There is an apartment in Seville. It is at the end of the callejon, past the tiny bodega where they have futbol and cups of good wine. The tiny alley is narrow and the smell of food drifts from the kitchens of the houses that line it. The days of the fish stew are the best with intense aromas that yield a mixture of sweet and sour. At the end of the alley you find a heavy framed metal gate with artistic flourishes that leads to the courtyard. The courtyard has a stone fountain and marble floor that feels cool to the touch even on the hot days, as it most always is.
Three flights of stairs are climbed to reach the apartment. The stairway is accented with the famous blue azulejos tiles. The building is unusually quiet most times. In the right time of day you hear the man practicing his flamenco guitar, strumming endless chord progressions, accompanied only by the gentle tapping of his foot. The pretty girl across the courtyard leaves early in the morning and comes home late at night. She dresses well and must have a good job. She sometimes wears a flower in her hair, usually a color to match her dress.
Above the apartment is a terrace where the laundry is hung to dry. It is painted white to reflect the sun’s rays and is intensely hot. The residents hang the clothes early to avoid the sun themselves. As the breeze picks up during the day, the clothes blow in the wind like the sails of the wooden ships that left the port here many years before. This is the hottest city in Europe and the cloudless blue skies dry the clothes faster than any machine could. They dry stiff and feel starched and will need to be lightly ironed before they can be used.
The sun rises late, after eight, so it is easy to start the day early. In the days before you adjust to the time change it is a pleasure to walk the streets while it is still dark. The lights are on and it feels romantic and slightly mystical as you make your way through the narrow cobblestone streets. With little effort you can see visions of Carmen leaving the tobacco factory to meet her bullfighter or Don Juan returning from late night liaisons with an unnamed lover. You are keenly aware of the history the ornate walls have witnessed. Columbus and Magellan walked here while planning distant voyages to exotic lands. The Catholic kings ruled here and before them the Moors and before them the Romans. Each group left their marks and with only the slightest imagination they are clearly visible in the early light of day.
Breakfast is eaten early and quickly. If your breakfast is in a café you will probably have juice and toast and a thickly rich coffee. On Sundays you might satisfy your cravings for sweetness with the churros and decadent hot chocolate from the small shop with the large line. Everyone sits outside at the casually arranged tables. The conversation is muted as many read newspapers or chat quietly. Everyone seems to smoke, perhaps daring fate itself, as many spend their lives doing here on the southern tip of Spain.
If you choose to shop for yourself and time is not critical it is better to find each item of the meal separately. Visit the carniceria for meat, pescaderia for fish, panaderia for bread and maybe a small vegetable market for whatever is in season. After three visits they will remember you. People eat what is in season and what is fresh. Most visit markets daily. The best of the old style mercados have been preserved in the neighborhoods of Triana, Macarena or Arenal. They have been refurbished but have kept the original style of small owner operated stalls filled with delectable goodness. Beautiful tiles tell the vendors name and what his specialty is. Olives, oils, spices and cheeses fill jewel-like glass cases. Delicious Iberico hams and cured sausages hang as advertisements to entice the hungry. Vegetables are arranged in artistic displays of color and flavor.
Life centers on the many plazas. One size plaza does not fit all needs. Some are large and surrounded by designer shops showcasing the latest styles. Some are filled with tourists who look hot and uncomfortable and hungry. Some are more residential and filled with children with soccer balls and bicycles. The best plazas have popular bars and restaurants filled with customers throughout the day. It is said that the tapa was invented in Seville. El Rinconcillo bar is one of more than 1000 places serving tapas in the city and credited with having invented the tapa. It has been turning out food and drinks since 1670 and may be the oldest restaurant in Spain.
Our small Seville apartment sits just outside of Plaza Alfalfa. Plaza Alfalfa is the perfect combination of all the plazas. This is where the Romans settled before there was a Spain. Surrounded by local merchants and tiny cafes it has the perfect mix of humanity to make for the best people watching. Old ladies, babies in strollers, teenagers with their first loves, diners passionately discussing subjects over large cups of sangria or small glasses of beer. The plaza is filled from early morning until late at night. It has tall trees to provide abundant shade and is blocked to traffic. Dancers often practice and a constant game of soccer goes on throughout the day, the players changing as they are called to do other things. Children on bicycles and skates play in the evening after school and before dinner. They easily weave between passing tourists following maps and looking for hard to find street names. Later in the evening diners fill the tables to enjoy drinks and tapas from one of several restaurants that all have outside tables. Everyone seems to know each other and no television could compete with the entertainment found here.
Days are spent here touring the city. It is a city built for walking. The buildings are tall and built close together to provide shade during the heat of the day. The Moors brought orange trees to the city and they line streets everywhere. They provide a wonderful smell in spring and cooling shade all year long as they keep their leaves in all seasons. Perhaps cursed by the vanquished Moors, the oranges are sour and not good to eat. Mixed with enough sugar they can be used for marmalade that the English like.
Seville has its share of world class sites. The Cathedral is the third biggest in the world and the Alcazar that housed first Moorish kings and then Spanish royalty is filled with intricate passageways and formal gardens. La Giralda stands above everything and can be seen from everywhere in town.
I believe the essence of the city is found while walking along the Guadalquivir River in the evening as the sun is setting. Couples hold hands as they walk past the bullring. The breezes are cooling and the air is refreshing. The colorful buildings of Triana reflect in the water. The lights on the Isabel Bridge come on and a magical ambience overtakes the city. Perhaps the spirits of the artists, adventurers, kings and queens of different cultures take over the city again and lead the people on journeys of their own through the streets. Spirits of bullfighters and flamenco dancers abound and help the inhabitants, tourist or local, find a true passion that life was meant to have.