Bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville

Look at this! It’s the bell tower of the Seville cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world, and the largest Gothic church in the world. It was originally built in 1172 as a grand mosque by the caliph. Upon the Reconquista in 1248, it was declared a church, and then torn down in the 15th century and rebuilt as a Gothic cathedral. They kept the former minaret of the mosque, and turned it into a bell tower. Stunning to think that a muezzin once stood at the balcony atop that minaret chanting the call to prayer.

That’s Seville. I cannot wait to return to this city. Honestly, it is captivating. I rolled into town today at 2:30 with Manuel Oriol, my publisher. We walked to our hotel, stopping in an ordinary cafe for a tapas lunch. I let Manuel order for us. Here’s part of what we had:

Sevilla, Spain

The soup is salmorejo, the Andalucian version of gazpacho. It is thicker and creamier than standard gazpacho. It’s like eating a bowl of velvet sunshine. I was stunned by how bright and tangy it was. Behind is a dish I don’t know the name of, but it is tiny, crisp-fried fish with fried eggs over easy on top, and cured pimentos at the bottom. You break the egg yolk and mix it all up. Weird and delicious. Later, the waiter brought a bowl of espinicas con garbanzos (spinach with garbanzo beans) that was thick and creamy, like an Indian paneer. He also brought a plate with bite-sized chunks of spiced fish that had been infused with lime juice.

If we had gotten this in a fancy restaurant, I would have been pleased. But this was a dime-a-dozen neighborhood cafe playing Top 40 radio and sports on the wall TV. Not for the first time did I wonder, Do the Spanish know how good they have it? 

There are orange trees fruiting all over the city. I was warned not to eat one, because they are quite bitter. Of course I ate one, and indeed they are bitter, but still delicious (I love bitter things). After we checked into the hotel, I met this blog’s reader Scott Myers, from Baton Rouge. He owns a small vineyard in an Andalucian mountain village, and is learning to make wine. He came into Sevilla today to meet and hear me speak. We had coffee and a great talk. Notice the orange tree behind us; these are everywhere:

Elena is from Sevilla, and gave Scott, Manuel and I a quick tour of one of the parks on our way to my talk at the Fundacion Valentin de Maradiaga. I took this selfie; they’re all too fuzzy, I’m afraid:

Such a nice group of friends. At the Fundacion, the room was packed, and I got some great questions. My hardworking translator, Elena Garcia, did an excellent job, I was told. Elena, Scott, Manuel and I joined two of our local hosts for a walk through the old city, including the Alcazar (!), and then to Placentines, a tapas place, for dinner. Here, my dears, is the View From My Table:

Seville, Spain

The meat is a local specialty called carrillada de cerdo, which is cheek of Iberian pork braised in red wine. I testify without fear of contradiction that those pigs died smiling. Behind it is a plate of flash-friend fish. We also had jamon iberico — better than prosciutto, I have to say — and Manchego wedges, as well as braised baby calamari, and for dessert, a rice pudding of the gods. James C., this city is waiting for you.

We started dinner at about 11pm, which is … normal here. It’s almost 2 am, and I’m crashing. Manuel and I catch a train in the morning back to Madrid. If you are in Madrid on Tuesday night, I hope you can come hear my talk. I’m sorry Scott and Elena won’t be there, so I could have an excuse to spend more time with them. But believe me, I’m coming back to Sevilla. The very brief time I had walking around and eating in the Andalucian capital convinced me that this is the kind of place you come back to, and bring your wife. And your appetite. I can imagine that it’s beastly hot in summer, but winter is pleasant.

Here’s info for the Madrid talk on Tuesday night. Please come, if you can:

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