In 1956, 26-year old Canadian history buff, painter, architect and filmmaker Rolph Blakstad, along with his wife Mary, ventured to the Mediterranean for what was supposed to be a ‘leave of absence’ from their lives to paint. Upon discovering Ibiza, they found a place – a world forgotten – in which they wanted to live. The famed architect tells his story (as yet unpublished in English) foreward to his book, La Casa Eivissenca… “Upon returning to Ibiza from Mallorca, we quickly assimilated into the small group of foreigners, nearly all writers or painters, who then lived on the island. It was simple to know all the expatriates as the group was not large. There were so few Spaniards, as distinct from native islanders, that the mainlanders were called foreigners equally with those of us who came from further afield.
We were fortunate to rent two floors of on of the large houses belonging to the Tur de Monti family in the upper town. Our landlady was Doña Lupé Tur de Monti, whose husband was mayor of Ibiza at that time. Doña Lupé’s brother Mariao who later became mayor, lived on the floor below us, and her brothers Juan and Mariano lived in their large houses across the street. The house of Mariano was a veritable palazzo filled with antique furniture, silk brocades and porcelain. The atmosphere in this corner of the island was not typical of the island as a whole, it was rather like that described by the Count of Lampedusa in his novel The Leopard. This atmosphere too has vanished.
We would sit on our balcony gazing across the bay into the distance, to the strains of Chopin drifting up from below as Mario’s daughter practised on the piano. I fitted out one of the large rooms as a studio and set to work preparing canvases. On the balcony I had a pair of binoculars mounted on a tripod so that I could study the life of the harbour and all the surrounding countryside. There was a perfection about the scene as viewed from the balcony. There was nothing which I could call ugly anywhere. Over centuries of slow evolution, of natural growth and change, the functional, the economic needs of the city found their expression in the relationship of farmland to harbour to city. Everything had a distinct place, logical, clear.
The walled city was compact, contained, it did not sprawl into the countryside wasting valuable farmland. True, the commercial part of the town had now grown outside the town walls since attacks from the Barbary pirates were no longer a threat. But the market and shops were confined to the port. The fishermen and their families lived in a village-like quarter, the Peña, at the far end of the port. The quay was broad, paved with stone, giving ample space for the fishermen to spread and mend their nest after the morning’s catch had been brought to market. Supplies from the mainland came to the island in wooden schooners. These had motors but used full sail to save on fuel. The schooners complete with bowsprits and carved sterns lined the quay.
These ships were still being built in the shipyard in the corner of the port. Beyond stretched a broad green plain, all farmland. In the pale gold morning mist shrouding the bay, shrimp fishermen in rowing boats loitered in the shallows. The scene each morning, so still, reminded me of the landscapes of Van Eyck. Every detail redolent with loving care, nothing blurred or insignificant, a microcosm. All life was breathing quietly in peace, shining, no distortion, nothing out of place. One morning, looking through the binoculars across the bay into the marshland of the further shore, I noticed groups of isolated gateways somehow reminiscent of Stonehenge, scattered here and there in the thickets of cane. They had a strange haunting quality about them.
That afternoon, I walked around the bay towards Talamanca to examine them. As I walked into the countryside on the far side of the bay, I felt I was entering a different time reference. If Ibiza town seemed medieval and in some respects nineteenth century, the countryside seemed pre-classical, Homeric, primordially Mediterranean. The marshland was cut through with shallow canals, which acted both as drainage of the land and boundaries of personal property. These canals were crossed here and there with little stone bridges which were closed on the other side by the gates which I had seen through my binoculars that morning. The gates had a strong Egyptian look about them. There were a number of Egyptian things on the island. The dogs, podencos, which in those days were about the only kind one saw, and also all the little carved scarabs and other things in the museum up by the cathedral.”