The Art of Spontanaiety

If you know me well enough, you’d know I am TOTALLY and hopelessly Type A. I’ve got a regiment for everything and rarely stray away from it. I believe in planning (Hello, whole summer before I came to Spain?!) But being in Spain has made me slow down and just let things flow they way they’re flowing. After all, Helen and I may never have been invited into the workshop of a jewelry maker for a demonstration if the museums we wanted to visit in Toledo wouldn’t have been closed. Eva and I wouldn’t have met the people we stayed out with all night if we wouldn’t have chosen the penultima (second to last) beer with the engineers from Zaragosa over our beds. And Kait, Lynn, Jessi and I wouldn’t have found ourselves in the company of less-than-stellar characters if we would have allowed ourselves to stick to the schedule. Spain is not lazy – its economy has improved and its governmental institutions are more reliable than ever. But the people here take long lunches, close up shop as the midday heat gets unbearable, and know how to relax and let go. This year just might have prevented me from going over the deep end, and it was certainly memorable.

At my orientation in Granada six weeks ago, I hooked up with an old friend from my study abroad program, Jessi. She introduced me to two friends she’d met in her town of Huelva. The four of us clicked right away – Jessi is the love of my Spanish love times two, Lynn and I have a ton in common because she’s from Iowa City and completely enamored with Spain, and Kait has all my favorite traits of Jess, Liz and Lisa rolled into one. We like to joke around that we could easily destroy a small country. All of our attempts to get together since Granada have failed, so I was ecstatic that the girls were making the hour-long trip to Sevilla from Huelva. They arrived late, so we got the party started right away with a bottle of vodka and some diet coke imitation. I soon found out how to play the brainchild of Kait and her best friend, Stephen. It’s called Slapshots, and it totally puts Circle of Death to shame. It’s dangerous, too. We all poured ourselves a shot, grabbed our cameras and took turns downing the voddie and slapping one another. It’s supposed to take away the potency of the shot and replace a chaser. It’s stupid and reckless, but it makes for lots of good pictures.

We headed to Cancun, where our friend Nacho works. The girls wanted to get away from Huelva and all of the people there, but it turns out all the Erasmus students were here for an excursion. As soon as we walked into the bar, we were met by all of the people I knew from Huelva – Alvaro, Giorgio Armani, Salvo, along with some new people. They’re all great, and we got free drinks from Nacho. Life was good. Alvaro took us to some dumb disco where we couldn’t talk our way out of a cover charge, but someone got sick and we found a taxi home. On the way, Kait stepped in dog poop and got it all over my comforter, and we found out that there is NOTHING to eat in Triana at 4:30 a.m. Only we thought it was 1:30 a.m. Oops. Jessi passed out right away upon arrival and Lynn and I made grilled cheese and ate ice cream with our fingers. I think we had a nice conversation…

The next morning, we had plenty of things to see in Sevilla, as it is a town with centuries of history – Visigoth, Arabic, Roman, Christian. The girls had me take them back to La Habanita, a fantastic Cuban restaurant that I go to salivating because their food is that good. I just had a simple salad, coconut chicken and rice and queso de cabra and just about died because I was so happy to be with great friends eating great food. From there, we walked through Alfalfa, El Centro, Plaza Nueva and finally to Avda. de la Constitucion in the center of town. The first thing I insisted they see, as it was Jessi and Lynn’s first time in Sevilla, was the Catedral. Originally the site of a mosque, the Christians knocked down the structure in the 11th century and built a monstrosity on top of it. It’s now the third largest Catholic place of worship in the world. Now that the miner’s strike is over, the facade that I always thought to be sooty with age is cleaned off and gleaming. It’s quite striking in the middle of the afternoon, and the sunlight lit up the interior. The only part left of the original mosque is the Giralda minaret tower, a dizzying climb up 35 ramps to the top. From here, you can see all of Sevilla.
I was trying to rush the girls to see the Alcazar before it closed that afternoon, but Lynn spotted another attraction that she wanted to see first – a group of bards known as tunos. We stopped to listen a bit to the dozen or so men in a myriad of ages who were dressed in velvet jackets with puffy sleeves, black capes with ribbons decorating them like a prized thoroughbred and orange sashes. I didn’t know then that these men were of less than satisfactory character, so we accepted their invitation to head to the next bar to have a beer. The group was walking around the city center trying to promote their festival the upcoming weekend in which all of the facultades would face off against one another. I have to admit I wasn’t sure whether or not we should go, but who resists a beer and the pleading looks of friends?
We headed down Mateos Gago, a lively main fare in Barrio Santa Cruz that is impossible to walk, let alone drive down. Bodegas and souvenir shops line the street pulsating from the Giralda and Plaza del Virgen de los Reyes towards Menendez y Pelayo, and people often spill into the streets after work gets done for the day. Despite being heavily touristed and overpriced, Bodega Las Columnas somehow retains an authentic flair. While the bards sang traditional songs in a circle, we danced as tourists (we are NOT tourists any longer!) took our pictures and stayed behind the barricade that had been set up in front of the bar. The beer never tasted better, and my Spanish never sounded better. Jessi kept telling me she felt like she was in a movie, and I kept asking, “Is this really happening? What is going on with my life?” I chose to do this, to live this life and become an adult overseas, and while it hasn’t been easy, I’ve begun to take things in stride, to let things happen naturally. My gut told me it may not have been best to let these random men take us to a bar, but part of me couldn’t resist.

After a few songs, the men stopped to talk to us, and we befriended all kinds of characters. Jose Maria tried to be the ladies man, but the 18-year-old Lynn was after was much cuter and likeable. One man, who told us his name was Jennifer because he made a very beautiful woman, joked around with us about anything you can think of. Paco was lo más guapo of the group and actually very interesting. I don’t even remember half of their names because they weren’t as memorable or didn’t call my cell phone a bunch. Jose Maria told us that his group chose a very special person to serenade only twice a year, and asked if we wanted to be that group. Lynn immediately found a piece of paper and got a few phone numbers, but they told me they wouldn’t come until 1230 a.m. “Me da igual,” I said, writing down my address and explaining to JoMa where I live.
We stayed at Las Columnas, drinking and dancing until we were almost too tired to see before we stopped to tapear on the way home. The men requested whiskey and that we clean up, so we stopped to get booze and took turns showering before the men arrived. Christine came with Alfonso and a friend from home, and the tunos showed up at 1230. They were supposed to come at 12, but we know how Spaniards are with time…They sang a few songs and danced around before we invited them up for drinks. They continued to play songs, crammed into my little apartment and drink.

I was still deeply in love with Paco, who was playing Elvis songs for me, as well as “Sweet Home Chicago.” The men were all so friendly, albeit dangerous, and we played a game. It’s called “Sexy Bones,” and Paco played a song on his guitar that went like this: “Seeeex-eeeeee bones, sexy bones, sexy bones.” Jose Maria started taking off his clothes and encouraged me to do the same, but I had been running around playing hostess and telling people to go smoke on the balcony to drink myself.
Alfonso, the boyfriend of a friend, came into the kitchen and tapped me on the shoulder. “Cat, hay policia.” I told him to shut up, but had a bad feeling in my stomach because he wasn’t drinking. I checked the peephole and, sure enough, two short policia were standing in the door, ticket book ready. I told everyone to shut up and opened the door. Immediately, any lightheadedness I had been feeling evaporated, and I took responsibility. I had to explain to the men that, in my country, many times neighbors will come and ask you to be quiet before calling the cops. I had to present them with my NIE, or my foreigner’s number, and they wrote me a ticket but didn’t charge me for coming. When they left, I was upset and in shock. How could I cause so much trouble in Iowa City and never get a ticket, but land one in Sevilla when I’d been here for just a few weeks? Paco said to me, “It’s not a good party until the cops come. Let’s go somewhere because the whiskey is gone, anyway.”
One of the men, Bernardo, owns a flamenco bar in Triana on C/Pureza. We walked there in the cold, but had cold beer waiting for us. Inside the tiny bar (think the size of BoJames, IC people), there was a man playing guitar and a woman singing flamenco hondo, the most heartfelt and passionate kind of flamenco, from a couch in the back. Women dressed as if they had gone to a wedding swayed and clapped to accompany the singer, and it turns out they were celebrating the marriage of two men (freaking sweet). Paco invited me to dance Sevillana with him, and though I don’t quite have the hang of it, it was fun to just stare intensely at a really good-looking man and have everyone’s eyes on you. I probably looked like a freak, as I kept repeating the one move I’d learned, but it was amazing. I’m starting to feel like a really sevillana. Having all the regular things to deals with like an adult – bills, rent, cell phone, groceries – is a little thrilling, and making friends in Spanish excites me more than anything.

It was only after the weekend and trying to believe that the night really happened, that I learned how dangerous tunos are – they don’t sing because they love music; rather, tunos sing to attract women and have an excuse to drink. I was almost embarrassed when I told people about my weekend and let Melissa know about the ticket (I think she was more upset that someone used her hairbrush, though). This is evidence I need to stop making American friends and have Spaniards guide me! But I suppose it doesn’t matter, because in the moment, I was letting loose and letting things happen like the people do here. No one has a plan, and while this can be hard for me, I’m finding it’s making me a bit more relaxed and lazy. Nothing is ever set in stone. I don’t even really know what I’m doing next weekend because too many things are thrown out as ideas. When I come back to the States, I think I’ll be a whole new person. But isn’t that the point?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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