Sunday, July 31, 2011

Street-Walking and El Corte Inglés

Thursday marked two weeks since our arrival in Sevilla.  Hotel-living is getting old.  Especially hotel-living on the edge of the city center rather than within the city center.  In 95 to 100 degree heat, we'd much rather not have to walk the extra 10 or 15 minutes to get to the heart of things.  But, as they say, this too shall pass.  It is Sunday in Sevilla.  Sundays tend to be very quiet here since many businesses are closed.  Sundays in July and August are just about dead, since even those businesses that are usually open have shut their doors on Sundays (and many on Saturdays, as well) these two months.  But, our hotel has been pleasant.  And the deal is incredible.  The hotel room is actually costing us less per week than our apartment.  If it weren't for the expense of eating out three meals a day, this wouldn't be bad.  Anyway, Jerry and I have been known to eat out three meals a day even when we have a kitchen.  So, I suppose I shouldn't gripe too much.  Jerry doesn't go out much in the heat of the day (nor do most people).  I don't mind it much — nor do I sweat (excuse me, Mom, perspire) like Jerry (who has been going through about three shirts a day).  So, I continue to wander on my own, exploring, marveling, and taking pictures.

AVENIDA DE LA CONSTITUCION THIS WARM SATURDAY AFTERNOON.

We patiently await (or at least we try to patiently await) the turning on of the water and electricity in our new apartment.  We have no idea when that will happen.  Perhaps Monday.  Perhaps as late, or later than, the following Monday.  Until we have electricity (which means air conditioning), we will not get our furniture from IKEA, nor will we schedule delivery of the things we had shipped from California, nor will we paint the living room, etc.  So, we're in a holding pattern.  I have drawn up floor plans and furniture to-scale, so we know exactly where everything is going and how it will fit.  Jerry has created a spreadsheet of all the dimensions, stock numbers, prices, and more, of everything we'll get from IKEA.  We're ready.

PLAZA DE CABILDO, A TINY SEMI-CIRCULAR PLAZA DISCOVERED DOWN AN ALLEY
ACROSS FROM THE CATHEDRAL.  WITHIN, A GREAT STORE FOR STAMP-COLLECTORS.

Yesterday after lunch, Jerry walked back to the cool of the hotel and I strolled the city.  It was too early to take care of some of the things I wanted to research, such as what our internet/TV/landline telephone/mobile options are — because those few stores that would have been open Saturday were closed for siesta.  So, I simply walked the streets. 

EL CORTE INGLES ON PLAZA DEL DUQUE.  MAIN STORE AND CAMERA STORE.

I shopped a bit at El Corte Inglés and will definitely have to find more practical places to shop, as just about everything is significantly more expensive than I'm used to (Jerry's usually $16 designer-chic deodorant sticks are more than $40 at El Corte Inglés).  I like to shop but I enjoy sales and premium outlet malls.  Still, El Corte Inglés is a fun place (or I should say places) to shop. 

EL CORTE INGLES, MORE FOR WOMEN ON EL PLAZA DEL DUQUE (AND THE BACK ALLEY)

In Centro (the old center of Sevilla), the department store has five buildings (unless I've missed one).  There is another large El Corte Inglés in Nervion, a more contemporary neighborhood well east of Centro.  The main store in Centro, in the Plaza del Duque, contains clothing, their famous gourmet supermarket, places to eat, cosmetics, etc.  Across the plaza is the store that carries books, cameras, and other personal eletronics.  On another corner of the plaza is more women's clothing.  A few streets away are two more El Corte Inglés stores.  One carries furniture; the other is for appliances, housewares, hardware, electronic keyboards, mobile phone company counters.  It's hard to keep track.  We met Albert our first day in town in front of, per his instructions, El Corte Inglés.  He told me which one, electronics.  I didn't realize there were more than the three on the Plaza del Duque and thought "electronics" meant the one that carries cameras.  Poor Albert (and Jerry) stood waiting in the hot sun.  I'm grateful for cell phones.  Albert is half Swedish.  Jerry is half Norwegian.  They both change their shirts often.

WHERE WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE.  ON THE PLAZA DE LA MAGDALENA.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mojitos and Other Muddles

Have I mentioned lately that I'm not only happy to be having this new adventure in Spain but I'm especially elated to be having another adventure (in Spain or anywhere else) WITH JERRY?

MUDDLED MINT.  SO BUSY SIPPING THAT I ALMOST FORGOT TO GET A PICTURE.

We signed Monday on the dotted line.  Well, more exactly, we signed — in triplicate — in the margin of every page and then at the bottom of the last page of our apartment contract. We then rushed to the bank to meet with our English-speaking banker, Rosario, who turned out to be our English-speaking banker, Amin, although no one told us it wasn't Rosario until the next day.  We signed about 90 pieces of paper at the bank and we now have a Spanish bank account.  We are waiting for the building owners to sign our lease paperwork, so we can take that to the appropriate offices to make our first (and, we hope, only) pass at obtaining our resident cards.  We still have to get the utilities turned on.  It took us the better part of a day to figure out the names of the two utility companies.  Even the simplest task becomes a major learning opportunity. So many new chances to feel like complete idiots.

ANOTHER DINNER IN PLAZA MARIA LA BLANCA TUESDAY NIGHT.

BACK TO CARMELA
Our new security blankets are our mojitos at Carmela.  We tried Mojitos at San Marco Restaurant the other night but they were so bad that we actually sent them back.  Carmela's are consistently good.  So are Carmela's tapas.  We had "comfort" tapas last night — light servings of meat and potatoes.

THE MISSION-STYLE DESK WILL SOON BE IN ITS NEW HOME IN SPAIN.

MUEBLES (FURNITURE)
Except for the five pieces of furniture and miscellaneous items we shipped from California that will be here soon, we don't have enough furniture to fill our new three-bedroom apartment.  And since we don't want to use our entire retirement budget to furnish it in grand style, we headed over to IKEA this afternoon to see how we can fill in cheaply.  We had a very successful first look at IKEA and will soon take on the challenge of ordering everything and arranging for delivery (all in Spanish), and then putting it all together, which can be comical in any language.  In addition to the antiques I included in earlier posts (the grandfather's clock, the antique coat rack, the antique cabinet), we've got my old Mission-style desk, our English pub table, some antique family portraits, Jerry's grandmother's mantel clock, my mother's sculpture (and needleworks and paintings), antique mirrors, and lots of wall art. 

SOME OF THE OTHER MISCELLANY AS IT WAS BEING PACKED.

These items and our "brilliant sense of design," should enable us to make the place homey, classy and not completely IKEA-like.  I mention our brilliant sense of design since we are afterall a couple of gay men and it has been said — repeatedly and absurdly — that we ALL have a brilliant sense of design.

SEEN AT TABERNA MIAMI IN TRIANA THE OTHER NIGHT.  NOT GOING UP ON OUR WALL.

THE OTHER MUDDLES
So, as I mentioned, we await more paperwork that we can take to register for our resident cards.  The lawyer offered today to try and turn on our utilities (since he represents the entire building) without requiring us to go in-person to the utility offices (the names of which, and addresses, we finally now have).  We hope he's successful.  And we'll need to make another trip to the bank because, although we have an account, we were unsuccessful yesterday setting up our online banking.  The number we were given in a sealed envelope turned out to be unreadable.  Very secure.

DOROTHY, WE ARE NOT IN CALIFORNIA ANYMORE (BUT THERE IS AN ELEVATOR)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Wanna Go to Miami

The title is the punchline to a very old and very bad joke:  "What is the favorite wine of a certain ethnic-American princess?"  (Wine... whine... get it?)  The only reason I thought of it, was because we were in Triana last night (one of the neighborhoods across the river) and we had dinner at Taberna Miami, a great restaurant and Tapas bar.

TABERNA MIAMI.  THE SHRIMP WAS DELICIOUS, BUT WAY TOO MUCH WORK!

The Vela de Santa Ana is an annual Triana festival that has its origins in an ancient pilgrimage made to the Parish of Santa Ana for, I believe, around 700 years.  We had a first look Friday night with Manolo, our January-vacation landlord and now valued friend.

AFTER TAPAS.  STROLLING OVER TO THE ENTERTAINMENT.

Jerry and I went back across the river Saturday night to take in some more.  We took the bus there and walked home.  It's about a 20-minute leisurely walk from our hotel — 30 minutes if you stop for three scoops of ice cream on the way back.  But, it's only about 10 minutes away from our new apartment!

FOOD AND DRINKS AND BEAUTIFUL VIEWS.

After dinner, we walked back to the plaza where a large stage and seating area is set up for live performances.  Friday night, we got to hear a bit of Flamenco singing from some of the best and brightest, and most famous.  Saturday night, Jerry and I watched some of the children's Flamenco dance competition.  The pairs we saw ranged in age from about 8 to 13.  And there was some amazing talent. 

THE FLAMENCO COMPETITION.

SENSATIONAL TALENT.  THE AUDIENCE WAS FILLED WITH PEOPLE OF EVERY AGE.

I posted about Triana, famous for its tile workshops and potteries, back in January.  It's also famous for providing almost the entire crews for Columbus's voyages to America.  

AWFUL TO IMAGINE.

HEADING THROUGH THE CALLEJON TO THE PASEO DE ARTE.

In addition to those distinctions, Triana, has another:  The public market is built on the site of the former prison, Castilla San Jorge, home of the Spanish Inquisition.  Jerry and I walked down Callejon de la Inquisicion.  It's a charming little alley that leads to a beautiful spot on the river.  But, during the Inquisition, if you were taken down the "callejon," you were probably about to be burned alive for being a heretic (unless you repented and were lucky enough to be garroted first).  Now, when you walk through the arch and arrive at the river, you'll find the Paseo de Arte, an ongoing venue for local artists.  It's a nice change.

BACK OVER THE BRIDGE FOR ICE CREAM.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adios Pink Palacio. Hola Dos de Mayo.

Well, it's not a pink palacio.  But, we like it even more.  We placed a deposit Friday evening on an apartment and we should sign the papers Monday afternoon.  We looked at a total of five apartments.  The fifth was the charm (although I think THREE times is supposed to be the charm).

A VIEW ONTO THE PLAZA FROM ONE OF THE LIVING ROOM DOORS.

It's in an old building on a beautiful plaza (can't believe WHICH plaza), and it's completely renovated with central air and heat, new kitchen, beautiful bathrooms, great views from large (double-glazed) doors/windows that all open onto little balconies, lots of light.  I could go on and on.  (Well, I DO go on and on, don't I?)

A LITTLE BIT OF THE LIVING ROOM.

We were told the apartment was near the Plaza del Duque, which is the plaza on which three of the five buildings of the department store, El Corte Ingles, are located.  But, when we were given the address to meet the agent, we learned that the apartment itself was about two streets away from there. And it was in the same building as the amazing tapas bar (the best tapas bar in Sevilla, we have been repeatedly told and, from our experience, is no exaggeration), Dos de Mayo.

VIEW FROM KITCHEN, THROUGH FOYER, TO LIVING ROOM.

Our friend Alberto had given us the name of a rental agent he recommended very highly.  He was sure Carmen and her team at Aquilcasa would be able to help us find a home.  He had high praise for them as professionals and also as wonderful people.  He didn't praise them enough!  What an absolute pleasure it is to work with them.

ANOTHER WONDERFUL VIEW.

The location is incredible, in the center of old Sevilla. It's not far from the pink palacio, which is about four streets on the other side of the Plaza del Duque.  I went back this afternoon and took pictures of the building and the plaza in the glorious sunshine.   The comment Jerry and I made yesterday when we left the apartment was, "It feels like us."  It's a great feeling.

THAT'S "OUR" BUILDING IN THE BACKGROUND!

PASSING THE MONUMENT AND COMING HOME TO DOS DE MAYO.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

She Acts Like She Owns The Place

Last night, we had dinner at Carmela, a restaurant in the plaza Santa Maria de la Blanca.  We chose Carmela because, even though it was past 9:00, it was still extremely warm outside. Carmela takes up a very large area in the plaza and there were wonderful breezes coming from all different directions.  Every time we've walked by the restaurant, it's been busy.  Also, the tapas specials looked really good.  I chose not to carry my camera with me.  Poor choice.  And, having a temporary local mobile phone, I no longer carry my iPhone (maybe I'll get a new SIM card to use it here or maybe I'll upgrade my phone when I get my permanent service), so I didn't have that as a fallback camera.  You'll just have to use your imaginations this time. And I'll have to carry my camera in the future.

NOT MUCH OF A PROMOTIONAL PHOTO.

We ordered Mojitos.  We LOVE Mojitos.  These were our first Mojitos Sevillanos, and they were absolute perfection (they might even have been the best we've had).  While we enjoyed our drinks and waited for our food, a woman arrived with an entourage and took over a couple of tables in the plaza right near the restaurant's service bar.  She then went and took a table from inside to add to her collection of tables.  There was a bit of a discussion with the waiter and he then carried the mismatched table out for her.  She then "stromped" around the plaza collecting chairs.  "Jeez," we both commented, "She acts like she owns the place."  We couldn't believe how pushy she was.  The place was mobbed and, when we arrived, there were only two servers.  This pushy woman would call out to them and get up and ask for things, never giving them a break.  Our food arrived (it was delicious) and we briefly forgot about the grande dame.

Soon, though, Jerry noticed her picking up empty glasses from her table and carrying them up to the bar.  He then commented, "You will NOT believe this.  She just walked behind the bar.  I think she's washing a glass."

"Wait a minute," we both thought (we're not THAT slow).

She walked from table-to-table picking up glasses, and taking them into the kitchen.  Then, she started busing tables.  She picked up our empties and — warmly, graciously, and kindly — asked us how everything was.  So, not only did she ACT like she owned the place, she DID own the place.  In addition, she wasn't above some hard work while hosting a night out with friends.  That'll teach us!

We ended our meal with tartas chocolates con helado hierbabuena — chocolate "tarts," that were a cross between chocolate pudding and chocolate cake, with mint ice cream.  Dessert was so good we moaned as we ate it.  It was an exceptional place for food, drinks, fresh air, and people-watching.  And it was not at all expensive.  We can't wait to go back.

LAST WEEK. 
THE BEST FELLOW TRAVELER.
THE SEARCH FOR A HOME
We looked at two apartments yesterday afternoon.  The first was very large and very grand — but very tired and rundown.  The second was two stories, smaller and quaint, but exposed to the street and the other apartments in the courtyard.  Seeing what's around for the price really helps us make a more educated and enlightened decision.  I am still exchanging emails with the agent who's handling the pink palacio.  She is extremely pleasant and we're hoping we'll be able to smooth out the kinks in the deal with the owner.  So, we might still end up in the pink palacio.  We meet with the agent and the owner Monday morning.

DOING BUSINESS IN SPANISH
I am truly enjoying speaking Spanish.  But, dealing with rental agents and bankers requires me to communicate at a level beyond my abilities.  I can make do with rental agents and we know where to get assistance with contracts and agreements.  But, we definitely need to open our local accounts at a bank that has someone who can work with us in English.  We did our research and found the bank that offered the best services for us but, until today, we could not find a branch that could help us.  So, after breakfast I walked over to the main branch.  It's located near the cathedral, which is where so many English speakers do their business.  Success!  We have an appointment with an English-speaking banker Monday evening.

I'm sure it's a challenge at times to understand me because I know I'm creating my own words (soon there will be Mitchellisms).  But, it is clear that the locals appreciate my attempts to communicate in their language.  Quite often I notice that I receive a very cool welcome in a store only to depart feeling like a friend.  Sevillanos seem to take great pride in their amazing city and our love for Sevilla clearly pleases the people we meet.  Today, I stopped at a small pharmacy to pick up some sunscreen (for my ever-growing forehead).  I had a wonderful visit with the initially cool pharmacist.  When I paid the cashier — after telling them both about our retirement, our apartment hunt, our plans to live permanently in Sevilla — the cashier asked me if I was from France.  (Have I mentioned how happy it makes me that my Spanish doesn't immediately brand me as American or English-speaking?)

I've ended with a photo I took yesterday of a Common Swift.  We see them and hear them (a very sweet, not unpleasant or sleep-interrupting sound) outside our hotel window every morning.  Difficult to get a clear picture.  I did mention they're called "swift."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Possibly Passing on the Pink Palacio

All is not going well in the land of apartment negotiations.  We thought everything was settled regarding the rental of the rose-colored palacio on Calle Cuna, but we haven't been thrilled with the unwanted surprises being thrown our way by the owner — surprises that give us headaches and would cost us a lot more money.  So, it looks like we're going to pass this one up.

WE WALK BY THIS SIGN ALMOST EVERY DAY.
IT'S A HOSTEL CALLED "THE GARDEN."
YES, "THE HOSTILE GARDEN."


EMPOWERMENT
We may not be as settled as we thought, but it opens up the opportunity to explore some more.  It also gives me the opportunity to use my Spanish with rental agents.  I just phoned and made an appointment for this evening so we can see a supposedly grand apartment near the Museum of Bellas Artes.  The woman on the phone was warm, friendly, helpful, and charming.  And, although my Spanish is bad (it's especially difficult on the phone when I can't use or watch body language), I was pleased to learn that my accent is clearly not American (or that of an English speaker).  After speaking in Spanish on the phone for 10 minutes, she heard me ask Jerry a question in English and she excitedly said, "Ah. You speak English!"  For the rest of the conversation, she mostly spoke beautiful English with Spanish thrown in when she got stuck. I then spoke a combination of the two languages and even learned some new words.  We're meeting on a street near the department store, El Corte Inglés. When she told me the name of the street, I understood everything but the first word and asked her to repeat it twice before finally asking her to spell it for me.  V-I-R-G-E-N (you know, like virgin).  Should anything be read into the fact that I couldn't understand the word "virgin"?  Anyway, we're meeting this evening on Calle Virgen de los Buenos Libros (literally, Virgin of the Good Books Street).


OUR FIRST VIRGIN IN SEVILLA.  OUTSIDE THE CHURCH, SANTA ANGELA DE LA CRUZ.


THE PARADES PASSING BY
We are in the midst of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or, as she's known in Sevilla, The Virgen (there's that word again) del Carmen.  Most nights, we simply stumble upon pasos, spectacularly mounted statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus being carried through the streets.

ANOTHER NIGHT.  ANOTHER VIRGIN.  ANOTHER PROCESSION.

The ornamentation is spectacular.  The pomp — the escorts, followers, spectators, marching bands, and music — vary from average to exceptional.

CREATED FROM THE TREASURES (LOOTING) OF THE AMERICAS.



 
It is considered a great honor, a life-altering honor, to carry the virgin through the streets.  Depending on the size of the paso and the heat of the night, the job can be simply cumbersome to completely exhausting.  But the men who perform the service are extremely proud to be allowed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

THE SNEAKERED FEET OF THE CARRIERS.  IT REMINDED ME OF THE FLINTSTONES.

COOLING OFF FOR A MINUTE BEFORE CONTINUING THEIR MARCH.

AN ICE COLD BEER AFTER THE WORK IS DONE.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Metropol Parasol and Finding Home

FROM THE MAIN PLAZA BEFORE TAKING THE ELEVATOR UP.

In a recent post, I shared a couple of photos of the new construction at the Plaza de la Encarnacion in the center of Sevilla.  The structure is called Metropol Parasol and it's the largest wooden structure in the world. The views are amazing and down below are the Antiquarium (the brand new archaeological museum), a restaurant, and Sevilla's farmers' market.

LIKE BEING INSIDE A GIANT HONEYCOMB.

Last night before dinner, Jerry and I took the elevator to the top of the structure and strolled the walkways to admire the spectacular views contrasting old and new architecture.  Well, it would be more correct to say that Jerry and I both took the elevator up, but I alone strolled the walkways.

RUN!  A MILDLY PANICKING JERRY TELLING ME HE'S HEADING BACK DOWN.

A VIEW FROM THE BACK. NOTE THE WALKWAY SNAKING TO THE RIGHT.

UNDULATIONS.

A STUDY IN CONTRASTS.

Jerry went out onto the first walkway concerned about the heights only to become more concerned about the vibrations.  So, I continued on and he went back downstairs to check out the Antiquarium (built around the discoveries at the base of the Metropol Parasol).

LA GIRALDA (THE CATHEDRAL BELL TOWER) IN THE BACKGROUND.

The museum was closed (Sunday night at 9), but you can still see quite a bit through the glass and it was beautiful and fascinating. We'll have to get back to really explore the ancient history (ruins going as far back as 1 A.D.).

LOOKING AT SEVILLA THROUGH A ROSE-COLORED PALACIO.

REALLY CLOSE TO HOME
We take possession August 1 of our apartment on Calle Cuna. We are elated.  The apartment shares the top floor of a three-story former private palace in the heart of old Sevilla.  Our "palacio" is on a pedestrianized street and is simply 10 apartments built in the shell of a former palace.  It's only two bedrooms, but it's grander (in style and quality) than we expected to find.  It's light and airy, and quiet; with large windows opening onto a charming and large interior courtyard and other windows looking out back.  And the location is incredible.  For those of you who know the city, we are across the street from the Palace of Lebrija, a fully restored private palace that is now a private museum.  We are just a few minutes walk from Metropol Parasol, El Corte Inglés, and all the other shopping, dining, and people-watching you could possibly desire (and about 10-minutes away from that antique store that's selling my Parachute Jump, which would look so great in our new apartment).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nobody Loves Me. Everybody Hates Me. Think I'll Go Eat Worms.

The title of this post is the start of a song from my childhood.  And it hasn't stopped playing in my head since dinner last night.   I'll soon explain why.

COMMEMORATING THE 2ND OF MAY 1808 REBELLION AGAINST THE OCCUPYING FRENCH.
MONUMENT TO LUIS DAOIZ DE TORRES, ONE OF THE LEADERS OF THE UPRISING.

We returned to Dos de Mayo, one of the best (if not the best) tapas bars around.  The place is always busy and the food and service are always phenomenal.  Everything is made fresh to order.  We started off with a spectacular plate of large grilled shrimp — the bartender showed us the fresh gambas (shrimp) as soon as we sat down and then had them cooked up for us.  As usual, we ordered too many — eight instead of simply four — and they were very expensive I'm sure, although they were worth every penny.  They were so good I didn't even mind getting my fingers messy (and I usually mind very much getting my fingers messy).  And I now know the Spanish word for those individually packaged moistened towelettes — toallitas.

FOUR DOWN.  FOUR TO GO.

We had to have spinach and garbanzos again.  As delicious as we remembered.  And we were pleased to note that the spinach and garbanzos Jerry cooked in Irvine were exactly right.  I then asked the bartender to choose two more dishes for us.  He suggested, and I agreed to, a cazuela (casserole) of shrimp and fish, and a lamb and vegetable skewer.

SKEWERED.

When the cazuela arrived, it was filled with shrimp, fish, and what looked like some kind of sprouts (like alfalfa sprouts or bean sprouts).  On closer inspection, the "sprouts" appeared to be worms.  A bowl filled with worms.  Jerry and I were both brave enough to try one each and we then agreed that not only did they look like worms, but they felt like we thought a worm would feel in one's mouth.

BEAUTIFUL AND DELICIOUS... EXCEPT FOR THE "WORMS."

I asked the bartender if he knew what they were called in English and he did not.  He called out to a customer at another table and she told me in English that she was pretty sure they weren't worms, thought they were fish of some kind, but did not know more than that.  I laughed and said they still looked and felt too much like worms for our taste.

EENSY WEENSY SQUEENSY ONES
THE WORMS
After I emailed the photo to Margarita to find out what they were called, my personal research librarian, Jerry, checked things out this morning and we now know all we need to know about the worms that are not worms.  Angulas, 2-inch-long (5cm) baby eels are a traditional Basque dish.  Six families are the principal suppliers in the world.  These baby eels, also known as elvers (a crossword puzzle staple) in English, are rare and very expensive (more than $40 a pound) and in the 1980s were so hard to find that the price was up to $120 a pound.  So, one of the Basque family companies came up with a less expensive imitation.  They work with Japanese technology to convert surimi (fish from Alaskan waters pressed fresh into blocks on factory ships) into pseudo-elvers, which they call "gulas," by forcing the material out, spaghetti-like, into the shape of elvers.  A touch of squid ink is then added to tint the backs dark.  What makes it obvious these are fakes is that there are no eyes.  Now, why anyone would want to eat anything that looks and feels like a worm (or baby eel) — pseudo or not — is beyond me.  Margarita, by the way, thinks they are "marvelous"!

THE SONG.