Monday, May 24, 2004

SPAIN Day02//30.Apr.04 - Santa Cruz, Santa Maria, Flamenco Stamps & Stomps!: Seville

Today was to be spent entirely in Seville. We will see little of the belly of the coach and will be stomping the grounds of Southern Spain's grand dame. That's how I perceive Seville. Old, dignified, majestic, but there's a hint of rouge and rustle of silk that alludes to liveliness beneath that composure. Established as a Muslim capital sometime in the 11th century, Seville still retains much of its old-world charm. The highest point in Seville still belongs to the Giralda Tower (La Giralda) which was built in the 12th century as a minaret.

La Giralda served almost as a beacon to our little group that started the day with a leisurely stroll through the Parque Maria Luisa. We passed by a monument in tribute of the discovery of America by Chris Columbus, it consists of two pillars joined by ship. The two pillars signifiy the Old World and the New World, both linked by the Santa Maria ship. A little farther, we came upon a tree, hundreds of years old, and with a trunk so thick it took 10 full grown-men to make a human daisy chain around it! As we got closer to Santa Cruz, we walked alongside the creeper plant-covered walls of Palacio de San Telmo (former palace, now a seminary). Soon, we arrived at the former Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is made lovely with rose bushes, orange trees and potted plants. And ever so romantic with the fountain-centred squares and narrow streets. There is even a street called the "Street of Kisses" because it's so narrow, that one-half of a couple will find it very convenient to surreptitiously plant a kiss on the beloved! Interestingly, Manuel, our Andre Agassi lookalike guide pointed out that owners of the old-fashioned town houses in Santa Cruz, will deliberately leave one of their front doors ajar, an invitation for the passing public will peer in at their flower-filled patios. Manuel then encouraged us to walk through house No. 9's wooden door to have a look at its courtyard. Although complete intrusion is prevented with wrought-iron grills, that did not deter us from casting admiring glances at the tidy courtyard, well-tended plants and family heirlooms on display. No wonder these owners were willing to show off the inner sanctum of their houses to strangers, it was indeed an oasis of beauty!

When our merry little walk in Santa Cruz ended, so did the musical accompaniment. We bid Santa Cruz and the busking Senoras who trailed this group of tourists farewell with some Euro coins. Our next stop was at the Santa Maria cathedral, which had the distinction of being the largest Gothic building in the world and the 3rd largest church in the world. Built in the 15th century, it was indeed impressive. It houses a 20m tall central altar decorated with more than a thousand wooden figurines, sized accordingly (~0.8m at bottom row; ~2.0m at top row) so that when viewed each and every one would be of equal height. It also has a elaborate Cuban mahogany carved choir stall. Adding to its claim to fame is also Christopher Columbus's tomb, which is hoisted by four kings representing the four main kingdoms of Spain. Manuel then challenged us to climbing the 34-floor La Giralda, the hike up was not as gruelling as I thought it would be, ramps were used as the ulamas (Muslim cleric) back then would have to go up the minaret 5 times a day. Therefore, ramps would be easier for horses to navigate as the ulamas gallop up those floors. In the end, we were rewarded with the sight of Seville from a bird's eye view and the sound of 16th-century bells tolling. Walking out of Santa Maria into the sunlight, we passed by the outer part of the cathedral called the Patio of Orange Trees, which was a former ablution site, with well designed irrigation and lush orange trees.

Speaking of oranges, never attempt to eat those from trees planted by the roadside. They are sour and not meant to be eaten, unlike the sweet and juicy variety that we had during lunch. After lunch, we made our way across the Guadalquívir river to attend the annual April Fair or Feria de Abril. Senoras and particularly the senoritas, came decked in their
flamenco finery: polka-dots, flowers and ruffles galore. I watched with fascination as they peacocked in equally colourful tents sheltering tables that groaned under the weight of tapas and sangria. I felt as though transported to the 19th-century. Horse drawn carriages and mounted riders clogged the roads, the air stank with horse poo and pee, whilst we had to pussyfoot and really mind our steps! Unfortunately, we didn't see senoritas stepping and swishing their skirts to the tune of the flamenco. Nevertheless, we were guaranteed that as we had a show at a flamenco dance hall at 7:30pm.

The flamenco dance hall is a double-storey building. We were ushered to the upper floor and had a good view of the stage from there. The 2-hour long show consisted of solo dances, pairs and even a romantic play act. Sometimes the dances will be accompanied by live singing and guitar, other times, the singers take a break while a
record is played. The show was lively and it was entertaining watching the intricate footwork, the stamps and stomps, the clicks of the castanets, and the snaps of the fingers. A particularly memorable performer was one who wore and all black outfit with a tight lacy top (and this is a man we are talking about) and had a pained expression throughout the performance. Mr. Pruny Face was either very into conveying the passion and intensity typical of a flamenco dance, or was wearing too-tight boots!

By the time the show was over, it was well into dinner time. Our energy was spent on the full day and the vicarious dancing and we were more than happy when we were led to a nice Spanish restaurant. We had bean-based soup, saffron-coloured paella and the best creme caramel that I have tasted in years. Yum! What a meal, to end what a day!


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