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Posts tagged ‘Spain’


Sevilla is the heart of what we think is Spain; The red flamenco dresses, the flat black hats with flat rims, the painted fans women use in the the extreme heat, the music with the strong vocalist and the lighting speed guitar. Yes, this is the Spain we see in movies and it is real. This is also the Spain that keeps stricter siesta hours and your options become more limited for everything between two until eight in the evening; things really just start going at about ten at night.

We did see the cathedral in Seville, the third largest, after St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s, and largest Gothic church in the world. It was large but not quite as ornate as some of the other religious sites we had already seen in Spain. We were surprised to find the tomb of Christopher Columbus inside the cathedral. The tower was impressive and was worth the thirty-five floor climb to the top. The bells of various sizes were all connected to ring with a single pulley system. The view of Seville was outstanding from the bell tower.

We also visited the Alcazar, which was a palace built in the fourteenth century by the conquering king. It is still a residence of the King and Queen of Spain while staying in Seville today. The tile work inside the residence and the gardens were the highlights of the palace visit.

Our favorite parts of Seville were the cultural entertainment and a late night buggy ride in the lighted parks and surrounding buildings of old Seville. The first night we had our introduction to flamenco. From the lighting fast tapping to the stomps that would kill any bug. The flamenco dancer is in charge and getting “egged on” by the palmists who cup their hands in a way that sounds like additional stomps of the feet. The vocalist commands out to the dancer and the dancer plays out the song. Together they tell a story while the skilled guitarist looks up and smiles at the scene.

Several styles of flamenco were demonstrated. The single male, straight back, with feet so quick that his body appeared to vibrate. The single woman in a fitted dress to the hips and ruffles to the floor demonstrate strength and grace. Every limb and every finger in complete precision. Next a woman with a fan, flinging and snapping the object into submission. The woman with a scarf danced in another style while the most complex seemed to be the woman who danced in a dress with a train behind her. When she turned or twisted she had to fling the skirt around to the desired position with a kick of the foot without missing a tap of the dance. Finally the female balladeer describing with her facial gestures as much as her words the meaning of her pain. This prepared us for the event we were very lucky to attend the next evening.

Every two years, Seville holds a flamenco festival where the “stars” of flamenco preform. Since the website for the event was only in Spanish and there were not advertisements on display I had a feeling that it would be tricky to get tickets. We were very lucky to obtain two of the last balcony tickets for a performance. The company of Mercedes Ruiz took every part of the dance we had seen from the night before to the next level. Mercedes Ruiz preformed the entire event with a few short costume changes. When I was in college a professor once told us that standing ovations should be saved for the “out of the ordinary” or a performance that is the culmination of a life’s work. I thought that this would be a performance that warranted such an ovation. After the performance the crowd clapped in a uniform way that sounded like unified stomping back to thank the performer. Cheers echoed in the theater. In all my life I have never experienced such an ovation.

Finally the theater itself was quite spectacular. There was floor seating but most of the upper seating was in individual balconies that circled the theater. The usher escorted us to door twenty-one on the first balcony. She unlocked the door and there was a small room with a mirror on one side and a coat rack on the other. Below the coat rack was a small bench. Directly in front of us was a second curtain, parting this curtain to the side we found two seats and our individual balcony. What a wonderful experience. When you come to Seville, remember to take a siesta, stay out late when the city comes alive and attend at least one cultural performance during your stay.













Celebrations in the World

My favorite festivals are the unplanned surprises one discovers in a country. I think that is because there are no expectations. Just a feeling of being very lucky you are here on that given day to experience something with the people who live there. What is interesting is that the locals try very hard to communicate what is happening and why this celebration is important.

We were luckily to have found that very kind of a celebration when we were on stopover in Tarifa, Spain. It seemed that many foreigners, like us, were here to take the short ferry ride to Morocco. After dinner we noticed what looked like a couple of secondary school bands gathering at the end of the street. “Is there something happening tonight?”, I ask the older men standing on the street corner. “Yes, there is a parade in honor of Maria de la Luz. She is the patron saint of Tarifa. It’s over there.” He pointed to the north. “In the town center by the church.” That was in the direction of our hotel so we walked on.

The sleepy little street we had booked a room for the evening had completely filled with people, young and old, waiting in anticipation. We stop at the corner of our hotel and wait with the crowd. We are told that the statue of Maria de la Luz was found in the harbor and ever since she has been the patron saint of the city. She would be paraded in celebration of their saint. This was the final day and to be the grandest celebration of the entire week of festivities. What followed was a very slow and well orchestrated tribute to the saint. Everyone was dress in their finest clothes and it was obvious that it was a privileged to be invited to walk in the parade.

Men on horses holding silver staffs wearing light blue suits with short jackets followed by alter boys dressed in red robes who swung an incenser whose aroma wafted above the crowd. The soft smell rose up in the streets. There were also acolytes in white holding crosses and staffs. There were young girls dressed as princesses with sashes. Several dozen women wearing high heels and Spanish mantillas proceeded in linear order followed by men in suits with staffs. The focus was all on an alter that was dressed in blue velvet and silver. Large vases with flowers covered the altar. There were also sprays of flowers laying on the alter. In the center there was a large statue on top of a pedestal. Then I looked down. I could see two rows of four pair of feet moving only an inch forward with each step.

Then like a layering of a cake there were more men with staffs and rows of women, priests and other liturgical officials followed by the selected queen and princesses of the celebration. City officials including the mayor and city council were part of the the entourage. The highlight was the second altar with the Maria statue. It was even larger than the first altar. Locals were touching the altar as it passed by as if asking for a blessing. There were two rows of six feet under this altar.

At the corner we were standing, a block from the church where the procession had started, I finally understood the reason that the parade was moving so slowly down the street as someone handed a bottle of water to the men under the veiled altar. Then two men appeared from under the altar, drenched in sweat and completely drained. The parade just started at nine and it would be almost three and a half hours later that the parade would be making its final entry back to the church. I wonder if the men under the altar signed up for this honor or maybe they would receive a special blessing for this duty or maybe their wives simply signed them up for this role?

How often do we hear, “We used to…”, when remembering a holiday since that tradition became to hard to fit in our lives or when we use a twentieth-century substitute that will make life easier but still “somewhat” observes an old tradition. Sometimes we lose part of our traditions when we chip away at them. Traditions are important, they bond a family, community and a nation. It was an honor to watch a total dedication to tradition in a community in the twenty-first century. I believe a lesson we should all remember.










An Impression of Madrid

It is hard to believe that in a large city one can slow down and catch your breath but I think we accomplished that very thing in Madrid. Here one does not walk but stroll. No one is in a rush. We are looking in windows and watching the time drift instead putting to much thought into the people surrounding us. Everywhere you look there is a new act starting and a crowd gathers. A girl singing opera on the corner of our hotel, a clown with a ballon attracting young and old alike, a puppet show, a magic act, or a dance group. Everyone has time to stop for a while. There is no fish bowl we all are in the ocean together.

I love Madrid. We actually stayed an extra day here. There was not one time that my mother entered a full train and a stranger did not stand up and give their seat away. This city is safe, there are police everywhere and this city is clean. Any hour we were out, even after ten in the evening, there were workers in green and lime colored suits sweeping the streets. One of the best parts of this stop was immersing yourself in the city itself. Streets wind and twist on cobblestone roads but it is okay to get lost, someone will point you back to Puerta Del Sol, the gathering spot…So go ahead get lost here.