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I had three tasks to fulfil this afternoon, all of which remain undone to nag another day. Instead, I went out into the wild gale that had woken me more than once in the night.  It was strangely enticing – an Andalucían storm.

Que vientoso! This was the only shot I'd initially set out to take today, one portraying the mad wind.

Que vientoso! This was the only shot I’d initially set out to take today, one to illustrate the mad wind.

I wanted to get some more postcards to send home so headed for the touristy district surrounding the Cathedral , then decided to wander on into Barrio Santa Cruz, also touristy and the surest place to lose your bearings in a flash. Narrow alleys of meandering trajectory, designed to keep out the choking summer heat; high, blank walls masking lush, fountained wombs from the curious flaneur.

But, I digressed... into monochrome. Look up in Santa Cruz, and this is what you may see. These iron sun-ray semi-circles that commonly designate the division between buildings in a block here

But, I digressed… into monochrome. These iron sun-ray semi-circles that commonly designate the division between buildings in a block, actually remind me of Havana. Of Calle Virtudes and my wonderful ‘casa particular’, where you could see these same things from the roof terrace.

The city took me by surprise when I reached the outer edge of Santa Cruz and crossed over a busy road into an area previously unknown. The transformation was stark – in a few steps from sightseers paradise to urban, recession reality. Abandoned factories, Soviet-style tower blocks on the horizon; sirens, smashing glass and yells of what I knew without doubt to be aggressive drunks, all carried on the screaming wind. It’s the first time I’ve stumbled upon a part of Seville like this, and I must say, I liked it.

'The rich Spaniards die first'. Seville, I think, like to think itself a bit 'pijo', a bit superior. But 'la crisis' looms here just as hard. There's a lot of homeless in Sevilla, and this abandoned market, scrawled with anarchist grafiti (mostly less incendiary than the statmement here

‘The rich Spaniards die first’. Seville, I think, likes to think itself a bit ‘pijo’, a bit superior. But ‘la crisis’ looms here just as hard. There’s a lot of homeless in Sevilla, and this abandoned market, scrawled with anarchist graffiti (most less incendiary than the above) strikes as one of their many haunts.

I’d already decided to shoot in monochrome due to the cloudy weather and resulting poor light. I couldn’t have done justice to the yellows and reds of the stucco, the oranges in the trees (the streets stank of oranges today, by the way, cast from the trees by the storm and smashed upon the pavement). But now I started to wonder if perhaps I just like to seek out the dark in places. Here I am, seeking with intent to turn up the dark side of the colourful crown of Andalucía.  This says more about me, of course, than it does about Sevilla.

I do have a fascination with the undersides of bridges. This one made a welcome reprieve from picturesque, historical central Sevilla.

I have a fascination with the undersides of bridges. This one made a welcome reprieve from the picturesque history of the centre.

Rain started to spit through so I turned back towards the Old Town. As I crossed back over the main road a jogger came the other way. Statuesque; not Spanish. I caught his eye; he looked Irish. He smiled at me, and left me wondering just what it is that I want…

Blowing in the wind - storm-blasted palms, shedding debris all over town.

Blowing in the wind – storm-blasted palms, shedding debris all over town.

On the way home I stopped off for a merienda (afternoon tea, usually consisting of coffee and cake, to tide you over until the late Spanish evening meal) at a place opposite the Cathedral. Good service is hard to come by here, most ‘hospitality’ staff suffering from catatonic indifference. But the first time I went into this place, after a morning of frustrating bureaucracy when I’d only just moved here, I hadn’t even got my coat off and the waiter was there to ask what I’d like to drink. The same guy was working this afternoon and despite the place being packed full, he acknowledged me right away. A blue-eyed man, sallow-skinned, heading towards middle-age and carrying a little weight. My favourite Seville waiter so far (even more than the beautiful boy who served me on my first day here, so beautiful I couldn’t even get out the words ‘quiero pagar’).

End of the road

I tried to lurk in this road end, waiting to better frame the next passer-by. It seemed wise to call a halt to this, though, when a scooter came racing round the corner. Playing pedestrian (or dim-witted photographer) in Sevilla is not the safest pursuit.

I was sat in a stool facing the back wall, the only free seat. At first this seemed a terrible position for people-watching (surely the best thing about stopping out for a coffee), but there was a small, immaculately clean mirror on the wall in front, positioned perfectly, like looking through a letterbox onto the café behind me. It seemed a great opportunity for a few sneak-shots, but alas, the camera battery did what it had been threatening for over an hour, and died.

Religious motifs and icons for sale. Que catòlico...

Religious motifs and icons for sale. Que católico…

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I’d awoken with a headache and horrible, foggy eyes from sleeping with my contacts in after I don’t know how many hours sleep, but not many.  The flat was silent and stale smoke pervaded, but there had clearly been an effective pre-bed tidy-up, so I didn’t feel too bad about heading home. It would be about a 25 minute walk back to my place. For once I was glad to see a grey sky, since I’d neglected to bring walk-of-shame sunglasses. I’d anticipated making the walk through the Alameda and into the centre as quickly as possible, to breakfast and my bed at the other end, but there was something so satisfying about those streets this morning…

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville which I must investigate.

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville to investigate.

In contrast to New Year’s Day at home, which has something of the post-apocalypse about it – desolate street scenes with occasional bands of refugees, fleeing, bedraggled from a night of kamikaze boozing, or family units wrapped up to the hilt against a bitter northerly wind, journeying to share sustenance with elders; barely a vehicle on the road and absolutely no public transport – the streets were full of people. Walking dogs, jogging, or dressed in smart coat, umbrella in gloved hand, as if out for a Sunday stroll. And there were buses running. Given the Spanish fondness for holidays and – dare I say it – not working, I was a little surprised. All of the shops and most of the bars and cafes, however, remained closed. It was a great opportunity to feel Sevilla differently, without the distractions and the bustle of commerce, of shoppers, of the crowds taking tapas. The dull light added an unexpected, soft peace, and right away I made the decision not to take the quickest route home, but to turn in another direction and find a path previously unknown.

Vespa under orange trees.

Vespa under orange trees, que Sevillano.

Rain on Plaza del Museo,  a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes and five minutes from my flat.

Rain on Plaza del Museo, a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned midday and the bells on all the multitude of churches clanged.  Along with the Chino bazaars, they were the only thing open. Seville is a city of twisty-turny streets and alleys, without hills, and so churches come upon you unexpectedly – a high, flat stucco wall suddenly merging out of a block of apartments. Through one great, studded wooden door, I saw a set of Franciscan sisters in white habits. Through another, I heard Gregorian chant benedictions. I walked on but the sound echoed in my head, and the tinny pop music from a café a few streets on seemed unbearably empty. I tried to find my way back, not sure that I would – the streets here are tricksy like that – but then the church came out of nowhere again and I heard the monks. I lingered in the small plaza outside, under the ubiquitous orange trees (they have fruits, even at this time of year) where someone had parked their Vespa, and listened, trying to pretend I wasn’t. I’m not religious and I always feel a bit awkward and embarrassed to show interest in it. There are moments sometimes though, like that one, where I understand it…

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

The unusual motif outside the church of the chanters. The saint is Guadalupe, but I'm not sure of the significance of the turbaned men who flank her.

The unusual motif outside. The saint is Guadalupe, but I don’t know about the turbaned men who flank her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I walked on, and around the corner this time (I chose a different one) I could hear above me a continuing party with a soundtrack of funk. I smiled, felt a little envious, and carried on into a shabbier area, with broken bottles, swept piles of revelry rubbish, and homeless sleeping behind cardboard ramparts.

Walking the damp streets of my new city this morning, I really felt that I was starting this new year in the best possible way. I’d celebrated the previous evening with my fabulous new colleagues in my new job. Here I was, exactly one month into my stay in Seville, first wages in the bank, a spacious place to live, and no longer a waif. A whole year ahead of me to explore and love and hate this country that’s been on my mind so many years. I can relax! For a bit, anyway…

A man out for a New Year's Day stroll.

A local flaneur, out for a New Year’s Day stroll.

We arrived early at the Estadio Nacional in order to claim a good seat, quickly losing patience as person after person jumped the metal railings in unashamed disregarded of the queue. As four ‘gringos’ we were reluctant to try the same tack, but our irritation got the better of us and we skipped on through with a thrill of adrenaline.

 Honduras, as with all Latin America, takes its football very seriously. The atmosphere before the League final in capital city, Tegucigalpa, was frenetic.

We claimed a spot in the middle of the concrete terracing with a reasonable view and no reprieve from the midday sun. The stadium filled up with red, white and blue. And up and up, crammed far beyond capacity. The final was a showdown between Tegucigalpa home team, Olimpia, and Real España of second city San Pedro Sula. Only a handful of España fans had dared make the trip, the Honduran League notorious for supporter violence.

 The match kicked off and even I, far from aficionado, found the level of skill displayed underwhelming. But that mattered nothing. The season ticket stand was an inferno, chants and fists thrown to the air unceasingly. Boy vendors leapt between terraces selling beers, plantain chips, and 5 Lempira bags of water. Boisterous onlookers pelted the policemen encircling the pitch with empty cans. Occasionally they would spot a culprit and two officers would stride up the stands and eject the offender. Mexican waves did the rounds. Olimpia scored and supporters threw their hands to the sky, beers, hot dogs and all.

Ninety minutes up and with a score of 1-1, the anticipation surged on into extra time. Olimpia scored again, the crowd roared again, the final whistle blew, the crowd exulted!

 Exiting the estadio, hawkers still a-hawking, we were thrilled to have witnessed like locals this celebration of our adopted city, and unimaginably relieved by the prospect of emptying bladders painfully full with the beer that had seemed so irresistible in the baking sun.

*

This was my entry for the World Nomads/Rough Guides travel writing competition the other week. I’m not particularly happy with it, though it does fit the remit and that particular vein of travel writing. I’m never particularly happy with anything I produce so I suppose I shouldn’t take too much from that.  I do, however, think it superior to some of last year’s wank entries.

Two things to note:

– It was alarmingly difficult to think of an interesting episode which didn’t involve some kind of wrong-doing, miscreancy, or terror.

– The amount of detail which my brain has let go of over these short years is astounding. Stories that I wrote at the time are filled with minute observations and occurrences of which I now have no recollection. Oh how I have abused this grey matter of mine…

On the plus side, it has made me think about writing again and I think I’ll rework some old tales. With this as a starting point, I might begin with a series of Honduras pieces, incorporating my work from Spanish class last term which I promised a couple of friends I would translate.

But Time, I have given you all away…

I’ve been to the cinema twice in the last couple of weeks, and in both films I felt I’d seen the supporting actresses in something else, that I had known and liked their characters in something else. But I hadn’t. They had reminded me of good friends, far away, and once I realised this the nostalgia was intense.

This happens to me often now. I started a new job a few months ago, and really warmed to one of my new co-workers even though we didn’t speak at length or have anything hugely in common. Every time she spoke I felt happy to hear her voice, and I soon realised it was because she spoke at the same pitch and tone as a friend who’d moved away to London not long before.

I’m in an odd place, friendship-wise at the moment. Living and working in my hometown for the first time in a decade, I’m no longer connected to anybody here. I never was of course, that’s why I left. Though I met my best friend ever at university – truly the other half of me – I’d only ever made a couple of genuinely good friends until I went travelling, when suddenly I discovered there are a whole plethora of misfits out there, all with one core virtue in common – our oddness.

Since then, I’ve largely chosen the people that I spend time around – leftfield, open-minded types for the most part – or been fortunate enough to move in circles where those sorts abound anyway. But now I’m back on the outside. Not that the people I work with aren’t great, they actually are! But we lead parallel lives, parallel thoughts… And so I miss those far-away friends all the more intensely. I’m not sure if the people I see on the screen or in the street really are like the people I know, or if its just wishful thinking, my brain in its sentimentality transposing what it wants to see…

There are two things I miss about life on the Island. One is without a shadow of a doubt the anarchy, but that’s a whole other thing. The other is having friends so close by. No matter what nonsense was going on, there was never a fellow misfit more than five minutes away with whom to unburden your woes, and indeed share some of those anarchic delights…

An article on The Guardian this week imparts The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, as described by a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care. Among them was not staying in touch with friends: “Everyone misses their friends when they are dying”. This statement grabbed me. Although I wasn’t dying, when I got shot and was lying in the clinic I found (to my guilt) that it wasn’t my family I wanted to see but certain friends that I wished, so bad, could be there…