Europe 20.07.16

Wednesday the 20th

It had been such a long and tiresome stay in Africa that whence it was finally time to embark on the walking tour of Seville I was overcome with relief and excitement! No greater anticipation had I harboured for any other destination thus far, for my flamenco-loving mother and aunt had spoken ever so highly about this romantic location and I was immediately under the impression. It was the fourth-largest city and one of the first Christian regions in Spain, which had been frequented by Christopher Columbus during the Age of Discovery wherein the nation financed many of the explorer’s exhibitions. All imports and exports were distributed from Seville making it a thriving city rich in industry and culture from all corners of the new world. The tour began at Plaza de Espaná: now this was a grand place if I ever saw one! The circular skirting of terracotta coloured stone was graced with marble columns which divided the perimeter into sections depicting each of the 48 provinces in a mosaic mural in alphabetical order. A series of bridges named after the past kings of Spain, lined with ceramic pillars painted in a scheme reminiscent of Delft’s Blue, spanned the canal that lay parallel to the outer structure. The round shape had symbolic meaning, intended to represent the open arms of Spain embracing the recently discovered Americas. I was not the only one who responded with shock at the fact that this artful place was initially intended as a temporary structure – could you imagine the loss of such an exuberant palace with its handcrafted tile artworks and rich history?

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After traversing the colourful streets we entered the Corrida de Toros. The Bull Rink was a stark white building dressed in golden stripes that matched the colour of the fighting pit inside. It was diligently maintained as it hosted fights during peak season and doubled as a museum which we would be viewing today. This season begins on Easter Sunday and lasts for 29 fights over the course of several months, with up to 100,000 tickets available per round ranging in price from £27-£120 due to the availability of shade. The origin of bullfighting stems from the predator status of this mediterranean animal which fostered the ritual sacrifice we are familiar with today. It is associated with the mythology of the minotaur which carries connotations of manhood, but at the same time depicts a battle of the sexes between masculine bull and feminine matador. The history of civil contention between Christian and Muslim religions in Spain allowed the sport to flourish, as men would train their small Arabic horses with the aid of the bull. Only upon the conclusion of this conflict did bullfighting become a leisurely activity which has since assimilated to popular opinion in changing contexts. The ritual procedure is divided into three phases of dancing, provoking and finally killing which is conducted in six rounds of fifteen minutes. These sections are also respectively used to study the beasts personality, for the entrance of the picadors whom make the bull bleed to decrease its blood pressure and simultaneously anger it, and after the approval of the president in the last stage, spike a spear through the vertebra above the neck for a swift death. The matador is vulnerable to serious risk in this last stage, as the manoeuvre required to pierce the neck exposes the femoral artery which, if punctured, can cause the fighter to bleed to death within minutes. Therefore, the matador is rewarded for his elegance and aesthetic fighting ability a prize decided by the viewing public such as the ear of the animal. Our local guide voiced her disapproval of this “unnecessary activity in modern times” – an opinion which was not uncommon. The recent running of the bulls was met with a half-naked congregation of protesters whom poured fake blood over their heads as a statement against this gruesome and inhumane practice disguised as tradition. Yet on the contrary, the life of the fighting bull is a luxurious one compared to those bread for slaughter as the animal is groomed for the fight of their lifes and death is more honourable than the next piece of meat on the market. Nonetheless, the fighting bull is also destined for the slaughterhouse although this meat is generally too tough to eat. The standard political orientation towards the humanity of bull fighting is centrist: the average individual accepts this tradition yet would not voluntarily attend a bullfight.

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Lauren and I covered our shoulders as we waited in line to gain access to the third largest church in the Christian world. The Seville Cathedral sized up to its statistic from the doors to the Orange Tree Courtyard for everything within this religious tabernacle was larger than life! Its inception as a Mosque in 1184 was short-lived as it was consecrated as a cathedral only fifty years later and met with transformations in both purpose and architectural style. The building was constructed with a gothic influence in the 1400s, renaissance work in the 1500s and baroque in the 16/1700s. Here one could find the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. His tomb was raised metres above the ground on the shoulders of sculpted coffin bearers dressed in robes with the lion creed. Another remarkable sight was the high alter carved from wood finished with gold leaves which depicted the life of Jesus Christ.

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This evening, we were in for dinner and a show! We ate tapas and drunk red wine whilst we waited for the flamenco performance to commence. This traditional dance of Spain has a rich historical origin stemming from the time of the Christian conquering, wherein the oppression and expulsion of minority groups formed a mutated subculture consisting of Jews, Moors and Gypsies. This mixture of cultures is reflected in the resulting dance that is popularly practiced and performed to this day. Four elements comprise flamenco dancing: the vocal factor called “cante” is a deep song that almost sounds similar to bellowing or crying; the guitar or “toque” was a modern addition to the art form that included fast strumming and minor chords; the dance element incorporated percussive moments such as stomping and clapping with a proud posture and soft hands; finally hell-raising or “jaleo” by the audience in the form of provocative yells are meant to encourage the dancers when they perform. Two styles of flamenco dancing were featured in the performance we attended. I preferred the passionate Spanish tradition of emotive guitar and freeform vocals which I had been privileged to encounter on multiple occasions due to my mother’s interest in the sport. The ulterior style had an Austrian influence hence appeared almost balletic when danced to classical music. Duly impressed by the private concert, our group left the theatre buzzing having caught the infectious vibe projected by the skilled dancers. We bonded with our group at a bar until it was the earliest possible time to progress to the dance club (12:30 is still too early in Spain!). The false beach had been constructed in the courtyard of the club and here we could chill out on deck chairs or around the tall tables until the dance floor grew crowded. Our moves might not have been as elegant or skilful as the flamenco performers we had viewed in awe that evening, but no one thought to care as we danced the night away.

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