living the life in spain
“Spain was something of a mystery to me. I didn’t know much about the cuisine – I had never even seen a Spanish restaurant. I had heard of tapas, but being from Niagara, the tapas I had tried were always full of Canadian ingredients – the only thing that made it a tapas was the portion size. I knew about wines from La Rioja, however the selection at home was limited and it always led to disappointment. Despite my lack of prior knowledge of the place, it seemed romantic and exciting and I wanted to see it and discover for myself what made Spain Spanish.
I did a little research to determine which city in Spain was the most quintessentially Spanish. What did I associate with Spain? Matadors. Flamenco dancing. Sangria. Tapas. Where was the best place to experience all this? As I leafed through my travel books, I found Seville, part of Andalucia and the birthplace of flamenco and tapas. It sounded wonderful.
I immediately made a new friend when I arrived in Seville, who was willing to share her wisdom with me. She had already been in Spain for a while and shared with me (in a very endearing Quebecois accent), “Madrid is the centre of Spain and Barcelona is the face of Spain. But Seville is its soul.” I decided immediately I was in the right place.
We had an evening on the town, going to wonderful local hangouts where actual Spanish students attending Universidad de Sevilla would go to start la marcha. There I had croquetas for the first time – hands down the best thing I had ever tasted, doughy and salty, filled with pungent Spanish cheeses. We had sangria and discovered that the ugliest bar had the best, a little spicier than the rest, clearly made with a full bodied red. We made our way through windy, Moorish looking streets with beautiful tile work, water features and cobblestones along the way. Every public staircase, statue, and fountain were sat on by couples or groups of friends taking advantage of the mild night air, drinking wine which was sold out of open windows onto the square. Fast paced Spanish dialogue filled the air.
We ended up at La Carbonaria. I had heard that this was one of the more popular venues for experiencing the art of flamenco, but we thought we’d give it a try. It was unbelievable. A very rustic interior, great terrace, and fun service behind the bar awaited us – along with the wonderfully informal and seemingly unrehearsed yet flawless flamenco performance.
The dancer was in full costume, including thick healed dancing shoes, long frilly silky dress and of course a fan. All other performers, however, were looking very much like modern day gypsies, with long hair, the beginnings of a beard, wearing worn jeans. They put on a show like I had never seen. The singing was often very mournful, however the singer still managed to look like he was having a great time. There was no question that he was very talented, as he sung and kept the rhythm with stomping and clapping. The guitarist staccatoed across the strings at a more rapid pace than I thought possible. There was an unexpected addition to the ensemble with a flautist, no less talented than the rest. The connection between the dancer and the singer was intense and drew you in to the performance.
After the show, me and my fellow Canadian had the pleasure of our own private entertainment from the very attractive, very Spanish looking flautist. All around us people were joining in the fun by using anything at hand for percussion. Mauro the flautist ended up walking us home. He took us the scenic route, of course, showing us his favourite spots of the more historic part of Seville, that looked even more exotic at night. We saw Islamic, Gothic, Baroque and Roman influence. It appeared I had found what I was looking for.
In one evening out I discovered the Spanish appreciation of the enjoyment of life for its own sake. We experienced Spanish food, architecture and culture in one amazing night out. We then discovered our performer was from Genoa. This in no way diminished my feelings of finally discovering something very Spanish. Clearly Mauro enjoyed Spain as much as we did!”
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* photo by Tess Follett – Intrepid Photography Competition