Memoirs of a World Traveler by Bill Honer

Memoirs of a World Traveler

By Bill Honer


Paris and Mallorca

In November 1971, Moe and I traveled from New York to Luxembourg. It was a very inexpensive way to fly to Europe. From there, it was only a few hours by train to Paris. We found a simple hotel on the left bank on the Rue de la Huchette in the Saint Germain de Pres district that was managed by Algerians; the staff was was reserved to the point of rudeness. After placing the luggage in our room, we went for a walk along the Seine, which was only a block away. Afterwards, we stopped at a nearby café’ with a view of Notre Dame, where we ate croissants, sipped café’ crèmes and read Le Monde.

“Look! Judy Collins is playing at the Olympia Theatre. Let’s go see her,” said an elated Moe. Later that evening, we found a small restaurant not far from the hotel. Afterwards, we strolled along Boulevard St. Michel, which was crowded with street and pedestrian traffic. Finding a bookstore, we stepped inside. Moe was a minimalist in her needs. If she had cigarettes, books, and coffee, she was quite content.

Successfully encouraging her to leave was quite another matter. I bought an English translation of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Moe picked up “L´Etrangere” by Albert Camus. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the same café by the Seine and ordered a bottle of wine. There were lights illuminating Notre Dame. The cafe was warm and cozy; it was a romantic setting. Several hours passed in quiet conversation.

Tired but satisfied with the day, we returned to the hotel, made love and fell asleep in each other’s arms. There were no thoughts about when to get up in the morning. There would be no work for the next six months, which was a nice prospect. We slept until late the next morning. The plan was to see the matinee performance of Judy Collins and then take the overnight train from Paris to Barcelona. From there, we would board the night ferry to Majorca.

Judy Collins was in excellent form; the audience was enthusiastic in its appreciation. It was the first time I had attended a televised concert. I remember being fascinated by the three cameramen intent on providing the director different perspectives to choose from during the performance. Twenty-two years later, I would produce my first television show on cable television in California.

After the concert, we made our way to the Gare du Sud, where I booked seats and couchettes on the Paris/Barcelona train. The six person compartments could be converted into “couchettes”. Although it lacked the plush comfort of the Pullman sleeping berths on American trains, a couchette was a major improvement over sitting up all night. There were two North African men and a Spanish couple already seated in our compartment. The Moroccans, Mustafa and Mohammed, were guest workers in Holland. The Spaniards Joaquin and Antonia, lived in Valencia and had just spent two weeks in Paris on vacation. Everyone used French as the common language of communication.

As was customary on European trains at the time, we shared bread, cheese, wine, and mineral water. Before long, the conductor was preparing the sleeping berths. The rhythm of the train clicking along the tracks was hypnotic; I soon fell asleep.

In the morning, we arrived at Port Bou. After clearing immigration, we boarded an older Spanish train for Barcelona. The trip along the Costa Brava was beautiful, with some outstanding views of coastal villages and the Mediterranean. In Barcelona, we went to a travel agency, where we bought tickets for the midnight ferry to Palma de Mallorca. The ship was huge, holding perhaps 100 vehicles.  There was a lounge, complete with a bar and plush leather chairs. The crossing was a bit rough, but I managed to get some sleep. When we disembarked in the morning, it was about 6 a.m.

The bay of Palma afforded views of the cathedral and other sights of the city. The sky was a pale blue, containing several puffy pink clouds. When we arrived at the Hotel Europa, which was located in El Arenal on the south coast, we were astonished to find that the cost of the room, breakfast and two four-course meals, including wine and mineral water, was equivalent to the price of two cappuccinos in a Greenwich Village cafe. It would be easy to live a very nice life here for a long time. The island, with its mountains, almond groves, and stone terraced hillsides of palm and olive trees, was beautiful.

While we were at the hotel in Paris, my friend Dan had called from Italy, where he and his lady friend Emily had been visiting Dan’s relatives in Sicily. It was agreed that we would meet at the Europa. On the first night of their arrival, we went dancing at a local nightclub. The entrance fee included unlimited bottles of champagne for the evening. At first Moe was reluctant to dance. However, after we proceeded to make a dent in the second bottle of champagne, I could not pull her away from the dance floor.

The next day we went to the Plaza Espana and took the late morning train to the village of Soller on the north coast of the island. The electric wooden train looked as though it had been built in the early part of the twentieth century. The first-class compartment was a parlor car with plush leather seats. The train tracks were set in the middle of a street that led out of the city; police stood at traffic lights at intersections stopping traffic as the train chugged along on its upward climb through the hills and mountains. At Son Pardo, the train passed the trotting race course. A decade later, my future wife Olivia would pack sandwiches and wine every Sunday in preparation for our big excursion from Soller to Palma to visit the race course for an afternoon of trotting racing.

The electric train passed fields of almond groves that gave way to the terraced hillside village of Bunyola. The next stage of the journey was a seven mile tunnel through a cordillera of mountains that separated Soller and its Port from the remainder of the island. At first light upon leaving the tunnel, a terraced canyon, appeared, covered with olive and pine trees. Slowly, the train descended down the mountainside towards the village of Soller, which was nestled under majestic peaks of Lofre and Puij Major. When we arrived at the station, we could see the orange colored tram moving along the tracks toward the front of the station, ready to take passengers through the valley of orange groves from the village of Soller to its Port.  Moe and I stopped at the Bar Turismo, with its entrance a few feet from the train tracks. I ordered a 103 cognac along with my coffee. The café was comfortable, with chairs that had armrests. The view included the church across the street, along with a view of the tram-via passing by every 30 minutes. The tram schedule provided Soller with a certain rhythm to life.

The village plaza was surrounded by cafes and the somber gray church front.  Although we lived in the Port, which was located about a mile away, our trips to the village were frequent. Often, we would sit at one of the outside tables of the cafeteria Soller, watching the local residents going about their daily business. It was enjoyable absorbing the rhythm and atmosphere of this small Spanish town. The village activity stood in contrast to the tranquility of the Port of Soller. Although the Port received busloads of vacationers from Palma, the tourists mainly sauntered along the harbor road,  stopped at one of the cafés overlooking the harbor, or sat on the beach. The side street leading to our apartment was usually empty. No one looked busy in the Port; the pace of life was invariably leisurely. The Bar Mallorca was our café of choice; the owner was cheerful man of advancing years who made excellent coffees while smoking his small cigars. The water of the circular harbor was aquamarine; it looked like a large swimming pool with a village surrounding it.

We rented an apartment from a friendly and gracious woman named Ana. Our evenings were spent drinking champagne and playing cards. During the day, we walked in the hills, read novels, and sipped coffee and cognac at the cafes. I also worked on my master’s thesis.

The sun did not rise above the tall mountains until about nine o’clock in the morning. Everyone would gather at that time on the terrace, sip coffee, and enjoy the sunshine when it arrived. The foothills of olive and pine trees offered a backdrop to the three-story medieval stone Es Port hotel, which was located directly across the street from our apartment.

“This is so different from Manhattan. I can’t believe it. The weekly cost to live here is about one half what I was paying for my therapy at the Fifth Avenue Center,” said Moe. “I would have to say that not only is this more fun, but I don’t even feel that I need therapy anymore.” she said.

I could well appreciate her comment. Moe had been suffering considerable anxiety in the final days before departure. How she had changed in such a short time! In Manhattan, she was popping valiums daily. Here, she was sitting on my lap in a cafe, with a San Miguel beer bottle in her hand, her arm around my shoulder, and a broad smile on her face. Her sitting on my lap probably scandalized the Majorcans. It was a great argument for the power of the environment. In some ways, it reminded me of how she had been in college in Plattsburgh. We would go dancing in Montreal, stay out all night, and cut classes the next day.

The absence of a stressful environment clearly worked wonders upon her. The road beside the hotel wound its way up the hillside past small “fincas”, rustic stone houses surrounded by gnarled olive trees. The road offered vistas of the harbor and eventually descended to the “Monumento”, a large stone monument, which was located at the intersection of the main road that led to the Port and the street northwards to Puij Major. There was a café where we could wait for the tram to Puerto Soller. If we started out later in the day, we would take the tram to the monument and walk through the hills to the Cafeteria Nautilus, which was located on top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. It was a modern white two-story building with a panoramic view of the sea. Juan and Miguel, the owners, were welcoming; we would sit looking out at the Mediterranean and watch the sun sink into the sea at sunset. This was a nice way to live.   .

At night, we would go to Soller for a few hours; it was a happy time for us all.  I would play three-cushion billiards with one of the local residents. When we arrived home, the time would be spent drinking champagne, talking philosophy, and playing cards until the early morning hours. Spain was still a dictatorship in the early seventies. The “men from the Generallissimo’s office”, as we referred to the national police force the “Guardia  Civil”, wore green uniforms and hard plastic black caps. These men were a frequent presence in Palma, but were less visible in the Port and the village of Soller. There were no women among their ranks, only men.

Under the dictator Franco, the Guardia Civil were never assigned to work in their home regions. Instead, they were required to move from their hometowns to another part of the country in order to protect the dictatorship. Their motto was “Todo por la Patria” or “all for the country.” This was hardly a comforting thought to the less fascist minded citizens of Spain. One Guardia married a local girl from the Port. For more than 30 years that I visited Soller, I witnessed many shop girls marry, have children and grow into middle-aged matrons. It was a simple life, enriched for us by the presence of an English lending library, located in the back section of the Bar Turismo. It was operated by Elaina, a diminutive woman who smoked camels and had a no-nonsense demeanor that occasionally bordered on rudeness. She was very helpful in sharing her extensive collection once she found that we were interested in reading serious literature. Available books included Hugo, Balzac, Narayan, Forster, Stendahl, Solzhenitsyn, Kundera, Malraux and many others.

British and American residents would gather there each morning for an opportunity to meet other expatriates. Some would come from the village of Deya, which was about five miles from Soller. Built on a terraced mountainside and situated above a rocky cove, it was the home of Robert Graves. Writers and would-be writers enjoyed living there. The Port, with its marina and the surrounding lush green hills, was my preference. Despite its charm, few of the British or Americans chose to live there, preferring Soller. There were more houses to choose from and more stores in Soller, which may have been factors in their decision. .

In the mornings, we would go to the bakery for roles and pastries. Then we would proceed to the Bar Mallorca, where we would take a table near the water, order café’ con leches, and enjoy the view. Feisty little dogs seemed to rule the Port. Cars moved slowly around them, with most drivers demonstrating patience with the reluctance of these members of the canine community to leave the street when traffic attempted to pass them.

It was always a big day when we would leave the village and take the train to the big city of Palma. There was an outdoor café at the station. One could sit and have a coffee cappuccino, and look over the Cyprus trees; there was also a nice view of the mountains that surrounded the village.

The train to Palma took about 40 minutes. It would chug along, winding its way up the hillside; the train would pass through tunnels. As we exited the tunnel, we had a different view of the village and the valley below. The train would then travel quickly through a  seven mile tunnel and would enter the charming village of Bunyola, which was a terraced  village built on a mountainside. The train would continue the city of Palma..

When we arrived, there was a café located right at the train station where one could wait comfortably, or simply have a drink to celebrate the arrival in Palma, which we oftemn did. We would then cross the street, pass the Plaza Espana, and begin our walk through the narrow winding pedestrian street made of Kabul stones that descended into the lower level of the city where American Express office was located.  In the early seventies, it was possible to receive once male and American Express at no charge. This was an exciting moment since we usually had mail waiting for us. We would then proceed to a   café and read the letters from home. .

There was a little restaurant near American Express that offered a decent lunch at astonishingly low prices, even by the standards of low-cost Mallorca at that time. The meals always included a salad, a main course, dessert, wine or mineral water, at a cost well below one American dollar. .

Sometimes we would go to see Jai Lai matches at the fronton, or take a walk by the cathedral. It was a wonderful time; there was enough money to live on. We were young and very comfortable in each others’ presence. There were only about five trains that went from Palma to Soller. The visit to the more dynamic city was a change from the peaceful pace of life in the village of Soller and the Port. Upon arrival back in Soller, we would take the tram back to the Port where our apartment was located. It was a very effective system.  The train always waited for the tram to arrive from the Port, and the tram always waited for the train to arrive from Palma before departing for the Port.

Although the trip was stimulating, there was a also a sense of ease and bliss about everything we did.  Mallorca was safe and clean. The ubiquitous cafes offered a respite from any activity.

Often in the mornings, we would walk down to the bakery, by our pastries, and proceed to a table at one of the outdoor cafes that overlooked the harbor .Moe and Emily would order cappuccino, while Dan and I would order a cognac as well. After a leisurely breakfast, we would get up when we saw the tram beginning to move towards its trip to the village of Soller. We would then take the train and walk a short distance to the Bar Turismo, where an American woman named Elaina maintained an English lending library that contained close to 7000 volumes. There was no shortage of good literature, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Stendahl.

The mornings at the Bar Turismo were the center of social and cultural life for English and American expatriates. The Majorcans occupied one side of the café, with the Americans and British occupying the back section. It was a comfortable place where one could have a conversation in English, read the International Herald Tribune, and enjoy an excellent coffee and cognac. For some of the regulars, particularly those that were living alone, these morning hours were the most important part of the day.

Bob, formerly of Beverly Hills, could be found in the same chair every morning. After his 25th year in the café in the same chair, the owner of the café, placed a ceramic tile on the wall behind the chair that said “Tio Bob” He sat in that chair  every morning until his death.

After visiting fifty countries, it remains my favorite place in the world.


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