WHEN William Graves opened the door of his father’s old casa in the undulating side of Deia on the Spanish island of Majorca, his eyes twinkled. Elena, whom he had been married to for 48 years, was with him. He was sporting a raincoat while she had a shawl around her neck and a jacket to boot and they had been confabulating about the cold, rainy weather.
The house, despite its compact size, has a functional and modest space for a growing family.
After all the children had climbed upstairs and gone to bed, Mrs Beryl would comfortably sit in her chair, relieved after a long day’s work. She would reminisce how she much she missed summer as Mr Robert — poet, scholar and novelist — headed back to his study, scribbled some notes, piling one sheet over the other until the last set of manuscripts had been placed on top of the perfectly varnished wooden table, waiting to be published the following spring.
William, 74, the eldest son of Robert Graves and Beryl Pritchard, vividly recalled the family memories as he showed us the living room where he had spent most of his childhood days with his siblings during the winter. Across from the kitchen is a hallway that leads to his father’s office.
What used to be Robert’s possessions are all neatly kept and preserved. The old letterpress is still operational — it had published some of his most influential novels of all time — I, Claudius and Claudius The God, and Count Belisarius, together with numerous books of poetry under The Seizen Press.
Known as Ca n’Alluny among the locals, the house was built on the outskirts of the village and has a huge garden. Nearby are the terraced hillsides that rise to an impressive 600 metres. Just over the steep, wrinkled cliffs of the Tramuntana Mountains, olive trees proliferate, almost engulfing the landscape that overlooks the Mediterranean.
This was the place that Robert Graves fell in love with when he first came to Deia in 1929. Every morning after his coffee, he would walk down to his patched-earth garden and think about planting oleander or carnation as an addition to his fruit orchard and vegetables.
“I found everything I wanted as a writer: sun, sea, mountains, spring water, shady trees, no politics, and a few civilised luxuries such as electric light,” Robert, once wrote about Deia, his adopted home. “I wanted to go where town was still town; and country, country.”
It was not so long ago that Deia was hidden from the watchful eyes of holiday makers. A quick look into its past relates a rich history that goes back to the time of the Moorish invasion in Majorca during the 10th to 13th Centuries.
Though a sleepy coastal village in the early 20th Century, Deia attracted many artists and writers and later become an enclave for those who were in search of a Bohemian lifestyle. Some came to spend time, others decided to stay. It was Robert’s presence and his legacy that made the world notice Deia. He used the town as the setting for many of his stories and invited guests into his home which soon morphed into a literary salon, the hub of numerous writers and friends. Amongst these were Kingsley Amis, actors Alec Guinness, and Peter Ustinov, who like Robert, had come to live in Majorca.
While he was also busy entertaining his friends F. Scott Fitzgerald, Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin staying at the newly opened Hotel Formentor, Robert was also engrossed in writing his poem Not To Sleep; a poem dedicated to Ava Gardner, who stayed on the island from time to time.
In the poem, Robert described the blissful insomnia that affected him during her visits — particularly stimulating, yet disturbing.
It took him 80 years to cease writing. By the age of 90, he had bid goodbye to Deia. He now rests in a small churchyard on a hill. This was the last scene I saw before William pushed the stop button on his father’s documentary film. The narrator’s voice faded simultaneously with the background music and then, finally, the screen went blank.
William turned the lights back on. I saw his eyes twinkling once more, the same kind of sparkle. How strange it is to see Robert’s life condensed into a 14-minute video clip. Though it was a quick trip through a great writer’s life, it, without a doubt will last a lifetime.
Jan Sevilla, Kuala Lumpur
Casa-Museo Robert Graves
Carretera Deia a Soller, s/n 07179 Deia, Majorca, Spain
Entrance fee: €7 (RM30) for adult, €3.50 for under 12
Opening hours: 10am-5pm weekdays (3pm Saturdays). Closed Sundays.
How to get there: The island of Majorca is served by direct flights from major European cities. The Son Sant Joan Airport is 8km from the capital Palma de Majorca. There’s also ferry service from some of Spain’s big cities.
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