Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ibiza unbound

Almost half a century ago, my grandmother came upon a notice in The Times newspaper advertising a villa for sale on the Spanish island of Ibiza. A few weeks later, she flew out to visit the house with my mother, who incidentally advised her not to buy it! Paying no heed to my mother's youthful caution, my grandmother, who had fallen in love with the villa despite the lack of electricity and telephone line, went ahead and purchased it. 

Villa and pool in Ibiza
My grandmother's old villa near Port des Torrent
Or so the family legend goes. One way or another, history was made and my family spent almost every summer for the next forty years on the island of Ibiza. In 2006, my grandmother was forced to sell up because of health reasons and she passed away a few years later. This summer I went back to Ibiza for the first time since she died, to revisit this place that had provided a thread of continuity throughout my peripatetic childhood. My return to the island got me thinking about how people are shaped by the geography in which they grow up.

Ibiza is a quirky, quixotic place with a slippery identity. As an island, it has entertained all sorts of visitors from the Carthaginians in 654 B.C. to Arab crusaders, the Catalans and tourists in subsequent centuries. Around the time my grandmother discovered it, Ibiza had become a fixture on the hippy trail, providing a refuge for artists and non-conformists who wished to exchange the material world for pine trees and turquoise sea. (Quite a few hippies still live around San Joan and sell their handicrafts at two weekly hippy markets.) 

Es Vedra, Cala D'Hort, Ibiza
Es Vedra at Cala D'Hort
'Home' to the sirens that lured Ulysses from his ship
in Homer's Odyssey
Roll on the 1980s, and friends at school used to tease us for holidaying in "Eye-bee-tha", the home of the cheap package holiday. But we didn't care - tucked away on our camino, for us summer was a series of pool parties, family gatherings, sailing trips and lazy afternoons at the beach. Then came the clubbing revolution, coinciding rather conveniently with my late teens/early twenties. Here my ankle-chain wearing, sarong-happy soul came to the fore in a blur of sea, sun and techno beats. A few years later, marriage and a baby ushered in a new phase, but where better to holiday than the safety of a family villa with a travel cot and high chair on site? 


The homecoming tour


After a hiatus of four years, it felt strange and exhilarating to be back. Even weirder, we were staying in a neighbouring villa that overlooked the old casa. The aspect was familiar and yet wholly different. It was also tinged with sadness, because my grandmother, first minister of fun and the lynchpin of our Ibiza experience, was no longer around, though we visited her in her final resting place, alongside my grandfather, at San Augustine cemetery. 

Sa Talaia, Ibiza
Ibiza's highest point, Sa Talaia
It was a joy to entertain the children with stories of the past and show them our old haunts - favourite beaches (Cala D'Hort, Carbo and Las Salinas), restaurants (The Old Cock, Bambuddha), the Talamanca ferry to Ibiza Town and the sunset outside CafĂ© del Mar. Although it felt like a homecoming, I realised that my relationship with the island changes with the context of each visit. I love Ibiza's spirit and always will, but it is also people that make a place special. Without family and friends, it is only landscape.

More recently the island has become the playground of the rich. The prices in the restaurants have increased dramatically, the beaches are more crowded and there are even traffic jams to contend with - shock, horror! So, another era begins and this time it's my turn to be the memory-maker, to work the old Ibiza magic for my children. ¡Hasta luego isla blanca!


For more pictures of Ibiza, see my Instagram feed.

FURTHER READING

A Sister for Margot by Emma Clark Lam
My novel about a family that takes root on the island of Ibiza. Illicit love, self-discovery and a shameful secret are just some of the ingredients in this family saga.