The countryside: Journeys through time – Rolph Blakstad
Continuing the historical tale of Rolph Blakstad’s arrival and assimilation into Ibiza in 1956, as taken from the (as yet unpublished in English) foreward to his book, La Casa Eivissenca…
“After a year and a half living in the old town of Ibiza, my wife and I moved to Santa Eulalia, then a lovely village set among orange groves by the sea. It was a lush orchard. A network of irrigation canals called sequias fed by the river ran to all the farms surrounding the village. This was the reason for the richness of the foliage concentrated out there. In the summer after the heat of the day, the sequias were opened and the water poured out like molten silver through the maze of little trenches under the orange trees. The air became vibrant with freshness after the long dry hours of the afternoon. The soft sound of the waters rushing could only fill one’s heart with contentment, completeness.
Mary and I would set out on walks, to be away for a few days at a time. We carried blankets so that we could roll up on the ground, wherever the night found us. There were no hotels on the beaches, only the odd fishing boat puled up on the sand. In this way we walked around the island not at one go, but little by little – exploring the island, returning home to Santa Eulalia after a few days. On our return, trudging down the dirt road which was the main street, we would be hailed by Toni Ferrer, owner of the general store called ‘Las Delicias’. He would pull a little wooden table out onto the road, bring chairs and glasses, and wine to celebrate our safe return from darkest San Carlos where only ogres and witches lived.
It is difficult to realise now, with paved roads leading to nearly all parts of the island, how large Ibiza seemed when there were only a few old cars on the island and the roads were dirt tracks. There were two buses in Santa Eulalia. They had been fashioned on the chassis of two Russian military trucks that arrived somehow in the Civil War. As the buses had been constructed by boat builders, they were made of wood and were pointed at both ends. The sterns swept up high like on Spanish galleons and gave the buses the appearance of female cats in heat. The wooden benches inside were arranged so that you sat knee to knee with your fellow passengers, thus having to share on your lap the chickens going to market.
Some parts of the island had always been cut off. San Vicente did not have roads, only footpaths. A lateen-rigged felucca sailed twice a week to Ibiza bringing eggs and other produce to market. Some of the valleys in the mountains behind San Vicente, remote even today, had the remoteness of Tibet in those days. The remoteness was, of course, not to be measured in kilometres, but in cultural communication which is a relative perspective. Someone says to me today, “Oh, you live so far away.” I think, “I don’t live so far away. Far from where? Far from his house, he must mean.” So the remoteness that we felt in the valleys was the distance from our own cultural conditioning, cultural system of techniques. The cultural system of the valleys of San Vicente was old, historically. The techniques used in farming and house building, in custom and belief, had been in use for a long, long time; in use before the city of Babylon flourished. In use long before they were brought to the island, because cultural systems are exportable. So that from a cultural point of view, the distance between Mary and I on the one hand, and the people of the valleys on the other, was one of cultural time.
Now when I speak of the ‘mood of a place’, I do not mean something imaginary, something subjective, something seen in the eye of an artist. It is something real. You don’t have to believe in it. It works anyway. It is the mental field, the psychic impress on the environment, the aura, the etheric climate. It is changeable like the weather, but it is a mental field, mental-magnetic charge, continuum. It is highly susceptible to human mental activity.
As the activity, mental and physical of the people in these remote valleys had been more or less constant during millennia, the mood of the place had long been very stable. It was as much a cultural reality as one could ever hope to find. It was a 90% trip back into the ancient world for us. For those who lived there, it was just normal life, and they came out of their houses to stare at us as if we had just landed from outer space, as well we might have done.
The human mind is in a continual state of interchange with the psychic plasma, the mental impress in an environment:
A group of fishes asked a wise fish, “What is water?” The wise fish answered, “It is all around you.”
It is the travelling fish that can taste if the water is more salty or less salty in other parts of the sea. So that people following certain activities, certain ways of farming, certain ways of thinking, create a neutral climate in the place where they live. The mood becomes stabilised and reinforces itself by a return influence on the minds of the people submerged in the field of that environment. This is called karma in the east. The mood is the karmic impress.
If a group of people remains isolated for long periods of time, it is probable that their cultural practices will be stabilised for long periods of time. In a situation where small groups of people remain isolated from each other over a long period of time, the idiosyncrasies of each group become stabilised. Each little group becomes like a little kingdom until itself. It becomes difficult for these groups to influence each other or to be influenced from outside unless there is a truly fundamental shift in the economic and technical systems of cultural force impinging from without. The impingement is mental. There is a mental breakdown, a devaluation of the existing cultural system, if the process goes beyond a certain point.
Thus we found ourselves wandering in the remote valleys of the past. We were in living contact with the people of the ancient Mediterranean. Our journey to Ibiza had been in Time as well as Space. I know now that it was in order to learn from the people and the place that I had come. Whatever it was that I found missing in twentieth-century industrial culture I found present in the ancient culture of Ibiza.
I speak always as if this quality no longer exists in Ibiza. The island is still a magical place. But the qualities that I once experienced have been superseded and diminished by others. That intense, pungent presence in the countryside where I could feel the god Pan lurking, pagan nature, the very stones singing: all that vanished in the year 1960. I had returned from a four-month journey to India and found a new feeling on the island, as if the magnetic tapes had been wiped clean. The stones were now neutral, silent, cleansed. It was as if the stage has been cleared in preparation for a new play – change in the air. I sensed that the god Mammon was to replace god Pan.
I was sitting with a friend at the Kiosko in Santa Eulalia having a coffee. He said, “There was a big convention of yogis in India a few months ago. They were all praying to avert the predicted end of the world. Maybe it ended already and we just don’t know it.” We laughed. But something had happened to the atmosphere of Ibiza around that time. It wasn’t the mere beginnings of tourism that had caused change to happen.”
Continue reading about Rolph’s explorations of an island steeped in history and mythology in the White Ibiza Living Guide next month.