A mojito is a Cuban mint julep, mixed with rum rather than bourbon. It was Ernest Hemingway’s second-favorite drink. The shot of gin first thing in the morning from the bottle beneath the bed took top honors.
Somewhere just on the dark side of dawn in an Eivissa nightclub, I was trying to convince the waitress to deliver another round of mojitos because I wanted to continue my conversation with the leggy Catalan brunette sitting beside me on the nightclub’s rooftop terrace. The waitress seemed to hear me above the music thundering out of the club and went off to fetch our drinks. I watched her con permiso her way through the crowd of good looking, depraved, and decadent Euro-youth before turning my attention back to my Catalan conversationalist. One thing was certain: We were not the only people on the terrace discussing cocaine and sex.
“Eivissa” is the Catalan spelling of the Mediterranean island that the Spaniards call “Ibiza.” Greeks called it the Island of Pines, and rugged pines still rise along the rocky hillsides and shoreline. In the valleys and plateaus, a dusty red soil supports olive, fig, and almond trees that rise in neat rows on farmsteads that look very much as they would have in the time of the Carthaginians who founded Eivissa City.
The newspapers reported that Spanish farmers were planning to join the antifuel tax revolt that was spreading across Europe as the summer drew to a close. My brother wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal Europe arguing that these weren’t truly tax revolts but raids on the state treasuries by special interests. He has a point. The French truckers relaxed their protest when the government promised them a targeted tax rebate, which means more government red tape and doesn’t relieve the tax burden on most French drivers. Governments use loopholes, directed tax-cuts, and rebates to grant favors to special interests and to control their citizens. They’re really a sneaky form of government intervention in our lives.
A wise man once said, however, that we shouldn’t oppose tax loopholes. We should try to expand them, in order to eliminate their favoritism. More generally, we should support anti-tax revolts regardless of what we think of the underlying motives of the protesters. These raids on state treasuries are double blessings: They let people keep what they earn, and they deprive the state of money it would otherwise spend to attack the liberties of the people.
Here in Eivissa, however, it’s difficult to imagine that the farmers’ protests would have had much effect. Life has a slow pace amidst the red clay and harsh hills, especially beneath the stifling Mediterranean summer sun. If the farmers had brought everything to a halt, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed—unless they blocked the discos at night. That would have caused rioting. In the end, several ships blockaded the Barcelona harbor, but the Catalan olive growers kept on keeping on, tending their trees around the occasional Carthaginian ruin.
The Romans and, later, the Visigoths followed the Carthaginians. Muslims took the island before the turn of the first millennium, and held it for more than 300 years. Eivissa’s modern history begins with the Christian Reconquista sponsored by Juame I of Cataluña and Aragon in 1235, long before NATO bombers got into the business of preventing ethnic cleansing. (A suggested bumper sticker for folks opposed to NATO interventionism: “If NATO Had Got Here Sooner, Your Name Would Be Mohammed.”)
Over the next 700 years, the island prospered as a trading hub for Catalan merchants and suffered during the various continental wars. In the 1960’s, it attracted the attention of Europe’s flowerpower set, who discovered that free love and drugs were even more enjoyable on sandy beaches beneath the Mediterranean sun. Tourism boomed, becoming the island’s major industry. Its infamous all-night discos gave birth to the rave sometime in the late 80’s. Besides the sandy beaches surrounded by sparkling blue waters, Eivissa’s nightlife is the reason people come.
The drug of choice among the clubhoppers is ecstasy, a narcotic with the most marketable name imaginable. Reportedly, the drug delivers a mildly good time but doesn’t come close to living up to its name. Most users I’ve met seem disappointed with the effects. I understand that America’s drug-war industry is currently throwing a hissy-fit about the ecstasy epidemic supposedly sweeping through America’s youth. No doubt some of this is the usual foundation grant-seeking, fundraising, and job-maintenance mania. Still, let me propose this slogan for their abuse-prevention programs; “You’ll have more fun with rum.”
The young and reckless Europeans in Eivissa hardly confine themselves to ecstasy. During my first day on the island, an attractive group of women passed by the cafe where I was breakfasting. I smiled at them and said, “Hola.” “Ciao,” they replied, and kept walking. One suddenly turned around and boldly strode back to where I was sitting. She had the brightest smile, and her walnut eyes gleamed in the morning light. “Ciao,” I said.
“Ciao. Do you have any hashish or marijuana to sell us?” she asked.
This was the first time I’ve ever been mistaken for a drug dealer. I felt myself grasping for the proper response. My knowledge of Italian culture is limited: I promessi sposi, Dante, Ezra Pound being kept in a cage by the U.S. Army, and what I read about the Lega Nord in Chronicles. No help there. Finally, I gave her a conspiratorial grin. “Too many police,” I said. I nodded a bit to the group of men sitting in their bathing trunks at the far end of the cafe. “Talk to me later.”
Spain went through a brief period during which most drugs were decriminalized. Pressure from the “international community” put an end to that years ago. One substance banned in most Western countries, however, remains legal in Spain: absinthe. The bane of Victorian society can be found on the shelves of many bars and cafes throughout Spain, but the best is made near Barcelona or on Eivissa. Sometimes called the “green faerie,” absinthe is translucent green liquor distilled from wormwood. When mixed with water, it turns a milky, opaque shade of green. It’s meant to be drunk slowly, as Jake Barnes discovers in The Sun Also Rises. Van Gogh was reportedly high on absinthe when he severed his ear.
My attempt to get a glass of absinthe led to my conversation with the Catalan woman. The bartender was refusing to serve me any because of an incident the night before. There had been a fire; I had started it. Tonight, I could not be served absinthe, the bartender told me.
Drinking absinthe always involves a ritual designed to dissolve sugar into the otherwise bitter liquor. Among the various techniques, the most dramatic requires dipping a sugar cube into the absinthe and lighting it on fire. As the sugar caramelizes, it drips into the glass, where it blends and produces the desired effect. When dripped too quickly, I discovered, the sugar can fall into the glass while still aflame, igniting the absinthe. My attempt to extinguish the fire succeeded only in knocking the glass over. The flaming green liquid streamed across the bar, lapping over the edges, lighting my shoes on fire.
Still, no one was hurt, and I thought I deserved another chance. I proposed mixing the sugar using one of the rituals not involving fire; but the bartender would not be reasoned with.
At that point, the woman beside me spoke up. “May I suggest a mojito,” she said in Catalan. It was close enough to Spanish for me to understand. In English, she said, “American boys like mojitos because they all want to be Hemingway.”
I ordered mojitos for both of us before telling her that I didn’t understand how Hemingway and the rest of the International Brigades had escaped with their reputations intact after fighting for the Stalinist side during the Spanish Civil War. She asked why I was more sympathetic to Franco’s Nationalists. I gave three reasons: First, in the government schools where I was educated, Franco’s victory was taught as a great tragedy and I regarded this as a prima facie case for Franco; second. Franco resisted the sickening secularism that infected European governments. East and West, in the 20th century, upholding the role of faith in public life; and third, if you compare post-Franco Spain with post-Soviet Russia, it is easy to see why Franco is preferable to Stalin.
She replied that to the Catalans, Franco was first and foremost a relentless centralizer, suppressing their identity and language. His military career had taken shape in the long, futile Moroccan campaign, an adventure in Spanish imperialism opposed from the start by both the Catalan merchant class and Barcelona’s radical anarchists. As Caudillo, Franco continued his army-bred prejudices against regionalists and nationalists in Cataluña and the Basque territories. National unity was at the heart of Franco’s regime, she explained. The Catalan language was banned from schools, Madrid encouraged a million largely poor and unskilled Spaniards to immigrate into Cataluña, and little self-government was tolerated. This argument was far better at winning me over than she could have anticipated: There’s no way she could have known that painting Franco as the Spanish Lincoln would have a powerful effect on my thinking.
Since 1979, Cataluña has enjoyed a measure of independence from Madrid. The regional government has more power, and Catalan is taught in the schools, becoming the primary language of the region once again. The devolution of power, however, is far from complete. Madrid continues to control the region, and enriches itself through taxes taken from Cataluña’s prosperity. To make matters worse, the devolution may stall as an alliance of socialists, communists, and centralizers have gained power in recent elections by appealing to the immigrant vote —the 40 percent of Cataluña’s voters who come from other regions and often resent the resurgence of Catalanism. To have come so far only to turn back would be a genuine tragedy, the Catalan brunette told me.
When we’d finished with Spain’s politics, we turned to the United States. She was alarmed by President Clinton’s recent move to deepen U.S. involvement in Colombia’s civil war by delivering $1.3 billion of additional foreign aid to the Bogota regime. Actually, it’s far worse, I told her. Clinton is not merely sending cash that could be easily stolen and, therefore, kept out of the civil war. He’s sending attack helicopters, herbicide, and military “advisors” into the Colombian jungle.
Her primary concern was with the impact that the U.S.-backed intensification of the conflict would have on the environment and human rights. No doubt things will get far worse for Colombian farmers, forests, and critics of Colombia’s rulers. But, I told her, I worry more about my country getting drawn into this 40-year war between Colombian Marxists and their government opponents. Political violence in the region stretches back into the mid-19th century, and certainly beyond. Once again, it looks like the United States is marching determinately into a foreign bedlam of ancient animosities.
Aid to Colombia is officially “agricultural,” intended to assist the Colombian government’s eradication of cocaine crops. But the civil war and the drug war are inseparable, since the Marxist insurgents control much of the cocaine crop. In fact, my Catalonian is convinced, what really motivates the Colombian regime is the desire not to eradicate this valuable commodity but to control its distribution while rubbing out the rebels. Even if U.S. aid succeeded in shutting down cocaine production in Colombia, the drug farming would merely migrate to Colombia’s neighbors, just as drug dealers in New York City shift their activities from one neighborhood to another to avoid the police.
Recently, the authorities discovered a submarine in the hills of Colombia. According to Pravda—sorry, I mean the Herald-Tribune, the sub was being built by drug smugglers and could have transported 11 tons of cocaine. The Herald-Tribune argued that this strengthened the Clinton administration’s position on Colombia. Surely, it should do just the opposite.
This story has all the marks of a setup, including a Russian connection (the instruction manuals for building the submarine were in Russian). And after Kosovo, we should all assume anything we hear supporting American interventionism abroad is a lie. But if this story were true, it would only confirm what we already know: that the situation in Colombia is not an ordinary drug-interdiction program and our aid is not agricultural. We are supplying arms, aid, and advice to one side in a deadly civil war, fought between well-equipped and well-funded armies. As the Herald-Tribune put it, typically only navies of sovereign nations possess the sort of submarine supposedly found in the Colombian hills.
My Catalonian friend wanted to knowhow Clinton, formerly a Vietnam War protester, could possibly want to start America down the road to war in Colombia. Perhaps, she suggested, we should suspect another affair-of-the-pants is giving him this bravado, just as cuddling with Monica Lewinsky gave him the courage to oppose Newt Gingrich during the 1995 government shutdown. I told her that it was more likely typical Clintonian hubris and sophistry. The Clintonites are supremely confident that they are always right, both morally and tactically. And they can talk themselves into any position necessary to advance themselves in power.
In 1994, when the Clinton administration overthrew the government of Haiti, I was at Oxford. Strobe Talbot visited to give a lecture on the role of the United States in the world. The talk was nonsense, and most of the questions were harmless. I raised my hand toward the end, and Talbot announced that mine would be the last question. I produced a copy of the letter Clinton had written from Oxford opposing America’s involvement in the internal disputes of sovereign nations, particularly Vietnam. After reading the letter, I asked: “Since Clinton recently launched an invasion force that resulted in the overthrow of the government of Haiti, I’m wondering whether you think he was wrong back in the 60’s or is he wrong now?”
I never expected Talbot’s reaction. He turned purple with rage. “No dictionary in Oxford would call our installation of the democratically elected leader of Haiti an invasion!” he bellowed. This was an obfuscation: An invasion is an invasion, even if it is justified. (Recall the Allied invasion of Normandy.) But to the Clintonites, the words “war,” “invasion,” and “attack” are reserved for our official enemies. The United States and our vassals are peacekeepers and democracy-builders. Reality somehow bends to their linguistic connivances. Sex with Monica? It all depends on your definition of “is.”
The dons at Oxford were taken aback by Talbot’s ill-mannered response; he had dodged the question. I hadn’t asked about the definition of “invasion” but about how his boss had gone from articulating the principles of nonintervention and national sovereignty to launching a global crusade for democracy and human rights. Talbot behaved as if such a question were beneath the dignity of his office.
Sensing his answer had been insufficient, Talbot approached me on his way out. I should have been intimidated because armed bodyguards surrounded him. He took my hand in his, giving it a shake. “That was the easiest closing question I’ve had,” he lied. (I could see he was calmer now. His complexion had returned to pasty, though a vein still bulged and pulsed in his neck.) My friends sitting close by could not believe this master of the American hyperpower felt the need to attempt to embarrass a 20-something undergraduate who had asked a troubling question.
I looked into his lying eyes and said, “Go to Hell, a–hole.”
Clinton can push us into centuries-old wars in the Balkans and in South America —wars that will only spread to neighboring countries when the catalyst of American power is introduced —because he believes with all his heart that his wars are peace.
The story impressed my Catalan friend. She laughed and touched my arm. Her look made me suspect she only half-believed the details, but she liked the moral of the story. “You’re saying that America’s rulers are interventionists because they are deluded and evil,” she observed.
Now, it was my turn to smile. The mojitos arrived. We had talked enough truth about the world for this hour of the morning.
“Oh, John,” she said, “Maybe it’s not too late to stop it all.”
On the eastern edge of the sea, the first fits of sunlight were visible. The breeze blowing onto the terrace was salty and cool. We both took long drinks from our glasses.
“Yes,” I said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”