Searching for Darkness on the White Isle

They call this island the White Isle. And people travel here from far and wide to embrace the brilliance of the sun’s rays, reflecting on a million grains of sand, and making ripple dances in the turquoise waters. This island supports a religion of the light, and of the sun. As the temperatures rise, the rhythmic beat of the island grows in intensity – from the kitsch dancefloor hits booming out of the shooters bar in San Antonio in the East, to the deep, tribal rhythms pulsating in the early hours of the morning in some giant superclub temple in the island’s centre, to the rising crescendo of drummers congregating for the sunset at Benirras beach in the North. The sun’s rule dominates this island, and the people express their adoration of it in the classic way – through dance. This probably hasn’t changed for centuries.

But in the ebb and flow of this island’s yearly cycle, those days are behind us. In the winter the population halves back down to its normal number, and the Sun God withdraws, retreats, gives way… gives way to what? As the point of mid-winter approaches, I want to know about darkness on an island based around worshipping the light. The recent heavy rains have brought an abundance of mushrooms to the island’s forests, such as the one I currently walk through every morning with the two sweet, slightly overweight dogs under my care. Mushrooms – they live for darkness, they know about darkness. As does the blue-grey wispy moss that covers the branches and forest floor in certain parts that I walk through. But where else is the darkness that I crave on this island, and who else knows about it?

Photographer unknown: Hippies cross paths with Ibicencos, Ibiza, cerca 1970.

…Well the Ibicencos, of course. They never played any part in this annual sun-worshipping frenzy that happened on the fringes of their little island – the places where land met ocean. They probably weren’t so interested in the edges of their island, apart from the promise of the fish that could be caught in those surrounding waters. Apparently the plots of land near the ocean on Ibiza were considered of least value, and often left to the women of the family (who are probably smiling now…) If you want to know about darkness, it’s probably best to go inland. So let’s go there.

It’s here that you might see, surrounded by red earth, an old Ibicenco woman dressed from head to toe in black, harvesting almonds. A woman whose traditional, heavy cotton clothing protects her from the sun, rather than exposes her to it. A woman whose interests centre not around the sun, but the shade and the shadows. Yes, she knows about darkness.

Let’s also take the little path through the woods, behind a friend’s house near San Mateu. The trees clear to reveal a little whitewashed, stone house surrounded by a wall of gigantic cactus plants. We call it the Vampire House. Why? Because it is deserted – at least in the scorching midday heat. But it’s clean, tidy, beautiful, and mysterious. Around one of the wooden doors are strange geometric designs, carved into the chalk and painted in pastel colours. Ibicenco spells to ward off unwelcome, dark visitors? And at the back of the house is a tiny slit of a window, just big enough to fit the width of your head. There, nestled within the thickness of the wall, your eyes eventually adjust to the darkness and the interior room comes into view – bare stone. Walls and ceiling blackened with woodsmoke.

‘Casa de Vampiros’, near San Mateu, 2015

This relatively new island obsession with the sun…it has its damaging aspect. The culture which rises up to embrace the sun for about four months every year is the same culture which drains the island of its ecological resources, above all, its natural underground waters, the waters which until recently filled the island’s wells.

With the day of the Winter Solstice soon approaching, I celebrate the darkness of this island, as well as the light. The secrets of darkness are to be found deep, deep inland… and perhaps there is a place which holds the key to it all. At Can Jaume Prats, there is a well, they say, and on it is painted the symbol of the sun. On the Winter Solstice, the rays of the sun in the sky meet the sun on the well. The island’s exterior meets the island’s interior, masculine meets feminine…and the balance between light and darkness is restored.