Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Given that historical buildings in Seattle are likely to be less than two hundred years old, it is not surprising that I was drawn to the charms of medieval and vintage Spain —  its narrow labyrinthine streets in the old quarters of its cities, the faded Moorish influences, the wrought-iron balconies . . .  But I was also very impressed with some of Spain’s avant-garde glimpses of fashion and architecture.

Fashion, shop window in Granada

Fashion, shop window in Granada

I was totally captivated by this metal spiral staircase that we saw inside La Caixa Forum in Madrid:

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And their bathrooms were pretty wonderful, too!

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

The Metropole Parasol at Plaza de Encarnacion in Seville is a fanciful urban installation with an elevated viewing platform.  I loved the lightness of its balsa-wood-like structure, its curviness, and imaginative shape.

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And in Barcelona, we spotted the Agbar Tower, that gherkin-shaped building designed by Jean Nouvel, as we were crossing a street.

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All of these wonderful expressions of modern style and design tell me that Spain is not living in the past, but is striding exuberantly into the future.

 

 

 

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After three days in Madrid, Carol and I took a fast train to Seville, a 2-1/2 hour ride.  Seville is in Andalusia, a region of Spain cut off by mountains to the north, and therefore influenced greatly by the Moors of Africa.

“To the Moors, Andalusia was an earthly paradise.”
— Jan Morris, Spain

View of the Spanish landscape between Madrid and Seville from the train window

View of the Spanish landscape between Madrid and Seville from the train window

View from the train window

View from the train window

“Seville is the most seductive, sensuous city in Spain. . . . Everything here — from the perfume of the orange blossom to the lisping, lilting Andalusian accent — seems to insist that you acquiesce and give yourself up to its charms.”
—  Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain:  Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

Typical narrow street in Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter

Typical narrow street in Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter

We took a taxi from the Seville train station to our hotel in the Santa Cruz district.  Our driver dropped us off on a one-way street, pointed to a narrow opening between buildings and said, “Your hotel is down there.”  We followed the narrow street, made a right, then a left, another right, and then we saw the small sign for our hotel.  We had arrived.

Dining room in our Seville hotel, El Rey Moro, where we ate breakfast

Dining room in our Seville hotel, El Rey Moro, where we ate breakfast

Seville street scene

Seville street scene

“The streets of the old city are among the most picturesque in Spain, and in true eastern fashion the outside of a house is no indication of its interior.  Beautiful wrought-iron doors give glimpses into charming courtyards where you can see a fountain, some geraniums in pots, a palm tree, and a dado of Moorish tiles.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

“Narrow, chaotic streets hide a multitude of secret places — squares, fountains, gardens, churches, palacetes, bars — allowing everybody to discover, and claim for their own, some favourite, hidden corner.”
— Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain:  Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

“The civilization that Seville has inherited is a good deal Arab.  Almost all the older things in Seville were built by Arab craftsmen and, although modern blocks of flats have gone up, the main domestic part of the city is based on the Arab patio or courtyard.  There is a strong white wall, and the rooms open onto a central court.  The streets of Santa Cruz wind and tangle.  They are built to catch only glancing blows of the terrible Spanish sun, to be channels of cool air . . .”
— V. S. Pritchett, The Offensive Traveller

Provided we did not get lost, our hotel was a 10-minute walk from one of Seville’s major tourist sites, its cathedral.  So Carol and I decided to make that our sightseeing destination for the day.  When we planned our trip, Carol and I agreed that a good strategy for sustaining our energy would be to see or do one main thing each day, and then spend more relaxed time strolling around, stopping for refreshment, and just seeing what crossed our paths.  We did not realize that October is one of Spain’s “high season” months for tourists, so we encountered long lines quite frequently.  We had not heeded the tips for buying advance tickets to the Seville Cathedral online to avoid lines, so we were discouraged when we saw the line to get in.

Long line outside the Seville Cathedral

Long line outside the Seville Cathedral

We decided to regroup over some tapas.  After our late lunch, when it had stopped raining, we strolled back to the cathedral and saw that the line was much shorter.  After a 30-minute wait, we were inside.

Interior, Seville Cathedral

Interior, Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral

“The city sprawls over the plain and in the centre, like a mastodon, is the cathedral.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

This is a huge cathedral, and inside is the tomb of Christopher Columbus (too dark for me to photograph).  Later, when we returned to the cathedral as part of the Al Andalus tour, we learned that just 200 grams of Columbus’s body are entombed here and have been verified by DNA analysis.  The rest of his body disintegrated and/or disappeared during his sojourns to this final resting place.

“Light is very fatal to devotion and the Spaniards have been so wise as to make their churches very dark.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin:  Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral

Detail, exterior Seville Cathedral

Detail, exterior Seville Cathedral

Detail, exterior Seville Cathedral (I loved this rooster!)

Detail, exterior Seville Cathedral (I loved this rooster!)

Sacristy, Seville Cathedral

Sacristy, Seville Cathedral

I find the blatant opulence of Catholic cathedrals a bit off-putting, and I soon grew restless before the gold-plated high altar and the multitudes of statues.  I knew I was not appreciating all the history and art competing for my attention.  So it was interesting to return another day with a tour guide, and I learned a couple of interesting facts.  For example, the huge main doors are opened only for the king or the pope.  More ordinary folk, including princes and princesses, have to enter by one of the various side doors.  Also, the high altar is used only for the king.  Masses for the rest of us take place in other parts of the cathedral.

“The side chapels where masses were being said, glowed like little jewelers’ shops in some vast deserted square.”
—  H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

My favorite part of the Seville Cathedral was its bell tower, La Giralda.  It was worth the price of admission just to have the opportunity to climb the long steep ramp to the top.

La Giralda Tower

La Giralda Tower

We could climb as high as the bells.

We could climb as high as the bells.

“It is impossible to give in words an idea of the slender grace of the Giralda, it does not look a thing of bricks and mortar, it is so straight and light that it reminds one vaguely of some beautiful human thing.  The great height is astonishing, there is no buttress or projection to break the very long straight line as it rises, with a kind of breathless speed, to the belfry platform.  And then the renaissance building begins, ascending still more, a sort of filigree work, representing Faith . . .”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

“But the older portion gains another charm from the Moorish windows that pierce it, one above the other, with horseshoe arches; and from the arabesque network with which the upper part is diapered, a brick trellis-work against the brick walls, of the most graceful and delicate intricacy.  The Giralda is almost toylike in the daintiness of its decoration.  Notwithstanding its great size it is a masterpiece of exquisite proportion.  At night it stands out with strong lines against the bespangled sky, and the lights of the watchers give it a magic appearance of some lacelike tower of imagination; but on high festivals it is lit with countless lamps, and then . . . it hangs from the dark vault of heaven like a brilliant chandelier.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Horseshoe arch, Seville Cathedral

Horseshoe arch, Seville Cathedral

View down on the cathedral from La Giralda Tower

View down on the cathedral from La Giralda Tower

“A Spanish town wears always its most picturesque appearance thus seen [from above], but it is different:  the patios glaring with whitewash, the roofs of brown and yellow tiles, and the narrow streets, winding in unexpected directions, narrower than ever from such a height and dark with shade, so that they seem black rivulets gliding stealthily through the whiteness.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin:  Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Seville's bullring seen from La Giralda Tower

Seville’s bullring seen from La Giralda Tower

Bird's eye view of Seville (It is no wonder we heard church bells.)

Bird’s eye view of Seville (It is no wonder we heard church bells.)

Seville Cathedral and La Giralda Tower

Seville Cathedral and La Giralda Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People-Watching in Spain

October 27, 2015

“There are few things more delightful than to have nothing to do in a strange city and enough money to do it pleasantly, to sit and watch people and to wonder about them . . . The Spaniards can sit for hours just talking, or, if alone, doing nothing, with the mind’s engine shut off, just coasting pleasantly.  This immobility is a wonderful gift, like the ability of a dog or a cat to go to sleep at any time.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

Street scene, Seville

Street scene, Seville

“Happy, happy Spain, where there I always time to sip coffee and where to be busy is not a virtue.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

Man reading a magazine at an outdoor café, Seville

Man reading a magazine at an outdoor café, Seville

When you travel like a tourist spending at most three or four days at a single destination, and especially when you don’t speak the language, it is difficult to penetrate the culture or have meaningful connections with the locals.  When you sightsee at the major, must-see sites, you mix mostly with lots of other tourists.  That is why I get a little thrill when I notice a slice of real life, individuals and families going about their business in their home towns and paying scant attention to camera-wielding intruders.

Of course, the locals might be enjoying some of their city’s treasures along with the tourists.  Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart.  But I bet those hundreds of people taking selfies were tourists busy documenting that they were HERE.

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The major tourist areas also seemed to attract the “rosemary ladies,” who solicited donations in exchange for a sprig of rosemary.

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It is fun to people watch and speculate about the lives of those who cross your path.  Everywhere in Spain, elderly women walk arm-in-arm with a middle-aged companion.  Are they mothers and daughters or daughters-in-law?  Why are there seemingly more elderly women than men?  Isn’t it wonderful that they still get out and walk the streets for shopping or their daily constitutional?

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Or is this just a tradition, the multi-generational social outings for women of a certain age?  (After all, even Picasso sketched two women walking.  “Walking” by Picasso, 1899, from the collection of the Picasso Museum, Barcelona:)

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There weren’t as many smokers as I expected, but we did notice higher-than-usual numbers of women in Madrid who were smoking on the streets.

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Woman smoking on balcony

Woman smoking on balcony

And cell phones are ubiquitous, just as they are in the States.

On the train to Alcala

On the train to Alcala

Men seemed to gather in bars.

“It is a truism that Spaniards believe there is nothing more important than family life.  In fact, they would probably rather show allegiance to any kind of family than to the State.  For most Spaniards, the need, outside family, is met by the local bar, a place where one might spend at least an hour a day with friends.”
— Miranda Franca, Don Quixote’s Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain

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Playing cards in a park, Barcelona

But sometimes men gathered in parks, such as these card players in Barcelona.

This family was dressed to the nines for a restaurant lunch in Triana:

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“The only people in Spain more powerful than the mothers are the grandmothers.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

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And kids and teens in Spain are like kids and teens anywhere.

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Here are a few more photos capturing the ordinary life and people of Spain:

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This waiter in a Sanlucar restaurant asked me to take his picture.

This waiter in a Sanlucar restaurant asked me to take his picture.

Ink sketches; portraits

Ink sketches; portraits