Balafi: Fountain of blessed waters by Rolph Blakstad

The final chapter in the historical tale of Rolph Blakstad’s arrival and assimilation into Ibiza in 1956, as taken from the (as yet unpublished in English) foreward to his book, La Casa Eivissenca…

One winter afternoon, my homing pigeon instinct became particularly activated, calling to me with a diffuse but acute urgency. It was about three in the afternoon, and I simply started walking inland away from Santa Eulalia. I walked quickly, just letting my feet lead the way; the way westward, following the trajectory of the dying sun.

After about two hours, I began climbing into the hills. My heart beat quickly. I had a feeling of impending revelation. Suddenly, I was aware that I had passed a hidden boundary on the path. The quality of air had changed. It was gentler, of finer texture. The structure of the surrounding vegetation was more delicate. I passed a pomegranate tree with vivid yellow leaves. A gnarled grape–vine hanging in its branches, entwined among the deep red fruit. I had entered a beautiful hillside garden with terraces rich in every kind of fruit tree. Hesperides.

I followed a path around to where three tall date-palms stood silhouetted against the sky. The sun had slanted sharply downwards in the west, presently to disappear beneath the mountains. Just above the terrace of the palms was a square stone pool. Standing beside it were three women in black peasant dress: an old woman, a woman and a girl. Behind them, set into the hillside, was the doorway into a cave. Into the cave, a few steps down, a pool of water, an underground spring. I entered the cave. The scene was dreamlike, my body dematerialised. I vanished to myself. I remember nothing further, not my return journey through the valley in darkness.

The place was the spring of Balafi (an Arab name, meaning ‘Fountain of Blessed Waters’. I soon visited it again after my strange initial encounter. I painted a dove in blue line inside the inner chamber of the fountain. It remained there for some years. At the time I did not realise that I was following immemorial precedent; that years later, I would find another fountain with an ancient painted chamber with an image of the sun, in the same relative position as I had painted the dove. The meaning of the dove and the sun in this context is the same.

Balafi became for me Hesperides, garden of the blessed isles of the western sea. It was a place that, when I was leaving Ibiza to go on a journey, I would visit to silently say goodbye; and on my return, to visit again to refresh and renew myself.

There is something subtle, yet palpable in the air at Balafi. It cannot be apprehended directly; one must use the corners, the edges of one’s senses. The air is soft with a scent of honey about it. If one could see more clearly, there is a fine golden sparkle floating in the air, as dust shining against the lowering sun on a late afternoon in summer. As dusk falls, there is a fine movement of silvery haze in the olive trees. A slow unfolding movement as the souls of the trees open themselves to the night breezes and the stars. A faint cloudiness, expanding from the foliage, gently breathing. The whole landscape breathes, one’s own body breathes softly and merges with the whole. Time itself dissolves, each moment fills, brimming with its own passing.

I brought a wise friend with me to Balafi. We sat beside the pool, ripe grapes were hanging down over the water; a turquoise dragon-fly hovered, then darted to and fro. The water reflected white billowy clouds that mingled with waterweed revealed in the depths of the pool. I asked my friend, “What is it that gives this feeling to this place?” He answered, “A place that is blessed by Nature and blessed by Man is blessed by God.”