This past weekend I took four days to go to Seville and Granada, in the south of Spain – this is Andalusia, where all the fancy horses come from, as well as the home of flamenco. This is the land of the tapa bar, places that look very much like any other bar in Spain as far as I can tell, but that give a plate of food with every drink that is bought: this means that if you buy ‘vino verano’ (wine and lemonade, a typical drink, pretty good, if I say so myself), which typically costs two euros, you get a little plate of food to go with it. Our group sponsored these little establishments for almost every meal. We had a day in Seville, two days in Granada, and then another day in Seville. A grand adventure and whatnot.
So this is what the nice part of Seville looks like; I really got the feel of the Arabic-Catholic fusion that is so prevalent in the south: there’s a lot of Arabic influences in many of the buildings here, which is great because it’s my favorite kind of architecture.
The first day we visited the main cathedral of Seville, where Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) may or may not be interred. I wasn’t as thrilled by the inside of the cathedral, despite that it’s the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest in the world – though I’m not so sure about that, as the National Cathedral in D.C. feels so much bigger and it’s the sixth largest – I’m just not so impressed with Gothic architecture. The outside of the cathedral was really, really impressive though:
Fantastic, eh? The sun-looking thing in the last photo has Arab influence written all over it, as well the detail on the lesser doorway (the first photo). It’s elaborate but it doesn’t feel like it’s overdone somehow – that’s the way all of this art is, as well as the fact that it’s easy to tell with one glance what it is, but that everything is different. Each artist had a different way of showing his style.
And just a little thing that’s good to know: the terms Arabic/Arab are different from Islam/Muslim. The first two refer to people that come from a certain area and the second set refer to people that follow the religion of Islam. I’m just going to use Arab/Arabic because there is a part of the Koran that says that Muslims need to have tolerance for people of other religions, so Jews and Christians were allowed to live in Muslim cities, meaning that the artist may or may not have been Muslim. The only real difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in Arab cities tended to be taxes: if you weren’t Muslim, you had a little less money in your pocket – but considering the time period, that’s not a bad deal, based on the alternative of torture, expulsion from your home, racism, or death. But back to the cathedral…
This cathedral is famous for Colon but also for it’s big tower, something that the Spanish kept when they took over the city but then turned from a minaret into the bell tower of the cathedral. You can climb up this thing, which means that you will be feeling better about that greasy tapa you ate before going in, as well as the fact that the views are incredible. Also notice that the motifs on the tower itself are very Arabic:
Okay, so its not very clear in this photo, but you can look it up if you don’t take my word for it: it’s called the Giralda Tower. But yeah. The views are totally sick – you can see out as you climb as well as at the top.
Gorgeous, right?!! You’ll notice several artistic components to the composition of this architectural marvel…or maybe you’ll just think, ‘Crazy Sarah has been pulling my leg again,’ or maybe ‘What drugs has SHE been taking?’ But never fear; the only hard drug I’m on is cocaine…er, chocolate. Believe what you will. But while you ponder whether or not to find help hotlines for Spain, take a gander:
The spiral on the edge is Arabic, as is the frilly stuff sticking up off of the edge of the roof – in case you were wondering.
Now, I always get excited when I see fish here – “OH MY GOD!!! GOLDFISH!!!” – and apparently, the same goes for bells. I wasn’t right next to someone when I saw these, so I withheld my enthusiasm (somehow – I think I may still have been grinning like a fool). Simple pleasures. Don’t judge.
So that was pretty cool. After that we walked around, ate expensive ice cream, and generally gave ourselves sore feet. But that evening…oh my God.
That evening we saw Flamenco. But you don’t just see it – you feel it thudding in your chest, like a second heart beating.
We walked into a courtyard with a small wooden platform in the center, with folding chairs all around it. The first song was just with a singer and guitarist – but don’t you DARE get disappointed. The guitarist had the most incredible talent, with such obvious skill that even I, who doesn’t care a bit for guitars except in the background, was mesmerized by the movement of his hands, how he treated the guitar like it was a part of himself – it was weird to see him stand and see his body without it attached to him. It also interested me that he re-tuned his guitar just a bit differently every time.
And the singer. My GOD. This kind of singing may sound like gibberish – granted, some of the songs are half pure sound and the other half with words, some of which are in Spanish and some of which are in Andalusian – but this takes so much effort, so much refined skill. He could project and change notes at the same time, which is something that any singer has trouble with, as well as great control over his breathing: he sang until he was literally blue in the face sometimes, but kept the notes just as strong as after he took his breath. It took an incredible amount of concentration on his part, but even with such attention to the notes, he still had such feeling – because its all to easy to focus on the technical aspects of forming a sound without remembering the emotion behind it – the look on his face gave it away. I would have been happy to listen to the two of them the entire evening – all of my life – but after the first song came a set together with a dancer that brought it home.
They started to play, the lights dimmed a little, and after a moment an elegant woman in a black dress slid into the room. At first she struck a pose, changing it only a little at a time but each change was rapid, precisely on the beat. And then it really began. Her body moved with curves like that of a snake when it moves, sometimes her entire body or sometimes just in her fingers and wrists or sometimes her shoulder; she snapped her fingers or clapped, or she would pick up her skirts and move her feet like lightning. The number of steps that she could make with her feet were amazing: the way that her toe or heel or both hit the floor and in what order changed drastically. The WHAM of her feet on the floor echoed right through you, bounced around in your insides, and it just wouldn’t stop.
The first song with the dancer was of a powerful woman grieving, of repression and then passion unleashed, of a kind of desperation that if you had never felt it up to that moment, you would feel it then. Her concentration was immense, especially in the times when she would fix her gaze on one spot on the dance floor only she could see, when she would do fast turns and hit her feet on the floor. My God. I was sitting forward in my seat the whole time.
After that song, the guitarist played a song to give the other two a bit of a breather, and then there was another song: this time, the dancer wore a red dress with spots (before it had been a black dress with fringe on the bodice); this song was teasing, of the same powerful woman but this time at the height of her femininity and her self-assuredness. She made more eye contact with the audience and smiled slyly, and when they were done, she stood there for a few moments, breathing deeply, sweat on her face, and then bowed.
Flamenco is beauty that moves, beauty that doesn’t stand still long enough to be doubted. It doesn’t belong in a museum and it’s not just for artsy people – it’s not Picasso or Michelangelo or Monet, it’s what we all have inside of us at its most basic level. It’s fear and desire and need and want and fierce happiness and pride, all made into movement and sound. It takes years to master, to peel away the layers of artificiality that we accumulate over the course of our lives. It’s for young people that are living the tangle of emotions that come with uncertainty and possibility and it’s for old people, who can remember what it was like: it’s for self-reflection, to some extent. The singer, the guitarist, the dancer, show you who you are and give you your life from a different vantage point.
I’ll continue with Seville and skip back to Granada later, just to keep things straight.
The other thing I really liked in Seville was La Plaza de España (es-PAN-ya):
Sorry, that’s just a freaked-out garbage can. I never did see anything that he’d be so scared about, but you never know. It might be hard being a waste disposal. I didn’t bother to ask, so I guess we’ll never know…
But here’s the plaza – it looks pretty new compared to everything else in Spain that’s even a little like this, but it’s spectacular:
(Note the rowboats, five euros for 45 minutes: the fellows running the operation clean up on tourists.)
So that’s all for Seville – up next is Granada…