This seems a poor way to begin telling you what was really a very fascinating look at the Moorish architecture of southern Spain and Andalusia...blue and white tiles lining the pavement and walls of the parks and alleyways, huge buildings from far into the past which began as one form of testimony and became the next invaders' choice for palace or cathedral or high seat, the Guadalvivr, the river which runs through the city, bridges linking, as they do in most great cities of the world, the memorial side of the city with the working side. And, in case it turns you on...as it did lines of tourists waiting outside the ring, though I wasn't one of them...its bullfighting history.
Before I left for Seville, a woman told me, "Oh, Sevilla! I would live there if I could." And reading about the place made me look forward even more to the visit. I booked an apartment in an old building just off one of the most historic sections of town, off a street full of the establishments we visit Europe for; unfortunately, I can't recommend it (the apartment, not the street), as it was dark, cheerless, and ill-conceived, but as I spent most of the day and evening out anyway, I had only to sleep and store my things there. It is, by the way, my first disappointment staying in an AirBnB.
It couldn't have been more convenient, being just off the Calle Santa Maria La Blanca, in the heart of Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. It was a charmer, and more intriguing than at first apparent. Arriving mid-day from the few days I gave myself in London between the Scotland/Wales journey and Spain, I rolled my suitcase to the corner cafe, little more than a counter and a few small tables, outside and in, which was briskly serving passersby, tourists and local workers alike. A staff of cheerful young people from diverse Spanish, eastern European, Australian and African parts served good Spanish coffee, tea, fresh fruit, smoothies, and yogurt, or bagel and thin slivers of smoked salmon over fresh lime, or vegetarian sandwiches made to order. I made it my first stop many mornings before I began my walking day. So did residents on their way to work at one or another of the shops, offices, tourist sites and museums in the area, taking away morning or noon fare in quick, efficient order, while those on holiday...and the streets were crowded with them...like me sat for a while to enjoy it.
There was a panederia across the street that began its baking early, a pharmacy where natural remedies took precedence for colds and the pharmacist, a young serious woman who took her time with each customer, asking good questions and deliberating the best cure. Beyond that was a tiny sliver of a shop which sold scarves, so pretty and so ready for the cooling weather, a shoe shop, and as many restaurants as could fit in one block.
I looked forward to the promised delicacies of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine, and was never disappointed.
My favorite place for lunch, found a few days into my stay, became an Italian restaurant, La Galliana Blanca, whose food and service were impeccable and as welcoming as neighborhood place can be, white tablecloths and perfectly plated dishes notwithstanding.
You would think for a beginning like that, that Seville would become a place I would enjoy. And you know I did enjoy things about it, but somehow I couldn't find its heart, no matter how hard I tried. The parks were nice enough to walk in, the architecture interesting enough, the history--full of strange twists and turns of fate and endless invasions, as that part of the world seems to have suffered through--curious enough.
Writing every day, though, I found myself striving to catch up with what Seville was really about, and frustrated at never getting there. Here is what I wrote on the first day:
...In the ancient quarter where I will stay are...the grand eldest buildings nearby to explore, pretty and Spanish, like Cuba, but even narrower cobbled streets...it will be fun to explore them. There is a drum-and-horn band playing a few blocks away and small children are playing in the park around the corner. The sun is a treat I put my jacket away for, after the chill of Britain. A white dove flies past and lands by the ancient center tiles of a once-fountain, signaling something to me. Seville has not gotten to me yet, but it will.
A few days more and my entry begins:
I don't know. Seville has many intriguing sights. Each day I walk from part to part admiring the gardens, the courtyards in the Museo des Belles Artes, the beautiful tiled (Azulejos) benches, staircases, walls...
Still, strangely, the city lays no claim on me, nor I it. I lunch on baccala salad with pine nuts and hazelnuts and drink some wine on the sidewalk along the wide Calle San Fernando beside the entrance to the park, watching from my corner seat the wanderers in the city.
I take a river cruise up and down the Guadalvivr, watching the town from the glistening waterside. I have already seen most of its part from land, except for a strange set of exhibits left over from a world fair, now a sort of amusement park. What relaxes and interests me is being on the water itself, on a beautiful day, its distance making Seville's sidewalk life shine.
When I return, my next entry reports:
I sit in the grand park watching people go back and forth...families, couples, friends, tourists, groups...this is the end of the high tourist season and everyone is rushing to catch it before it goes. The weather has turned a bit cloudy; it's promised to rain a little. But I find quiet places in the parks...on this day, others seem to be reflective, too, walking quietly among the trees, being pruned as we watch...
...the crowds seem clustered around the palace instead.
There are so many other spaces in the park, all interesting in themselves. I'm happy just relaxing in it.
By four I am tired...I have been out since a bit past 8 this morning. On the way to the apartment, I stop at a tourist information center and sign up for a tour to the Pueblos Blancos, a supposedly "ecological" company runs it. It is doable and affordable, only six or seven people at a time, and it may, I think, start me off in other directions and new interests. Perhaps Seville is just a place to go somewhere from.
The tour of the Pueblos Blancos was, in fact, what I had come to Andalusia to see. The villages rise from fields where, as in Southern France, vineyards, olive groves, small caches of farm huts where families and their workers become their own miniscule town, and you can see the white houses clustered together from each curve in the road as it winds higher. It is difficult to park anywhere, so our guide leaves us off at the edges of each town, and then meets us in the middle for our walking tours. It's raining, foggy, and though he apologizes for the lack of view, it seems to me to be a perfect vision of the mysterious in Andalusia.
The streets are really cobbled hills, sometimes with steps going up between the windows and doors of houses built into the rock, sometimes just cobbled slides and angles. I have my cane, so going up the very steep climb to the Moorish towers isn't difficult. Coming down, however, is another story. I don't fall, but the pressure on the slippery slopes gets to me. I won't know until the next day, back in Seville, how much it does.
Town by town, my camera records the beauty and fascination of the pueblos. We manage a few stops to eat, shop, and go off at our own pace, which I like. Once, however, the tour has to wait for me to return, when I am too long inside the strange wooden chapel, where a wary parishioner takes her turn minding the table at the entry...I smile at her as I make my donation, but she looks at me as if I am a ghost. I'm not offended...it is the Andalusian way. It's dark when we finally return to the city.
The next morning, after a lazy start, I feel better and set out for whatever adventure the day brings, stopping almost to the medieval plaza for breakfast in a cafe idolizing the Hemingway era...the black and white photographs on every wall bring out that '30s image, even though many are much younger.
On the way out, I suddenly feel my knee give way. It's the one that has been replaced some years ago, and so I stop a minute, trying to gauge what's going on. But I straighten up and then continue until in a few minutes, it collapses again. Okay, I think. I've so far walked everywhere I am going, getting lost, turning unexpected corners, so it is about time I gave my legs a rest. I head, slower this time and more careful of the cobbles and ruts toward the river, where the on-and-off buses begin. It is another perspective of the town for me, but since I now know where everything is from plazas to bull ring to museum to parks to river and across, I don't bother to get earplugs, as the other tourists do...I already know what I am seeing. I just look.
And sure enough, I see things I really didn't notice before, including the gorgeously gilded church we practically hurl past, the Basilica de la Macarena.
I go around in the tour bus twice, in fact, and when I get off, finally, near the tower at the edge of the university park, I realize that my knee is more than just tired. My plan to take the ferry to Tangiers will have to wait for another trip; I can't trust my walking any more. So I make plans to go home through Lisbon and London, over two days, which in fact will turn out to be even more wearing on me.
Starting back to the apartment, I get lost in the gloaming once more, and find myself walking past a narrow house on one of the smallest, narrowest streets in the city: a museum to Jewish life in Southern Spain. They are still open, so I walk in through the quiet rooms, taking note of the remnants of an old civilization that helped to found Seville once, then fell under its betrayal. Yet the exhibits are colorful and full of the North African influences that marked the Jewish culture in its history there...
The two young women at the entry, smartly dressed and historically charged, give me a map that lists other places in the city where remnants of the community, a millennium old, exist. It's getting dark, so I take it with me, thinking that perhaps I will pass one of them on the way to the apartment. And I do, in a most surprising place: the corner on which I have been staying, barely three doors down.
Just on the other side of the street, Santa Maria la Blanca, where I have been enjoying my morning coffee, is a church of the same name, whose bells have rung every twenty minutes, it seems to me, day and night, since I arrived. (I like bells, but these ringings seemed excessive...) I haven't paid much attention to it as I have walked by; it seemed to have little architectural merit compared to the rest of the sites, and the women who go in and out the doors are dour and suspicious. It turns out that it houses, however, one of those religious transformations that take place, like the palaces and government buildings, whenever one society is pushed out and another moves in. It's one of the old synagogues, built in the 13th century, which, in the late 14th century was one site in the city where its congregants and residents of the quarter were slaughtered when they did not conform to the new Catholic regime. The church, reformatted, is nearly invisible along the tourist- and shop-lined block.
I have ended my visit in the very spot I started out.
In the morning, I walk to the cab station, cane and baggage at the ready for the first flight back home. I'm sorry to miss Morocco...especially now, but there is next year...