Mallorca: The Scent of Pine

Hal’s place, called Mon Repos, was in Bendinat, Mallorca’s version of Beverly Hills. His house was carved into a cliff above a stony beach in a tiny cove, Cala Oli.  On this trip I learned from Hal that the room I slept in was Bendinat’s first room. The long dead husband of the aged owner of Hal’s place had been an amigo of Franco’s. In revolutionary times, this amigo had let Franco know when the anarchists showed up in Mallorca to raise dust. As a reward, after his conquest, Franco told him to pick out a property he liked. This clever fascist chose a desolate area of cliffs and built a stony fishing shack–now my room.

Le Torrent

Le Torrent

My friend Kate grew up in Mallorca. I had been there five years earlier with her and Eamon. The highlight of that trip may have been camping on the stony bottom of a miles-long, snaky cavern. Utterly dark, the inky night felt exotic and powerfully beautiful. Mournful bleats of unseen goats echoed down the cavern.

Kate was spending her summer months in Mallorca with baby Oscar, ten months old. I was coming along for the two weeks, in part to help entertain the Wee One.  Eamon would be there after I left. 

Across the bay I can swim to a small, nearly treeless island, upon which rests a weary, decayed, stone tower, built in the sixteenth century to watch for invading Moors. A wealth of beach glass could be found in one of its beach inlets, whittled into the side of the island’s rock as if hidden. Why beach glass collects just here in this Zen spot, I don’t know. In years past, under a perfect blue Mediterranean sky, waves lapping at my bare feet, time had slipped away as I sifted stones and sand to find the tiny sea-polished chips of glass.

Some of Hal’s stories may on the long side, and they frequently end with a condemnation of depraved American culture, which of course I can’t exactly disagree with, although when you look out across the terrace it seems wrong to be depressed about anything. And it was fine to tune out Hal during his diatribes. If he was rattling on about how one shouldn’t ingest cold liquids because the stomach is hot, neither Kate nor Oscar noticed if my attention wandered out the window, over the garden trees swaying in the breeze and across the waves of the salty oh-so-very-blue Mediterranean Sea.

Hal was either an argument for or against the expat life. He consistently followed his stories with a punchy exclamation, examples being “Zingo,” “Clock,” “Chapeau chapeau,” and “Muy bien.” He is working his way through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica dated from mid-last century—he’s up to N, I think. For an old guy, he stays in pretty good shape, playing tennis at the club. He also drinks with an expat gang: most, unfortunately, British

Kate’s quietness sometimes freaks people out, but it might just be her Teutonic beauty. She’s actually shy, and also doesn’t waste words saying anything far off the point. I find her silences soothing. Certainly, in New York stoicism is a rare commodity. It all might have something to the fact that she doesn’t eat sugar.

Oscar had one phrase: “Eee!”  We tried to get him onto “Ooo!” and experimented with a few others, but this entire visit Wee One remained faithful to “Eee!” We rolled trucks around, knocking over plastic rings. Whether eating something or whacking at it, crawling Oscar was on an energetic quest to impact his environment. I wonder if this primal urge lasts.

Breakfast was only the first round of Hal lavishing his prodigious cooking skills upon us. After, mornings were usually spent below on the beach, reading, floating, banging together rocks for Oscar’s benefit.  After lunch, I’d climb the hill to a commercial bend in the road, buy the International Herald Tribune and maybe the British Sun. I’d peruse the papers over a beer at the inexplicably themed bar “Flintstones.”

After I’d sometimes pick up groceries, invariably annoying Hal by paying too much for chewy Germanic bread or mineral water. I had quickly learned to never tell him what anything cost; otherwise, I’d hear a lecture on where or when he could get it cheaper, even if that was 25 years ago. Zingo!

I’d make my way back for dinner, nearly always assigned the innocuous task of chopping and dicing.  When our meal was done and Oscar put to bed, the sun was already setting. The last ferry sailed for Barcelona. In the dark, the sound and smell of the waves encouraged vivid dreams. 

I am awed by the Spanish constitution. With dinner at ten or eleven, the discos don’t start throbbing until 2:30 (though I’m not sure they’re worth the wait).  I’m no rock and roll party hound like my friend Alev, but I sometimes like to go out, hang in bars, possibly dance. On my previous trip I’d checked out the gay bars in the seedy Palma neighborhood Gomila.

Since my last visit, a new bar “Flesh” had appeared on the strip, run by a jovial Brit.

The evening I wandered through its doorway, it had just one customer sitting at its row of barstools. Skinny, he wore bookish glasses. He later told me he had been there approximately one minute before I accosted him. Perched on the next stool over, I startled the handsome Spaniard with an eruptive conversational geyser.

In my defense, my arrival from New York was recent, and it wasn’t like Kate or Oscar talked much. This stream-of-consciousness patter was symptomatic of the Manhattan Bends–the painful process of re-introducing and attempting to socialize New Yorkers into The Rest of the World.  I made Carlos Alfonso de Reyes Rodriguez laugh. His teeth were beautiful. A muscled form rustled beneath loose clothing.

From Madrid, he was on the island for the summer, working at a hotel as “an entertainer.” Huh? Prodded for specifics, he sang, danced and acted in a show in the Las-Vegas-style-nightmare beachtown of Palma Nova. In the fall, Carlos would return to Madrid and his study of sociology.

Not being a heavy drinker or barfly like his fellow performers, Carlos had only been to Flesh. Touring Palma’s gay scene, we found Flesh the best of the lot.  Yuppi Bar was empty, overly air-conditioned with a chromed ambiance and all the goldfish crackers you can eat. Status was a pretentious Brit bar, Burberry-uptight. Marcus was a parody of mirrored 70s disco bars, (except there are so many of this sort of parody maybe they’re not parodies but a real thing—hard to tell).  Finally, at the California Club, Carlos and I danced together on a Travolta-style dance floor. At the bar, we began a kiss that ended a few hours later, asleep in each other’s arms in his Palma Nova apartment.

Three days later in Bendinat, I woke up feeling nauseous and with a headache. With sinking hope, I unpacked and repacked my bag, searching through any and all pockets: I had lost Carlos’ cell number. We had made plans to go exploring Saturday, and I was to phone and finalize them. Hal’s lack of a phone made it impossible for Carlos to call me. Even if he could find his way back through Bendinat’s hilly maze of streets, he wouldn’t just show up without my call.

I brought myself back to our late-night drive through Palma Nova, tried to remember where he turned off before he keyed open the barrier to his parking lot. I thought of his balcony where I had watched the golden beach awake under the morning sun.  His apartment building was white, about eight stories tall, in a crunched L-shape at a 45-degree angle from the beach. Carlos had emerged onto the balcony and pointed across the way to a huge building. “There’s the hotel where I work.” All was not lost.  Despite the upset stomach, I’d catch the bus to Palma Nova and leave a note on his car’s windshield … if I could find it.

It was cheap for the British to vacation in raucous Palma Nova, which had been and full of flushed-faced drunken party fiends the night I’d been there with Carlos. Under the afternoon sun, its long beach didn’t look half-bad if you ignored the beet-red bathers. I walked the sands a few times, failing to find the right building at the right angle. I probably should have worn a hat. The sun blazed. I drank Coke after Coke. Still feeling a bit oogy, I reconsidered my quixotic quest. But then, heading back to the bus stop, I saw a bar called “Lady Diana.” Next to it was the parking lot with Carlos’ dusty white car. I had found it when I stopped looking.

Under the windshield wipers, I left a note with instructions to Hal’s and a funny drawing, then looked over at the large hotel where Carlos worked. I cased the joint. Next to its pool was a stage where a few performers were setting up. They wore uniforms of orange pants, a white shirt and loose blue vests. I asked a buff blonde British guy if he knew of Carlos from Madrid who performed here. He said Carlos was just coming down

Walking to the stage, he saw me and did not look pleased–possibly related to the silly outfit he had to wear. Quickly, I explained I had lost his number and left directions for Saturday on his windshield, and then I beat it, squashing a huge curiosity to see what entertainment was about to be performed.

Back on the bus, the air conditioning went out. The odor of freon mixed with a hot breeze blowing through the vehicle’s open windows. The bus filled up with passengers, making frequent stops. I distracted myself by watching where the dripping water from the ceiling would fall. Not feeling well, I nevertheless wanted to make a trip into Palma.  I had heard of a store in the old quarter behind the cathedral where I might buy Mallorquin cloth.

Just entering Palma, the lurching of the bus, the revolting odors–they got to me. I rang the bell and rushed out the rear exit. At a grocery, I bought seltzer and gulped it down. It felt so good. I walked a block farther towards the cathedral when suddenly, violently, I ralphed on the sidewalk. A woman walking with her child shielded him from my degenerate vomiting. I went behind a Dumpster and finished up, thinking all the while of Hal saying, “It was because of the O rings the Space Challenger had exploded.  Don’t put cold on hot.” Clock!

Saturday morning I sat outside Hal’s, reading The Poisonwood Bible on the stone steps leading down to the sea. Carlos was late. I thought he might not come after I had stalked him. He had not looked happy to see me.

He arrived fifteen minutes later with a good excuse for his tardiness. His car had been trapped in his lot, the barrier would not rise. He managed to squeeze his small vehicle through the side next to a bench, scraping off a bit of the car’s rear corner. It’s hard not to be pleased to hear of someone making such a strenuous effort to see you. 

We drove through past Inca, the center of the island, and headed to the Formentor Peninsula. Mysterious, hump-backed mountains along the way captured my imagination but they could wait for another trip.  Carlos told me there was a chance he might get a sociology gig in Mallorca this fall, providing he could learn the Mallorquin language–no small feat.  We talked of music and books. On his bookshelf, I had seen an Italian-language edition of Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover and I told him about how Susan Sontag had made a friend of mine cry at a writers’ colony. Feeling lucky to have come across Carlos, I told him so, and he kissed me. 

With a European enjoyment of fearless driving, he raced his beat-up car up the perilous, winding road to Formentor, accompanied by a tapedeck playing Spanish rappers. The sea dropped below and we searched for a good place to stop for a meal and swim, finally pulling to the shoulder

Holding hands on a wooded path, we could see the stunning beach and azure inlet far below. Why was the Mediterranean water so blue? It took my breath away. In a break in the trees, we sat and I unpacked Spanish red wine, bocadillos and fruit.  The sun, wine, grapes and lips, words and silences, combined into such a contented feeling I was reluctant to move from Carlos’s arms. 

But watching a few forms far below splashing in the blue, after a while we decided to make our way down the dusty path to join them. The aqua water was warm. With his back turned, I disappeared into the water, retrieving white sand. Rising to the surface, I plopped in onto Carlos’ lustrous black hair. The air itself seemed magic.

Back in the car, the curvy road was like a parody of a curvy road but it was real. Settled high on a cliff at its dramatic end was the whitewashed Formentor lighthouse. Turning from this windy point, I looked behind at the dried grass hillside; terraced with crumbling, stone walls, abandoned long ago to the elements. I imagined a goatherd at this spot, seeing the same striking vista, with Columbus’s carvels sailing far below. Far in the distance, I could just make out a tiny boat, its sail a sliver of white in the blue. And from the boat, what did the sailors see?

The view from my sixth-floor walk-up is across East Village rooftops to the Williamsburg Bridge and beyond to Brooklyn. I’m lucky to have any sky, but it’s still like I’m in a tiny box looking out. Here, with Carlos, I felt more completely within the spatial equation. Chapeau chapeau!

Moving on: at first, I thought Pollensa lacked charm. After parking the car, we wandered its narrow streets, finding a sadsack festival setting up stage around the central square. It was impossible to find food. But the town, founded in the 13th century by the Knights Templar, grew on me. A woman tending bar where we finally found sustenance told us to climb the hill to the old chapel, then make our way back down the 365 Chinese steps.

The chapel at El Calvari was simple and beautiful, with a magnificent, heavenly view to the mountains and sea. I borrowed Carlos’ glasses. The sea level of the Mediterranean looked higher on one side of a mountain than the other.  How could it be?

We descended down the low steps, sided by beautiful homes and apartments bursting with flowers. Pointing to a sign advertising a rental, I told Carlos that is where he could keep me. While he toiled in Palma Nova, I would wait here for him all week long. On weekends we would ravish each other.

“And how many lovers would you take during the week?”

I pointed to the hilltop church. “I’d spend every day of the week in the chapel, praying for your safe return.”

We decided to make the terrifying drive through the mountains past towering Cala Major to the town of Deia, the seaside village where Robert Graves wrote “I, Claudius.” While the car struggled up the road, the tape player’s music abruptly changed. Tom Jones’s song “Sex Bomb” came on.

I raised my eyebrows and Carlos admitted, “I had to learn this song as part of my act.”

“And what would I have to do to get you to perform it for me?”

“There is nothing you can do,” he answered. And then of course I couldn’t get the tune out of my head.

As we drove, to the right I saw a rise of old stone walls and olive trees which reminded me of a hill Kate, Eamon and I had climbed at the end of the long hike up Torrent de Pareis. Then I saw on the right there was the isolated mountaintop restaurant where we had waited for a bus. This was the same place! 

Carlos stopped the car so we could look. In the distance, a chunk of mountain was missing--the canyon we’d hiked. From there you could see a gap snaking through lesser mountains. High across the valleys was a collection of buildings. If memory served, it a monastery. Turning my gaze to Brother Sex Bomb, I imagined the possibilities of a life of devotion in splendid isolation.

In Deia, on a restaurant’s balcony we ate salad and pizza. On the street below, two boys whizzed past on one skateboard. A skinny, gray cat deigned to sit in my lap, her presence in exchange for anchovies.

Years ago, we had camped on a cliff above Deia’s beach and I was eager to show Carlos the beautiful cove. We finished dinner as the light faded, making our way down the path I recalled. As we descended and it got darker, I realized I had miscalculated how long it took to actually reach the beach. By the time we had rushed down and arrived at water’s edge, there was but a glimmer of light in the darkening sky. Awaiting our arrival, it quickly fled as we arrived on the shore. I was embarrassed I had screwed up the distance and how ahead of us was a moonless walk up the wooded path, but Carlos dismissed my apologies. “This is how memories are made.”

I stripped and dived in the darkening waves.  Carlos sat on a sun-whitened log and watched the sky, the water, me.

Our walk back was full of gropes, stumbles over rocks and roots, into trees. At one point in the pitch black, Carlos’ cell phone rang–a comic intrusion into our pitch-black netherworld. “Where am I?” he said into the phone, laughing. “I haven’t any idea. I can’t even see my hand in front of my face!”

We got on the road back to Carlos’s apartment, driving through inland mountains and past the village of Valdemossa with its lit-up church tower. I leaned my head out the car window, dazzled by the explosion of stars in the clearest of night skies. Carlos maneuvered around mountainous curves while celestial space swirled above. It was dreamlike but I was exactly in that pine-scented moment. Muy bien.