Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Alejandra of Seville and other treasures

It’s Monday, nearly eleven and we are finally done with supper. That’s a tad late for us, but I’d been engrossed in deleting hundreds of old photos that I had sloppily left on the computer, leading to the unfortunate situation of a maxed out hard drive, so we got a late start.

We'd eaten pizza. A cheat, I know, because so far as I know, pizza is not Andalusian, not even Spanish, but it was a delicious neighborhood pizza, one you had to wait for, as the place was crowded even at that hour, or perhaps especially at that hour.

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As always, at the eatery I take a good long look at those around us. I’m especially drawn to the two couples who come in shortly after us. One has a little girl and they put her at the end of the table, give her an iPhone (or some comparable) and then proceed to discuss with each other the state of the world and their lives in it. The girl happily plays with the iPhone and only every few minutes asks some question or other of her mother.

As in France, kids here know what is expected of them when they go out to eat with their families. The meal includes them (even at this late hour), but it isn't about them. Still, I’m impressed enough by this little one that I go up to say a few niceties to the parents. Of course, the mom’s pleased and proud and as she looks into the smiling eyes of her daughter, prodding her to answer for herself the question about her age, the girl tilts her head with a laugh and tells me that she is Alejandra and she is, in fact, three.

She then returns to the iPhone and continues her doodles. I’m amused. Obviously, in postwar Poland, my thumbs would not have known to skirt around a tiny screen, but it’s also true that my own kids never touched a tiny screen or even a big screen with thumbs, or with any other fingers. The whirlygig of time...

But what time does not seem to ever dismantle is the pleasure of eating out and especially outside, even on a January day in Seville, where you need your jacket and a scarf, but having that, you can find a table outdoors and you can stay there the whole afternoon long, talking, eating, eating, talking. As Ed and I walk back from our third and final sight for this day and for Seville in fact, as we’re leaving Tuesday, we pass square after square absolutely packed with people engaged in eating, drinking and talking, talking, so boisterously that the city almost rumbles with their collective voice.

Ed comments – they beat France in this (their devotion to the café-restaurant life) and that’s saying a lot.

If the economy is faltering, it’s surely not making a dent in this one passion that survives all others.

I noted that we are walking from our third sight. There should have been four on this day, but one of them – a local market – was a bust. Lonely Planet needs to do an update there.

The other three? The first was interesting but I cut out early in the tour. Ed sat out altogether. The second was probably in the top handful of sights I have seen in my life. The third was a gentle and tamer version, worth the hike, but my eyes were still glazed over by number two.

So, now let me go back to the beginning of the day, when we sit down to an orange juice and a sweet Bandas de Hoja with coffee (for me; Ed’s still groaning over being full of some past meal or other and so he sticks with juice) at a nearby café. I almost got it right, but not entirely. It took several breakfasts to figure out that if you want to do as they do, the Sevilians, or perhaps all Spaniards, you order a morning set and you’ll get juice, coffee with milk and a toasted roll. Take it with ham, tomato or jam. The price for all that will probably be less than if you order juice alone. It’s just the way it is.


We look for the market, don’t find it (because it’s not there) and backtrack to the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. This is where Seville’s great tradition of bullfighting takes place and I say great as in large as opposed to fantastically wonderful. Obviously I’m one of those who is squeamish about the whole concept (I don’t get boxing, hokey or football either – somehow violence as sport doesn’t excite me), but I know no bull has passed through the gates since October and I am not opposed to taking a tour of the beautiful old rink built for the purpose of slowly killing bulls. When Ed makes some comment indicating how terribly offputting the whole thing is, I remind him that back home, he has a cat who likes to torture mice to death in much the same slow way.


But I am not very good at listening to tour guides – especially ones who err on too much or too little detail (this one was the latter) and so after poking around a little, I cut out, feeling entirely satisfied that I have paid enough homage to the place of bull killing (call it what it is; I fail to see it as much of a fight. The deck is stacked against the poor animal no matter how many ambulances stand by at the periphery).


And now we finally approach the Alcazar – the palace built over a period of many centuries, but most notably containing the 14th century additions of Pedro I (who was on good terms with the Muslim emir of Granada and a great fan of the Alhambra palace there). I need add nothing else. Just walk quietly through it with me and make a note to someday take the trip to Seville, because truly, seeing this – and I recommend doing so in the cool relative quiet of a winter day – will be worth the hassle and expense of getting there.


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We move seamlessly from room to courtyard to garden -- enchanting even now at this seasonally restful moment.

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At one corner, we find a place (one of many) to sit down, in the favorite way of ours where I am in the sun and Ed is in the shade and I will be surprised if there will be a moment on this trip that will surpass the beautiful tranquility of the minutes we sit there, listening to flights of birds and a distant rumble of a city somewhere there, but not really there at all, not for us, not in this second.


Perhaps the best way to digest the hours spent at the Alcazar is over a late lunch. There are dozens of families out and about... (here are three kids in blue coats with the girls in green tights and with rose bows, and three girls in gray coats and pink tights with pink bows, plus some sundry other sibs)


...and even more families at outside tables...


...and there are plenty of tapas places to choose from except  you can’t choose by popularity because they’re all crowded, all with tables spilling out onto the tight sidewalks. So we pick one that seems to have an understandable selection of small dishes, only to find out that they’re not doing small tapas but only half plates and full plates – all very confusing, but no matter, I order two halves – shrimp bubbling in garlic olive oil and spinach with chickpeas and though Ed says he is still not hungry, he changes his mind and helps me eat both.

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And so we can dive now into the next and final for us Sevillian sight -- the smaller palace, the Casa de Pilatos. And it’s very pretty and very quiet – a bit out of the way (at the edge of the Jewish Ghetto, so it does make for a nice walk through these tight, confusing alleys)...

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....it does not really draw lines or crowds and that certainly is pleasant enough. It can’t and shouldn’t be compared to the Alcazar and I’ll resist the temptation to do so, only to say the Casa is like having a perfect espresso after an exquisite meal.


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And now it’s nearly evening and we walk through squares packed with cafés and people...

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...lots and lots of people and if ever there was a use for the word merrymaking, I’ll throw it out now, because truly, in that great conversation over food and beverage (oftentimes with children playing at the side), there does seem to be a joyousness present that’s hard to imagine under other circumstances.



And the rest – well, you know the rest. Deleting photos and eating pizza in the distant company of the sweet three year old Alejandra.

The next morning, Tuesday morning, this morning, we finally do breakfast right – at this sweet little local place where the waiter has a brother in New York and is pleased that Ed can speak like a native (and understand like a foreigner). I munch on my toasted roll with marmalade and Ed proclaims it is the best orange juice he has tasted ever, or at least on this trip.

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We walk to the station with our packs – an hour’s walk really, if you stop to admire Sevillian ceramics...


...and pause to pick up fruit at a local fruit stand where oranges right now are selling for 2 Euro for five kilo.


...and we take the train to Granada.