Tag Archives: 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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the truth about study abroad

I’ve been in Spain for nearly six months now. I’ve seen a lot of great things, traveled to a ton of cool places, and met many new friends. I party my ass off, take long walks, and study hard when the moment requires. I’ve immersed myself in this society as much as I can and I’m wildly, perfectly happy here – or at least, that’s what you’d think if you read my blog or stalked my Facebook. But here’s the truth: what I tell you about my time abroad is only a small portion. I leave out the frustrating phone conversations with my horseback riding trainer, who was supposed to pick me up at 4:30 but didn’t and then called me twelve times while I was on the metro and couldn’t understand whether he wanted me to wait at the station or walk to the barn. I don’t mention the insatiable craving I feel for a goddamn Subway sandwich, followed by the even worse guilt over my inherent and unshakeable Americanness. I keep mum about the nagging feeling that I’m not truly taking advantage of my time here that I get when I stay in and watch movies on a Friday night. And then worse, the inadequacy I feel over the fact that I’ve been here so long and still haven’t made a truly close Spanish friend. I look at some of the other girls who’ve been here since September and they have Spanish boyfriends, for God’s sake, and even though I don’t really want a relationship, I feel somehow less-than.

When you see the life I put out on the Internet, you’re really only seeing the best ten percent of what I do here. You don’t see all the boring days where I don’t do much more than go to class and do homework after, or the petty squabble I have with a friend, or the nights I go out for a beer or two then turn in early. And you definitely don’t see the moments when I break down and just want to go home.

Which, in case you hadn’t guessed, is right now.

In a lot of ways, I think that’s dishonest of me. While I was getting everything together to come out here, all I heard about studying abroad was how awesome it was going to be. Every person I talked to (including the woman working the phones at Chase who made sure my debit card wouldn’t get flagged while I was abroad) gushed over my trip. Past study abroaders fed me story after story of endless fun. And at first, Sevilla was like that. I devoured this city.

But at a certain point, this stopped being a vacation for me. I thought I could outrun my social anxiety and introversion, but of course that’s impossible. I had this image of myself as Sevillana Katy, some sort of study abroad alter ego. And that Katy was fun and adventurous, organized and driven but always up for a spontaneous night out. She would strike up conversations with everyone and snap street photos without fear. But that person doesn’t really exist – at the end of the day, I still start to sweat when I ask someone if I can take their photo. I still long for quiet nights in with a terrible movie and too much Diet Coke. I still come off as stand-offish, or worse, boring, to new acquaintances thanks to my debilitating shyness in groups. None of that went away simply because I ran off to Spain.

It’s funny, this has been one of the hardest things to write and put out there. I want everyone back home to believe I’m having this unreal time. When people, even some of my closest friends, ask how I’m doing I invariably answer “incredible” or “amazing” or some other superlative. “I may never come home,” I say. I’ve been feeding the stereotype that it’s all good times, all the time. It feels wrong. So here you go, readers: study abroad is not always fun. It’s real life. Ups and downs happen, and I think on a more extreme scale than back home. So if you’re planning to go abroad anytime soon, try not to idealize it too much before you leave. Because sooner or later you’re going to have a terrible day – there’s no need to make it worse by feeling bad about feeling bad.

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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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thankful

the feast!

So Thanksgiving happened, and it was a grand success – or at least good enough to eat the leftovers in two days. It was quiet and cozy, just like it always is at home. We had just four people around the little dining room table – Asa, Elisabeth, my friend Michelle, and myself of course – which is just how I like it. I didn’t even mess up the turkey roulades, though there was a brief panic moment when I opened the package from the butcher to find an in-tact chest cavity (complete with aorta!) instead of the neat, boneless breasts I’d been expecting. Luckily, Fali (what a name for a butcher!) is a lovely man and was perfectly willing to chop it up for me when I went back to see what could be done. And even though I accidentally got fava beans instead of green beans, and I ran out of time before I could do the gravy, and a million other little things, by the time we were all sitting together it just didn’t matter.

I have to say, I was initially expecting some serious homesickness on the day. In the week leading up to our Friday night feast, I was aching to get back to Portland, if just for the holiday meal. I went through most of last week in a bit of a daze. See, I may joke a lot about my love of Thanksgiving stemming from my inner fat kid, but if I’m honest (and a little sappy) it’s more the family time I’m in to. The dinner is great, sure, but I wouldn’t mind giving all the food away in exchange for wine-soaked bickering with my mom over dirty dishes, a knowing smile and roll of the eyes from my dad when I ask him to run to the store for the fifth time, and my sister sneaking a taste of the desserts when she thinks I’m not looking. That’s Thanksgiving to me – loud, bustling, dirty, imperfect Thanksgiving, and I didn’t think any imitation I could slap together here would stand up to the real thing.

Of course, my holiday wasn’t anything like my family’s version. That experience is unique to that specific group of people. I couldn’t recreate it in any other setting. But what I got was just as good. I don’t think I realized before we all sat down to the huge meal I’d made on my own, in my host mother’s kitchen, just how much this place feels like home. Asa and Elisabeth are my family now. This third-floor walk-up apartment on the river is where I live. I haven’t lost my roots back in Oregon, but after almost three months in Sevilla I feel like I belong here. And that’s never been clearer to me than when I was shoveling my second helping of stuffing into my mouth. It was the most American meal I’ve had in months, but it was my meal, made in my adopted home in my adopted city. I’ll never be all Spanish – you can’t change where you’re from – but this place is part of my DNA now.

A while ago, Asa, Elisabeth, and I were browsing the fish selection at a market on Calle Feria. Asa asked one of the vendors about his salmon, and the woman behind her in line began giving her all sorts of suggestions. “In Spain, we traditionally like to grill them a la plancha,” the woman said, somewhat bossily. “If you want to experience real Spanish culture, that’s how you should cook  them.” Of course, Asa didn’t need this woman to tell her that – she’s lived in Spain since she was nine years old. But later, as we sat down to salmoneta filets for lunch, Asa just shrugged it off, smiling.

“You can’t get rid of who you are,” she said. “I’m Swedish. I was raised in a Swedish household. No matter how long I live here, people will be able to look at me and know I’m not Spanish. But who says that’s a bad thing? We all have our roots.”

That’s how I feel about my life here in Sevilla. I will never fool these people into thinking I’m a native. Even if I live here for forty more years, I’ll still have a faint accent. I’ll still love stuffing and pumpkin pie and wearing hoodies when it’s cold out. But I can make myself a part of the landscape here. And on this Monday evening, just a few days after Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity.

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oh the weather outside is weather…

snuggly sweaters and lacy layers.

Well, it’s finally happened: fall has arrived. Last week clouds rolled in, the wind was blowing, and I finally started to understand why everyone’s senora freaks out about bare feet in the house – these tiles are freezing. And along with all the rain and chill breezes came a deep sense of regret for items left behind.

Yup, I packed too light.

It’s a little hard to believe, actually. I’m one of those people who lives in perpetual fear of needing something I don’t happen to have on me. On any given day I’m most likely carrying on my person a bottle of Advil, perfume, a travel-sized toothbrush, five bobby pins, and my external hard drive. I mean, I literally brought thirteen pairs of shoes with me for three months in Argentina. Thirteen! I had to buy an extra duffle bag and transfer them all over from my huge suitcase in the middle of PDX just so I’d be under the weight limit.

And yet, here I am, freezing my tail off in southern Spain because I failed to pack anything warmer than my favorite blazer.

Of course, I’m well-aware of why this all came about. Airline baggage policies have changed quite a bit since I flew to South America: in 2008, I was allowed two 50-pound suitcases plus the normal carry-ons for international flights. On my way here, I had to fit my whole life into one 23-kilo square, plus the duffle I lugged over a dozen pairs of shoes in three years ago. All things considered, that’s not a lot of space. But I figured, as my mother repeatedly said to me as I edited my wardrobe down to airline regulation size, they do sell clothes in Spain. I wasn’t permanently limited to what I could stuff into my measly 28-inch box.

Two months in, I can tell you from personal experience that yes, they do sell clothes here. But they sell clothes in euros. With value-added tax. And no Forever 21s. So yeah, I’ve been doing some shopping out of necessity. A girl can’t live in sundresses and pink shorts alone. But it definitely would have been a good deal cheaper in the long run to pay the extra baggage fee.

Learn from my mistakes, future study-abroaders: pack what you need.

That said, I’m pretty excited about my recent additions to my wardrobe. I’ve been slowly adding fall pieces, one or two at a time, and I think I can reasonably say that I’m prepared for colder days ahead.

my closet - finally almost full!

So what have I bought for fall? Let’s recap, shall we?

1. Cocoon coat in a lovely shade of tobacco (Pull&Bear)
2. Foliage/leopard-inspired printed dress (Pull&Bear)
3. Wide-striped sweatshirt dress (Stradovarius)
4. Cozy gray cableknit sweater (Oysho)
5. Pink and camel striped mohair sweater (H&M)
6. White lace tee (Zara)
7. Black stacked-heel ankle boots (H&M)
8. Black mini-dress with Stella McCartney-esque polka dot sleeves (Zara TRF)

Notice the trend of WARMTH. I was taken by surprise when the stormy weather blew through, but I will not be defeated by a little wind and rain. So if you’re planning some time abroad in Spain, make sure you come prepared; my blazers definitely aren’t enough.

the h&m boots - less comfy than they look, but so worth it.

I’m less than thrilled about the amount of money I’ve spent on this capsule wardrobe, but at least it’s all pieces I can wear back home, too. I have to remind myself that I’m not shopping on a whim here. While I’m excited about everything I’ve bought, it’s all necessary to a certain extent: I can’t run around in 40 degree weather in my sundresses. I needed some substantial clothes. But to those of you preparing for spring semester abroad, a word of caution: sometimes it’s worth it to pay for the extra baggage! Make sure you pack for weather from freezing temperatures to humid and rainy to dry and 100 degrees. This city is insane; choose your clothes wisely.

dresses in neutral colors for mixing and matching.

As the departure date for spring study-abroaders approaches, keep an eye out for packing tips from yours truly! I’ll do what I can to keep you from making the same mistakes I did.

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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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i’d like to return to the classics

I heard a lot before I left the US about how well-dressed Spanish women are. “Be prepared to wear heels ALL THE TIME,” was a common warning. Jean shorts, sweats, and any sandal resembling a flip-flop would be completely out of place here, I was told. Many well-meaning souls advised me to leave out shorts all together – and this when I was headed to a part of the country that averages 90 degrees in September.

Now that I’m here, I’m beginning to realize there’s been a little bit of exaggerating going on. First of all, shorts are completely commonplace – yes, even jorts. Granted, you won’t see them on women over 25 generally, but for the youth of the day it’s no big deal to show some leg. Secondly, not everyone dresses well here. (I can hear the gasps of shock from across the Atlantic.) There’s an epidemic of poorly-worded English message tees, and I think if I see one more psychedelically patterned drop-crotch pant (where do they find these things?) I’ll go insane. But when the women get it right, they really get it right!

calle sierpes

Take this charming young lady, for instance. Those preppy loafers are the fall shoe of my dreams. Really, everything about her outfit is simple – plain tee, cotton skirt, structured bag – but together, it creates a cohesive outfit. I’m dying to channel her ladylike style in the near future.

plaza de alfalfa

The classic sensibility of chic youngsters is pretty obviously inspired by the previous generation. This woman is the epitome of put-together casual – I’m sorry, but linen wide-leg jade green slacks? WITH A LEOPARD BELT? I have found my people. I never want to leave.

plaza del salvador (excuse the quality, settings got messed up on my camera.)

I think the most striking thing about Spanish style is the complete lack of layering. These women manage to be chic with just two pieces – a top and a bottom. I’m so used to seeing street style snaps of girls swathed in coats on top of twelve sweaters on top of neon tanks that the simplicity of Spanish fashion is just plain refreshing. This woman lets the embellishment on her shoulders do all the heavy lifting, then adds a few simple extras with bangles, a woven belt, and desert booties. So cute, and so easy to put together!

Since I’ve been here, I’ve found myself paring down too. I’m sure it’s partly due to the extreme heat – it’s only now starting to cool down to anything below 32C – but it’s also a side effect of living amongst these classically chic ladies. And yes, there definitely are more well-dressed women here than back home – no Columbia fleece vests in sight!

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kitchen disasters, or: why i’m glad i didn’t wait for asa to get home before i tried out the kitchen

pretty ingredients all lined up in the smallest kitchen known to man!

So today I learned three things:

1. If you hunt through a Spanish kitchen, you can find ingredients fit for the best of light meals, no shopping required.
2.  Spanish homes are not required (or at least not inclined) to have smoke alarms.
3. If forgotten under a broiler long enough, bread WILL catch fire.

Needless to say, it’s been an interesting evening.

the oven that nearly ended it all. and no, you're not crazy, it really is super tiny.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up for a second. Today was one of those days where I really was not interested in doing much after siesta time. Usually I’ll go for a coffee, wander the shopping district, or at least go for a run, but for whatever reason I just felt like chilling with Elisabeth, my host mom’s friend who lives with us. But around 7:30 I started feeling a little antsy. Elisabeth was out doing some grocery shopping and I’d browsed through one too many pages of Tastespotting, and something needed to be done.

the red peppers here are so delicious! this one's on its way to the oven for some roasting.

Originally, I’d planned to make my first meal after Asa got back tomorrow from her long birthday weekend in Madrid. I wanted to show off my skills, after all. But today it occurred to me that maybe I ought to familiarize myself with the kitchen first. And since I was bored, I decided to give dinner a go. I knew there was the better half of a bell pepper lurking around, as well as bread and copious amounts of olive oil. Obviously I thought of roasted red pepper bruschetta and scuttled off to see what else could be thrown into the mix.

garlic is by far the best thing in the world.

What I came up with was a mix of the peppers, capers, rounds of goat cheese, and – most surprisingly to me – anchovy fillets. Anchovies tend to get a bad rap in the US for being salty and smelly, but here they’re a staple. And having never tried an anchovy (I know, I know, and I call myself a foodie) I thought it’d be a great experiment. But of course, in my life something always goes wrong.

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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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