from Sandy Needham

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Andalusia Dispatch


The clapping rarely stops…cupped hands with interlaced thumbs, barely audible, yet there’s a subtle texture added to the piercing stares and the sound of shoes striking the floor; then it builds, and eventually shoes pound in staccato or stomp and hesitate, the guitar expands, the singer wails, the clapping is steady, very strong now, yet retaining that slightly muffled quality. I’ve been practicing.

Museo del Baile Flamenco, Seville:

flamenco 1flamenco 4flamenco 5

Imagine the mathematical splendor of the long fringe on the señora’s shawl flung into the same helix pattern as the sweat that flew off the señor! It was all fiercely thrilling.

flamenco 2  flamenco 3 


My romantic notion of Andalusia (Al Andalus) under 800 years of Moorish rule began some years ago when Newton and I watched a television documentary about that era. For six hundred years Moslems, Jews and Christians lived in harmony. The Catholic Church made victorious encroachments and eventually Jews and Moslems were expelled or forced to convert under the torturous methods of the Spanish Inquisition, presided over by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Granada was the last hold out, falling to the Catholic Monarchs (as the two are called) in 1492 – that familiar year that Isabella sent Columbus off “to India” for new trade routes. Some scholars surmise that Columbus was a Sephardic Jew seeking refuge from the Inquisition, but then I also discovered there are scholars who surmise that he was Polish!

columbus & Queen Isabella 

Statue of Queen Isabella and Columbus in Granada.           







Turning a mosque into a cathedral; Seville:

seville cathedral

islamic arch. 3The Moorish house design concentrated on the peaceful presence of softly flowing water from fountains centered in rooms, courtyards and gardens. Standing inside the exquisite palaces and gardens, I imagined that the deep serenity of the setting and the harmony of the architecture were reflected in the tolerant society under the Islamic kings. Who knows? I could imagine myself spending hours there pouring over Rumi’s Sufi verses to the beloved. My romantic notions of middle eastern culture were also fed by admiration for Saladin’s more honorable butchering during the Crusades, my appreciation for the advanced learning that persisted through the West’s “dark ages” - math (Arabic numbers!), science, astronomy, mysticism from the holy land  - that made their way west with returning Crusaders. The resulting Gothic cathedrals marked an enlightening that was to inevitably grow. But before I get carried away, my romance falls short abruptly when in front of deadly fundamentalism or the notion that I would be one of many wives! Hats off to you, Moorish kings, anyway.




Alcazar 1arabic baths 2alcazar view

islamic architecture 1arabic baths 1sculpted garden


geometry 1geometry 2geometry 3

geometry 4geometry 5geometry 6

geometry 7islamic arch.2inside Alcazar seville

ALHAMBRA, Granada:

Feeling like Lord Byron; “Pass me an ink pen before the clouds pass!”

alhambra 1alhambra 2

alhambra interioralhambra keyholegarden 1

alhambra 3alhambra ceilingislamic arch. 4


We lucked out on our first night in Seville on this hoppin’ little street: tapas of our first “jamon serrano,” sublime thin-sliced ham from acorn-fed pigs, and “pescaditos fritos,” tiny fried fish in a delicate batter made of garbanzo beans. WOW.

being out 2tapas 2

Another night we had dinner at this tapas bar – one of the oldest in Seville: El Rinconcillo. I think standing around the bar is the way to go…we sat down and were accosted by a waiter who had perfected the crashing of plates and glasses down on the table that seems to be an Andalusian trademark! In his case, he was clearly hostile and never hesitated to roll his eyes with every request, not to mention the horrid imposition of a question. It was funny and interesting and delicious and rowdy and clangy, noisy fun. Note the jamon serrano hanging typically from the ceiling. We had divine spicy spinach with garbanzo beans and more pescaditos fritos.

tapas bartapas 3

tapas bar 2Our favorite night in Seville was at a wonderful bar and restaurant where more clanging and crashing of glasses and dishes by the swashbuckling, yet benevolent bartenders was the best entertainment around. One food prep guy who spent a lot of time cutting the exquisite jamon and cheeses for orders did, in fact, smash a wine glass down too hard and it shattered in front of us. Then a waitress came over from the section with tables and threw a plate complete with food angrily into the garbage behind the bar! There were lovely folks to talk to standing around the bar, including a young couple from London who had just moved to Seville that day to seek their fortunes as English instructors. Newton had the best paella of his life.



A perfect sardine in Ronda, eaten at this wondrous place:                          

 tapas 1where we had the sardine 

We also had the best fresh tuna ever in Ronda.

In Granada, where the tapas are famous for being free, we opted instead for Arabic food on the exotic streets of Calderería Veja and Calderería Nueva. These were filled with wonderful markets and tea/hookah houses/restaurants. After we finished our second night’s Arabic dinner we discovered that just a bit further down the street was a place serving free Arabic tapas…the same dishes we had paid for twice. Next time!

Arabic street  hookah room

Let me wind this dispatch up with scenes from Cadiz on the coast, where we just stopped for lunch; the breathtaking Ronda, inland, where we splurged on a “parador” – a hotel in an historic building; and Malaga, where we spent one very late night before flying away.


cadiz 1cadiz 2


That’s our hotel peeking over the gorge from the left!

Ronda 1ronda 2

our ronda hotelronda 3hiking by the gorge


Unlike the ‘centro” of many European cities where one wedges oneself on mere inches of sidewalk on narrow streets when the cars and motorcycles go by, Malaga’s centro is completely closed to traffic. Here is the pedestrian-friendly city at 3:00am:

malaga 3MALAGA 2malaga at 3am

Andalucía, te amamos.




fieldspavilion seville




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