Writer Ilsa Carter keeps a tiny bolthole on the tiny island of Formentera, off Ibiza, where the local pharmacist doubles as the island’s DJ …
Wearing masks, they were to some degree, well-disguised. The small groups, of various ages, that streamed in from four corners of a stone-slabbed plaza in front of an austere church. Unlike Sa Tanca Vella, a tiny 13th-century chapel, the island’s larger house of worship was dedicated to San Francisco Xavier, after waves of plague left Formentera for a length of time, unpeopled. How long that episode lasted remains vague. But at least today, there were signs of life around this church presiding over them all, and without a steeple.
If not for its eye-opening size, the place of prayer would’ve blended in, behind humbler buildings, in a blinding vista that is this whitewashed village, wholly dependent on cisterns to catch what potable rainwater falls. But under more often breathtakingly blue skies above, the fortified walls of this building differed from the very beginning. For they’d allied themselves with a rather imposing portal against attack. Any assailant would be shot through the iron lined door’s spyhole, to prevent penetration of its barrel-vaulted single nave. Where with inconceivable patience, a baptismal font of unknown origin awaits an island’s next baby born.
Across the plaza, an authoritative awning extends the consumate cool exuded by Bar Centro. Hand-sewn, it’s the sort of thing one orders from the sailmakers behind Tony Pins’ yacht supply at the port. Perhaps that’s why, like a protective membrane, made out of almost nothing really save durable canvas, the cafe’s canopy encapsulates a sense that there’s no better place to be.
By jittery starts and stops, and in a scattered yet spontaneous pattern, even shy people began to dance around the edges of the town square. Between unlikely collaborators, a series of nearly electric sparks were exchanged as desirous eyes searched one another, demanding a validation that can come only when a quiet conspiracy, one that’s been brewing for some time, begins to boil.
Doubt did not dissuade the assembled crowd, which encompassed every able-bodied citizen and right-minded resident in the island community. Not a single sinner strayed from the overwhelming consensus about where, and more importantly to whom, they would look for leadership. Why search further than that satin-slippered toe tap tap tapping, at eye level on a stage. An ad hoc platform had been erected by a guild of local builders, who’d done the heavy lifting. The grandstand elevated a predetermined public figure, one already highly regarded and easily recognised, above an audience grown restless and eager to exalt someone.
A vernacular lack of municipal planning made for an organic maze through which disoriented foreigners stumbled, in the end falling for Sant Francesc’s old town charm. What distinguished a merchant’s entrance were dignified doors, heavy hewn and painted a deep dark red, not unlike the stain of dried blood. Others chose one of two colours carefully calculated to recall either the ultramarine currents lapping Cap de Barbaria and La Mola, or those aquamarine waves favoured by sun slaves on sandier stretches of the island’s mere twelve miles.
Sporting the peaked hat and swashbuckling chemise of an 18th-century buccaneer, the aforementioned public figure wore a patch over one eye. He was gaining momentum with the mob, in all likelihood for gyrating in suggestive spirals, which made him more magnetic than ever. So different than when doing the vital job, they were all well aware he did, every day, as one of the island’s pharmacists.
By jittery starts and stops, and in a scattered yet spontaneous pattern, even shy people began to dance around the edges of the town square.
Performance of DJ Pharma’s normal role required the sobriety to supervise, according to an enigmatic ritual, the preparation of potions with certain properties to stimulate or sedate, and to see that these controlled substances were distributed in precise amounts to select individuals he deemed in need.
Only at this moment, every flick of his finger, elated more faces of the faithful who, like lifeless puppets rediscovered by a delighted child, appeared to follow his hands and be controlled by them. He achieved this with the slightest twist or turn of an extravagant assortment of knobs, levers, switches and dials on a shrouded console.
Rimmed in jet-black coal, how his lone eye shone, not with the power he held over hundreds of hedonistic dancers, but the responsibility they’d vested in him as leader of a revelry so riotous, it could pass for Roman. And to pay for this depraved Lupercalia the people craved, they looked ready to sell their souls.
The following morning, it was whispered in the village, that even if this pharmacist, who was also the island’s best DJ, had played a much-vaunted set, the citizens who’d gathered to celebrate carnival still found what he had done shocking. Not that from the tip of that tapping toe, to the top of his waist, he’d flaunted sheer stockings. But that his apparel had not been loomed in an acceptable shade like ultramarine or aquamarine. The problematic pair he’d worn were woven in what was widely considered a revolutionary hue of blue.
DJ Pharma’s pantyhose in fact approximated the purple of a perennial which prospers in fields and farms on Formentera. That towering thistle popular with 4th century Persians, Huguenots in the Geneva of 1685, Algerians and Tunisians for their couscous, colonial America, and the esteemed cuisines of Navarre and Lyon. In New Orleans, no self-respecting quadroon calls a St Joseph’s altar complete without this exquisite cousin to an artichoke, the cardoon.
What these thistles are not, is that puny Protestant plant brandished as a symbol for Scotland. No, sublime and bulbous, it’s an elephantine flower that has been, for milleniums, milked of a silky elixir. Once extracted, this viscous syrup catalytically amplifies the surprising perfume and texture of a domestically produced secret weapon.
Ivory tinged, it’s a gem elaborated by artisanos who inhabit the largest, windmill dotted plain where a stone’s throw from Holy Toledo, Jews, Muslims and Christians once lived in harmony. A zigzag pattern embossed on its exterior is an impression of traditional esparto grass baskets, in which it was purveyed worldwide. Endless exports of this Iberian envoy hammered a sound militia in to shape, out of women seeking more than a sullen mouthful of cullinary escape. Thrills are bound to spill from La Mancha and Formentera. So now, you too, know the drill.
Representing invincible provinces, they form a diaspora, if you will, of soft-spoken ambassadors who from a mile away, can spot that creamy consistency and piquant flavor characteristic of what is considered by many, a precious cargo. Though not always convenient for them, afficionados attest it is best blessed by the mild climate of Formentera. In all four stages of its ages: Fresco, Semicurado, Curado and the venerable Viejo, this cheese that’ll bring you to your knees, is called Manchego.
Don Quixote did not discern what we learn from his protégé, Sancho Panza. Or for that matter, Lorca’s last stanza. And there’s no harm in dancing off bad karma earned, when the best medicine is music made by DJ Pharma. The fun also rises as a hot sun sets, on an island boasting of thistles blown by whistles from a wilderness. Haunted by ghosts of flower children who can’t forget Formentera. Where the beat goes on.
Main featured image: DJ Pharma www.djpharmaformentera.com
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