Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hideous furniture (continued)

There were several requests for a picture of the previously mentioned dreadful patio furniture set. Unfortunately, the folks at El Corte Inglés decided, in their infinite wisdom, to change that particular window display, so I am unable to bring you a photo of the original aesthetic atrocity. I humbly offer you the following instead. Though it doesn't quite match the original either in true ugliness, or in price (at €699 this set is a steal), it will give you some idea.

Perhaps you'd like a nice modern fridge to go with that?

Who buys this stuff?

Fruits of the forest

This post is dedicated to my good friends Paddy B and Peter C, both of whom I have mocked mercilessly over the years for being what I derisively referred to as "food snobs". A staple answer has always been that, having been raised in Ireland, a country where iceberg lettuce reigns supreme, I was simply unqualified to issue judgements of any kind where food was concerned.

After last Wednesday evening's transforming experience, I have to concede that there might be just a smidgen of validity to their defence. There I was, having committed myself to two scoops in the ice-cream store, trying to decide what would go well with strawberry sorbet - perhaps another sorbet that would somehow complement the flavor? I point at something that looks purple and luscious. La chica behind the counter says the name, which escapes me completely - I think it might be pomegranate. I nod in agreement.

Fifteen seconds later, on the street outside, the taste of the purple frozen elixir hits my tastebuds. And at that moment, 10:54 pm Seville time, I discover something life-changing -- food can taste this good! Perhaps it's just as well that there is no pictorial record of my bliss, because self-control was not any part of it. I'm trying to stop myself from moaning aloud, but it's just not possible. This nectar is so intoxicating that I'm emitting little involuntary squeals of pleasure. People are giving me puzzled looks. Fortunately, this being Seville, I get the benefit of the doubt, so they are puzzled, but indulgent looks.

Finally, one (apparently Swedish) tourist can no longer contain her curiosity. In a complete "When Harry Met Sally" moment, she approaches me, and asks - "Excuse me, can you tell me what you were eating that tastes so good?". I come out of my fugue state enough to stammer that I don't know what it was called, but I can show her where I got it. At this, she becomes embarrassed and starts to back away. Thinking I was setting her on the right track, I call after her - ¿pomegranate, maybe?

Turns out that was a misdirection. Not that I really care. After the briefest of struggles with my own vanity, I figured - damn, yes - I can have another scoop. Who cares what la chica behind the counter thinks, I'm not going to have to see her again after this week. I reapproach the counter, order another scoop, and make permanent note of the flavor. Frutas del bosque, or fruits of the forest.

Yes: the second scoop was just as good as the first. And it's really nobody's business how many times I've been back since. But, Paddy and Peter, consider this post my public apology for years of mockery. In one transcendental moment here in Seville, I suddenly understood why it might not just be OK to make a fuss about food, why it might even be necessary.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Good Friday is a perfect day to bring this blog up to date. It's a little bit rainy, but not enough to deter the masses on the streets, who are massing about the way masses do. Today sees the height of the Semana Santa frenzy, with two different sets of processions. We've already survived those of 'la Madrugada' and are bracing for those of La Noche. Those women of a certain age are all decked out in their costumes de mantilla. It's impossible to move on the streets outside.

So this particular introvert is delighted, not to say relieved, to be deep in the bowels of the internet café. Only the soft cursing of the crazed internet gambling addict at the next terminal (online poker, by the looks of things) disturbs my concentration. But I've grown to kind of like the guy - he's always here, and if I end up spending four hours here today - which is possible, between figuring out the assorted software to maneuver photos in cyberspace, keeping up with e-mail, paying some bills, and writing something here - I can always delude myself that I'm not wasting my life in idle cyber-pursuits, becase - I look to my left - it could be much worse.

As I glance through the notes I've made myself in the hilariously pretentious "Moleskine" notebook ( that I bought in the Smithsonian gift shop last trip to DC (¡hi PB, Katie and Adam!) , I find the following mnemonic list:

  • Pomegranates
  • Rain
  • Mezquita
  • Umbrellas
  • Beethoven
  • Estella
  • Perseverance
  • Routine
  • Piano
  • Coronel tapiocca
  • Kafka con Mentos
  • When is a train not a train
  • RENFE cleanliness
  • Mikado
  • Tremlett on youth
  • Pacify that bebe
  • Mosquitoes

Needless to say, I no longer have any idea what half of these clues to myself might mean, but I will attempt to include as many of them in this update as I can. This update, which I will now split into a number of separate posts. This is largely due to my own perception that blogs with enormously lengthy posts are somewhat forbidding.

Refreshing in any language

If it's not snails then maybe it's puppydogs' tails:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Whenever I feel down

I remind myself that things are never as bad as they seem, because

¡hay caramba! ¡hay caracoles!

Whatever happened to Baby Alissi

Posterity has not been kind to the other Brontë sister -- you know, the one that ran away to Córdoba to open her own beauty salon. If only Ann, Charlotte, and Emily (Branwell too, for that matter) had known the soothing powers of a good manicure and a perm, perhaps there wouldn't have been so much Sturm und Drang in the Haworth household.

Hmmm, I wonder what one would call a hair salon run by a Brontë sister? Your suggestions are invited.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

the value of everything

Random pricing observations from Seville:

  • Cost of breakfast (cafe con leche, tostada) : € 1.86
  • Cost of 120 long-distance minutes to U.S./Canada : €10.00
  • Cost of full dinner for seven people, including wine/beer, dessert and coffee : €126.00
  • Cost of all nine Beethoven symphonies (Blomstedt) in a boxed set of 5 CD's : €16.10
  • Cost of the ugliest set of lawn furniture I have seen in lo these many years, on sale at El Corte Inglés (four "chaises-longues" of incredible hideosity, and a modernistic looking table with enough sharp edges to slice a family of four to shreds before one could say "julienne jones") : €820.00

I will have more to tell about the Beethoven, eventually.

I'm not making this up

Tuesday night. It's about 11pm. I've slipped out to make a few phone calls before calling it a night. The apartment where I'm staying is in the city district known as Triana, which is just across the river from the city center, just on the opposite bank from the bullring. There's a steady crowd of people coming against me, presumably on their way home from one of the many holy week processions I've mentioned in an earlier post. Things are crowded, but not oppressively so, perhaps because of the intermittent rain throughout the evening.

I´m about half-way across the bridge linking the Triana district to the city center when I come across something I definitely haven´t seen before in Seville, or anywhere else for that matter. The bridge is fairly short, and relatively flat. Rather than a stone parapet, the barriers on each side of the pedestrian lanes in both directions, just consist of a continuous iron railing, with vertical bars maybe every 15 inches or so. Just in front of me is un caballero who appears to be - no he can't possibly be - ¡yes, he is! - let me put this in Cathtillian - piththing into the Guadalquivir. He looks to be about 17 or 18, and fits the description of what, in Ireland, would be referred to as a right gurrier. It's a Dave Matthews moment, right here in Seville. I wonder if I'm the only one reacting with a double-take.

Apparently not. Just to the left of me I hear a deep smoker's baritone:
¡Que verguenza!
I look over and this guy of roughly my own age, dragging on the inevitable cigarette, is looking as taken aback as I feel. El fumador, however, displays considerably more presence of mind than I. Giving me a huge wink, he drags deeply on his cigarette, coaxing it to the maximum amount of glowing ash. Which he then flicks expertly towards the polluting offender, aiming in a direction where a glowing cigarette butt could do the most damage.

The ashes, of course, go nowhere near the target. But the effect is all that could be desired, nonetheless. Mannikin Pis yelps, jumps about a foot in the air, and comes close to doing himself permanent damage in his haste to zip up and move it on. El fumador and I exhange guffaws, and go our separate ways. Further comment would be superfluous.

Finally, some pictures of Seville

Remember, I am still learning how to use the new camera, so please cut me some slack. I wanted to load pictures to the website, but am temporarily unable to do so, because I don't have administrator privileges on this computer. I will load a couple more pictures in the margin here as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Semana Santa (again)

I feel some obligation to convey the flavor of Holy Week in Seville, but admit to having some worries about being able to do it justice. Again, I'm going to resort to the bulleted list option, as it is somewhat less scary than having to construct some kind of internally consistent narrative.

  • Basic background. There are 57 different brotherhoods (hermandades or cofradías) involved in the various processions during Holy Week. As best I understand it, each one is associated with a particular church, and the procession involves taking certain relics, or images (e.g. of Christ, or his Blessed Mother), which are placed on display in a kind of monstrance, typically a covered wooden platform, on a certain prescribed route through the streets of the city until returning them to the church of origin. The images, or relics, will be surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of white candles, and hundreds of flowers (for which the only permitted colours appear to be white or red). The members of the particular brotherhood, known as nazarenos, carry the platform high on a kind of stretcher, so that the images are visible to everyone watching the procession. It is these nazarenos who wear the Klu-Klux-Klan like robes which are a signature part of the Semana Santa celebrations. Depending on the confraternity, some of the members will also carry wooden crosses commemorating the passion; most of the hermandades also have their own (brass) band.
  • To accommodate all 57 cofradías, each with its own preferred route, the processions are tightly scheduled. Rain is an ever-present threat, and a great disappointment if it happens; because of the fragile nature of many of the (wooden) icons, even mild rain can cause a procession to be canceled, and because of the large number of processions in such a short time frame, no rescheduling is possible. (This may not be strictly true for the larger, most established, hermandades whose processions originate and end at the cathedral).
  • Names of the different confraternities can be derived from the region of the city with which they are associated (la Macarena) or from the profession whose medieval guild was the originating organization (los Panaderos). Dig a little deeper and you will find a hilariously ornate name behind the usual shorthand: Real, Ilustre, Fervorosa y Pontificia Hermandad y Archicofradía de Nazarenos del Santo Rosarío, Nuestra Padre Jesus de la Sentencia y Maria Santisima de la Esperanza Macarena Coronada, por ejemplo. And whatever you're having yourself. Make mine a Cruzcampo.
  • If that last remark seems insufficiently respectful, it should be noted that the Sevillanos who benefit most during Semana Santa are clearly the bar- and restaurant-owners. Given eight consecutive days where the whole city appears to spend every waking hour wandering the streets, they have to be making out like bandits. Indeed, one can't help but wonder if the bandits aren't having a high time of it this week as well - there can't be anyone home, and opportunities for pickpockets are rife. Three times in the past 48 hours I've overheard the Skype-powered phone calls of foreigners calling in to report the loss of one or more credit cards.
  • All well and good, but what's it like? The best analogy I can come up with is that, since about 2pm on Sunday afternoon, going out on the street is to enter the kind of scene you might expect as if a huge rock concert had just come to an end (los Rollings, por ejemplo). Wall-to-wall people, with a kind of generalized festive feeling. Except with more strollers than after a rock concert. Many more strollers. Often wielded expertly, charmingly, as weapons. ¡Yeah, lady, I get it - you have the two most charming kids on the whole Iberian peninsula, but frankly, woman you forfeited any possible right to the moral high ground when you lit up that Winston's right as you leaned over to adjust the cutesy dress on your two-year-old, so don't you try giving me el malojo, you bruja!
  • Just think for a moment, and let what I just said sink in. ¿Do you have any idea what that's like, after 48 hours? Seriously irritating, that's what it's like. I love a nice, tightly-packed, crowd of foreign strangers, yapping along in a language I can barely understand, as much as the next introvert, but - seriously - enough is enough.
  • ¿Is there anywhere else I'd rather be right now? ¡Hell no - of course not! I´m having the time of my life.
  • ¿What´s that? ¡You were expecting some kind of internal logical consistency from this blog! Not this week, apparently.

Monday, April 2, 2007

With apologies, it's a Spanish limerick

Aqui en Sevilla, andando
por toda la ciudad, no tratando
de adelgazar
pero voy a pesar
seis kg de menos, estoy piensando

loosely translating:

Though you might eat big meals that will fill ya
Just wandering the streets of Sevilla
Means you won't put on pounds
Just keep walking your rounds
And you'll find the results, they may thrill ya.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday

Today marks the first day of Semana Santa, one of two weeks of the year during which Sevilla throws itself more or less full time into the peculiar mix of religious fervor, solemnity, and partying for which it, and all of Andalucia, clearly would like to be famous. Personally, I prefer it when people aren't obviously trying so hard to enjoy themselves (like Sevilla for pretty much the rest of the year). Something strikes me as being slightly forced about today's celebrations. Impressive, yes, but a part of me is plotting a day's getaway later this week, because I'm not sure I can take a whole week of this. The crowds, alone, start to become a little oppressive.

Pictures, and further impressions, when things calm down and I have a chance to sort it all out a bit.

The second week during the year in which Sevilla gives itself over to hedonistic religiosity is during the Feria, which take place during the last week of April. Somewhere between Semana Santa and Feria is the start of the bullfighting season, which seems to fit, somehow.

Hasta luego, should anyone actually be reading this. Obviously, the comment function appears not to be working. Or else all of my readers are the shy, retiring types. Which I gravely doubt.