Friday, 11 April 2014

When in Seville, do as the Moors did

Modern life is a fine balance where ever you live in our increasingly hectic world. Stress, while useful when running away from lions, torments to distraction and throws us into bouts of illness no matter how advanced we are in our fancy pants urbane living. Even in Seville it´s good to switch off or ´desconectar´as they like to say in these parts. Yes, I know it sounds hard to believe; how stressful can it get hanging out in cafés, gaily moving from tostadas, to tapas, to siesta and back agan. But despite not chasing one´s tail in a never ending rodent race, speaking for myself, some quiet time serves me well. And if this means lolling around in a Moorish inspired hammam, the more´s the better.

And this is where the Aire de Sevilla Arabs baths come in. Housed in an old palace in Santa Cruz, as soon as you step through its majestic doors into the cool patio within, any brain activity and decision making is short circuited and rendered useless. At every turn there is a helpful attendent to hand you towels, explain patiently for the umpteenth time how the lockers work and to usher you to where the bathing action is. The only decisions required are ´have I got the cojones (balls) of steel to leap (or crawl) into the freezing plunge pool and do I take my towel with me or leave it in my locker?´

The rest of the time it´s an amoebic existance of floating around in womb temperature liquid, drinking cool mint tea, sweating in the steam room and bobbing about in the jacuzzi. Frankly very stressful stuff. The baths also offer a range of massage and body treatments, all taking place in an atmospheric candlelit room. I was fortunate enough to receive a 30 minute relaxing going over, but there´s a mesmerizing array of more elaborate treatments such as a relaxing 4 hands ritual and the water massage to avail of.

You have to book online in advance to ensure you get a slot, as if you leave it too late the more popular times are usually taken, and it´s also important to remember to bring your swimming cossie, although you can rent or buy one there.You also get to wear fetching little rubber slipper thingies, which protect you from an outside invaders, so no need to bring pool shoes or the like. And check out the website for any special offers or events, such as the live flamenco on Tuesday nights, although I think this would have sent me into a catatonic stupor that I perhaps would never had made it back from.

Aires de Sevilla Baños Arabes, Calle Aire 15, Sevilla, Tel 955 01 00 25

Supermarkets aren´t so super, but that´s just my opinion

´Invention´ according to author Mary Shelley, ´does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” And right now Spain is in a state of chaos. Every day in my classroom at the University where I teach I look upon the strained faces of my students, and wonder, what hope is there of finding a comfy job, close by their families that will take them through to their retirement years (which as a point of interest is the ultimate dream of the majority). And the answer is fairly close to zero. But still they keep on plugging away with their studies, only to carry on with a Masters and then maybe a PHD in the hope that Spain and Andalucia rises like a phoenix from the ashes.

The current system has clearly failed the Spanish people. If they´re not being evicted from their homes by the banks and increasingly heavy handed police, they´re finding themselves left hung out to dry with no benefits from the state. The supermarket aisles filled with delights flown in from around the world, are no longer accessible, and every day there are more people attending the ´comedores´ (soup kitchens) run by stony faced nuns in starched habits.

For those who do have a few centimos in their pockets, more and more are realising that the crisis has sprung from the wild embrace of a system that promotes unsustainability and are looking for other ways to counter the until now unquestioned madness that has left the population dizzy with plasma TVs, flash cars and a ton of debt. Time banks, alternative currencies and social markets are popping up all round the country, and never more so in Seville, where you don´t have to be a dread locked anarchist to seek an alternative to the accepted system.

La Rendija is one such venture, that brings together local producers, fair trade products, organic goods and handicrafts. On entering it´s hard to get a handle on what exactly they have to offer, as it´s a veritable Aladin´s cave of delights. At the heart of their range is a selection of organic foodstuffs ranging from grains and legumbres, honey and jams, fair trade teas, coffees and chocolate, fresh eggs and artisan organic beers and wines. They´ve also got an impressive range of environmentally friendly, handmade beauty products and detergents presented in recycled reusable packaging.

Unlike the Puma and other social currencies, you are still dealing in Euros and centimos, but at the Rendija you need to become a member, and deposit 10 or 20 Euros a month in your account, depending on how much you spend. I just pay in cash when I remember, but probably the most sensible thing is to set up a direct debit.

Don´t expect to be able to do  your weekly shopping at the Rendija, but it´s somewhere that you can come to top up on your bits and pieces bought elsewhere. You know, like the olden days, when you bought your fish at the fishmongers, your veggies at the greengrocers and there were no giant trolleys fit to burst with grapes from Israel, blueberries wrapped in plastic from Argentina and legs of lamb from New Zealand. In Seville, unlike the British high street it´s still possible to survive day to day without ever stepping into a supermarket, and for that my heart rejoices.

La Rendija, c/ San Hermenegildo nº1. Plaza de San Julián
De lunes a viernes: 10.30-14.30 horas y de 18.00-21.00 horas.
Sábados: 10:30-14.30 horas
Tel: 955226007

Friday, 4 April 2014

Dance myself dizzy

My name is Mary and I am a dancer. It´s time for me to stand up and be counted as one of the people that without dancing in their life, starts to feel like a smaller, greyer version of their fabulous self. Please don´t misunderstand me. I don´t for one minute believe that I´ve missed my calling and that some how I should have spent my formative years at ballet school or leaping across West End stages, but the fundamental truth is that busting grooves feeds my soul.

And as much as I love the Macarena, since moving the vast distance of 10 minutes by bike away from any remote grooving action in the Alameda, my dancing light has been firmly buried under a bushel. But after a serious word with myself, I´ve decided to come out of rhythmic retirement.

So it was with much excitement  and pent up energy that I found myself at the door of Espacio Abierto near Santa Justa. Home to various alternative therapies, yoga, personal development etc, it also specialises in ´Movimiento Expresivo´ (Expressive Movement) promising ´to balance my mind and body whilst dancing´. Combining the dizzying array of movement, rhythm, expression, theatre, voice, sound creativity, breath, relaxation and silence I knew it was going to be than just a bop around with some strangers. And I was more than prepared for the possibility of some very un-British touchy feely moments peppering the one and half hour class. And indeed there was some hand holding and a fair amount of gazing into a dance partner´s eyes, but the rest was sheer dancing bliss as I unravelled by contracted self and released my ethereal essence into the slightly sweaty atmosphere. My little heart pounded with joy and gladness, finally it had been given its precious space to shine brightly. So I guess you can gather from the above effusive praise that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and plan on going back frequently.

But once a week was just not enough dancing for my sudden insatiable appetite, so a few weeks ago on a sunny spring Saturday I trotted off to Parque Alamillo to join a group called the ´Concheros´, who under the welcoming shade of a giant tree, come together every month to dance an ancient Aztec dance that pre-dates the Spanish conquest. Dancing round in a circle you follow the lead of some of the long standing ´comadres and copadres´, who sing and dance giving thanks to mother earth, accompanied by a never ending beat of hypnotising drumming and a jolly sounding mandolin. At first I felt like I´d just arrived late at an aerobic dance where everyone knows the steps apart from me, but before long I had fallen into the groove and with a mind free from thoughts, I was moving in a semi synchronicity with the rest.

After about 3 hours of non-stop circling and a fair bit of singing, it was time to rest my happily weary bones, and join my fellow Concheros for a ´comida popular´, basically when everyone brings a bite to share, so not be a sandwich short of a picnic.

And so it is, I am a dancer with somewhere to dance. And that makes me very happy.

Espacio Abierto, Calle Doctor Pedro Vallina 11, local 2, Sevilla. 954 539 384

Concheros, contact Federico Muñoz, Tel 639 909 748,

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Computer says yes

One day, not so long ago, I woke up to find a big white blob had suddenly appeared on my lap top screen. I´ve been dabbling with the idea of upgrading my giant brick of a machine for a while now, as temperamental doesn´t even come close to describing its general state of being. So, with a sad sense of resignation I took my trusty Toshiba to the nearest IT shop, PC3 Informatica in San Julian, expecting for it to be heading unceremoniously to the great electronic goods graveyard in the sky.

But lo, all was not lost. It was just the screen that had for no apparent reason decided to give up the ghost. Luckily for me there´s a whole secret world of wheeling and dealing in lap top spare parts, and after some calling around by the guys at the shop, a replacement screen miraculously appeared, was duly fitted and my dear albeit slightly unpredictable friend was back in the land of the living. 

The whole episode was resolved within the hour and cost me 50 Euros, so before you ditch your laptop and upgrade to something sleeker and sexier, give PC3 Informatica a whirl, as they may well be able to resuscitate your lap top from obsolescent death and bring it back to life.

PC3 Informatica, Ronda de Capuchinos 4, local D, 1, 41003 Sevilla 954 41 08 78

Friday, 14 March 2014

The mother of all shops

It´s been a while since I´ve waxed lyrical aboout my barrio, but there´s been a blog post inside me that´s been just bursting to come out. Obviously, it´s vegetable related, that goes without saying, and it´s no surprise that it combines my other great love, all things organic.

´Las Comadres´ could be mistaken for yet another ´fruteria´ on a street that already heaves under the strain of a multitude of other fruit and veg shops, but on stepping inside you soon realise that this little gem has got so much more to offer. Las Comadres feels like an organic shop for the people. It´s got a selection of non organic products  for the locals who are yet to be convinced by the benefits of eating non chemically treated foodstuffs, and then there´s a bountiful array of organic delights, mostly from local producers in Andalucia to keeps the likes of me happy. It used to be the case that going on a Tuesday guaranteed you the best selection of produce as in the past they only had a weekly delivery of organic goods, but now with a second consignment on Thursdays, you´re guaranteed fresh veggies throughout the week.

The owners and actual ´Comadres´ are Vanesa and Begoña whose passion to create a healthier and more responsible future radiates from their very core and inside you´ll find them equally at home chatting to local grannies as they are to health conscious guiris such as myself. Hidden away in every nook and cranny there are countless surprises from artisan soaps and non chemical cleaning products, giant jars of organic honey, sacks brimming with dried legumbres and brown rice, to he most unexpected delight of all, a petite and bijoux library where, just by leaving your name and telephone number, you can borrrow a book and bring it back when you can.

Every time I shop in las Comadres, I leave with a wam feeling inside, the result of having stocked up on tasty treats to feed my soul and fill my stomach. Shopping there feels like being part of a little family with the comadres at the helm spreading their organic love to the Macarena masses.

Las Comadres, Calle Leon XIII, no 61 Sevilla

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Baba Ganoush makes me happy

The mind is like muscle, you need to flex every part of it or face atrophy at your peril. Right now if my life were a mind gym, I´d be doing some hardcore workout on the joy machine, in a bid to beef up my happiness core strength. So I´m savouring those little innocuous moments of pleasure that pepper my average day. And one of my more recent precious moments has been a blissful reunion with a favourite tasty morsel, which since coming to these shores has been barely sampled, that of Baba Ganoush.

Not your typical fayre in a tapas joint, this celebration of the aubergine can be exclusively found in ´El Ríncon del Beirut´ on Calle Calatrava, amongst other middle Eastern classics such as falafels, kebabs, hummus and lots of lamb. It´s fast food at its best; fresh, home cooked, infused with Middle Eastern spices and served in a Fez. What's not to like.

El Ríncon de Beirut, Calle Calatrava 30, Alameda. Tel 602 845 342

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Cornershop and a brim full of vegetables

One of my favourite things about Seville is that you may never need to set foot inside a supermarket for your fruit and vegetables. Every street corner almost guarantees a green grocers´, food markets are still going strong and even the ubiquitous Chinese bazaar has a decent selection of veggies.

But one of my top spots for late night stocking up on my greens is a teeny tiny hole in the wall near Plaza San Marco, brimmed full with fresh and non wilting fruit and vegetables. Called Pak España, it´s owned by some very amenable Pakistani chaps who this afternoon practically had me twisting an imaginary light bulb as Bollywood tunes blasted out from inside. Today mine was a last minute guacamole mission, but it is worth knowing that they usually have Coriander (which can be nigh on impossible to find), and if I hadn´t been going to a party, I´d have grabbed one of the bunches of spinach that was tantalising me with its understated freshness. They´re open pretty late, cheaper than the often-over priced food markets and delivery at no extra cost is available.

Pak España, Calle San Luis (Plaza San Marco)

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Unmade Road, just off Cruz Roja

I´ve just had my annual trip to Barcelona, and once again I´ve been struck by that dreaded lurgy Barcaflu; a debilitating malaise that strikes me down every time I arrive back from the Catalan capital of cool. It's a strange virus, there's no coughing or spluttering, no fever as such, but somehow it makes Seville on my return seem desperately unexciting and utterly isolated from any cultural goings on.

I know it's not like me to moan about my dearly beloved Sevilla, somewhere that ordinarily I dedicate my time to waxing lyrical about its encanto. And I also know that, to quote an unknown Sufi poet, 'this too will pass', and that before long I'll be gaily skipping through those cobbled streets, filling  my lungs with the uplifting aroma of orange blossom. But it's always so easy for my head to be turned by bar after bar of uber coolness, international cuisine on every corner and that feeling of freedom that comes from a city that sits so effortlessly between majestic mountains and an expansive sea. And yet how easily I forget the loneliness of living in a sprawling metropolis, where the once attractive anonymity can become a bitter curse.

You see in Seville, anonymity is impossible. It is of course a sizeable city,  a capital of a province no less, but in its heart it's a village, a village where you find yourself coming across the same faces going about their daily business, be that the simple act of crossing the traffic lights at the end of my road or exercising their elbows as they consume their daily ration of Cruz Campo beer.

And it was in such a road crossing occasion that I first met Renny Jackon. I mean I'd seen Renny a few times before, playing in various musical permutations around Seville, but then over a few weeks, we just kept on bumping into each other on the same stretch of Cruz Roja, until I thought, I'm just going to say hi and introduce myself. You see Renny is a fellow Brit, and in all honesty, I don't normally feel inclined to introduce myself to every Brit I come across, quite the reverse in fact, but somehow Renny looked like the kind of person I would like to say hello to.  And as it turned out Renny and I are Macarena neighbours, and over a recent tostada and cafe con leche, I decided to find out who the heck he is, and how he's ended up playing the live music circuit in this little piece of Andalucia we both call home.

 Four years ago, fresh from university, with a love of Latin culture and literature and several years playing gigs in the pubs of Birmingham already behind him, Renny found himself in Seville with a serious case of wanderlust. The plan was a short term one, but he fell in love with girlfriend Maria and has ended up staying.

'Seville's a great city to learn and gain experience. I arrived very naive and have learnt a lot about being a musician; how to organise a band, songwriting and managing relationships with bandmates'. 

Inevitably, Spain influences Renny's work; he's a reasonable flamenco guitarist and at times draws on Spanish literary influences such as a current song he's working on in which he quotes from a poem by Lorca, 'Mi casa no es mi casa, y yo no soy yo', which translated into English reads 'My home isn't my home, and I'm not me', something that anyone living away from home can relate to. But Renny's cut more from a folk cloth and is heavily influenced by his Irish background, growing up listening to singer songwriters across the Birmingham pub circuit, plus artists such as Bob Dylan, Bill Withers, Nick Drake, Joe Strummer and the Smiths.

His current incarnation 'Renny Jackson and the Unmade Road', a three piece outfit with violinist Salvador Daza Megher and the aptly named bass player Jose Bass, lilt from one bewitchingly magical number to another. His lyrics are enchanting, and terribly British, which can be lost on the home crowd, but more than warmed the cockles of my Anglo-Irish heart. But despite the 'lost in translation' moments, Renny enjoys the reception he gets from audiences here in Seville. 'One of the cool things about the music here is when you click with the audience, people will react in a more boisterous way, with the whole palmas (flamenco clapping) thing'. 

This warmth has also extended to Renny's experience of other musicians here in Seville, 'there's an amazing mutual support here between different artists, musicians doubling up, lending amps at the last minute, a real sense of community'. 

But life is tough in Seville as a jobbing musician, compared to larger cities both in Spain and in the UK, there's no organised infrastructure for live music and there's a constant battle between unlicensed venues and exasperated neighbours who regularly call the police until the venues finally shut down. But Renny remains philosophical, 'coming from the UK it's easy to come with a different mentality and to criticise, but you just have to remember that things are different here and rather than fight things, just embrace them. Andalucia has been historically isolated, so trying to impose cultural expectations just doesn't work.' 

Renny and his Unmade Road have got a busy couple of months ahead of playing a host of the usual suspects of the Seville live music venues, and this Saturday (1st February) can be seen at 'El Perro Andaluz' from 10.30pm onwards.

And as to my Barcaflu, I appear to be on the mend, thanks to just such chance encounters with folk like Renny that remind me why yes indeed, I still love Sevilla.

For more information on Renny and details of upcoming dates:

El Perro Andaluz, Calle Bustos Tavera 11, Sevilla, 41003

Monday, 13 January 2014


Until about 2 years ago, a cushion was for making a sofa look pretty and occasional plumping if looking a bit saggy in the centre.

But fast forward to the present day (and the present moment), and a decent cushion (or Zafu) is an integral part of my meditation practice, allowing me to sit relatively still for what can seem like an interminable amount of time, if I´ve got ants in my pants or cramp in my legs.

And with a friend recently tentatively dipping his toe in the sometime choppy meditation waters, I wanted to make sure he had the best chance staying afloat, and so decided to seek out the perfect meditation cushion to suit both his needs and painful knees.

As often happens in these instances a fortuitous message landed in my Facebook inbox asking me to ´like´ La Artensana del Yoga, which happens to be a small business run by Inma dedicated to making bespoke Yoga accessories ranging from yoga mat bags, yoga straps, Thai fisherman style trousers and of course meditation cushions. And before I knew it, I was seated in a café in Plaza de Armas rifling through a huge suitcase filled with samples of Inma´s work, already feeling zafu envy for the gorgeous creation that I was about to commission for someone else.

And I was not to be disappointed, just a couple of weeks later, back in Plaza de Armas (Inma lives in a pueblo just outside of Seville), I almost shrieked with delight at the unveiling of the most beautiful work of cushion art I´d ever seen. This may seem like a slight over reaction to most, but one finds delight where one can these days, so mine just happens to be in meditation cushions.

So if stylish yet comfy Zafus are your passion, then check out La Artesana del Yoga on her Facebook page or find Inma in the artesan market underneath Triana Bridge in the Paseo de la O on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

La Artesana del Yoga - Inma . Tel 661 260 196 y en

Monday, 16 December 2013

Where to go when you´ve had your fill of tapas

I know to most people residing outside the Iberian peninsula, it´s hard to imagine that a day might arrive when one can´t face another teeny tiny plate of patatas bravas or boquerones en vinagre, but there are times when you just want to swap the itsy bitsy servings of Spanish fayre for something more sizable and international.

Seville is never going to offer up an endless supply of global cuisine, but if you´ve reached your tapas tipping point, here are some suggestions to tide you over until you´ve got your tapas appetite back again.

Turning Japanese
One thing that is done well in Seville, which could be due to its easy reach to fish filled shores, is Sushi. You can go budget ´fill your belly until it hurts´ at Samurai in Triana, 'contemporary Japanese/ Peruvian fusion'  at Nikkei on Calle Calatrava, 'guaranteed quality and freshness' at Kaede underneath the Hotel Macarena or 'accompanied by chilled Cava and Oysters' at Osterias de Mercado in Triana Market.

Samurai, Calle Salado 6, Triana, 41010, Tel 954 283 106

Nikkei Bar, Calle Calatrava 34


Osterías de Mercado, Plaza Altozano

Italian job
The Spanish don´t like to stray too far away from the Mediterranean shores when it comes to eating out, and generally feel on safe territory when it comes to Italian cuisine, but it does mean that there is some quality Italian grub to be sampled. One of my favourite haunts is Pizzeria El Nomada, which amongst my Guiri chums has the unanimous accolade of the best pizza in Seville. The pizza bases are delicately crispy, and the toppings range from the traditional to the more avant garde, and there´s no where I´d rather be on a warm summer evening that sitting outside watching the world go by in Plaza San Marco munching on my Pizza Funghi. But if you want to go the whole Italian hog, then I love Al Solito Posto in the Alameda. Being a non meat eater, I´ve only sampled a small proportion of the menu which bursts at the seams with fresh pastas, risotto, fish and meat dishes, but it´s always deliciously fresh and beautifully presented.
Pizzeria El Nomada, Plaza San Marco
Al Solito Posto, Alameda de Hercules 16,

Vegetarian at its best
Another common gripe of anyone who´s ´just so over tapas these days´, is the lack of choice for non-meat eaters. I´m still chowing down on fish, but if you´re not or in fact even if you are and just want a change, then Gaia is the place for you. Many flock for the very reasonably priced Menu del Dia, but their A la Carte menu boasts a whole array of non meat, organic tasty treats, plus organic wine and beers. And as a bonus, you can nip next door to stock up on all that your good health desires, at their Organic Health store.

Restaurante Ecológico Gaia, Calle Luis de Vargas, 4

Best of the rest
Special mention also goes to Pitacasso, home of exquisite falafels and salads on the edge of Feria Market and El Arepazo, a homage to all things Venezuelan, including its namesake the Arepa and a whole host of tropical juices, to be found buried deep within the Macarena.

Pitacasso, Plaza de Calderón de la Barca, 10, 41003
El Arepazo, Calle Otoño 1, Macarena, 41009

And finally,
So far in the time that I´ve been writing this blog, I´ve made it part of my modus operandi to only sing people's praises, because that´s just what I like to do. But I feel I have no other option but to give a general warning of advice, i.e. to steer a clear path away from Indian restaurants in Seville; unless microwaved naan breads and tasteless over salted curries are your predilection. Public taste warning over.