Ibiza: A Navel Voyage

If there was ever a place where a man may be tempted to bite an unknown woman's navel, that place is Ibiza in August.


Karl Taro Greenfeld
April 8, 1997 1:35PM (UTC)

summer in Ibiza was fine until my friend Christopher, drunk on too
much tequila and Pescador wine -- an intoxicatingly sweet and fizzy Sprite-like white wine -- bit Isabella Estrapulos,
the granddaughter of the most powerful man on the island,
on the navel. I didn't witness the act; I had stayed
home that night. It all started innocently enough when Chris and my girlfriend, Silka, drove to the center of
Ibiza's old city to rendezvous with a few of our friends at Banana's, a
popular joint overlooking the harbor. Chris began slamming tequila shots
and ogling the women promenading along the boardwalk. Then came the incident
that could be either dismissed as youthful indiscretion or prosecuted as
sexual harassment.

When Silka and Chris returned from their evening excursion only an hour and a half later, two sides had
already formed. On one side was everyone we knew; they were angry, insulted
and repulsed by Chris' misconduct. On the other side was Chris.
"He bit Isabella," said Veronique, a Dutch woman who had been living on
Ibiza for several years, "on the stomach."

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As those who witnessed the incident, or claimed to, recounted it, the
legend grew. By 1 a.m., when everyone headed off for a full moon party in
San Josep, Chris -- who had long since passed out -- had emerged as a kind of
Grendel on Vacation, terrorizing the city and gorging himself on tequila
and bellybuttons.


If there was ever a place where a man may be tempted to bite an unknown
woman's navel, that place is Ibiza in August. Ibiza is the third largest
of the Balearics, a group of four Mediterranean islands so small that on
most maps, only Majorca, the largest and most famous of the islands, merits a
touch of green topographical coloring. Ibiza is usually only a
speck, with its name flying from it like a pennant. While Ibiza exudes an atmosphere conducive to outlandish behavioral outbursts, it is Majorca that remains the most renowned Balearic, with Michael Douglas, Princess Stephanie of
Monaco, Alain Delon and Michael Caine all making regular cameos. Majorca is also the most heavily touristed, with more than 5 million visitors each year.

Ibiza is Majorca's funky cousin -- the island has a little bit of that
East Hampton-in-the-'50s flavor, when rising art world figures such as
Leo Castelli, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock lived or spent summers
on the island, and there was still good property for less than six digits.
Spanish aristocrats discovered the natural splendor of
Ibiza in the 1930s. Back then, the summer tradition among the best Spanish families was to take a two-month Balearic sojourn: a
month in Majorca for socializing and a month in Ibiza for recreation. But
it was the European artiste crowd that made Ibiza the multicultured,
multi-classed resort it is today. Dutch painter Jan Kramer, Polish director
Roman Polanski and the rock group Pink Floyd were among the first to give
Ibiza its boho reputation, and their legacy of soporific days and salacious
nights is still going strong.

Silka pointed out that Chris may have been overwhelmed by
that atmosphere, rendered momentarily senseless by the exposed midriffs
and microscopic minis displayed along Ibiza's waterfront, by the tanned,
muscled, studly goddesses and gods who walked the walk. Ibiza at night is
Sodom and Gomorrah, costumed by Frederick's of Hollywood and shot by
Steven Meisel. And Chris was a guy from New Jersey looking for a good time.
You do the math.

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until the navel incident, I had a good thing going on Ibiza. Silka's
family owned a house in Roc Lima, a development between Santa Eularia and
Ibiza City. Everyone's first reaction on walking into the house and taking
in the three-side wraparound ocean view was to breathe deep and sigh.

I suspect I was violating some rule of etiquette by having Chris come
over to Ibiza -- he was piggybacking on hospitality that had been extended
to me. Though Silka agreed to his coming, clearly she did so as a favor to
me.

"He must apologize," Silka judiciously decided, "and not just to
Isabella, but to everyone."

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"How?" I asked. "On Radio Ibiza?"

She wasn't in the mood for jokes. "To our friends, to Isabella, to
everyone who was there last night. And not just for his sake, but for
yours as well. Remember, you brought him here. It's your reputation."

She was right. For four years, we had been spending our summers on Ibiza. I had
dreams of buying property there, maybe settling down. Before coming to Ibiza with
Silka in 1991, I had been to some of the best resorts in the world: Koh
Samui (before it was ruined), Goa, Mykonos. But Ibiza was somehow different.
Not just the women, and the liquor, and the rich people, and all that -- that was part
of it -- but what I had seen in Ibiza was a softer, more refined world than any to which I had ever been privy. Silka knew everybody and had turned me on
to the fastest crowd and the hottest scenes. At Pacha, the hippest
nightclub in Ibiza, we got free drinks. At Divino, a French restaurant
affiliated with Paris' notorious Bain Douche, we were seated at the best
tables on the night of the festival de la virgen de las nieves
(the virgin of the snows), when fireworks were launched over Ibiza's old
fort and the yellow battlements glowed green, red and blue. At the
renovated finoas (farmhouses that had been converted to luxury
summer homes) of wealthy Germans and French, we were treated to good
meals and given access to cellars of fine wine.

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Ibiza was paradise, the first place on earth where I felt like I knew
the right people and had access to the sanctums of the elite and privileged -- the nightclubs, yachts,
dinner parties.

It was also beautiful -- that's the part you can't get over. The natural
splendor of the beautiful beaches and terraced olive groves, the winding
cobblestone streets and the sleepy, sun-burnt hamlets built around white-washed
stucco churches. After years in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo, I was a
sucker for old world aesthetics. Forget the Epcot Center, this was the real
thing. There were Ibicencan beaches where I had been swimming -- in the
nude, like everyone else on the island -- that surpassed anything I had ever
seen, even in National Geographic or those airplane magazines. Banearas: a
wide, sandy shore between verdant, gentle hills. Cap Falcon: a rocky cove surrounded by precipitous cliffs. El Diablo: a shallow inlet
wrapped around a giant, dagger-shaped boulder. Beaches, coves and inlets so
exquisite that in the middle of my daily half-mile swim, I
would sometimes stop, float, and just gaze up at the cliffs or the craggy
rocks or the sandy peninsulas, because this was paradise, this place, this
time, this instant. Nothing compared. I could not allow Chris' misconduct
to jeopardize this lifestyle, nor my relationship with Silka that made this
lifestyle possible.

"Tomorrow," I told Silka before going to bed, "we will make amends."

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But by the morning, Chris was gone. He had woken up with the sun and
hitched a ride into town. A promise was a promise: I had to find him, search
for Isabella, and then have him apologize. My relationship would be safe. My summer would proceed as planned.


I had introduced Chris to my custom of spending summer mornings -- or
early afternoons, or however one refers to that time between sleep and
siesta -- in the marble lobby of the six-story Montesol hotel and its adjoining cafe. At its best, this
first-class, wedding-cake hotel evoked the luxury, decadence and opulence of pre-Castro
Cuba, and at its worst, reminded one of the inefficiency, rudeness and
corruption of, say, pre-Castro Cuba. The service around the Montesol bar
was the second worst in Ibiza -- only at the Montesol's own sidewalk tables
could a customer feel more neglected. But the bow-tied, heat-stroked
waiters could afford to be surly because they were backed by the cachet of
their establishment; for the Montesol was the epicenter of Ibicencan daily
life.

The majority of the belly-up crowd who stood by the Montesol's oak
bar that morning were elderly Spanish men. They gossiped, smoked Fortuna
cigarettes or Cojiba cigars and downed more coffee than a Bogota Narcotics
Anonymous meeting.

The bar was where the local players wheeled and dealed. Sooner or
later, everyone on the island, from Polanski to Princess Fergie, turned
up. And consequently on this morning, so did Chris.
"I remember drinking at that bar," Chris said and then shook his
head when I recounted more details about the navel incident. "And that's it."

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"You bit
someone," I told him. "Someone important."

"Did I draw blood?"

"No."
"Then what's the big deal?"

A waiter deposited a cafe con jello in front of me.

"The
people you were with, those were my friends, but more importantly, they were
Silka's friends. You have to apologize."

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"To the girl?"

"Yes, to her,
to her family, before everyone thinks we're assholes."


Since Chris had
bitten the powerful Don Manuel Estrapulos' granddaughter, we were off to his gentlemen's club to offer our apologies.

There's a small, greenish bronze plaque in front of
the four-story, white stone building that reads Sociedad Cultural Y
Recreational Ebusus
(the old Phoenician spelling of Ibiza). The
Sociedad,
located half a block down Ibiza's main drag from Montesol, was
the island's oldest and most prestigious men's club. In high season, these
clubs serve as a velvet sanctuary, shielding members from the tourist
onslaught. There are numerous sitting rooms filled with plush green and red
velvet armchairs and long 19th century coffee and end tables. The vast
majority of paintings lining the dusty brown walls are second-rate copies
of famous portraits of Ferdinand, Isabella, the Duke of Alba, Genoan Prince
Emmanuelle, obese Pope John IV, a forgotten archbishop, some minor
inquisitor
and, yes, Francisco Franco. But a keen eye can spy, scattered among the
tedious rows of copy-cat art, a few genuine masterpieces: two original
Velázquez etchings and even a small Goya.

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The club has a movie theater, a library filled with Franco-era texts,
a full bar and a functioning restaurant. But the club's only room that is
in constant use is the gaming room.

There, members of the Estrapulos clan, owners of Banco Estrapulos -- a
one-time currency exchange operation that has expanded to become one of the
largest private banks in Spain -- and the guardians of Isabella Estrapulos'
dignity, gather to play tute or brisque, card games similar
to trumps and whist but requiring a 36-card baraja deck that has swords and trees as suits instead of spades and clubs.

Today, if you need a liquor license in Ibiza -- an Estrapulos has to
approve it. If you want to open a nightclub -- Don Manuel has to have a
piece.

He sat in a corner, reading El Pais and drinking red wine.
Several younger men, lesser members of the Estrapulos clan, sat around the
patriarch. They chewed cigars and looked like they were wanting to be told
what to do. Periodically, a waiter would carry over a phone and plug it
into the jack next to Don Manuel's table so he could make or take a
call.

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"Let's just apologize and get this over with," Chris suggested.
"I'll say sorry, and you use your Spanish."

"Pardon us, sir, for a little
moment," I said in the best Spanish I could muster. "But my friend has to
your daughter's daughter, made a --" I didn't know how to go on.

I
touched my midsection.

Don Manuel studied Chris and then pounded the
table. "She has been impregnated?"

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"NO!" I almost shouted. "No. With
teeth. It was achieved with teeth. I deliver many apologies and regrets, to your
person, and the person of your daughter's daughter --"

"Of what is he
talking?" asked one of Don Manuel's cronies.

Don Manuel shook his head. "Of that, I have no knowledge."


Driving back to the house, we were blinded by the dazzling
Mediterranean sun and choked by the dry, suffocating heat. It was a kind of
heat I had never experienced in Los Angeles, surpassing even a hot San
Fernando Valley afternoon. This was African heat; Saharan in intensity.

We drove along narrow, curved roads and over steep hills -- hills like
beige hippopotamuses -- where cars passed each other recklessly. This was despite the
roadside evidence that passing blind could be fatal: I counted seven
stripped car hulks along the potholed way. The flora resembled that of
California's coastline. There were even black scars in the hills where brush
fires had burned the chaparral.

Silka had left a note tacked to the front
door: "Went to San Carlos." I dropped Chris off and took off after
her.


The San Carlos Hippy Market is a bazaar sprawled over the expansive Las Dalias paella restaurant and two adjacent lots. The dusty blue, red and
orange caravan tents, blaring Pink Floyd and a pungent incense odor, suggest a
black market where anything, illicit or otherwise, can be had: gold
dubloons, bricks of hashish or AK-47s. Actually in the offing at this flea
market are boutique goods and local bric-a-brac in an exotic setting. In
between hanging plants and racks of tie-dyed clothing, German and Dutch
tourists fingered overpriced silver earrings and little twisty-bags of
cinnamon, or posed while local artists sketched their caricatures in charcoal. Silka, wearing
wraparound Persol shades that gave her a Schwarzenegger-like stolidity,
had stopped at a store selling leather goods. She was trying on a vest.

"We apologized," I told her.

"Did he apologize to Isabella?"

"Uh -- no, not actually her." I touched a red leather jacket.

A Spanish
version of Procol Harem's "A Lighter Shade of Pale" was playing: Tropizei las luzes fandango. Silka strolled to the next stall. "Then
everything's not yet OK." I bought some puka shells.


Ibiza is the only place in the world where the sun doesn't set. Instead,
at around 8:30 every summer night, the sun explodes. Just as it
touches the horizon, our nearest star detonates, dispersing a gaudy pink and
orange blast that whips through the sky, covering the island with a flamingo-colored roof. There have been times, as I wound my way into town
along narrow ribbons of road between olive groves, that I've pulled onto the
shoulder to stare at the sky. The explosion of the sun, in most places, would signal
the end of the world. But here, it means the beginning of the night.

Chris and I were on our own, on a crawl through the bars of Dalt Villa.
The main city of Ibiza is terraced around Dalt Villa, a gigantic fortress
built to repel the corsairs (and, I'm convinced, the sort of people on package vacations who flock to Majorca). The massive, dusty granite and mortar
citadel rises from the Pasea de Vara de Rey, the tree-lined avenue marking
the center of Ibiza's old city. Like so many of the world's great monuments, this castle -- haunting like Mont St. Michel and imposing like
Alcatraz -- is an
eloquent architectural justification for lavish defense budgets. If it
weren't for the constant fear of invasion, Ibiza's masters, from Phoenician
to Roman to Gaelic to Vandal to Moorish to Sardinian to Hapsburg and
finally to Spanish, would not have invested in the stunning network
of battlements, keeps, parapets and towers that dominate Ibiza's skyline.

We stumbled into The Rock, the last bastion of cheap drinks before water's edge, where you can gaze out at the reflection of boats in the harbor. The white, yellow and red running lights usually cast a positive glow on my petty problems.

But that night it didn't work.

We continued our desultory pilgrimage of contrition. I was miserable:
Ibiza was no fun without my girlfriend.

Finally we dropped into Amnesia, a hard-core techno club off the road to
San Antonio, where the dance floor shook with heavy bass and everyone in
the club seemed to be tripping. Amnesia is famous for Espuma, the foam
parties. Three nights a week, a giant chrome cannon -- like a 19th century
naval artillery piece -- shoots out a steady stream of white bubble foam that
is actually a carbon dioxide-based flame-retardant, similar to a home fire extinguisher. The foam, in mounds six feet high,
envelops the dance floor for hours. (I have seen two girls pulled from
the foam, momentarily asphyxiated.)

The crowd, as the cannon began firing ejaculatory streams of foam,
started whooping, chanting, reveling. Boys went shirtless. Girls went
topless. The disc jockey kept shouting, "Spuma, spuma, spuma!" Viewing the
white bubble-coated arms, legs, torsos, breasts, faces and hair swirling
around the dance floor, I felt I was watching a washing machine, with the dial set
on "mosh." But the crowd of Italians, Germans, French, Dutch and Spanish
loved it.

Then we saw, coming through the foam -- or did the foam actually part? --
a navel, with a gold hoop dangling from a gentle mound of stomach above the seam of
white jeans. This was the navel of Chris' desire. Isabella was here. Walking fast. Toward us.


I drove home alone, content, for all was well with the universe again.
Amends had been made, contrition offered, absolution was now mine. At home
was my girlfriend, and I would be back in favor, and the finest days of
summer were ahead of me.

Chris had apologized to Isabella. Then she bit him on the stomach.

They were together for the rest of the summer.


Karl Taro Greenfeld

Karl Taro Greenfeld is a Knight-Bagehot Fellow at Columbia University. He is the author of "Speed Tribes" and a contributor to Vogue, Details, the New York Times Magazine, Wired and other publications. He has written for Wanderlust on Ibiza and exploring northern Thailand by foot.

MORE FROM Karl Taro Greenfeld

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