One of the books I am most likely to recommend to anyone is We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Almost everyone has read either 1984 or Brave New World or both, but We predates them both; Orwell and Huxley have had to defend themselves against how much they took from We. I prefer We mostly because it’s funnier, but they all deal with slightly different things: oppression via censorship, via drugs, or via rationality.
That has almost nothing to do with this post except that my dear friend came to visit me for 10 days, but I am going to call her “O-90” in order to respect her privacy, and O-90 is the name of one of the main characters in We. If you don’t understand something in this post, I’m probably referencing We.
We visited Madrid:
O-90 uses her free will to stand in front of a huge palace meant to rival Versailles.
Madrid is a lot of fun to show to others. It’s a big, bustling city, and we were lucky to be staying at a great location right in the heart of everything. Here’s something interesting O-90 found:
Even a closed door can't prevent Eve from making everyone unhappy.
It’s a door-knob or a door-knocker. There was a matching hand on the other side of the door. I don’t know if these hands have some other significance, because we found a matching set on a door in Córdoba… and in Sevilla!
We also went to Córdoba:
O-90 stands in the light of the Alhambra.
The first time I was in Córdoba, it was December. All the doors were closed. The Alhambra was big and nice and everything, and the Roman bridge was impressive and still-existing, but I honestly didn’t understand why my friend S-4711 loved Córdoba enough to live there for 3 years.
O-90 on the catwalk--I mean Roman Bridge.
This time, though, all the doors were open. Córdoba is beautiful! At O-90’s lead, we took a trip into the old Jewish quarter and the charm of Córdoba really started to show itself: compact, winding streets covered in cobblestones and ivy, open doors where craftsmen bent over their hand-made work, and bubbling fountain after bubbling fountain decorating hidden patio after hidden patio.
This is one of the only synagogues in all of Spain that survived the Inquisition.
Here’s the door-knocker:
This time, she's going for it in Córdoba. I kinda think this is awesome, and I once wanted a tattoo of something similar.
O-90 stands in the middle to give you a sense of how huge this is.
This is one of my favorite castles that I have ever been to. The views from El Escorial are breathtaking. Maybe it was because the sky was blue and the day was warm. Maybe it’s because there was a herd of cows in the garden, and they made me laugh. Maybe it’s because the artwork rivaled the Prado. This was the first palace that I visited and thought, “I understand why someone with a million billion dollars would want to live here.” As secure a fortress as it is, and as much as it was built to represent the very grill on which the martyr San Lorenzo burned, it was comfortable, beautiful, peaceful, and somehow livable. You know, in a “I have a million billion dollars” kind of way.
Through a window, one could see a herd of cows grazing in the waning sunlight beneath the autumn trees. This is not that picture.
We actually took so long walking through the basement, we didn’t even get to see the living quarters–nor could we walk up the main staircase beneath a ceiling painted going up into the heavens so realistically that it gave me vertigo. But the tomb in the basement was worth it! My jaw dropped when I walked into the room that held the corpses of kings and queens for over 5 generations. It wasn’t disgusting or claustrophobic; it was one of the richest things I had ever seen, built completely of vaulted marble and wrapped in gold. I’d show a picture, but to take one would have gotten me thrown out of the palace. You’ll have to come yourself to have a look. Let me know when you’re going and I’ll come with you!
For a daytrip from Sevilla, we went to Itálica:
O-90 walks into the amphitheater, just like the Romans did 2000 years ago.
This is where the gladiators fought the tigers. I wonder how many people fit in amphitheater?
Itálica is the name of an old Roman city that was the birthplace of three Roman emperors and several Roman senators. It has a large ampitheater, hot and cold baths, the ruins of palaces filled with intricate mosaics, and so much more that I can’t tell you about yet because it’s still covered with 2000 years of dirt — and the sleepy town of modern-day Santiponce.
Can you identify the different gods and goddesses? I have the answer sheet if you give up 🙂
Itálica keeps the original Roman street-plan. You can walk the original main Roman road and see the original Roman curb-sides still in-tact. I laugh a little because of all the things the Romans cared about — rooms filled with art and plush lounge chairs and rich plates and cups and mosaics — I’m impressed by the curb. There’s also a really cool gutter.
And, por supuesto, Sevilla:
Typical Spanish countryside between Madrid and Sevilla, or why I fell in love with Spain and came back with my hiking pack.
We stayed in Sevilla for the most time because I had to work. That’s when O-90 visited the palace, the palace gardens, the cathedral, and other things around town. Here are some of the touristic highlights of Sevilla:
This is probably the best picture of Plaza de España in the world, so it's a good thing I took it and uploaded it to the internet.
This structure is called "The Mushrooms." You can walk on top of them for a panoramic view.
The cathedral and La Giralda straight ahead, and a turreted tower of the royal palace on the right. Also: palm trees, because it's warm here.
With those out of the way, O-90 and I just had fun. Check out some of the awesome graffiti we saw:
Just like real life, except the goat would be a dog, and the two would walk together on the street without a leash.
There was a whole wall full of these living vegetables all lining up, presumably to be chopped up and put into pisto.
My favorite day exploring Sevilla with O-90 was the day we went to Plaza de España and el Parque María Luisa. If I had a euro for every picture we took that day, maybe I could afford to live in El Escorial.
One of my favorite things about Sevilla is that it's covered in flowers all year 'round. These flowers are so great, there are more little white flowers inside all the purple flowers.
Or maybe my favorite thing about Sevilla is the contrasting orange and blue; the warmth; the blue skies; or the way it's so perpetually, so stubbornly picturesque, even down to the birds.
Speaking of birds, feeding them remains one of my favorite past-times. Or is it chasing them? Both are fun. Am I 80 years old or 4?
In Sevilla, O-90 started having me take pictures of all the food we ate. What I should have taken pictures of was Rayas, our favorite gelato place. It has the most delicious hazelnut gelato, and it’s only 10 minutes from my piso. Qué suerte!
This photo of O-90 and I eating tuna and berenjenas con miel is brought to you by my brand new housemate, who I met that very day upon returning from Madrid.
Delicious postres; we ate at least 5 this one day. It was worth it. Cake is the best in Spain.
This is O-90 taking the inaugural bite of papas gratinas con cheddar, one of my favorite tapas in Sevilla at Bar Levies.
Some locals treated us to El Rinconcillo, the oldest bar in Sevilla, founded in the 1600s. Best espinacas con garbanzos ever.
Another awesome thing O-90 and I did in Sevilla was watch flamenco. How I love flamenco! They’ll tell you flamenco is beautiful. They’ll tell you it has soul. Personally, I thought, “all dance is emotional,” and went in expecting to be entertained. But I’ll tell you now: it moves me. Flamenco is, as they say, legit.
O-90 liked it, too, which might have something to do with why we watched it two nights in a row. We couldn’t stay away!
The first night, the male dancer was outstanding and stole the show. The second night, the female dancer was una autentica maravilla! I checked the program and can't wait to go back when they're both dancing the same night.
O-90’s stay was just too short. Just as I started getting used to sharing a 9’x9′ space, she left me to fly back over the ocean and return to her job and family and friends. Qué triste!
I love having company in Sevilla because their unique interests help me branch out of my rut — I’ve only been here one month, and I already have a rut. I probably learned almost as much about Sevilla during O-90’s visit as she did!
Now, even though I know my future visitors have a lot of things to juggle before they can fly across the ocean, I am getting my fix of meeting new people and seeing new things by having intercambios, or language exchanges, with local sevillanos. For example, today I had an intercambio and as a result, I have a new favorite café to drink tea! Another time, my intercambio was next door to an asian food market, so now I can finally get my missing ingredients for spring rolls.
I still feel like a guest in Sevilla, and I think it will take more than 9 months until I even begin to feel like more than a visitor, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. For now, I’m happy to absorb Sevilla by osmosis.
I’ll leave you with one last door-knocker:
The more I think about it, the more I like it. Except that disembodied body parts are creepy.