The Gardens of the Royal Alcazar Palace, Seville
Thirty-two years later, I return. And lean back in the hedges inhaling everything I inhaled then; the deep scents of jasmine and clove. I can't believe that in so many return visits over the years to Seville, I never managed back into these gardens. There was always something in the way; a public holiday, a Monday, a closure for repairs or a royal visit, us getting the opening hours wrong!
But they are, together with the Moorish palace, as breathtakingly beautiful now as they were then, and have been for the last 1,000 years; the play of perfume and water, the flutter of dove, the palette of terracotta and verdant green below an effervescent blue sky.
Of course, I don't know where I sat exactly or in which area, but it's all the same. I'm here as I was then, and, perhaps, through these words, always will be.
Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago which gives a little more insight into my connection to this place...
A Midsummer Day in Seville
I'm sitting in 'my' bar in Seville, opposite the cathedral's Patio de Naranjas. The scent of its oranges drifts across the street. It's thirty years since I first had a beer here and crunched on the fragile skulls of roasted sparrows. Today, much to my wife's relief, sparrows are off the menu.
'A beer and a shandy, please', I order in Spanish. The handsome, tobacco-skinned young man with emerald eyes standing behind the bar looks at me nervously. He doesn't make a move.
'I think it's his first day,' I say to Catherine, my wife, who is perched on a stool beside me, keen for the beers to be served. It's not quite noon but our morning walk has been in blasting sunshine. 'Look at them; they're all new.'
The owner is working his way along our side of the bar with more new recruits pointing to each dish in turn. He enunciates loudly: 'Gam-bas!', 'Mej-ill-on-es!', 'Mor-cill-a!', 'En-sal-a-di-lla Ru-sa!'
'Have they never seen Russian salad before?', Catherine asks. I look at them more closely; they could be brothers of the Spanish singing star Enrique Iglesias, but there's something strange.
'You know, I don't think they have.'
'Where are they from?', Catherine is right in there asking the owner's wife, who is standing beside the beer taps.
'Turkey, and today is their first day in Spain!' Catherine and I look at each other amazed that these young Turks are here and don't have a 'Buenos dias' between them!
'A shandy is a mix of beer and lemonade', Catherine leans forward explaining in Spanish and gestures to our young man how to make a 'clara'. He follows the instructions and relaxes enough to produce a hesitant but grateful smile, although the glass is foaming over uncontrollably. I smile too. All those years ago it was me learning Spanish across this bar and now I am watching Catherine teach it the other way.
After lunch, we find a bar with a free table in a small square draped with bougainvillea. I squint up to see which way the sun is going and try to guess how long the shade will last. I need at least a couple of hours to get on with my writing. We sit down and order two beers. They're hardly served when I feel a sharp burning on my elbow and realise I've got it wrong; the sun is already intruding into our space. Catherine goes off for a stroll and I wedge my shiny metal chair as far back into the lee of the stone wall as possible. A group of middle-aged Scots at the next table fold ice cubes into scarves and hold them against their brows.
Piled amongst my papers on the table, are my journals from that very first trip. The entry for 22nd September 1980 talks of:
'A wealth of light; part of the magic of Seville being the way gloom is cast out. The sun rides high and the buildings are white and yellow, tumbling with plants of lilac and red flowers. The trees seem to have an inner light and the palms finger skywards, spanning majestically against the effervescent blue.'
Some things haven't changed, but I am fascinated by this young twenty year old writer. Is it really me writing that then? Do I remember him? Do I like him? Who was he? Who did he think he was? I try to grab him but it's like chasing someone through a maze.
I do remember the whole romance of that long trip, crossing the Pyrenees on foot and picking up the trail of the author Laurie Lee near Zamora in the north-west of Spain; it was his book 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' that had taken me there in the first place; the poetry of his writing and the adventure of a young lad setting out on foot for a strange land in 1936 was irresistible.
The slim Penguin volume of that work which I had carried in my back pocket during that entire journey is also on the table in front of me. I pick it up, discreetly holding it to my nose, and inhale deeply; it smells of long dried sweat. I close my eyes and feel the old longing; no wonder the writing in the journal is so often an earnest imitation of Lee's. I wrote of a visit to the Alcazar Palace in Seville:
'The spell of Islam was quickly cast and I wafted along in a mystique of spices and flashing jewels. Out into the gardens I was swept, finding little temples in sun-trapped corners and leaning back into hedges to fill my lungs with deep fumes of clove.'
A touch on my shoulder brings me back to the present, Catherine has returned. 'How're you getting on?' I look down at the untouched, half-finished sonnet I'm writing as if at an unsolvable crossword puzzle, and shrug.
'Let's have some nice chilled rosado?', Catherine says. After ordering, she shows me the photos she's taken of that afternoon's brides and grooms she found on her stroll.
There is nothing finer than a stroll in a Spanish city on a balmy evening. I'm dressed in some Andalusian style, complete with white linen suit and Panama hat and Catherine is wearing a Flamenco red linen dress, occasionally snapping open her fan with a flick of her wrist. We wind through the narrow streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and soon reach the Cathedral; I like the way they've got rid of the cars and we have peace to admire the magnificent floodlit buildings set against an indingo sky.
'Cuanto vale un paseo estos dias, Señor?', I ask the slightly grizzled driver of horse-drawn carriage for the price of a tour. Forty euros seems reasonable, although I certainly couldn't have afforded it on my former backpacker's budget. We step up into the neat, lightly-sprung carriage settling on its rear seat, the smell of leather blending with the horse dung and straw on the ground. 'Manolo', as I christen him, click-clicks the horse into action, pivoting the wheels around on the cobbles with a scrape.
There is a dearth of well dressed tourists and we attract attention as the carriage ambles past the Alcazar Palace. I resist the temptation to doff my hat at the passers-by and instead enjoy the scent of jasmine and clove as it wafts from the gardens.
We pick up a trot and light breeze as we turn past the tobacco factory which was the inspiration for Bizet's most famous opera. 'La fabrica de tobaco donde trabajaba Carmen', signals Manolo. He's wearing a stiff white shirt, a cream short-brimmed cap and thick grey pinstripe trousers of a type worn only by Andalusian horsemen and Scottish advocates. His buttocks spread wide on the high bench in front of us and he twists his stocky torso as he points out the landmarks.
'Where do you keep the horse?' I ask in Spanish.
'They've built a new stable for us all, twenty minutes from the centre.' Manolo points his whip straight ahead. 'It's really very fine and keeps us altogether.'
'Is this your own carriage?'
'Yes, I've got four!', I can hear the pride in his voice.
'Yes, yes, one for me, one for each of my two sons and one I rent out.' Satisfaction spreads on the side of his face that I can see.
'So, how long have you been in the business?'
'Forty years! ...Yes, forty years.' He's suddenly reflective.
I pause and think of all the circuits of this very route he has done. We are now in Maria Louisa Park, where, on that first trip, two youths had tried to mug me for my Kodak Instamatic camera. I smile as I recall reading what now seems to be a over-egged account in the journal:
'''Bugger off!'', I cried. They shook and lowered their heads and when they looked up there was a thrill of criminal intent in their eyes. One hand made the motion of a stab. Another moved to a hip pocket and then I realised just how good my own advice was and ran!'
Manolo might well have been in the park that day too, perhaps at that very moment.
'So,...', I'm always fascinated to know how good a living guys like Manolo make; it's the same when I'm talking to taxi drivers all over the world. 'How many trips do you do a day?' At forty euros a trip even I'll be able to work it out.
'Oh, I don't know!' he laughs, playing his own game. The horse whinnies and tosses its mane as another passes close by from the opposite direction. Manolo pulls the reigns to the left and 'clicks' and 'whoa-s' to her. I can just see the lamplight reflecting in her excited, bloodshot eye behind the blinkers.
We cross onto the main road and take our place among taxis and buses. The trot back is a good twenty minutes. 'And does the horse have to rest between trips?', I try again.
'Oh, no! She can do many trips non-stop. Some horses, like my other ones, are very wild and you have to give them lots of exercise or they go mad!' I make some conservative estimates and reckon he'll have a very nice house somewhere on the edge of the city. I can see him stepping out of his car in his courtyard after he has stabled the horse and checked the others are secure for the night. He'll scrape and kick off his boots and run his hands under a tap before going up the terracotta stairs to the oak-panelled front door. Manolo's warm horse smell will enter the house with him and mingle with the aroma of the noble wood, brass and leather fittings. He'll settle himself at the dining table resting forward on his broad forearms and call, 'Maria, darling! A glass of red!'
Manolo sets us down in the square where we started. The ground seems very solid after the float of the carriage springs. He hangs a nose bag on the horse's head before turning to us. I slip a fifty euro note into his massive hand. 'Y esta.' I tell him to keep the change.
'Muchas gracias, Senor, y buenas noches!' But Manolo has more work to do before enjoying his glass of red wine. Another couple approaches him and he accepts. It is now 11 pm. I suddenly have to revise my estimations; if he's still working this late and everyone gives him a tip like I did, then he'll have a small house in the white villages to the south as well!
Copyright asserted by the owner of Blipfoto journal, Around the Block, aka Barrioboy.