Spanish people take their art and their artists very seriously. For their great artists contribute to their theory that Spaniards are the best of men and the best of lovers. They take great pride in their painters, writers, poets, musicians, dancers and architects. For it is through art, the emotion of love – and their status as great lovers – becomes a public statement. Seville lives and breathes beauty, art and love. In 1934 there were two ways men would indicate interest in women they did not know. They would stare relentlessly or give a complement in passing. Nina found the stare of Spanish men unsettling to say the least. She preferred the compliment as it was over more quickly. She wrote that “no foreign woman can walk alone in Seville’s streets without being made aware of the Andalusian custom of piropos, which means ‘charm to a lady’, and which, like so many Spanish traditions, flourishes more happily in Seville than in the other cities of the South”. Nina often had men nod and smile at her and say ‘guapa’ which she translated as “Ah, pretty!”. I too have had ‘guapa’ said to me, both in passing men on the street and when passing men in conversation in cafes and bars. My men are usually very old – over sixty! – and have had a few drinks at the bar I am passing by, as the say “hola guapa”.
When I checked into my accommodation in Seville. My host, Silvia, showed me around. She took me out to a courtyard off the bedroom. The courtyard was beautiful, there were traditional tiles on the walls and the floor. The garden full of plants was an oasis of beauty and solitude. “Here”, she said, “this is all yours. If you want to take coffee here, you take coffee here. If you want to take a beer here, you take a beer here. If you want to bring a man, you do that. The Sevillian men are very handsome. You wait to see. You will want to take a Sevillian man. Oh! and there is a hairdresser next door. You should get your hair fixed. It’s very private here, you just share with Pepe next door. He is not handsome”. I laughed and laughed. Needless to say, I did not take a man or get my hair ‘fixed’. By ‘fixed’ I suspect Silvia meant blonde and curled as the Spanish women prefer their hair. I sat in my courtyard every day. One evening, somewhere, close by, someone was playing a piano. The lovely delicate notes of a gentle classical piece, floated down around me. Another time, someone in the building was playing flamenco guitar and singing the soulful lament of a flamenco love song. No doubt a story of great love and love lost.
On Sunday afternoon I went to visit the Parc de Maria Luisa. The Spanish always walk in a park on Sunday afternoons. I learnt this many years ago on my first visit to Spain when I walked around the Retiro in Madrid. Like the locals we bought a packet of sunflower seeds (pepitas) which we ate as we walked, spitting the hard shells to the ground. Nina would be shocked at this. I didn’t buy sunflower seeds this day but I wanted to visit Parc de Maria Luisa as Nina visited there and enjoyed the shady gardens . While Nina was there she came across a monument to the Spanish poet, Gustavo Becquer. The monument was erected by Becquer’s friends after his death. I went to see, to sit and to look at this monument just as Nina had done. It is a very beautiful marble sculpture. Becquer’s bust sits upon a high column under a beautiful large tree. Below him sit three women. One is a youth, happy and smiling – dreaming of love to be. The middle woman is older, sassy – she knows love. The third is an older woman, sad and reflective – she has lost love. Above them is a Cupid made of brass looking for his next victim to shoot with his little love arrow. Off on the side other side of Becquer is lust, dead with a dagger in her side. I suspect Becquer knew his women very well and his friends had a little fun at his expense in erecting such a monument.
A day or so later I visited the Gallery of Fine Arts. It is housed in yet another Arabian style building. Some people believe these buildings are left over from when the Moors ruled Spain. The truth is when Ferdinand and Isabella went into the Alhambra in Granada, they so loved the architecture they kept it but added Christian elements. This fashion then took off all over Spain and it now known as Mudajar style. Built in traditional Moorish manner but with the added elements of depictions of humans and animals and crests – whereas the Moors only used geometric patterns for decoration. It is another beautiful building with courtyards and gardens. There are two floors to make your way around and look at paintings by El Greco and Goya as well as Murillo and Zurbaran – whom Nina devoted a whole chapter to in her book. Indeed it is Zurbaran who painted the picture of Saint Dorothea that I searched for, without success, in the cathedral.
I walked around the gallery admiring the art and wondering if, perhaps, I am beginning to tire of religious art. It is possible? I walked into a gallery of paintings of saints by Zurbaran – and there amongt them was Saint Dorothea. I stopped to look at her. She is pretty, with dark hair is holding ripe fruit and flowers on a tray. She looks to be with child, but she died a virgin and a martyr. I figure it is Dorothea’s dress that makes her look pregnant but I like the fact she looks like that. Then I came to a room with portraits. In viewing the portraits I would look into the eyes of each subject. I would decide what their personalities were like by the way the artist painted their eyes. I walked around in my head saying short descriptions of each subject ‘mean’, ‘in love’, ‘hussy’, ‘regal’, ‘beast’, ‘bore’, ‘fun’ etc. I came to a portrait of a young man “heart-breaker” I said to myself. I read the information. It was the poet Becquer painted by his brother. I laughed. Took a step back. Appraised him. He was handsome and wore a smile that played around the edges of his mouth. You knew he was mischievous. His eyes loved. They loved everyone who stopped to pay the compliment of looking at him. As I looked at him, he looked back at me, daring me to fall in love with him. I did. He would have stared at the women he fancied – at first. The words, the piropos, would come later. After all, he was a poet.
I love that Spain is showy about its arts and artists. I first visited here in 1987 and fell in love with Spain. I fell in love with its showiness, with its people and culture, with its food and warmth, with its song and dance, its art and poetry, its landscapes and churches, with every single thing about it. My love and knowledge of Spain were bestowed upon me – like a gift – by my friend Eladio Jose, who first brought me to Spain. We travelled around for six weeks staying with family and friends. Before I left Sydney for this trip he contributed to my “Go Fund Me” page and wrote “nothing you do, could ever surprise me”. I learnt today that Eladio Jose passed away suddenly. I am saddened by his death and have cried for him, for the Spain we shared, for the life we shared and for the love we shared. Becquer the poet wrote:-
Lonely, sad and mute
That cemetery was found;
Its inhabitants do not cry …