After a long stretch of playing tour guide and uber host – I am taking a deep breath, a glass of wine and some time to settle back into my neglected blog.
On the tail end of my parent’s visit to Spain, my friend Holly came for a visit. As I mentioned in an earlier post, her visit included a quest for vegetarian friendly food here in the city (no meat, no fish). I think between the tortilla, spinach & garbanzos and the pastries, we managed a successful diet. A well deserved plug here for a new find: the restaurant La Habanita (near Plaza Encarnación). We had amazing veggie-friendly tapas plates — feta & mint samosa, mushroom croquettas, stuffed arepas and a glorious queso fresco cake for dessert. I will absolutely return there in the very near future for dinner, veggie or otherwise!
After sightseeing during my short work week, Holly had mastered the tourist sites of Sevilla and we made our way south to Jerez de la Frontera – home of sherry, horses & flamenco. The rain was a constant but quiet companion on our visit, as we wound our way through the cobblestone streets and many fountain-filled plazas. The Alcazar was intriguing, the cathedral a beauty – and full of preparations for Semana Santa (the giant carroza laden with heavy silver and missing its Mary). Our favorite place was most assuredly the clock museum, or as the violent pink tourist signs indicated “The Palace of Time.” It lived up to its name as this collection of 302 clocks was indeed housed in a palace, previously owned by some fancy pants royalty and later a wine magnate. We were fortunate enough to be in a roomful of clocks when the proverbial clock chimed 11 – and it was something I won’t soon forget — less cacophony, more movie soundtrack.
Another must-see estate belongs to the Gonzalez-Byass dynasty, of Tio Pepe sherry wine fame. If you’ve seen the silhouette of the wine bottle wearing a hat, a jacket, and standing next to a guitar – you have stood in the shadow of the famous Uncle Joseph. The bodega gave a great tour at a good price, complete with wine tasting at the end. We learned a great deal about the processes at the bodega, as well as a family history – accompanied by a cheesy video narrated by the old soul himself!
Keeping with the food-is-cheap-in-Spain routine, we secured 2 sandwiches, 3 drinks and a bag of chips for 5 euros on our second day – huddling in a doorway to avoid the rain and chowing down on local bread with spicy chorizo. Memories of my señora’s bocadillos are never far at times like these – I can remember classmates trading with each other on our long trips: my jamón for your tortilla or queso. Why is it sandwiches always taste better when they’re made by someone else?
We also had the pleasure of walking through the exhibition at the Centro de Flamenco Andaluz, which has a whole host of paintings by Vicente Escudero, la pintura que baila or the painter who dances. The walls were full of publicity and correspondence from one of the most famous flamenco dancers of the age. Sadly there were no postcards to be found, and I have yet to find information on reproductions of his prints. The crowning glory, especially for my costume afficionado friend, was the flamenco dress designed by Joan Miró for Escudero’s partner in dancing, and in life.
On the return to Sevilla we were able to take a swing by the Queen’s sewing room and the historical café Campana that I so love. Established in 1885 they make some of the best pastries in town, and now their front window hosts a far more interesting confection that packs a sugary punch for American viewers: rows of Nazarenos dressed for Semana Santa in their conical hats and long robes that unfortunately resemble an utterly different time in our history. Will I ever get used to seeing that?
Not far from Plaza de Museo we wandered into a tapas bar I encountered several months ago, in search of food and flamenco. This bar (and many others) offer “peñas” or free flamenco shows on certain nights during the week. In this case we were rewarded by a candlelit actuación performed by a young guitarist and singer. In true, raw gitana form she reached into the depths of her soul to sing about pain and sorrow and lost love – the melody traveling up my spine and breaking out across my arms in goosebumps. Here is a petite young girl singing to a rhythm centuries older than she is – and she still takes my breath away. Olé, indeed.
With the calendar unwinding rapidly before my eyes, I am looking to nearby provinces for day trips and short weekends. So much of Spain itself fascinates me, here in the European cradle. Tomorrow I will bury myself in research on all things Greece, where I am scheduled to be in one month’s time. Rumor has it the sun is about to make a permanent appearance here in the south, and with spring comes the heat. Bring it on, Spain.