Thursday, November 1, 2018

Devour Sevilla

Another busy, tourist-y day with Scott and Shelley. The day was capped with a food tour by a company called "Devour Sevilla". Early in the day, since it was a national holiday and Laura didn't have language school, she led us around on her own personal tour--one that she's developed from scraps of cultural information she has cherry-picked from staff at the language school. Tucked deep in the city, in a nondescript block are these Roman columns that date back to about 100AD:

Most interesting about the columns, beside the fact that they have been preserved in this location for 2000 years while the city grew up around it, is the way the ground level surround the columns has risen during the passing millennia. The surrounding ground level was about 5 meters higher than the base of the columns. As such, the columns appeared to be in a hole.

This modern dance group of 4 dancers put on an amazing show behind the cathedral. We stopped and watched the whole production around noon. They wore street clothes and seems to have no problem spinning, falling, and moving on the rough cobblestone surface:

They finished a virtuoso performance, both physically and artistically, with this bit of acrobatics:

It was unusual because the larger dancers stood on the back of the smaller dancers for about 1 minute. The two on the bottom, were really strong!

Along the street, in front the cathedral we passed a nougat shop. Apparently, nougat is right up Scott's alley, haha, so we popped in and got some. Not a nougat aficionado myself, I did find it really good:

We grabbed a quick pizza near the cathedral. Not the best, but filling, and headed home to regroup in advance of our evening food tour.


Catholics in Sevilla are divided up into "brotherhoods". One of the brotherhoods is celebrating its 600th anniverary this year. As a "reward" for their lengthy existence and to celebrate the anniversary, they "process" and carry their "float", a massive, human carried conveyance that holds a large, ornate statue of the Virgin Mary. The float is made of silver and has lots of candle holders. Hundreds of lit candles light the float. It's carried by teams of around 30 men. They carry it from their home church in Triana, across the bridge (the best one), through the streets of Sevilla and into the Catedral. There it reposes for 2 days before an equally elaborate procession carries the float back to the home church. The float is preceded by a number of marchers carrying other holy artifacts and is led at the front by a marching band. Throngs of people line the streets to get a glimpse of the float. Before the procession crowds built in Triana:

The main street was crowded with people moving towards the procession route:

Even on the side of the bridge:

They lined up early. This little guy, decided to nap while waiting:

Finally, after loud boom-type fireworks were launched above the home church to signal the start of the procession, the band reached our location, somewhere around the middle of the bridge:

Here's what it sounded like:

They march for a few minutes and pause. March and pause, all the way to the Catedral. This is around 4:30pm. When we passed by the Catedral later that evening at around 10:30pm, they just reaching the Catedral. That's 6+ hours!  The total length of the procession is about 1 mile. According to the published schedule, the procession wasn't due to conclude until 1am. Because we had the food tour from 5-10pm, we thought we might not get to see the main attraction, the float! However, in a weird (not saying miraculous) coincidence, on the way home from the food tour, failing to get down this street:

Turning back and going the long way around, we paused, looked down this long, narrow alleyway and saw the float:

Even the alley spontaneously filled as the float passed by. This is a poorly lit photo, so it's hard to see what all the hype is about. For me, mostly it was strange to think that during the 5 hours that we were on the food tour, eating and drinking and watching a flamenco show, the procession was going. That's some serious dedication to the cause on the part of the marchers.


Speaking of the food tour. We met our guide, Elena, at Plaza Nueva at around 5pm. There was one other person with the four of us--an older gentleman from Budapest, Hungary named Peter. Peter's backstory was interesting. He left Hungary during/after the 1956 uprising and emigrated to the UK. There he had a full career at the BBC Hungary division. After the USSR broke up in around 1990, he was asked to come back to Hungary to help develop free speech policies for the emerging democratic government. We lamented the fact that the current, right-wing, prime minister, Viktor Orban, has now essentially eliminated all of the media and free speech policies that he and his colleagues so carefully developed in the 90's. Together we lamented the rise of nationalism and fascism throughout Europe (UK, Germany, Italy, etc), in the US (Trumpism), and even in South America (Venezuela, Brazil). All of this was during introductions and the walk over to the first eatery. Subsequently, we happily avoided politics. Elena, our guide, mentioned later that now, often her tours become uncomfortable because people start arguing over politics. Fortunately, we were all like-minded in that regard.

On our tour, we visited two well-regarded tapas bars. First stop was Maestro Marcelino. We had a sampling of various tapas meats. Next stop was Las Teresas. This place has been continuously operated for well over a hundred years. If you look closely at this photo, you can see layers of dust on the bottles along the back wall:

Another interesting feature of this photo is the collection of "recently" retired knives that are used to slice ham. They have worn away to almost nothing after years of repeated use and sharpening. Here is the slicing in action for our tapas:

Next stop was a flamenco performance at La Casa del Flamenco. Two dancers, a singer and a guitarist. They were fantastic. No photos were allowed during the hour-long performance, but they did a mini-encore where photography was permitted:

Here is some video of the mini-encore:

Elena, who is somewhat of a scholar of flamenco, explained the history of the art form. While not the definitive origin story, the idea is that people from India slowly migrated westward, into north Africa and then southern Spain. They were sort of "gypsies", kept apart from mainstream Sevillan/Spanish society. They were poor and worked difficult jobs. Because they were segregated, they lived across the river from Sevilla, in Triana. Flamenco song, dance, and guitar developed in these communities in Triana. The music is somber, emotional, sad. Elena compared it to the development of the blues in black communities of the southern US. There is a tremendous amount of improvisation in the art--similar to jazz. Armed with that information, I found the concert really compelling and expressive.

After the flamenco concert, we finished up our tour with dinner at Vineria San Telmo. We shared a sequence of small courses, prawns, oxtail burritos, pork. Elena also explained which wines worked best with each dish. (I don't drink wine, but found the discussion interesting.) At the end, Elena surprised Peter with a "birthday cake" (actually a piece of lemon merengue pie with a lighted candle on top). Turns out Peter's 81st birthday was yesterday and somehow Elena figured that out. We happily sang happy birthday to him (in English). It was very thoughtful:


Shelley and Scott leave tomorrow. We had a great time hanging out with them these past two days. They're on to Bilbao and then back home to Atlanta on Sunday.