Chapter 5
The Englishman Goes Away

By Lawrence Bohme
This is the fifth of Lawrence Bohme's Stories from Montefrio in which he recounts his 35-year relationship with the granadino town which is now his home.

I have promised to stick to my subject, so I won't describe the year in Paris which came between our two summers in Montefrio. Suffice it to say that the time between September 1961 and July 1962 was full of exciting new things which had the effect of driving a wedge between me and my strong-willed companion. The presence of my vivacious young mother didn't help matters, either.

Just before we left for Spain, at the end of the school year, a girl Lilo had studied painting with in Munich turned up on our doorstep. She seemed lost and lonely, was pretty in the wholesome German way, and my reaction was that of any bored rooster upon finding a comely new hen in his nest. I was very warm, Lilo was pleased to lecture her about the decadent French and what-not, and the girl almost naturally decided to come along with us to Spain for the summer. These adventures went very fast back then, and the Puerta del Sol had not even pulled out of Austerlitz Station before Elke and I were getting discreetly entwined in the crowded, murky compartments. By the time we got to Madrid, Lilo was having a hard time ignoring it (memorably, we managed to get lost in the Forest of Aranjuez for several hours, leaving her with a friend of mine to search for us along the paths); and as soon as we got to Montefrio things reached a violent crisis.

We stayed the first night in the Fonda until the house was readied for us, and after dinner I took Elke for a walk in the olive groves (the expression "to go for a walk in the olive groves" has a special significance in Andalucia). When I got back to the room in the early hours, Lilo expressed her feelings (quite appropriately, when I think of it) by falling to her knees and beating her head on the tile floor, several times over and without saying a word. I was amazed, but, in my decadent, cynical way, couldn't help feeling relieved that it wasn't my head.

In spite of this dramatic, but useless gesture, an external propriety was maintained and Lilo seemed to decide to let things run their course; after all, back in Munich such situations were quite common. A month followed in which we did the same things we had done the summer before, except that when night came I waited for Lilo to pretend to fall asleep before joining Elke on her straw-filled mattress down the corridor. I would be back before dawn, and the two women spent the day amiably, or at least politely, painting and cooking together.

The only other memory I distinctly have of that time was the flamenco party in the cortijo. Manolo and I arranged with the gypsies to have a juerga in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the village, and we all set off in the night with a big straw-covered jug of wine and a basket of tapas. The fiesta was going full swing, with yours truly and the Munich milk-maid doing a joyous number in the light of the oil lamp, when suddenly, as if by magic, all the gypsies disappeared into the darkness. When we went out on the porch to see what had happened, we saw the silhouettes of two Civil Guardsmen approaching in the moonlight, with their gleaming winged hats and rifles slung over their shoulders. Although the traditional enemies of the gypsies ruined our party (because we had failed to obtain the written authorization which was necessary, under Franco, to hold an assembly of over 20 persons), I was always thrilled when the images of Lorca's poetry stepped, in this way, out of the pages of the Romancero Gitano.

Then one morning, I returned to our bedroom and found Lilo gone, with a note under the alarm clock which had been set in time to catch the seven o'clock correo to Granada. She said she was going to Ibiza to find a house for her parents and sister to spend the summer holidays, and that if I wanted to follow...

I was hardly shocked, but it all seemed suddenly boring with just me and Elke in the big house, and a few days later I decided to send her back to Germany. There was a tearful parting at the Granada railway station, as she went north and I took the train to Valencia. Lilo was waiting for me as the boat drew up to the pier in Ibiza, marching back and forth with a defiant expression on her face. But we were soon like brother and sister again.

We had been in Ibiza the year before, to visit another Munich friend of Lilo's, who by the time we got there had slept with half of the men on the island and moved out to Formentera, where we found her living, in temporary monogamy with a Dane, in a tiny cement box on a stony field in the middle of nowhere. The two islands were already the meeting place for all the misfits of Europe, and Formentera was the last frontier.

This year, though, we stayed put under the auspices of Mutti and Fatti in our beach cottage in Santa Eulalia. Across the inlet the surveyors were marking out the site for the island's first modern hotel; the foreigners stayed in makeshift cement houses thrown together along the shore. In the one in front of us, the Spanish caretaker spent much of the day hoisting buckets of water onto the roof to fill the holding tank which enabled his guests to have showers when they came from the beach. I never shared the idyllic feelings which some people profess to have about Ibiza, and many years later - as you will see if you have the patience to read on - my indifference turned into downright aversion. So I will describe the most interesting thing which happened to us there, and move ahead with my story.

This, however, requires me to move backwards first. When we got to Paris the previous autumn, we stayed in a walk-up student's hotel on the Carrefour de l'Odeon, administered by two old concierges, unmarried sisters; like many such Frenchwomen in those Gaullist times, they were unnecessarily nasty and constantly complained about "Mademoiselle Wagner's" loud boots clattering on the wooden staircase, and my own attempts to play Fandangillos de Huelva on the guitar. When we left the Nouvel Hotel we put these two shrews out of our minds forever, as you can imagine.

Now, in Ibiza - 10 months later - we were riding our rental bikes one morning down one of the island's inland roads, crossing a long stretch of arid fields, divided by stone walls and the occasional gnarled almond tree - when, under the blazing sun, we saw, shimmering in the distance, two stooped female silhouettes heading towards us. As we drew closer, we saw that they were not native ibicencas, and were both staring at us as if we were a divine apparition. When they began to babble excitedly in French, "Mademoiselle Wagner! Monsieur Bohme!" we realized that they were the two concierges from Paris, and stopped pedalling. It seemed they had a cousin who stayed in Ibiza during the summer, in those days before mass tourism; but what was most extraordinary was that, due to the highly unlikely circumstances and (in their minds) distance from civilization, they now saw us as their long-lost daughter and son. It was hardly the moment to remind them of the truth, so, feeling rather sorry for them, we pretended to be pleased...

But our last month together in Spain - and, in fact, the second from last of all of our months together - was truly idyllic, in a setting of perfect, undefiled beauty. We had heard the year before of a cluster of mountain villages on the southern flanks of the Sierra Nevada, called the Alpujarra, and decided to spend a month there before returning to France. It was in Capileira's only, primitive pension that Lilo cut my long hair, so that the next day the villagers who saw us thought that the little man had exchanged his large female companion for a large male one with a haircut just like his.

We rented the top floor of an ancient house overhanging the deep river valley, from two old farmers, for the price of 25 pesetas per day. The houses of the Alpujarra were originally built by the Moors in the Berber style: heavy horizontal beams covered with large sheets of natural slate and sealed with a fine waterproof clay, making each roof a terrace where the family can sit among its drying tomatoes and lumpy white chimneys, overlooking all the other flat roofs which cling, like an undulating staircase, to the mountainside. We brought water up in a jug from the fountain, cooked on a fire of sticks, and used a chamber pot the contents of which could be thrown off the edge of the terrace into the trees. Like the villagers, we lived on a stew made of "garbanzos", dried peppers and tomatoes, with whatever greens old Antonio brought back from his "huerta", except each Friday when a tiny donkey came up from the city of Orgija, at the foot of the mountain, loaded with fresh sardines. Everyone came out with their saucepan to buy half a kilo as the fishmonger passed, and soon the whole village smelled deliciously of frying fish; it was the weekly treat.

We spent the days as usual, me typing out a novel on my portable and Lilo painting portraits of the neighbours, notably an old gypsy woman; in the afternoons we roamed the paths among the terraced orchards, always green with the waters of the melting snows. When a storm blew up from below, it would engulf one tiny white village after the other in its course, until Capileira seemed to be alone at the top of the world. In fact, that is what the Arabized Roman name means: the "hair" on the top of the head. On very clear days, we could see ships steaming towards Gibraltar, far below on a strip of pastel blue sea.

As long as Lilo and I remained in this monastic environment, everything seemed like it might go on forever. But a few weeks later we were back in the belly of the beast, among others of our own mind and generation, with agitation, newness and a seemingly endless range of fascinating options - and people - to choose from. There followed a breathless year in Paris without Lilo (or, rather, fleeing from Lilo), a wildly agitated summer and autumn very far from Spain, and then, at the end of 1963, I packed my bags to return to America, or rather, the Americas. By the time a providential blend of coincidence, curiosity and world-weariness brought me back to Montefrio, I was a middle-aged man.

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