Sometimes, inspiration is obvious. Other times, you have to go looking for it. In Seville during perhaps the hottest week of the year, I went looking for it.
The city of Seville in Spain is one of history and contrast. The streets are filled with glorious buildings that range from gigantic, spiralling Gothic cathedrals to old wooden tavernas, to a magnificent Mudéjar palace that was oddly enough built for Christian kings – in the very style of architecture of those they had conquered.
Venturing off on a holiday where nature wasn’t going to play front and centre stage, I knew I’d have to work a little bit harder to find my inspiration. Architecture may be stunning, but it’s not my playground. Seville, however, delivered inspiration wherever I looked, and to those who look closely, nature was there too.
My first wanderings into the beautiful city centre were filled with the chatter of Spaniards not unlike the cawing of parrots – it’s a throaty, almost raspy language which always sounds as though its speakers have smoked their whole lives. I walked past the enormous Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See – the third largest church in the world – and like many before me, tried to make sense of its jumble of angles, spires and the bell tower that was once a Muslim minaret.
On my way past this architectural marvel I was caught in my tracks by the sounds of birds, but not your usual sparrows (though Spain has plenty of these) or pigeons (Seville has much less of these). I was drawn to a line of palm trees the height of any of Malta’s newest skyscrapers, and heard the unmistakable screech of parrots. Yes, parrots, right in the city centre. Green, about pigeon sized, with long arrow-shaped tails and circular nests wedged right up into the palm leaves. A quick search and I discovered that there’s only one parrot that builds stick nests instead of using tree holes: the monk parakeet. In South America, they’re considered pests (even by Darwin himself), and they’re widely spread through Europe, often in self-sustaining feral populations. Unfortunately, the birds were simply too high, too camouflaged and too fast to catch more than a blur of them on camera.
Life is different in Seville for many reasons. For one, the Spanish siesta is no myth. Spaniards sleep late, often eating at 10 or 11 at night and partying until the small hours. Next morning and the city takes a long time to wake up, with nothing but a few brave cafeterias opening their doors before 10am. Food too, is taken at a more leisurely pace: you can enjoy a small plate of appetisers or tapa at any time of day, usually with a miniature beer to wash it down. Tapas can be anything from delicious Spanish hams and omelette to quails eggs and chorizo, ox tail stew, oh and churros with splendid thick dipping chocolate.
Away from the hub and bub of tram lines, bicycles and tavernas there are plenty of quaint goings on: from busking guitarists singing melancholy tunes, to impromptu singing sessions outside the supermarket. Music is everywhere, and everyone seems to now how to sing, man or woman, young or old.
Nature’s music is also everywhere, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the city’s key landmarks, the palace of the Alcázar and the Cathedral. Walking along the Avenida de la Constitución, the night sky comes alive with hundreds of common swifts. These amazingly fast and agile birds wheel around the street, coming within inches of the walls of the cathedral before performing amazing mid-air acrobatics. All the time calling out with their haunting whistles. A few of them even got themselves inside the Cathedral, though among the maze of columns, gold altar gates and tourists I’ll be surprised if they found their way out.
As a painter, the cleanliness and colours of the city plus the tiny nuances of nature were a feast for my senses more than any meal. My husband would strongly disagree. So while he wrote about the echoes of history, matadors of the finer points of tapas, I had plenty of time to go and find a few quiet corners in which to paint. Travelling light and time constraints meant I could only create a few watercolours and sketches, but there’s plenty more to come!
In the next blog, I’ll be exploring the Alcázar and the Cathedral exterior with sketchbook and watercolours in hand. Stay tuned!