Andalusian Impressions, Take Five and Final

This is my final collection of vignettes and photos from our time in Andalusia. Over the month, they have become my love letters to Spain, sent out to thank her land and her people for hosting us so beautifully in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic swept over her and the rest of our precious planet.
So much is uncertain, may be impossible, but these love letters hold my heart’s desire to return one day to help restore Spain’s people to their livelihoods. Perhaps they will inspire you, too. Kindest regards…and thank you for reading, liking and sharing.

Sevilla has a place in my heart much like Tuscany’s Florence. Maybe it’s the easy-to-walk accessibility to art and architecture, and abundance of cafes with good food and wine.  Or that, unlike at home, I’m quick to orient and have a keen sense of direction and memory for where I’m going. (His first time in Florence, my husband, lost in google maps, swore I’d had past lives there, given how quick I was to mark the way with street signs, remembered sights and feelings, and paper map my references.) Making this return, with several days to linger, and then a couple more, was a charmed and cherished way rekindle my affection and conclude our time in Andalusia. And given we spent more time here than elsewhere, this collection of vignettes is longer, and interspersed with photos along the way. May you enjoy!

V   Sevilla

coming full circle, we finish where we started, Sevilla
what stayed the same, what changed in that ten-day absence?
what continues to shift in the days remaining?

luxe bus from Malaga, leisurely drive north
white stone walls, white lacy almond trees
grey green globes of olive trees row upon row, up and down hillsides
broken by a village, a road, now a mountain range
contrasted by a cerulean sky, and clouds heavy with sea water from the Costa del Sol

arrived and settled into the perfect Santa Cruz apartment,
thoughtful amenities compensate for the lack of light in this classic courtyard setting
shuttered windows will be a blessing in the frying pan heat of a Sevillian summer

famished, we stop at the local plaza for a platter of the fresh fried catch
cold cerveza, chilled manzanilla – could anything taste better?
then to walk and discover along this residential maze of dusky corridors, we really are only ten minutes away from it all

tourists milling in touristy places
servers tend to the calle lined tables, patrons anxious for their mid-afternoon tapas
Giralda continues to command my attention as she did from the first, shining against that afternoon sky
recalling she was my first photo that first evening that first trip in 2017
predestined next step to make the easy cobbled climb of her interior, thirty-four rounds in the sky
and feel compelled to photograph her again and again, morning, noon and night

the cathedral, Giralda’s raison d’etre, the world’s largest gothic church
rose glass window
first elliptical ceiling
Columbus’ final resting place
all bedecked in gilt and grandeur

 

 

the Alcazar continued to please, though the growing crowds had us make quick haste
grateful for the grace and space, hush and lush of its gardens
my enchantment with Mudejar beauty
that confluence of east meets west design unique to Spain
deepens in appreciation and respect with every sighting
and the local artist’s rendering brings even more to those moments and my regard

and now, those once tight green buds bursting to reveal
waxy white petals and golden centre, scattered like wedding confetti
sweet fragrance of orange fills the air
evokes childhood memories
belies the bitterness of its fruit

Ole! Flamenco!
I dance it at home (or try, how I pine I didn’t start at six, or have another lifetime to learn)
I’ve seen flamenco at home and on this very stage
even with reservations, urged us to walk fast, to be early in line,
to get front row seats in the small casa, as it’s first come first seated


welcome given, performers take the stage, I recognize the “bailaor”, the ”cantaor”
I know it will be a good show, but who was to know how good
never had I seen before such ferocity, such passion,
I feel rise in me, in him, in us – with every “golpe”, every “tacon”
he knows, we know – Ole! Duende!
Ole! Ole! because there aren’t words to acknowledge what we witness
if I’d had a long stem rose, I’d have tossed it on the stage

 

caught up in this sunny Sunday Sevilla Marathon, plans to visit Plaza de Espana now dashed
as 14,000 runners pace themselves to qualify for the 2020 Olympics
(this, before the global coronavirus threatens to quash Tokyo’s summer games)
African men and women break records for the win and places, in mere minutes over two hours

detoured, we walk along the river, same one we meandered along in Cordoba
past bullring, and cafes
a chance turn and we see a sign: La Vermutera de Sevilla
my kind of place for my kind of drink
served over ice with a slice of orange and a green olive
a closet sized bar
walls lined with bottles of Spanish vermut (vermouth) never seen at home
platters of home-made tapas elegantly displayed
local DJ spinning vinyl this Sunday, another serendipitous stroke of luck
lovely young couple with a 16 month daughter – realizing their dream

 

restless, anxious, dream-filled sleep, always the same the night before I travel
tomorrow the early morn departure, to be soon enough homeward bound
and too, will I remember the way to the hammam today?
wondering, down which alley did my intrepid travel nature go without  me?
it’s OK to be afraid, I’m OK, I found my way, I remembered, I arrived

 

so the universe has given us the gift of 36 more hours
Sevilla, not yet ready to bid us “adios”, what does she have in store?
Mercury in Retrograde an astrological blessing, and fog as thick as gazpacho (hey, it’s Spain)
45 minutes later new tickets, new hotel reservations in here and in Madrid
and hey, look, is this a business class upgrade? Madrid to Amsterdam? Amsterdam home?

 

Ash Wednesday in Triana, this old gypsy town across the river revers the holy ritual
red velvet draped balconies and wafting incense signal this Catholic church is open for ceremony
I step past the heavy curtained doorway
into this darkened, silent, hallowed space
to mark the beginning of Lent
dozens of six foot tapers burn, baskets full of purple alstroemeria,
the setting for the life sized Mary holding the crown of thorns,
for Christ bearing his cross, and ours
I sit and watch as one by one, each steps forward, bows, kisses His hand
I sit and hold the sacred space for their prayers and mine
acutely knowing how the distance from home had coalesced
into the timelessness of faith that knows no borders

 

the pup tied to the grilled gate, its water bowl filled, its soft bed on the sidewalk
still it cries for its person, wagging its tail
is it you? me? us?
missing our Annie dog suddenly pierces my moments before freshly pierced heart

 

coming full circle, that final lunch of fresh fried fish, and longed for salad
your cold cervezas and my three chilled manzanillas give us a glow
we’re easy targets for earnest, busking troubadours with Spanish guitars
African women selling bracelets, men selling sunglasses
those still warm, soft and crispy, Portuguese tarts from the wee bakery by our hotel
a sweet farewell to Sevilla
a portent of our next shared adventure

Traveling

Finca BuenVino, Perspectives with Panache, 2020

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.

– Antonio Machado –
Border of a Dream, Selected Poems, 2004

Winter in Spain

It’s early morning, still dark, cold, snowy and winter. When this gets posted, hopefully winter will be the only carry forward for us as we’ll be en route to Spain. Reading last July, a solo traveler’s post on spending a couple of weeks last January in Andalusia got me thinking. Last winter, having bailed on Mexico, we stayed put and endured the coldest February in forty years. Not complaining, as making home in Alberta comes with making peace with winter. And while my tolerance for cold has lessened considerably after a thyroidectomy in 2017, I’ve come to love the soft, enveloping quiet of falling snow, the invitation to turn inward during the long dark, the slow, the still. But I wondered aloud about shifting direction this winter. A quick email to Sam, who with his wife and sons host an exquisite b’n’b in the mountains west of Sevilla, confirmed winter can be a lovely, low season time to visit. Confirmation from husband that yes, Spain would meet his destination criteria of good food and wine, gave me the go ahead to don my travel consultant hat and design our itinerary. Barcelona and Madrid would give way to a more focused, yet leisurely experience of Andalusia. A circuit starting quickly but ending slowly in Sevilla, with an easy few days Finca Buenvino in Aracena, then onto Cordoba, Granada, Malaga.

“Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’d already visited some of the region. September 2017 I was scheduled to co-host a circle gathering in Germany when a friend suggested we travel to her favourite part of Spain, an area she was certain I’d become as enamored of as had she. Rather magically, the email invitation to attend a writer’s retreat at Finca Buenvino a few weeks’ preceding. Afterwards, five days soaking up elements of Sevilla – hot sunshine, cold manzanilla sherry, tapas and flamenco, Mudejar architecture, colourful tiles and gardens – and a day in Cordoba. As the scout for some of the travelling I do with my husband, I’m delighted to be stepping back into the familiar, while anticipating the fresh and new with him.

“Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I know we’ll be beautifully hosted in Aracena. Sam and Jeannie, British expats, built their pink villa decades ago as a guest house and cooking school. Specializing in fresh, local Andalusian inspired cuisine complemented by sherries, vermouths and wines, I knew this would be an easy way to my man’s heart. I’ve reserved for luncheon in Linares, a nearby hill town, at Arrieros, the Michelin recommended café I’d walked by that September where the owner invited me in for gazpacho, which I had to regretfully decline due to the day’s writing retreat schedule. Another luncheon booked at Sevilla’s ConTenedor, returning to that terrific slow food restaurant featuring a pastiche of local flavor and colour. We’ll see flamenco, compare the vast beauty of Al Hambra with the more accessible Real Alcazar, sip and savour at tapas bars. I’ll visit the art galleries missed the first time.

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’ve been living a slower spaciousness.  I completed a contract in January, filed the report a couple of weeks ago. Intentionally set timelines to have time to prepare.

The practical. After the brilliant, brittle cold last month, how will long-range forecasts of mid teen and low twenties temperatures feel? Which layers to stay warm at night, at elevation? What are the best footwear options to safeguard against a flareup of the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tending for the month? Which medicinals to shore up and stay healthy? The corkscrew and sharp knife for the impromptu. The swimsuit for the hammam.

The heart. Travel lighter. Make time and space for writing and painting. Bring the journal from last time, the new notebook that matches. Paints and brushes. The camera. Receive what the heart would love to say, to see. Maybe the gift of my sore foot, “to move at the pace of guidance.”

“May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Often I travel solo. Typically, an “alone, together” small group experience where I can immerse in the moment to moment unfolding, nurturing impressions in the quiet of my own creative process; then coming out to engage with those around me. Travelling with my husband is markedly different. The focus and energy shifts to us, together, to us, alone, in new spaces, and made new by our travelling them together. I wonder what invitations wait along the way for us, for me?

“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Seven months since the idea to go to Spain this winter. Almost here, and soon enough home again.