“There was a small electric generator down in a corner near the port that provided electricity for the whole town of Ibiza. At night the town was so silent that all you could hear was the muffled thump-thump of the generator. After supper there was hardly enough power to make the filament in the lamp glow orange. An orange wiggly line. A light bulb gave off as much as the tip of a burning cigarette. Then, as people went to bed, turning off their lamps, ritualistic lamps, the light of those who did not go to bed gradually got brighter, so that by midnight it was possible to read a book. Then the generator was turned off for the night. For some reason, probably habit, there were shortages of bread, or charcoal, or other staples. One lived with few and simple things. There were shortages even of those things. Yet it all seemed normal and not especially inconvenient, something to joke about with your neighbours.
One evening the generator was not working, for some reason there was no bread in the shops, the upper town was dark. I stood across the road from a broad doorway. The doorway showed darkness within darkness. As I stared into this special darkness a whitish cloud, not of light but of some sort of energy, filled the space within the door area. I felt but could not see the stairs beyond the doorway leading upwards. I can remember so clearly about the bread and the malfunction of the generator because of the strangeness of this experience. Ibiza was having an unusual effect on my mental process. The vision of a ghostly rectangle of whitish light hovering in a darkened doorway was the first of a continuing series of experiences. It was as if my eyes had gained a tactile ability in space.
In the case of the stairs, I could feel them with a kind of radar even if I could not see them. The stairs themselves became a symbolic language as if to tell me that, in the darkness beyond thought, there is a way leading to other states of consciousness. The atmosphere of the island I can only describe as being psychically pungent. It was as if I could taste, feel, smell the cumulative effects of the events of centuries in the very cobblestones of the streets. As if the material environment itself retained, contained magnetically recorded all the influences that it had been subject to; from the sun, wind and rain to the sun of human emotions that had passed in its proximity. I could not unscramble, play back what precisely these events had been, but the overall effect I could feel. It is what is called the ‘mood’ of a place, but something stronger, with the effect on the emotions as strong as music.
This mood could be sensed to change perceptibly from street to street in the town, and from farm to farm in the countryside. As an animal can sense if an unfamiliar pool is safe to drink from, I became aware that some places are more benign than others, and that this benignity was a kind of nutriment to the mind, giving me a sense of fulfilment that I had been searching for. In Arab countries this nutriment is called Baraka. One’s relationship to it is relative. In addition to a heightened sensitivity to the mood of a place, certain experience, encounters, took on the quality of waking dreams, with the exception that these experiences seemed more real and the waking state of the dream. By merging my own psyche with the mood of a place, ordinary events took o a symbolic significance. Seen from the perspective of this state, a crowd of people appears to be a crowd of sleepwalkers moving slowly in a communal dream, unaware of each other, their minds clouded, self-dreaming, blind, unaware of the vibrant beauty of the world they are passing through.
In the upper town, women used to gather around the public fountains to fill earthenware amphorae for the household supplies of water. One afternoon as I was walking towards the western gate, the Portal Nou, in a little square I saw a pregnant woman standing at the fountain filling an amphora. She had one hand resting on her belly, the other resting on the amphora. The expression in her eyes was distant, lost in a dream. The amphora had filled and was running over. I too became lost in the contemplation of her. She had that strange quality of women painted by Giorgione. The moment became intensely real. I saw that the water of the fountain was eternal life, endless, flowing. But the water in the amphora was a single mortal life, just as the child in her belly.
One night, in the middle of the night, I awoke, strangely, my mind fresh, awake. I dressed and wet out into the street. The town was empty, silent, bright with moonlight. I walked though the narrow tunnel that leads from the square of the Ayuntamiento out under the great walls by the cliffs that tumbledown to the sea below the cathedral. There was a light breeze coming off the sea. I walked over the rocks at the base of the fortress walls. There were tiny fragments of glass strewn everywhere over the rocks, fragments of bottles thrown from the tops of the walls by the soldiers garrisoned in the fort. Each fragment shone in the moonlight like a star, so that once again I had the impression that was walking in the dark sky filled with stars.
The moonlight shining on the waters of the bay made a path of light leading to Playa d’en Bossa, then a lonely deserted beach. The salt marshes of Salinas were ghostly in the distance, the mountains ethereal, transparent. I became aware of someone sitting in he shadows near me, resting at the base of the wall. I moved closer and saw that it was Toni Ribas, the Ibizan painter. We nodded and sat together, silent and filled with peace. On another occasion, before dawn, just as the first touch of red tinges the deeper blue of the eastern horizon, I came upon Toni Ribas again, gazing across the harbour towards Talamanca towards the dawn. He was the only person I met on those solitary wanderings through the sleeping city. Toni died a couple of years ago. I can see him still, his back towards me, gazing across the sea, waiting for the dawn. Continue reading about Rolph and Mary’s new life in Ibiza and of Rolph’s explorations of an island steeped in history and mythology in the White Ibiza Living Guide next month.