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.
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.
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.
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