Seville: Vi­brant and easy on the wal­let

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Lu­cas Peter­son

I watched the dancer, Yasaray Ro­driguez, seated on stage per­fectly up­right and im­mac­u­lately dressed, lis­ten­ing to the ac­com­pa­ny­ing gui­tar player. A vo­cal­ist be­gan to cry out a song of pain or lost love - folk melodies in harsh quar­ter tones, like a muezzin is­su­ing a call to prayer at a mosque.

The emo­tion in Yasaray’s face be­come more and more in­tense, the angst greater and greater, un­til it seemed to lift her off her chair. Fi­nally, she be­gan to dance, a se­ries of in­creas­ingly com­plex pa­los, move­ments that in­volved sharp claps and stomps, in­tri­cate hand move­ments and ac­ro­batic turns and seemed to play off the gui­tar.

Watch­ing fla­menco for the first time in the per­for­mance hall at the Casa de la Guitarra in Seville was both ex­haust­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. The vol­ume and in­ten­sity led a child in the front row to clasp his hands tightly over his ears and close his eyes; I might have done the same had I not been so enthralled.

That show capped off just an­other day in Seville, the cap­i­tal of the An­dalu­sia re­gion, where fa­mil­iar rit­u­als are any­thing but or­di­nary and demon­strate Sevil­lians’ in­tense lust for life.

An af­ter­noon in Seville might in­clude strolling down its sun­baked streets and al­ley­ways, walk­ing among bougainvil­lea and ad­mir­ing its in­tri­cate, Moor­ish-in­spired mudé­jar ar­chi­tec­ture, or tak­ing in an im­promptu street show in one of its beau­ti­ful plazas. And it will def­i­nitely in­volve tapas or mon­ta­di­tos - small bites and sand­wiches con­sumed through­out the day, usu­ally with an in­ex­pen­sive drink.

I spent sev­eral such en­joy­able days in Seville, tak­ing in the city’s rich his­tory, consuming its won­der­ful food and never once wor­ry­ing about put­ting stress on my bank ac­count.

If there’s a city in Europe with bet­ter weather than Seville, I’d like to visit it. Its Mediter­ranean cli­mate means hot, dry sum­mers and rainy win­ters. Even in the dead of De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, av­er­age high tem­per­a­tures rarely dip be­low 15.5°C.

I stayed with my friend Clau­dia, a na­tive, and she cred­its the cli­mate for the dy­namic buzz of the city and its gen­eral aura of hap­pi­ness.

“It makes you feel dif­fer­ent. Nor­mally we are al­ways out, in the streets,” she said. “Every day you can pick up the phone and say, ‘Want a drink?’ And some­one will want to hang out with you, out­side. It’s not that we’re al­ways par­ty­ing, or we’re lazy - we’re not - but every free mo­ment, we have fun.”

It was tough to ar­gue with that sen­ti­ment when I ar­rived on a sunny af­ter­noon, driv­ing with Clau­dia down Paseo de Palmeras and watch­ing the tall, gen­tly sway­ing palm trees pass us on ei­ther side.

We con­tin­ued on through Maria Luisa Park, the pri­mary site of the Ibero-Amer­i­can Exposition of 1929. The most fa­mous of the struc­tures cre­ated for that event may be the Plaza de Es­paña. The ex­tremely lav­ish semi­cir­cu­lar struc­ture curves around a large open plaza and a se­ries of canals and foun­tains. Mu­rals con­structed from brightly coloured ce­ramic tiles, one for each prov­ince of Spain, line the plaza. When Clau­dia and I vis­ited, the plaza was abuzz with ac­tiv­ity from tourists and ven­dors hawk­ing toys and so­lic­it­ing boat rides in the canal. A walk through the ad­ja­cent gar­dens, lush and peace­ful, is also rec­om­mended.

Not ev­ery­one will be lucky enough to have a friend to stay with, of course. The Cool Sevilla Ho­tel, with a good cen­tral lo­ca­tion and solid on­line re­views, has su­pe­rior dou­ble rooms from € 56 for se­lect dates at the end of June. Those look­ing to save fur­ther can check out op­tions on Airbnb, where pri­vate rooms go for less than US$30 per night and en­tire apart­ments from around US$50.

Holy Week, the week lead­ing up to Easter, is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in Seville - it hap­pened to be when I ar­rived, and while it made typ­i­cal tourist ac­tiv­i­ties some­what dif­fi­cult, I don’t re­gret the de­ci­sion at all. The var­i­ous pa­sos, or ‘pro­ces­sions,’ by the cofradías, (re­li­gious broth­er­hoods) pass­ing late into the night of­fered a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the tra­di­tions that are cen­turies old.

We walked briskly on nar­row, stone streets that squeaked with dried wax from pre­vi­ous pro­ces­sions, rem­nants of the can­dles car­ried by the nazarenos in their pointy hooded robes (out­fits that may shock Amer­i­can vis­i­tors, as they closely re­sem­ble those as­so­ci­ated with the Ku Klux Klan).

Af­ter hit­ting a block­ade of peo­ple go­ing down one street and un­able to go far­ther, we dou­bled back and wound through a back al­ley to ap­proach the pa­rade from a dif­fer­ent lo­cale.

The cen­tre­piece of each pro­ces­sion is a large float - in­tri­cately carved, beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated, about the size of a small au­to­mo­bile - that de­picts a scene from the Gospels. The floats are also ex­tremely heavy and are car­ried by dozens of men, called costaleros, who ro­tate in and out dur­ing the course of the day.

Af­ter a night of pro­ces­sion-watch­ing, packed to­gether with thou­sands of other peo­ple, you work up an ap­petite. Af­ter one paso, well af­ter mid­night, we headed to Bode­guita Fabiola - a small restau­rant. Suf­fice it to say that most of my days were bro­ken up by five or six small, won­der­ful meals - acorn-fed ham, pun­gent cheeses, per­fectly briny olives. One morn­ing I took in a late brunch at the Mer­cado Lonja del Bar­ranco, a modern food court over­look­ing the Guadalquivir River, and en­joyed a pow­er­fully saline, jet­black ar­roz ne­gro, made with cut­tle­fish and squid ink, from the ar­ro­cería stall.

It was fuel enough to pro­pel me across the river to the Tri­ana neigh­bour­hood, pass­ing by the Castillo de San Jorge, a former head­quar­ters for the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion. “We don’t need to in­vent any­thing new,” Clau­dia told me when I first ar­rived in Seville. At that mo­ment, I wasn’t sure ex­actly what she meant, but by the time I left, I un­der­stood.

(The New York Times)

Boat­ing in the Plaza de Es­pana in Seville, Spain

Fla­menco at Casa de la Guitarra. Si­esta in the Plaza de Es­pana

The Seville Cathe­dral, the largest Gothic build­ing in Europe

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