Sunday, April 24, 2011 | Sevilla
WHEN I WENT to Paris a number of years ago, I was struggling mightily with the language. What little French I remembered from college didn’t help me get understood when I tried to communicate with people. And the French were not very patient people. Ordering food at restaurants was particularly painful, so when, on my last day there, I saw a Spanish restaurant, it didn’t take me more than a few seconds to decide that was where I was going to eat my first comfortable meal since my arrival. And all went well. Until it wastime to order wine.
“Vino rojo,” I said confidently.
“Vino tinto,” the waiter corrected me, as haughtily as all the French waiters I had encountered.
Humiliated, I nodded, yes, I wanted the vino tinto. And I swore I’d never make that mistake again. Yesterday, when I stopped at my first tapas place in this city, I told the waitress what I wanted and added that I wanted a vino tinto. You should have seen the look on her face. Imagine Margaret Thatcher looking down her nose at Jimmy Carter. Or Arrianna Huffington doing the same with that Grudge guy. You get the picture.
“Un riojo,” she said with a slight but not happy laugh. Bitch, I said after she walked awayand swore that from now on, I’m sticking with, “una cerveza.”
And I have, for the most part. Until now. I’m sipping on a riojo while waiting for my food at an outdoor cafe on the edge of Santa Cruz, the ancient Jewish quarter (until Spain decided Jews were evil and tortured, murdered or exiled most of them).
But believe me, in sticking with beer I’m not denying myself any pleasures. I love Spanish beer. It is served ice-cold, in relatively small glasses, which makes it easy to down one in a few minutes after you’ve been trudging around for hours in the spring heat. (Yes,we finally had a warm and relatively dry day. Some heavy showers blew in late this afternoon but by then I was in my room, soaking my aching body in very hotwater.) That’s what I did at lunch today. After I had wandered around the old section of town and walked along the river to get a close-up view of two magnificent graceful modern bridges over the Rio Guadilquivir, built for the 1992 Expo, my feet were demanding a rest and my stomach was demanding sustenance, so I sat down at an outdoor tapas place.
When the waiter came, he informed me that the kitchen didn’t open until 1:30 but that since it was already 1:20, I was welcome to sit there and have a beer. The beer lasted all of three minutes. I have never tasted better beer in my life. The waiter had brought a bowl of green olives and some bread, and I soon devoured all of that also. When I first arrived, only one other table was occupied, and I was beginning to worry that I may have chosen a bad restaurant, but at exactly 1:30, people started arriving and soon all the tables had patrons, and there were people waiting in line for seats.
(One of the interesting things about Spain is that restaurants can have outdoor eating areas even if they have no room for them; if there is a plaza across the street, they can set up tables and chairs there. If, as was the case at Duo Tapas, where I ate today, there is heavy traffic separating the café from the plaza, the waiters play an interesting game of dodging cars and buses to get food and drink to customers.)
It took forever for my food to arrive, but every time I ordered another beer, it was delivered within a few minutes. I think, but I won’t swear to it, that I ended up having four. The food was great, although the waiter or the kitchen forgot one of my tapas, until after I had ordered la cuenta. What did arrive was very good. The first tapa was a seared tuna with vegetables and a lemony sauce. The tuna was almost raw, which made me hesitate a bit because I have always been averse to raw fish, but I forced myself to try it, and I am glad I did.
The second dish was equally as scrumptious. I’d love to tell you what it was but I can’t remember. So, before I forget this too, I’lltell you what I’m having for dinner: artichoke hearts with shrimp and ham in a lemon sauce. And ham croquets. Yum.
The meal is so good that I am not letting an ugly old Austrailian at a nearby table spoil the experience. He is loudly practicing all the Spanish words and phrases for goodbye with the waiter. Hasta la vista and adios are his favorite, the latter uttered in an obnoxious John Waynish drawl.
(Oh, now I remember: my other dish at lunch was a creamy risotto with mushrooms. Double yum.)
Although I must have walked about eight miles today, I didn’t really do much. I dropped in on the high mass presided over by the archbishop and listened for a while to the lovely saved music, but I wanted to get to a certain plaza where artists display and sell their work every Sunday morning. It took a while but I found it. I asked for directions twice and both times I was told the same thing: walk that way a bit and ask somebody else. I think I’ll try that trick the next time a tourist in Washington asks for directions. That is probably the best advice anyway, given that mist people are probablylike me: they nod their head as if they understand every direction when what’s going through their mind is, I’ll never remember any of this anyway so I’ll stop paying attention right now.
I found the plaza and the art, but I wasn’t moved by any of it. Or rather, by any of the pieces I could afford to buy and were small enough to carry home with me. I spent the rest of the day roaming around and getting lost (remember what I said about Toledo? It is no different in this city’s old section, especially Santa Cruz.
The highlight of the day was when I stumbled into the Antiquarium, the city’s new historical and archeological museum. I didn’t go inside but I must have spent more than an hour staring at the exterior from all angles, in complete, total awe. Hard to describe this building. First of all, it is huge, covering about two city blocks, and it floats above the plaza, supported by five or six giant columns. And unless you look very closely, you can’t really see the circular buildings because they’re hidden by the intricate latticework structure that extends, like melded-together giant parasols, above it all. I’ll try to p
ost a picture later so you can get an idea. I guess what stunned me about this structure was that it was totally unexpected. It isn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks or newspaper articles I read, and it isn’t on the tourist maps. It’s that new!
ONE FINAL THING: I finally did get to see a Holy Week procession, last night. I was roaming around in the area near the cathedral when I heard the music of a brass marching band. I made my way to the cathedral and got there just in time to witness the departure of one of two floats from the massive church, preceded by penitents dressed in black hooded outfits and followed by the band. Unfortunately, it was too dark and I was too far away to be able to get any good pictures, but I captured some of it on video using my iPhone. Again, I’ll try to post that later.