Seductive. Romantic. Alluring.
That’s how Sevilla is described in every guidebook. And it’s true. For a week, this fascinating city kept Magellan and I and our friends Pat and Dallas under her charismatic spell.
The Alcázar. The Cathedral. A flamenco concert. Triana’s market, ceramics and nightlife. The Antiqvarivm de Sevilla. We expected to love all that. And we did. But when I asked Pat and Dallas, “What’s the best story from Sevilla?” their response was instantaneous and unanimous: “Your anniversary night.”
Love is in the air in Sevilla.
It’s the birthplace of the legendary lover Don Juan. Sevilla is famous for another Don. Remember Carmen in Bizet’s fiery love story seducing Don José by tossing a flower at his feet? (We walked the street where the movie version was filmed: so narrow).
In September, everywhere we walked in this pedestrian-friendly city was scented by late-blooming flowers cascading from balconies and streets are lined with orange trees. Guidebooks say the city is most seductive in March when the orange trees’ delicate, white blossoms—azahars is their romantic name in Spanish— perfume the air with their exotic fragrance.
“Look at that!” we’d call out to each other as we wandered the labyrinth of streets and alleyways. “There’s something beautiful around every corner,” Dallas kept saying.
Sevilla was the gateway to the New World from which Columbus, Vespucci and Magellan set sail, ventures that led to Sevilla’s wealth from gold, silver, cocoa and tobacco. These commodities financed its graceful architecture during the Spanish Golden Age. The city’s Moorish past is most prevalent at the Alcazar but also in the patterns of brightly coloured ceramic tiles decorating many buildings. Lively plazas entice exploration. And there are lots of parks for lounging among the greenery and statues.
On narrow shopping streets, creamy-white canopies billow from one side of the street to the other, elegantly shading pedestrians from the hot sun. Here you’ll find many little boutiques. Like the one displaying a single wedding dress on a mannequin on a pedestal in its window, the most exquisite gown Dallas and I had ever seen (hand-sown beads, intricate lacework, sophisticated and sexy: €13k). And Crustum, where we bought a hearty loaf large as a cake with the baker’s signature bread knot on top. Dipped in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, it was delicious at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Happy anniversary you guys,” Pat said, toasting slices of the Crustum loaf. “Where’s dinner tonight?”
Naturally, I had a long list of potential restaurants. Having grown so fond of tapas, we strolled over to Robles Placentines, a Sevilla family restaurant for six decades. It was around 8:30, early for a Spanish dinner so we weren’t concerned about not having a reservation. “Inside is fully reserved. Do you mind to be outside?” the waiter asked. On such a pleasant night, we were happy to squeeze up against the building on this passageway.
“Superb Cava and wine,” my notes read, “and excellent kebabs, eggplant with gazpacho and cod with tomato concassé.” There was much laughter, talk of previous anniversaries and the beauty of Sevilla….
Pat was facing the street so he was the first to notice the long, low-slung, high-priced, black Mercedes (“An S550,” he says) inching slowly down the narrow passage toward us—soon just inches away. And I mean inches. We got a good look at the two couples inside. Spanish. Dressed for an occasion. In the front, the men, their black hair curling around the collars of pin-striped suits over impeccable shirts, white as their teeth. The women, seated in the back, coiffed, bejeweled, gowned. Part of a wedding party? They were so close we could smell their perfume.
Magellan rose to the occasion and moved his chair aside to let the Mercedes glide past. Señor Don Elegant Passenger opened his window. “Gracias, gracias. Thank you señor,” he said to Magellan.
“It’s their 45th anniversary,” Pat blurted out, “his and hers,” he said, pointing to Magellan and me.
There was a brief conversation in Spanish in the car and suddenly, Señor Don Elegant had, in his arms, a white gladiola retrieved from a bouquet Señora Don Elegance was holding, and he was graciously extending the long, flowery stalk to Magellan. “For la Señora, on her anniversary,” he said with a flourish and a bow of his head.
Ever since receiving this gracious gift, I’ve pondered what the exact word is for this man’s gallant action. Writing this post and thinking back to our week in Sevilla, it came to me.
In Sevilla’s Maria Louisa Park, Magellan and I went to see the space decorated with ceramic tiles depicting scenes from perhaps the world’s best novel, Don Quixote, by Spain’s Miguel Cervantes, written in 1605. Funny, philosophical, ironical, modern—all these words describe the book and Cervantes’ hero, whose love of chivalrous romances is seen as a mockery of his time. Or not.
“Good actions ennoble us, and we are the sons of our own deeds,” says Don Quixote.
Searching further (I know, digression is my habit), I found the word for Señor Don Elegant Passenger’s gesture in a review of Don Quixote by Ford Maddox Ford.
The gentle idea of chivalry [my italics] is the one medieval trait, which, had it survived as an influence, might have saved our unfortunate civilization.