Sevilla la maravilla: the first days in Seville

When I took the high speed AVE train from Madrid to Seville, I knew my time in Spain would be special.  The landscape reminded me of the background in medieval paintings.  There were lots of olive groves, and the clouds were a grey-blue.  The landscape itself was mainly hilly. Some castles were perched atop hills, and the landscape was made more surreal by how close the clouds were to the ground.  Then I saw a rainbow.  In the colonial Andes (and before, most likely), rainbows signify dramatic change.  I’ve seen a fair share of rainbows in the Andes, but this was my first time seeing it in Europe.  The first time I saw a rainbow in the Andes was in 2006.  It was an intense double rainbow.  That season solidified my love for the Andes, so I associate rainbows with good dramatic changes.

I stayed at a Pension my first night in Seville because the place I was renting would not be ready until the next day.  Although I was tired, I decided to make most of my time by walking out with a bottle of milk and a banana.  I visited some gardens close by (Jardines de Murillo).  Sevillan gardens remind me of the old Roman paintings and mosaics of Africa or the Orient.  There are palm trees and other exotic plants.  The fountains are tiled and the ground is sandy.  There are orange trees everywhere, which makes the city smell nice.  In the gardens of Real Alcazar, there are even peacocks and old Roman statues.  If I had to choose the colors that best define Seville, they would be Blue, Green, and Orange.  There are also cute puppies and dogs everywhere, along with their poop.  Luckily, as an archaeologist, my idea of sightseeing is to look at the ground, so I’m proud to say that I did not step in poop even once.  The small victories in life bring much joy.

Because I arrived during the weekend, I also had time to explore the city.  I arrived when people were preparing for epiphany, in which they celebrate the three wise men as we celebrate Santa Claus.  The air was thick with incense and smoke from chestnut vendors.  Children were everywhere frolicking about, and the Spanish were enjoying themselves jumping about and dancing to the parades.  The golden light in Seville combined with the smoke and hustle-bustle.  The closest experience I’ve ever had to this was in China during festivals.  People would gather in the streets and set off lots of fireworks, which would make the atmosphere smoky.  However, the golden light in Seville really made it all the more magical.  I generally don’t like crowds, but there’s something about happy crowds, smoke, music, the smell of roasting chestnuts that’s absolutely infectious.  The parade people throw candy, and you can hear the little kids squealing with delight with every throw.

Some of my more memorable first impressions:

The Spanish are very social.  I often hear them making a racket outside at 3am, drinking and singing beer songs, or what I interpret to be beer songs.  They come out at around 11pm and stay out late.

Because the Spanish are very social, I never see them eating alone.  This made my culinary experience in the first few days rather dull.  I would greedily eye the menus at tapas bars, but would be too embarrassed to order and eat all by my lonesome.

The Spanish really enjoy taking out their children to walk around.  In the U.S., children are generally allowed to be social only in designated spaces: playgrounds, parks, recess yards, children’s museums, etc.  However, in Seville, they are social EVERYWHERE.  Their parents would stand outside eating their tapas, while their children would frolick about with each other.

Seville isn’t perfect, but even its imperfections are charming.


Quick summary of work in Seville

Time in Seville: about a month

Books looked over in the Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos: about thirty

Legajos (dossiers ranging from 150-600 pages) of archival documents looked through: 16, but not all of them were useful

Words transcribed from archival documents: Around 26,000-27,000, half of them double-checked on site (27412, but  including page numbers)

Photocopied pages: 133

Great finds: Census of my site in the year 1686, relationship between mermaids and obrajes, detailed descriptions of Spaniards fomenting racial animosity between “indios,” “negros,” and “mestizos” in obrajes, detailed descriptions of punishments and injustices in obrajes, amorous and illicit relations between priests and the wives of indigenous caciques (not directly relevant, but hilarious), and information about the social effects of the great epidemic of 1720-24.

Cost (airplane, transportation, food, housing, photocopies): Around $2400

Favorite place in Seville: Real Alcazar right next to the archives, free for students.

I’m already planning to come back next winter.  I’ve looked through all the obvious documents that would contain information about obrajes, but I think there is a ton more in the letters from the Viceroys. I also did not have time to look at the archival documents in the University of Seville, which may or may not hold information.

In the next few days, I will add more updates and tales from Seville.  I finally found some time now that I’m in Lima.