“But the heat is too much!” That was the first thought that came to my mind when I learned the next bus out of Seville to Lisbon is full and I have to wait about 8 hours to catch the next, overnight bus. After a couple of minutes, though, I came to my senses: there are worst things than being stranded in a beautiful Spanish city, even in the middle of summer.
My first visions of Spain after I crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco was giant wind turbines, a new version of Don Quixote’s friends, I guess! From Tarifa, I had taken a bus to Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, stayed there overnight and then went to Seville. After wandering the city for a bit, I had checked into a beautiful traditional “pension”. A very interesting thing in Spain are themed hotels where you can get rooms which are designed to look like 16th or 17th century rooms. Some of the rooms have musician themes, so you can get the “Mozart Room” or the “Beethoven Room”. Some even come with pianos or violins and are soundproof! The concept is very interesting but I passed and went to a simple but clean and comfortable traditional residence. In the afternoon, I met with my friend who is the head of a lab that focuses on Assistive Technology at the Electronics Department at the University of Seville. After visiting with researchers and seeing demos and giving a short talk about my research, my friend kindly took me out that night and we saw a mesmerizing flamenco show, tried Spanish tapas and walked around town until 1am!
The previous day I had also visited the bull ring, a very interesting and unique experience. The bull fighting season is at its peak in April but there are no shows in August. We went through a guided tour of the exhibits. Our guide mentioned that the bull’s meat is highly prized and the bulls are generally treated very well until they are killed in the show.
This fact reminded me of a story from the 1001 nights: Once there was a farmer who had a bull and a donkey. Every morning, he used to bring the bull to the fields and work him until dusk. The donkey was left alone and rested in the barn. One day, the bull was very tired and asked the donkey for advice. “What should I do so the farmer leaves me alone for a bit?” The donkey was wise and felt pity for the bull. He said, “you have to pretend you don’t feel well.” The next morning, the farmer came for the bull but try as he might, he could not coerce or force him to move. After some trying, he took the donkey instead and worked him all day. At the end of the day, the donkey came back to the barn exhausted and saw the bull lying down and playing with the hay. “Thanks so much, dear friend!” he said. “I really needed that!” The next morning, the same thing happened and the bull was left in the barn and donkey worked all day. While straining in the field, the donkey thought of a way to get himself out of this self-imposed torture. When he got back to the barn, he told the happy bull: “I got to tell you something, I heard the farmer talking to himself about you today!” The bull said, “really? What did he say?” “Well,” the donkey said, “he said ‘it’s a pity the bull is sick but I will have some good kabobs made out of him soon!” The bull jumped and said in fear, “Oh my god! What should I do? The farmer will butcher me!” The donkey said, “don’t worry, friend! All you have to do is show him you are not sick!” So the next morning, when the farmer came to fetch the donkey, the bull jumped to its feet and walked to the fields eagerly and the donkey was left in peace again!
After visiting the bull ring, going to a tapas place and trying some bull meat was essential! The food was amazing and the best part was a delicious cold soup called Salmorejo that is similar to Gazpacho but a bit thicker. My Spanish colleague told me that the key to a successful soup like this is the freshness of the tomatoes and the quality of the olive oil. She said she will send me herrecipe so I can try it at home. I told her I will send her the recipe for the Persian cucumber and yogurt soup (“Mast va kheyar”) which is also a summer soup.
That night, my friend also brought me to see an amazing flamenco show at a small intimate venue called “The House of Memories”. Of course, I have listened to flamenco before and seen it being danced on video but this was something else. The show started with a flamenco guitarist and a female singer with a deep voice whose song filled the room the brim. I could pick some words from the lyrics but unfortunately couldn’t understand most of it which according to my friend was very beautiful and sad. There is a favourite district in Seville called Triana, which apparently is where flamenco started. I could pick that beautiful word in the songs a few times.
After a couple of songs, the first dance started. A handsome man in dark clothes came into the room and started with such graceful moves that I was dumbstruck for most of the act. He occasionally used parts of his body as mesmerizing percussion. I was so taken by the dance that I wanted to get up and do one myself too! Next, was a beautiful technical guitar solo song. The final act was unreal. The female dancer seemed half-human, half serpent. The intensity in her face was thick as a black gypsy shawl and her sudden leaps were enough to take your breath away. Again, I was mesmerized. When we walked out of the venue. The streets were full of song. Many people were sitting and playing guitar on the streets and from many restaurants you could hear live flamenco bands singing. Combined with the sound of horse hooves on the streets and general scarcity of cars in the narrow central lanes, it was enough to transport you to another time.
After my friend left, walking back to my hostel, I saw a band playing amazing songs on the streets. It was a street party at 1 am on Monday! At the end of a song, one of the band members asked, “nobody has to work tomorrow?!” and one person shouted, “No, I am Spanish!” It was a sad but humorous take on the reality that these days jobs are hard to find in Spain.
The next day, after realizing I have a few more hours in the city, I walked to the palace which was much bigger than I thought. There are many layers of history in Seville and many people have called here home at some point: Romans, Arabs, Catholics, Jews, … The shocking thing about the palace was that there was so much intricate work done by the Muslims and the themes seemed so fresh that the idea that they did not live in the city anymore, felt drastic, as if they were an alien species who had simply vanished once an invisible bell was played.
The heat was too much and I rested on a bench in the palace park, (connecting to my inner hobo!) and then went for dinner. I was so impressed with the skills of a driver who could drive a truck in the super-narrow streets of Seville, a place I can’t imagine driving even a small car! Coming back from Europe, in Canada, I once mistook the side of the highway as another lane! Everything is very wide in North America!
On the way to a restaurant I had seen the day before, I saw that the historical cathedral was open for service, a happy fact, given that I had missed it earlier. An impressive tower is besides the Cathedral and I learned it used to be a “minaret” originally, and the Muslims used it as a place to call for prayers. After visiting the church and having dinner, I got lost again (almost intentionally, I had too much time until the bus!) and walked for a couple of more hours until I found the bus station.