Friday, 17 April 2015

Living la vida loca en Calle Llerena

One of my first memories of living in Spain was back in 1990s Madrid overhearing an old granny call her grandson ´coño´. Without going into the finer details of the meaning, it is perhaps the worst possible word one can use in the English language, making coarse reference to a lady´s nether regions. But here in Spain it´s practically meaningless. Yesterday, I had another ´abuela/ coño´ moment, this time with 92 year-old Anastasia, the self professed ´door lady´ of traditional food store ´Romero Miguel´ on Calle Llerena, a tiny street in the depths of Pio XII in the Macarena district where time seems to have stood still.

Anastasia, apart from swearing like a trouper, ran the shop for most of her working life and despite her remarkable years, is as sharp as a tack. Sparkling like a little barrio diamond, she shows no signs of physical aches and pains, due mostly to consuming red wine with every meal (apart from breakfast I assume). Her shop with her son and daughter-in-law at the helm, is like stepping back in time, with row after row of jamon hanging heavily from hooks, products immaculately displayed in neat rows and 2 litre bottles of virgin extra olive oil priced temptingly at 7 Euros, a fraction of what you´ll find in the city centre.

You see head out of the centre and Seville is a different world and Calle Llerena is an enchanting oasis amongst the comparative modernity. Most of the street´s shops are multi-generational operations. Take the fishmongers with Manuel Maldonado behind the counter. His family has had the business for over 50 years and he´s the fourth generation to run it. I bought a gigantic ´pedazo´of tuna steak that tasted and looked nothing like the anaemic equivalent you´d find in any supermarket and of course at a fraction of the cost.

Then there´s Juana, purveyor of snails, whose market stall has been manned by her family for 70 years. The whole snail thing is something of an acquired taste, but right now it´s prime snail season. You buy them alive and wriggling, throw them alive into boiling water, which is when their final demise arises. So not for the tender hearted or the squeamish, counting me out sadly.

There is some new blood in Llerena though. Sisters Maria Jose and aptly named Macarena have just taken over the street´s fruit and vegetable stall. Until a week ago it had been lovingly cared for by its owner for almost 50 years. Competition is rife in the world of fruit and veg and in the Pio XII area there are more fruterias than demand according to Maria Jose. Mostly because for anyone wanting to start a business, it´s the one requiring least start-up investment.

And then there´s the street itself. Breakfast time it´s at its characterful best. The local bar/cafe is obviously the hot spot for residents of a certain age, who spend hours savouring their coffee and tostada while gossipping with their friends 'de toda la vida'. Here being elderly isn't a one way ticket to isolation. Life is still there to be enjoyed and celebrated. One day, I'd like to be one of those old ladies, perfectly coiffured, small dog on lap, sun glasses at the ready, moving from cafe con leche, to cervezita, siesta and then an afternoon promenade with friends. Actually thinking about it, that´s pretty much how I live now.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cook like a local

It´s  never been a better time to be a tourist in Seville than right now. In a local economic climate scant on business opportunities, the main area that continues to boom is the sector servicing the 2 million tourists visiting the city each year.

In and around the emblematic Giralda, which one could consider the epicentre of tourist activity, it feels like more like the tower of Babel as every language known to man is heard amongst the hordes of visitors admiring the city´s Moorish heritage. Before it was your average Northern European and North American who stopping off from their whistle stop coach tour of Andalucia, would tramp through the winding streets of the Barrio Santa Cruz. But these days the Andalucian capital´s historic importance has pricked the interest of the Chinese middle classes and in a more recent trend is becoming a destination of choice for headscarfed holidaymakers coming over from North Africa. 

And servicing this thirst for the ultimate tourist experience are a plethora of tour companies all offering their own ´unique´ experience. Just yesterday as I stood at the foot of the cathedral, I heard two different guides imparting the fascinating fact of how in years gone by the Giralda was climbed not on foot, but by horse power, hence the ramps inside. But it´s not just the classic historic tours that are available, there are bike tours, Segways, ghost tours, gastronomic tours, shopping tours, flamenco tours and you heard it here first, very soon there will be an ´I know a little place in Seville Tour´ (more information to come in future posts).

Many of the tour companies appear to have at their helm some of the many foreign residents residing in the city, one such being Andalucia Tours and Discovery. Operating out of the Arenal district between the cathedral and the river, they offer experiences in English, Dutch and Spanish that mostly include riding a bike in some capacity. As whizzing around the streets of Seville on my two legged steed is something I do every day, I opted to check out their tapas cooking course, mostly due to the fact that I´ve still not managed to master the art of cooking a decent Spanish Omelette.

Cooking tapas needs fresh ingredients, so to kick off the morning´s work we hopped on our bikes (of course) and crossed Triana Bridge to the bustling and very atmospheric Triana Market. Shopping in the UK is generally a perfunctory act; faceless supermarket chains selling esthetically pleasing but often tasteless ingredients. So it always fills me with a warm and fuzzy feeling when I step into a traditional Spanish food market where amongst the playful cries of the market stallholders you´ll find the freshest local produce that´s valued on taste rather than appearance and Triana Market is no exception.

So with our ingredients in the bag, it was back to ATD headquarters, where rather handily next door to their bike rental shop, they have access to the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant and this was to be our home for the morning's cookery class.

Oscar, an experienced chef who has spent time working in kitchens both in Spain but also across Europe, was our Teacher for the morning. First dish to master was the summer classic Salmorejo.  Originally hailing from Cordoba, it´s a creamier version of Gazpacho, made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, bread and vinegar. Our job was to chop and listen as Oscar was doing the main hard work and as soon as the Salmorejo was in the fridge to cool, we were onto the second Spanish classic ´Ensaladilla´, the Andalucian version of Russian salad. The final and possibly the most tricky dish to master was the classic Paella, which on this occasion was cooked with fresh prawns from the market and monk fish. I can´t really lay any claim to the final delicious outcome of any of the creations which were consumed at the end of the morning's proceedings in the restaurant's adjoining dining room, although I'm sure my onion chopping skills must have played an integral part.

And fear not if like me you're rather challenged in retaining information for more than five minutes, Oscar compiles tourist friendly recipes for dummies, so that you can try out our new found tapas prowess at home and wow your friends and family.

Sadly, my Spanish Omelette is still a work in progress, although thanks to Oscar I now have a go-to recipe, so really there is no excuse apart from sheer laziness.

Andalucia Tours and Discovery

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Top Five Tips for Surviving Feria

I know, I know Easter's not even over yet, but if you live in Seville and two of the most important cultural events of the calendar fall within two weeks of the other, there's no room for resting on your laurels, particularly when it comes to La Feria (the April Fair) where if you snooze you most definitely lose.

You see Feria is not something that you just stumble into, in a devil-may-care, spontaneous kind of way. Do this, and you'll spend the day crying into your over priced Rebujito, crammed into a public caseta with the rest of the guiris and out-of-towners or aimlessly trudging the dusty streets as all around you a party is going on, to which you have not been invited. And if by chance you do manage to make it into a private Caseta (a sort of wooden marquee bedecked in frilly gingham), the endless soundtrack of Sevillanas, at first charming and worthy of an appreciative clap or foot tap, will eventually cause you leave of your senses, as you run out screaming into Calle Inferno head on into a collision with a passing horse and carriage.

Ok, I am painting a rather apocalyptic vision of the whole Feria experience, but if you don't put in the preparation beforehand it will all end in tears. But fear not, it's not too late for 'Operacion Feria' to begin and here's how to make the most of your Feria experience.

1. Learn Sevillanas
For me Feria doesn't make sense unless you learn Sevillanas. For the uninitiated Sevillanas looks a bit like Flamenco, from the stamping feet to the sensual arms and hands. Luckily for the dancing novice, it's a million times easier, that said, it still needs a bit of work to master. Basically there are four separate, choreographed parts danced back to back that gradually build up in difficulty. If you're reading this now and you've never taken a class, don't expect to be foot or hand perfect come Feria. But it is still possible to get some survival basics and with this in mind India, a professional Flamenco dancer, offers a crash course in Sevillanas over the final four days before Feria begins. The cost is 40 Euros and it's aimed at total beginners.

Contact India 660 23 59 03/ to reserve your place

2. Get a dress
My customized second hand dress
Speak to the average Sevillana woman and she will freely admit to having a wardrobe stuffed full with very expensive flamenco dresses. As a foreigner at Feria, personally I think there's no point trying to ape the locals to the letter. We are guiris and no amount of flowers stuck on the top of our heads, gypsy shawls and dangly earrings are going to hide that. In fact just making a bit of an effort, i.e. wearing a secondhand dress and a flower in your hair generally gets gasps of appreciation and an invitation to a plate of prawns. So if you happen to be friends with one of the aforementioned Sevillana women and share the same dress size, see if she'll lend you one of her 'trajes' and don't forget the matching accessories. Or failing that, get yourself down to 'El Jueves' Market on Calle Feria one Thursday morning where this time of year you'll find lots of secondhand dresses on sale. You can also check out the Humana charity shop or vintage stores also on Calle Feria.

3. Customise what you've got
Ok, you've got your dress, it sort of fits and more less hangs in the right places. But it all could be so much more fabulous. My favourite Feria outfit was a second hand dress I bought, which seemed ok when I tried it on, but on the day of the Feria, I ended up feeling a bit like the poor, dishevelled relation. The following year I took it to local designer Marilene who after working her wonders, I was dressed for action and ready to go. Designers and dressmakers tend to be pretty busy this time of year, so you could also try the girls at the Osa Mallol.

4. Accessorize
Ok so you've got your dress, but that's just the start of it. Then there are a dizzying array of flowers, combs, shawls and earrings to accompany your outfit. Possibly the most important decision after what dress you're going to wear is where the hell to pin that flower. If you want to ignore my advice and try to look like the local ladies, the last few years have seen a lone, giant flower stuck dramatically on top of the head being the stand out look. Who knows what will be de riguer this year, but I always tend to go for a more coquettish tucked behind the ear option, which is a bit more forgiving if you're not cut from local cloth. And don't forget your feet. Espadrilles are the footwear worn by most, just remember the three inevitable factors: trudging through sandy streets, horse poo and 12 long hours on your feet.

5. Get some Caseta invitations
It's all very well getting all dressed up, but if you've got no where to go you may as well not bother. The next two weeks before Feria is all about networking your little arses off. If you're an English Teacher get chatting to your students, or the parents of your students. Bring up Feria in conversation, stare at them expectantly ignoring that uncomfortable silence as they realise you're waiting for an invitation to their private caseta. Start storing caseta addresses in your phone and the days when your contacts will be there. Treat it with the seriousness it deserves, as without a handful of invites, it will be Feria suicide.

Oh and then there's all the obvious stuff, be careful with your bags, expensive cameras etc, drink water between your rebujitos, check you don't get overcharged by the donut sellers at the end of the night and most have all, have fun! 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Intrusa - a labour of love

Calle Regina is hot right now. Next month it features in Easyjet magazine (written by my good self) and has taken over from the much lauded ´Soho Benita´ as the place to hang out with the cool kids. It all coincides pretty much with the injection of capital into the area in the form of the Metropol Parasol or as its affectionately known ´The Setas´. Go there and it´s easy to get swept along by the hipster vibe and forget that Regina did exist before the magazines started writing about it, even if it did look somewhat different to it does today.

One of the original inhabitants on the street (forgetting about the old woman selling snails and what not) is Abelardo Ruiz. If the Duquesa de Alba held the record for the most hereditary titles, then Abelardo must be up there for uber-desirable working incarnations: Interior decorator, Personal shopper (but only for the New York Elite), Restaurateur, Fashion buyer, TV Star, I'm sure the list goes on and must include other fantasy jobs such as international playboy and catwalk model.

But Abelardo as well as having a name that roles off the tongue like a knight of the realm, is the real deal. Right now, while still maintaining his two bars next door, his passion is 'Intrusa'. Housed within what was 'Las Reinas' Abaceria,  Intrusa doesn't fit into any category I'm familiar with. It continues to be a bar, selling wines with kitsch labels, and beer is on offer if you want it. But its main focus is vintage clothing and random nick nacks collected by Abelardo on his travels around the world, which he wants to share with the us, the public at large.  Most of the items are one-off dresses used on the cat walk or in fashion show rooms, so don't expect to find anything above a size 10. But what you will find there are exquisite, whimsical pieces with more than a hint of Audrey Hepburn about them and perfect for a spring Seville outing.

Photo courtesy of Pepe Ortega
There are also some real wild cards on the racks. I love the customised T-shirt dresses, super tight vintage t-shirts, that have been flamancoed up with outlandish long, frilled skirts. And if you want to be really daring Abelardo has within his possession an 1960's floaty nighty originally warn on honeymoon by a saucy Sevillana Señora. Buy it if you dare!

But most of all, go to Intrusa for Abelardo. He has the heart of a giant (by that I mean big) and the most infectious laugh you´ll ever encounter. Abelardo I salute you!

Intrusa, Calle Regina 9, La Intrusa Facebook Page

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Get your bits and pieces in order with Wendy

I´d forgotten I had legs and feet. It´s a bit of a strange thing to say I know. And for those that haven´t spent a winter in Seville, you probably imagine that we´re swanning around, bare legged and glowing tans all year round. For those of you that have spent a winter here however, you´ll know the bone chilling dampness that pervades every apartment building between the months of November and March. You´ll also know that mad dash from freshly showered  chilly nakedness to fully clothed warmth that leaves very little time to examine leg hair, let alone out of control cuticles. And so it was with a sharp intake of breath that I put away my electric heater and peered at the tangled hairy mass adorning my calves. It wasn´t a pretty sight, let me tell you, and with spring on its way and barelegged season closing in, I thought I´d better get these hirsute limbs back in some kind of presentable order.

I must admit I´m not a natural inhabitant of the beauty salon at the best of times, and despite having decent Spanish, that matter of fact brusqueness often on offer under the guise of customer service, has left me even less inclined to try out some local waxing. So after meeting Wendy Freeman, who has set up a beauty room in her apartment near Calle San Luis, it seemed the perfect palatable reintroduction to the world of waxing.

Wendy did look slightly disgusted at the wild state of my pins, and was not overly impressed by my feet either. But anyway, I decided to get a half leg wax and then a gel overlay pedicure. For those uninitiated in gel overlays, apparently they are ´the latest answer to beautiful nails´ that last up to 3 weeks on your hands and much longer on your toes. It´s a bit more fiddly and time consuming that ordinary nail varnish, but you don´t have to come armed with flip flops for your return and can pop back on your ordinary footwear if needs be. So right now I have a full compliment of bright red toe nails with a hint of glitter and legs ready and primed for when the warm spring sunshine returns

Wendy has many years experience working in the UK as a beauty therapist, having had her own salon before coming to Seville. She uses quality products, and throws in a good read of some English Magazines into the bargain. Appointments are from Monday-Friday.

Wendy´s Price list

Eyebrows & Lashes
Eyebrow Shape €9
Brow shape & tint €12 (A combination of warm wax, hot wax and plucking is used to give a precise finish)
Eyelash tint €10
Eyebrow tint €6
Lash and Brow tint €14 (Patch test may be required 24 hours prior to app.)
Half leg €10
Full leg €15
Full leg & bikini line €20
Under arm €8
Arm & hands €10
Lip or Chin €6
Lip & Chin €10
English Bikini line €8
Specialist Waxing
Using hot wax for a hygienic, less painful way of waxing sensitive areas.
Brazilian €10
Hollywood €15
File & cuticles €7
File & polish €7
Full Manicure €15
Express Pedicure €15 (Foot scrub, cuticles, file and polish)
Full Pedicure €20 (Foot file, scrub, file cuticle care, massage and polish)
Gel Overlays
Gel Nails hands or feet €20
Soak off with new set €3
Soak off €7

Calle Pozo, (between Feria and San Luis) Sevilla. Email: Tel: 692974241