The Boat Leaves From Denia
By Lawrence Bohme
Lawrence told how he discovered the Andalucian town which is
now his home, spending two summers there with the German painter
Lilo. After their departure and stormy separation, 21 years
elapsed before he returned. In this chapter, he tells us how
he paid what was to be a final visit to his old girlfriend on
her island retreat of Ibiza.
It would be two weeks before the workers could begin
remodelling my recently acquired cortijo, and what with the
lovely spring weather, I decided that the time had finally come
to visit Lilo. Over the 20-odd years since we last stood face
to face in the fresco room of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris,
I had never lost contact with her entirely - every time she had
an exhibit in Ibiza, where she had been living ever since, she
sent a poster to my father's address, with a message written on
the back in her big, square handwriting, who forwarded it to me
in Brazil or Haiti or wherever I was. Since I returned to Europe,
two years earlier, she had written inviting me to spend the winter
in a large villa in which she was running, in the warmer months,
a sort of ashram or cultural centre, with courses in Zen Buddhism,
vegetarian cooking, and so forth.
Not being much inclined towards that sort of thing, and
feeling some dismay that the fiercely independent Lilo in her
mature years could have finally cast her lot with the "wilting
flower generation", I stayed away. Also, I didn't fully trust
her mellow, detached tone, and feared being lured into a trap
full of recriminations and, even, renewed amorous overtures.
But, I hoped, a surprise visit in the summer would catch her
off guard and - what with the other people in the house - with
her hands tied, so to speak. In any case, she had no phone,
and I made my decision one day and left the next.
Planes were fully booked so I took the ferry; I headed
for the wharf in Valencia, but was informed that the boat now
left from Denia, down the coast. A streamlined white ocean
cruiser as big as an office building was waiting by the jetty,
with the choppy Mediterranean behind it, announcing the new order
of things: Ibiza, which I had visited in the early 60's when it
was a dirt-cheap meeting place for down-and-out bohemians (of
which Lilo was one of the last hangers-on) was now big business.
So, as they say, I was braced for the worst; Montefrio
and Ibiza were in the same national territory, but otherwise they
were in different galaxies. The boat didn't even dock at the
charming port any more, but put me and the hoard of young sightseers
off on the other side of the island, where everything was
conveniently laid out, like Florida. A sleek taxi cab swept me up
an asphalt road the likes of which I never saw on the mainland, and
in a few minutes let me off at the foot of the hill on which stood
Lilo's village, Balafi. It was almost dusk but I could recognize,
jutting up from the small mound of peasant houses, the two Moorish
watchtowers which Lilo and I had discovered in wonderment on our
rented bikes, and one of which had been her home for the past 22
There was a restaurant on the corner, and before setting
out on the path which led to the village, I went in to ask about
her, thinking that she might even be there, having her dinner.
A Spanish man with a black beard was standing alone at the bar,
but when I asked him if he knew Lilo Wagner, he stared at me
blankly and said "Esta muerta". In a few minutes I had extracted
the information from him and the owner of the bar that, 11 days
before, she had thrown herself into a 30 metre-deep well which
had run dry of water.
In my confusion and horror, and it being night with -
suddenly - nowhere to stay, I set out on foot to Santa Eulalia,
a few miles away on the coast, where, I thought, at least there
would be lights, life and people who had never known Lilo. It
was longer than I remembered, and I stumbled as much because of
the darkness of the road as the stampede of thoughts in my mind.
But no matter how awful it seemed, I couldn't help thinking that
it was a natural way for Lilo to die...
I had dinner in a tastefully decorated seafood restaurant,
of which the owner and customers were all Germans, and slept in
a small hotel across the road from a butcher shop which, in so
far as I could understand from the sign above the door, made
authentic bratwurst and leberwurst. In the morning I went back
to find out what I could. Everything looks better in the sunshine,
When I look over all I have written about Leiselotte Wagner,
it occurs to me that many readers may wonder why I ever got
involved with her at all, what with her outlandish behaviour and
violent nature - of which her suicide at age 45 was the final and
(many of her friends opine) logical consequence. But as I walked
up the path to Balafi in the morning sunlight, I was reminded of the
lovely side of Lilo, her adoration of this same land which she had
discovered in the Aegean and the frescoes of Giotto, the delicately
twisted almond trees of which each tiny leaf was like a miniature
painting, the web of rough stone walls dividing ochre-coloured
patches of land, each of which somehow gave sustenance to a goat
and a sprinkling of bright red poppies. It was the Mediterranean
which I had read of as a child in the book The Story of San Michele,
with its world of free-flying thought, luminous conversation and
open-hearted friendship, which she and I had once eagerly shared.
In the village I found three peasant women working in a
garden, in black dresses and straw hats, and asked them which of
the two towers Lilo had lived in. All their faces darkened and one
of them pointed to the squat, conical construction of rough brown
stones closest to us. The door was padlocked but I could see the
white dome-covered well where she had drawn her water, the
ramshackle wooden terrace where she had taken the sun, the rough
flagstones of the courtyard which she had crossed to step out
into the narrow, whitewashed alley. I went back and spoke to the
women, who answered in ibizenco. They said they had thought highly
of Lilo - estimava molt - and I explained that I was a very old
friend of hers who had come to visit her without knowing she had
I learned that she was buried in the cemetery at the
entrance to the village, so I asked them to pick me some flowers
from their garden, and went to the nearby grocery store to get
the key. Again, when I mentioned Lilo's name to the storekeeper,
her face clouded over; she had known her for many years, and when
her daughter was sick Lilo had come to visit her every day.
Among the poor, simple people, Lilo's noble, gentle side had always
shone - it was only among her own kind that the rage seethed and
A white wall pierced with a squat gate, a sun-bleached
wooden door in which the ancient key turned and - just as the woman
said - immediately to the right a wooden cross with two metal
initials fixed to it, "LW"; the grave was covered with a great
many flowers which had already gone brown in the sun, and to which
I added my few fresh ones.
In the afternoon I went back to take photographs of Lilo's
home, and passing in front of the other tower of the village,
noticed a number of oil paintings drying in the sun. Another
ivory tower, I thought; here, I would learn more.
The door was open on a large room, an artist's studio.
Everything resembled my mother's own workplace: the indirect
sunlight, the careful disorder, the pastel-coloured flowers,
the intelligently decorative abstract paintings. Even the handsome
blonde woman of 40 who appeared in answer to my call was,
curiously, the image of my mother too, when she roamed the world
with her crates of canvases and teenage son...
"So, you are Lawrence", she said, sitting in front me.
"Every winter I told her, 'Come back to Munich with me' - you
know how cold and miserable it gets here in the winter, and she
had no proper heating, just the bracero, she didn't even have
electricity - but she would always say, 'No, not this winter,
this winter Lawrence will come'". I imagined the rainy months
in the primitive tower, reading by the oil lamp and trying to
play Bach on the flute - it was part of Lilo's self-chastisement,
atoning for the sins of the world.
"It was the house that ruined her, before she was alright,
when she just had the tower. Oh, she was crazy of course - her
family refused to send her any more money and she tried to get
jobs whitewashing walls and gardening, but it was barely enough
to survive. But she had her cats and her paintings, and we all
loved to talk to her, she was so funny and kind. It was Can
Micaeleta that killed her, all those terrible people that came,
from all over the world, she thought they were going to help her
do something wonderful and beautiful but they only wanted to use
Apparently, her brother in Germany gave her the run of
the house in exchange for taking care of it, and she had decided
to try to both make a little money and Improve Mankind by creating
the summer art-and-philosophy course... But it proved to be a
disaster - the fliers she sent out mainly drew intellectual
freeloaders and parasites, and many of them spent the summer
there, on the pretext of expounding some kind of wisdom or other,
and then said they couldn't pay. One Swedish girl was not only
unable to pay, but tried to raise the money to fly back to Sweden
by spreading all her tattered belongings on the terrace and
waiting, saddhu-like, for people to buy them... Lilo, horrified,
gave her the money out of her own pocket...
I asked how she had come to throw herself in the well.
"She would go crazy with them all there, like helpless children
waiting for her to cook and do things for them; one day the water
stopped coming out of the taps and Lilo thought that the pump had
broken down, but in fact the well had run completely dry because
they had been using so much of it. She went to the well-house
with a few others to see if they could do something, the pump
worked but still there was no water, and all we could understand
from what they said is that she became hysterical and suddenly got
up on the edge and jumped in. I got there a few hours after the
police removed her body; an Englishman who had just arrived on the
island and who had been next to her when it happened was still
wandering around the house in a daze, mumbling to himself...".
What a way to begin your summer course in transcendental meditation,
I thought - but for a long time after that I, too, would find
myself mumbling what the barman had told me, "treinta metros sin
agua, treinta metros sin agua".
"I don't know how Lilo knew so many attractive men", she
said looking at me, "at her funeral I was amazed by all these
impressive, distinguished men, journalists and professors, who
came from Madrid, from Barcelona, even from Germany, to bury her".
It was simple, I explained: other women used their beauty to
attract men, and Lilo used her brains; but they never loved her,
they just wanted to be her friend - as I had. Inga, as a woman
who had more than her fair share of both, but who knew Lilo,
agreed reluctantly. She wanted to show me Can Micaeleta before
it got dark, and we drove to a pine forest, a padlocked gate,
a dirt road, a large, handsome white house standing silently
in the dusk, and, on the rambling grounds, the well, newly made
of unfinished cinder blocks...
We walked through the pine trees, past a few dozen
immaculate daffodils growing all on their own, as if they were
wild, on the beaten earth; somehow, they looked like people or
friends that you could talk to. Inga shook her head and said,
"Who will take care of her lovely garden now?". I imagined the
proper, well-protected flower beds which would take their place,
as soon as her brother in Frankfurt found a buyer. A cat ran
across our path; there was apparently a whole community of them...
The electricity had been shut off so we had to go through
the boxes of papers close to the window. There was a photo of
Lilo, emaciated and shrunken, laughing clownishly, but otherwise
unrecognizable to me; I agreed with Inga that it was better that
I had not had to face her in life. The paintings and drawings,
as Inga explained, had over the years become progressively less
crafted and representative, ending in shapeless scraps of line
and colour, like the botched attempts of a cave man to paint a
bison. I chose an elaborately shaded pen-and-ink of a gnarled
root, dated 1965, and put it in my satchel to remember the woman
who had once made me realize I could draw.
On the way out Inga waved her hand at the vast wall of
book shelves, filled almost to the ceiling with volumes in German,
English, French, Spanish, on art, religion, philosophy. "So much
knowledge", she sighed, "but she couldn't learn how to live!".
Outside, she seemed to want to turn her back on failure and death
and smiled at me warmly, like a sister - we had both been loved
by Lilo. "You don't have to go back tomorrow, you know; you can
stay for a few days". But suddenly, all I wanted was to be at
the house which Rocio had rented with her student friends, the one
with the yellow weeds growing on the roof, near the Puerta de Elvira.
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