Chapter 7
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 years.

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, even death.

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 died.

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 overflowed.

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 her."

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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