In search of the beautiful ghosts
[ places - april 02 ]
Does the ghost of Elmyr De Hory, the painter of "Fake" fame, with retinue of lovely boys and garnished women, still hold midnight court on the rocks below the house at Figueretes? In Ibiza, what remains of the Sixties and Seventies, when stars sparkled in the bars and Beautiful People glittered around candle-lit tables in the Old Town?
When the airport was new and package holiday makers got no further than San Antonio, ragged ex-patriates, of whom I was one, had already settled on the island. As time went on, we joined the moonlit parties of the gilded circles, swam in phosphorescent seas off private jetties, met the first Beautiful People; the dispensation we had started was the reason they came. It was a dream world, a unique time, sybaritic, stylish, louche, unreal. I had two small children; $3250 kept the family for a year. We lived on pennies in lovely farmhouses in a lovely landscape or in balconied apartments in a town of overwhelming beauty, safe from reality, a law unto ourselves. I returned to Ibiza last month, for the first time in 30 years.
Exploring the now sprawling town with an old friend, we saw, on the waterfront, between garish restaurants, the small, familiar doorway of The Domino, the first foreign bar in Ibiza, now closed and condemned, our spiritual home where we drank, fought and romanced and could raise a loan when the postal order didn't come. Pushing open a loose shutter, we whispered old names into the darkness, summoning a ghostly clientele. The owner, alerted to us ancient loons, arrived. We explained our purpose. Intrigued, he unlocked the door and left us. We descended; the street has been raised, making the Domino even more subterranean than before. In the crypt of love and heartbreak, nothing had changed, the same plank counter, the same concrete stalls. It was abandoned because the sea wells up through the floor. It always did. Sitting on the loo during spring tides was a dangerous exercise.
Ibiza-the-high-life began with Bad Jack Hand, his brother Philly and wife, Peggy, crossing from Barcelona where they ran the Jamboree Jazz Club on funds left over from the GI Bill. Europe, in the late 1950s, still had disaffected and sometimes dangerous Yanks left over from the War, and others arriving via the $110 Yugoslav freighter NY to Tangiers. Bad Jack later got a life for a murder during an armed robbery he organised in Barcelona; Philly was already in jail. The Ibiza crew in the early 1960s were colourful and loud - artists like Kramer and Hendricks, writers like Seeley and Irma Kurtz, beat poets and prophets, George Andrews and Simon Vinkenoog, gurus like Bart Hugues, who bored a Third Eye in his forehead. After the artists and the first hippies, Ibiza was discovered by the Beautiful People. Nico (of the Velvet Underground), Nina van Pallandt and Baron Fredric (of Nina and Fredric fame), Terence Stamp, Charlotte Rampling, Terry Thomas, pieces of the Beatles, bits of the Stones, jet setters and groupies arrived in velvet, lace and delirium, hot for a cool time. Restaurants and boutiques burgeoned. By the early 1970s, Ibiza was the hippest place in Europe for drugs, sex and style. Old money, art money, movie money, drug money arrived. Fincas - squat, adobe farmhouses - were bought and renovated and azure swimming pools installed. Where were they now, I asked, the Pretty Pats, and Domino Als, and Sandys of Santa Eulalia? Dead, my friend said, faded or gone to ground. But they are still there, some of them, as I learned next afternoon, at a party at a finca (value, a million dollars, bought for $3200 in 1963).
The survivors are in fair shape, given the wear and tear. They still follow esoteric notions, still party. The truly outrageous are long since dead of dope and indulgence; it is a miracle some of those present survive. Ibiza still has the best looking well-travelled women, slim, stylish and forever 45. Pike's Hotel was a subject of conversation, the murder trial in New York of the killer of the owner's son. Pike's, I'm told, is exclusive but not so exclusive as another, where guests must be introduced by friends of the management. There, the very famous still stay. That a foreigner colony still thrives is evidenced by the Mona Valley School, attended by our hosts' children, now in its 20th year. A young American girl said her friend helped out at the Ibiza farmhouse of Dr Tony Ryan, of Ryan Air. Nobody but ourselves seemed to know of him - business money, not of the same milieu.
These days, the rich and beautiful are most often glimpsed in the rural charm of Sant Miquel, Sant Carles or Santa Gertrudis, at markets, or dining at choice village restaurants in the early evening. Occasionally, in Ibiza's Alt Vila or in the Penya's streets of gay bars, celebrities, incognito, pass. The town is exciting at night, restaurants along the port, bars in the old quarter, still one of the loveliest and most dramatic walled towns on earth with gigantic ancient ramparts and half lit passageways, echoes of Molly Bloom's "glancing eyes a lattice hid, for her lover to kiss the iron... and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras..." Outside Ibiza, Santa Eularia, grown to a factor of forty since I first knew its single dusty street and town square, is still full of charm and civilisation, the place where the expatriate aficionados, my old friends, still sit at a geriatric hippy bar and sip coffee, discussing what is past, or passing or to come. As far as the widely publicised 'lager lout' element of Ibiza, we didn't see it. Our in-flights companions were pleasant. Nobody did the conga in the aisle or fountained champagne, or worse. Nobody sported aggression, gold chains or Love/Hate finger tattoos. On the ground, we saw no hooligans, and no foam discos. These are in San Antonio and Playa den Bossa, south of Ibiza town, once a shore of sand and piled seaweed without a habitation for six miles, now a Sunset Strip of brash bars, fast food restaurants, hurdy gurdys and baubles.
We rented a car and spent the days at small coves. Many are beach-umbrellas and sun-beds wall-to-wall, but others remain pristine. Back in the old magic, we dived in the crystal water, and saw lovely fish.