All the passages in the world share a certain magic: they elicit a conversation between two spaces, two worlds. The writer Jorge Carrión invites us to travel in some “time machines” of this type in the city he calls his home.
To reach the sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, it was necessary to cross a long gallery, the ceiling and walls of which were dripping wet: it was believed that the falling drops of sacred water cleansed the pilgrim’s spirit. Since ancient times, natural or man-made tunnels, bridges or rock-hewn stairs have been symbols of the passage between two worlds. In the modern city –a world in itself– passages have occupied this metaphorical space. One need only trace them in the poetry of French surrealism, in Walter Benjamin’s essays or in the short stories of Julio Cortázar to confirm this magic of interdimensional lifts. In El otro cielo (The Other Sky), for example, Cortazar’s narrator admits that “passages and galleries have always been my secret homeland”. It was at the Güemes Arcade in Buenos Aires that he left behind his adolescence. And thanks to the power of desire and of literature, he was transported to the legendary passages of Paris.
All the world’s cities have passages and in some cases more specifically arcades. Most of them form part of the functional structure of the metropolis, like back alleys or markets. But what interests me is the illustrious minority: the arcades which cross a city block –imitating the English model or the French passages–, giving rise to a microworld, a village, a garden or a shopping centre. They connect two very distinct realities, inviting one to travel.
The city of Ibiza has two types of urban tunnels. In Daltvila, the walled historical centre –this old island within an island (the city) within an island (the Balearic one)–, you find several staired streets with wooden roofs, including those that climb up from the Plaça de la Vila to other streets or towards the overpoweringly blue sky above. These streets lead to the Christian and even Moorish medieval past (the Moslems called the island Yebisah). One street’s name, though self-evident, has a rather epic air to it: Carrer de l’Escala de Pedra (Street of the Stone Stairway). Down below in the modern area, however, there are several shopping galleries. I didn’t come across anyone at Galería Alhambra or at Galerías Matutes or at Galerías Vinents. All three have the same atmosphere and light, and similar shops – above all fashion shops, as if textiles were their calling. Slightly anachronistic, they clearly belong to a world now slowly growing extinct, one which franchises and shopping centres are making a thing of the past.
It’s impossible to see these places without being influenced by Walter Benjamin. He walked these streets before the Spanish Civil War since it was cheaper for him to live here than in Paris or Berlin and because he was mainly concerned about reading and writing. He came in a boat, took long walks around the port, stayed at inns and at his friend Jean Selz’s house at Carrer Conquesta (where the two of them tried opium for the first time), strolled along the wall and down little lanes, and got drunk several times at Jean’s brother Guy’s Bar Migjorn. One night they left the bar quite tipsy and stumbled homewards: Benjamin ended up sleeping on the pavement at Carrer de l’Escala de Pedra and when he woke up he thought he was dreaming.
He didn’t write anything about a relationship between Ibiza’s medieval tunnels or its modern galleries and Paris’s passages, which he was studying. But that’s okay: we travellers who come along afterwards are here to tie up loose ends.
For a few days in February, the almond trees turn a sparkling white in a valley of Santa Agnès. There, the best place to stay is Es Cucons. Starting out with a 17th-century house, the owners have created an establishment where luxury looks simple, featuring a restaurant, a lounge where you can play chess and a pool that’s delightful in the summer. For travelling Benjaminists on the lookout for a place to read and write, this splendid rural hotel is an undeniably wonderful place to lodge. It’s also the ideal base for walks. For example, it’s just minutes away from La Porta del Cel (Heaven’s Door) – because the Valley of Almonds is not wedged between mountains but stands by a cliff overlooking the sea.
Sa Punta des Molí
At the bay of Sant Antoni, which is now a well-known holiday resort but was then little more than a fishing village, Walter Benjamin spent several months in 1932 and 1933 at a house at Sa Punta des Molí (the Point of the Mill). As Vicente Valero says in his excellent book Experiencia y pobreza, the house that Benjamin rented is no long standing. But you can visit the mill and the Walter Benjamin Room, which hosts exhibitions and cultural activities. We may never know whether the day that Franco visited the island in the early 1930s and went to see the mill as a strategic place from which to control the port, Walter Benjamin was reading in the doorway of his cottage and the soldier and the philosopher exchanged a few words. Whatever the case, after the military takeover the Franco regime banned Benjamin from entering Spain, leading to his unfortunate end.
Photos: Marco Torres Walker, Vicent Marí