Spain | A Very Spanish Weekend: Sevilla

by Celia Cody-Carrese
A Very Spanish Weekend: Sevilla
Animated chatter morphs into hushed murmurs as the staff pushes out a hearty “shhh” across the room. It’s starting. Sevillanos and tourists alike are still searching forany bit of open space where they can sit and watch the show. The guitar starts, before the room gets quiet enough to hear it clearly. Next comes the clapping, soft and quiet at first. The singer lets out a long, high cry, his voice weaving in and out of the handclaps and guitar. There is pain and passion in his voice, that hooks into your ears and won’t let go. Seated next to him is the dancer, a woman wearing a red top, long purple ruffled skirt, and a red scarf tied around her waist. Her lips are red and she wears red and white flowers in her hair, parted down the middle and worn in a low bun. She is the picture of flamenco. Her white shoes begin to tap on the floor, along with the rhythm of the hand claps. Something beyond my understanding occurs which signals her to stand and take her spot in the center of the small wooden tablon, or stage, laid out on the floor. Maybe it’s a line in the song, or maybe it was just the feeling of the moment.She is larger than life – her feet strike the floor at a speed that seems inhuman, her arms twist and sweep across her body, her hips ground all her movements. But her face, her face is what says it all. She doesn’t ever flash us a dancer’s smile –instead,her face shows the effort behind everything. The pain and joy of the music, the sheer difficulty of what she is doing. By the end of the second song, a sheen of sweat covers her face. She’s not here to look pretty. She’s here to emote, to dance, and to do something really difficult, really well. This is true for the guitarist and singer as well–they don’t put up a front, it’s just raw emotion and effort. And that’s what made my first time seeing flamenco so incredible.

Flamenco at La Carbonería in Sevilla

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucía, and maybe rightfully so (but don’t tell anyone in Córdoba I said that!). It’s home to some of the best flamenco, best gastronomy, and biggest displays of Spanish architecture. My favorite place in Sevilla is the Plaza de España, a grandiose building and plaza designed by Sevillan architect Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio, constructed for the Iberian-American Exposition in 1929.Walking up to the Plaza is pretty breathtaking there are so many elements and details that I couldn’t decide what to look at first.

Aníbal González’s architectural genius is matched only by his fantastic mustache

Plaza de España, Sevilla

The Plaza de España is made up of a huge plaza, obviously, and an equally huge building that curves around the outside of the Plaza. Along the front of the building are murals made of intricate hand painted tiles, which represent different cities and regions in Spain.Within the plaza is a moat-like body of water, where ducks floating between rowboats. Over the water are four bridges, featuring brightly painted balustrades (theside part of the bridge). The whole thing is pretty stunning. We spent about an hour just walking around and staring at everything, and then rented row boats for half an hour. Fun fact! The Plaza de España was used as a set in Attack of the Clones,  the second film in the Star Wars prequels. Anakin and Padmé can be seen walking through the Plaza, which in the film is on the Planet Naboo.

Córdoba’s mural at the Plaza de España

Next to the Plaza de España is another impressive display of something Spain does really well-parks.Walking through the Maria Luisa park takes you through tropical landscaping, beautiful fountains, and ponds filled with birds, including two large andfriendly swans. (Feed them grass, they won’t bite!) Scattered throughout the park are various structures, including a dome topped gazebo and a beautiful building which houses the Museum of Arts and Traditions. Every corner holds something different, and simultaneously the whole park fits together beautifully. It’s historical, lush, and whimsical.

Parquede María Luisa

What’s a weekend in Spain without delicious food? Sevilla is home to a lot of great restaurants, and in total has over 3,000 tapas bars and restaurants! 3,000! My favorite place we went to was an old bar called Casa Morales, complete with giant barrels of vino and huge legs of jamón hanging over the bar. I don’t eat meat and the pig legs kind of weird me out, but they also feel so Spanish! I had espinacas Andaluz stew of spinach and garbanzo beans served with bread. It was delicious and so filling for only a small tapa! We also had amazing gelato right next to the Cathedral -my flavors included basil-lime, coconut, and almond.We sat in the plaza enjoying our gelato, watching horse drawn carriages pass by. Nearby a young woman warmed up for a street performance, where she danced hip hop and contemporary.

Tapas at Casa Morales

Something I have grown to love about Spain is the street performers. Many cities I have been to, including cities in America, have some pretty hokey street performers. Often they are talented, but there is too much schtick thrown on top of whatever art form they are doing. However, in Spain the street performers are a bit humbler and more original. In Madrid I saw roller skaters dance like they were on ice and jump over a row of about 8 people lying on the ground. In Córdo bayou can often see a man who plays saxophone on thePuente Romano, as well as various guitarists in the center. In Toledo outside a church, flamenco rhythms from a man’s guitar softly filled the air. The young dancer we saw in Sevilla left out candies in a box next to the hat she used to collect donations. Other notable sights in Sevilla include the Real Alcazar, a palace complex with Mudéjar (Moorish), Renaissance, and Baroque architectural styles.Within the Alcazar rare beautiful and extensive gardens,which a raised, covered walkway runs along.The Alcazar, along with the Plaza de España, are still in use today for royal and government purposes, respectively. And as with any Andalucían city, meandering throughout the narrow and winding streets is never a waste of the afternoon.

Mudéjar architecture in the Alcazar

Sevilla truly has a place in my heart, along with every other beautiful place I have been able to see during my time here in España!

Italy | If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends

BY WILLA GIFFIN

If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends

One of the most central aspects contributing to my time in Florence has been my elective class: The History and Culture of Food in Italy. I’ve mentioned it in past blog posts, but haven’t given this once in a lifetime class nearly the attention that it most certainly deserves. So here it goes… I hope I can do it justice.

Months before my departure to Florence, after reading descriptions of the culture courses my study abroad program offered, I decided that I wanted to take the food class (the other options were Art History and the Sociology of Love– both of which students in my program are currently thrilled to be taking).  In reality, after seeing the word “food” in the course title, no further reading was necessary; the class chose me.

The enrollment period came around in December of last year, and having had friends go through my exact study abroad program in the past, I was advised to set an alarm for an ungodly hour in order to sign-up immediately, and ensure my spot in this highly coveted class.

Due to the different time zones, unsure of when the enrollment email would find its way into my inbox, and mostly because I am neurotic, I set an alarm to go off in twenty-minute intervals starting at 3:45 am.

After almost two-and-a-half hours of 8 jarring alarms, I received the enrollment notice at 6 am. It was a slightly tortuous night of restless sleep—but I reserved my place in the food class, and boy was it worth it!

Once in Florence, at orientation, Dr. Peter Fischer, the enthusiastic and beyond knowledgeable food professor, was only described to us as being, “very German and very loved.”

On the first day of lecture it became crystal clear why, Peter (as we call him), was so raved about. He passed out the class syllabus that set the tone for the incredible class and instantly deemed all future syllabi disappointing bores. Most thrilling was the class date labeled, “Midterm Exam Followed by Gelato Tasting.”

Class itself is always something to look forward to. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Peter begins lecture by asking us students to share stories of interesting food experiences that we’ve encountered since our last meeting. We talk about new dishes we’ve tried, look for the cultural reasoning behind why the waitress rolled her eyes when we asked for a to-go box after dinner, or tell stories of how when we’d tried to order a caffe coretto (espresso with a shot of liquor) but, lost in translation, received what we had accidentally asked for: cornetto (a croissant).

In class Peter brings Italy to life for me through analyzing the history of the food—one of the most central aspects to human survival in general, and encompassing even more grandiose, far-reaching meaning in Italy, where the meals taste like memories.

Peter has taught us some Italian food survival skills, like why a true Italian will never ever drink a cappuccino after breakfast (because the high milk content is thought to be hard to digest). And, I specifically, learned the valuable lesson that an Osteria is not a restaurant that sells oysters, like I’d originally thought and told a friend (sorry Sofia), but rather, typically, a less expensive restaurant.

Peter has lectured on a variety of fascinating food facts, like the American fast food movement, and the Italian counter-movement, Slow Food, which was sparked in protest of the opening of the first McDonalds in Rome in 1986. Californian chef and Farm-To-Table advocate, Alice Waters, is the Vice President of the international movement today.

We learned that potatoes, tomatoes, and corn originally came to Italy from the Americas, but Italians considered the Native Americans to be cannibals and initially refused to eat the food of “savages.” It wasn’t until a food shortage that the Italians turned to using these American vegetables, however, they made sure to disguise the foods’ original form, transforming potatoes into gnocchi and corn into polenta.

We learned that Italy wasn’t politically unified until 1871, and wasn’t culturally united for many years after that. Italians attempted to create a sense of solidarity through their cuisine. Pasta functioned as a unifying symbol, as its different shapes, sizes, and ways of being prepared, represented the regional diversity, but its same basic ingredients signified a one-ness.

We learned that during the first wave of Italian immigration to the United States, Italy was not culturally unified, thus there was not yet an archetypal “Italian.” It wasn’t until migrating to America, that Italians, as outsiders, honed their identity and discovered what it meant to be “a true Italian,” all while learning how to be “American” at the same time. Studying this, led me to examine what I think it means to be an American, through my own experience as an outsider in Italy.

Last week we all turned in our research papers that we wrote with the freedom to discuss the food related topic of our choice. If you have to write a paper, what better topic than food to write about? As long as you have snacks handy in the drafting process. My essay was titled “Dinner the Implications of the Italian Verb and the English Noun” and writing it, made me even more enchanted with the Italian family style dinners.

Besides learning in the classroom through remarkably engaging power points and lectures, Peter has taken us on numerous field-trips (like on a chocolate tasting!!) that I will remember even more fondly than the crunchy, savory, taste of my most favorite panini.

This Thursday, Peter walked us over to the Florentine Community Garden. The old running track, turned herb garden, was covered in raised plant-beds, and pink flowering trees (happy spring!).  We met Giacomo, the gardener, at the entrance, and in his hip, plaid flannel shirt and light blue jeans, he looked more like he belonged in San Diego than amongst the other peacoat- enthusiast, leather-shoed Italians.

Giacomo showed us around his sustainable herb garden, focusing most proudly on his composting, his rainwater supplied bathroom sink, and his fishpond that serves as mosquito repellent. We walked around the garden, admiring all of the unique hybrid herbs Giacomo was growing– lavender mint, cranberry sage, tangerine thyme, just to name a few.

As a class, we decided on six herbs to pick, and then we each took turns chopping them up as finely as possible. Once the herbs were hacked to a pulp, Giacomo brought out a stash of fresh, homemade ricotta, separating it into three small bowls. We then combined two chopped herbs into each bowl of cheese and stirred thoroughly. We were given delicious bread and slathered it with ricotta, along with various salts to add if we wished. All three of the herbed ricottas were absolutely delicious, but my favorite was the lavender mint and chive with a pinch of black, Greek salt to top.

Two weeks ago, our class of twenty took a daylong field trip to a small winery in the most enchanting chianti countryside. Chianti Classico wine maker, Paulo, walked us around his vineyard and taught us about growing grapes and the fermentation process. He brought us into his old stone house and showed us his downstairs cellar. The electricity was out, so we did our tour and wine/olive oil tasting by candlelight. It was a far cry from any school field trip to the local library I’d ever been on.

After the winery, Peter took us to a small town to eat lunch and drink some more wine at a bustling, down-to-earth Trattoria where we (definitely) over-indulged in a four-course meal. Our giant meat and cheese plate, was followed by a heaping portion of pasta e fagioli (pasta in white beans). A mixed-meat tagliatelle was next (I’m always a little weary of “mixed” meats, mostly because I’m afraid of eating horse… but if I didn’t think about it too much, it tasted good). Then came the pork stew, which was followed by the dessert wine, delicious biscotti, dense chocolate cake, and the concluding coffee, of course.

By the end of lunch, none of us could walk straight—mostly because we were so full (as if we had eaten a horse) but also the wine certainly didn’t help.

Somehow, we managed to waddle back to the bus that carried our very full bodies back to Florence. On that ride home, feeling happy, plump, and satisfied, I stared out the window as we wove and winded through the most breathtaking Tuscan countryside. Seeing the vineyards that braid their way up the mountainsides, come and go from my line of sight, I couldn’t help but think about how this was unlike any day of class I have experienced, or will ever experience again in my life.

I am one lucky foodie.