Category Archives: spotlight on sevilla

the home stretch

the portada and ubiquitous lanterns of feria.

Well. Long time no see.

After my last post ten million years ago, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking I’d completely given up on blogging this experience because I’m so miserable. Not the case. What really happened was I decided to give myself some time to process this experience (the good and the bad) without the added pressure of analyzing it for anyone who might care to read. A good choice, as it turns out. The last few months have been amazing. Not perfect, because that’s unrealistic in any situation, but I finally feel like I belong here.

I’ve spent this time becoming truly close to my friends here (both Spanish and foreign) and doing what I can to soak up the last of my time. It’s weird to realize just how little of that I have left – just the other night, my friend Juan asked me when I was going home.

“June twenty-second,” I answered, “so not for a while.”

“Isn’t that, like, two months from now?”

Um. Yes. Yes, it is.

It took Juan saying that number for me to really get it: this is going to end. I’m going to go home and chow down at Irving Street Kitchen with my mom, hang out with my sister at the barn, beg my dad to run to the store for more Diet Coke. I’m going to drive down to Eugene and see everyone at Triple Rise, move in with my new roommates, take classes. In English. I can’t even imagine.

So I’m choosing not to. This week was Feria, the event I’ve most been looking forward to my whole time here in Sevilla. I could try to explain it to you in words, throw in a few inadequate still images in a feeble attempt to illustrate the atmosphere, but I decided I’d try something a little different: I made a movie! The camerawork isn’t the best – no tripod + endless booze and dancing = shaky hands. But I can’t help but smile while I watch it. Special thanks to Naomi, Alvaro, Marisa, Jose, Clara, Maria, Erika, and Greer for appearing – you look faaaabulous. And to the rest of you, I hope you like it!

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nochevieja

cava and sweet treats from the parador de san francisco in granada.

Every once in a while, I look around at my life and I wonder if this is all real. Is this actually happening to me? Right now, on the first day of 2012, I can’t believe that I’ve been this lucky. This is a post I wrote on December 31 while drinking a cafe con leche at one of my favorite bars, essentially waiting for the year to end. I’ve chosen to add in a few images of my Christmas break traveling with my family.

my mom, sister, and i wandering the alhambra on christmas day.

It’s the last few hours of maybe the most transitional and eventful year of my life to date and I’m more in limbo now than I’ve ever been. The majority of the students in my program, many of them good friends, have returned to the States for good. Christmas has come and gone and with it, my mom and sister, who I probably won’t be seeing until I get back home. I’ve packed up my room in Asa’s house and will only be going back to pick everything up on my way to my new apartment. I’m only ten hours away from 2012, but I’m completely at a loss to picture what this next year will look like. It’s almost as daunting as stepping onto that first leg of my flight to Sevilla almost four months ago.

shoppers in madrid admire the turrón (nougat) offerings.

With all this change coming in the next month, I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I make a lot of them, and not just around New Year’s. As evidenced by my (rather extensive) list of goals I wrote for my year abroad, I tend to think ahead. And right now, I’m feeling the need to spend a little time thinking about what I want from this experience. After all, even though I’ve finished up the first half of my schoolwork, I still have at least six months of time left here, and I want to make sure I’m really taking advantage of this incredible opportunity.

poinsettias and christmas lights in the mercado de san miguel, madrid.

See how I did on my goals from 2011 as well as my new goals for 2012, after the jump.

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post-siesta paseos

I seem to have a bit of ‘splainin to do. I’ve been really busy the past two weeks, so posts to this blog have been thin on the ground. Reasons:

1. Lagos, a.k.a. Lag Vegas, where I went on a weekend trip with mah CNMJ ladies (minus Yvonne, but we’re Photoshopping her into the photos so it’s LIKE she was there). I didn’t bring my camera for fear of ruination via sand, sun, and surf, and also sangria. In retrospect, this was an EXCELLENT decision. Seriously, Portugal is not the best place for something as adored as my brand-new Canon Rebel.

2. OTHER BLOGS! I know, such a betrayal. But I’m now doing biweekly cooking blogs for Ethos Magazine, which just happens to be my favorite mag EVER. And then in addition I’m writing a few entries for CIEE’s Sevilla blog. Like this one. Read it. You (might) like it.

3. I’m sick as snot. No, really, I just sneezed and got mucus all over the screen. It’s really attractive.

Hence, no posts of real value for Sol y Sombra. But I will tell you a little about my afternoon paseo routine.

this balcony in barrio santa cruz is exactly what i used to picture when i daydreamed about my life in spain.

First off, in Sevilla the siesta is not a myth. Every day, from around 2:30 or 3 until 5:30 or so, the world pretty much shuts down. It’s pretty much the only quiet time in the city. Example: I left my window open last night in an attempt to coax in a little breeze, and a troupe of hooligans (“cannis,” though I wouldn’t call them that to their face) woke me up at around 4 AM. And it was a Monday. But right now, the only sounds outside are the occasional passing car and the horrible, yappy little rat of a dog in the flat below me.

But I digress.

You see, after the lovely little afternoon nap, I start feeling a little restless. I have class in the mornings, but my afternoons are my own. So I’ve been taking walks. I leave around 6 or so and wander the streets with my camera, trying to get lost. It doesn’t usually work – the center of Sevilla runs in something of a circle, so I usually end up right where I started. But it’s still fun.

helado "crema sevillana" from la fiorentina, one of the two best heladerias in town.

The idea of a paseo is definitely very Latin. I remember doing essentially the same thing in Argentina, usually accompanied by a big scoop of helado from the little shop down the road. As it turns out, the Spaniards are just as stoked on ice cream as the Argentines. And who am I to ignore customs with such cross-cultural significance? So I often stop at one of two heladerias in my neighborhood – Rayas and La Fiorentina. There’s a bit of competition between the two over which is better, and both have their firm supporters. I won’t say it’s as fierce as Sevilla and Betis (the two soccer teams in town), but it’s pretty damn close.

Personally, I like the flavors at Rayas better – fig is a personal favorite – but the service at La Fiorentina can’t be beat. When I took these photos last week, the guy serving me insisted on setting up a beautiful shot of my cone, complete with styling. I was pretty impressed.

the employee's photographic masterpiece. much better than my shot.

Of course, being the studious little lady that I am, I can’t justify wandering around eating ice cream all afternoon without fitting in a little work, too. That’s where bars come in.

Yes, that sounds ridiculous. But really though. I love plopping down in a square somewhere with a book for my literature class. One of my favorites is la Alicantina, a top-rated tapas bar in la Plaza del Salvador. The service is fast and the people watching is top-notch – apparently a lot of locally famous folks stop in from time to time, including bullfighters and soccer stars. La Alicantina is also top rated for their ensaladilla rusa, a potato and tuna salad that’s pretty delicious. But I usually just order a beer and some olives, which I’m pretty sure is the ideal study combo. The whole thing costs me a little under 3 euros, and nobody seems to care if I linger at the table for an hour or two.

'san manuel bueno, martir' and a cruzcampo. my life is so difficult.

I think the best part about the paseo for me is the opportunity to be by myself. I’m the type of person that recharges through time away from people. Not that I’m anti-social – I just need to have quiet time in order to relax. So between a luxurious mid-day nap and my two hours or so of walking, I’m ready to interact with my host family, my friends, and anyone else I run into before I turn in for the night. All in all, the paseo is the perfect way for me to take in this city I’m beginning to think of as home.

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a word on exercise

el paseo del rey juan carlos I is far and away the best place to watch the sunset in sevilla.

Here is a confession: I hate working out. If I could get away  with sitting on my lazy butt all day, I pretty much would. I enjoy walking, but only in the sense of the paseo, a very Spanish tradition of strolling slowly and watching the world. I love horseback riding, but any health benefits (while appreciated) are somewhat beside the point.

both biking and making out are common activities along the river.

That being said, I’m also a pretty vain person – I blame it on my age, but that might just be a convenient excuse. And in a country where social lives revolve so gloriously around copious amounts of high-calorie alcohol and gorgeous food, this vain 20-something’s thoughts turn straight to her figure.

Hence, exercise.

I initially thought working out a few days a week would feel like a sacrifice. After all, there’s so much to do here, and a solid five-mile run ends up taking more like an hour and a half when you count in prep time, stretching, and showering.

apparently rollerblading is cool here. like, skateboarding-when-you-were-twelve cool.

But then I discovered (and I use that term loosely) the river. When things cool off in the evening, the Rio Guadalquivir is by far the best place for people watching in Sevilla. By seven p.m. the Paseo del Rey Juan Carlos I is full of people running, rollerblading, picnicking, drinking, making out…seriously, it’s awesome. On Friday I saw not one, but two weddings going down. Around sunset, the Rio is definitely the place to be.

nice spot for a picnic, no?

So I’ve been running. Around 45 minutes at a time, aiming for ten-minute miles. I’ve been hitting around nine miles per week, and as time goes on I’m hoping for 12 or more. Between the people, the stunning sunsets, and the wealth of landmarks along my route, I barely have time to think about how much I hate running (and trust, I hate running). It’s not much, but I like to think that between my paseos rapidos (as I think of my little jaunts) and the three to four hours of walking I get through daily, I’ll be able to fight off tapas-related weight gain.

Or maybe not. But either way, you can find me jogging by the river two or three times a week. I’ll be the one with the wide eyes and the sweaty red face.

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a contradiction in terms

reflection

the beautiful reflecting pool of the real alcazar.

Yesterday, I got my first real glimpse of mudéjar architecture. Mudéjar basically means buildings in the style of the Moors in Spain, but created by Christians after the Reconquista – a somewhat contradictory concept, and a phenomenon that seems to me counterintuitive. As one of the most complete examples of mudéjar style, the Real Alcázar is proof-positive of the profound Muslim influence in Spain, despite past attempts to eradicate the memory of al-Andalus.

I have to say, I haven’t been all that interested in architecture in the past. The beauty of most buildings escapes me. What I am interested in is people and what makes them do the things they do. So the Alcázar, while unbelievably gorgeous, fascinates me more for the stories associated with it than anything else. It straddles two great empires, one crumbling and the other on the brink of world power, and it’s crazy to see how the two interact.

At its roots, the Alcázar is Arab. The Arab kings built the barest sketch of a fortified palace here in 712 AD, and two or three of the main buildings visible now were laid down in the ninth and 10th centuries.

mini fountain

a small fountain in the arab portion of the alcazar. i had to lay down on the floor to get the shot - i looked more than a little insane.

But by 1248, Sevilla was back in Christian hands, and as a backlash against the Moorish influence Alfonso X ordered three salons in the gothic style – not surprising, considering the Moors still held a decent portion of territory in the Iberian Peninsula. But things got a little interesting in the 1360s – Pedro I de Castilla decided to add something to the mix, and the Palacio Mudéjar was born. By far the largest part of the compound, the main palace is a tribute to the Moorish aesthetic, with horse shoe-shaped arches, intricate tilework, and even entire rooms of plaster walls covered in verses from the Quran.

a small bit of the plaster work. as islam forbids iconography, geometric designs were common, and often included religious verses in intricate calligraphy.

Our guide Angel, who happens to also teach my Cultural History of Spain class, pointed out what a contradiction this is. At the time, Spain was in the middle of the Reconquista. The great Moorish empire had been pushed back to Granada, and just over 100 years later they would be defeated and those remaining in Spain forced to convert. Tensions between those of Arab descent and “native” Spaniards were so high that soon after the turn of the 16th century, the Moors would be expelled from Spain completely. And yet the Christian monarchy was so fascinated with the culture that they copied it for at least a century! As Angel quipped, the existence of mudéjar architecture seems to say to the Moors, “We hate you, get out of our country, but your style is awesome so we’ll just snatch that up.” (Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but whatever.)

the girls in the garden.

Regardless, both the buildings and the extensive gardens are gorgeous, but I think my favorite part was the bath. Pedro I built them for his mistress, María de Padilla. Obviously a scandal, since he had a wife. I’ve been to a traditional hammam in Morocco before, and it was cool to see the Spanish rendition – even though the water was disgusting – and since the baths are below ground, it was a nice respite from the horrible humidity outside.

hammam

a hall in the royal baths. i can totally see the king's mistress gliding through here to bathe during the scorching afternoons!

By the time we left, my head was buzzing with stories. I wrote part of a historical fiction novel about the Moors in the time of the Reconquista for a class my senior year (thank you OES English), and I’ve been fascinated by their history ever since. But I’ve never thought about the story from the other side – from the point of view of the Spaniards as they pushed the “invaders” back into a corner. Having had just a taste of the clash of cultures for myself now, I can’t wait to get to Cordoba and Granada to see more.

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mucho gusto, sevilla.

view

the view from the top of the ciee study center.

So I made it, in case you were wondering, and allow me to inform you that this place is amazing. I’ve only been here five days but I’m pretty sure I’m in love.

this would be where i go to school. nbd.

A BRIEF RECAP:

1. I arrived after 21 hours of torture by airline travel on September 5, greasy and exhausted but no worse for wear. We stayed in a hotel just around the corner from the CIEE center – excuse me, palace – in the medieval part of the city. The hotel building dates from the 18th century apparently, and the streets have been the same since the 1400s. There’s actually a law in place that says nobody can change how the streets run, which makes for some interesting traffic shenanigans.

trailing after mama pato (mama duck, also known as maria) through the streets of sevilla.

2. The seven of us followed our two guides Maria and Pablo through the city for a few days, learning the ropes. They’re both students in the Communication department of la Universidad de Sevilla. We ate at some seriously delicious restaurants, wolfing down beautiful tapas. Expect a recap of the best ones soon.

the stairs to my apartment. it was pretty funny to watch chuqui (as they call ricardo, don't ask me why) carry my 50 pound suitcase up three flights.

3. Two days ago, I moved into my homestay. It’s a flat in la Plaza de la Puerta Real, just steps from the river and less than ten minutes on foot from the CIEE study center. I live with Asa, who is Swedish but has lived in Sevilla for 30 years, and her son Ricardo, who’s 25 (at least, for now. He’ll be leaving for cooking school in Barcelona pretty soon.) I can’t believe how lucky I got with this place! The whole thing is just gorgeous, and Asa is a great cook (as is her son, obviously).

Today, we got our schedules for the next semester. Overall, I’m pretty stoked with mine – a little less than 4 hours of class 4 days a week, which is  better than I’ve ever done at U of O. In a couple hours I’m off to the study center again for a seminar on extracurriculars to be had (flamenco classes, cooking lessons, language exchanges…I’m foaming at the mouth already). Hasta pronto!

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