The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, Part II

We arrived at Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla in the evening hours. The summer sun was still blazing down, the stadium grand with elegant trimmings. It is Spain’s oldest bullring; its construction began in 1749.

There was anticipation in the air as merchants peddled striped seat cushions, cigars, frozen water, peanuts and candies. There were also hats and fans to shield spectators from the scorching sun. These trinkets would be vital for any attendees who had chosen the least-expensive seats, which would be directly within reach of the sun’s sizzling rays.

Faces from all corners of the world were in the darkened, tunnel-like passageways that formed the perimeter around the ring: middle-aged Asian tourists, backpacking American college students, and elegantly-dressed Spanish couples. Some fans sported bandanas on which their favorite matador’s image was emblazoned. I was surprised to see young Spanish children there as well. There was a young boy with his father’s hand resting on his shoulder in a reassuring manner, little girls clad in frilly dresses, hair ribbons and lacy, anklet socks. I’d earlier read that Spanish television channels had restricted the broadcasting of bullfights specifically to protect child viewers. Therefore, I was surprised to see children under the age of ten in attendance.

Upon entering the stadium, the colors were magnificent: the ring’s curry-colored dirt floor contrasted sharply with the flawless blue sky and stark-white architectural accents. Also, there was the mosaic-like jumble of clothing of attendees and the dark uniforms of official personnel.

Suddenly, lively snippets of music from Bizet’s Carmen commenced and out came the torero doing their signature prance, closely followed by a trailing legion of photographers. The costumes worn by men on horseback, as well as those worn by the torero, were stunning. The outfits were in crimson, purple and turquoise hues, with the primary matador’s cloth being woven with a thick gold embroidery. It’s no wonder why this outfit is known as a traje de luces or ‘suit of lights.’

I was impressed by this pageantry, initially. How swiftly my mood changed when the disoriented bull arrived into the ring and the two sharp banderillas (sticks with a sharp end) were brought out in the steady hands of a banderillero. To great pomp and circumstance, the first banderillas were plunged into the bull’s back and later its neck. Blood seeped from the bull’s wounds, leaving its now-crimson back radiating agony in the sun. I watched for a second, and then glanced away, using my Spanish fan to help block the scene.

The matador’s moves were refined and practiced and he was poised as he gracefully swayed the hot-pink cape past the aggravated 1,100-pound bull. The torero continued to pierce the animal with spears, risking their own harm to elicit gasps and cheers from the crowd. Despite their courage, I pondered what percentage of the Spanish citizenry actually reveres them for this practice. (A Gallup poll from 2006 indicated that only 8% of Spanish citizens consider themselves bullfighting fans. Yet, the Spanish king was once quoted as saying if the European Union were to ban bullfighting, then that would be the day Spain removes itself from the EU.)

With each approach of the bull, each twirl of the matador, each stab, the audience grew ever more enthralled. Old ladies stood up to cheer. Others sat in their seats with emotionless faces, their hands cloaking their mouths. Some children watched listlessly, while others played with their hand-held video games or mobile phones. Occasionally, the picadores (a pair of horsemen) rode into the ring to stab the bull with a long spear. The bull charged the two horses several times, causing the horses to get rammed into the wall. One horse was violently knocked to the ground.

Continue reading “The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, Part II”

The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, Part I

Sevilla. The name evokes a variety of passionate images: Flamenco-dancing women clad in vibrant, polka dot-studded dresses, their feet striking a floor with thunderous blows…

A matador de toros poised to enter a ring facing possible goring or death…

Spirited bodega-goers clinking glasses overflowing with jewel-toned sangria and amber cerveza

On a balmy long weekend earlier this summer, Shawn and I journeyed to Andalucía to witness it all, resulting in our own mixture of intense emotions.

Continue reading “The Beauty and Tragedy of Sevilla, Part I”

Candy Apples, Saloons, and a Sagebrush Cemetery: A Day Trip to Virginia City, Nevada

For a scribe who’s been in Germany for the past ten years, there isn’t much of a better way to reconnect with her American roots than to visit the wild, wild west.

That’s just what Shawn and I did exactly one year ago when we spent the day playing in Virginia City, Nevada…

Once a mining boomtown, Virginia City previously claimed the title of the richest city in the United States. This was due to the Comstock Lode silver strike that occurred there in the late 1850s. The strike transformed prospectors into millionaires, virtually overnight.

It’s said that Virginia City is the ‘birthplace’ of Mark Twain, since this is where the former Territorial Enterprise reporter Samuel Clemens had the maiden usage of his now-famous pen name. He would go on to continue using his pen name during his Tramp Abroad, which included an extended stop in Heidelberg, Germany. In an age devoid of the airplane, he sure managed to get around!

Continue reading “Candy Apples, Saloons, and a Sagebrush Cemetery: A Day Trip to Virginia City, Nevada”

Lessons From Erna: Remembering a Talented Musician, Teacher, and Friend

In a black and white image, bordered by a simple silver frame on my piano, she is seated behind the wheel of a classic roadster. Coyly sporting a riding cap, cream-colored driving gloves, and her trademark smile is a woman who not only taught me about arpeggios, flats, and sharps, but also about life, its remarkable coincidences, and values that we should hold dear.

We first met in March 1987. I was nearly ten, and my piano-teacher to-be, Mrs. Erna Blonek, was 86. I remember thinking that the diminutive elderly woman, with wavy hair as white as snow, spoke with a funny accent. My mother later explained that Mrs. Blonek was originally from Czechoslovakia.

Over time, I learned that she had been widowed in the 1960s and that she and her radiologist husband, František, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s.

Continue reading “Lessons From Erna: Remembering a Talented Musician, Teacher, and Friend”

Our Peterhof Gardens Promenade

Often referred to as Russia’s Versailles, the Peterhof Palace gardens (Петерго́ф) offered us a picturesque — albeit congested and hectic — spot to stroll during a visit to St. Petersburg earlier this month. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great in the 18th century.

Continue reading “Our Peterhof Gardens Promenade”

Golden Moments in Burgundy, France

It is no wonder why one of the counties in France’s Burgundy region is known as the Côte d’Or. During our July sojourn in France’s ‘Golden Hills,’ the fields were ablaze with vibrant tournesols (sunflowers), freshly-groomed wheat, and vineyards — where still-maturing grapes glistened with dew.

In the villages of Burgundy, sand-colored stone homes were accented with shutters painted in hues of Williamsburg blue, deep ivy green, and terracotta. Delicate geraniums overflowed from window boxes, while tantalizing aromas — like toasted baguettes, boeuf bourguignon and a Dijon vinaigrette — swirled down the streets. In cafés and restaurants, blond Chardonnay flooded glasses. The scintillating wine seemed tailor-made for such balmy Burgundian summer evenings.

From the weathered buildings, friendly faces and people with lively personalities emerged. Periodically, vintage Citroëns rolled onto the scene, creating circa 1940 vignettes that were quintessentially French. One such classic voiture even ushered in a serendipitous moment that would be one of the highlights of our time in Burgundy.

Continue reading “Golden Moments in Burgundy, France”

Photo du Jour: The Bench on Which I Said “Yes,” One Year Ago Today – Heidelberg, Germany

Continue reading “Photo du Jour: The Bench on Which I Said “Yes,” One Year Ago Today – Heidelberg, Germany”