Monday, July 13, 2009

Things We Won't Forget About Seville

The heat - although we thought June would be manageable, it hit close to 110 degrees during one of our weeks there. Our kids would only last about 2 blocks before melting down. Granizadas - those sour lemon slushies make the perfect drink for a hot afternoon. If only they were served more often with vodka (or any alcohol for that matter)! The Festivals - for a place that is 90% catholic, very few young people attend church anymore. But they sure know how to celebrate their patron saints! Seems like everyday is an excuse to get out and celebrate something. After a while they all seem to blur together. Doesn't anyone work around here? And don't they get sick of parades? Maria Luisa (Pigeon) Park - a wonderful place to take the kids and chill out on a hot spanish afternoon. For 1.5 euros, you get a bag of pigeon food and literally get swarmed by hundreds of pecking creatures. Even Hitchcock would be impressed. Be sure to wear a hat! The Alhambra and Gardens - stunning moorish architecture and a peaceful garden paradise smack in the middle of Spain's 4th largest city. If only the Moors could've conquered Los Angeles! Plaza Alfalfa - this is where the true locals hang out with their kids after work/school. Cheap canas and plenty of decent tapas while the kids play. Plaza del Salvador - this is where the locals come to meet each other, have a beer and some tapas and decide where to go out for the evening. The place seemingly explodes at 8 pm almost every evening. Long-distance shopping - nothing close to the Catedral and limited hours to boot. I still have numb fingers from where the plastic grocery bags cut into my hands, carrying 40+ lbs of groceries (wine, beer, milk) 7 blocks uphill in the blistering sun everyday. Good story to remind my kids when they complain that there is nothing in the fridge! Plaza de Espana - cooling fountain, beautiful collages of each spanish region, and a wonderful incorporation of brightly-colored ceramics into the buildings. Not the most durable building material, but certainly exquisite! Health Hazards - our apartment, while beautiful, turned out to be somewhat dangerous. First, Casey slices her knee on an exposed piece of metal from the pull-out bed and then Suzanne severely dislocates her pinkie finger (90 degree angle!) when slipping on the stairs. In both cases, the lack of a convenient urgent care clinic and our reluctance to brave the hospital system led to poor outcomes; Suzanne now sports a "football player" knuckle and Casey a very pronounced bright red keloid scar (making us feel like bad parents every time we see it!). Suzanne has already declared that Casey will be getting reconstructive surgery when she gets older.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A perfect Spanish day? - eating snails and playing in the plaza

One late afternoon, we made our way to the Plaza de Alfalfa to let the kids run around for a while and enjoy some tapas. This plaza was great - a bit off the beaten path of the tourist areas and filled with local families who seemed to come out in force at 8 pm every afternoon (yes, in Seville 8 pm is still considered the "afternoon"!). Our kids were a bit down and tired of being dragged yet again out of the apartment, but picked up a bit when they saw a huge group of schoolkids in the plaza, many with hand-held videogames. While initially shy, they mustered up the courage to walk over and peer over their shoulders. At first the school kids ignored Kellen and Christian and would walk away from them. But Kellen was persistent and kept following them around. Suddenly, the tables turned and Kellen was surrounded by ~8 very animated kids, who were very excited learn he was an "American boy" . While Kellen was clearly surprised by the rapid transition from being the outsider to becoming the center of attention, he clearly was relishing it, save for the occasional embarrassment of his father walking over to take pictures. For the rest of the time, about 5 girls followed him around the plaza and it was very cute to see him with a smile on his face. One of the specialties here was caracoles (small snails basted in olive oil and garlic). Casey and Christian were very excited to have me order some and watch me eat them. Personally, I enjoy them - they are kind of like eating a small clam or oyster - and wasted no time devouring the pile. Christian mustered up enough courage to try a few and he seemed to like them, although I don't think it will be something he orders again! Casey on the other hand, liked to pose for the camera, pretending to eat them. To be fair, she was brave enough to try them once before in Javea. Suzanne and I sat back and enjoyed our canas (small beers), soaking up the atmosphere and watching our kids play and fit in with the locals. As for an inside peak into Sevillian city life far from the tourists, it couldn't get any more authentic than this!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seville - Festival City, ESP

Given my label as a "festival chaser", I was disappointed to have missed Semana Santa (holy week) in Seville, which is considered THE most significant religious festival in all of Spain. But as luck would have it, there were many other opportunites to experience religiosity in Seville, as two significant festivals occurred during our time there. The first was the procession of Our Lady of Esperanza (Hope), in which a large procession of the Virgen Mary adorned with flowers and hundreds of candles was solemnly carried across town directly in front of our apartment - accompanied by parish locals, farm animals and marching bands. We had a perfect birdseye view from our balcony as they passed by. We had no idea that this procession was occurring, but were fortunate enough to be there for it. It always amazes me how well-attended these events are, but how little they are advertised in the public forums. Perhaps as a way to keep these more of a "local" flavor. However, the next festival, the Feast of the Eucharist (Corpus Christi) was much better advertised. One lazy afternoon, we noticed religious items being dropped off at various points around town, but we were not clear as to their purpose. As we finished up our meal in the plaza, we were amazed to see the town begin to come "alive" as the colorful displays were now fully set up, and were beautifully adorned with candles, flowers, tapestries and offerings of bread and wine. The whole city seemed to come out that evening, strolling the main pedestrian streets and peering into storefront windows, where each shop would sport its own mini display, often with a baby Jesus or figure of Mary along with offerings of bread and wine - all in front of flamenco dresses, lingerie and kitchenware. You gotta love the ironic juxtaposition of religion and commercialism - apparently Spain is not immune from this.

Rediscovering Seville with Friends

I often gain a greater appreciation for where I live whenever people come to visit and this was certainly the case in Seville. My two best friends from UM B-School, Vera and Allison (with her husband, Tom) came out to spend 4 days with us. Other than my folks and Suzanne’s mom, the only other people to actually come out to visit us were Eric Steeb and his wife Susan during our second week in Spain and our good friend Kim who met us in Florence for Christmas. Many promised, but few actually delivered! So it was a welcome treat to have someone else brave “la crisis” and head across the pond to come share part of our adventure. After 2 weeks of more or less laying low, we went back to being tourists. The challenge was to put more of a local spin on things. I needn't have worried - as it turned out, one of the highlights of their trip turned out to be simply hanging out on our terrace and catching up while drinking some nice Riberos and enjoying the views of the Giralda / Catedral. Hard to believe after 2 weeks, our view had become an "everyday" experience here, and it was nice to be reminded just how amazing it really was. We spent a particularly nice day with them back at the Alcazar (this time without tired kids), the site of an amazing network of palaces and gardens. While slightly smaller in scale than the Alhambra in Granada, I would say this definitely rivaled that in terms of spectacular moorish architecture. We took a decidedly slower pace this time, soaking in the sites and not trying to rush things. For me, the absolute highlight of our time together in Seville was at La Carboneria - a small beer garden tucked deep into the Barrio de Santa Cruz, which put on low-key, but intense flamenco performances late at night. I felt the performances were as good as any of the more "canned" touristy shows in town - and all for only a 2 dollar cerveza! After the performance, the tourists all headed out and we stuck around for a while to talk. We heard guitar music from an adjoining room where a few locals were gathering around. Suddenly, an older man sitting at a table burst into a song and the place started to pick up. Over the next hour (around 1:00 am) people started streaming into the bar and sitting around as the old-timers would get up and sing different flamenco songs to a raucous cheer from the crowd. They were clearly well-known and respected in the Seville community and it turned things into an amazing, fun and passionate evening, shockingly devoid of tourists. The show ended when one of the local elders got up and headed to the exit, ignoring the pleas from the crowd to stay a bit more. I heard him muttering as he left; "No, I'm going home now, I have to work tomorrow at 8 am!" One of those wonderful, authentic spontaneous moments that make a trip and one that we will all remember fondly for a long, long time.

A Room with a View

For us, Seville turned out to be the “splurge” of our Spanish itinerary. We found a wonderful apartment called Puerto Catedral, which literally fronted 2 of Seville’s most iconic buildings, the Giralda Tower and the Catedral. And with two large, private terraces, this may have been one of the best locations in the city. I particularly enjoyed the outdoor shower on the terrace, but had to be somewhat wary of the tourists who climbed the Giralda who had a birds-eye view of our terrace from up above! The apartment was fabulous, save for the 5 flights of stairs we had to take to get to the top! After all the traveling, Suzanne promised the kids no churches or museums for 4 days and we certainly eased our way back into Spanish life and culture. We would have slept in every morning were it not for the cacophony of bells that clanged away each morning at 9:00 am (and again two more times before 9:30). And this was not your ordinary ringing – the choir would last for 2 minutes or so. It was literally impossible to sleep through such a racous. Talk about culture!!! But even with that forced wakeup call every morning, we took it slow and would consider ourselves lucky to make it out of the apartment by 1:30 pm for the start of Spanish lunch hour.

Next stop, Seville, then...Boulder?!?!

Coming off of such a fantastic experience in Turkey, we had mixed emotions about returning to Spain. While I was excited to be heading to Seville (it was originally one of our top choices to live), I think we were a bit less enthused about spending so much time in such a large city (4th largest in Spain). In addition, we were close to being “done” with Spanish cuisine and pretty weary from constantly traveling and getting oriented yet all over again. But what really complicated things was that we were in the process of finalizing a rental contract for our home in California – freeing us up to pursue our (now not-so-distant) dream of moving to Boulder, CO. Not long ago, we had put that plan on hold indefinitely, realizing our house would not sell while we were away. I was resigned to moving back to LA to figure out our next steps from there, even signing up for the Malibu Triathlon in September to give me something to look forward to. Suddenly, we found ourselves thinking differently about the future. Suzanne was reinvigorated, scouring every Boulder property on the market for rental opportunities. The thought of moving to Boulder was both exciting and scary - while we now could look forward to putting some much needed normalcy back into our lives and plant some roots, we had no real leads on places to live nor job opportunities once we got there. It felt somewhat surreal, knowing we still had 2 months left in Spain to enjoy our adventure year. However, we were starting to feel anxious about so many more changes and about everything that would need to get done on our return. It was clear that our “adventure” would now continue well beyond a year, albeit unfolding in a much different way. With that context and quite a bit of anticipation, we caught the high-speed train and headed down to Seville.