Every beer takes me back to Seville
Ever experienced one of those memory triggers that takes you back to your travels?
For Dave Ward it is warm evenings with cold beers that still remind him of his tour of Spain…
“I felt completely at home during the last evening on a trip to Seville. The cathedral bell tower was chiming midnight when my holiday companion Tony decided to go back to our hotel for an ‘early’ night. He was exhausted after spending most of the day exploring Seville’s streets on foot in blazing sunshine.
I surrendered my backpack, camera, map and all the instruments of the intrepid tourist to Tony. I wanted to abandon the guidebook and explore the small cobbled alleys of the Santa Cruz area to see if I could find a local bar with no English menu. I wanted to drink beer in a traditional bar with wooden floors and Spanish football playing on the TV, to experience how the Sevillanos enjoy their summer evenings.
It didn’t take long for me to get lost in the maze of winding dark backstreets in the old Jewish quarter. I had no map – just my instincts to sniff out some tapas and cold San Miguel beer.
The cobbled alleys were barely wide enough for scooters to zip through and there was no sign of life, except for a dog barking in the far distance. Each alley led to more courtyards and cobbled streets. Every window was shuttered as if the city had been abandoned or was preparing for an imminent hurricane.
Even a Thursday night is a “letting your hair down” evening for the Spanish, who can always take a siesta the following afternoon if their hangovers interfere with the working day. The legendary midweek partying of the Andalusians was nowhere to be seen though.
I was about to turn back when I saw a light in the street ahead. As I got closer, the noise of laughter and muffled chatter grew louder. The light was coming from a frosted glass door. I looked through the glass and saw candles, the moving shapes of silhouetted figures and the brighter lights of a bar. Opening the door, I felt like Dorothy opening the door to Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. Instead of leading to a land of glorious technicolour, I entered a magical world of being free and relaxed.
The stone floor was covered in sawdust and cigarette butts. Above the bar hung dried Spanish sausage, garlic and a picture of the King Juan Carlos of Spain. I walked up to the bar and studied the blackboard menu and ordered gazpacho soup, served in chipped mugs, and a plate of potatas bravas. I badly needed a pint of ice cold tap beer and it was not long until I was lapping up the atmosphere and quenching my thirst.
The bar was full of people who looked like they had just gone straight to the pub from work. Men had discarded their ties, women had undone the top buttons of their blouses and a few briefcases lay abandoned under tables. The office workers had shiny faces, glowing with a film of oil, their complexions flushed from the copious amounts of wine being drunk.
Just as I finished my soup, a 60 year-old man stood on top of a wine crate and started to play guitar. It was the best guitar playing I have ever heard. Soon everyone was clapping and dancing in an impromptu flamenco performance. Before long I was clapping too. Men were clapping furiously while holding cigarettes between their teeth and letting out loud cheers.
About ten minutes into the shindig I felt a soft hand touch my arm. It was the hand of a beautiful Spanish girl with amazing brown eyes. She had invited me to dance. I danced until the small hours in the morning. I felt completely relaxed and at home. In fact, I felt more at home than I do in America.
Now every time I drink a large glass of beer on a hot night, I think of that evening in Seville… in the bar with the sawdust floor, a 60 year-old guitar player, delicious tapas, dancing and endless laughter. How I wish I was back on holiday in Seville.”
* Photo in Spain by Winnie Yau, for the Intrepid Photography Competition.