Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lighting Our Way to the Mexican Embassy

NOT REALLY THE EMBASSY.
We took another taxi ride to IKEA. I think it might have been our 437th taxi ride to IKEA since our arrival in Sevilla in July. Although I may be exaggerating just a bit. I do know for certain it was only our second since moving into the apartment in September (or maybe it was our first... or our third... So much for certainty).

We bought one more lamp, a floor lamp for the living room. I think we have completed our lamp shopping. All we really want now is a chaise lounge for the living room that is long enough for us to recline on, doesn't look like it belongs in a bordello, and doesn't cost 12,000 euros (custom-made for 100 euros would be nice; I'd even go as high as 200).

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. THE FINAL LAMP.

Since we left IKEA with only one box (some assembly required), we took it with us rather than pay for delivery. On the way to IKEA, Jerry had noticed a sign for a Mexican restaurant. We have passed only two such restaurants since our arrival. I know there are more, but we've been told none are worth visiting.

THE COVERED PATIO WITH THE MUSICAL "FROG LIZARDS."

The first Mexican restaurant we know of is near the cathedral and is Tex Mex, which is not my favorite style. It's also known more for being a fun bar with decent burgers as opposed to good Tex Mex food. The other place we've seen is on the way to IKEA, which is what I thought Jerry had seen the sign for. It's a dive on a dirt road off the side of the highway. It doesn't look very inviting and is also not known for its food (although I don't know what it IS known for).

LA COCINA.

It turns out the sign Jerry saw was for a brand-new place called Iguanas Ranas (one of a small chain) in the town of Castilleja de la Cuesta, just a few minutes walk down the hill from IKEA. So, Jerry and I took turns lugging the lamp box on a shoulder and we walked over to check it out. There was a large covered patio at the entrance, another even larger open patio beyond that, and a very large restaurant inside.

SO GOOD.

The place made us feel like we were back in Mexico (well back in San Diego really). They had done a great job with the decor. Nothing about it made us feel like we were in Spain. We hoped the food would be the same, but we didn't have high expectations. Mexico, afterall, is a long way away, and we had been told by friends here that they had never yet found good Mexican food. We ordered some nachos, which were delicious, and then ordered enchiladas — shrimp for me and chicken for Jerry. Our dishes came with rice and beans. The food tasted just like what we had been used to, and maybe even better. I looked it up and it turns out there's another Iguanas Ranas much closer to home and another soon to open even closer. So now we know where to go for a fix.

AND THEN ANOTHER LAMP
On our way home from dinner tonight, we noticed the used/antique furniture store on our side street had "LIQUIDATION" painted across the window. You can usually get an antique (i.e., old) table there for under 10,000 euros, so, with absolutely no expectation of anything worthwhile, we took a peek and found a lamp that we know we can't afford (but in this case, that's a very good thing). There was no visible price on the lamp, but the little (teeny, tiny, little) round table it sat on was reduced from 12,000 to 6,000 euros. I think it may have been carved by hand by someone of biblical significance.

MARBLE, CHROME, AND FIBER OPTICS. I'M SO GLAD WE CAN'T AFFORD IT.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Citrus Scratch-N-Sniff

SCRATCH ANY ORANGE BLOSSOM (AND THEN USE YOUR IMAGINATION).

This is like believing in fairies. So, per the instructions below the first photo (taken on our plaza this overcast morning), simply scratch any orange blossom in the photo and, if you truly believe, you will experience what I am at this moment experiencing... the rich, delicate, sweet, and soothing fragrance of orange blossoms, which is wafting into our apartment through our open balcony doors.

LEFT BEHIND. ONE OF LAST SEASON'S ORANGES.

Sevilla is already filling with the fragrance and most of the buds haven't even popped yet. When I'm out walking, I can't help but stop for a moment under almost every tree and breathe deeply. The smell is intoxicating and immediately slows down my addled and impatient brain. So scratch the image and repeat after me, "I do believe in fairies. I do. I do."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Oyster Shells and Meninas

We still need light. No, not electricity as in the "luz" that we waited a month for back in August. We simply need lamps. So, I'm always on the lookout. Jerry and I found one together some weeks ago. A charming little silver lamp with a silk shade. Every lamp in the store appeared to be on sale. Ours was, too. But what we hadn't noticed was that our lamp had two separate prices — one for the base and one for the handmade silk shade. It was one of only two in the store with individual prices. It was still on sale and the price wasn't bad, but it ended up costing us 20 euros more than the marked price of the base alone... because the shade was handmade and hand-embroidered. Oh well.

Friday, I was out shopping with Linda (it would be a gross understatement to say that Linda loves to shop) and we came upon my new favorite store. It's called El Jardín, and is on Calle Francos, 61, not far from the Cathedral. It's an unusual little shop filled with small ceramic pieces, handmade jewelry and gift items, plants and flowers, and a couple of small lamps (which is what caught my eye). I took a picture of one of the lamps to see if Jerry liked it. He did. So he and I walked over Saturday for a second look and it came home with us.

THE LAMP FROM SEVILLA, A BRONZE FROM SAN FRANCISCO, ALABASTER FROM NEW YORK
(A DOWAGER DUCHESS ORIGINAL), AND PILLOW BY JERRY.

Sunday we went back and bought two house plants. It's a tiny, beautiful store and the owner, Gonzalo, couldn't be nicer. Gonzalo told me the lampshade is made of oyster shells. It makes magic on the walls and ceiling of the living room. Linda and Tom insisted on paying for the lamp as a house-warming present (because somehow they think standing by us, spending time with us, supporting us, worrying about us, having fun with us, being the best friends in the world, and enriching our lives... just isn't enough).

THE WALLS AND SCALLOPED CEILING ARE TRANSFORMED.

Sunday morning, I walked over to the Museum of Fine Arts with Linda and Tom to browse the artworks for sale in the plaza. Jerry and I bought our "menina" (the ceramic figure imitating those in the Valezquez painting by that name) back in December. The artist, José Fombella, was there again and I fell in love with a smaller menina and brought her home. Our first piece is 18 inches (46 cm) tall. This one is about 10 inches (25 cm).

PURE SEVILLANA.

So, it's been a few days of shopping. Linda is a bad influence. And I love her for it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Being a Patron Saint

I have decided I deserve equal time. Jerry (aka San Geraldo) had his first quadrennial "Day." His 22-greats grandfather, Ferdinand III of Spain, is San Fernando and is buried in the Cathedral here in Sevilla. I deserve my day basking in the glow of my own saintly light.

ANOTHER SPECTACULAR ANDALUSIAN VISTA.

Yesterday, while in the Cathedral in the village of Arcos de la Frontera, I noticed a statue of a very adrogynous figure holding a sword aloft. He turned out to be San Miguel, my namesake and the patron saint of Arcos de la Frontera. San Miguel (also known as Saint Michael — er, Mitchell, if I stretch the truth a bit) is a symbol of humility (like me). He is recognized as an archangel in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic teachings. I won't go into more detail because this begins to sound like Bible Study and we all know that religion is right up there with cooking on the list of things in which I have little interest.

A TYPICAL STREET.

Anyway, Arcos sits up on a rise at an altitude of 185 meters (607 feet), not a huge climb, but significantly higher than Sevilla, which sits at 7 meters (23 feet). The vistas were inspiring. The sunshine was glorious. And the southern skies were again a vivid blue.

CATHEDRAL SIDE ENTRANCE.

Arcos de la Frontera has a population of about 31,000 people and is quite charming. It's a Pueblo Blanco, one of the White Towns of Andalucía, called such because the houses are all painted white and make a beautiful scene on the hillsides. Stone Age cave dwellers once lived in Arcos. It became an independent Moorish taifa in 1011 and became a Christian stronghold in 1252.

SIDE VIEW. THE BELLS ARE RINGING...

The gothic Cathedral dates back to the 13th century and the interior was recently restored. It's very impressive with items from as early as the 8th century. There is so much more to see in this beautiful town and Jerry and I look forward to heading back for more exploration.


CATHEDRAL FRONT.

DETAIL OF THE TOWER.

MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC.

LYING LIKE THIS FOR MORE THAN 1,200 YEARS.
HE'S GOING TO HAVE ONE HELLUVA CRICK IN HIS NECK.

On the way out of town, I noticed a couple of very strange buildings rising up from the street and losing themselves into the cliffside.

THE UPSTAIRS APARTMENTS ARE A STEAL.

GREAT CROSS-VENTILATION... AND EVEN A/C.

As for the statue of San Miguel, I would have preferred to discover a more studly likeness of "myself" (wielding a much larger sword), but one of the measures of true sainthood, I believe, is the ability to rise above little disappointments.


SAN MIGUEL (ER... MITCHELL)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coasting in a Car to Cádiz

We drove down to Cádiz Tuesday morning. It's less than an hour and a half south, but it felt like a different world. Jerry and I picked up the rental car at the train station Monday night and parked at the garage under the bus station, which is by the river and a 10-minute walk from our house. We wanted to avoid any possible snags trying to make it down our little street to the parking garage closer to home.

To walk from the train station to the bus station takes about 30 minutes. A taxi ride takes 10 minutes or less. Jerry and I drove it in just over 50 minutes. As they say in Maine, "You can't get there from here." The thoroughfare we tried to use turned out to be open only to taxis, buses, and cars with resident stickers. We had to detour. Instead of heading mostly west from the train station, we went west, north, east, north, west, south, and then west. Or at least that's how I think we went. It's a good thing we enjoy getting lost.

WALKING ALONG THE NORTH SIDE OF THE OLD CITY. THE BAY OF CÁDIZ.

It was definitely worth the effort. Linda and Tom walked over Tuesday morning with their overnight bag. We had coffee downstairs and then all walked to the car. Getting out of the city was easy, thanks to Google Maps, and the drive to Cádiz was a pleasure. What a beautiful city. Tom and Linda had been there before and loved it. We now understand why.

TREES SAID TO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT FROM THE NEW WORLD BY COLUMBUS.
(COLUMBUS SAILED FROM CÁDIZ ON HIS SECOND AND FOURTH VOYAGES.)

Cádiz is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in possibly all of southwestern Europe. Its founding dates to 1104 BC (which is well before Jerry was born; hell, that's well before The Dowager Duchess was born). The city is undergoing a huge facelift — building renovations, repaving, new plantings (including massive palm trees) — mostly I think in preparation for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the first Spanish constitution.

We stumbled on a lunch place that was the pits. Ham croquettes without ham, French fries from a freezer bag. But, we were in such good company that it didn't matter. Jerry had researched places for dinner and our day ended with an exceptional meal at Restaurante Aljibe. Unbelievably delicious food. Absolutely perfect, warm and charming and gracious, service. We arrived just as they opened that night. Jerry did the research and arrangements for our little escape, including finding an excellent place to stay, the Hotel Argantonio, in the old center. He's a great travel agent.

LA CALETA BEACH. THE EAST SIDE OF THE CITY ON THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.

RECENTLY RESTORED BUILDINGS IN THE OLD CENTER.

UNRESTORED. BUT WITH WALLS OF FLOWER POTS WAITING TO BE FILLED.

OUTSIDE THE POST OFFICE.

THE SOUTH COAST OF CÁDIZ. LOOKING ALONG THE ATLANTIC FROM OLD TOWN TO THE NEW.

BEHIND THE CATHEDRAL.

THE GOLDEN DOME OF THE CATHEDRAL AND SOME OF THE STONE WORK.

THE FRONT OF THE CATHEDRAL. GETTING READY FOR HOLY WEEK.

PLAZA DE SAN JUAN DE DIOS. MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS UNDERWAY.

THE CHURCH OF SAN AGUSTÍN, 1647.

RESTAURANTE ALJIBE. THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THE PERFECT MEAL.
TAPAS DOWNSTAIRS. FULL MENU UPSTAIRS. WE WENT UPSTAIRS.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

In doing our research before we moved here, one of the things we read was that driving in Sevilla was very unpleasant. I thought it was because the city drivers were wild or aggressive. Or that the rules of the road were not followed. What I found upon arrival was, surprisingly, that most drivers are actually fairly civilized and considerate. Even taxi drivers stop and let me cross the street — usually.

AUGUST (LEFT) AND AGAIN THIS PAST FRIDAY. I THINK I'LL WALK.

The real reasons driving is not recommended here: Within the old city (where we live), the streets are narrow and mostly one-way. Even drivers of small cars find it a challenge to turn into some streets, tucking their side-view mirrors in to reduce their spread. The other day, Linda and Tom counted 28 cars in a row that had ugly scrapes along their sides.

Most of the old city is off-limits to cars. Many streets only allow access to public transportation, taxis, and residents. There are large boulevards that circle the old city and then just a few narrow streets that allow access to the center. One of those ancient narrow streets leads to our plaza and then around to a public parking garage. Friday nights and Saturdays (and sometimes during the week) can be a nightmare for drivers. Our little street is sometimes backed up for hours the mere quarter-mile it travels from the river. Avoiding that street can be just as bad, since you have to circle the city to gain access.

RENTING A PINTO FROM HERTZ RENT-A-HORSE?

We're planning to rent a car for a couple of days this week for a drive down to Cádiz and interesting places along the way. We'll rent a car near the river and if we need to park it in town overnight, we'll park near the river and we'll walk. Maybe we should just get a horse.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ceilings... Nothing More Than Ceilings

Ceilings, wo-o-o, ceilings... There were three accordion players (three very bad accordian players) in our plaza the other day. They weren't here very long. Just long enough to mangle a song that, to my mind, was already mangled in the making. The song was "Feelings." They played most of it. It was so bad, it was comical. I grabbed my camera to capture a video, but I arrived on the balcony to see a man get up from a table, walk over to the machine playing the back-up instrumentals, and abruptly switch it off. He said a few quiet words to the musicians. They packed up their accordions and marched off down the street. I only wish he had stopped them sooner, because that awful song has not stopped playing in my head.


So, today, when Tom and I paid a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), and I once again saw the magnificent ceilings, the first word in my head was "Woe!" And, so, the song resumed. I thought it was only fitting to share the ceilings while I continue "trying to forget my feelings."


The Museum of Fine Arts is a magnificent building with an impressive collection of art. Much of it is Christian in subject matter, and I lose interest in that quickly. But, there is enough other art and, of course the architecture, to keep my interest. I'll share more of the museum and the collection in a future post.


My sincere apologies for planting the song in your heads. But, misery loves company.


Wo-o-o. Ceilings.


Wo-o-o. Ceilings.


Wo-o-o. Ceilings.


Nothing more than ceilings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wanna Neck?

I haven't had an offer like that in years. Well, I've had offers. But no one has ever asked me if I wanted to neck. So, I was taken completely by surprise the other night when, after dinner, while sitting and watching an episode of Hawaii Five-O (a very bizarre episode of Hawaii Five-O, I must say), Jerry turned to me during a long commercial break and said, "Wanna neck?"

Wow! But after a moment's thought, I realized he didn't mean what I thought he meant, although the second choice wasn't so bad either.

Jerry recently discovered a great dessert in the freezer section of the supermarket. A chocolate-encased ice cream in the shape of a bottle of champagne. Jerry and I hosted a couple of dinners here recently and had two champagne bottle "necks" left-over in the freezer.

So, Jerry hadn't asked me if I wanted TO neck; he had asked me if I wanted A neck. Either way, I would have said "yes."

 A NEW FAVORITE. AT LINDA AND TOM'S LAST NIGHT. (MORE THAN JUST A NECK.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Looking for Divine Inspiration

I continue to have motivation problems. Every night I make great plans to get myself moving and out of the house in the morning. And every morning, I lounge in bed, have a late breakfast downstairs, and then just hang around. It's not a bad life, but the inactivity is not great for my mood. So, last night I set the alarm clock planning to get up and go for a brisk walk before breakfast. I was awake before the alarm. And then I lounged... Finally, while taking my shower, I noticed that the water wasn't all that hot. After a couple of minutes, it was cool. The water heater is on the fritz. So I've spent part of the day phoning and waiting for return calls from the insurance company. I'm now waiting for the repair person to call and schedule a visit. And that's been my excuse for not going anywhere ... today.

DIVINE, WITH GLAZED TERRA COTTA CHERUBS, BUT NOT WHERE I FIND INSPIRATION.

Yesterday, my excuse for staying home much of the day was my allergies. The day before, my shoelace broke. Or one of my socks bunched up and made it uncomfortable to walk too far. No, I think the velcro strap on my sneaker lost its grip. Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket. It was the velcro!

ATOP THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE (PALACIO DE SAN TELMO),
SEVILLA'S GREAT THINKERS, ARTISTS, AND LEADERS. SO GLAD THEY WERE MOTIVATED.

So, I'm still looking for the kick in the pants, the shot in the arm, that will get me happily active again. And I need to find it for myself. Jerry, Linda, Tom, and I took a walk to get churros and chocolate the other day. Our churros stand wasn't serving yet and we didn't feel like waiting the hour, so we instead went to a little chocolate shop and café called Valor and I now have a new favorite churros y chocolate place. Valor is just a block away from the Church of the Magdalena. The churros were excellent and the chocolate was superior. Hot, dark, thick, and exquisitely delicious. To top things off, it was cheaper at the café than at our usual stand. It's not a bad way to spend some time while I await divine inspiration. Besides, in my funk, I've lost 10 pounds (more than 5 kilos). I can afford a little churros y chocolate inspiration and I know I won't get any arguments from San Geraldo.

MAYBE THIS IS DIVINE INSPIRATION AFTER ALL.