My wife Nancy and I were staying in the scenic village of Deia on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca a few years ago. It was raining and at midweek not many were out and about. We stopped for a beer at Sa Fonda, a quaint little bar with a terrace overlooking the valley, before going to dinner. Only half a dozen people were in the place, but in one corner sharing a round of Guinness with his mates was the actor Colm Meany. No big surprise seeing a celebrity–after all this is the hideaway town (p0pulation less than 800, most of whom are expats) of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and a host of others. In Spain dinner starts late and it was 9 p.m. when we walked across the street to an inconspicuous little restaurant called Sa Dorada. It was even less crowded than Sa Fonda. Only two other tables had people at them. Sitting at the table closest to us was a striking looking woman who reminded my wife of Edwina of Absolutely Fabulous comedy fame dressed as a gypsy. Her long, flamboyantly curly dark hair was tied back by an enormous purple scarf. She wore a long skirt, a peasant blouse and a long necklace. Her eyes were dark, her lips were bright red and she brimmed with life. She was joined by a slender man in his late fifties whose gray hair was as curly as hers and a quiet youth in his mid-twentie’s.
Half way through dinner the woman who was Australian engaged us in conversation. Her name was Frances. At some point we mentioned we had unsuccessfully tried to find Robert Grave’s burial plot that afternoon. “I think we can help you,” she said. Then she proceeded to introduce us to her husband, the gray-haired gentleman, who was Juan Graves, the son of the famous novelist/poet. The young man, Brendan, was Robert Graves’ grandson, Juan’s son. Frances went on to say that she was an artist and Juan was a jazz musician who had always lived in Deia.
This was making for a pretty extraordinary night, but there was another surprise to come. When we told them we were from Kansas City, Frances’s eyes widened and, pointing to the the only other people in the room, exclaimed “So are they!” Hearing that, a lady at the other table looked at me and said “Aren’t you the owner of Bloomsday Books back home?” Indeed, I am, came the answer. Turns out she was the ex-wife of Jim McKinley, former head of the creative writing program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Years ago she and Jim spent his sabbatical in Deia to interview and do research on a biography of Robert Graves. They fell in love with the place. It was a time when cottages were quite affordable and they bought one. She kept it after the marriage ended.
After dinner Nancy and I crossed the street back to Sa Fonda where Juan had gone to play bass in a jam session. The place had filled up with a fascinating looking crowd of expats–alas, Colm Meany had departed–and we stayed for the first set. Then we waved goodbye to our once-in-a-lifetime new friends and drove the winding road a mile and a half to the cozy little hotel (it’s called Sa Pedrissa) overlooking the Med.
It was in 1929 that the British writer Robert Graves (I, Claudius), settled in Deia. He was fleeing his wife with his lover, the poet Laura Riding. He spent most of the remaining 55 years of his life there. His presence there attracted such friends as Kingsley Amis, Ava Gardner, Alec Guinness, Anais Nin and a young Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Once an affordable haven for artists and writers, more affluent celebrities have found the place and prices have skyrocketed. Nonetheless, it’s a great place to visit and you never know who you’ll run into at Sa Fonda listening to Juan Graves playing bass in a jazz session.