Monday, November 25, 2013

All this goodbye without going away...

Two things I had floating around in my drafts folder were things I wanted to revisit and remember for whatever reason. In keeping with having at least one thing in my life organized and in the interest of prepping this blog for both Blog Every Day December and the 200th post (!) I thought I'd just post the two things here. The first is an excerpt from David Rakoff's swan song "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish" which is a novel written entirely in verse and written while Rakoff was dying. This brief excerpt is in the voice of one character who is caring for his mother as she dies of Alzheimer's disease. I'm currently witnessing the "dispiriting coda" of my own grandmother in this way and when I read it, I could almost hear the words echo off the walls of every chamber of my heart and all three parts of my brain, particularly "All this goodbye without going away."

"Like a time-lapse filmed flower that blooms in reverse,
Each day brought some further cruel deforestation
Of mind, with no hope for one thought's restoration.
 He'd thought that her being alive  would defray
His sadness, but all this goodbye without going away
This brutal, unsightly, and cold disappearing
Was so beyond what he'd conceived ever fearing
A stupid, but no less dispiriting coda
to be slapped by his mother, who wanted his soda
This someone he'd loved and so viscerally known...
It left Josh abandoned and feeling alone.
More than his mother uncensored, unkempt,
Was the non-recognition. Her blanket contempt
Made him feel like they'd never met, wholly a foreigner,
Meriting no more regard than the plant in the corner.
This being stranger was like being dead,
And brought to mind how, in a book he had read
That most folks misunderstood one common state:
The flip side of love is indifference, not hate."

The second thing I came across awhile ago, when I still had a twitter account, was this tweet from Sherman Alexie:

Ocassionally, when someone asks how I am, I tell them the truth: always hungry, often lonely.

One of the things I do miss about twitter is the off chance that somewhere in the sludge there is always the possibility of truth. And sometimes that truth is told so succinctly and honestly that seems even truer, as though that were a possibility.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One really long, satisfying ramble: the rest of Madrid

I'm not sure if it is a thing that happens but when I upgraded my phone's software, a huge amount of notes that I kept in there just disappeared. Unfortunately one of those very, very long notes, contained my travel blog outline. And because I rely heavily on writing things down and because alcohol is a bit of a hobby of mine, the memories are fuzzy and I have tried to piece together the rest of the week as best as I can. So if it sounds a bit disjointed, blame apple, inc. Also, the day to days might start to bleed into each other so I might just make the Madrid blogs one really long, satisfying ramble. It has been months. And I'm still drinking, so there's that. A lot of the details of particular days have been lost to the cloud. I know everyone wants to see every single slide in the projector wheel while sitting my sunken living room, sipping cocktails and eating gherkins but I'm afraid I'm full of disappointments. Let's move on.

I should also mention that I think I've figured out why the Madrid portion of the trip has been so hard to blog about and break down. A lot of the highlights of the trip were due entirely to conversation and the company I was in and after Paris and after Barcelona and Sevilla, I felt old hat at being a local in a city I've never been in. Insofar as ANY of this is of any interest to people who were not there, the least interesting parts of it for, you know, everyone but myself and my traveling companions would be what we spent most of our time doing: drinking together and talking about our lives. Having said that, I'll just consolidate the rest of the trip in this post and hope it is read and enjoyed. Madrid was one of my favorite places I've ever been to and I feel drawn to go back and eat peppers and drink wine and have dancers perform flamenco for me. It's good to have dreams.

I mentioned in a previous post about my affinity for and subsequent surrounding myself by really exceptional ramblers. Well, I just so happened to find myself in Madrid with two of the best ramblers I know, Rowan and Lorraine. I knew from the moment we started planning to meet up in Madrid, it would be one really long, satisfying ramble, we being who we are and Madrid being what it is. The weather was perfection and we decided to walk around to find the royal palace and get our bearings. Madrid has the kind of feel to it that draws you outside, day or night. I was getting that feeling from the moment we woke up and stepped out on the balcony and saw the city awake and populated with beautiful happy people.

After doing one of my top five favorite things in the world (taking a long time in the morning to walk around one's space aimlessly in order to mentally prepare to do just about anything), we left the apartment in search of the Royal Palace. It turns out we were about five minutes away by foot, crossing through the Plaza Mayor in order to get there. We'd actually be crossing through the Plaza Mayor to get anywhere we were going which was always an exercise in diversion. On the first day, and every subsequent day as a matter of fact, we saw Fat Spiderman and his mini me statue. Here's a picture that I did not take.

I don't get him or why he has his own little statue but everyone seemed to love him. He did call me guapa but we've already established that everyone calls everyone else that in Madrid. Why should fat spidey be any different? Also, if I'm going by my internet search just now for images of fat spiderman, everyone who goes through Madrid makes note of him and he may as well be an official attraction of the city.

We made it to the outside of a large palace looking building but it wasn't really clear if it was in fact the Palacio Real or not because there were also large signs advertising the latest art exhibit at the Prado. It was not our intention to actually visit the Palacio Real that first day but rather to just get our bearings so it didn't really matter but I did notice that everyone else was pretty confused about it as well. It wouldn't be an old city in Europe if it didn't have confusing signs.  We walked around to the side of the building and saw a beautiful garden with manicured hedges and plenty of places to wander through so that's what we did. I got some photos.

The hedge homage to Marge Simpson and Kid from Kid n' Play.
After spending a short time in the labyrinthine hedges, laughing uncontrollably about some past jokes and ridiculous new ones, we started wandering around the streets and ended up in different neighborhoods, trying to figure out where to return for drinks later that night. It was just about siesta time and apparently the people and businesses in Madrid observe this tradition in a bigger way than I had noticed in Barcelona. Though that could definitely have been me. Everything was shut down and not a lot of people were out on the streets while we walked through. As a result we pounced on the first open sidewalk cafe and sat down to have more pimentos de padron, more wine and more people watching in the best city for people watching (after New York of course). After lunch, we walked through the Latina district to scout out places to go out for the evening. The city was coming back to life after siesta and things were starting to look lively.

We somehow ended up back at the Plaza Mayor but we came around the "back" way and spotted a Belgian beer bar and sat down for a drink. (At least I think that is what we did on that day but like I said, it all blends into one.) The Cafeeke had a great beer list and was such a cute little place that it became one of my favorite spots.

I just fantasized that I was back there.

I had a nice Kriek and then we went back to the apartment to rest from all the leisurely walking and beer drinking and to get ready to go out for some more leisurely walking and drinking.

As I was getting ready I looked up through the open doors of the mini terrace in the apartment and saw the moon so clearly, maybe more clearly than I can ever remember seeing it. It stayed that way for every night I was in Madrid. I think I will probably always think of Madrid at night as a result. The photo I took doesn't really translate but here it is anyway:

It becomes apparent why I borrow photos from other websites. But still, lookit the moon!
I do remember leaving the apartment and the rest is pretty much hazy. From the photos on my phone (not showing you those) it seems like we went to a tiny red bar, then an outdoor cafe that closed shortly after we ordered a drink. We ended up in another bar where there was a toddler dancing and that had to have been around 2am. At some point I started substituting cocktails for vino tinto because there is photographic evidence of this but I would not have believed it. It would explain the almost total absence of memory of the details of the evening. I am very glad to have caught it all on film, however.

The next day we understandably awoke late. Apparently we were all passed over by the hangover fairy which is quite the phenomenon that occurs during most European vacations in my experience. A visit to the Prado was on tap. I probably mentioned this in the Paris blogs but it is worth mentioning again: Rowan is a super traveler. She is able to find her way around almost everywhere with relative ease and she is just downright pleasant to follow around blindly, which is basically what I do when she's around. My memories of getting from point A to point B are fluid, easy and aggravation free. I keep meaning to ask her if she has the same memories of if or if she is always quietly stabby about figuring it all out. I wish for the former. Anyway, all that to say is we arrived in the general vicinity of the Prado and when we exited the subway we thought this was it:

It wasn't.
But it is a lovely building nonetheless, no? We walked a bit further and found the Prado right where Madrid left it.

The building is not as ornate as the one I'm calling the "Not Prado" but considering the fantastic art work it holds inside, it doesn't really need to be. I had a lot of notes about the artwork I saw inside actually but now what sticks out in my memory are the portraits by El Greco, particularly this famous one, which is very striking in person:

As well as the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch which was, of course mobbed by a large crowd of picture takers. Grumble, grumble. After spending about six hours in the gift shop trying to decide what to buy (I actually bought an El Greco t-shirt) we sat outside the Prado for a bit, making plans for the evening. The evenings start to muddle together at this point in our trip and what I believe happened is that we went to have a drink near the apartment, then had dinner in the Plaza Mayor which, surprisingly, was not a tourist trap and then called it an early night. But I could be wrong about the sequence of all of that. I know. A thrill a minute.

The next day we made it back to the Palacio Royal, inside of which was one grand room after another with no photography allowed. It was a damn shame too because the textures and patterns were so vivid and well preserved, likely due to the no photography rule. After touring the grounds for a few hours we decided to have a nice three course lunch as the Spanish do right before they nap and close up shop for two hours. This particular meal was a highlight for me though if you were to ask me what I ate, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Pork chop? Yes! Pork chop!

Later that night we went to see some flamenco at a place recommended to us by one of the guide books. It was possible to get dinner while you watched the show but we opted for (wait for the shocker) just drinks! Again, we were not allowed photographs or video and I'm actually kind of glad for that since it allowed everyone to just experience the show. The flamenco was incredible. I had only ever seen it during that night in Sevilla and was not certain what to expect. And if I'm to glean from this show in Madrid what to expect from a typical flamenco show, I would draw the following conclusions:
  • Flamenco is one of the most beautiful, passionate forms of expression I've ever seen
  • There is a sense of community among the dancers that, even when they are sitting on the sidelines and not dancing, is evident with the near constant vocal support they offer each other. 
  • I know I have said over and over and over again how beautiful the Spanish are in the cities I visited but the most beautiful Spanish man I saw danced flamenco for us that night. Honestly, he was it, in its entirety. I was under the spell for the length of the show, so much so that it was jarring to see him in a tracksuit, ordering a drink shortly after the show. A bit like "wait, you drink booze and wear leisure wear like everyone else? That's totes weird."
After the show, we walked back towards the apartment but stopped when we passed this alleyway which was populated with a young and lively crowd, drinking and eating outside. We got a table and proceeded to drink and eat and talk and look at the incredible moon. It was a beautiful night (I defy you to name one that isn't in Madrid) and we somehow, accidentally ordered an entire bottle of wine and then got drunk by mistake. The waitress was frantically running around and she wrote our order down right on the tablecloth. It felt like a communal night out. If it were possible, I'd like to transport that place to New York and its environs; we don't really have that community here or if we do, I have not  yet found it. Oh and here was the moon that night.

Or it could have been a comet heading toward the earth.

We took a trip the next day to the Reina Sofia museum which is the modern art museum in Madrid. It was probably my favorite one, after the Dali museum. You know by now how loathe I am to take photos of art but I did it in this instance because when I first walked into this room, it scared the crap out of me and I wanted to remember that.

In fact there were a few exhibits there that scared the crap out of me. They were showing a lot of art films in these little blackened rooms that connected to each other via heavy velvet curtains. There was a room with just old film equipment that had the air of someone having just left a few moments before. I don't know if you know this or not, that feeling of a "presence"in a museum is a creepy one. Of course another highlight was seeing Picasso's Guernica in all of its glory. It is a truly remarkable work of art that lives up to its reputation and I count myself lucky to have seen it up close.

After the museum I remember eating a large potato tortilla which I am actually craving as I type this over two months later. We then went back to the same cafe as the night before, so good was the feeling. And guess what? We got drunk under another gorgeous moon. And in a shocking change of events, we ate peppers. Only these had camouflaged jalapeno peppers and I bit into one and my head exploded. This is the second time in my life that I have done that, the first being in Montreal when I thought they might have to cut out my tongue. It was the last time I was ever going to eat those Padron peppers in Spain and it depresses me still that my tongue was numbed. VACATIONPROBLEMS.

On our final day in Madrid, after a long and leisurely lunch in the Plaza Mayor, we spent the day at the Parque del Retiro, napping away our "hangovers" and people watching and enjoying life before actual life invaded once again. It very nearly mirrored our final day in Paris when we napped away hangovers in the Musee Rodin. I think if my vacations had portraits with quotes underneath them a la high school yearbooks, mine would read: Napping away hangovers in every European city. Here's a photo of our farewell dinner, consumed inside our fantastic vacation apartment:

Rowan and I went to the little Belgian bar down the road while Lorraine stayed in to pack and organize before our flight the next day. I had a pretty great conversation with Rowan and had what we used to refer to back in college as "a moment" which really just means a pause to smell the roses and appreciate everything going on. Before I knew it, it was time to go to home before going home. We left early the next morning, so early it was still dark and managed to get a taxi to the airport. On our way there I fantasized that we were boarding a plane to another plane to another destination that wasn't home. Can you tell I didn't want to leave? Times like that morning and times like writing about it now remind me to always travel; I only ever feel at home when I'm far from home. O. Spain. O the humanity!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Madrid Day One: Guapas, Bread and Wine in brightly lit places

Check out previously on: Allison went to Spain a long ass time ago and will not shut up about it.

The train ride from Sevilla to Madrid was probably picturesque. I say probably because when I wasn't focused on the intensely attractive fellow passengers in my train car, I was fast asleep. I did wake up a few times when the train stopped, yanked out of my deep sleep with that panic of "omfgwherethehellami??" every single time. In our train car was a group of people who had just walked out of their fashion shoot and onto the train. Likely they were just normal people who were guests at a wedding (if their overnight bags and conversations reminiscing and recapping the reception were to be believed) but there is something in the water in Spain and France especially that makes people grow into intensely good looking individuals. That alone is reason to live there, really.
Also, on trains they apparently give you free headphones in their own little plastic case. I am, in fact, listening to music on them as I type this. I enjoy free stuff that I can actually use. It is so different from all the crap I actually pay for that I never use. How American of me.

We made it to Madrid in a couple of hours and got into a taxi. The taxi driver was not as loquacious as the one in Barcelona had been but he did call me guapa. For all I know, everyone calls everyone else in Madrid guapa but I got a kick out of it nonetheless. The cab couldn't drive up to the entrance of the apartment building because it turned out we were staying on a pedestrian only street, heavily occupied by tourists and locals alike. I was thrilled. Also, why don't we have more pedestrian only streets in our big cities. I love the idea of streets where no cars go.

The landlord of the apartment met us just as we walked up to the entrance and he basically sprinted up the stairs, of which there were five flights. I'm not sure where you are on the fitness scale but carrying a rucksack, after vacation eating for a week and change does not augur well for climbing five flights and arriving at the top not looking like an asthma attack made flesh. The landlord just breezed on up and started opening windows and doors. He gave us a quick tour of the apartment and was, as I found most Spanish people, friendly but not too friendly. I think they have that in common with New Yorkers. He explained a bunch of stuff about the place, including how to use the dag nabit washing machine but I couldn't focus because I had fallen in love with the apartment. Here are some photos:

The view from the teeny tiny porch.

The apartment's living room

Roof of the building across the street

Extreme spoons sizes, no in betweensies

After the landlord left I went to stand out on the porch to take those photos and my necklace got caught on the railing. When I went to stand straight up, my pendant fell from the chain and landed, five flights below on the street. Heartbroken, I ran all the way down and against all odds found both pieces that the pendant had broken into. I still have to glue that back. Still, I took that as a good omen: maybe I'd find something I thought I'd lost here.

Since we had such a close view of the building across the street it was possible to witness a nightly show of daily life through the window. For example, one floor below us and across the street, an older man would sit on the edge of his couch with his cat sat next to him, only the glow of the television set illuminating them both until well after midnight. Neither of them seemed to move much during the couple of hours that they watched TV together. There were clothes hanging up to dry in virtually every apartment I could see into. Again I say that apartment rentals for vacations are the absolute best way to travel. 

We had some time to kill before Rowan's flight arrived so we went to wander around and find a supermarket to stock up on a lot of wine fruit and vegetables strictly. Being in a busy center of town afforded us a lot of options. We stocked up on wine and supplies and checked out the immediate area. Apparently we were half a block away from the Plaza Mayor which is a major destination, and just a really beautiful and lively place. Here's my first photo of it.

There are better pictures of this on the internet.

The weather was just like that for our entire stay in Madrid: clear, blue cloudless skies and zero humidity. It got hot but nothing in the way of what we experienced in Sevilla or Barcelona so hours of meandering were called for and completed.

While we waited back at the apartment, we got our first chance to see some Spanish television. This apartment had come equipped with cable and there was, just like back home, nothing to watch but it was nothing in about six different languages. We landed on a Korean music show that was some kind of singing competition but none of the contestants seemed to be doing any actual singing and all of the competing groups had no less than 13 members that all looked identical to each other. The music was so computerized and high pitched that it produced a very bizarre, melody free sound. I fell in and out of sleep while this was on which left me with a strange premonition bouncing off the walls of my brain that the horrible "singing" and the futuristic, stylized doppelgangers that were on that competition is what the future will sound like. It was a comfort to wake up and realize that I was in the middle of such an old world city since the future often scares the living crap out of me.

Rowan arrived later that night and we chatted, drank wine, caught up. Lorraine stayed behind to rest some more while Rowan and I went out for a stroll in search of the endless nightlife Madrid promised. Perhaps because it was Sunday night, or perhaps because we had no clue in which direction to walk, we didn't see a lot nightlife happening. The Plaza Mayor restaurants seemed to be closing up for the night and though we were so close to the Puerta del Sol, the only things that seemed to be going on there were people milling about fountains and hanging out outside. We saw plenty of open bars but they were all brightly lit and empty. We didn't know a basic fact about Madrid yet which was this: all the bars are always brightly lit. It is considered strange to drink in a darkened bar there. This did not translate to my American/New Yorker brain nor to Rowan's Scottish one. Who wants to drink and ogle strangers in a brightly lit room?? Madrilenos apparently. The idea seems to be see and be seen and, not to put too FINE a point on it,  the Spanish people are distractingly hot so I completely get it. Still, it threw us off that first night and led us to believe that everything was getting ready to shut down.

We walked back to the apartment took off our shoes and drank to excess, ate bread, listened to  music and enjoyed each other's presence after a two year hiatus. The last time we were together was Paris, 2011 and it was so nice to feel at home even thousands of miles away.

More Madrid to come.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Just this afternoon I found a crinkled, abandoned greeting card in the stacks of the library. More than likely someone had used it as a bookmark and had forgotten to take it out when they returned the book. It's a Valentine's day card with a picture of a Yorkie wearing a heart collar on the front. Inside it only says the following in someone's handwriting:

I love you with all of my heart. You always give me the best support, and we have great laughs together. Thanks for always being here for me. You're beautiful! You're amazing!

I'm not really a card giver. I don't ever really need that much help writing what I want to say, least of all in the myriad corny ways that Hallmark and American Greetings have come to define "expression". Ok so maybe when I want to say the things I feel when I feel them, they get caught at the base of my throat until I swallow them back down. But you can be pretty certain I've written it somewhere. Maybe I've even given you a copy. But if I haven't and you know me and suspect something I never told you, like I might be in love with you, or that I've never forgiven you, or I secretly want to be you, just wait until after I croak at 98 and go through my papers; I will have confessed it there in the pile of scrawled upon ephemera. (Spoiler alert: it won't matter by then.) I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. I keep it folded up in a small piece of scrap paper in my pocket where it pulses in tiny, quiet rhythms. Nevermind that it makes people completely misunderstand me in the moment. Just you wait until after I'm gone. Then you'll see. You'll ALL see. Side note: there might be a communication intervention necessary in my future.

And greeting cards have always seemed too much and too little at the same time. They try to say big, important, personal things in one rhyming stanza.  I mean I do give them, but 100% of the time, I give them because they are expected of me. That's the rubric for life in polite society isn't it? Birthdays, deaths, weddings, christenings, graduations, engagements, bar mitzvahs, at LEAST give a card. Otherwise you weren't thinking of anyone but yourself. I try to give blank ones that I have to fill with my own thoughts. Because what could that card possibly have said in pre-written ink that could be better than "I love you with all of my heart. You're beautiful! You're amazing"?

I know it takes some effort to pick out a good card. I've gotten some really beautifully designed ones for my birthday, for my graduations, for thanks. I have loved getting even those sparsely written cards from loved ones and former coworkers and I've saved almost all of them. But the best part about those keepsakes is seeing the handwriting of the person writing it, even if they just sign it. I love handwriting. Whenever I see someone's handwriting, whether I know them well or just met them, I feel like I've been given a secret glimpse inside their world, a detail of the mural in their brain. I lament the slow death of the handwritten letter. I have kept so many letters I've gotten over the years and I will go back and reread them now and again. I love to imagine the person sitting at a table, scratching at a piece of paper with a ball point pen. It's almost like I can hear their voice more clearly if I can see their handwriting. I love postcards. I hope those never go out of fashion. I think what I love most about these handwritten messages is that it takes effort to sit still and write something down and I just like to be on someone's mind every now and again. And I like thinking of someone else long enough to write it down.

What is the point of all this? I don't have one. I saw an old, lost love note on the floor of the library and my instinct was to bring it home, keep it with my old, lost letters and revisit it every now and again. When I look at the little dog, I know I'll wonder if the person ever misses the card, if he or she even noticed it was gone. And I'll get a little weepy, wondering if they are still in love, if they still have great laughs together.

Also, I am suddenly in the mood to fill up some blank cards and post cards. Want one?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Two days in Sevilla

Check out previous post or rather "Previously on: Allison went to Spain and took forever to blog about it."

So, when we got up to pack up the apartment the next morning, everything seemed set and on schedule. I don't generally like flying, even short flights but I felt settled and calm, mostly to do with the people I was with and the fact that my vacation brain, after a week in dazzling Barcelona, was fully operational. This state of mind was apparently contagious because it wasn't until after we'd let the apartment door click shut behind us, after we'd descended in the basket sized elevator with our bags, laughing about something or other, arm midway up to hail a taxi, not until after that did Lorraine say "Jason! Your guitar!" Yes, he had forgotten his guitar inside the now locked apartment. Considering that after Sevilla he was going to be travelling to different cities in Europe, playing shows at different venues, this was bad news.

It was about 7 am. We had a 9:00 flight and it would take us about 30 minutes to take the taxi to the airport. The apartment rental offices did not open until about 10:00 and there was no way to get back inside the apartment. We had been given an emergency number for the apartment and back home it would have just been a matter of calling the number. But considering none of us had calls included on our international plans on our cells, it was a whole ordeal to even make the phone calls to begin with and all the while, time was being eaten up. I had to call back home to find out how to make a call in Spain and even after all that, the emergency phone line was not connecting and the "error message" that did answer was unintelligible to me because it was either in Catalan or it was too loud or I was rushed, I don't know. Hell is automated messages.

While we were standing out on the early morning sidewalk with all of our sad bags and anxious faces, one of the residents of the building came out the front door and my sister asked if the landlord lived on the premises. This person didn't know and couldn't help but we learned something from her. Apparently, landlords and/or supers of buildings are referred to as "Presidente". I know as my sister reads this she is cracking up so I just want to take a moment to say "SHUT UP." Ok. So, running out of time and feeling rather helpless, our next step was to just start ringing buzzers and asking for "El Presidente". I'm really hoping that supers and landlords are called that because otherwise, the people who had the misfortune to be woken up me ringing their buzzer probably thought an insane person had arrived, asking for the president. Of Spain, I guess? Needless to say, no president or super or anyone in possession of keys. And no one knew where he or she was either. This became a joke that will not die: me buzzing strangers and asking them if the president lives there. I just got a text from Lorraine the other night about it.

Anyway, it was finally time to give up and just figure it out from Sevilla. On the way to the airport, I was convinced we would miss the flight. We were flying a super budget airline and the tickets were probably $1. Naturally I assumed we would crash. Also, you get what you pay for so checking in to these budget airlines is generally an exercise in annoyance and aggravation. We'd probably end up having to wait in a long line to check everything. When we finally got to the airport we had about 15 minutes until takeoff and there was a long line to check in. I was positive we'd miss it. I remained positive all the way up until the ticket agent said "Ok, we will try to board you since the gate is very close to security." Then we commenced the "running through the airport scene" that you see in a lot of films. I think the ticket agent's perception of "close by" was different than mine. Either that or I was tired and anxious and probably hungover and running to the gate felt like slow motion. Unbeknownst to us, Nancy and Jon were seated at the gate across from ours, awaiting their flight to Azores and Nancy sent a text which I didn't get until we were in Sevilla already but I can only imagine what we must have looked like, dashing madly with oversized backpacks. We quite literally were the last people to board and they took our bags at the front of the airplane which felt miniature. We took our seats, slightly triumphant, slightly dejected and completely exhausted.

After a two hour flight we landed, got extremely confused on how to exit the airport (maybe it really is just me and my inability to read signs in foreign airports/train stations/buses, etc.) and met our airbnb hosts, a lovely couple who were born and raised in Sevilla. They offered to pick us up from the airport for 20 euros and it really was the best decision. The woman, Inma was surprised two of us spoke Spanish and we talked about all the things we had to see in the two days we would be staying in town. I'm very happy we got to talk to them because they ended up telling us about what turned out to be my favorite place in Sevilla, La Carboneria (more about that later). Always ask locals. Also, always stay in apartments. The washer/dryer alone is worth it. I mean, so what if I could not figure out how to use either properly in any of the three apartments I stayed in. So what?

This was our home street in Sevilla:

All of the streets were like this, close together, walkable, small, picturesque. Many of them were too small to allow any cars to drive, making it seem a little bit like a movie set. The style and colors of the buildings, the close proximity to each other reminded me of when Raimunda goes back home to clean her mother's tomb.

Sevilla was hot. Very, very hot. It was not humid but uncomfortably hot nonetheless. I remember feeling a strong pull toward stay inside the air conditioned apartment and chatting but we only had two days in Sevilla and plenty of time in the afternoon to get in at least one attraction. Hunger was also a motivating factor in getting us out into the city. We arbitrarily chose the Alcazar, a royal palace with Moorish designs as our first attraction. Sevilla is very walkable and because our apartment was so centrally located, we not only found a place to eat within a few minutes but we also passed the tavern that our hosts recommended we visit later that night.

I could wax rhapsodic about the meals we ate while in Sevilla but I'm not going to because I'm kind of hungry while typing this. I'll just say: patatas bravas, pimentos de padron, vino tinto. There isn't anything else you'd ever need to eat ever anywhere. Our lunch was leisurely and finally made it to the Alcazar in the late afternoon, a time of day when it is normally slightly cooler than midday in most other parts of the world. What I came to understand about Sevilla, however, is that the heat did not work that way. In fact, it seemed to get significantly hotter the later it got. I actually didn't want the discomfort of the heat to take away from the beauty of the Alcazar because, do not mistake me, it is an unbelievably beautiful place. But it was a place with no shade or cool spot to be had and as I took in the beautiful buildings and grounds, the intricate artwork of the walls and stones and gardens, I couldn't help imagine 16th century Spain and all the layers and layers of clothing and corsets and socks and boots and I wanted to soak my head.

It probably smells like something died in this scene.

Anyway here are a couple of photos I got from around the Alcazar.

It was eerily silent around this pond.

A lot of the walls were Moorish in style with intricate detail from the top to the bottom.


One of the many,many decorated ceilings throughout the castle.

Part of the outside of the castle.

More garden.

Part of a wall sized mural that went on forever.

That peacock was wandering the grounds and I'm pretty sure he was the same one that walked up to us as we had coffee in the Alcazar's cafe. I vaguely remember reading something a long time ago about peacocks and how mean and nasty they are but this one seemed domesticated enough that no one was running away in terror, and that was the only reason that I didn't either.

After we left the Alcazar, we went back to the apartment to cool off and rest a bit. Jason had several other parts of his travels to plan and we all had laundry to do. Well, I had laundry to do and I needed about a day to figure out how to turn on the machine. We ended up drinking a bottle of wine in preparation for the evening, which turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

Our hosts had recommended we try a nearby bar called La Carboneria, a bar and performance space that they said was where they went for a glass of sangria every now and again. The bar has this unassuming entrance:

It was late evening by the time we got out and to this place, about a two minute walk from the apartment, and it was already crowded, some performances in full swing. The venue was mostly outdoors with a seemingly makeshift roof enclosing the seating/audience area in front of a small stage with a piano and chairs for other musicians. There was a flamenco dance already in progress as we found seats along a row of long wooden benches in the back of the bar. Our hosts had told us that many local performers would end their evenings at this bar and often give impromptu performances for the crowd. What better way to spend an evening in the birthplace of flamenco than seeing some late night locals do it to unwind? In addition to the flamenco dancing there was a group of musicians, likely from a nearby school taking turns on stage playing various classical pieces, one of which was a group of four people on one piano. It was like getting a world class classical music concert in the middle of the night in a divey bar in southern Spain. No, it wasn't like that, it was exactly that.

I think mentioned before that Sevilla is hot? Yes it was hot in the bar but we were all very drunk and enjoying the atmosphere. Things are a little muddled in my memory but I do remember eating a lot of olives and drinking a ton of sangria. And really, in the long history of really great nights, what else does one really need?

The next morning we headed out around noon, having nothing whatsoever to do with all the wine. Just in time for napping restaurants to not be open for lunch and we ate at a randomly selected restaurant. The food was good and the waiter seemed to really hate to have to serve us. I tasted a whiskey omelette. It tastes exactly like you think it does. After lunch we visited the Sevilla Cathedral which is one of the most beautiful churches I've been to. It is in the center of the city and was packed with tourists. Here are some photos I took there. In retrospect, I was apparently obsessed with the organ and organ like structures since these were all I have from my camera. Just picture a really big church with lots of this stuff inside, on top of and surrounding it.

There was a tower that you could climb with signs that were deceptively unclear about how far up the top was, but we did it. There weren't actual stairs but rather just a really long series of ramps which was a novel change to actual stairs. By that I mean it made no difference; that old uphill feeling of burning legs and hungover exercise lack of oxygen was in full effect. Here's a shot of the view from the top.

Sevilla from the top.
While we were at the top of the tower, there were couples making out (I saw two couples, personally) and I think that's weird, don't you? But maybe they were just relieved that they survived the climb up the tower?

After descending and walking back into town, we wandered aimlessly for a bit. We were approached by these con women who I had read about in one of the guidebooks. Their "racket" is to offer you a sprig of thyme or rosemary or some other useless herb and if you take it, they will follow you around and harass you for money. If it sounds like a really stupid way to con people, that is only because it is. We were accosted by a group of them out on the street and when we went in to a small shop to get some bottles of water, they were all in there on their lunch break. No word on whether or not their meal was herbaceous though.

After walking around a bit more, searching for a post office (it closed about five minutes before we found it), buying souvenirs and having an afternoon glass of wine we headed back to the apartment. Lorraine took a long afternoon nap and Jason and I went to find some food. After a few false starts, we went back to the place where we ate the day before and talked a lot about this and that and that other thing. We found ourselves seated next to two young women who were American and had moved to Spain to teach English. I thought then as I do right now that I should do that. I should do a lot of things, people. A lot of things.

Later that night, Lorraine and I went back to La Carboneria for more sangria and entertainment while Jason stayed in to plan the rest of his trip, as we would all be parting ways in the  morning. He decided to fly back to Barcelona to pick up his guitar and travel on to Bilbao to play a show. Lorraine and I were going to meet Rowan in Madrid. We got home, went to sleep and I woke up at the crack of dawn to let Jason out of the apartment so he could take a taxi to the airport. The sun was just coming up and it was silent out on the street apart from the running motor of the taxi. We said goodbye and on my way back to the apartment through the little courtyard I got a very odd feeling that I'd be back to Sevilla one day. It could have been lack of sleep or I could have still been asleep actually but there was something in the air that morning that made me think I'd be back. Some places are just like that, I guess.

In the morning, Lorraine and I checked out of our little homestead and walked to the train station to take a two hour trip to Madrid. Evenutally, hopefully before 2013 ends, I'll regale you with the fun times we had there. If you are still reading this, you have an uncanny stamina for boredom and I respect you, immensely.