DAVE'S TRAVEL CORNER: Seeing the World One Step at a Time
After delays in New York and Dusseldorf, we arrive in Palma, Mallorca at 2:30 p.m. Wonderfully, my husband Damon and I are invited every year to stay in nearby Bendinat. Our host Hal is alone at his seaside house. His daughter, my good friend Kate, and her 13-year-old son Oscar will arrive next week.
Despite his years, Hal is remarkably unchanged, his distinctive phraseology continues unabated, examples being the classic “Clock!” and “Zingo!” but also “As Willy the Shakes would say…” and, of course, “That’s what she said when I brought her home”–a surprisingly versatile punchline that nearly always works despite the corn factor.
Hal has thoughtfully located and set aside for us the latest edition of the local rag called Celebrity, a vulgar glossy magazine much loved by Damon and me on our trips. Damon was eager to read aloud the captions under pics of dyed blondes called Beata and Prunella, and then there’s yet another Gucci. The paper, chronicling the latest party at Wellies (and other advertisers), was formerly owned by Peter Stringfellow, a local cult celebrity to us, but now it seems that Stringfellow has sold out and the magazine’s standards have further dropped, which seemed impossible. And yet, the photos and captions are greatly relished, its semiliterate prose having a comically poetic feel.
Saturday July 6
Damon and I hike the steep hill to Portals Nous under a Mediterranean sun to reach the tortilla espanola at the restaurant Portals Village, formerly known as Flintstones. We’re horrified to find Portals Village’s doors shuttered. Forced to resort to a table at a place on the corner called Bar Neu, we have tortilla but it’s not the same. There are no scandalous conversations to overhear from local Brits. We had loved lingering at Flintstones, I mean, Portals Village – doesn’t matter, it’s closed.
Back at the house, Hal speculates to us that a rival restauranteur sabotaged Portals Village. “Last story,” he says, another classic Hal-ism, as I sit on the terrace overlooking the bay and its rocky Isle de la Torre, off and on reading “Marlene,” the juicy biography of Marlene Dietrich written by her daughter Maria Riva.
If I recollect correctly, Hal’s East German cousin Wolfgang was along when Chicago-born Hal saw Marlene perform at a dinner theatre in Palma. Hal clearly still has a huge crush on Marlene, even if at that time he saw her she was 72 and a trussed-up mess, according to her tell-all daughter. I don’t tell him that.
This year Hal has a sort of blowing machine to use so when I sweep all the stairs next to the house and down to the beach—a task I enjoy—I will not be plagued by bites and rashes from the remnants of dead poison caterpillars, as has happened in the past. Unfortunately, I prove inept at this task and the poison caterpillars are blown back directly at my neck and lower body. I have itchy bites.
Hal had stopped by the car rental place earlier in the week to talk to his Iranian friends and herald our imminent arrival. He informs us there was an unpaid ticket (a multo) from our last trip two years ago. Hal’s reading the latest Time Magazine, which declares 59% of Americans are happy most of the time. “Who’s so goddamn happy?” I counter crabbily, as Damon, Hal and I stand overlooking the turquoise inlet. Obviously, I needed to get out of New York.
Sunday July 7 – Tuesday July 9
We run our old route through the wooded military zone and into Cala Major, where Joan Miro had his studio.
I take my first trip to the Isle de la Torre across the bay. I never truly feel I’ve arrived in Mallorca until I spend time there, seeking a glimpse of an octopus. (No luck so far.) Goggles on, I explore underwater cliffside nooks.
For that night’s dinner, Hal makes a great spaghetti with clams. Later, Kate phones from roasting New York and is envious of my island idyll. She and Oscar arrive in two days.
With encouragement from Hal, Damon buys a highly complicated lottery ticket. Of course Hal won $30,000 forty or so years ago so we’re due for another win.
Wednesday July 10
In Portal Nous, we again get a rental car Panda (which Kate later declares “the most dangerous car possible”). I’m prepared to pay the multo Hal told us about, but the rental car guy waves away the cost.
We head into Palma and its giant cathedral, Le Seu. Construction began on the stone building in 1308. Inside, its huge stained-glass windows shine bright blues and rose on inviably awed congregants below. The textiles and statues overwhelm Damon. I also like the relic arm bones, et cetera. We have peaceful moments sitting in pews below high vaulted ceilings, amid utterly monumental beauty.
We have lunch in a modest café in nearby Genova. From there, curiosity led me south to drive through Playas des Palmas, the notorious beach town abutting Palma where local papers say crime runs rampant. Hal thought it was hilarious that in one news article, thirteen prostitutes were cautioned and just one arrested. “Go thee not and sin again!” he pronounced. Playas des Palmas is every bit the horror show I’d heard tell of; the beach looks sort of nice but fake, but it’s crowded by blocks of seedy hotels teeming with young drunks. Adios!
From there we head southwest to the pleasingly undeveloped coastal towns, S’Estanyol and Sa Rapita. Modest houses abut the sea. Children jump from jagged rocks into choppy waves. We head north to Sanctuari de Monti-sion. The hilltop church has a magnificent view over the surrounding plains, as if you could see the earth’s curve across the anciently plotted farmland. The church is locked up, empty, but the courtyard is nice to linger in. The john has buzzing flies that remind Damon of “The Exorcist.” We find a working well and haul up ice cold water from below.
Back at the house, over yet another delicious meal made by him, Hal goes on a rant about politics: the Spanish government’s corruption scandal; the government will fall, it won’t fall. Meanwhile, whistleblower Edward Snowden is forever in a Moscow airport lounge, a Dante-like circle of Hell. Hal asks, “Why return to America to be tortured?”
Thursday July 11
Hal prefers to grocery shop at Mercadona so we head to nearby Palmanova. Mercadona is a large store frequented by aggressive old Spanish ladies easy to imagine as fascists. Later, we learn from Hal we’ve chosen the wrong bananas, but live and learn.
Back at the house’s garden, there are lemons enough for all. Damon has taken to eating at least two a day. We feel the place’s abundance, even if Damon also has caterpillar bites. As if in sympathy with his stricken husband, he tripped on the uneven stone stairs outside the house and fell into a patch of pine needles. Now he’s scratching too.
After the trauma of the grocery store, Damon and I enjoy lunch in Manacor, hometown of the greatly beloved, much admired, ever-gracious Rafa Nadal. It’s not just that Rafa is the world’s best tennis player, his handsome Spanish goatlike hynotises.
After a light gazpacho, we head to Cala Falco and the Cova Pirata. However, once we’re there we find the gate towards Falco locked. It’s boiling hot and I’m worried this quest of mine might overly try Damon’s patience so we follow Mallorceans down a wooded path to another beach. Along the way we encounter a loose horned bull, who regards us nonchalantly. After about twenty minutes, we reach the sandy beach, Cala Varques.
We head to a rocky outcrop to the right, making long awaited blissful plunges into cool turquoise water. This is also a place for nudists though we’re more modest. Damon and I swim into a shallow cave, and the water glimmers a magical greenish-blue. Before leaving, we see another bull munching a bush near the beach. Damon snaps a pic.
We head back to Bendinat, where Kate and young Oscar have arrived.
Cova Pirata would have to wait for another day.
Friday July 12
In the morning, a pedestrian points at the front of our rental Panda as we leave Bendinat. We drive to Soller through the mountain tunnel. In that pretty village, we happen upon a small museum on a side street in an old house.
Displayed on three floors are glorious religious statues, old woven birdcages, side-saddles, musical instruments, botanical and other paintings, tilework, pottery. Outside is a peaceful courtyard filled with flowers.
Afterwards, we sit in the town’s main square and contently eat tiny strawberries and lemons, watching kids scooter past and the old train rattle by again and again on its way up through the mountains to Palma.
Retrieving the Panda in the parking lot, Damon points out we haven’t a front license plate. Someone took it. That’s what that guy had been pointing to earlier that morning. We decide to take a quick dip at the beach in Port de Soller before heading back to the rental car place.
After cool dips on a touristy but pleasant beach, we hurriedly change clothes in a parking lot behind a hotel near the beach, then head back through the tunnel. The Arash car rental guy is upset: “What a day!” When I return to our Panda, which we’re switching out for another car, I realize I don’t have my wallet, haven’t seen it since the parking lot in the Port. I overturn my bag on the ground and search through it all. (Take note of this.) Damon groans. The Fiat Panda is replaced by a Ford Focus. We head hopelessly back through the tunnel to the parking lot in Port de Soller for a look, to no avail. We head back again through the tunnel to Bendinat, feeling glum.
At the house, Kate soothes my mania. I still have my passport, she says.
Saturday July 13
Chase card cancelled. American Express Corporate card voided. At long last I reach by phone the VISA lady, who cancels my card and offers me $500 cash advance to be sent via Western Union. This seems a good idea so I needn’t borrow the funds generously offered by Kate. Possibly from India, the customer sales rep is my first personable phone encounter for a while, and she seems entirely sympathetic to my plight. Hal and Kate later say I misheard, that she said “Nancy,” but when the customer service rep was repeating and spelling my Security Code—I really thought the she said “N, as in Nazi.” Anyway, the nice lady gave me a secure i.d. number to present to Western Union for the funds. I would receive a call on Monday telling me the nearest location to pick them up.
We swap back our Ford Focus for the Panda. I’m glad. I prefer the stick to the automatic. It keeps you utterly alert on Mallorca’s treacherous roads filled with speedy maniacs.
Back at the house, I realize that I have also lost my New York apartment keys, but don’t tell anyone. Damon’s set of keys are with our neighbor Ian, who is watering our plants. I have Marlene Dietrich on the brain. At the house, Hal adds to the atmosphere by playing a CD of her crooning “Falling in Love Again.”
Sunday July 14
The next morning, despite no longer having a drivers license, I drive with Damon to the Llevant, a rugged peninsula. In one of my sailing books, I spotted a remote shingle beach called Punta des Calo near the promontory’s tip. The road there was pretty rough on our Panda—a single lane rocky path, really. In a rare marital role reversal, Damon encourages us to go on. It seems healthy to me that we occasionally switch roles. Anyway, we finally decide to turn back and squeak our way to the only-moderately-bad road. We park there and climb downhill to a jaw-droppingly gorgeous beach. Everything’s gonna be alright, yeah. The white sand descends in a shallow slope to yachts moored nearby. Sun and waters soothe.
Swimming out and looking back at the beach, above are giant sunbaked rocky mountain peaks, where we’ve hiked previous trips. There’s an ancient hermitage up there I’d like to visit sometime … Who’s happy? I am.
Hal was right about buying the fruit at Cidon, the grocery store in Portals he despises. The cherries we brought along aren’t as good as fruit purchased from the hated Mercadona. Our bocadillos are delicious though.
From the beach near Betlem, we wander in the car across farming country; to a cemetery near Santa Margalida, a dour town where we also stop in at its massive and gloomy church. We buy a Coke at a roadside soda machine in Muro, a dusty burg depopulated by the Black Plague in the 13th century. After reaching the beloved and picturesque village of Pollensa, Damon suggests we once again climb the 365 stairs to the ancient church, Calvari. Ascending the low stone stairs, we see across the way to the mountaintop monk’s sanctuari (where a miracle saved our lives two years before while driving its steep hill but that’s another story). We arrive at Calvari and sit in the simple 13th century chapel. At the outside café, we lounge among lazy cats and a friendly deaf man, sipping soothing beverages.
Monday July 15
Today we return to the Cales de Mallorca with Oscar and Kate, determined to visit Cova Pirata. Hal said that even when some signs state Prohibito, if the gates are unlocked it’s often a sign for smart locals that it’s okay to pass. Then again, he tells another story where a trespasser was shot crossing an estate. Today the gate isn’t unlocked but we hop it, walking down a wide path that quickly degenerates. The sun is blazing. Oscar walks atop a stone wall, wanting pics taken of his dramatic jumps with colorful cape in breeze. Literal bullshit unnerves Kate. I’m not sure she heard me when I said the local bulls seem quite calm. The path has disappeared and we’re crossing scrubland ripping at our exposed legs. “When’s the fun part?” asks Damon. Then below to the right I spot Cala Varques, the sandy beach we went to the other day. We decide to refresh ourselves there but when we descend to an actual path we find ourselves at another heavenly inlet: a different stony beach circling turquoise waters. Though I know this is not the Pirate Cove I seek, here are caves below soaring cliffs.
We set up a spot and take the exhilarating plunge into cool waters.
Across from us, free climbers again scale a stone arch, failing to cross it before falling 40 or so feet into the water. Above that is a spot from which a few people jump, which spurs on Oscar again to take the frightful plunge.
He does it a few more times, then eggs me on to do it as well. Why not? I’m here. I try not to think of it too much, even as I am 50 feet above the water. The fall is faster than expect, the impact powerful, coming up for air exhilarating. Oh my.
One of the giant caves gets chillier as you swim your way into it. I’m shivering a bit at the smoothed-out end, where a small dark window expels air and sea spray; an earthly spirit spitting. In the cave’s far end, we cool down a chocolate bar that melted on our trek, then move back to the light to share it.
We have bocadillos (mine chorizo), cold potatoes, aqua con gas. We swim more, sun more, then Oscar and I go in search of Cala Falco. We take a path over the nearby hill, along the way encountering startling stone arches and stunning geographical vistas, not to mention naked people below, frolicking among stalactites. Walking along the cliff, Oscar poses for a tourist boat traveling a hundred feet below. Passengers raise their cameras, filming his dramatic cape flowing in the wind; he hopes it goes viral.
We arrive at Cala Falco, which is so thickly covered with pungent seaweed that we don’t know if we’ll sink into it like quicksand. I lower Oscar with his cape.
The ground is spongey but solid, and fragrant. We bounce across the soft surface to a cave opening. We forgot the flashlight in the car, but inside the cave camera flashes illuminates a rocky path, leading where we couldn’t say.
Bliss. Outside we’re relieved to jump into the sea and swim along the coast, finding two more caves, watched over by numerous cormorants. One cave mysteriously ascends upwards. Had we our flashlight, we’d now be rich in pirate booty.
Returning to Damon and Kate, we take a last swim, finding yet another magical cave inlet, this one with soaring stalactites among a cathedral like ceiling. Here is where we’d earlier seen the nude frolickers, but now its opulence was ours alone.
We drive to Manacor for coffee then grab pizzas from Portals Nous to bring home. Hal’s gotten himself cranky worrying about Spanish drivers and my license-less existence. He thought we’d been tossed in jail. Food improves his mood. After a late swim below and game of catch with Oscar, Damon retires before we play another round of the card game “Hearts.” I am determined to restore my reputation among these card sharks, am actually ahead for much of the game, then abruptly felled by Oscar’s Queen of Spades. Kate wins.
Tuesday July 16
Yesterday the VISA folks didn’t call with the Western Express location but Hal says there’s one near Mercadona in Palma Nova. I drive there alone but they haven’t cash, and refer me to another Western Union in Cala Major, where they also don’t have cash. The friendly woman there gives me the address of the post office on busy Carrer Joan Miro nearby in Porto Pi.
I stop at an Internet café. I want to email my neighbor Sara and arrange to get my spare set of keys upon our return. Surprise! I find a message from RK in Soller: he has found my wallet. He gave it to the police in Soller.
I go to the post office but the address the Western Union lady gave me is a closed down bar. Hal’s voice in my head denounces Spanish inefficiency. I find the blistering hot, non-air conditioned Correos a block away, and wait in a long line. I have a ticket: I’m number 25. Ahead of me are two Iranians sending 6 massive packages to Kish Island in Iran (an Islamic beach destination). Finally, I’m at the front of the line and am informed that they too do not have cash, I should go to the downtown Palma post office. I give up on Western Union.
Bolstered by RK’s honorable actions, I return to share the good news with everyone about my wallet. I want to phone RK, whose phone has a Norwegian prefix. Hal is riled up: he knew I should have called the Soller police but no one listened. He gets critical and I tell him not to agitate himself. After browbeating me a bit more, Hal tells me he used to be a p.i. in Florida and brings out a wrinkled business card; Southeastern Investigations was based in Coral Cables, Florida. Trying to make up, I promise to put his card in my wallet if he’ll accept me as a client. He growls an okay and says later he’ll tell me about one of his investigations in particular. “I hope you didn’t compromise yourself morally,” I say. “I certainly did!” he boasts.
Damon and I drive through the mountain tunnel yet again and arrive at the Soller police station just off the main square. At a front counter manned by a single blue-eyed officer, we go through a pile of envelopes but do not find my wallet. With a language barrier, the twentysomething cop tells me there are a few other wallets but they are locked in an office that is only open in the morning. I can return tomorrow. When that fails to make me leave, he finds on the computer that the only wallet locked in that room belongs to an Edward Norton. (The Edward Norton? What’s he doing here?) From the counter, we phone the kindly RK, who is still in Soller despite shamus Hal saying that “he’s long gone to Oslo.” RK says he found my wallet and phoned police, that a male and female officer came together and retrieved it. After hanging up, Blue Eyes tells me they never travel to pick up a wallet. So RK wrote me this email but he’s lying or crazy? I ask. I can only think the police stole my money, but saying so precipitates massive Oh, no, no, no-s. Our policeman walks Damon and I over to the train car tourist center where an English speaker is brought in to translate. I ask him to call RK, but he doesn’t want to. He asks who this other person cc.d on the email is: Who is Francisca G? Officer Blue Eyes says they have no women on the police force. “It is impossible!” he declares. The two of them say that perhaps my wallet is with the beach police, whose office is now closed. We could walk the beach in Port de Soller and look for police if we like. Returning to the station, a random long-haired tattooed civilian enters, joins the conversation and suggests the possibility that my wallet was with the national police, the Guardia Civil. Yes, they have female officers, agrees Blue Eyes. I’m advised to go to the office of the Guardia Civil, though it is closed until 4:30–a good time to commit a crime, it seems.
It’s 3:15 so we retire to Bar Nadal for lunch. Damon is discouraged but I tell him we were fine yesterday without the wallet and will be fine today without it but now it’s become a quest! RK gave someone in uniform my wallet. It’s here. I have a delicious tortilla espanola, Damon a hamburguesa – a pork burger.
At 4:45, we go to the Guardia Civil office, greeted by a strikingly handsome cop who declares of my wallet with stilted enthusiasm, “I know it!” I’m encouraged, then less so when he riffles through metal desk drawers. Then he leaves and we hear voices from down the hall for some long time. How much could there be to discuss? Finally, an older man returns with my wallet: all my cards (now cancelled) but other ID and 125 Euros. “This I call mucho suerte–very good luck!” says the older cop.
We love the handsome policeman as he draws up official papers to sign. His brown hair is trimmed short, uniform tight, hands sensitive as he types the report, face and limbs tanned. I try to distract myself with the fact that the Guardia Civil executed the poet Gabriel Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War, but it’s to no avail.
Later, back at the house, after everyone else has gone to bed, Hal tells me the story of his stuttering college pal Putty, and what happened to him at a classy Marrakesh brothel in the 1960s.
Wednesday July 17
We drive up the hill to Portals Nous with Hal. He’s getting his hair cut. We have a sandwich at Bar Neu. Damon cashes in his lottery ticket: 1.5 Euros. “Call the girls!” the old man at the counter jokes. But then Damon reinvests his winnings, counting on Hal to let us know when we’ve hit it big so we can then settle permanently in Mallorca.
That afternoon, I paddle the surfboard across the bay to Isle de la Torre, this time with Kate and Oscar. Far below the crumbling stone tower used to watch for Moors, we paddle around the rocky island to Pebble Beach, then we ford sun-soaked boulders to reach Octopus Beach. Diving in goggles in those blue waters, with cliffs straight down to the sea, colorful mackerels flash in blue light. Underwater, I gaze up at sunlight bobbing above on the water’s glassy surface. No octopus yet.
Here again, Oscar jumps from a giant boulder into the sea. After years of encouraging her son to be brave and bold, Kate manages to stay quite calm as her years-long efforts at confidence-building blossom with terrifying effect.
Back at home now Damon is reading “Marlene.” He alarms me by saying that some of the German traditions described in the scandalous biography sound like my family.
We have dinner on the serene terrace at Helmut’s restaurant in the Bendinat hills. Earlier that day when getting his hair cut, Hal had gotten the lowdown on the closing of our mourned-for favorite restaurant, Portals Village, formerly known as Flintstones. The local barber, a notorious gossip, said a certain someone blew all the restaurant’s money on drugs. Getting his hair cut always provided Hal with updates on all the local scandals and outrages, usually involving real estate.
The dinner was a thank you from Kate to me for her commission of a diorama from me for a birthday gift for another friend. Kate is telling Hal about the art project while I’m distracted by the salted padrone peppers and albondigas Moroccan style. Throwing a familiar line, Hal says, “That was your second mistake.” Out of his grandfather’s earshot, Oscar adds, “That’s what she said when I brought her home.” The prawns are exquisite, the paella is too.
Thursday July 18
We fly from Palma to Dusseldorf. A dreary four hours there once again bring to mind Edward Snowden, still trapped in Moscow airport purgatory. We arrive in New York City, now 97 degrees and in the midst of a stultifying heat wave. In the cab from JFK, just before the Queens Midtown Tunnel, I tell Damon about the lost apartment keys.