Seville on Slow

When we planned this trip, Dianne was keen to visit Ronda and the white villages of Andalusia. They are both beautiful, but I stayed in the area for 8 days just over a year ago, so I decided to spend the extra days in Seville instead. I’ve been here for 7 nights, which has given me the opportunity to see it slowly.

In many ways it’s hard not to see Seville slowly. We’ve stayed in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood just outside the historic centre. Santa Cruz is (another) maze of twisty narrow streets that change names every block or so, just to keep pedestrians on their toes. The Plaza Christo de Burgos has become a particular favourite of ours. We seem to stumble across it regardless of where we’re going. Now when I reach it, I think, “Okay, I know where I am.”  Gorgeous bird of paradise flowers fill the beds there.

Going slow is also easy if you enjoy flowers. It’s spring and the city is in bloom. It’s hard not to stop on every corner to take another shot — something that apparently annoys Sevillians about the tourists. Too bad — when I left Whistler, this was the view from my office window.

I’m entitled to a little benignly obnoxious tourist behaviour. I’ll be gracious about the Spanish stopping in the middle of the Stroll and photographing the snow from now on.

Orange trees are in blossom — the smell is heavenly

It’s also easy to go slow if you try to avoid the crowds — which are massive, even in March. One look at the hours-long lineup to get into the Alcazar (royal palace) and Cathedral, and we veered toward less popular sights.

The Cathedral is truly stunning, but I’m allergic to crowds since my Alhambra experience.

The Cathedral with a sliver of the Alcazar

At the Jewish Interpretation Centre, we learned more about the centuries-long persecution of the Jews. They belonged to the educated merchant class and were advisors to the Moorish kings. In 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella vanquished the Moors, they authorized the Inquisition as a way to consolidate their political power. Jews were blamed for economic problems, and given the choice of converting to Catholicism or leaving the country. The parallels with the rise of Nazi Germany (and with contemporary western polemics) were chilling. The Inquisition continued in Spain and its colonies until the 19th century. Today, less than 50,000 Jews live in Spain.

The Jewish Quarter huddles against the wall of the Alcazar

We also saw the former Tobacco Factory, which is now part of the University of Seville. We had a private guide here, a young-ish guy named Gabriel who works as a tour guide to subsidize his passion for hiking in the mountains. He told us that in the 18th century this courtyard held tables around which women sat rolling cigarettes and cigars. Women were employed only because they have better manual dexterity than men.

The Old Tobacco Factory, now the University of Seville

The doors around the courtyard still have factory-related labels.  The sign above this door says, “Warehouse No 2.”

Gabriel told us that many of the women were unmarried mothers.  The women formed a strong community that worked and lived together. He claimed that they formed the first worker’s union and bargained for a wage increase ten years before the first male-only union did. I thought he might be having us on until I saw this painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, called the Cigarette Women.

The Cigarette Women, Museum of Fine Arts

After Dianne rented her convertible (I know, it’s awesome) and sped off for the white villages, I kept my visit slow with a cooking class. (Shout out to my friend Janice for this excellent suggestion).  Not Just a Tourist is a tourist outfit that tries to keep things real (they also provided Gabriel). The cooking class was led by Carlos who, like Gabriel, leads tours to subsidize his true love, painting. There were four of us: a couple from Philadelphia, Juliana from Romania and me.

Carlos, spending as much time talking as cooking

First, Carlos took us shopping at the Feria Market. One of our stops was an olive store where he bought us these olives, which are known disconcertingly as “rape olives” — well, for obvious reasons. They are addictive.

Then he showed us how to make sangria, salmorejo — which is Sevillian gazpacho — Spanish tortilla, and pork in a whiskey sauce, before finishing us off with bananas flambé. Carlos is quite a talker and definitely a master of slow cooking, so the whole process took five hours. We were starved by the time we ate! That must be why it all tasted so good — or maybe it was those empty sangria glasses.

Desperate for food, Juliana ladles out the salmorejo

By the time Saturday rolled around, I was in low gear. I decided to visit the Palacio de las Duenas, home to the Dukes of Alba since the 17th century. The family has a Scottish connection — one of the ancestors was a Stuart, as in the royal house of Scotland, so technically the family is Stuart-Alba. The palace surrounds a series of courtyards, all landscaped with flowering plants and fountains. Located in the heart of Seville — and a stone’s throw from my favourite plaza — it’s a serene spot where birds are more plentiful than people.

The Alba family has an astonishing art collection strewn casually around the grounds.  Like this marble statue of a Spanish girl with flowers in her hair.

After I’d passed a couple of quiet hours at the Palace, I went back to the Feria Market for more of those olives.  But the store was closed. In fact, everywhere in Seville was closed.  I suspect all the Sevillians in the city were standing outside bars, having a drink. This was Saturday at about 2 pm; Seville will now be closed until Monday morning.

What I learned from my slow week here is that Sevillians are loud and sociable. They love the sun. They love to talk and they love to eat. And they know how to do slow better than anywhere else I’ve been.

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