I Find Things

Sevilla Travel Blog

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How delicious to have the gift of breathing and walking.
All I need to do is open my door, take a few steps and breathe in the mystery of a new adventure. Nights are my favourite times. Once lessons are over, I bundle myself up and spiral down the 62 steps to the marble front entry, swing open the huge front door and enter the car-less cobbled street. Left or right – the only decision to make. Usually I have no intention other than to suck in the life of Sevilla and be awake to my senses, always on alert.

That is how ‘I find things’.

By opening up to the life here, I seem to activate some sort of human magnetism and sooner or later I ‘find’ something new to experience. It could be the warm mother-comfort smells of home cooking (maybe coming from a tiny streetside bar) or the tingling sight of an elderly couple walking and embracing each other. Often it is the sound of clapping, flamenco, guitar, laughter or music.

On the 16th December it was such a sound that drew me close to one of the side doors of my remarkable Cathedral. I was snuggled up against the chill and happily taking a paseo around the Cathedral to visit St James (Santiago). The streets were strangely all-but-deserted at the early hour of 9.00pm but cold and rain are not familiar to Sevillanos so it was expected.
Once at the Cathedral door, I noticed a weather-resistant drape sealing the entrance but by moving it aside I was able to peek inside to determine where the beautiful music was emanating from.

Ah-ha, the magnificent organ was being played It sounded like a full orchestra and cloaked the massive interior in creamy holy sounds. The security guard eyed me suspiciously and with a few silent hand signals I requested entry. As is usual in Spain, I was not turned back. I sneaked in to take my place at a spare pew and closed my eyes to fully appreciate the delicate rhythms. It was only magnified when I opened them again and slowly took in the detail of the Cathedral interior, stony grey, gold, stained glass, paintings glowing in the flickering night-lights . . . a deep breath.

I picked up a small sepia booklet from the seat next to me and noted that there would be another concert in two days, this one by the world famous organista, José Ayarra. He is the uncle of one of my friends here and many people have mentioned that I must take any opportunity to see him if it presents – well, here it was.

I duly returned two nights later and was spellbound. I do not even have the vocabulary to describe the sounds I experienced. The music was so varied - from thundering processional hymns to softly romancing melodies one might hear at a live Coldplay concert. It was like a hundred instruments in one and a unique experience. I now understand why José Ayarra is so revered. I was blessed to ‘find’ him.

The weeks leading up to Christmas seem to be the same the world over with all-afternoon Christmas parties. Office workers letting their hair down, sharing stories of the-year-that-was and forgetting their desks for at least an afternoon. Sevilla was no different. What a lovely atmosphere – the narrow central streets, laughing groups of diners spilling out from every bar and restaurant all afternoon long. Lunch becomes dinner becomes evening and still the mood stays jovial. No drunkenness, no aggression, no stupid vandalism – just fun. I found it so refreshing and a wonderful lead up to my first Christmas in Spain.

My local bar Monsalves was no different and I nestled in among the Christmas parties, always welcome and always treated with love and respect by owners and patrons alike. As a special treat, Isabel (lovable ‘mum’ of the bar) had made three types of traditional shortbreads for the season (almond, orange and chocolate). I was not escaping without trying all three – regularly! They are the closest thing to my mums ‘melt-before-they–get-to-your-mouth’ morsels that I have ever tried. Ohm-god!

They are actually called mantecados and along with the delicately wrapped Polverones and Turrón are mandatory on the Christmas tables around Spain. Turrón is a wonderful type of nougat and comes in many varieties: egg yolk, almond, soft, hard, hazelnut, mixed nuts etc
The main ingredient of many varieties is toasted almonds and honey. The toasting is an art form and the specific honey varieties lend the many qualities and strengths of this scrumptious confection. Although it is eaten year round, Christmas is the time when people go all-out and search for the most prized slabs from Alicante and Jijona.
I ‘found’ a scrumptious supply at my local pastelería.

Thursday, cleaning day. While sitting at my desk, dutifully preparing classes for the following week, I was surprised by my lovely cleaner, Dolores. She slowly edged towards me with ah huge grin on her face and in very slow Spanish asked me to join her and the landlady (also called Dolores) next door for a ‘copita’ (a glass of something). It was the week before Christmas and I was so honoured to be invited.

What I thought was going to be a quick little glass of sherry turned out to be a wonderful impromptu luncheon served in her tiny bedsit, beautifully decorated, warm and welcoming. There were four of us including a charismatic older French friend of Dolores’.
We had glasses of red wine, fresh salmon salad, giant home cured olives, octopus drenched in extra virgin olive oil and the piece de resistance, a delicious home made tortilla. It was soft and eggy with the perfect amount of potato and caramelized onion.

What wonderful people the Spanish are. I felt so included and the conversation was so lively and lovely. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) I had to return home for my final lesson of the day. It is a wonderful Christmas memory I will treasure - into the Golden Box it goes.

A new ‘interest’ is also on the horizon. I had a fun-filled afternoon having lunch with a friend at the famous Bar Eslava. This inconspicuous eating place houses a lively bar, small brasserie (only 8 tables) and a fine dining restaurant area.
Perched atop the bar are huge glass bowls brimming with salty fresh seafood. My favourites are the Navajas (razor clams) which look like long tubes with a shell on them. They are delicious, simply grilled (causing the shells to pop open) and served with a squeeze of lemon juice. What better way to tame your mid-afternoon hunger than a huge plate of these washed down with a manzanilla or Eslava special sangria (as opposed to the ‘tourist’ version that I avoid at all costs).

My new ‘interest’ (let’s call him George) took me on a local’s tour of the best bars and eating spots. Afternoon melted into dusk and we found ourselves at my favourite place atop Hotel Eme with a sunset view of my glorious precious delicious Cathedral. Ahhhhhhh, living life in technicolour yet again. This was followed with a trip to Bar Robles, an institution and famed for its quality jamon Iberico. Yum and double yum!

As the evening wore on, we walked and walked, a favourite pastime and a typical date. We found our way to the restaurant ‘training school’ for a quiet conversation. It is a beautiful old Andalusian home and the interior patio, once open to the stars, is now topped with glass and houses the café.

Nearby, the noise from an opening night’ party for the new bar Capitol was in full swing and we joined the fun for some time before spilling out into the chill again. The only dampener in this wonderful country is the continued acceptance of smoking indoors. Although there are anti-smoking laws in place, they have not been enforced at all and it is not uncommon for diners to light up in front of you as you eat.
Since both George and I are non-smokers, the opening night special was not really conducive to breathing and we made a retreat to bar Monsalves for a nightcap.

The weekend came and I was once again on a paseo on Sunday. I left the house at 10.00am and returned at 10.00pm. I spent the day ‘finding things’ !
My first fun adventure was wandering around Santa Cruz, the old Jewish barrio (neighbourhood) close to the Cathedral. Streets are narrow and mainly confined to pedestrians or scooters. I was researching ‘traditional Andalusian aprons’ for my friend Gill. (she wanted me to buy some for her to take back to Australia as gifts).

I happened to come upon a tiny store that drew me to it, not because of the gaudy tourist souvenirs, but because of the glorious coloured alpaca scarves that were tastefully hanging at the door. I entered and was immediately greeted by a smiling ‘Maria’ and a treasure trove of girlie goodies. Maria was sitting at her little counter stitching a beautiful velvet handbag. Instantly I knew we would be friends.

One of the things I do miss in Spain is my sewing room, my bits and bobs collected throughout my lifetime. A ‘sewers kit’ I no longer have and to sit in Maria’s store was like coming home. We chatted for 2 hours and made our way through a coffee followed by a small glass of red wine (well, it was cold outside and close to 12!).

Soon, an English friend of hers, Ann, joined us and the three of us had a great time finding out about each other. I know I will be back to visit Maria and her neighbourhood soon.

I completed my cooks tour and found just the perfect hand made aprons, similes of traditional Flamenco dresses and in Jewel colours. I just know Gill will love them.

It was only 1pm and still too early for tapas so I meandered my way around the chilly streets - all Christmassy and smelling of cinnamon and incense.
The roasted chestnut sellers bundled up and plying their trade effortlessly with delicately folded paper cones brimful of hot toasty chestnuts. The billowing smoke from their chimney pots clouds the air and the senses.

My wanderings took me from one side of the city centre to the other. I passed by Plaza de San Salvador which houses Iglesia de El Salvador (church). It was constructed on the remains of a mosque that dates back well over 1,000 years. With some remains of the mosque still present, this is a very famous church in Sevilla and includes a tall bell tower, a collection of altarpieces dating back to the 18th century, fountains and gorgeous patio bordered by established orange trees.

There is a smaller, lesser known church directly opposite and it is here that I ‘found’ my next curiosity. I followed the families, children dressed head to toe in Sunday best, reminiscent of the 1960s. Little camel coats, pleats down the back, bonnets, velvet bows, stockings (boys as well) and tiny matching leather shoes. Such a treat to see children dressed and behaving like children rather than mini adults.

So, the queue at the church was for another Spanish tradition – Belen. This is the way Christmas is celebrated – churches, stores, homes, town halls. In fact, everywhere has these wonderful re-creations of the nativity scene.

The detail is so fine, some must take months to prepare. There are replica animals, plants (even mushrooms) all scaled perfectly. Entire houses are kitted out with miniature fires, crockery, baskets of food and everything you would have found back then. The largest scenes are the size of entire rooms.

No wonder there is a queue. Not a Father Christmas to be seen – no Santa sacks bulging with ‘stuff’, no crazy marketing ploys to encourage you to spend more. Just the simple Christmas story.

I slowly made my way past the scene, ensconced in the crowd, laughing happy children and parents holding hands with each other. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon. A tear or two escaped, edging around my smile – I have found the perfect way to share Christmas. With the people.

Exiting in the chilly sunshine I decided to make my way to nearby Plaza Alfalfa for a tapa and a fino in a favourite bar. The plaza was buzzing and I decided I wanted to be somewhere a little more peaceful to read my book. In a back street, I found a hole-in-the-wall bar with enough room for maximum 20 people standing. Perfect. I took a high stool at the bar and ordered stuffed calamari and some homemade meatballs. Settling in with a water and manzanilla, I was so happy.

An hour later, I had devoured a few more chapters and the patrons had turned over. It was now close to 5.00pm and afternoon drinks. I heard someone speak in English nearby and introduced myself. Well, that was the beginning of a wonderful time getting to know all the locals. My new friends had lived in Ireland briefly but we decided to speak in Spanish to assist my assimilation!. I ended up meeting 2 lawyers, a fireman, 2 chefs, a hunter (yes!) and various other older retired gentlemen. I struggled to speak Spanish but as the afternoon wore on I seemed to be learning through osmosis. It was not the wine as I carefully monitored my intake and mostly drank water. What a fun and hilarious time I had. I will certainly return soon when I have a quiet Sunday afternoon to myself.

Every time I venture out I find things. I am so blessed and so lucky to have learnt about ‘being brave’.
Go on - ‘find something’ in your own home town. . . .
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photo by: JP-NED