Felices Fiestas de Sevilla (muy tardio). Hope your holidays were super. It's one time of the year when I'd really rather be home. We sure do miss all our friends and relatives. Oh well, our holidays have been, if not traditional, at least international. We kicked off the Marina Sur holiday season with a Christmas Eve party for 20 some people aboard Promise with American tree and all. Conversation, as usual, was a mixture with Spanish and French taking the lead. By now we're used to the language mix and can hold our own. Then, one of the Brits hosted a Boxing Day party on the 26th (when else?) with traditional English nog and a roasted joint. Thereafter followed a New Year's Eve party on one of the French boats and a parade on the 5th, the eve of the Twelfth Day of Christmas when the Tres Reyes (Three Kings) deliver the Christmas presents to he children of Spain. The streets, shops, and homes are all decorated with Felice Navidad or Felices Fiestas, and the stores are jampacked, especially on Tres Reyes Day Eve when all is open till midnight. (Even on that day, however, they don't give up siesta from 1 to 5 p.m.) Christmas in Spain is mainly religious with the Tres Reyes bringing gifts on Dec 6, the 12th day of Christmas. However, kids being kids, they have discovered Santa Claus and Papa Noel and try to manage presents on both days.
We have been in Spain for almost four months now and our appreciation for Spain and the Spanish continues to increase. The more we get to know Spain, the more different she seems. Even our fellow cruisers from Europe call Spain "different". It's difficult to explain, but as Michener said in "Iberia" when he described it as "...two halves of a picture". Spain is certainly a land of contrasts. A large gap exists between the poor, undereducated majority and the superrich, superarrogant nobility with not much of a middle class to act as buffer. It's also hard to reconcile the wealth, ornateness and power of the church with the earthiness of the regard for their virgins as they parade larger than life statues on floats for each fiesta. There is also the coldness of their cruelty to animals, a well publicized problem in Spain, not to mention the bullfights, which contrasts strongly with their excitable, romantic Latin temperament and their love for all children.
Michener gives tastes of the Spanish dichotomy with his explanation of "viva yo" and "gracia", the ultimate Spanish contrast. Viva yo evokes the Spaniard's arrogant, exuberant, "hurray-for-me" attitude which makes it imperative for them to claim more than their share of the sidewalk, street, attention, places in line, seats on a bus, etc., as though nobody else exists. Gracia, on the other hand, means more than grace. It is grace combined with a gentle sense of humor, good taste, good judgment, and more. I would say that gracia is a good natured ability to put up with viva yo!
Leaving Michener and his Iberia behind, and moving on to more prosaic matters, Spain is ...fascinating. This month while my mother was with us, she and I did some bus travelling and explored much of Sevilla on foot. The Cathedral, the third largest in the world is astounding in its gold and glittering ornateness, somber darkness, and dimming dustiness. It is the most impressive sight in Sevilla, but not the most magical. For magic, there is the Torre del Oro (1st quarter of 13th C.), one of 2 huge towers, one on each bank of the Rio Guadalquivir, between which was stretched a huge chain to bar entry to the port. One tower is still standing as a museum, and it's known as the Torre del Oro as it was originally totally covered in shining gold tiles. Or because it was the unloading place for all the gold which poured into Spain during their heyday. We're not sure which.
Then for a truly Moorish taste of Spain's past we visited the Alcazar, a Muslim fortress (14th C.) ornate with domes, arches, columns, and complicated designed multicolored wood and plaster walls and ceilings. Very exotic. We also spent many hours wandering about and getting lost in the Barrio Santa Cruz (the old Jewish quarter) in the narrow winding streets with flowered, grilled, elaborately tiled open courtyards fronting the cobblestone streets, through which filter the everyday sounds and smells of Spanish life including singing and hand clapping, and chorizo and bean stew (Yum!).
The Sevillano parks are quite nice. El Parque de Maria Luisa, just across the street from our Marina is huge, fairly well tended and boasts flocks of white doves, many elaborate tile fountains and the huge and impressive Plaza de Espana. This plaza typifies Spanish charm. There are mosaics representing each of the provinces of Spain, with their coats of arms and maps. It is quite picturesque and is featured on many post cards.
And, of course, no visit to this region of Spain is complete without many visits to the tapa bars for a tapa or small saucer of something cooked in garlic or to a confeteria for a postre or sweet and a cafe con leche. All part of the charm of Spain, except for their habit of throwing their crumpled up napkins, sugar envelopes, cigarette butts, etc. on the floor when they leave. To know if it's been a good night the proprietors only need to measure the depth of the garbage on the floor.
A truly magical tradition of Spain is the flamenco. Performed at fiestas and at spring feria, complete with the ruffled, many colored costumes, it is a dramatic exhibition. Danced to guitar, hand clapping, and castanets, without costumes, by the patrons of small flamenco bars, it is a picturesque, graceful aspect of Sevillano nightlife. Dancing starts late (after 10pm) and ends in the early morning.
Part of the charm? of Spain is its historic refusal to dance to the beat of the modern world. Spanish life holds fast to the traditions of "manana" and "siesta", both of which the Americans and northern Europeans find exasperating. Things are always scheduled for "manana", which never comes, and don't try to do any business during siesta (1 to 5 p.m.). It's impossible! Viva yo! Or...another lesson in gracia?. Although modern technology has, for the most part, left Spain behind, the transportation, electric, and phone systems are good. The utility wires are underground and the city is beautifully lighted at night. There are a lot of buses and they run everywhere. Pay phones are everywhere but you have to go to the phone company downtown to make collect or card calls. The traffic is a mixture of cars, Vespas, trucks, donkey carts, and horseback riders well stirred with a large dose of viva yo. Pedestrians are at risk even on the sidewalk.
With George's hi-tech toys, we are more vulnerable than others. The apparent failure of the sat nav was a false alarm, however. It refused to work and was thought dead. The problem was an interfering signal somewhere in the port area. The smaller computer lost a memory chip, and there is no Radio Shack down the street. The main ham radio set had a set of irritating quirks that have gotten worse. It went off to Madrid to be fixed. George will be happy if the radio gets back -- fixed or not. This is uncharacteristic gracia for him.
Oh well, speaking of technological advances...the Puente del Alfonso XIII drawbridge through which all yachts and ships enter Sevilla was, until our arrival, rather old fashioned. When a boat requested an opening, bells would ring for many minutes, and four men would be called from the port office several blocks away to hole up little paddle signs reading "STOP". Why in English? We haven't a clue. Anyway, they then proceed to stretch a chain across the road, one of the busiest in Sevilla, and remained standing there holding the chain and signs till the boat has passed and the bridge shuddered to a close. Taking their chain and signs they wandered off to the office to await the next opening. Soon after we arrived, however, they installed electric, automatic red and white striped gates! Progress! Never fear, though, the gates are not usable for more than a day at a time for as soon as they are lowered someone runs them down and traffic continues as usual. A case of viva yo? Anyway we are watching with much gracia to see who wins.
The marina electricity is another story. The electrical supply they charge $1 a day for is an anemic, shared plugs, indoor system with no grounds, about 150 feet away from the boat. Great for safety and boat metals like props and shafts. As the system was not adequate to handle our heater and hot water heater, etc., George suggested a minimum system that would be safe and meet the needs of the dockage customers. Such things as individual breakers, adequate wire size, three wire system, and weather proof outlets were on the list. They said the electrician would take care of it manana. We were amazed! This was 3 months ago. Just this week, though, the new system was installed not far from Promise's stern. We were again amazed! But not for very long. The new system is a row of indoor outlets tapped into the light circuit for the shower hut. It is worse than the original system. They still haven't a clue. But after seeing how they operate, we're now thankful to have any electricity at all, no matter how high the price. It's all part of the charm.
Even though it sometimes seems like we are not communicating at all, our Spanish IS improving. It's still a version of what George calls "survival Spanish", but we're understanding more of the answers to our questions. Muy importante! One new word we learned recently was less than fun. La ratonera! Rattrap! Yes, we've now had our first rat aboard. He was originally only a night visiter in the cockpit lockers, only one of which opens into the cabin. Annoying, but controllable once we found where he was getting in. (You wouldn't believe such a tiny vent would admit such a huge rat!) Anyway, we plugged the hole and decided to set a trap in the locker that opens into the cabin. We must have trapped him inside the cockpit lockers cause SNAP! at about 2 am. The captain was elated. "We got im! as he leaped from the bunk to go look in the locker. "Whew!" he whistled. "Susan come and look at the size of this feller!!" (Except he didn't say feller). I declined and stayed safe in my bunk while the Captain reached for the hammer to finish off the expiring rat. Except that he wasn't. La rata was just resting from the scare of the trap going off NEAR him. He flew out of the locker at the captain who threw the hammer at him several times (I can show you the new dents in the cabin sole) with much screaming from the captain, me, and the rat, all of us emitting high pitched squeals of terror. The chase was on and lasted for about 15 minutes, after which la rata disappeared somewhere in the cabin. We waited but decided he wouldn't come out with us standing there watching, so we went back to bed. He started moving again at about 3 a.m.. The chase was on again, and he was finally cornered behind the chart table. With a flash of genius, great dexterity, and a few soft words ("nice little rat, stay there nice little rat, don't move little rat..."), the captain flung an upsidedown wastebasket over la rata, slid it along the cabin sole to a removable hatch and carried the whole contraption off the boat. When last seen at 3:30 am la rata was alive and well swimming away from the boat. A week later I was still disinfecting everything down below. All holes bigger than a pin prick are now plugged.
Anyway, life goes on in Sevilla. Mother and I have toured Carmona's Roman necropolis, the ancient Roman city of Italica (with George), and we are off to Cordoba for a couple of days to see the Moorish Mezquita, et. al.. We've taken a side trip to Gibraltar to climb the rock, visit the apes (yes, they're still there), and revel in a few hours of hearing English and being able to read the signs for a change.
That's about it from here. We plan to stay until after Holy Week and Feria. Then Med, here we come!