband, who also works hard in the city, feel themselves to be part of the late twentieth century. Barry continued: 'The land's virtually worthless now. It's become a thankless task to manage olive, carob and citrus crops. The terraces are worth far more sold to Germans nowadays. They're the Europeans with money these days... though the recession'll probably strike them eventually. In a year or two I predict the north coast will be a Little Germany. That means that building will go on and on like the proverbial piece of string unless the and EC comes in with land preservation restrictions related to the environment which, as you know, is of quite exceptional beauty and importance.'
What Barry said was true. Since I first came to Mallorca, I had noticed what amounted to a building boom. Valldemossa's car and bus parks, new housing and 'retail outlets' had all been predicted by Daniel who had muttered about local politicians tied up with the building trade on our drive from the Clinica Miramar to the mountains. I thought he exaggerated then, but had been dismayed to see otherwise from the bus window. The visit of Chopin and Sand to the monastery gave the town a perfect tourist trap. A Chopinland. Chopin spent as much time in Scotland as in Mallorca, yet, apart from my father's plaque and the occasional performance of his work in the childhood house, there was no outward evidence of this. Certainly no trace of a tourist trail. How absurd to think that Chopin and Sand had lived in Valldemossa for only for a few weeks yet that short stay had left behind a living legend. Of course, a monastery is more romantic than a town house, and in Edinburgh Chopin had no illustrious mistress.
A hush descended as the residents of the pension began to settle for the night. I slithered between the cool sheets of the vast bed, under a framed print of a suffering Christ which I had turned to face the wall, preferring to contemplate the silhouette of a date palm beyond my balcony, dusky in the light of a half-full moon and thousands of Levantine stars.
The pension fell silent. I wondered if we might be in for an experience like one described by a friend who had stayed here recently:
'The señora was the last one up. I could hear her footsteps move through the dark and silent house, creaking stairtreads as she climbed to her quarters on the top landing. Then, gradually, a different sort of creaking. The sound of activated bedsprings and a female voice. The walls of the pension were thin as paper, and even though the noise came from the opposite end of the landing, lusty grunts and groans and increasing turbulence were all too audible. The pension, an old family house, was not designed to muffle rapture, as you'll probably discover if you stay there. Surely it'd stop soon, I thought. But no, it gathered momentum and then, thump. Señora Ortiga's feet went thump, thump on the ceiling above my head. I heard her stomp towards the window above my own. Then: thwack! thwack! thwack! - she hit the wall of the building with mighty strokes from a leather strap or something similar. Silence. I imagined the beautiful couple, naked and hot, clinging together like a Rodin sculpture on the large white-sheeted bed, their unfulfilled passion held in a suspension of disbelieving outrage. The rest of the night was silent.
'First out, into the lily-scented morning, I reached my breakfast table on the terrace overlooking the mountains. As I was about to sit down the young Romeo brushed past me carrying all the luggage of the pair, his face ablaze with suppressed emotion. His beautiful, blond-tressed mate followed and said a soft 'guten morgen' from a serious, lowered face. I smiled back sympathetically. Then the two roared off in their open-sports car without a backward glance. Their departure left a pall in its wake and when the señora brought coffee and rolls to my table, she looked so grim and tight-lipped that I couldn't raise the usual greeting.'
Next morning I was recollecting my friend's story - on the same terrace - when Barry Jones came and sat down beside me.
'What did you make of that?'
I raised my eyebrows. 'Of what?'
'Oh... you must have heard it! ... that sort of thing happens all the time. It's one of the sports laid on here. Coitus interruptus with the thwacking strap of the Inquisition.'
And I had slept through it.
'Buenos dias. Some coffee please, señora!'
OVER THE YEARS, I HAVE ATTENDED CONCERTS AT SON MORROIG, AND have stood on the fabulous balcony and the mirador temple which Salvador constructed to overlook his sea of dreams. He wrote that this temple was, for him, the best thing at Son Morroig. On previous visits I had been distracted by conversations and fino sherry, and, although I had sensed the house's grand atmospheres and the garden's delights, I had not explored them. I had always been a figure among many. Now I wanted to experience the house alone.
An old man and I got off the bus early one morning.
The air from the sea felt chilly. The music of the morning was all birdsong from the pines and cypresses, and the click-click of the old man's cane on the road behind me. Then different music as I opened the restaurant door. 'They called it paradise', a pop song I remembered from the sixties, issued from the radio as the staff made ready for the day. Paradise. The place to be. Fortified by café con lêche, I ventured into Son Morroig, now a museum dedicated to the life of the Archduke Luis Salvador.
The old man had installed himself at the ticket table beyond a small side room whose blazing olive wood fire incensed the cool, dark entrada. He pointed to a notice, in English. On the wall, an extract from Paolo Montegazza's book "Human Characters" (1901) was 'dedicated to an Archduke born at the foot of a throne, who in the whimsical turning of the wheels of history could even have been a king.' Then the next paragraph:
'I feel the need to tell everyone who reads my book, at the top of my voice, that I love thee, a deep understanding joins me to thee forever - thou art one of the rare men who have achieved the ideal in life, always associating with fruitful, lucid and sincere thoughts...'
Mmm. Another sycophantic Archduke admirer. But I couldn't follow up everything. I must rein in the instinct in me that was in danger of being taken over by a fascination with the undercurrents of Salvador's life. Swamped even. After all, I had chosen his book, "Las Baleares", to provide a format for the roads I would travel. I was in danger of losing that sense of purpose. I resolved that this would be my last foray into Salvador territory.
Montegazza's declaration read like a love letter. How astonishing that such a pretentious declamation had been framed here. Yet, two hours later, when I emerged from the house, I could confirm that Vyborni had been whitewashed further and further beyond the pale, with every rearrangement of the rooms of Son Morroig. There was nothing to represent Vyborni. No photograph, no momento even, of the part he played in Salvador's life.
In the absence of visitors, the silent house seems to hold its breath above the sea. Salvador was guided by the proportions of a smaller ancient house in his remodelling of the one that exists today. Along the walls of the upper corridor hang appropriate framed botanical prints of Balearic orchids and useful plants and herbs. There is a map of Spain dated 1873, an early panorama of Palma, and in a bedroom off, an incredible four poster bed with intricate mashrabia work and dark red hangings. Meeting the chatelaine in the hall I asked:
'Was that the Archduke's bed?'
She didn't know, and it didn't matter she said, for, as they all say: 'The Archduke was a simple man, modest and sincere.'
Why do people continue to whitewash Salvador, to make him less than he is? A plaster saint. And why do Mallorcans, as well as white settlers, insist on believing the story, which has no foundation in fact, that Catalina Homar was Salvador's mistress? The truth of the matter is that Salvador was gay and surrounded himself with like-spirited companions, some notoriously homosexual. In later years, Antonietta Lancerotto, who had worked for the household of Antonio Vives's first wife, Luisa Venezze, in Venice, was the woman he chose to travel with him while Catalina Homar stayed behind at S'Estacca.
The artist Santiago Rusiñol, precursor of Spanish modernism, the poet Ruben Darío, the painters Gasper Vuillier and Erwin Humbert were all, at one time or another, members of Salvador's European 'set'; and even Francesco Spongia's obscene calligraphy found its way to Miramar. Antonietta Lancerotto, who had a daughter by the artist Baptiste Corot, was no more Salvador's mistress than Catalina Homar. Though she has far greater claim, if Mallorcans insist on fabricating a mistress story. A mistress story with Lancerotto, an Italian, as its Scarlett O'Hara wouldn't be the same, though.
After Vyborni's sudden death in 1877, Salvador threw himself into improvements and expansions on the Miramar estate. Seven miradors were constructed and two or three follies. A bas-relief of Ramon Llull was commissioned from the sculptor, Dupré. But Salvador was gone by the following January, to Venice then to Egypt, and he took more than a year to return to Mallorca. Then he began exploring the astonishing Caves of Drach, whose excavation he funded, and was away again by May. The Caves of Drach, a Neptune's lair, with the largest underwater lake in the world, must have been truly astonishing in their unadulterated state. Now floodlit and filled with sentimental music, gondolas plying the lake, the caves are one of Mallorca's biggest tourist attractions.
A further year of travelling followed - the year was 1881 - to Ceylon, Australia, Honolulu and America.
It's another Archduke 'myth' that Salvador adopted Mallorca as his home. In the forty-four years, between 1871 when he settled for the first time and 1915 when he died, he was away a lot of the time. Though dedicated to the environmental protection of his estates he became an absentee landlord.
These days the grand salon is furnished formally under a panelled roof. Billowing white cotton, inset dead-centre, suggests the Orient and sheds light over a fine collection of paintings and drawings, mostly by Ribes and two portraits of Salvador by Erwin Hubert. There is a watercolour by Margaret Hall-Sweeney who painted in Mallorca earlier this century. There is a fantastic collection of bronzed Mallorcan plates, a touching display of early Greek goddesses, each on a pedestal within a glass dome, lots of small vessels and Near Eastern blue beads, talismen against the evil eye. There is also a collection, under glass, of Salvador's books.
A map indicates his residences: Zindis near Florence, Brandeis and the Mallorcan properties.
Another map pinpoints his travels, and another the Austrian Empire.
An early photograph of S'Estacca, shows the house much smaller than it is today.
A framed award announces that 'Su Alteza' won a silver medal at the Balearic Exhibition held in Soller in 1897 for 'his honey and bees'.
A photograph tucked into the corner of the room shows Catalina Homar peering gauchely over the shoulder of a taller woman standing beside another. All wear broad brimmed sunhats, paisley-style shoulder scarves and rough working aprons.
Life must go on. So it was with Salvador after Vyborni's death. It is said that he had a penchant for the young girls who worked on his lands. They were instructed, so the story goes, to raise their petticoats to reveal their ankles as Su Alteza road by. Several, it is said, bore him children who were all provided for. I don't believe a word of it. Although people living near the Miramar coast today claim to be descendants of the Archduke, there are no provisions for bastard offspring in Salvador's will. Such stories are apocryphal at best, decoys at worst.
But what of Catalina Homar?
Catalina Homar was the daughter of Salvador's carpenter at Son Moragues. Once, when her father was working on a special job at Miramar, Catalina would bring him his lunch basket, covered with a red cloth, every day. One day at the astonishing rock of Sa Fordadada, Salvador, bereft of Vyborni, was listening, enraptured, to birdsong when a clear human voice blended with it. Catalina, gathering salt from the rockholes after a storm, stopped singing and approached Salvador with a natural, winning grace. From then on, Salvador took an interest in educating the young woman, who was undoubtedly attractive and of fine character. He took her to Miramar, as Llull might have done six centuries earlier, where she was taught to read and write. The last thing Salvador wanted was a mistress. But it is likely that, from the beginning, he had a position in mind for her. The grand seigneur, after all, was used to matching houses and people and he needed an administrator and guardian to oversee S'Estacca.
Salvador started constructing the ornately styled S'Estacca in 1878, the year after Vyborni's death. Perhaps he aspired to live there, but he never did. The Vives family had been installed at Son Morroig, Salvador lived at Miramar, the Herreros family at Son Galceran. S'Estacca lay empty, perhaps because, as Salvador eventually observed, the sun didn't hit its territories until eleven o'clock in the morning.
Who better than Catalina to run S'Estacca: intelligent, educated, responsible, a devout Catholic, and attuned to the landscape and its agriculture? Installed there, after the death of her father in 1882, she soon won the respect and affection of everyone, from the landworkers to the Empress of Austria who visited the house. It was important too, that she knew the ways of the smuggling community of the tiny secreted fishing hamlet nearby. The forests above the area, peppered with caves, were their lairs. Catalina Homar, knew that trade in smuggled tobacco was an important additional source of income for the smugglers, most of whom had families to support. The vineyards Salvador had established, now under her supervision, won prizes for their wine (Moscatel and Malvasia) at fairs in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Chicago.
That Salvador depended on Catalina for the smooth running of S'Estacca, and held her in great esteem, is not in doubt. She was taken on short voyages on the Nixe. Later, he acceded to her fervent wish to visit the Holy Land, a journey taken with several of Salvador's 'set'. After the group parted at Venice, Catalina returned to S'Estacca while Salvador travelled on to the Riviera and later to Egypt where he bought a house at Ramleh, near Alexandria. He hardly ever returned to Mallorca after that.
Catalina sent letters regularly with news of S'Estacca. But as one historian points out, the letters contain no indication of an affair. Neither does the book the Archduke wrote about Catalina Homar after her death. Helga Schwendinger adds that she can't understand why Mallorcans keep insisting that Catalina Homar was Salvador's great love when none of her researches give any foundation to this fantasy. Salvador even called Catalina the Madonna of S'Estacca, and the soul of S'Estacca. For the short time they knew each other, she soothed his troubled soul and had the power to lift him out of his frequent depressions.
Juan March says that Catalina fell for the captain of the ship that took a small party of the Salvador 'set' on a trip to mainland Spain in 1897. Captain Singala, corpulent with a full dark beard, appears to have been the love of Catalina's life. She raved about him in letters to her mother and sent the captain apples and wine from S'Estacca. Don't get involved, warned her mother. But Catalina did.
In October 1899, Singala sailed the Nixe towards Mallorca, where he would spend the winter. The Archduke was away and Singala and Catalina indulged their passion. One afternoon, though, he surprised them on the sofa. His madonna defiled, Salvador took refuge in anger and illness until he could reconstruct his world. Sad, ill, disillusioned and living with the notorious Spongia, son of a Venetian gondolier, Salvador chose Antonietta Lancerotto as his travelling companion at this point, in order to avoid a new scandal.
The brilliant days of Salvador's Miramar had ended with Vyborni's death. Now Catalina Homar was lost to him too. He replaced Miramar with Ramleh.
Meanwhile the new road, from Palma to Soller encouraged a mini-tourist boom of aristocrats, artists and travellers to the mountains. Salvador was made President of the Society of Tourism based in Palma, in 1909. Son Moragues had been turned into an agricultural museum displaying objects described in "Las Baleares".
At the end of the century the S'Estacca vineyards were blighted by phloxera. And in April 1905 Salvador learned of Catalina's death from a disease which was said to be linked to leprosy and caused her terrible suffering. Although he knew about her illness, he never wrote or visited her. In a tribute, after her death, he wrote they that it would be impossible to find anyone with a better heart than Catalina Homar but he never set eyes on the statue of her kneeling at prayer, which he commissioned and is now displayed in the garden of Son Moragues. Matching people with funerary objects and was another of Salvador's penchants.
The centrepiece of the room at Son Morroig is a heavy bust representing the Archduke in later years, sculpted in 1952. Salvador as objet d'art reminds me of Chopin as objet d'art at the Carthuja. But here, at least, there are no signs that the present incumbent, a descendant of Vives, has any intentions of spoiling the place. The admission charge is modest and the atmosphere of the house is tranquil and moving.
Downstairs again, the old man asks if I have a camera:
'It is beautiful to take photographs of the temple in the garden.'
I nod, but reply that I will carry the image in my head. The temple fascinates me, reminds me of the one in Rome, where I was photographed, standing in its centre, on my honeymoon. This one, of Carrera marble, was commissioned by the Archduke and brought over from Italy. I must find out when. Eye seducing, coolly pure, startling white against the blue Mediterranean beyond, it invites the visitor to leave the flourishing herbaceous garden behind to stand at its centre.
Here a flat-topped dais waits to receive something significant. It must once have held a container of flowers, or an exotic plant at least. A memorial. Ionic columns encircle it. Standing back, I see that under the classical dome is an engraved frieze of ram skulls linked by garlands. Surely this was intended to be a memorial pavilion to Vyborni? Viewing it from a distance, eyes half-shut, I see Vyborni standing there, the flowers on the dais a living reminder of his beauty. For Salvador there was no escaping this past.
Later, from the terrace below Son Morroig, I scan the coastline for the tower of Ramon Llull which has been struck by lightning at least twice. I have been there on foot. From this distance, it resembles a Casper Friedrich image, a romantic folly atop its pine swathed crag. My eyes shoot imaginary lines from the garden temple of Son Morroig to the Ramon Llull memorial and I see that they line up, one with the other, and I wonder if Salvador's secret memorial to Vyborni, something far more esoteric than the dreadful necrolatry sculpture which he buried in Ramon Llull's chapel at Miramar, was this: that the spirit of the man he passionately loved, and that of Llull, the saint who inspired him to construct his new life in Mallorca, might merge in intricate sky-geometry above the genius sea.
In 1914, Archduke Luis Salvador was asleep in a hotel in Trieste when a bomb exploded under the carriage of his uncle, the Emperor Ferdinand, in Sarajevo. It was the end of a world. The end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The beginning of the atrocious war. Cut off from Miramar and Mallorca, Salvador died at Brandeis Castle the following year. Arteriosclerosis and chronic ulcers were given as the cause of his death. The end of a life, the beginning of a legend.
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Mountain Music - Chapters 1-4. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 25 February 2024, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1440.
"Mountain Music - Chapters 1-4." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 25 February 2024. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1440.
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