The Expected and the Sublime

Sevilla after sunset

Finding Transcendence in Sevilla
By Elizabeth Cutright

The church bells just chimed in the witching hour, and the buildings across the river are basking in the golden glow of sunset.  It’ the eventide and I’m feeling melancholy – no quite sad, not quite lonely, just sort of poetically alone.  But the night feel pregnant with possibility, and as the city lights shiver across the water anything I feel like I’m up for whatever adventure might come my way.

The El Faro

I’m here in Sevilla (or Seville for you gringos), sitting on the rooftop patio of the El Faro, with one last sip of wine and a blank journal page staring up at me.  El Faro sits right along the Guadalquivir River, and it was suggested by my hotelier as the best place for fish and chips.  I tried to follow the recommendation to the tee.  The owner of my quirky little Sevilla motel, a short little man with an easy smile and a shock of shaggy white hair, is the kind of person who immediately inspires trust.  But the waiter warned me that the oil was old and I’d be better off with the daily special.  So here I sit, with a cool glass of white wine, crusty bread and a piece of fish with the eyeball still firmly attached.

The Daily Special

Ahh the novelty of the foreign palate!

My hotel is another funny adventure – small and quirky – and the owners are just as nice and parental as everyone described.  I used Trip Advisor for all my lodging choices, and I couldn’t recommend the site more.  Its best asset is the customer recommendation section.  The notes – particularly from British tourists who seem to exert an unusual amount of zeal when it comes to their ratings and comments – have so far been accurate and indispensable, down to the suggestion that I pop in for a croissant at a café down the street (delicious) and that I pick the  Hostal El Giradillo for my Sevilla respite

The hotel – or more accurately, pensione – is located on a hidden side street (the taxi driver looped around a couple of times before he found it), and the façade is nondescript.  But once you step inside you see why previous travelers sing its praises.  A riot of blue patterned tile covers a wide staircase that leads up the center of the building.  The front door clicked closed and all the sounds of traffic and mayhem from the city streets fade out to a mild hum.  It’s a hushed and quiet space, cool and calm on a riotous sunny day.

As soon as I landed on the bottom step of the foyer after unpacking, the old gentleman that runs the place whipped out a map and plotted out the city, complete with suggestions of where to eat and what to see.  It’s exactly what I needed; the kind of welcome I’d sorely missed in Madrid.

Unlike that cold capital, Sevilla’s friendliness has inspired me, and before I call it a night I decide to duck into one of those little nightclubs near the hotel for some authentic sherry and traditional flamenco.  On the way to the hotel to change for my evening adventure, I walk smack dab into a scene out of the Godfather (Part II).  Rounding a corner, I come face to face with a religious procession of epic proportions (at least for this non-practicing Catholic accustomed to solemn, unimaginative cloisters shrouded by dully recited “Our Fathers”).

The pageantry of the event astounds me.    A marching band – made up of musicians from every generation – marches proudly in front of a raised platform that contains a statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.  They’re both surrounded by blooming tuberoses – the flower’s heady scent surrounds the entire processional like fragrant, hallowed cloud – and every available surface is either bedecked with petals or white taper candles.  More taper candles, their flames flickering in the evening breeze, are twinkling and winking in the hands of the Virgin’s followers: citizens young and old, some dressed up and some in street clothes, all following their icon through the city’s serpentine streets.

The vision is beautiful, fantastic and exactly what I’d been waiting for.  I let the incense embrace me as the marching band’s rhythm vibrates my bones.  Slowly, regally, the berth glides down the street, around the corner and out of sight.  I haven’t voluntarily attended a church service in years, but at that moment I swear I almost made the sign of the cross.  Religious or not, I felt like I’d glimpsed something magical.  Otherworldly. Transcendant.

After such an emotional start to the night, the Flamenco performance seemed destined to be a let down, but in truth it I found it to be a nicely prosaic way to end the evening.  I picked a little music club I’d passed by earlier.  The girl at the door had been friendly and inviting, and my gut told me this was the place to go.  I was right. I wouldn’t say I fell in love with the art form, but despite my uncomfortable perch on the top of a too-small wrought-iron bar stool, there were moments (particularly when it was just the singer and the guitarist) where I found myself transported by the music.

After my first, official “night out in Spain,” I almost skipped back into my hotel – anticipating a good (and much needed) full night’s sleep, which is exactly what I got – take that Buddha and your expectations.

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