The beach I call mine is not much to look at. It’s next to the house that Errol Flynn owned or rented for one or more summers in the 1950s. For some reason, there are never jellyfish. The water is always cool, even in August. I like to walk down to my beach around 7am, through the fragrant shades of another morning – bougainvillea, coffee, cigarettes – swim out to sea and muse on Mallorca.
This morning, slowly treading water, I remembered a time when I lay on my back daydreaming for so long that a curious fish took a nibble at my back. A few minutes after I remembered this, it happened again. It’s an odd feeling to be bitten by a fish. But it’s better than getting stung by a jellyfish. As long that fish isn’t a shark.
Anyway, this sort of thing that happens to me in Mallorca. It’s as if time is somehow folded in on itself.
Before I was so rudely interrupted, I’d been thinking about what it must have been like on this part of the island in Errol’s day. It was a time when the part of Mallorca I’m talking about, the coastline from Palma up to Magaluf, had barely been developed. As Juan Graves once told me, back then you couldn’t even get an ice-cream.
Which started me thinking about Magaluf, which has become a byword for the most excessive kind of holidaymaking.
Although Magaluf and Deià are about as different as you can get on the face of it, they’re the product of essentially the same dream. Deià was a bohemian and then hippy place in the sun where gainful employment was to be avoided at all costs. But the chancers who washed up in Magaluf in the early days knew they had to work and earn their vida loca.
One of my first ghostwriting jobs was to help a fantastic character named Louie ‘The Lip’ O’Brien to write his memoir, Hasta la Flip-Flops. Working with Louie, who became a great friend, gave me the perfect opportunity to research the secret history of Mallorca – how mass tourism came about and what it was like to be English on the island in those golden years.
Louie introduced me to a Frenchman named Claude who started a bar named La Baraka in Palmanova in 1971. As we wrote in Louie’s book
At that time, Palmanova was pretty undeveloped but, like Magaluf, it had a fantastic beach. The rich and famous would drop anchor just offshore, row or swim in and have long lazy lunches that sometimes lasted for days, running up tabs that ran into hundreds of bottles of beer and countless jugs of Sangria.
Legendary British football player Georgie Best was one of the gilded gods who hung out at La Baraka. He lay low there often, at least once when he was meant to be playing in a crucial match.
(I don’t have space to do justice to Claude here. But – shameless plug – you could always buy the book. It’s on Kindle, so you could read it on holiday. If you happen to be a film producer with deep pockets, so much the better.)
Claude drifted down to that part of Mallorca because he’d become tired of Saint-Tropez. It had lost its luster and the in-crowd were looking for somewhere more exclusive to hang out. Claude and a few others discovered Palmanova and Magaluf.
When I met him, around 15 years ago, Claude was still insisting that the long sandy beaches of Palmanova and Magaluf were the finest he’d ever seen.
An eccentric writer friend of mine recently asked me: Is the sea a man or a woman? It’s a bizarre question but one I can’t stop pondering.
In Spain, the sea is el mar, which is masculine. But I’ve always thought of the Med as somehow feminine. Or rather felt it was.
What do you think?