This week, Abigail King of Inside the Travel Lab takes us for a wander around her adopted home town of Seville in the south of Spain. Join Abigail as she crosses the Guadalquivir River to guide us around Seville’s “wild and wayward” barrio of Triana.
A SAUNTER AROUND SEVILLE
“Take a photo of him,” says the woman behind the meat counter, her eyes dressed in smoky eyeliner, her words smudging together in the Andalucían way.
I glance up at the head on the wall.
“He is the most photographed bull in Seville,” she says, drawing another slab of flesh beneath her knife. “And look,” the blade gestures. “He has no ear. You know what that means?”
“It must have been a very good fight,” I say, pressing the shutter out of politeness. If a matador performs well, he earns the right to slice off the bull’s ear as a trophy and present it to a woman as a token of affection. This is the sort of information I didn’t know a year ago.
“Very good,” she drops the meat onto the scales. “A very good fight.”
It’s Saturday morning and I’m wandering through the shadows of Triana’s covered market, close to the ruins of the Spanish Inquisition. Seville has a reputation for passion, for flamenco, and the blood and dust of the bullring. Triana, on the “wrong” side of the river, is its wild and wayward cousin.
This barrio prides itself on having Seville’s best nightlife on Calle Bétis – and in a city that starts dinner at ten and then parties ‘til dawn, that’s saying something. It prides itself on its traditional ceramics and its maritime history, having supplied sailors for the epic voyage of one Christopher Columbus. It even claims to be the birthplace of flamenco.
Yet I never feel that Triana lives in the past, more that it’s so alive that it hoists its history along on its shoulders.
Back in the market, the meat counter is not for the squeamish. Tongues sit stacked together and whole legs of cured jamon hang by their hoofs from the ceiling. Next door, fish mouths gape open as a hefty woman guts and fillets the rest with the slickness and ease of a magician with a deck of cards.
I pass by, to the frutas y verduras counter that brims with pyramids of pomegranates, apples, pimientos and plenty of cartoon-shaped squashes. You need to shout to be heard in Triana, in the markets, the bars and the streets, against the backdrop of constant chirruping and fragments of conversation.
It took me a while to get used to. Oscar, my language teacher, would throw back his head and cackle. “Why would you wait for your ‘turn’? Why only speak to one person at a time?”
Another friend agrees. “But you have something you want to say, you are excited to say it and you want everyone to hear it. So speak! Don’t wait for a gap, don’t wait for someone to listen. Just say what you want to say!”
This enthusiasm for chatter is particularly obvious during religious processions. On almost any given Sunday, to the scent of incense and the sound of a sorrowful marching band, floats bearing life-sized figures of Christ wobble through the thronging streets, borne on the shoulders of Triana’s strongest men. It’s a fascinating sight, with men, women and children wearing gold-trim costumes, velvet cardigans and breeches – and chatting into pink mobile phones. Friends dressed in jeans join in for a while to catch up on the news, before peeling off and ordering a fresh beer in a goblet-shaped glass.
Despite this sensory overload, Triana still has quiet streets where I head to for a few moments of calm: Calle Pelay Correa, Calle Torrijos and Calle de la Pureza. Whitewashed, with mustard-yellow trim and the smell of orange-blossom in spring, they resemble the famous streets of the Santa Cruz quarter – only without the tourists.
A little further from the Guadalquivir River, in the heart of Triana, live the azulejos workshops that craft coloured tiles for Seville and the rest of the Iberian peninsula. Painted in canary yellow, olive green and a decadent blue, the designs vary from geometric patterns to elaborate cherubs and holy scenes, stacked and sold beneath elaborate wrought-iron balconies.
One of the things I love the most about these streets, in fact, is the attention to detail: Triana even decorates the undersides of its balconies with glazed azulejos tiles. Subtlety doesn’t have much of a home here and every aspect of life is meant to be enjoyed.
By now, I’m at the edge of the Puente de Isabel II, just across from the entrance to Triana’s covered market and the curious columns of the Capillita del Carmen chapel. With my blonde hair and pale skin, I don’t think I’ll ever blend in here, but I can learn the language and ease into the culture.
I order a crisp, cool cerveza and gaze across the river at the sandy Torre del Oro and La Giralda, Seville’s most famous monuments. That’s another thing about Triana; it does have the best view of the city.