We love Seville; it seems to us just about the perfect city. Leafy, shaded parks that provide contrast and refuge from the warren of narrow streets in the old town. Majestic plazas and hidden plazuelas. The Giralda, a twelfth century Almohad minaret, emblem of Spain, and the cathedral to which it later became attached, the world’s third largest church. The cradle of flamenco across the river in Triana. The Alcazar with its insanely ornate mudejar palaces. The old juderia of Santa Cruz, its boulevards and squares lined with orange trees. The bull ring. The Torre de Oro. Everything, basically.
K is in her element with the big city shopping and I am in mine with…well, anything – as long as it isn’t shopping. What we share is the opinion that this is the best place to eat in Andalucia; were El Tapeo a country, this would certainly be its capital. If it has one minor flaw, and this is in fact the only criticism we can ever think of, it’s that it isn’t Granada. But let’s not quibble.
We part for the afternoon – K for the shops, me for this other thing I want to do. When we meet up again she hasn’t finished and suggests I go down to the cathedral for a look. For all it’s glory there has always been something inaccessible about the cathedral for me. I was first here on a Graham family outing a few years ago but we didn’t spend long. Looking back I think we may have been hung over. Heads back, eyes up kind of thing. Ooh, aah, isn’t it big and so on. Then I ascended the Giralda with my Uncle B. Then we went for tapas.
On a recent visit I climbed the Giralda again, this time with K, and we took in views of the city whilst being deafened by the massive peeling bells just above us. The cathedral, for some reason or another, was closed to visitors.
This time, a good wander round the place, a quick visit to the tomb of Columbus and the chance to find that Murillo elude me once more; I arrive on this Saturday in the late afternoon to learn that cultural visits are allowed only up till two, and not at all on Sundays so I won’t be seeing it in the morning either. Suits me. I have this other thing.
In fact we do get in on Sunday morning; visitors can step inside as long as they’re quiet. Those celebrating the mass cloister themselves away in the central…thingy. You know, the thingy with the choir stalls. We can hear them sing and the organ is anything but faint but they are hidden from view. How gnostic of them. Again with the inaccessibility; I wonder if the homeless guy we saw sleeping outside the previous night, squeezed up tight against the church walls as if trying to be as close as possible to God, feels that way too.
Not that you need a church to find religion in Seville. As we walk towards the Alfalfa district on Saturday evening we can make out the now familiar beat of a religious procession. Two long beats and three short; the Virgin Mary’s morse code. As we reach Plaza Alfalfa it’s like being back in Tarifa in feria week. Men in frocks and brass ornament – a throng surround the Virgen on her many-footed pedestal. I fire off a couple of shots but we move on quickly. I never expected to be so blasé about these things but there you go.
We duck into a bar but we haven’t escaped. The place is bedecked in red velvet, corners cluttered with salvaged church jetsam – busts of Joseph, portraits of stern-looking and no doubt devout sevillaños, candle holders and funereal flower arrangements. The bar is themed on Holy Week and reeks of incense. Some women at the bar burst into a flamenco dance, unprompted. They don’t really look like they know what they’re doing but still.
I should add an important detail at this point. K is one-eyed. The other has swollen up like a football for some reason so she is wearing large sunglasses; outside in the sunlight and inside in the gloom of dark bars. I tell her it’s like being with a star of the silver screen. People will be wondering who she is.
“Nope. They’ll just think you beat me”, she replies.
It’s getting her down and I resolve to get her drunk. We spend more than we usually would on a crawl from bar to bar – tapa to tapa. It isn’t cheap; Seville is pricey and that’s before you take into account the predators waiting to overcharge the unwitting. We stop in at one well known, upscale place to sample their ever-so-famous jamón – it’s the kind of establishment where the staff wear starched aprons and the jamón comes on a slate platter instead of a plate. I can’t say what it’s called because we are so outraged by the bill when it comes that I steal the platter. Take that, capitalism! It’s in the kitchen and I look forward to serving up some reasonably priced ham on it in the comfort of my own home.
This other thing; I’ve come to Seville this time to hunt. The city has hosted two major international fairs – the first in ’29 and a second in ’92. Several of the pavilions remain on either site and I want to photograph and document them. No, I don’t know why either. While K is shopping I make my way to the location of the ’92 Expo. It looks like a business park now, because it’s a business park. The pavilions, when I find them, are dilapidated and closed to the public. I’m glad I came and there are certainly a few interesting structures, but it’s sad. You can’t get much more public-spirited than a World Expo but it has all fallen into private hands now and is deteriorating.
On Sunday morning I head for the ’29 site with K. It has become a park in a leafy part of town and the centre piece is the Plaza de España; an enormous half circle of renaissance revival style that seems to embrace the strollers who amble between the towers at either end. South of it the remaining pavilions are framed by foliage in the park. Some of them have become consulates or embassies and some museums or exhibits.
It’s a wonderful park for Seville’s Sunday morning families. Pedal cars are available for hire and we use one to get from pavilion to pavilion – your intrepid reporter. The contrast for me is both striking and telling. It seems we don’t care much for the long view any more – we no longer yearn to share with those who come after us. We build shopping centres and business parks to accommodate our personal gratifications with no expectation that they will last. It feels like a desperate scramble at times; our preoccupation with nailing the best possible way to get through our eighty years. Ninety if we’re lucky, I suppose.
The newest pavilions were put up in an age that has lost faith in both posterity and the public realm; they are already in poor repair compared with those sixty years older, never mind the cathedral that pre-dates those by another eight centuries.
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