Seville Snapshots: PINC, Seville’s Networking Group for English-speaking Professionals

How many times have you said to a friend, ‘You really have to meet Pepa [or María, or Julie, or whoever]?’ As the resident fair godmother of guiris in Seville, I meet women constantly, causing the Novio to think I have a secret loverboy on the side.

From this idea, plus encouragement from my friends Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Stacey of La Guiri Habla, PINC was born. Well, actually, PINC was born a year before, in Madrid, with a woman called Lisette Miranda. Tired of mere social groups in Spain’s capital, Lisette began a professional women’s group, designed to mentor, inspire and connect English-speaking women in Madrid.

With her blessing, Seville got its first professional group under the PINC Umbrella, and we held our first meeting on October 25th at Merchant’s Malt House. Fourteen women were in attendance – several teachers and academy owners, a hostel owner, a life coach and one interested in non-profit. We introduced ourselves and our products and projects, Lisette gave us a crash course in making our Linked In profiles attractive to employers, and we shared a cocktail and networking session afterwards.

Meetings will be monthly, held on a Friday at 8p.m., in the same format. The goal is to collaborate, inspire and educate. Members will take turns sharing a skill that they’re an expert in, allowing everyone to learn something new and hopefully open their minds to tapping into a skill they didn’t know they had. Our November meeting will be held on Friday the 22nd at 8 p.m. at Merchant’s, and you can sign up to attend here:

Interested in PINC? Please contact my thru my personal email address or through my Facebook page so that I can add you to the list! PINC is open to an English-speaking woman in the Seville area.

Agua, Azucarillos y Aguardiente: A Night at the Zarzuela

Remember that time I told myself to take Frances Mayes’s advice and make Spain new again? I’m really trying. Honest. I mean, what could get more new than a fresh coat of “pijo” white paint on our walls after the bug infestation? And a new grade at school?

Friday rolled around again, and instead of the normal school-nap-beer routine, I substituted hops for hoops – hooped skirts, that is. My friend Inma belongs to the Compañía Sevilla de Zarzuela, a sort of traveling singing group, and invited me to an encore performance of their popular Agua, Azucarillos y Aguardiente performance.

I’d heard of zarzuela, an art form made popular in Madrid in the mid 19th Century. Truth be told, I was sitting on the beach of Las Rodas on the Atlantic isle of the Isla Ciès in August 2010, laying on my stomach on white sand. My weathered old copy of Iberia, a Michener classic with reed-thin and yellowed pages lay open on my towel. I thumbed through the colossal book’s 800 pages, stopping at a black and white photo of women dressed in an old-fashioned type of dress resembling a traje de flamenco with puffy sleeves and carnations perched atop a simple white bonnet. Quickly flipping to the beginning of the novel, where Michener describes his first days on the Iberian Penninsula, I worked my way halfway through the book before lending it to a student who went to Los Angeles for three month, never arriving to the latter chapters on Madrid. Andrés, bring back my book in one piece, please!!

Agua, Azucarillos y Aguardiente is the story of a much-smitten Asia and her mother, who have come to Madrid from Valdepatatas, a forlon town with no real inspiration for the young poet from her looks of total distress when her mother suggests they move back there to relieve some debts. When the casero comes knocking for his rent money, rollers-and-housedress-clad Mamá scrambles, saying her lovesick daughter’s rich boyfriend will lend them the money.

Zarzuela surged in the latter half of the 18th century as a folly directed towards social commentary, a way to entertain the masses before the onslaught of TV and Internet by way of poking fun of plitics, current events and the vida cotidiana, daily life. Bu using exaggerations and larger-than-life characters mixed with influences of Italian opera, a new genre was born. Zarzuelas are often an eclectic mixture of song, spoken dialogue and humor.

When Asia and her mother, who has never met the rich Serafín, set out to ask him for money, they find themselves in the Recoletos park in a beautiful and wealthy area of Madrid. Here Pepa, the wisecracking barmaid, and her husband Lorenzo are having a discussion about money that Serfín has promised them on the day before the Feast of San Lorenzo. Pepa is protagonized as a larger woman who gives her husband a bit of tough love, and their height difference in the Sevilla troupe was hilariously perfect. Pepa is soon confronted by Manuela, a lovely barmaid who also sells water and aguardiente to the patrons of Recoletos. As it turns out, Manuela is the new girlfriend of Pepa’s old flame. The two women bicker about who has the right to be selling drinks in that square of Recoletos before Asia and her mother show up to wait for Serafín. As Don Alquilino, the landlord, realizes, the 100 pesetas circulating between the hands of the cast of characters is, in fact, Serafín’s, and he is using his status as the son of an ex-minister to puff up his status. Towards the end of the night, the fighting barmaids and their men celebrate the Feast of San Lorenzo and Serafín appears, realizing he has been swindled of both wallet and pants.

It was clear that the play takes place in turn-of-the-century Madrid for its mentions of Recoletos, Colón, Paseo de la Castellana, but for being a present-day sevillano production, there was mention ofthe liderazgo of Seville football team Betis in the BBVA league, of the crisis, and of sevillano speak (mi arma, duh). For being something composed in the last years of the 19th Century, the humor added to serious subjects allowed for the company to sing their way into the hearts of a packed house in Joaquín Turina. The cast was brought onstage for two encores, voices as big as the puffy sleeves on the women.

For doing something new, my faith is renewed in looking for new things to do in the Hispalense. I’ve dabbled in flamenco and done my obligatory bullfight, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of cultural offerings in Sevilla. The offering of humor and poking at social issues reminded me of my 18th birthday, when I took a few friends to Chicago to see a Second City performance. As the improv show was sold out, we chose the smaller stage for a show called “Pants on Fire,” a hilarious take on the Iraq War. I was practically on the floor laughing as my friends stared, dumbfounded (I have been reading the newspaper since I was barely old enough to do more than understand the comics). I sometimes feel like I live in a expat Seville bublble, far away from the economic crisis and the social reforms taking place.

All I needed was a little joke, and maybe an aguardiente, to put me back in my place.

Have you got anything I should do or see in Seville that’s not on my bucketlist? Or other ideas for the bigger cities? Have you heard of zarzuela? Are there popular artforms that are characteristic of your region or country?

Make It New

The latest book to embed itself into memory is the delectable Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of Italian Life by Frances Mayes. I adored it, as I love Mayes’s affection towards food, off-kilter flow and reflections on the joys of living abroad. I can relate, too.

Towards the end of her book and the end of her 20 years visiting the whimsical, dilapidated Bramasole, Mayes conjures the wisdom of Ezra Pound as she packs up to return to America for a few months: Make it new.

This afternoon, I’m returning to Spain for the fifth year. My life last year, I hate to admit, became a bit mundane. Waking up at the same time, ordering coffee from the same bar and even the same class structure became an imaginary prison, punctuated by a few trips to new places. Not proud of the lack of progress last year (except in the Spanish resident department), so I’m vowing to heed Mayes’ and Ezra’s advice and Make it New this year.

I had a great trip in America, visiting with friends new and old, eating my comfort foods and not caring for once where it sits on my waistline, roadtripping to Kentucky to prove that my sister really is more grown-up than me. I’m actually not ready to go back to Seville, just yet.

I mean, really, who could with a face like this begging you not to?

Why Travel Makes You Cool

I started getting emails about my long-awaited return to America before I had even booked a ticket.

“Want to come visit me in Colorado?” “We should go to a baseball game!” “Will you come wedding dress shopping with me?” and everything in between was asked of me. I no longer wondered how I’d fight boredom during my 25-day American sojourn.

Coming home after 20 months meant I was suddenly popular. Everyone was quick to pat me on the back and say, “Well done!”, invite me out to eat or to their pools and give me gifts. Traveling and living abroad for the past few years has made me cool in the eyes of the people I grew up with, drank with in college, even babysat! Travel has made me cooler than I was in high school (and I had plenty of friends).

Travel gets you free stuff.

My buddy Nate called me the other day to offer up Cubs tickets. I glady accepted, eager to see my boys in action and not one to turn down anything free. As it turns out, Nate paid for my ticket, paid for a few drinks at Wrigley and provided excellent company for a Cubbie “W”. But he isn’t the only one buying my time with booze and baseball – my mom has jumped at the chance to buy me clothes, friends picking up my meals, my sister surprising me with my favorite iced coffee while I staved off jet lag. Even my parents fight for my time, and we live under the same roof!

Free stuff, American style

Likewise, I get free things all of the time in Spain. Having a couchsurfer meant an invitation to a bullfight, and coworkers buy me coffee. But my favorite is enjoying a beer with a local, struck by my confidence to move abroad by myself, astonished at my fast andalu accent. I learn more sitting in bars, popping olives in my mouth and swigging Cruzcampo, and talking to sevillanos than I do by studying. Apart from free drinks, I get free advice, free history lessons and plenty of free compliments.

Free stuff, al estilo espanol

Travel stories trump any other anecdote.

Remember that friends episode where Joey starts every story with, “Once, when I was backpacking through Europe…”? Yeah, I’ve got tons of those vignettes. Since I started my adult life abroad, it seems that I can only share stories from my time living in Spain. Oh, you went to the state fair? Cool because I love corn dogs, too, but my state fair involves flamenco dresses and horse carriages, not hog calling and deep friend butter.You have a new boyfriend? That’s great! Is he a fighter pilot like mine? Oh, no?

My fair > your fair

Having lived in Europe for four years and traveled to 27 countries, my life experiences are enriched, punctuated by special meals, amazing views and more castles and churches than one could possibly remember. Discovering places I never thought I’d see, like China, equates to my friends’ finding a great new Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood they call home. Travel makes me the cool storyteller, relating everyday life as if it were exotic (and it sometimes is).

Travel makes you independent.

I moved out of my childhood home at 18 years and three days. As I near 26 and mourn the end of my “youth” status in Europe, I find it hard to believe that I’ve been out of my house for nearly a third of my existence. Moving to Spain was a step I needed to take for myself, to test my limits and shake up my already-high confidence. And it was scary. I always say that in Spain, I’m either giddily happy or really, really depressed – moving abroad enhances both highs and lows. I suffered greatly when a friend’s mother passed away yet still smile when I think how far I’ve come since arriving wide-eyed to Triana.

Spain makes me sonreir

My parents sent me a card on my 25th birthday last August, touting that my independence characterizes me far more than my other personal characteristics. Even Spaniards in their 30s, many of whom are starting families or settling into a career, see me as wise beyond my years. I’ve always relied on just me – until I moved to Spain. Sure, I’ve had to do everything from open a bank account to talking my way out of a noise ticket in another language, but being away from America means I’m in a time warp, caught somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

If anything, travel has made me realize I’m just one person, and I can’t do it all myself. It’s ok to ask for help, even if it’s just for directions.

Has travel made you cool in any ways? Or are your friends sick of your stories of shearing llamas in Peru and catching strange illnesses in India?


On the heels of some bad news, I have two pieces of good news:

I joined a gym. And I’ve actually been going! Afraid Kike’s pirate fighting absence would get me all moody and hating Spain, I’m putting that negative energy to good use. Turns out he’s staying till late July like last year, so we’ve declared June the month of the “Equipo Fiestón” Christene and I are going to watch every single World Cup match, go to every small-town festival (where they usually serve beer the cheapest) and try to get to the Running of the Bulls in July. Then, if all goes well, I’ll start camp in A Coruña again in mid-July. I’ve looked into other camps, but the FNX deal is too good to pass up.

And, even better, I finally got a bike! Kike got me one for Reyes, an oxidized version of a mountain bike that he bought off of Chema. Juan Bosco, named after the saint on the day he was finally put to use, has an uncomfortable seat, no basket or light and makes me hunch over, but he’s going to make my life much, much easier.


When I was in college, my roommate Liz and I used to love watching the show 24. We would take our lunch plates in the sorority house upstairs and shut the doors, only to return them to the kitchen when the episode was over. I used to be amazed at how quickly things turn around in a 42-minute Hollywood-produced show. Then I realized that that really does happen.

When I was at camp, the whole reality of my situation with Kike and the apparent shutdown of all of my short-term plans kinda blew up in my face. I spent the whole first week in tears because, for the first time, I felt like I didn’t have a plan B. I have been spending countless hours looking for graduate programs, both back home and abroad, and nothing really stands out to me. I know that coming home will mean I stay home, so that doesn’t seem like an option. I have no job credibility and little work experience. I feel like my resume is out of date, my contacts thin. I’m so back and forth with my ideas for how to move forward that I’m going crazy and am going to try and sort this all out with a career counselor this week.

I’ve tried to imagine myself in a year. And it seems Spain is the only place I want to be. But my mom thinks that a degree in Spain won’t be worth anything. I think any post-grad work and the opportunity to intern and get some work experience is worth a lot.

So, I’m 24 now and still without a plan. Things were so much simpler in college!

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