1) He always greets us when we walk into the café.
2) He knows what we drink and readies one beer and one white wine the second he sees us.
3) He talks to us, though we never understand what he's saying, since he seems to speak some version of Spanish even Jenn can't decipher.
4) He's quick to smile, even though he is lacking teeth.
5) He has what looks like a prison tattoo on his fingers.
6) He gave us free jamon croquetas when Corrie was in town, making us look pretty damn cool.
7) He took pictures of us with his cell phone.
8) He asked for Jenn's phone number and e-mail address, which was ballsy, considering I was standing right there.
9) He yells out our food orders to the kitchen in very loud voice.
10) He's the closest thing Jenn and I have to a friend in Seville.
Monday, March 31, 2008
1) He always greets us when we walk into the café.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Because of that damn bug (which has turned out to be a mosquito, by the way--yay, multiple bug bites are fun!), I have:
- caught up on e-mails
- had some green tea
- watched the sun rise
- done yoga
- and now, blogged
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
After reading Sam Kashner’s article in Vanity Fair, “Here’s to You, Mr. Nichols: The Making of The Graduate,” I’m totally crushing on Mike Nichols.
The quotes provided by the 76-year-old director made me laugh and contemplate things in a way that only a rich man who’s had the time and the means to reflect on life can. My favorite (and the article’s penultimate) quote is: “There’s nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you’re meant to do. It’s like falling in love.”
Sweet, non? It also reminds me of part of the reason to I came to Spain: to find what I guess would be my second calling, as my passion for writing slowly fades. (Yes, at 28, I’m burnt out. I’m over the competitiveness of the publishing world, the countless unrecognized résumés and seeing so many hacks get ahead, especially now that anyone with a blog can call themselves a writer—linkage company at right excluded.)
You see, the last time I spent a long period of time abroad, in England, I went thinking I would return home and become a kindergarten teacher. I always loved writing, but teaching was more practical (hey, that word again!) and just as underpaid, heh. Instead, walking the same streets and learning in the same classrooms as of some of my most favorite writers uncontrollably reignited my passion for pen and paper, and so, here I am.
And now, I’m almost right back where I started eight years ago, wandering the streets of some foreign city and waiting for inspiration, for that realization to strike, however corny and clichéd the whole idea may be.
At the time Nichols controversially cast Dustin Hoffman in the lead, he was reading Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle,” about “a young man who lets life and love pass him by while he waits for a cataclysmic event to transform him.” I plan to pick this book up on our next trip to the English-language bookstore; it certainly sounds apropos.
Image: Patricia Lin
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I’ve been thinking a lot about how a few of my favorite street musicians in Seville could join up and form a band, or really a supergroup—not unlike the Traveling Wilburys or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I propose we call them The Seville Street Musician Supergroup, or as converted into Español by FreeTranslation.com, El Músico Ambulante de Sevilla Super Grupo.
So, without further ado, here they are, ladies and gentlemen, El Músico Ambulante de Sevilla Super Grupo!!
On accordion: The two kids who are insistent about getting our change!
The two young dueling accordionists tend to perform together, and I think they primarily play the theme from the Godfather. They double team you and are not hesitant to mock you into giving them money. I relent about 30 percent of the time, mostly because I’m a sucker for accordion.
On upright Casiotone Keytar: The ululating Arab!
That’s him in the picture. He is my favorite and his song is very catchy. He ingeniously jury-rigged a microphone with duct tape to the top of the keyboard, which he wears like a guitar, so he can sing while he plays. However, I’m not sure he actually plays the Casiotone, but rather presses the “Bossa-Nova” button on the preprogrammed soundtrack. Still, it’s very good, and I dare you to try to get his Middle Eastern-flavored song out of your head within three hours of hearing it. I dare you.
On alto sax: The Spanish guy who only plays “Yesterday” by The Beatles!
He is accompanied by canned background music on a cassette tape. Think Kenny-G playing karaoke. He REALLY likes “Yesterday,” and he REALLY likes our street. When our windows are open, we can hear his rendition at least a dozen times during the siesta hours.
On tuba: The guy who plays tuba!
I actually have never seen him, so I’m just assuming he’s a guy, just because the demographic of Spanish street musicians seems to skew male. He’s somehow always out of sight, but always within earshot. Jenn thinks he plays “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” that 1929 Irving Berlin classic that was made popular to the MTV generation by Taco. I’m not so sure, though his song does sound a bit like that.
And there they are, El Músico Ambulante de Sevilla Super Grupo. I’d try to get more photos, but that would not come cheap since they live on tips. (The photo you see cost me €1.10.)
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Are we boring you yet?
Alas, it is Easter and the end of Holy Week. Thankfully, Thursday's rain let up and we were able to see that night's processions, said to be the holiest of all Holy Week pasos, going all night and into the the wee hours of Good Friday morning.
The video and most of the photos are from La Macarena, put on by our quarter's church with some 3,000 Nazarenes, and representing the sentencing of Christ. It was the first paso we set out to see, having essentially stumbled upon the rest, and we really enjoyed watching it from beginning to end, despite the fact that it wasn't over until 2:30 a.m. Plus, nighttime viewing adds some intangibly special aspect to it all.
Even so, we're somewhat relieved to see Holy Week go. The onslaught of processions served as roadblocks, basically quarantining us to the Alameda. Though I must say I will miss the rare sight of a lone repenter in full get up, walking down the street, just going about his business. Its hilarity is something I will never tire of.
Finally, I feel compelled to note that I was not trying to be arty in blurring the photos. Using the flash overexposed the shots, so I decided not to use it, and as anyone who's taken a photography class knows, snapping pictures in the dark sans flash requires a steady hand—something I apparently need to work on. Before I left for this trip, I debated buying a new camera (one with triple shutter speed--perfect for action and nighttime shots!) and I stupidly decided not to, opting to pay taxes instead. Being less practical: something else I need to work on.
Nevertheless, enjoy and happy Easter!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Jenn and I have detailed how the Spanish enjoy their pork, but the ingredient list on a can of lentils with chorizo—aka lentejas con chorizo—further affirms this cultural assumption:
So far, so good. You’d expect lentils to be the dominant ingredient in a can of lentils.
Okay. Makes sense. It requires a good amount of both cooking and water to transform the lentil from its dried, stony state to the tender legume we all love so much.
Right on. The can mentioned that this tasty Spanish sausage would be present. Of course, the chorizo is broken down into its many subcomponents in parentheses—paprika, garlic, pork, something called “pork dewlap,” whatever that is, and a few other spices. Works for me.
Hmmm. All right. Maybe the chorizo didn’t add enough porky goodness to the dish, so the makers wanted to punch that up with some lard. I’m not one to balk at gratuitous fat placement, which should make the healthy and humble lentil a bit more palatable. Fat is flavor, right?
Holy shit! We have a trifecta! While chorizo offers a nice smoky sausage flavor, and the pork lard unleashes that lovely fat-laden unctuousness, the bacon will smack you across the face with a little more of both. Man, those Spaniards dig pork!
Pork Fat Bacon
What the fuck is that?!?!?! I swear this is what the can lists as the sixth ingredient. Is something lost in the translation? I have never seen those three words magically placed in that order: Pork. Fat. Bacon. What a reckless display of fatty meat usage. This is an affront to my high cholesterol and to Jenn’s wavering vegetarianism.
After that, the list grows a bit more mundane. Amid all that pork, the makers of this dish also found some room for salt, onion, white wine, parsley and pepper. This was to be my lunch today.
Alas, we don’t have a can opener.
Evidentiary Support A: After two and a half weeks of beautiful weather, today is our second straight day of sogginess, quite literally raining on our parade, since rain = cancellation of the final and most revered of Holy Week processions.
Evidentiary Support B: Jay got visibly peeved at me today. (I emphasize "visibly" because it's very likely he's already been annoyed by me and I just didn't know. Or care to notice.)
Either way, I'd say 20 days ain't such a bad run.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
It is half past noon in Seville on what is sure to be another sunny and 70-degree Wednesday*. Meanwhile, the Lincoln Tunnel is backed up, making it tougher and tougher for those Jersey commuters to get to their New York City offices. When those commuters exit the Lincoln Tunnel, they will find it is raining and a brisk 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
How do I know all this?
Jenn is listening to WCBS radio. It streams over the Internet in crackles and buzzes. It talks of traffic, weather and a little news. And it serves as some sort of entertainment to her. Maybe, it's a reminder of home—familiar American voices talking about life's daily little things.
Or maybe it's something more sinister. Perhaps she is relishing in the misfortune of those poor tri-state area residents she has abandoned—at their cold, rainy March days; at their long, congested commutes.
Either way, two things are clear to me right now: (1) I'm glad I'm in Seville and not New York; and (2) I would prefer American television to American radio any day.
Monday, March 17, 2008
I’ll eat everything. If you know me, you know this to be true.
I will not eat everything. If you know me, you know this to be true.
It has been said that the Spanish eat everything on the pig except for the oink. I’ve joined them. I’ve eaten my way from the hoof to the hip with fine slices of jamón serrano. I’ve gotten all up in the pig’s face with tasty bits of carrillada, or pork cheeks. I’ve lusted in the loins of lomo de puerco.
I’ve picked my way around the bacon in “vegetarian” quiches and I’ve swallowed a croquette whole to avoid chewing the ham, whilst still getting its flavor. I’ve been turned off from fish after biting into a singular bone. I’ve eaten meals that consist solely of garbanzo beans that were unavoidably stewed in chorizo.
I ate that chorizo.
I’ve begrudgingly eaten salmorejo—delicious as the tomato-based soup may be—peppered with bits of chewy bacon, just to feed my starving body.
Oh, but you begged for a bite of my bacon-wrapped dates!
You weren’t supposed to tell!
Now, we’re off to a “vegetarian” restaurant. I’ll likely order the ham.
And I’ll have the bread basket.
I’m a pretty non-violent person, even going out of my way to avoid stepping on ants on the sidewalk, but as of late, my attitude toward those of the bug variety has changed.
For the past week, just as I am in the throes of a deep sleep, this fly* has come buzzing around my head like the Red Barron, causing me to flail my arms like a three-year-old in the midst of a temper tantrum. The rest of the night has me listening for that damn bugger to come at me again, because I know he will as he always does, no matter how many times my big limbs have attempted to cease his existence. Then every morning, without fail, the room is completely bugless, as if it were all a figment of my imagination.
Short of going to the store and trying to describe “fly paper” to the clerk in Spanish, does anyone have suggestions on how to be rid of this problem? Sleep-interrupted reasoning once led me to leave the bathroom light on, remembering the wise words of Janet Jackson, that moths, or flies, or all bugs, no? are drawn to fire/light. It didn’t work.
*As funny and clever as the idea might be, the fly is NOT a metaphor for Jay.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Palm Sunday marks the start of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which for the Sevillianos, is a tradition of some 2,000 processions, some dating back to the 13th century. Today, we saw our first of what will likely be many pasos this week, and we were so moved by what we saw we may even go to church next Sunday. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
Here are some pictures from today’s paso, La Hiniestra (and others), and below is a video. Some background: There are men underneath carrying that float, certainly no easy feat (you’ll see it hoisted), which is why the day-long processions likely stop every five or so minutes. That, and the fact that it’s a tradition for bar owners along the route to come out with beer to refresh these He-Men. Perhaps floats get lighter as the men get drunker?
Also, some much needed explanation on the Klan-like hoods: Sevillianos don’t hate black people. The hoods are worn by the nazarenos, or brothers in the procession’s fraternity, as a symbol of repentance and grief. Other members wear a penitente, which looks like the masks worn by medieval executioners. These guys carry crosses over their shoulders—in some cases as many as four—depending on the amount of repenting that needs to be done. (Oh, those Catholics—always coming up with the craziest schemes to keep you from sinning!)
Kidding aside, the processions truly are sights to behold, what with Jesus on the cross, the funeral-like dirges played by the band and those cute little Ku Klux Klan outfits. It all makes for an eerily charming experience and I don’t believe we’ve even seen the best of it yet.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The weather is warming here and so are we.
We can now navigate ordering at restaurants and the market in full Spanish, though the experiences have not been without mishaps. The other day, I attempted to order a vodka y soda at a cafe, subbing the pronunciation of the "V" as "B", as the Spanish do—only the bartender could not decipher what I was saying. Finally, he got it. "Ahhhhh, VODKA," he proclaimed, going on in Spanish, "I thought you were saying vaca, which goes moooo..."
Another time, Jay asked for the check at a restaurant. "La cuenta," which means "the check," is what one is supposed to say. Except he said, "cuanto cuestan," which essentially asks, "How much does all of this cost?"
As I said: We're just warm here. Not exactly en fuego just yet.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
This is the best thing my cable-deprived self has heard in a very, very long time:
"Rich kids are back: CW plots '90210' spinoff"
In other good news:
"Trouble Cooking for Ray Show"
Try as I might, I cannot understand why this woman has the career that she does. I've never met a single person who enjoys her dumbing down of "EVOO" and "yum-o."
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
We all learned back in our freshman Spanish classes (or, in my case, French—why did I take that?), that quite a few languages apply a gender identity to many words—some words are masculine, some are feminine and yet others are total trannies. In the course of navigating this strange and wonderful and confusing and frustrating language, I've noticed something odd.
Beer, or cervaza, which is probably the word I've grown most proficient at saying (sounds something like "ther-beh-tha" when you apply the obligatory Spanish lisp), is… wait for it… feminine! The word for sparkling white wine, on the other hand? Masculine.
First, before I forget: bring a pillow. We have plenty of extra blankets and towels, but lack an abundance of pillows.
Second, details on navigating the Avé. Oh, the Avé. Luckily we made all the mistakes so you don't have to. To wit:
Though it is possible to purchase the tickets online prior to arrival, we decided to forfeit that option, as we thought it a tricky proposition, given that tickets are only valid for specific times and seats. With the state of air travel these days—we don’t need to rehash how bad delays have been, do we?—we thought it best to wait until we arrived at the station.
Turns out, not such a great idea. As previously mentioned, We arrived at Madrid’s Atocha Station a half hour before the 2 p.m. departure to Seville, which, in our minds is more than enough time to say, “Hola, que tal? Un billete de ida Seville, por favor. [Euros are exchanged; teller hands over ticket.] Gracias.” We now know that prompt service is not a high priority here. Plus, Atocha Station is pretty secluded from Madrid’s city center and is oddly designed with its own rainforest, helpfully adding humidity to irritability.
Lesson learned: buy Avé tickets on Renfe's web site. Note that when buying online, tickets must be purchased at least five days in advance of your trip. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to get to the train station from the airport, which is about a 15 to 20 minute taxi ride, and don’t forget to account for possible flight delays. Overestimating in this case is a good thing—if your flight arrives on time and it’s two hours before your train departs, at least you know you can explore Madrid, go shopping or grab something to eat. The ride to Seville is a wonderfully scenic two-and-a-half hours.
That is all. Though should you feel so inclined, we've started a wish list of magazines: The Economist or Wired, for Jay; Vanity Fair, Real Simple or any celebrity weekly, para me. (God my list reads like some housewife's, doesn't it?)
Monday, March 10, 2008
When traveling in a country where the language is not your own, it’s important to have a fall-back plan, i.e., one of those embarrassingly touristy phrase books, or more covertly, an electronic translator, which if spotted in dim enough light, can look like a Sidekick.
We have both of these things and they have been occasionally helpful but more so completely useless. At times, the questions and answers are downright hilarious. Herewith, some of our favorites…
Using the electronic translator (good job Franklin Electronics!):
“I would like…” nets “I would like a laxative.”
In case you were wondering: “Quisiera un laxante.”
“I wonder…” nets “I think I’m going to be sick.”
In case you were wondering: “Creo que voy a enfermar.”
[Right. I’m about to vomit and the first thing I do is consult the translator.--Ed.]
“I need…” nets “I need a cane.”
In case you were wondering: “Necesito un bastón.”
From the guidebooks:
“I am diabetic/pregnant.”
In case you were wondering: “Soy diabético/a/estoy embarazada.”
“Can you help me? I have lost my daughter/son.”
In case you were wondering: “Puede ayudarme, se ha extraviado mi hija/mi hijo.”
"Do I need to see you again?"
In case you were wondering: "Debo verlo otra vez?"
[Meant for trips to the doctor, but we found it fitting in warding off potential suitors.--Ed.]
Sunday, March 09, 2008
After a few days here, between the walking and the biking and the tapas and the shopping at the fresh food markets and the generally smaller portions severed in restaurants, one starts to think, "I'm soooo going to become one of those skinny European bitches."
But then I forget that my version of the Mediterranean Diet involves vino, and when I have too much of it, I get ravenously hungry. Not truly stomach-growling hungry, just drunk hungry, which really isn't hungry at all, probably more like dehydrated, because isn't that what all the experts say--that mild dehydration is often mistaken for hunger? I know this--even in a wine-induced haze I know this--and yet every time, I can't help but stuff food in my mouth.
So so much for becoming a skinny bitch.
Last night we discovered a gem of a tapas place, Casa Paco, which happens to be just across the street from our apartment. Other places we've tried on the Alameda have been just so-so thus far, and though we noticed that the locals jam the place every night promptly at nine, when the kitchen opens, I cannot explain why it took a full week before we finally popped in.
Now it has been a struggle to not go there every night, given the delicious and deceptively simple dishes, such as tuna with peppers marinated in olive oil, bacon-wrapped dates drizzled with honey and the clear star of the menu, as it is escorted out of the kitchen every five minutes: queso de cabra au gratinada, which is basically a slab of goat cheese broiled until the top is crispy, then drizzled with honey and rosemary and served with a side of crostini. Our responses to these delicacies were very Rachel Ray á la her travel show, except genuine.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
In New York they take to the streets with their fanny packs, cameras and IHeartNY t-shirts. They walk slowly, stretched four-long on the sidewalk, meandering and impossible to pass. The tourist is a scourge to New Yorkers.
After six years of living in that city, I’ve joined the throngs of locals who have grown weary of them. Unfortunately, I’ve brought that mentality to Spain. I am, more than anything, afraid to be recognized here for what I am: el turista.
Since we got here, I have stood at least 10 feet away from Jenn as she snaps photos (as only a tourist would take a picture of nuns going about their daily existance--JM), and I’ve been reluctant to speak to locals in my version of broken Castallano—my own bastard child of Spanish, English and ignorance.
Today, it dawned on me. I walked the few winding blocks to the Mercado Calle Feria, which is one of the oldest food markets in Seville, in search of a few items to cook for dinner. They had everything I could want: fish caught this morning, fresh vegetables, legs upon legs of Jamón Iberico, bottles of Spanish wines, flowers, et cetera.
I wanted to take a photo, but quickly reconsidered: How would I feel, in New York, if some Spanish dude was snapping photos of my freezer aisle as I was grabbing some Hot Pockets? Odd, right?
I returned home with nothing. Surely, if I spoke, if I touched the vegetables the wrong way, if I used the wrong word to order tuna, they would find me out for what I am.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the tourists in New York as I’ve gone about my days here and I’ve also thought about how I, and many New Yorkers I know, have treated tourists. Though we’ve griped about them among friends and laughed from time to time at their silly questions, we’ve always been helpful. We have given directions. We have given recommendations. We have given, at the very least, a smile to those wayward travelers looking for Times Square. And so I’ve decided: Tourists are not so bad. At least they speak the local language, right? I can’t even do that here.
Hopefully, the Sevillanos will offer me the same patience as I try to navigate their city. And I won’t even mind if they laugh at me once I’m out of earshot.
As different as they are, it's hard not to compare life in New York with life in Seville. Today, the weather was reminiscent of a crisp and cloud-free fall day in Manhattan. Except I was in Seville. See what I'm saying?
Anywho, Seville has this community bike program, Sevici, that for just a few euros gives users access to numerous pick up/drop off bike stations around the city. Jay and I jumped on these bikes today (that's him, at right) and proceeded to pedal around town, which it turns out is not as small as we first thought. The bulk of the path was lined with orange blossom trees, which smell remarkably like jasmine. I almost got hit by a few cars as I however stupidly closed my eyes to truly take the scent in.
I first became scent obsessed last summer, during my stay in Provence, and particularly with lavender. Now whenever I smell lavender, I'm immediately transported back to that trip, which brought about some life predictions that eerily rang true in more ways than one today. As I pedaled and sniffed, I couldn't help but think about how New York needs a smell--something nicer than trash and dirty-water dogs. Scent is such an integral part of memory and I hate that the only time I'm olfactory reminded of home is when I walk by a trash bin. So here, Seville beats New York.
Seville again earns points with Sevici. The program is meant to be an eco-friendly way for residents to get about town, while also helping to eliminating roadway noise. Similar programs exist in nearby Cordoba as well as in Lyon and Paris, France. Why New York has not jumped on this trend, I do not know. Imagine the relief it could provide while they take another eon to build that 2nd Avenue subway line?
Of course, Seville lacks New York's attitude and available international cuisine—though not it's plethora of Starbucks, sadly. So I guess it's a wash.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
It's no secret that the thing I dislike most about New York is its frenetic pace. I'm pretty go-go-go myself, but I've learned being a go-go-go person in a go-go-go atmosphere is exhausting. Which is why I was so eager to move to Spain, the land of siestas and drawn out mini-meals. I hoped, no matter how ridiculously, that the Spanish pace of life would rub off on me, effectively changing a core part of who I have been for the last 28 years. Will it--has it--happened? Damned if I know. It's only day four.
Monday, March 03, 2008
We made it, though the journey was not without its trials. But I'll get to the complaining later.
In addition to all this, my luggage handle was broken, which made for all-around navigational awkwardness. We also hadn't showered or brushed our teeth in 24 hours and looked like it. We were so tired, both of us fell asleep for most of the two-and-half hour ride on the Avé, though I managed to catch glimpses of the Spanish countryside, with all of its olive groves and orange trees.
(I do have a photos for you, but it turns out the Internet connection we're using has its limitations, so I may need to head to an Internet café to get these online. TBD.)