Our last full day in Sevilla would be a full one, as full as we could make it. We were going to extract every last drop from the place. We knew we’d be spending many hours sitting over the next two days, and we could catch up on sleep then. As events would transpire, we’d be getting even more than we bargained for.
The wing-it method has wings. While we were eating breakfast, I saw a particularly fat bird in a tree. I leaned over to get a better look and it fluttered down a few yards in front of us. I was gobsmacked. “It’s a HOOPOE!” Just that one moment, long enough to get a good look at it, not long enough to get a picture. The hoopoe is mostly an African bird, and I didn’t know its range extended into southern Spain. If we had stayed in a hotel or gone to a restaurant for breakfast, we would have missed the moment.
We decided to do two locations and see a late flamenco show. Due to the show schedule, we’d splurge and get dinner downtown as well. Since we were leaving town, we could save the few odd bits of food we had left for our trip.
We started with the General Archive of the Indies. It’s a museum dedicated to the Spanish exploration of the New World. The TripAdvisor reviews said it was great even if you didn’t know any Spanish, and they were right. It’s absolutely a world-class museum. If only every museum were designed this well! We were riveted. The main exhibit at that time had to do with the discovery of a ship that had been sunk in 1804. The British intercepted a Spanish flotilla that was sending money to Napoleon, and just happened to sink the one carrying the gold and silver. An American salvage operation found this treasure ship, and there followed years of litigation that is still ongoing a decade later. The millions of dollars in coins and ingots were displayed for all to see, as though Spain were saying HA HA. This would have interested us regardless, but my husband is particularly interested in the Napoleonic Era. He explained the different kinds of ships, armaments, and military strategy to me. He also knows quite a lot about numismatics, or the study of coins. We were both astounded when I proved to be able to translate about 80% of all the placards on the exhibits. We loved this museum, and so did the treasure hunters; it turns out the Archive is the source of much of the documentation that helps aquatic archaeologists know where to look for all the awesome loot.
We left the museum, chattering a mile a minute. The weather was great and we were really having fun. We walked over to a little indoor mall we had found two days earlier, knowing that the restaurant would be open for business this time. It was a cute punk vegan place. I was able to chat with the proprietress a bit. “Soy vegana por veinte años.” While we were eating, a guitarist came by and sang to us. He was terrific. Probably another sign of over-qualified people hit hard by the tanking of the economy in 2008. This out-of-the-way mall had a lot going on. We overheard a flamenco dance class behind a wall. As we were strolling around, we came upon another restaurant where a group of Spanish people were singing in accompaniment to a flamenco guitarist. They smiled at us. Most of the mall was deserted, shopfronts locked down, so what we witnessed was a private moment among Spaniards.
Culture is what happens when people show up and do things with sincerity. The flamenco group wasn’t putting on a public performance. They were entertaining one another in a casual moment of friendship. What does it cost? One guitar and some strings. There is no reason whatsoever why there couldn’t be informal flamenco groups in every city. Or any other genre of music or dance. Whenever people complain that there’s nothing to do in their town, I wonder what they mean. Come up with something.
For the afternoon, we wanted to go to the Roman ruins of Italica. It wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks; I’d only seen it while surfing through TripAdvisor. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH GUIDEBOOK WRITERS?!? This place was UNBELIEVABLE. It’s still being excavated and it’s the size of a small town. There were about a dozen house foundations with complete, full-color mosaic tile floors. There was an entire gladiatorial stadium. It went on and on. We were literally sprinting from one spot to another. Why sprint? The location in TripAdvisor was about five miles off from the true site, and we wound up on a sort of snipe hunt on the bus before we could get there. We only had, get this, FORTY MINUTES at Italica before we had to catch the bus back and watch our flamenco show.
Going to the wrong place and losing the majority of the time you had dedicated to something can be a serious bummer. We were learning to be philosophical, though. A full day would barely have been enough to do justice to Italica, for us anyway. There was no way we could have known how extensive the site was from the material we had seen. We saw enough to know we wanted to know more. We could go home, read up on the site, and if we ever came back, more of it would be excavated for us to see. It’s conceivable, given that he has a master’s in engineering and I have a history degree, that we could even talk our way onto a dig crew.
What happened on the bus trip to nowhere? We saw more of Spain. We wound up in a neighborhood just as the moms were picking their kids up from school. We saw a stand of rental bicycles, which we considered, but we weren’t sure if we would have to return them to the same spot. On the ride back, we saw a pair of female acrobats busking in an intersection by doing lifts and hula hooping. We saw teams of boats doing crew practice on the river. We saw people running or hanging out by the waterfront. It was another great slice of what life could be like if we lived in Sevilla: It’s a Great Place to Visit AND I Want to Live There.
One thing we saw while we were waiting for the bus disturbed us. We weren’t completely sure what to make of it. There was a borracho on the median strip shouting at a guy at our bus stop. He was clearly insulting him. At one point he started yanking on his crotch. I couldn’t understand what he was saying due to the traffic noise and my limited vocabulary of verbal abuse. Did these guys know one another? Or did this have something to do with the fact that the target of the obnoxious shouting happened to be black? This man took the barrage of invective with good humor, awkwardly smiling, like, “What the heck? That guy’s crazy.” He went to catch a bus, and the buffoon picked a rose off the landscaping in the median and tried to offer it to the black gentleman through the bus window. The whole thing went on for at least five minutes. We still couldn’t figure out if they knew each other, although I don’t think so. I don’t even know what I would have done if this happened at home, in my own language, and I had a better grasp of what was going on. All we could really do in Spain was watch silently and stand by in case things escalated. Shouting across the street can be waited out; anything physical would have been a different scenario. In all our time in Spain, this was an extreme, isolated incident. The black guy’s patient, embarrassed reaction seemed more typical of a Spaniard than the weird behavior of the white jerk.
When we got to the edge of the historic district, we had to walk. Not just walk, but hustle. On foot was our only option. My husband took over navigating from his phone, and I scurried after him as quickly as I could. We covered about a mile and a half in under half an hour. We managed to get to the hotel with our flamenco show with five minutes to spare, enough time not just to claim our seats but even to freshen up in the restroom.
Flamenco is the cultural product of the Expulsion. People who were not of the Catholic majority went to live in exile in the mountains of Andalucía, and the melding of gypsy, Moorish, and Jewish cultures produced this phenomenal blend of music, dance, fashion, and attitude. It comes in four parts: guitar, voice, dance, and audience response, which has a codified repertoire of callbacks, clapping, and snapping. Listening to recorded flamenco music or watching a video in no way does justice to the galvanizing nature of a live performance. You can see the sweat flying out of the dancers’ hair. Watching this show was the shortest hour of our lives. I think we forgot our names. So often, shows put on for tourists become hackneyed, saccharine, and exploitive. This felt like we were graciously allowed to observe something the troupe would have done for fun even without an audience.
We were going to eat dinner before the show, but our mishap with the bus had disrupted that plan. We decided to simply go back to the Lebanese place where we had eaten on our first night. It was still warm out. We sat at a sidewalk table and watched the world go by. The mesmerizing foot traffic of Sevilla had one last surprise in store for us. For the first and only time, we happened to see a young man cruise by on a motorized unicycle with no seat. It takes a lot to render an engineer speechless, but that did it.
We took a cab back to camp and had to have someone open the gate for us. We spent a little time organizing our stuff before bed, knowing we’d have to get an early start the next day. We had ended on a high note, having the best day in the best city. O Spain, O Sevilla.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.