London, Madrid and the Last of Sevilla

While Gary was here we visited both the Alcázar and the Cathedral de Seville.  We’ve walked by both several times. They are both located adjacent to the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter, now called Bario Santa  Cruz.     

The  Alcázar:  An alcázar is a type of Moorish castle or palace in Spain and Portugal built during Muslim rule, mostly between the 8th and 15th  

 centuries. Many cities in Spain have an alcázar. Palaces built in the Moorish style after the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1492 are often referred to as alcazars as well. Sevilla has an especially nice alcázar which was originally a 10th-century palace built for the governors of the local Moorish state. This complex of buildings and gardens still functions as a royal palace for the Spanish Royal Family —the oldest in Europe that’s still in use. The core of the palace features an extensive 14th-century rebuild, done by Muslim workmen for the Christian king, Pedro I (1334-1369). Pedro was nicknamed either “the Cruel” or “the Just,” depending on which end of his sword you were on. Pedro’s palace embraces both cultural traditions. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1987.  

The Cathedral de Seville: Seville’s cathedral, Santa Maria de la Sede, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, at least the third largest church of anykind anywhere, and is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  The cathedral’s construction lasted over a century, from 1401 to 1506. It is said that when the plans were drawn up, church elders stated, “Hagamos una iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos.” (Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it finished will think we are mad).  The basilica occupies the site of the great Aljama mosque, built in the late 12th century by the Almohads, the ruling Moorish dynasty, of which the only remaining parts are the Patio de Naranjas, the Puerta del Perdon (on Calle Alemanes, on the north side), and the Giralda (formerly the minaret, now the belltower).

  Its central nave rises to an awe-inspiring 42 metres (138 ft) and even the 80 side chapels each seem tall enough to contain an ordinary church. Its total area covers 11,520 square meters, nearly three acres.  Some new volume calculations have now pushed it in front of St Peter’s in Rome and the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida in Brazil as the largest church in the world. But this is still a subject for debate, and many claim it is still the third-largest in the world.

  The interior is, of course, both lavish and elaborate.  But, every time I go into one of these great churches I can not help think of the good all that money could have done had it been used to directly help the people instead of wringing out their every last “nickel.”

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939):  
This war broke out in Morocco when a few of the most influent generals in the Spanish Army, led by General Francisco Franco, rose up against the democratically elected Republican government, presided over by Manuel Azaña. Allegiances were not always clear-cut during this conflict. Essentially, the ranks of the Left (also known as Loyalist or Republican) comprised workers, peasants and trade unions, but also the Spanish government, Socialists, Communists and Anarchists. The Right (also known as Nationalist), was supported by rebellious factions of the army, industry, landowners, the middle classes and the Catholic Church. For various and somewhat contradictory reasons, the Loyalists received the support of the Soviet Union and European democracies, while the Nationalists were armed and equipped by the Fascist governments of Germany and Italy.The Spanish Civil War would prove to be both fierce and bloody. Although the resources of the two sides were not that unequal, the Nationalists were better organized and received extensive material aid from Germany. The Loyalists received very little assistance from the Soviet Union and, moreover, were divided by internal conflicts between Communist, Socialist and Anarchist factions.

While European and North American volunteers fought for the Republic in the framework of the International Brigades, and a number of foreign artists and writers supported the Loyalist cause, including Ernest Hemingway (who was working as a reporter and photographer) and George Orwell (who fought on the Republican side only to be prosecuted later on and thus became profoundly disillusioned by the rivalry in the ranks of the Left), the Nationalists were finally triumphant.

The war is thought to have cost 500,000 lives though official figures have now put the casualty figure as high as 1 million.

The war also witnessed the first ever deliberate aerial bombing of a city. On April 27th 1937, the ancient city of the Basques – Guernica – was bombed and destroyed by the Condor Legion of Germany. For Hitler it was a useful experiment into the “value” of bombing civilian targets. For the Nationalists, it took out a city of spiritual importance for the Basques. For Europe, the warning posed by this bombing was obvious. Hence the attempts by Chamberlain and Daladier to create a formula for Europe to avoid any chance of a repetition of Guernica. Aerial bombing and its consequences were to terrify Western Europe during WWII.  

 

Guerncia – Picaso (1937)

 

General Franco’s victory marked the beginning of a forty-year dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975). In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Hitler sought Franco’s support for his own military campaign, but Spain was in no position to provide either financial or human resources so she remained “neutral.” Although the Spanish Civil War had been a training field for the battles to be waged in the Second World War, Spain would play no part in the latter but agreed to sponsor a small army of volunteers known as La División Azul.

Under the Franco regime Spain suffered international isolation, although in varying degrees. In 1955 the country was accepted as a member of the United Nations, and in 1970 General Franco named prince Juan Carlos his successor as the future king of Spain, thereby re-establishing the monarchy. Upon the dictator’s death in 1975 King Juan Carlos I was crowned and the country set out on the long journey back to full democracy in Spain.

Madrid:   A few days after Gary departed we decamped from our apartment at Calle Viejos 1 for Madrid.  We made our way to Estacion Santa Justa, the train station.  The trip to Madrid is only 2.5 hours on the fast train.  We caught a cab at the Estacion Atocha and were in our room at the Westin Palace Hotel by mid-afternoon.  It is a very nice hotel (we are staying on points) in a very good location – about 1 km from the royal palace.  We took a walk around in cool but sunny weather.  A local said the weather is actually a little warmer than usual for this time of year.  

On our second day we toured The Prado Museum, only two blocks from our hotel.  It is considered by many to be the finest art museum in Europe.  We have a low tolerance for museum crawling but there were a couple of things we particularly wanted to see.  

  The first was “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by the Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch.  “Art historians and critics frequently interpret the painting as a didactic warning on the perils of life’s temptations.  However, the intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries. Twentieth-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych’s central panel is a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost.”

 

Las Meninas

 Another, considered by many to be the world’s finest painting, is Velázquez’s “Maids of Honor” (Las Meninas, c. 1656 ). It’s a peek at nannies caring for Princess Margarita and, at the same time, a behind-the-scenes look at Velázquez at work. One hot summer day in 1656, Velázquez (at left, with paintbrush and Dalí moustache) stands at his easel and stares out at the people he’s painting—the king and queen. They would have been standing about where the viewer is and we see only their reflection in the mirror at the back of the room. Their daughter (blonde hair, in center) watches her parents being painted, joined by her servants (meninas), dwarves, and the family dog. (At this time household dwarves were considered status symbols.) At that very moment, a man happens to pass by the doorway at back and pauses to look in. Why’s he there? Probably just to give the painting more depth. This frozen moment is lit by the window on the right, splitting the room into bright and shaded planes that recede into the distance. The main characters look right at us, making us part of the scene, seemingly able to walk around, behind, and among the characters. 

  A particularly striking painting is “The Bearded Woman” by Ribera.  This painting is also known by its Spanish name, La Mujer Barbuda. Certainly one of the strangest, most foreboding images in the history of art, Ribera’s painting is the portrait of the fifty-two-year-old Magdalena Ventura from Abruzzi with her husband and a newborn baby.

This is one case where pictures certainly speak louder than words, because as anyone can tell at a glance, Magdalena Ventura was far from a typical wife and mother: the unfortunate woman sports a beard even longer and more luxurious than that of her husband, who gazes forlornly at the viewer from the murky, shadowy background.
The stone tablet at the right of the picture bears a Latin inscription which tells us more about this unlikely trio: the inscription describes the “The Bearded lady of Abruzzi” as “a great wonder of nature” who bore her husband three sons before sprouting a bushy, undeniably masculine beard at the age of thirty-seven.  She was a famous medical mystery in her day.  Her unfortunate condition was probably driven by hormonal imbalances not then understood.     

On our third and final day we made our way to the royal palace only to find it closed for two days in the middle of the week for a government function of some kind.  So, we wandered about in some of the back streets.  Our hotel was right across the street from the National Congress so there was a big security presence in the area.  

London: We arrived Thursday at London Heathrow after an easy flight from Madrid.  We got some pounds and purchased two Oyster Cards which provide about a 40% discount on the expensive but indespensable Underground (The Tube). We hopped the tube for the hour ride to Green Park station in the Mayfair district about four blocks from our hotel, not far from Buckingham  Palace.  We have stayed here before so we remembered the area pretty well.  After settling in it was time for dinner so we hit a pub around the corner – fish ‘n chips.  It seemed odd to be able to eat at 5:00 again and it not be tapas. 

  The next morning after coffee we tubed it to the Natural History Museum.  We have been spoiled by the Smithsonian so I gave it a C+.  Lots of critters and fossils in glass cases.  That evening we saw “Kinky Boots” at the Adelphi Theatet near Covent Gardens.   A good musical based on a true story about an old, bankrupt shoe company in North Hampton that rescues itself by making “kinky boots”for cross dressers.  Good story, good music, good cast, and a good message about acceptance.  We enjoyed it. 

 

Hassa Diga Eebowaii

 Saturday we hit the British Library where we saw original Shakespeare follios, Leonardo’s two fisted mirror writing, the Magna Carta, the Guttenburg Bible not to mention original Beattle’s music in John Lennon’s own hand.  Later we went to a matinee performance of “The Book of Morman” at the Prince of Wales Theater on Piccadilly Street.  It was funny, rude, profane, and brutally offensive to every known demographic group. We loved it.

Bletchley Park:  The main site of “Project Ultra”, the British code breaking operation during WWII made recently famous by the movie “The Immatation Game” is here in Bletchley Park about 60 miles NW of London. 

It is located between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, principal sources of brain power for the project. It was once a country estate before being purchased by the war department in the 30’s. There were more than 2000 people working here in deep secret during the war. But the project was decentralized for security reasons so there were another 6000 or so working in other locations. It was code breaking on an industrial scale – a massive project that shortened the war by at least two years, according to historians, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.  

Here’s the problem. Germans created the “Enigma” machine in the 20’s and modified it many times thereafter.  

 Battery operated and about the size of a portable typewriter (remember those?) it consisted of a keyboard, corresponding lightable letters, five wheels used three at a time and a series of patch cords. Each wheel had the 26 letters of the alphabet on its rim.  Each day at midnight every enigma machine was “rekeyed” according to a prearranged scheme by replacing yesterday’s three wheels with today’s and in a different order, setting each to new but different starting positions and rearranging the patch cords. These settings were collectively called the day’s “key.” Starting with a plain (unencoded) message, the letter key corresponding to each letter in the plain message was slowly pressed thus illuminating one of the lightable letters. With each key press, each wheel advanced to a new position so each resulting letter was produced by a different wheel combination than the last. The patch cords further scrambled the results. At the receiving end, the encoded message was entered into another enigma also set exactly to that days key. 

The upshot of all this is that each encoded letter was one of 157 million, million, million possible combinations of wheels and cords. It would take an assiduously dedicated individual longer than the age of the universe to try each combination by hand and he would then have only one correct letter as a result. For obvious reasons, the Germans (and Japanese and Italians who also used the machines) thought their code system to be unbreakable. So, all their encoded messages were sent in the clear by wireless which the allies were listening to. The problem for the allies was how to break each day’s code in less than 24 hours so it could be used to decipher the intercepted messages before the code was changed again.  

  It turns out that the mathematical wizards figured out a way to reduce the 157,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations to a more manageable 1 million or so. This is where Alan Turning, literally the inventer of the modern programmable computer, comes in. He invented the Bombe machine (named for a pastry). It is not a computer and is not programmable. It is an electrical-mechanical device designed to figure out the “key” used that day by the Germans. It actually duplicates 36 enigma machines. After it is set using clues from intercepted messages it whirls and clanks as it checks all the possible combinations until it stops, having arrived at one possible “key.”  That key is then checked by another machine. If the key deciphers messages then “Bob’s Your Uncle”.  

  While the original Bombe was installed at Bletchley, there were many more scattered around Britain. After the war they were destroyed. The one now at Bletchley was recreated by a group of retired engineers and it works. It decodes enigma messages.  

  Alan Turning was later convicted of homosexuality and given the option of prison or chemical castration. He chose the latter but soon committed suicide by cyanide poisoning. The British government “apologized” and pardoned him in 2010.  

On Monday, our last day we mostly got organized for our departure from Europe but Rolynn did go to Harrod’s for a little shopping.  Tuesday morning we hopped the tube for Heathrow for our 7 hour flight to Boston.  Following a 5 hour layover (Rolynn got a pedicure) we arrived at Reagan International where Rolynn’s brother picked us up.  We will spend Thanksgiving with The DC branch of the Shellum clan in Brian’s mountain home in the Canan Valley of West Virginia.  We will then drive to Myrtle Beach for a couple weeks at our time share where we will be joined by many of the same Shellums plus Rolynn’s sister from Wisconsin.  

So, what do we think of our trip?  We were in Europe for 2 1/2 months which did not seem too long to us.  We liked our “more or less stay put for a month” plan but we might reduce that to 3 weeks next time, although we do not know where the next trip will take us.  It is nice to heading home. 

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Granada and the White Hill Towns of Andalusia

Now appearing on our stage is my brother who joined us for two weeks after his sold out performances in Ajijic, Mexico.   So, put your hands together for our special guest blogger, Gary Anderson. 

When I received an email from Steve and Rolynn this past July suggesting that I join them in October or November for part of their vacation in France and Spain, my immediate reaction was, “Well, why not?” After all, I had never been to either of those places. I spent a few days considering the matter, wondering which of the two places I would rather see, or perhaps a little of both, but I’ve lived in Mexico for the past several years and have developed an interest in Spanish history and culture so decided that Spain it would be, and that two weeks there would be about right – enough time to get a reasonably good taste of the country, not so long that two of my favorite people in the world would  get sick of the sight of me. So after checking with them about their itinerary and making sure that the timeframe I had in mind would work for them, I made my travel arrangements and began counting the days until my October 27th departure. Their base of operations would be Seville in the Andalusia region of Southern Spain, so the journey would entail both air travel from Guadalajara, the nearest airport to where I live in Ajijic, to Madrid and train travel from there to Seville (Sevilla, pronounced Say-BEE-yah en Español). Departure day eventually rolled around and it was wheels up at 2:30 p.m. from GDL, on the ground at 12:30 p.m. the next afternoon in Madrid, seven time zones to the east of Guadalajara, with a two-hour layover in Mexico City. From Madrid it was 2 ½ hours by bullet train to Sevilla and I was at the door of Steve’s and Rolynn’s apartment by 5:30 local time (7-hour time difference, remember) Wednesday. These trains are called bullet trains for a reason – the average speed from Madrid to Sevilla was about 160 miles per hour, with an extremely smooth ride all the way.

Sevilla

This is probably as good a place as any in this narrative to mention that Spain and its history, and especially that of Adalusia, is full of Moorish influences. The Moors were Muslims from the Mediterranean coastal areas of northern Africa who by the year 710 AD had taken control of all of that region as far west as Tangier in present-day Morocco on the southern side of the Straits of Gibraltar. In August of that year a  

Alter in Seville Cathedral. Each square is Catholic VIP. Think Hollywod Squares meets Jepordy. “Famous Bishops for $600”

 
Moorish warrior named Tarif ibn Talib al-Mu’afire crossed the straits with a fleet of ships, thus beginning a spread of Islam in Spain that took over most of the Iberian Peninsula and lasted nearly 800 years, until 1492 AD. Before the arrival of the Moors, what is now Spain was populated mostly by Visigoths and, like just about everywhere else in those times, was not a nation as we think of them today, but a collection of kingdoms with feudal economies that revolved around fighting territorial wars against neighboring kingdoms, thus increasing their tax base, and taking slaves. The arrival and spread of the Moors began a slow change away from this toward a somewhat less chaotic society. Their influence can be seen everywhere in Spain, in its architecture, its language, its music and dance, and throughout its entire culture. 

Icon Illuminated by Stained Glass Window

 Sevilla is an excellent example of this which Steve has explored already in his blog and will further, so I’ll keep my remarks regarding that city to a minimum. Our apartment is on Calle Viejos, which translates to “Old Street,” in a neighborhood of narrow, twisting and turning alleyways and streets, a maze that I still haven’t figured out. Thank the powers that be for Steve’s mastery of the navigation app on his smartphone. Sevilla is a beautiful old city full of old world charm, as you have seen from the photos that Steve and Rolynn have taken throughout the city. But I have been asked by Steve to write about the hill towns of Andalusia and about Granada, so without further ado. . . .

Andalusia Hill Towns

About halfway between Sevilla and Málaga is a mountain range where some gorgeous villages can be found pasted onto the mountainsides. Their sparkling whitewashed, tile-roofed buildings cause them to be known collectively as los Pueblos Blancos, (the White Villages). On October 31st we rented a car in Sevilla and headed east to explore three of them, Zahara, Ronda, and Grazalema. Our first stop was Zahara. 

  

Zahara is a small town of about 1500 population that during Moorish times was a fortress stronghold protecting Granada to the east. The remains of the fortress can still be seen today. It sits above a man-made lake and is accessed by driving across the dam that forms the lake. It is about as picturesque a place as I’ve ever seen. Its history is rather obscure, so I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves as to why we chose to visit this extraordinary little place.

  

Ronda

 Ronda is one of the larger of los Pueblos Blancos with a population estimated at about 35,000. Its history goes back to ancient times; around the city are remains of prehistoric encampments dating to the Neolithic age. It was first settled by the early Celts around 600 BCE. The current Ronda is however of Roman origins, and received the title of city at the time of Julius Caesar. It later came under Visigoth rule and remained so until the year 713 when it fell to the Moors. Their domination lasted until 1485 when it was captured by the Marquis of Cadiz during the period known as the reconquista, or reconquest, when the Moors were either assimilated into Catholicism, killed, or thrown out of the country. Ronda is the home of modern bullfighting, which was pioneered by the Romero family of Ronda in the 1700s, and is home to the oldest bullring in the country. Ernest Hemingway lived there for a time during the Spanish Civil War and Ronda is said to be the basis of the fictional village in “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”  Orson Welles and Giorgio Armani also lived in Ronda off and on.  

 

The town is located in a steeply mountainous area. The Guadalevin river runs through it, dividing the town in two and carving out the El Tajo canyon, which is several hundred feet deep and on the cliffs of which Ronda is perched.  
  The bridge across the canyon, called the “new” bridge was built over a 52-year period from 1741 to 1793. We stayed overnight in an elegant old hotel called the Hotel San Gabriel in the old part of the city near the bridge and enjoyed our stay very much. We would recommend it to all those who find themselves in Ronda, and the town itself is a fascinating place with lots to see and do.

The New Bridge: 50 workers died during its construction.  Inside the central pillar is a prison cell.  During the Spanish Cival War both sides used it to hold and torture prisoners.  The less forthcoming were tossed out the window to the rocks far below. 

Grazalema

 The Roman villa of Lacidulia or Lacidulerium, situated in an estate near to the present village, has been traditionally considered the ancestor of Grazalema. During Muslim rule in the 8th century, this area was populated by people of Moorish origin, and from them the area acquired the name of Raisa lami Suli, “town of the Banu al-Salim”, place which passed to Ben-salama, “Son of Zulema and later Grand Zulema.”  During this period, its economy was organized around forestry, agriculture, farming and textile manufacture. With the Christian conquest in 1485, Zagrazalema, as it was called at the time, became part of the lands of the Rodrigo Ponce de León y Núñez. It became economically important as of the 17th century thanks to the drapery industry which produced the famous shawls of Grazalema. In the first years of the 19th century, during the War of Independence, Grazalema suffered attacks and sieges from the Napoleonic troops who partially destroyed the village. The economy in present times has come to depend largely on tourism due to its being one of the increasingly well-known Pueblos Blancos.

Granada

 On Tuesday, November 3rd, we hopped a train for a 3-day stay in Granada, returning the following Friday. Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of four rivers, the Beiro, the Darro, the Genil and the Monachil. It sits at an average elevation of about 2500 feet above sea level, yet is only one hour by car from the Mediterranean coast. With an estimated urban area population about 473,000, it is the 13th-largest urban area of Spain. “Granada” in Spanish means “pomeganate,” but may have come originally from an Arabic word meaning “hill of strangers.” Archeological evidence indicates that the region around Granada has been populated since at least 5500 BCE and later experienced Roman and Visigothic influences as well. Elibyrge was used as the name for what is now Granada by the 7th century B.C. and, by the 1st century A.D. it had become a Roman municipalilty known as lliberri. With the arrival in Hispania of the Moors in the early 8th century, their influence spread to Granada by the early 11th century and they remained in control there until 1492 with the completion of the reconquista by Ferdinand and Isabella. Soon afterward, of course, these two contracted with Christopher Columbus to finance his voyage of discovery to what he thought would be India and its spices but ended up being the Caribbean island now known as Domenica. Columbus, being a not particularly nice person and finding in Domenica none of the spices he sought, modified his business plan to become the first of the transoceanic slave traders.

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) This Italian wool-weaver ran off to sea, was shipwrecked in Portugal, married a captain’s daughter, learned Portuguese and Spanish, and convinced Spain’s monarchs to finance his bold scheme to trade with the East by sailing west. On February 29th, 1492, he met three women in a bar in Granada. He promised to name his ships after them if they would all go to bed with him. (Mary resisted but gave in when he promoted her ship to “Santa Maria”.)  On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, 60 miles west of Sevilla, with 3 ships and 90 men, hoping to land in Asia, which Columbus estimated was 3,000 miles away. (This was in a time when latitude, north/south position, could be determined but not longitude, east/west position. The later required the invention of accurate non-pendulum clocks usable aboard rolling ships.)  Ten weeks—and yes, 3,000 miles—later, with a superstitious crew ready to mutiny after they’d seen evil omens (including a falling meteor and a jittery compass), Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas, convinced he’d reached Asia. He and his crew traded with the passive natives (They had no weapons or word for war.) and returned home to Palos harbor, with captured “Indians”,  where they were received as heroes. 

Columbus made three more voyages to the New World and became rich. But, Columbus was a brutal man even by the standards of a brutal time – which included the Inquisition. Eye witness accounts describe how he supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery;  young girls of 9 or 10 were the most desired by his men. He derived most of his wealth not from spices or gold but from slavery. In fact, Columbus literally invented the Atlantic slave trade. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, he had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down. The dogs tore off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, babies were killed for dog food. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with African slaves. In 1505, Columbus’ son became the first African slave trader. 

He gained such a bad reputation that he was arrested and returned to Spain in chains along with his brothers. Though pardoned, Columbus fell out of favor with the court. He died in 1506. His son said he was felled by “gout and by grief at seeing himself fallen from his high estate,” but historians speculate that diabetes or syphilis probably contributed. Columbus died thinking he’d visited Asia, unaware he’d opened up Europe to a New World.

The pre-Columbian native population of North America was probably around 18 million although some estimates reach as high as 100 million. At a minimum, 90% died of disease and genocide following the arrival of the Europeans.

 

  

Granada is a fascinatingly beautiful city with much more to see than is possible in only a few days, but we gave it our best efforts. Topping the list of must-see sites there is the Alhambra (from the Arabic for “red castle”) a palace and fortress complex that was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After long neglect an even some willful vandalism, the Alhambra underwent several restorations and additions over the centuries and became a world heritage site in 1984.

  

 I don’t have the vocabulary to adequately describe this amazing place, so photos will have to suffice and even they leave something lacking. You just have to be there to see it firsthand to fully appreciate its incredible artistry and the labor that went into its construction. It made me wonder about how such a culture that could build something like the Alhambra could have regressed in the part of the world where it originated to the degree it seems to have in recent times.

  


It was at the Alhamba that Columbus, with his pie charts and Power Point presentation, sold Queen Issy on his business plan.  He was guaranteed one-eighth of the proceeds and the governorship of any new lands he discovered. 

 

Columbus and Queen Issy Inking the Deal

 Like most cities, especially old cities, Granada is a city of neighborhoods. Our apartment was located only a couple of blocks from the Alhambra on the outskirts of a neighborhood known as el Albayzin, which is the old Arab area.  


The streets there wind steeply uphill with narrow alleys going every which-way, up stairways and into dead ends, a good place to get thoroughly lost. We had two advantages, however: Steve the Navigator with his trusty smartphone app, and the fact that the only way into el Albayzin goes uphill, so the way out is to go downhill. It is an extremely interesting area in which one hears languages from everywhere.  

  

The Alhambra

 
We trudged all the way to the top of the hill where there is a mirador (viewpoint) called Plaza San Nicholas from which there is a spectacular view of the Alhambra, and a little tapas bar where we refreshed ourselves with a vino blanco for Rolynn and cervezas for Steve and me.

In Granda, they deliver a nice tapa to your table when you order a wine or beer – a practice that seems to be dying out in the rest of Spain.  So, the trick is to first order your drinks then your food later. 

 

Our Apartment in Granada

Granada is also a center of education. The university there has five campuses and a total enrollment of an estimated 80,000 students. We loved the city and left it feeling that it would be a great place to spend much more time.


Impressions of Spain:

  1. Just about everything in Spain is really old. This realization hits one with some force upon consideration that many buildings there had been standing for a thousand years when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It therefore has a long, complex history.
  2. They grow olives in Spain. Lots of olives. Between Sevilla and oGranada there are olive groves that stretch to the horizon.
  3. There are a great many very good guitarists in Spain, as one might imagine in the country where the guitar and the classical style of playing were invented. Even the guys you see sitting on the street playing for tips with an open instrument case in front of them can really play.
  4. Sevilla and Granada are both great cities, and we loved the hill towns.
  5. They make very good beer in Spain. My favorite was Cruz Campo. Tastes a little like Sam Adams Boston Lager.

This is Steve, again. We are off to Madrid on Monday followed by five nights in London beginning Thursday.  Our next and probably last blog post will be from London.  

Sevilla: Heart of Andalusia

 So, since last Sunday we have been well ensconced in our VRBO apartment at Calle Viejos 1 in the Encarnacion district of Sevilla. As mentioned previously, this was the house of a wealthy 17th century family which has been remade  into eight apartments surrounding an enclosed courtyard.  

Plaza Encarnacion is just a couple of blocks south. There was an old market there which was demolished in 1978 but the area awaited redevelopment while the city fathers chewed over what to do. (City mothers would have figured it out much sooner.) Eventually, an architect sold them on La Parasol or “The Mushrooms” as the locals call it.  

La Parasol

It is supposedly the world’s largest wooden structure. The upper level is public space for concerts and the like. Roman era artifacts were found as they excavated so the lower space is an atiquarium. The ground floor is once again a market. 


Our favorite coffee place is at its base which makes for nice viewing while we sip our morning cafe con leche. It’s acutally quite dramatic. 


  Tapas:  Tapas, it is said, originated in Sevilla when they began placing a lid of bread on top of the wine cup to keep the bugs out. They began to add a little piece of ham or cheese to the bread and “Bob’s your uncle.” (Top, tapas – get it?)  They come in about every type you can imagine. Cold or hot. Veggie, carnes, fish. Little salads or casseroles. On and on. I have read that there are 2000 tapas bars in Sevilla and I can believe it. There are streets with nothing but tapas bars cheek to jowle. Some places specialize in one kind or another. Most places serve three portion sizes. Tapas – three or four bites. Media racion (half portion) or racion (full portion). The later two are meant to share. We usually order two media racions or four tapas. Two racions are enough for three or four to share. With two glasses of wine for Rolynn and una cervaza for me we are out the door for around €25.  


Most shops and stores close for siesta around 2:00 PM so that’s when the tapas bars open. The stores open again around 5:00 PM when the tapas bars close, or at least their kitchens might.  Their kitchens heat up again around 7:00 and keep going until 12:00 or 1:00. The stores stay open until 10:00 or so. Restaurants don’t start seating until 9:00 so they feed their staff at 8:00. If they will seat you at 7:00, don’t eat there. So, if you don’t want to eat before 9:00, it’s tapas. We usually stop for tapas around 3:00 or 4:00 then have something light from the market later back at the apartment.  


 We went to the oldest tapas bar in town today (Wed 10/21), El Rinconcillo, only a few blocks from our apartment. Opened in 1670. A stand at the bar place. The dour barman keeps a tab in chalk on the wooden bar then adds it up when you are done.  

  




Wipe it off and he’s ready for the next patron. It’s not the best tapas place in town but it certainly has atmosphere. 



  Language:   There are four official languages in Spain. ATM machines, for example, have Castilian, Catalonian, Basque, and Galician. Asturian is a fifth but is not “official”.   Castilian Spanish is the only language officially recognized throughout the country. The other three are co-official languages recognized within their regions. Catalonian, for example, is the primary language  in which government business is transacted  within Catalonia (eastern Spain). Many there consider Castiligone to be a secondary language. Galician is spoken in the old Celtic region in the NW and is closely related to Portuguese. (Some consider them to be dialects of the same language.) These romance languages all arose from the break up of Vulgar Latin following the collapse of the western Roman Empire in around 400 AD. Basque is the only language of Spain, and only one of three in all of Europe, that is not an Indo-European language in origin, the others being Finish and Hungarian. 

  
In Castilian Spanish all the “s” sounds are pronounced “th”. So, “Gracias” is “Grathiath.” Furthermore, in Andalusia they speak rapidly so they tend to drop the final consonant. Instead of “Buenos Dias” (or Buenoth Diath) it comes out more like “Bueno Dia”.  


La Reconquista:   Much of the history and culture of Iberia, especially southern Spain, stems from the long battle between the Muslims and Christians which culminated in La Reconquista, the reconquest of Muslim Spain by the Catholic monarchies.  


In the early 700’s, Muslim Moors crossed over the Straits of Gibraltar into what is now Andalusia. Within a few years they had occupied all of Iberia and parts of southern France even though their forces never exceeded 60,000. Thus began an off and on, back and forth, 800 year struggle for, they all firmly believed, the literal souls of the Iberian people, which also included the Crusades. There are towns all over Andalusia named so and so “de la frontera”.  For example we will soon be visiting Arcos de la Frontera and Jerez de la Frontera. These are all towns that were once on the front lines, the frontier, between the Muslim and Christian forces.  


When the Moors took a city they built mosques on the foundations of Christian churches. When the Christians took the city back they destroyed the mosques and rebuilt churches. And so it goes. Islam forbids capturing images of living things so their artistic forms consist of geometric patterns. So, you can see a mixture of “graven images” and Moorish tiles in the same church. 
  

Moorish-Christian Combo

 
 

While under Muslim control the Jews and Christians were allowed to continue their religious practices, if they paid their taxes. When under Christian control the conquerors were generally less tolerant. 


In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon married his second cousin, Isabella of Castile. She was 17, he a year younger. Their combined kingdoms gave rise to a unified Spain. Together, they forced the Moors from Spain in 1492, completing the Reconquista and laying the ground work for the Inquisition.   



  Barrio Santa Cruz (La Judería):  Located just east of the cathedral is Barrio Santa Cruz, the historic Jewish quarter from midevil days. It is a labyrinth of narrow streets, alleys and plazas shaded by orange trees.  

  

 



It is said that the narrow streets were designed to keep out the brutal summer sun. It is also said that, being confined to the small barrio, the inhabitants maximized the size of their buildings at the expense of the streets. 



The Inquistion:
 In the summer of 1391, smoldering anti-Jewish sentiment flared up in Sevilla. On June 6, Christian mobs ransacked the barrio.  Around 4,000 Jews were killed, and 5,000 Jewish families were driven from their homes. Synagogues were stripped and transformed into churches. The former Judería eventually became the neighborhood of the Holy Cross-Barrio Santa Cruz. Sevilla’s uprising spread through Spain (and Europe), the first of many nasty pogroms during the next century. Before the pogrom, Jews had lived in Sevilla for centuries as the city’s respected merchants, doctors, and bankers. They flourished under the Muslim Moors. After Sevilla was “liberated” by King Ferdinand III (1248), Jews were given protection by Spain’s kings and allowed a measure of self-government, though they were confined to the Jewish neighborhood. But by the 14th century, Jews were increasingly accused of everything from poisoning wells to ritually sacrificing Christian babies. Mobs killed suspected Jews, and some of Sevilla’s most respected Jewish citizens had their fortunes confiscated. After 1391, Jews faced a choice: Be persecuted (even killed), relocate, or convert to Christianity. The newly Christianized—called conversos (converted) or marranos (swine)—were always under suspicion of practicing their old faith in private, and thereby undermining true Christianity. Longtime Christians were threatened by this new social class of converted Jews, who now had equal status, fanning the mistrust. To root out the perceived problem of underground Judaism, the “Catholic Monarchs,” Ferdinand and Isabel, established the Inquisition in Spain (1478). Under the direction of 
 

 Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, these religious courts arrested and interrogated conversos suspected of practicing Judaism. Using long solitary confinement and torture, they extracted “confessions.” 

On February 6, 1481, Sevilla hosted Spain’s first auto-da-fé (act of faith), a public confession and punishment for heresy. Six accused conversos were paraded barefoot into the cathedral, made to publicly confess their sins, then burned at the stake. Over the next three decades, thousands of conversos were tortured, tried,  and killed in Spain. In 1492, the same year the last Moors were driven from Spain, Ferdinand and Isabel decreed that all remaining Jews convert or be expelled (to Portugal and ultimately to Holland). Spain emerged as a nation unified under the banner of Christianity.



Triana
is an island in the Guadalquivir River and is part of the City of Sevilla. When river traffic was predominate, Triana was the other side of the tracks. It became industrial but it is now quite trendy. “Trianians” refer to crossing the bridge as “going to Sevilla” while those in Sevilla refer to the “Independent Republic of Triana.”  There are many who have never crossed the bridge. 



 

Triana Market – Inquisition HQ in 1481

 

  The Ultimate Catch 22:  The Inquisition was based at Castillo de San Jorge, a prison just over the Triana bridge where a market now stands. This was HQ for Friar Torquemada.  “Trials” were held in Plaza San Francisco where the first ever auto da fe’ (act of faith) took place.  They were to”confess” to their false religion to save themselves from the eternal flames of Hell.  Of course, if they “confessed” they were damned under the rules of their true faith.  In either event, the poor souls were likely taken to the Prado de San Sebastian and burned alive on a platform ironically designed by a Jewish architect (later a victim himself) or shown the small mercy of being garroted first.   



  Flamenco:  Andalusia is considered the home of flamenco dance but its origins are obscure and much debated. It is made up of four elements, Cante-Voice, Baile-Dance, Toque-Guitar, and the Jaleo, which roughly translated means “hell raising” and involves the handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement. The clapping seems easy but is actually very difficult and is considered an art unto itself.  


  

Flamenco song can be broken down into two categories- Cante gitano, gypsy songs, and Cante andaluz, Andalusian songs. When the Gypsies arrived in Andalusia from India around 1425, they brought with them many song and dance styles that have strong Indian connections. At this time Andalusia was still under Arab rule and, along with the Jews and the Moors, the Gypsies were soon to be persecuted by the Catholic monarchs and the inquisition. The Moors were forced to convert to Christianity, and failure to do so resulted in expulsion from Spain, the Jews suffered a similar fate, and the Gypsies were subjected to some of the worst atrocities in an attempt to exterminate them as a race. Many laws were passed by various monarchs which forbid them anything to do with their identity. They were to stop wearing their style of dress, cease speaking their language, stop their wanderings and seek steady employment, which prohibited them obtaining money by the usual gypsy skills such as horse dealing, trading at fairs, and sorcery. These laws and restrictions resulted in bands of Gypsies, Moors, and Jews taking refuge in treacherous mountainous areas far from the authorities. These different cultures lived in relative harmony for many years, and the fusion of their music and dances are what we know today as flamenco.


Most young girls in this region take flamenco lessons because it is considered a desirable social skill for weddings, parties, holidays and the like. There are also bars where it is popular – think  flamenco karaoke. 


So, to further advance our cultural acumen we went to a traditional flamenco performance. The troupe contested of a guitarist, a female singer, a female dancer, and a male dancer. The guitarist and singer did a set then the female dancer was accompanied by the first two. After a guitar solo the male lead came to the stage. The really fancy stepping was reserved for him. It is all very stylistic and the plaintive wail of the minaret is clearly heard. You can’t help but admire the skill and the countless hours of practice required to achieve it but not knowing the language or stories makes it all rather opaque. All that having been said, I am sure we were greatly enriched by the experience. 


Food, Wine and Culture:

1. Stand up and it’s cheaper. Steve’s talked to you about tapas, but I thought I should tell you about tapa prices. Stand up at the bar, to drink and eat and you’ll pay $2 to $2.50 a plate of tapas ($5 for a half ration-‘rationes’ and $10-15.00 for a full ration). If you sit down, usually you’re relegated to half or full rations..

2. Folks here in Seville love their fish/shellfish. Cuttlefish, cod (bacalao), mussels, langostinos (shrimp), gambas (prawn), mackerel, salmon, tuna. Bring it on, cooked, deep fried or raw. Today I saw plates piled high of deep-fried whole sardines!

3. Wow! Saturday nights here are raucous! Steve and I went to the Jewish quarter today (and back), and in those three hours or so, the restaurants were hopping, the plaza’s were full and the amount of beer-drinking was revving up. By the time we got back to our place, around 5:00 p.m. we began to understand the meaning of Saturday nightlife (the way Rick Steves describes it). Next Saturday, we’ll get out there and see some Taverna flamenco and enjoy the festivities.

4. An interesting noon snack: toast a half of a big bun then dribble some olive oil on it. Add tomato cream as liberally as jam (this ‘cream’ is like a well-ground salsa). Top the open-faced sandwich with Iberian ham. Done. Drink with beer.

5. People dress more casually in Spain than in France, I’ve noticed, especially the men. Probably because of the influence of Flamenco, lots of stores with elaborate women’s costumes line the shopping district. Exotic evening wear, as well. LOTS of shoe stores.

6. We aren’t sure of the reasons why, but the Spaniards are fully into the baby-making business (not just an observation…a statistic I read). Strollers everywhere! And the clothing stores devoted to children? Also everywhere. On Saturday, families are out and about, and I noted the kids were dressed MUCH more expensively than I was. And here in Spain, the kids go to the bars with the parents and play while the adults drink, eat and chat. Definitely a family affair. 

7. Prices are good. My favorite wines are around €4 a bottle. In a tapa bar, a glass of wine is €3. Coffee and a croissant for one person is €2.50. Even the one Starbucks we found has lower prices than the U.S.

8. The lottery is big here. I see lots of people scratching out cards and at times, men selling chances weave through the outdoor seating areas (as do the men selling Rolex knock-offs). More of the hawking goes on in the tourist areas…around our apartment, we mostly hear Spanish spoken…very few tourists

 

Barcelona:  City of Gaudi

You are not in Spain:  

  

After our one night stay at our temporary, emergency, unplanned hotel in Aix we hopped aboard the shuttle bus to the TGV station for our early train to Barcelona. (We have this drill down.). It was an AVE (Spanish) train even though it originated in Marseille. And it was a killer train – plush “leather” seats, quiet, smooth and uncrowded. We arrived at Barcelona Saints station a little more than five hours later, quickly caught a cab and arrived at our hotel right on La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous Main Street, by 14:00. Shortly afterwards, we set out for a walk through the nearby Gothic Quarter which dates to the Roman days. Along the way we had paella in Placa Reial. 
 

La Rambla


 


La Rambla runs from Placa de Catalunya, at the top, to the Christopher Columbus Monument at the harbor. It means “The River” which it once was when it drained the old city whose wall was at the placa. Actually, it was a sewer. But it’s nice now. Really.  There are cafes and shops, of course, but also every sort of hawker and street performer.  There are also pickpockets.  Lots of warnings to keep track of your purse and backpacks – lots of cops, too.  Most of them are gangs of kids run by an adult.  In Spain, kids under 18 can not be prosecuted (or at least it is not worth the effort because the penalty is so light).  Anyway, when the cops catch them they confiscate the goods and let them go.  When the perps turn 18 they graduate and start their own gang.  There is lots of petty crime but not nearly as much violent crime as we have in the states. 

In Placa de Catalunya


Placa Catalunya is the heart of the city. Anything of importance is celebrated or protested here. Monday was Columbus Day so the city was out in force to celebrate and to advocate for Catalonian independence. Apparently, the separatist party recently gained a majority in the regional parliment elections and, in defiance of the national government, held an unofficial referendum to gauge the level of support for independence. Evidently, 80% supported it. 

  

Now, the separatists are pushing for an official vote in November. That, apparently, is what today’s activity was all about. I don’t quite understand it all but it was certainly energetic and seemed peaceful. There is a long history to the separatist movement that I will get into a little later.  

 

Barcelona was founded by Phoenicians and Carthaginians. The original name of the city was Barcino, probably named after the Carthaginian ruler Hamilcar Barca. The Romans arrived in the 1st century BCE. Remains from this period can still be found especially in the Plaza del Rei and in the Gothic quarter.

After the Romans, the Visigoths occupied the city and changed its name to Barcinona in the 5th century A.D. Later on, during the 8th century, Barcinona was occupied by the Moors and reminded under their control for another 100 years until the Franks reconquered the city .

During this period, the region was divided into counties, the most important of which was the County of Barcelona. The Count of Barcelona, Wilfred the Hairy, founded the Catalan nation and began a hereditary system of succession. In the year 988, Count Borrell II achieved independence from the Carolingian empire for the County of Barcelona. The territory of the region expanded forming that which would later become known as Catalonia.

Catalonia became a part of the Crown of Aragon, but with the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, Barcelona began to loose its importance and power. During the following years, conflicts arose between Barcelona and Madrid. In the 17th century, Catalonia went to war with Spain, declaring its independence with the support of France. In this war Spain lost parts of Catalonia, a situation that would happen again when it was invaded by the French troops of Napoleon in the early 19th century.  This time the territories were returned to Spain following the fall of the French Empire. 

Now back to exploring the modern city. On Monday, we hopped on the hop-on, hop-off bus to get the overall scope of the city. We stopped to get tickets for Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s monumental projects.  

This is a great city, especially for architecture. There are at least four events that transformed the city. In 1850 the old city walls were torn down which allowed for a planned expansion. And with expansion came opportunities to create an “industrial” city. In the 19th century, “industrial” had a more positive connotation than today – more forward looking, less drudgery, more possibilities. The 1888 World’s Fair of Barcelona accelerated this desire to become a “modern” city –  


 just when Modernisme, (Catalonian Moderism) and Antoni Gaudi were coming into their prime. Gaudi, the son of a coppersmith, was born and educated here and was considered a prodigy early on. His “organic” style became a major influence on the architecture of the region and the world. Seven of his works have become UNESCO World Heritage sites.  
  


Another international exposition in 1929 gave Barcelona a further architectural boost. Then the 1992 Olympics came to town. Its legacy, along with the sports complexes, is the removal of the dilapidated industrial area along the harbor and its restructuring into a string of glittering beaches replete with yacht harbors, fine shopping and dining.  


Park Guell: If you Build It, They Will Not Come – Right away. 

 Tuesday, we returned to Park Guell, this time via the metro. This public park is so popular that you must purchase a timed ticket for entry. It is located at the top of a hill once called Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain). There are some escalators but it is still a steep hike. Having planned for this we arrived well before our 13:00 entry time and had a small lunch at a nearby bistro. 

  

The park was conceived by Gaudi’s close friend Eiusbel Guell (rhymes with “well”). The idea was for an exclusive development for the 1% in the high healthy air, far from the industrial grit of the city. Construction began in 1900. There were 60 triangular lots, strictly regulated, connected by winding paths and gardens and surrounded by open spaces which all now constitute the majority of the park. Here is where the locals bring their families for a stroll and a picnic. Central to the home sites is a Monumental Area comprised of a grand entry and common spaces. This is the area for which a ticket is required. Under it all is a complex infrastructure of water systems. The style is  

 quintessential Guadi. It really can not be described. But, the highly restrictive and complex lease-hold sale requirements, lack of transportation infrastructure, and its exclusive nature made it a financial failure. Only two houses were ever built – Guell lived in one until his death and Gaudi lived in the other, but neither were designed by Gaudi. Construction was halted in 1914 and the city purchased the property from Guell’s estate after his death in 1918. It became a public park in 1928 and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

 


Wednesday, we explored the Gothic Quarter more, wandered down to the harbor and then back up the Ramblas. We arranged for tickets to the Picasso Museum and for a tour of Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia Bascilica. 
  


To Paint as a Child

Thursday, we wandered through the Gothic Quarter on our way to our 13:00 appointment at the Muse Picasso, stopping for coffee along the way. Picasso was not born in Barcelona but he did spend his teenage years here and it is here in Barcelona that he received much of his early art education. We’re talking 1900, or so. His father was an art teacher and young Pablo received an excellent, classical art education from some of the best. His early portrait and landscape works, to the untrained eye like mine, can easily be mistaken for the work of the earlier masters. As we all know, his work evolved over time to something radically different. Throughout his life Picasso was much influenced by the work of others but he then carried those concepts to new heights. While Gaudi was older, they were contemporaries in the same city so it seems likely that Picasso must have been influenced by him, too, but no one seems to know for sure. Picasso is supposed to have said, “As a child I was forced to paint as an adult. As an adult I was free to paint as a child.” That just about sums it up. 


   Early, Middle and Late Picasso
   

La Sagrada Familia

Later on Thursday, we hopped the metro for our 16:30 appointment at Gaudi’s crowning achievement, La Sagrada Familia.  

  

The inspiration for a Bascilica for Barcelona came from a bookseller named Josep Maria Bocabella after his visit to the Vatican. He began a foundation to raise funds and construction of a standard gothic revival church, designed by Francisco Villar, began in 1882. Soon after the foundation stone was laid, Gaudi was named the principal architect when he was only 31 years old. He radically changed the original design concept using mostly models rather than detailed drawings. A devout  

 

Catholic, he expected it to take hundreds of years to complete, like other great churches throughout history. When asked about the schedule he said, “My client is not in a hurry.” Gaudi, who never married, became increasingly pious, giving himself himself entirely to the bascillica after 1910. In 1926, Gaudi was hit by a tram while on his daily walk to mass. He died three days later at age 74. He is the only person buried in the crypt of the church.  

 

The Bascilica was then 15-25% complete. Work slowed during the Spanish Civil War and WWII but still continued. Modern construction techniques such as self-jacking cranes and CAC stone cutting have now accelerated construction. It passed the half way point in 2010 and they are shooting for completion in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

   
The various aspects of the church are based on differing architectural styles taken to new levels. One facade, the oldest, is nearly gothic while the opposite is almost cubist. The architectural details are deeply symbolic. There will be 18 spires, the final and tallest has just begun construction.  When it is completed it will become the world’s tallest church.  The interior is the most spectacular space I have ever seen. Gaudi’s use of light was carefully planned using, for the time, complex geometric concepts. I can’t begin to describe it. 
  
Seville

Friday, we caught an early train for the 5.5 hour trip to Seville. A short cab ride brought us to Calle Viejos 1, our VRBO home for the next month. It is an apartment in what was once the home of a wealthy 17th century family. It is €1000 for the month – about $40 a night. 

We are just getting settled in and will have more observations about Seville later but for now–



Seville Food and Drink Report from Rolynn

  • New Phrases: “Puedo tener dos cafes con leche muy caliente, por favor?” and “Puedo tener una gran cerveza de barril y un vaso de vino blanco, seco, por favor?”
  •   Count your toothpicks at the Tapa Bar. Tapa Bars proliferate throughout Seville, just right for those of us who hate to choose one thing…we have multiple baby entrees to make up a meal. One type, pinchos, are delicacies perched on top of a slice of French bread, lightly toasted and pinned together with a toothpick. Some options: two Spanish versions of potato salad or a slice of tuna or chicken or ham paired with camembert, Swiss, blue cheese; a wedge of quiche; herring and cheese; a ham or chicken croquette. These can be served warm, too, along with meatballs, cannelloni and a range of other choices. When you’ve finished eating, the cashier counts how many toothpicks you have on your plate…€2 a tapa. My meal cost me €10; Steve’s €20. A beer for Steve; Basque white wine for me. 

   

  • Pigs thighs (of the cured kind) are hanging in all the Mercats (open markets), their black hooves heralding the best of the best sliced ham. Acorn fed is the top of the line and can cost €155/KG ($80/lb). Whereas in France every part of a sheep was displayed in the butchery, here, it’s all about the Piggy. Ears, feet, brains…you name it. No part of the pig is wasted.
  • Rabbits, Run! I was shocked to find dead rabbits lined up in the butchers’ display cases. Yup, with their fur, cute little faces and ears, all freshly killed (is the point they’re making, I guess). Spaniards love rabbit, that’s clear. 
  • We’re seeing fewer bakeries; more fish, and ham, and rabbits here in Seville.
  • Try a flamenquines. This food recalls Kevin Bacon’s fight with the big worm in the movie, “Tremors”. This ‘worm’ is two inches in diameter and about a foot long. It’s cold cheese over which chicken and ham are rolled. The whole thing is breaded and deep-fried, coming out like a giant croquette-with the cheese melted. Very filling.
  • Wine report: Good wine is so cheap I can’t believe my eyes. I know to buy wine from the Rioja or Rueda regions, but even at that, a bottle of wine costs about $3; a great one costs $13 at the most! A little slice of wine heaven, here.
  • Sangria-making. To a bottle of red wine, you want to add a half cup each of brandy and fresh-squeezed orange juice. 1/8th cup of superfine sugar. Some also add ¼ cup of Cointreau or the like, as well. Best to let all this chill overnight with or without the topping of bits of orange, apple, lemon. When you’re ready to drink-add the topping if you haven’t yet-and depending on whether or not you’re driving, add a cup of club soda or ginger ale (obviously the ginger ale sweetens with fizz and the club soda just adds a pleasant fizz).
  • Tartare, tartare everywhere. Whether it’s fish or beef, we’re seeing non-cooked meat is all the rage. Yes, there are sushi bars/restaurants here, and some restaurants maintain a sushi bar, but every Tapa Bar liberally serves raw meat. I saw a man eat a half a pound of uncooked ground beef, with a raw egg on top. No kidding! In fact, next door to us is a Tapa Bar called ‘NO KITCHEN.’ Nothing is cooked in the place…everything is served cold. Amazing!
  • I’m pleased to report we have fewer smokers with us in the outside restaurant patios than we did in France. I do not see men and women walking around the town smoking, either. Evidently the Spaniards have studied the information about smoking’s effects on one’s health. Or maybe the taxes are just higher.
  • I have yet to find a churro, those deep fried pastries with sugar and cinnamon all over them. I saw a kid eating one, but didn’t have the vocabulary to ask him where he got it.