Thursday, April 3, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 3‏

Hello again everyone!

It´s another lovely day here in beautiful Sevilla. Now that my sunburn has gone down a bit, I am actually able to enjoy it. ;-) Not to the point of walking miles and miles around the city like Jen did this morning (perish the thought), but enough to sit out on a bench, reading a good book and taking in the views.

I think I shall take this moment to say that I know I´ve sounded pretty negative in my emails, but I think a large part of that is simply due to sore feet or sunburn, and to a large extent (don´t laugh!) of not being able to find food here that I like to eat. It´s true! I think that we all get in our habits, and what we eat at home is usually fairly non-changing. Which is not to say that one doesn´t have varied tastes; I personally enjoy foods of many backgrounds. But the "things" we eat, the actual dishes, tend to be standard, no matter what the cuisine. At least, I find this to be true for me.

So, not being a huge fan of French food (their divine pastries aside), and having zero experience with Spanish, I was a little weary of having to feed myself on this trip. I didn´t want to succumb to the American tourist mentality of eating at McDonald´s when the going got tough. (Especially after just having finished reading "Fast Food Nation"!) Eating in France was an experience that was OK...not my type of food really, but always something on the menu to eat that was ok, whether it was a salad or pommes frites. But Spain has been a completely different story.

First of all, the majority of restaurants Jennifer and I have encountered here do not start serving dinner until at least 7:30, but some as late as 8 and one as late as 8:15 for Christ´s sake! But, they´re physically open, seeming to offer their wares...but NO! You may come in for a drink, some bread, perhaps a slice of jamon or two, but no real food! There have been at least 3 or 4 times here in Seville that we have been cruelly mislead into thinking we could eat something that was actually not yet serving. And on top of everything, both of us are dying for pizza.

In the states, we could have a pizza in the snap of a finger, at the drop of a hat!! Not, pizza takes planning. It doesn´t help that the two pizzerias that are even vaguely within walking distance do not start serving until 8. There is even a fucking Pizza Hut here, which we were desperate to have one night. Even THEY do not open until 8. And when you are hungry at 6 because you didn´t feel like having a jamon (ham) sandwich for lunch, you start to feeling pretty damn desperate. Desperate like you´ve never felt before, because you look around and there is literally nothing in view which is serving food, or the food they have is being carved off of a smoked pork haunch with the hoof still attached. And you are starving. It´s a little unnerving.

Once, Jennifer and I asked our hotel desk lady for a recommendation of a good Italian place. She gave it happily and we made our way there around 6. Ha! What fools we were to think it would actually be serving food at such a ridiculously early hour! Perish the thought! So, we walked down the block a bit and saw a Chinese restaurant with its lanterns lit and an open sign on the door. Thank god! Ooops-they didn´t actually open until 7:30. Eventually, we accepted our fate, sat down at an outdoor cafe and sipped on bottled water until they opened.

When we actually walked in at exactly 7:32, the staff were still mopping the floors and looked more than a little surprised to see us there so early. But, we soon ordered and were served some fairly nondescript basic Chinese fare. I was ravenous and ate my whole noodle dish in about 5 minutes, still craving pasta from the closed Italian place. It was yet another day of feeling completely unsatisfied, culinarily speaking.

But last night...last night was a divine experience. Jennifer and I decided to go to a flamenco show at 9pm. One that was a little off the beaten path, that didn´t bus in the tourists. So, not having a clue where the address was, we hopped in a taxi. This man drove us around for 15 minutes, all the while huffing and puffing like he was so upset that the traffic was slowing us down. Taking us around the city on a sort of tour of back streets and alleys so narrow I was surprised we didn´t get stuck! Eventually, he dropped us off at the end of a street we knew well-the one with the Italian restaurant and Chinese restaurant. Literally, a 3 minute walk from where we got in the taxi and a 5 minute walk from our hotel!! We just laughed. What else could we do? At least it meant that we would be able to go to the flamenco show and then to the much-desired Italian place for dinner.

The flamenco show was so intense, that I don´t think I can adequately describe it here. Have any of you seen a flamenco performance? I think we´ve all seen a clip, or a scene in a movie (beginning of Mission Impossible 2), but I´ve never seen a live offering in Iowa. Anyway, it took place in an establishment down a long and winding alley (well lit, so don´t worry Grandma!). It was a well known place, but it had a small space and couldn't have large crowds-all for the better. We bought our tickets ahead of time and went to a tapas bar for some fried potatoes (the only thing in a tapas bar that isn't cheese or scraped off a hoof) to tide us over.

The flamenco performance took place in a space that was in the middle of all of these buildings, so that it was outdoors, surrounded on all sides by building walls, but was open to the sky. There´s a word for that sort of space, but I´m blanking on it at the moment. They had a tent roof, very high up, with a typical Moorish lamp hanging down from it. There were candles everywhere, and lots of intricately designed Moorish lamps sitting on the floor. When I say Moorish, please envision any design you have seen from Morocco, filled with filigree patterns, blue and other colored glass, lots of intricate metalwork. They´re just beautiful.

There were chairs all around the outside of the space, with a small wooden square that was maybe 2 inches high in the middle. It served as a dancing platform. Behind the stage, hanging down the wall, were hundreds of vines with some flowers on them. Plus, there were pots of flowers everywhere, including a shallow dish at the front of the stage, filled with water and floating flowers. There were arched doorways all along the perimeter of the space, and a second floor balcony along the three sides without hanging vines. The effect was mesmerizing, before any show began.

But what a show it was! The performers included: one male singer, one male guitar player, one guy who sat on a box and tapped on it like a drum, and one female dancer. There were probably about 6 separate songs that were done, over the course of an hour. At first, it was just the singer and the guitar player. The singer was about my age, and had a strong clear voice, that without any microphone, filled the space and must have carried through the entire neighborhood. I have seldom heard such amazing vocals. The guitar player was an accomplished teacher, and so he was also impressive, again with no amp of any kind. The drum guy was pretty young-maybe 19/20, but gifted with his wooden box. He joined in on the second song, but at first we didn´t know what he was up to since he wasn´t dressed up like the rest of them in all black. He was wearing street clothes and red sneakers!

After a couple of songs, the dancer came in. She was mesmerizing from the start. The instant she opened the door to come in, she was in intense character, every action deliberate and powerful. She slowly walked to the stage, wearing a long flowery dress with a red fringe shawl. When she started to dance, it was so loud! The flamenco style of dance involves wearing shoes with sturdy heels and having legs of steel to pound the shoes into the wooden stage. She was beating up the stage as she twirled around, stomping her feet as hard as possible, and kicking up dust and wooden bits. Of course, this was all done in rhythm with the song, and with the singer clapping along very loudly. It would fluctuate from slow, deliberate, and not so loud pacing around the stage, to wild, seemingly uncontrolled fits of dancing where it was intense and very loud. Lots of swishing dress, stomping feet, and clapping. That is flamenco dancing in a nutshell. ;-) It was amazing and intense and I believe I could go to a performance of it every night for 20 years and never once be bored.

After the performance, still awestruck, Jennifer and I happily made our way to the Italian restaurant. We dined, FINALLY, on pizza and garlic bread. The waiter was a fairly forceful guy who showed us the wine list and then more or less brought over his choice of wine for us and that was that. It was good though. :-) And the garlic bread was also his choice-two orders of it naturally. I´m surprised that dessert didn´t arrive as soon as we were finished, but he did actually let us have some choice in that matter.

The pizza was so good, it fairly melted in your mouth. The sauce was sweet, and the crust soft, yet had body. It was no Big Tomato, but it was delicious. The garlic bread was made with olive oil instead of butter, so it lacked a certain something. Plus, I´m sure they´re using it as a clever way to get rid of day-old bread since it was so hard to chew. On the whole, though, the evening was about a 500% improvement from the day before, so we went to bed comprehensively refreshed.

I know this has been a long ass email, but I needed to vent for awhile. Thanks for sticking with me! As a reward, I shall leave you with a quote that Jen and I heard an obnoxious man telling some chic he was trying to impress after the flamenco show:

"If you take one thing with you from the magic that is Spain, it should be that it´s pronounced 'flamenCO', not 'flamenGO'." What a genius...

Have a great day everyone! :-)

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