For ten years Barbary Press has been trawling Ibiza’s waters for sunken treasure – rare old photographs and woodcuts, forgotten manuscripts, a celebration of birdlife, and very soon a guide to the island’s heritage. To mark the anniversary Ibiza NOW went to see publisher Martin Davies, armed with a few questions about the venture that has touched readers all the way from Algeciras to Aberdeen.
|There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
Ibiza NOW: Let’s talk about publishing, Martin. How did it all begin?
Martin Davies: There was an exact moment, it happens: January 1999. I had a call out of the blue from a Frenchman who’d produced a dozen local posters and wanted to expand his sources. Someone gave him my number.
Ibiza NOW: So you offered to help?
Martin Davies: I thought I’d show him a few old photogravures I’d come across while investigating local architecture, a book that’s still unpublished, by the way. I met Philippe – Philippe Derville – at the Montesol and we clicked straight away. He liked the pictures, and as we talked it emerged we’d both been thinking about producing a book of black-and-white photos.
Ibiza NOW: An anthology.
Martin Davies: That’s right. It came out a year and a half later, Eivissa-Ibiza: A Hundred Years of Light and Shade, and is now in its third print run. Philippe sorted out sponsors and printing, while I was in charge of texts and photos, director to his producer if you like. We complemented each other perfectly as far as design goes, and agreed over the basic look and direction.
Ibiza NOW: So it was published under the Barbary name?
Martin Davies: No, ‘Ediciones El Faro’, Philippe’s posters. A lighthouse is a great metaphor for a publisher, I think, casting light over the dark waters.
Ibiza NOW: But hardly what ‘Barbary’ conjures up.
Martin Davies: No, that has different associations, just as good: treasure, pirates, boats, adventure, imagination, the Med, Formentera’s Cap de Barbaria, old books – Shakespeare perhaps. Barbary also has a strong connection with Ibiza itself. The majority of islanders in Islamic times were Berbers, but this chapter of local history has been forgotten because the culture was oral not written. Only the place-names survive, and the roots of several have recently been traced to words brought over from Barbary. Es Vedra, for example, derives from the Berber for mountain, adrar, which Rifenos pronounce adra. With the Berber article w- it morphed to wedra, but Catalans never use ‘w’, so the first letter became a ‘v': ‘vedra’. Benirras is another, from the Beni Razín tribe in the Tetuan area. Xarraca too, that comes from the Zurag tribe in the Kabylie highlands of Algeria, and so on.
Ibiza NOW: Fascinating! Ibiza is a real Barbary outpost. Going further afield, haven’t I heard it used in connection with San Francisco?
Martin Davies: Yes, the Barbary Coast, where alcoholics and artists ran wild during the Gold Rush, the perfect twin for expat Ibiza. My main proofreader, Lara Reed, is also from San Francisco.
Ibiza NOW: When did you decide on the new name?
Martin Davies: It was necessary for the second photobook, Eivissa-Ibiza: Island Out of Time. Response to the first took us by surprise, striking a deep chord with residents and visitors. Complete strangers got in touch with me about their photo collections of Ibiza, and I went on two long trips to investigate archives and sources elsewhere. Philippe and I were branching off in different directions, so it made sense to buy his share and do the follow-up book myself. The second one took longer, but the delays made it better. It’s forty percent bigger and partly in colour.
Finding special pictures meant a wider trawl as the local sources had been covered. My previous job at the V&A’s National Art Library also helped. The quality of the material was extraordinary: piping shepherds, goats with huge bells round their necks, a farmer making a bread oven. The reception was as good as A Hundred Years, and it sold out as quickly. As for the name, I was looking for a ‘B/P’ alliteration, something that went well with the word ‘press’ and while toying with ‘Barbary fig’ my sister-in-law suggested leaving out ‘fig’.
Ibiza NOW: And the texts: where did you find them?
Martin Davies: [Smiles] In my library! I’d started collecting books on Ibiza before I even moved here, and weaving together words and images is great fun, creating something bigger than its parts, with an invisible dialogue between the two elements. When I met Philippe I’d begun doing biographies of writers for the encyclopaedia of Ibiza and Formentera, and the two projects dovetailed perfectly. When you scrutinize a good photo, there’s usually an information gap, and it’s a bonus to have a text deepen your understanding, shine some light into the shadowy grey areas.
Ibiza NOW: So is a picture, literally, ‘worth a thousand words’?
Martin Davies: There’s a quote by Otto Bettmann, the great photo historian, I like better: ‘One good word is worth ten thousand pictures.’ Captions are another challenge – ‘Boy on bicycle’ isn’t very helpful. A tiny detail is called for, something off stage or under the surface. When you begin asking round surprises come up all the time. Elderly islanders were especially helpful, and it was possible to trace some who had been photographed back in 1933. It was thrilling to meet these living witnesses, and their memories were astonishingly fresh.
Ibiza NOW: For example?
Martin Davies: One old woman in a home was moved to tears when she recognized her mother and sister from seventy years back in a San Agustín finca. She knew everyone else in the shot, too. Another old lady from Santa Gertrudis remembered covering her head with her shawl because she didn’t want her face taken. Two later oil paintings were based on that image, and the shawl is what caught the artist’s eye. Local sculptors have also used the books for inspiration – there’s a nice statue in San Juan Town Hall of a courting couple, for example.
Ibiza NOW: Tell me about the smaller publications. What moved you to do them?
Martin Davies: While I was working on Island Out of Time five other manuscripts fell into my hands in quick succession: two travel memoirs about San Vicente, a book about Ibiza’s birds, a study of the island’s monuments, and a children’s book. All needed ‘product development’ – translating, re-writing, adapting, new texts and illustrations, further investigation. Authors can’t wait to see their baby in print, but if they knew the juggling required in all phases of publication, not to mention Ibiza’s unique language and sponsorship difficulties, they’d see why deadlines come and go. But you plod on, and one bright morning it’s actually launch day.
Ibiza NOW: Why two books on San Vicente?
Martin Davies: Until the 1960s you couldn’t get there by car and Sa Cala, as the Ibicencos call it, was a real hidden paradise. Almost all writers living on the island made a pilgrimage there, if only for a day’s excursion. San Vicente is also special because of the ancient shrine of Es Culleram, a cave where they’ve found over a thousand Punic figurines. The atmosphere is extraordinary, and the locality has always attracted creative souls. The extra texts I added at the end of The Road to San Vicente show just how many writers were deeply moved by the locality. As for how I came across the two manuscripts, that was pure serendipity …
Ibiza NOW: … happy accident.
Martin Davies: Exaggerated, I believe. Once you reach the bottom of the sea interesting things float by, but you have to dive down first. I discovered the Norwegian book, The Road to San Vicente, while running to ground the interior photograph that appears on the back of A Hundred Years – I’d been searching for years. It took another seven before Borthen’s memoir eventually appeared thanks to Barbary in three languages – English, Spanish and German.
Ibiza NOW: Do you speak Norwegian?
Martin Davies: No. A Swede who is a professional pianist, Björn Lindholm, offered to do the first draft. We’d already done a translation of a Dutch book together about artists and writers on Ibiza. After I received Björn’s version of Leif’s book I did various rewrites, and it was edited by one or two others until the English began to flow smoothly. The author’s daughter works for a big Norwegian publisher, and told us she liked it better than the original.
Ibiza NOW: The Times Literary Supplement also gave the translation full marks.
Martin Davies: [Surprised] Really? Translating is a personal passion. I’ve done a score of books from Spanish, Catalan, German and French, most still unpublished. The latest is a cookbook, A Taste of Ibiza & Formentera, now in local bookshops. The mistakes on the first pages, by the way, crept in at the typesetting stage …
Ibiza NOW: An occupational hazard. Mouth-watering pictures – I’ve seen the book. You still haven’t answered my question: is San Vicente worth two books?
Martin Davies: Without a doubt, and the two are very different in any case. Borthen’s is a young man’s adventure story full of insights into Ibicenco culture back in the 1930s: ‘The Pityusan Tibet’ I call it in my introduction. The memoir by Alexis Brown [Amy Baumann’s pseudonym], by contrast, is about the joys and trials of a family living in a remote corner of the island, again with fascinating descriptions of vanishing customs. It’s as if they agreed to cover different things. They were in San Vicente at exactly the same time, but never bumped into each other – Amy was positive on that. Both wrote beautiful prose, but as different as could be imagined.
Ibiza NOW: How did you come across the second memoir, A Valley Wide?
Martin Davies: I’d already read two children’s books by Alexis Brown, and when I saw an online obituary for her ex-husband Jack Beeching, I got in touch with his partner in Palma. She gave me his son’s number in Bath. From him I heard about Amy’s unpublished manuscript written in the early 1960s. She sent a sample chapter, and I knew straightaway I wanted to publish it – the quality stood out. I went up to Fife in 2003 to go over the more delicate changes face-to-face. Few people realize how much goes into editing a book.
Amy was special, a gifted writer. Thanks to her upbringing in 1920s Shropshire she understood the rural world better than most, while her command of language allowed her to fix details in a timeless way. Her daughter, Laura, came over for the launch, and was able to let the author know how well the book was being received, both versions. The Spanish translator, Eva María Ríos Castillo, did a first-class job. Amy died in March 2009, just four months after the book was launched, having waited forty-five years to see it in print.
Ibiza NOW: Amazing – I had no idea. OK, tell me a bit about Birds of Ibiza.
Martin Davies: I’ve known the artist Sarah Nechamkin for years, and always admired her paintings. Back in the 1930s she was a star pupil of Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. I tried to interest the Consell in a calendar of Ibiza birds in 2002, but they turned it down, so we went for a book instead – which has a longer shelf life. Sarah painted some more birds and I lent a helping hand with the texts. There were some surprising discoveries, such as the fact that Ibiza was once the Mediterranean’s avian paradise. There were no terrestrial mammals, so they had the ideal breeding ground as well as a stopover during migrations – which changed, of course, when prehistoric man arrived. Sarah’s beautiful landscapes have helped make the book a popular present.
Ibiza NOW: What about future projects?
Martin Davies: The archaeology-architecture book should be out in late summer/early autumn. All the Barbary titles bring together words and pictures. There are wood engravings in both San Vicente memoirs, in the first by the wonderful Bill Fulljames, chosen by the German translator Chris von Gagern. With the birds, by contrast, the challenge was the texts, so we worked at that for a year or so. The author of Ibiza & Formentera’s Heritage, Paul Davis, is a master of writing as well as drawing. He’s done a dozen books about the architectural heritage of Wales, and this one grew out of his summer holidays on Ibiza. Another rewarding experience, working with rare talent, making sure the book is as accurate and readable possible. We’ve had some memorable field trips to caves, Iron Age forts, watermills, old houses. It’ll be in three different languages – English, Spanish, and Catalan, with beautiful bird’s-eye drawings and reconstructions.
Ibiza NOW: And the children’s book?
Martin Davies: That’s by a Dutch artist, Maria Jansen, who lives in a caravan and combines painting with writing. She’s waited with great patience while other projects have come slowly to fruition. It’s a fable that brings together the worlds of Ibicencos and foreign residents, but I can’t reveal the secret catalyst just yet. Every time I look at the illustrations I spot a charming new detail. She captures the colours of Ibiza very well, and there’s a vivid sense of life in a ramshackle old finca.
Ibiza NOW: Have we left anyone out?
Martin Davies: A huge army. There’s my printer Graficas Pitiusas, distributor Balafia Postals, the Club Diario de Ibiza for book launches, my wonderful translators like Kate Puiggrós, copyeditors Holly Eley and Ketty Montero, layout experts, presenters, photographers such as Brian Pollard, webmaster Gary Hardy with his astonishing Liveibiza website, a whole raft of authors such as Emily Kaufman, Francisco Torres Peters, Paul Richardson, Javier Moro, Iolanda Bonet, Felicity Reid. It would take ages to explain their various contributions, but all have been generous with time and expertise. Then there’s the public, who fork out hard-earned cash and provide another kind of inspiration. Hardly a day goes by without a heart-warming comment by letter, email or on the street. Plus the sponsors, including my parents and partner Toni – the list is endless …
Ibiza NOW: Thanks Martin for providing an overview of your unique operation.
Martin Davies: A pleasure. Putting together a book is like sending a boat off into the future. You have to make sure it’s well provisioned, and as with any seagoing venture, it’s the crew that keeps it in the water.
Click on links to buy them from our online shop
Barbary Press titles
1. Eivissa-Ibiza: A Hundred Years of Light and Shade (2000, 2nd ed. 2007). English, Spanish, Catalan, German and French texts.
2. Eivissa-Ibiza: Island Out of Time (2005, sold out). English, Spanish, Catalan, German, French and Italian texts.
3. Birds of Ibiza · Nuestras aves (2006). English and Spanish texts.
4. The Road to San Vicente (2007). English, Spanish (sold out) and German versions. Catalan forthcoming.
5. A Valley Wide (2008) English and Spanish versions (title: Crepúsculo sobre Sa Cala).
6. Ibiza & Formentera’s Heritage (forthcoming, 2009). English, Spanish and Catalan versions.
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