proud as a peacock
We are in a bygone Ibiza, part of a small and remote Mediterranean archipelago, practically unvisited. This Ibiza, yet to be discovered, is not a wealthy island, and its fundamentally rural society is scattered between isolated villages that live according to strictly observed ancestral customs. It was an economic reality and a society that, from the 1970s onwards, was to change drastically – and in a very short space of time – with the arrival of mass tourism and urban development. During this period the people of Ibiza, rejecting years of poverty, turned their backs on peasant life and their own identity, including rural objects, clothing and customs. The work of recovering and reevaluating this cultural heritage was begun in the mid- nineties with training programs for master craftspeople, who revived craft skills and techniques, making garments such as rifacus – embroidered petticoats – and producing the island’s traditional hats as well as the traditional espadrilles and musical instruments.
As many as twenty-four gold rings, three on every finger, except the thumbs. This is the gift the bride-to-be receives from her fiancé, and it indicates that a wedding date will soon be set. Her fiancé presents them, wrapped in a handkerchief, in front of her family. He is only obliged to give twenty four if the woman who is to become his wife has all the pieces of jewelry that compose the emprendada: the necklaces, chains, crosses and lockets of gold that will adorn her from her shoulders to her waist. Otherwise, the fiancé will give her a number of rings proportional to the pieces of jewelry that she will contribute. To make public the news of their engagement, she will wear the rings to church, on the Sunday after they are presented to her. Her days of wooing and courting will be over. When the bride leaves her family home, all she takes with her are the clothes and jewelry she is wearing. Thus the most fortunate brides arrive at the altar dripping with gold.
Women’s traditional clothing evolved into three types of dress – as well as day-to-day work clothes. The oldest of these dresses, the gonella negra, was made of a simple fabric woven from wool, hemp or flax, a craft skill once almost lost that today has been revived. It was a long dress that was ribbed at the back, fitting it closely to the body. The front was covered by an embroidered apron, which took more than six months to sew.
The introduction of lighter fabrics, such as cotton, saw this dress develop into the gonella blanca and the gonella de color, the “white” and “colored” gonellas, taking their name from the color of the skirt. The gonella blanca was worn in summer and, contrary to the accounts told to tourists during the 1970s, was not a bridal gown.
This confusion was amplified by the fact that Ibiza’s traditional dance, the ball pagès, is a courtship dance easily associated with marriage, although it is danced on many occasions besides weddings. It is a highly stylized courting ritual, with a strong symbolic undercurrent, in which the male partner appears to dominate with his energetic movements and vigorous leaps. He is the one who decides that the dance is to begin, when, with a resounding clack of one of his large castanets, he calls the woman he has chosen to dance with him. Yet, despite her lowered gaze and dainty steps, it is the woman who leads, dancing in a figure-of-eight pattern that her partner must follow, never turning his back on her as he continues to leap around her, hoping to win her admiration. The dance ends with him kneeling before her as a mark of his devotion.These folk dances, closely linked to rural life, were organized spontaneously by families and neighbors, especially during the summer months when work in the fields was over.
A pastry whose flavor takes you back to the middle ages. Sweet, mint-scented, but with the strong flavors of goats’ and sheep’s cheese. Among ibizan desserts, it is the most unusual and the most sought-after –- by residents and visitors alike –- but it is still largely unknown outside the island. Flaó, which today takes pride of place in pastry shop window displays year-round, was originally only eaten on easter sunday. That these sweetmeats were chosen to celebrate the end of lent should come as no surprise. Easter week usually coincides with the last days of march or the first days of april, the time when cheeses reach optimum ripeness, and the best flaó is made. It is a cake with a sweet base, made from flour, eggs, sugar, a little lard, lemon zest and anisette, with a filling of eggs, soft goats’ cheese, sheep’s cheese and mint, its distinctive ingredients. An authentic flaó should be pungent and intense: ibizans would consider anything milder a sacrilege.