Thursday, April 30, 2009

Down South

Seville, the pulsating capital of Andalusia, earned Spain its international reputation as a sunny land of daring bullfights and passionate flamenco. This is colonial Spain at its rawest and most extreme – I’d say Seville is to Spain what Naples is to Italy. A colorful city throbbing with theatrical energy, it spawned the operatic likes of Carmen, Don Juan, and Figaro.

The city boasts more pleasant park grounds and Old-World bars than seems feasible. In the historic Santa Cruz quarter, the lovely patios of the mansions teem with all types of ceramics and flora. Terrace-bars serving piles of tapas (think succulent jamón ibérico with green olives and dry sherry) spill out into the plazas.

I napped in the sprawling Maria Luisa Park, gawked at the grandiose Plaza de España, admired the angelic Murillos in the Museum of Fine Arts, and strolled by the Gualdaquivir river. Across the bridge I explored the earthier Triana neighborhood. Known for ceramics and flamenco, it emits a bit of a gypsy vibe. Like the wrong-side-of-the-river neighborhoods I visited in Italy, such as Trastevere in Rome and El Arno in Florence, the gritty charm of Triana won me over.

Sun-drenched Sevilla is the most Spanish city in Spain -- the ruffled flamenco dresses, the orange trees, the suppressive heat, the melodramatic conversation, and the over-the-top Gothic cathedral complete with an original Moorish tower. (Although honestly I preferred the lush gardens and Moroccan architecture of the Alcazar, the court complex of the former Spanish-Moorish Empire, to the gloomy interior of the gargantuan cathedral.)

After my visit I have a new understanding of why Catalans want independence from Spain – coming from the northeastern coast I really felt I’d crossed the border into a different country. The almost incomprehensible Andalusian accent and the dramatically sociable manners caught me off guard. Even the style of self-grooming and the clothing choices were distinct. The women made more of an effort with make-up, panty hose, and cleavage, and the men wore longer, gelled hair and had an almost pompous air about them.

I think it was a nice transition from Barcelona, where the majority of residents seemed to be slim, chic, and understated in appearance (at least in my uptown neighborhood) and brusque and reserved in behavior. Seeing some meatier and curvier bodies, noting more fashion faux pas, and mixing with a more welcoming and flamboyant social scene in southern Spain would help ease my culture shock when I returned to the southeastern United States the next week.

In light of the northern and southern Spanish cultural differences I suppose one could make a comparison with the north and south of the United States, or even with the Naples versus Milan contrast in Italy. Why are southern people friendlier? Why do the women wear more cosmetics? Why don’t we enunciate our words better? Why don't our economic and educational scores meet the national mark?
I can’t help what wonder what it is that differentiates these northern and southern cultures so similarly -- and so deeply.


  1. Hi! i know this is an old post of yours but i was on the glimpse web site and found your blog...well long story short...its been two weeks since i have got back from studying abroad in sevilla, spain and i lovved it! Reading your blogs makes me super excited about traveling more! Thanks so much for reminding me about the amazing things about these adventures and I have contemplated the North/South ordeal as well...many people say its the "sun issue" like even on a larger scale the Northern Europeans: Southern Europeans as Catalunians: sun=more fun?? haha!

  2. Hey Sanantha, thanks for stopping by! Jealous that you spent winter in sunny Sevilla! Yes the north/south cultural divide is an enigma!

    I wonder if in the Southern Hemisphere it's the opposite? I'll explore that idea in Chile :)


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