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EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun -  © 1990 Chris Faiers



Chapter 17 - Formentera

To escape the psychedelic nonsense of Eel Pie and the routine of the graveyard, I decided to visit the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea off Spain.  I caught a tourist flight to the island of Majorca, where the Holmes family took their vacations.  There I hooked up with some Spanish street kids, and together we caught a ferry to the hippie island of Ibiza.  After spending the night on a rocky beach, I decided to catch the ferry to the even more remote and mysterious island of Formentera:

Sleeping in ruins
    La Guardia's flashlight
         signals false dawn

By midday I was standing on the ferry's rolling deck eating fresh figs and watching the mountainous shape of Formentera come into focus.  After disembarking I walked the couple of miles up the straight and flat only road road into the main hamlet, which consisted of the bar Fonda Pepe, a hostel, a bakery and a couple of houses.

I wasn't to meet Mette, a Scandinavian girl I had met in Majorca, until the next evening, and so I set off to explore the island.  I met up with a German student on holiday, and he invited me back to his villa.  The only tourists to have discovered Formentera were the Germans, apart from itinerant artists and hippies from all over the world.  The student talked about psychology, and then he wanted to sunbathe nude.  I got a bisexual vibe, and politely made my exit as soon as I could.  I continued following the dirt track.  There was only the occasional farmhouse, and soon I reached the sea.

The path became more rocky and began to climb.  Finally it ended and I followed the hilly rim of the sea.  There were no houses now, and I walked some miles with the hypnotic sea crashing hundreds of feet below me.  It had been a day full of excitement and fresh sea air, and when I reached what seemed to be the highest and most remote part of the island, night was falling.  Luckily, I found a small cave in the cliffs, and tucking my possessions under my head, I fell asleep with my feet in the cave and my head on the ledge hundreds of feet above the Mediterranean.

The sun awoke me early on my perch, and when I looked down into the clear sea, I saw a shark lazily undulating by:

Below the cliffs
    shark undulating
         clear morning sea

I packed my things and wandered in the direction I hoped town to be.  I stopped at a well by a farmhouse, and the old farmer spoke enough English to hold a conversation.  He had been a merchant seaman, and had retired to the outback of Formentera, his home island.

After several hours of walking, I found my way back to Fonda Pepe, where I joined the international throng of hippies, writers, wanderjahr students and hip Spaniards.  We sat in a long, raggle-taggle line on the verandah outside the cafe, drinking beer we couldn't afford and chatting.  A full-bodied blonde hitchhiker from Germany seemed quite interested in this English hippie, but the cold sores around her mouth put me off.  We sat and drank with our feet on a little railing, watching the awesome sunset over the beautifully barren landscape of Formentera.

Later that evening Mette showed up, as good as her word.  We went off and rented a room in the pensione, where they made us keep our passports in their safe.

The next day we roamed around looking for a house to rent.  This was a dharma time for me, and I met an American who was about to return to the States.  He offered to let me rent the farmhouse he had been living in, as he still had a month's rent left.  I paid him a few hundred pesetas, and Mette and I prepared to move in the next day.  The farmhouse was a beautiful stone building, with a well in front and the name "Maria Jerome" painted over the front door.  There were only three rooms, a kitchen, a bedroom and a den with an open fireplace, but to us it was a mansion:

Wellwater
    constellations
         sesame seeds in honey

Maria Jerome faced one of the ubiquitous foot trails on the island.  There was a sparse forest across from the house, and the cottage itself was surrounded by its own fields, and the flower-filled fields of the neighbouring farmer.  The only other farmhouse was about two hundred yards away, and then a hilly vista of fields stretched all the way to the sea, about a mile and a half away.  On clear days you could even see Ibiza, and the "singing rocks" that stand guard that legend has Ulysses passed on his voyage where the sirens tried to lure his ship to ruin with their unearthly singing.

There was no runnning water, and the only toilet facilities were to squat by one of the rock fences that mazed around the house.  Propriety dictated that after shitting in the field, one covers on'e business with a rock.  A poem for the most enjoyable shits I have taken in my life:

FORMENTERA SHIT ASANA

Squatting in the ozone air
by the rock field fence
tiny perfect flowers at my feet

across the cool blue Med
the Siren Rocks of Ibiza
sing through these dancing butterflies

Mette and I moved into the cottage.  Even the name seemed a good omen, Maria Jerome being the Spanish equivalents of my mother's name, Marianne, and my brother's name, Jeremy.

We slept in the bedroom the first night, all rolled up in my sleeping bag.  Mette didn't seem horny, and didn't want a repeat of the drunken sex we'd had the night before in the pensione before leaving Fonda Pepe.  She sneezed and hacked and sneezed, and complained that her allergies couldn't stand the dust of the farmhouse.

So Mette moved back into the pensione by herself.  I was just as happy to be living in seclusion, and in a few days I acquired a couple of hippie roommates.  My second or third day in Maria Jerome I wandered the mile or so into the hamlet.  Coming towards me was the raunchiest, scraggliest hippie I had ever seen.  He probably looked like me.  He made a beeline for me, and when we said hello, it became apparent he was English.  Then one of the weirdest coincidences of my life happened.  Roger asked me if I had a place to put him up, and when I told him my name, his eyes opened wide and he pulled a scrap of paper from his dirty pockets.  My name was written on the scrap, and the address of the Eel Pie Hotel, and rough instructions on how to find the commune.

Amazingly, Roger had met California John in Amsterdam, and John had given him my name and the Eel Pie information and told him I would put him up in London.  Roger had changed his mind about going to London, and instead had made the long tour down the European coasts and then hitched across Spain, where he caught the mainland ferry for the Balearics.

While Roger was hitching south, I had decided to take the first vacation of my working career, and had taken a month's leave of absense from the Twickenham Cemetery, and also headed south.  And so this incredible coincidence, Roger and I meeting on this remote island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea!  I was even able to fulfill California John's promise and give Roger a place to stay.  The I Ching was working its mysteries.

I spent several weeks living in Maria Jerome.  Some days I would walk into the little forest and chop up dead wood for our fires at night.  A husband and wife pair of travelling hippies also moved in, and one night we had a party with wine and candles and a blazing fire.  I remember running wild through the starry night and working off any chance of a hangover the next day.

Other days were spent reading and wandering.  An old American beatnik had settled on Formentera, and to eke out an existence, he had opened a nickel-a-day library of paperback books.  I discovered the works of Kurt Vonnegut, and you couldn't have chosen a better setting for reading his classics Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse Five, with the flights of fantasy and incredible coincidences and ironies that are Vonnegut's stock in trade.  I felt I was living a life as romantic and exciting as many of his characters.

Other coincidences happened, as well as finding Marie Jerome and Roger.  An American hippie I met at Fonda Pepe had dated a girl I had a crush on in high school, and I learned that she had gone on to become a fashion model.  He also moved into Maria Jerome for a few days.

Every day I threw the I Ching, and one day its message was "it is propitious to cross the waters".  I didn't question the meaning, as my idyll was due to come to an end.  I left Maria Jerome in the care of the other hippies, and walked the long, narrow path down to the ferry.




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Formentera - La Fonda Pepe

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revised 24 October 2005
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