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Seville, land of artifacts

Ah Sevilla, city of the sun …

El Torre del Oro – The Tower of Gold – built in the 13th Century – across the river Guadalquiver. Like Valencia, Sevillians tired of frequent flooding so they split their river in two. This is really only half a river. The rest is round the back somewhere, dilapidated and ignored. Smell that honeysuckle!

My recent visit to Seville highlighted the built environment; how, after centuries of habitation, cities were arranged, paved and decorated for the use of humans, exclusively. Why not? What’s wrong with living in a place and making it comfortable? It’s home, isn’t it?

Holy Thursday in Triana, across the Guadaliquivir from the centre of town

In Seville, the streets, shopping strips and housing areas were regularly hosed, swept and in many cases mopped with soapy water. The smell of bleach rose from the roads. Certainly in the tourist hub of Cathedral and Alcázar I imagined the use of weed killer to be high. There were no insects or creeping things to be found. I didn’t even see a cat in Seville, although that may have been due to the Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions underway each afternoon and evening. The crowds were so intense that all God’s little creatures may have decided to retire.

Parque de María Luisa : when a frog pond may not include live frogs

Some creatures were still in evidence; I saw pigeons and in the Parque de María Luisa, I saw a skink. There was a larger lizard climbing the wall of the Casa de Pilatos. There were plenty of horses dragging tourists around in shining carriages and lots of little dogs trotting through the crowds.

Compare the variety of wildlife on show today with those recorded in tapestry housed in the Alcazár.

I pondered the notion of our enclosing environment as I wandered around the picturesque streets of Seville, watching cheerful families, dressed in their finery, looking utterly glamorous, attending to the needs of the very young and the very old with assiduity. Small boys marched with toy drums. Small girls ate lollies.

With so many of the penitents being children there were a lot of helpful parents supplying water and treats to keep the kids going

In the processions, parents walked beside their disguised youngsters, some of whom gasped for air during the heat of the day, others handed out saint’s cards or sweets to audience youngsters with their hands out. The penitents walked with large candles, their heads covered by cones of different colours, high and pointed, best to reach heaven. After dark some canny kids collected wax from different candles as the processions waited, pausing in the streets, until they held large balls of wax drips.

Keen youngsters collecting wax from waiting penitents

Holy Week this year was marked by beautiful, consistent, sunny weather and, once lunch was over, people flocked to watch the processions. If not their own church and family, I guessed people knew where to find the best sounding bands (for there were some astonishing musical encounters that cut straight to the emotions) or perhaps where to see the best sculpts or flowers in the pasos.

A Paso waits by the Metropol Parasol (also known as Las Setas, the mushrooms) the largest wooden structure in Spain

The pasos did seem to be the biggest draw cards, the enormous weighty displays of the sacred family; grieving Mary and Joseph, or Jesus suffering under the weight of the cross.

Jesus Paso from above. I think the flowers were iris?

Thirty to fifty men labour unseen under each sculpture, which were heavily decorated in precious metals and fabrics as well as candles and flowers. They could weigh up to two tons.

Costaleros – sack men – who carry the pasos in groups of up to fifty men.

Each team had a different style; lifting and shifting the sculpture to bring the agonised sacred faces to life on their journey into the Cathedral for blessing. Shadows flickered across the carved tragic faces caused by banks of candles or flaps of thickly embroidered canopies shaking in a huge puppetry display. Some specialised in the beginning, perhaps a dramatic lift (like a Citroën) jerking powerfully into the air while others gained approval by a shimmery ending as they sank to their supports. Others needed to perform intricate turns in the twisty lanes of their way, shifting back and forwards in a dance.

Oasis Hostel watches a Semana Santa procession go by, just outside our window around 10:30pm heading to the Cathedral to be blessed. Then they came back again around 1:30am. Band still sounding good. Even through the earplugs.

The men did not come out for a breather. They were handed water in a cup under the velvet curtain and only once did I see the officials around them lift the heavy curtains around the base to let some air flow through. It was a feat of strength and teamwork, similar in my mind to the feat of Castelling that happens in Cataluña. While that teamwork endeavours to go up to heaven as high as possible, the outcome of carrying these pasos is to bear as much weight and decoration as possible, to work as one to bring a symbol of family and humanity to the Cathedral to be blessed. That’s how I saw it anyway.

Paso with tree near the Cathedral

A live tv broadcast showed the same Paso with tree. The tv was in a bar near the Cathedral where I enjoyed a refreshing gazpacho. I could hear the band playing outside as I slurped. Note the two young penitents refueling – not all the brotherhood were men.

As family groups gathered on the streets they bought bottles of water, packets of crisps, puffed corn snacks, and tons and tons of sweeties. There were packets of assorted nuts and lots of pipas – sunflower seeds – that folk chewed and spat out as they sipped their beers.

Settle in and make yourself comfy in the living room of Seville

People sat in lines on the edge of the road as they waited for the processions to pass – there were timetables printed in booklets or printed on posters along the way – seventy churches (or parishes or brotherhoods) would bring their offerings to the Cathedral during the Holy Week. Several different routes wound their way through the streets.

There’s no crossing the roads when the processions are moving. Even when they are waiting, the light says stop.

Bars were open to buy beer, pizza, calamari and tons of different ice creams or gelatos were available. And the rubbish piled up. Not just in bins but also near bins and, in the case of the folk waiting in line, just dropped at the feet. It was as though they were at home watching tv, knowing mum would be along to pick up after them. And she was; those ever-present cleaners got to work immediately after every procession. The last penitent, the last paso, the last official, the last band member filed past and the onlookers fell in behind like Titanic victims sucked into the vortex of the sinking ship (I know it’s a myth, I saw Mythbusters too.) In an hour the streets would be free of litter, the washing truck would have done its work and the officials would have removed all barriers and chairs to stack them neatly for the next day.

Nice and tidy by the Museo del Belle Artes early in the morning

Any plant life in this built environment had to be tough. Big fig trees featured in Seville, and in Cadiz, the first I’d seen since Sydney. Where in Sydney, lawn, or even a fringe of deep-green clivia knife-leaves might surround those big dripping trees, most of the Spanish figs I saw were surrounded by paving. There might have been a myrtle hedge or a spindly rose garden nearby but instead of lawn there would be weeds (whose days were clearly numbered). Attempting to avoid the crowds I decided to take a daytrip to Cadiz on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of light), another historic area.

Tempting soccer pitch in Cadiz

I love a good embrasure but this, in a seaside fort called Castillo Santa Catalina, failed to defend Cadiz from unsightly development

Looking over to Castillo de San Sebastián in Cadiz – an evocative fort that must have witnessed many a battle on land and sea. Note extensive paving.

Back in Seville, I relaxed in the famous Alcazár’s natural-looking grassy area called the English woodland. Surrounding it were formal paved gardens, always keeping nature in straight lines. Perhaps it was this contrast that made me realise just how much of Seville is paved.

Pot plants at the Alcazár

The patios I saw around Seville featured gorgeously decorated glazed tiles, pot plants and imprisoned trees. As I peered down from the Cathedral’s tower, the green of the orange grove looked park-like, but it was really just trees in boxes.

The view from the Giralda, the tower of Seville Cathedral. The Giralda is the former minaret from the mosque that the Cathedral is built upon. Check out that office tower! (Don’t you think town planning is an art?)

Vines in the Parque de María Luisa, particularly bougainvillea, with some wisteria or clematis, raised the riot-colour above pergolas while horses hooves clopped and scraped along the paved roadways. All those paved areas must be incredibly hot in the summer.

The Plaza de España is regarded as alien architecture, which is why it featured in Star Wars II. Also, this is not a horse.

Plaza de España was the site of the 1929 Expo. Given it was such a success, Seville thought they’d get into the act again and, in 1992, hosted another Expo. I explored that site with great interest.

Trains not running on time at Expo 92

No, really, there’s no train today at all

You’ll probably have to drive

Plenty of parking at Expo 92

The site of Expo 92 did not enjoy the same success as its predecessor.  Some industry has been injected into the area but mainly it’s a paved ghost town. Which leads to the question, can the processions not move to the more spacious part of the Seville built environment? No. They can’t. The pasos have to go to the Cathedral. Through ancient winding thin streets crowded with people.

From Genesis – ‘Let the waters team with countless living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of heaven,’ as quoted in Edward O. Wilson’s Half-Earth; our planet’s fight for life. Mr Wilson points out that wilderness is remaining land that is not used by humans. It may or may not be pristine, it might be weedy for instance, but it has been left alone. And clearly there’s very little of it in Spain and other European countries where humans have evolved, developed and paved. To me, coming from Australia and New Zealand where human footprints have left lighter scars, a thousand-year-old castle is almost beyond comprehension. And you couldn’t pave all of Australia. (Yet.)

One of the results of this manicured, cleaned and organised built environment was the paucity of diversity. There were plane, pine and palm trees aplenty. There were rose bushes. There was lantana and some oleander. But there was not great biodiversity. There were plenty of pigeons, doves and few ducks. But there were not thousands of species alive and well living in harmony with humans.

See the many different plant species surviving in the Alcazár.

See cute little tourist attractions at the Alcazár

Given the built environment in Seville, although lovely with Cathedral, palaces and windy streets, is not a great habitat for animals, I began to harbour doubts about how safe it might be for people (a kind of animal after all.) I happened to get caught up in a couple of stampedes, or avalanches, during the dawn service, La Madrugada, on Friday morning. Known as the highlight of the Semana Santa, the crowds pressed together to watch the pasos near the Cathedral all night long. I did not see any children.

The panic began as a swelling of sound, dreadful and ominous, and it swept up hundreds of penitents, thousands of onlookers and dashed us all amongst each other, screaming, weeping and falling. It was a demonic thunder in the night, the ground reverberating, people pushing and running and looking around to find it; the truck, the terrorist, the anything? It was just plain, simple, bare, terror. That was all. And it only lasted a moment.

Thank goodness, brave people, like a man near me wearing a grey jumper, lifted their arms and lowered them, palms down, urging the crowd to calm. Those various people saved lives, I’m sure, that night. As I turned back after the panic wave had landed me on the footpath, I noticed a shoe in the gutter in front of me. A cardigan lay crumpled to my left. A pair of glinting eyeglasses had been crushed under a hurried foot. Everyone could see there was no truck or shooter but equally everyone could see the man lying akimbo on the ground in front of the kiosk, and a girl weeping, sitting in the gutter, and all of us, shaken to the core, gasping and thinking of Christmas markets, Westminster Bridge and Nice. Police arrested eight people. They had incited the riot by shouting and crashing metallic objects together. Apparently in 2002 there were more serious incidents and I was told the penitents were schooled to go to the walls or lie down if there was a stampede. So the ones urging tranquility were indeed trying to prevent greater harm.

Just before my first stampede

And so the band played on, with their tiny trumpets carolling into the guts, the encouraging applause echoing from the buildings with the clouds in the sky acting as a roof, shutting in and magnifying the noise. The crowd approved and the procession continued, relief and alarm in awkward balance. As I made my way back towards my hostel the way became impassable. The panic happened twice more. People climbed light poles and trees. There was simply nowhere to run.

An elderly lady watched from a window above the procession. She looked so alarmed as people screamed and jumped out of the way of the phantom truck her hand went to her heart and then she too tried to press down with her hands, like that man in the grey jumper from before. Pressing down with all her might to smother the fears of the people surging in front of her. She made the sign of the cross over her heart and looked to the party-people crowded into the flat over the shop next to me, shrugged, sighed, shook her head, all the time trying to calm the crowd. I’m not sure but she could have said, or gestured, ‘It’s just panic’. The third time less people moved after something crashed and a high young female voice screamed in eerie isolation. The crowd remained skittish then, like cattle about to be drenched or horses led to the starting line, turning nervously and rolling their eyes toward any strange sound. An ice-cream parlour with five young employees lined up by their wares, obviously closing early, rattled down their metallic-grill door; a dad holding nervous girls in a duckling-line sought the least disruptive way through the continuing silently moving procession. This paso featured Jesus and his cross. He struggled on with his burden and the forty odd men under him worked together with all their might to bring heaven to earth for one night.

Once reassured, the paso was worthy of admiration and many videos

The golden light glowed as people regrouped, found their friends, realised they were safe with their families and prepared to leave. The elderly lady spoke at length on her telephone, her hand either on her heart or gesticulating with worry. Young people left the march with worried parents, distress and alarm writ large on their faces. After a while more parents pushed through to pick up their young people – the meetings clearly the result of texting – to embrace them and to carry them away even as they removed their cone hats, some walking in their socks or bare feet. As I left, further away, more people, with fresh picnic hampers, little fold-up stools and happy anticipation walked toward the epicentre. Perhaps dawn was near.

A few days later, back in Barcelona, I decided to visit the Maritime Museum. It’s near the port, at the end of Las Ramblas. (Well worth a visit for the Royal [slave] Galley.) Some colourful costume players who entertained the crowd of merry tourists grabbed my attention. A classic Alien creature, performed extremely well, slyly embraced a short hipster while his friends doubled up in laughter and tried to stop shaking enough to take their photo. On the other side of the footpath a duo of monster warriors had captured a father/son pair and were preparing to behead them with scimitars; warriors, costumes and scimitars all painted the same shine of silver. The father/son pair squirmed in hilarity while granny raised her phone to record their silly troubles. A jolly throng, dressed in colourful summery gear, soaking up the sun and Barcelona atmosphere, surrounded these ‘scary’ pantomimes. And so I continued around the corner and in front of me stood a giant, black, armoured vehicle, flanked by two large police officers holding machine guns at the ready.

In my lifetime the population of the world has more than doubled. Our home is smaller and smaller. There is no room for terror. There is barely enough room for us.

Seville, city of cleans

Blanes. Winter is coming.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Blanes is a popular seaside resort on the Costa Brava of Spain. I’m lucky enough to be staying here while I work as an English conversation assistant in the next town, Palafolls. As you can see, the town centre of Blanes is a bustling metropolis. The farmers’ market takes place every morning but is particularly busy on Saturday.

In contrast, where I live, on the outskirts of town near the Camping Grounds, winter is coming and the shops are shut. Most of the apartments are empty and the hotels are boarded up.
blanes-masage-theraputico blanes-restaurants blanes-shut blanes-super blanes-wrapped blanes-backstreet
blanes-fast-food

blanes-mini-golf

I should add I took these photos on a Saturday at lunchtime.

The built environment

The built environment and the blustery day of Blanes in winter

There is one population though, that owns Blanes in the chilly temperatures.

blanes-cat-park

blanes-black-catblanes-catsblanes-cat-hotelTo the extent that some animal lovers have created Gatolandia – a cat hotel – to feed and provide shelter to our feline friends.

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

The area is very quiet. I am exceedingly lucky. Here is my apartment block. I think about half the flats are inhabited.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

 

This is the view looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

This is the view from my little clothes-drying balcony looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

In the other direction, looking toward the Tordera River and Palafolls, you can see the empty caravans of the Campings and the hills of the Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor, one of the national parks of Barcelona province. This ever-changing landscape is swept by winds from the Bay of Biscay. The cloud formations can be spectacular, or absent! On the point of the closest hill is Castell de Palafolls, now a ruin, which some of the young people at my secondary college have promised to show me.

My view in the morning

My view in the morning

 

My view in the evening

My view in the evening

Even though there’s nothing very natural about these built up areas, I’m sure there’s something still untamed up in them there hills …

Slices of heart wood

Hola from Spain! I am currently living here, working as an auxiliar de conversacion de inglis in a small secondary school, in a tiny town on the Costa Brava. I’m very lucky. I’ve visited much of the country, especially the North when I walked the Camino del Norte y Primitivo. I’m still trying to process my impressions of the last few months but here’s a little taste of the Camino – all 876km.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my little flat overlooking the hills of the Parc del Montnegre y el Corredor, I have time to return to this blog. I am learning how to be an English conversation assistant and hopefully, along the way, be better able to teach English. In between days at school, and typing, I am still restless. There is much to see locally, of course, but I do feel the need to tick off some of the big towns of Spain. I visited Valencia on the recent long weekend. It is a wonderful town of history together with a heady vibrant energy of rejuvenation. But one visit really tumbled me and it was La Memória dels Arbres, in the University of Valencia Botanic Gardens.

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

I wandered around these gardens, a formal zoo for plants that was established in the sixteenth century, with no great aim. It is a lovely oasis. Living in one of the flats overlooking these neat and tidy sections would be idyllic. Birds flittered about. A sweet little grey bird with a pale orange chest chirped away above me as I sat on one of the many shady benches. It sounded like a little metal hammer tip tip tapping on a tiny fragile stained glass window. Or a miniature suitcase, wheeled along tiny cobblestones, tirruping along. The parrots came alive later as the sun rayed into the tops of the trees. I couldn’t see them but I thought they would have red heads and green bodies like the ones I’d seen earlier flying around the Palace. Strange how some of the flats face away from the gardens. And in this Botanic Gardens there are many cats!

cats listen to 'Imagine' by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners

cats listen to ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners in the school nearby

Finally I came upon an exhibition building where I found:

poster for La Memória dels arbres

Suddenly the world was coloured by layers of music and the smell of freshly sawn timber. The building itself has a beamed ceiling of heavy wood but it was the languorous guitar that took me down through the circles of time into this extraordinary exhibition.

Silhouette of tree in Valencia, Jardī Botanic

Created by two men who apparently went into the forest, hewed, carried by backpack and arranged the pieces:

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

I tried to think why I was so greatly affected by this selection of lumber CAT scans. Partly because I am recently from Prague, where I learned to carve wooden marionettes with Mirek Trejtnar of Puppets in Prague. Often Mirek would encourage us to respect the wood, respect the grain, feel the timber.

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

The wood memories selected showed the rings of ages. Clearly some were very old indeed and, given the changes and torments wrought over the land of Spain, had stood while many human lives had fallen. The slices showed the effects of insects, cold, drought and fire. They looked soft and so like medical specimens that once again I was reminded how human beings have much in common with other species. Even plants!

Slice of sabina

Slice of sabina-negra

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Almond wood

Almond wood

Heart wood

The Signature of All Things – big story, big picture, big biggness

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/the-signature-of-all-things/

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/the-signature-of-all-things/

The Signature of All Things strides across centuries, across science and across the face of God. It details (and I mean, really details) the life of the father, the daughter and the Holy Angel. It looks at our relationship to nature in a learned, scientific light. It’s a book, it’s big and it’s by Elizabeth Gilbert.

http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733752_1735978,00.html

http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733752_1735978,00.html

But I wasn’t paying attention to the writer when I began because I was drawn to the reader. I listened to this behemoth on Audible books read by the delectable tones of Juliet Stevenson. Ah.

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1579914752/nm0828980

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1579914752/nm0828980

If you have never had the pleasure of being read to by Ms Stevenson, may I recommend you rush to Audible for your introductory book and plug your ears into anything at all, say for instance, Middlemarch or Persuasion. I could listen to Juliet read the phone book and herein lies the problem, because I began to wonder if indeed The Signature of All Things might not in fact be a bit of a phone book. Juliet’s mellifluous golden tones seeped into my mind like a pleasant dream but once in a while I would be jumped out of the loveliness and mentally exclaim, ‘What is this stuff?’

Like Joyce, Gilbert is heavy on the lists. It sometimes feels as though she’s deliberately setting out to write an enormous masterpiece, covering a great sprawling canvas, and therefore she must conjure all the things that pertain to the thought she has in mind at that moment, that circumstance, that idea, that shade, that currency, that minutiae, that detail, that nuance, that secondary motif, that other thing that just might resonate with some reader somewhere because of something a second cousin once said at a wedding where she wore a beautiful dark dress with a large floral print in pinks and leaves but her shoes were too tight and she got a blister on her heel that took days to fade away and MEANWHILE back in the real world you’re starting to wish Ms Gilbert had found a slightly sterner editor and that maybe Juliet is reading the phone book after all.

There’s no doubting Gilbert’s steady and erudite construction of sentences and, apart from slight Americanisms like ‘pinky’ and ‘route’ most notable toward the end of the book, the prose is indeed suggestive of Elliot. In fact, and this reveals more about my lack of current popular knowledge than anything about Gilbert, I didn’t know who she was. It wasn’t until some way into the work that I looked the woman up. Der. She’s quite wise really.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat,_Pray,_Love#/media/File:Eat,_Pray,_Love_%E2%80%93_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat,_Pray,_Love#/media/File:Eat,_Pray,_Love_%E2%80%93_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007.jpg

So I went and borrowed Eat Pray Love (in that order) from my local library. The strands of this memoir are the concerns of the main character, Alma, in Signature. The corporeal, the spiritual and the emotional. That is to say, All Things. A lot of people really like it, apparently, and you might want to watch the movie. I shan’t dwell on ELP except to say it is based on Gilbert’s private journals and acts as a kind of miasma or swamp of the mind from which might grow a mighty lotus blossom. That blossom might well be The Signature of All Things.

Signature is an extraordinary vision and it features many real life characters like Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and Darwin. It could be that the story is based on a real person. The idea is not so far-fetched after all. A female scientist joins Darwin and Wallace in examining the world and seeking answers. There’s nothing preposterous in that. Female thinkers have been, like Alma’s moss, quietly gathering science ever since records began. Many have disappeared. Perhaps Gilbert found an account or diary somewhere that kicked this giant opus off?

There is much to ponder in Signature. There is much, full stop, much of everything really. It’s big, I tell you. An amazing feat. Alma is big, her father is a titan, her husband is an angel. Her view of God is not singular. Ms Gilbert really likes numbers and the basic trinity is always present (as are other numerological games in both ELP and Signature). Gilbert is an intellectual, after all. However, God is not in the moss. Heaven is not within. Heaven is somewhere else.

You might like Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity. She describes the need to separate artists from their muse – genius comes from outside. (Like God!)

Humans are part of nature – and her discussion of the development of the theory of evolution is even-handed and I welcome her embrace of Wallace. Although Bill Bailey on the subject is probably slightly more amusing.

I’m sorry I can’t be more conclusive about The Signature of All Things. I do love hearing big books, especially read by Juliet. I did enjoy many parts of this enormous blossom, this mossy roll, but in the end it did feel unsatisfying. Did it go on too long? Did it start too early?

It is amazing. That is all. It is about All Things. That said, I do wonder if Gilbert has been in communication with George Elliot’s muse?