“Ahora es que empieza la movie.”
– 35 Pa Las 12, Fuego ft. J Balvin
Sevilla absolutely enchanted me with its charming streets and hidden enclaves of courtyards shaded and scented by an abundance of orange trees. My first glance at the layout of the city on the map gave me the impression that it seemed to have grown over time in a rather haphazard way, eventually culminating in the expansive maze that it is today. Indeed, a maze is what Sevilla is, and I loved it for it — streets merged and diverged at odd ends and intersections, but leisurely afternoon strolls along the Guadalquivir offered a soothing relief away from this initially confusing labyrinth.
When I plan my journeys, to some extent I know what to expect — I expect my ferry to depart Barcelona’s port at this hour, and for my flight to take off from Palma at a specific time (unavoidable delays notwithstanding). These are recorded in my itinerary, which I always print and stick on a page in my journal for quick reference. But to an even greater extent, there is also much that I cannot expect from — and while on — the journey, for each stop in the itinerary is like a box filled with surprises waiting to be opened upon arrival.
As I look back at these itineraries months and years after the journeys have been undertaken, I realize that they represent not even a tenth of the richness of my time in these particular stops. My bus or train times on the itinerary could never quite capture that fascinating conversation I had with a physicist in the three-hour train from Munich to Stuttgart. Nor could they convey the fatigue and frustration of the eight-hour ferry journey from Barcelona to Palma, during which I was kept awake by the fussy baby whose grandmother I found myself a sudden companion to, and the sudden gathering of a wide — and largely male of retiring age — audience watching the 2015 Spanish Presidential Debate between Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez.
Sevilla in particular surprised me in the most pleasant of ways. I was excited to be back in Andalucía, though I later learned that traces of the Islamic Golden Age I so eagerly sought hardly remained here. La Giralda was perhaps one sight/site, but even so it was a rather unrecognizable one, having been so intensely subsumed by its new rulers and religion under the Reconquista. Nevertheless, I remember on my walk around the city on my first evening in Sevilla, I had to stop and gaze at this beautiful tower for a very, very long time. Its elegant and timeless Moorish arches had the power to transport one away from the bustling streets of 21st-century Sevilla and into 12th-century Ishbiliyya.
I must confess that I found Sevilla, particularly in this period so close to Christmas, rather stuffy with its slightly heated December evenings and wide avenues crowded with wandering pedestrians (Spaniards, I was told by a local friend, aren’t particularly fond of staying or hosting guests at home). Yet it was also here that I found a substitute sister when I randomly wandered into a souvenir shop across the street from la Giralda one evening and met this warm Moroccan lady. Having hit it off fairly quickly, she agreed to take me the next day on a tour of the city along the Guadalquivir and to the Plaza de España and ended up staying in my life.
Another friend who had spent all his life in this city took me to an impressive rooftop bar facing la Giralda, which loomed over so close I felt I could almost touch it. To my surprise he also guided me through the streets to the hidden courtyards with orange trees around the city, where he’d had many amorous rendez-vous with his first girlfriend when he was a young man himself. One afternoon after a tour of the Alcazár, I sat on one of the stone benches in the Plaza del Triunfo, and suddenly felt my spirit lifted by an invisible hand when I heard the delicate pickings of a flamenco guitarist, which produced the most joyful sounds that echoed off the defensive walls of the Alcazár.
Beautiful moments which make one stop and savor the present such as this remind me constantly that I need not be standing atop a tower or a mountain to feel on top of the world.