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One Month in Sevilla

October 2, 2006

I think it was Simone de Beauvoir who once said something along the lines of, if you stay in a country for one week you can write a novel; if you stay for one year you can write an article; and if you stay for ten years you find you can write nothing at all. I'm paraphrasing badly here, but this idea has been lingering in the back of my mind as I write my daily journals, and I just felt like tossing it out into the open…I think that the mind deals better with chewing on things once you can look them straight on…but I feel like there's some truth in that quote that I'm stumbling upon.

It was a wonderful weekend here in Sevilla– a sort of impromptu celebration of our one month mark, and I can hardly believe how fast that month flew by. Thursday night I went to the movies with "The Girls", and the experience was fun (as always) but I had a much harder time understanding this movie than I did the last one we went to see. Part of it was the language…the movie was set in the 1600's, so it was rather like watching Shakespeare in Spanish. Suffice to say I was confused, but I enjoyed the evening.

Friday morning I discovered the Plaza de España, which is home to the immigration office, where I need to go to get my visa and student residency papers taken care of. I've found that the attitude of the Spanish Consulate in Boston came straight from the Mother Country…two hours of waiting in line, only to be told that the Officer I need to see isn't in on Fridays and that I would need to come back. Ah, well…more's the pity, having to go back to one of the most beautiful places in the city and stand under vaulting stone arches, inspecting intricate mosaic work while I wait. Really, I just don't know what I'll do.

Saturday turned into a bit of an "Explore Sevilla" day, thanks in part to my raving to all of my friends about the Plaza de España…the thing is, it really is something. The Plaza itself is half-moon shaped, crowned at either end with a large tower, and dotted with a gorgeous fountain that sprays up out of the middle of the Plaza. Around the edges of the plaza is a shallow moat, which in the Springtime is flooded with water, and one is able to rent a paddle-boat and paddle around for hours. Several bridges span the moat, and connect the plaza to the building, which is home to several government offices, but the bridges also take you to the mosaics that give the Plaza it's name: there is one (fabulous) mosaic for every city in Spain…each one different, and as stunning as the next. It is definitely prime tourist territory, and the vendors and gypsies who peddle their wares take full advantage of a captive audience. I didn't buy anything that day, but now I definitely know where to find inexpensive hand-painted fans, and some lovely castanets. My friends and I spent the morning indulging in our touristy fantasies, taking pictures of every nook and cranny of the Plaza before moving on to the Noria– a giant Ferris Wheel that overlooks the city. The view from the top was breathtaking…I could see all the way to the river from one side of our capsule, as well as the Catedrál, the University of Sevilla, the farthest bridge on the canal…it was really something.

The best part came right after lunch on Saturday, though, while my Señora and I were watching ¡Mira Quién Baila! (similar to Dancing With The Stars) and enjoying cold melon for dessert. I was relaxed in my arm-chair, munching on fruit, when suddenly I heard the distinct sound of a marching band, and it was getting louder. My Señora became a flurry of excited movement, whisking me from my chair and pulling me to the feet, all the while babbling at the top of her lungs about, "la procesión, la procesión!" She thrust me into her bedroom, to the open window that has a view of a small park behind our house, really just a break in the housing that has a very tiny playground for the neighborhood kids.

But there, in all her glory, was a (very large) statue of the Virgin Mary, situated on a platform that rose several feet above the ground. She was beautiful, with tumbling hair around her shoulders, and the baby Jesus cradled in her arms, while tears streamed down her porcelain face. She was crowned in a gold sunburst that flickered with the light of the candles that surrounded her, burning brightly on the platform even in the afternoon sun, and by hundreds of people on all sides. The band struck up a new tune, while children in purple robes swung censors and carried banners and torches to light her way.

Suddenly the platform lifted and began to sway in tune with the music, and I realized that there were people underneath, who would carry her down the main road in Triana, and to the church. Up to this point, I will admit, I was awestruck, and could do nothing but stare: I had never seen anything like this in my life. I could smell the incense drifting on the breeze and into my window, and suddenly I turned and ran into my room to grab my camera. As the procession began in earnest, I snapped photos and took videos eagerly, like a child seeing the circus for the first time. The energy of the processioners was palpable, and I found myself humming along with the hymns that the marching band was playing. I thought to myself that if this little celebration was any indication at all of what Semana Santa is like in Sevilla, I have things to look forward to…the faithful here take their religion seriously!

The procession passed by, and I listened to the band until I could no longer hear the strains of the trumpets, and then I went back into the living room and continued watching the show with my Señora. Later that night, I went out for tapas and copas with my friends, and I returned home around 1:30 Sunday morning.

I had barely changed into my pajamas and laid down in bed when I heard the thumping of the drums again. "I must be dreaming," I thought, but no sooner had these words crossed my mind when the band started up in full force. I leapt out of bed and flew to my window, and sure enough the Virgin Mary was rounding the corner, followed by her faithful (and the band). I stood in my window in the dark, watching hundreds of people flood the tiny space behind the apartment, all clapping and cheering and singing. They were joined in short order by the many little birds who live in the tree outside my window. No doubt awakened and confused by all the noise, they began to chirp and fly about, startled from a peaceful nights rest. One by one, lights came on in other apartments, and sleepy people stuck their heads out of windows to see what all the fuss was about. I lit a cigarette, and contemplated the scene in front of me.

It was a little crazy, a little surreal…a little like having Mardi Gras wander into your backyard at 2 o'clock in the morning. Gradually the celebration died down, as people said their goodbyes, snuffed out candles, and took one last photo. The band finished their final hymn, the curious neighbors withdrew to their various apartments. I put out my cigarette and crawled back into bed. Within half an hour, the only sound left was the quiet singing of sleepy little birds. I played over the scene in my mind again and again, humming the tune of the last hymn to myself as my eyelids grew heavier with sleep, smiling to myself as I pictured the looks of joy on the faces of the revelers. It seemed, I decided, like an appropriate way to mark the end of my first month in this vibrant city– a blissful little celebration to remind me that life is full of beautiful surprises.

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