Seville is timeless. It lives in the long shadows of old empires, yet keeps its traditions intact even as modernity seeks to extinguish them forever. And I think Seville will continue its proud culture. It is, after all, built on a solid foundation of family, faith, and food, with a healthy respect for local traditions of dance, music, and custom. That is some powerful glue, and it will weather any storm. Here’s 4 anecdotes that show just how strong that bond is.
I am watching a Flamenco show in the heart of old Seville, and the performance is simply riveting. The raw energy of the dancers, the intensity they bring to their craft, is remarkable. I would describe Flamenco as part a stylized Irish jig, part tap dance, part ballet, and all fiery Spanish passion choreographed in staccato rhythms to an incredibly gifted guitar player and singer…but that wouldn’t do it proper justice. Flamenco is a love story wrapped in a song and moved by a dance, and, in Seville, it is a tradition handed down from generation to generation. Flamenco wasn’t just invented here, it was perfected here. Flamenco is Seville.
Nor is it only performed by professionals for tourists, as this photo, taken as it was at the Seville train station by your truly, proves…
I am sitting outdoors at a bar near the Church of Santa Anna drinking a locally-crafted beer. The bar I am drinking at is in itself a tourist attraction, or at least an attraction for an old wino like me. The walls of the saloon are decorated with a bull’s head, an icon of Christ, autographed pictures of bullfighters and soccer players, and a tile mosaic of the Virgin Mary. The side walls, once adorned with stars of David, have been cut open to enlarge the doorways. Now, Christian art adorns them. When you order your food at the bar, they call out your name and you’re expected to hear it…outdoors, forty feet away. But it is VERY good food, so no worries! So there you have it: Christ, beer, bullfighting, fried squid, bull’s heads, and local characters right there in the same barrio bar. What’s not to love?
Suddenly, Mass ends and a flood of people spills onto the street near my table. Today is Children’s Day at this church, so there are lots of kids in evidence of all ages. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best, and they’re a very good looking crowd. Tall, slim, with Roman noses and (typically) dark eyes and black hair, and light or olive-skinned, they remind you of what the Conquistadors must have looked like when they arrived in the New World 500 years ago. The women are wearing fashionable white and black solids accessorized with purple ribbons, the men are wearing form-fitting suits, and even the kids are dressed up, with delicate lace on the girls and suspenders on the boys. The families are very young, maybe in their twenties, and it’s obvious that the the grandparents have also come out for this special occasion. Everyone greets with a kiss, and there’s a lot of laughter and socializing as many of them make their way into a cafe’ to escape the blistering noonday sun. It is 101 degrees in Seville, and there’s no better way to stay cool than to enjoy a cerveza with friends and family, and no better way to enjoy your own day than by living vicariously through them, if only for a moment.
It is time for El Paseo in Seville, and I am wandering down the Avenida de la Constitucion. It’s 9 o’clock, and the blistering sun has given way to the cool purple sky of the Andalusian night. In one of the many public squares, I see lovers arm-in-arm, a bachelor party, old couples sipping wine, pet owners walking their dogs, and young men and women flirting. I seat myself at a corner table near a pavilion in the plaza and order a glass of white wine. On a stage under the tent, an orchestra assembles and, in a few minutes, begins to play an assortment of music from the Big Band era-some of it I recognize from old movies. Then they move into selections as varied as “Swan Lake” and Beethoven. They play well, and the audience responds by dancing under the stars. It’s a magic moment-one of those times they’ll be talking about for quite a while, or at least that’s the impression I have. I hope there are many more of them.
It is Sunday, and I am late for mass. No, I am not Catholic, but when I am in Catholic countries I attend Catholic services by default. And so it is today. I enter the Seville Cathedral from a side door and whisper to the guard that I am their for the service. She waves me in, ahead of the tourists, and I enter silently into the largest gothic cathedral in the world. The ceiling soars over my head. High above, I can barely make out a bird in flight. I seat myself in front of the altar. It is a magnificent work of art: again, the largest of its kind in the world, consisting of 2000 square feet of gilded gold and statuary. The priest is speaking, and, due to my poor Spanish, I can only make out a few words, but when the organ kicks in with its 6,000 pipes, I am moved into another world entirely. Suffice it to say that you don’t have to be Catholic to know when God is speaking. Say what you will about Catholics, but they take their faith seriously, and you can see the concrete evidence of that in the grand scale of their churches, the liturgical tradition of their services, and in the faces of the people at Mass. I can only hope that one day Christians will once again become one religion, as our Creator intended it.
Speaking of God and His people, I’m impressed by the demography of the parish. I would say that they consist mostly of young people in their twenties and thirties, men and women, and they are not tourists. Most receive the Eucharist. At 3 masses per day, i would estimate around 600-700 attendees….
There is so much more to see in Seville….the magnificent Alcazar Palace and it’s luxuriant grounds, Triana and its gritty vibe, bullfights, the Hospital de la Caridad…this is a city to savor. I spent only 5 days here. I wish I had more. I think, if I ever go back, it will still be the same. There’s enormous comfort in that notion for me.