Hippies in Ibiza, Balearic Islands, 1972. Photo by Rudolf Dietrich, Getty Images

“On a soft bed I will lay my limbs”. Islands, happiness in a corner

The idea of ​​happiness (modest but real) attributed to the islands is a consequence of not experiencing the units of time in the same way they are experienced in the continent. But one only perceives this quality if he is foreign. This fact is largely explained by isolation itself, which undoubtedly makes more fruitful the broad cycles of influence that forge the character: the legacy of the great empires, the inheritance of periods of invasion and the winds, effluvia of wisdom.

J

osep Pla explains that in the days when the boats began to be motor-moved, when a stranger stepped on Formentera he, until the arrival of another stranger, did not lose such consideration. Unaccustomed to foreign presences, the news spread so quickly that when the newcomer entered an establishment, or crossed paths with a curious person, they would tell him: “so, you are the stranger”. In the words of Pla, Formentera was a paradise of modest but real happiness. It is a judgment that even now is valid. The inhabitants of Formentera themselves, nevertheless, did not see it thus. We are missing so many things! they said. When the author from Empordà asked them what they were crying out for, the plea ended up being limited to a disproportionate interest in living among apothecaries, doctors and lawyers. Then Pla answered them, referring to the island, that this one, a country of healthy people -and luckily without lawsuits- became unpleasant to people with liberal studies. Even so, the explanation did not manage to detach them from the nostalgia they felt for the bad continental life.

It is not strange that certain continental souls, especially the tormented ones, from time to time seek shelter in the slow inertia of the islands.

The idea of ​​happiness (modest but real) attributed to the islands is a consequence of not experiencing the units of time in the same way they are experienced in the continent. But one only perceives this quality if he is foreign. This fact is largely explained by isolation itself, which undoubtedly makes more fruitful the broad cycles of influence that forge the character: the legacy of the great empires, the inheritance of periods of invasion and the winds, effluvia of wisdom. As with people exposed to long intervals of quietude, islands are identities much closer to fullness. On the contrary, the continental character, except for the territories with scarce communication networks, is incomplete and always interfered by the noise and short and changing stimuli that come from the transfer of neighbouring lands. It is not strange that certain continental souls, especially the tormented ones, from time to time seek shelter in the slow inertia of the islands.

Baltasar Porcel explains that Tiberius, the Roman emperor, found in the islands the right place for his temperament and his mistrustful, malevolent and greedy condition. As a young man he secluded himself in Rhodes and as an old man in Capri, where he would go on practicing orgies and sadism. Others found the perfect hiding place for contraband, or a place for abandoning themselves in soporific yawns. The consolation of an orchard that venerates the true fruit and the clouds that, like a beacon for the wandering navigators that we are -when letting our lives in the hand of mobile- bring us back to the original course, closer to the detail, closer to the skin that we desire, to the perfumes and the chromatic arrangements.

An island is an idea for romantics, schizophrenics, lunatics. A circle of invisible complicities hatched to preserve the secret of a way of life that is difficult to describe. Perhaps the most proper would be to describe it as diaphanous. Diaphanous life.

In Sicily, for example, the degree of parsimony of the inland roads, the drift of the one who works in the kitchen while waiting for coffee to rise, or the dream of the one who at the bar looks at the game of cards, does not correspond to the majority of the continental peoples. Neither in Camiguin, the island with more volcanoes and churches per square meter of the planet, of exuberant nature, market crowded with flies and with the face of Jesus Christ, defiant as that of Che, Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin, printed on the chest of the shirts. Nor in Rosala, an old Viking site where in winter they play to follow the morbid trickle of the vague bodies in the sauna.

An island is an idea for romantics, schizophrenics, lunatics. A circle of invisible complicities hatched to preserve the secret of a way of life that is difficult to describe. Perhaps the most proper would be to describe it as diaphanous. Diaphanous life. And diaphanous, with no other remedy, of loneliness, longing and free of neat sentimentality. Look at how Sappho, the poet of Lesbos -origin of lesbianism- draws it in one of her verses: On a soft bed / I will lay my limbs.

The despair perpetuated in Sappho the condition of stranger. Her despair, like every despair, wanted time and limits achievable and, on the island, despite the torment, she found her place.

Little remains of Sappho’s work. The documents burned at the bonfires of the Catholic Church. She had devoted part of her art to writing songs on request. To a large extent for weddings, and among these, for the wedding of her students, many with which she fell madly in love, as she expressed, without reservation, in some of the verses: It seems to me equal to gods / the man who in front of you / sits down, and nearby listens to you / talking sweetly / and lovely laughter; this really, / hits my heart inside my chest, / so when I look at you for a moment, it is no longer possible / to say a word […].

The despair perpetuated in Sappho the condition of stranger. A constant and parsimonious reunion with the family contours of Lesbos that kept her in the role of foreigner. Her despair, like all despair, wanted time and limits achievable and, on the island, despite the torment, she found his corner; a corner of happiness, modest but real.