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07.20.07

seville


Listen to Juan Talega - "A Mis Amigos"
Buy
Grands Cantaores Du Flamenco, Volume 20

(Day four of the Spanish travel junket.)


Our hotel is in a suburb of Seville developed for the 1992 Expo, separated from the downtown by another stretch of suburb built for the 1929 Pan-Iberian Expo. The Al Andalus Palace is a beautiful example of modern Spanish design, full of outsized, whimsical ornament, like the huge letters spelling out the name that march across the marble porch at the entrance, and the enormous red cloth and wire scallops that hang from the atrium cieling, which I'm assuming are meant to evoke the frills on a flamenco dancer's dress. It's flashy and humourous and a bit wry, but I wonder how quickly it'll age; the Al Andalus Palace was built for the 1992 Expo, then gutted and renovated just a few short years ago. The good thing, I suppose, about the flimsy, modular nature of modern building standards is that, unlike an edifice of stone, brick and steel, you can strip away the surface easily and start all over again.



Back on the bus, we drive down the boulevard that was the centre of the 1929 Ibero-American Expo, stopping at two of the more spectacular squares at the insistence of our guide for the day, so we can take pictures. The pavillions that have been preserved are very much the opposite of the Al Andalus Palace - solid and monumental, meant to remain as they were imagined by the builder as long as they stand. I wonder at what point in the last 80 years we transformed architecture into a disposable medium?

The bus finally pulls up in the old city, near the Alcazar - the old Arab palace gardens - and the Cathedral. We go through the Alcazar first; it's the home of the Spanish royal family when they're in town, a sprawling complex of Moorish style courtyards and gardens packed with tour groups the rest of the time. It's the sort of place built for ceremonial impact and, perhaps not incidentally, quiet reflection, but forcing your way through the tour groups in the hope of finding a relatively peaceful corner that approximates the intended effect is nearly impossible.

The Cathedral is, apparently, the largest in the world; even with the stone floors covered with knots of tourists, it feels indifferent to our presence, which has the sort of austere spiritual weight particular to cathedral churches. The sarcophagus of Christopher Columbus - a box carried by four huge bronze bearers - is off to one side, the toes of the shoes of his giant pallbearers worn to shiny bronze by daily rubbing. Like so many other huge churches I've visited in Spain, it seems to have lost its functional focus by the addition of chapels and monuments all around its perimeter; even standing in front of the main altar, your eye is drawn outward and around you. The gothic tracery in the ceiling feels a world away; the paintings and statues and altars on the walls are much closer, a jumble of decoration left behind by previous users that seem, in hindsight, almost desperate to leave their mark on the place. I slip away from the tour group for a moment to get a picture of the altar, and return to find them disappeared into the crowds all around. I consider trying to say a prayer, but it feels somehow inappropriate amidst all the tourists holding their digital cameras at arm's length, squinting as they compose a shot on the LCD screens.

After lunch at the hotel - another feast of ham and cheese and fish and beer and wine - we're left at liberty in the city. Stupidly, I've left my 1 GB flash card in the card reader on my desk at home, and need either a new card or a reader to empty out my camera at the end of every day. I head for the main shopping strip downtown, and end up at El Corte Ingles, the department store chain, where I spend 31 euros on a 7-in-1 card reader I could have got for twenty bucks at home - a tax on the negligent.

K. has asked for a statue of the Virgin, but despite assurances from our guide, I can't find a single store around the Cathedral that sells much more than cheap die-cast metal statuettes. Sierpes, a shopping street that seems to run the length of the downtown, is full of stores selling mantillas and shawls and the enormous combs women put in their hair to accessorize the Sevillana costume. I find a Paulist bookstore, where I buy K. a small statue, but decide that an understated silk shawl would also be a nice gift. I buy Cece a stuffed panther cub in a toy store; I'd picked up a little flamenco dress for Aggie in Granada the day before, which means that, halfway through my trip, my shopping is done.

I hurry to find a cab and rush back to the hotel for the night's entertainment - a flamenco show. It's tourist fare - flamenco dinner theatre, two shows a night, and if I didn't know anything about the music I'd probably consider it a fine diversion. I used to be a bit of a flamenco snob, however, sitting around with a former friend listening to tapes of singers like Juan Talega, so I can't help but imagine that the singers and dancers we watch would admit, if only among themselves, that they're just going through the motions. Jose asks me what I think, so I have to mention my brief period as a flamenco aficionado; in any case, he quickly exits the theatre when one of the dancers picks up a microphone for a bit of pop flamenco, so I have to assume he's sympathetic.

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© 2007 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters, a conservative catholic, a professional photographer, tv and movie critic, and ten years ago i would have told you that this was impossible. then i would have taken a swing at you. i might have been drunk. i look nothing like william powell.

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